Syrah


Imagine being so famous that people can use your first name and everyone knows who they’re talking about. As in: “Fredric just posted to his blog,” and billions of earthlings go “oooohhh” and “aaaahhh.” Anyway, as multitudes are aware, the Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, in partnership with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, last year released the first wine from their Chateau Miraval property, a Côtes de Provence Rosé 2012. I didn’t try that wine but we just drank the second release, the Chateau Miraval 2013, and it’s a honey. Every aspect of this product is thoughtfully and exquisitely executed, including the elegant bottle that resembles an old-style Champagne bottle, and the understated, even reticent label. The wine is a blend of the red cinsault, grenache and syrah grapes with a dollop of the white rolle, the Italian vermentino. The entrancing color is the palest copper-onion skin-topaz with the faintest pink flush; aromas of fresh strawberries and dried red currants are subtly woven with notes of dried thyme, flint and limestone, with a hint of tangerine. Though in its nuanced red fruit flavors this rose is slightly savory and saline, it embodies the utmost in delicate and ineffable character, while retaining the vibrancy of definitive acidity and the vitality of a scintillating mineral element. Compulsively drinkable, and without the taint of amateurish that often comes with “celebrity” wines; this is the real thing. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $30.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. Sample provided by a local retailer.

William Allen moved into commercial production in 2010, after years as a “garagiste” and writer. This doesn’t mean that he makes a lot of wine. Two Shepherds as a one-man operation, truly a labor of love, so the wines are made in minute quantities; sorry about that. These are Rhone-style wines that see no new oak, are foot-stomped, use natural yeasts and generally exhibit remarkable purity and intensity. I love them; there, I said it.

These wines were samples for review. The labels used for illustration below are one vintage behind.

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The Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2012, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, is a blend of four white grapes typical of the southern Rhone Valley: 50 percent roussanne, 35 percent marsanne, 10 viognier and 5 grenache blanc; the wine ages an average of six months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is pale gold; aromas of quince and ginger, peach and spiced pear open to notes of bee’s-wax and camellia, sea-shell and limestone. The wine is rich, focused, enveloped in a structure of moderate and very attractive weight and body, clean, bright and crisp yet almost talc-like in texture. Quite dry, it offers a smoky, earthy and autumnal essence of peaches, nectarines and yellow plums, cloves and allspice and a backwash of limestone-and-flint minerality and salinity. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or roasted salmon or tuna, grilled mussels, trout with lemon-caper butter or shrimp salad. Production was 105 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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This time not Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley but Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, for the Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc 2012; at first I thought that was a misprint. Santa Ynez, approved as an AVA in 1983, is in southeast Santa Barbara County and bears within it the sub-appellation of Santa Rita Hills. This grenache blanc offers an aura of greenness, by which I do not mean green as in grapes picked before they’re ripe, but green as in leafy green, as in sea-green, as in greengage, as in green apple. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are spare and ethereal, wreathed with tangerine and grapefruit and backed by shell-like minerals and a sort of sea-breeze salinity. A moderately soft and satiny texture is energized by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, while the finish brings in hints of green tea, orange rind and cloves. Eighty percent of the wine aged seven months in neutral oak, the other 20 percent six months in stainless steel. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with Thai salads, trout quenelles, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts trimmed, of course). Production was 125 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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William Allen made one barrel of the Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, amounting to 25 cases, so while it’s a brilliant wine, the chances of any of My Readers getting their hands on a bottle are about as remote as Beyonce singing La Boheme in Bethlehem. The grape is trousseau gris, not widely found even in its home of the Jura mountains where France nestles against Switzerland. Being “gris,” the grape’s faintly rosy onion skin or grayish color yields a radiant coral hue when the wine is fermented on the skins; in other words, it’s a “white” wine made as if it were a red wine. The seductive and unusual bouquet delivers hints of orange zest and strawberries, melon and lemon balm with intriguing notes of parsley and celery and a touch of flint. It’s quite dry but juicy with ripe peach, red currant and rhubarb flavors deepened by the slight astringency of peach skin and almond skin, smoke, briers and brambles, all wrapped in clean acidity and a note of graphite minerality. The whole package is characterized by remarkable presence, resonance, transparency and vividness. The wine aged eight months in neutral oak barrels, four months on the lees. 13.8 percent alcohol. We drank this versatile bottle over several nights with a variety of food. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $25.
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So, here’s the red wine of this foursome. The Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvèdre 2011 is a cross-county blend of 55 percent syrah from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, and 45 percent mourvèdre from El Dorado. It aged 10 months in neutral French oak, the barrels four years old or older, four of those months on the lees. The color is a pronounced dark ruby with a magenta robe; fresh aromas of ripe red and black currants and plums are intensified by cloves, graphite, a hint of new leather and depths of briery, clean mossy earthiness. The wine is fine-grained and supple, riven by incisive acidity, decisively dry, dense and chewy, almost feral in its purity and individuality; despite projecting a vibrant and somewhat unbridled red and black fruit character and texture, the wine feels light on its feet, with nothing ponderous or opulent. 13.8 percent alcohol. Product was 40 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’20 with grilled leg of lamb, a hot and crusty medium rare rib-eye steak just plunked from the coals, a gamy veal chop. Excellent. About $38.
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Tin Barn Vineyards produces small amounts of compelling single-vineyard wines, especially in the range of their syrahs. Winemaker and co-owner is Mike Lancaster. The winery is named for a twisting road that runs along the Sonoma coastline, though physically it occupies a metal building in an industrial park; nothing fancy, so the focus is on the wines. Tin Barn wines are available in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia and of course by direct shipment if your state allows. They’re definitely Worth a Search.

These wines were samples for review.
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The not yet released Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast, displays a deep ruby-purple color and intoxicating aromas of lavender and lilac, black licorice and potpourri, leather, spiced and macerated blueberries, black currants and plums, with undertones of smoke, graphite and loam; pretty heady stuff, indeed. In the mouth, the wine is clean, intense and penetrating, with a chewy, supple texture, spare, moderately dusty tannins, and some reticence about the black fruit flavors. It’s packed with earth and graphite, briers and brambles, and while the bouquet expands and becomes more evocative and seductive, the structure gets more rigorous. 14.4 percent alcohol. Best from 2015 through 2020 to ’23. Excellent expression of the grape. Production and price N/A.
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The winery’s current release is the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2010, Sonoma Coast, a wine of lovely heft, tone and balance. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of magenta; notes of spicy and slightly fleshy plums, black currants and mulberries are wrapped in potpourri, lavender and leather; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of violets and rose petals, sandalwood and cloves, briers and loam. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, a regimen that lends subtle spice and a mildly dense texture. Brisk acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while red and black fruit flavors are ripe, meaty and juicy. Still, the finish is a tad austere, a thicket of brambles, dried porcini, classic wet dog and forest floor. 13,8 percent alcohol. Production was 76 cases. Excellent. About $25, and definitely Worth a Search.
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If you can find a bottle of the Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast, clasp it to your bosom like a long-lost friend. At four and a half years old, this syrah offers a massively dark purple color with a motor oil sheen and is distinctly earthy, rooty and leathery. The wine aged 26 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. Loads of deeply spiced and macerated blue and black fruit flavors are bolstered by smooth, lithe tannins, graphite and spicy, smoky oak for an effect that delivers length and dimension of lordly degree, yet the winsome appealing element is not neglected. 15.4 percent alcohol, though you feel no heat on the finish or over-ripeness. 123 cases. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25.
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Now to the grandaddy of the previous wines. The Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2003, Sonoma Coast, opens most ethereally and then gains power and structure in the glass. It sports a dark ruby color and a softly spiced and macerated character of raspberries and currents, shot with cloves, allspice and sandalwood. Behind moderately chewy tannins lies a bedrock of graphite and slightly chalky granitic minerality; some time in the glass brings out notes of cedar, tobacco and mushroomy loam. The whole effect is vibrant and resonant, mature, well-developed and delicious. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 327 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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The delightful Tin Barn Joon Rose of Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast, glimmers with a pale copper-salmon robe and delivers a radiant bouquet of ripe strawberries and raspberries with touches of peach and tomato skin; a few moments develop notes of loam, mulberry and pomegranate and just a hint of limestone. This is exuberantly lively yet almost lush in texture, resulting in rather exquisite balance between acidity and structure. 13.3 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Production was 86 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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Perhaps we should all be like the young doctor whose party in the Mississippi Delta we attended some 20 years ago. He poured magnums of Chateau Margaux 1981 as house wine, and folks were knocking it back as if the night would never end. As we were trying to leave, he insisted that we finish a bottle of Echezeaux ’59; I forget the name of the producer. (He wasn’t so happy with me the next morning, after he found out that I kicked a couple of ivories off his grand piano, but that’s another story. I did apologize.) The point is that some people in a highly elevated and rarefied realm can drink great wine all the time, while most people — including yours truly — make do with more ordinary vinous material. And isn’t that really as it should be? Would we not find a constant regimen of the world’s best wines cloying, tiring, demanding? Well, perhaps not, but most consumers are content with wines that don’t require deep thought and a fund of fiduciary prowess to obtain. Here, then, are eight decent quaffs — four white, four red — drinkable, enjoyable and not overly complicated wines to accompany all sorts of meals and occasions. Nothing flamboyant or brilliant here, just wines that you would not be unhappy to sip with friends and family around the table. No need for a lot of technical folderol; just read these brief reviews and go buy a selection to get you through the next few weeks. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Torrontes 2013, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and camellia, spiced pear, yellow plum and a hint of peach; notes of lilac, roasted fennel and ginger; spare, crisp, lively, very dry; shimmering acidity and limestone minerality. Quite tasty. Drink up. Very Good. About $13.
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Apothic White Winemaker’s Blend 2012, California. (A Gallo label.) 12% alc. Chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling. Light gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, spiced pear and slightly over-ripe peach; muscat-like muskiness, with a touch of lychee; sweet entry tamed by crisp acidity to a dry finish. Quite enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good. About $14.
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Wente “Louis Mel” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Livermore Valley, California. 13% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean and crisp; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, lime peel and grapefruit, mildly grassy and herbal; spicy and savory; falls off a bit in the middle but offers nice follow-through with the spice-and-limestone-laced finish. Drink up. Very Good. About $15.
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Garzon Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Uruguay. 13% alc. Very pale gold; lime peel and grapefruit, pea shoot, lemongrass and celery seed, lilac and caraway; super fresh and refreshing; brings in notes of roasted lemon and fig; needs more verve and attitude in mid-palate but a delicious sip of sauvignon blanc. Drink up. Very Good. About $17.
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Pedroncelli friends.red 2012, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Merlot, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; warmly stacked with cloves and allspice, ripe black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors; notes of briers, brambles and loam, touch of graphite; mainly supported by sleek tannins and a bit of oak. Easy-going with a hint of seriousness. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $12, making Fine Value.
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Tercos Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% bonarda grapes. Dark ruby color; earthy, rooty and sappy; ripe and spicy black currants, plums and blueberries, with a touch of dried fruit, fruitcake and pomander; mouth-filling, dense and chewy, notes of tar and beet-root; tannic and savory. Intriguing character for the price. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $13.
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Vino dei Fratelli Primitivo 2011, Puglia, Italy. 13% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; currants, plums and blueberries, cloves and graphite; dusty tannins and a velvety texture; hints of zinfandel-like briers and brambles; tasty, substantial. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; warm and spicy, laden with graphite minerality and loam; red and black cherries and currants, smoky and a little plummy; chewy, satiny tannins, dark and spicy with notes of black olive, orange zest and bitter chocolate-covered black cherries. Lots of personality. Where’s the rabbit ragu? Through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, Excellent Value.
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I am averse to making a limited edition product the Wine of the Week because it just ain’t fair to My Readers. On the other hand, the Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina 2013, Napa Valley, is that rare rosé of such character and quality that I don’t want you to miss it, though it must be marked Worth a Search. Made completely from syrah grapes given a long cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks and aged five months in neutral French oak, this wine is designated Napa Valley, but it’s made from dedicated grapes grown in the Crane Ranch Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. The color is that true coral, what the French call “eye of the partridge,” and while I’ve never looked a partridge in the eye, I’ll take their word for it. Aromas of strawberries and peaches are highlighted by orange zest, a hint of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of flint; a few minutes in the glass unfurl a note of tobacco-leaf earthiness. The structure feels incisively chiseled from limestone, and there’s a deep cut of bright acidity under a texture lent suppleness and clove-like spice by the brief exposure to wood; all of this supports tasty and juicy yet spare strawberry and red currant flavors. Alcohol content is 13.1 percent. Winemaker was Jeff Keene. Production was 417 cases. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

For these brief notes on 12 wines appropriate for accompanying pizzas and burgers, we look, first, for reasonable prices and, second, for robust, full-bodied wines with lots of flavors and good acid structures. Prices range from $12 to $25. I avoided the obvious candidates like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, except perhaps as part of a blend, mainly to give a chance to other equally worthy grape varieties. And speaking of variety, we touch down today in Tuscany and southeastern Italy, in France’s Rhone Valley, in Chile and Spain and Portugal, and a couple areas of California. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I do not include much in the way of technical information, except for grapes, or historical and geographical data. The intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate quickly. Actually, I just realized what a great case of mixed red wines this group would make as a gift, to yourself or someone else, to consume through this Summer and into Fall. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Vino dei Fratelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% montepulciano grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet rim; young, intense, grapey; raspberries, plums, mulberries, hint of spice and brambles; goes down smoothly and easily but quite tasty; bright acidity with light tannins for structure. A decent quaffer with pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good. About $12, for buying by the case.
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Le Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; black and red cherries and raspberries with a wild note of mulberry, hints of cloves and sandalwood; quenching acidity keeps you coming back for another sip, while barely perceivable tannins keep the wine upright; dry but delicious with deep black and red fruit flavors, fleshed out with spice and a hint of briers and graphite. A terrific pizza quaffer, now through 2015. Very Good+. About $12, a Can’t Miss bargain.
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Adobe Red 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.7% alc. From the Clayhouse division of Middleton Family Wines. Zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 22%, cabernet sauvignon 21%, malbec 17%, petit verdot 10%, tempranillo 4%, syrah 3%. Dark ruby color; black cherries, plums, blueberries, undercurrents of briers, brambles and graphite; rollicking spicy element and bright acidity; very dry, moderate tannins, even-tempered and fun to drink. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Cachette 2012, Cötes du Rhöne. 13.5% alc. 70% grenache, 10% each syrah, carignan and cinsault. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; ripe, meaty and fleshy; blackberries, blueberries, plums with a hint of wild berry; notes of leather, lavender and white pepper, loam and graphite; spicy black and blue fruit flavors, a vein of potpourri and bitter chocolate, hints of cedar and dried thyme; very dry, lively, spicy finish. Good job! Would make a respectable house wine for drinking into 2016. Very Good+. About $15.
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Coltibuono “RS” 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; potpourri and pomander; oolong tea; red and black currants and plums; amenable and amiable but does not lack an acidic backbone and deftly shaped slightly leathery tannins with a touch of dried porcini about them; very dry spice-and-mineral-laced finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Particularly appropriate with sausage pizza. Very Good+. About $15.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Dark ruby color; bay leaf, sage and cedar; a lift of spiced and slightly roasted currants, plums and raspberries with a wild, exotic note; background of graphite and bitter chocolate; serious structure, very dry with relentless yet soft and chewy tannins and a foundation of polished wood and granitic minerality; but delicious with a blend of fresh and dried raspberries and plums with a hint of fruitcake. You might want to forgo a burger for a medium rare ribeye steak in this case. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $16, Great Quality for the Price.
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Viña Maquis Carménère 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carménère. Dark ruby-purple color with violet tones; ripe and fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums; briers and brambles, graphite, notes of lavender, bay leaf, thyme and black olive; very dry in the bitter chocolate, walnut-shell, dried porcini range of polished tannic density; arrow-straight acidity cuts a swath; black fruit flavors open with hints of exotic spice. Lots going on here; you’ll want that burger with bacon, grilled onions and jalapeño. Now through 2016 to ’17. Very Good+. About $19.
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Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County. 14% alc. 77% grenache, 18% syrah, 5% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-magenta color; grapey, plummy, notes of black currants and raspberries; cloves and pomegranate, bright acidity, undertone of loam and graphite but mainly tasty and delightful. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Garzon Tannat 2012, Uruguay. 13.8% alc. Dark ruby; robust and rustic, quite lively and spicy; deep and intense blackberry and currant scents and flavors, a bit roasted and fleshy; loam and mocha, a crisp pencil line of lavender and graphite minerality; gritty tannins make it dense and chewy; dry fairly austere finish. You’ll want that burger nicely charred, with a side of brimstone frites. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vizcarra Senda del Oro 2012, Ribero del Duero, Spain. NA% alc. 100% tempranillo. Intensely dark ruby-purple; plums and mulberries, dried red currants, hints of iodine and iron; the whole shelf of exotic dried spices; potpourri and lavender; very tasty, deep flavors of black and blue fruit, with an acid backbone and mild tannins. Straightforward and hard-working. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Bechthold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsault 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. How “ancient”? These vines were planted in 1885; it’s the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi. 100% cinsault. Dark cherry color; cloves and sandalwood, red and black cherries and currants, hints of fruitcake, pomander and loamy graphite, but clean, bright and appealing; lithe and supple texture, black and red fruit flavors with touches of dried fruit and flowers, lively acidity and moderately dense tannins with a faint undertone of granitic minerality. As tasty as it sounds with a slight serious edge. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Vina Valoria Crianza 2010, Rioja, Spain. 70% tempranillo, 20% graciano, 10% mazuelo. Dark ruby color; a combination of fresh and dried fruit, plums, lavender, hints of sandalwood and coriander, touch of bay and black tea; leather, mulberries; slightly dusty graphite-flecked tannins with elements of walnut shell and dried porcini add depth and some austerity to the finish. Delicious, well-made, some seriousness to the structure. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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Actually, it’s unseasonably chilly today in my neck o’ the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking rosé wines and posting about them. Here we touch the South of France, Spain’s Rioja region and two areas of California for pale wines that are light-hearted yet versatile, quaffable yet good with all manner of fare, especially if you’re on a picnic or sitting on the porch or patio. These are quick notices, not intended to bother your pretty little heads about technical, historic or geographical data but desiring to picque your interest and whet the ol’ palate. Enjoy! These wines were samples for review.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2013, Vin de France; the postal code on the bottle indicates Caunes-Minervois, northeast of Carcassonne. 12.5% alc. 100% syrah. Pale pink-salmon color; ripe and fleshy, strawberries and raspberries, fairly spicy; notes of potpourri and orange rind; quite dry, with snappy acidity and a hint at a stony structure. I like this version of 2013 a bit better than the 2012. Very Good. About $11, a Fine Value.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.2% alc. Bright rosy-pink color with a magenta tinge; robust for a rose, very spicy and floral, scents and flavors of red currants, raspberries and red cherries; hints of limestone and flint, enlivened by vibrant acidity; medium body woven of delicate supple strands; tasty, thirst-quenching; lots of personality and appeal. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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El Coto Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. A 50/50 blend of tempranillo and garnacha. Medium salmon-copper hue; rose and violets, lightly macerated strawberries and raspberries with a touch of tea and orange zest; hint of dried thyme; clean, fresh, dry; good acidity though a moderately lush texture; could you a bit more tautness, still quite enjoyable and better than I remember. Very Good. About $13.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Grenache 50%, cinsault 40%, syrah 10%. Pale salmon-copper color; tender and robust, lithe, taut and tart; nervy, attractive; raspberries and red currants, blood orange, touch of what Keats calls “the warm South” in its dried herb, sunny, slightly saline nature; all qualities strung on a line of limestone and flint buoyed by brisk acidity. Very tasty. Excellent. About $15.
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M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Unspecified blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. Slightly ruddy onion skin hue; lively and engaging; cloves, spiced tea, orange zest; ripe and dried red currants, raspberries, hint of cherry; rose petal and lilac; good body, even a bit lush yet light on its feet and fleet with vibrant acidity; very clean and refreshing. Excellent. About $15.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2013, Central Coast. 13% alc. Grenache 55%, mourvèdre 23.5% roussanne 10%, cinsault 7% carignane 2.5%, grenache blanc 2%. Very pale pink color; beguiling aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a faint flush of blood orange and violets; a transparent filigree of limestone lends a crisp yet talc-like aura to the structure while tense acidity keeps it lively and appealing. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $18.
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Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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With last night’s pizza, which combined the basil/radicchio/red onion food group with the roasted eggplant/caramelized tomato/bacon food group, I opened a bottle of the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012, from Argentina’s San Juan region, abutting Mendoza to the south and similarly located in the Andean foothills, though San Juan tends to be hotter and drier than Mendoza. The winery was founded in 1870 by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna and remained in the family until 1980, when it was sold to Allied Domecq, in turn acquired in 2005 by Pernod Ricard. The term “Elevation” isn’t used trivially; these vineyards average 4,600 feet about sea-level. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012 is an equal five-part blend of bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah and tannat grapes. You would not be surprised, then, that it’s a robust and rustic red wine, offering a dark ruby color and aromas of ripe, fleshy black currants, blackberries and plums thoroughly imbued with graphite, lavender, bitter chocolate and cloves. The wine is sleek and supple, though full-bodied, borne by healthy, slightly shaggy tannins and bright acidity under tasty blue and black fruit flavors, all devolving to a cast of moderately astringent dried porcini, underbrush and brambly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with such hearty fare as burgers, grilled pork chops, braised shanks or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is $15, but I have seen it marked down as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the job, the vocation, the quest of writing about wines on this blog is the sort of email I receive in which small wineries, mostly in California, ask if they may send products for me to review. This is a great way to learn about the wide diversity of wineries and the efforts of individuals or families that make amounts of wine that might not otherwise get attention. (I always emphasize that I cannot guarantee the outcome of a tasting or review.) One of those messages arrived recently from Ryan Sherman, winemaker for Fields Family Wines in Lodi. This winery defines what we mean by “small” and “family-owned.” The total number of cases produced for the four wines mentioned in this post is 625. The winery is owned by Russ Fields, an attorney in Sacramento, and his wife Melinda; Sherman, a real estate agent, is a partner, and both families and their children are involved in running the company. The wines receive very little or no new oak; they are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Alcohol levels are kept fairly low, for this group of wines 14.2 to 14.8 percent. Finally, these reds lean more toward elegance, refinement and nuance than blatant qualities of over-ripeness and blockbuster tannins; balance and harmony are the keywords. Those interested in purchasing any of these wines — I recommend the Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 and the Tempranillo 2011 — should contact the winery at https://fieldsfamilywines.com or call 209-896-6012.

These wines were samples for review.
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The vines mentioned in the Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 are 55 to 60 years old and are found in the Sherman Family Vineyards in the Mokelumne River American Viticultural Area, located in the southwestern part of the overall of Lodi AVA. Mokelumne River was established as an AVA in 2006, though it was the first region in the county to be planted to vines. The wine aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels, less than 35 percent new; the number of months is not specified. The Fields Family Old Vine Zinfandel ’11 offers a dark ruby-mulberry color and pungent scents of briers and brambles, white pepper, spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with an undertow of plum; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lavender and lilac, cloves and sandalwood. Moderate tannins keep her steady as she goes, providing plenty of foundation for bright acidity and delicious black and red fruit flavors but never as a dominating factor. Lovely balance and integration. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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The Fields Family Tempranillo 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne River), evinces the transparent and radiant ruby color you see in glasses of wine in Dutch still-life paintings. The wine aged 20 months in neutral French barriques, a process that lent almost subliminal subtlety and suppleness to the structure. This is ripe and meaty, delivering red and black currants and raspberries, both fresh and dried, with smoky, roasted notes and hints of pomander and potpourri, then conjuring fruitcake and toasted walnuts. A silky texture and mellow but spicy black fruit flavors belie the leathery and slightly dusty tannins that take an hour or so to emerge, along with a hint of graphite minerality for backbone. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases, so good luck, though this wine was my favorite of the quartet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Fields Family Il Ladro 2011, Lodi, is an unspecified blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, 10 percent from Napa Valley. The wine aged in used French and American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple. The wine begins with attractive scents of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums highlighted by orange zest and black tea, lavender and potpourri. There’s lovely delicately velvet-like weight and texture (moderately dense and dusty) balanced by lip-smacking acidity and slightly tarry, leathery tannins, all in the service of tasty black and red fruit flavors. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was fewer than 175 cases. Now through 2017 or ’18. An enjoyable blend, certainly, but I wish it offered more stuffing and complexity. Very Good+. About $25.
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There wouldn’t be a darned thing wrong with the Fields Family Syrah 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne), if it were, say, a particularly intense pinot noir from Santa Lucia Highlands. What I’m sayin’ is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable and delicious wine but not very syrah-like, not even in the sense of a more restrained syrah. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, less that 25 percent new barrels. The color is a deep purple-magenta; the bouquet teems with quite spicy red and black cherries underlain by hints of smoke, tar and violets. It’s rich and succulent and satiny, a bit too sophisticated for syrah, but — I’ll say it again — quite a tasty glass of wine. 14.2 percent alcohol. 150 cases were made. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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