Russian River Valley


You could call this, if you were generous, and I know you are, an Early Weekend Wine Sips instead of what it is, a Way Late Weekend Wine Sips, but the weekend starts tomorrow, right, so everything is OK. Nous sommes tres eclectic today, as we touch several regions of California, as well as Chile, Portugal, Washington state and France’s renowned Bordeaux region. We are eclectic, too, in the various genres, styles and grape varieties featured here. Minimal attention to matters technical, historical, geographical and personal, the emphasis is these Weekend Wine sips being in instantaneous and incisive reviews designed to whet your interest as well as your palate. These were all samples for review. Enjoy! Drink well, but moderately! Have a great life…
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Meli Dry Riesling 2012, Maule Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Always one of our favorite rieslings, made from 60-year-old vines. Terrific personality; pale straw-gold color; peaches and pears, lychee and grapefruit, hints of petrol and honeysuckle; sleek with clean acidity and a flinty mineral quality, yet soft and ripe; citrus flavors infused with spice and steel; quite dry, a long flavorful finish tempered by taut slightly austere structure. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
___________________________________________________________________________________________

Six Degrees Pinot Noir 2011, California. 13.5% Alc. So, whatya want in a $14 pinot? Medium ruby color; pleasant and moderately pungent nose of red and black cherries and raspberries, notes of cola, cloves and rhubarb; attractive mildly satiny texture, undertones of briers and brambles; smooth, spicy finish. Drink up. Very Good. About $14.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quinta do Vallado Rosado 2012, Douro Valley, Portugal. 12.5% alc. 100% touriga nacional grapes. Pale pinkish-onion skin color; charming and rather chastening as well; dried strawberries and currants, hints of cloves and orange zest; lithe and stony, clean acidity cuts a swath; a few minutes in the glass unfold notes of rose petals and rosemary; finish aims straight through limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery “Highland” Chardonnay 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.2% alc. Medium straw-gold color; boldly ripe and fruity, boldly spicy, suave and sleek with notes of pineapple and grapefruit, lightly macerated peach; hints of quince and ginger; real abs of ripping acidity for structure, lithely wrapping a damp gravel mineral element; oak? yep, but subtle and supple; finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $27.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Durfort-Vivens 2006, Margaux, Bordeaux, France. 13% alc. 70% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot. (Second Growth in the 1855 Classification) Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy, meaty and spicy; black and red currants and raspberries; classic notes of cedar, tobacco and bay leaf, hint of pepper and black olive; dry, highly structured, grainy but polished tannins. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45 (up to $60 in some markets).
_______________________________________________________________________________________

Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2010, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 50% merlot. The “second” label of Chateau Lagrange. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; smoky, spicy, macerated black and red berry scents and flavors; deeply inflected with notes of cedar, thyme and graphite; deep, dry dusty tannins and an imperturbable granitic quality, best from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent potential. About $50 (but found as low as $35).
______________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Reserve Le Cigare Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco. 12.4% alc. 56% roussanne, 44% grenache blanc. 497 cases. Demeter-certified biodynamic. Pale gold color, hint of green highlights; beeswax indeed, dried honey, lightly spiced pears and peaches, touch of roasted hazelnuts, backnotes of straw, thyme and rosemary, with rosemary’s slight resinous quality; very dry, paradoxically poised between a generous, expansive nature and spare elegance; savory, saline, clean and breezy; roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors, all tunneling toward a suave, spicy, limestone inflected finish. Wonderful wine with grilled or seared salmon and swordfish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50 .
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
SKW Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley. (Steven Kent Winery) 13.6% alc. 48 cases produced. Deep ruby-purple color; smoky, earthy, loamy, granitic; notes of blueberries and black raspberries, sandalwood and cloves; leather, licorice and lavender; a hint of tobacco and black olive; prodigal tannins and potent acidity, with a fathomless mineral element, all tending toward some distance and austerity but neither overwhelming the essential succulent black and blue fruit flavors; a physical and perhaps spiritual marriage of power and elegance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $50.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 14.5% alc. Translucent medium ruby color; pure red licorice and raspberries; red currants, cloves, pomegranate; briery and brambly; fairly rigorous tannins from mid-palate back; acidity cuts a swath; exotic spice, lavender; builds tannic and mineral power as the moments pass but retains suavity and elegance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.9% alc. 187 cases. Deep, lush, delicious, warm spice and cool minerals; black raspberries, rhubarb and a touch of sour cherry and melon; cloves and sassafras; sweet ripeness balanced by savory qualities; berry tart with a hint of cream but essentially modulated by bright acidity and a slightly briery foresty element. Just freaking lovely. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; iron, iodine and mint, ripe and intense cassis and raspberries, inflected with cloves, allspice, lavender and licorice; deep, dark, earthy, the panoply of graphite and granitic minerality; dense, dusty packed fine-grained tannins coat the mouth; tons of tone, presence and character. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Great merlot. Excellent. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________

En Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Ravishing medium ruby color with a magenta-violet rim; a penetrating core of iodine and graphite minerality; black and red cherries, black and red currents, fleshy, earthy, savory and saline; dry, chewy yet super-satiny without being plush or opulent, keeps to the structural side, though, boy, it’s delicious. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, I’m getting this post just in under the wire to qualify still for the Weekend Wine Sips. We look at a dozen pinot noir wines from California today (um, tonight), and they run a range of styles, from deep and almost burly to (my preference) airy, delicate and elegant. A few of these have issues with oak, and I wish you all would just stop it, warnings and pleas I have made with some of these wineries previously, n’est-ce pas? No real technical information; these are all 100 percent pinot noir (unless someone is cheating and not telling), and of course I mention the alcohol content and, if I know it, the number of cases if the production is small. These were all samples for review. The Inman Family trio, from 2007, may seem like an anomaly, since the current releases are 2009, but that delivery was the result of some confusion with the winery and the local distributor. Or something like that. I didn’t care; they’re wonderful.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 589 cases. Medium ruby color with an intense mulberry core and slightly lighter at the rim; a dense and concentrated pinot noir, with cloves, cola and sandalwood and spiced and macerated black and red cherries; vibrant acidity for alluring liveliness, but a pinot of serious weight and heft, every element feels super-sized yet somehow balanced; dryish slightly powdery tannins, with burnished oak coming out on the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 294 cases. Dark to medium ruby color, almost opaque at the center; a big, spicy, resonant pinot noir; you really feel the earthy-foresty-briery character around the circuit of your palate; not shy about oak but fills in the spaces with toasted sweet spices, rose petals and violets, a touch of lilac; black and red fruit a little fleshy and meaty, exotic hint of caramelized rhubarb and fennel; very dry but complex, layered, a Chinese box of a wine. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $90.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 483 cases. Here’s where it gets tricky. Rich, warm medium ruby color shading through magenta to cherry; fruity, floral, spicy, feels elemental, but quite dry with oak and tannin rearing themselves obtrusively after a few minutes; will this wine survive its own austere structure? Very Good, and hope for the best in three to five years. About $72.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 176 cases. The darkest, most intensely colored of these four pinot noirs; deep, warm, rich, ripe and spicy; black currants, black cherries and plums; the whole box of dried sweet and baking spices; lip-smacking acidity, thwacking dusty and fairly challenging tannins and polished oak, but it still practically caresses the palate with its dense satiny drape. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential. About $90.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Radiant ruby-magenta color; smoke with an edge of ash, forest floor; black and red currants and cherries, leather, mushrooms, forest floor, briers and brambles; all elements subdued to the principle of balance yet quite dry and you feel the wood just a bit and the slightly austere tannins; this model more reticent than the 2009 version that I reviewed back in November and which I selected as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” Very Good+ with possible Excellent potential in one or two years. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Inman Family Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 13.8% alc. (From the Thorn Ridge Ranch and Olivet Grange Vineyard) Medium ruby color, almost transparent; delicate, elegant, finely knit; black cherries, plums and cranberries, hints of sassafras and rhubarb; very satiny texture, utterly seamless, with inner richness and succulence discreetly subdued to bright acidity and a slightly underbrushy-foresty structure. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Inman Family Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Slightly darker ruby-mulberry color; black and red currants and cherries, briers and brambles with a subtle graphite edge, deep deep spice with a touch of fruitcake; wonderful purity, intensity and resonance yet perfectly tranquil and confident; cloves, cinnamon and sandalwood; you feel the polished slightly sanded oak and a modicum of slightly dusty tannins from mid-palate through the finish. Beautiful. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $56.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. (Olivet Grange Vineyard) 13.5% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color with a touch of brick-red at the rim; ripe, fleshy and spicy; broad and expansive; macerated red and black currants and plums permeated by cranberry and mulberry; drier than the preceding examples, more tannic power and grip with elements of leather, earthy graphite, briers and brambles; long, spicy satiny finish, elevating and, ultimately, ethereal. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $56.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Enchanting, vibrant ruby-mulberry color; rhubarb, cloves and cola, spiced and macerated red and black cherries; deep, rich, spicy yet nothing strenuous or obvious; super-satiny texture, almost luscious black fruit flavors but not opulent, in fact fairly dense tannins; hints of sandalwood, violets and rose petals with undertones of mushrooms, moss and brambles; a lovely pinot noir with enough heft and edge to lend an air of seriousness. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros, Sonoma County. 14.6% alc. 115 cases. Arresting mulberry-ruby color, trace of violet at the rim; a seductive combination of ethereal, alluring and earthy; marvelous purity and concentration cloaked in a deeply spicy character and with an almost poignant flinty mineral element; black and red currants and cherries with an elusive hint of dried sage and bay leaf and undertones of rose petals, cloves and sassafras; intensely briery and brambly, as the finish unpacks elements of minerals and forest floor. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pali Wine Co. “Summit” Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. 1,020 cases. Riveting dark ruby-mulberry color; a deep, dense, spicy and muscular fashion of pinot noir; black cherries and currants, with a flush of blue plum, cloves and fruitcake; a little exotic, fleshy, peppery, yet beguiling with notes of roses and lilac; supple and satiny, yes, but also lithe, almost taut and definitely the chewiest of these 12 pinot noirs; still, it concludes in a more elevating, balletic manner than one would think possible. Now through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $29.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Waterstone Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 1,241 cases. Lovely in every element and aspect; beguiling almost luminescent ruby-magenta color; red and black cherries, hint of cranberry; cloves, sandalwood, cola; beautiful balance and integration; vibrant acidity yet very smooth, serene; tannins and minerals qualities feel poised, almost alert; finish packed with spice, with hints of graphite, briers and brambles. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Sometimes you feel like a theme, sometimes you don’t! (And who remembers the television commercial to which I allude?) The point being no theme today, just eight miscellaneous wines, some better than others, some quite exemplary, and touching many bases. Not a great deal of technical, geographical, climatic, historical or philosophical info here; these Weekend Wine Sips are intended as quick reviews, often transcribed directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest, whet your palate and claim your attention one way or the other. These were all samples for review. Enjoy!
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Apaltagua Carménère Rosé 2012, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Very pale pink-watermelon color; a pretty rose, quite delicate and fine-boned; notes of rose petal, watermelon, raspberry with a light strawberry backnote; pert acidity for liveliness, lies winsomely on the palate with spareness and trifling allure. I happily drank this with lunch over two days. Now through the end of Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Apaltagua Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw color; clean, fresh, spicy, typical pineapple-grapefruit with lots of steel and limestone and a hint of pear; good balance; sea-salt-bracing, tantalizing hints of jasmine, roasted fennel and thyme; lovely supple texture but crisp with acidity. One doesn’t often refer to chardonnay as delightful, but here it is. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and cola, briers and brambles, traces of rhubarb and violets; lovely balance among clean acidity, a lithe structure, black and red fruit flavors that come close to opulence and an essential earthy, loamy quality, all adding up to elegance that admits a slightly subversive wild berry nature. Exquisite. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Artesa Artisan Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; black currants, black cherries and a hint of plums; touches of black olives, cedar and thyme; velvety tannins with a graphite-lavender-licorice core; quite dry yet juicy and succulent and lively with vibrant acidity; solid, well-made, very drinkable. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Berlucchi “Cuvée 61″ Brut Rosé, Lombardy, Italy. 11.4% alc. 50% pinot noir, 50% chardonnay. Pale onion skin color; dense array of tiny bubbles; fruit compote with pure strawberry, red currants, softly macerated peach; noticeably sweet but bright acidity dries it out from mid-palate back, clearing the way for some crisp limestone minerality. Very Good. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Carpenè Malvolti Brut Rosé (nv), Veneto. 12% alc. 85% pinot nero (pinot noir) 15% rabaso. Pale onion skin with a light copper cast; constant stream of fine bubbles; strawberry and raspberry, hints of orange zest and pomegranate; moderate level of slate-like minerality; pleasant, tasty, not a lot there. Good. About $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Piccini Memor? (nv) Vino Rosso d’Italia. 14% alc. 40% primitivo, 30% montepulciano, 20% nero d’avola, 10% merlot del Veneto. Just as in this country a wine that drew grapes from several states would carry an “American wine” designation, this dark and sassy little number is denominated “Vino d’Italia” because the grapes hale from four region: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto and Abruzzo. Deep ruby-purple color; blackberries, blueberries and plums, with high notes of cherries, fruitcake and bitter chocolate and a laving of spicy, vanilla-laced oak; very pleasing heft, supple texture papered with slightly shaggy tannins; another hint of warm oak on the finish; you could call it rustic, and why not? A terrific pizza or braised short ribs wine. Very Good. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Current release is the 2010, but this was in my white wine fridge, and it’s absolutely Worth a Search. Moderate straw-gold color; clean, fresh, sleek, deeply spicy and savory, rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touch of candied lime peel; bristling crystalline acidity and a tremendously resonant limestone presence, with supple oak in the background. Drink through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. An exciting chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Judy Jordan was only 25 when she founded J Winery in 1986, adhering to the principle that Russian River Valley grapes could produce great sparkling wines. While in subsequent years the winery moved into still wines — chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir — the heart of the enterprise is still sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation and aging in the bottle. She is still the president of the winery. Today, I review two special products, the J Vintage Brut 2005 and the J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003. This would be a good point at which to explain the rather unpalatable term “disgorged,” which sounds like what a coyote does after a night indulging in too much roadkill.

When the base wine is put into bottles, a mixture of sugar and yeast is added to restart the second fermentation that produces the bubbles; then the bottle is capped. After the Champagne or sparkling wine has aged an appropriate period — sometimes many years but more often 15 to 24 months — that mixture inside the bottle must be gotten rid of. This “disgorgement” is accomplished, at least traditionally, by freezing the bottle neck where the deposit has lodged, upending the bottle and popping the cap, thus expelling the frozen material. This is a simplified and sketchy description of the Champagne method, but you get the idea about disgorging.

These sparkling wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The blend of grapes in the J Vintage Brut 2005, Russian River Valley, is 54 percent chardonnay, 43 percent pinot noir and 3 percent pinot meunier. This sparkling wine aged nearly five years before being disgorged in October 2011, followed by three months aging “on the cork” before release. The pale gold color is activated by myriad glittering bubbles streaming to the surface. It’s a precise and crystalline sparkling wine, emitting lovely clean fresh aromas of roasted lemons and pears, toasted hazelnuts, quince and ginger and a burgeoning limestone quality. The wine, exquisite in many ways, exhibits terrific presence and tone; it’s dry and crisp with taut acidity that animates a supple texture wrapped around notes of yellow plums and caramelized grapefruit; reservoirs of limestone and chalk contribute a serious structure that does not detract from the wine’s innate elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 700 cases. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $48.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, was bottled in July 2004 and disgorged seven and a half years later in early 2012; the sparkling wine aged five more months “on the cork” before release. It’s a blend of 49 percent each pinot noir and chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is pale blond; the bubbles are fine, energetic, persistent, a transfixing of silver on gold. For a sparkling wine that’s nine years old, J Late Disgorged Brut 2003 is remarkably clean and elegant and elevating; ethereal aromas of steel and acacia are bolstered by notes of green apples and cloves, lime peel and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, with the barest hint of fresh biscuits. You might think that a sparkling wine displaying so much winsome personality and appeal, that’s such a refined weaving of ephemeral tissues would be too fragile to be taken seriously, but you would, My Readers, be wrong, because J Late Disgorged Brut 2003 incorporates lithe sinews of crisp bold acidity and limestone and slate-flecked minerality to ensure the tensile strength of all its meticulously balanced elements. By the time this sparkling wine has passed mid-palate and you feel the deep resonance of its structure and the increasing power of its glacial austerity and authority, you should come to acknowledge that this is a brilliant effort, even though it feels so effortless. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $90.

The striking image is from Cortney Roudebush’s blog Sip Swirl Savor, and I hope she doesn’t mind if I borrow it on New Year’s Day.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2012, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Sixth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly amusing to commemorate today the previous five lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 96 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2011/2012
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2010/2011
Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2009/2010
Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2008/2009
Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional, about $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2007/2008
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »