Syrah


In days gone by, we legions of wine-writers would lament the fact that nobody but us appreciated rosé wines and how wonderful they are and how versatile. We would deplore the notion that everyone in America associated rosé wines with sweetness — and the worst were sweet — when actually the best rosés are quite dry. That’s not the case now, when rosés have grown immensely popular and many wineries all over the world turn out the things as major or side projects, sometimes very seriously. Rosé wines have improved too, being generally made in clean, fresh, crisp mineral-infused fashion. Don’t worry about rosés, friends, they can take care of themselves. I offer today 10 examples of rosé wines made from a variety of grapes in differing styles, most tending toward pleasure and delight, although a couple invite more thoughtful contemplation. They’re not just for Spring and Summer either; several of these models carry enough heft and character to be consumed throughout the year, though you can’t beat them for picnics and backyard fetes in fine weather. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Domaine Saint-Aix AIX Rosé 2014, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France. 12.5% alc. Grenache, cinsault, syrah, counoise. Very pale pink, like the inside of a seashell; ineffable fragrance of dried strawberries and red currants assisted by mild notes of cloves and thyme; brisk acidity blows through it like a sea-breeze on damp limestone; lavender and orange zest in the background, all delicately chiseled and faceted. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Massanois LLC, Scarsdale, N.Y.
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Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. 13% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. Salmon-peach color; peach and strawberry, nicely ripe, slightly dusty terra cotta touch; pomegranate with a notes of cloves; limestone and dried herbs. Tasty and attractive. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Chateau de Jonquieres Cuvee Cersius Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. …% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. A pale pink shimmer; delicate and elegant, fine bones; rose hips and strawberries, notes of raspberries and orange zest; crystalline acidity and gravel-like minerality; quite dry but distinctly though ethereally flavorful. Lovely. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Los Vascos Rosé 2014, Colchagua, Chile. Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 13.5% alc. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah. Light salmon-pink color with a tinge of magenta; a summery burst of pure strawberry and raspberry; warm and spicy, racy acidity; a touch of plums garnished with dusty graphite and a dash of dried thyme; lovely shape and presence. Excellent. About $14, representing Great Value.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. 492 cases. Brilliant copper-salmon color; tomato skin and lime leaf, strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, hints of graphite and sea-salt, briers and brambles; a spicy, savory and fairly robust rose that doesn’t neglect delicacy and elegance in the upper register; lively, supple finish drenched with red fruit (hinting at the tropical) and mineral undertones. A superior rose. Exceptional. About $22.
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Il Poggione Brancato 2014, Rosato di Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alcohol. 100% sangiovese. Vivid smoky topaz hue; strawberries, raspberries and peaches; a dusty, dusky minerality, like paving stones warmed by the sun; hints of cloves and dried thyme; beautiful balance between bright acidity and a moderately lush texture, but altogether spare and elegant. A gorgeous rosé, very much a presence on the palate. Excellent. About $18.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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Chateau Ribaute “Senhal d’Aric” Rosé 2014, Corbiéres. 12.5% alc. Carignane, grenache, syrah, mourvèdre. Smoky topaz hue, slightly darker than onion skin; peach and strawberry, with a touch of raspberry in the background; warm and stony, damp roof tiles drying in sunlight — the whole “South of France” thing; ethereal but with a grounding in loam. Nicely layered for a rose. Excellent. About $NA.
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Stemmari Rosé 2014, Sicily. 12% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Entrancing light ruby color with violet undertones; red fruit all round, with prominent strawberry and raspberry followed by notes of cherries and currants and touches of tart pomegranate and pink grapefruit; sunny, leafy, warm and spicy; refreshing and attractive; finish emphasizes brisk acidity and limestone-like crispness (with a hint of orange candied orange peel). Very Good+. About $10, a Real Bargain.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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Toad Hollow Vineyards “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Vivid salmon-copper hue; notably fresh, clean and crisp; strawberries and rose petals, notes of pert cranberries and pomegranate; hint of orange rind; flinty texture for under-tones of minerality but lovely satiny flow on the palate. Very Good+. About $12, marking Great Value.
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Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. % alc. 100% grenache. 90 cases. The blissful incarnadine of bright ruby-cherry hue; pure raspberry with a suffusion of cherry-berry, melon ball and sour cherry; marked limestone minerality, very dry yet drenched with tart, slightly candied red fruit flavors; almost tannic yet never less than delightful and ethereal in the high notes and gradually unfolding depth unusual in a rose; finish brings in hints of apple, dried cranberry and thyme. Perfection. Exceptional. About $24.
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I’ll admit that choosing the Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, for Wine of the Week is a pretty obvious move. After all, it’s widely-known and available, and it’s fairly priced. Sometimes obvious choices, however, are the only ones to make, at least when they involve quality and consistency. The Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône wines — there are also a red and a white — emerge from the M. Chapoutier stable, where their humble presence does nothing to tarnish the reputation of the company’s thoroughbreds; these are all exceedingly well-made wines, at whatever level. Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, is composed of grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes purchased from throughout this region of France’s southern Rhône Valley. The wine is made completely in stainless steel vats to ensure freshness and immediate appeal. The color is light but radiant salmon-peach; aromas of slightly spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries are wedded to notes of pomegranate and pomander, with a delicate structure of lavender and limestone in the background. This is a rose that melds its delicate nature to a moderately lush texture supported by bright acidity for a thirst-quenching character; on the palate, it adds a touch of peach and tart cranberry to the red berry flavors. It’s an attractive and tasty wine in every aspect. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2015. If your household goes the route of baked ham for Easter luncheon, Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, would be perfect. Also good for such picnic fare as fried chicken, deviled eggs and (for the Anglophiles) cucumber or watercress sandwiches, crusts trimmed, if you please. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. I borrowed this image from my wine-blogger pal Benito.

Michel Chapoutier’s venture from the Rhone Valley west to Roussillon produced the Domaine de Bila-Haut label. The basic reds are rustic, wholesome and tasty, while the upper-tier wines reveal more complexity and refinement. One of the latter, in the current vintage, is the Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. Occultum Lapidem means “hidden stone,” and the words occur in the Medieval Latin alchemical motto: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicina, which translates to “Visit the interior of the earth and by purifying (what you find there) you will discover the hidden stone, which is the true medicine.” That’s a heady requirement for a wine to fulfill, but this one does so handily. The vines average 60 years old and are farmed biodynamically. The wines see no new oak or small barriques but ferment using natural yeasts in cement vats and age half in cement and half in 600-liter demi-muid barrels. This is a blend of 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache and 10 percent carignan.

Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 offers a dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Every element — to be alchemical — you expect from this combination of grapes is present but both intensified and made elegant; the herbal-floral-woodsy qualities are here in notes of sage and rosemary, violets and lavender, sandalwood, allspice and underbrush; fruit falls into the plum, blackberry and blueberry range, with touches ripe and succulent as well as dried and spare, and punctuated by a hint of slightly raspy raspberry; a foundation of leather and loam rounds out the profile, along with hints of iodine, graphite, buoyant but not sharp acidity and mildly dense tannins. All of these factors are melded with a hand so deft that it amounts to artistry. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.

An R. Stack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York. This wine was a sample for review.

Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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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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Brewers that work in the craft or European tradition often issue seasonal or limited release beers, so why should wineries be any different? Here’s an example, and if you’re feeling bewitched, bothered and bewildered — or rather beset by the obligations and responsibilities of late December — turn to Besieged 2013, a limited release red wine from Ravenswood, the well-known zinfandel producer in Sonoma County. Made from an unspecified blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvedre grapes, the wine sports a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of ripe blackberries, red and black currants and blueberries, these notes highlighted by elements of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. This is robust and rustic in all the right ways, with rollicking acidity, lip-smacking tannins and a slightly shaggy texture to support its fleshy and dusty black fruit flavors flecked with hints of ancho chili and cloves. Lots of the power you need to power through big dinners of braised short ribs or lamb shanks, hearty beef stews or just a bacon-cheeseburger. Winemaker is Joel Peterson. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.

This wine was a sample for review.

Chêne Bleu — “blue oak” — occupies 340 acres in a unique microclimate at elevations from 1,600 to 1,800 feet in a saddle of the Dentelles de Montmirail where four southern Rhône appellations — Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Rhône and Séguret — merge. Eighty-seven acres of the estate, called La Verrière for more than six centuries, are cultivated to vineyards; grapes have been grown in the steep, stony area for a thousand years. Xavier and Nicole Rolet purchased the isolated and long neglected property and its ancient ruined priory in 1993 and spent 10 years restoring the dilapidated buildings and shabby vineyards. The first wines were released in 2006. Viticulturalist is Xavier Rolet’s sister Bénédicte Gallucci; winemaker is her husband Jean-Louis Gallucci. The vineyards are managed in a combination of organic and biodynamic methods. The use of new oak barrels is sparing.

The winery eschews the typical appellation system, preferring to use the simpler Vin de Pays du Vaucluse designation or, as that category became a few years ago when the Vin de Pays AOC was dismantled, Vaucluse Indication Geographique Protegée, a step that allows a certain freedom in the choice of grapes they blend. Everything about this stylish, sophisticated winery and its products — and prices — indicates a desire to be considered a world-class estate, and I would not be surprised if such is not the case within the next 10 to 20 years. Greatness is not achievable in winemaking within a vintage or two; it takes time for knowledge and experience to merge perfectly with nature and terroir, though the wines under review today seem well on their way. All five — a rose from 2013, whites from 2012 and 2010 and two reds from 2007, the current releases — display remarkable individuality, personality and character.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif. These wines were samples for review.
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The Chêne Bleu Rose 2013, Ventoux, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 5 percent cinsault, given a very cold fermentation in stainless steel for five weeks. Twenty percent of the wine aged for three months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, mainly barrique-size, that is 228-liters or 60 gallons. As I mentioned on Facebook, if this isn’t the best rose wine I tasted this year, I can’t think immediately of what the better one is. The color is a classic pale onion skin hue; the whole impression is of a delicate, even ethereal construct that nonetheless retains a slightly earthy, loamy, smoky aspect. Aromas of dried strawberries and raspberries are wreathed with notes of tangerine, lime peel and green tea, elements that segue generously into the mouth, where they take on touches of damp and dusty limestone and flint, all energized by brisk acidity. Most memorable is the wine’s sense of tone and presence, its suave and elegance weight on the palate. 13 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $31.
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The Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is named for Aliot de Montvin, an artisan glassblower of noble birth who named the winery’s estate La Verrière — The Glassblowing Workshop — in 1427. The blend is 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Cold fermentation occurred in 600-liter demi-muids — 159-gallon barrels — and the wine aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is bright yellow-gold; the wine is rich and honeyed in every sense, with scents and flavors of spiced pears and peaches, candied quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. Rich and honeyed, yes, but both succulent and bone-dry, vibrant, crystalline, wreathed with notes of cloves and sea-salt, savory spiced and baked pineapple and grapefruit, with a contrasting touch, on the lush finish, of grapefruit bitterness, the entire package permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. 14 percent alcohol. 45 six-pack cases were imported. That’s right readers, 270 bottles for the USA, and we took one to dinner at Erling Jensen restaurant in Memphis, where the wine performed beautifully with an appetizer of crisp sweetbreads with parmesan ravioli, shiitake mushrooms and a veal jus. Drink — carefully stored — through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $85.
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Not quite 100 percent varietal, the Chêne Bleu Viognier 2012, contains 4 percent grenache blanc. The appellation is IGP — Indication Geographique Protegée — Vaucluse, IGP having replaced the old, familiar Vin de Pays. As with the Aliot, mentioned above, this wine was cold-fermented in 600-liter demi-muids and aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is pale gold; the (to my mind) signature elements of the viognier grape quickly emerge with notes of jasmine and gardenia, cloves and mango, bee’s-wax, baked pear and dried thyme. The wine is distinctly savory, its ripe stone-fruit flavors rife with sage, sea-salt and grapefruit rind; back-notes of dried apricot, ginger and quince lend complexity to lip-smacking acidity, scintillating limestone minerality and a dense, almost chewy texture. There’s nothing heavy or opulent here though; all elements are delicately tied and buoyantly expressed. 13.5 percent alcohol. 300 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $41.
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The blend of the Chêne Bleu Abelard 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is 90 percent grenache to 10 percent syrah, the grapes derived from vines that are 45 and more years old. The initial winemaking process involved a three-day cold maceration in wooden vats, 10 days of fermentation and then four weeks of maceration on the skins; The wine spent 11 months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, primarily 60-gallon barriques; it is unfined and unfiltered. My advice is to decant the wine — not a difficult or scary process, just pour it into a clean glass container — and let it air out for an hour or two before drinking. The color is dark ruby; remarkably fresh for a seven-year-old grenache, this offers scents of ripe and slightly roasted blackberries and plums laden with dusty graphite minerality and notes of fruitcake, old leather, lavender and dried rosemary. Lithe and supple in texture, Abelard 2007, unlike its namesake, does not lack balls; the tannic-acid structure is forthright and more evident as time passes and you pay attention to what’s happening in the glass and bottle, but that rather stern foundation does not submerge the wine’s innate balance, integration and elegance. 14.5 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $100.
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The Chêne Bleu Heloise 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is the most complicated and intriguing of this group of wines. The winemaking regimen is the same as for its Abelard 2007 stablemate, if it’s permissible to use such a term for these celebrated lovers — or non-lovers — though this is a blend of 60 percent syrah, 37 percent grenache and 3 percent viognier. The color is dark ruby, and at first this Heloise feels more mature than the companion Abelard — sorry, my dear! — more autumnal in its scents of smoky, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants and undertones of loam, mushrooms and moss. Give the wine a chance, however, to build its character, either in the glass or by decanting an hour or so before consuming; let it expand with elements of fennel and pomegranate, dried rosemary and cedar and their requisite resiny notes (meaning that in the best way); allow it to gain in suppleness and the savory qualities of sage and sea-salt and depth of spicy red and black fruit flavors. And while its feet are definitely planted in the earth, Heloise 07 succeeds in maintaining an elevating, wild note at the top of its range. 15 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $100.
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Vacqueyras became part of the Côtes du Rhône appellation in 1937 and only in 1990 was it allowed into the ranks of regions whose wines could be bottled with their own place name. It lies south of Gigondas — also a former Côtes du Rhône Villages commune, elevated to its own status in 1971 — on the river Ouvèze, a tributary of the Rhône. Production here is about 97 percent red, with grenache serving as principal grape. The Lavau Vacqueyras 2011 is a blend of 50 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvèdre; the wine aged 20 percent in oak barrels, 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, and indeed it’s notable for freshness and a character that derives little from the influence of wood. The color is radiant ruby-purple, violet-tinged; the wine is intensely floral and spicy, with aromas of marinated black currants, blackberries and plums permeated by lavender and potpourri, cloves and sandalwood, with undertones of briers and brambles, smoke and tobacco leaf. It’s a dry, robust wine, certainly not elegant but not rustic, either; fine-grained tannins and vigorous acidity support delicious black fruit flavors deeply imbued with graphite minerality and earthy, loamy elements. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle with beef shanks braised with carrots, potatoes and turnips bathed in a rich winy sauce, and the match was perfect. Now through 2017 to 2020, with similar braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Kinson Wines, New York. This wine was a sample for review. The label image is two years behind the example reviewed here, but it was a very clear picture, so I used it.

No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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Here’s a syrah wine that gets to the nitty-gritty of the grape. The Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2012, derived from four cool climate vineyards in the Central Coast appellation, offers reams of spicy black fruit and whole tomes of briery-brambly-underbrush structure. True to the grape’s youngster mode, the emphasis is on spiced and macerated blackberry-blueberry-plum scents and flavors powerfully inflected with dense, chewy, lithic tannins and evocative notes of mossy earthy, loamy minerality. Call it robust without being rustic and deeply dark (and a little shaggy) without being inchoate, and allow it a few or considerable minutes to open to its more floral, spicy, attractively ripe aspects, and you have a red wine whose chiseled, faceted (yet inherently sensual) character lends itself as accompaniment to braised short ribs or veal shanks, beef stew or medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. The Poser may be a trickster, but there’s no chicanery here. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’20. Winemaker is, of course, Randall Grahm. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review, tasted with a variety of salamis and hard cheeses.

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