Sonoma County


Three Sticks Wines was founded by Bill Price III — get it? his surfer handle was Billy Three Sticks — who also owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He met winemaker and fellow-surfer Don Van Staaveren (image at right) in 1996 when TPG acquired Chateau St. Jean from Suntory, and in 2004 Price asked Van Staaveren to come aboard as winemaker at Three Sticks. (I’m condensing history quite a bit here.) The “winery” occupies space in an industrial/warehouse area in Sonoma, a practical measure since no one has to worry about tasting rooms, landscaping, high-end facilities, jazz concerts, picnic grounds, executive chefs and so on, though a great deal of organizational logistics is required. Van Staaveren, who created the sensational Cinq Cepage cabernet sauvignon for Chateau St. Jean, indeed resembles nothing more nor less than a gracefully aging, if slightly craggy, California boy; when I visited Three Sticks in the Summer of 2013, he wore a cast on one arm, the result of a surfing mishap. The wines he creates from the Durell Vineyard and other vineyards are thoughtfully made and embody tremendous personality and character. Unfortunately, they are produced in limited quantities and are available only on an allocation list. They are worth a visit to the winery’s website threestickswines.com to sign up. These examples were samples for review.

This post is the fourth in a series devoted to wines made from two grapes that seem to occur together, chardonnay and pinot noir, on the model of Burgundy.
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The Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Mountain — the first Three Sticks release for this wine from a vineyard that remains anonymous — was treated in a manner traditional for California chardonnay: barrel fermentation; 14 months aging in French oak barrels, 50 percent new; full malolactic fermentation. The color is medium straw-gold; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit feel infused by quince and ginger, spiced pear and toasted hazelnuts, amid a background of limestone minerality. This is a supremely rich chardonnay, slightly creamy but not buttery or tropical, and its lusciousness is tempered by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are highlighted by notes of orange marmalade and a hint of grapefruit pith. Altogether, this is a round, supple, mouth-filling chardonnay that displays lovely, if a bit florid, balance and tone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 222 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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The winemaker took a completely opposite approach to the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. This wine was fermented in giant concrete egg-shaped vessels and aged 14 months in small steel barrels; not a smidgeon of oak touched it, and it did not go through malolactic. The grapes derived from two areas in the Durell Vineyard, “Old Wente 5,” on a northwest-facing slope of light soil, and “V9,” one of the rockiest and windiest parts of the vineyard. The color is medium straw-gold; the first impression is of something earthy, highly structured, almost tannic in effect, but with a core of remarkable resonance and vitality that animates captivating scents and flavors of quince jam and crystallized ginger, candied grapefruit and spiced pear with hints of lemon oil and lime peel, the whole package conveying the feeling of a lacy transparency of fruit over a dense, almost talc-like texture and a vibrant structure of limestone, damp gravel and chiming acidity. All in all, amazing energy, presence and tone, a wine that gives new meaning to “no-oak chardonnay.” 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 266 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast, took grapes from three blocks of the estate vineyard, all of which greet the sunrise: The Extension, a steep slope that falls mainly east but a little to the south; the Terraces, an area of slightly terraced rows running north-south and with an eastern exposure; Block R, a cool, windy location of light soil with red volcanic deposits that falls on a slight slope to the east. The grapes fermented in open-top vessels, and the wine aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is a translucent and luminous medium ruby hue; beguiling aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and cranberry are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, loam, briers and brambles and a hint of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of smoky red and black cherries, rose petals and sandalwood. This is a substantial pinot noir, blessed with a sense of total confidence and completion, though whatever character it possesses of power and dynamism is complemented by qualities of grace, delicacy and elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 170 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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Need I say more? Half-a-dozen very attractive, lively, spicy and savory — some more spicy than savory, some more savory than spicy — white wines designed to quench the thirst, caress and engage the palate, and accompany all sorts of the imaginative cuisine you’re so good at creating — or, you know, a package of fish sticks from the freezer (the only form of seafood we ate when I was a child). Anyway, quick reviews here, meant to tease your interest and whet your taste-buds. All were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Villa Robles Huerhuero Albarino 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and clover, roasted lemons and lemon balm,
cloves and ginger; very dry and crisp with zingy acidity but delivering a pleasing almost talc-like texture; tangerine with a note of peach and pine; juicy, saline, savory, mouth-watering. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $18, online and tasting-room only.
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Rocca Sveva Castelerino 2012, Soave Superiore Classico, Italy. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; quite fresh and clean; pineapple, mango, lemongrass, almond blossom, lime peel, but with a spareness and savory quality married to slight astringency; lively, spicy, slightly dusty limestone effect. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvee George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; crisp, clean, lean, blade-like but filled with notes of lychee and slightly over-ripe peaches and tangerines and hints of lime peel and little white flowers; chiseled, incisive limestone minerality and scintillating acidity; brings in touches of cloves, flint and loam on the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. This Gallo label was formerly known as MacMurray Ranch. Pale gold hue; citrus and stone-fruit, spare and lean; cloves, quince and ginger; dry but juicy with a very attractive mouth-feel; bright acidity and limestone/flint minerality; a dry, spicy, slightly austere finish; fine-grained complexity on the palate. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Cadaretta SBS 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% semillon. Very pale gold hue; melon and lime peel, lemongrass and fig, slightly grassy and hay-like, herbal in the thyme sense, musky and dusky; tantalizing hints of lavender and lilac; crisp and lively but silky smooth texture; savory, mouth-filling but limpid with crystalline purity and intensity and a limestone finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
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Mar de Frades Albarino 2012, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. You can’t miss the cobalt-blue bottle. Pale straw-gold color; decisively saline and savory, thrilling vitality; roasted lemon and spiced pear; intensely floral with notes of jasmine, almond blossom and some wild fragrance; very dry, with a citrus tang, clean acidity and heaps of vivid limestone minerality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

Today’s notes feature eight rosé wines, four from France, three from California and one from the state of Virginia. In style they range from ephemeral to fairly robust. I have to take shots at a couple of these examples, but those are the breaks in the realm of wine reviewing. No attempt at technical, historical, geographical or personal information here (you know, the stuff I really dote on); instead, the intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate. Except for the Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, France. 13% alc. 50% each grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue, almost shimmers; light kisses of strawberry, peach and orange rind, hints of dried thyme; bone-dry, crisp and vibrant, loads of scintillating limestone minerality. Really well-made and enjoyable but packaged in an annoying over-designed bottle that’s too tall to fit on a refrigerator shelf. Excellent. About $20.
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Bila-Haut Rosé 2013, Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. Cinsault and grenache. (From M. Chapoutier) Pretty copper-salmon color; orange zest and raspberries, dusty minerals, notes of rose petals and lavender; quite dry, with limestone austerity, a fairly earthy, rustic style of rose, not in the elegant or delicate fashion. Very Good. About $13.
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Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. 14.7% alc. 466 cases. Bright copper-peach color; think of this as a cadet pinot noir in the form of a rosé; currants and plums, raspberry with a bit of briery rasp; notes of smoke and dried Provencal herbs, hints of pomegranate and orange zest; very clean, fresh and vibrant with a damp limestone foundation. Excellent. About $17.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 92 cases. Light but bright copper-salmon-topaz hue; strawberries and red currants, both fresh and dried, blood orange, note of pomegranate; lovely, lithe and supple but energized by brisk acidity; floral element burgeons and blossoms in the glass, as in rose petals and camellias; very dry, delicate, ethereal yet with a real bedrock of limestone minerality; a touch earthier than the version of 2012. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” 2013, Tavel, France. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 10% each cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, 5% each bourboulenc and clairette. Brilliant strawberry-copper color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a touch of peach; very dry and fairly robust for rosé; notes of dried herbs and summer flowers, dominant component of limestone and flint, almost tannic in effect, but overall high-toned and elegant. Excellent. About $30.
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Notorious Pink 2013, Vin de France. Alc% NA. 100% grenache. (Domaine la Colombette) Better to call this one Innocuous Pink. Carries delicacy to the point of attenuation; very pale onion skin color; faintest tinge of strawberry, bare hint of orange zest and limestone; fairly neutral all the way round. Comes in an upscale frosted bottle, woo-hoo. Good. About $20.
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Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2013, Virginia, USA. 12% alc. 100 percent mourvèdre. 120 cases. Ruddy onion skin hue; fresh strawberries and raspberries with cloves and slightly dusty graphite in the back; notes of orange pekoe tea and dried red currants; a little fleshy and floral; bright acidity and a mild limestone-like finish. Very Good+. About $18.
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Robert Turner Wines Mosaic Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. With 15% cabernet franc. 25 cases. Pale copper-onion skin color; musky and dusky melon, raspberry and strawberry with notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; finely-knit texture, delicate, elegant, lively, with a honed limestone finish. Excellent. About $22.
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Gewurztraminer might not be as off-putting to so many people if its name were changed to Steve or Samantha, but there it is, a grape that can be made into one of the most beautiful wines in the world with a name that is almost unpronounceable. So be it. Gewurztraminer thrives in Alsace, where France nestles uneasily against Germany, and to some extent in the northeastern Italian region of Alto Adige, in the Tyrol Alps just south of Austria. There are outposts in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and also in the states of Oregon and California, and it’s to the latter that we turn for today’s Wine of the Week, the Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard lies at a fairly low elevation in the southwestern foothills of the Mayacamas range. Ninety percent of this clean, fresh, crisp wine was made in stainless steel, the rest in neutral oak barrels. The color is very pale gold; aromas of rose petals, lychee and spiced pear are highlighted by notes of white pepper, peach and lime peel, all subtly and delicately woven. Acidity is essential to the success of gewurztraminer — as in any wine, truly — to balance the potentially overpowering floral and fruity elements, and this example has acidity in spades, a factor that contributes to its appealing liveliness and its deft poise. Citrus and stone-fruit meld seamlessly in the mouth, while the spicy, limestone-laced finish brings in a hint of grapefruit pith bitterness, savory, astringent and exciting. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with — I know this is the cliche — moderately spicy Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, with grilled shrimp or mussels, with seafood risotto. Excellent. About $22.50.

A sample for review.

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

A sample for review.

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

These wines were samples for review.

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Clos du Val Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; vibrant and vivid purity and intensity, scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hints of mango and cloves; sleek, lithe, dynamic, beautifully balanced; nothing avant-garde or opulent here, just classic winemaking. Excellent. About $28.
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CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale gold hue; bright, clean and fresh; pineapple-grapefruit-roasted lemon, hints of nutmeg, lemon balm and lemon curd; dense and chewy, packed with spice and seashell-limestone minerality; slightly astringent floral element; quite dry, very attractive weight and substance; earthy finish where the oak comes out a bit more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Dunston Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. Limited production. Ravishing medium gold hue with a green tinge; pine, cloves, grapefruit and pineapple with notes of mango, roasted lemon and some leafy/green tea element; fascinating in its complexity and risk-taking but ultimately exquisitely balanced, though you feel the tug of polished oak on the finish after an hour or so. Limited production. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium gold color; very bright and bold, even brassy; very spicy with roasted grapefruit and baked peach, slightly caramelized; way too much oak, too much butter and tropical elements; stridently spicy, over-ripe and then austerely dry; fundamentally unbalanced. Not recommended. About $35.
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Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hint of mango; Chablis-like chalk and flint; smoke and earth, dense and chewy and pretty darned intense and concentrated; a substantial style. Very Good+. About $27.
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Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay 2012, Carneros. 13.7% alc. Medium straw-gold color; smoke, toast, oak; roasted lemon and baked pear; fairly spicy with buttered and caramelized citrus fruit; quite dry, sleek, good acidity and limestone minerality, but doesn’t know what style it wishes to emulate. Very Good. About $30.
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Jackson Estate “Camelot Highlands” Chardonnay 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.5% alc. This chardonnay falls under the Kendall-Jackson rubric rather than Jackson Family Wines; does either entity really need more brands? Medium gold; vividly spicy, boldly ripe and tropical; smoke, toast, brown sugar; dense and chewy, almost viscous, carries opulence to ridiculous lengths; toasted coconut and marshmallow; crème brûlée; doesn’t even come close to palatable in my world. Not recommended. About $35.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a typical Jordan chardonnay, nothing bold or sumptuous, thank goodness, but well-balanced with keen acidity and an edge of vital limestone minerality to bolster pineapple-grapefruit flavors highlighted by notes of cloves and lilacs; very dry, clean, spare, elegant; oak is an echo rather than a presence. Excellent. About $30.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley. 13.8% alc. I generally like Laetitia’s pinot noirs, but this chardonnay is beyond the pale. So: pale gold color; starts off clean and fresh, with pineapple-grapefruit and notes of roasted lemon and mango; then expands with extravagant richness and exaggerated spice, smoke and crème brûlée gone to the dark side; where are the mitigating acidity and minerality? Not recommended. About $18.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 182 six-pack cases. Steven Kent can make clean, balanced and finely detailed chardonnay (see below), but under his La Rochelle label he turns more baroque and fantastical; this wine is so oaky and over-spiced that it felt harsh on my palate. It gets no recommendation from me. About $65.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Clasp this well-made inexpensive chardonnay to your bosom as if it were a long-lost friend. Pale gold color; pineapple-mango-grapefruit, hints of jasmine, crystallized ginger and quince; a tad dusty-earthy; deft balance among acidity, spicy oak and spare limestone minerality; notes of citrus on the finish. Very Good+. About $10 and a Remarkable Bargain.
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Newton Chardonnay 2012, Napa County. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; warm and spicy, bright and bold, but nicely balanced and shapely, with a sheen of oak; ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a note of green apple; brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone finish. Quite attractive. Very Good+. About $28.
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Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. This cousin to the wine mentioned just above is both more ambitious and unfortunately far less balanced; medium gold color; bright, ripe, brassy citrus and stone-fruit scents and flavors; cloves, caramel, brown sugar; very tropical, buttered toast, meringue; yet strangely very dry and austere on the finish. Unpleasant and unpalatable. Not recommended. About $65.
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Olema Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Second label of Amici Cellars) Pale gold color; crisp, taut, fresh; apples, grapefruit and pineapple; spicy and lively, a little lean and sinewy but generous and expansive too; quite pleasant and tasty. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Uh-oh. Medium gold color; forthright and boldly spicy, forthright and deeply oaky. I couldn’t drink it. Not recommended. About $47.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale gold; ineffable weaving of grapefruit and pineapple, Golden Delicious apple, cloves, ginger and quince; very dry but juicy and savory; lovely heft and texture, lithe and supple, almost talc-like but riven and balanced by bright acidity. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; so clean and pure, such crystalline intensity, yet spare, elegant and subtle but with a core of natural richness; roasted lemon and lemon balm; notes of pineapple and nectarine; very dry, packed with limestone and flint minerality, but quite delicious, seductive, compelling. Why can’t all chardonnays be like this? Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Reuling Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 350 cases. Major disappointment. Very pale gold; brightly spicy, boldly scented; nutmeg and cloves, pineapple and grapefruit caramelized in butter; cinnamon toast; too creamy on the one hand, too sharply spicy on the other, essentially unbalanced, paradoxically both cloying and austere. Not recommended. About $70.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrillie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. NA% alc. 504 cases. Pale gold color; spare, clean and fresh; lemon balm with notes of grapefruit rind, lemongrass and green tea; hints of nutmeg and cloves; heaps of limestone minerality buoying a lovely talc-like texture shot with shimmering acidity; let’s call it beautiful. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium straw-gold color; a classic of balance and elegance; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors infused with cloves and limestone; lovely weight and heft, that is to say feels dense and weightless simultaneously; clean, bright acidity for liveliness; subtle, supple oak influence and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $28.
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Souverain Chardonnay 2011, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; smoke, cloves and nutmeg; pineapple and pears; very dry, very spicy but dense with a crème brûlée element with emphasis on the brûlée; astringent grapefruit finish; bright acidity barely saves the day. Good only. About $16.
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William Allen moved into commercial production in 2010, after years as a “garagiste” and writer. This doesn’t mean that he makes a lot of wine. Two Shepherds as a one-man operation, truly a labor of love, so the wines are made in minute quantities; sorry about that. These are Rhone-style wines that see no new oak, are foot-stomped, use natural yeasts and generally exhibit remarkable purity and intensity. I love them; there, I said it.

These wines were samples for review. The labels used for illustration below are one vintage behind.

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The Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2012, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, is a blend of four white grapes typical of the southern Rhone Valley: 50 percent roussanne, 35 percent marsanne, 10 viognier and 5 grenache blanc; the wine ages an average of six months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is pale gold; aromas of quince and ginger, peach and spiced pear open to notes of bee’s-wax and camellia, sea-shell and limestone. The wine is rich, focused, enveloped in a structure of moderate and very attractive weight and body, clean, bright and crisp yet almost talc-like in texture. Quite dry, it offers a smoky, earthy and autumnal essence of peaches, nectarines and yellow plums, cloves and allspice and a backwash of limestone-and-flint minerality and salinity. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or roasted salmon or tuna, grilled mussels, trout with lemon-caper butter or shrimp salad. Production was 105 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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This time not Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley but Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, for the Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc 2012; at first I thought that was a misprint. Santa Ynez, approved as an AVA in 1983, is in southeast Santa Barbara County and bears within it the sub-appellation of Santa Rita Hills. This grenache blanc offers an aura of greenness, by which I do not mean green as in grapes picked before they’re ripe, but green as in leafy green, as in sea-green, as in greengage, as in green apple. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are spare and ethereal, wreathed with tangerine and grapefruit and backed by shell-like minerals and a sort of sea-breeze salinity. A moderately soft and satiny texture is energized by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, while the finish brings in hints of green tea, orange rind and cloves. Eighty percent of the wine aged seven months in neutral oak, the other 20 percent six months in stainless steel. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with Thai salads, trout quenelles, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts trimmed, of course). Production was 125 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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William Allen made one barrel of the Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, amounting to 25 cases, so while it’s a brilliant wine, the chances of any of My Readers getting their hands on a bottle are about as remote as Beyonce singing La Boheme in Bethlehem. The grape is trousseau gris, not widely found even in its home of the Jura mountains where France nestles against Switzerland. Being “gris,” the grape’s faintly rosy onion skin or grayish color yields a radiant coral hue when the wine is fermented on the skins; in other words, it’s a “white” wine made as if it were a red wine. The seductive and unusual bouquet delivers hints of orange zest and strawberries, melon and lemon balm with intriguing notes of parsley and celery and a touch of flint. It’s quite dry but juicy with ripe peach, red currant and rhubarb flavors deepened by the slight astringency of peach skin and almond skin, smoke, briers and brambles, all wrapped in clean acidity and a note of graphite minerality. The whole package is characterized by remarkable presence, resonance, transparency and vividness. The wine aged eight months in neutral oak barrels, four months on the lees. 13.8 percent alcohol. We drank this versatile bottle over several nights with a variety of food. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $25.
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So, here’s the red wine of this foursome. The Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvèdre 2011 is a cross-county blend of 55 percent syrah from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, and 45 percent mourvèdre from El Dorado. It aged 10 months in neutral French oak, the barrels four years old or older, four of those months on the lees. The color is a pronounced dark ruby with a magenta robe; fresh aromas of ripe red and black currants and plums are intensified by cloves, graphite, a hint of new leather and depths of briery, clean mossy earthiness. The wine is fine-grained and supple, riven by incisive acidity, decisively dry, dense and chewy, almost feral in its purity and individuality; despite projecting a vibrant and somewhat unbridled red and black fruit character and texture, the wine feels light on its feet, with nothing ponderous or opulent. 13.8 percent alcohol. Product was 40 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’20 with grilled leg of lamb, a hot and crusty medium rare rib-eye steak just plunked from the coals, a gamy veal chop. Excellent. About $38.
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