Russian River Valley


This post started as the Weekend Wines Notes on Friday, but if you follow me on Facebook, you know that this was a weekend of dog rescuing and transporting, so I was not able to finish until this morning. So be it.

First, allow me to mention that zinfandel is not “the all-American grape” that some writers still inexplicably assert, mainly in popular magazines. It’s a European vinifera grape just like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and so on. Second, while capable of being made into fine wine indeed, zinfandel has the problem of being too versatile, that is, it can be made into a confusing array of styles so that consumers don’t know what they’re getting when they choose a bottle at their favorite retail store, but that’s why knowledgeable sales clerks exist, n’est-ce pas? In today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I look at products from three producers that focus on zinfandel; in the case of two of these, McCay Cellars and Wine Guerrilla, the wines are designated single-vineyard. One style of zinfandel is full-throttle, super-ripe, dense and alcoholic; that’s the style favored by Wine Guerrilla winemaker Bruce Patch. It’s not my favorite manner — I think it distorts the grape’s character and results in undrinkable wines — and that stance is reflected in the reviews that follow. I liked three of Patch’s 2009s better, and I admire him for working with these historic old vine field blend vineyards; here are the more positive reviews. These wines were review samples. Unfortunately, label images for McCay’s recent releases don’t exist; at least I couldn’t find any.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McCay Cellars Equity Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 288 cases. Dark ruby color, tinge of mulberry; intense and concentrated, graphite and briers, black currants, blackberries and plums, licorice and lavender; sleek and polished but dry; vibrant acidity plows through the center; loads of dusty tannins and oak; notes of cloves, sandalwood, fruitcake, hint of pomegranate; dense and chewy, a real mouthful of wine that flows beautifully on the palate. Try from 2015 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McCay Cellars TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 278 cases. Slightly darker and more intense ruby color than the previous example; iodine, iron and graphite; fruit and floral elements both fresh and dried; black currants, blackberry and blueberry; potpourri, bitter chocolate, heaps of briers, brambles and underbrush; very intense and concentrated, even brooding, but quite vibrant and resonant; finish is packed with granitic minerality, dusty tannins and dried spices. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McCay Cellars Jupiter Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.6% alc. 449 cases. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta; intense minerality yet warm and spicy; very dry dusty grainy tannins and oak sanding the circumference, but zinging acidity adds liveliness; a dense, deeply spicy and dusty graphite propelled zinfandel that needs a year or two; presently a bit inexpressive. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McCay Cellars Contention Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.9% alc. 223 cases. Dense dark ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black raspberries and plums, rather fleshy and meaty; iron and iodine; a very intense and savory core of potpourri, lavender, fruitcake, bitter chocolate and graphite; a huge mouthful of wine with austere tannin-oak-and-mineral-infused finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $64.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renwood Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. 86% zinfandel, 10% primitivo, 2% roussanne, 1% each mourvedre and souzao. Bright medium ruby color; black currants, plums and blueberries with a touch of red raspberry; briers and brambles, intriguing hints of mocha and cherry cola; shapely and moderate tannins. A tasty zinfandel. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, Amador County. 15.5% alc. 92.5% zinfandel, 5.8% syrah, 1.7% souzao. Medium ruby color; spiced , macerated, roasted and fleshy; bristly black and red currants, a rasp of raspberries and rose hips; fresh and clean but with the dried spice, espresso bean and fruitcake note of old vines; finish is fairly austere and somewhat unbalanced with a touch of alcoholic heat and sweetness. Drink through 2015. Very Good. About $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renwood Fiddletown Zinfandel 2011, Amador County. 14.8% alc. 99% zinfandel, 1% mission grapes. Lovely medium ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; red and black currants, red and black cherries, notes of blueberries; briers and underbrush elements, violets and tobacco leaf, cloves, mocha and a beguiling hint of pomegranate; very satisfying balance and integration; dusty graphite and tannins, a dry but not austere or forbidding red wine, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wine Guerrilla McClain Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 80% zinfandel, 20% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; very ripe boysenberry, blueberry, blackberry, with iodine, mint and graphite, smoke, lavender, violets; juicy blue and black fruit flavors permeated by dusty granitic minerality and tart acidity, all set in a structure of powerful tannins; a not pleasing sensation of a dry red wine that feels sweet; will a few years tone down the effect? Good. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wine Guerrilla Clopton Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, palomino and alicante bouschet. Dark ruby-purple color; blackberry, blueberry tart, super-ripe sweet fruit packed with cloves, allspice, sandalwood and hints of rhubarb and beetroot and loam; big, dense and powerful, relentlessly dry yet almost cloying with sweet ripeness so the balance feels off; will a few years bring coherence? Good. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wine Guerrilla Carreras Ranch Block 2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, Napa gamay, alicante bouschet, chasselas dore. Dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; deep, rooty, loamy and earthy; smoke, leather, briers and brambles; intense and concentrated, very dry, dusty and minerally; dense, almost viscous, has the dignity and power of old vines — these planted in 1916 — as well as the intensity and concentration. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

WG Sonoma Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma Valley. 15% alc. 200 cases. Very dark ruby-purple color; smoke, plums and blueberry tart; heady notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender; deeply earthy and mineral-laden in the graphite and granite range; stout, dusty leathery tannins; feel some heat on the finish; next morning, quite dense, austere, almost astringent oak and tannin influence; will the fruit survive? Not recommended except for those who want to take a chance. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. 120 cases. 85% zinfandel, 10% petite sirah, the rest grenache and carignane. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim shading to garnet; very ripe, stridently spicy; boysenberry and blackberry tart; sweetish alcohol; both super-ripe and austere; uncoordinated and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I could have called this post, “The Pinot Noirs of Inman Family Wines,” but since the small winery is a very personal enterprise and since Kathleen Inman’s physical and philosophical fingerprints seem to be on everything regarding the wines and the winery, I went with this title instead. Inman and her husband, attorney Simon Inman, acquired the 10.5 acre Olivet Grange vineyard on Olivet Road in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley in 1999; she produced her first wines from the 2002 vintage. She concentrates on two renditions of pinot noir — a Russian River bottling and what’s now called OGV, for Olivet Grange Vineyard — and also makes small amounts of sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot gris. All of her wines are characterized by elegance, balance and finely-knit structure. Inman favors natural yeasts, no fining and ideally no filtration. Trained as an economist, Inman said that she “tries to derive the best economic use from everything.” The facility, which she calls a “stealth winery,” was constructed almost totally of post-consumer recycled materials. It’s solar powered, producing more energy than it consumes, and it features a privately owned electric vehicle charging station, so drive those toy cars up there with confidence that you can get home! The small group I was visiting the winery with had lunch at the winery, and except for the duck, everything on the plate came from the bounty of her garden. Inman’s style of pinot noir is opposite of the dark, high-extract and powerfully alcoholic examples we see too often in California. Her pinots are delicate, finely-etched, potent with lively acidity and spicy red and black fruit flavors and supported by moderately dense yet resilient tannins. It’s too easy to throw around the term “Burgundian,” but Inman’s pinot noirs remind me of Premier Cru wines from Volnay, with their finesse, breeding and satiny texture.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
The beguilng Inman Family Rose Brut Nature OGV 2009, Russian River Valley, offers a very very pale onion skin hue (faintly tinged with pink) and a diverting bouquet of rose petals, dried strawberries and red currants and back-notes of limestone and shale; bubbles are fine and persistent. This sparkling wine is so light, delicate and elegant that you’re surprised at its lively and persuasive presence and tone, It’s quite dry, packed with limestone and shale-like elements for high-toned austerity yet it’s also quenching in its tingly melon and lime peel flavors and — if I may say so — quite romantic. 12 percent alcohol. 139 cases. Now through 2015 to 2017. Excellent. About $68.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________
Made all in stainless steel, the Inman Family Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, displays a very pale straw-gold color and clean fresh scents of peach and pear, jasmine and lilac, subtle notes of ginger and cloves and a hint of roasted lemon; the wine is very dry, very delicate without being ephemeral or elusive, bound by crisp lithe acidity and a plangent limestone mineral element. The wine had just been bottled when I tasted it in August at the property; it will unfold a bit over the next year. The alcohol is an eminently manageable 11.8 percent. Production was 230 cases. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Inman Family Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, was fermented partially in stainless steel tanks and partially in new and one-year-old French oak barrels; Kathleen Inman prefers Vosges oak for its tight grain. Native yeast compels fermentation, and native bacteria ignites malolactic; in other words, no inoculation. The wine is so pale in its pale gold color, so pure and intense in its aura that the elegance is deceptive; yes, it’s deft and light on its feet, but it’s also dense and chewy and packed with elements of chalk and limestone minerality. Spare and lively notes of graham cracker, roasted lemon, verbena, ginger and quince are bolstered by limestone and slate and balanced by the richness of lemongrass and slightly candied grapefruit. A few moments in the glass bring out hints of toasted hazelnuts, jasmine and honeysuckle, while the oak comes up subtly in the finish. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________
The color of the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is limpid medium ruby; hints of red currants and red and black cherries are permeated by notes of rhubarb and cloves, sassafras, and a touch of briers, brambles and leather for the earthy element. This is so clean and fresh, so invigorating that one almost forgets how spare and elegant it is; how the acidity cuts a swath on the palate at no expense to the ripe, dark spicy black and red fruit flavors; how dry, slightly starchy tannins and that fleet acidity give the wine a lithe, supple texture that drapes the tongue like satin. Percentage of alcohol not available. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
Going one vintage back, the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, derives from the winery’s Olivet Grange Vineyard and the Thorn Ridge Vineyard several miles to the south in the Sebastopol Hills. There’s that same transparent medium ruby color and a similar fruit profile of cherries and currants, but the ’09 is spicier than the ’10 rendition, with more of the briery-brambly-leather component and certainly a more prominent tannic-graphite feature. Yet the ’09 is also intensely floral, revealing touches of smoke and lilac, pomegranate and violets, and the property’s signature resonant acidity. Again, the texture is light, fleet-footed, elegant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 through 2020. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is a supreme example of how Kathleen Inman pushes the use of oak in one direction, that is, by aging in French oak barrels for 23 months, an astonishing span of time for a pinot noir, but being very careful about the percentage of new oak. The wine is incredibly complex and layered, in the ample ranges of fresh and dried red and black fruit with hints of rhubarb and beets, cloves and sassafras; earthy briers and brambles and graphite-like minerality; vivid acidity that plows a furrow on the palate and keeps the wine bright and vivacious; but every element and aspect adhering with delicacy, elegance and subtle tensile strength. Still, this is dry, moderately tannic, a little austere on the finish, and it would profit from a year or two in bottle, drinking then through 2020 to ’22. The alcohol content is 12.5 percent. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________
The version for 2009 finds the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir beautifully unfurling its batteries of cloves, pomegranate and orange rind, cinnamon and sassafras, all, however, subdued to a finely-knit amalgam of briers and brambles, loam and graphite, red and black cherries and a touch of plum. The wine spent 19 months in French oak, a process that gave this pinot noir plenty of spice and suppleness without marring the integrity of the fruit of its overall balance or the sinewy brightness of its vivid acidity. A few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets, rose petals and fruitcake — cloves, cinnamon, dried fruit — while moderately dense tannins provide an essential foil to the wine’s innate richness. It’s a dry, slightly austere pinot noir, with a bit more hauteur than elegance, but perfectly balanced and integrated. Hints of pomegranate and cranberry emerge in the finish. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $68.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Balverne label has quite a pedigree. Its parent winery, Windsor Oaks, occupies land that was part of the Rancho Sotoyome grant in Sonoma County later acquired by Antonio Perelli-Minetti (1882-1976), the Italian immigrant who eventually headed the 20-million gallon California Wine Association near Delano in Kern County. Though Antonio Perelli-Minetti first planted grapes on the property south of Healdsburg, in Russian River Valley, the estate was primarily used as the family’s summer residence. It was purchased in 1972, named Balverne, and the vineyards were replanted; winemakers who came on board in 1978 were recent UC-Davis graduates Doug Nalle and John Kongsgaard, neither of whom, as they say, need any introduction to devotees of fine California wine, having gone on to found their own highly regarded wineries. The 710-acre estate was acquired in 1992 by current owners Bob and Renee Stein, who renamed it Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery. Windsor Oaks sold grapes to more than 35 wineries before turning back to wine production in 2005. Last year, the Steins reintroduced the Balverne label and kept the pedigree going by hiring as winemaker Margaret Davenport (Simi, Clos du Bois) and as consulting winemaker, Doug Nalle, creating a sort of full-circle homecoming.

So, today, I offer as Wine of the Week the Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, from Chalk Hill, a sub-appellation within Russian River Valley. The wine is a estate-grown blend of 88 percent sangiovese and 12 percent grenache grapes and is made completely in stainless steel tanks; no oak influence here. The color is a lovely shade of russet-Rainier cherries, slightly darker than pink or onion skin. Speaking of cherries, notes of red cherries, strawberries and mulberries dominate a bouquet that subtly unfurls its hints of rhubarb, cloves and limestone. This rosé is tart on the palate, bright and lively, and here the red fruit, with tinges of sour cherry and melon, takes on a slightly riper and macerated tone, though the wine is spare, bone-dry and permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. The finish brings in a touch of dried orange rind and pomegranate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 as an aperitif or with simple picnic or luncheon fare. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

Two weeks ago in this space I dissed a number of chardonnay wines from Cuvaison, Davis Bynum, La Follette and La Rochelle wineries. Today, in addition to other pinot noir wines from California, I offer some reviews of successful pinot noirs from the aforementioned producers, not in recompense — I would never do that — but to show that they can indeed make wines that are balanced and authentic. So, 12 wines, brief reviews, no emphasis on technical, historical, geographical or personal data but just my notes, some taken directly — ripped, as it were — from my notebook pages, some expanded upon a bit; but all designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Most of these pinots, whose ratings fall into the narrow range of Very Good+ to Excellent, do not conform to my notion of the grape’s hallowed ideal of delicacy, elegance and tensile strength, being more about structure and power, though on the California model they tend to perform well. These were samples for review. Enjoy!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cuvaison Estate grown Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; very spicy, earthy and rooty, with moderate tannins and acidity that cuts a swath; still, super satiny in a fairly lithe manner and quite attractive with notes of red and black cherries, red currants, hints of rhubarb, cranberry and cloves; briers and brambles in the background and a touch of graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, slightly lighter ar the rim; exotic nose of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, like incense in your hippie pad; plums, red currants, cranberries; dense, chewy a bit more drapery than ordinary satin; rich with smoky plum flavors, black and red cherries; one feels indulged, a little decadent, though the earth-mint-mineral elements surge forth through the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Garfield Block Pinot Noir 2011. Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. This more limited version of the previous wine (in origin and production) is a shade darker in color, a little tighter, a bit more focused and delineated; it’s very supple and satiny but displays more of a tannic and mineral presence under its dark, succulent and spicy red and black cherry fruit with overtones of plums and mulberries; long, deep, earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
DeLoach Vineyards Olivet Bench Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley.13.5% alc. 499 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; plums and rhubarb, red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry after a few moments; dusty graphite, very spicy, exotic; dry, minerally, muscular, almost rigorous but super-satiny in texture; you feel the rooty-barky qualities and the undertow of tannin and oak. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $NA.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Frank Family Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 14.5% alc. Radiant ruby-cranberry color; cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate, red cherries and currants, white pepper; smooth, sleek, suave and satiny; fairly tannic and rigorous after 30 or 40 minutes, with a full complement of earthy, briery, underbrushy and graphite elements but doesn’t lose its essential succulence and flavorful sway. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 12.9% alc (lovely!) 536 cases. Medium ruby with a touch of violet-blue magenta; meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated; succulent and smoky red cherry and plum flavors imbued with briers, brambles and an underbrushy element; intensely spicy, intensely floral; superbly satiny texture but a rather startling structure for a pinot noir that needs a couple of years to find its footing. Try 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 15.2% alc. 381 cases. Medium ruby color with a trace of garnet at the rim; big, dense, pithy, sappy pinot noir, rich, warm and spicy but thrown off balance a bit by the high alcohol, which makes a distinct presence on the finish. Very Good+. About $38.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.7% alc. 259 six-packs. Medium ruby color with lovely transparency; better balance here than with the previously noted wine; the drawers of the bureau of exotic spices thrown wide, making for a heady and seductive bouquet and intriguing flavors of red and black currants, pomegranate and rhubarb; bright acidity plows a furrow through layers of briers, brambles and graphite, all the while the wine displays beautiful purity and intensity. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $75.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, trace of magenta at the rim; notes of pomegranate, cranberry and rhubarb open to red and black cherries permeated by cloves and cola; quite dry, a little mossy and briery; ripping acidity; attractive, lively and tasty though no great depth. Very Good+. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; rhubarb, cranberry, cola and cloves, touch of plum, interesting note of mint; leans more to black and red cherries in flavor; gains body and substance as minutes pass, a little rooty and mossy with tannins and earthy elements; very dry finish, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; big, dry, leather and graphite; comes close to being dramatic; quite rich, warm and spicy but riven by scintillating acidity and dusty, dusky tannins; you feel the oak and alcohol on the finish. Not my favorite style for pinot noir. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $37.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Luicia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color with a pure violet rim; black and red cherries and currants; pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, hint of cloves; succulent but spare, elegant, lithe and muscular; scintillating acidity and granitic minerality; riveting purity and intensity of the grape and the vineyard. Always a favorite in our house. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
(more…)

Yes, another title change, from “Weekend Wine Sips” to “Weekend Wine Notes,” because I think that nomenclature more accurately described what I do in these posts. “Sips” implies that all the wines are recommended, and that’s not always the case. So, today, a dozen wines that derive from many grapes varieties and combinations thereof and from many countries and regions. Prices range from about $14 to $53, and if you were hoping to buy some wines by the case, they would be the Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley (about $15), and the Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles (about $14). There are also some hearty red wines to accompany steaks and burgers, pork chops, leg of lamb and other items from the grill. As usual, I eschew technical matters and concerns of history, geography and biography for quick, incisive reviews, sometimes transcribed directly from my notes. The purpose is to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, these were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo (which is really zinfandel, right?). Pale copper-salmon color; very charming bouquet of strawberries and raspberries with undertones of peach and orange zest; loads of juicy berry and stone fruit flavors but dry, spare, mildly spicy; limestone and flint minerality and zippy acidity provide structure. Hugely enjoyable quaffer and substantial enough to accompany all manner of picnic and pool-side fare. Very Good+. I paid $15.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.3% alc. Very pale straw color; hints of guava and lime peel, grass and grapefruit, a bit of fig and celery seed; dry, vibrant, lively; lovely texture poised between crispness and an almost talc-like silkiness; citrus and stone fruit flavors imbued with notes of grass and dried herbs; the limestone minerality burgeons from mid-palate through the finish. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean and zesty; pear and grapefruit, lime peel, thyme and tarragon, celery seed and freshly mown grass; a nicely chiseled sauvignon blanc, faceted with brisk acidity and scintillating lime and chalk elements; a touch of oak lends spice and suppleness to a texture that seethes with leafy notes of pear, honeydew melon and hay; finish is dry and austere. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________
The Whip 2012, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. (Murrieta’s Well) 13% alc. 43% chardonnay, 15% gewurztraminer, 13% sauvignon blanc, 9% orange muscat, 8% viognier, 5% pinot blanc, 3% muscat canelli. Pale gold color; boldly floral, with notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom; peach and pear, touches of roasted lemon, mango and greengage, apple peel and almond skin; quite dry, spare, savory and saline with an austere permeation of limestone and flint on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $21.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14/1% alc. 36% carmenere, 31% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah. Very dark ruby-purple; strikingly fresh, clean and fruity, with cassis, blackberry and blueberry, plums and blueberry tart, hint of fruitcake dried fruit and spices; velvety, cushiony tannins; very dry, dusty graphite; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors; finish packed with tannin and minerals. Fairly rustic for a wine from Lapostolle. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Selección de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty tannins and granitic minerality; dense and chewy yet supple; cassis, ripe black raspberry, cherry and blueberry; hints of cloves and sandalwood, graphite and underbrush; lippsmacking acidity and velvety tannins; slightly astringent finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2015 or ’26. Very Good+. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
El Malbec de Ricardo Santos La Madras Vineyard 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherries and plums, lavender, violets and a tight line of bitter chocolate and allspice; a real graphite-granitic edge, intense and concentrated but a deeply flavorful wine, with roots, earth and forest floor elements. Perfect for steak, burgers and rack of lamb. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Lovely medium ruby-mulberry color; spiced and macerated red cherries and currants, highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras; opens to hints of black cherry and rhubarb; very attractive tone and heft, pretty juicy but dry, with swath-cutting acidity and mild-mannered and supple tannins for structure, oak staying firmly in the background; the finish brings up slightly funky elements of clean earth, underbrush and more spice. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; heady yet slightly brooding notes of blueberries and black currants, bacon fat, black olives and cedar; big finely-honed, plush tannins; well-honed and polished, lots of personality but plenty of grit and grip; intense flavors of black and blue fruit, very spicy and with hints of dried herbs and flowers; long, dense mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Well-made rendition of the grape that’s beggin’ you for a medium-rare ribeye steak or a rack of ribs. Excellent. About $19, Good Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim that practically glows in the dark; lots of depth and layers, intense and concentrated; bitter chocolate, lavender and leather, earth and graphite; very ripe, spicy and pure blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors with a wild strain of ebony juicy delicious restrained by stalwart tannins and vibrant acidity; wheatmeal and walnut shell austerity characterize a finish crowded with oak, tannin and graphite. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ to Excellent Potential. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________
Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordòn Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, garnacha 15%, mazuela 5%. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter rim; ripe and spicy, fleshy and meaty; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; white pepper, sandalwood, cloves, hint of lavender; silken and mellow but with plenty of dry grainy tannins and mineral-based power. Now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted quail or duck or grilled pork tenderloin. Very Good+. About $17. Rioja Reservas tend to be excellent value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. Consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California. Dark ruby-purple color; amazing dimension, detail and delineation; intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; meaty, roasted and fleshy fruit scents and flavors, with macerated wild berries and plums infused with leather, briers and brambles, touch of damp moss and wet dog; squinching tannins are round and plush, while acidity plows a furrow on the palate; huge graphite and granitic mineral character solid through the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $53.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

I write about these rosé wines together because they rise above the mass of bland and homogenized rosés that proliferate, now that rosés are finally being taken seriously by consumers, which is to say there’s a bit of a trend, not like moscato, certainly, but enough that we lovers of drinking rosé all through the year should notice and look for the great ones. The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, hails from a small block, owned by Ellie Price, of the iconic vineyard the rest and much larger portion of which is owned by her former husband Bill Price. The Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, the first release of a rosé from this winery, derives from the Wat Vineyard in Sebastopol, one of the cooler locations in Green Valley, a sub-appellation of Russian River Valley. Neither of these rosé wines is made in the saignée method, that is, by the bleeding of juice from the production of a regular red wine to concentrate that wine’s color and body; the resulting lighter wine (because of less skin contact) is often treated as an afterthought. The rosés in question here — as well as many of the best rosés produced around the world — are made by crushing the grapes and taking the juice off the skins after minimal contact, thus producing the pale “onion skin” color of the classic rosé. Each of these rosés consists of 100 percent pinot noir grapes. These wines were samples for review.

I wrote about the history and background of the Durell Vineyard and Dunstan here; and the Gary Farrell winery here.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a pale onion skin or “eye of the partridge” color with a tinge of darker pink. The wine was made half in neutral oak barrels, half in stainless steel, so it has a slightly more dense texture than the typical rosé. The emphasis here though is on fruit, delicacy and elegance, with a bouquet flush full of strawberries, dried red currants and hints of watermelon, rose petals and lilac; this is quite dry and vibrant, brimming with red fruit and spice nuances strung on an ethereal thread of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality, giving the wine a chiseled, faceted and incredibly refreshing effect. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases. Winemaker was Kenneth Juhasz. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
In contrast, the Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is a more savory and spicy example of rosé, though it still achieves the ideal of poise and elegance. The color is classic onion skin with a flush of pale copper; strawberries and raspberries dominate, with undertones of macerated peaches and cloves and a hint of sour cherry; traces of dried thyme and rosemary — shades of Provence! — permeate juicy red fruit flavors, though there’s a dry slate-like effect — I mean like roof tiles — that lends the wine its necessary spareness, while bracing acidity sends crystalline vibrancy throughout. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Excellent. About $28.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »