Santa Barbara County


The weather outside may be frightful, but to sip a rosé wine is still delightful. These six examples can chase the mid-winter blues, not only with their delicate and elegant character but some with their savory elements of fruit compote, spice and earthiness. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew notations about history, geography and technical matters for the sake of quick and incisive mentions ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy.
These wines were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere Rosé 2016, Maul Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale coral-pink; delicately floral, delectably fruity (peach, strawberry), a fine-spun fabric of bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element; slightly earth finish. Delightful. About $13, representing Good Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Calif.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau D’Esclans Rock Angel 2016, Côtes de Provence. 13.5% alc. 85% grenache, 15% rolle (the Italian vermentino). Very pale coral-pink hue; quite fresh, spare and elegant; strawberries and red currants, seashell, chalk and flint minerality; dried Mediterranean herbs; touches of tangerine and peach; throbbing acidity for crisp liveliness. Lots of character. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé 2016, North Coast. 14.3% alc. 140 cases. Medium salmon-coral hue; strawberry and raspberry, cloves and cinnamon, orange rind and crystallized ginger; an earthy and spicy rose, medium in body, full-throttle in intensity; very dry, opens a tide of limestone minerality; white pepper and graphite in the finish. A highly individual and quite evocative rose. Drink through 2019. Excellent. About $18, and Worth a Search.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Onward Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. 12.1% alc. 324 cases. Radiant copper-coral hue; ripe and fleshy, with blood orange, tangerine and a hint of peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of rose-hip tea, graphite and red currant; the epitome of delicacy and ethereal radiance, yet with a solid grounding in steely minerality. Excellent. About $22, and Worth a Search.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbera County. 13% alc. Pale salmon-coral hue; blood orange, tangerine, hint of peach; redolent of dusty Mediterranean herbs and damp roof tiles; very intense yet with a silky, ethereal texture; quite dry, with burgeoning flint-like minerality; a touch of raspberry leaf in the finish. Excellent. About $23.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smoke Tree Rosé 2016, California. 12.5% alc. Majority grenache with an unusual blend of zinfandel, mourvedre and tempranillo. Medium onion skin-copper color; delicate and expressive; raspberry with a hint of rhubarb and pomegranate, then cherry compote takes over; notes of raspberry leaf and boxwood; opens to bright acidity and a fine flinty edge; lovely tone and presence. Excellent. About $21.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I suspect that while many readers may find the annual roster of “50 Great Wines” interesting, they don’t necessarily find it essential. Today’s post, however — “30 Great Wine Bargains of 2017” — I hope will be greeted with expectation and gratitude. Who doesn’t love a bargain, especially when the price is attached to a wine that performs above its weight and class? Prices on this list range from about $7 to $20. Twenty-five of these selections rate Excellent, with the next five rated Very Good+, and each one offers a hefty and distinguishing serving of quality. The breakdown by genre is 15 white, 13 red and 2 rosé. By country or state: Italy 7; California 6; France 5; Spain 3; Germany 2; and one each from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Oregon, Portugal, South African and Washington. Whatever, it’s not the statistics that count but the wine inside the bottle. Many of these models I would recommend for buying by the case to enjoy in the months ahead, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alain de la Treille Chinon 2015, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $19.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado 2016, Bierzo, Spain. Rosé of 100 percent mencia grapes. Excellent. About $13.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 70 percent loureiro grapes, 30 percent alvarinho. Very Good+. About $7-$10.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Averaen Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinette 2015, Rheinhessen. Excellent. About $14.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 100 percent hondurrabi zuri grapes. Excellent. About $16.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $19.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Contrade Negroamaro 2015, Puglia, Italy. Very Good+. About $10.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux Blanc. 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 10 percent muscadelle. Very Good+. About $13.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maquis Gran Reserva Carménère 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $20.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Masseria Li Veli Verdeca 2015, Valle d’Istria, Apulia, Italy. 90 percent verdeca grapes, 10 percent fiano minutolo. Excellent. About $18.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 504 cases. Excellent. About $18.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mercer Estate Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2015. Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent syrah, 18 percent merlot, 14 percent petit verdot, 10 percent grenache, 2 percent carignane. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $16.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Olema Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. Second label of Amici Cellars. Excellent. About $20.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna. Excellent. About $15.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” 2016, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $15.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, Navarra, Spain. Very Good+. About $11.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County, California. With 6 percent petit sirah, 5 percent barbera, 4 percent syrah. 50-to-103-year-old vines. Excellent. About $20.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, Western Cape, South Africa. Very Good+. About $11.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $16.
________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Urbans-Hof Nik Seis Wiltinger Alte Reben Riesling 2015, Saar Valley, Germany. Excellent. About $18.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi 2014, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa. Excellent. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Serra Lor Rosato 2016, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardenia. An unusual rosé blend of 50 percent cannonau, 25 percent monica, 20 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale grapes. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County, California. Excellent. About $19.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012, Bordeaux. 100 percent merlot, no oak. Excellent. About $12.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier White Bland 2015, Sonoma County. 85 percent pinot blanc, 15 percent viognier. Excellent. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne Brut nv, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $20.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though the roster has expanded tremendously in the past few years. The website for the winery — the estate is run by Barbara Banke, Jess Jackson’s widow, and daughters Katie and Julia Jackson — lists five chardonnays and 11 pinot noirs for 2014 and ’15, as well as pinot gris, viognier, syrah and a rosé.

Today, we look at two pairs of wines, chardonnays and pinot noirs from designated areas of the Cambria estate. Winemaker for these wines was Denise Shurtleff. She remains as Cambria’s general manager, as Jill Delariva Russell takes the reins as winemaker. As you will see in the notes below, I was impressed by the pinot noirs and absolutely put off by the chardonnays. Why even go to the trouble to make limited edition wines when they turn out, like these chardonnays, to be not only similar in character but packed with qualities that strenuously detract from the nature of the grape?

These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

O.K., let’s get the chardonnays out of the way, because, frankly, I cared for them not one whit. The Cambria Fog Tide Chardonnay 2015 and Cambria West Point Chardonnay 2015, both Santa Maria Valley AVA, represented every aspect that I believe is wrong-headed about chardonnay in California. Though the oak regimen was mild and new oak was kept to a minimum, I found these wines unreasonably tropical and cloying with sweet ripeness and elements of buttery caramel and toffee, all smoky and toasty and unbalanced. Each costs $38 but I don’t recommend them.
________________________________________________________________________________________

We’re on steadier ground with the pinot noirs, fashioned in a big-hearted, full-throated style that touches on many aspects of the grape. The Cambria “Element” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; it starts with notes of iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black cherries and raspberries, with hints of cranberry, pomegranate and sassafras; it emphasizes the dark, earthy and loamy character of the grape, though also its potential for a satiny, supple texture and succulent fruit; this is very dry, quite lively and spicy, and a few moments in the glass bring in touches of raspberry with slightly raspy and astringent raspberry skin and stem. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very pleasing in depth and complexity, for drinking through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $45.
_________________________________________________________________________________________

The Cambria “Mesa Terrace” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged in a different direction, 10 months in French oak but with 62 percent new barrels. The color is a similar dark ruby shading to an invisible rim, but the focus here is on red fruit — cherries and currants — and a fuller exploitation of spice in the form of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, with a smoky-beetroot background; it’s a dense and chewy pinot noir, not just satiny and succulent but close to opulent on the palate, though balanced by keen acidity and a scintillating flinty quality; the finish adds loam and forest floor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Again, a pinot noir that’s impressive for its detail and dimension. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
______________________________________________________________________________________

You know what I mean by “alternative white wines.” Not chardonnay or riesling or sauvignon blanc. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Big Three, except when chardonnay is sodden and strident with oak, as happens too often in California, but dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of grapes for what we call white wine exist in the world’s multifarious wine regions. In today’s edition, we look at nine examples. As usual in these posts, I omit details of history, geography, method and personality to offer quick and incisive snapshots of a wine’s character. I will mention at the outset that two of these wines, from Onward Wines and Stinson Vineyards are so-called “orange wines,” meaning that they’re produced from white grapes that ferment on the skins, not the typical process for whites. A lot of pleasure is to be gleaned from this selection, which is designed to introduce consumers to a range of products available beyond the usual choices. Enjoy — in moderation, of course.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 9.5% alc. 70% loureiro grapes, 30% alvarinho. Very pale gold color; quite fresh and clean, slightly frizzante; apples and limes, hint of “greenness,” like sunny leaves and crushed herbs; crisp and vibrant with a stony spine. The definition of quaffable and charming. Very Good+ About $7 to $10, buy it by the case and enjoy.
Aveleda Inc., Pawtucket, R.I.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 11% alc. 100% hondurrabi zuri grapes. Pale gold with a green tinge; hay and heather, green apple and lime peel, dried thyme and almond skin; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of melon and gooseberry; mineral element runs to a dusty roof tiles effect; slightly frizzante; quite dry but lively and engaging; limestone and bracing salinity in the finish. Loads of personality. Excellent. About $16, representing Fine Value.
Valkyrie Selections, Healdsburg, Calif.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Godeval Godello 2015, Valdeorras, Spain. 13.5% alc. Medium gold; enticing scents of mint, thyme and lemon, hints of cloves and cumin; very dry, fairly austere with limestone and flint minerality but enlivened by brisk acidity; certainly a savory white. Very Good+. About $15.
Valkyrie Selections, Healdsburg, Calif.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Höpler Grüner Veltliner 2015, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold with a delicate green tint; hay and quince, yellow plums and golden raspberries; very clean and crisp, a bit saline, with a savory background; a lime peel, lilac and gunflint finish. Charming and delightful. Very Good+. About $16, a local purchase.
USA Wine Imports, New York.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley. 12.8% alc. Pale gold hue; glorious bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, poached apple and pear; hints of mint, candied orange rind, iodine and graphite; very dry, resonant and animated; woodsy spices and meadowy flowers; lip-smacking acidity and a dry, elegant, almost austere finish. Brilliant winemaking. Exceptional. About $28, representing Extraordinary Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pazo Cilleiro Albarino 2015, Rías Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Straw-yellow with faint green highlights; a ripe, fleshy yet chiseled albarino; lime peel, pears and roasted lemon; riveting acidity and a filigree of scintillating limestone; hints of dried mountain herbs and a spare network of white flowers. Really charming. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, lime peel and grapefruit, white tropical flowers, backnotes of hay, heather and dried thyme; all knit with spareness and a delicate touch; very dry and crisp, heaps of limestone and flint minerality. Really lovely. Excellent. About $19.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stinson Vineyards Wildkat 2015, Monticello, Virginia. 10.5% alc. 100% rkatsiteli grapes. 75 cases. Very pale coral-gold; red apple and tomato skin, roasted almonds, cloves and a touch of honey; crisp, delicate, lively, well-balanced; very dry, with a light dusting of fine loam. Very Good+. About $28.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 55% marsanne, 45% viognier. 180 cases. Pale gold, practically shimmers in the glass; roasted lemon and spiced pear, bees’-wax and camellia, dried thyme, ginger and quince; an intriguing whiff of ground cumin; spare and sinewy on the palate, with bright, lithe acidity and a glittering limestone and flint quality. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jed Steele is assured a place in the annals of the California wine industry — and in the chronicle of American consumer taste — because he formulated the character of the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, a ripe, slightly florid and slightly sweet chardonnay that tickled American palates to the tune of millions of cases. The wine was introduced in 1982, when proprietor Jess Jackson was getting started in the business. Steele had worked at Stony Hill and Edmeades and brought a wealth of knowledge, as well as instinct and intuition, to Kendall-Jackson, an ever expanding winery for which he worked until 1991, when Jackson fired Steele amid contentious accusations leading to suits and counter-suits. Jackson asserted that the “formula” for the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay was a trade secret owned by the company, not by the man who created the wine. Surprisingly, a court agreed with Jackson. Water under the bridge, right. That year, the winemaker started Steele Wines, based in Lake County but drawing grapes from the breadth of California’s wine regions. While he makes a dizzying array of wines from multiple grape varieties, Steele produces several pinot noirs, both on a regional basis and from the single-vineyard standpoint. In today’s post, we look at an inexpensive and approachable example from Lake County, under the Shooting Star label; models from 2013 and ’14 from Santa Barbara County and Carneros; and a single-vineyard offering from the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara. No one would mistake these wines for anything other than pinot noir, yet Jed Steele imprints his individuality on each one, allowing the grape to express itself while keeping to his vision of what the grape can be.

These wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Let’s start with the Shooting Star Pinot Noir 2015, Lake County, under a label that’s one of Steele Wines’ subsidiary (and competitively priced) efforts. The wine aged nine months in French and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; aromas and flavors of black cherries and currants are lightly spiced with sassafras and cloves, with a note of red cherry in the background. The texture is silky smooth and animated by brisk acidity; the finish brings in hints of loam and graphite. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. A Real Bargain at about $14.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged eight months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, shading to a medium transparent rim; the beguiling and seductive bouquet offers notes of violets and rose petals, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, with a complex weaving of sassafras, rhubarb, sandalwood and cloves and tantalizing hints of cranberry and sour cherry. The texture is supernally satiny, but make no mistake, this pinot noir delivers a real mouthful of loamy-spicy black and red fruit flavors and vivid acidity, while the finish brings in elements of new leather and graphite. 14.5 percent alcohol. An exotic and highly individual pinot noir drinking beautifully at four years; it should develop well through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Barbara County. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; this pinot noir is dense with black and red fruit and exotic spice, feeling macerated and slightly fleshy and roasted; black and red cherries and currants display a hint of plum; a ballooning floral element wreathes violets and rose petals, while a penetrating graphite quality arrows through the svelte, succulent texture; lip-smacking acidity keeps the whole package lively. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $21.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 10 to 12 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, a percentage I like. The color is medium ruby-garnet with a transparent rim; the impression is of spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, fairly ripe and fleshy and permeated by notes of an element slightly resinous and herbal, like fresh rosemary, and by deeper hints of cranberry and pomegranate, violets and dusty loam. The texture is irresistibly satiny-smooth. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $21.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
As with the other pinot noirs in this post, the Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, delivers a well-modulated, almost subliminal oak presence that doesn’t interfere with its aromas — both lovely and intense — of red cherries and currants permeated by blossoming notes of violets and lavender, sassafras and sandalwood or its expansive flavors of ripe red and black fruit that after a few minutes in the glass take on hints of loam and new leather, bittersweet chocolate and graphite. The whole package is driven by acidity that cuts a path on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Steele Wines Bien Nacido Vineyard Block N Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. An entrancing medium transparent ruby hue shades to a delicate rim; very pure, intense yet generous black and red cherry and currant scents and flavors are permeated by pronounced elements of pomegranate and cranberry, sandalwood and sassafras. On the palate, this pinot noir is lithe, supple and suave, animated by bright acidity and given a firm mineral backbone of graphite and loam. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 150 cases. Should drink beautifully through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sonoma-based Siduri Wines specializes in an array of single-vineyard pinot noirs from the range of West Coast regions. Winemaker and founder (in 1994) Adam Lee also produces pinot in broader appellation bottlings, which are the wines represented in today’s post, from Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County), Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) and Yamhill-Carlton in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The wines are finished unfined and unfiltered and topped with screw-caps for ease of opening. Lee and his wife and fellow-winemaker Dianna Novy Lee sold the winery to Jackson Family Wines in January 2015, though he remains as winemaker. These wines, which I found extremely pleasurable, were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
nv-slh-pn
The Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, derives from some of the appellation’s most distinguished vineyards, including Rosella’s, Garys’, Pisoni and Soberanes. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The robe is a warm, rich medium ruby, shading to a slightly lighter rim; this is a dark, earthy, spicy, loamy pinot noir, bursting with notes of black cherry and plum compote etched with hints of cloves and beetroot, cranberry and graphite. It flows with lovely weight and heft on the palate, though keen acidity cuts a swath and lends the wine excitement and refreshing qualities. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SID_PN_StaRitaHills_nv_0
The regimen for the Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, was 16 months in French oak, but only 10 percent new barrels. The wine offers a beautiful totally transparent ruby hue, you could read a magazine through it, and lovely, limpid notes of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and pomegranate, sandalwood and loam, cloves and rhubarb; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of beetroot and blueberry. This pinot is the most succulent, the most dense and satiny of the trio under review here, a tad dusty and freighted with velvety tannins, yet paradoxically elegant and ethereal. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SID_PN_WillametteVly_nv_0
We move up to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the Siduri Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, a wine that rested in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, for 16 months. The color is a fairly transparent medium ruby that shades to an almost invisible magenta rim; the wine is an entrancing blend of ripe black and blue fruit, dried herbs and flowers and exotic spices, so call it cherries and plums, sage, heather and violets, sandalwood and cloves. For all its sensual appeal, there’s some rigor to the wine’s structure, a strain of graphite-briery-foresty character that lifts both texture and depth to the fore. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I launched the “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” series in October 2014 as a way of focusing on cabernet-based wines from one the the world’s best places for the grape’s production into fine wine. Or not so fine, depending on one’s point of view about over-strict oak regimen, super-ripe, jammy fruit and alcohol levels that soar to 15 percent and beyond, characteristics that occur too often. But cabernet-based wines are made not only in other regions of California but all around the world. We look today at a baker’s dozen — the superstitious way of saying “13” — of non-Napa Valley examples, mainly from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County and from various spots in Chile. Some of these wines stuck me as being classic in proportion and balance, while a few leaned toward exaggeration; none, however, seemed beyond the pale, and most of the ratings are Excellent. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2012_Cad_CS
The powerful and seductive Cadaretta Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet, 6 percent petit verdot and 5 percent merlot that aged 20 months in French oak, 90 percent new barrels. That’s a lot of oak by my lights, yet the wine displays very agreeable personality and character. The color is inky ruby with a slightly lighter purple rim; a dynamic wafting of iodine and iron, mint and blackberries and currants, briers and brambles, walnut shell and forest floor surges from the glass; the wine is propelled by bright acidity and granitic minerality that feels chiseled and honed, bolstered by plush, dusty, graphite-infused tannins while still offering delicious notes of ripe and spicy black fruit flavors. The essence is balance and integration of all elements. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now — with steak — through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cliff Creek Cab Sauv 2012
The 100 percent varietal Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Southern Oregon, sees 20 months in oak, 95 percent French barrels, five percent American. The color is deep ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; the initial impression is of its herbal nature in the form of cedar, sage and dried thyme, followed by ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins flow across the palate in a sleek tide, while bright black and blue fruit flavors are buoyed by vibrant acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoked walnuts, walnut shell, loam and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped in chiseled granitic minerality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $27, a local purchase at $26.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
domus_aurea_11_15
In every vintage that I have tried, Domus Aurea is consistently one of the best cabernet-based wines made in Chile. The Domus Aurea 2012, Upper Maipo Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark, radiant ruby shading to a magenta rim; the bouquet is a finely-milled welter of black currants, iodine and graphite, licorice and lavender, cedar and tobacco, with a tinge of slightly resinous rosemary and sage and burgeoning notes of black raspberry and cherry. The wine combines sleekness and litheness of texture with a chiseled edge of graphite minerality and bright acidity to keep it lively and alluring; ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are delicious, yet subdued to the power and energy of granitic minerality and keenly etched tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2026 to ’30, Excellent. About $65.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Concha y Toro’s flagship red wine always packs plenty of character into the glass. Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon don melchor 132013, Puente Alto, Chile, is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent cabernet franc, aged 15 months in French oak. From its opaque purple-black hue to its structural elements of walnut shell and graphite, flint and iodine, its dense, chewy dusty tannins, it’s a wine that needs a few years in the cellar. However, it blossoms beautifully with notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, mint and ground coriander and beguiling hints of lavender and crushed violets, and it balloons in size and scope as the moments pass, becoming, it feels, more sizable, denser, a bit shaggier in its combination of tannic, oak and minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Quite a performance for trying from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent. About $120, though often discounted on the internet to $100 or so.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2013_Mariner_label_rgb
The Dry Creek Vineyards The Mariner Meritage 2013, Dry Creek Valley, is a blend of 54 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot, 10 petit verdot, 8 malbec and 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 20 months in French and Hungarian oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color, if one can call such an impenetrable hue a color, is opaque ruby-black; this is all about structural elements presently, offering a welter of iodine, iron and graphite, walnut shell and cedar, rosemary and leather, couched in a dignified and authoritative fashion. It’s quite dry and displays a deep expression of lavender, bittersweet chocolate and mocha, loam and underbrush, with glimmers of slightly resinous black fruit scents and flavors shining darkly through. The embodiment of intensity and concentration; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’30. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tasting through a group of cabernet-based wines at home one afternoon, the Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina, Enzo_Label clearly stood out as the best. It’s a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot and 7 percent malbec, aged 10 months in 100 percent new oak barrels (80 percent French, 20 percent American) and a further two years in bottle. While there’s no denying that this is a large-framed cabernet, broad and deep in scope and dimension, it’s surprisingly light on its feet and never overwhelms the palate with oak and tannin. Oh, sure, it offers a youthful inky ruby-purple color and a whole spectrum of iodine-iron-graphite rock-robbed minerality and dusty, slightly austere tannins, but it’s also quite attractive with its scents and flavors of spiced and marinated black currants and cherries that carry hints of blueberry tart and violets. Yes, it’s very dry, and the finish remains rather demanding in its tannic and mineral nature, but overall, this is a deftly balanced and integrated red wine. 14.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $55.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Jordan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, represents a shift toward more French oak and more new oak than in previous vintages. Every one of the winery’s cabernets since the first in 1976 has been made by Rob Davis — a remarkable record for California — so he is certainly in a position to know the wine and the grape sources in 2013-Jordan-Alexander-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon-Label-WebThumbdepth and detail. The blend here is a carefully calibrated combination of 75.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15.5 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot, 1.5 percent malbec and 0.5 percent cabernet franc. The oak regimen? Twelve months at 83 percent French and 17 percent American, 43 percent new barrels, predominantly new French. How does that scale compare to recent vintages (to get all geeky about this issue). In 2012: 69 percent French, 31 percent American, 41 percent new; in 2011: 73 percent French, 27 percent American, 37 percent new; in 2010: 74 percent French, 26 percent American, 39 percent new. So, yes, this current vintage does lean more heavily on French oak barrels; the question is, how much difference does that factor make in the wine? I’ll say this right now: Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is the tightest and most unapproachable cabernet from the winery that I have tasted, founded on an oak and tannin structure that feels both vertical and horizontal. It also exudes an undeniable aura of majesty and dignity. The color is an intense dark ruby-black; initially the wine is characterized by an essence of iodine and iron, sage and loam, slightly resinous rosemary, violets and mocha, all ground in some granitic pestle; as for fruit, that aspect takes 45 minutes to an hour to assert itself, after which the wine gently opens and becomes a bit warmer and spicier, though still operating under the wood-tannin-mineral cloak of darkness. 13.8 percent alcohol. Is this change a reasonable development in the 37-year history of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon? From my perspective, what the 2013 gains in power and structure it loses in elegance and alluring nuance, always the hallmarks of these wines in the past. Try from 2018 to ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Very Good+ for now, with Excellent potential once it becomes more balanced and integrated. About $55.

I’ll add that Jordan fields what is hands-down the most informative, detailed and accessible website of any winery I have encountered in California.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2010_Marques_CS_NV
Essentially, the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley, Chile, is Concha y Toro’s next-to-top-tier line of wines, more affordable than the Don Melchor mentioned above but still considered by the winery as part of its Fine Wines division. This one spent 16 months in French oak barrels and is a blend of 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each merlot and syrah. The color is very dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black currants, cherries and raspberries are infused with dusty graphite and loam, given high tones of black olive and bell pepper, all sliding on a faintly leafy herbaceous note. Ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are couched in vivid acidity, dense and velvety tannins and granitic minerality, adding up to a fairly rigorous treatment of the wine. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 through 2024, or open tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the flames. Very Good+. About $26.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SLCS Lg Thumb
The Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, is undoubtedly well-made, yet it’s so typically Californian that I wish it took a few risks, went a bit higher and lower in tone and effect. That said, I think anyone who cottons to the style would like it. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It presents a ruby hue so dark that it’s almost opaque, though shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas of cedar and fresh rosemary, ripe black currants and cherries are touched with notes of lavender and mocha, graphite and violets. On the palate, this cabernet wine delivers plush velvety tannins for texture, brisk acidity for lithe liveliness, and elements of iodine and iron that bolster the somewhat austere finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2026 to ’28. Very Good+. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
stone street cab 12
The not-quite-100 percent-varietal Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley — there’s 5 percent mixed merlot and malbec — aged a decent 17 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The vineyard from which it derives ranges from 400 to 2,400 feet, providing a spectrum of drainage, exposure and elevation that lent the grapes a full complement of detail and dimension. A very dark even unto black-ruby-purple hue, the wine offers a classic mountain-style array of sage and bay leaf, tobacco and loam, dried rosemary and a tinge of pine resin; these elements bolster notes of deeply spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums thoroughly permeated by dense, furry chewy tannins that coat the palate with a kind of velvet-iron-filings texture. The finish is long and chiseled and packed with granitic minerality, none of which prevents the wine from being surprisingly drinkable. Try through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
ECM320629
Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, despite a sensible oak regimen — 18 months French oak, 37 percent new barrels — feels dominated by toasty wood from beginning to end. The color is black-purple with a glowing magenta rim, and, to be sure, there’s plenty here that indicates the wine’s fairly classic status, with its spiced and macerated black currants and cherries with a hint of baked plums, its notes of cedar, tobacco and sage, its structural elements of briers and brambles, forest floor and moderately dusty tannins; still, the smoke, charcoal, walnut shell and graphite character pulls a veil of toasty oak over the whole proceedings, and, for my palate, becomes obtrusive. Perhaps two or three years will even it out. Very Good+. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2012-Henrys-Blend
Trione Vineyards and Winery Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2012, Alexander Valley, is a Bordeaux-style blend — with a California emphasis — that combines 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot, and 5 percent malbec, aged 18 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The concept of a “Bordeaux-style blend” is a bit of an idealization, of course, because very few red wines from Bordeaux employ what used to be thought of as the five “classic” Bordeaux red grapes; malbec doesn’t even enter the picture. This is a cool, inky, chiseled wine that features a dark ruby-purple hue and aromas of ripe black currants, plums and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and graphite, dust and loam, iodine and iron; dense, sleek and chewy, this wine displays huge reserves of acid, austere tannins and granitic minerality, all the while offering delicious black fruit flavors (with a tinge of black olive and roasted fennel) and a nicely balanced tide of burnished oak. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $54.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Trione Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley, is predominantly cabernet sauvignon — 85 percent — Trione-2012-Cabernet-Sauvignonwith 9 percent merlot and 2 percent each cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec in the blend; it aged 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is impenetrable ruby from stem to stern; the bouquet offers an enticing melange seething with notes of cedar, violets and lavender, loam and smoke, tobacco and cigarette paper, with hints of graphite and intense, concentrated black fruit. The wine is more succulent on the palate, its ripe, spicy black currant and cherry flavors rich and beguiling, but the effect is tempered by the presence of immense, dusty, granitic tannins that produce an austere, aloof finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $67.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Byron_Nielson_CH-1
The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
415x1431-EVW_FDE_Char_V15_750
The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
FF_Chard_2014_EDIT3
Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
c_1409.tif
New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
acorn-2013-heritage-vines-zinfandel-rgb-72dpi
Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
gratien
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
0000098_sauvignon-blanc
Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
bk-chard
Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
bns12c_bottle_180x579px
Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
orestano-pn
R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
lescadrans_de_lassegue_bottle-2-2-232x800
Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
cdr_13pnoir-weblowres
Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
chartogne
Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
julienas_12_web
Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
cs12mcwlweb
Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
era_btl_sv_ph-png_store
Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126
Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
eve-essence
Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
fields
Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
gamble
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
barb
Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
inman-ogv
Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
jayson-cab-label
Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
luscher
Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
lutum_2013_web-2-183x619
Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
macphail-logo
MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
alsace-1
Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
merisi
Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
montelena-riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
nerthe-2
Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
patz_hall_hyde_pinot_noir2_1024x1024
Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
prv_lepetitclos_chard_sld_main
Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
pol-roger-brut-rose-bottle
Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
montezargues-2012-website-1
Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
red-newt
Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
german-2
Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
rmw_2013_cabernetsauvignon_oakville_lowres
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
logo_saxon_brown_copper
Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
sedition-bottle-of-wine2
Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
seed
The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
smith-madrone-chardonnay
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
stonestreet-sb
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
stony-hill-chard-label
Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3-sticks-durell
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
tongue-dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
troon
Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2-sheps
Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
02_85432_f
Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
carignanrose15-f_ttb
Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
ws-westside-road
Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
poete
Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
windracer
WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
zena-259
Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Looking for a true Rhone Valley experience in a California red wine? Well, then, you should be. bns12c_bottle_180x579pxIn any case, look for a bottle of the Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley. In all its wild and woolly and autumnal 100 percent syrah nature, the wine feels elemental, fundamental and inevitable. The color is an opaque black-ruby shading to a glowing violet rim; aromas of roasted meat and wet dog are foresty and loamy, opening to notes of macerated and slightly stewed blackberries, currants and plums; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of black pepper, tar, oolong tea and fruitcake, iodine, smoke and roasted fennel, with a bell-tone of blueberry. This syrah rests on deep foundations of briery and granitic tannic power and dynamic acidity, combined with very intense and concentrated black fruit flavors, polished oak and graphite minerality, these factors meshing across the palate and culminating in a brooding, darksome, feral finish. 13 percent alcohol. Tremendous character and personality. Production was 313 cases. The wine is a natural with braised short ribs or veal shanks and such cool-weather fare, though we drank it happily with black bean and sweet potato chili. Now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $50.

A sample for review.

Next Page »