Russian River Valley


Two excellent blanc de noirs sparkling wines — 100 percent pinot noir — from California.
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McIntyre
Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the McIntyre Vineyard L’homme Qui Ris nv, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is essentially a blanc de noirs sparkling wine. The name means “the man who laughs.” It was made in the traditional method of Champagne, from the winery’s sustainable estate vineyard, and aged on the lees in bottle for a minimum of two years. The color is a very pale blond hue, animated by a silver tempest of tiny glinting bubbles; notes of roasted lemon, lemongrass and lime peel contain a bare hint of red currents and raspberries, against a background of brioche and wet stones. The whole enterprise is supported by whiplash acidity and a scintillating mineral element, call it steel etched by limestone and sea salt, yet the overall effect is of tissues of delicacy melded by tensile energy. Lovely purity and intensity. Winemaker was Steve McIntyre. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.
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The Inman Family Wines Blanc de Noirs 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is the winery’s first blanc de inmannoirs, following its Brut Rose into production. Made from Inman’s OGV Estate Vineyard, the all-pinot noir wine aged almost three years en tirage and was finished with no dosage — added sugar — so it qualifies for the Bone-Dry category. The color is palest straw, and the bubbles are fervently dynamic in their upward, spiraling surge. First come notes of baked apple, roasted lemon and lemongrass, with undertones of lightly buttered cinnamon toast, pastry, spiced pear and damp chalk. On the palate, slashing acidity cuts a swath on the palate, while a crystalline limestone element adds a bracing quality of seashell and salt marsh to the finish. Taut, nervy and dramatic, this blanc de noirs feels deep, ethereal and elevating. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Winemaker was Kathleen Inman. Excellent. About $68.

A sample for review.
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Anyone could spend 10 minutes in a wine store and realize that 20 sauvignon blanc wines amount to about a quarter of a drop in a whole large bucket of sauvignon blancs produced in California every year. And why not? It’s a terrific grape with tremendous potential for making wines that range from simple, direct, snappy little numbers for quaffing out on the back porch to profound examples possessing great depth and character capable of aging for 25 or 30 years. Of course, it can also make wines that are bland, insipid and watery or screaming with acidity, but that’s hardly the grape’s fault. The Ur-territory for sauvignon blanc is the eastern end of the Loire Valley, in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several related areas, and Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the grape is generally blended with semillon (and sometimes muscadelle) to produce grand expressions of the grape and some favored terroir. Even in Bordeaux, however, sauvignon blanc can be a work-horse grape, as in Entre-Deux-Mers, and fashioned into simple, tasty wines of no great importance. Sauvignon blanc wines are produced almost anywhere in the world that grapes can grow, from South Africa and New Zealand to northeastern Italy and (in our own country) the state of Virginia and just about everywhere in California. The wines described in this post occupy the complete geographical range, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Knights Valley in the north, and a full complement of styles. As they say on the carnival midway, “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” With a couple of exceptions duly noted, these wines were samples for review. A subsequent post will deal with sauvignon blanc wines from other regions and countries.
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bernardus
The Bernardus Grivia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Carmel Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and aged “several months” in 24-year-old French oak tanks. The wine contains a dollop of semillon grapes. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and sprightly sauvignon blanc, with subtle herbal and grassy elements and notes of pea-shoot, roasted lemon, tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity and a slightly chiseled limestone quality, while delivering a boatload of juicy citrus and stone fruit flavors; there’s a bracing hint of leafy fig and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, has a complicated genesis. The primary vineyard source, located in eastern PrintRutherford, has old vines planted to a heritage musqué clone and semillon. Another component of the sauvignon blanc came from a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley standing on ancient, weathered, alluvial fans of silty impoverished soils. Other grapes derive from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, while a vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, contributes sauvignon vert planted in 1947. The final blend was 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent semillon and 3 percent sauvignon vert. The grapes fermented and the wine aged 44 percent in stainless steel tanks, 49 percent in mostly neutral French oak barrels and 7 percent in concrete eggs. What was the result of all this activity and contrivance? A frankly beautiful sauvignon blanc with seductive and almost unlimited appeal. The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displays a very pale straw hue and riveting aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, lemongrass and a hint of mango, with herbal and grassy elements poised in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of fennel and grapefruit. The wine is very dry, crisp with fleet acidity and almost tannic in structure, while a soft, talc-like texture offers a haze of smoke and light oak accents; the finish offers hints of limestone, grapefruit and spiced peach. 14.7 percent alcohol. This wine should drink beautifully through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, is composed of grapes half from Russian River Valley and half from Dry Creek
2014_fume_labelValley. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is very pale straw with a faint green tinge; the leafy, grassy bouquet is characterized by notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with hints of jasmine and lavender in the background. Crisp and pert, the wine exhibits lovely purity and intensity in its lithe texture and lightly spiced citrus flavors, finishing with touches of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. Very refreshing and engaging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Tim bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Bargain.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, is a bit milder and more subtle than its Fume Blanc stablemate. It 2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
incorporates 14 percent of the sauvignon musque clone and 4 percent sauvignon gris. It, too, was made completely in stainless steel.The musque contributes honeysuckle and spiced pear to a melange of orange zest, honeydew melon, roasted lemon and lime peel and notes of grapefruit and tarragon. The wine is quite dry and crisp, supple and lively on the palate and bright with citrus flavors leaning gently toward stone-fruit and a tropical tinge; damp flint minerality infusing the clean finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 into 2017. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
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A wine of shimmering purity and intensity, the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, made from certified organic grapes, sees only stainless steel and neutral oak in its making. The color is very pale, an ethereal almost-not-there straw-gold; delicate notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemon balm and lilac wreathe themselves with hints of thyme and tarragon and a faint grassy tinge; matters are a bit bolder in the mouth, where chiming acidity contributes riveting crispness and a scintillating limestone and chalk element lends poignant vibrancy, all cutting through a slightly creamy texture. 13.2 percent alcohol. A masterpiece for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Excellent. About $28.
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The Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is beautifully modulated in every aspect — fruit, acidity, body, minerality. The 2014_napa_valley_sauvignon-blanc_labelgrapes, from the winery’s estate vineyard in Oakville, fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in large French oak casks and stainless steel drums. A very pale hue is almost colorless; subtle layers of lightly spiced stonefruit and citrus, herbs, fresh-mown grass and meadow flowers are delicate strung. The wine is quite tart and crisp, displaying lovely and elegant weight and heft, purity and intensity; it finishes with an infusion of limestone and grapefruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Winemaker was Paul Steinhauer. Excellent. About $25.
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Made from certified organic grapes, all in stainless steel, the Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa frog's sbValley, is about as limpid, lithe and crystalline as the grape gets. Notes of pea-shoot, gooseberry, lychee, fig and lime peel open to hints of grapefruit, orange blossom, licorice and lilac in a welter of sensation that amounts to awesome purity and intensity. Wonderfully poised among bright, accented citrus flavors, brilliant acidity and shattering limestone-chalk minerality, the wine is crisp and zesty yet not overly tart and quite dry without being austere. 12.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemakers were John Williams and Paula Moschetti. Excellent. About $22, a local purchased. (I paid more.)
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Winemaker Ondine Chattan reaches out to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties, and east to Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta for the grapes that go into the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which carries a California designation. For the price, this is a surprisingly subtle and nuanced sauvignon blanc. The color is pale gold; we get the expected notes of grapefruit, lime and orange zest, along with hints of leafy and herbal elements and touches of bell pepper and fennel, with a whiff of earthy white pepper. There’s plenty of pep here, without feral exuberance, in a wine happy to be crisp and vibrant and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14, meaning A Real Bargain.
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2012 RR Sauv Blanc- bottle shot
The difference in the Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, and its cadet stablemate mentioned just above is not merely the much narrower geographical focus — a single vineyard within an AVA inside Sonoma County — but in degrees of intensity and concentration. Again, the color is pale gold; the emphasis here is on gooseberry and dill seed, lime peel and spiced pear, with a marked enveloping of jasmine and verbena. The wine is quite dry and crisp, with bright acidity animating a pleasing softness in texture and tasty, slightly leafy citrus and stone fruit flavors, all wrapped in a scintillating limestone element and green notes of grass and thyme. NA% alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $22.
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They don’t all come as pert, tart and sassy as The Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, though the wine is not as flamboyantly crisp as some examples can be. Still, this pale straw-gold quaffer is energized by gripping acidity that carries a lithesome freight of tangerine, lime peel, green apple and spiced pear through to a limestone-laced finish. In the bouquet: almond blossom, jasmine and apple skin, grapefruit, peach and tarragon. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Dave Guffy is director of winemaking. Very Good+. About $22.
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The current release of this wine is 2014, but I was sent the 2013 several months ago, and it’s still drinking very nicely. The very pale Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, North Coast, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of lime peel and melon, celery seed and caraway; it’s very clean and fresh, energized by riveting acidity and limestone minerality; the finish admits hints of peach and apple skin. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009; it occupies the far eastern and warmer end of sybariteSanta Ynez Valley. The Margerum Wine Company Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, was made 91 percent in stainless steel and 9 percent in a combination of neutral and new French oak barrels, aging for 10 months. The result is a clean, spare and elegant sauvignon blanc that dips deeply into a dusty foundation of limestone and gun-flint, licorice and lilac. Notes of lime peel, thyme, heather and talc make for a beguiling entry into a wine that’s vibrant without being snappy and dry without being austere, though the finish comes on with prominent limestone and chalk minerality. 13.06 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Doug Margerum is director of winemaking; winemaker is Michael Miroballi. Excellent. About $21, a local purchase. (I paid more.)
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matanzas bennett
The Bennett Valley AVA, granted official status in 2003, exists primarily because of the petition of Matanzas Creek Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines. Bennett Valley lies almost totally within the Sonoma Valley AVA, with some overlap into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain. The Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bennett Valley, was made in stainless steel and used French oak foudres and barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a jaunty, zippy sauvignon blanc, sporting grapefruit and tropical notes infused with lime peel, fennel and thyme. Though quite dry and even a bit austere on the finish, it’s a pleasingly balanced and integrated wine that offers a sunny, leafy aspect with hints of fig and yellow plum; bright acidity keeps its aim straight through a limestone and flint-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Excellent. About $32.
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matanzas helena bench
Knights Valley is warmer than the fog-influenced Bennett Valley, a condition perhaps accounting for the slightly more ripe and spicy nature of the Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, a pale gold-colored wine made two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak barrels. There’s more fennel and roasted lemon in this wine, with hints of yellow plums, quince and ginger and a distinct herbal quality; a touch of oak lends suppleness and spice initially but grows to more than a hint from mid-palate back, dominating the finish and muting the character of the grape. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $40.
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Careful winemaking by Patrick Muran produced a beautiful Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles. The 14 PR Sauvignon Blanc ninerwine aged five months in 90 percent stainless steel tanks, 5 percent new French oak barrels and 5 percent neutral French oak, but that new oak was used only for the 10 percent semillon grapes that go into the blend; the rest is 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 28 percent musque clone. Yeah, that’s a lot of “percents” to read about, but I like for My Readers to understand what kind of thought goes into making a wine of authority and concentration. The color is pale straw-gold; penetrating scents of grapefruit and lime peel, peaches, quince and cloves are melded to layers of limestone and flint, while above all waft scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. This is a very dry sauvignon blanc, with about it something saline and savory, bracing and slightly astringent; it’s a bit smoky and earthy, a touch roasted in its citrus flavors that flow to a long, vibrant, steely finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
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A perennial favorite, the pale gold-colored Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Northern Sonoma, was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in French oak barrels. This is one of the most elegant and delicate of the sauvignon blanc wines enumerated in this post. Aromas of pear and roasted lemons offer notes of peach, hay and new-mown grass, with subtle hints of quince and greengage plum; the wine is dry, buoyed by brisk acidity and a smoky-stony-steely quality that lifts the mildly spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Very Good+. About $17.
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tonella sb
A subtle haze of oak envelops the S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, but it’s an element that adds depth and resonance to a beautifully detailed wine. The color is pale but rich gold; the bouquet is characterized by pear and roasted lemon, hints of figs, banana and mango and spare notes of cloves, quince and ginger; any nuances of grass and herbs are kept to a minimum. The wine is quite dry but juicy with the softness of ripe peach and lemon flavors; brisk acidity enlivens a slightly powdery texture, leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Production was “under 500 cases.” Winemaker was Fred Delibert. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Beautifully balanced and integrated but displaying tremendous energy and vigor, the Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, derives from vineyards 900 feet up the western slopes of the Mayacamas range. The grapes fermented 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in neutral French oak foudres, that is, large barrels; the wine did not undergo barrel aging. The color is pale gold; beguiling aromas of lemon balm, verbena, lime peel and grapefruit open to notes of fennel and celery seed, lemongrass and lilac, quince and ginger. On the palate, the wine is seductively poised between crisp vibrancy and a moderately lush, talc-like texture riven by brisk acidity and a crystalline limestone element; roasted lemon and slightly caramelized grapefruit flavors are mellowed by a touch of spiced pear on a finish that segues through deep resonant mineral qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. A real dreamboat of a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker was Lisa Valtenbergs. Exceptional. About $35.
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Four months in neutral French oak barrels lend the Trione Vineyards River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Trione-2014-Sauvignon-BlancValley, suppleness and suavity. The very pale straw-gold hue is as attractive as the aromas of pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel that open to notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, celery seed and fennel, all encompassed in a leafy, grassy character. The wine is exuberant without being flamboyant, a quality that extends across the palate in a line of bright acidity and freshness that culminates in a finish chiseled from damp limestone and flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Excellent. About $23.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Vina Robles Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles, offers a very pale straw-gold hue and bright aromas of lime peel, tarragon and celery seed, fennel, grapefruit and thyme; pretty darned crisp, tart and zingy, the wine sings through the mouth on a stream of citrus and stone-fruit flavors touched with leafy fig and infused with flint and limestone. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink up. Winemaker was Kevin Willenborg. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.
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You know what they say about the miracle of turning water into wine? Well, Ron Rubin turned water into tea and tea into wine. Rubin, pictured below, ron-rubin-240x300went to work for his family’s wholesale wine and liquor business in Illinois in 1972, putting in 22 years managing distribution to 48 counties. In 1990, he started New Age Beverages, a company that was the master licensee for Clearly Canadian Sparkling Water in a 10-state area of the Southeast. Four years later, he sold the wholesale concern and bought The Republic of Tea, a young company based in Novato, Calif. The rest, as they say, is history, because you can find those distinctive cans of herbal, floral, black and green teas all across America — in tea bags and loose — to the tune of more than 200 products. Rubin studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis and in 2011 purchased the River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, in the Green Valley appellation of Russian River Valley. (In May, Rubin passed the reins of the company to his son Todd B. Rubin, now president of The Republic of Tea; Ron Rubin remains as executive chairman and Minister of Tea.) Hence, the two wines under review today. Winemaker for The Rubin Family of Wines is Joe Freeman. I’m sorry to say that what occurs today, as we pick up this series after quite a hiatus, is what often — too often — happens in tasting chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer: I like, even dote upon, the pinot noir and dislike the chardonnay. That’s the case here. These wines were samples for review.
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The Ron Rubin Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, went through a gentle oak regimen of eight months in small French barriques, only Rubin_RRV_Pinot_FACE15 percent of which were new barrels. The wine is composed of grapes from estate vineyards plus grapes from five other vineyards in Russian River Valley. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; scents of red currants and black cherries are permeated by gradually unfolding notes of cranberries and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood, briers and brambles and loam, all encompassed in an aura that feels deeply spiced and macerated yet fleet-footed, delicate and elegant. Super-satiny on the palate, this pinot noir displays surprising weight and texture for the finely-wrought nature of its bouquet; in fact, it’s saved from being sumptuous by a clean line of bright acidity and a fair amount of dusty tannic rigor, giving the wine a stones-and-bones structure upon which to drape delicious black cherry and plum flavors. The whole enterprise gains shading and darkness after some time in the glass, say, 30 minutes, lending an air of strangely graceful and somewhat enigmatic earthiness. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, grilled lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $25, a Remarkable Price for the quality, the depth and dimension.
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I’m sorry that I cannot be as enthusiastic about the Ron Rubin Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, as I am about its pinot noir Rubin_RRV_Chard_FACEstablemate. Like its cousin, this chardonnay was produced from estate vineyards and a selection of other vineyards in the Russian River appellation. It underwent 66 percent barrel-fermentation, in 15 percent new French oak barrels, and also saw complete malolactic or secondary fermentation; the other 34 percent was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Somehow that combination did not make a balanced or integrated chardonnay. The color is pale gold; aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear, with hints of mango, clove and quince and high notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone, culminate in touches of jasmine and camellia; eminently attractive, yes, and so far so good, but a dried baking spice/spiced tea quality burgeons in the mouth and brings an element of stridency to a very dry, dense texture that feels hollowed out at mid-palate and leads to a grapefruit pith finish. 13.7 percent alcohol. Perhaps this imbalance will resolve itself in a year or two, but I wouldn’t take the risk, even at the price of $20.
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A sort of milestone, I suppose, the 50th post in a series, and on this momentous occasion I offer for your delectation and edification the Amici Cellars Pinot Noir 2013, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, a trove of fine pinot noir and chardonnay if they’re not messed about with excessively in the winery. This one was not. Winemaker for these friends is Joel Aiken, who spend almost 30 years as winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and now has his own brand as well as making the wines for Amici. The Amici Pinot Noir 2013 has the deft touch of a veteran all over it. The wine, which is “cellared” rather than “produced,” derives from a number of vineyards in Russian River Valley — in other words, very simply put, it’s not an estate wine — and aged 12 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; an enticing bouquet of black and red cherries and raspberries is suffused with subtle notes of cloves and sandalwood, blueberries and rhubarb and a tantalizing hint of cocoa powder. This pinot noir is super satiny and supple on the palate, mixing ripe, spicy and moderately juicy black and red berry flavors with undertones of loam, briers and brambles and a touch of heather. While moving through the mouth with sensual allure, this pinot noir is neither opulent or obvious, letting its energy — propelled by brisk acidity and slightly dusty tannins — dictate a more delicate, elegant and nuanced approach. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,650 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, seared magret of duck or a veal chop grilled with rosemary. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

A blend of grapes from four vineyards and a plethora of classic clones, the Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, offers a medium ruby color that shades into ethereal transparency at the rim; first come smoke and loam, then an earthy briery-brambly quality, followed by touches of black cherry, cranberry and a hint of pomegranate seemingly macerated with cloves and sandalwood, mulberry and rhubarb; yes, that’s quite a sumptuous panoply of effects. The wine is dense and super satiny on the palate, a pretty wine with pockets of darkness and something sleek, polished and intricate that reminded me of the line from Keats’ sonnet “To Sleep”: “turn the key deftly in the oiled wards.” Not that this pinot noir feels too carefully made — winemaker is Mike Sullivan — because it concludes on a highly individual and feral note of wild berries, new leather, fresh linen and finely-milled tannins, all propelled by bright acidity. Alcohol content is 14.1 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted chicken, seared duck breast, lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

For a guy who doesn’t much cotton to chardonnay wines, I have probably been paradoxical in my inclusion of chardonnays in this “Wine of the Day” series, now at its 22nd entry. I won’t bother to extemporize upon the manifold ways in which I think chardonnay wines can be over-done, over-blown, exaggerated and over-oaked; I have done that more than a sufficient numbers of times on this blog. I will say, however, that when I try a chardonnay that seems to touch on all the points of perfection that I will clasp it to my heart as not only an exemplar but a talisman, and I will shout its virtues from the roof-tops. Such a one is the Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine was made by Richard Arrowood, and if ever a winemaker in California deserved the accolade “legendary,” he is certainly at the top of that brief list. Joseph Belli’s certified organic vineyard lies at the extreme western edge of the Russian River AVA in Sonoma County, where the land begins to slope gently upward. Facing east, the terraced and well-drained acreage receives full sunlight in the morning and early afternoon but is shielded by the hills from the harsh light of late afternoon. The color is pale gold with a faint green cast; the entire impression is of a chardonnay that is clean, pure and fresh, balanced yet forward, fervent, almost emphatic in its intensity; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are layered with hints of cloves, yellow plums, baked pear and undertones of ginger, quince and damp limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of jasmine and lilac. The wine flows on the palate with sleekness and subtlety, in a texture almost talc-like in its packed nature yet riven by resonant acidity and a brisk chalk-and-flint mineral quality; though quite dry, it offers juicy, spicy and engaging citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lead to a finish finely-sifted with fruit, acid, oak and minerals. The wine went through barrel-fermentation and aged 11 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels; its presence is apparent as a shaping element, and its tangible influence emerges primarily through the elegance but powerful finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 475 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Ripped with white hot heat from the pages of my notebooks are these reviews of 10 pinot noir wines, primarily originating in California but including examples from Western Australia and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I avoid technical, historical or geographical data in these reviews for the sake of brevity and immediacy, hoping to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, duly mentioned, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Ad Lib Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2014, Pemberton, Western Australia. 14% alc. Medium ruby color shading to transparent magenta; pomegranate and cranberry, touch of sour cherry; sassafras and cloves; an intense core of lavender and violets; warm, spicy, satiny. Incredibly charming yet with pleasing heft and substance. Very Good+. About $17, marking Real Value.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 850 cases. Lovely medium ruby-cerise color; enticing aromas of red cherries and currants, rose petals and lavender, cloves and sassafras, a hint of loam; more serious on the palate, very supple and satiny texture, deftly threads a fine line of acidity and flinty minerality, but you feel some austerity from mid-palate back through the finish, in which the oak makes itself known. Try from 2016 through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $75.
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J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. This well-known producer, famous for its sparkling wines, was recently acquired by E&J Gallo. Translucent medium ruby hue; red and black cherries, cranberries; notes of cloves and sandalwood, mocha, tar and loam; nothing plush or opulent here, rather spare and reticent but with lively acidity and a lovely satiny drape on the palate and slightly exotic red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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VML Wines Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. VML is Virginia Marie Lambrix, owner and winemaker. Dark ruby-magenta hue; cranberry and pomegranate, hints of blueberry tart, cloves and cinnamon, notes of violets and rose petals; a little fleshy and meaty; quite lively and dynamic; sweet red cherries, rhubarb; loam and slightly dusty tannins; a finish of spice, sour cherry and graphite. Pinot noir as force of nature, exotic but true. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $32.
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Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Radiant and intense medium ruby color; black and red cherries and currants, touch of plum; cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri, loam, briers and a top-note of tart cranberry; ripe and a little fleshy; quite dry, and it develops a surprising amount of tannin, becomes rather austere on the finish, with oak taking a dominant role. Now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $30.
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Les Cousins Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. The second label of Beaux Freres Vineyard. Transparent medium ruby-garnet; macerated red currants and cherries permeated by notes of tobacco and cloves, apple peel, with undertones of cinnamon and sandalwood; supple and very satiny in the mouth, balancing the dry/juicy dichotomy with ripe and slightly roasted red fruit and clean acidity; a dry spicy finish and fillips of moss and loam. A pinot of lovely dimension and detail. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase.
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Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2013, Monterey 53 percent, Sonoma 31 percent, San Benito 16 percent. 14.3% alc. Bright cherry-magenta hue; black and red cherries, pert cranberry and spicy pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; briery and brambly earthiness; a woodsy pinot noir, with notes of allspice and sandalwood, moss and dried porcini; some graphite and mildly dusty tannins; lithe and slightly sinewy texture, quite dry. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 368 cases. Absolutely entrancing mulberry-magenta color, limpid and transparent; every element that I adore about pinot noir but both generous and intense; ripe black cherries, currants and plums, violets and lavender, notes of cloves and sassafras; a touch of graphite and hints of leather and woodsy aromas; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of tobacco and leaf smoke; a layer of briers and brambles underlies spicy and succulent black and red fruit flavors ensconced in a lithe and supple texture through which bright acidity cuts a swath; a sleek and elegant pinot but with a feral edge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $42.
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Dolin Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Sta Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.3% alc. 485 cases. Transparent medium ruby color; smoke, cinnamon toast, rhubarb and sassafras, red currants and cranberries; underbrush and loam, vital and vibrant acidity, juicy with red and black fruit flavors yet spare, a bit chiseled; gradually unfolds notes of cloves and sandalwood, leather and slightly creamy oak, and you feel the oak influence etched along the circumference; lovely and dynamic presence and heft yet with a beguiling ephemeral quality, a bit elusive and tantalizing. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $ .
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Kukeri Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 61 cases produced. Limpid medium ruby color; sandalwood, violets and cloves, macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of strawberries and some dried fruit in the background, notes of mint and tobacco leaf; sleek, subtle and satiny, quite dry; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of pomegranate and rhubarb, loam and old leather; an autumnal, woodsy feeling as the oak comes up through the finish. Not quite Excellent, because the oak in some measure mutes the wine’s sensual aspects; otherwise it’s quite beguiling, so, Very Good+, with final judgment withheld. About $42.
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While other wineries attempt to be all things to all consumers — “Maybe we better make a moscato, they’re hot now!” — Jordan Vineyard and Winery goes right on doing what it has always done since starting in 1976, producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from its estate vineyards, Alexander Valley for cabernet, Russian River Valley for chardonnay. These are not opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe or over-oaked wines. Alcohol levels are kept low — see the wines reviewed below — and new oak is employed thoughtfully. Jordan’s wines drink exceptionally well with food, and while in some quarters such an assertion is greeted with disdain, that factor seems to me to be the highest purpose and achievement of wine. Jordan also fields a website almost unparalleled in California for its usefulness, range and flow of information and accessibility. Pay heed, all you wineries that cannot manage to get your latest releases on your websites.

These wines were samples for review.
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Two-thirds of the Jordan Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, was barrel-fermented, one-third fermented in stainless steel. The wine aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels; only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — thus retaining most of the wine’s crisp, vibrant character. The color is bright but pale gold; classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of cloves, quince and ginger, with tinges of mango and jasmine lingering in the background. This is quite fresh, lively and appealing, poised among spicy citrus and slightly roasted stone-fruit flavors, a scintillating limestone element and a texture just lush enough to add some sensuality to its spare elegance. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020 with seared salmon or swordfish, trout with brown butter and capers, seafood risottos. Excellent. About $30.
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The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Interesting that 85 percent of the grapes derived from Alexander Valley; 14 percent came from Mendocino County and a scant 1 percent from Dry Creek Valley; this is called choosing your sources carefully. The wine aged 12 months in 73 percent French oak barrels and 27 percent American oak, a total of 37 percent being new barrels; it spent 22 months resting in bottle before being released. The color is a transparent medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the wine is unusually intense and concentrated on structure, with aromas of briers and brambles and loam permeating notes of black currants, cherries and plums, accented by hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s element of exotic woodsy astringency. On the palate you taste the spicy black fruit flavors wrapped around a firm core of iodine and iron etched with lavender and violets and a touch of bitter chocolate; the texture is lithe and supple, while the whole package, animated by bright acidity, is dense and chewy with dusty, graphite-tinged tannins. While this cabernet may display a tad less elegance than Jordan cabernets typically do, it feels imbued with more dignity and character; consider it a triumph from a difficult year. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try with steak or grilled veal or pork chops from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $53.
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Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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