San Benito County


“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Josh Jensen worked two harvests in Burgundy — at Domaine Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti — and became convinced that he could make great pinot noir wines in California if he could find the right limestone-based terroir. After a couple years search, he found what he wanted in the Gavilan Mountains, high on Mt. Harlan above the city of Hollister, in San Benito County. He planted four vineyards and founded Calera Wine Company, named for an old limestone kiln on the property, in 1976. His intuition was correct. The pinot noirs that issue from Calera’s original vineyards and several planted subsequently are not only among the best in California but among the best in the world. Jensen utilizes natural yeasts and doesn’t overwhelm the wines with new oak. He pushes for vibrant acidity and fairly rigorous structure, with the result that Calera pinot noirs deliver plenty of character but exhibit long aging potential. The wines under review today I purchased locally, paying about $4 or $5 above the suggested retail prices, which I list with the individual reviews. I received samples from Calera only once, four bottles from the 1995 vintage that I wrote about in my weekly syndicated wine column on June 30, 1999. I thought that it would be interesting to read these reviews from 15 years ago and see how consistent the wines are over time:

It was not merely a pleasure, it was an epiphany to taste the 1995 pinot noirs from Calera Wine Co., whose four pinot vineyards are perched in the Gavilan Mountains in San Benito County. Owner Josh Jensen, dedicated to a Burgundian vision, has been a pioneer of great pinot in California since 1972. The wines carry a Mt. Harlan appellation.

The gorgeous Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995 smells like old English churches – rich, dusty, floral, imbued with incense – and brandishes an extraordinary scent of baked plums and black cherries combined with sweet oak and a meaty, animal quality; it offers incredible weight and density, luscious cherry-cranberry flavors that pull up leather and dried herbs and a dim circumference of brown sugar. Exceptional. About $38.

Where the Jensen is warm, the Calera Reed 1995 is cooler, more minerally but also funkier, more “barnyardy”; it brims with cranberry and cola flavors rimmed with brown sugar and trimmed with deft, spicy oak. Excellent. About $35.

If garnets had a flavor, it would be embodied by the Calera Mills 1995, a pinot noir more reticent, more intense and concentrated than its cousins. Provocative smoke curls at the core, while at the top of its range shimmers a floral scent almost like camillas; currants and plums, wheatmeal and beet-root, thyme and lavender teem in the mouth. Exceptional. About $35.

Finally, the Calera Selleck 1995 is an example of utter purity and richness, seamless balance and integration; its hallmark is not intensity but completeness and generosity. Excellent. About $38.

Winemaker at Calera is Mike Waller, who has been at the winery since 2007. Image of Josh Jensen from The Underground Wineletter.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calera “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The Ryan Vineyard consists of an upper portion of 9.4 acres, planted in 1998, and a lower portion of 3.7 acres planted in 2001. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet burgeons with exotic spice, fresh and dried red currants and raspberries with a hint of blueberry and a note of violets; the texture is spare and lithe, and acidity cuts a swathe on the palate; more than an any other of this quartet, the influence of fine-grained tannins and oak and graphite minerality is apparent, creating a slight rasp or sense of resistance in the wine’s flow. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now or wait until 2015 and consume through 2019 to ’21. Production was 2,218 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calera “Mills” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 14.4-acre Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984; an additional acre was planted in 1998. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; this is a subtle and supple pinot noir, highly structured but displaying plenty of spicy fruit scents and flavors in the range of red currants, red cherries and plums; the mode of the wine, however, is earthy and lithic, cool and minerally; it’s half juicy, half rigorous. The Calera “Mills” 09 offers great depth of character and dense, almost chewy tannins that feel legitimately hard-earned. Delicious stuff, but demanding too. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,599 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calera “Reed” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 4.4-acre Reed vineyard was planted in 1975. The wine aged 16 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The entrancing color is limpid medium ruby; aromas of cloves, cola, rhubarb and cranberry feel slightly macerated and roasted. This is a delicate, elusive and haunting pinot noir with a supremely satiny texture and keen acidity that combs the palate; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briars and brambles and forest floor, with notes of graphite and loam, every quality combined with elegance, tensile strength and inevitability. 13.6 percent alcohol. 398 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calera “Jensen” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlen, San Benito County. Jensen, 13.8 acres, was planted in 1975. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of dark plums, red currents and potpourri are wreathed with notes of old leather, lavender, potpourri and a trace of pomegranate and cola; the real thing, heady yet subtle, nuanced and balanced. Matters become a bit more structured in the mouth, where acidity plows a straight furrow and elements of leather and spicy oak emerge more prominently; the texture is satiny smooth, supernally so, but lithe and sinewy, so you feel the bones and muscles of its essence as well as the supple smoothness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,072 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________