Sonoma Valley


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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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.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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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.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
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Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
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Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
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Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
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Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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This post started as the Weekend Wines Notes on Friday, but if you follow me on Facebook, you know that this was a weekend of dog rescuing and transporting, so I was not able to finish until this morning. So be it.

First, allow me to mention that zinfandel is not “the all-American grape” that some writers still inexplicably assert, mainly in popular magazines. It’s a European vinifera grape just like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and so on. Second, while capable of being made into fine wine indeed, zinfandel has the problem of being too versatile, that is, it can be made into a confusing array of styles so that consumers don’t know what they’re getting when they choose a bottle at their favorite retail store, but that’s why knowledgeable sales clerks exist, n’est-ce pas? In today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I look at products from three producers that focus on zinfandel; in the case of two of these, McCay Cellars and Wine Guerrilla, the wines are designated single-vineyard. One style of zinfandel is full-throttle, super-ripe, dense and alcoholic; that’s the style favored by Wine Guerrilla winemaker Bruce Patch. It’s not my favorite manner — I think it distorts the grape’s character and results in undrinkable wines — and that stance is reflected in the reviews that follow. I liked three of Patch’s 2009s better, and I admire him for working with these historic old vine field blend vineyards; here are the more positive reviews. These wines were review samples. Unfortunately, label images for McCay’s recent releases don’t exist; at least I couldn’t find any.
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McCay Cellars Equity Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 288 cases. Dark ruby color, tinge of mulberry; intense and concentrated, graphite and briers, black currants, blackberries and plums, licorice and lavender; sleek and polished but dry; vibrant acidity plows through the center; loads of dusty tannins and oak; notes of cloves, sandalwood, fruitcake, hint of pomegranate; dense and chewy, a real mouthful of wine that flows beautifully on the palate. Try from 2015 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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McCay Cellars TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 278 cases. Slightly darker and more intense ruby color than the previous example; iodine, iron and graphite; fruit and floral elements both fresh and dried; black currants, blackberry and blueberry; potpourri, bitter chocolate, heaps of briers, brambles and underbrush; very intense and concentrated, even brooding, but quite vibrant and resonant; finish is packed with granitic minerality, dusty tannins and dried spices. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.6% alc. 449 cases. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta; intense minerality yet warm and spicy; very dry dusty grainy tannins and oak sanding the circumference, but zinging acidity adds liveliness; a dense, deeply spicy and dusty graphite propelled zinfandel that needs a year or two; presently a bit inexpressive. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $28.
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McCay Cellars Contention Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.9% alc. 223 cases. Dense dark ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black raspberries and plums, rather fleshy and meaty; iron and iodine; a very intense and savory core of potpourri, lavender, fruitcake, bitter chocolate and graphite; a huge mouthful of wine with austere tannin-oak-and-mineral-infused finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $64.
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Renwood Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. 86% zinfandel, 10% primitivo, 2% roussanne, 1% each mourvedre and souzao. Bright medium ruby color; black currants, plums and blueberries with a touch of red raspberry; briers and brambles, intriguing hints of mocha and cherry cola; shapely and moderate tannins. A tasty zinfandel. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, Amador County. 15.5% alc. 92.5% zinfandel, 5.8% syrah, 1.7% souzao. Medium ruby color; spiced , macerated, roasted and fleshy; bristly black and red currants, a rasp of raspberries and rose hips; fresh and clean but with the dried spice, espresso bean and fruitcake note of old vines; finish is fairly austere and somewhat unbalanced with a touch of alcoholic heat and sweetness. Drink through 2015. Very Good. About $20.
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Renwood Fiddletown Zinfandel 2011, Amador County. 14.8% alc. 99% zinfandel, 1% mission grapes. Lovely medium ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; red and black currants, red and black cherries, notes of blueberries; briers and underbrush elements, violets and tobacco leaf, cloves, mocha and a beguiling hint of pomegranate; very satisfying balance and integration; dusty graphite and tannins, a dry but not austere or forbidding red wine, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Wine Guerrilla McClain Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 80% zinfandel, 20% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; very ripe boysenberry, blueberry, blackberry, with iodine, mint and graphite, smoke, lavender, violets; juicy blue and black fruit flavors permeated by dusty granitic minerality and tart acidity, all set in a structure of powerful tannins; a not pleasing sensation of a dry red wine that feels sweet; will a few years tone down the effect? Good. About $35.
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Wine Guerrilla Clopton Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, palomino and alicante bouschet. Dark ruby-purple color; blackberry, blueberry tart, super-ripe sweet fruit packed with cloves, allspice, sandalwood and hints of rhubarb and beetroot and loam; big, dense and powerful, relentlessly dry yet almost cloying with sweet ripeness so the balance feels off; will a few years bring coherence? Good. About $40.
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Wine Guerrilla Carreras Ranch Block 2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, Napa gamay, alicante bouschet, chasselas dore. Dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; deep, rooty, loamy and earthy; smoke, leather, briers and brambles; intense and concentrated, very dry, dusty and minerally; dense, almost viscous, has the dignity and power of old vines — these planted in 1916 — as well as the intensity and concentration. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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WG Sonoma Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma Valley. 15% alc. 200 cases. Very dark ruby-purple color; smoke, plums and blueberry tart; heady notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender; deeply earthy and mineral-laden in the graphite and granite range; stout, dusty leathery tannins; feel some heat on the finish; next morning, quite dense, austere, almost astringent oak and tannin influence; will the fruit survive? Not recommended except for those who want to take a chance. About $35.
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Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. 120 cases. 85% zinfandel, 10% petite sirah, the rest grenache and carignane. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim shading to garnet; very ripe, stridently spicy; boysenberry and blackberry tart; sweetish alcohol; both super-ripe and austere; uncoordinated and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $30.
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… and if anything really bad happens today, don’t blame it on me or this post. Nine from California, two each from Chile and Argentina.
These brief notices encompass a couple of pleasant, interesting and inexpensive cabernets that you can enjoy tonight as well as a diverse range of more serious and complex efforts intended for consuming anywhere from now or 2014 through the early 2020s. As usual with these Weekend Wine Sips, the only technical information I include is information about the varietal composition of the wines; anything else in the nature of history, geography and personnel is omitted for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ruby-purple color with a magenta cast; seductive bouquet of ripe black currants and raspberries, lavender and lilac, leather and loam, shale and graphite; gritty, slightly bitter tannins, vibrant acidity, firm yet supple body and structure, very tasty, dusty, almost succulent black fruit flavors but with a serious edge of tannin and foresty elements in the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 5% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. A polished cabernet that radiates individuality, authenticity and character. Deep ruby-purple color; beguiling aromas of blueberry and mulberry, pomegranate and mint, with touches of toasted cumin and ancho chili and a host of underlying mineral elements like graphite and flint; give it a few moments and traces of lavender, violets and licorice emerge; then a powerful expression of dusty tannins, granitic minerality, hefty tone and presence on the palate, yet sleek, lithe, panther-like, permeated by slightly spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; a long spice- and mineral-packed finish. Perhaps Chile’s best cabernet. Exceptional. About $60.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage 2008, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 33%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 17%, malbec 14%, petit verdot 6%. Dark ruby color; ripe, warm and spicy; mint and mocha, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry tart; bright acidity, very dry, swingeing tannins and a finish piled with forest floor, briers and brambles for a trace of austerity. Try 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Endeavor 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 91% cabernet sauvigon, 7% petit verdot, 2% merlot. 490 cases. Dark ruby color; dense, intense and concentrated yet ravishing, like graphite-lined velvet and ripe port-infused black currant jam; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins, toasty oak and vanilla, quite spicy, and the oak feels a little crunchy around the circumference; dry and austere; needs a few years to come together. Try 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent (potential). About $65.
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Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. From Huneeus Vintners, the makers of Quintessa. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 3% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. Dark but radiant ruby-purple; pure bitter chocolate, mocha, lavender and graphite sifted with fervent, close to vehement notes of black currants, raspberries and plums; dense, chewy, almost powdery texture, grainy tannins plow furrows and acid cuts a swath, adding to a powerful structure, yet nothing here is overdone, and the ultimate impression is of innate poise, a sense of deliberation and dignity. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’24 — or tonight with a steak. Excellent. About $55.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 550 cases. Dark ruby color; very dry yet vibrant, resonant; you feel the new oak unfurling to a spine of warm spice; graphite, iodine and mint; scintillating purity and intensity of black fruit and vivid minerality; tremendous heft and bearing and imperturbability; cloves, white pepper, leather; incredibly dense and chewy with plush and dusty tannins; nothing of Bordeaux-like elegance here but asserts its own Californian character of immediate ripe fledgling appeal balanced with monumental dimension. Try from now or 2014 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $100.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 77% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; one of the most structured and concentrated Jordan Cabs I have tasted; nose of leather, walnut shell and wheatmeal notched with hints of cedar, tobacco and black olive, black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of violets and potpourri; dense and chewy but sleek, lithe, supple, a little chiseled in its clean, faceted fashion; plenty of dusty, charcoal-laced tannins but while the finish is spare and reticent, it’s not austere. Begs for a medium rare ribeye steak or, no, even better, rack of lamb. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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The Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fewer than 125 cases. Dark ruby color, opaque center; a high wild note of black cherry and blueberry draws you in, and you stay for the mint and iodine, the penetrating granitic, slate-like minerality, the intimate hints of black licorice and violets, black currants and raspberries and intriguing touch of blueberry preserves; all presented in a remarkably spare, dusty, elegant yet statuesque structure that does not overemphasize any element; a highly individual and thoughtful interpretation of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.
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Lawer Family Wines Three Coins Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 89 cases. Dark ruby color; leather and violets, black licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, black currants and blueberries, very ripe and spicy, touch of fruitcake, really tending toward an over-ripe zinfandel character; sweet alcohol dominates; very dry, dense and chewy, increasingly austere and awkward from mid-palate back through the finish; increasingly unbalanced by the alcohol, strident spice and over-sweet ripeness; ultimately incoherent. Not recommended. About $42.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; a darkly fruity spicy cabernet, dense, chewy, dusty; typical ripe and slightly fleshy black currant and raspberry fruit; good acidity and fairly stalwart but functional tannins; solid, well-made, unexciting. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good. About $18.
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Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color, almost opaque; graphite-and-shale-like mineral qualities dominate but lovely, pinpoint balance from start to finish; furled yet vigorous black currant, cherry and plum scents and flavors slathered with lavender and licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-flecked tannins increase in scale as the moments pass, leading to a dense, vibrant finish; a polished, sleek and personality-packed cabernet. Try from 2014 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $28.
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Peñalolén Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and merlot. Deep, rich ruby color; very dark and evocative cabernet, tobacco, cedar, black olive; dark chocolate-covered black currants and raspberries, touch of plum; dense and dusty graphite-tinged tannins; rustic, exuberant, spicy, an engaging personality. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $19.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Blend N/A. Dark ruby color; fleshy, beefy, beetroot and graphite, mint and iodine, cedar, smoky black currants and plums; firm velvety tannins that coat the mouth, dense, dusty and chewy; bright ripe black fruit flavors; loads of personality. Fire up the grill and throw on some beef, lamb, pork and goat, as they do in Argentina. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
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Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
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Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
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Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
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Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
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Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
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Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
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Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
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Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
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Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.
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Yesterday was World Cabernet Day, but I extend the concept to today’s “Friday Wine Sips” because I have a boodle of cabernet sauvignon wines or blends on hand. Here are 15, from 2009, ’8 and ’07, mainly from Napa Valley and Sonoma County but also an example from Lake County and two from Lodi. In fact, this column serves as a transition or segue to September, which for some reason has been designated California Wine Month. A couple of these wines I am lukewarm about — there’s even a “Not Recommended” — but 10 receive an Excellent rating. I haven’t done a “Friday Wine Sips” in two weeks, so I’ll remind My Readers that these brief, incisive, insightful reviews eschew technical data and historical, personal and geographical narrative for the sake of getting to the essence. All of these wines were samples for review.

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Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Lodi. 15.3% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 4% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. Unpalatably sweet, hot and jammy, but alternately brusquely tannic and austere; a zinfandel lollipop gone to the dark side. What were they thinking? Not recommended. About $25.
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Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lodi. 14.9% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 2% cabernet franc. This is better or at least a bit more under control; very dark ruby-purple hue; yes, still big, rich, fruity and jammy — European palates avoid! — very spicy, very brambly and briery, brilliantly-etched black fruit with a blueberry tart edge, a velvet fist in a velvet glove but still more granite and flint minerality and bright acidity for backbone than the rendition of 2008. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good. About $25.
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Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 9% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; makes a fetish of its deep flint-graphite, iodine-iron character that gradually yields to notes of cassis and blueberry and plums laved with smoke, lavender and licorice; a few minutes bring in potpourri, mulberry and a touch of pomegranate, all ensconced in a dense, chewy texture freighted with finely-milled tannins. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.3% alc. With 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, even as it conceals a truckload of coiled energy. Definitely needs a steak. Excellent. About $30.
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Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 15.5% alc.(!) Pure and intense, a bright arrow of granitic minerality, very tight, very concentrated, very ripe and spicy; does it really need so much toasty, vanilla-laced oak? I don’t think so. 250 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 79%, merlot 14%, petit verdot 5%, malbec 1%. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby; lovely bouquet, cedar, lead pencil, tobacco, black currants and cherries with a touch of plum; but tough as nails; here’s the iron fist, where’s the velvet glove? very spicy, a little tart, finish is boldly tannic and austere. Try maybe from 2014 through 2017 to 2020. Very Good+. About $40.
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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Almost opaque dark ruby color; briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and leather; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit, dredged with dried spice and potpourri; buttresses of fine-meshed tannins and granitic minerality; moody and brooding, a note of tar and sweet oak; feel the power waiting to be unleashed. Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Here’s a merlot wine that actually tastes like something distinctive and not a cadet version of cabernet sauvignon. (I realize that today is Wednesday, but we had internet problems after a storm Monday and I’m just back to the keyboard. I mean, Wednesday is a day of the week. And now LL and I are on vacation.)

The Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2009, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 80 percent merlot, 14 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent each petit verdot and malbec; it aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent new. The upshot? A deep but radiant ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants and plums, with touches of blueberries and mulberries and back-notes of thyme and black olive, oolong tea and licorice and an even more exotic hint of sandalwood. The wine is smooth and mellow, packed with ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors with a hint of something deep and unfettered that lends a sense of exhilaration. Dense and polished tannins provide well-mannered support, as do vibrant acidity and an element of graphite-like minerality. The finish is long, lively and flavorful. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

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