Sonoma County


I don’t typically use a wine at this price as the Wine of the Week, but the Reata Pinot Noir 2011, Napa and Sonoma counties, is so well-made and authentically pinot noirish that I couldn’t resist. I will not ask forgiveness and indeed would welcome expressions of gratitude from fans of the grape in its mode of utmost purity and intensity. The blend of this two-county wine is 64 percent of the rarely-seen Napa County designation (an AVA slightly larger than and encompassing Napa Valley) and 36 percent Sonoma County. The grapes ferment in stainless steel tanks, and the wine matures for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70 percent neutral, 30 percent new. The color is medium ruby with lovely transparency and limpidness; aromas of plums, red currants and cranberries are permeated with notes of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb and a hint of earthy briers and brambles. The wine is just so fresh and clean and pure, yet it displays beautiful depths of graphite and — a paradox — delicately granitic minerality and an almost lacy network of minutely dusty and elegantly plush, supple tannins with bright and vibrant acidity for structure and quenching liveliness. Red and blue fruit flavors are imbued with fruitcake-type spice and dried fruit, all these elements leading to a tea-like lithe, limber. lithic finish. Yeah, I really liked this pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, though often found around the country for $20 to $25.

A sample for review.

Of the chardonnays from California that I tasted and reviewed recently — most in my Weekend Wine Notes yesterday — the Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is the one I recommend buying by the case. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is a delicate weaving of lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, quince and ginger, with hints of tangerine, chalk and talc. The Crossbarn Chardonnay ’12, Sonoma Coast, offers gratifying measures of resonance and vibrancy, with lip-smacking acidity whose crispness and liveliness support a lovely, moderately lush texture. The wine is quite lemony in flavor, highlighted by notes of cloves, pineapple and grapefruit and permeated by limestone and flint minerality. The wine was made 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French oak barrels, so the oak influence is subtle and supple. Lots of personality and presence for the price. Winemaker was Molly Bohlman. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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The “family” part of the winery name is true. Founder Joe Donelan, originally from Connecticut, is accompanied in the business by his sons Cushing, the winery’s director of marketing, and Tripp, director of sales. This is the former Pax Wine Cellars; the name was changed in 2009. The winery is in Santa Rosa, owns no vineyards and makes its wines from grapes purchased primarily from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma County. Though the emphasis at Donelan is on syrah and Rhone Valley grape varieties, the samples I received for review include only one of those, the “Venus” 2011, a roussanne-viognier blend; the others are the Nancie Chardonnay 2011 and the Two Brothers Pinot Noir 2011. Winemaker is Joe Nielsen; consulting winemaker is Tyler Thomas. These wines are limited in production, so mark them Worth a Search.
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It rather gives the game away to say that the Donelan “Venus” 2011, Sonoma County, is exactly what I want a white Rhone-style roussanne-viognier blend to be. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach, pear and yellow plum are wreathed with deeper notes of straw, rosemary, salt-marsh and dried apricots. This wine saw no new oak, but was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There’s some lushness in the texture, and the pear and stone-fruit flavors are rich and slightly honeyed, but the overall effect is of spareness, reticence and finesse and of vitality born of scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. Production was 165 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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The Donelan “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma County, offers a different aura than the preceding wine; this is boldly ripe and rich, fully fledged with spice and floral notes, yet here too the richness is firmly tempered by brisk acidity and by a wet rock and limestone character that expands from the finish up through the entirety of the wine. Classic pineapple-grapefruit scents are highlighted by hints of tangerine, lime peel, orange blossom and cloves; pretty heady stuff, but in the mouth a core of dynamic acidity and gun-flint and limestone minerality tethers the juicy fruit-and-spice complexity to an earthy anchor. As with the previous wine, no new oak was used for the “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011; only neutral puncheons (large casks) and barriques (small barrels). 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 tor ’17, well-stored. Production was 825 cases. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Donelan “Two Brothers” Pinot Noir 2011, North Coast, derives from two vineyards in Sonoma County and one farther north in Mendocino. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge, the hue that I think of as “Burgundy.” This opens with the impression of lovely pinot noir purity and intensity; the bouquet holds notes of macerated and slightly stewed plums, red currants and cherries with undertones of rhubarb, cloves, white pepper and sandalwood and an intriguing smoky, mossy, earthy element. The texture is divinely smooth and satiny, a fitting repose for red and blue fruit flavors given depth by touches of fruitcake-like dried spices and fruit and a slightly foresty layer of underbrush and dried porcini. The wine is dry and gets drier as the moments pass, picking up some austerity and woodiness on the finish; give it a year or two to mellow and drink through 2019 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.4 percent. 900 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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The sparkling wines of Mirabelle, second label of Schramsberg, have shown steady improvement and seriousness of intent over the years. The Mirabelle sparklers are always non-vintage, whereas the products under the Schramsberg label always have a vintage date. Today’s particular wine is the Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast, a blend of 55 percent chardonnay grapes and 45 percent pinot noir. Eighty-six percent of the wine is from the 2010 vintage, the rest made up of aged reserve lots. The designation is North Coast because the grapes derive from multiple counties north of San Francisco, mainly Napa and Sonoma but also Mendocino and Marin. Made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, Mirabelle Brut Rosé offers a beautiful light copper-salmon color and a teeming upward stream of tiny bubbles; aromas of fresh and dried strawberries and raspberries, lime peel and guava open to notes of limestone and chalk and hints of quince and ginger. This sparkling wine is quite dry, very crisp and lively, not only with effervescent but crystalline acidity, though the texture is almost creamy; spicy yet subdued red berry and stone-fruit flavors are heightened by the burgeoning limestone and flint minerality, while the finish is long, elegant and steely. 12.8 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 .
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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