Tuscany



All of these Italian wines — a rosé, a white and four reds — qualify as Excellent Value and, if not in your immediate neighborhood, Worth a Search. Prices range from about $10 to about $18. Little technical, historical or geographical information; rather, these brief reviews are intended to spark your interest and inspire your palates. All were samples for review. Enjoy, on this Labor Day weekend.
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Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2011, Piedmont. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Light straw-gold color with faint green highlights; roasted lemons, yellow plums, grapefruit; cloves, quince and ginger; brisk and saline; opens to hint of peach, almond blossom and a slightly honeyed aspect; very dry, packed with elements of limestone and shale minerality; blade-like acidity cuts a swath; lovely transparency and balance. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $14.
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Beni di Batasiolo Rosé 2011, Piedmont. 80% barbera, 15% dolcetto, 5% nebbiolo. Medmium copper color with a flush of salmon; dried red currants and plums, hints of raspberry and mulberry; cloves, dried violets and rose petals; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint minerality but complimented by notes of ripe red fruit, black tea, orange zest and cloves. Delicate, delightful, refreshing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby color; spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors, with hints of plum and pomegranate; touches of smoke, leather and underbrush; quite dry, a bit dusty, with vibrant acidity for a lively structure and mouth-feel; very tasty and drinkable, now through 2014. Perfect, simple pasta and pizza wine. Very Good. About $10.
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Li Veli Primonero 2010, Salento. 13.5% alc. 85% negroamaro, 15% primitivo. Deep, dark, rustic, robust, hearty; ruby-purple with a mulberry cast; blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a tantalizing hint of lilac; very spicy, very lively; in the depths, tar, lavender, bitter chocolate, super intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors, a sort of overripe but rigorous bruise-like character, graphite and granitic minerality, leather and licorice. Now through 2015. About $13.
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Poggio Vignoso Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 85% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 5% malvasia. An attractive old-fashioned Chianti aged in 10-year-old Slovenian oak barrels. Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty, spiced and macerated red cherries and currants with touches of melon and sour cherry; a little earthy and briery, with brisk acidity; smooth but leathery tannins and notes of supple and subtle wood; hint of violet on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15 but discounted around the country as low as $10.
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Sikelia Nero d’Avola 2011, Sicily. 13% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Seeing no barrel aging, this wine retains appealing freshness and immediacy while keeping faith with the grape’s dark, tarry, foresty and deeply spicy nature; dark ruby-purple color; earthy and funky, ripe, meaty and fleshy; smoke, blackberries and blueberries (with a hint of blueberry tart); graphite, deep dark Platonic black cherry elements; rustic, muscular, supple. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $15 but seen as low as $11. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

… but you really should buy the Tortarossa 2010, Toscana, by the case to drink over the next year. It’s a blend of 50 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah, making it sound rather like one of those experiments in blending from California, though the Tortarossa 2010 — the name means “red cake” — manages to hold on to what feels like an Italian, if not Tuscan, character. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of mulberry; aromas of black currants and plums, touched by dried red currants and cherries, are warm and spicy, ripe, fleshy and a little meaty. The wine is robust without being rustic and flavorful without being over-ripe; black and red fruit flavors are permeated by notes of cloves, oolong tea, violets and tar and borne up by bright acidity and a surprising amount of grainy, briery tannins. Yes, quite the personality, and it matches the carefree, winsome contortionist on the wonderful label. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014, maybe into 2015, with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers and roasts or (ahem) cheese toast. Winemaker was Alessandro Bacci. Very Good+. About $15, marking Great Value.

Imported by Largo Wines, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.

In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

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Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
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Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
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Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
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Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
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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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Here’s a perfect Chianti Classico Riserva for the cold weather dishes you’re probably cooking now, I mean beef or lamb stew, braised short ribs or veal shanks, pasta Bolognese, that sort of thing. The Ruffino Riserva Ducale 2008, Chianti Classico Riserva, is slightly nontraditional in that its 80 percent sangiovese grapes is supplemented by mixed 20 percent caberbet sauvignon and merlot, and yet thoroughly traditional in that it sees no new oak or aging in small, that is 59-gallon, French barriques. No, this CCR ages 24 months half in stainless steel and concrete vats and half in oak casks that range from 40 to 80 hectoliters, about 1,000 to 2,000 gallons. So while the polished and faintly dusty character of the wine’s tannins are evident from entry to finish, there’s no taint of the vanilla or toasty wood that new oak can impart. This is, instead, a spicy and savory CCR, subtle with notes of dried cherries and black and red currants and hints of sour cherry, black tea and leather. The color is moderate ruby, and in fact everything about this CCR testifies to its not being deeply extracted or heavily manipulated; nothing ruffles its pleasing balance and integration. Lipsmacking acidity enlivens the wine through and through, while elements of graphite-like minerality and supple tannins provide the necessary support for flavors of loamy black and red fruit. A touch of woody allspice and sandalwood and bracing bitterness on the finish imply that this is a CCR for grown-ups. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.

Ruffino Import Co., Rutherford, Ca. A sample for review.

Since life and this blog cannot be about Champagne and sparkling wine for every post, damnit, we return to our regular programming for a red wine that should serve you well for the coming week or even longer, especially with the flavorful and savory dishes demanded by this chilly weather. In fact, in my neck o’ the woods, it’s gently raining and sleeting at this moment.

Of the three primary appellations for the sangiovese grape in Tuscany — Chianti Classico and Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano –the last is the least familiar and where it is known is generally considered the least refined, if not the most rustic, of the trio. The wines deserve to have a wider audience. A good place to start is with the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010. The estate was founded in 1961, when Dino Carletti acquired 22 hectares (about 56.5 acres) in Montepulciano, naming his property Poliziano after the 15th Century poet Angelo Ambrogini, nicknamed “Il Poliziano.” Federico, Dino’s son, operates the estate today, though he expanded the property to 120 hectares (about 308 acres), including vineyards in Maremma, near the coast in southwest Tuscany. Rosso di Montepulciano received official recognition as a D.O.C. wine in 1989. Though it can be made from declassified grapes from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the practice at Poliziano is to select rows of vines that conform to the production of a younger, fruitier and more approachable wine.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; about 40 percent of the wine aged eight months in second-year French barriques, 60 percent in large vats. The wine presents a vivid medium ruby color with a tinge of mulberry at the center; aromas of red cherries and plums are highlighted by sour cherry, a touch of melon and hints of tobacco, black tea, cloves and orange rind. The robust nature of sangiovese has a fingerprint all over this wine, but it’s inextricably melded to and balanced with some of merlot’s refinement. Still, there’s vibrant acidity for an engaging presence and dry and moderately grainy tannins for structure. A hint of austerity sands the finish, but this is mainly a wine that’s juicy with red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2015 with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes or grilled beef, veal or lamb — or just a burger. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Stop. Drop everything. Run out and buy a case of Piccini Chianti 2011, from, of course, Tuscany. You’ll pay less than $100 for those 12 bottles, with the standard 10 percent case discount. The estate was founded in 1882 by Angiolo Piccini and is now operated by the family’s fourth generation. Antonella Conti has been winemaker since 2006. The Piccini Chianti 2011, which the company calls “Chianti Orange” — let’s hope this device stirs no memories in the USA of the notorious Agent Orange — because of the label, is a blend of 95 percent sangiovese grapes and 5 percent ciliegiolo. Conti ( pictured here) employs the traditional but now little used governo technique of inducing a second fermentation by adding to the wine pressed dried grapes from the same harvest. The result is a slight tempering of the acidity of the sangiovese grape and a slight increase in carbon dioxide, making for an agreeable and quaffable wine. The Piccini Chianti 2011, however, is better than agreeable and quaffable. The color is deep ruby; aromas of fresh and dried black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of woody spices like cloves and sandalwood with a background of violets, leather and black tea. The wine offers tasty, spicy and macerated black and red fruit flavors — there’s an undertow of pomegranate — nestled in a firm supple structure of finely meshed but not self-important tannins. There’s satisfying balance between richness, the natural spareness of the sangiovese grape and a touch of graphite-like minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. This was a great pizza wine for us and would serve well with hearty pasta dishes, burgers and braised short ribs. Drink through 2013. Very Good+, and a Raving Bargain at about $9.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore. A sample for review.

Sorry that I did not produce a Weekend Wine Sips this week. You know how it is, the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers blah blah blah.

All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Often white wines that aren’t chardonnay or sauvignon blanc nonetheless come across as quite sauvignon blanc-like, as if there were no alternative to those two deeply inculcated tastes, so why bother being something with which people are not familiar and everybody loves sauvignon blanc, right? Today, however, I offer a white wine that’s an individual as all get-out and bears no resemblance to anything else. It’s the Prelius Vermentino 2011, Maremma Toscano, from down near the coast in southwestern Tuscany. The owners of Castello di Volpaia, well-known producers of Chianti Classico and other red wines, launched this organic venture in 2008. Prelius Vermentino 2011 was made completely from vermentino grapes and came all from stainless steel tanks, where the wine aged on the lees — the residue of dead yeast cells — to gain a little character. So, the wine begins in fresh, clean, breezy fashion, presenting whiffs of thyme and roasted lemon, almond and almond blossom, but a few minutes in the glass bring out notes that are distinctly spicy, savory and saline, with the fleshiness and pungency of macerated pears, some earthy-limestone-loamy quality and high-notes of tarragon and lilac. Brisk acidity keeps the balance between a lean texture and moderately rich, ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, leading to a finish that’s packed with cloves and bracing elements of salt-marsh and sea-shell. A white wine — not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc — appropriate for the risotto and pasta dishes of Autumn or grilled fish and seafood. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

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