Russian River Valley


Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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BenchbreakChard_2
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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BenchbreakPinot_0
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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ECM305299
So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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ECM305300
And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Jordan Winery’s decision, all these years, to maintain a focus on only two wines — chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon — is one that I wish more producers would follow. Often I feel that Jordan-Winery-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-2014-WebDetailwineries try to be all things to all consumers, dividing their attention and efforts into too many products at myriad levels of intent and price. That said, winemaker Rob Davis made a change in how the Jordan Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, was treated in the winery. While the 2013 version, for example, aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — this present release was barrel-fermented 60 percent in stainless steel tanks and 40 percent in new French oak, aged five and a half months in all new French oak and went through 30 percent ML. The result is a wine that is moderately richer and more full-bodied than the chardonnays from Jordan that I tasted in the past, while it retains the emphasis on elegance, purity and intensity. The color is brilliant medium straw-gold; classic aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit open to bare hints of mango, quince and ginger and, after a few minutes airing, to beguiling scents of honeysuckle and lilac. Supple and lithe, staying on the safe side of lushness, the wine displays a structure defined by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone element, resulting in very attractive heft and substance on the palate, all while delivering tasty and spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a whiff of gun-flint and lavender emerges, as the finish concludes with a teasing sense of crystalline minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with seared salmon or swordfish, grilled trout with capers and brown butter or seafood risottos. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
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2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
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cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
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2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
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gp_pf_pinot_noir_front_label
Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
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grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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KRUG_FR_HM_11 5006
Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
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tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
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Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
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Here’s a chardonnay that toes the line between richness and elegance with thrilling deftness. The Benovia Winery Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, derives mainly from the winery’s benoviaMartaella Estate Vineyard. It’s barrel-fermented, with indigenous yeasts, and aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Mike Sullivan. The color is a pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; it’s a chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, offering aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and crystallized ginger, with a hint of the tropical, a touch of musk, and notes of lilac and heather. Nothing overblown or strident here, nor creamy or toasty, as in so many chardonnays from Russian River, yet the wine’s balance and integrity hinge on pinpoint focus and steely resolve, taking a risk with the integration of lushness and limestone spareness; the oak is like a whisper along the wine’s arc of bright acidity and mineral structure. On the palate, you feel subtle elements of figs, spiced pear and lemon curd, a bit of dusty leafiness, and then a finish that brings in some rigor of grapefruit pith and flint. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,580 cases. We drank this bottle last night as accompaniment to seared salmon with a harissa crust and fingerling potatoes, split, tossed in olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder, browned in a cast-iron skillet, then roasted in a 500-degree oven. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. The label image is one vintage behind.

I know that some of My Readers are thinking, “Um, F.K., why are you telling us about pinot noirs from 2012? Haven’t these wineries released their 2013s? Aren’t you, like, a little behind the times here?” Laggard, yes, but trying to catch up. And besides, many of these pinots from 2012 still have a retail presence around the country, in physical stores and online. Where you can find them, buy them, because at a bit more than three years after harvest, some of these pinot noirs are drinking beautifully and will continue to do so for four to six more years. To clarify matters, I didn’t just taste these wines; they have been in my notebooks in jottings that go back to last Spring. I am not behind in the experience but in the organizing and publishing. I offer, then, brief reviews of 18 wines that range geographically from Mendocino County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical, historical, geological and personal information for the sake of incisive but heart-felt reviews meant to tease your taste-buds and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review.
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FC anderson
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; a finely meshed web of smoky black and red cherries and currants (a bit macerated and roasted), briers and loam, lavender and rose petals; bright acidity, moderately sleek and satiny texture, with supporting slightly dusty tannins and integrated oak; the spice element burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $30.
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FC middleridge_pinot_noir_2012
Ferrari-Carano Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium ruby color, slight fading to magenta; smoky and spicy black and red cherries; dust, graphite and loam; bare hints of lavender and violets; very dry, with leathery tannins and dominating oak that feels a bit sanded and polished; could use more balance, meaning less oak. Now through 2017 or ’19. Very Good. About $NA.
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FC sky-high2012
Ferrari-Carano Sky High Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino Ridge. 14.5% alc. 700 cases. Medium ruby-meganta hue; intense and concentrated, with a focus on black and red cherries and currants permeated by graphite and loam and a trailing edge of black pepper, cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; this is deep, rich and spicy on the palate, more velvety than satiny or silky; lithe, supple, a little muscular, with a real mineral edge and acid cut. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; intoxicating bouquet of cranberry, blueberry and plums permeated by rhubarb, lavender and violets, cloves, iodine and brambles with a touch of sandalwood; marvelously svelte, sleek and supple texture enlivened by bright acidity and a subtle graphite accent. Delicious and delightful but with some depth. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_Hallberg_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color; this single-vineyard pinot noir resembles its regional cousin mentioned directly above but with the difference of marked intensity and concentration; rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, sassafras and beet-root; briers and brambles and a touch of loamy earthiness; very sleek and satiny but with a peppery rasp; the spicy element builds, as do the slightly dusty, graphite-tinged tannins; keen acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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GB pinot
Gundlach-Bundschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; cranberry, rhubarb, pomegranate; cloves, rose petals, lilac; a lovely mid-palate, with a dusty silky texture, slightly earthy with notes of briers, underbrush and loam, though paradoxically, the earthy element grows while the finish falls a bit short. Not quite a success. Very Good. About $39.
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kendall_jackson_estate_outland_LRG
Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; a powerful expression of the grape, delivering notes of iodine and iron, savory black plums, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cloves, white pepper and loam; a large-framed pinot, dry, polished, a bit chiseled in its graphite minerality, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is focused and a bit austere. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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lazy
Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. (Owned by Don and Rhoda Carano.) 257 cases. A cherry-berry color for a cherry-berry pinot noir, all black and red with touches of rhubarb, cranberry, lavender and loam and hints of briers, brambles and underbrush; dense and almost chewy, tending toward the heavier satin drape; lively and dynamic, with vibrant acidity supporting a dry, foresty structure and finish. Another fairly lithe and muscular pinot noir. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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macmurray
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, meaty and fleshy; black cherries and plums steeped in cloves and oolong tea; an earthy and loamy pinot noir, satiny in texture but feeling slightly roughened and sanded around its tannic edges. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $28.
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Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. From R. Buoncristiani Vineyard. 305 cases. Transparent orestano pnmedium ruby hue with a lighter, ethereal rim; dried red and black cherries and potpourri; deceptively unextracted — the mild color and its blithe footfall on the palate — yet displaying notable intensity and rootiness; hints of orange peel and black tea, mocha and tobacco; gains power and grip while not losing hold of elegance and proportion; lithe, not clingy or drapy; acidity plows a furrow on the palate. One of my favorite pinot noirs from tasting over the past six months. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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dolan pn
Paul Dolan Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent mulberry-magenta color; black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, cinnamon, touches of allspice and cola; the tannins expand, fairly dusty and leathery, and the oak comes up too, dominating the wine from mid-palate back through the finish. Could use more balance and integration. Very Good. About $30.
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Patz & Hall Burnside Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 413 cases. Beautiful transparent patz hall pn burnsidemedium ruby/mulberry hue; spiced and macerated and slightly fleshy red and black cherries and plums highlighted by notes of cloves, rhubarb, rose petals and sandalwood; a lovely, supple silky texture; quite dry, and after a few minutes in the glass, you feel the tannin and oak come up, not formidably but definitely there; still a display of exquisite balance and proportion. Now through 2017 to 2019. Excellent. About $75.
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patz chenoweth
Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. 871 cases. Dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; a pinot cast in the dark shades of black cherries, currants and plums, with notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of sandalwood; dense and substantial, supernal in its silky/satiny character; brings in touches of tobacco, smoke and briers. Immensely appealing. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $60.
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Saxon Brown Glass House Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; exotic, fleshy, even a bit — gulp! — sexy; cloves, sandalwood, allspice, sassafras; black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry; fills the mouth and strokes the palate in a satiny profusion, but you feel the burgeoning rigor of slightly dusty tannins and polished oak in the depths; along with bright acidity and a tinge of loam. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Stemmler Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby-magenta color; black and red cherries, mulberries and cranberries, cloves and cola, plum dust, notes of briers and brambles, loam and graphite; a dark and spicy pinot noir, highlighted by touches of lavender and potpourri and characterized by a mouth-filling presence and a draping of supple satin on the palate; long, lithe, muscular. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44.
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Stemmler Estate Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. 873 cases. Yes, this is RS_11nugent_frontreaching back pretty damned far, but so be it. Transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; roots and branches, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini and loam; sweet and smoky and ripe black and red cherries and currants offering a distinct aura of lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; supple, lithe and sinewy, with dusty, slightly leathery tannins and a finish packed with plums, flint-like minerality and slightly burnished oak. A big deal pinot for those who desire big deal wines, which I generally don’t, but I would certainly drink this one again. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $44.
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Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.6% alc. Transparent and ethereal ruby-cranberry hue; red and black currants, cranberries and mulberries; cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, notes of loam and leather, smoke and brambles; opens to a tinge of tobacco and black pepper; a very satiny texture enfolds the palate yet the wine feels light on its feet, fleet and dynamic; even the moderate tannins and hint of graphite minerality seem blithe and spontaneous. A lovely pinot noir. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $60.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter rim; full-blown spicy, floral and fruity pinot noir, offering an array of black currants, cherries and raspberries etched with cloves and sassafras and notes of rich loam; dense and super-satiny, with deep dimensions and layers of spice, black fruit, vibrant acidity and fairly firm tannins bolstered by a graphite-flinty mineral element. Just terrific. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.
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When I posted last week’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, devoted to catching up on reviews of pinot noir wines from California, William Allen replied on Facebook, “Lots of Pinots — time to be Rhônely.” Allen happens to make tiny quantities of wines from Rhône Valley grape varieties under the Two Shepherds label in Sonoma County. In honor of his response, today I offer brief reviews of nine wines made from such Rhône grapes as syrah, grenache and mourvedre, including one from Two Shepherds that I should have mentioned months ago, as well as several others from California, one from Washington state, two from the southern Rhône Valley and two from Australia, where the syrah grape is called shiraz. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew reams of technical, historical, geological and personnel information in favor of incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. With duly noted exceptions, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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beaume
Balma Venitia La Chapelle Notre Dame d’Aubune 2012, Beaumes de Venise. 14.5% alc. Grenache, syrah, cinsault. Dark ruby-purple; exuberant nose of black currants and black raspberries, violets and lavender; a wine of woodsy tendrils, filigrees and roots, with lip-smacking acidity and a savory note of grilled bread and mushrooms; an aura of clean linen snapping in a fresh breeze; fairly dense and chewy, with polished, slightly dusty tannins and a a sleek lithe texture. A joy to drink, now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $25, a local purchase.
William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
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bh14occultumbottle
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2014, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 14% alc. Predominantly syrah, with grenache and carignan. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; violets and loam, fresh black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry jam; lavender and licorice, smoke and graphite, notes of wet fur, tapenade and underbrush; lithe, supple and sinewy, quite tasty and refreshing but dense with dusty, slightly velvety tannins. A serious wine that also delights and charms. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Cadaretta Windthrow 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.8% alc. Syrah 56%, grenache 25%, mourvèdre 19%. 130 cadarettacases. Deep ruby-purple, motor-oil opaque, with a thermo-magenta rim; earth and loam, briers and brambles, lavender and leather and wet dog; intense and concentrated notes of blackberry, blueberry and plum; a sense of immersive and slightly austere tannins but finely honed and sifted; the oak comes up from mid-palate back providing a woodsy-spicy framework. Tremendous presence and character. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2025 to ’27. Excellent. About $ .
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couron
Domaine de Couron 2012, Côtes du Rhône. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 40% syrah. Dark ruby-garnet; notes of sage and thyme, ripe and macerated black and red currants and cherries; a direct appeal of fruit and structure with pleasing heft and presence; slightly briery tannins, with a hint of leather and loam and a faint floral overtone. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $14, a local purchase.
Imported by Chloé Wines, Seattle, Wash.
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Heintz_syrah
Charles Heintz Winery Roxy Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 150 cases (or 98 cases depending on if you believe the label or the website). Very dark ruby-purple with a glowing violet rim; a beautiful bosky-meadowy bouquet of roses and wild strawberries, heather and blueberries with hints of mint, tobacco and loam; sleek, lithe, silky texture enveloped by moderate tannins and enlivened by bright acidity; develops some rasp and cut in the glass, with notes of white pepper, briers, brambles and underbrush. A blithe version of the grape. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $46.
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grenache
Quivira Vineyards Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 14.7% alc. Certified bio-dynamic. Entrancing ruby-crimson hue with a transparent rim; cloves, orange rind, black tea; cedar and pine; raspberry and black currant with a touch of pomegranate and cranberry; lean and lithe, brambly and a little raspy; vibrant acidity that plows a furrow on the palate; lovely heft and tone, nicely meshed tannins and oak; nothing opulent here, you feel the structure as a defining principle. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $35. A local purchase.
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Two Shepherds Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 60 cases. Opaque ruby-magenta with 2012_Syrah_front_COLAa pale rim; fleshy and meaty; ripe and slightly roasted blackberries, black currants and plums; cloves, fruitcake, oolong tea; firm, dusty tannins under a silky smooth texture that seduces the palate; deeply spicy black fruit flavors infused with graphite and lavender, powered by fleet acidity; the finish chiseled, sleek, polished and not austere. Truly lovely syrah, with power and elegance. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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wakefield jaraman
Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley & McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; mint and iodine, black and red cherries and raspberries with a touch of thyme and tapenade; a steel thread of graphite runs through it; cloves, violets and an exotic hint of sandalwood; sleek, supple texture but slightly shaggy, dusty tannins dominate. Now through 2013 to ’25. Excellent. About $30.
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wakefield andrewsWakefield St. Andrews Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; black and red raspberries and currants threaded by mint and iodine, graphite and a rooty-branchy-loamy element; notes of tobacco and cedar emerge; quite flavorful, tasty ripe and slightly spicy berries, but plenty of acidity for liveliness and dusty, flint-laced tannins for structure. Now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes — a day early, but we don’t care, do we? — continues with the Catching Up on California Pinot Noir theme but focusing on three wineries: Donum Estate, FEL Wines and Lutum Wines. I depart from my usual procedure today and offer a bit more detail about winemaking and about the wines than I usually do in these posts. Still, as I typically inform My Readers, the Weekend Wine Notes are not intended to provide scads of information about history, geography, personalities and technical data. The idea is to inspire your interest and whet your palates. These wines were samples for review.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta, almost beet-red; aromas of ripe black and red currants and plums are intense and concentrated, though opening to notes of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a trace of the latter’s slightly astringent, earthy quality. Velvety and vigorous tannins feel imbued with graphite and loam, and the black and red berry flavors are deeply spicy and rather rigorously proportioned. 14.7 percent alcohol. This could use a bit more charm. Now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 732 cases. Very Good+. About $72.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Sonoma County. The aging regimen was 11 months in French oak, 59 percent new barrels. In contrast to the color of the previous wine, this one offers a transparent medium ruby hue; it’s a warm and spicy pinot noir that builds inextricable layers of red cherries, cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and cranberry, with hints of earthy moss and mushrooms. The texture is dense and chewy, superbly satiny and flowing, seeming to drape the palate, while elements of graphite-tinged minerality and bright acidity keep the wine honest and true to scale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely balance and integration. Production was 766 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Ten Oaks Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. Of this quartet of pinot noir wines from Donum Estate, this is the one that captured my heart. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to light mulberry at the rim; ethereal notes of cola, cloves and beetroot wrap around scents of ripe black cherries and raspberries that reveal traces of smoke and cranberries, rose petals and lavender; Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. Delicacy and elegance, robustness and vivacity balance deftly here, though while the texture is suavely silky and almost succulent, dry, dusty tannins provide ballast. Alcohol content is a pleasingly low 13.4 percent. An exquisite pinot noir with the proper amount of tension and resolution. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. Another deceptively light and lithesome pinot noir that turns out to be muscular and sinewy. The color is a graceful transparent ruby-magenta; notes of black and red cherries are flush with hints of sassafras, tar and black tea, while a few minutes in the glass bring in an intensely floral quality of violets and roses. Though the wine’s structure is powerful and drawn out through the dynamic finish, the weight on the palate feels fleet and refined. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $90.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. This is the “regular” bottling from this winery, as distinguished from the Savoy single-vineyard offering remarked upon below. The color is a beguiling transparent medium ruby; aromas of sandalwood and sassafras, cloves and tobacco leaf, pomegranate and cranberry serve as exotic highlights to notes of black and red cherries and currants that deepen to a layer of underbrush and loam. This pinot noir displays lovely limpidity, suppleness and lightness of being, but not without elements of tannic muscle and mineral power. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,347 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. The color is dark ruby shading to a purple-magenta rim; the wine delivers a fairly rigorous structure, with slightly dusty tannins and acidity that plows a furrow on the palate, but, withal, it’s a beautifully balanced and integrated pinot noir that exudes tons of confidence and elan. Scents and flavors of red and black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and pomegranate, while a super satiny and supple texture bathes the taste-buds in luxury; the grace of pinpoint graphite minerality saves ther wine from being too opulent. The wine aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 59% of which were new. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 605 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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Lutum Wines La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. The color is pale ruby-magenta with a very delicate rim; it’s a wine of quicksilver effects and changeability, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cherries and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras strung like twinkling lights on lines of loam, underbrush, heather and leather and oolong tea; for all its ethereal character, however, this pinot noir delivers plenty of tannic power and acid structure for liveliness and longevity, as well as a silky-satiny texture that feels like a scarf draping a warm shoulder. I loved it. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley. The color is a ravishing pale ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; the wine is intense, rich and focused, driven by bright acidity and chiseled flint-like minerality, yet open and generous with its black cherry, currant and plum fruit and its exotic touches of rhubarb, sassafras, sandalwood and lilac. The wine is quite dry, permeated by elements of briers and brambles, loam and dusty, earthy tannins, but it never loses a grip on its inner delicacy and buoyancy. 13.42 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Here’s a darker pinot noir, with a dark to medium ruby hue, high-toned intensity and concentration and lip-smacking acidity. Scents and flavors of ripe and smoky black cherries, currants and plums unfold to hints of cloves, lavender and violets, cranberry, pomegranate and loam; passing moments develop an elusive strain of red currant and sour cherry. This is a richly detailed and very dry pinot noir whose dimensions are framed by dusky tannins and a bosky briery and brambly character. 14.13 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
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Well, damn it, this is sort of embarrassing. I have so many pinot noirs from California to catch up on reviewing that I have to divide the effort into two parts. Perhaps three. As usual in the Weekend Wines Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical information for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, designed to tease your interest and whet your palate.
These 12 examples, all samples for review, are from vintages 2012 and 2013. The order is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy.
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anaba
Anaba Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. A glowing medium ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; a cool and mineral-laden pinot noir that features spiced and macerated black and red cherries with hints of loam, briers and brambles; incisive acidity and graphite minerality, notes of mint and iodine and a savory fleshy quality; lots of tone and subtle shape, beautifully balanced and integrated. Excellent. About $34.
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ferrari pn
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. …% alc. Limpid medium ruby color; the typical range of smoky black cherry, currant and plum scents and flavors filigreed with notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, yet couched in a texture of supernal silky suppleness and deepening to a dark, rooty loamy layer bolstered by mildy dusty tannins and bright acidity; displays more power than elegance, but certainly plumbs the depths of the grape. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Ineffable medium ruby hue shading to light mulberry; an elevating and enticing bouquet: macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of slightly briery raspberry and notes of cloves and sassafras, smoke, lavender and heather; super supple and satiny; dusty tannins infused with underbrush and moss; pulls up roots and branches and wild floral elements; quite dry but seductive in every sense. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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HeadHigh_2013_SCPinotNoir_Label
Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby, brick-red at the rim; a subdued manner that features pert acidity and fairly tart red berry fruit, though highlighted by notes of smoke and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate; it becomes deeper and broader in the glass, after 30 or 40 minutes, building a dimension of blue plums, blueberries and graphite, becoming more intense and vibrant. A lovely pinot noir, ephemeral yet with sleek backbone, for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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Heintz_pinot
Heintz Ranch Swan Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. 200 cases. Lovely limpid medium ruby color; cherries, cranberries and rhubarb; cloves and tobacco, sandalwood and loam; supple and satiny texture, feels generous on the palate yet enlivened by clean acidity and graphite-tinged minerality; dried spice and wild flowers emerge after a few minutes in the glass. Very attractive personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $48.
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follette
La Follette Pinot Noir 2013, North Coast. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby fading to a lighter magenta; remarkable depth and dimension for the price; black cherry, cranberry and cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; quite intense and pure, with a lithe and supple texture; richness and density cut by vibrant acidity; brings in touches of smoke and dried spices, briers and loam, with dry, dusty tannins. Now through 2017 or ’18 If you’re looking for a house pinot noir, this is it. Excellent. About $20, representing Fine Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. This Gallo brand used to be called MacMurray Ranch and sported an altogether more pleasing label than the new generic model, but nobody asked me. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; black raspberries and currants with hints of plums, cloves and sassafras; very satiny and supple, with appealing substance on the palate; savory, and with some elements of briers and brambles and slightly dusty tannins and graphite. A nice rendition. Very Good+. About $23.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.4% alc. 1,211 cases. Dark ruby shading Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2013to lighter ruby and a transparent magenta rim; ravishing bouquet: cloves and sandalwood, smoky black cherries and plums, rose petals and lavender; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of Necco wafer, raspberry jam, leather and violets; beautifully lithe and supple on the palate, spicy and savory, with lovely weight and heft; dry and loamy, dense and fairly tannic in a dusty, graphite-laden fashion; all melded by fleet acidity and deftly handled oak. A real beauty; drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $58.
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Paul Hobbs CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby hue; pure fresh black crossbarnraspberry and plum infused with cloves and sassafras and a hint of leather and loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of red currants and cherries; smoky and dusty, with plenty of stuffing, though tannins are supple and manageable; keen acidity cuts a furrow on the palate. Very attractive, for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $35.
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Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta with a pale rim; patza pure and intense expression of lightly macerated red raspberries and cherries with a touch of blue plum; cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, hints of graphite and loam; super satiny, spicy, smoky and savory, the red berry flavors a bit fleshy, all directed by a stern finger of dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. a joy to drink. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $70.
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strong
Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Beguiling transparent ruby hue shading to a rim of delicate invisibility; bursting with notes of sassafras, cloves, pomegranate and cranberry opening to smoky black cherries and currants; lovely purity and intensity, with a sleek silky texture, abundant acidity and slightly briery tannins, all at the service of bright yet slightly loamy cherry-berry flavors. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Fewer than 100 cases. Dark ruby hue at the center shading to medium ruby-magenta at the transparent rim; dusty plums and red currants, loam, cloves and allspice, with a tantalizing note of the latter’s fragrant woody astringency; iodine and graphite tending toward a granitic element, softened by a supple texture exquisitely poised between silky lushness and lithe muscularity; it feels married to the earth. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, or at least, say, until 2020 or ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
The wines of Saxon Brown are sold by allocation through a mailing list. Contact saxonbrown.com for information.
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One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Armida, Auteur and others.

Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines bill-600x880instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price III, a co-founder of TPG Capital (image at right), which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He purchased the well-known Gap’s Crown Vineyard in 2013.

Price’s Three Sticks label — named for his old surfing nickname — draws grapes from Durell as well as from other vineyards in Sonoma County and down to Santa Barbara County. These 2013s were made by Don Van Staaveren, who is now winemaker emeritus, having handed his former duties to director of winemaking Bob Cabral (former winemaker at Williams Selyam), associate winemaker Ryan Prichard and assistant winemaker Ashley Holland.

These wines were samples for review.
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13Chardonnay_Durell
I’m sorry to begin this series of reviews on a discouraging note, but the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, received the full in-house treatment, and it shows. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged for 15 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, and undergoing complete malolactic fermentation, the wine came out bold, bright and brassy, dense and lush to the point of being viscous, bursting with candied and caramelized citrus and stone-fruit flavors, stridently spicy, cloying and creamy and lacking the saving grace of minerality. It is my understanding that some people like this overdone, exaggerated character in chardonnay, but not me. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 713 cases. Not recommended. About $50.

Now, on to more pleasant matters.
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12_OriginChardonnay_750-215x700-1-copy
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, fermented 28 days in concrete eggs and aged for 12 months, unusually, completely in stainless steel. No oak for this baby! It did not go through malolactic fermentation, the transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamy lactic (“milk-like’) acid that can occur during barrel aging. The color is medium gold, and the first impression is of a bold, forthright but not flamboyant chardonnay that features quite spicy lemon and peach scents and flavors with notes of ripe and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all permeated by elements of cloves, quince and ginger. It’s a deep, almost rooty chardonnay with structure to burn and a smoky, cigarette paper character that lends depth and dimension. Crystalline acidity cuts through a supple texture and rich stone-fruit flavors enlivened by a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 409 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48. One of my favorite chardonnays produced in California.
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12_OneSkyChardonnay-292x10241
Unlike its stablemate Origin Chardonnay mentioned just above, the Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, ferments in French oak barrels and ages in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, for 15 months; it undergoes 100 percent malolactic. Sometimes that full oak treatment works out fine, thank you very much, but it has to be thoughtful and finely balanced. The color is bright, brassy gold to match the wine’s bright, brassy aromas and flavors. Lots of volume here, lots of structure and dimension, personality and character. Spiced and macerated grapefruit and pineapple have a slightly floral overlay, while the wine coats the mouth with ripe and slightly dusty citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of toffee and lightly candied and caramelized lemons, peaches and grapefruit. While the description of this panoply of sensual delights may sound overwhelming, the wine is actually deftly controlled and engaging, gliding over the palate with confidence and some fancy footwork. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 274 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50.
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2012-RRV-PN_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent rim; transporting and exotic notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb lend highlights to a macerated compote of cranberries and red and black cherries; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, lavender and heather. The texture is supremely satiny, with a luxurious drape on the palate that’s balanced by brisk acidity, slightly dusty tannins and touches of graphite and shale minerality, all at the service of tasty, spicy red and black fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 573 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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2012-Sta-Rita-PN-James_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills, gathers grapes from three familiar vineyards in this region of Santa Barbara County: Burning Creek, La Rinconada and (perhaps the best-known) Sanford & Benedict. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an irresistible limpid medium ruby that shades to transparent at the rim; you could call this wine “cherries, cherries, cherries,” though the heady influence of black and red raspberries and currants is undeniable, along with notes of cloves and sassafras, graphite and lavender; a few moments in the glass pull up hints of pomegranate and rhubarb. It’s a supple, sleek and satiny pinot noir, whose slightly dusty tannins, clean acidity and burnished oak keep it on the sane side of succulence, though let’s admit that it’s really tasty, too. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2013. Excellent. About $60.
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13Pinot_Durell
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, but you don’t feel the oak influence until the finish, where the wood element feels sanded and burnished. The color is transparent medium ruby; aromas of sassafras and cloves, black and red cherries and currants are permeated by hints of loam and an autumnal briery-brambly quality, like some ancient root-like brew; give it a few minutes and it dredges up a mysterious and seductive floral tone, as if dried violets and lilacs had been steeped in oolong tea. It’s all quite extraordinary. In the mouth, well, taut acidity cuts a swath on the palate, leading the way for a texture that feels both delicate and tense, poignant and dynamic; deeply spiced red and black fruit flavors seem suspended in a foundation of lightly dusted tannins and an increasing lithic, graphite character. Altogether a beautiful performance, exquisitely balanced, tensile with power. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 585 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Exceptional. About $65.
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13_GapsCrownPinot
The Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, received the same oak regimen as the Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir ’13 mentioned just above, and for whatever reason, you feel the oak more in this wine, a persistent presence from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, this is pinot noir of fine detail and dimension, offering a light transparent ruby-magenta hue and a meaty, fleshy, roasted bouquet that pulls up fathoms of spice in the juicy, peppery red and black fruit scents. Again, the wine hints at some rooty, loamy tea steeped in bark and mushrooms, with an allusive and tantalizing floral element. Flavors of very ripe, sweet cherries and currants open to touches of cranberry and rhubarb, while a supple lithe texture runs like warm satin across the tongue. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 329 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $65.
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We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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14537_ARG-NHRS-13-F_1
Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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clemens-busch-vom-grauen-schiefer-riesling-trocken-mosel-germany-10529188
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL-Logo_850x500
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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loidana-nueva-imagen-def_0_0
Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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smith madrone 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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