Sonoma County


Let’s get right to it. You should buy the Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County, by the case for drinking over the martini cabnext three or four years, in the Summer with grilled steak, pork chops and barbecue, in Winter with braised short ribs, hearty pasta dishes, burgers and pizzas. Or anytime, all year-round. Made primarily from cabernet sauvignon grapes, with dollops of merlot and petite sirah, the wine derives from vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. It aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak barrels, a deviation from the philosophy of founder Louis M. Martini, who eschewed the use of any kind of oak in favor of 1,500-gallon redwood vats, employed by his son and grandson until 1989. Anyway, the color is opaque ruby-purple with a magenta rim; this is really classic Sonoma County cabernet that displays riveting aromas of ripe black currants and cherries with notes of cloves and graphite, cedar and rosemary and touches of smoke and sage. Dense and supple, this exuberant wine is supported by dusty, graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity, filling the mouth with lively black and blue fruit flavors leading to a mineral-packed finish that opens to nuances of lead pencil, black olive and bay leaf. Alcohol content is an eminently sensible 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

A sample for review. The winery has been owned by E.&J. Gallo since 2002.

Do I have to defend the right or necessity to drink rosé wines all year around? Do I have to man the barricades, go to the wall, belly up to the bar to convince nay-sayers that a shimmering, scintillating, beautiful rosé wine — dry, vibrant, fruity, subtle: not sweet — is appropriate in every month and season? If I have to do that, then my case may be hopeless, as far as the die-hard opposition goes, but those who have followed this blog for a considerable period will require no further persuasion, gentle or not. A clean dry rosé may serve as a refreshing aperitif in December as well as June, and few wines go better with fried chicken, for example, or various terrines or the egg-based dishes that front the sideboard for big family breakfasts during the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving dinner itself is a good test for rosé wines. No, friends, do not neglect the rosé genre, from which I offer 10 models today. The Weekend Wine Notes eschew detailed technical, historical and geographical data (which we all adore) for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, almost, from the very pages of my notebooks, though arranged in more shapely fashion. These eclectic wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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billa haut
Bila-Haut Rosé 2014, Pays d’Oc (from M. Chapoutier). NA% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Pale copper-salmon hue; orange zest, strawberries and raspberries; a pleasing heft of limestone minerality with cutting acidity; juicy and thirst-quenching, but dry as sun-baked stones; a finish delicately etched with chalk and dried thyme. Very Good+. About $14.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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blair rose
Blair Vineyards Delfina’s Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco. 13.3% alc. 117 cases. Bright peach-copper color; ripe strawberries macerated with cloves, raspberries, hints of tomato skin and pomegranate; paradoxically and deftly fleshy and juicy while being quite crisp and dry and tightly tuned with limestone and flint. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $22.
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14_VinGris_Domestic_750
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014, Central Coast. 13% alc. 35% grenache, 18% mourvedre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsault, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise. Very pale onion skin hue with a topaz glow; quite delicate, almost fragile; dried strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach and hints of lavender and orange rind; gently dusty and minerally, like rain-water drying on a warm stone; a note of sage in the finish. Elegantly ravishing. Excellent. About $18.
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bridge lane
Bridge Lane Rosé 2014, New York State (from Lieb Cellars). 11.9% alc. Cabernet franc 63%, merlot 21%, pinot blanc 8%, riesling 5%, gewurztraminer 3%. Ethereal pale peach-copper color; delicate notes of peach, strawberry and raspberry with a touch of watermelon and spiced pear; a hint of minerality subtle as a river-stone polished with talc; incisive acidity for liveliness; develops more floral elements as the moments pass: lavender, rose petal, violets, all beautifully knit. Excellent. About $18.
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heintz rose
Charles Heintz Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Beautiful salmon scale-light copper hue; blood orange, tomato skin, strawberries and raspberries, hints of violets and lilac, a note of cloves and damp limestone; red fruit on the palate with an undertone of peach; quite dry and crisp, lithe on the palate, but with appealing red fruit character and an element of stone-fruit and chalk-flint minerality. A gorgeous rosé. Excellent. About $19.
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cornerstone corallina
Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2014, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. 100% syrah. Very pretty pink coral color; strawberries and raspberries, hint of pomegranate and a fascinating note of spiced tea and apple peel compote; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tomato aspic and red currants; full-bodied for a rose, with a texture that would be almost lush save for the bristling acidity that keeps the whole package energized. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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Crossbarn Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast (from Paul Hobbs). 12.5% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; intriguing musky-spicy note, crossbarn roselike rose hips, camellias, pomegranate, cloves and sandalwood macerated together; strawberries and orange rind; hints of pink grapefruit and peach; lively and crisp, with a chalk and flint edge to the supple texture; gains a fleshy and florid character on the finish. Very Good+. About $18
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loomis air
Loomis Family “Air” Rosé Wine 2013, Napa Valley. 12% alc. 41% grenache 36% mourvedre 13% counoise 10% syrah. 125 cases. Light copper-salmon hue; dried strawberries and raspberries, notes of lavender and red cherry; hints of watermelon and cloves; incisive acidity and limestone minerality bolster juicy red fruit flavors and an elegant and supple texture that retains a crisp chiseled character; a fillip of grapefruit rind and lemongrass provide interest on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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cipressato
Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato 2014, Toscano IGT. 11% alc. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. (An Antinori brand since 1946.) Light pink-peach color; delicately floral and spicy, notes of raspberries and red currants and a hint of dried thyme and heather; clean acidity and limestone minerality offer gentle ballast for tasty but spare red fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $14.
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stinson rose
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, Va. 13% alc. 100% mouvèdre. 175 cases. Classic onion skin hue with a tinge of darker copper; pink grapefruit, rose petals, cloves; raspberries and strawberries delicately strung on a line of limestone minerality and bright acidity; from mid-palate back notes of cranberry, pomegranate and grapefruit rind leading to a tart finish; lovely balance and integrity. Excellent. About $19.
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You know how we wine taster-writer-bloggers are, always scurrying around trying to find cool, excellent expressive wines that nobody has ever heard of, so we say recommend as Wine of the Day or whatever some product fashioned from a totally obscure grape by an 2014-Fume_304x773ancient family in an isolated valley in the foothills of an undiscovered mountain range in eastern France where normally grapes aren’t even grown and 100 cases are imported by a company in Minnesota with no national distribution and we can say: “Definitely Worth a Search!” And it costs $85 a bottle. Well, today I’m not doing that. In fact, I’m recommending a wine that is so well-known and widely available and so ubiquitous on restaurant wine lists of a certain order that you may fall down laughing, so boo-hoo-hoo to you. The wine is the Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, produced in the amount of 85,000 cases and as tasty and reliable a sauvignon blanc as you will encounter on a daily basis. This is thoughtfully made, 60 percent in stainless steel and 40 percent in older French oak barrels, so the wood influence is subtle, almost subliminal, and acts as a shaping rather than a dominating factor. (Winemaker is Sarah Quider.) The color is pale gold; aromas of honeysuckle, lime peel, spiced pear and lemongrass are infused with notes of fig, fennel and dried thyme. The wine is quite lively on the palate, with bracing acidity and a scintillating limestone and flint element, and it asserts its dry yet delicious presence with an effect that’s both authoritative and tender. A lithe and supple texture leads to a finish drenched in grapefruit, mango and attentive salinity. 13.8 percent alcohol. Profound? Multi-dimensional? Revelatory? Of course not. Savory? Appealing? Satisfying? Absolutely. Very Good+. About $14, representing Terrific Value.

A sample for review.

Looking for a pinot noir that takes an approach more intense and brooding than elegant and elusive? While I am extremely fond of the pncc13 front proofelegant and elusive manner, I’ll offer a candidate for the intense and brooding position in the CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Hobbs is well-known as a producer of pretty intense wines across the range for his eponymous label. CrossBarn is a distinct label with separate vineyard sources and a different winemaker — Greg Urmini — and is no slouch in the intensity category either. The CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast — there’s a cousin pinot noir from Anderson Valley — aged 10 months in French oak, only 10 percent new barrels. The color is a beautiful deep ruby-mulberry hue, entrancing as a glass of red wine in a Dutch still-life painting. Aromas of spiced and macerated black and red currants and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, and after a few minutes elements of loam, oolong tea and new leather rise like a dark tide. Not surprisingly, this pinot noir is firm and dense on the palate, suoer-satiny and supple in texture and riven by incisive acidity and an underbrush quality; tannins feel etched by dusty graphite under the spare blandishment of tasty though subdued black cherry, currant and plum flavors. All in all, perfectly balanced and integrated for the earthy, thoughtful style. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

You know what they say about the miracle of turning water into wine? Well, Ron Rubin turned water into tea and tea into wine. Rubin, pictured below, ron-rubin-240x300went to work for his family’s wholesale wine and liquor business in Illinois in 1972, putting in 22 years managing distribution to 48 counties. In 1990, he started New Age Beverages, a company that was the master licensee for Clearly Canadian Sparkling Water in a 10-state area of the Southeast. Four years later, he sold the wholesale concern and bought The Republic of Tea, a young company based in Novato, Calif. The rest, as they say, is history, because you can find those distinctive cans of herbal, floral, black and green teas all across America — in tea bags and loose — to the tune of more than 200 products. Rubin studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis and in 2011 purchased the River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, in the Green Valley appellation of Russian River Valley. (In May, Rubin passed the reins of the company to his son Todd B. Rubin, now president of The Republic of Tea; Ron Rubin remains as executive chairman and Minister of Tea.) Hence, the two wines under review today. Winemaker for The Rubin Family of Wines is Joe Freeman. I’m sorry to say that what occurs today, as we pick up this series after quite a hiatus, is what often — too often — happens in tasting chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer: I like, even dote upon, the pinot noir and dislike the chardonnay. That’s the case here. These wines were samples for review.
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The Ron Rubin Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, went through a gentle oak regimen of eight months in small French barriques, only Rubin_RRV_Pinot_FACE15 percent of which were new barrels. The wine is composed of grapes from estate vineyards plus grapes from five other vineyards in Russian River Valley. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; scents of red currants and black cherries are permeated by gradually unfolding notes of cranberries and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood, briers and brambles and loam, all encompassed in an aura that feels deeply spiced and macerated yet fleet-footed, delicate and elegant. Super-satiny on the palate, this pinot noir displays surprising weight and texture for the finely-wrought nature of its bouquet; in fact, it’s saved from being sumptuous by a clean line of bright acidity and a fair amount of dusty tannic rigor, giving the wine a stones-and-bones structure upon which to drape delicious black cherry and plum flavors. The whole enterprise gains shading and darkness after some time in the glass, say, 30 minutes, lending an air of strangely graceful and somewhat enigmatic earthiness. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, grilled lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $25, a Remarkable Price for the quality, the depth and dimension.
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I’m sorry that I cannot be as enthusiastic about the Ron Rubin Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, as I am about its pinot noir Rubin_RRV_Chard_FACEstablemate. Like its cousin, this chardonnay was produced from estate vineyards and a selection of other vineyards in the Russian River appellation. It underwent 66 percent barrel-fermentation, in 15 percent new French oak barrels, and also saw complete malolactic or secondary fermentation; the other 34 percent was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Somehow that combination did not make a balanced or integrated chardonnay. The color is pale gold; aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear, with hints of mango, clove and quince and high notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone, culminate in touches of jasmine and camellia; eminently attractive, yes, and so far so good, but a dried baking spice/spiced tea quality burgeons in the mouth and brings an element of stridency to a very dry, dense texture that feels hollowed out at mid-palate and leads to a grapefruit pith finish. 13.7 percent alcohol. Perhaps this imbalance will resolve itself in a year or two, but I wouldn’t take the risk, even at the price of $20.
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The Trione family, third generation grape-growers in Sonoma County, launched their eponymous winery in 2005. The family cultivates vines in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations, producing a broad range of fairly individually Trione-2011-Red-Wine-Henrys-Blendstyled wines. Winemaker is Scot Covington. Today’s Wine of the Day is the Trione Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2011, Alexander Valley. This is not an inexpensive wine, and it pushes above the limit I try to set for the Wine of the Day — not that this series is a vehicle for cheapness — but I wanted to feature something from a small family-owned and -operated estate. Henry’s Blend 2011 is a combination of 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each petit verdot and cabernet franc and five percent malbec, touching what we think of as the five classic Bordeaux red grape varieties, though in truth malbec plays little role in Bordeaux nowadays, its plantings having declined radically since the 1950s. The wine aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40 percent new. The color is an entrancing deep ruby-purple with a vivid violet-hued rim; vivid also are the scents of iodine, cedar and graphite, cloves and black pepper, all permeated by notes of quite ripe, spicy and fleshy black currants, raspberries and blueberries. This is a dry, dark and rooty wine, with layers of loam and granitic minerality, dusty and velvety tannins and the suggestion of oaken suavity and suppleness seamlessly animated by bright acidity; fruit is not forgotten, though, all those previous elements serving to bolster vital and tasty currant and plum flavors infused with lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Quite a performance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to 2022 with hearty, meaty fare. Production was 1,730 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $54.

A sample for review.

When I was first learning about wine and tasting more wine and taking notes — back in early 1980s — Pedroncelli was a name I often saw in the local liquor stores, along with other venerable family-owned labels like Parducci, Sebastiani, Louis M. Martini, Concannon, Mirassou and Fetzer. Pedroncelli survived since 1927 by never wavering from its mission of producing well-made, though rarely ped sbexciting, wines sold at reasonable prices. I’m pretty excited, however, about the Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley. I have been tasting lots of sauvignon blancs recently, or sauvignon blanc-based wines in the case of Bordeaux, and I will be composing posts about the different regions soon. I couldn’t resist, though, making this one a Wine of the Day. Made completely in stainless steel and not allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, the Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, practically shimmers in the glass in its pert, tart and sassy character. The color is very pale gold, and the aromas of lime peel, spiced pear and lemongrass, just touched with mango and honeysuckle, fig and pink grapefruit, are intensely beguiling. Deep and crisp and even as the famous snow of the Balkans, this sauvignon blanc is quite dry but features a lovely almost powdery texture that delivers a piercing sense of tension and resolution among supple vibrancy, tangy limestone/chalk minerality and a bracing saline/savory nature. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 as an appealing aperitif or with spice-rubbed salmon and swordfish and grilled shrimp. Excellent. About $15, a Raving Great Value.

A sample for review.

A sort of milestone, I suppose, the 50th post in a series, and on this momentous occasion I offer for your delectation and edification the Amici Cellars Pinot Noir 2013, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, a trove of fine pinot noir and chardonnay if they’re not messed about with excessively in the winery. This one was not. Winemaker for these friends is Joel Aiken, who spend almost 30 years as winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and now has his own brand as well as making the wines for Amici. The Amici Pinot Noir 2013 has the deft touch of a veteran all over it. The wine, which is “cellared” rather than “produced,” derives from a number of vineyards in Russian River Valley — in other words, very simply put, it’s not an estate wine — and aged 12 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; an enticing bouquet of black and red cherries and raspberries is suffused with subtle notes of cloves and sandalwood, blueberries and rhubarb and a tantalizing hint of cocoa powder. This pinot noir is super satiny and supple on the palate, mixing ripe, spicy and moderately juicy black and red berry flavors with undertones of loam, briers and brambles and a touch of heather. While moving through the mouth with sensual allure, this pinot noir is neither opulent or obvious, letting its energy — propelled by brisk acidity and slightly dusty tannins — dictate a more delicate, elegant and nuanced approach. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,650 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, seared magret of duck or a veal chop grilled with rosemary. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

In making the Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, the Wine of the Day, I don’t mean that you should rush right out and buy a case or even a bottle, because the production was very limited. I know, that’s not fair. On the other hand, I don’t mind using this venue or series of posts to inform My Readers of the wines that are out there in the world and available with a telephone call or a visit to a website. The family has owned Heintz Ranch, atop the second ridge back from the Pacific Ocean, since 1912. Charles Heintz is in charge now, growing chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes that he sells to a handful of highly regarded producers, reserving some for his own wines, usually fewer than 1,000 cases annually. Consulting winemaker since 2012 has been Hugh Chappelle, winemaker at Quivira and former winemaker at Flowers Vineyard and Winery. The Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013 was made from grapes grown on 42-year-old dry-farmed vines; it’s the first stainless steel-fermented chardonnay produced at Heintz, and it reveals the delightful, fresh and engaging qualities that such a wine can possess, while offering, in this instance, plenty of depth and dimension. After fermentation, the wine undergoes 11 months of aging in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The color is pale-straw-gold with a glint of leaf-green at the center; the entry is incredibly clean and attractive, with notes of spiced pear, green apple and lime peel; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of pineapple and grapefruit, a hint of almond blossom and a slight edge of limestone. Propelled by purposeful acidity and scintillating flint and limestone minerality, the wine nonetheless flows gently and brightly on the palate, its citrus and stone-fruit flavors (deepened by hints of ginger and quince) enhanced by a lively yet supple texture lent subtlety and sleekness by the deft wood influence; this is a chardonnay that illustrates what I frequently say about the relationship between wood and wine: “Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible.” 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 50 cases. Excellent. About $44.

A sample for review.

We had been drinking lots of white wines and rose wines, and finally LL said, “I need something red!” So with medium-rare cheeseburgers from Belmont Cafe — cheddar for LL, Swiss for me — I opened the Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, and found a cabernet made exactly the way that I want a cabernet to be made. Stonestreet was launched when Jess Jackson, founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson, acquired the Zellerbach winery and vineyards in Chalk Hill in 1989. This became the prestige label for K-J and was a part of what was called the Artisan and Estates division of Jackson’s growing empire. Between May 1996 and May 1999, for my newspaper column, I reviewed the Stonestreet Chardonnay 1994 and ’95, the Pinot Noir 1994, the Pinnacle Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1995, the Merlot 1994, ’95 and ’96, the Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and ’96, the flagship Legacy 1994, the Sauvignon Blanc 1997 and, oddly, a Gewurztraminer 1997. Many changes have come upon Stonestreet since that period. The winery and estate now occupy 5,100 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, ranging from 400 to 2,400 feet up the western flank of the Mayacamas Range. Nine hundred acres are planted in grapes divided into 235 individual vineyard blocks. Winemaker is Lisa Valtenbergs; vineyard manager is Gabriel Valencia. The focus is on chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.

The Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is 100 percent varietal; it aged 16 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a magenta-violet rim. The immediate impression is of tremendous vitality and vigor, as aromas of cedar and thyme, graphite and lavender, hints of black olive, green peppercorns and bell pepper seethe in the glass, opening to notes of ripe but spare black currants, cherries and blueberries; there are undertones of black tea, iodine, tapenade and flint. I love how on the palate this cabernet reveals stones and bones through its potent and seductive ferrous and sanguinary nature, its wash of roots and branches and underbrush, its granitic aplomb. Give this wine 30 or 40 minutes and it calls up an extraordinary core of violets, black licorice, pomegranate, potpourri and sandalwood, all anchored in sleek, lithe dusty tannins and bright propulsive acidity. Those tannins, and the wine’s granite-backed mineral character, dominate the finish, which grows a bit austere but never astringent or undernourished. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with such suitable fare as grilled steaks, pork chops, barbecue ribs — or hamburgers. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

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