Sonoma County


I write about these rosé wines together because they rise above the mass of bland and homogenized rosés that proliferate, now that rosés are finally being taken seriously by consumers, which is to say there’s a bit of a trend, not like moscato, certainly, but enough that we lovers of drinking rosé all through the year should notice and look for the great ones. The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, hails from a small block, owned by Ellie Price, of the iconic vineyard the rest and much larger portion of which is owned by her former husband Bill Price. The Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, the first release of a rosé from this winery, derives from the Wat Vineyard in Sebastopol, one of the cooler locations in Green Valley, a sub-appellation of Russian River Valley. Neither of these rosé wines is made in the saignée method, that is, by the bleeding of juice from the production of a regular red wine to concentrate that wine’s color and body; the resulting lighter wine (because of less skin contact) is often treated as an afterthought. The rosés in question here — as well as many of the best rosés produced around the world — are made by crushing the grapes and taking the juice off the skins after minimal contact, thus producing the pale “onion skin” color of the classic rosé. Each of these rosés consists of 100 percent pinot noir grapes. These wines were samples for review.

I wrote about the history and background of the Durell Vineyard and Dunstan here; and the Gary Farrell winery here.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a pale onion skin or “eye of the partridge” color with a tinge of darker pink. The wine was made half in neutral oak barrels, half in stainless steel, so it has a slightly more dense texture than the typical rosé. The emphasis here though is on fruit, delicacy and elegance, with a bouquet flush full of strawberries, dried red currants and hints of watermelon, rose petals and lilac; this is quite dry and vibrant, brimming with red fruit and spice nuances strung on an ethereal thread of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality, giving the wine a chiseled, faceted and incredibly refreshing effect. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases. Winemaker was Kenneth Juhasz. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
In contrast, the Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is a more savory and spicy example of rosé, though it still achieves the ideal of poise and elegance. The color is classic onion skin with a flush of pale copper; strawberries and raspberries dominate, with undertones of macerated peaches and cloves and a hint of sour cherry; traces of dried thyme and rosemary — shades of Provence! — permeate juicy red fruit flavors, though there’s a dry slate-like effect — I mean like roof tiles — that lends the wine its necessary spareness, while bracing acidity sends crystalline vibrancy throughout. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Excellent. About $28.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Summer’s high temperatures don’t seem to keep dedicated grill-meisters from the heat of their grills. Steaks, pork chops, leg of lamb, pork ribs, chickens, skewers of shrimp are still there, waiting to be doused in marinates or rubbed with dry spice mixtures and set over white-hot coals. This week’s featured wine is a sure bet with all sorts of grilled food, especially beef and pork, and it would be perfect with slow-cooked or smoked ribs. It’s the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County. The winery traces its origins to 1895, when Italian immigrant Edouardo Seghesio planted zinfandel vines in Alexander Valley. Through four generations, the Seghesio family tended their vineyards, grew grapes, made wine and sold grapes to other wineries before starting to bottle under its own label in 1983. In 2011, the family sold the winery and the brand to Crimson Wine Group, a Napa-based company that owns Pine Ridge in Napa Valley, Chamisal in Edna Valley and Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, offers a medium ruby color and an exuberant bouquet and flavors drenched in wild berries, blueberries and currants and notes of cloves, briers and brambles with undertones of graphite, lavender and licorice. You’re thinking, “How could a zinfandel so attractive deliver anything serious?” Good question, but fear not, because this wine bolsters its seductive qualities with vibrant acidity for resonance and liveliness and highly-planed and polished tannins for structure, as well as, deep as a well, a gradually burgeoning granitic mineral element. In a sense, you could say that it successfully has something for everyone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $24.

Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.

Here are a dozen wines that will put a keen edge of enticing Summery flavors and welcome minerality in your week. Today’s Weekend Wine Sips consist of five rosés and seven sauvignon blanc wines, the latter mainly from California (one from Chile) and the former from all over the place. Prices are pretty low for most of these wines, and availability is wide. Little in the way of technical talk here or discussions about entertaining and educational matters history, geography and climate, much as I dote upon them; the Weekend Wine Sips reviews are intended to be concise, incisive and inspiring. These wines were samples for review or tasted at trade events.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Marc Roman Rosé 2012, Vin de France. 13% alc. 100% syrah. Very pale pink with a tinge of peach; strawberries, raspberries, red currants, hint of orange rind; all subdued, unemphatic; quite dry, attractive texture and stony finish, just a little lacking in snappy acidity. A decent picnic quaffer. Good. About $10.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

El Coto Rosado 2012, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. Garnacha & tempranillo, 50/50. Light peach salmon color; fairly spicy, slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of rose petals and lavender; very dry, crisp acid structure, a bit thin through the finish. Very Good. About $11.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Castello Monaci Kreos 2012, Salenta I.G.T. 13% alc. 90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. Pale salmon-peach color; tasty, juicy but very dry; spiced and macerated peaches, watermelon and strawberries, lots of limestone and chalk; mid-palate moderately lush, yielding to a stony, austere finish. Very Good+. About $16.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finca La Linda Rosé Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. (From Luigi Bosca) 13.5% alc. More in the fashion of a Bordeaux clairette, that is, lighter and less substantial than regular red table wine, a bit darker and weightier than a true rose; medium pink-bright cherry color with a tinge of pale copper, LL, who knows gemstones, said, “Fire opal”; very spicy, lively, lots of personality, macerated red currants and raspberries with a hint of plum; plush texture modulated by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; backnote of dried herbs. Excellent. About $13, Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2012, Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale copper-onion skin color; strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, touch of orange rind; very stony with elements of limestone and flint but completely delightful; crisp and vibrant acidity, perfectly balanced, dry, elegant. Excellent. About $24.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2012, California. 13% alc.Very pale gold color; no real flaws, just innocuous and generic; hints of grass and straw, lime peel and grapefruit; pert acidity; nothing stands out as distinctive, but you wouldn’t mind too much knocking this back sitting out on the porch with a bowl of chips. Good. About $10.
___________________________________________________________________________________________

William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; thyme, tarragon, pea shoot; lilac, roasted lemon and pear; very dry, crisp, austere, heaps of limestone and flint influence, pretty demanding finish, though the whole package is not without charm. Very Good. About $16.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.2% alc. 300 cases. Pale straw-gold color; very lively, crisp, sassy; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass and limestone, hint of grass and fig, tarragon and tangerine; quite dry, stony, vibrant; deft balance, exuberant yet refined. Very Good+. About $18.50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, grapefruit, gunflint and celery seed, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm; bit of leafy fig; very fresh, clean, lively and engaging. Always a hit in our house. Very Good+. About $15 .
___________________________________________________________________________________________

Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 18% semillon. 834 cases. Very pale gold color; keen limestone edge, smoke and flint; dry, fresh, crisp, taut; lemon, lime peel and tangerine with hint of pear; mildly grassy, bit of thyme and tarragon; a tad of oak in the background, making for a subtle, supple texture enlivened by a touch of cloves and brisk acidity. Super attractive. Excellent. About $18.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Atalon Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 3% semillon. (Jackson Family Wines) Very pale straw-gold; suave, sophisticated; lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass, cloves, gooseberry and peach; exquisite balance among crisp snappy acidity, a soft almost powdery texture and fleet scintillating limestone and flint minerality; lots of appeal and personality. Excellent. About $20.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Sauvignon blanc with 9% semillon. An elegant sheen of oak keeps this sleek sauvignon blanc nicely rounded and moderately spicy; pale straw-gold color; lemongrass and lime peel, thyme and cloves, spiced pear, ginger and quince; limestone, gunflint and talc; lively, vibrant and resonant, very appealing presence and tone; lovely texture balances crispness with well-moderated lushness; burnished oak and glittering limestone dominate the finish. Great character. Excellent. About $32.
________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grenache is a versatile grape, but if it’s mishandled it can come dangerously close to being that generic nadir all things to all people, not a pretty pickle for a grape to find itself in. For today’s Wine of the Week, I offer two versions of the grape, one from Lodi, the other from Dry Creek Valley — obviously both from California — that fulfill quite different functions without doing the slightest damage to the grape’s reputation and in fact enhancing it. Each of these wines is made completely from grenache grapes. Both were samples for review.

First is the Frisk Prickly Grenache 2011, from Lodi’s Woodbridge District — in the Central Valley east of San Francisco Bay — a charming, refreshing wine that features low alcohol, a touch of sweetness and a hint of gently sparkling petillence (not petulance, never that). The Frisk wines, imported by Old Bridge in Napa, were previously made in an area of Australia’s Victoria region called Alpine Valley. What to call this color? Topaz? Copper? Coral? Embarrassed peach? In any case, the wine, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of melon, sour cherry and pomegranate with a tease of cloves and an initial tantalizing strain of candied orange rind. Clean, vivid acidity keeps it dry from mid-palate back through the spicy, slightly limestone-and lime-peel-flecked finish. 11.9 percent alcohol. Completely delightful and wholly appropriate for Summertime drinking with light appetizers and salad-based meals. We had a glass with scrambled egg and pork tenderloin tacos with little yellow tomatoes, sorrel and oregano. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $14.

A more traditional approach to the grape is represented by the Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, traditional in that it’s aged in oak barrels, but rather nontraditional in that this wine is 100 percent grenache grapes, not bolstered with mourvedre or syrah, as typically occurs in the South of France and in Australia. The color is the entrancing medium cherry-mulberry hue seen in glasses of wine in Dutch still-life paintings. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the wine in all those still-life paintings was French, since the Dutch dominated trade in Europe in the 17th Century and regularly shipped wine from France to the Baltic nations. Anyway, this wine aged an indeterminate length of time — the winery’s website is coy about this matter — in a combination of small French and Eastern European oak barrels and in larger 600-gallon casks. Enticing aromas of black and red currants and raspberries are wreathed with hints of briers and brambles and back-notes of cloves and rhubarb and lightly smoked meat; give it a few minutes to emit traces of lilacs and violets. The Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2011 offers lovely heft and transparency, delicacy and elegance; there’s nothing heavy or obvious here, all is smooth and supple, spare and lithe. Flavors of spiced and roasted plums open to touches of black cherries and raspberries, as well as deeper elements of forest and graphite. Tannins gently grip the palate and roll on. Don’t pair this wine with brutal red meat dishes, your haunch of venison, your saddle of boar; save this for grilled leg of lamb, though we will be forgiven for drinking it with zucchini lasagna. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 501 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I was tasting a range of red wines yesterday, and pulled the cork on a bottle of the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County, a 100-percent varietal wine that can typically be relied upon to be solid, well-made and flavorful, not exciting, perhaps, but better than decent, like the Dad in a television show. Swirling the wine in the glass and sniffing over several minutes, I noticed some aromas that I don’t often observe in cabernet sauvignon wines, especially made in California; just hints, mind you, but intriguing touches of dill and black olive, mint and bell pepper and then, more typical of cabernet and merlot, cedar and dried thyme. “Herbaceous!” comes the response, “heaven forfend!”

For some reason, winemakers in California not only avoid any notions of herbal qualities in their cabernets and merlots — especially dill and bell pepper — they seem to absolutely loathe those elements. When I first became interested in wine and for whatever reason tasted more red wines from Bordeaux than I do now — hear that, importers? — those hints of dill, green pepper, black olive and occasionally caraway seed seemed to be an integral part of the aroma profile, especially in wines from the communes of St. Julien and St. Estephe. Perhaps the bias against an herbaceous character in cabernet sauvignon and merlot by so many winemakers in California is a reaction against the excessive levels of green pepper that dominated red wines from Monterey County in the 1980s and ’90s, the dreaded “Monterey veggies” that I well remember.

Herbaceous qualities in red wine, and particularly the green pepper component, can be traced to methoxypyrazines, particularly the compound 2-methoxy-3-isobutyl pyrazine, popularly known as IBMP. This compound is so potent that it can be detected at the level of one part per trillion. It is present in certain grapes, especially cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and semillon, but undergoes rapid loss as the grapes ripen, ergo, that green pepper character — or asparagus and green pea in sauvignon blanc and semillon — can be attributed, at least in some instances, to grapes harvested before being fully ripe, so the date of harvest is important. Another factor is cool climate conditions, which tend to produce comparatively higher levels of methoxypyrazines along the vintage’s course of ripening. Anyone for a glass of leafy, green pea New Zealand sauvignon blanc? Vineyard practices, too, are important, and perhaps some of My Readers will remember when before the light bulb of canopy management went off in the heads of winemakers in California how so many sauvignon blanc wines smelled like canned asparagus and the damp grass cuttings scraped from a lawn mower?

Anyway, the real subject is cabernet sauvignon, and the theme is that a hint of green pepper and perhaps a touch of dill and black olive enhance a wine’s bouquet and lend interesting highlights, adding to the layering of aromas. The year in Sonoma — 2010 — was cool in Spring and Summer, but with a warm September that aided ripening. Rodney Strong harvested the last of the grapes for this cabernet, from four vineyards ranging from Jimtown in the south to Cloverdale in the north, on October 28. Allow me to lift a quotation from the press material that accompanied this wine to my door: “Late rain generated a healthy canopy, but one that required careful management to avoid green flavors.” And in the description of the wine occurs the phrase “herby black currant,” which I interpret as meaning black currant aromas and flavors infused with notes of cedar, thyme, perhaps something briery in there and possibly including a hint of the dreaded bell pepper.

In other words, it seems to me that Rodney Strong’s longtime head winemaker Rick Sayre, winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and director of winegrowing — a strange word — Doug McIlroy are aware of and concerned about the problems that methoxypyrazines can cause but are willing to allow at least a modicum of the herbaceous element into the wine for its intriguing contribution to the network of aroma and flavor complexity. It’s all about balance, of course. Too much herbaceous quality can ruin a wine, sure, but so can too much oak ruin a wine or too much alcohol, excessive acidity or overripe fruit. That why the saying the wines are made in the vineyard rings so true.

The wine in question, the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County, powered by 18 months in French and American oak barrels, also exhibits notes of black cherries and roasted coffee, deep powdery tannins and supple oak, an iron-and-iodine-tinged mineral character and a cloves-sandalwood-and-mint packed finish. 13.5% alcohol. Now through 2015 to ’16. It practically gets down on its knees and begs you to drink it with a medium-rare herb-crusted rack of lamb. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.

The pizza was pretty simple — and great! — consisting of lots of fresh basil, sliced Roma tomatoes, diced green onions and sopressata and loads of mozzarella, and then just a minute before the pizza was done, I flung on a handful of baby spinach and arugula and let that cook briefly. I wanted a red wine with some power and flavor but nothing flamboyant or overwhelming, and I got that from the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley.

Gary Farrell produced his first pinot noir under his own label — from the Rochioli Vineyard — in 1982. He sold the winery in 2004 to Allied Domecq; it’s owned now by Vincraft, which also owns the noted pinot noir producer Kosta-Browne. Present winemaker for Garrell Farrell (the winery) is Theresa Heredia (formerly at Joseph Phelps’ Freestone), but the wine we’re looking at today was made by Susan Reed, now at Geyser Peak Winery. Gary Farrell (the person) presently is a partner in and makes the wines for Alysian. Readers, you can’t tell the players if you don’t have a scorecard.

The color of the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley (made from 48-year-old vines), is medium ruby from stem to stern, not the deep purple-black of heavy extraction. There’s nothing over-ripe or sweet here, no boysenberry or fruit tart elements; instead , this is a balanced and integrated zinfandel that features aromas and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums bolstered by cloves and allspice, clean graphite and a slightly and appropriately rustic brambly quality. The wine is quite dry, and it’s packed with dusty graphite-like minerality, spicy oak — it aged 13 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels — and fairly dense, chewy tannins, though the effect isn’t ponderous, and in fact this zinfandel feels pretty light on its feet for all its dimension, aided by the bright acidity of a cool vintage. The long finish brings out touches of leather and pepper and a hint of fruitcake. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 318 cases. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Let’s spring forward with a delightful Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. This is not a saignée rosé, in which some juice is bled off from the tank before fermentation to concentrate the resulting wine (i.e., less juice to the same amount of skins). This is, instead, made from pinot noir grapes gently pressed and then pulled from the skins after a short maceration that yields a fine-hued rosé color, a sort of melon pink infused with light copper with a hint of violet at the rim. This is a charming and delicate rosé that displays ineffable aromas of pomegranate and strawberry with hints of melon and peach skin; flavors of spiced peach, red currants and limestone; and a slight dried herb element, all supported by lip-smacking acidity for crisp liveliness. 11.5 percent alcohol and appropriate with all sorts of light Spring fare. Very Good+. About $13, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

The winery was founded in 1993 by Todd Williams (1938-2007), retired from an illustrious career in bars and restaurants, and Rodney Strong (1927-2006), the former Broadway dancer and Sonoma County vineyard pioneer who had long had no hand in the winery that still bears his name. Artist of the whimsical Toad Hollow labels is Maureen Erickson.


Here’s a reasonably priced and dare we say delightful pinot noir that would not be out of place with a roasted chicken or veal chop this week. The Steelhead Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma County, offers an attractive medium ruby-magenta color and aromas of strawberries and red cherries with hints of briers and brambles and that spicy-fruity lift and touch of earthiness that characterize the best qualities of Beaujolais, to which add, in scent and flavor, a slight raspiness of wild raspberries and rose hips. The wine is quite dry yet juicy with ripe black and red cherry fruit given some dimension and spice from 10 months in oak barrels. Vibrant acidity lends appealing liveliness, while a touch of graphite-like minerality from mid-palate back gives the wine a steady sense of structure. Charming and tasty, and the sort of wine you could happily quaff with a variety of food. 13.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker is Hugh Chappelle. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Notice that the vintage on the label is two years behind. Hey, Steelhead, how about updating that website?
A sample for review.

« Previous PageNext Page »