Sonoma County


Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield each grew up in families intimately connected through generations to the cultivation of grapes in Sonoma County. They formed a partnership and launched Dutton Goldfield Winery in 1998, with Steve as vineyard manager and Dan as winemaker. Dutton Ranch, a term that appears on their labels, is not one piece of earth but a collection of over 60 non-contiguous parcels in Russian River Valley comprising approximately 1,300 acres of land that they either own, lease or manage. About 1,150 of these acres are planted to grapes, and the other 150 to apples. As we say of certain automobiles, the Dutton Goldfield products are performance wines, immediately gorgeous, dramatically appealing, ambitious and dense with possibility, and delivering immense presence on the palate. Dan Goldfield is not shy with oak, though I thought only one of these examples displayed its barrel influence overtly. Alcohol levels for the wines mentioned in this post are a comfortable and well-poised under-14 percent. Green Valley, at the southwest corner of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, is one of Russian River’s coolest sub-AVAs. It was approved as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983 but altered in 2007 to Green Valley of Russian River Valley to distinguish itself from Green Valley in Solano County.

These wines were samples for review.
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The one of these wines that I did not entirely give my heart to was the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, a chardonnay that was fermented in barrel and went through complete malolactic fermentation; it aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It’s a bold, ripe, spicy chardonnay that features pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors lavished with elements of vanilla, creme brulee and toasted coconut; the oak dominates from mid-palate back through the finish, where the saving grace of clean acidity and limestone minerality strive to give the wine balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. This fashion of chardonnay may appeal to some consumers, but not to me. Very Good+. About $38.
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No such quibbles mar the experience of the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, made from dry-farmed vines planted in 1969. The wine is barrel-fermented and goes completely through malolactic while aging 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels; it’s bottled unfiltered. The color is a limpid medium gold hue; aromas of slightly macerated and baked pineapple and grapefruit are tinged with preserved lemon and green tea, talc and flint, with a gradual unfolding of acacia and verbena. Pretty heady stuff, all right. It’s ripe and rich, to be sure, but beautifully balanced by rivers of swingeing acidity and bastions of powdery, slightly graphite-driven limestone minerality for exquisite heft and energy; the finish brings in lime peel, lightly spiced pear and flint. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 649 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.
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Aged 16 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, displays a transparent ruby-mulberry hue. You could eat the bouquet with a spoon: black and red cherries and plums enveloped in lilac and lavender, sandalwood and sassafras, new leather and a hint of loam; a few moments unfurl notes of wood-smoke, cigarette paper and talc. A real beauty, the wine is sleek and lithe on the palate, propelled by throbbing acidity and spice-infused black fruit flavors; it gathers woodsy underbrush elements as the minutes pass and concludes with a fairly high-toned, austere finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 490 cases. Try from 2019 through 2028. Excellent. About $62.
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“Perfect” is not a word one should toss around blithely, but I’ll unlimber it in the case of the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. The wine aged in French oak 16 momths, 55 percent new barrels. The color is a beautiful transparent ruby-magenta shading to an invisible rim; scents of spiced and macerated (and slightly smoky) black cherries and currants feel infiltrated by threads of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, with undertones of cool graphite and iodine; a few minutes in the glass unfold hints of sage, cumin and underbrush. Super lithe, supple and satiny in the mouth, this juicy pinot noir develops an essential and almost feral loamy element, as well as touches of tobacco and leather inside its ripe black fruit flavors. Altogether, it’s a remarkable marriage of power and elegance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 317 cases. Drink now through 2023 to 27. Exceptional. About $72.
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That term — “red wine blends” — should produce some rolled eyes and deep sighs among a portion of my readers. After all, there’s nothing unusual about red wine blends. However, a few years ago, my colleagues in wine writing and I began receiving press releases from eager and enthusiastic marketers and PR people extolling the hot new trend of blended red wines, particularly from California, and what an innovation these wines were. Apparently these bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked young persons never heard of, for example, Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Port and Chianti (or old-fashioned Chianti). Nevertheless, secure in that knowledge, I’ll review today a trio of pretty damned unusual or at least interesting red wine blends from Portugal, Uruguay and California’s Sonoma County. Each is quite individual from the others.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The Monte da Peceguina 2015 comes from the Portuguese region of Alentejo, where is was made by Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, a compound that includes a hotel, spa and restaurant as well as a winery. The sparsely populated region covers most of the lower third of Portugal; its chief asset and export is cork. Vinho Regional Alentejano, this wine’s category, is the designation for the entire region, VR being somewhat the equivalent of the French vin de pays. Monte da Peceguina 2015 is a blend of native grapes with several imports, none in the majority: 25 percent touriga nacional, 23 percent syrah, 22 percent aragonez, 20 percent alicante bouschet and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon; call it a sort of Portuguese-French hybrid. Information about oak aging is not available. Far from these divergent grapes uneasily co-existing, they came together to form a robust, vigorous whole greater than the sum of its parts. The color is intense dark ruby; it’s a ferrous and sanguinary wine that features ripe and fleshy black currants, blueberries and plums infused with cloves and sandalwood, mint and licorice, with a burgeoning tide of smoke and tar. A wallop of graphite bathes the palate ahead of dry dusty, gritty tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s a dark, brooding, pondering place in the black and blue fruit flavors slightly sympathetic to hints of lavender and violets that succumb to a dense, mineral-ridden finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30 with steaks, roasted goat and pork and game meats. Excellent. About $19.

Imported by Wine in Motion, Union, N.J.
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Bodegas Marichal was founded in 1938 and is now operated by the family’s third and fourth generation. The estate’s vineyards are located in the province of Canelones, 15 miles north of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Though this wine offers the simplest blend of this trio, it’s also the most unusual. The Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 is a blend of — yes — 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent tannat. Let’s think about this pairing. Pinot noir is often considered sacrosanct in its elegance and perfumed singularity, that is, a red grape so noble and highly characteristic that it is not to be blended with other grapes — unless producers in Burgundy surreptitiously pump up the color of their wines with a slurp of Cotes-du-Rhone from the south. Ha-ha, of course that would never happen! On the other hand, tannat, tough as a motorcyclist’s left boot and tannic as black tea left in the pot overnight, well, gosh, tannat seems an anomaly even if its function is to lend heft and structural might to pinot noir. The grape, declining in plantings in France, gives robustness and rusticity to the red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy in the Southwest, in the foothills east of the Pyrenees. Seventy percent of the Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 aged 10 months in oak barrels. The color is a brilliant medium ruby hue, and while the mild color might indicate a mild wine, the aromas of dusty, briery black currants and plums, permeated by cloves and graphite, tell us that the 30 percent tannat tends to dominate the enterprise; a silky texture feels slightly roughened by dry sifted tannins that provide grip and traction on the palate rarely encountered in pinot noir. In other words, the blend here is transformative, with the lesser grape working its powerful wiles upon the greater. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It’s certainly a very unusual drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 or ’24. Very Good+. About $20.

Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Looking at the roster of wines available from Rodney Strong Vineyards, your first thought might be, “Do they need another label?” The answer to your inquiry would be: “Probably not,” yet here is Upshot 2015, a Sonoma County blend — primarily Alexander and Knights valleys — of 44 percent zinfandel, followed by 29 percent merlot, 15 percent malbec and 7 percent petit verdot and — out in left field — 5 percent riesling. It’s not unprecedented for red wine to contain a bit of aromatic white to elevate the nose and provide a touch of softness to a rigorous structure; after all, among the 13 grape varieties permitted in the typically deeply dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape, only nine are red. (Few CdP producers today employ all 13 varieties or any white grapes at all.) Anyway, Upshot 2015 aged 18 months in oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; notes of black currants, cherries and plums are ripe and fleshy, slightly spiced and macerated and infused with hints of iodine and iron, mint and licorice and a touch too much vanilla to suit me. On the palate, the wine is super-charged by vivid acidity and layered with fairly stout, dusty, graphite-washed tannins; a bit of zinfandel-influenced blueberry and boysenberry emerges after a few minutes in the glass, and perhaps a whiff on the back-end of something astringently floral from that smatter of riesling. So, yeah, nicely made, yet I don’t find this model totally impressive, in fact a bit too much generically “red wine” or “cabernet-ish” than distinctive enough, especially for the price. On the other hand, you and this wine could have a really good time with a medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $28.
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We touch on several regions today on this brief survey of sauvignon blanc wines: Lake County, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma in California, the poetic Horse Heaven Hills in Washington, the North Fork of Long Island, and New Zealand’s Marlborough appellation. The wines range for tasty little quaffers to products that display great tone, character and dignity. As usual in this series, I eschew data of the technical, historical, geographical/geological and personal for quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. Enjoy, but in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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District 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Pale gold hue; a hit of pure lime peel, celery seed, lemongrass and gooseberry, hay and thyme; very dry but juicy, displaying taut acidity and flint-like minerality and a pleasing silky texture. Very Good+. About $16.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa County 64%, Sonoma County 36%. From Quintessa Estate. With 9% semillon. Pale straw-gold color; green, leafy and gingery; notes of grapefruit and pea shoot, lime peel and lemongrass; unfolds touches of lilac, lemon balm and almond blossom, with the pleasant slight bitterness of almond skin; crisp, resonant acidity and a talc-like texture with a glaze of oak, dry, lithe and supple. Impressive tone and character. Excellent. About $50.
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Kontokosta Sauvignon Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island, New York. 13.9% alc. 582 cases. Medium straw-gold; at first, pure lime peel and grapefruit; then, thyme and tarragon, notes of green tea and lemongrass, peach and pear; lovely silky texture with tart acidity; finish of quince, melon and limestone. Excellent. About $25.
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McBride Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw gold; lively elements of grapefruit, pea shoot and lime peel with notes of gooseberry and freshly-mown hay; bright, pert, tart and sassy; unfurls touches of smoke and heather. Very Good+. About $17.
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Mercer Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold; slightly leafy and grassy, with notes of lime peel and grapefruit, tarragon and fennel and an undertone of celery seed; brisk acidity keeps it lively, while a texture poised nervily between lush and lithe makes a pleasing impression on the palate. Very Good+. About $15.
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Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; lemongrass, hay and lilac; lemon and pear, celery feel and fennel; very crisp and pert, with seashell-iodine salinity and minerality, yet a soft unfolding texture; hints of fig and a green leafy quality on the finish. Excellent. About $18, marking Real Value.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit; green tea, fennel, and thyme; quite dry but juicy with stone-fruit flavors and a leafy-figgy element; a soft haze of oak lends a touch of smoke and spice; lively, animated, suave. Excellent. About $24.
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Sidebar Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, High Valley, Lake County. 13% alc. Light, bright gold hue; lemongrass and fennel, notes of grapefruit pith and apple skin; heather and dried thyme; a fluent braiding of zinging acid with spiced pear and peach flavors and piquant notes of limestone and flint; lovely supple texture with intriguing traction at mid-palate. Excellent. About $22.
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Sidebar Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Limpid pale gold color; roasted lemon, acacia and heather; fig, grapefruit and almond skin; quite lively, spicy and engaging; a sleek, suave, lithe texture that borders on elegance, with a fine edge of limestone-flint minerality. Excellent. About $34.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Aveta” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Limpid pale gold hue; subtle notes of lemongrass and green tea, lime peel and heather, tangerine and just a tinge of mango; very pure, clean and fresh, with lip-smacking acidity; lithe and supple on the palate; hints of gun-flint and talc, with a finish that builds in intensity. Lots of character. Excellent. About $26.
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Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, California. 13.6% alc. With 6% French colombard. Very pale straw-gold; very dry; generic but pleasant; notes of green apple, pear and grass, lime peel and lemon; touch of fig; good acidity and a prominent flint/limestone minerality. Very Good+. About $15.
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Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale straw-gold; roasted lemon and spiced pear, fig, thyme and tarragon; hints of lime peel, pea shoot and lemongrass; sleek, slightly talc-like texture riven by vibrant acidity; close to dense and chewy, a note of gardenia on the finish. Just lovely. Excellent. About $38.
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I suspect that while many readers may find the annual roster of “50 Great Wines” interesting, they don’t necessarily find it essential. Today’s post, however — “30 Great Wine Bargains of 2017” — I hope will be greeted with expectation and gratitude. Who doesn’t love a bargain, especially when the price is attached to a wine that performs above its weight and class? Prices on this list range from about $7 to $20. Twenty-five of these selections rate Excellent, with the next five rated Very Good+, and each one offers a hefty and distinguishing serving of quality. The breakdown by genre is 15 white, 13 red and 2 rosé. By country or state: Italy 7; California 6; France 5; Spain 3; Germany 2; and one each from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Oregon, Portugal, South African and Washington. Whatever, it’s not the statistics that count but the wine inside the bottle. Many of these models I would recommend for buying by the case to enjoy in the months ahead, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Alain de la Treille Chinon 2015, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $19.

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Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado 2016, Bierzo, Spain. Rosé of 100 percent mencia grapes. Excellent. About $13.

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Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 70 percent loureiro grapes, 30 percent alvarinho. Very Good+. About $7-$10.

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Averaen Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $20.
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Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinette 2015, Rheinhessen. Excellent. About $14.

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Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 100 percent hondurrabi zuri grapes. Excellent. About $16.
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Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $19.

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Contrade Negroamaro 2015, Puglia, Italy. Very Good+. About $10.

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Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux Blanc. 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 10 percent muscadelle. Very Good+. About $13.
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Maquis Gran Reserva Carménère 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $20.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

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Masseria Li Veli Verdeca 2015, Valle d’Istria, Apulia, Italy. 90 percent verdeca grapes, 10 percent fiano minutolo. Excellent. About $18.

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Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 504 cases. Excellent. About $18.

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Mercer Estate Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2015. Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent syrah, 18 percent merlot, 14 percent petit verdot, 10 percent grenache, 2 percent carignane. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $16.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. Second label of Amici Cellars. Excellent. About $20.

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Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna. Excellent. About $15.

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Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” 2016, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $15.

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Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, Navarra, Spain. Very Good+. About $11.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County, California. With 6 percent petit sirah, 5 percent barbera, 4 percent syrah. 50-to-103-year-old vines. Excellent. About $20.
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The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, Western Cape, South Africa. Very Good+. About $11.

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Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $16.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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St. Urbans-Hof Nik Seis Wiltinger Alte Reben Riesling 2015, Saar Valley, Germany. Excellent. About $18.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi 2014, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa. Excellent. About $19.
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Serra Lor Rosato 2016, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardenia. An unusual rosé blend of 50 percent cannonau, 25 percent monica, 20 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale grapes. Excellent. About $15.

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Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County, California. Excellent. About $19.
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Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012, Bordeaux. 100 percent merlot, no oak. Excellent. About $12.

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Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier White Bland 2015, Sonoma County. 85 percent pinot blanc, 15 percent viognier. Excellent. About $18.
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Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne Brut nv, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $20.

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The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
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Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

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Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
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Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

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Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

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Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

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Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
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Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

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Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
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Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

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Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

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Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

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Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

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Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
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Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
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Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

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Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
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Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
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Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
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Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
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Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

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Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

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Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

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Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
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Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

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Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

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ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

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Tongue Dancer Wines is a project of longtime winemaker James MacPhail and Kerry MacPhail, listed on labels as “Knowledgeable One.” The MacPhails produce minuscule amounts of pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and sell them only by mailing list. I’m a huge fan of the Tonge Dancer pinot noirs, which seem to encompass all the aspects I adore about the grape, from elegance to boldness, from the ethereal to the lithe and muscular, usually presented in a dynamic and superbly poised fashion. Unfortunately, I have to enter a dissenting voice for the winery’s first chardonnay, a model I thought embodied all the worst elements of over-determined California chardonnay. The pinot noir reviewed in this post, however, is a real gem of nuance and complexity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Tongue Dancer Wines Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the winery’s first chardonnay, received all sorts of high scores from various sources, but I’ll say, as politely as possible, that I didn’t care for it one bit. I found it too rich, too spicy, over-oaked, with fruit character that tasted more like dessert cordials than wine, too toasty and altogether unbalanced. But that’s just me. 14.5 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Not recommended. About $50.
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The color of the Tongue Dancer “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby shading to an utterly transparent magenta rim; it’s a deeply scented and flavorful pinot noir that offers hints of black and red cherries and currants with touches of plums, sassafras and sandalwood, loam and beetroot; potent graphite minerality penetrates a supple and lithe texture animated by vivid acidity. This pinot noir deftly balances a feeling of warm spices and cool minerals, while a few moments in the glass unfurl high notes of lilac and lavender and low tones of tar and espresso.
14.5 percent alcohol. A truly eloquent pinot noir that delivers pleasure and intrigue. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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What qualifies as a “Big Deal” wine? You could say price, and while that enters in it’s not the determining factor. You could say a “big” wine in terms of power and structure and alcohol content, and those elements could also be important. What really clinches the deal, though, on a Big Deal wine is the producer’s intention that a wine represent the best of the vineyards and the treatment in the winery, a wine that manifests every quality that to the winemaker stands for integrity, purity and intensity, a wine that, in other words, encapsulates the best that a vineyard and a vat of grapes can possibly deliver. Today’s post is the first in a series of perhaps three entries that examine Big Deal red wines from various countries and regions. This post offers 10 wines — mostly cabernet sauvignon-based but also two merlots; two of the wines are from Chile, are, in fact, among the best cabernets that country produces, and eight from California, all Napa Valley except one from Sonoma Valley. They’re not cheap, and they tend to be limited in production, but as flagship wines they chart the dimensions and depths of their regions’ top achievements.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile, comes from the Vina Quebrada de Macul estate, where winemaker is Jean-Pascal Lacaze. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot, and 3 percent cabernet franc that aged a year in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby-garnet; black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of bell pepper and rosemary, cedar and tobacco, all with a blueberry and sage edge and a strain of penetrating graphite minerality. Dusty, flinty tannins seem precipitous, yet the wine feels quite engaging on the palate, bringing in touches of mint and eucalyptus and a whiff of iodine to the spicy black fruit and blue flavors — currants and cherries, blueberries and plums — all animated by bright acidity. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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With 8 percent cabernet franc with the rest cabernet sauvignon, the Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Puente Alto, Chile, aged 15 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby but shading to a transparent cherry rim; this is fairly closed presently, offering leafy-herbal notes of cedar, rosemary, thyme and black tea over fruitcake and tapenade; black currant and cherry flavors are concentrated and furled, and the wine is dry, mightily tannic and austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’32. Winemaker was Enrique Tirado. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $125.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2014, Napa Valley, is a massive, inky-purple blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 5 malbec, 2 petit verdot, 1 cabernet franc that aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. Intense and concentrated notes of black currant, blueberry and black raspberry are swathed in hints of bell pepper and green olive, cedar, tobacco and rosemary, with undertones of mocha and lavender. Bastions of dusty, rock-ribbed tannin and oak dictate some cellar time for this tightly coiled wine, say for trying from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $56.
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The character of the Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve 2013, Sonoma Valley, seems to partake of the rocky, volcanic soil where the grapes were grown. A blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The whole package feels immense on the palate. The color is black-purple shading to a cherry rim; deep, intense notes of cassis, black cherry and raspberry offer hints of pomegranate, fruitcake and mocha, plums, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Crushing dusty tannins and piercing granitic minerality define a structure that admits touches of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary, laved by creamy oak and energized by bright acidity, all leading to a sleek, chiseled finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Excellent. About $125.
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The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot; information on oak aging was not available. The color is the intense black-purple hue of motor oil; first, you detect notes of graphite, iodine and iron, then hints of concentrated black currants and cherries that unfold elements of smoke and grilled meat, briers and brambles; it’s a very dry wine, dense and chewy in the mouth but without being ponderous or truculent, rather, in fact, despite the size, it’s remarkably deft and light on its feet; around a winsome core of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and crushed violets, a haze of velvety tannins and charcoal-tinged wood wraps itself, tapering to a lithic finish inflected by granitic minerality.
14.6 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 to 2028 or ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, contains 10 percent petit verdot, to the balance of merlot grapes; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 76 percent new barrels. The vineyards on Howell Mountain lie at elevations from 1,700 to 1,820 feet. This is a wine of amazing purity and intensity, from its dark ruby-magenta hue to its piercing elements of graphite and flint minerality, to its penetrating scents and flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and black currant; in its vibrancy, resonance and appeal, this wine can only be described as “exciting,” though the dry, dusty tannins coat the palate; some time in the glass adds complex notes of fruitcake and espresso, truffles and loam and a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the finish fleshes out the wine with a complement of warm spices and cool minerals that reach fathoms deep. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. Exceptional. About $85.
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Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley — the name means “my dream” — is 100 percent cabernet sourced from the Coombsville and Oak Knoll AVAs, aged two years in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, and given another year in the bottle before release. The color is opaque inky-ebony shading to a glowing purple rim; notes of creamy cassis and ripe, fleshy black currants and raspberries open to touches of blueberry and boysenberry, leather and loam, lavender and licorice, with just a hint of well-integrated vanilla; boy, this one is ripe and plush and succulent, almost too gorgeous, really, but saved by bright acidity and a burgeoning sense of dusty, fairly rigorous elements that provide serious background and foundation; I’ll admit that what I admire most about this wine is the sense of vibrant tension between its frankly velvety allure and (from mid-palate back) its increasingly dry, rooty, underbrushy structure; that’s what makes me want to drink a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Rolando Herrera make 875 cases. Excellent. About $75, sold by allocation.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2014, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 20 months — that seems to be the magic number — in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is opaque black-purple; slightly fleshy and meaty aromas of black currants and plums are earthy and rooty, touched with notes of bittersweet chocolate, pomegranate and fruitcake and a piercing graphite element; a few moments in the glass add hints of bell pepper and black olives. Deep-set, dusty tannins and granitic minerality coat the palate, and though the wine slides on the animation by keen acidity, the whole package feels inchoate presently; try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’34. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+, with perhaps Excellent potential. About $100.
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If there’s one thing we know about Ravid Ramey, it’s that he’s a prestidigitator of oak, so while the Ramey Wine Cellars Template 2014, Napa Valley, received 18 months in all-new French oak barrels, and I’m thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of new oak,” the wine emerged from that regimen with a texture both sinewy and supple and with depths of walnut shell and briery elements that add density and heft on the palate; there’s no whit of what are to me the distracting taints of new oak: toastiness, coconut, vanilla. The grapes derived from three Napa Valley AVAs: 70 percent Mount Veeder (merlot); 24 percent Oakville (cabernet franc); 6 percent Rutherford (cabernet sauvignon). The color is a dark but warm ruby hue that shades to a lighter purple rim; this is, no mistake, a serious, intense and concentrated majority-merlot wine, trimmed with hints of black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar and rosemary, lavender and sage, all leading to a dry, fairly austere tannic finish. For this one, you need a thick, medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Devotees of merlot (and Napa Valley) will be fascinated to watch the wine’s development. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 90 cases. Excellent. About $85.
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A true flagship wine of tremendous presence and significance, the Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; right upfront are elements of penetrating graphite minerality and burnished oak, but after a few minutes in the glass, those aspects become more integrated, making room for an astonishing array of sandalwood and bergamot, lavender and candied violets, with concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit taking on a slightly resinous character of cedar and tobacco, ancho chili and sage. It feels ecclesiastical on the palate, with its cool, dusty, polished old wood nature and its warm incense-like spices, but make no mistake, this wine’s deeply-rooted rock-ribbed tannins could support mountains. More time in the glass brings out notes of poached raspberries, underbrush and dried porcini; the weight on the palate is lithe, supple and momentous, all these qualities adding up to a finish of Olympian austerity and dimension. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2034 to ’38. Winemaker was Cecilia Welch. Production was 250 cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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I don’t often feature chardonnays in this Wine of the Day series, but when I find a
chardonnay that’s well-made, accessible and inexpensive, well, I have to go with it. Olema is the second label of Amici Cellars, a specialist in single-vineyard wines. The Olema Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma County, however, offers a more general interpretation of a Sonoma wine, derived 90 percent from vineyards in Russian River Valley and 10 percent from vineyards in the wide-spread Sonoma Coast region. The wine was fashioned in a deft combination of 50 percent stainless steel tanks and 50 percent French oak, 30 percent new barrels. (Winemaker was Jesse Fox.) The color is pale straw-gold; clean and fresh aromas of apple and quince, ginger and grapefruit are immediately appealing, while hints of mango, orange blossom and smoke add intrigue. A damp stone background and bright acidity cut through a moderately lush texture, providing support for slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit flavors, the entire package displaying lovely vitality and poise. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

I managed to squeak by Merlot Month — October — by only mentioning the grape once. Whew! I deplore these marketing gimmicks, except, of course, World Champagne Day. That one, I happily go along with. Anyway, we look in this post at three merlot wines from Duckhorn Vineyards, a producer of merlot since 1976, not merely venerable but distinguished, even archetypal, particularly from the famed Three Palms Vineyard. Renée Ary was promoted to winemaker at Duckhorn in 2014, just in time to craft the Three Palms Merlot for that vintage, a stupendous wine that rates Exceptional in the review below. The other merlot wines here are from Gundlach Bundschu (Very Good+), Chelsea Goldschmidt (Excellent and a Great Value) and Mt. Brave (Excellent).

These wines were samples for review.
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Decoy is Duckhorn’s label for (relatively) inexpensive wines. The Decoy Merlot 2015, Sonoma County, is a blend of 92 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent violet rim; aromas of red currants, black cherry and blueberry are infused with cloves and graphite and a hint of loam; this is a briery, brambly merlot, not rustic — the texture is sleek and supple — but rooty and woodsy, the whole package kept lively by vibrant acidity; the finish is solid with dusty tannins and a hint of oak. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $25.
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The Duckhorn Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, represents an intense and concentrated rendition of the grape; it’s a blend of 88 percent merlot, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent cabernet franc, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. A totally opaque black-ruby color presages a merlot that’s dark in intensity and effect. This one reveals an oak influence greater than its stablemates also reviewed in this section, a factor that tends to mute the elements of red and black currants and blueberries that circulate below the surface, while adding a spicy and dried herb quality that manages to feel more generous and appealing. Graphite? You bet. Granitic minerality? Uh-huh. Dusty, velvety tannins? Count on ’em. A finish that expands the oak and tannic sway through toasty woody notes? Mais oui. 14.5 percent alcohol. Give this merlot another year to settle down and find better balance, and then consume through 2024. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $54.
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You’ll hear not a quibble or a qualm from me about the Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. This single-vineyard wine set the standard for Napa Valley merlot decades ago and continues to handily best the competition. For 2014, the blend consists of 86 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot; it aged 18 months in French oak, a whopping 75 percent new barrels. As often happens, however, when excellent grapes from a great vineyard meet a rigorous oak regimen, the wine soaked up that oak and turned it into a subtle, supple shaping factor rather than a dominating influence. The color, if that’s the word, is as opaque a black-ruby-purple as could be imagined; the gamut of sensations is here, but sustained, restrained and codified by the demands of immense dusty bastions of granitic-glazed tannins and a tremendous reserve of penetrating graphite minerality. While that description makes the Three Palms Merlot 14 sound as if it’s all about structure now, this wine adds intriguing and interesting detail to its dimension: black and red currants with touches of blueberry and raspberry, all slightly spiced and macerated; mocha and fruitcake, pomegranate and loam; dried porcini and woodsy herbs and flowers. This panoply is animated by bright acidity that plows a furrow through to the austere, mineral and oak infused finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. A monumental achievement, and thank god I have another bottle. Best from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Exceptional. About $98.
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Named for winemaker Nick Goldschmidt’s eldest daughter, the Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, is a 100 percent varietal wine that aged 12 months in 25 percent new oak, 60 percent French barrels, 20 percent each American and Hungarian. The color is deep dark black-ruby with a purple rim; aromas of cassis and black currant jam are permeated by notes of cloves and licorice, iodine and graphite, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Chewy, gritty tannins reach fathoms into layers of granitic minerality, all enlivened by vibrant acidity and laved by tasty black and blue fruit flavors. Yeah, it’s sort of like drinking gravel, and I mean that in the best way. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2019 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $19, an Incredible Value for this quality.
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If you dote on juicy, jammy red wines — as I do not — this one’s for you. The Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2014, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 89 percent merlot, 5 percent petit verdot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc, thereby accommodating the five classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 17 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is inky, opaque black-purple with a magenta rim; this opens with pure blackberry jam, penetrating aromas of graphite and lavender and a deeply spicy, macerated character that includes blueberries and mulberries. It’s quite dry but ripe, juicy and succulent, very dense and chewy and energized by bright acidity that rips through dusty, velvety tannins; you feel the sweet ripeness of the 14.8 percent alcohol on the finish. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Very Good+. About $35.
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None of these examples is a wimpy wine, as some people think of merlot, but the Mt. Brave Merlot 2014, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, pretty much takes the prize for structure. Made from grapes grown between 1,400 and 1,800 feet in elevation — it’s the old Chateau Potelle property — this 100 percent varietal wine aged 19 months in French oak, 93 percent new barrels. The wine displays another inky-black-purple hue with a violet rim; every aspect is intense and concentrated, from the tightly-wound notes of black currants, blueberries and (just a hint) boysenberry to the piercing granitic-and-graphite minerality to its rigorous tannins permeated by iodine, iron and loam. Give it a few minutes in the glass, and it calls up the dusty herbaceous quality of dried thyme and rosemary (with a touch of rosemary’s slightly astringent woodsy nature) that I associate with high-elevation red wines, all of these elements energized and bound by keen acidity; the finish feels chiseled from stone. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 532 cases. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. This is a wine built to age; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34, properly stored. Excellent. About $80.
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I’ll say right here, at the beginning of this post, that the result of tasting a short roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the acclaimed Patz & Hall Wines was a conclusion too common in this series: I loved the pinot noirs, abhorred the chardonnays. The former I found exciting, multi-layered and slightly unpredictable, replete with pinot noir character yet each creating its own sense of detail and dimension. The chardonnays were entirely too predictable in the line of the dominant California style: too ripe and sweet with baked fruit qualities, too spicy, too oaky and intrinsically unbalanced. Those who disagree with me about these chardonnays and consider them and others like them some sort of epitome are, I know, manifold, and they are entitled to their opinion. The factors involved and of most importance for this blog are my nose and palate, and I can do naught else but follow their dictates.

Donald Patz and James Hall, who met while working for Flora Springs Winery, founded their enterprise, with their partners, in 1988. The winery owns no vineyards but makes wine on long-term contracts from highly acclaimed vineyards, primarily in Sonoma County. They sold the company to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in April 2016.

These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby fading to a transparent and then ethereal magenta rim. The wine aged in 40 percent new French oak barrels. This is a pure, bright, intriguing pinot noir, whose scents of red, black and blue fruit compote are spiked with notes of beetroot and rose petals, sandalwood and lavender; the wine is lithe, lean and supple on the palate, taut and spicy, and a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of wood smoke and autumn leaves, along with hints of pomegranate and cranberry. This is a cuvee blended from a roster of top Sonoma Coast vineyards, including Chenoweth, Dutton and Gap’s Crown. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $48.
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The Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged in 50 percent new French oak barrels. The color is a beautiful dark mulberry shading to a lighter magenta rim; concentrated aromas of black cherries, currants and plums feel dredged in dried baking spices and hints of rose petals and sassafras, fig and braised fennel. The wine displays a loamy, untamed character, framed by moderately dusty tannins and a burnished, slightly sanded texture, through which bright acidity cuts a swath; macerated and lightly roasted red and black fruit flavors open notes of smoke and damp ash, leading to a finish both generous and chiseled. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The chardonnays in question are the Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast ($40); Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley ($44); Patz & Hall Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino ($60). These are bold and assertive wines in every respect: super-ripe fruit with baked apple and roasted pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, dense textures, no-holds-barred spiciness and drenching oak. I understand that many critics and consumers adore chardonnays fashioned in this manner, but I find them to be ruinous to the potential purity and crystalline clarity of which the chardonnay grape is wonderfully capable. The Alder Springs I found to be particularly egregious in its stiff and drying oak influence. If these rich, glossy and exaggerated examples mark your favorite style of chardonnay, go for them by all means. For me and my palate, I find them unpleasant, strident and undrinkable, either on their own or with food.
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