Syrah


So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chester Osborn, fourth generation owner and chief winemaker for d’Arenberg, in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, decided that for 2010 he would bottle a separate shiraz wine (and three grenache) from each of the 12 vineyards that contribute to his top “iconic” wine, The Dead Arm Shiraz. The point was to celebrate and emphasize the concept that different ages of vines, variations in soil and sub-soil types, difference in the geological lie of the land, the aspect and exposure — all elements in the notion of terroir — would produce wines of different character. I tasted nine of those 12 very limited edition shiraz wines and found that each one, while generating true syrah/shiraz qualities, exhibited a varying sense of detail and dimension. Primarily what they share is tremendously dense and sizable structures and, in some cases, nearly impenetrable tannic and mineral qualities; they’re wines made for the long haul.

Australia doesn’t hold a patent on strange and colorful names for wine labels, but that continent surely can lay claim to jump-starting the trend, with the irrepressible Chester Osborn taking a good deal of the blame. I won’t explain the flamboyant names of the separate vineyards represented here, though each label, traversed by the signature d’Arenberg red stripe, has a tale to tell. Osborn himself is depicted in pixie fashion on each image, complete with his trademark curly blond locks and loud shirts.

I’ll offer these brief notices in alphabetical order. All of these McLaren Vale shiraz wines received an oak regimen of 20 months in new and old French barriques and old American barrels. Production for each was 200 six-pack cases; price per bottle is $85.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. Samples for review. Image of Chester Osborn from thedrinksbusiness.com
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Amaranthine Shiraz 2010. 13.8% alc. 44-year-old vines. Plot is 3.3 hectares (8.3 acres), loamy sand on limestone. Deep rich ruby color; tar and leather, briers and brambles; black cherries and plum pudding, very spicy; dense and chewy, freighted with velvety tannins and graphite minerality; the mineral and oak elements increase on the finish. Try 2015 through 2020. Excellent.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Bamboo Scrub Shiraz 2010. 13.9% alc. 18-year-old vines. Plot is 1.5 hectares (3.9 acres), sandy loam on sand. Dark ruby-purple color; deeply fragrant, fruity (black and blue fruit) and spicy; also densely tannic and earthy; very ripe though, fleshy, slightly macerated, yet boldly structured, austere and a little demanding; great vibrancy and resonance. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Blind Tiger Shiraz 2010. 14.1% alc. 87-year-old vines. Plot is 2.4 hectares (6.1 acres), sandy loam on sand. Deep opaque ruby color; ripe and fleshy plums, black berries and black currants, spiced in a compote; very intense and concentrated yet among the most balanced and integrated of these shiraz wines; woody spice, almost exotic, dusty graphite and stacked-up tannins enlivened by blazing acidity. A huge wine but nothing austere. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Garden of Extraordinary Delights Shiraz 2010. 14% alc. 42-year-old vines. Plot is 2.4 hectares (6.1 acres), sandy loam on sand. Deep ruby-purple color, magenta rim; perhaps not extraordinarily delightful but certainly a wine of enticing floral and spicy aromas wafting over its abyss of tannin and granitic minerals; very intense and concentrated black and red fruit but nicely knit and balanced for a highly structured wine. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg J.R.O. Afflatus Shiraz 2010. 13.9% alc. 102-year-old vines. Plot is .5 hectares (1.28 acres), sandy loam on limestone and clay; one of the original plantings on land that Joseph Rowe Osborn acquired in 1912. Dark ruby color; very spicy and very floral with heaps of graphite and granitic minerality; blueberries and lavender; ripe, fleshy and meaty; tapenade and potpourri; but all tightly wound around flinty tannins and some wood influence. Best after 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Little Venice Shiraz 2010. 14.2% alc. 15-year-old vines, the youngsters of this group. Plot is 3.6 hectares (9.25 acres), heavy loam on heavy clay. Very dark ruby-purple color; plums and black currants inlaid with graphite, lead pencil, cedar and iron filings; quite dry with grainy dusty tannins and pronounced earthiness. A bit too cabernet-like. Try 2015 through 2020 to 22. Very Good+.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. Plot is 2.2 hectares (5.6 acres), clay, sand and loam on limestone and clay. Dark dark ruby color, almost ebony; piercing minerality and swingeing tannins; leather, briers and brambles; intense core of graphite, potpourri, violets and bitter chocolate; spiced and macerated red and black fruit, notes of black tea, vanilla and cloves; tremendous presence, tone and resonance. Try 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’28. Exceptional.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg Shipster’s Rapture Shiraz 2010. 14.2% alc. 43-year-old vines. Plot is 1.5 hectares (3.9 acres), sandy loam on limestone. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; a big hit of woody tannins, scintillating granitic minerals and intense and concentrated red and black fruit; earth and underbrush, tough as iron, dense austere finish. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010. 14% alc. 17-year-old vines. Plot is 4 hectares (10.28 acres), loamy clay on limestone. If any of these blockbuster wines can be said to be beautiful (while densely sizable), this is the one. Deep ruby-purple color; plums, black currants, blueberries; violets and bitter-chocolate-covered cherries; leather, smoke and graphite; very earthy with notes of moss and mushrooms; but the whole package, while very granitic and concentrated, is sleek, polished and almost paradoxically elegant; long finish brings in some austerity. Try 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Exceptional.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The surprise that came when I first received a bottle of the Renaissance Vineyard and Winery Vin de Terroir Granite Crown 2005, made by the winery in the North Yuba area of the Sierra Foothills, was the alcohol level: 15 percent. This factor was a shock to my fragile system since it came from a winemaker, Gideon Beinstock, who scrupulously keeps alcohol content lower than his counterparts in Napa and Sonoma and points south. Indeed, I found the bottle, which I tried early in 2012, uncharacteristically disjointed for a wine from Renaissance. Now My Readers who can add on their fingers will be thinking, “Wait, FK, this is a wine from 2005 and you were tasting it in 2012?” Yes, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 was released, to be completely accurate, on May 15, 2011, that is, five years and eight months after harvest. A blend of 60 percent syrah, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 merlot, 2 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot, from vineyards at 2,350-feet elevation, the wine aged 27 months in 225-liter French and American oak barrels, that is, the standard 59-gallon barrel. These containers were one- to five-years old, adhering to Beinstock’s usual credo of No New Oak. The wine was bottled on March 13, 2009. Now, that particular bottle I found rather unbalanced, but a second bottle that I was fortunate enough to receive seemed to prove that the first was (relatively) young to be consumed. A year and a half later, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is utterly beguiling. The color is radiant medium ruby with a garnet tinge; the ravishing bouquet offers notes of red currants and cherries with dusty plums, cloves, lavender and potpourri and touches of dried spices, graphite and earthy briers and underbrush elements; you could swim in these aromas and be happy. In the mouth, the wine is mellow, supple and lithe, beautifully balanced among soft grainy tannins, alert acidity, a finely-milled granitic quality and spiced and macerated red and black fruit flavors, all in all, a perfect medium for the mature expression of a personality, a time, place and agricultural product that becomes more structured as the moments pass. It this it for the wine? Is it finished? No, I would say that well-stored the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 will drink with seductive though perhaps slightly diminishing effect through 2018 to 2022. Provided you can find some or a single bottle. The rub is that Renaissance produced only 74 cases. The winery is still selling the 2002 version of Granite Crown; here’s a link that includes my review of the 2002 wine from Dec. 3, 2009, on this blog; production that rendition was 210 cases. My rating for Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

Might as well say “Three from Randall Grahm,” since few wineries in California are so closely, indeed inextricably, tied up in the personality and technical prowess of its owner/winermaker. (Now that I think about it, that’s the way I start every review of wines from Bonny Doon; I’ll be more original next time.) The three wines I consider today are Boony Doon Bien Nacido X Block Syrah 2009 and two versions of Le Cigare Volant 2008, one aged in 500 and 600-liter puncheons (en demi-muid), the other in 10,000-liter upright wood tanks (en foudres). Grahm intends these wines to be vins de garde, that is, top wines of the vintage that will require aging to achieve drinkability, though I found the wines to be slightly more approachable than those of the previous years (2007 and 2008), reviewed here.

These were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2008, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudres” 2008, Central Coast, are each a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 mourvèdre, 7 cinsault, 5 carignane, which is to say, a quite typical southern Rhone Valley cepage, or combination of grapes. (For 2007, the blend for these wines was 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.)

The “en demi-muid” version aged 20 months in puncheons, 500 and 600-liter oak barrels. (The standard barrique is 225 liters.) The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of magenta at the rim; the bouquet offers an intriguing combination of fresh black fruit and flowers with woody spice and dried fruit and flowers, all this with marked intensity and beguilement. Aromas of blackberries, black and red currants and a touch of plum are permeated by cloves and sandalwood, wood-smoke and clean earth, hints of graphite and briers and brambles. The texture is spare, sleek, and the structure a towering edifice of gently gritty and mildly velvety tannins; lip-smacking acidity; and slightly grainy burnished oak. This is very dry, very dusty, featuring tons of granitic minerality that need some gentling to allow the spicy black fruit flavors to unfurl, say 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. 556 cases were produced. Excellent. About $45.

How is the companion wine, the “en foudre,” different from the “en demi-muid” version? Aging in 10,000-liter upright oak tanks ensures that the ration of wine exposed to the oak influence is much less than in the puncheons, yet this “en foudre” 08 is still densely packed with woody spice and feels a little rooty and knotty. The color is dark, almost opaque ruby-purple with a tinge of violet at the rim; aromas of fruitcake, oolong tea, a sort of mossy-wet dog-smoky-autumn-leaves amalgam highlight a bouquet characterized by lavender and lilac, blackberries and plums, graphite and shale. The wine is lively and vital, with vivid acidity cutting a swath through black and blue fruit flavors bolstered by dense grainy tannins and a feeling of woody spice that’s almost ecclesiastical in its dusty, polished essence. here’s another wine that require aging, though this “en foudre” is a tad more approachable than its cousin “em demi-muid.” 14.2 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X Block Syrah 2009, Santa Maria Valley, derives from a particular section of the well-known vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The color is dark ruby-purple; this is smoky, meaty and fleshy, ripe with spicy blackberry, black currant and plum scents and flavors with an undertone of blueberry tart and notes of smoke, leather and lavender. Exotic elements of sandalwood, cloves and pomegranate slightly lighten the wine’s essentially deep brooding spirit somehow, paradoxically, enlivened by almost pert acidity; the structure is large-framed, the texture stalwart with dusty tannins and polished oak, yet there’s something exhilarating and unfettered about this wine, with touches of spiced wild cherry on the mineral-packed finish and a teasing glimpse of fig and black tea. 13.3 percent alcohol. 843 cases, compared to 573 cases in 2008 and 657 in 2007. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


I keep reading that all the instruments agree that Millennials really love blended wines, but they must be drinking examples other than most of those mentioned in this post, because I found them to be bland and generic. The exception is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution American Red Wine, now in its Second Edition; it’s a cross-state wine — hence the “American” designation — “based on syrah” and heir to the reputation of the popular Evolution White Wine that debuted 13 years ago. There are other red wines in this roster of brief reviews, but frankly, other than the Evolution Red, not much roused my interest enough to subject my heavily insured palate to more than a few sips. Lotta wine went down the drain this morning! Glug, glug, glug! Quick reviews, mainly taken directly from my notes; no truck with technical, historical or geographical data; just the real deal. Enjoy — or not. Truly, sometimes I wonder why producers even bother. These were samples for review.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Alamos Red Blend 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Malbec, bonarda, tempranillo. Dark ruby color; solid, firm; juicy and spicy black and blue fruit flavors; dusty tannins and walnut-shell-tinged oak; a touch of graphite minerality. Fine for barbecue ribs or burgers. Very Good. About $13.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Alamos Seleccion Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; aromas of black currants and black cherries, touch of blueberry; briers and brambles; robust and rustic, bright acidity plows a furrow, rollicking dusty tannins; black fruit flavors open to a core of violets, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; don’t look for elegance here, this is forthright, spicy, flavorful and solidly made. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Albamar Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.9% alc. Very pretty light ruby color; earthy, briers and brambles, a little stalky and weedy; a schizo conflict between sweet ripe berry fruit and bruisingly dry austere tannins; way off base and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $13.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Edna Valley Vineyard “Paragon” Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 13.9% alc. (A Gallo label.) Neither smells nor tastes like pinot noir; generic, bland, innocuous, forgettable. Not recommended. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Evolution American Red Wine, 2nd edition. 13% alc. Bottled by Sokol Blosser. “Syrah-based.” Dark ruby color; roots and branches, earthy yet ripe, fleshy, a little funky; very berryish, very spicy; lots of personality and engagement; black currants, cherries and plums with a touch of mulberry; dusty, pretty serious tannins, lively acidity; tasty but with plenty of stuffing. Says, “Bring me a lamb chop.” Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Four Vines Truant Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, California. 14.4% alc. 77% zinfandel, 13% syrah, 5% petite sirah, 3% barbera, 2% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; generic but pleasant, which is better than being generic but unpleasant. Good only. About $12. And how old were those vines?
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gascon Colosal Red Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.1% alc. Malbec, bonarda, syrah, cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; fresh, clean and bright, fruity but not distinctive, fairly generic but no real flaws. Good only. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Intense ruby-mulberry color; lovely bouquet of beetroot, cloves and sassafras and a spectrum of red and black fruit, hint of earthy briers and brambles; very spicy and earthy in the mouth, plum and cherry fruit is slightly roasted and fleshy; quite dry, the tannins and oak assert themselves in a welter of woody spice and dusty graphite; finish is a bit short but a very enjoyable, moderately complex pinot noir. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $23.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Spur 2011, Livermore Valley. 13.5% alc. (From Murrieta’s Well) Petite sirah 31%, petit verdot 29%, cabermet sauvignon 27%, malbec 8%, cabernet franc 5%. Dark ruby color; mint and iodine, lavender, bittersweet chocolate; blackberries, black currants and blueberries, quite spicy; dry plush tannins, dusty graphite, zinging acidity, almost too lively; tannins coat the mouth, from mid-palate back the flavors feel curiously bland. Very Good. About $25.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Waterstone Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc (tech sheet says 15.1). Dark ruby color; solid, firm structure; deep dusty tannins and graphite minerality; black and red currants and cherries, touch of plum; nice complexity of cedar and dried rosemary, tobacco and black olive; stalwart tannins, dusty and earthy; finish packed with spice, tannin and graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elyse Winery is best-known for its single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, though what I review today are three excellent examples of its Rhone-style wines. Elyse was founded in 1987 by Ray and Nancy Coursen, after Ray had spent nine years at Whitehill Lane. The wines were made at various facilities until in 1997 the Coursens purchased a small winery on Hoffman Lane in Napa Valley, west of Hwy 29 between Oak Knoll and Rutherford. Winemaker is Mike Trotta. These were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Elyse L’Ingenue Naggiar Vineyard 2011, Sierra Foothills. This Rhone-style white is a blend of 52 percent roussanne grapes, 32 percent marsanne, 11 viognier and 5 grenache blanc. The wine aged 16 months in “experienced” French oak barrels, that is to say, previously used. This is a lovely wine, offering a pale straw-gold color and beguiling aromas of jasmine and quince, pears and yellows plums, a touch of a slightly resinous herb like rosemary and a deeper floral note that I finally sussed out as camellia. Attractive flavors of roasted lemons and pears (and a hint of slightly honeyed peach) are balanced by a spare texture and delicately astringent elements of grapefruit and limestone minerality, all bound by spanking acidity. Saline and savory, sensuous yet elegant. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Elyse C’est Si Bon Naggiar Vineyard 2009, Sierra Foothills. Here’s a blend much like a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape — 39 percent grenache, 33 percent mourvedre, 12 syrah, 8 cinsault, 5 counoise and 3 viognier. The aging occurs in French puncheons — usually 500 liters (some manufacturers measure a puncheon as 475 liters) — a bit more that twice the size of the ubiquitous barrique at 225 liters (59 gallons); 10 percent of these barrels are new. I dwell on these matters of wood to show how careful the regimen is at Elyse, how little new oak is used, how the size of barrels varies. The wine lives up to its name: It’s so good, not merely as an expression of quality, though it is damned good, but as an embodiment of elan and joie de vivre and all that French stuff. The color is dark ruby with a magenta edge; the bouquet weaves notes of black and red currants and plums, mulberries and blueberries into a well-knit fabric that includes graphite and lavender, a hint of fruitcake, a touch of smoke. It’s light and fresh in the mouth, spicy and berry-like, invigorating and appealing, silky supple in texture yet slightly roughened by the sanding of subtle tannins. Not to mean that the wine is delicate; no, it delivers a firm foundation of vibrant acidity and granitic mineral qualities as well as a depth of smoke and ash and mossy earthiness. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,594 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The raven, indeed. Elyse Le Corbeau Hudson Vineyard 2008, Los Carneros, a blend of 90 percent grenache and 10 percent syrah — more like a modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape — is as dark as a raven’s wing and offers something of that bird’s wild and irascible character; it aged 22 months in small French oak barrels, 20 percent new. The wine bristles with life and personality, but it finishes in a brooding manner that befits E.A. Poe’s famous bird, he of the limited vocabulary. Aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums seethe with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, smoky lavender and bitter chocolate. Luscious and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors are leavened by fine-grained and persistent tannins and vigorous acidity, all culminating in a close to profound earthy, rooty lithic character, though there is nothing ponderous or truculent here; the wine is too well-balanced for that. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $37.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, another title change, from “Weekend Wine Sips” to “Weekend Wine Notes,” because I think that nomenclature more accurately described what I do in these posts. “Sips” implies that all the wines are recommended, and that’s not always the case. So, today, a dozen wines that derive from many grapes varieties and combinations thereof and from many countries and regions. Prices range from about $14 to $53, and if you were hoping to buy some wines by the case, they would be the Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley (about $15), and the Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles (about $14). There are also some hearty red wines to accompany steaks and burgers, pork chops, leg of lamb and other items from the grill. As usual, I eschew technical matters and concerns of history, geography and biography for quick, incisive reviews, sometimes transcribed directly from my notes. The purpose is to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, these were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo (which is really zinfandel, right?). Pale copper-salmon color; very charming bouquet of strawberries and raspberries with undertones of peach and orange zest; loads of juicy berry and stone fruit flavors but dry, spare, mildly spicy; limestone and flint minerality and zippy acidity provide structure. Hugely enjoyable quaffer and substantial enough to accompany all manner of picnic and pool-side fare. Very Good+. I paid $15.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.3% alc. Very pale straw color; hints of guava and lime peel, grass and grapefruit, a bit of fig and celery seed; dry, vibrant, lively; lovely texture poised between crispness and an almost talc-like silkiness; citrus and stone fruit flavors imbued with notes of grass and dried herbs; the limestone minerality burgeons from mid-palate through the finish. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean and zesty; pear and grapefruit, lime peel, thyme and tarragon, celery seed and freshly mown grass; a nicely chiseled sauvignon blanc, faceted with brisk acidity and scintillating lime and chalk elements; a touch of oak lends spice and suppleness to a texture that seethes with leafy notes of pear, honeydew melon and hay; finish is dry and austere. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________
The Whip 2012, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. (Murrieta’s Well) 13% alc. 43% chardonnay, 15% gewurztraminer, 13% sauvignon blanc, 9% orange muscat, 8% viognier, 5% pinot blanc, 3% muscat canelli. Pale gold color; boldly floral, with notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom; peach and pear, touches of roasted lemon, mango and greengage, apple peel and almond skin; quite dry, spare, savory and saline with an austere permeation of limestone and flint on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $21.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14/1% alc. 36% carmenere, 31% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah. Very dark ruby-purple; strikingly fresh, clean and fruity, with cassis, blackberry and blueberry, plums and blueberry tart, hint of fruitcake dried fruit and spices; velvety, cushiony tannins; very dry, dusty graphite; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors; finish packed with tannin and minerals. Fairly rustic for a wine from Lapostolle. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Selección de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty tannins and granitic minerality; dense and chewy yet supple; cassis, ripe black raspberry, cherry and blueberry; hints of cloves and sandalwood, graphite and underbrush; lippsmacking acidity and velvety tannins; slightly astringent finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2015 or ’26. Very Good+. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
El Malbec de Ricardo Santos La Madras Vineyard 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherries and plums, lavender, violets and a tight line of bitter chocolate and allspice; a real graphite-granitic edge, intense and concentrated but a deeply flavorful wine, with roots, earth and forest floor elements. Perfect for steak, burgers and rack of lamb. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Lovely medium ruby-mulberry color; spiced and macerated red cherries and currants, highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras; opens to hints of black cherry and rhubarb; very attractive tone and heft, pretty juicy but dry, with swath-cutting acidity and mild-mannered and supple tannins for structure, oak staying firmly in the background; the finish brings up slightly funky elements of clean earth, underbrush and more spice. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; heady yet slightly brooding notes of blueberries and black currants, bacon fat, black olives and cedar; big finely-honed, plush tannins; well-honed and polished, lots of personality but plenty of grit and grip; intense flavors of black and blue fruit, very spicy and with hints of dried herbs and flowers; long, dense mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Well-made rendition of the grape that’s beggin’ you for a medium-rare ribeye steak or a rack of ribs. Excellent. About $19, Good Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim that practically glows in the dark; lots of depth and layers, intense and concentrated; bitter chocolate, lavender and leather, earth and graphite; very ripe, spicy and pure blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors with a wild strain of ebony juicy delicious restrained by stalwart tannins and vibrant acidity; wheatmeal and walnut shell austerity characterize a finish crowded with oak, tannin and graphite. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ to Excellent Potential. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________
Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordòn Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, garnacha 15%, mazuela 5%. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter rim; ripe and spicy, fleshy and meaty; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; white pepper, sandalwood, cloves, hint of lavender; silken and mellow but with plenty of dry grainy tannins and mineral-based power. Now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted quail or duck or grilled pork tenderloin. Very Good+. About $17. Rioja Reservas tend to be excellent value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. Consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California. Dark ruby-purple color; amazing dimension, detail and delineation; intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; meaty, roasted and fleshy fruit scents and flavors, with macerated wild berries and plums infused with leather, briers and brambles, touch of damp moss and wet dog; squinching tannins are round and plush, while acidity plows a furrow on the palate; huge graphite and granitic mineral character solid through the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $53.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

I encountered the cabernet sauvignon wines of L’Aventure at the “Cabs of Distinction” events mounted by the Paso Robles CAB Collective — CAB = “Cabernet and Bordeaux” — April 26 and 27. The fledgling organization is dedicated to promoting the idea that the Paso Robles region, long known as an area fit for Rhone variety grapes and cabernet sauvignon wines of the (ahem) cheaper sort, is capable of producing great, expressive, long-lived cabernets. I was impressed by many of the cabernets I encountered that Friday and Saturday, on a sponsored trip to Paso Robles, and I’ll write about those wines and the possibilities for Paso Robles cabernet soon.

Today, however, I want to focus on L’Aventure, a winery founded in the late 1990s by Stephan Asseo, a Frenchman who founded Domaine Courteillac in Bordeaux in 1982 and whose family owns Chateau Fleur Cardinal and Chateau Robin in Côtes de Castillion. Asseo’s thorough background in French wine and his French education, at L’Ecole Oenologique de Macon, give him the ability to work with the demanding terrain and climate of Paso Robles, in the Santa Lucia Range, and make wines that are rigorous, mineral-influenced and highly structured yet packed with spice and delicious flavors. In these reviews you will find — I hope repeated not too often — the words “beautiful,” “supple,” “balanced” and “formidable.” In fact, those terms pepper my notes on the L’Aventure cabernets from the Paso Robles CAB Collective barrel tasting of barrel ssamples from 2012 — only six or seven months old and still with aging ahead — and from the Grand Tasting event the next day. A few weeks later, back in Memphis, I discovered at a local trade tasting that L’Aventure is represented by a distributor here, though the wines I tried that afternoon were Asseo’s Rhone-style Côte à Côte and his cabernet-syrah blends Estate Cuvée and Optimus.

Some wines quickly strike me with their sense of immediacy, completeness, power and elegance, and that’s how I felt about these chiseled, faceted yet deeply sensuous wines from L’Aventure. They’re not cheap, and they’re not plentiful, but they’re certainly worth seeking out.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
First, the barrel-sample of L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Paso Robles, tried at the Paso Robles “Cabs of Distinction en Primeur” tasting on April 26. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; it will age about 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is inky-purple; beguiling aromas of cassis, rhubarb tart, blueberries and fruitcake are penetrated by scintillating notes of iodine and iron; this is a dynamic wine that displays tremendous depth of tannic power, granitic minerality, resonant acidity and an absolutely beautiful fruit character. It is soaking up the spicy oak and turning it into something subtle, supple and elegant. Alcohol content not available. Production will be 300 to 500 cases. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to 2030. Excellent. About $80 to $85.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Now let’s look at L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in its versions from 2010, 2007 and 2006, tasted at the Paso Robles “Cabs of Distinction” event on April 27. Each followed the winery’s standard regimen for this wine of aging 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The rendition for 2010 is 100 percent cabernet; it offers an expressive nose of ripe black and blue fruit packed with graphite, cloves, pepper and lavender, while at not quite three years old it leans greatly on its lithe and lithic structure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Production was 425 cases. The 2007 contains five percent petit verdot. Perhaps it’s the three year advantage over the 2010, but the ’07 feels riper, just a bit softer and more approachable, more floral and spicy, more “Californian,” yet classically Bordeaux in its cedar-bay leaf-black olive elements and its still formidable tannic-granitic essence. About 1,075 cases produced. The 2006, ah yes, what exquisite balance and poise and integration, albeit a deeply earthy wine, layering its succulent and spicy black fruit flavors with notes of briers and brambles, graphite, a hint of mushroom-like soy sauce; tannins are still close to formidable but shapely, finely-milled; acidity throbs like a struck tuning-fork. Alcohol content and production unavailable. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. These three cabernets each $80 to $85.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________
The three wines from L’Aventure that I tasted in Memphis fall into a Rhone Valley mode, or at least that seems to be the inspiration, though batteries of cabernet sauvignon are deployed here too.

L’Aventure Estate Côte à Côte 2010 is a blend of 42 percent grenache, 34 percent syrah and 24 percent mourvèdre; the wine aged 14 months in a combination of half new French oak barrels and half one-year-old barrels. The color is radiant dark ruby; boy, what a lovely wine ensconced in a taut yet generous and beautiful structure; this features aromas and flavors of ripe, roasted and fleshy blackberries, blueberries and plums deeply imbued with lavender and licorice, briers, graphite and cloves, with backnotes of fruitcake and dried rosemary, with that pungent herb’s slightly resinous quality. The wine feels chiseled from oak, granite and tannin, yet even now it’s expansive, expressive and very drinkable, now through 2018 to 2020. How can it feel so perfectly balanced at 16.1 percent alcohol? Production was 900 cases. Excellent. About $85.

L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2010 is a blend of 42 percent each syrah and cabernet sauvignon with 16 percent petit verdot; the wine aged 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is deep ruby-mulberry with a kind of motor-oil sheen; again a ripe and fleshy wine but permeated by smoke and spice and nervy graphite-like minerality; it’s very intense and concentrated, dusty with minerals and tannins that coat the palate, dense and chewy and tightly packed, rigorous but a bit succulent and opulent too. 15.7 percent alcohol. 1,350 cases. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.

Still available in my local market and elsewhere, I assume, is the nicely aged L’Aventure Optimus 2006, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 45 percent syrah and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine offers a dark ruby color with a slightly lighter magenta rim; again I find myself waylaying the adjective “beautiful” for this occasion, because Optimus 06 delivers lovely poise and equilibrium and a seamless amalgamation of ripe slightly stewed black currants and blueberries, fine-grained tannins, polished oak and vibrant acidity, all pierced by the great abiding character of these wines from L’Aventure, a lean, lithe lithic quality that sustains, challenges and gratifies. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

I’m quoting suggested retail prices; in my neck o’ the woods prices may be $5 to $10 higher.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »