Russian River Valley


Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Except for Santa Lucia Highlands, which I’m still working on as some separate posts since I published this post on October 12. Represented today though are Russian River Valley, Monterey, Cienega Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Edna Valley, as well as one example with a general California designation; all are from 2010 or 2009. I don’t burden the “Weekend Wine Sips” (formerly the “Friday Wine Sips”) with technical detail, narrative sweep, personnel histories or geographical and geological grandeur; these are brief notes, often transcribed directly from the pages of my notebooks, designed to give you a quick glimpse into the essence of the wine. These were samples for review.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pietra Santa Pinot Noir 2009, Cienega Valley, San Benito. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby, slightly brickish color; ripe and spicy black and red cherries, cola and cloves and sassafras; a little fleshy, with hints of dried fruit and spices, earthy, loamy, satiny; you feel the sticks and briers in the slightly austere underbrushy finish, which falls a bit short. Drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; a pretty pinot noir, bright and spicy red with blue fruit scents and flavors, a pleasing smooth texture and plenty of smooth-grained tannins for structure. Through 2013. Very Good. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Monterey. 13.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) A real mouthful of pinot noir, rich and very berryish, dark, spicy; cranberry-magenta color; cherries galore, very clean, pure and intense, lipsmacking acidity, quite dry; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, but a well-made and appealing wine. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.9% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; black cherries, red currants and plums, nicely balanced between richness and spareness, touches of rhubarb and cloves; undertone of brown sugar or something slightly caramelized; smoke and satin, sweetly succulent yet dry, a little sanded and burnished in effect; an edge of foresty austerity through the finish. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, Excellent Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; beetroot, cloves, sassafras and coloa under black cherries and plums; satiny, slick and sleek; oak influence subdued to balance and integration; sapid, supple, savory; dense and almost viscous but cut by bright acidity and smooth-bore tannins; finish permeated by briers and brambles. Through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. Medium ruby color; earthy, briery style, moss, mushroom, leather and the clove-cola-sassafras syndrome with black and red cherries and a hint of rhubarb; large-framed, dense, lithe, lively, pronounced tannins though polished and well-knit; succulent without being opulent; long fruit-and-spice packed finish with a final edge of graphite. Through 2015.
Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; entrancing bouquet of currants and plums, smoky and softly ripe, a little fleshy, touches of fruitcake, rhubarb and lilac; slightly roughened tannins boost the texture; very dry though tasty; leather and loam in the finish where the wood comes up. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $27
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Frank Family Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros-Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter ruby rim; rich, warm and spicy, more syrah-like in heft and flavor than is good for its supposition as pinot noir; a muscular manner that blunts nuance. Very Good. About $35.

(Eight others follow)
(more…)


So, it’s a beautiful mild Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee, after a wild night of high winds and thunderstorms, so it must be time for the “Friday Wine Sips,” today focusing on groups of pinot noir wines from Laetitia Estate, MacPhail Family Wines, Donum Estate and Sanford. Locations range from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County to Arroyo Grande Valley in San Luis Obispo to Anderson Valley in Mendocino. As usual, I eschew the typical reams of technical, historical and geographical info — interesting though I find that stuff — for the sake of brevity and insight. These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.1% alc. Intense medium ruby color; classic nose: black and red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb, cola and loam; wonderful balance and integration; super satiny texture; woody spice and briers and brambles at the circumference while the interior glows with cherry and blueberry flavors with potpourri and bitter chocolate; draws elemental earthiness and oak from the fringe and gathers them for a more somber, slightly austere finish. Through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25, representing Great Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.3% alc. Deeper, darker, a little more concentrated in every sense than its cousin mentioned above; the structure more evident but still suave, smooth and satiny, a lovely drape on the tongue; slightly fleshy (not quite meaty), lip-smacking acidity cuts a swath; wonderful weight, presence and tone; elegance with fundamental power. Through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Family Wines Sangiacomo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. The Hess Collection acquired the MacPhail in 2011. Medium ruby-cranberry color; unusually ripe, fleshy and meaty for pinot noir; spiced and macerated black and red currants, cherries and plums; lush and satiny but bracing with vibrant acidity; prominent graphite/underbrush quality, dense and chewy, a little feral; you feel the polished oak and slightly muscular tannins through the finish. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; very spicy, fleshy and meaty; spiced and macerated red and black currants, plums and cranberries, touch of rhubarb and pomegranate, smoke and tobacco, a hint of spiced apple; super-satiny, almost voluptuous, oak and tannin come through from mid-palate back asserting some control but this doesn’t have quite the balance or integration of the other two. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $49.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Frattery Shams Vineyard PInot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. More black and blue fruit and more blue/magenta to the color; not so flamboyantly ripe, fleshy and florid, more graphite and earthy minerality and more balanced structure; hints of sassafras and cloves, candied apple; lovely, lithe, bright and clean. Delightful with an undercurrent of seriousness. 200 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Not feeling the pinot love or the complex layering that I should here; perhaps this needs a year or two to meld; the nose is gorgeous, offering the full spectrum of spice, flowers, fruit and minerals, but you feel the oak as rather ostentatious on the palate and the finish is a little hot. Try from 2013 to 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $65.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown West Slope Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color; initially nicely balanced among barnyard earthiness, oak, bright acidity and mildly dense tannins; black and blue fruit flavors; the oak element grows more prominent after 20 or 30 minutes and especially in the finish to which it brings a touch of astringency, as the tannins add a dry, dusty, brambly quality; still, there’s that billowing satiny texture. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $85.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Thomas Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Best of this Donum Estate trio. Dark to moderate ruby color; sour cherry, cranberry and blueberry, hints of root beer, cloves and rhubarb; the most perfectly balanced of these three with a seductive satin drapery texture made a little rigorous by deep slatey minerality, scintillating acidity and smooth but slightly earthy tannins; altogether reticent, subdued, supple and subtle, with gratifying detail and dimension. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.5% alc. This is a blend of the Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada vineyards. Vibrant and radiant medium to dark ruby color; cranberry, cola, red cherries and cloves, hint of brown sugar; full-bodied, a sinewy, muscular style with a measure of grace and elegance and a lovely satiny texture; takes a few minutes in the glass for all elements to cohere but structure comes through resolutely. Quite beautiful. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $40
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a darker ruby/magenta core; black cherry, beetroot, rhubarb, briers and brambles; a lot of power and structure but true to the grape; succulent but just enough spareness and litheness not to be obvious or opulent. Another beauty. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford & Benedict La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. Dark ruby shading to a medium ruby/violet rim; robust, muscular, powerful, viscous; dense and chewy; dark spicy slightly stewed black and red fruit flavors; this is where pinot noir walks on the wild side; you feel the alcohol a bit in the slightly hot finish. I’d like to try this one in a year or two. Very Good+. About $54.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Since Tom and Sally Jordan purchased 275 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1972, the purpose of Jordan Vineyards has not changed. The first cabernet sauvignon was produced from the 1976 vintage and the first chardonnay in 1979, and the regimen has not changed. Here is a winery dedicated to only two wines; no attempt has been made to produce wines in many categories in a range of prices to appeal (or pander) to all palates and pocketbooks, as so many wineries in California see fit to do. Even the original winemaker, Rob Davis, remains at his post. Some may see this adherence to a principle and tradition as deeply conservative; I see it as devotion to an unswerving ideal, one that embodies the notion of wines that are immediately drinkable but with the character and backbone — I’m speaking of the cabernet sauvignon — to develop and age gracefully.

Our Wine of the Week is the Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, produced from 20 vineyard blocks from eight small growers. The grapes fermented one-third in stainless steel tanks and two-thirds in French oak barrels. The wine aged five months — that’s right, five months, not 11 or 14 months — in French oak, 47 percent new barrels. Thirty-six percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation in barrel. The result is a chardonnay that practically shimmers with crystalline purity and intensity that express themselves through exquisite balance and layers of nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are wreathed with notes of green apple, cloves and tangerine, jasmine and candied ginger and an intriguing hint of kumquat, which also shows up on the finish, lending a tiny bracing bite of citric bitterness. The wine is dense and lithe, supple and elegant, and flavors of slightly macerated and roasted grapefruit and yellow plum are bolstered by fleet acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone-like minerality. This is, in short, a beauty. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. We drank this with grilled swordfish with grilled squashes, red bell peppers and tomatoes. Excellent. About $29.

A sample for review.


Oops, not exactly Friday, is it? I must have fallen into the sinkhole of the space-time continuum. Anyway, no theme today, just a group of wines that I tasted recently, some of which I liked and a few that I didn’t. That’s the breaks, n’est-ce pas? As usual in the erstwhile Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of incisive reviews of blitzkrieg intensity. Included today are a delightful pinot noir rosé from Sonoma County, two excellent chardonnays (one from Carneros, one from New Zealand) and an inexpensive red wine blend from the “South of France” that’s worth a search for devotees of organic products.

These were all samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Eye of the Toad Rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. Pure strawberry and raspberry with undertones of pear, melon and peach skin; a hints of orange rind, almond blossom and limestone; quite dry but soft and juicy; more stones and bones on the finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13% alc. A lovely, delicate, elegant chardonnay, yet very spicy, slightly resinous (as in a hint of rosemary), touched of roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit with a tinge of mango; underlying richness and complexity, quite dry, always mindful of balance and poise. More than charming, attractively individual. Excellent. About $21.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Rich but beautifully balanced, bold but not brassy; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors deeply infused with cloves and allspice, hints of lemon and honeysuckle; a golden and sunny chardonnay with a sheen of deft oak, ripe and slightly creamy yet with a prominent limestone edge. Pure, intense, sophisticated. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Naked Earth 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc (though the front label says “South of France”). 12.5% alc. Merlot 50%, cabernet sauvignon 25%, grenache 20%, carignan 5%. Certified organic. Surprising character for the price and geographic anonymity; dark ruby color; cedar, tobacco, black olives; black currants and plums; lavender and violets, touch of new leather; dry, dusty tannins, almost velvety texture, spicy black fruit flavors, lipsmacking acidity. Worth seeking out. Very Good. About $12, representing Real Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Green Truck Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. A generic red wine with wild berries and brambles, very dusty tannins and heaps of graphite-like minerality. People searching for organic wine deserve better. Good. About $14.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Murphy-Goode Merlot 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; toasty oak, caraway and celery seed; cherries, plums and raspberries; very dry, disjointed plus a vanilla backnote. Not recommended. About $14.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Better than the merlot but still fairly ordinary; attractive heft and texture, ripe and spicy black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors, nice balance among fruit, acidity and mildly dusty chewy tannins. Very Good. About $14.
Note that both of these Murphy-Goode products carry a California appellation instead of Sonoma County and are “vinted” rather than “produced,” which means that consumers have no idea whence within the state the grapes came or where the wine was made. Jackson Family Wines acquired Murphy-Goode in 2006.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mark West Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a paler ruby edge; black cherry and leather, cola and cloves; hits all the necessary points without being compelling; dense, chewy tannins, swingeing acidity, very dry with a dusty, earthy, mineral-flecked finish. Very Good. About $14. (Sorry, the price is actually about $19.)
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. You gotta like wood to like this one. At first, subtly woven black cherry, mulberry, smoke, cola and woody spice (cloves, sandalwood), then you feel the oak sneak up, as it were, from the back to front, smothering everything in its path. Not my cuppa tea. Good. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

An overall satisfying, even in some instances great group of pinot noir wines, examples touching the winemaking borders limits of California, from Anderson Valley in the north to Santa Maria Valley in the south. Different interpretations, assuredly, diverse approaches to the notoriously difficult grape, but all feeling authentic and legitimate, though my taste runs to the more refined and elegant; and, blessedly, though the use of oak, of course, varies, none of these is burdened with or buried by too much wood. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips, I dispense with the minutiae of technical, historical and geographical data in order to deliver to my readers incisive and provocative yet thoughtful reviews, though I admit that a couple of these run a tad longer than I intend for this space, but then, come on, it’s pinot noir I’m writing about. With one exception, these were samples for review. The order is alphabetical. I’m posting this fairly late at night, but it’s still Friday in the USA.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 14.4% alc. Elegant and sophisticated at first, but becomes more intense and concentrated, a real mouthful of smoky black cherry and rhubarb, violets and lilac, hints of briers and brambles, sassafras, roots and moss, i.e., quite earthy and then quite spicy; deeply satiny texture, lithe and supple too, flows coolly through the mouth; but you feel the tug of oak from mid-palate through the finish. For those who like a muscular pinot noir. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color with a tinge of magenta; incredible perfume: beet-root and root beer, rose hips and strawberry leaf, violets and sandalwood, black cherry and red currants, and then a gentle surge of austerity in brambles and forest floor and finely-honed graphite; in the mouth, more serious than you might think, deeply earthy, multi-dimensioned, yet suave, sleek, supple, satiny; black tea with cloves and cinnamon, orange zest; black and red fruit flavors, a beautifully burnished, balanced, transparent finish. Beautiful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Foursight “Zero” Pinot Noir 2009, Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 13.5% alc. “Zero” does not mean no oak but second-year and older barrels. Gosh, what a lovely gentle delicate yet darkly radiant sifting of finely-meshed, cloud-like tannins; ripe and slightly macerated red currants, plums and mulberries; earthy briers, brambles and leather; and baskets of dried flowers and spices. A model of pinot noir purity and intensity. Perfect with a roasted chicken; I could drink it every day. 360 cases and Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 13.9 % alc. So, how is the “regular” Foursight Pinot Noir ’09 different from its stablemate mentioned above? This is also quite alluring and exhibits similar purity and intensity of expression and character; fruit falls into the range of red and black cherries and cranberries with more emphasis on spice than flowers and just a haze of smoky (but not toasty) oak. As with the previous wine, balance and integration of all elements feel inextricable, tightly woven yet generous and expansive, a touch lithe and sinewy yet with a seductive satiny drape. Now through 2015 or ’16. 405 cases and also Worth a Search. Excellent. About $46.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.5% alc. Riveting purity and intensity; vivid yet somehow transparent or at least infinitely delicate black cherry and mulberry scents and flavors highlighted by subtle notes of sassafras and lightly toasted Asian spices; sleek, supple and a little spare, with flavors partaking more of plums as moments pass; a real dreamboat of a pinot noir with an understanding of its darker nature. Now through 2013 or ’14. 600 six-pack cases produced. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Winemaker’s Block Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Loads of presence and tone yet ineffable balance and integration; lots going on, plums and more plums, with black and red cherries and hints of mulberry and rhubarb, undertones of cola and cloves, but it doesn’t feel fussy or overdone, all is smooth and finely-meshed; dense texture, satin transmuting to velvet but held in check by the ballast of earthy underbrush and a bit of foresty austerity. I like rather more reticence in pinot noir (as in the previous wine and the two Foursights), but this reveals thoughtful wine-making. Now through 2014 to ’16. Production was 600 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $60.
___ (more…)

With Yuletide and the New Year fading into the past and Valentine’s safely tucked away, you might be thinking, “FK, this is no time to offer a sparkling wine as your Wine of the Week,” but to you doubters and skeptics I say “Fie,” because there’s no time like today or any day to indulge this craving and delight. I suggest that you succumb to the ministrations of the J Brut Rose, a non-vintage — that is, multiple-vintage — sparkling wine from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. A classic blend of 64 percent pinot noir, 34 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier, this lovely concoction, made in the traditional Champagne method, offers an entrancing pale pale topaz color with a sheen of ethereal copper, enlivened by a constant upward surge of tiny pink-silver bubbles; all the modalities of dried orange rind and orange marmalade are here, not the sweetness but the slightly bitter edge and the succulence and astringency, along with back-notes of fresh biscuits and apple tart, roasted pears and dried strawberries. This is very dry and crisp and high-toned, with spare dried red fruit and floral elegance tuned to a tautness of stones and bones and a tremendous limestone element. Both refreshing and impressive. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.


There was a time when consumers who loved the zinfandel grape could follow the “R” rule, that is, they could buy zinfandel wines produced by Ravenswood, Renwood, Ridge or Rosenblum and have no qualms about quality or integrity. The truth, of course, is that many wineries in California make fine examples of zinfandel, and the labels are not confined to one letter of the alphabet, but Joel Peterson, the founder (with partner Reed Foster) of and still the winemaker for Ravenswood, was a leader in using French oak barrels to age zinfandel wines and in making zinfandels from single-designated vineyards.

Peterson, a clinical microbiologist, grew up in a household devoted to food and wine, though both of his parents were scientists. He made his first zinfandel wines — from single vineyards in Sonoma County — in 1976, and in the next five years the wandering winery moved five times. While making wine and trying to build a winery, Peterson worked nights and weekends in the laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital, a job he kept until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintners Reserve brand finally enabled him to become a full-time winemaker and winery owner. Industry giant Constellation Wines acquired Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001; Peterson remains as the winemaker and is a senior vice president at Constellation Wines US.

There are six single-vineyard zinfandels in the Ravenswood line-up. I recently tasted two of them from 2008, the Dickerson, from Napa Valley, and the Belloni, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. One is high-toned, elegant, distinctly fueled by tannin and minerals; the other is more approachable, definitely more spicy and fruit-driven, though not decadent or over-done. You’ll see which is which. Ravenswood also makes a “County” line of zinfandels from Lodi, Sonoma and Napa, the expanded Vintners Reserve label, and several limited edition wines.

These wines were samples for review.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, feels balanced and harmonious from start to finish, though after 30 or 40 minutes, you feel the well-knit oak and tannin begin to assert their spicy, slightly woody and grainy influence. The wine, 100 percent varietal, aged 20 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, 28 percent one-year-old, the rest older. This is a zinfandel that feels warm with ripe fruit and spice and cool with graphite-like minerality. Notes of lavender, licorice and cloves highlight black currant, black cherry and plum jam scents and flavors in a package that’s sleek, polished and elegant, though tugged by the persistent gravity of those earthy, briery-brambly tannins; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of bittersweet chocolate and black tea. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 755 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The oak regimen for the Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Russian River Valley, is close to the process for its cousin mentioned above; 20 months but with 32 percent new barrels and 32 percent one-year-old. The more important difference is in the make-up of the wine. While the Dickerson 08 is completely zinfandel, the Belloni 08 is a blend of 78 percent zinfandel with the balance of petite sirah, carignane and alicante bouschet grapes. For whatever reason — geography, climate, composition — the Ravenswood Belloni 08 make an immediate impression of size, ripeness and succulence, though it avoids anything sweet, jammy or over-ripe. Still, the tannins here, though certainly an influence on the wine’s dimension and structure, are softer, leaning a bit more toward the sanded graphite-in-velveteen camp. The wine is rich and warm and generously endowed with black currant, black plum and blueberry flavors dredged in cloves and allspice (with a touch of the latter’s faint astringency to lend complexity) and a strain of fruitcake that lingers provocatively through the finish. 15 percent alcohol. Production was 535 cases. Now through 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


A dozen chardonnays from California, some of which exhibit the too-common stylistic pitfall of heavy reliance on French oak barrels to shape a wine and malolactic fermentation to give it a rich “character.” A few others are excellent models of purity and intensity and fidelity to the grape, a concept that must rule paramount above all other considerations in making wine. As usual in these “Friday Wine Sips,” I eschew most technical and historical information for direct, fairly spontaneous jottings adapted from my original notes.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Disappointing from this generally consistent producer (and a chardonnay ubiquitous in restaurants). Big flush of vanilla that dominates, lots of cloves, buttery and emphatic, over-oaked finish; the balance is way off. Que pasa? Not recommended. About $13.50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Butternut Chardonnay 2010, California. 13.9% alc. Though this chardonnay ages in 100% new French oak and undergoes complete malolactic fermentation (aka, the kiss of death), it’s surprisingly well-balanced and integrated; pineapple and grapefruit, spiced peach; bright acidity, keen limestone element; dense and chewy without being viscous or heavy; actually very attractive, though not quite in the style I favor. Still … Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. Pretty standard but picks up lots of oak and woody spice on the finish; a bit over the top but not too bad if you like the style, I mean at least it’s not super-tropical or wallowing in cloying dessert notes. Very Good. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
St. Supery Oak Free Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 13.6% alc. Who needs oak? Not this incredibly attractive chardonnay. Fresh and zesty, slightly floral (honeysuckle); lemon and pear, lime peel and quince with a hint of a tropical melon element; leafy and a bit herbal, a sort of greengage quality; quite lively but with a lovely silken texture and a grapefruit-tinged finish. Excellent. About $20, Good Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Heller Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carmel Valley, 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; a brash, bright, bold chardonnay; dry, quite vibrant, flashy, fleshy stone-fruit and pineapple; rather too spicy for my palate. Very Good. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Hess Collection Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Clean, pure and intense; smoke, roasted lemons, touch of honeysuckle; tasty pineapple-grapefruit flavors; transparent structure, pleasing lightness of being; very nicely balanced. Very Good+. About $22.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Roth Estate Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Way too much oak here and possibly malolactic; burnt match, the brûlée of crème brûlée, brown sugar, butterscotch, pineapple upside-down cake; sweet and strident at the same time. Not Recommended. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mount Eden Chardonnay 2009, Edna Valley. 13.4% alc. & Mount Eden Saratoga Cuvée Chardonnay 2008, Santa Cruz Mountains. 14% alc. Beyond the pale; both are determinedly oaky, woody, flagrantly spicy; the “Saratoga” particularly too big, too dry, unbalanced, parched with wood. I have seen the “Saratoga” compared favorably to Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru; let’s hope these comments were made in jest, because Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru would never be made like this. Not recommended. The first is $20, the second $26, but neither represents good value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Practically a lesson in deftness and lovely balance; pale but radiant straw-gold color; lemon balm and pineapple, ginger and quince; rich and flavorful but pared to elegance, vivid acidity and a resonant limestone element. Classic shape, structure and poise. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $29.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Graceful, indeed, and elegant, sleek and suave, with a deceptive inner simplicity; this is crystalline, plangent, buoyant with spiced stone-fruit and green apple and its peel, ginger and cloves and a back-note of pear, a hint of smoke, a touch of limestone; all understated, fresh, appealing. An exemplar of Napa Valley chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Oakville Ranch Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Major disappointment from a producer I greatly admire; very very spicy, very dense, I mean obtrusively so; very dry yet imbued with the dessert-like effects of roasted lemons, baked pears and apples, spiced quince, brown sugar and toffee; the palate is overwhelmed and wearied. Que pasa? Not recommended. 178 cases. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

At the end of October, I reviewed three pinot noir wines from 2009 from Sequana, a small winery that specializes in that grape derived from vineyards in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Lo and behold, a fourth showed up at my door a few weeks later. This is the Sequana Sundawg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Green Valley of Russian River Valley.

Green Valley lies in the southwestern portion of Russian River Valley. The AVA (American Viticultural Area) was approved in 1993 as Green Valley-Sonoma County — there’s also a Green Valley AVA in Solano County — and modified in 2007 to Green Valley of Russian River Valley. It’s a small appellation, whose proximity to the Pacific Ocean 10 miles to the west and its frequent foggy conditions make it appropriate for cool-climate grapes like chardonnay, pinot noir and gewurztraminer.

The Sequana Sundawg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is a radiant medium-ruby color with a slight blue tint around the rim; it offers sweet red cherry and smoky black cherry aromas with hints of plum, cola and cloves — the intensity, the loveliness rated a Wow! in my notes. And wait, there quickly follows a backwash of mulberry and cranberry. The texture is super-satiny but not plush or velvety, actually almost spare, delicate and elegant; a few moments bring in the earthy element of briers and brambles, a touch of graphite and shale to sustain the black and red fruit flavors, all of this utterly smooth, balanced and integrated. And yet a few more minutes deepen the wine’s spicy nature, and the whole package gets denser and more chewy, earthier, in the grip of rounded yet slightly grainy tannins, powered from within by polished oak and vibrant acidity. Pretty much a masterpiece; the winemaker is James MacPhail. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 to ’15. Production was 523 cases. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

« Previous PageNext Page »