Sonoma County


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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I wrote last week about eight sauvignon blanc wines from Napa Valley. Here’s one from Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, that ought not to be missed. Half of the Trione Winery River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley, aged four months in neutral French oak barrels — meaning used many times before — lending the wine subtlety, shape and suppleness without detonating a blatant woody influence. The color is shimmering pale gold; first come notes of lime and grapefruit, heather and lemongrass, followed by hints of lilac, talc and tangerine. On the palate, this sauvigvov blanc is sleek and chiseled, tart and sassy, powered by bright acidity and flush with limestone minerality that generates a burst of graphite and flint. Flavors tend toward leafy figs and yellow plums, permeated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit, all flowing to a finish packed with savory spice and a touch of grapefruit bitterness and every element etched with delicacy and elegance. Alcohol content is an eminently sensible 13.3 percent. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.

Here’s a wine that delves into the heart and soul of Sonoma County’s history and essence as a Acorn-2013-Heritage-Vines-Zinfandel-rgb-72dpivineyard and winemaking region. The Acorn Heritage Vines Alegría Vineyards Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, derives from a vineyard planted in 1890. Some of those remaining vines contributed to a wine that, following old tradition, is a field blend of a wide variety of grapes planted side by side and randomly interspersed. The proportions for this wine are 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, eight percent petite sirah and a whopping two percent mix of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. The wine aged 12 months in 54 percent French oak, 41 percent American and five percent Hungarian, with a total of 39 percent new barrels. While this zinfandel blend is robust and wild, it’s never hyperbolic or extravagant, feeling perfectly balanced in all aspects from beginning to end. The color is dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; aromas of plums, blackberries and currants offer a hint of blueberries, fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped around an intense core lavender, licorice and dusty dried herbs. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine delivers beautiful tone and presence, subtle complexity and a texture buoyed by moderately dense, dusty brushy tannins and animated by bright acidity. The ripe black fruit flavors are boldly spicy and a little plush, though always subdued to the wine’s deliberate acid-oak-tannin-and-mineral structure. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 548 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

The Amici Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, serves as an exemplar of the manner in which a perfectly balanced wine may embody a slight edge of risk, making it exciting as well as amicisatisfying. The wine aged 11 months in French Oak, 30 percent new barrels; winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is an entrancing transparent medium ruby hue shading through magenta to an invisible rim. This pinot noir begins with pure raspberry and cherry aromas permeated by notes of sour cherry, melon and cherry pit, with hints of sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry and tinges of briers, brambles and loam. Readers, if you don’t find that bouquet irresistible, you are dead to the better things in life. The texture is superbly satiny, lithe and supple, though a shift occurs on the palate from the openness and sensual appeal of its aromas to the dark side of pinot noir spice and fruit, to the foresty and autumnal. A spine of graphite supports bright acidity that cuts a path, while slightly dusty tannins forge into the finish freighted with nuances of cloves, allspice and wild berry flavors. A few moments in the glass bring out elements of leather and lilac. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 2,770 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

A movement is afoot to create rosé wines that are more robust, darker, more flavorful and emphatic than the classical spare, delicate, elegant models that originate in the South of France or the Loire Valley. At the same time, there’s quite a push to produce more rosé wines across the board, as wineries and estates around the world became aware, over the past decade, that Americans now love rosé. And let’s face it, friends, the American palate rules the world of wine. Today’s post looks at 15 examples of rosé wines from various regions in California, Italy, France, Spain and Argentina. The ratings for these wines range from Excellent down to Good, an indication as to quality and perhaps some wrongheaded choices in terms of grape varieties. I think, for instance, that the malbec grape isn’t a rational choice for rosé, perhaps being inherently too rustic. The best rosés still derive from the prototype varieties of the Rhône Valley and Provence — grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah — and from pinot noir, as in Sancerre, and yet I’m constantly surprised what great rosés can be made from outliers like refosco and tempranillo. So, I say to the winemakers of the world, Experiment, go ahead and surprise us! But keep it simple. The best rosé wines offer direct appeal; a finely-woven and fine-boned fruit, acid and mineral structure; and pure refreshing deliciousness.
These wines were samples for review.
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Aia Vecchia Solidio Rosato 2015, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% merlot. Medium copper-salmon shade; spicy and peppery (white pepper), strawberries and raspberries, both dried and macerated; notes of melon and sour cherry; fairly earthy and a bit too rooty; lacks charm and finesse. A first rosé for this estate, not exactly a success. Good only. About $14.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Alta Vista Malbec Rosé 2015, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.5% alc. Bright medium copper-salmon hue; vivid aromas of strawberry, raspberry and tomato skin, with a fairly lush texture; a bit too florid and blowsy … and with a sweetish finish. Doesn’t work. Good only. About $13.
Kobrand Wine and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
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Pink_Pedals_Label
Chronic Cellars Pink Pedals 2015, Paso Robles. 12.4% alc. 89% grenache, 11% syrah. Delicate salmon-pink shade; yes, petal-like — heehee — as in roses and violets, with notes of peach and cherry, some melon comes to the fore; engages the palate with bright acidity and a hint of graphite-dusty tile minerality, but mainly this is fine-boned and honed. Very Good+. About $15.
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Cune-Rosado-NV
Cune Rosado 2015, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vivid scarlet with a pink-orange blush; pure strawberry and raspberry with a tinge of melon; bouquet is as fresh as raindrops on roses, but this is fairly robust for a rose and even exhibits a bit of tannin and a definite saline-limestone edge, like a seashell just plucked from the waves; a note of peach comes up in a dry, almost chewy package. Unusual, but Very Good+. About $13.
Europvin USA, Denver, Colo.
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guogal rose
E. Guigal Rosé 2015, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% cinsault, 10% syrah. Pale salmon-pink color; peaches, watermelon, raspberries; touches of raspberry sorbet, lilac and talc; crisp and clean but moderately lush; notes of strawberry leaf and sage; tasty and nicely balanced. Very Good+. About $15.
Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
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lazy creek rose
Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; a subtle and delicate melange of strawberries, raspberries, orange rind, heather and meadow flowers; these fruit flavors feel lightly spiced and macerated, balanced by bright acidity and a pointed element of limestone and flint minerality; lovely balance and texture on the palate. Excellent. About $22.
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Luigi-Bosca-Rose
Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is a Rosé Is a Rosé 2015, Mendoza, Argentina. 12% alc. 60% pinot gris, 40% syrah. The rather defensive name of this wine probably derives from the fact that it consists of more white wine than red wine in a quite unusual blend. Very pale smoky topaz-onion skin hue; melon and strawberry, delicately etched with tangerine and lemon balm, a hint of jasmine and red currant; the pertness of pinot gris with syrah’s alluring slightly dense texture; the finish offers the tang of lime peel, pomegranate and pink grapefruit. Intriguing. Excellent. About $22.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York
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Masi Rosa dei Masi 2015, Rosato della Venezia, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% refosco grapes. Beautiful coral-pink color; pure strawberry and melon, with touches of almond skin, faint peach and Rainier cherry; lovely balance between a delicate nature and deeper intensity; attractive rainy-dusty-lilac aura and a very dry finish. Just terrific. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Kobrand Wines and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
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truvee
McBride Sisters Truvée Rosé 2015, Central Coast. 12.5% alc. 92% grenache, 5% syrah, 2% tempranillo, 1% roussanne. The color is a very pale Mandarin orange hue; the wine is very delicate, absolutely lovely; whispers of cherries and red currants open to notes of lilac and lavender, with nuances of talc and limestone; the floral element grows into an aura that’s tenderly exotic, while the wine remains dry, crisp and vibrant. Excellent. About $15.
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monaci
Castello Monaci Kreos 2015, Salento, Italy. 13% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Bright salmon-pink color; peaches and melon, ripe strawberry and tomato skin; undercurrent of damp stones; vivid acidity; slightly saline, loamy finish. Very Good. About $16.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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MURIEL ROSADO 2011
Bodegas Muriel Rosado 2015, Rioja, Spain. 13.55 alc. 50% tempanillo, 50% garnacha. Smoky topaz-copper hue; peach, strawberry, orange zest; dusty gravel; lithe, fluid, tasty, lovely body and surface; juicy core of pink fruit but quite dry and classic in its delicacy and lightness; impeccably balanced between a nicely lush texture and vivid acidity, leading to a spare, chiseled finish. Very Good+. About $12, so Worth Buying by the Case.
Quinessential, Napa, Calif.
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Pedroncelli Winery Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Bright cerise-mulberry color; melon and raspberry, thyme and sage, orange rind, pomegranate and mint and a whiff of white pepper; fairly intense for a rose, very dry, mouth-filling, not quite robust; chiseled acidity and flint-like minerality yet generously proportioned. Excellent. About $12, a Fantastic Bargain, buy it by the case.
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Q rose 15
Quivira Rosé 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 988 cases. 55% grenache, 20 mourvèdre, 10 syrah, 10 counoise, 5 petite sirah. This aged four months in neutral French oak barrels. Light salmon-copper hue; peaches with notes of strawberries and raspberries, damp stones and hints of dried thyme and sage; very dry and flinty with bright acidity and a jewel-tone of cherry-pomegranate at the core. Excellent. About $22.
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RC ROSADO FT
Real Compañia de Vinos Rosado 2015, Meseta Central, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% garnacha grapes (grenache). Florid copper-salmon color; starts out pretty, with rose petals and violets, strawberries and raspberries, orange rind and dried mountain herbs; needs more vibrancy, more nerve and bone. Pleasant though. Very Good. About $10.
Quintessential, Napa, Calif. The label image is one year behind.
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The Seeker Rosé Wine 2015, Côte de Provence, France. 13% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue; a very delicate amalgam of hints and nuances, with notes of strawberry and raspberry, melon and dried thyme in a crisp lithe package that concludes with a slightly chiseled flinty edge. Pretty classic and very pretty too. Very Good+. About $14.
Kobrand Wine and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
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There’s no better time to drink Champagne or sparkling wine than anytime it happens to be that you feel like it. I devote considerable space to those categories late in December and early in January in my annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but why not do a mid-year survey? Though actually I will probably wish that I had saved some of these examples to use then. Oh well. Unless otherwise indicated — most of the Champagnes included today were purchased locally — these products were samples for review. All except one were made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. A couple from Italy should attract the eye of bargain-hunters. Drink up! Enjoy! Be careful!
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breton-fils-brut-tradition-aoc-champagne__91536.1416051974.1280.1280
Champagne Breton Fils “Tradition” Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 1/3 each chardonnay, pinor noir, pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold hue; a beautiful upward surge of tiny swirling silver bubbles; a bit loamy and musky; baked apple, peach, almond skin; toasted hazelnuts and a touch of toffee; dense and almost chewy in texture, impressive heft and presence; heather and salt marsh, quince and ginger, slightly honeyed in effect but quite dry; arrow-straight acidity midst limestone and chalk minerality. Excellent. About $60, a local purchase.
Imported Heritage LLC, Corona, Calif.
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canard
Champagne Canard-Duchêne Brut Rosé nv. A lovely color that blends pale onion skin with smoky topaz and delicately tarnished silver; a froth of glinting tiny bubbles; a spare, elegant brut rose Champagne, all steel, smoke and limestone, offering wisps of strawberry and tangerine, orange zest and almond skin, with a hint of pear, heather and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all ensconced in a lovely, light, lithe effervescent texture. No great depth, but plenty of substance and pleasure. Very Good+. About $46, a local purchase.
Imported by Thiernot USA, San Rafael, Calif.
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cleto rose
Cleto Chiarli Brut Nero Rosé nv, Emilia Romagna, Italy. 12% alc. 100% grasparossa grapes. Made in the cuve close method. An entrancing light-coral-cotton-candy-pink hue; very dry but foams through the mouth like a cloud of ripe raspberries and strawberries; notes of fresh biscuits, almond skin and gardenia; a touch of rose petals; fleet acid structure with a hint of flinty minerality. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear, just drink up and be glad you’re alive. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Champagne Forget-Brimont Premier Cru Brut nv. 40% each pinot noir and pinot meunier, 20% forgetchardonnay. Pale pale gold color, enlivened by an incessant stream of incandescent bubbles; roasted lemon, lemon balm and spiced pear; if platinum had a scent of smoke and steel, this Champagne would be it; lovely body and mouth-feel; lush and creamy but cut by keen acidity and limestone minerality; brings up notes of buttered toast and brioche with a hint of cloves; lip-smacking acidity and a mineral edge. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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laurent demi
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec nv. 12% alc. 50% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir, 15% pinot meunier. “Demi-Sec” means “half-dry,” in other words, sweet (in varying degrees), but this elegant and majestic example feels just a shade sweeter than a typical brut-style Champagne, a factor revealed in a slightly riper fashion of citrus and stone-fruit. Pale gold hue, enlivened by a plethora of energetic tiny bubbles; hints of peach, pear and tangerine, a touch of spice cake; creamy on the palate but cut by vivid acidity and a dynamic limestone and chalk element; a bone-dry finish, all bracing seashell salinity and minerality. Excellent. About $45.
Laurent-Perrier USA, Long Island City, New York.
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La_Valle_Primum
La Valle Primum Brut nv, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay, pinot nero, pinot bianco, aged two years on the lees in bottle. Very pale gold color; lovely and exuberant effervescence; heather, lemon balm, spiced peach and baked apple; notes of fresh bread and brioche, limestone and steel; quite dry but ripe and juicy; brings in hints of jasmine and roasted lemon; gets pretty toasty on the finish. Very Good+. About $40.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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barone 2
Barone Pizzini Bagnadore Riserva 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. Half and half chardonnay and pinot noir; this zero dosage-style sparkling wine spent five years on the lees. 1,356 cases. Lustrous pale gold; freshly baked bread and brioche, smoke and steel, toasted almonds and almond skin, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint, bracing acidity and salinity; touches of toffee and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; high-toned and elegant with real depth of character. Drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $60.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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barone
Barone Pizzini Naturae Edizione 2011, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12% alc. 70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir. Also a zero dosage style sparkling wine, it spends 30 to 40 months on the lees. Pale pale platinum blonde; a great froth of yearning bubbles; every aspect of lemon — roasted lemon, lemon balm, lemon drop, preserved lemon — with spiced pear, toasted hazelnuts and lightly buttered brioche; wreathes of smoke, limestone and flint, energized by vivid acidity; wholly balanced and integrated but exciting and a bit feral. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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brut premier
Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier nv. 12% alc. 40% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay, 20% pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold animated by lively effervescence; fresh-baked biscuits, toasted hazelnuts, roasted lemons and spiced pears, hint of jasmine; very crisp and clean, displaying exquisite poise in bridging lushness and creaminess with spare elegance and incisive acidity and crystalline limestone minerality; brings in notes of cloves and ginger, smoke and steel. Excellent. About $50, a local purchase.
Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.
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Rotari Brut Rosé nv, Trento, Italy. 12.5% alc. 75% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay. You might think width="250"at the price that this winsome sparkling wine, made in the traditional method — it spends two years on the lees in the bottle — would be no more than a kissy-face little crowd-pleaser, but it offers more character than you would suspect. Very pale salmon-copper color; relentlessly effervescent; blood orange, raspberry, almond skin; sea-shell, limestone and a hint of peach; very dry, tending toward austere on the finish, but brings up hints of rose petals and macerated strawberries. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real value.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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steorra
Steorra Brut nv, Russian River Valley. 12.2% alc. 55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir. This is the first sparkling wine made by Joe Wagner, for his Copper Cane Wines & Provisions. Wagner created the immensely popular Meiomi label, which he sold last year to Constellation for a staggering $315 million. The color is a very pale straw-gold hue, enlivened by a fine, energetic bead; spiced pears and roasted lemons, delicate and subtle, with notes of quince and ginger, buttered toast and caramel; it’s quite dry, loaded with chalk and limestone minerality, a bit savory and saline, nicely balanced between creaminess and brisk acidity; the flaw is a finish that falls a little short. Very Good+. About $23.
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Sterling Vineyards Brut 2012, Carneros. 12.3% alc. (No mention of this product on the winery’s website, no tech info, no image. Perhaps it doesn’t really exist.) Pale gold shimmering with a hail of tiny bubbles; very clean and fresh, spiced pear and roasted lemon, hints of smoky heather and hay; steel, flint, almond skin; charming and scintillating, elegant and energetic; very dry, with a firm yet attractive element of limestone minerality that surges through the chiseled finish. Excellent. About $50.
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