Sonoma County


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

These wines were samples for review.
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The not yet released Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast, displays a deep ruby-purple color and intoxicating aromas of lavender and lilac, black licorice and potpourri, leather, spiced and macerated blueberries, black currants and plums, with undertones of smoke, graphite and loam; pretty heady stuff, indeed. In the mouth, the wine is clean, intense and penetrating, with a chewy, supple texture, spare, moderately dusty tannins, and some reticence about the black fruit flavors. It’s packed with earth and graphite, briers and brambles, and while the bouquet expands and becomes more evocative and seductive, the structure gets more rigorous. 14.4 percent alcohol. Best from 2015 through 2020 to ’23. Excellent expression of the grape. Production and price N/A.
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The winery’s current release is the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2010, Sonoma Coast, a wine of lovely heft, tone and balance. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of magenta; notes of spicy and slightly fleshy plums, black currants and mulberries are wrapped in potpourri, lavender and leather; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of violets and rose petals, sandalwood and cloves, briers and loam. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, a regimen that lends subtle spice and a mildly dense texture. Brisk acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while red and black fruit flavors are ripe, meaty and juicy. Still, the finish is a tad austere, a thicket of brambles, dried porcini, classic wet dog and forest floor. 13,8 percent alcohol. Production was 76 cases. Excellent. About $25, and definitely Worth a Search.
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If you can find a bottle of the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast, clasp it to your bosom like a long-lost friend. At four and a half years old, this syrah offers a massively dark purple color with a motor oil sheen and is distinctly earthy, rooty and leathery. The wine aged 26 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. Loads of deeply spiced and macerated blue and black fruit flavors are bolstered by smooth, lithe tannins, graphite and spicy, smoky oak for an effect that delivers length and dimension of lordly degree, yet the winsome appealing element is not neglected. 15.4 percent alcohol, though you feel no heat on the finish or over-ripeness. 123 cases. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25.
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Now to the grandaddy of the previous wines. The Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2003, Sonoma Coast, opens most ethereally and then gains power and structure in the glass. It sports a dark ruby color and a softly spiced and macerated character of raspberries and currents, shot with cloves, allspice and sandalwood. Behind moderately chewy tannins lies a bedrock of graphite and slightly chalky granitic minerality; some time in the glass brings out notes of cedar, tobacco and mushroomy loam. The whole effect is vibrant and resonant, mature, well-developed and delicious. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 327 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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The delightful Tin Barn Joon Rose of Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast, glimmers with a pale copper-salmon robe and delivers a radiant bouquet of ripe strawberries and raspberries with touches of peach and tomato skin; a few moments develop notes of loam, mulberry and pomegranate and just a hint of limestone. This is exuberantly lively yet almost lush in texture, resulting in rather exquisite balance between acidity and structure. 13.3 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Production was 86 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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Here’s a rosé to entice lovers of all things delicate and elegant. The J Vineyards Vin Gris 2013, Russian River Valley, is 100 percent pinot noir, made all in stainless steel and was bottled a scant three months ago. “Vin gris” means “gray wine” in French, though the color here isn’t so much gris as it is a very pale copper salmon hue, like pink parchment. Ethereal scents of strawberries, raspberries and red currants, slightly spiced and macerated, are wreathed with notes of orange rind and pomegranate, with a hint of limestone in the background; a few moments in the glass bring up a touch of lilac. Pert acidity keeps this rose crisp and lively, while the wine’s texture comes close to being lush; it’s the balance between those elements that lends a bit of animation and electricity on the palate. Flavors of red currants and watermelon are effortlessly buoyed by dusty, brambly flint-like qualities, all notions woven into an ephemeral silken finish. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. Drink through the end of 2014 with all fare related to the porch, the patio, poolside or picnic. Closed with a screw-cap, so it doesn’t matter if you forgot the corkscrew, again. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.


Here are quick notes on eight pinot noir wines from California, all eminently desirable, ranging in price from $22 to $70, and in rating from Very Good+ to Exceptional, two of the latter, so pinot fans pay attention. As is usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical, geographical and personnel data for the sake of immediacy, the intention being to pique your interest and whet your appetite. Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend.

These wines were samples for review.
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Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby with a magenta tinge; deep, rich and spicy; thyme and caramelized fennel, black and red cherries, currants and cranberries with a hint of rhubarb; succulent and satiny, dense, quite dry but sweetly ripe; earth and loam, graphite underpinnings; flavorful and tasty. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $22, representing Good Value.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 479 cases. Medium ruby color with violet tones; lovely balance, dimension and detail; black cherry and cranberry, sassafras, cloves and rhubarb; deep and rooty, yet it retains ultimate delicacy and elegance; paradoxically dark, spicy and wild, hints of briers, loam and graphite; black and red fruit flavors that feel almost transparent and weightless, though the wine drapes like the finest, most sensuous satin on the tongue. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
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Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; cranberry and rhubarb, hints of pomegranate, cola and cloves with back-notes of tar and loam; surprisingly burly and robust, very dry, texture like satin born of dusty velvet; burgeoning floral element: roses and violets; deeply plummy and curranty with a touch of raspy raspberry and mulberry. Absolutely lovely, with a bit of mystery and sexy hauteur. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Entrancing “robe” — almost opaque ruby-purple at the center and lightening subtly to a violet-magenta rim; smoky black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, cloves and cola; a graphite and loamy element that cuts the dense, chewy satiny texture; plump with ripe black fruit, deeply spicy with a hint of mint and mocha but doesn’t push into opulence; instead, displays exquisite, slightly risky balance. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; plums, raspberries and mulberries, hints of pomegranate and dusty graphite; cloves, sassafras; super sleek, supple and satiny, almost sultry; smoke, burning leaves, a touch of moss and brambles; some astringency and rigor to the structure, a lash of granite and acid at the core of deep spicy black and red fruit flavors. Tremendous tone and presence. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2012, California. (48% Monterey County, 44% Sonoma County, 8% San Benito County). 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry with some graphite element under a sanding of woody spices; quite dry, dense, supple lip-smacking texture with vibrant acidity; you feel the glassy polished tannins and oak like a granitic bastion but the wine is deeply flavored, rich, exotic, with keen balance between the succulent and the rigorous. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $26.
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Reuling Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 1,000 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; black cherries, mulberries and cranberries with notes of cloves and allspice, dried fruit and potpourri with crushed violets and lilacs; pushes oak to the limits with a great deal of dry structure and asperity, but it is smooth, lithe and svelte and above all delicious; I like the risks with oak because the wine offers really lovely balance; it finishes with a seductive display of mocha, pomander and bitter chocolate. A serious pinot noir, packed with the gratifying and the unexpected. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Fairly dark ruby-magenta hue; a wine of fantastic and deepening complexity; cloves, sandalwood, sassafras; spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums; briers and loam set into a superlatively satiny texture, yet thoroughly imbued with a sense of graphite and oak defined dimension and gravity; quite dry, almost austere, but resilient, supple and elegant. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $48.
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Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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In the brave annals of vinous experimentation, the J Vineyards Misterra Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is one of the strangest. If you are a purist when it comes to pinot noir, the thought of blending other varieties with that grape seems a violation, a stain on the snowy tunic of a Vestal Virgin, like adding a dollop of syrah or cabernet franc to a Chambolle-Musigny. The J Misterra 2012 blends six percent pinotage and four percent pinot meunier to Russian River pinot noir. Pinotage, widely known as “the signature grape of South Africa,” was created in 1925 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault by Abraham Izak Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University. While the survival of the seedlings was in doubt, the grape eventually thrived and became the backbone of the South African wine industry, though I’m here to tell you that it’s an acquired taste. Pinot meunier is most familiar as a red grape grown mainly in Champagne as a blending element; it’s a natural for J Vineyards because of their excellent sparkling wine program.

So, what is this pinot + pinot + pinot like? Pinotage is a powerful influence, and even at only six percent tips Misterra 2012 toward the earthy, loamy, rustic camp. The color is medium ruby-magenta with a lighter transparent rim; the whole package is very spicy, deeply fruity and wildly floral, with notes of spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with a trace of blueberries and, as a few minutes pass, tobacco and roasted coffee beans. Full-bodied and robust, fairly dense with dusty and graphite-laden tannins, this combines cloves, black cherries, bitter chocolate and rhubarb with spanking acidity and granitic minerality in a robust structure that’s more solid and shaggy than smooth and supple. Though it manifests myriad points of satisfaction, this is not what I want pinot noir to be. 14.3 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse, who previously worked for La Crema and fashioned excellent pinot noirs for that winery. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $50.

A sample for review. Image from vivino.com.

There are rosés, and then there is the Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. The wine’s nickname commemorates the long relationship between winery owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman and her husband, Simon. At first, she made the wine only for them and the family, but you can’t keep a great wine hidden endlessly. This rosé derives from Inman’s Olivet Grange Vineyard, from pinot noir vines dedicated to that purpose. It is fashioned, of course, completely in stainless steel. The color is the true Provençal rosé hue of light salmon-copper, more gris than pink; delightful and enticing aromas of dried currants and strawberries are buoyed by thyme, damp gravel and a tinge of ripe tropical fruit. This is a zesty rosé, layered with notes of peaches, watermelon and cloves riven by crisp acidity and a lacy limestone element that seems to lend tensile strength to what might be ephemeral and evanescent. The total effect is dry, spare, elegant, lively, irresistible. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,350 cases. Drink now through the Summer of 2015 with such picnic fare as cold fried or roasted chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, rabbit terrine. I don’t often rate rosé wines Exceptional, but this one is an exception. About $25.

A sample for review.

Actually, it’s unseasonably chilly today in my neck o’ the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking rosé wines and posting about them. Here we touch the South of France, Spain’s Rioja region and two areas of California for pale wines that are light-hearted yet versatile, quaffable yet good with all manner of fare, especially if you’re on a picnic or sitting on the porch or patio. These are quick notices, not intended to bother your pretty little heads about technical, historic or geographical data but desiring to picque your interest and whet the ol’ palate. Enjoy! These wines were samples for review.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2013, Vin de France; the postal code on the bottle indicates Caunes-Minervois, northeast of Carcassonne. 12.5% alc. 100% syrah. Pale pink-salmon color; ripe and fleshy, strawberries and raspberries, fairly spicy; notes of potpourri and orange rind; quite dry, with snappy acidity and a hint at a stony structure. I like this version of 2013 a bit better than the 2012. Very Good. About $11, a Fine Value.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.2% alc. Bright rosy-pink color with a magenta tinge; robust for a rose, very spicy and floral, scents and flavors of red currants, raspberries and red cherries; hints of limestone and flint, enlivened by vibrant acidity; medium body woven of delicate supple strands; tasty, thirst-quenching; lots of personality and appeal. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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El Coto Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. A 50/50 blend of tempranillo and garnacha. Medium salmon-copper hue; rose and violets, lightly macerated strawberries and raspberries with a touch of tea and orange zest; hint of dried thyme; clean, fresh, dry; good acidity though a moderately lush texture; could you a bit more tautness, still quite enjoyable and better than I remember. Very Good. About $13.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Grenache 50%, cinsault 40%, syrah 10%. Pale salmon-copper color; tender and robust, lithe, taut and tart; nervy, attractive; raspberries and red currants, blood orange, touch of what Keats calls “the warm South” in its dried herb, sunny, slightly saline nature; all qualities strung on a line of limestone and flint buoyed by brisk acidity. Very tasty. Excellent. About $15.
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M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Unspecified blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. Slightly ruddy onion skin hue; lively and engaging; cloves, spiced tea, orange zest; ripe and dried red currants, raspberries, hint of cherry; rose petal and lilac; good body, even a bit lush yet light on its feet and fleet with vibrant acidity; very clean and refreshing. Excellent. About $15.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2013, Central Coast. 13% alc. Grenache 55%, mourvèdre 23.5% roussanne 10%, cinsault 7% carignane 2.5%, grenache blanc 2%. Very pale pink color; beguiling aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a faint flush of blood orange and violets; a transparent filigree of limestone lends a crisp yet talc-like aura to the structure while tense acidity keeps it lively and appealing. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $18.
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Our ideal of and faith in the minuteness of soil variations is formed by Burgundy, where vineyards separated by only a stone wall or the width of a country lane are assumed to evince subtle differences in wines made from the same grapes, either pinot noir or chardonnay. Why, then, wouldn’t a difference in 200 feet elevation produce some deviation in wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, all other aspects being equal?

That’s the question that two 100 percent cabernet wines from Anakota in Knights Valley asks. Winemaker Pierre Seillan, who also makes the Verite wines for Jackson Family, produces these wines from the Helena Dakota vineyard, which lies at 750 feet elevation, and the Helena Montana vineyard, 200 feet higher at 950 feet elevation. Knights Valley, nestled in the western reaches of the Mayacamas range, is the warmest AVA in Sonoma County as well as the most isolated and least populated, at least by wineries and vineyards. The landscape is dominated by the 4,339-foot peak of Mount St. Helena, located just west of the cusp where Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties meet. In the 1840s, the vast area of what was then Mallacomes Valley formed the hunting grounds of Jose de los Santos Berryessa, whose lodge still stands. When California became part of the United States in 1850, Berryessa returned to Mexico; Thomas B. Knight purchased a large portion of the ranch and eventually the valley was named after him. Beringer and Kendall-Jackson own most of the vineyard acreage. Just north of Anakota is the Peter Micahel Winery and its Les Pavots Estate Vineyard.

While only 200 feet — 2/3 of a football field — separate Helena Dakota and Helena Montana, they are also divided by Yellowjacket Creek and a rocky ridge, geographical or geological factors that must have some influence on the make-up of the vineyards. Below the creek, Helena Dakota consists of red-brown silty loam, and vine roots tend to be deeper; above the creek, Helena Montana contains yellow-white sandy soil and gravelly loam, and the vines are shallow and stressed. Both wines — this pair is from 2009 — see 15 months aging in new French oak barrels; both exhibit 14.5 percent alcohol. The first vintage of these wines was 2001.

These wines were samples for review. The label images below display previous years.
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The color of the Anakota Helena Dakota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, is deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; aromas of dust, briers and graphite, cloves and allspice, lavender and bitter chocolate are tightly wound around notes of intense and concentrated dark plums, currants and cherries. This is a deep, dark and dusty cabernet, gird by polished tannins, granitic minerality and a slightly austere finish with a hint of a charcoal edge, yet the whole package is vibrant and resonant. I knocked the cork back in the bottle and reopened the wine 24 hours later; it had opened beautifully, adding more spice, more graphite minerality, though also softer and more macerated fruit and a touch of anise. Still, the structure was forthright and rigorous. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. about $75.
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So, a clamber over the rocks, jumping the mountain stream and a short stroll upward, and here’s the Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, not so much a different wine as an intensification of all the virtues of its lower elevation cousin. The same opaque ruby hue, yes, but a wine that’s deep and powerful yet expressive, almost elegant in its litheness and sleekness, its chiseled minerality — this sounds like the guy you don’t want to work out next to at the gym; you certainly feel the dusty mountain roots, translated as leather and loam and earth, and something cool and distant, aloof, even; yet the wine is wrapped around a seductive ash, lavender, bitter chocolate core that only hints, sparely and obliquely, 24 hours later, at the ripeness of its intense black and blue fruit character. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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