Sonoma Coast


Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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Including not merely a roster of pinot noir wines from California but a pinot meunier made as a still wine — it mostly goes into Champagne and sparkling wine — and two pinot gris/grigio wines, one from northeast Italy, the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. As usual in these quick reviews, ripped, as it were, from the fervid pages on my notebooks, I eschew the available range of technical, historical, geographical and personal (or personnel) detail to concentrate on immediacy and my desire to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; winsome aromas of hay and almond blossom, saline and savory; roasted lemon, spiced pear; a little briery; very dry, crisp and chiseled but appealing moderately full body and texture; a far more thoughtful pinot grigio than one usually encounters. 1,500-case production. Excellent. About $19.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc(!). A Gallo label. Medium gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon and lemon balm, baked pear, all very spicy and intricately woven; attractive supple texture and bright acidity, but you feel some alcoholic heat on the slightly unbalanced finish. Very Good. About $20.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Medium ruby-violet color; black cherries and currants, cloves, tobacco and sassafras, hint of brown sugar; earthy and loamy, moss and mushrooms; very dry but satiny and supple, with tasty black fruit flavors; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, along with some graphite-tinged minerality. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $23.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Lovely limpid ruby-magenta color; sour cherry and melon, pomegranate, cranberry and cloves, develops a hint of smoke and black cherry; lovely and limpid, again, in the mouth, flows like satin across the palate but enlivened with keen acidity; notes of earth and brambles. Drinks very nicely but doesn’t have the heft that La Crema pinot noirs typically display. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $25.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.9% alc. 326 cases. Enrapturing ruby-magenta color; a lithe and supple pinot noir that takes 45 minutes to loosen up a bit; cranberry and cola, dried cherries and raspberries; cloves and allspice, fairly exotic; buoyed by bright acidity and slightly bound by oak and tannin. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $42.
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La Rochelle Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. 235 six-pack cases. A real beauty. Lovely medium ruby-plum color; black and red cherries, pomegranate and pomander, oolong tea, sassafras and beetroot, slightly earthy and loamy, yes, the whole panoply of sensation; a few moments bring in notes of iodine, mint and graphite; very dry, dense, almost chewy, quite notable tannins for a pinot noir but well-managed and integrated; gathers power and paradoxical elegance in the glass. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Meunier 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.9% alc. 866 cases. Pinot meunier is primarily grown as a minority component in Champagne and sparkling wine production. Entrancing transparent ruby-magenta color with a clear rim; delicate, dry, slightly raspy in the sense that raspberries and their leaves can be raspy; black and red cherry compote, spiced and macerated, with a subtle element of dried fruit, flowers and spices; damask roses, note of violets; dust, earth, a touch of loam, enlivened by swingeing acidity that plows a furrow. Now through 2016. Oddly Excellent. About $38.
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Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. The first pinot noir from this label known for well-made and moderately priced cabernet sauvignon. Makes sensible claims and meets them: Medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, hints of rhubarb and tart mulberry; smoke and cloves; reasonably supple texture; a little merlot-ish overall, though. Very Good. About $20.
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MacPhail Family Wines “The Flyer” Pinot Noir 2011, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; quite intense and concentrated for pinot noir, ripe and vivid black and red cherries, smoke, cloves; vibrant acidity cuts a swath, it’s very satiny but with a tannic and oaken core that ramps up the power and somewhat masks the varietal character. Still, it makes an impression. Very Good+. About $59.
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Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; pungently spicy and floral, notes of tobacco and coffee bean, cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb; black cherries with a briery, mossy undercurrent; very satiny, drapes over the palate as it flows; fairly deep and dark aura for pinot noir, with a graphite element and resolutely spicy with cloves and sandalwood, moderately dense tannins. Quite a package. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
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What I mean is, here are eight wines that I tasted in the last few months of 2013 that I wish I had written about before 2013 turned to 2014. Time, of course and unfortunately, has a way of slipping away from us, so I present these wines to My Readers today, a drippy, dreary, gloomy and chilly day (as well as several other Official Dwarves) in my neck o’ the woods, as examples of wines with total appeal in terms of presence and personality, integrity and authenticity and even, in a few cases, unimpeachable charisma. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes — oops, it’s Monday! — I forsake the technical, historical, geographical data of which I am so fond for the sake of blitzkrieg reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, intended to pique your interest and whet your palates. Five are from California, two from Argentina, one from Chile; prices range from $20 to $120; that’s the breaks. Enjoy!
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 10.5% alc. 172 cases. Pale gold color; lightly spiced peach and pear, lime peel, notes of jasmine, mango and lychee; sleek, subtle, crystalline, faceted by bright acidity and limestone minerality, contrastingly soft as a poached peach; highlights of roasted lemon and grapefruit rind. Really lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
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Garcia & Schwaderer “Marina” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 300 cases imported. A beautifully integrated and harmonious sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; cool, restrained and elegant; grapefruit and pear, pea-shoot and tangerine, notes of lime peel and lemongrass; very crisp with brisk acidity and scintillating limestone element, lithe and supple; finishes with hints of thyme and green apple. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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MacRostie Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely and softly ripe but lean and minerally with limestone and flint and bright acidity; clean, fresh yet earthy; apple, lemon, spiced pear; touch of mango and jasmine; deeply spicy and flavorful, especially with yellow stone fruit; elegant presentation and poise; always a favorite of mine. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. A stupendous achievement. Medium gold-yellow color; roasted lemon, spiced peach, lightly buttered toast, jasmine and lilac; limestone and gunflint; amazing symmetry, power and resonance; fills the mouth and caresses the palate but not at the expense of litheness and potent acidity; juicy and flavorful but quite dry, a little smoky, with a long finely woven finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $120.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. Medium gold-yellow color; even more intense and concentrated than its White Stones stablemate mentioned above; the roasted lemon and peach but more pear here, a smokier chardonnay, with hints of jasmine and camellia, touch of caramel, quince and ginger; the kind of wine in which you feel the tension and energy of greatness and a white wine that’s almost tannic in depth and dimension; supple and creamy but balanced by chiming acidity and resonant limestone minerality. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Certainly the best chardonnay I have tasted from South America. Exceptional. About $120.
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Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. 98 cases. Vivid ruby-magenta color; black currants and blueberries with a pert touch of mulberry, intense and concentrated; batteries of spice and graphite; dense, chewy grainy tannins and vibrant acidity; deep black and blue fruit flavors infused with cedar, tobacco, black licorice and potpourri; very pure and vital, loads of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.
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Bonny Doon Jespersen Ranch Syrah 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. A remarkable 12.7% alc. 483 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; lovely, approachable; plums, lavender, violets and leather, earthy but fresh and scintillating; blackberries and blueberries, smoke, fruitcake, graphite with a touch of charcoal edge; beautifully balanced but with burgeoning regimen of tannin, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, primarily for Bonny Doon’s wine club.
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MacRostie Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby color with magenta highlights; spiced and smoky black and red cherries and plums, notes of classic beetroot and pomegranate, violets and sassafras; a kind of definitively chiseled heft and structure, with acidity that cuts a swath, slightly raspy tannins and a hint of briers and brambles, but seductive balance and integration married to its more serious aspects. Another favorite. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $34.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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It’s a good thing that Paul Hobbs’ reach exceeds his grasp, because he’s a winemaker and consultant with his fingers in many vinous pies. He worked at important estates in California, including Opus One, before launching his Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991. Consistently interested in the potential of South American vineyards, he opened, with two partners, Vina Cobos in Argentina in 1999; the company now has seven wineries and 11 labels. While the constant theme in Hobbs’ wines, wherever they are made and whatever the grape variety, is minimal intervention in the winery, the motif of the wines themselves tends to be power and structure, and these two examples of pinot noirs from CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs demonstrate that fact perfectly; they are succulent and tasty but deeply imbued with the foundational elements of acid and minerality. CrossBarn, named for the building on the farm where Hobbs grew up in Upstate New York, produced its first wine from the vintage of 2000. Winemaker for CrossBarn is Molly Bohlman, image at right. These wines were samples for review.
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The CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, offers a ravishing purple-magenta color and equally ravishing aromas of black cherries and plums, cloves and cinnamon, a bit of smoke and toasty oak and notes of rhubarb, pomegranate and cola. This is quite substantial for an Anderson Valley pinot, which often tend to be leaner and lither than this example, though the texture is super satiny, and acidity cuts a bright clean swath on the palate. There’s a briery, brambly edge and a pass at graphite minerality, and as the moments elapse, elements of leather and loam emerge. There’s more power than elegance here, but this pinot noir also manages to be succulent and flavorful. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 14 percent new barrels. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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The color of the CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is slightly different from the color of its Anderson Valley stablemate, being more in the dark ruby-mulberry range. This one is even spicier than its cousin, with an exotic panoply of cloves, allspice and cardamom wedded to a procession of macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums and hints of rhubarb, sassafras and oolong tea. This is another substantial, even dense pinot noir, though, as before, it slides across the tongue like the finest, flowiest satin in a stylish welter of slightly roasted black and blue fruit flavors, dried spices and flowers, all borne by layers of clean earth, graphite minerality and energizing acidty. The differences between these two pinot noir wines seem to reside more in the realm of detail than in dimension and intent. This one aged 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, keeping the influence to a minimum but contributing to the wine’s supple character. 14.1 percent alcohol. drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Of the chardonnays from California that I tasted and reviewed recently — most in my Weekend Wine Notes yesterday — the Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is the one I recommend buying by the case. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is a delicate weaving of lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, quince and ginger, with hints of tangerine, chalk and talc. The Crossbarn Chardonnay ’12, Sonoma Coast, offers gratifying measures of resonance and vibrancy, with lip-smacking acidity whose crispness and liveliness support a lovely, moderately lush texture. The wine is quite lemony in flavor, highlighted by notes of cloves, pineapple and grapefruit and permeated by limestone and flint minerality. The wine was made 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French oak barrels, so the oak influence is subtle and supple. Lots of personality and presence for the price. Winemaker was Molly Bohlman. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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I write about these rosé wines together because they rise above the mass of bland and homogenized rosés that proliferate, now that rosés are finally being taken seriously by consumers, which is to say there’s a bit of a trend, not like moscato, certainly, but enough that we lovers of drinking rosé all through the year should notice and look for the great ones. The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, hails from a small block, owned by Ellie Price, of the iconic vineyard the rest and much larger portion of which is owned by her former husband Bill Price. The Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, the first release of a rosé from this winery, derives from the Wat Vineyard in Sebastopol, one of the cooler locations in Green Valley, a sub-appellation of Russian River Valley. Neither of these rosé wines is made in the saignée method, that is, by the bleeding of juice from the production of a regular red wine to concentrate that wine’s color and body; the resulting lighter wine (because of less skin contact) is often treated as an afterthought. The rosés in question here — as well as many of the best rosés produced around the world — are made by crushing the grapes and taking the juice off the skins after minimal contact, thus producing the pale “onion skin” color of the classic rosé. Each of these rosés consists of 100 percent pinot noir grapes. These wines were samples for review.

I wrote about the history and background of the Durell Vineyard and Dunstan here; and the Gary Farrell winery here.
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The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a pale onion skin or “eye of the partridge” color with a tinge of darker pink. The wine was made half in neutral oak barrels, half in stainless steel, so it has a slightly more dense texture than the typical rosé. The emphasis here though is on fruit, delicacy and elegance, with a bouquet flush full of strawberries, dried red currants and hints of watermelon, rose petals and lilac; this is quite dry and vibrant, brimming with red fruit and spice nuances strung on an ethereal thread of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality, giving the wine a chiseled, faceted and incredibly refreshing effect. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases. Winemaker was Kenneth Juhasz. Excellent. About $25.
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In contrast, the Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is a more savory and spicy example of rosé, though it still achieves the ideal of poise and elegance. The color is classic onion skin with a flush of pale copper; strawberries and raspberries dominate, with undertones of macerated peaches and cloves and a hint of sour cherry; traces of dried thyme and rosemary — shades of Provence! — permeate juicy red fruit flavors, though there’s a dry slate-like effect — I mean like roof tiles — that lends the wine its necessary spareness, while bracing acidity sends crystalline vibrancy throughout. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Excellent. About $28.
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Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
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Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
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Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
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Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
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Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
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