Syrah


In the Wine Atlas of Australia & New Zealand (HarperCollins, 1998), James Halliday refers to Kay Brothers in McLaren Vale as a “traditional winery with a rich history and some priceless old vines.” As far as history is concerned, the winery was established in 1890 by brothers Herbert and Frederick Kay (pictured on many of the labels) and is the oldest estate in McLaren Vale still owned by the founding family. Winemaker now is Herbert’s grandson Colin Kay, who uses traditional methods and in fact employs the winery’s original basket press and open-top fermenters. “Priceless old vines” refers to the estate vineyard’s Block 6, planted in 1892 and still producing shiraz grapes that are bottled separately as the property’s flagship wine. As for me, these are the sorts of wines and the kind of family estate that are a joy to write about, because they embody a heritage and an adherence to old-fashioned methods, and they evince no desire to be all things to all people. These Kay Brothers wines from 2010 were tasted in Chicago on May 15, 2013.
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The entry-level wine at this estate is the Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale. The color is very dark ruby, almost black in the center and with an intense violet rim. Despite the portent of that depth of hue, this is not a heavily extracted wine and is impressive for an impeccable sense of balance, especially in the sway dusty tannins against vibrant acidity and a dynamic graphite element. Fruit shines though, with a bright array of ripe and slightly macerated black and red currants, blackberries and blueberries fostered by earthy touches of leather and briers and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender, bitter chocolate and dried thyme, all of these aspects beautifully proportioned and poised. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Next is the Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, a wine derived from the estate’s Amery Vineyard; it
spent 18 months in American, French and Bulgarian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a vivid magenta cast; aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and mulberries are deeply infused with cloves and allspice and some wild spicy and floral note, as well as graphite-tinged touches of briers and brambles, making for a lively and engaging bouquet. On the palate, this wine is pure and intense, downright lovely in its lucid spicy black fruit qualities but also a little chiseled and flinty, more faceted than rounded, so while every element is balanced and harmonious, the emphasis lies in a somewhat sculpted structural character. I don’t mean that this nature is a flaw, in fact far from it; I love the crystalline, scintillating approach that bolsters the wine’s ripe fruit with its slightly Olympian — yet thoroughly drinkable — personality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Third in this trio is the Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale. Of the original 12 acres of Block 6, planted in 1892, only four acres remain. The wine aged 20 months in American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby that sports magnificent depth and clarity, while the complete package is wrapped in the paradoxical yet totally complementary qualities of rigor and allure; my first note: “just beautiful.” While the wine’s sense of dimension — its breadth and depth of tannin and mineral elements. its profound acidity and longevity on the palate — feels immense, it does not diminish the finely-etched details of fruit and flowers and spice that lend the aspect that many great and profound wines often display, a quality of refinement and grace. Here’s a wine that offers a lesson that I mentioned in a previous post this week, that thoughtful winemaking disappears into the wine; there’s no ego here, rather a tribute to a revered pieces of land and the grapes it faithfully produces. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Exceptional. About $66.
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When I was in Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, last week, I spend a couple of hours at Tablas Creek Vineyard, tramping through the acreage of vines (certified organic) spreading in rolling hills across the limestone-clay soil, feeling how the mid-afternoon breeze filtered in from the Pacific, seeing how different grape varieties are planted in rows on slopes that face different exposures to sunlight, and, back in the tasting room, going through a roster of the wines with general manager Jason Haas. Tablas Creek is owned and operated by the Perrine family, longtime owners of Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the great properties of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the Haas family, owner of Vineyard Brands, the importer of Beaucastel. The families began planting vines west of the city of Paso Robles in 1994; the 90 acres of vineyards produce about 20,000 cases of wine annually, some of the wines released in limited quantities. How refreshing to walk through a winery and see no French barriques, that is, the ubiquitous 59-gallon oak barrel, and instead see squads of larger puncheons and 1200-gallon foudres, so the wood influence on Tablas Creek wines is kept to a supporting and not dominant role. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is on Rhone Valley grape varieties and Rhone-style wines. The thread that runs through these wines is an earthy, briery, loamy character, a bristly, prickly liveliness that is more prominent in the reds but is certainly presence in the whites. Winemaker is Neil Collins. These brief reviews are intended to strike to the heart, the essence of the wines, and to whet My Readers palates for more.
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Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 14% alc. 1,250 cases. 75% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. Very pale onion skin color; sleek, suave, lively, a bristly-limestone-flecked background; dried red currants and raspberries, with a flush of ripe strawberry; hint of cloves and (intriguingly) tobacco leaf; flint-like minerality builds through the finish. Eminently delightful. Very Good+. About $20.
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Dianthus 2012, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 1,200 cases. 60% mourvèdre, 25% grenache, 15% counoise. A great rosé. True onion skin color but with a blush of pale copper; again, dried red currants and raspberries but a deeper hint of mulberry and plum; touches of briers and dried herbs, full body, dense, almost lush for a rosé, yet crisp, keen, lively; lovely lustrous, limestone-etched finish. Excellent. About $27.
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Vermentino 2012, Paso Robles. 12.5% alc. 1,300 cases. 100% vermentino grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; extremely fresh, clean and crisp; brisk, saline, almost savory; all hints and nods of roasted lemon and yellow plum, honeysuckle; pert acidity yet a soft delicate feeling overall. Very Good+. About $27
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Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,475 cases. 27% viognier, 25% grenache blanc, 25% marsanne, 22% roussanne. Pale straw-gold color; graham crackers and camellias, subtly earthy and perfumed; spare and elegant; hints of roasted lemons and pears, bare touch of spiced peach; very dry but juicy and flavorful, with scintillating acidity and chalky limestone elements; beautiful balance, tone and presence. Excellent. About $27.
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Marsanne 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 225 cases. 100% marsanne grapes. Light straw-gold color; a wine of great subtlety and nuance, like tissues of delicacy woven into a taut and resilient fabric; quite dry, spare, reticent; bracing salinity, a hint of dried thyme and marsh-grass, gently floral; touches of citrus and stone-fruit; an earthy background with flint and shale minerality; altogether finely-knit and supple. Excellent. About $30.
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Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2010, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 2,100 cases. 60% roussanne, 35% grenache blanc, 5% picpoul blanc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely balance and poise, light on its feet with a wonderful well-knit texture with finely-honed acidity and plangent steely, limestone qualities; again, a white wine of shades and degrees of nuance, lightly spiced, delicately fitted with lemon and pear flavors and a hint of apricot; all bound with that spruce-tinged minerality. Excellent. About $40
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Patelin de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13.7% alc. 8,460 cases. 52% syrah, 29% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 1% counoise. Medium ruby-mulberry color; meaty and fleshy; bacon fat, black olive, slightly roasted red and black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry; quite dry, moderately dense, chewy tannins; attractive fairly incisive finish, touches of graphite, briers and brambles. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Côtes de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,560 cases. 49% grenache, 28% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 8% counoise. Dark ruby-magenta color; earthy, loamy and foresty but clean and fresh; intense and concentrated but not closed or aloof; focused tannins and acidity that drive the wine’s energy and allure; very dark, spicy and slightly meaty black and red currants and raspberries with hints of blackberry and blueberry; long spice- and graphite-packed finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
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Mourvèdre 2010, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 720 cases. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; pure raspberry with all the raspiness of briers and brambles and foresty qualities, backed by clean earth and loam, iodine and iron; for all the structure and groundedness in place, the stones and bones, strangely winsome and lovely. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Grenache 2010, Paso Robles. (Wine club only). 14.8% alc. 733 cases. 100% grenache grapes. Medium ruby color; red raspberries, black cherries and hints of blackberries; quite earthy and briery; fairly intense and hard-edged tannins, in fact, the most tannic and least integrated of these red wines; deeply spicy, long dense finish. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $40.
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Esprit de Beaucastel 2010, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 4,400 cases. 45% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, 21% syrah, 4% counoise. A deep, dark, earthy and loamy wine in every sense; dense, leathery, foresty tannins; briers, brambles and graphite; a spice-cabinet’s-worth of exoticism; an assemblage of great confidence and authority worthy of a flagship wine. Try 2014 to ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles. (Tasting room and online only) 13.5% alc. Just under 100 cases. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. A one-off production produced from a couple of rows of cabernet grapes. Perfect cabernet color of dark but radiant ruby with an opaque center and a rim that verges on violet-magenta; classic notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, black olive and lead pencil; lots of graphite and granitic minerality, iodine and iron; fairly knotty tannins that dictate two or three years more aging, or open it with a medium rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill; drink through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. $40.
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Vin de Paille “Quintessence” 2010, Paso Robles. 11.5% alc. 100 cases. 100% roussanne grapes. Glowing light gold-amber color; apricot, baked peaches and candied, caramelized pineapple; a little musky and dusty; cloves and honey, bananas Foster; powerful acidity and a huge limestone mineral presence keep the initial sweetness from being cloying and indeed turn the wine dry from mid-palate back through the deep, rich, earthy finish. Now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375 milliliter half-bottle.
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I didn’t produce a Weekend Wine Sips — “the world is too much with us late and soon getting and spending we lay waste our powers” blah blah — so I offer today a twofer Wine of the Week, a single-varietal white and a blended red. Because that’s the kind of guy I am. Both of these wines represent Excellent Value. These were samples for review.

For white, try the Plantagenet Riesling 2011, from the Mount Barker appellation of Western Australia. The 320-acre estate, founded in 1968 by Tony Smith, was the first winery established in the Great Southern region of Western Australia and is regarded as having senior status in the area, not just for longevity but, let’s face it, for high quality. Winemaker is Cath Oates. This riesling, made entirely in stainless steel, is about as pure and intense as they come. The color is pale pale straw-gold; the penetrating bouquet delivers scintillating lime peel, grapefruit pith and limestone elements over notes of yellow plum and roasted lemon that open to hints of lemon balm, jasmine and lychee. It’s one taut, lean and lovely riesling that deftly balances its litheness, flinty character and crystalline acidity with subtly spicy stone-fruit and citrus flavors and an appealing soft, dusty texture, creating an intriguing sense of tension and abundant liveliness on the palate. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16 with fresh oysters and mussels, simply prepared grilled or seared fish or, perhaps counterintuitively, charcuterie . Excellent. About $21.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Ca.

For red, we turn to the Paul Mas Estate G.S.M. 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. The estate goes back to 1892 and now encompasses 100 hectares (247 acres) of vines that lie between Pézenas and Montpellier, close to the Mediterranean, down where the coast curves to the southwest, headed toward Spain. The property gained momentum in its contemporary guise when Jean-Claude Mas of the fourth generation took over operations in 1999 and created Domaine Paul Mas, named for his father. The blend here is 35 percent each grenache and syrah, 30 percent mourvèdre; 20 percent of the wine aged in oak barrels for six months. The color is deep dark ruby; aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants and blueberries are bolstered by hints of briers and brambles, tar and leather. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of slightly stewed plums and elements of smoked meat, fruitcake and graphite. The texture is appropriately robust yet supple, and tannins are present yet moderately dense and chewy; the wine’s mineral nature stays firmly (in both sense) in the background. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 with lamb chops or grilled leg of lamb festooned with garlic and rosemary, grilled sausages, braised short ribs, pasta with rabbit or wild boar. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Esprit du Vin, Port Washington, N.Y.

A week from today at this time I’ll be on a plane to Houston, whence I fly to San Francisco and then take a short flight to San Luis Obispo, all amounting to a long day of travel so that I can attend, on April 26 and 27, some tasting events and seminars arranged by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group of wineries in that appellation that specialize in or at least significantly produce wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. DAOU Vineyards and Winery is a member of the group, and as a sort of lead-in to the events at the end of next week, I was able to obtain four sample wines for review produced by DAOU in its Paso Robles Collection of wines; they also make Reserve and Estate Collections. The winery is owned by brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, with the latter serving as winemaker.
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The DAOU Grenache Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, wisely ages only seven months in French oak, and those are one-year-old barrels, so the wood influence is restrained and supple, a sort of subdued haze of blond spice. The color is pale but radiant straw-gold; the wine is frankly gorgeous but without being ostentatious and in fact maintaining a sense of lovely spare elegance. Aromas of pear, apple and peach are bolstered by highlights of ginger and quince and a top-note of jasmine, while the touch of bee’s-wax we expect from grenache blanc is here. Flavors of lightly buttered pear tart are enhanced by hints of roasted lemon and honey, but this is a totally dry wine, lent vivacity by authoritative acidity and limestone-like minerality that only asserts itself, and rather gently, from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.1% alc. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. We had it, very successfully, with seared swordfish. Excellent. About $36.
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The color of the DAOU Chardonnay 2011, Paso Robles, is light but bright straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and cloves feel almost savory, while notes of ginger and white pepper provides liveliness and appeal. This is a chardonnay that takes its substance seriously, offering a texture that’s dense and chewy without being overwhelming; it’s quite dry but juicy with ripe apple and pineapple flavors that take on some austerity from a grapefruit pith-limestone-flint character and a slight drying quality from oak aging — 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new; a few minutes in the glass bring out Burgundian hints of bacon fat and Parmesan rind. As I said, this is a deep, rich and savory chardonnay that does not cross the line into cloying ripeness and spiciness or a superimposed vanilla/buttery/tropical nature. 14.2 percent alcohol. Well-stored, this should develop nicely through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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DAOU Celestus 2010, Paso Robles, is a blend of the kind one sees more and more, especially from California and Australia and even Italy; this is 59 percent syrah, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent petit verdot. It’s delicious. The color is an intense dark ruby-purple; pungent scents of crushed red and black currants and cherries (with a hint of plums) are permeated by dust and graphite, cloves and sandalwood and touches of leather and lavender. In the mouth, you intuit the syrah in an undertow of blueberries and briers, while red and black fruit flavors are borne on a tide of vibrant, almost vigilant acidity; velvety tannins; dry, spicy oak; and a fine-grained granitic mineral quality, all of which support the wine with a beautifully-tuned sense of balance and integration. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, 50 percent once-used. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Rather improbably, we drank this wine one night with a hearty pizza, and it was great. Excellent. About $46.
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The color of the DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles, is vibrant opaque ruby-purple from stem to stern; this is a robust, vigorous, dense mouthful of wine, characterized by deep, dry foresty tannins and forceful oak influence from 10 months — not all that long a passage — in French barrels, 60 percent new. On the other hand, exhilarating elements of cedar and tobacco, briery black currants and raspberries, black olive and bacon fat, red licorice and lavender keep the wine attractive, even seductive; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tar and pomegranate, blueberry tart and a hint of rhubarb, all ensconced in a dense, firm yet pliant structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.
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Red wines today, from Rioja and La Mancha in Spain and then several from Portugal. Robust, full-bodied, exotic, different, and perfectly fitted to accompany food prepared on the outdoor grill once you get that thing fired up: Steaks and burgers, leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, sausages, pork chops, ribs. A minimum of technical information, as is usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, which are designed to whet you palate and stir your appetite. And most of these wines, all samples for review, are pretty easy on the pocket-book. Enjoy!
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Agnus de Valdelana Rioja Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% mazuelo. I keep technical info to a minimum in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews, but I have to mention that this wine ages 12 months half in French oak barrels and half in Russian; in all my years writing about wine, I have never seen a reference to Russian oak. Medium ruby-magenta color with a slight garnet rim; rich, ripe and fleshy, deep, dark spicy black fruit scents and flavors tinged with blue; stalwart tannins, dense, chewy, a little gritty; austere, fairly astringent finish packed with briers, underbrush and graphite; still, something appealing about its sophomoric truculence. Now through 2016 to ’19 with a medium rare steak or grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Alente Premier 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14% alc. 60% trincadeira grapes, 40% aragonez. Boy, that’s fruity, spicy, savory and tasty! Black and red currants and cherries, smoke, oolong tea, fruitcake; nicely shaped tannins and graphite-like mineral elements supported by a modicum of oak and vibrant acidity; moderately chewy texture, slightly dense and spicy finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at about $14.
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Bodegas de la Marques Valserrano Finca Monteviejo 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% graciano & garnacha. A rich, warm “robe” of medium ruby-cherry color; a real mouthful of woody spice, oak and tannin; dried fruit and flowers, dried spice; violets and lavender; cloves, allspice and sandalwood; black currants, plums and blueberries; graphite, bitter chocolate, black licorice and leather; a well-made old-fashioned Rioja, built to last through 2025 to 2030, though you could drink it tonight with roasted wild beast. Excellent.
About $40.
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Estela de Arrayan 2008, Mentrida, La Mancha. 14% alc. Grape blend not available, but the estate grows only syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. Dark ruby-mulberry color; warm, spicy, ripe and fleshy, dark edge of smoke, leather, briers and brambles; black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors infused with graphite and tar, lavender and bitter chocolate; powerful dry tannins but overall sleek and velvety. Quite a performance; drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. Price NA.
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Herdade da Comporta 2007, Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal. 13.5% alc. 40% aragonez, 40% alicante bouschet, 10% touriga franca, 10% trincadeira. Dark ruby-mulberry color; a sturdy, robust wine, packed with dried baking spice, iodine and iron; ripe, warm and fleshy; black black fruit, deep and intense; violets and lilac , quite dry, stoutly tannic. Don’t take a sip without a bite of steak. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Seleccion 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha. 13% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 40%, merlot 20%, tempranillo 40%. Dark ruby color with a mulberry cranberry edge; black currants and cherries, plums and more plums and plum dust, fruitcake and leather, touch of dill, thyme and black olives; fleshy and smoky, hint of bacon fat; smack-up tannins and lip-smacking acidity; very concentrated core of exotic spice, bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; finish a bit woody and austere but altogether a highly individual wine that demands roasted lamb or grilled pork tenderloin. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent, and a Don’t Miss It Value at about $16.50.
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Ruiz de Vinaspre 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. (Back label offers the “contains sulfites” warning in 15 languages. You know, just in case.) Dark ruby-purple; spicy, roasted and fleshy, ripe and warm; intense blackberry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavors, touched with lavender, violets and sandalwood; penetrating graphite-like minerality; bright, vibrant acidity and resolute but velvety tannins; loads of personality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+, and a Bargain at about $15.
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Torre de Gazate 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. This you have to buy by the case. Clean, brave medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy, a little earthy and funky; tempranillo as Beaujolais-Villages; but with smoke and dust, leather, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and plums; very dry with notable tannins after a few minutes but easily drinkable. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $9.
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Veedha 2009, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta roriz, touriga franca, touriga nacional. Dark ruby-mulberry color; very spicy, very juicy, spanking acidity; black currants and blueberries, plummy and slightly jammy; roses, ashes of roses, graphite, smoke, leather, frisky tannins. Lots of strange appeal and not like anything made in the New World. Very Good. About $14.
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I made the Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012 my Wine of the Week on March 19. Now it’s the turn of the Toad Hollow Erik’s the Red Proprietary Red Wine 2011, which carries a general “California” designation. Pour quoi? Because the zinfandel and petite sirah grapes for this robust blend came from Lodi, the syrah and malbec from Central Coast, and the dolcetto from Mendocino County. I have a great deal of fondness for this winery that delivers well-made wines at prices sometimes far below what could be asked if quality were the criterion; in other words, Toad Hollow turns out authentic and drinkable wines at great prices. The last Erik’s I reviewed was the 2009; the blend for that wine was primarily merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel with dabs of souza, tannat, syrah and petite sirah. A different roster of grapes, however, has not changed this wine’s defining characteristic, a combination of attractive rusticity and bumptiousness with full-throttle dark and spicy black and blue fruit flavors and fine detailing of acid, tannin and mineral elements. The color is dark ruby-mulberry; the bouquet teems with notes of black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of mocha, black tea, black olives and pepper. The wine is lively and vibrant, moderately dense and chewy and bursting with ripe, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and currants; a wash of earthy briery-brambly-graphite completes the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Great for barbecue ribs, grilled pork chops and steaks or hearty pasta dishes, through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

Well, not much sounds more romantic, sun-splashed and authentically “South of France” than the region of Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur, which has, as travel writers like to say, its feet in the Mediterranean and its head in the Alps. They might add, with one elbow jostling Italy and the other resting in the Rhone. As one of France’s 27 regions, Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur encompasses six departments: Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Vaucluse. This is a much-fought-over region rich in history and winemaking that nowadays ranges from the deep, dark rich wines of the Southern Rhône Valley to the delicate ineffable rosés of Aix-en-Provence, with incredible variety in-between. To say, then, on press material, that the “birthplace” of a wine is Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur (weirdly abbreviated to PACA) isn’t saying much or, at least, it’s being almost laboriously non-specific. In fact, bottles of the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé carry as appellation the single word — France. Not, I hasten to add, that there’s anything wrong with that; I just want My Readers to understand the geography and terminology behind the product.

This fairly delightful sparkling wine, in a sleek package, is produced, we are told, by the Piffaut family, which established its estate in 1898, so indicated on the neck label. The wine is composed of 90 percent syrah grapes, 5 percent grenache and 5 percent cinsault, which could be the blend in many still wines from all over the region. The color is pale copper with a pale peach-salmon scale overlay. The bubbles, of which the complement is plentiful, swirling and twisting upward, are the result of the Charmat or bulk process, in which the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) is not accomplished in the bottle in which the wine will be sold, as in the Champagne method, but in large tanks; such sparkling wines can convey a great deal of charm but not a lot in the way of depth.

The first impression in the aromas and flavors is pure strawberry quickly overtaken by pure black raspberry and currant, with a pleasing touch, in the mouth, of the slight “raspiness” of the raspberry plant. A hint of sweetness on the entry quickly turns dry under the influence of scintillating acidity and a fluent element of flint-like minerality. I mentioned Lambrusco in the title of this post because, while the color here is lighter and more ephemeral than the dark purple typical of most slightly sparkling Lambruscos — which originate in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region — there’s a similar feeling of earthiness, a similar touch of supple robustness to serve as counterweight to the delicate superstructure. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink up; not for aging. We drank the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé as aperitif over two nights and were quite pleased with it; I’m happy to give it a Very Good+ rating. What I’m not happy about is the suggested retail price of $35. As they say in Marseilles, “No way, Jose.” $18, maybe; not $35.

The press material accompanying this product is filled with laughs. Monaco is not one of the “stunning French Riviera cities”; it’s a sovereign principality. Neither “Van” Gogh (related to Van Johnson?), Matisse, Manet or “Cesanne” were Impressionist painters. Did nobody read this stuff before it was mailed out to the world? Is the notion of a copy-editor hopelessly passé?

Imported by Luc Belaire, New York. A sample for review.

A few weeks ago, Gilt.com had a sale on groups of three wines each from Sean Thackrey, 10 percent off the price of the wines and minimal shipping cost. We love the wines but have not seen them in years; Thackrey, who can legitimately be called legendary if not mythic in California, produces small quantities of highly individual and allocated wines, about 4,000 cases altogether, from vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino and Marin County. I debated for a few days and finally took the plunge. I ordered three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, the most recent non-vintage blend of red grapes from various sources that Thackrey has produced since 1992, and the Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite sirah 2010, Mendicino County; and the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County. This weekend, I opened the first bottle of Pleiades Old Vines XXII to drink on Pizza and Movie Night.

Bottled in June 2012, Pleiades Old Vines XXII, California Red Table Wine, is a blend of sangiovese, viognier, pinot noir, syrah and mourvèdre “to name but a few” as the label says, leading of course to rank speculation: petit verdot? tempranillo? alicante bouschet? The color is vivid ruby-red with a tinge of magenta at the rim; aromas of raspberries and black and red currants are nestled in elements of briers and brambles, rose hips and violets, a hint of cloves. Speaking of raspberries, the wine is pleasantly raspy and earthy, and while at first one thinks, “O.K., this is nice, drinkable, tasty,” as the minutes pass the wine gains power, dimension and edge; the tannins gather force, expressing themselves in a slightly gritty squinchy fashion, while bright, nervy acidity flings an authoritative arrow through the whole array, keeping it fresh and lively. Blue fruit joins the panoply amid a broader range of dried spices, flowers and graphite, though the emphasis remains on a peculiar intensity of blackness involving black currants, raspberries and plums — but always that wild touch of red. An imminently sane 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. One of California’s great loopy, blended wines. Excellent. About $24.

The ranch of Halter Ranch Vineyard originated in 1881 when Edwin Smith, a wholesale butcher in San Francisco, bought 3,600 acres in the Adelaida area west of Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County. Smith threw himself into country life, becoming a dealer in farm produce and livestock and investing in silver mining and race-horses, keeping a stable for thoroughbred horses on the estate. In the late 1890s, his business empire foundered, and the estate was soon broken up. During World War II, the MacGillivray family acquired 1,200 acres of the old ranch; after farming the land for more than 50 years, they planted grapevines in 1996. In 2000, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres of the ranch, renovated Smith’s historic farmhouse (seen in the image here), and began enlarging the vineyard to its present 280 acres. And that estate is Halter Ranch Vineyard. Winemaker is Kevin Sass, who was winemaker at Justin Vineyards and Winery until 2011; owners Deborah and Justin Baldwin sold their property to Roll International, owners of FIJI Water, late in 2010. General manager is Skylar Stuck. These Halter Ranch wines, about half of the winery’s roster, were tasted at a dinner at Acre restaurant in Memphis with representatives from the winery, the local distributor and a group of retailers.
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The Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, covers most of the white grapes of the southern Rhone Valley in its blend of 33 percent grenache (blanc), 26 percent roussanne, 20 percent picpoul blanc, 12 percent marsanne and 9 percent viognier. The grapes ferment and the wine ages four months in neutral French oak barrels, that is, barrels that have been used to age wine several times so their influence will be minimal. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a white wine that displays a beautiful medium gold color and an appealing bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, almonds, roasted lemons and lemon drops, with a touch of lime peel in the background. It’s quite crisp with vibrant acidity and an element of chalk-infused limestone, and the texture is lively and supple. A haze of soft spicy oak washes the palate, while the whole package offers lip-smacking viscosity. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of figs and yellow plums. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
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Five grapes also come into play in the Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso 2010, Paso Robles, a blend of 49 percent grenache, 23 percent mourvèdre, 11 percent syrah, 13 tannat and 4 counoise; no cinsault this vintage. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to light magenta, pretty damned entrancing. The gorgeous bouquet is a weaving of penetrating graphite minerality, exuberant spicy element and ripe blackberry, black currant and plum fruit permeated by lavender, violets and red licorice. If you can tear yourself away from this panoply of effects, prepare for a red wine that’s robust and vigorous, intense and resonant yet growing more generous and expansive as the moments pass; this is black fruit flavors with a red tinge, velvety tannins with a hint of something rigorous, polished oak that offers support without being obtrusive and a finish that squeezes out more granite-like minerality. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 750 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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The Halter Ranch Synthesis 2010, Paso Robles, is, in a sense, the winery’s entry-level red wine, though it’s not really more of a synthesis than any other of these wines, all of them made from a synthesizing (but not homogenizing) blend of grapes, a practice managed at Halter Ranch with a great deal of finesse. Having said that, I’ll now say that Synthesis 2010, while nicely balanced and integrated, is the most rustic, the most solid of this group of wines, meaning that it lacks a little of the elevating power that a great wine exerts. It’s a blend of 78 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent syrah and 5 percent malbec, the syrah perhaps accounting for a note of leather and black pepper in the nose. The color is deep ruby, almost purple with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; leather, as I said, black pepper and thyme and cedar, intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; terrifically vibrant and resonant, the wine bursts with tannins that feel both velvety and a little shaggy and infused with graphite-like minerality. 15 percent alcohol. 750 cases were made. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Halter Ranch Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, is the most furled of this group of red wines, needing two or three years to unclench. It too is a blend, classic Southern Rhone with 84 percent syrah, 8 percent mourvèdre and 3 percent (white) viognier, with a decidedly unclassic 5 percent malbec, but that’s why California exists. The color is dark ruby, almost opaque purple at the center, and despite the wine’s reticence, it delivers a distinct but almost anti-sensuous bouquet of iodine and graphite, black pepper and sea-salt, briers and brambles and, after quite a while, an infinity or two, a lovely wafting of lilacs and violets, and your nose goes, “Bingo, I’m in love.” Things grow tighter, more concentrated, mouthwise — there’s a touch of tough love in this romance — yet even here, after a demanding few minutes, this syrah opens to delicious flavors of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with bass notes of clean earth, dried spice and flowers and a fairly austere granitic mineral element. The oak regimen was 18 months in French barrels, 30 percent new. 15.2 percent alcohol, which you feel a bit in the finish. 1,200 cases. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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The Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, feels deep, dense and minerally. mouth-filling, a wine of burgeoning vibrancy and resonance; the color is dark ruby, opaque at the center, while the bouquet of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums unfolds with hints of cedar and tobacco, black olive and bay leaf. The blend is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 11 percent merlot; the wine aged 18 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Though this Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 revolves around its oak, tannin, acid and mineral structure, it’s surprisingly smooth and drinkable, and I don’t mean to denigrate it one whit by saying that this could sell gangbusters in restaurants, by the bottle or glass. Elements of graphite, plum pudding and bittersweet chocolate form a core for spicy and slightly raspy black and red fruit flavors; the finish is long and packed with spice and dusty mineral qualities. 15 percent alcohol, and while I think that generally cabernet does not perform well at 15 percent alcohol or higher, this one feels balanced and integrated. 2,200 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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A selection of the best barrels of a given year, Ancestor is Halter Ranch’s flagship wine. For 2008, this “Estate Reserve” is a blend of 25 percent petit verdot, 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent syrah, 15 merlot and 12 merlot. It’s unusual to see one-quarter of a blend made of petit verdot and, in a sort of Bordeaux blend, to see this much syrah. Still, it feels pretty classic. Classic what? Classic California red wine at a high caliber of performance; we could call this velocity Californication, in terms of this heady rush of plush, velvety tannins, of graphite and granitic minerality, of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, of ripe, spicy black currant and black cherry fruit packed with intimations of cedar and tobacco and rosemary; all this sensuality leavened, even restrained by the most prominent oak and tannin of any of these red wines; the program was 18 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The alcohol content is a faintly disturbing 15.6 percent, and there is indeed a slight bit of sweet heat on the finish that mars the surface of this otherwise sleek, polished production. 695 cases. Try from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. Excellentish. About $50.
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Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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