Weekend Wine Notes


There’s no better time to drink Champagne or sparkling wine than anytime it happens to be that you feel like it. I devote considerable space to those categories late in December and early in January in my annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but why not do a mid-year survey? Though actually I will probably wish that I had saved some of these examples to use then. Oh well. Unless otherwise indicated — most of the Champagnes included today were purchased locally — these products were samples for review. All except one were made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. A couple from Italy should attract the eye of bargain-hunters. Drink up! Enjoy! Be careful!
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breton-fils-brut-tradition-aoc-champagne__91536.1416051974.1280.1280
Champagne Breton Fils “Tradition” Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 1/3 each chardonnay, pinor noir, pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold hue; a beautiful upward surge of tiny swirling silver bubbles; a bit loamy and musky; baked apple, peach, almond skin; toasted hazelnuts and a touch of toffee; dense and almost chewy in texture, impressive heft and presence; heather and salt marsh, quince and ginger, slightly honeyed in effect but quite dry; arrow-straight acidity midst limestone and chalk minerality. Excellent. About $60, a local purchase.
Imported Heritage LLC, Corona, Calif.
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canard
Champagne Canard-Duchêne Brut Rosé nv. A lovely color that blends pale onion skin with smoky topaz and delicately tarnished silver; a froth of glinting tiny bubbles; a spare, elegant brut rose Champagne, all steel, smoke and limestone, offering wisps of strawberry and tangerine, orange zest and almond skin, with a hint of pear, heather and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all ensconced in a lovely, light, lithe effervescent texture. No great depth, but plenty of substance and pleasure. Very Good+. About $46, a local purchase.
Imported by Thiernot USA, San Rafael, Calif.
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cleto rose
Cleto Chiarli Brut Nero Rosé nv, Emilia Romagna, Italy. 12% alc. 100% grasparossa grapes. Made in the cuve close method. An entrancing light-coral-cotton-candy-pink hue; very dry but foams through the mouth like a cloud of ripe raspberries and strawberries; notes of fresh biscuits, almond skin and gardenia; a touch of rose petals; fleet acid structure with a hint of flinty minerality. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear, just drink up and be glad you’re alive. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Champagne Forget-Brimont Premier Cru Brut nv. 40% each pinot noir and pinot meunier, 20% forgetchardonnay. Pale pale gold color, enlivened by an incessant stream of incandescent bubbles; roasted lemon, lemon balm and spiced pear; if platinum had a scent of smoke and steel, this Champagne would be it; lovely body and mouth-feel; lush and creamy but cut by keen acidity and limestone minerality; brings up notes of buttered toast and brioche with a hint of cloves; lip-smacking acidity and a mineral edge. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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laurent demi
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec nv. 12% alc. 50% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir, 15% pinot meunier. “Demi-Sec” means “half-dry,” in other words, sweet (in varying degrees), but this elegant and majestic example feels just a shade sweeter than a typical brut-style Champagne, a factor revealed in a slightly riper fashion of citrus and stone-fruit. Pale gold hue, enlivened by a plethora of energetic tiny bubbles; hints of peach, pear and tangerine, a touch of spice cake; creamy on the palate but cut by vivid acidity and a dynamic limestone and chalk element; a bone-dry finish, all bracing seashell salinity and minerality. Excellent. About $45.
Laurent-Perrier USA, Long Island City, New York.
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La_Valle_Primum
La Valle Primum Brut nv, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay, pinot nero, pinot bianco, aged two years on the lees in bottle. Very pale gold color; lovely and exuberant effervescence; heather, lemon balm, spiced peach and baked apple; notes of fresh bread and brioche, limestone and steel; quite dry but ripe and juicy; brings in hints of jasmine and roasted lemon; gets pretty toasty on the finish. Very Good+. About $40.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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barone 2
Barone Pizzini Bagnadore Riserva 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. Half and half chardonnay and pinot noir; this zero dosage-style sparkling wine spent five years on the lees. 1,356 cases. Lustrous pale gold; freshly baked bread and brioche, smoke and steel, toasted almonds and almond skin, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint, bracing acidity and salinity; touches of toffee and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; high-toned and elegant with real depth of character. Drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $60.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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barone
Barone Pizzini Naturae Edizione 2011, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12% alc. 70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir. Also a zero dosage style sparkling wine, it spends 30 to 40 months on the lees. Pale pale platinum blonde; a great froth of yearning bubbles; every aspect of lemon — roasted lemon, lemon balm, lemon drop, preserved lemon — with spiced pear, toasted hazelnuts and lightly buttered brioche; wreathes of smoke, limestone and flint, energized by vivid acidity; wholly balanced and integrated but exciting and a bit feral. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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brut premier
Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier nv. 12% alc. 40% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay, 20% pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold animated by lively effervescence; fresh-baked biscuits, toasted hazelnuts, roasted lemons and spiced pears, hint of jasmine; very crisp and clean, displaying exquisite poise in bridging lushness and creaminess with spare elegance and incisive acidity and crystalline limestone minerality; brings in notes of cloves and ginger, smoke and steel. Excellent. About $50, a local purchase.
Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.
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Rotari Brut Rosé nv, Trento, Italy. 12.5% alc. 75% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay. You might think width="250"at the price that this winsome sparkling wine, made in the traditional method — it spends two years on the lees in the bottle — would be no more than a kissy-face little crowd-pleaser, but it offers more character than you would suspect. Very pale salmon-copper color; relentlessly effervescent; blood orange, raspberry, almond skin; sea-shell, limestone and a hint of peach; very dry, tending toward austere on the finish, but brings up hints of rose petals and macerated strawberries. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real value.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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steorra
Steorra Brut nv, Russian River Valley. 12.2% alc. 55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir. This is the first sparkling wine made by Joe Wagner, for his Copper Cane Wines & Provisions. Wagner created the immensely popular Meiomi label, which he sold last year to Constellation for a staggering $315 million. The color is a very pale straw-gold hue, enlivened by a fine, energetic bead; spiced pears and roasted lemons, delicate and subtle, with notes of quince and ginger, buttered toast and caramel; it’s quite dry, loaded with chalk and limestone minerality, a bit savory and saline, nicely balanced between creaminess and brisk acidity; the flaw is a finish that falls a little short. Very Good+. About $23.
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Sterling Vineyards Brut 2012, Carneros. 12.3% alc. (No mention of this product on the winery’s website, no tech info, no image. Perhaps it doesn’t really exist.) Pale gold shimmering with a hail of tiny bubbles; very clean and fresh, spiced pear and roasted lemon, hints of smoky heather and hay; steel, flint, almond skin; charming and scintillating, elegant and energetic; very dry, with a firm yet attractive element of limestone minerality that surges through the chiseled finish. Excellent. About $50.
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Ah, Summer — sea-coast and mountains, or perhaps just lazy weekend afternoons in your own backyard or on a patio or porch or balcony. Wherever you find yourself, you’ll need a glass of a cool, engaging, pretty wine to enjoy with picnic fare or appetizers or just to sip while contemplating all the goodness that life offers. I mean, cripes, we need that now! These Weekend Wine Notes are a bit fuller than usual because this post started off last week as a stand-alone piece but took too long. So now, here it is. All wines mentioned today were samples for review. All rate “Excellent,” even the cheap ones, so there are some real bargains here. Enjoy! And take care of yourselves, please.
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Ascevi Luwa Ronco Superiore Ceròu 2014, Friuli Isonza, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% tocai friulano Ascevi-CEROU-Friulano-labelgrapes. The color is pale gold; collectively, in scent and flavor, the wine conjures a sense of mountain heather and valley meadows, of seaside and hillside; pears, almonds and peaches dominate, along with jasmine and honeysuckle, while a hint of honey leavens the savory-saline quality, though the wine is, as they say, bone-dry. Limestone-seashell minerality adds vividness to the wine’s crystalline clarity and chiming acidity, all borne on a lithe, alluring texture. This rates a big “Wow!” Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 500 cases. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Colome Torrontes
Colomé Torrontés 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Derived from vineyards above 5,000 feet, this pale gold torrontes shimmers with notes of jasmine, lilac and talc, brambly pear and lychee, bee’s-wax and lanolin, then opening to hints of roasted lemon, sage and bay leaf. Crisp and lively on the palate, propelled by tart and taut acidity, the wine features a lovely, lithe, supple texture and a finish that’s suave with a sunny-leafy-figgy character and a deeper tone of grapefruit bitterness. This wonderful complexity on perhaps the best torrontés wine I have tasted has nothing to do with oak. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $15, a Remarkable Bargain.
Imported by The Hess Collection Winery, Napa Calif.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc 2015, Clarksburg. 13% alc. The Clarksburg AVA 2015_Chenin_Blanc_label_rgb
includes portions of Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of hay and heather, pear and jasmine and an intriguing strain of a dusty garrigue-like meadowy quality lend this wine a distinct summery aspect. Hints of gooseberry and brambly currants, quince and ginger complete the lithe, spare, vibrant package. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $13, representing Terrific value.
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FEL Pinot Gris 2015, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14% alc. A pale gold hue for a wine thatPinot-Gris-Anderson-Valley feels golden; notes of ripe pears and peaches are cloaked in dusty, graphite mineral elements and wreathed with jasmine and lilac; a few moments in the glass produce hints of green apple, gunflint, quince and ginger and fresh-mown hay; tremendous minerality and acidity give this wine unexpected grip and power, aspects that do not, however, subtract from its delicate, leafy, lacy qualities. It seems to glow with sunlight from within. The wine fermented in a 900-gallon French oak tank (30%), small neutral French oak barrels (30%) and stainless steel tanks (40%). Produxction was 1,322 cases. Drink through 2019 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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Garofoli Serra del Conte 2014, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. 12% alc. The DOC is in the province of Ancona in Italy’s Marches region, close to the Adriatic sea. The color is pale straw; notes of hay and dry grass, spiced pear and peach and fleshy white flowers like gardenias and camellias distinguish the utterly beguiling bouquet, which opens to exotic hints of powdered cloves and coriander. The texture is silken, lithe and supple, driven by crystalline acidity and a lacy limestone mineral quality, all supporting stone-fruit flavors heightened by a note of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Excellent. About $11 — no kidding! — so Buy It by the Case Right Now.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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stinson
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2015, Monticello, Virginia. 12.5% alc. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Production was 150 cases. A rose wine of extreme delicacy and elegance, this model offers a pale salmon-peach hue and transporting hints of orange zest and ripe strawberries, melon and sour cherry, with high notes of rose petals and violets. There’s enough limestone minerality and a touch of loamy earthiness in this rosé that resists being merely charming, while its quite dry texture leads to a spice and dried herb finish. Excellent. About $21.
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Le-Rosse
Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio 2015, delle Venezia, Italy. 12% alc. This superior pinot grigio starts with a pale gold hue and then offers beguiling notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and pear, dried thyme and lightly smoked almonds, adding a small flourish of greengage and melon on the finish. It’s quite dry, bracing in its savory and saline qualities and animated by a whip-lash of flint and bright acidity. Delectable, with a slightly serious edge and real character. Excellent. About $17, Good Value.
Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
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troon
Troon Vineyard Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 12.5% alc. 80% vermentino, 20% sauvignon blanc. Production was 167 cases. The color is a shimmering pale straw hue; notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears burgeon from the glass, attended by hints of greengage and yellow flowers, dried thyme, heather and meadow grass. The wine displays real grip for a white wine that’s not chardonnay or riesling and reveals remarkable detail and dimension in its permeable layers of dusty limestone and flint minerality, its dense and lithe texture and its nuances of spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, all energized by vivid acidity. Quite a performance. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Two Shepherds Fanucchi Vineyard Trousseau Gris 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 2014TrousseauGrisfrontWinemaker William Allen ferments the white grapes (using native yeast) on the skins for the first five days, imparting a pale copper-smoky topaz hue, and after fermentation ages the wine eight months in neutral oak barrels. Neither a white wine nor a red or rose, this intriguing effort offers notes of spiced pear, Rainier cherries and yellow plums with a ping of red currant at the core; like a rosé from Provence, this wine embodies that ineffable yet characteristic aspect of dusty-damp roof tiles, yet unlike any rosé it features hints of savory and slightly bitter almond skin and a saline line of marsh grass. The finish is almost sherry-like. Another memorable performance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
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O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
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FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Giesen-The-Brothers-Pinot-Noir-no-vintage-168x4921
Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
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2012PastoralRouge
Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
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Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe
Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
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Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.
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Inexorably we drift from Spring into Summer, so in honor of this transitional state I offer a dozen savory, zesty white wines. The grapes range from the familiar — sauvignon blanc, riesling — to the unfamiliar and exotic — grillo, gouveio, while the geography takes us all over the place. Prices rise from about $12 to $28, giving space for some real bargains and great values. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all technical, historical, geological and personal data — as interesting as those items may be — for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook, and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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haberle_label
Alois Lagerder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2013, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Production was 1,125 cases. Very pale straw hue; ripe, spice, macerated and lightly roasted stone-fruit with a halo of white flowers; notes of dried thyme and fennel; lithe and supple texture, offering vivid acid cut and limestone dimensions of structure; very dry but juicy with peach, pear and yellow plum flavors; real personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $23.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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erste-neue
Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto-Adige. 14% alc. Pale gold color; very appealing, with notes of green apple, pear and lemon balm, heather and meadow grass; heady and floral; lovely silken texture; quite dry, with pert acidity and shimmering limestone minerality; nothing complicated, just altogether irresistible. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by T Edward Wines, New York.
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assobio
Esporao Assobio 2014, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. 40% viosinho grapes, 30% gouveio, 20% verdelho, 10% arinto. Pale straw color; pear and acacia, heather and thyme; a bracing aura of sea-breeze and salt-marsh; very dry, with pert acidity, layers of damp flint and shale minerality; an exotic spicy-herbal flare; lean and supple. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
Imported by Aidil Wines, New York.
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semillon
Esporao Private Selection Semillon 2013, Alentejano, Portugal. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; elevating aromas of quince and ginger, spiced pear, lemon oil and orange rind; slightly honeyed in aspect but quite dry and spare; a fragile infusion of tropical fruit and flowers with a hint of fig; lovely silky texture, moderately lush but honed by limestone. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
Impoted by Aidil Wines, New York.
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Gewurz
Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Production was, alas, only 65 cases. Pale straw color; classic notes of lychee, pear, jasmine and rubber eraser, with hints of cloves and ginger; lithe texture, with crystalline clarity, acidity and limestone drive, great vibrancy and appeal; the limestone-flint minerality builds through the dynamic finish; grapefruit finish with a touch of bracing bitterness. A terrific example of the grape. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22.
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Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; Matetic EQ Coastal SB 14 Ftgrapefruit, lilac, greengage; celery seed and fennel with back-notes of lime peel, quince and ginger; crisp and lively, with riveting acidity and a plangent limestone element; a lithe, almost sinewy texture with depths of fruit, spice and minerality bolstering a scintillating, transparent finish. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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puyanche-blanc-sec
Chateau Puyanché Franc 2014, Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Pale straw-gold hue; assertive notes of dill and celery seed, caraway and lime peel, with pink grapefruit and ethereal back-notes of melon and apple skin; just a lovely wine in every way: slightly powdery texture, stone-fruit and citrus scents and flavors, bright acidity and limestone minerality; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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plotzner
St. Pauls Plotzner Weissburgunder 2015, Südtirol Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw color; spice pear and roasted lemon, hay and autumn meadows, chalk and flint; a little earthy, as if its toes were still in the vineyard; clean and incisive acidity and chiseled limestone minerality. An exhilarating pinot blanc for drinking through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Importer N/A.
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Tascate Buonora 2014, Sicilia. 12% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; a rich, Stampagolden wine, with spiced pears and yellow plums, sage and thyme, green tea, quince and acacia; scintillating limestone and flint minerality; sea-salt and meadow; spicy and savory. A great deal of charm. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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blanc
Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; peach, pear and quince, bee’s-wax, dried thyme and sage; apple skin and pear nectar; lilac and acacia; yellow plums and a bare hint of mango; all these elements inextricably encompassed in a package that feels irrevocably vital, vibrant, real, bound to the earth yet ethereally delicate and delicious. An extraordinary wine. Exceptional. About $30.
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grillo
Vento di Mare Grillo 2014, Terre Siciliana IGT. 12.5% alc. Made from organic grillo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; savory and saline, with yellow plum and roasted lemon scents and flavors, notes of heather, dried thyme and sea-grass, clean-cut acidity and limestone minerality and a chalk-flinty element that increases through the herb-and-spice laden finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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wakefield riesling
Wakefield Riesling 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 12% alc. Pale straw gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, with a hint of zesty grapefruit and its pith; very dry, with a burgeoning limestone and chalk element, all wrapped in delightful vitality. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
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2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
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cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
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2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
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gp_pf_pinot_noir_front_label
Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
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grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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KRUG_FR_HM_11 5006
Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
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tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
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Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
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I know that some of My Readers are thinking, “Um, F.K., why are you telling us about pinot noirs from 2012? Haven’t these wineries released their 2013s? Aren’t you, like, a little behind the times here?” Laggard, yes, but trying to catch up. And besides, many of these pinots from 2012 still have a retail presence around the country, in physical stores and online. Where you can find them, buy them, because at a bit more than three years after harvest, some of these pinot noirs are drinking beautifully and will continue to do so for four to six more years. To clarify matters, I didn’t just taste these wines; they have been in my notebooks in jottings that go back to last Spring. I am not behind in the experience but in the organizing and publishing. I offer, then, brief reviews of 18 wines that range geographically from Mendocino County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical, historical, geological and personal information for the sake of incisive but heart-felt reviews meant to tease your taste-buds and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review.
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FC anderson
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; a finely meshed web of smoky black and red cherries and currants (a bit macerated and roasted), briers and loam, lavender and rose petals; bright acidity, moderately sleek and satiny texture, with supporting slightly dusty tannins and integrated oak; the spice element burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $30.
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FC middleridge_pinot_noir_2012
Ferrari-Carano Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium ruby color, slight fading to magenta; smoky and spicy black and red cherries; dust, graphite and loam; bare hints of lavender and violets; very dry, with leathery tannins and dominating oak that feels a bit sanded and polished; could use more balance, meaning less oak. Now through 2017 or ’19. Very Good. About $NA.
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FC sky-high2012
Ferrari-Carano Sky High Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino Ridge. 14.5% alc. 700 cases. Medium ruby-meganta hue; intense and concentrated, with a focus on black and red cherries and currants permeated by graphite and loam and a trailing edge of black pepper, cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; this is deep, rich and spicy on the palate, more velvety than satiny or silky; lithe, supple, a little muscular, with a real mineral edge and acid cut. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; intoxicating bouquet of cranberry, blueberry and plums permeated by rhubarb, lavender and violets, cloves, iodine and brambles with a touch of sandalwood; marvelously svelte, sleek and supple texture enlivened by bright acidity and a subtle graphite accent. Delicious and delightful but with some depth. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_Hallberg_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color; this single-vineyard pinot noir resembles its regional cousin mentioned directly above but with the difference of marked intensity and concentration; rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, sassafras and beet-root; briers and brambles and a touch of loamy earthiness; very sleek and satiny but with a peppery rasp; the spicy element builds, as do the slightly dusty, graphite-tinged tannins; keen acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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GB pinot
Gundlach-Bundschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; cranberry, rhubarb, pomegranate; cloves, rose petals, lilac; a lovely mid-palate, with a dusty silky texture, slightly earthy with notes of briers, underbrush and loam, though paradoxically, the earthy element grows while the finish falls a bit short. Not quite a success. Very Good. About $39.
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kendall_jackson_estate_outland_LRG
Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; a powerful expression of the grape, delivering notes of iodine and iron, savory black plums, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cloves, white pepper and loam; a large-framed pinot, dry, polished, a bit chiseled in its graphite minerality, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is focused and a bit austere. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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lazy
Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. (Owned by Don and Rhoda Carano.) 257 cases. A cherry-berry color for a cherry-berry pinot noir, all black and red with touches of rhubarb, cranberry, lavender and loam and hints of briers, brambles and underbrush; dense and almost chewy, tending toward the heavier satin drape; lively and dynamic, with vibrant acidity supporting a dry, foresty structure and finish. Another fairly lithe and muscular pinot noir. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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macmurray
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, meaty and fleshy; black cherries and plums steeped in cloves and oolong tea; an earthy and loamy pinot noir, satiny in texture but feeling slightly roughened and sanded around its tannic edges. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $28.
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Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. From R. Buoncristiani Vineyard. 305 cases. Transparent orestano pnmedium ruby hue with a lighter, ethereal rim; dried red and black cherries and potpourri; deceptively unextracted — the mild color and its blithe footfall on the palate — yet displaying notable intensity and rootiness; hints of orange peel and black tea, mocha and tobacco; gains power and grip while not losing hold of elegance and proportion; lithe, not clingy or drapy; acidity plows a furrow on the palate. One of my favorite pinot noirs from tasting over the past six months. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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dolan pn
Paul Dolan Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent mulberry-magenta color; black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, cinnamon, touches of allspice and cola; the tannins expand, fairly dusty and leathery, and the oak comes up too, dominating the wine from mid-palate back through the finish. Could use more balance and integration. Very Good. About $30.
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Patz & Hall Burnside Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 413 cases. Beautiful transparent patz hall pn burnsidemedium ruby/mulberry hue; spiced and macerated and slightly fleshy red and black cherries and plums highlighted by notes of cloves, rhubarb, rose petals and sandalwood; a lovely, supple silky texture; quite dry, and after a few minutes in the glass, you feel the tannin and oak come up, not formidably but definitely there; still a display of exquisite balance and proportion. Now through 2017 to 2019. Excellent. About $75.
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patz chenoweth
Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. 871 cases. Dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; a pinot cast in the dark shades of black cherries, currants and plums, with notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of sandalwood; dense and substantial, supernal in its silky/satiny character; brings in touches of tobacco, smoke and briers. Immensely appealing. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $60.
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Saxon Brown Glass House Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; exotic, fleshy, even a bit — gulp! — sexy; cloves, sandalwood, allspice, sassafras; black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry; fills the mouth and strokes the palate in a satiny profusion, but you feel the burgeoning rigor of slightly dusty tannins and polished oak in the depths; along with bright acidity and a tinge of loam. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Stemmler Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby-magenta color; black and red cherries, mulberries and cranberries, cloves and cola, plum dust, notes of briers and brambles, loam and graphite; a dark and spicy pinot noir, highlighted by touches of lavender and potpourri and characterized by a mouth-filling presence and a draping of supple satin on the palate; long, lithe, muscular. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44.
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Stemmler Estate Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. 873 cases. Yes, this is RS_11nugent_frontreaching back pretty damned far, but so be it. Transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; roots and branches, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini and loam; sweet and smoky and ripe black and red cherries and currants offering a distinct aura of lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; supple, lithe and sinewy, with dusty, slightly leathery tannins and a finish packed with plums, flint-like minerality and slightly burnished oak. A big deal pinot for those who desire big deal wines, which I generally don’t, but I would certainly drink this one again. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $44.
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Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.6% alc. Transparent and ethereal ruby-cranberry hue; red and black currants, cranberries and mulberries; cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, notes of loam and leather, smoke and brambles; opens to a tinge of tobacco and black pepper; a very satiny texture enfolds the palate yet the wine feels light on its feet, fleet and dynamic; even the moderate tannins and hint of graphite minerality seem blithe and spontaneous. A lovely pinot noir. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $60.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter rim; full-blown spicy, floral and fruity pinot noir, offering an array of black currants, cherries and raspberries etched with cloves and sassafras and notes of rich loam; dense and super-satiny, with deep dimensions and layers of spice, black fruit, vibrant acidity and fairly firm tannins bolstered by a graphite-flinty mineral element. Just terrific. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.
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When I posted last week’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, devoted to catching up on reviews of pinot noir wines from California, William Allen replied on Facebook, “Lots of Pinots — time to be Rhônely.” Allen happens to make tiny quantities of wines from Rhône Valley grape varieties under the Two Shepherds label in Sonoma County. In honor of his response, today I offer brief reviews of nine wines made from such Rhône grapes as syrah, grenache and mourvedre, including one from Two Shepherds that I should have mentioned months ago, as well as several others from California, one from Washington state, two from the southern Rhône Valley and two from Australia, where the syrah grape is called shiraz. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew reams of technical, historical, geological and personnel information in favor of incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. With duly noted exceptions, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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beaume
Balma Venitia La Chapelle Notre Dame d’Aubune 2012, Beaumes de Venise. 14.5% alc. Grenache, syrah, cinsault. Dark ruby-purple; exuberant nose of black currants and black raspberries, violets and lavender; a wine of woodsy tendrils, filigrees and roots, with lip-smacking acidity and a savory note of grilled bread and mushrooms; an aura of clean linen snapping in a fresh breeze; fairly dense and chewy, with polished, slightly dusty tannins and a a sleek lithe texture. A joy to drink, now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $25, a local purchase.
William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
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bh14occultumbottle
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2014, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 14% alc. Predominantly syrah, with grenache and carignan. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; violets and loam, fresh black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry jam; lavender and licorice, smoke and graphite, notes of wet fur, tapenade and underbrush; lithe, supple and sinewy, quite tasty and refreshing but dense with dusty, slightly velvety tannins. A serious wine that also delights and charms. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Cadaretta Windthrow 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.8% alc. Syrah 56%, grenache 25%, mourvèdre 19%. 130 cadarettacases. Deep ruby-purple, motor-oil opaque, with a thermo-magenta rim; earth and loam, briers and brambles, lavender and leather and wet dog; intense and concentrated notes of blackberry, blueberry and plum; a sense of immersive and slightly austere tannins but finely honed and sifted; the oak comes up from mid-palate back providing a woodsy-spicy framework. Tremendous presence and character. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2025 to ’27. Excellent. About $ .
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couron
Domaine de Couron 2012, Côtes du Rhône. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 40% syrah. Dark ruby-garnet; notes of sage and thyme, ripe and macerated black and red currants and cherries; a direct appeal of fruit and structure with pleasing heft and presence; slightly briery tannins, with a hint of leather and loam and a faint floral overtone. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $14, a local purchase.
Imported by Chloé Wines, Seattle, Wash.
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Heintz_syrah
Charles Heintz Winery Roxy Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 150 cases (or 98 cases depending on if you believe the label or the website). Very dark ruby-purple with a glowing violet rim; a beautiful bosky-meadowy bouquet of roses and wild strawberries, heather and blueberries with hints of mint, tobacco and loam; sleek, lithe, silky texture enveloped by moderate tannins and enlivened by bright acidity; develops some rasp and cut in the glass, with notes of white pepper, briers, brambles and underbrush. A blithe version of the grape. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $46.
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grenache
Quivira Vineyards Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 14.7% alc. Certified bio-dynamic. Entrancing ruby-crimson hue with a transparent rim; cloves, orange rind, black tea; cedar and pine; raspberry and black currant with a touch of pomegranate and cranberry; lean and lithe, brambly and a little raspy; vibrant acidity that plows a furrow on the palate; lovely heft and tone, nicely meshed tannins and oak; nothing opulent here, you feel the structure as a defining principle. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $35. A local purchase.
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Two Shepherds Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 60 cases. Opaque ruby-magenta with 2012_Syrah_front_COLAa pale rim; fleshy and meaty; ripe and slightly roasted blackberries, black currants and plums; cloves, fruitcake, oolong tea; firm, dusty tannins under a silky smooth texture that seduces the palate; deeply spicy black fruit flavors infused with graphite and lavender, powered by fleet acidity; the finish chiseled, sleek, polished and not austere. Truly lovely syrah, with power and elegance. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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wakefield jaraman
Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley & McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; mint and iodine, black and red cherries and raspberries with a touch of thyme and tapenade; a steel thread of graphite runs through it; cloves, violets and an exotic hint of sandalwood; sleek, supple texture but slightly shaggy, dusty tannins dominate. Now through 2013 to ’25. Excellent. About $30.
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wakefield andrewsWakefield St. Andrews Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; black and red raspberries and currants threaded by mint and iodine, graphite and a rooty-branchy-loamy element; notes of tobacco and cedar emerge; quite flavorful, tasty ripe and slightly spicy berries, but plenty of acidity for liveliness and dusty, flint-laced tannins for structure. Now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes — a day early, but we don’t care, do we? — continues with the Catching Up on California Pinot Noir theme but focusing on three wineries: Donum Estate, FEL Wines and Lutum Wines. I depart from my usual procedure today and offer a bit more detail about winemaking and about the wines than I usually do in these posts. Still, as I typically inform My Readers, the Weekend Wine Notes are not intended to provide scads of information about history, geography, personalities and technical data. The idea is to inspire your interest and whet your palates. These wines were samples for review.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta, almost beet-red; aromas of ripe black and red currants and plums are intense and concentrated, though opening to notes of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a trace of the latter’s slightly astringent, earthy quality. Velvety and vigorous tannins feel imbued with graphite and loam, and the black and red berry flavors are deeply spicy and rather rigorously proportioned. 14.7 percent alcohol. This could use a bit more charm. Now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 732 cases. Very Good+. About $72.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Sonoma County. The aging regimen was 11 months in French oak, 59 percent new barrels. In contrast to the color of the previous wine, this one offers a transparent medium ruby hue; it’s a warm and spicy pinot noir that builds inextricable layers of red cherries, cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and cranberry, with hints of earthy moss and mushrooms. The texture is dense and chewy, superbly satiny and flowing, seeming to drape the palate, while elements of graphite-tinged minerality and bright acidity keep the wine honest and true to scale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely balance and integration. Production was 766 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Ten Oaks Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. Of this quartet of pinot noir wines from Donum Estate, this is the one that captured my heart. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to light mulberry at the rim; ethereal notes of cola, cloves and beetroot wrap around scents of ripe black cherries and raspberries that reveal traces of smoke and cranberries, rose petals and lavender; Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. Delicacy and elegance, robustness and vivacity balance deftly here, though while the texture is suavely silky and almost succulent, dry, dusty tannins provide ballast. Alcohol content is a pleasingly low 13.4 percent. An exquisite pinot noir with the proper amount of tension and resolution. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. Another deceptively light and lithesome pinot noir that turns out to be muscular and sinewy. The color is a graceful transparent ruby-magenta; notes of black and red cherries are flush with hints of sassafras, tar and black tea, while a few minutes in the glass bring in an intensely floral quality of violets and roses. Though the wine’s structure is powerful and drawn out through the dynamic finish, the weight on the palate feels fleet and refined. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $90.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. This is the “regular” bottling from this winery, as distinguished from the Savoy single-vineyard offering remarked upon below. The color is a beguiling transparent medium ruby; aromas of sandalwood and sassafras, cloves and tobacco leaf, pomegranate and cranberry serve as exotic highlights to notes of black and red cherries and currants that deepen to a layer of underbrush and loam. This pinot noir displays lovely limpidity, suppleness and lightness of being, but not without elements of tannic muscle and mineral power. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,347 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. The color is dark ruby shading to a purple-magenta rim; the wine delivers a fairly rigorous structure, with slightly dusty tannins and acidity that plows a furrow on the palate, but, withal, it’s a beautifully balanced and integrated pinot noir that exudes tons of confidence and elan. Scents and flavors of red and black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and pomegranate, while a super satiny and supple texture bathes the taste-buds in luxury; the grace of pinpoint graphite minerality saves ther wine from being too opulent. The wine aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 59% of which were new. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 605 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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Lutum Wines La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. The color is pale ruby-magenta with a very delicate rim; it’s a wine of quicksilver effects and changeability, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cherries and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras strung like twinkling lights on lines of loam, underbrush, heather and leather and oolong tea; for all its ethereal character, however, this pinot noir delivers plenty of tannic power and acid structure for liveliness and longevity, as well as a silky-satiny texture that feels like a scarf draping a warm shoulder. I loved it. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley. The color is a ravishing pale ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; the wine is intense, rich and focused, driven by bright acidity and chiseled flint-like minerality, yet open and generous with its black cherry, currant and plum fruit and its exotic touches of rhubarb, sassafras, sandalwood and lilac. The wine is quite dry, permeated by elements of briers and brambles, loam and dusty, earthy tannins, but it never loses a grip on its inner delicacy and buoyancy. 13.42 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Here’s a darker pinot noir, with a dark to medium ruby hue, high-toned intensity and concentration and lip-smacking acidity. Scents and flavors of ripe and smoky black cherries, currants and plums unfold to hints of cloves, lavender and violets, cranberry, pomegranate and loam; passing moments develop an elusive strain of red currant and sour cherry. This is a richly detailed and very dry pinot noir whose dimensions are framed by dusky tannins and a bosky briery and brambly character. 14.13 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
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… and, yes, friends, it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.
jayson
What is this trope about table wines that bear the cloying impress of alcohol levels over 15 percent, even 16 percent and higher? Some winemakers in California seem to fall into the same camp as many producers of craft beer, who believe that the hoppier a brew is the better it is, intrinsically, so, by parallel reasoning, since wine is an alcoholic beverage, let’s pump up the alcohol for a wild ride.

There was a time when wines produced in California came in at alcohol levels between about 11.5 and 12.5 percent, maybe up to 13.5. The norm now is 14.5 percent, with the result that red wines — cabernets, pinot noirs, syrahs, merlots and, especially, zinfandel wines — are riper and juicier but also convey an impression of sweetness and sometimes, on the finish, of heat. These exaggerated qualities increase as the alcohol content creeps past 15 percent and inches toward or past 16. The problems intensify because many of these wines are also exceedingly tannic, so any sense of balance is lost in an entity that turns out to be powerful and dynamic but awkward, clunky and incoherent. I read the deliriously approving descriptions of some of these wines and reviews from other writers, and I have to think, surely we’re not talking about the same product, as I’m sure they will think about me and my fairly harsh evaluations.

So, today, I offer brief notices of beyond-the-pale, high-alcohol, lurching, unbalanced red wines, along with a few that manage to pull off the feat and achieve a measure of poise. Notice that most of these examples are zinfandels from Lodi, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley; the great and surprising exception is a beautifully-made Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that registers 15.2 percent alcohol. The order is by increasing amounts of alcohol, starting at 15 percent. Proceed at your own risk.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Dark ruby color; pungent with ripe raspberry and blueberry infused with briery-brambly notes, graphite and lavender; very dry, quite spicy, juicy with red and black fruit flavors; you feel a touch of raisiny heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $20.
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Renwood Grandpere Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Medium ruby hue with a light garnet rim; sweet spices, mint, ripe cherries and cranberries with touches of blueberry and boysenberry; quite dry, plush, velvety tannins, large-framed but palatable; a bit of alcoholic heat mars the dense, lithic finish. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Coach Gun 2011, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. A cabernet sauvignon-based blend. Dark ruby color; smoke, loam, graphite, lavender; black currants and cherries and blueberries, all deeply spiced and macerated; cedar and mint; energized by pert acidity; very dry dusty out-of-scale tannins, austere finish that falters out of balance. Not a success. About $75.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Syrah 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.2% alc. 75% syrah, 25% zinfandel. Opaque black-ruby with an intense violet rim; big, bold and very spicy; ripe and fleshy blackberry and blueberry fruit with an infusion of ligonberry, blackberry jam and blueberry tart; deep, plush, dusty tannins that coat the palate; every element that I look for in a syrah wine is absent, muted into anonymity by ripeness, alcohol and tannin. Awkward and unbalanced. About $32.
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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. (The second label of Pahlmeyer.) 15.2% alc. A complete, harmonious and complex red wine. Dark ruby-purple hue; a very ripe, fruit-infused wine, high-toned and surprisingly elegant in its balance; intense and concentrated, with notes of cassis and red and black cherries permeated by iron and iodine, graphite, ancho chili and meat blood; powerfully dynamic, ferrous and savory, deep, rich and spicy with a resonant mineral core and a concluding touch of blueberry tart; a sleek, polished and chiseled cabernet. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $65 to $75.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Burning Man Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.3% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a magenta rim; a strapping, palate-stomping tannic wine, pungent with spiced and macerated black currants, plums and blueberries, pomegranate and boysenberry; lots of leather and loam; formidable structure, dusty, gravelly and austere. Not a success. About $38.
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Renwood Premium Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15.5% alc. Medium ruby hue with a garnet rim; a lovely blooming, floral and spicy bouquet, evolves to fruitcake, loam and brambles, bitter chocolate; blueberries, mint and pomegranate; a bit of an after-burn but not heavy, over-ripe or obvious; still, the finish is tight and austere. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 15.5% alc. Moderately dark ruby hue; very ripe, spiced and macerated plums, currants and cherries with a slightly raisiny fruitcake inflection; large-framed and quite lively; dense, dusty, chewy, infused with graphite and lithic tannins that coat the palate; still, surprisingly well-balanced, really luscious for those who want luscious wines (not me). Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $26.
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Tin Barn Vineyards Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast. 15.5% alc. Opaque ruby hue with a magenta rim; both intense and concentrated while being very ripe, smoky and spicy; heaps of leather and loam and a tide of black fruit flavors, but distinctly more zin-like than syrah, with a high-alcohol zin’s off-balance element of cloying fruit and austere tannins. Doesn’t work. About $27.
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Tin Barn Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby with a much paler rim; a lovely bouquet of smoke, lavender and cloves, mint, sandalwood, fruitcake and blackberries; a big, firm, tannic wine that just manages to hold the line against over-ripeness and austerity; it takes a risk and the risk feels worth it; still, you feel some slightly sweet/parching alcoholic heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $29.
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Tin Barn Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; a refreshing bouquet of mint, lavender and black cherries until the alcohol wafts up and sort of stops everything in its tracks; very dry, spicy, dense, tannic and austere. Not recommended. About $29.
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Watts Winery Upstream Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne, Lodi. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby hue with a mulberry rim; an immense presence, fairly well-balanced, considering, but takes on overwhelming ferrous and sanguinary elements and huge dusty tannins; the saving grace is that it’s not sweet, hot or cloying, but not quite coherent or reconciled either. Very Good. About $25.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Red Rooster Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.7% alc. Medium ruby-cherry color, not super-dark or extracted; very ripe, very spicy and fruity; black and red currants and plums with touches of lavender, licorice and saturated boysenberry; an alcohol after-burn of heat, spice and sweetness, so the finish clashes with the wine’s dryness and austerity on the palate, fundamentally unbalanced. Doesn’t work. About $35.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Dry creek Valley. 15.8% alcohol. 88.2% zinfandel, 10.6% syrah, 1.2% petite sirah. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; cloves, red and black berries, interesting notes of caraway and sandalwood, but tromps across the palate with boots of dry, austere and astringent tannins coupled with the sweetness of high alcohol in the finish. Nope. About $32.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Rattler Rock Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.8% alc. Radiant medium ruby hue; a broad, deep, very dry, quite austere wine, awkward, unbalanced, hot and sharp on the finish. Nuff said. About $35.
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Harney Lane Zinfandel 2011, Lodi. 15.9% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries infused with cloves and graphite, a sort of mineral-laced cocktail of sweet and roasted black and blue fruit, touched with pomegranate and brandy-soaked raisins; acidity plows a row on the palate, preceding formidably dusty, lithic tannins leading to an austere finish. Maybe with a steak, or maybe not. Very Good+. About $22.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley. 16.2% alc. Medium ruby with a garnet rim; cloves, allspice and sandalwood make an exotic festoon; black and red currants and plums, with notes of blueberries, lavender and red licorice; outlandishly plush, dusty yet rigorous tannins dominate the palate, yet the finish is over-ripe and sweet. Awkward and ungainly. Forget it. About $40.
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Martinelli Lolita Ranch Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 16.3% alc. 253 cases. When I see that a table wine tops the charts at 16.3 percent alcohol, my reaction tends to run along the lines of “You have to be fucking kidding me,” but no, they’re not kidding. Moderate ruby color, almost transparent; roasted blackberries, currants and plums; fruitcake; very spicy and peppery; cloying alcoholic sweetness and heat; very dry, formidably austere tannins; clunky and chunky. Doesn’t work. About $52.
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On November 15, I posted a series of reviews about 18 sauvignon blanc wines made in California (here). Today, it’s the turn of 15 sauvignon blancs from other parts of the world: France, New Zealand, Chile and Italy. There’s much to like here, especially if you’re fond of the French styles of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, but there’s a big surprise from northeastern Italy at a bargain price too. As usual, in the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical data in favor of quick incisive mentions designed to pique the interest and whet the palate. Most of these wines were samples for review; a few were tasted at distributors’ trade events.

The absence of label illustrations in the New Zealand section below is because the websites associated with the several wineries or importers were either extremely user-unfriendly, inadequate or hopelessly out of date.
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France
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jolivet sancerre
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley. 12.5% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale straw-gold hue; clean, fresh, crisp and appealing; notes of roasted lemon, lemon balm and tangerine; pulls up hints of lemongrass and slightly dusty dried herbs; lithe and supple, exquisitely balanced and energized; increasingly dry and heady with limestone minerality. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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sancerre-blanc--caves-monmousseau
Domaine Justin Monmousseau Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color; first the limestone and chalk, then a snap of gun-flint; roasted lemon and verbena, bay and thyme, with a citrus undertow; very dry, a little austere but seductive in its talc-like texture riven by scintillating acidity. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
USA Wine Imports, New York
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EXEM Blanc
EXEM 2014, Bordeaux. 12% alc. 60% sauvignon blanc, 40% semillon. Very pale straw color; gooseberry, grapefruit and lime peel, notes of leafy fig, roasted lemon and currant; pert, tart and sassy; tasty citrus flavors with a hint of spiced pear; pleasing texture, part lush, part lithe. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $13.
Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.
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esprit bordeaux blanc
Esprit Saint-Sulpice 2014, Bordeaux Blanc. 12.5% alc. Sauvignon blanc 80%, semillon 20%. Pale gold hue; very clean, fresh and bright; green apple, lemons and orange blossom, just a hint of grass and dried herbs, and touches of lime peel and mango; lovely powdery texture but lively with crisp acidity; quite dry, finishes with a tide of damp limestone. Truly charming. Very Good+. About $17.
Fredric Wildman & Sons, New York.
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hauts de smith
Les Hauts de Smith 2011, Pessac-Leognan. 13% alc. Medium straw-gold hue; spiced pear, quince and ginger, whiffs of honeysuckle and acacia, fennel and lavender; quite dry but juicy with grapefruit and peach flavors hinting at a sunny leafy fig character and a bell-tone of black currant; layers of limestone and flint minerality lead to a fairly austere finish animated by brisk acidity; overall impression is of substance balanced by elegance and transparency. Now through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $45.
Joanne Bordeaux, Jersey City, N.J.
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tour
Chateau Tour Leognan 2013, Pessac-Leognan Blanc. 12.5% alc. 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% semillon. Fairly NZ-like for a Bordeaux blanc, with snappy pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit qualities, crisp and lively, featuring jazzed-up acidity and loads of limestone and flint; very fresh, charming and appealing, good balance and presence. Now through 2016 into 2017. Very Good+. About $22.
Monsieur Touton Selections, New York.
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chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves. 13% alc. 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon. Very pale gold color; clean, crisp, delicate; honeysuckle, cloves and fennel, notes of grapefruit and candied orange rind, quince and ginger and a lingering after-glow of lychee and something faintly resiny; lovely shape and tone, set chiming with keen acidity and limestone minerality. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
Verity Wine Partners, New York
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New Zealand
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Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough. 13% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale straw color; a winsome and layered bouquet of grapefruit, pea-shoot, tangerine and lime peel, with notes of new-mown grass, timothy and thyme, gooseberry and a tinge of currant; a top-note of jasmine; smooth segue into the mouth, very dry with an almost powdery texture shot with fleet acidity; cleansing limestone and chalk minerality. Totally charming. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $17.
Imported by Accolade Wines North America, Napa, Calif.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2014, North Canterbury. 13% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw-yellow; lime peel and pea-shoot, notes of grapefruit, lychee and greengage; lively and ebullient but not flamboyant; lovely talc-like texture buoyed by bright acidity; very dry, lots of limestone and flint, a fairly austere finish. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Mt. Beautiful USA, Bernecia, Calif.
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Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; pea-shoot, pear, lime peel and grapefruit; celery seed and caraway; crisp and lively with taut acidity; permeated by elements of damp limestone and shale, especially from mid-palate through the finish; direct and appealing, with a lovely texture. Rink up. Very Good+. About $13.
Constellation Imports, Madera, Calif.
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Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough. 12% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw-gold; very clean, fresh, pure and vibrant; a distinctly meadowy sauvignon blanc, with notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit and lime peel, pea-shoot and fig; an attractively leafy, grassy and citrusy wine, quite dry and tart and finishing with grapefruit pith and limestone. Lots of character and personality. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $20.
Constellation Imports, Gonzales, Calif.
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Starborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough. 12.5% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. A Gallo label. Very pale gold; defines what we think of as the Oz style in sauvignon blanc: lime peel, gooseberry, grapefruit, pea-shoot, kiwi and lychee; snappy, tart and pungent; shimmering limestone element. Drink up. Very Good. About $15.
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Italy
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Prodigo Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Friuli Grave. 12% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw-gold; restrained and prodigodelicate, yet intense and penetrating; blooming with jasmine and almond blossom; mint and heather, tarragon and pea shoot, roasted lemon and lime peel; utterly beguiling and seductive; keen acidity powering limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $11, a Bargain of the Century.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.
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Chile
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Colchagua Valley. 13% alc. 100% sauvignon Gran_Reserva_Sauvignon_Blanc_Label_NV-300x259blanc. Pale straw hue; grapefruit, yellow plum, fennel and celery seed, notes of gooseberry, thyme and tarragon; taut, lithe and crisp, with tons of presence and tone; a full complement of limestone and flint minerality, energized by vibrant acidity; terrific balance and integration. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Concha y Toro Costa Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley. 13% alc. 100% Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; smoke and steel; celery seed, fennel, tarragon; grapefruit and lime peel; very dry, crisp and dynamic, with deep reserves of limestone and chalk; focuses on spiced pear and peach flavors, off-set by slightly astringent herbal elements; one of the best sauvignon blanc wines I have tasted from Chile. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $26, and Worth It.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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