Russian River Valley


The good news is that the Iron Horse Gratitude Brut Rosé 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is superb. Also good news is that $5 from each bottle sold will go to The Redwood Empire Food Bank, which is providing critical supplies to evacuation centers and shelters in Sonoma County for people displaced by the recent devastating wild-fires, while working to ensure that those who needed food assistance before the fires are still able to receive help. It’s a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, resulting in an entrancing hue of very pale coral-smoky topaz, enlivened by a fervent upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. The first impression is of pure strawberry, a notion quickly subsumed by delicate notes of macerated peaches and spiced pears, highlighted by apple skin, blood orange and seashell and limestone minerality; in the background blossoms a trace of fresh-baked brioche. The lithe dynamic mineral element dominates the palate along with crystalline acidity for raciness and verve; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lime peel and almond skin. The whole package is dry, spare and elegant, adding up to the best brut rosé sparkling wine I have tasted this year. 13.5 percent alcohol. Proprietor of Iron Horse is Joy Sterling; winemaker is David Munksgard. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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I don’t often feature chardonnays made in California in the Wine of the Day series because basically it’s difficult to find examples that aren’t overblown with strident spice, rampant tropical fruit and strenuous oak. When I find one that matches my idea of what chardonnay should be, however, I will man the barricades for it. Such a one is the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley. David Ramey is one of the busiest people in the Golden State’s wine industry, overseeing his own roster of mainly single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah under his primary label, but also managing a recently launched second label, Sidebar, as well as consulting for a wide range of top producers. It requires a pinpoint sense of attention to detail to be able to carry off such a spectrum of activity and responsibility. The Ramey Chardonnay 2014, RRV, falls under the winery’s Appellation series that features wines made from grapes derived from vineyards including several that Ramey uses for his single-vineyard bottlings. The wine fermented by natural yeasts and underwent full malolactic and bâtonnage, that is, stirring of the lees while in barrel; it aged 12 months in French oak, only 13 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, a subtle shaping. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole package feels like a fine sifting of fruit, spice, oak and minerals, animated by bright, persistent acidity. Scents of apple peel, pineapple and grapefruit open to smoky notes of roasted lemon, cloves and lemon balm, over layers of slightly dusty limestone. Notably clean and dry, this is one lithe and chiseled chardonnay that features ripe, spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors washed by a texture that’s like pulverized flint; the sense of deftness combined with heft is remarkably gratifying on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. At close to three years old, this chardonnay is drinking beautifully and will continue to do so through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

This survey of 12 rosé wines began as a Weekend Wine Notes post, but here it is, Wednesday, hardy the weekend at all, so I’m keeping the usual Weekend Wine Notes format but dropping that designation. We touch many styles of rosé wine amid this roster as well as many far-flung geographical regions. The grapes involved are also of broad variety, including merlot, pinot noir, tempranillo, grenache, syrah and even cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. While a few of these rosés could tolerate aging beyond this calendar year, all are really intended for immediate appeal and consumption, whether your choice of venue is the porch, the patio, by poolside or on a picnic or just standing around the kitchen while someone prepares a light Spring or Summer meal. Prices range from about $10 to $28, so nothing outlandlish. The point is to enjoy, while consuming in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, California. 12.5% alc. A lovely pink-melon-coral hue; notes of slightly candied strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate; a kind of chalk-warm, dusty roof-tiles minerality; just a touch of dried herbs. Simple, direct and tasty; a crowd-pleaser for sure. Very Good. About $13.
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Domaine Bila-Haut Les Vignes Rosé 2016, Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 78% grenache, 14% cinsault, 8% syrah. Lovely pale pink hue with a slight coral cast; very delicate notes of strawberry and blood orange, cloves and seashell; undertones of red currants, meadow flowers and heather, buoyed on a lithe crisp texture that’s silky smooth and a chiseled foundation of chalk and flint; the finish brings in a touch of peach. One could happily drink this throughout the Summer. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Sera Wine Imports, New York.
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Bridge Lane Rosé 2016, New York State. A label from Long Island’s Lieb Cellars. 11.9% alc. 49% cabernet franc, 29% merlot, 16% malbec, 4% pinot noir, 2% petit verdot. Very pale onion skin hue; quite dry and spare, with nuances of strawberry and melon, peach and pink grapefruit; crisp acidity keeps it lively and appealing, over an undercurrent of clean limestone minerality. Very Good. About $18. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party on, rascals.
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campuget
Chateau de Campuget Tradition Rosé 2016, Costières de Nîmes. 13% alc. 70% syrah, 30% grenache. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; delicately touched with red currants and raspberries, a hint of orange zest and rose petals; quite dry but pleasingly ripe, slightly stony, like warm roof tiles, brisk acidity for crispness and animation, grapefruit and limestone finish. Very Good+. A Steal at about $10.
Imported by Dreyfus & Ashby, New York.
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grgich rose
Grgich Hills Estate Rosé 2016, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. The first rosé from this venerable winery. 45% merlot, 31% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, to which Bordeaux grape varieties are blended 8% zinfandel and 1% gewurztraminer. A riveting deep salmon-magenta hue; strawberry, tomato skin, rose petals and raspberry leaf; spicy and savory, with lip-smacking crystalline acidity and an intriguing warm brick-damp dust sense of minerality; blood orange, Earl Gray tea and heather dominate from mid-palate through the finish. A terrific and highly individual initial effort. Excellent. About $25.
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illahe rose
Illahe Vineyards Tempranillo Rosé 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12% alc. 500 cases. Very very pale onion skin hue; very clean and dry, crisp and spare; delicate, indeed, ephemeral notes of strawberry and raspberry, something citrus, like orange rind and lime peel; notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; quite sleek and subtle, propelled by crisp acidity and a chiseled limestone-flint edge. Very Good+. About $17.
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Maculan Costadolio 2016, Breganza Rosato. 12.5% alc. 100% merlot. Production was 1,000 cases. Pale coral-onion skin hue; very spare and delicate, animated by spanking-clean acidity; hints of dried red raspberries and currants, with a note of melon and dried herbs; a little brushy and heather-ish; crisp limestone and flint minerality, slightly saline finish. Super attractive without being pushy. Very Good+. About $15.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York
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Martin Ray Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale copper-salmon color; strawberry, raspberry and orange rind; a brushing of dried thyme, a light touch of dust and graphite; ripe and tasty but spare and reticent; attractive lithe supple texture. Very Good+. About $25.
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Stewart Cellars Rosé 2016, Sonoma Mountain. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Very pale watermelon pink; really delicate and ethereal notes of Stewart_Logo (1)raspberry, rose petal, pink grapefruit and blood orange; undertones of watermelon, cloves and Earl Gray tea; quite dry, spare yet, paradoxically and delightfully, lush on the palate, animated by crisp acidity and dusty seashell minerality; elegant, charming, beautifully structured. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $28.
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Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle Rosé Table Wine 2016, Long Island, N.Y. 12.2% alc. A unique blend of 54% merlot, 24% chardonnay, 11% cabernet franc, 6% gewürztraminer, 4% riesling and 1% vignoles. Onion skin hue with a light copper tinge; sprightly, spicy and slightly peppery, with ineffable layers of smoke, melon, raspberry and grapefruit; super fresh and refreshing, with heft and body that flow blithely on the palate. Delicious. Excellent. About $24.
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tongue dancer rose'
Tongue Dancer Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Putnam Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 90 cases. Bright copper-coral color; an unusually savory and fleshy rose, lithe and supple on the palate, with scents and flavors of strawberries and raspberries, melon and cloves, pomegranate and wild thyme; a filigreed background of limestone and flint minerality and bracing salinity. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $25.
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angel
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2016,
Côtes de Provence. 13% alc. Grenache, rolle (vermentino) and cinsault. Whispering, indeed, from its very pale onion skin color, to its delicate hints of orange rind, strawberries and cloves, to its dry, spare, elegant texture: a rose of nods and nuances, except that all aspects are bound and energized by taut, vivid acidity and a limestone structure of lacy transparency; flows across the palate like ethereal peach nectar. Excellent. About $22.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
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As if David Ramey didn’t have enough to do, as proprietor of Ramey Wine Cellars, maker of single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, and as one of the most ubiquitous winery consultants in California, he recently launched Sidebar 2015-RFB-FrontCellars, the idea being to break out of the RWC mold to play with interesting grapes from Russian River Valley and lesser-known AVAs. I will eventually get around to five of the Sidebar offerings, but today, as Wine of the Day No. 259, I want to discuss the Sidebar Cellars Red Field Blend 2015, from the certified sustainable Alegria Vineyard in Russian River Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the grapes for this wine came from vines that were either 65 or 125 years old. The Sidebar Red Wine Blend 2015 is comprised of 80 percent zinfandel, 11 percent alicante and 9 percent petite sirah, fermented by native yeast and aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a lighter mulberry rim; aromas of blackberries, black currants and plums are wreathed with notes of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, with just a hint of lavender and blueberries, all framed both by immediate freshness and ripeness and knotty intensity and concentration. On the palate, the wine is dry, lively and focused, its pure black and blue fruit flavors inflected by boxwood and heather, loam and graphite and undertones of tannins that balance rigor with velvety plushness; an hour in the glass brings in elements of fruitcake and brandied raisins, while the chiseled finish is long and lithe. 14.5 percent alcohol. If you’re firing up the grill this weekend (or any day) and laying on the gridiron a leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary or pork chops rubbed with cumin, smoked paprika and Szechuan pepper or your version of barbecue ribs, this is the wine for you. Now through 2020 or ’21. Production was 1,200 cases. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
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BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
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fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
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The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
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Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
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New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
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Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
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The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the bernardus pnBernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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BLAIR-Delfina_Pinot_2013
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
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boenNobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a NewProofSheetV3transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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gary
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Pinot-Savoy-Anderson-ValleyAnderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
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head high pn
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s Morgan_Pinot_Noir_Twelve_Clones_2014_frontestate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
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The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color Morgan_Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2014_frontis dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
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Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am Morgan_label_Tondre_2014_frontnot disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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kali hart
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.
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Here’s a purpose-built rosé wine that lovers of the classic style don’t want to miss. By “purpose-built,” I mean that the Gary Farrell 15_ROSE_PRODUCT1Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, was not made as an after-thought or a quick decision to bleed-off some juice to help concentrate another red wine. The grapes were hand-harvested, from two Dutton Ranch vineyards in the Green Valley sub-appellation, specifically for this wine, at a point to keep the acidity vibrant, whole-cluster pressed and racked off to a stainless steel tank to ferment. After a few days, 40 percent of the juice was transferred to neutral French oak barrels for two weeks. After blending, the wine spent four months in stainless steel. The result is an ethereal rosé whose delicate nature is reflected in its beautiful pale coral-petal pink hue and its ethereal scents of strawberry, peach and blood orange wreathed with lilac and watermelon. This rosé displays lovely tensile strength, while bright acidity cleaves through a texture almost talc-like in softness; no push-over on the palate, though, the wine also embodies a line of slightly dusty river rocks and limestone minerality. The whole package is clean, refreshing and delightful, all permutations of its exquisite elegance. 13.2 percent alcohol. Perfect for Spring and Summer sipping with various sorts of patio and picnic fare — fried chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber and watercress sandwiches, shrimp and chicken salad. Winemaker for Garry Farrell Vineyards & Winery is Theresa Heredia. The eponymous founder of the winery sold it in 2004; it is now owned by The Vincraft Group. Production was 393 cases. Excellent. About $32, and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

Olema_PN (1)
If you can find a well-made, delicious and authentic Sonoma County pinot noir for $20, clasp it to thy bosom with gratitude and fervor. Such a one -tah-dah! — is the Olema Pinot Noir 2014, from Sonoma County but with generous contribution s from the more specific and pinot-friendly AVAs of Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. Olema is the second, less expensive label of Amici Cellars. The wine aged 12 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The color is a lovely, transparent medium ruby hue with a delicate, almost invisible rim; this is a clean and fresh pinot noir that offers an essential loamy underpinning as support for notes of rhubarb and sassafras, red cherries and smoky plums and just a hint of shy forest flowers. On the palate, the Olema Pinot Noir 2014 feels warm, spicy and inviting, dry, to be sure, but juicy with red and black fruit flavors highlighted by new leather, cloves and black pepper. The wine builds subtle layers in the glass, so after a few minutes, you notice elements of briers and brambles and graphite, all fixed in place by bright acidity and nuanced, slightly dusty minerality. 14.2 percent. A truly engaging pinot noir for drinking through 2018 with roasted chicken or coq au vin, smoked turkey, game birds and grilled leg of lamb. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

A rosé wine can be made in one of three ways. First, mix red and white wine, just a touch of red. Voila, it’s pink! Generally, this method is avoided in making still rosés, and in fact is primarily used in the production of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines. Second, and endless crushmost common, is maceration, in which the skins of red grapes macerate with the juice for a brief period, usually two to 20 hours, and then the juice is removed from the vats when the desired lightness or depth of hue and flavor is reached. (The color of red wine, whether medium ruby or motor-oil purple, derives from the skins; grape juice itself has no or little color.) Third is saignée, a French term meaning “to bleed.” The process involves siphoning or “bleeding off” some of the juice from the macerating tanks before it becomes too dark, a step that helps concentrate the “real” wine as well as produce a rosé. The rosé wine considered today was made by maceration of grapes grown especially for this wine, not as an after-thought or coincidental product bled off from a more important wine. The Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, was made from organic grapes grown in the winery’s Olivet Grange vineyard and picked in August last year. After a few months in stainless steel tanks, the wine was bottled on December 7, making it all of about six months old. The color is very pale petal pink; oh, this is a delicate and ethereal wreathing of strawberries, red currants and watermelon that opens to a fine web of honeysuckle and lilac, orange rind and grapefruit, all encompassed by a slightly earthy undertone of damp and slightly dusty tiles and river stones. Tensile strength emerges with the wine’s bright, lip-smacking acidity and mouth-watering juiciness and the contrast between its crisp nature and an almost lush texture. 11.9 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2017. Production was 672 cases, and it goes fast. A superior rosé wine that feels like a kiss from Spring and a caress from Summer. Exceptional. About $35.

A sample for review.

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