Sonoma County


Inexorably we drift from Spring into Summer, so in honor of this transitional state I offer a dozen savory, zesty white wines. The grapes range from the familiar — sauvignon blanc, riesling — to the unfamiliar and exotic — grillo, gouveio, while the geography takes us all over the place. Prices rise from about $12 to $28, giving space for some real bargains and great values. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all technical, historical, geological and personal data — as interesting as those items may be — for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook, and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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haberle_label
Alois Lagerder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2013, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Production was 1,125 cases. Very pale straw hue; ripe, spice, macerated and lightly roasted stone-fruit with a halo of white flowers; notes of dried thyme and fennel; lithe and supple texture, offering vivid acid cut and limestone dimensions of structure; very dry but juicy with peach, pear and yellow plum flavors; real personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $23.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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erste-neue
Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto-Adige. 14% alc. Pale gold color; very appealing, with notes of green apple, pear and lemon balm, heather and meadow grass; heady and floral; lovely silken texture; quite dry, with pert acidity and shimmering limestone minerality; nothing complicated, just altogether irresistible. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by T Edward Wines, New York.
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assobio
Esporao Assobio 2014, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. 40% viosinho grapes, 30% gouveio, 20% verdelho, 10% arinto. Pale straw color; pear and acacia, heather and thyme; a bracing aura of sea-breeze and salt-marsh; very dry, with pert acidity, layers of damp flint and shale minerality; an exotic spicy-herbal flare; lean and supple. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
Imported by Aidil Wines, New York.
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semillon
Esporao Private Selection Semillon 2013, Alentejano, Portugal. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; elevating aromas of quince and ginger, spiced pear, lemon oil and orange rind; slightly honeyed in aspect but quite dry and spare; a fragile infusion of tropical fruit and flowers with a hint of fig; lovely silky texture, moderately lush but honed by limestone. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
Impoted by Aidil Wines, New York.
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Gewurz
Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Production was, alas, only 65 cases. Pale straw color; classic notes of lychee, pear, jasmine and rubber eraser, with hints of cloves and ginger; lithe texture, with crystalline clarity, acidity and limestone drive, great vibrancy and appeal; the limestone-flint minerality builds through the dynamic finish; grapefruit finish with a touch of bracing bitterness. A terrific example of the grape. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22.
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Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; Matetic EQ Coastal SB 14 Ftgrapefruit, lilac, greengage; celery seed and fennel with back-notes of lime peel, quince and ginger; crisp and lively, with riveting acidity and a plangent limestone element; a lithe, almost sinewy texture with depths of fruit, spice and minerality bolstering a scintillating, transparent finish. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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puyanche-blanc-sec
Chateau Puyanché Franc 2014, Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Pale straw-gold hue; assertive notes of dill and celery seed, caraway and lime peel, with pink grapefruit and ethereal back-notes of melon and apple skin; just a lovely wine in every way: slightly powdery texture, stone-fruit and citrus scents and flavors, bright acidity and limestone minerality; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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plotzner
St. Pauls Plotzner Weissburgunder 2015, Südtirol Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw color; spice pear and roasted lemon, hay and autumn meadows, chalk and flint; a little earthy, as if its toes were still in the vineyard; clean and incisive acidity and chiseled limestone minerality. An exhilarating pinot blanc for drinking through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Importer N/A.
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Tascate Buonora 2014, Sicilia. 12% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; a rich, Stampagolden wine, with spiced pears and yellow plums, sage and thyme, green tea, quince and acacia; scintillating limestone and flint minerality; sea-salt and meadow; spicy and savory. A great deal of charm. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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blanc
Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; peach, pear and quince, bee’s-wax, dried thyme and sage; apple skin and pear nectar; lilac and acacia; yellow plums and a bare hint of mango; all these elements inextricably encompassed in a package that feels irrevocably vital, vibrant, real, bound to the earth yet ethereally delicate and delicious. An extraordinary wine. Exceptional. About $30.
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grillo
Vento di Mare Grillo 2014, Terre Siciliana IGT. 12.5% alc. Made from organic grillo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; savory and saline, with yellow plum and roasted lemon scents and flavors, notes of heather, dried thyme and sea-grass, clean-cut acidity and limestone minerality and a chalk-flinty element that increases through the herb-and-spice laden finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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wakefield riesling
Wakefield Riesling 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 12% alc. Pale straw gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, with a hint of zesty grapefruit and its pith; very dry, with a burgeoning limestone and chalk element, all wrapped in delightful vitality. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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There’s nothing seditious about the Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River sedition-bottle-of-wine2Valley. Rather, the wine displays an awesome intensification of everything that we love about pinot noir from this well-known appellation in Sonoma County. Sedition Wine is a partnership between Jigar Patel and winemaker Josh Bartels, Midwesterners who met at Purdue University more than 20 years ago. This wine marks the first release from their venture. Though the single-vineyard designated on the label is Chenoweth, some portion of the grapes in the wine derived from the Graham Family Vineyards. And though the listed appellation is Sonoma County, the real origin is the narrower realm of the Green Valley sub-AVA. The Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 aged 16 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; seductive aromas of smoky, spicy and macerated red and black cherries are permeated by notes of rhubarb and sassafras, lavender and violets, licorice and sandalwood, all borne by a wafting of dusty graphite. This pinot noir registers both dense and juicy on the palate, particularly in the area of ripe, spiced plums, but whatever the near viscosity of a super-satiny texture, the wine is certainly animated by lip-smacking acidity that plows a furrow and the energy inherent in slightly dusty tannins; layers of brambly-briery influence and hints of leather and loam contribute a slightly roughened character, as if the wine knew that being too sophisticated, too polished were a grave fault. A sensible 13.8 percent alcohol. A superb pinot noir for drinking now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 230 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

A sample for review.

Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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BenchbreakChard_2
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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BenchbreakPinot_0
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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ECM305299
So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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ECM305300
And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Jordan Winery’s decision, all these years, to maintain a focus on only two wines — chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon — is one that I wish more producers would follow. Often I feel that Jordan-Winery-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-2014-WebDetailwineries try to be all things to all consumers, dividing their attention and efforts into too many products at myriad levels of intent and price. That said, winemaker Rob Davis made a change in how the Jordan Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, was treated in the winery. While the 2013 version, for example, aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — this present release was barrel-fermented 60 percent in stainless steel tanks and 40 percent in new French oak, aged five and a half months in all new French oak and went through 30 percent ML. The result is a wine that is moderately richer and more full-bodied than the chardonnays from Jordan that I tasted in the past, while it retains the emphasis on elegance, purity and intensity. The color is brilliant medium straw-gold; classic aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit open to bare hints of mango, quince and ginger and, after a few minutes airing, to beguiling scents of honeysuckle and lilac. Supple and lithe, staying on the safe side of lushness, the wine displays a structure defined by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone element, resulting in very attractive heft and substance on the palate, all while delivering tasty and spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a whiff of gun-flint and lavender emerges, as the finish concludes with a teasing sense of crystalline minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with seared salmon or swordfish, grilled trout with capers and brown butter or seafood risottos. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

March seems to be making its egress in lamb-like fashion in our neck o’ the woods, after a month of torrential rain. The weather is balmy, the dogwoods are pushing out their bone-colored 2015RoseFrontblossoms, the birds are tweeting — even lacking opposable thumbs! — and the tree-frogs are tuning their lugubrious bagpipes. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to open a bottle of rosé wine and allow gratitude to flourish. Today I mention the Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma County — the grapes from Carneros — though since we rarely see sweet rosés any more, I wonder about the necessity of the qualifier “dry” in the wine’s title. As stated, then, this is indeed a dry rosé, lively, lithe and tasty. The color is medium salmon-copper; pert aromas of lightly spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries carry notes of watermelon and pomegranate, with an undertone of flint. The texture offers some of the satiny quality of pinot noir, though enlivened by crisp acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality. The emphasis, however, is on ripe but spare red berry flavors that on the finish encompass hints of peach and almond skin. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2016 as a charming aperitif or with such picnic fare as cold fried chicken, deviled eggs and cucumber sandwiches or with a duck and rabbit terrine, crusty bread and a wedge of cheddar cheese. Very Good+. About $14, marking Decent Value.

A sample for review.

strong cab
The Sonoma County designation indicates the basic level of wine for Rodney Strong Vineyards, with the hierarchy, we’ll call it, rising through sub-AVAs like Russian River Valley and Knights Valley up to the powerful single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons. At the Sonoma County range, the wines tend to be well-made, tasty and mainly more solidly varietal than exciting, though I’m happy to make an exception for the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County, a product that bartenders and waiters could sell the hell out of in restaurant by-the-glass programs. Not to say that consumers wouldn’t enjoy it at home with a burger or steak or hearty pasta dish. The wine aged 15 months in American oak barrels (80 percent) with the balance in French oak. The color is a vibrant dark ruby-purple with a magenta cast; it’s a warm and spicy cabernet, bursting with aromas of black currants and raspberries, an inky aspect of iodine and iron, and notes of cedar, sage and tobacco. Lots of presence and heft here, ordered in terms both broad and elegant, with lively and spicy black fruit flavors highlighted by dusty tannins, a feeling of slightly chiseled graphite minerality and coursing acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. Drink now — I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a cumin-chili powder glaze — through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

The idea behind producing wines from one designated vineyard is that such a piece of land, its geology and geography, its soil, bedrock and micro-climate, will result in a wine distinctive in character from a different vineyard, say one across the valley or even down the road. That macphailprinciple drives the fame and fortune of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, for example, because the reputation of that narrow region in eastern France rests on the individual nuances supposedly expressed by vineyards that lie across a country lane from each other or a ball-toss across an ancient stone wall. A slightly different tilt of a slope toward the southeast, a minute diversion in a vineyard’s elevation at exactly the perfect pitch on a hillside, a variation in the type of underlying limestone: These factors influence the quality and character of Burgundy’s renowned and rare Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines and help determine their stratospheric prices.

We must remember that these vineyards in the Côte d’Or, many of minute size, have been cultivated, discussed, parsed and celebrated for upwards of 1,000 years. That cannot be said of vineyards in California, yet the belief inheres in the state’s wine industry — and in Oregon and, to a lesser extent, in Washington — that wines from single vineyards are (potentially) superior to wines that derive from a more general regional application. The stature of such vineyards as Bien Nacido, Durell, Sangiacomo, Beckstoffer George III and To-Kalon, Old Hill and many others testifies to the efficacious effect of individual micro-climates on vines and grapes. The point, however, is that the wines produced from such hallowed areas honor not only the character of the vineyard but the nature of the grape. Great wines perform both functions, seamlessly, with balance and integration.

These remarks serve as prelude to reviews of a handful of single-vineyard pinot noirs produced by MacPhail Family Wines, a division of Hess Family Wine Estates. Three of these pinot noirs originate in the Sonoma Coast AVA, the other three from the Anderson Valley AVA in Mendocino County. The first wine is not single-vineyard designated, while the rest in this roster are.

James MacPhail launched his brand in 2002, focusing on pinot noir and chardonnay from Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. He built his winery in Healdsburg, in his backyard, in 2008. Hess Collection acquired the Macphail brand and inventory — but not the winery — in 2011, freeing James MacPhail to make wine and not concentrate on the business side of wine-producing and -selling.

I like these wines a great deal, though they emphasize the muscular and dimensional possibilities of the pinot noir grape rather than its elegance and delicacy. Still, in their wealth of detail and their thoughtful background, they remain fine examples of the potential of single-vineyard bottlings.

These wines were samples for review.
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We begin with a wine that is not single-vineyard designated, the MacPhail Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, drawing on eight vineyards from areas in the vast Sonoma Coast appellation, including the well-known Dutton, Pratt and Sangiacomo vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, 30 percent one-year-old and 30 percent two-years-old. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; cherries, cherries and cherries in every form — black and red, spiced and macerated, slightly fleshy and roasted — characterize the aromas and flavors here, with hints of plum, pomegranate, cranberry and sassafras. The texture is sleek, lithe and supple, while the wine’s structure feels large-framed, deep, a bit brooding, all leading to a finish packed with fruit and spice and dominated by graphite minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,025 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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We’ll stay in Sonoma Coast — a widely diverse AVA more than 500,000 acres in extent — for the MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is owned by Steve MacRostie, no slouch himself when it comes to making pinot noir, and perches on a hillside in the Petaluma Gap, straddling Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs, where the maritime winds and fogs are a profound influence. A dark ruby hue shades to a transparent garnet rim; the first impression is of red and black cherries and currants infused with rhubarb, cranberry, sassafras and cloves, with high notes of graphite and mint and low tones of leather and loam, picking up, with air, interesting hints of melon and apple skin, iodine and iron. In other words, lovely and intriguing complexity but leaning toward the grape’s muscular potential, its darkness and power. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $49.
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Nineteen wineries make designated pinot noir from grapes purchased from Sangiacomo Vineyards in Petaluma Gap. The MacPhail Sangiacomo Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a luminous, transparent medium ruby color and aromas of ripe and slightly roasted red and black cherries and raspberries. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of violets, sassafras, smoke and tobacco and notes of plum and sour cherry. There’s a slight aura of dried herbs here — sage, cedar — and a tang of acidity to keep the wine lively and engaging. A silky-smooth texture benefits from a lift of graphite minerality and lightly dusted tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $49.
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For the remaining wines, we move north to Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. The MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one- and two-years old. Though the color is transparent medium ruby, there’s nothing shy or ephemeral about this pinot noir, which builds power, depth and presence in the glass. It’s a warm and spicy wine, bursting with notes of lightly braised cranberries, black and red currants and hints of cola, cloves and smoke, violets and lavender, briers and brambles, while a few minutes in the glass produce elements of leather and loam. This is a fleshy, full-bodied pinot noir, gushing with ripe, meaty, spicy red and black berry flavors in a structure that grows increasingly dense, chewy, velvety and tannic. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 525 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 through ’24. Not my favorite style of pinot noir, but certainly well-made. Excellent. About $49.
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The MacPhail Anderson Creek Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, comes on rather strong for my taste, being a wine whose lip-smacking viscosity and keen acidity augment a lack of grace and elegance. It aged the standard 11 months in French oak, new barrels at 40 percent, if you believe the back label, or 50 percent, if you go by the printed technical sheet. (Let’s coordinate, team!) Pungent with aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, cherries and plums, the wine is supremely satiny and drapery-like on the palate, admitting touches of loam and mocha and a bit more oak than its cousins in this roster. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $49.
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OK, now we’re talking. The MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, derives from a two-acre vineyard planted to one clone, the Martini; it aged 11 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is medium transparent ruby shading to an almost invisible rim; aromas of spiced and slightly macerated black cherries and raspberries are preceded by notes of iodine and beetroot, with hints of violets, lavender and cloves; the whole effect is exotic without being pushy or flamboyant. This is an intense pinot noir, dense and chewy with dusty, velvety tannins and enlivened by bright acidity that powers the wine from mid-palate back through the graphite-laced finish. Though it sounds as if the entire motif here rests on authority and substance, the wine achieves a fine balance between energy and the elegance of tendril-like effects centered on mint, black tea, delicate roots and filigrees of wild blueberries. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. A great effort for drinking now through 2020 to 2024 or ’25. Exceptional. About $55.
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For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
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2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
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cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
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2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
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Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
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grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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KRUG_FR_HM_11 5006
Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
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tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
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Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
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The current release of the Lytton Springs red wine blend from Ridge Vineyards is the 2013, but Iridge lytton purchased the 2012 rendition this weekend at a local store to drink with Saturday night’s pizza. The result was not merely a terrific food and wine match but one of the best red wines we have tasted so far this year. (Yes, I know, the year is still in its infancy.) Ridge Vineyards, founded in 1962 on an abandoned estate established in 1885 in Santa Clara County, is a notable producer of single-vineyard zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon wines, the latter including the Monte Bello label, one of California’s most highly regarded iconic, long-lived cabernets, and tiny quantities of chardonnay. Winemaker Paul Draper began making a zinfandel from the Lytton Springs vineyard, in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, in 1972. The winery bought Lytton Springs in 1991. The label no longer carries a varietal designation as a zinfandel, because the amount of zinfandel grapes in this field blend is usually under 75 percent. For the Ridge Lytton Springs 2012, Dry Creek Valley, the blend is 70 percent zinfandel, 21 percent petite sirah, 6 percent carignane and 3 percent mourvèdre. Information on the oak regimen is not available. The color is dark ruby shading to a medium transparent violet at the rim; aromas of black and red currants and raspberries are permeated by notes of briers and brambles, underbrush and some root-like tea; only gradually does an ethereal floral element begin to waft from the glass. A spine of bright acidity provides foundation for dusty, puckery tannins allied to an increasingly evident strain of graphite minerality. The whole package is lithe and supple, fruit flavors tending more to ebon cherry and plum, and the overall impression is of tremendous resonance, personality and presence. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’28. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase; that figure reflects a median of prices nationally.

Here’s a chardonnay that toes the line between richness and elegance with thrilling deftness. The Benovia Winery Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, derives mainly from the winery’s benoviaMartaella Estate Vineyard. It’s barrel-fermented, with indigenous yeasts, and aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Mike Sullivan. The color is a pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; it’s a chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, offering aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and crystallized ginger, with a hint of the tropical, a touch of musk, and notes of lilac and heather. Nothing overblown or strident here, nor creamy or toasty, as in so many chardonnays from Russian River, yet the wine’s balance and integrity hinge on pinpoint focus and steely resolve, taking a risk with the integration of lushness and limestone spareness; the oak is like a whisper along the wine’s arc of bright acidity and mineral structure. On the palate, you feel subtle elements of figs, spiced pear and lemon curd, a bit of dusty leafiness, and then a finish that brings in some rigor of grapefruit pith and flint. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,580 cases. We drank this bottle last night as accompaniment to seared salmon with a harissa crust and fingerling potatoes, split, tossed in olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder, browned in a cast-iron skillet, then roasted in a 500-degree oven. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. The label image is one vintage behind.

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