Russian River Valley


Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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Sojourn Cellars was launched in 2001 with 100 cases of cabernet sauvignon. The winery, based in the town of Sonoma, was founded by Craig and Ellen Haserot with winemaker Erich Bradley. The (not uncommon) idea was to produce limited quantities of pure and intense chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir wines from excellent vineyards. Judging from my experience with a selection of chardonnays and pinot noirs from 2010 — link to my reviews here — and these examples from 2012, the team succeeds in their aim. As you will see, the chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA was a bit flamboyant for my palate, but I find the pinot noirs to be perfect models of the grape’s delicate yet tensile marriage of power and elegance. All the wines are fermented by native yeasts; the pinots see 50 percent new French oak barrels. Though the length of time in oak was not specified in the technical information I received with these samples, the influence of the span spent in the new and used barrels resulted in wines of lovely suppleness and nuance.
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The Sojourn Cellars Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is a “3 Bs” chardonnay: Not Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but bold, bright and brassy. The color is luminous medium gold; forthright aromas of lightly roasted and caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves and ginger and hints of mango and orange rind; a quadrille of ripe and macerated stone-fruit parades across the palate, and I wish it revealed a bit more of a limestone and flint element and brisk acidity to balance the richness. Still, it’s not blatantly tropical, it’s not dessert-like, it’s not stridently spicy, though it’s a little over the top for my taste. The wine was barrel-fermented in 40 percent new French oak and underwent malolactic fermentation while aging. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 275 cases. Very Good+. About $54.
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The color of the Sojourn Cellars Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is an entrancing medium ruby-mulberry hue, while the hypnotic bouquet wreathes notes of cranberry and sassafras, black and red cherries, lavender and crushed violets with undertones of oolong tea and orange rind and hints of loam and mushrooms. These intoxicating elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they drape and flow like a dense satiny fabric of luxurious cost, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here; this is a pinot noir that whatever its heft retains an essential grasp on the ineffable. The aromas deepen as an hour or so passes, and the wine grows increasingly floral and spicy; it’s quite dry, however, with a long finish that’s surprisingly mineral-flecked and tannic. Exquisite proportions, 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is characterized by racy acidity, and while the wine is delicate and elegant, it offers plenty of vitality and cut. The color is medium ruby-magenta; aromas of cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants blend with hints of pomegranate and cranberry and notes of dried fruit and sandalwood, yes, there’s incense-like pungency in the glass. Despite a touch of cherry-berry succulence, the wine pulls up an element of briery-brambly earthiness and underbrush-infused loam for depth under its savory, slightly macerated black and red fruit flavors. Despite those factors, the wine feels poised, graceful and delectable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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The Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue with a transparent rim; this is the earthiest of this trio of single-vineyard pinot noirs, displaying a full complement of briers, brambles and loam under layers of redness: I mean red cherries and raspberries, a hint of cranberry, a touch of red licorice. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, making for a texture that’s spare and lithe though not meager; this, like its stablemates, remains generous and expansive in terms of fruit and spice while making rather serious demands in terms of its tannic and mineral-flecked structure, making it the most Burgundian of these examples, not that the comparison matters, but it indicates to me a certain style and philosophy. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $59.
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The reputation of Russian River Valley’s Inman Family Wines rests on chardonnay and pinot noir, but if you grow pinot noir, you might as well produce a rosé, n’est-ce pas, and if you make pinot noir, you might as well experiment with carbonic maceration. That technique is explained below, with a review of Inman’s Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013. Owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman asserts that this wine is her favorite pinot noir that she has made, and while I think that statement is rather hyperbolic — she makes terrific “regular” pinot noir — this first effort at carbonic maceration resulted in a wine of great authority, detail and dimension. So, under review today are the recently released Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014 and Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013. These were samples for review, and I’m really happy that I was able to try them, “try” being a euphemism for “drink every damned drop.”
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Kathleen Inman’s Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, represents the first rosé table wine I have tasted this year, by which I mean that I’ve also had rosé sparkling wines. Made from the winery’s OGV Estate — Olivet Grange Vineyard — it marks a great way to begin what I hope will be a whole season of brilliant or at least tasty rosé wines. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes and seeing only stainless steel, the Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014 displays a shimmering light pink-mauve hue — call it the modest blush of an aroused nymph — and a captivating bouquet of strawberries and red currants, dried cherries, jasmine and violets, with background notes of cloves and orange rind and a mysterious and seductive scent I can only name as licorice Necco wafer. The wine is sleek and spare on the tongue, building its structure from brisk but not tart acidity and crystalline limestone minerality, though achieving too a modicum of nicely balanced lushness; to its strawberry and raspberry flavors it adds a hint of spiced peach and, on the finish, juicy watermelon. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
The image is of the previous vintage label.
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The Inman Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013, from the winery’s OGV Estate in Russian River Valley, is made in the carbonic maceration method. Put rather simply, the process involves putting whole bunches of red grapes in a tank, covering the mass with a blanket of carbon dioxide to create an anaerobic situation, and allowing the bunches on top and in the middle gradually to crush those below. (It is not employed for white wines.) The bunches on the bottom undergo a kind of natural fermentation due to wild yeasts on the skins, while the whole bunches above, in a complicated chemical transformation, achieve a state of non-yeast-induced fermentation inside the grapes. Carbonic maceration is associated most closely with Beaujolais and the gamay grape, though method is also used in Burgundy. In a response to a post on my Facebook page, Kathleen Inman described her procedure:

I made this by placing 4 tons of 100% whole clusters in an open top fermentor. The only juice released was from the weight of the clusters, about 70 gallons in the end. I covered the fruit with dry ice (CO2) and tarped the tank to seal it. Four times a day for 28 days, I opened the top, pumped over the juice to help promote the native fermentation (no yeast or bacteria was added to the wine) and then I reapplied the dry ice and sealed it up. (Now you can see where the “Whole Buncha”" and the Love came from!). There is no excessive CO2 in the wine although the fermentation that happens within the skins of the grapes does produce CO2 that is trapped. When you pop one of the fermented grapes into your mouth it is not dissimilar to a pop rock! This wine was very fresh and fruity when it was first dry, but as it aged in the barrel for 15 months and was stirred periodically, any CO2 dissipated, so there is no frizzante character to the wine. It is my favorite Pinot Noir I have made to date.

The color is bright and translucent cherry red; penetrating aromas of loam, red and black currants and cherries, sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry are infused by notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of lavender. The texture offers a lovely satiny drape on the palate, though buoyed by bright acidity and a piercing graphite element; 15 months in neutral French oak barrels lend firmness, subtlety and suppleness to the wine’s structure. Flavors of crushed cherries and currants are borne on a burgeoning wave of clean loam and underbrush qualities, with the complete effect of intense purity and an eloquent evocation of varietal character. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Production was 168 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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Audrey and Berry Sterling bought the 300-acre property in Russian River Valley that became Iron Horse Vineyards in 1976. The estate was named after a railroad stop that was sited on the property in the 1890s. Rodney Strong rediscovered it as a vineyard site in 1970, planting the original 55 acres of chardonnay and 55 acres of pinot noir. Joy Sterling, Audrey and Barry Sterling’s daughter — image at right — became CEO of the company in 2006, after 20 years of representing the family’s wines. Winemaker is David Munksgard. While Iron Horse produces still wines, it is best-known for its diverse roster of sparkling wines made in the champagne method. I reviewed two of those sparklers in the 2010/2011 edition of this series — the Brut Rosé and the Blanc de Blancs from 2005 — but recently tasted a pair of the winery’s limited edition efforts.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission. This is the third post to this blog of 2015.
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The Iron Horse Winter’s Cuvée 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is a blend of 74 percent pinot noir and 26 percent chardonnay. An interesting aspect is that the final dosage includes a touch of Audrey Sterling’s Pinot Noir Brandy from 1987. The color is very pale straw-gold; a terrific storm of tiny glancing bubbles fills the glass. This sparkling wine opens with winsome though slightly chilly elements of acacia and jasmine, apple and pear and bare hints of guava, ginger and quince; there’s an intriguing, almost otherworldly note of pine and juniper. It’s indeed a wintry sparkling wine, deeply etched with bright acidity, glacial in its chiseled limestone minerality and displaying tremendous resonance and vibrancy. All these aspects are deftly balanced and integrated into an eminently attractive, yet delicately demanding, package. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases, available to the winery’s club members and through the tasting room, including online. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $58.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The point of the Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is that it receives no dosage, so it’s presumably bone-dry. Of course sparkling wines and Champagnes typically exhibit such roaring acidity that even with some residual sugar they feel dry anyway. So, what do we expect from this blend of 69 percent pinot noir and 31 percent chardonnay? First, the color is very pale gold, a kind of platinum blond; as with its stablemate mentioned above, the bubbles surge in an upward torrent to the surface. This is very clean, crisp and lithe, quite elegant and fine-boned; a kind of lemony-gingery haze wraps a smoky, steely core, decorated with nuances of almond skin, lime peel, spiced pear and grapefruit rind. Almost needless to say, this is a sparkling wine of tensile power, scintillating limestone and flint minerality and exhilarating drive. It’s the quaff you knock back before tossing your glass off the snowy peak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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The Sixth Day of Christmas is always scary because it marks the halfway point in the sequence of 12 days and reminds me that I have so many Champagnes and sparkling wines to write about and so little time in which to accomplish my goal. So, here goes.

The VML of VML Wines is Virginia Marie Lambrix, who operates not only her own winery in the Russian River Valley, focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir but since 2012 has been director of winemaking for Truett-Hurst Winery in Dry Creek Valley. Lambrix has a scientific background not usually seen in the California wine industry; before returning to school at UC-Davis and earning a master’s degree, she worked for the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. Her previous winemaking experience came at Hendry Ranch, Concha y Toro S.A., Lynman Winery and De Loach Vineyards. This sparkling wine is the only product I have tasted from VML Wines, and it’s a humdinger.

The VML Blanc de Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 74 percent pinot noir and 26 percent chardonnay; it’s a collaboration, according to the winery website, with Iron Horse Vineyards, a well-known producer of sparkling wine. The glowing, jewel-like color is very pale onion skin; you could not ask for a more exhilarating or invigorating spiral of tiny glinting bubbles. Subtle scents of dried strawberries and red currants are wreathed with notes of orange rind, tangerine, rose petal and spiced pear, all arrayed against a backdrop of flint and limestone. Boy, this sparkler offers tremendous tone and luster, with lots of verve propelled by pinpoint acidity and a texture both lithe and lively yet attractively lacy and cloud-like; rather Alpine in effect, the finish is packed with glacial minerality and fractal elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.

This wine is one of those samples that arrives unheralded and accompanied by no information, and the winery website is pretty reticent too, so I have no idea how many cases were produced and how wide the distribution is; I’m guessing not many and not widespread. Mark this, then, Worth a Search via Internet or telephone. You won’t be sorry.

I love the sauvignon blanc grape, and given my druthers I would chose sauvignon blanc wines over chardonnay any day of the week. Oh, sure, you can get bland sauvignon blancs but usually not over-oaked, buttery, super-ripe fruit-bombs, as can happen with chardonnay. Today I present brief reviews of 15 sauvignon blanc wines, mainly from different regions of California, but also two from Sancerre, in France’s Loire Valley, one from New Zealand and a surprisingly delightful example from the state of Virginia. With the exception of the Sancerre wines, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 50% sauvignon blanc/50% sauvignon musque. 10% barrel-fermented in French oak and malolactic. Pale gold; quite fresh and clean; lemon and tangerine, hint of mango and lemongrass; hint of honeysuckle; moderately lush but crisply balanced; river-rock minerality; lime peel and flint finish. Quite attractive. Very Good+. About $25.
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Terroir Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. Seven months in French oak, 10% new barrels. Very pale gold color; grapefruit, tangerine, lime peel, hint of peach, notes of lilac, lavender and fennel; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of roasted lemon and celery seed; a little leafy and herbal; taut, crisp, vibrant, loads of personality and presence; tensile slightly dusty grapefruit-limestone finish. Just terrific. Excellent. About $32.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 853 cases. Five months in mature French oak barrels. Pale gold hue; lemongrass, green olive, lime peel, smoked grapefruit: a sauvignon blanc for grown-ups; very dry, crisp, packed with limestone and flint elements and enlivened by crystalline acidity; almost talc-like texture but lithe and lean; roasted lemon, preserved lemon rind, spiced pear; chalk and flint finish. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block-Jane’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Four months 74% old French oak barrels, 26% stainless steel. Pale gold; almost glistens with liveliness and crispness; pineapple, grapefruit, cloves and thyme; wholly clean and fresh but a touch exotic with lavender, lilac and roasted fennel; sunny and leafy, hints of figs and hay; scintillating limestone and grapefruit finish, brings up some earthiness. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon, lime and grapefruit, hints of figs and yellow plums; leafy, slightly grassy, a bit saline; very dry, crisp and lively with bright acidity and limestone minerality; nothing complicated but tasty and delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Unbeatable Bargain.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; grapefruit and lime peel, spiced pear, jasmine and lilac; pert, tart and sassy; lots of limestone and flint minerality; nicely balanced and integrated. Standard style but tasty. Very Good. About $18.
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Galerie Equitem Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 55% neutral French oak, 45 percent stainless steel. Pale gold color; lemongrass, celery seed, smoke, hint of cumin; lemon drop and lime peel, hints of jasmine and lilac; lovely almost powdery texture riven by bright acidity; quite vibrant and resonant; limestone-packed finish. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 51% neutral French oak, 49% stainless steel. Pale gold; delicate peach, pear and tangerine aromas, notes of lemongrass, grapefruit and honeysuckle; back note of guava; clean, bright acidity, lovely taut, lithe texture, vivid citrus and stone fruit flavors slightly subdued by limestone minerality. Through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. about $30.
Image from vivino.com.
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Niner Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.4% alc. 90% sauvignon blanc, 5% semillon, 5% sauvignon musque. Certified sustainable. Very pale straw color; honeysuckle and acacia, roasted lemon and spiced pear, touch of fig and fennel; very dry, earthy, almost loamy for a sauvignon blanc; dense, vibrant, resonant; unusually intense style. Very Good+. About $22.
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Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Potter Valley, Mendocino County. 14% alc. (Organic) Pale gold; subtle, supple, mildly grassy and herbal — think hay and thyme — roasted lemon and grapefruit, hints of lime peel and spiced pear; very dry, with brisk acidity and a chalk/limestone finish; lovely presence and texture. Very Good+. About $18, representing Good Value.
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Pierre Cherrier et Fils Domaine de la Rossignole Cuvee Vieilles Vignes 2012, Sancerre, Loire Valley. 13% alc. Pale gold; quince and ginger, jasmine and lemon balm, grapefruit and lime peel, hints of smoke and limestone; very dry, dense and almost malleable, packed with chalk, flint and damp limestone; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of yellow plums and (faintly) sage and camellias; lovely complexity and dimension. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by The Country Vintners, Ashland, Va.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Pale gold; lemongrass and lime peel, roasted lemon; almond blossom and lemon balm; ginger and quince, yellow plum; piercing acidity and penetrating limestone minerality; exquisite balance between a soft, petal-like texture and dynamic leanness and litheness; finishes with grapefruit, pear skin and bitter almond; tremendous personality and presence. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Jean Reverdy et Fils La Reine Blanche 2013, Sancerre, Loire Valley. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; lime peel and roasted lemon with high notes of ginger and quince and a tinge of grapefruit; very dry, taut, vibrant, teems with chalk and limestone minerality; brings in hints of lilac and spiced pear; great balance and tone through the slightly austere mineral-packed finish. Through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Virginia. 12% alc. 150 cases. Pale gold; very delicate, subtle, delightfully wreathed with jasmine, peach, green grass and gooseberry; hedge and heather; back notes of cloves and crystallized ginger; quite dry, taut, bright and clean yet with an attractive element of moderate lushness and a spicy finish. Loveliness. Excellent. About $23.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13% alc. Very pale gold hue; typical NZ with its lime peel, celery seed, bell pepper, gooseberry and grapefruit snappiness but quite clean and well-balanced, nothing exaggerated; crisp, lively scintillating, a touch leafy and figgy; bright zippy finish. Irresistible personality. Excellent. About $18, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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The pinot noirs of Kosta Browne Winery regularly earn the highest ratings from reviewers for the big publications, an occurrence that brings a great deal of attention to these highly allocated wines. In fact, the winery’s waiting list comes with a two- to three-year wait for the “Appellation” wines and — I’m not kidding — a five- to six-year wait for the Single Vineyard wines, of which there may be up to 10 separate bottlings depending on the vintage. The idea for the winery was born in 1997 when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, then working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, decided to venture into winemaking. They began with a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, a used barrel and a surplus stemmer-crusher. In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello, from a family involved in commercial real estate and development, as the business end of the enterprise; through the Costello family, the partnership gained contacts, contracts and management acumen. Browne is executive winemaker, with assistant winemakers Jeremiah Timm and Nico Cueva. Kosta Browne draws on vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs in Sonoma County and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County. There is no tasting room, and the winery in Sebastopol is closed to the public.

Under consideration today are two of Kosta Browne’s Appellation wines, the One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, in this series dedicated to the examination of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer. These wines were samples for review.
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The Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is a blend of grapes derived from seven vineyards that total 12 different chardonnay clones, the notion being a sort of ideal balance of all the attributes those clones contribute to the wine. It’s named for the Gravenstein Hwy. 116 that cuts through the town of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley sub-appellation of Green Valley. This AVA is the coolest and foggiest vineyard area of Russian River Valley, situated in the southwest corner where the Pacific Ocean influence is readily apparent. When I tell My Readers that this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged 15 months in oak, they will respond, “Uh-oh, FK is not going to like this chardonnay.” I’ll admit, though, that I was surprised at how much I liked this wine, and while I don’t normally find words of praise for what I think of as the Bold California Style of Chardonnay, this example was little short of thrilling.

Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 was indeed barrel fermented, 93 percent, the other 7 percent being in concrete. The wine did age 15 months, but only in 41 percent new oak. The color is medium gold, and the aromas define this chardonnay as bold, bright and rich, with ripe, slightly caramelized pineapple, grapefruit and mango highlighted by notes of cloves, vanilla, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and — faintly — lime peel and flint. The wine is supple and boisterously fruity and spicy on the palate, with hints of creme brulee, roasted lemon and baked pear. This sensuous panoply is both abetted and balanced by clean, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. My favorite style of chardonnay? No, but certainly a model of the type that I found surprisingly poised, energetic and delicious. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $58.
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The Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, derives from three vineyards in the south of the Sonoma Coast AVA, lying straight in the path of the Petaluma Wind Gap that allows a distinct maritime influence, and one vineyard in the northwestern coastal area of the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with an almost transparent rim; the amazingly complex and layered nose offers a seamless amalgam of cloves and menthol, violets and rose hips, with hints of loam, briers and iodine bolstering macerated black and red cherries and currants with a touch of cranberry. On the palate? Imagine supernal satin infused with velvet through which vivid acidity cuts a swath and earthy graphite minerality stakes a supporting claim; the influence of oak and tannin, both feeling slightly sanded and dusty, gradually seeps in, providing firm foundation for spicy black and red fruit flavors that seem ripe and juicy yet spare, elegant, a bit exotic. I re-corked the wine and tried it eight hours later, at which time it had closed down a bit, becoming more reticent, quite dry, with emphasis on structure. Even the next day, now open for more than 24 hours, this pinot noir kept its integrity and balance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $64.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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