Santa Barbara County


Ripped with white hot heat from the pages of my notebooks are these reviews of 10 pinot noir wines, primarily originating in California but including examples from Western Australia and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I avoid technical, historical or geographical data in these reviews for the sake of brevity and immediacy, hoping to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, duly mentioned, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ad Lib Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2014, Pemberton, Western Australia. 14% alc. Medium ruby color shading to transparent magenta; pomegranate and cranberry, touch of sour cherry; sassafras and cloves; an intense core of lavender and violets; warm, spicy, satiny. Incredibly charming yet with pleasing heft and substance. Very Good+. About $17, marking Real Value.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 850 cases. Lovely medium ruby-cerise color; enticing aromas of red cherries and currants, rose petals and lavender, cloves and sassafras, a hint of loam; more serious on the palate, very supple and satiny texture, deftly threads a fine line of acidity and flinty minerality, but you feel some austerity from mid-palate back through the finish, in which the oak makes itself known. Try from 2016 through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $75.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. This well-known producer, famous for its sparkling wines, was recently acquired by E&J Gallo. Translucent medium ruby hue; red and black cherries, cranberries; notes of cloves and sandalwood, mocha, tar and loam; nothing plush or opulent here, rather spare and reticent but with lively acidity and a lovely satiny drape on the palate and slightly exotic red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
VML Wines Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. VML is Virginia Marie Lambrix, owner and winemaker. Dark ruby-magenta hue; cranberry and pomegranate, hints of blueberry tart, cloves and cinnamon, notes of violets and rose petals; a little fleshy and meaty; quite lively and dynamic; sweet red cherries, rhubarb; loam and slightly dusty tannins; a finish of spice, sour cherry and graphite. Pinot noir as force of nature, exotic but true. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $32.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Radiant and intense medium ruby color; black and red cherries and currants, touch of plum; cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri, loam, briers and a top-note of tart cranberry; ripe and a little fleshy; quite dry, and it develops a surprising amount of tannin, becomes rather austere on the finish, with oak taking a dominant role. Now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $30.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Les Cousins Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. The second label of Beaux Freres Vineyard. Transparent medium ruby-garnet; macerated red currants and cherries permeated by notes of tobacco and cloves, apple peel, with undertones of cinnamon and sandalwood; supple and very satiny in the mouth, balancing the dry/juicy dichotomy with ripe and slightly roasted red fruit and clean acidity; a dry spicy finish and fillips of moss and loam. A pinot of lovely dimension and detail. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2013, Monterey 53 percent, Sonoma 31 percent, San Benito 16 percent. 14.3% alc. Bright cherry-magenta hue; black and red cherries, pert cranberry and spicy pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; briery and brambly earthiness; a woodsy pinot noir, with notes of allspice and sandalwood, moss and dried porcini; some graphite and mildly dusty tannins; lithe and slightly sinewy texture, quite dry. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 368 cases. Absolutely entrancing mulberry-magenta color, limpid and transparent; every element that I adore about pinot noir but both generous and intense; ripe black cherries, currants and plums, violets and lavender, notes of cloves and sassafras; a touch of graphite and hints of leather and woodsy aromas; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of tobacco and leaf smoke; a layer of briers and brambles underlies spicy and succulent black and red fruit flavors ensconced in a lithe and supple texture through which bright acidity cuts a swath; a sleek and elegant pinot but with a feral edge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $42.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dolin Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Sta Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.3% alc. 485 cases. Transparent medium ruby color; smoke, cinnamon toast, rhubarb and sassafras, red currants and cranberries; underbrush and loam, vital and vibrant acidity, juicy with red and black fruit flavors yet spare, a bit chiseled; gradually unfolds notes of cloves and sandalwood, leather and slightly creamy oak, and you feel the oak influence etched along the circumference; lovely and dynamic presence and heft yet with a beguiling ephemeral quality, a bit elusive and tantalizing. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $ .
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Kukeri Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 61 cases produced. Limpid medium ruby color; sandalwood, violets and cloves, macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of strawberries and some dried fruit in the background, notes of mint and tobacco leaf; sleek, subtle and satiny, quite dry; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of pomegranate and rhubarb, loam and old leather; an autumnal, woodsy feeling as the oak comes up through the finish. Not quite Excellent, because the oak in some measure mutes the wine’s sensual aspects; otherwise it’s quite beguiling, so, Very Good+, with final judgment withheld. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What could a former snowboarder and a former investment banker do but get together and make wine. Not just wine but cabernet sauvignon in Santa Ynez Valley, in the Central Coast’s southern Santa Barbara County? Jeff Tanner is the former investment banker and Rob DaFoe is the former snowboarding pro, and their enterprise is Tanner DaFoe Wines, a producer of minuscule amounts of very fine cabernet sauvignon wines first released from the 2009 vintage. I have simplified the story a great deal here, but suffice to say that the pairing of these partners was serendipitous — if you’re in the market for full-throated yet spare and lithe cabernets that cost $110 a bottle. Yes, these are luxury items, stylish and sophisticated in every sense, yet displaying none of the flamboyance, opulence and over-ripe/over-oaked character that many of California’s “cult” cabernets exhibit. Not easy to find, they’re definitely Worth a Search if you have the yen and the dollars.

These wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tanner DaFoe Rogue’s Blend 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, could be called the producer’s entry-level wine, at least in terms of price. The wine is a blend of 72 percent cabernet sauvignon and 28 percent cabernet franc; it spent 28 months in French oak barrels. The color is deep ruby shading to a mulberry-hued rim; the initial impression is striking aromas of mint and minerals, ripe and spicy black currants and raspberries, lavender and crushed violets, with back-notes of fruitcake, tapenade, cedar and rosemary and hints of ancho chili and loam; the wine projects, in other words, a clearly and cleanly delineated bouquet of great complexity and appealing fervor. This is a wine of tremendous tone and presence, dense, supple and lithe, packed with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, a large-framed wine that nonetheless profits from its poised energy and whiplash acidity and liveliness. A bit rock-ribbed presently, in its dusty, velvety oak and tannins and its lithic character, it opens as the moments elapse to offer hints of dill seed, caramelized fennel and bitter chocolate. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 96 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’26. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tanner DaFoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Santa Ynez Valley. The current release of the winery’s 100 percent cabernet sauvignon aged 28 months in French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter magenta rim; the raison d’etre here is structure and texture, with intense and concentrated but ripe and spicy cassis, blueberry and mulberry scents and flavors (with a high wild note of black cherry) deeply freighted by iron and iodine, piercing graphite minerality, lead pencil and a touch of cedar. The wine is sleek and chiseled, hewn from obsidian, it seems, supple and muscular, but for all that it offers fleshy and meaty notes of slightly roasted black and blue fruit and the animation of bright acidity. Mouth-filling and deeply savory, this 2011 feels potent, complete and confident, though it would benefit from a few years in the cellar; try from 2016 or ’18 through 2025 to ’29. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 167 cases. Excellent. About $110.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tanner DaFoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez valley. The color is dark ruby with a violet rim; the first impression is of ripe, sweet, spicy black fruit aromas and flavors layered atop an incredible depth and reach of power and elegance; cassis, violets and potpourri, a trace of mint and touch of cedar, with hints of tobacco, sage and leaf smoke and back-notes of graphite, leather and underbrush characterize the seductive aromas. A supple, sinewy structure of lovely equilibrium yet stalwart framing and foundation — again, 28 months in French oak — supports juicy but understated flavors of black raspberry and blueberry; that structure includes dense, dusty, velvety tannins and potent acidity and leads to a polished finish packed with granitic minerality, exotic spices and woodsy accents. Completely gratifying weight, substance and bearing. I drank a great deal of this bottle with lamb chops rubbed with garlic and rosemary, with a smoked pimento and mint garnish; they made one of those transporting eating and drinking moments. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 141 cases. Consume now through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional. About $110.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Tanner DaFoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, was the winery’s first release, and at a bit more than five years after harvest, it’s drinking beautifully. Every element of the wine feels precisely weighted and measured, finely sifted and balanced, and it flows across the palate like a dark, powdery essence of hillside cabernet grapes, all super-velvety and elegant, yet a little spare, though that description omits its sense of feeling slightly untamed, of being an untapped source of dynamism and power, like a brilliant luxury-status automobile idling before acceleration. I have no technical information about this wine, sold-out at the winery, but as an initial release, it’s a triumph, the best first-release cabernet I have encountered since the Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Drink through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. $NA.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A raft of chardonnays here from the Golden State, ranging geographically from Santa Barbara County in the south to Sonoma Coast in the north. They’re mainly from 2011 and 2012, with one from 2013. I offer a $10 product so good that you should buy it by the case, which I don’t often say about chardonnay, and reject some models that cost $65 and $70. I mean, as long as producers turn out chardonnays that embody the over-oaked, stridently spicy, tropical-tinged and butter-infused crème brûlée-like style — and the major wine publications continue to pass out high ratings for such wine — I will continue not to recommend them as unpalatable and undrinkable. Little in the way of historical, geographical or technical data today; these Weekend Wine Notes are intended to be quick and incisive, not as detailed as my regular reviews. Enjoy! (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Clos du Val Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; vibrant and vivid purity and intensity, scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hints of mango and cloves; sleek, lithe, dynamic, beautifully balanced; nothing avant-garde or opulent here, just classic winemaking. Excellent. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale gold hue; bright, clean and fresh; pineapple-grapefruit-roasted lemon, hints of nutmeg, lemon balm and lemon curd; dense and chewy, packed with spice and seashell-limestone minerality; slightly astringent floral element; quite dry, very attractive weight and substance; earthy finish where the oak comes out a bit more. Very Good+. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dunston Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. Limited production. Ravishing medium gold hue with a green tinge; pine, cloves, grapefruit and pineapple with notes of mango, roasted lemon and some leafy/green tea element; fascinating in its complexity and risk-taking but ultimately exquisitely balanced, though you feel the tug of polished oak on the finish after an hour or so. Limited production. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium gold color; very bright and bold, even brassy; very spicy with roasted grapefruit and baked peach, slightly caramelized; way too much oak, too much butter and tropical elements; stridently spicy, over-ripe and then austerely dry; fundamentally unbalanced. Not recommended. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hint of mango; Chablis-like chalk and flint; smoke and earth, dense and chewy and pretty darned intense and concentrated; a substantial style. Very Good+. About $27.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay 2012, Carneros. 13.7% alc. Medium straw-gold color; smoke, toast, oak; roasted lemon and baked pear; fairly spicy with buttered and caramelized citrus fruit; quite dry, sleek, good acidity and limestone minerality, but doesn’t know what style it wishes to emulate. Very Good. About $30.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jackson Estate “Camelot Highlands” Chardonnay 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.5% alc. This chardonnay falls under the Kendall-Jackson rubric rather than Jackson Family Wines; does either entity really need more brands? Medium gold; vividly spicy, boldly ripe and tropical; smoke, toast, brown sugar; dense and chewy, almost viscous, carries opulence to ridiculous lengths; toasted coconut and marshmallow; crème brûlée; doesn’t even come close to palatable in my world. Not recommended. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a typical Jordan chardonnay, nothing bold or sumptuous, thank goodness, but well-balanced with keen acidity and an edge of vital limestone minerality to bolster pineapple-grapefruit flavors highlighted by notes of cloves and lilacs; very dry, clean, spare, elegant; oak is an echo rather than a presence. Excellent. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley. 13.8% alc. I generally like Laetitia’s pinot noirs, but this chardonnay is beyond the pale. So: pale gold color; starts off clean and fresh, with pineapple-grapefruit and notes of roasted lemon and mango; then expands with extravagant richness and exaggerated spice, smoke and crème brûlée gone to the dark side; where are the mitigating acidity and minerality? Not recommended. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 182 six-pack cases. Steven Kent can make clean, balanced and finely detailed chardonnay (see below), but under his La Rochelle label he turns more baroque and fantastical; this wine is so oaky and over-spiced that it felt harsh on my palate. It gets no recommendation from me. About $65.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Clasp this well-made inexpensive chardonnay to your bosom as if it were a long-lost friend. Pale gold color; pineapple-mango-grapefruit, hints of jasmine, crystallized ginger and quince; a tad dusty-earthy; deft balance among acidity, spicy oak and spare limestone minerality; notes of citrus on the finish. Very Good+. About $10 and a Remarkable Bargain.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Newton Chardonnay 2012, Napa County. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; warm and spicy, bright and bold, but nicely balanced and shapely, with a sheen of oak; ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a note of green apple; brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone finish. Quite attractive. Very Good+. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. This cousin to the wine mentioned just above is both more ambitious and unfortunately far less balanced; medium gold color; bright, ripe, brassy citrus and stone-fruit scents and flavors; cloves, caramel, brown sugar; very tropical, buttered toast, meringue; yet strangely very dry and austere on the finish. Unpleasant and unpalatable. Not recommended. About $65.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Olema Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Second label of Amici Cellars) Pale gold color; crisp, taut, fresh; apples, grapefruit and pineapple; spicy and lively, a little lean and sinewy but generous and expansive too; quite pleasant and tasty. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Uh-oh. Medium gold color; forthright and boldly spicy, forthright and deeply oaky. I couldn’t drink it. Not recommended. About $47.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale gold; ineffable weaving of grapefruit and pineapple, Golden Delicious apple, cloves, ginger and quince; very dry but juicy and savory; lovely heft and texture, lithe and supple, almost talc-like but riven and balanced by bright acidity. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; so clean and pure, such crystalline intensity, yet spare, elegant and subtle but with a core of natural richness; roasted lemon and lemon balm; notes of pineapple and nectarine; very dry, packed with limestone and flint minerality, but quite delicious, seductive, compelling. Why can’t all chardonnays be like this? Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Reuling Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 350 cases. Major disappointment. Very pale gold; brightly spicy, boldly scented; nutmeg and cloves, pineapple and grapefruit caramelized in butter; cinnamon toast; too creamy on the one hand, too sharply spicy on the other, essentially unbalanced, paradoxically both cloying and austere. Not recommended. About $70.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Merrillie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. NA% alc. 504 cases. Pale gold color; spare, clean and fresh; lemon balm with notes of grapefruit rind, lemongrass and green tea; hints of nutmeg and cloves; heaps of limestone minerality buoying a lovely talc-like texture shot with shimmering acidity; let’s call it beautiful. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $34.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium straw-gold color; a classic of balance and elegance; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors infused with cloves and limestone; lovely weight and heft, that is to say feels dense and weightless simultaneously; clean, bright acidity for liveliness; subtle, supple oak influence and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Souverain Chardonnay 2011, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; smoke, cloves and nutmeg; pineapple and pears; very dry, very spicy but dense with a crème brûlée element with emphasis on the brûlée; astringent grapefruit finish; bright acidity barely saves the day. Good only. About $16.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When I first started trying a lot of wines in the early 1980s, among the most impressive were zinfandels and petite sirah wines from Fetzer Vineyards, launched when Barney Fetzer, who bought acreage in Mendocino County, released a zinfandel and a cabernet sauvignon from the 1968 vintage. Fetzer expanded hugely over the years and was in the forefront of several movements, for example, organic farming on the one hand, white zinfandel on the other. The family sold the winery and its brands to Brown-Forman in 1992; that company sold Fetzer and related labels to Vina Concha y Toro, the large Chilean producer, in 2011 for a reported $238 million. The wine under consideration today is the Five Rivers Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Barbara County; Five Rivers is a Fetzer brand that was created in the early 2000s. I will say right here that the Five Rivers Pinot Noir 2012 is one of those wines that performs above its station in life. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; enticing aromas of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cola are woven with hints of cranberry and sassafras and traces of smoke, leather and loam. The texture is lovely, lithe and supple and handily supports real presence and personality; vivid black and red fruit flavors are highlighted by touches of cloves and cinnamon, lively acidity and a moderate element of graphite minerality. It’s true that this wine falls a tad short in the finish, but in every other respect it’s worthy of My Readers’ attention. You could sell the hell out of this wine in restaurant by-the-glass programs. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Belle Glos is the pinot noir arm of the Wagner Family of Wines that includes the iconic Caymus cabernet sauvignons and the popular Conundrum white and red blends (yes, there’s a red now). The Meiomi label represents the more moderately priced and accessible pinot noir from the Belle Glos line. Winemaker is Joseph J. Wagner. Meiomi means “coast” in the languages of the Wappo and Yuki tribes that once thrived in California, and the wine is indeed a coastal product, derived from vineyards in three coastal counties, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. (Though I have to say that every time I see a bottle of this wine I think, “Me-oh-my!”) The color of the Meiomi Pinot Noir 2012 is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine generally is dark, spicy, berryish, with heady aromas of black and red cherries and currants and plums touched with cranberries and cloves and a hint of sassafras. It’s super satiny on the palate, and its ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are permeated by smoke and leather that lead out to a keen graphite edge, all set midst moderately dense, dry and slightly dusty tannins. At 13.8 percent alcohol and with this panoply of effects, it’s a stylish crowd-pleaser. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Might as well say “Three from Randall Grahm,” since few wineries in California are so closely, indeed inextricably, tied up in the personality and technical prowess of its owner/winermaker. (Now that I think about it, that’s the way I start every review of wines from Bonny Doon; I’ll be more original next time.) The three wines I consider today are Boony Doon Bien Nacido X Block Syrah 2009 and two versions of Le Cigare Volant 2008, one aged in 500 and 600-liter puncheons (en demi-muid), the other in 10,000-liter upright wood tanks (en foudres). Grahm intends these wines to be vins de garde, that is, top wines of the vintage that will require aging to achieve drinkability, though I found the wines to be slightly more approachable than those of the previous years (2007 and 2008), reviewed here.

These were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2008, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudres” 2008, Central Coast, are each a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 mourvèdre, 7 cinsault, 5 carignane, which is to say, a quite typical southern Rhone Valley cepage, or combination of grapes. (For 2007, the blend for these wines was 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.)

The “en demi-muid” version aged 20 months in puncheons, 500 and 600-liter oak barrels. (The standard barrique is 225 liters.) The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of magenta at the rim; the bouquet offers an intriguing combination of fresh black fruit and flowers with woody spice and dried fruit and flowers, all this with marked intensity and beguilement. Aromas of blackberries, black and red currants and a touch of plum are permeated by cloves and sandalwood, wood-smoke and clean earth, hints of graphite and briers and brambles. The texture is spare, sleek, and the structure a towering edifice of gently gritty and mildly velvety tannins; lip-smacking acidity; and slightly grainy burnished oak. This is very dry, very dusty, featuring tons of granitic minerality that need some gentling to allow the spicy black fruit flavors to unfurl, say 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. 556 cases were produced. Excellent. About $45.

How is the companion wine, the “en foudre,” different from the “en demi-muid” version? Aging in 10,000-liter upright oak tanks ensures that the ration of wine exposed to the oak influence is much less than in the puncheons, yet this “en foudre” 08 is still densely packed with woody spice and feels a little rooty and knotty. The color is dark, almost opaque ruby-purple with a tinge of violet at the rim; aromas of fruitcake, oolong tea, a sort of mossy-wet dog-smoky-autumn-leaves amalgam highlight a bouquet characterized by lavender and lilac, blackberries and plums, graphite and shale. The wine is lively and vital, with vivid acidity cutting a swath through black and blue fruit flavors bolstered by dense grainy tannins and a feeling of woody spice that’s almost ecclesiastical in its dusty, polished essence. here’s another wine that require aging, though this “en foudre” is a tad more approachable than its cousin “em demi-muid.” 14.2 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X Block Syrah 2009, Santa Maria Valley, derives from a particular section of the well-known vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The color is dark ruby-purple; this is smoky, meaty and fleshy, ripe with spicy blackberry, black currant and plum scents and flavors with an undertone of blueberry tart and notes of smoke, leather and lavender. Exotic elements of sandalwood, cloves and pomegranate slightly lighten the wine’s essentially deep brooding spirit somehow, paradoxically, enlivened by almost pert acidity; the structure is large-framed, the texture stalwart with dusty tannins and polished oak, yet there’s something exhilarating and unfettered about this wine, with touches of spiced wild cherry on the mineral-packed finish and a teasing glimpse of fig and black tea. 13.3 percent alcohol. 843 cases, compared to 573 cases in 2008 and 657 in 2007. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ‘2020. Excellent. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next Page »