Sonoma Coast


Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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The pinot noirs of Kosta Browne Winery regularly earn the highest ratings from reviewers for the big publications, an occurrence that brings a great deal of attention to these highly allocated wines. In fact, the winery’s waiting list comes with a two- to three-year wait for the “Appellation” wines and — I’m not kidding — a five- to six-year wait for the Single Vineyard wines, of which there may be up to 10 separate bottlings depending on the vintage. The idea for the winery was born in 1997 when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, then working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, decided to venture into winemaking. They began with a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, a used barrel and a surplus stemmer-crusher. In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello, from a family involved in commercial real estate and development, as the business end of the enterprise; through the Costello family, the partnership gained contacts, contracts and management acumen. Browne is executive winemaker, with assistant winemakers Jeremiah Timm and Nico Cueva. Kosta Browne draws on vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs in Sonoma County and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County. There is no tasting room, and the winery in Sebastopol is closed to the public.

Under consideration today are two of Kosta Browne’s Appellation wines, the One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, in this series dedicated to the examination of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer. These wines were samples for review.
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The Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is a blend of grapes derived from seven vineyards that total 12 different chardonnay clones, the notion being a sort of ideal balance of all the attributes those clones contribute to the wine. It’s named for the Gravenstein Hwy. 116 that cuts through the town of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley sub-appellation of Green Valley. This AVA is the coolest and foggiest vineyard area of Russian River Valley, situated in the southwest corner where the Pacific Ocean influence is readily apparent. When I tell My Readers that this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged 15 months in oak, they will respond, “Uh-oh, FK is not going to like this chardonnay.” I’ll admit, though, that I was surprised at how much I liked this wine, and while I don’t normally find words of praise for what I think of as the Bold California Style of Chardonnay, this example was little short of thrilling.

Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 was indeed barrel fermented, 93 percent, the other 7 percent being in concrete. The wine did age 15 months, but only in 41 percent new oak. The color is medium gold, and the aromas define this chardonnay as bold, bright and rich, with ripe, slightly caramelized pineapple, grapefruit and mango highlighted by notes of cloves, vanilla, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and — faintly — lime peel and flint. The wine is supple and boisterously fruity and spicy on the palate, with hints of creme brulee, roasted lemon and baked pear. This sensuous panoply is both abetted and balanced by clean, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. My favorite style of chardonnay? No, but certainly a model of the type that I found surprisingly poised, energetic and delicious. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $58.
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The Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, derives from three vineyards in the south of the Sonoma Coast AVA, lying straight in the path of the Petaluma Wind Gap that allows a distinct maritime influence, and one vineyard in the northwestern coastal area of the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with an almost transparent rim; the amazingly complex and layered nose offers a seamless amalgam of cloves and menthol, violets and rose hips, with hints of loam, briers and iodine bolstering macerated black and red cherries and currants with a touch of cranberry. On the palate? Imagine supernal satin infused with velvet through which vivid acidity cuts a swath and earthy graphite minerality stakes a supporting claim; the influence of oak and tannin, both feeling slightly sanded and dusty, gradually seeps in, providing firm foundation for spicy black and red fruit flavors that seem ripe and juicy yet spare, elegant, a bit exotic. I re-corked the wine and tried it eight hours later, at which time it had closed down a bit, becoming more reticent, quite dry, with emphasis on structure. Even the next day, now open for more than 24 hours, this pinot noir kept its integrity and balance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $64.
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Three Sticks Wines was founded by Bill Price III — get it? his surfer handle was Billy Three Sticks — who also owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He met winemaker and fellow-surfer Don Van Staaveren (image at right) in 1996 when TPG acquired Chateau St. Jean from Suntory, and in 2004 Price asked Van Staaveren to come aboard as winemaker at Three Sticks. (I’m condensing history quite a bit here.) The “winery” occupies space in an industrial/warehouse area in Sonoma, a practical measure since no one has to worry about tasting rooms, landscaping, high-end facilities, jazz concerts, picnic grounds, executive chefs and so on, though a great deal of organizational logistics is required. Van Staaveren, who created the sensational Cinq Cepage cabernet sauvignon for Chateau St. Jean, indeed resembles nothing more nor less than a gracefully aging, if slightly craggy, California boy; when I visited Three Sticks in the Summer of 2013, he wore a cast on one arm, the result of a surfing mishap. The wines he creates from the Durell Vineyard and other vineyards are thoughtfully made and embody tremendous personality and character. Unfortunately, they are produced in limited quantities and are available only on an allocation list. They are worth a visit to the winery’s website threestickswines.com to sign up. These examples were samples for review.

This post is the fourth in a series devoted to wines made from two grapes that seem to occur together, chardonnay and pinot noir, on the model of Burgundy.
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The Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Mountain — the first Three Sticks release for this wine from a vineyard that remains anonymous — was treated in a manner traditional for California chardonnay: barrel fermentation; 14 months aging in French oak barrels, 50 percent new; full malolactic fermentation. The color is medium straw-gold; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit feel infused by quince and ginger, spiced pear and toasted hazelnuts, amid a background of limestone minerality. This is a supremely rich chardonnay, slightly creamy but not buttery or tropical, and its lusciousness is tempered by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are highlighted by notes of orange marmalade and a hint of grapefruit pith. Altogether, this is a round, supple, mouth-filling chardonnay that displays lovely, if a bit florid, balance and tone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 222 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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The winemaker took a completely opposite approach to the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. This wine was fermented in giant concrete egg-shaped vessels and aged 14 months in small steel barrels; not a smidgeon of oak touched it, and it did not go through malolactic. The grapes derived from two areas in the Durell Vineyard, “Old Wente 5,” on a northwest-facing slope of light soil, and “V9,” one of the rockiest and windiest parts of the vineyard. The color is medium straw-gold; the first impression is of something earthy, highly structured, almost tannic in effect, but with a core of remarkable resonance and vitality that animates captivating scents and flavors of quince jam and crystallized ginger, candied grapefruit and spiced pear with hints of lemon oil and lime peel, the whole package conveying the feeling of a lacy transparency of fruit over a dense, almost talc-like texture and a vibrant structure of limestone, damp gravel and chiming acidity. All in all, amazing energy, presence and tone, a wine that gives new meaning to “no-oak chardonnay.” 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 266 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast, took grapes from three blocks of the estate vineyard, all of which greet the sunrise: The Extension, a steep slope that falls mainly east but a little to the south; the Terraces, an area of slightly terraced rows running north-south and with an eastern exposure; Block R, a cool, windy location of light soil with red volcanic deposits that falls on a slight slope to the east. The grapes fermented in open-top vessels, and the wine aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is a translucent and luminous medium ruby hue; beguiling aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and cranberry are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, loam, briers and brambles and a hint of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of smoky red and black cherries, rose petals and sandalwood. This is a substantial pinot noir, blessed with a sense of total confidence and completion, though whatever character it possesses of power and dynamism is complemented by qualities of grace, delicacy and elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 170 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Today’s notes feature eight rosé wines, four from France, three from California and one from the state of Virginia. In style they range from ephemeral to fairly robust. I have to take shots at a couple of these examples, but those are the breaks in the realm of wine reviewing. No attempt at technical, historical, geographical or personal information here (you know, the stuff I really dote on); instead, the intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate. Except for the Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, France. 13% alc. 50% each grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue, almost shimmers; light kisses of strawberry, peach and orange rind, hints of dried thyme; bone-dry, crisp and vibrant, loads of scintillating limestone minerality. Really well-made and enjoyable but packaged in an annoying over-designed bottle that’s too tall to fit on a refrigerator shelf. Excellent. About $20.
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Bila-Haut Rosé 2013, Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. Cinsault and grenache. (From M. Chapoutier) Pretty copper-salmon color; orange zest and raspberries, dusty minerals, notes of rose petals and lavender; quite dry, with limestone austerity, a fairly earthy, rustic style of rose, not in the elegant or delicate fashion. Very Good. About $13.
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Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. 14.7% alc. 466 cases. Bright copper-peach color; think of this as a cadet pinot noir in the form of a rosé; currants and plums, raspberry with a bit of briery rasp; notes of smoke and dried Provencal herbs, hints of pomegranate and orange zest; very clean, fresh and vibrant with a damp limestone foundation. Excellent. About $17.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 92 cases. Light but bright copper-salmon-topaz hue; strawberries and red currants, both fresh and dried, blood orange, note of pomegranate; lovely, lithe and supple but energized by brisk acidity; floral element burgeons and blossoms in the glass, as in rose petals and camellias; very dry, delicate, ethereal yet with a real bedrock of limestone minerality; a touch earthier than the version of 2012. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” 2013, Tavel, France. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 10% each cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, 5% each bourboulenc and clairette. Brilliant strawberry-copper color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a touch of peach; very dry and fairly robust for rosé; notes of dried herbs and summer flowers, dominant component of limestone and flint, almost tannic in effect, but overall high-toned and elegant. Excellent. About $30.
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Notorious Pink 2013, Vin de France. Alc% NA. 100% grenache. (Domaine la Colombette) Better to call this one Innocuous Pink. Carries delicacy to the point of attenuation; very pale onion skin color; faintest tinge of strawberry, bare hint of orange zest and limestone; fairly neutral all the way round. Comes in an upscale frosted bottle, woo-hoo. Good. About $20.
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Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2013, Virginia, USA. 12% alc. 100 percent mourvèdre. 120 cases. Ruddy onion skin hue; fresh strawberries and raspberries with cloves and slightly dusty graphite in the back; notes of orange pekoe tea and dried red currants; a little fleshy and floral; bright acidity and a mild limestone-like finish. Very Good+. About $18.
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Robert Turner Wines Mosaic Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. With 15% cabernet franc. 25 cases. Pale copper-onion skin color; musky and dusky melon, raspberry and strawberry with notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; finely-knit texture, delicate, elegant, lively, with a honed limestone finish. Excellent. About $22.
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Gewurztraminer might not be as off-putting to so many people if its name were changed to Steve or Samantha, but there it is, a grape that can be made into one of the most beautiful wines in the world with a name that is almost unpronounceable. So be it. Gewurztraminer thrives in Alsace, where France nestles uneasily against Germany, and to some extent in the northeastern Italian region of Alto Adige, in the Tyrol Alps just south of Austria. There are outposts in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and also in the states of Oregon and California, and it’s to the latter that we turn for today’s Wine of the Week, the Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard lies at a fairly low elevation in the southwestern foothills of the Mayacamas range. Ninety percent of this clean, fresh, crisp wine was made in stainless steel, the rest in neutral oak barrels. The color is very pale gold; aromas of rose petals, lychee and spiced pear are highlighted by notes of white pepper, peach and lime peel, all subtly and delicately woven. Acidity is essential to the success of gewurztraminer — as in any wine, truly — to balance the potentially overpowering floral and fruity elements, and this example has acidity in spades, a factor that contributes to its appealing liveliness and its deft poise. Citrus and stone-fruit meld seamlessly in the mouth, while the spicy, limestone-laced finish brings in a hint of grapefruit pith bitterness, savory, astringent and exciting. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with — I know this is the cliche — moderately spicy Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, with grilled shrimp or mussels, with seafood risotto. Excellent. About $22.50.

A sample for review.

In the ancient Occitan language of the South of France, picho means “petit,” hence la pitchoune is a diminutive for “little one.” That’s the name that Julia Child and her husband Paul gave to the cottage they built in the village of Plascassier in Provence, now a cooking school. And that’s the name of a small-production winery, founded in 2005, that makes tiny amounts of wine from Sonoma Coast grapes. Winemaker and partner is Andrew Berge, and he turns out, at least in the samples I was sent, wines of wonderful finesse and elegance.
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The color of La Pitchoune Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is vivid copper-salmon. A bouquet of slightly fleshy strawberries and raspberries opens to notes of watermelon, spiced tea and flint; this is bone-dry but juicy and tasty with raspberry, melon and dried red currant flavors, a rosé of nuance and delicacy enlivened by crisp acidity, a slightly leafy aspect and a finish drenched with damp limestone minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 39 cases. I could drink this all Summer long. Excellent. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a transparent medium ruby color and enticing aromas of rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate wreathed with sassafras and cloves, rose petals and lilac. The texture feels like the coolest, sexiest satin imaginable, riven by acidity as striking as a red sash on a blue coat; the resulting sense of tension, resolution and balance is the substance of which great wines are made. Oak is subliminal, a subtle, supple shaping influence, so the wine feels quite lithe and light on its feet; flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums emit a curl of smoke and a wisp of ash as prelude to a lively finish permeated by notes of briers, brambles and loam. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 279 cases. Sublime pinot noir for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $60.
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You’ll have to do a little searching for this beauty, My Readers, because the production is limited, but if you’re a fan of rosé wines, this is worth a phone call or visit to the winery website. The MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a radiant copper-salmon color and bright aromas of dried red currants and strawberries with a hint of peaches and orange zest. The wine is clean, fresh and dry, but nor austere; an earthy, slightly brambly background encompasses notes of wild berries and cloves, over a dusty limestone element; there’s even a touch of tannic power under the vivid acidity, but this is not one of those serious rosés that neglects its higher purpose: to be delightful and pleasurable and vivacious. 14.5 percent alcohol. 400 cases. James MacPhail founded the winery in 2002; it is now part of Hess Family Estates. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Tin Barn Vineyards produces small amounts of compelling single-vineyard wines, especially in the range of their syrahs. Winemaker and co-owner is Mike Lancaster. The winery is named for a twisting road that runs along the Sonoma coastline, though physically it occupies a metal building in an industrial park; nothing fancy, so the focus is on the wines. Tin Barn wines are available in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia and of course by direct shipment if your state allows. They’re definitely Worth a Search.

These wines were samples for review.
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The not yet released Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast, displays a deep ruby-purple color and intoxicating aromas of lavender and lilac, black licorice and potpourri, leather, spiced and macerated blueberries, black currants and plums, with undertones of smoke, graphite and loam; pretty heady stuff, indeed. In the mouth, the wine is clean, intense and penetrating, with a chewy, supple texture, spare, moderately dusty tannins, and some reticence about the black fruit flavors. It’s packed with earth and graphite, briers and brambles, and while the bouquet expands and becomes more evocative and seductive, the structure gets more rigorous. 14.4 percent alcohol. Best from 2015 through 2020 to ’23. Excellent expression of the grape. Production and price N/A.
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The winery’s current release is the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2010, Sonoma Coast, a wine of lovely heft, tone and balance. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of magenta; notes of spicy and slightly fleshy plums, black currants and mulberries are wrapped in potpourri, lavender and leather; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of violets and rose petals, sandalwood and cloves, briers and loam. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, a regimen that lends subtle spice and a mildly dense texture. Brisk acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while red and black fruit flavors are ripe, meaty and juicy. Still, the finish is a tad austere, a thicket of brambles, dried porcini, classic wet dog and forest floor. 13,8 percent alcohol. Production was 76 cases. Excellent. About $25, and definitely Worth a Search.
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If you can find a bottle of the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast, clasp it to your bosom like a long-lost friend. At four and a half years old, this syrah offers a massively dark purple color with a motor oil sheen and is distinctly earthy, rooty and leathery. The wine aged 26 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. Loads of deeply spiced and macerated blue and black fruit flavors are bolstered by smooth, lithe tannins, graphite and spicy, smoky oak for an effect that delivers length and dimension of lordly degree, yet the winsome appealing element is not neglected. 15.4 percent alcohol, though you feel no heat on the finish or over-ripeness. 123 cases. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25.
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Now to the grandaddy of the previous wines. The Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2003, Sonoma Coast, opens most ethereally and then gains power and structure in the glass. It sports a dark ruby color and a softly spiced and macerated character of raspberries and currents, shot with cloves, allspice and sandalwood. Behind moderately chewy tannins lies a bedrock of graphite and slightly chalky granitic minerality; some time in the glass brings out notes of cedar, tobacco and mushroomy loam. The whole effect is vibrant and resonant, mature, well-developed and delicious. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 327 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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The delightful Tin Barn Joon Rose of Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast, glimmers with a pale copper-salmon robe and delivers a radiant bouquet of ripe strawberries and raspberries with touches of peach and tomato skin; a few moments develop notes of loam, mulberry and pomegranate and just a hint of limestone. This is exuberantly lively yet almost lush in texture, resulting in rather exquisite balance between acidity and structure. 13.3 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Production was 86 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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Here are quick notes on eight pinot noir wines from California, all eminently desirable, ranging in price from $22 to $70, and in rating from Very Good+ to Exceptional, two of the latter, so pinot fans pay attention. As is usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical, geographical and personnel data for the sake of immediacy, the intention being to pique your interest and whet your appetite. Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend.

These wines were samples for review.
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Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby with a magenta tinge; deep, rich and spicy; thyme and caramelized fennel, black and red cherries, currants and cranberries with a hint of rhubarb; succulent and satiny, dense, quite dry but sweetly ripe; earth and loam, graphite underpinnings; flavorful and tasty. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $22, representing Good Value.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 479 cases. Medium ruby color with violet tones; lovely balance, dimension and detail; black cherry and cranberry, sassafras, cloves and rhubarb; deep and rooty, yet it retains ultimate delicacy and elegance; paradoxically dark, spicy and wild, hints of briers, loam and graphite; black and red fruit flavors that feel almost transparent and weightless, though the wine drapes like the finest, most sensuous satin on the tongue. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
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Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; cranberry and rhubarb, hints of pomegranate, cola and cloves with back-notes of tar and loam; surprisingly burly and robust, very dry, texture like satin born of dusty velvet; burgeoning floral element: roses and violets; deeply plummy and curranty with a touch of raspy raspberry and mulberry. Absolutely lovely, with a bit of mystery and sexy hauteur. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Entrancing “robe” — almost opaque ruby-purple at the center and lightening subtly to a violet-magenta rim; smoky black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, cloves and cola; a graphite and loamy element that cuts the dense, chewy satiny texture; plump with ripe black fruit, deeply spicy with a hint of mint and mocha but doesn’t push into opulence; instead, displays exquisite, slightly risky balance. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; plums, raspberries and mulberries, hints of pomegranate and dusty graphite; cloves, sassafras; super sleek, supple and satiny, almost sultry; smoke, burning leaves, a touch of moss and brambles; some astringency and rigor to the structure, a lash of granite and acid at the core of deep spicy black and red fruit flavors. Tremendous tone and presence. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2012, California. (48% Monterey County, 44% Sonoma County, 8% San Benito County). 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry with some graphite element under a sanding of woody spices; quite dry, dense, supple lip-smacking texture with vibrant acidity; you feel the glassy polished tannins and oak like a granitic bastion but the wine is deeply flavored, rich, exotic, with keen balance between the succulent and the rigorous. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $26.
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Reuling Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 1,000 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; black cherries, mulberries and cranberries with notes of cloves and allspice, dried fruit and potpourri with crushed violets and lilacs; pushes oak to the limits with a great deal of dry structure and asperity, but it is smooth, lithe and svelte and above all delicious; I like the risks with oak because the wine offers really lovely balance; it finishes with a seductive display of mocha, pomander and bitter chocolate. A serious pinot noir, packed with the gratifying and the unexpected. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Fairly dark ruby-magenta hue; a wine of fantastic and deepening complexity; cloves, sandalwood, sassafras; spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums; briers and loam set into a superlatively satiny texture, yet thoroughly imbued with a sense of graphite and oak defined dimension and gravity; quite dry, almost austere, but resilient, supple and elegant. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $48.
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