Sangiovese


What, you say, you’re making a wine from 2007 the Wine of the Week? Are you mad? Neither mad nor angry, Readers, and if you follow my advice, you will be not only neither mad nor angry but gratified and wise. Colognole, in the area east of Florence dubbed Chianti Rufina — not the producer Ruffino — is one of my favorite estates in the region. Rufina, which, unusually, is not contiguous with the rest of the vast Chianti DOCG, was singled out for mention by Cosimo III Grand Duke of Florence in his edict of 1716 as one of the zones of superior production for the wine; as is the case of the Chianti Classico terrain that Cosimo also commended, the Grand Duke was correct. There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant about the wines of this traditional estate, acquired by the Spalletti family in 1890 and owned now by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante; you just don’t find names like that in the USA. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 offers a lovely, limpid medium ruby-garnet color; the complete balance, harmony and integration of this wine are not awe-inspiring — remember, there’s nothing showy here — but rather intensely satisfying and, well, humane, in the sense that one really wants to share the wine with family and friends around a table set with a simple, delicious meal. Aromas of red and black currants and red cherries are woven with hints of sour cherry, dried cranberries, lilac and rose petal; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and notes of graphite, moss, black tea and loam enter the picture. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique beloved by many producers at the various levels of Chianti, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 is enlivened by fine-edged acidity that cuts a swath on the palate but doesn’t disrupt the wine’s enticing suppleness and lithe character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. This is the first release from a vineyard replanted in 1995; one has to appreciate the 12-year wait to allow the vines to mature. The blend is about 95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo. Excellent. I paid $19, the average of prices around the country.

Vintners Estates Direct Importing, Healdsburg, Cailf.

The Chianti region of Tuscany, as was the case with many vineyard and wine-making areas of Italy, was assailed by the vagaries of reputation in the second half of the 20th Century, mainly of its own doing. Chianti was marketed as a cheap wine for college students and cheap restaurants; the straw “basket” covering didn’t help. Growers overplanted their vineyards and extended acreage into inappropriate terrain, resulting in wines that were diluted and bland, when they weren’t shrieking with acidity. Fortunately, the regulations of 1984, when Chianti became a DOCG wine, lowered yields and the amount of white grapes allowed in the blend and instituted more stringent vineyard and winery practices. Chianti Classico was granted its own DOCG in 1996.

The history of Chianti, as a wine and a region, is long and storied, though the story, as I have indicated, is not always a great one. The earliest written record of Chianti wines dates to the mid-13th century, referring to some villages around Florence; at that time, the wine was white. Cosimo III de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, laid out the official area of Chianti in 1716, an act that seems to be the earliest effort to regulate wine production and delineate a vineyard territory. The region was expanded in 1932 and 1967, the latter edict encompassing most of central Tuscany, from the hills of Pisa in the northwest to the hills of Pomino in the northeast and far south to Siena. The first “formula” for Chianti was elucidated in 1871 by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who recommended a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo, 10 percent malvasia (later amended to include trebbiano) and 5 percent other local red varieties. That is not the Chianti we see nowadays, when the wine may be 100 percent sangiovese — the minimum is 80 percent sangiovese — or with dollops of “international” grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah. Only the most traditional estates include indigenous red varieties like canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.

The other innovation in Chianti — particularly in Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva — is the use of 59-gallon (225-liter) French oak barriques for aging instead of the traditional large Slovenian oak casks; you will notice at least one of the wines under consideration today aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and when that process occurs I think we’re leaning more toward Pauillac and Napa Valley than Tuscany. In fact, if a Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and ages, say, two years in barriques, how different is it from Brunello di Montalcino also produced completely from sangiovese and aged in barriques? If you smell vanilla, you smell French oak, no matter where the wine was made.

Today we look at a dozen wines, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, some fairly traditional, some more progressive or modern in spirit. Though I tend to like the traditional manner better, not a one of these wines is flawed or overplayed; most of the ratings are Excellent. Chianti Classico, by the way, derives from the heart of Chianti, the area south of Florence that still conforms largely to the geographical outlines laid down by Cosimo III in 1716. The implication is that the Grand Duke’s foresight was prescient and that Chianti Classico and Riserva remain the best that the region can offer, though the producers of Chianti Rufina, northeast of Italy might beg to differ.

Map from viottolowines.com.
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Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2010 consists of 90 percent sangiovese and a 10 percent blend of merlot and syrah; yes, syrah is allowed in Chianti Classico. The great majority of the wine aged nine months in 55 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, the rest in American oak barriques; 55 hectoliters equals 1,453 gallons, so those are large casks. This is a beguiling old-style Chianti Classico (despite the merlot and syrah) that displays a dried fruit/dried spice/dried floral character still fresh, ripe and appealing and singing in notes of red and black currants flecked with sour cherry, dusty plums and graphite. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry cast; the wine is quite dry, spare without being severe, elegant without being delicate. Vibrant acidity and a long mineral and woody-spice finish reveal the fine structure that underlies this enterprise. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.

The Antinori wines are imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.They were samples for review.
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Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 and Marchese Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva 2008. The Villa Antinori CCR 10 is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot; the Marchese Antinori CCR 08 is 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The oak treatment reflects the slightly more serious nature of the “Marchese”; while it aged 14 months in new French oak barriques, the “Villa” aged 12 months in French and Hungarian small oak barrels. The color of “Villa” is radiant deep ruby with a hint of violet at the rim; aromas of black and red cherries and red currants are imbued with notes of lilac, cloves, sandalwood, graphite and a hint of mocha, and I’m saying that for such a young CCR, this is pretty seductive. The wine does not neglect a scrupulous structure, though, one resting on resonant acidity, sturdy yet lithe and harmonious tannins and a slightly dusty woody quality in the finish. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35. The grapes for the “Marchese” 08 derive mainly from Antinori’s Tignanello estate, with the rest coming from Badia a Passignano (see the next entry) and Peppoli. There’s heft and character here, a depth of structure that touches on modernity without going all the way into an “international” or California style, held in check by the sangiovese grape’s typical acidity and spareness. The balance between freshness and ripeness — fruit lies in the red and sour cherry range (with a hint of cranberry and black currant) — on the one hand and the panoply of dried fruit, spice and flowers on the other is deftly handled, while the fairly dense chewy tannins lend a paradoxical dynamic of velvety elegance and muscular power, and granitic minerality adds intensity in the lower registers. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchese Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. Gosh, what a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and harmonious. It was made completely from sangiovese grapes and aged 14 months in new Hungarian oak barriques. The Antinori family acquired the 1,000-year-old abbey and its vineyards in 1987. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of coffee and tobacco, dried orange rind and violets. Tannins are both plush and rigorous, and the oak brings not only spice on the palate and suppleness to the texture but a sense of distinguished austerity. For all that, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is delicious, tending toward mellowness, and finishes with a long swallow of graphite, brambles and lavender. Alcohol content is … percent. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $53.
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Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. (Jackson Family Wines) These are modern-style wines, each aging 10 months in French oak barriques. The CC 10 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese, 19 percent merlot and a bare 1 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is dark ruby; the wine is ripe, fleshy, spicy and oaky; notes of raspberry and black currant are permeated by cloves, orange zest, black tea and brambles; it’s really attractive initially, but you feel the sandpaper of burnished oak from mid-palate back. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. The CCR 07 is a combination of 80 percent sangiovese, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. The color is dark ruby with a touch of mulberry at the rim;aromas and flavors of dried black and blue fruit and dried baking spices admit of some fleshy and meaty elements, a little spiced and macerated, but this is primarily dry, dense and chewy, smoky, austere, packed with spice, graphite, bittersweet chocolate and dusty oak that comes up in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22, hoping for the best. 1,430 cases. Very Good+. About $25.

Samples for review.
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Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009. Here’s a pair of well-made traditional CCR and CC. Each is based on the sangiovese grape with dollops of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino — no merlot! no syrah! — and aged in French and Austrian casks of various sizes, CCR 08 for 24 months, CC 09 for 12 months; the wines were produced from organically grown grapes. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009 offers a medium ruby color of moderate intensity and cleanly delineated black cherry and currant scents and flavors permeated by blue plums and blueberries, violets and cloves and hints of orange rind and pomegranate. A pleasing rasp of acid and slightly grainy tannins makes for an attractive texture, while the finish pulls together elements of graphite, bitter chocolate, lavender and leather. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is rather a different creature, high-toned, taut, a tad imperious in the tannin and wood departments, very dry in the sense of encompassing not only a bit of austerity but the dryness associated with potpourri, woody spices such as allspice and sandalwood, the dried citron and currants of fruitcake; the oak comes up from mid-palate through the finish. Still, one gets undertones of the classic elements of sour cherry, violets, clean new leather, black tea and pomander, until they’re o’er-tower’d by the inscrutable lithic finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.

The wines of Badia a Coltibuono are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. The badia (“abbey”) was founded in 1051. It has been owned by the Stucchi Prinetti family since 1846 and is home to the famous cooking school of Lorenza de’Medici. These were samples for review.
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Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009. This ancient estate was purchased by Dominic Poggiali Fèlsina in 1966 and is now run by his sons. While the wine is composed of 100 percent sangiovese grapes, in the modern fashion, it aged only a year in “mid capacity” Slovenian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby at the center shading to slightly lighter ruby-garnet at the rim; beguiling aromas and flavors of dried red currants and plums, sandalwood, violets and dried orange rind are heightened by notes of oolong tea, graphite and new leather, a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, sour cherry and loam. The structure can only be called lovely; moderately dense and grainy tannins are supplemented by a gentle wash of granitic minerality and a burnished, lightly dusty wood influence; acidity is bright and supportive. 13 percent alcohol. A beautifully-made, nicely restrained Chianti Classico for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. I paid $24, but it can be found around the country as low as $18.

Imported by Delta Wholesalers, Memphis, Tenn.
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Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. The flagship of Ruffino’s “Ducale Trilogy,” the Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is regal enough for a dukedom and indeed displays a measure of Olympian detachment and power. The wine is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese with approximately 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The aging is ultra-traditional: six months in vats; 24 months in oak casks of 35- or 75-hectoliter capacity; another six months in vats; six months in bottle; for a total of 3 years. (How many gallons in a hectoliter, class? That’s right, Johnny, there are 26.4 gallons in a hectoliter!) The color is vivid medium ruby with a magenta tint at the rim; you can smell how dry the wine is in its legions of potpourri, racks of dried spices, bushels of dried, crushed black and red berries, in its tomes of dusty graphite and old leather and tobacco-like old paper qualities. Same in the mouth, as the wine develops a dynamic that pitches keenly expressed acidity against supple polished yet substantial tannins, a dry, dusty rather ecclesiastical woody character and an earthy, lithic foundation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Give this breathing space, elbow room, years to grow, say, 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

Ruffino Imports, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review. The estate was launched in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, who sold it to the Folonari family in 1913. The Folonaris expanded the estate and the brand tremendously beginning in the 1970s. Constellation Brands acquired 49.9 percent of the company in 2010 and the remaining 51.1 percent in 2011.
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Tenuta Vìgnole Chianti Classico 2008 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. This 51-acre estate was acquired in 1970 by the Nistri family and is operated by brothers Massimo and Fabrizio Nistri. The CC 08 is comprised of 85 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; the wines are aged separately for 12 months, the sangiovese in large casks, the merlot in barriques, before blending. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; overall, the wine is seamlessly balanced and integrated, with aromas that twine the freshness of red and black currants and red cherries with cloves and sandalwood, notes of violets and dried orange rind and a light granitic, earthy, loamy quality. These elements segue smoothly on the palate, where the wine is dry and spare, and bright acidity keeps it lively, if not pert, and the earthly and mineral character asserts itself through the dry finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $37. The Vìgnole CCR 07 is a creature of different nature; medium ruby with a garnet tinge, it’s a blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in a combination of 225-liter barriques and 400-liter tonneaux. The word is “tough,” as in a rigorous, leathery, stalwart tannic and woody structure that coats the palate and makes for a pretty damned demanding mouthful of wine. Traces of dried spice and a dried floral element lend a hint of piquancy, but this needs time in the bottle to soften and become more inviting, say 2015 or ’16 for consuming through 2022 through 2025. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent production was 1,200 six-pack cases. Excellent potential. About $60.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Tasted at a trade event in Chicago, May 15.
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All of these Italian wines — a rosé, a white and four reds — qualify as Excellent Value and, if not in your immediate neighborhood, Worth a Search. Prices range from about $10 to about $18. Little technical, historical or geographical information; rather, these brief reviews are intended to spark your interest and inspire your palates. All were samples for review. Enjoy, on this Labor Day weekend.
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Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2011, Piedmont. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Light straw-gold color with faint green highlights; roasted lemons, yellow plums, grapefruit; cloves, quince and ginger; brisk and saline; opens to hint of peach, almond blossom and a slightly honeyed aspect; very dry, packed with elements of limestone and shale minerality; blade-like acidity cuts a swath; lovely transparency and balance. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $14.
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Beni di Batasiolo Rosé 2011, Piedmont. 80% barbera, 15% dolcetto, 5% nebbiolo. Medmium copper color with a flush of salmon; dried red currants and plums, hints of raspberry and mulberry; cloves, dried violets and rose petals; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint minerality but complimented by notes of ripe red fruit, black tea, orange zest and cloves. Delicate, delightful, refreshing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby color; spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors, with hints of plum and pomegranate; touches of smoke, leather and underbrush; quite dry, a bit dusty, with vibrant acidity for a lively structure and mouth-feel; very tasty and drinkable, now through 2014. Perfect, simple pasta and pizza wine. Very Good. About $10.
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Li Veli Primonero 2010, Salento. 13.5% alc. 85% negroamaro, 15% primitivo. Deep, dark, rustic, robust, hearty; ruby-purple with a mulberry cast; blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a tantalizing hint of lilac; very spicy, very lively; in the depths, tar, lavender, bitter chocolate, super intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors, a sort of overripe but rigorous bruise-like character, graphite and granitic minerality, leather and licorice. Now through 2015. About $13.
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Poggio Vignoso Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 85% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 5% malvasia. An attractive old-fashioned Chianti aged in 10-year-old Slovenian oak barrels. Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty, spiced and macerated red cherries and currants with touches of melon and sour cherry; a little earthy and briery, with brisk acidity; smooth but leathery tannins and notes of supple and subtle wood; hint of violet on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15 but discounted around the country as low as $10.
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Sikelia Nero d’Avola 2011, Sicily. 13% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Seeing no barrel aging, this wine retains appealing freshness and immediacy while keeping faith with the grape’s dark, tarry, foresty and deeply spicy nature; dark ruby-purple color; earthy and funky, ripe, meaty and fleshy; smoke, blackberries and blueberries (with a hint of blueberry tart); graphite, deep dark Platonic black cherry elements; rustic, muscular, supple. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $15 but seen as low as $11. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

… but you really should buy the Tortarossa 2010, Toscana, by the case to drink over the next year. It’s a blend of 50 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah, making it sound rather like one of those experiments in blending from California, though the Tortarossa 2010 — the name means “red cake” — manages to hold on to what feels like an Italian, if not Tuscan, character. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of mulberry; aromas of black currants and plums, touched by dried red currants and cherries, are warm and spicy, ripe, fleshy and a little meaty. The wine is robust without being rustic and flavorful without being over-ripe; black and red fruit flavors are permeated by notes of cloves, oolong tea, violets and tar and borne up by bright acidity and a surprising amount of grainy, briery tannins. Yes, quite the personality, and it matches the carefree, winsome contortionist on the wonderful label. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014, maybe into 2015, with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers and roasts or (ahem) cheese toast. Winemaker was Alessandro Bacci. Very Good+. About $15, marking Great Value.

Imported by Largo Wines, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.

In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

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Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
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Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
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Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
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Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
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A few weeks ago, Gilt.com had a sale on groups of three wines each from Sean Thackrey, 10 percent off the price of the wines and minimal shipping cost. We love the wines but have not seen them in years; Thackrey, who can legitimately be called legendary if not mythic in California, produces small quantities of highly individual and allocated wines, about 4,000 cases altogether, from vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino and Marin County. I debated for a few days and finally took the plunge. I ordered three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, the most recent non-vintage blend of red grapes from various sources that Thackrey has produced since 1992, and the Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite sirah 2010, Mendicino County; and the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County. This weekend, I opened the first bottle of Pleiades Old Vines XXII to drink on Pizza and Movie Night.

Bottled in June 2012, Pleiades Old Vines XXII, California Red Table Wine, is a blend of sangiovese, viognier, pinot noir, syrah and mourvèdre “to name but a few” as the label says, leading of course to rank speculation: petit verdot? tempranillo? alicante bouschet? The color is vivid ruby-red with a tinge of magenta at the rim; aromas of raspberries and black and red currants are nestled in elements of briers and brambles, rose hips and violets, a hint of cloves. Speaking of raspberries, the wine is pleasantly raspy and earthy, and while at first one thinks, “O.K., this is nice, drinkable, tasty,” as the minutes pass the wine gains power, dimension and edge; the tannins gather force, expressing themselves in a slightly gritty squinchy fashion, while bright, nervy acidity flings an authoritative arrow through the whole array, keeping it fresh and lively. Blue fruit joins the panoply amid a broader range of dried spices, flowers and graphite, though the emphasis remains on a peculiar intensity of blackness involving black currants, raspberries and plums — but always that wild touch of red. An imminently sane 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. One of California’s great loopy, blended wines. Excellent. About $24.

Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Here’s a perfect Chianti Classico Riserva for the cold weather dishes you’re probably cooking now, I mean beef or lamb stew, braised short ribs or veal shanks, pasta Bolognese, that sort of thing. The Ruffino Riserva Ducale 2008, Chianti Classico Riserva, is slightly nontraditional in that its 80 percent sangiovese grapes is supplemented by mixed 20 percent caberbet sauvignon and merlot, and yet thoroughly traditional in that it sees no new oak or aging in small, that is 59-gallon, French barriques. No, this CCR ages 24 months half in stainless steel and concrete vats and half in oak casks that range from 40 to 80 hectoliters, about 1,000 to 2,000 gallons. So while the polished and faintly dusty character of the wine’s tannins are evident from entry to finish, there’s no taint of the vanilla or toasty wood that new oak can impart. This is, instead, a spicy and savory CCR, subtle with notes of dried cherries and black and red currants and hints of sour cherry, black tea and leather. The color is moderate ruby, and in fact everything about this CCR testifies to its not being deeply extracted or heavily manipulated; nothing ruffles its pleasing balance and integration. Lipsmacking acidity enlivens the wine through and through, while elements of graphite-like minerality and supple tannins provide the necessary support for flavors of loamy black and red fruit. A touch of woody allspice and sandalwood and bracing bitterness on the finish imply that this is a CCR for grown-ups. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.

Ruffino Import Co., Rutherford, Ca. A sample for review.

Since life and this blog cannot be about Champagne and sparkling wine for every post, damnit, we return to our regular programming for a red wine that should serve you well for the coming week or even longer, especially with the flavorful and savory dishes demanded by this chilly weather. In fact, in my neck o’ the woods, it’s gently raining and sleeting at this moment.

Of the three primary appellations for the sangiovese grape in Tuscany — Chianti Classico and Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano –the last is the least familiar and where it is known is generally considered the least refined, if not the most rustic, of the trio. The wines deserve to have a wider audience. A good place to start is with the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010. The estate was founded in 1961, when Dino Carletti acquired 22 hectares (about 56.5 acres) in Montepulciano, naming his property Poliziano after the 15th Century poet Angelo Ambrogini, nicknamed “Il Poliziano.” Federico, Dino’s son, operates the estate today, though he expanded the property to 120 hectares (about 308 acres), including vineyards in Maremma, near the coast in southwest Tuscany. Rosso di Montepulciano received official recognition as a D.O.C. wine in 1989. Though it can be made from declassified grapes from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the practice at Poliziano is to select rows of vines that conform to the production of a younger, fruitier and more approachable wine.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; about 40 percent of the wine aged eight months in second-year French barriques, 60 percent in large vats. The wine presents a vivid medium ruby color with a tinge of mulberry at the center; aromas of red cherries and plums are highlighted by sour cherry, a touch of melon and hints of tobacco, black tea, cloves and orange rind. The robust nature of sangiovese has a fingerprint all over this wine, but it’s inextricably melded to and balanced with some of merlot’s refinement. Still, there’s vibrant acidity for an engaging presence and dry and moderately grainy tannins for structure. A hint of austerity sands the finish, but this is mainly a wine that’s juicy with red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2015 with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes or grilled beef, veal or lamb — or just a burger. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

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

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

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

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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