Sonoma Valley


What qualifies as a “Big Deal” wine? You could say price, and while that enters in it’s not the determining factor. You could say a “big” wine in terms of power and structure and alcohol content, and those elements could also be important. What really clinches the deal, though, on a Big Deal wine is the producer’s intention that a wine represent the best of the vineyards and the treatment in the winery, a wine that manifests every quality that to the winemaker stands for integrity, purity and intensity, a wine that, in other words, encapsulates the best that a vineyard and a vat of grapes can possibly deliver. Today’s post is the first in a series of perhaps three entries that examine Big Deal red wines from various countries and regions. This post offers 10 wines — mostly cabernet sauvignon-based but also two merlots; two of the wines are from Chile, are, in fact, among the best cabernets that country produces, and eight from California, all Napa Valley except one from Sonoma Valley. They’re not cheap, and they tend to be limited in production, but as flagship wines they chart the dimensions and depths of their regions’ top achievements.

These wines were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________

The Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile, comes from the Vina Quebrada de Macul estate, where winemaker is Jean-Pascal Lacaze. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot, and 3 percent cabernet franc that aged a year in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby-garnet; black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of bell pepper and rosemary, cedar and tobacco, all with a blueberry and sage edge and a strain of penetrating graphite minerality. Dusty, flinty tannins seem precipitous, yet the wine feels quite engaging on the palate, bringing in touches of mint and eucalyptus and a whiff of iodine to the spicy black fruit and blue flavors — currants and cherries, blueberries and plums — all animated by bright acidity. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
________________________________________________________________________________________

With 8 percent cabernet franc with the rest cabernet sauvignon, the Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Puente Alto, Chile, aged 15 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby but shading to a transparent cherry rim; this is fairly closed presently, offering leafy-herbal notes of cedar, rosemary, thyme and black tea over fruitcake and tapenade; black currant and cherry flavors are concentrated and furled, and the wine is dry, mightily tannic and austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’32. Winemaker was Enrique Tirado. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $125.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

The Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2014, Napa Valley, is a massive, inky-purple blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 5 malbec, 2 petit verdot, 1 cabernet franc that aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. Intense and concentrated notes of black currant, blueberry and black raspberry are swathed in hints of bell pepper and green olive, cedar, tobacco and rosemary, with undertones of mocha and lavender. Bastions of dusty, rock-ribbed tannin and oak dictate some cellar time for this tightly coiled wine, say for trying from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $56.
____________________________________________________________________________________
The character of the Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve 2013, Sonoma Valley, seems to partake of the rocky, volcanic soil where the grapes were grown. A blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The whole package feels immense on the palate. The color is black-purple shading to a cherry rim; deep, intense notes of cassis, black cherry and raspberry offer hints of pomegranate, fruitcake and mocha, plums, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Crushing dusty tannins and piercing granitic minerality define a structure that admits touches of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary, laved by creamy oak and energized by bright acidity, all leading to a sleek, chiseled finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Excellent. About $125.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot; information on oak aging was not available. The color is the intense black-purple hue of motor oil; first, you detect notes of graphite, iodine and iron, then hints of concentrated black currants and cherries that unfold elements of smoke and grilled meat, briers and brambles; it’s a very dry wine, dense and chewy in the mouth but without being ponderous or truculent, rather, in fact, despite the size, it’s remarkably deft and light on its feet; around a winsome core of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and crushed violets, a haze of velvety tannins and charcoal-tinged wood wraps itself, tapering to a lithic finish inflected by granitic minerality.
14.6 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 to 2028 or ’30. Excellent. About $65.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, contains 10 percent petit verdot, to the balance of merlot grapes; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 76 percent new barrels. The vineyards on Howell Mountain lie at elevations from 1,700 to 1,820 feet. This is a wine of amazing purity and intensity, from its dark ruby-magenta hue to its piercing elements of graphite and flint minerality, to its penetrating scents and flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and black currant; in its vibrancy, resonance and appeal, this wine can only be described as “exciting,” though the dry, dusty tannins coat the palate; some time in the glass adds complex notes of fruitcake and espresso, truffles and loam and a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the finish fleshes out the wine with a complement of warm spices and cool minerals that reach fathoms deep. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. Exceptional. About $85.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley — the name means “my dream” — is 100 percent cabernet sourced from the Coombsville and Oak Knoll AVAs, aged two years in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, and given another year in the bottle before release. The color is opaque inky-ebony shading to a glowing purple rim; notes of creamy cassis and ripe, fleshy black currants and raspberries open to touches of blueberry and boysenberry, leather and loam, lavender and licorice, with just a hint of well-integrated vanilla; boy, this one is ripe and plush and succulent, almost too gorgeous, really, but saved by bright acidity and a burgeoning sense of dusty, fairly rigorous elements that provide serious background and foundation; I’ll admit that what I admire most about this wine is the sense of vibrant tension between its frankly velvety allure and (from mid-palate back) its increasingly dry, rooty, underbrushy structure; that’s what makes me want to drink a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Rolando Herrera make 875 cases. Excellent. About $75, sold by allocation.
_________________________________________________________________________________________

The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2014, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 20 months — that seems to be the magic number — in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is opaque black-purple; slightly fleshy and meaty aromas of black currants and plums are earthy and rooty, touched with notes of bittersweet chocolate, pomegranate and fruitcake and a piercing graphite element; a few moments in the glass add hints of bell pepper and black olives. Deep-set, dusty tannins and granitic minerality coat the palate, and though the wine slides on the animation by keen acidity, the whole package feels inchoate presently; try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’34. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+, with perhaps Excellent potential. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
If there’s one thing we know about Ravid Ramey, it’s that he’s a prestidigitator of oak, so while the Ramey Wine Cellars Template 2014, Napa Valley, received 18 months in all-new French oak barrels, and I’m thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of new oak,” the wine emerged from that regimen with a texture both sinewy and supple and with depths of walnut shell and briery elements that add density and heft on the palate; there’s no whit of what are to me the distracting taints of new oak: toastiness, coconut, vanilla. The grapes derived from three Napa Valley AVAs: 70 percent Mount Veeder (merlot); 24 percent Oakville (cabernet franc); 6 percent Rutherford (cabernet sauvignon). The color is a dark but warm ruby hue that shades to a lighter purple rim; this is, no mistake, a serious, intense and concentrated majority-merlot wine, trimmed with hints of black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar and rosemary, lavender and sage, all leading to a dry, fairly austere tannic finish. For this one, you need a thick, medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Devotees of merlot (and Napa Valley) will be fascinated to watch the wine’s development. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 90 cases. Excellent. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
A true flagship wine of tremendous presence and significance, the Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; right upfront are elements of penetrating graphite minerality and burnished oak, but after a few minutes in the glass, those aspects become more integrated, making room for an astonishing array of sandalwood and bergamot, lavender and candied violets, with concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit taking on a slightly resinous character of cedar and tobacco, ancho chili and sage. It feels ecclesiastical on the palate, with its cool, dusty, polished old wood nature and its warm incense-like spices, but make no mistake, this wine’s deeply-rooted rock-ribbed tannins could support mountains. More time in the glass brings out notes of poached raspberries, underbrush and dried porcini; the weight on the palate is lithe, supple and momentous, all these qualities adding up to a finish of Olympian austerity and dimension. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2034 to ’38. Winemaker was Cecilia Welch. Production was 250 cases. Exceptional. About $250.
________________________________________________________________________________________

I managed to squeak by Merlot Month — October — by only mentioning the grape once. Whew! I deplore these marketing gimmicks, except, of course, World Champagne Day. That one, I happily go along with. Anyway, we look in this post at three merlot wines from Duckhorn Vineyards, a producer of merlot since 1976, not merely venerable but distinguished, even archetypal, particularly from the famed Three Palms Vineyard. Renée Ary was promoted to winemaker at Duckhorn in 2014, just in time to craft the Three Palms Merlot for that vintage, a stupendous wine that rates Exceptional in the review below. The other merlot wines here are from Gundlach Bundschu (Very Good+), Chelsea Goldschmidt (Excellent and a Great Value) and Mt. Brave (Excellent).

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Decoy is Duckhorn’s label for (relatively) inexpensive wines. The Decoy Merlot 2015, Sonoma County, is a blend of 92 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent violet rim; aromas of red currants, black cherry and blueberry are infused with cloves and graphite and a hint of loam; this is a briery, brambly merlot, not rustic — the texture is sleek and supple — but rooty and woodsy, the whole package kept lively by vibrant acidity; the finish is solid with dusty tannins and a hint of oak. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Duckhorn Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, represents an intense and concentrated rendition of the grape; it’s a blend of 88 percent merlot, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent cabernet franc, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. A totally opaque black-ruby color presages a merlot that’s dark in intensity and effect. This one reveals an oak influence greater than its stablemates also reviewed in this section, a factor that tends to mute the elements of red and black currants and blueberries that circulate below the surface, while adding a spicy and dried herb quality that manages to feel more generous and appealing. Graphite? You bet. Granitic minerality? Uh-huh. Dusty, velvety tannins? Count on ’em. A finish that expands the oak and tannic sway through toasty woody notes? Mais oui. 14.5 percent alcohol. Give this merlot another year to settle down and find better balance, and then consume through 2024. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $54.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
You’ll hear not a quibble or a qualm from me about the Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. This single-vineyard wine set the standard for Napa Valley merlot decades ago and continues to handily best the competition. For 2014, the blend consists of 86 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot; it aged 18 months in French oak, a whopping 75 percent new barrels. As often happens, however, when excellent grapes from a great vineyard meet a rigorous oak regimen, the wine soaked up that oak and turned it into a subtle, supple shaping factor rather than a dominating influence. The color, if that’s the word, is as opaque a black-ruby-purple as could be imagined; the gamut of sensations is here, but sustained, restrained and codified by the demands of immense dusty bastions of granitic-glazed tannins and a tremendous reserve of penetrating graphite minerality. While that description makes the Three Palms Merlot 14 sound as if it’s all about structure now, this wine adds intriguing and interesting detail to its dimension: black and red currants with touches of blueberry and raspberry, all slightly spiced and macerated; mocha and fruitcake, pomegranate and loam; dried porcini and woodsy herbs and flowers. This panoply is animated by bright acidity that plows a furrow through to the austere, mineral and oak infused finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. A monumental achievement, and thank god I have another bottle. Best from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Exceptional. About $98.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Named for winemaker Nick Goldschmidt’s eldest daughter, the Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, is a 100 percent varietal wine that aged 12 months in 25 percent new oak, 60 percent French barrels, 20 percent each American and Hungarian. The color is deep dark black-ruby with a purple rim; aromas of cassis and black currant jam are permeated by notes of cloves and licorice, iodine and graphite, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Chewy, gritty tannins reach fathoms into layers of granitic minerality, all enlivened by vibrant acidity and laved by tasty black and blue fruit flavors. Yeah, it’s sort of like drinking gravel, and I mean that in the best way. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2019 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $19, an Incredible Value for this quality.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If you dote on juicy, jammy red wines — as I do not — this one’s for you. The Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2014, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 89 percent merlot, 5 percent petit verdot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc, thereby accommodating the five classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 17 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is inky, opaque black-purple with a magenta rim; this opens with pure blackberry jam, penetrating aromas of graphite and lavender and a deeply spicy, macerated character that includes blueberries and mulberries. It’s quite dry but ripe, juicy and succulent, very dense and chewy and energized by bright acidity that rips through dusty, velvety tannins; you feel the sweet ripeness of the 14.8 percent alcohol on the finish. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Very Good+. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
None of these examples is a wimpy wine, as some people think of merlot, but the Mt. Brave Merlot 2014, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, pretty much takes the prize for structure. Made from grapes grown between 1,400 and 1,800 feet in elevation — it’s the old Chateau Potelle property — this 100 percent varietal wine aged 19 months in French oak, 93 percent new barrels. The wine displays another inky-black-purple hue with a violet rim; every aspect is intense and concentrated, from the tightly-wound notes of black currants, blueberries and (just a hint) boysenberry to the piercing granitic-and-graphite minerality to its rigorous tannins permeated by iodine, iron and loam. Give it a few minutes in the glass, and it calls up the dusty herbaceous quality of dried thyme and rosemary (with a touch of rosemary’s slightly astringent woodsy nature) that I associate with high-elevation red wines, all of these elements energized and bound by keen acidity; the finish feels chiseled from stone. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 532 cases. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. This is a wine built to age; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34, properly stored. Excellent. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars bk-pinotGap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia bk-chardHighlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________________
The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 donum-estate-grown-carneros-pinot-noir-napa-county-usa-10332775percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
2014_sky_high_304x773
Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________________
13_gaps_pn_product
Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
______________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________
rrvpnproduct-220x680
The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
jackson-estate-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-2014
The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
____________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
lcv-mrpn-281x659-low-e1437508121615-280x652
Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool macphail-logoclimate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
______________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 3-bien-nacido10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months 3-jamesin French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, 3-originfermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.

The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of ws-rrvthe winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River ws-westside-roadValley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Armida, Auteur and others.

Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines bill-600x880instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price III, a co-founder of TPG Capital (image at right), which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He purchased the well-known Gap’s Crown Vineyard in 2013.

Price’s Three Sticks label — named for his old surfing nickname — draws grapes from Durell as well as from other vineyards in Sonoma County and down to Santa Barbara County. These 2013s were made by Don Van Staaveren, who is now winemaker emeritus, having handed his former duties to director of winemaking Bob Cabral (former winemaker at Williams Selyam), associate winemaker Ryan Prichard and assistant winemaker Ashley Holland.

These wines were samples for review.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
13Chardonnay_Durell
I’m sorry to begin this series of reviews on a discouraging note, but the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, received the full in-house treatment, and it shows. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged for 15 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, and undergoing complete malolactic fermentation, the wine came out bold, bright and brassy, dense and lush to the point of being viscous, bursting with candied and caramelized citrus and stone-fruit flavors, stridently spicy, cloying and creamy and lacking the saving grace of minerality. It is my understanding that some people like this overdone, exaggerated character in chardonnay, but not me. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 713 cases. Not recommended. About $50.

Now, on to more pleasant matters.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
12_OriginChardonnay_750-215x700-1-copy
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, fermented 28 days in concrete eggs and aged for 12 months, unusually, completely in stainless steel. No oak for this baby! It did not go through malolactic fermentation, the transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamy lactic (“milk-like’) acid that can occur during barrel aging. The color is medium gold, and the first impression is of a bold, forthright but not flamboyant chardonnay that features quite spicy lemon and peach scents and flavors with notes of ripe and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all permeated by elements of cloves, quince and ginger. It’s a deep, almost rooty chardonnay with structure to burn and a smoky, cigarette paper character that lends depth and dimension. Crystalline acidity cuts through a supple texture and rich stone-fruit flavors enlivened by a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 409 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48. One of my favorite chardonnays produced in California.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
12_OneSkyChardonnay-292x10241
Unlike its stablemate Origin Chardonnay mentioned just above, the Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, ferments in French oak barrels and ages in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, for 15 months; it undergoes 100 percent malolactic. Sometimes that full oak treatment works out fine, thank you very much, but it has to be thoughtful and finely balanced. The color is bright, brassy gold to match the wine’s bright, brassy aromas and flavors. Lots of volume here, lots of structure and dimension, personality and character. Spiced and macerated grapefruit and pineapple have a slightly floral overlay, while the wine coats the mouth with ripe and slightly dusty citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of toffee and lightly candied and caramelized lemons, peaches and grapefruit. While the description of this panoply of sensual delights may sound overwhelming, the wine is actually deftly controlled and engaging, gliding over the palate with confidence and some fancy footwork. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 274 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
2012-RRV-PN_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent rim; transporting and exotic notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb lend highlights to a macerated compote of cranberries and red and black cherries; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, lavender and heather. The texture is supremely satiny, with a luxurious drape on the palate that’s balanced by brisk acidity, slightly dusty tannins and touches of graphite and shale minerality, all at the service of tasty, spicy red and black fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 573 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
2012-Sta-Rita-PN-James_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills, gathers grapes from three familiar vineyards in this region of Santa Barbara County: Burning Creek, La Rinconada and (perhaps the best-known) Sanford & Benedict. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an irresistible limpid medium ruby that shades to transparent at the rim; you could call this wine “cherries, cherries, cherries,” though the heady influence of black and red raspberries and currants is undeniable, along with notes of cloves and sassafras, graphite and lavender; a few moments in the glass pull up hints of pomegranate and rhubarb. It’s a supple, sleek and satiny pinot noir, whose slightly dusty tannins, clean acidity and burnished oak keep it on the sane side of succulence, though let’s admit that it’s really tasty, too. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2013. Excellent. About $60.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
13Pinot_Durell
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, but you don’t feel the oak influence until the finish, where the wood element feels sanded and burnished. The color is transparent medium ruby; aromas of sassafras and cloves, black and red cherries and currants are permeated by hints of loam and an autumnal briery-brambly quality, like some ancient root-like brew; give it a few minutes and it dredges up a mysterious and seductive floral tone, as if dried violets and lilacs had been steeped in oolong tea. It’s all quite extraordinary. In the mouth, well, taut acidity cuts a swath on the palate, leading the way for a texture that feels both delicate and tense, poignant and dynamic; deeply spiced red and black fruit flavors seem suspended in a foundation of lightly dusted tannins and an increasing lithic, graphite character. Altogether a beautiful performance, exquisitely balanced, tensile with power. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 585 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Exceptional. About $65.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
13_GapsCrownPinot
The Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, received the same oak regimen as the Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir ’13 mentioned just above, and for whatever reason, you feel the oak more in this wine, a persistent presence from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, this is pinot noir of fine detail and dimension, offering a light transparent ruby-magenta hue and a meaty, fleshy, roasted bouquet that pulls up fathoms of spice in the juicy, peppery red and black fruit scents. Again, the wine hints at some rooty, loamy tea steeped in bark and mushrooms, with an allusive and tantalizing floral element. Flavors of very ripe, sweet cherries and currants open to touches of cranberry and rhubarb, while a supple lithe texture runs like warm satin across the tongue. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 329 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $65.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
villa-wolf-2012-pinot-grigio-gris-gris-pfalz
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
VR_Label_14_WHITE4_Front
Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
amity-vineyards-pinot-blanc-2013-bottle
Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Building on last week’s Weekend Wines Notes devoted to cabernet sauvignon or cabernet-based wines from California, here are 10 more. Several are absolutely splendid, several more are well-made and enjoyable, a couple I do not wholeheartedly recommend and there are a couple of disappointments, but I’ll get over it. That’s the breaks in BTYH Land. These are brief reviews, ripped, as it were, from the cramped and crabbed penmanship of my notebooks, not intended to go into complete technical, historical or geographical detail but to pique your interest and, where appropriate, whet your palate. These were samples for review, and in the case of a few of them, I’m damned lucky that they were. Enjoy!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,475 cases. With 7% petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim; pure iodine and iron, sanguine and savory; unfolding layers of licorice and lavender, cassis, black cherries and raspberries, cloves and sandalwood; a paradoxical marriage of remarkable intensity and concentration with generosity and expressiveness; smoke, graphite minerality; acidity plows a furrow through bastions of sleek dense tannins; brings up notes of bitter chocolate, loam and shale; a long finish packed with spice and fruit compote; pinpoint balance and integration. Now through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $70.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) 76.2% cabernet sauvignon, 14.8% merlot, 4.9% malbec, 2.8% petit verdot, 1.3% cabernet franc. Lovely transparent ruby color; bouquet of graphite, lavender and violets, black currants and red cherries, hints of cedar, black olive and plum; mild tannins but very dry, bitter chocolate and exotic spice at the core, fairly austere finish, ending on a woody note; not badly-made but not compelling. Now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% petit verdot, 3% merlot. Dark ruby purple color; a cool and confident cabernet, very well-balanced and harmonious, every element under control; needs a bit of wildness and recklessness to be really interesting, something to ruffle the feathers and wake it up. Now through 2018 to ’20 Very Good+. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Flora Spring Trilogy 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% each merlot and petit verdot, 5% malbec. Dark ruby color; very intense and concentrated, very dry, highly structured, defined by stalwart grainy tannins and lots of dusty oak; the finish is austere, densely packed with wood and graphite elements; doubtless a well-made wine but so typically Napa Valley that you want to give it a shake. Try from 2016 through 2025. Very Good+. About $75.
The label image is one vintage behind.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. With 2% petit verdot. The signature on the label is that of winemaker Gina Gallo. Deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; ripe, fleshy, pungent; cassis and plums, notes of black raspberry, lively with cloves and allspice, lots of graphite minerality; pinpoint tannins and acidity bolster moderately dense and pliable tannins; really lovely depth and breadth; gratifying personality and character. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Halter Ranch ancestor Estate reserve 2010, Paso Robles. 15.5% alc. 900 cases. 39% cabernet sauvignon, 35% petit verdot, 26% malbec. I’m generally a fan of Halter Ranch’s products, but this wine is a disappointment. Dark ruby tinged with magenta; very intense, very concentrated, quite powerful; needs a moderating component and some coherence; lots of toasty oak, slightly over-ripe black and blue fruit flavors and sweet with alcohol; not much pleasure here, perhaps a few years aging will bring out the nuances. Very Good. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hooker Rugby Club “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. (Lawler Family Winery) 15.4% alc. 203 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; a real mouthful of lavender and violets, graphite, smoke and bitter chocolate; black currants, raspberries and plums with a touch of blueberry; quite rich, robust and plush, and you feel the oak too much from mid-palate through the finish, with that almost gritty charcoal-like edge; the 15.4% alcohol creates some heat on the finish too. If that’s yer cuppa tea, go ahead. About $32.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% malbec. (From the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard, the sparkling wine producers.) Profound in every sense. Deepest of ruby-purple hues with a violet rim; earth, loam, black tea, cocoa powder; intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; rich, expansive, enveloping yet shapely and supple, a monument with elegantly rounded edges chiseled by keen acidity; dusty, rock-ribbed tannins that manage to provide foundation and framework without being ponderous or austere. A real beauty. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 14.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 189 six-pack cases. Dark ruby color but not opaque or extracted; spiced and macerated black currants and plums; graphite, leather, loam; lavender and licorice, oolong tea and sandalwood; dense and almost chewy, solidly built, spicy oak in the background, yet not heavy or obvious; notes of winsome wildness, mint, black pepper, rose petal; long steady finish. Both profound and delightful. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $65.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 143 six-pack cases. Definitely darker ruby (than the preceding SKW cabernet) with a mulberry edge; piercing minerality of graphite and ferrous elements; firm, powerful, lithe and muscular; tremendous presence and vivacity; black currants and plums, bitter chocolate, cedar, black olive and dried thyme; ascendent oak spreads its dusty influence, grainy tannins penetrate deep; a finish densely packed, sleek and supple. Try from 2016 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When Constellation purchased Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001, the consensus was: “Uh-oh.” No way, we thought, will the giant alcoholic beverage company allow Joel Peterson to make those single-vineyard old vine zinfandels with the same individuality, if at all. These fears proved groundless, as a decade shows. Peterson founded the winery in 1976, and it’s a measure of his dedication — and the slim profits that the winery generated — that he kept his day-job as head of a medical laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend wines enabled him to devote what must be his every waking moment to making wine and running the facility. Under review today are three samples of Peterson’s genuinely old vine products, as in each vineyard — Old Hill Ranch, Barricia, Belloni — contains at least part of the original vines planted more than a century ago. What I like about these zinfandels is that they deliberately eschew the blockbuster qualities of high alcohol, deep extraction and super-ripe fruit; don’t look for anything plummy and jammy in these wines, no cloying boysenberry flavors or alcoholic heat. Peterson’s hallmarks are purity and balance in terms of structure and fruit. He succeeds admirably.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
When one steps into Old Hill Ranch, in what is now the Sonoma Valley AVA, there’s a feeling of being on sacred ground. The vineyard was planted around 1880 by William McPherson Hill, who established his farm in 1851. The property passed through his descendents until Otto and Anne Teller acquired it in 1981 and decided not to uproot the historic but abandoned overgrown vines but to restore the vineyard to productivity, working with Joel Peterson, who released Ravenswood’s first Old Hill zinfandel in 1983. The vineyard contains more than 30 varieties of red grapes, the majority zinfandel but also a remarkable array of the well-known and the obscure. It is now farmed by Otto Teller’s stepson, Will Bucklin, who has his own label.

The Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley — 75 percent zinfandel, 25 percent mixed black grapes — offers a medium ruby-magenta color and pungent aromas of fresh raspberries and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite, with hints of dried thyme and cedar, all highlighted by some clear wild berry notes. The wine is quite dry but balanced and integrated, its moderately dense but supple tannins and lithe acidity providing support for black and blue fruit flavors inflected by pepper, cloves and a touch of mint. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, but the influence stays firmly in the background. The finish is clean and well-knit, packed with spice and graphite minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Barricia looks Italian or Spanish, but it’s a combination of the first names of Barbara Oleson and Patricia Herron, who bought the historic property in 1978. How historic is it? In the 1840s, the land belonged to Sonoma pioneer General Mariano Vallejo, who traded it to his children’s music teacher for piano lessons. Of the 10 acres of zinfandel vines on the estate, six were planted before 1892, the rest in 1995; two acres of petite sirah were planted in 1998. The vineyard now belongs to Mel and Angela Dagovitz.

The Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent petite sirah grapes. Fermentation is by indigenous yeasts; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is intense medium ruby; the wine is bright, clean, fresh and spicy, roiling with notes of macerated raspberries, plums and mulberries wreathed with hints of white pepper, leather and loam. In the mouth, this is, characteristically, muscular and sinewy but light on its feet and enlivened by brisk acidity; still, the tannins build incrementally, chiseled and faceted, along with granitic minerality, leading to a very dry, almost austere finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The property that became Belloni Vineyard was planted around 1900 and acquired by Italian immigrant Ricardo Belloni in 1971. Joel Peterson started making zinfandel from the vineyard after meeting Belloni in 1991. The owner died in 1997, but his widow, his children and grandchildren keep the legacy going. This is a flat, sea-level site in a cool foggy Russian River Valley climate.

The Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent mixed black grapes — Peterson’s magic numbers; the wine is fermented on native yeasts and aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is glowing medium ruby; the vivid bouquet offers spiced and macerated black and red cherries and raspberries with notes of sandalwood and fruitcake, licorice and lavender, staying just on this side of the exotic. As with its sister wine from Barricia, the Belloni ’11 gradually layers its sleek tannins, its granitic core and its seething acidity in seamless balance, while the oak component provides supple framework and foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. From 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next Page »