Sonoma County


Let’s say that you’re braising a passel of short ribs or lamb shanks for dinner tonight, and why wouldn’t you? It’s as cold as a witch’s 2013_old_vine_label_rgb tit in a brass brassiere in most parts of the country, and hearty fare is called for. The wine I would go for — among hundreds if not thousands of equally legitimate choices, of course — is the Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. How old are the vines? Between 95 and 100 years old, which I would say qualifies for pretty ancient on anyone’s scale. This classic zinfandel blend that contains 19 percent petite sirah and three percent carignane, the grapes dry-farmed and head-pruned, aged 16 months in French, Hungarian and American oak. The color is vibrant dark ruby with a purple rim; while nothing here is plummy or jammy or overstated, the aromas of ripe boysenberries, black cherries and blackberries, feeling steeped in cloves and allspice, lavender and violets, black tea and graphite, are heady indeed; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of iodine and iron, making for a kind of ferrous-minty-loamy quality. Mouth-filling, sleek and supple on the palate, this zinfandel flows through the mouth with confidence and poised, weighty presence, buoyed by ripe, spicy black fruit flavors and propelled by zinging acidity that drives through to a spice-and-mineral-packed finish. A sane 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review. The label illustration is laggard by one vintage.

I endured technical problems Sunday and Monday, so I was delayed in getting this edition of Weekend Wine Notes posted, which really should happen on Saturday, so I feel like a freaking failure all the way around. But everything is fine now! I bought a router and didn’t actually need it, so Best Buy better take it back, because it cost a lot! Anyway, moving along, following the last Wine of the Day, which was a sauvignon blanc, I thought it might be a good idea to visit more sauvignon blancs, so here are 14, most from California, but one from Italy and several from Chile. The vintage is predominantly 2015, and the majority of these wines ought to be consumed within the next six months or so or certainly by the end of 2017. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I offer incisive and trenchant reviews based on the scribbles in my notebooks, avoiding mention of technical, historical and geographical elements for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy and consume with moderation. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold with green highlights; lime peel, caraway, grapefruit, celery leaf; slightly tropical with guava and jasmine; fresh, clean, lively and delicately-wrought. A good bet for a well-made bargain sauvignon blanc. Very Good+. About $15.
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Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Odfjell Vineyards, certified organic. Very pale gold; fennel and celery seed, lime peel and lemongrass; quite lively, even exuberant, feels filled with sunlight and fresh air; hints of leafy fig and dried thyme; lovely lithe limpid texture. Excellent. About $14, an Amazing Bargain.
Epic Wines and Spirits, Capitola, Calif.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. The palest of very pale gold hues; roasted lemon, lime peel and lemongrass; leafy and herbal with a touch of fig; big hit of flint and damp seashell, bracing and saline, with swingeing acidity, a prickly and briery element and a chiseled, faceted finish. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $25.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. I’m going to mention the stainless steel and oak proportion here because it’s interesting: 92% stainless steel, 8% chestnut, acacia and French oak barrels; the details matter, n’est-ce pas? Very pale straw-gold; aromas of grass and hay, pea shoot and fennel, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry but a texture nicely balanced between lush and crisp; a few minutes in the glass bring in beguiling notes of fig and roasted lemon, gardenia and gunflint, spiced pear and heather; the finish is all limestone, flint and green tea. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold color; polished, honed and elegant; lime peel and tangerine, hints of celery leaf and lemongrass, a warm spicy bouquet; limestone and chalk, a soothing talc-like texture riven by bright acidity; the distraction if the oak that asserts itself from mid-palate back through the finish, muting the otherwise charming character. Very Good+. About $50.
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Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale, almost colorless; heady scents of lilac and gardenia, tangerine and almond skin, lime peel and lemongrass; though very dry the wine is lively and vibrant, offering a dense, talc-like powdery texture riven by keen acidity; heaps of chalk and limestone in the background, beautiful shape and elegance over a stony foundation. Both alluring and serious. Excellent. About $30.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; a verdant and meadowy sauvignon blanc, offering notes of kiwi and lime peel, celery seed and tangerine, opening to peach, lemongrass and spiced pear, all encompassed by a leafy, summery floral element; a lovely light, lithe texture jazzed by a Sancerre-like snap of gunflint and graphite; heaps of limestone in the finish are softened by a furze of dried herbs. Real class and style. Excellent. About $22.
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Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Sauvignon 2015, Collio, Italy. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-yellow hue; fairly standard array of lime peel and lemongrass, celery seed and fennel, but presented with unusual verve and fervor, and with interesting hints of lychee and yellow plum; suave and silken texture buoyed by an increasingly element of limestone and flint. Very Good+. About $28.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; green bean and gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, unfurls green and leafy veils of pea shoot and preserved lemon, ginger and quince and an intriguing earthy component of wet leaves and moss; lively, even pert acidity, crystalline clarity and appeal, all founded on a burgeoning element of limestone and flint minerality. Feels essential and vital in the glass. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Lodi. 13% alc. Very pale gold with a faint green cast; lime peel and peach, lemongrass with hints of dried grasses and herbs; quite dry, crisp and snappy; seashell-flint minerality with a hint of bracing salinity; vital, vibrant finish. Charming and eminently drinkable. 579 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. …% alc. Pale gold hue; warm sunny figs and lemongrass, pears and lime peel with back-notes of grapefruit and yellow fruit and flowers; polished, suave and supple texture, lively and alluring but not tart or pert; a scintillating dry limestone character with overall lovely balance and presence. Excellent. About $24.
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Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Palest of pale gold hues; another meadowy sauvignon blanc, with notes of lemongrass and broom, heather and hay under lime peel, pea-shoot, spiced pear and celery seed; very dry, multiple layers of limestone and flint etched by bright acidity; a finish that seethes with bracing salinity and grapefruit pith. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherford, Calif.
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Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; bright, clean and fresh, taut and sinewy; lime peel, pink grapefruit, gooseberry and tangerine; slightly dense talc-like texture, soft and appealing but permeated by plangent and resonant limestone minerality; very dry; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lilac, honeydew melon, almond blossom and chalk. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; a leafy, meadowy sauvignon blanc manifesting notes of hay, heather and dried thyme underlying hints of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, with yellow fruit and flowers; practically pulses with bright acidity and briary, briny elements; lovely texture, heft and presence, perfect poise and elegance, graceful yet dynamic; a dominant limestone and flint finish is garnished with roasted lemon and green tea. A wonderful achievement. Exceptional. About $35.
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Thomas George Estates specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay wines from single vineyard sites in Sonoma County’s george-pnRussian River Valley, but winemaker John Wilson also produces these varieties under a general Russian River designation. Our Wine of the Day is the pinot noir from that overall AVA, and, Readers, it’s a honey. The Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, only 37 percent new barrels — in oak except for six percent in concrete. The color is transparent medium ruby that shades infinitesimally to an invisible rim; aromas of sweet black and red cherries and currants are permeated by piquant notes of pomegranate and cranberry, sassafras and sage, with tantalizing hints of tobacco and wood-smoke. It’s all just really lovely, and it gets lovelier, as some time in the glass brings in touches of red licorice and lavender, new leather and oolong tea. On the palate, this pinot noir is lithe, supple and satiny, flowing across the tongue in a manner that’s a little quiet and studied yet also animated by bright acidity; red and black fruit flavors carry a slight graphite edge that precedes a glimpse of lightly dusted and sanded tannins. Exquisitely balanced, with grace and elegance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. I have not tasted the single vineyard offerings from Thomas George Estates, but I cannot imagine them being any better than this. Production was 2,398 cases. Excellent. About $43.

A sample for review.

The Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys red wine blend is a perennial visitor to our Thanksgiving table, this year being no different. Whereas Ridge typically focuses on single-vineyard ridge-three-valleysbottlings, the Three Valleys derives from a variety of vineyards in Sonoma County. seeking to achieve a sort of overall Sonoma character, if such a thing is possible. The wine was first produced in 2001. The Ridge Three Valleys 2014, fermented by native yeast, is a blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 17 percent petite sirah, 14 carignane and 4 grenache. The wine aged 15 months in American oak, a scant six percent new barrels, 43 percent one-to-two-year-old barrels, 51 percent three-to-six-year-old barrels. In other words, the effect of new oak is negligible, while the general wood influence is subtle and supple in its shapeliness. The color is intense dark ruby with a vibrant cherry rim; aromas of sweet, smoky currants, blueberries and plums gradually open to notes of spiced and macerated red cherries, lavender and violets. This is dense and chewy in the mouth, permeated by graphite-infused tannins that provide plenty of grit and resistance on the palate; black fruit flavors are ripe and spicy but reticent, yielding place to bright acidity, briery and brambly forest floor elements, and a strain of granitic minerality that persists through the warm but sculptured finish. In other words, a wine that delivers equal measures of pleasure and structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with big-hearted, two-fisted cuisine. Excellent. About $26.

A local purchase.

Etude Wines was founded in 1982 in Napa Valley by Tony Soter to focus on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir made from purchased grapes grown in highly regarded vineyards. After a series of purchases, acquisitions and transformations, Etude is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, along with a rather astonishing roster of properties in California, Australia and other regions. The winery still concentrates on pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, usually produced from named vineyards in small quantities. Under review today are six of Etude’s single-vineyard pinot noir wines from 2014, touching AVAs in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills in California; Yamhill-Carlton in Willamette Valley; and Central Otago in New Zealand. Winemaker is Jon Priest. These are, let me just say, splendid examples of the pinot noir grape and the resonance rung upon it by specific locations. Priest sensibly employs a minimal amount of oak, as well as keeping alcohol levels to reasonable levels. These are all worth searching for.

Samples for review.
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The Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 13 months in French oak, percent new barrels. The steeply sloping vineyard sits at around 800 feet elevation, just above the morning fog line, four miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a slightly paler rim. A burst of cloves, allspice and sandalwood precedes notes of a compote of black and red cherries and plums, wreathed with loam and graphite, mint and iodine, presided over by high-tones of pomegranate and cranberry; pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this pinot noir brings in more red fruit — cherries and currants — its deeply spicy character buoyed by slightly flinty minerality, dusty tannins and lively acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. The finish delivers a polished melange of spice, graphite tinged minerals and an element of heathery meadow flowers. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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The Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Located at the northwest corner of the Carneros AVA, the vineyard features various types of well-drained, rocky volcanic soils and is influenced by breezes from the Pacific. The color is medium mulberry-magenta shading to a transparent circumference. Scents of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, talc, lilac and rose petals; the perfume grows deeper and more redolent as the moments pass. This pinot noir embodies beautiful shape and substance, flowing on the tongue like perfection in a lithe, supple stream of satiny texture; there’s a touch of baked plum in the red and black fruit flavors and a strain of dusty graphite minerality to the subtle yet skillfully chiseled tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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The superlative transparent violet-magenta hue of the Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, belies the seriousness of its frame and foundation and its earthy, loamy character. The vineyard, planted in calcareous clay sandstone, lies in a secluded canyon that’s a bit more exposed to sunlight and a bit warmer than the rest of the valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, the least oak influence of these six wines. A complex array of spicy effects — cloves, sassafras and cumin — heightens elements of ripe red and black cherries that open to notes of wild berries and oolong tea, pomegranate and cranberries. A profoundly earthy, loamy character penetrates the entire enterprise, lending deep roots for its graphite-tinged tannins and minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Location is everything, n’est-ce pas? For example, the Fiddlestix Vineyard lies in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, all encompassed by Santa Barbara County. The hills and ranges run east and west here, unusual for California where the typical etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126 mountainous orientation is north-south, and a configuration that allows a direct inlet for fog and cooling ocean breezes. The vineyard receives its share of those daily climatic events but stands low enough against the hills to be sheltered from strong afternoon winds. The combination of exposure and protection with well-drained clay-loam and calcareous marine shale soils results in pinot noir wines of great depth and finesse.

The Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of transfixing radiance; aromas of rhubarb, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, smoky black cherries and plums achieve a Platonic level of loveliness, while on the palate the wine is lithe, supple and satiny. juicy black and red cherry flavors reach down to elements of some rooty black tea, talc and chalk and a kind of gravelly condensation of graphite minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring out notes of rose petals and lavender. Redolent, even pungent; deeply spicy and flavorful; elegant and fine-boned yet with a dynamic of bright acidity, lightly dusted tannins and the shaping force of subtle oak — this is one of the most complete and wholly beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted this year. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $45.
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This wine takes us to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approved in 2004, the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA is a horse-shoe shaped region that includes only acreage that lies between 200 and 1,000 feet elevation, where marine sediments compose some of the oldest soil in Willamette Valley. The vineyard from which this wine is derived stands at 600 feet. The Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 13 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; to notes of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, the wine adds touches of tobacco and black tea, mint and iodine, as well as the deep loamy character typical of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The texture is superbly satiny, though powered by swingeing acidity and energetic tannins; the wine is quite dry, revealing an immediacy of granitic minerality that leads to a brooding, chiseled finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Talk about far afield, this wine takes us to New Zealand and Central Otago, the world’s southernmost wine region. The Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, spent 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I found this to be an extremely fine-grained, richly detailed and slightly exotic pinot noir. The color is transparent magenta-mulberry with a delicate rim; aromas of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, red licorice and violets, loam and damp wood ash; after 15 or 20 minutes, the bouquet unfurls hints of cedar, iodine and rosemary. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, the wine is spare and honed, riven by arrows of acidity and borne by gravel-like minerality and layers of loam and foresty elements. 13.8 percent alcohol. I loved it. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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I know, I could have written, “Two Groups of Pinots, Three Each,” but I like the off-rhyme of “trios” and “pinots,” as well as the rhythm of the line. So be it.

In any case, the two groups of pinot noir wines, three each, under review today have little to do with each other except for the grape variety. Inman Family Wines is in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, while Zena Crown lies in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, considerably to the north. Jackson Family Wines purchased the vineyard just west of Salem in 2013. The other quality these wines share is that, whatever differences they display because of the divergence in geography, geology, climate and terroir (and oak regimen), each is a model of what can be done with the grape by thoughtful growers and winemakers concentrating on a particular place.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, aged 17 months in French oak, connifer75 percent new barrels. The grapes derive from the vineyard’s East 12 and West 1A and 14 blocks, grown in volvanic soil of varying depths. The color is a beautiful transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; aromas of red and black cherries are wreathed with notes of sassafras, rhubarb and cloves, all becoming a little meaty and fleshy as the moments pass and then opening to a hint of some shy astringent woodland flower. This is a rooty, tea-like pinot noir that expands to touch areas of loam, briers and brambles as well as reaching to depths of real tannic and acidic power, yet displaying a delicate floral filigree around the circumference. There’s a mineral edge that becomes more spare and chiseled through the finish, which contributes a final fillip of resiny pine and rosemary and an autumnal haze of leaf-smoke. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 240 cases. A pinot noir of awesome, paradoxical and wholly gratifying complexity. Excellent. About $75.
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The Zena Crown (Sigma) Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills — the Greek capital Sigma is a symbol for zena-259“sum” in mathematics, though that’s putting the case rather simply; WordPress will not allow the symbol to be uploaded to this page — aged 17 months in French oak, 71 percent new barrels; the grapes are grown in Blocks 4, 5 and 12 of the vineyard, providing a varied background of characteristics. First is the dark ruby hue that shades to vivid magenta, then a wealthy perfumed bouquet of talc, lavender and violets, cranberry and pomegranate, graphite and loam. This is a deep rich pinot noir that feels sifted and layered in complexity, and while you note with a touch of alarm the presence of oak, that element subsides to become a shaping factor rather than a dominant influence. Lip-smacking acidity keeps the wine taut and animated, while it practically vibrates around a core of graphite, iodine and iron. 12.9 percent alcohol, a truly benign presence in this age of 14.5 percent and higher. Production was 302 cases. Drink now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $75.
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Blocks East 5 and 6 of the Zena Crown Vineyard start at 600 feet elevation and slope to the south, allowing plenty of sunlight exposure. The Zena Crown “Slope” Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity zena_slope_laydownHills, aged 17 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels, which seems to me to be an extraordinary amount of new oak for pinot, but the wine apparently soaked up that wood influence and came out with tremendous confidence and elan, with lovely heft and balance, and a lithe supple, satiny texture; it rolls across the palate like liquid money. (You’ll need some money if you want to buy a few bottles.) The color is brilliant medium ruby shading to an ephemeral, invisible rim; it’s a rooty, brambly and briery pinot noir that offers plenty of earthy-loamy elements to shore up scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and plums with a tinge of red fruit and hints of sassafras and cloves. It’s a large-framed wine within its context of succulence, acid brightness and dusty tannins, all subsumed to a broad component of graphite minerality. 12.7 percent alcohol, and when was the last time you saw a wine from California with this sensible an alcohol level? Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 348 cases. Excellent. About $100.
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Let’s start with an email statement from owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman:

“As for barrel regime, I purchased six new Sirugue barrels and 2 Billon barrels (used for the inman-sexton
Sexton only) for my Pinot in 2013 and I think I began with 78 or 80 barrels of Pinot that year. That would be about 10% new each year. I use my barrels for up to 8 years. I do not keep track of how many new, one-year, two-year or older barrels go into each final blend. My answer to how much oak is – the right amount of oak for my taste.” In other words, new oak at this winery is held to a bare minimum, with the emphasis placed on a blend of wines from barrels of myriad ages.

So, let’s go now to the Inman Family Wines Sexton Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The color is moderately dark ruby shading to lavender transparency; you notice immediately the notes of black and red cherries with the slight astringency of their skins and pits, hints of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood. This pinot is substantial, with real heft and thrust, but it feels weightless on the palate in a wonderful contention and resolution of the feminine and masculine elements; a few moments in the glass bring in layers of leather and loam and forest floor, rhubarb and beet-root, all encompassed in a super supple satiny texture. Give this an hour and the finely-milled and sifted tannins assert themselves. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $68.
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The Inman Family Pratt Vine Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, displays a ravishing hue of transparent medium ruby fading to an invisible rim; if you could exist on color alone, this would be it. Aromas of cloves and pomegranate, sandalwood, red cherries and currants, lilac and rose petals, red licorice and loam circulate from the glass; it’s a dark, spicy, feral pinot noir, fleet with musky, meadowy notes of melon and cloves, loam and leather. The texture is supple and lithe, with a satin drape on the palate cut by rigorous acidity, dusty tannins and graphite minerality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $68.
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The Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, retains a grip on inscrutability and reserve while exhibiting a panoply of sensual pleasures and potential. The color is a transparent mulberry-magenta hue; aromas of pomegranate and cloves, cranberry and sassafras open to notes of red and black cherries, leather and loam. Layers of sanded, polished and insistent tannins offer enough grit to provide some resistance on the palate, while bright acidity cuts a swath through the remarkably supple, satiny texture. The sense of animation blanaced by a paradoxical dark, brooding quality lends the wine great personality and character. 14.2 percent alcohol. This could use a year to age, but try through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $73.
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Before Sonoma Mountain was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1985, Patrick Campbell was producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines from a vineyard 2,000 feet up the mountainside. lg_12_cp_beauty_webAfter 30 vintages, Campbell sold the winery and vineyards in 2011 to a group led by Bettina Sichel; Campbell still works as a consultant with a team that includes winemaker Randall Watkins and legendary California grower Phil Coturri and winemaker David Ramey. As is the case with many wineries, Laurel Glen offers several levels of products to make its wines more accessible, the instance here being its Counterpoint label. The Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, is a blend of 90 percent cabernet and 10 percent merlot, sourced primarily from the winery’s organic estate vineyard as well as fruit from two other vineyards in the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak (and a bit of American oak), 40 percent new barrels. The color is very dark ruby-magenta, basically opaque at the center; ravishing aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and blueberries shift to graphite and ink, iodine and iron that admit notes of lavender and licorice, loam and leather. Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. You feel the dense chewy structure on the palate, the bold, dust-inflected, finely-grained tannins; the bright and lively acidity; the suppleness of burnished oak; also, thank goodness, the deliciousness of black fruit flavors swathed in cloves, allspice and bittersweet chocolate, all driving toward a sturdy, mineral-packed finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. This is a beautifully crafted and balanced cabernet seemingly influenced by its slightly austere mountain roots, for drinking tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or through 2024. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review. The bottle image is two vintages behind the wine reviewed here.

For the 18th entry in this series about chardonnay and pinot noir wines, mainly from California but occasionally from elsewhere, I offer 15 reviews that mention wines whose geographical origins range from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge in the north, in Mendocino County, to Santa Maria Valley in the south, in Santa Barbara County. Some threads of the grapes’ innate characters run through the wines — certain central and peripheral fruit scents and flavors, certain spice notions, some earthy, minerally qualities — with differences among the wines derived from radical and inevitable variations in climate, elevation, exposure and soil type, the elements that comprise terroir. The issue of oak is involved, of course, with winemakers making decisions about how long to age their wines in wood and what percentage of new oak barrels to use. I prefer wines with a light oak (or no oak) thumbprint, so I’m pleased to say that none of these wines — 13 pinots, 2 chardonnays — is swamped by an overbearing oak influence. The wines considered today are all pretty terrific, a few more terrificker than the others, but I promise you would not turn any of them down. The order is alphabetical.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars bk-pinotGap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
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The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia bk-chardHighlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 donum-estate-grown-carneros-pinot-noir-napa-county-usa-10332775percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
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Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
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The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
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The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
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Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool macphail-logoclimate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
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The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 3-bien-nacido10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months 3-jamesin French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, 3-originfermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.

The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of ws-rrvthe winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River ws-westside-roadValley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
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Today is September 2, but that’s no reason to stop drinking rosé wines. I mean, you’re not going to stop living, right? Plus, it’s the Friday before Labor Day, which means that you’ll need plenty of tasty wine to sip for the long weekend as you relax at the beach or picnic in a bosky dell or just chill out on the patio. Here’s a terrific candidate. The Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes treated in stainless steel tanks. The entrancing color is bright salmon-pink with copper highlights; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry are lent emphasis by touches of orange rind, dried thyme and an element of damp rocks. On the palate, lip-smacking acidity keeps this rosé crisp and lively, while the soft red berry flavors feel slightly fleshy and macerated, notched up a bit by hints of flint and white pepper. 13.8 percent alcohol. Truly charming and zesty and beautifully balanced. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is named for 19th Century settler Cyrus Alexander, who lends his given name, in turn, to the flagship red wine from Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery CYRUS_2012_bottlegoes back to 1962, when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander. They planted grapes the following year and produced their first cabernet sauvignon in 1968, as a private project. By 1975, however, the family had built a small winery, and matters took off from there. Alexander Valley Vineyards is operated now by the third generation; winemaker is Kevin Hall. The Cyrus 2012, Alexander valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 7 cabernet franc, 3 petit verdot and 2 malbec. It aged a total of 24 months in French oak barrels, 12 months before blending and 12 months after. The color is dark ruby-purple from core to rim; loads of graphite, iodine and iron encompass a pinpoint focus on black currant, black cherry and blueberry scents and flavors that unfold notes of plum pudding and red velvet cake, lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. If all of these factors sound like a confusion of aims and a tendency toward sweetness, that’s not at all what I mean. Yes, the wine gushes with ripeness, but it also is governed by dense, dusty tannins, swingeing acidity and a rigorous granitic mineral element. Some moments in the glass bring in hints of dried rosemary and sage (with the slightly resinous character of those herbs) as well as a tantalizing tinge of wild berries and meadow flowers. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25 with steaks, pork chops, venison and braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

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