Willamette Valley


Yes, it’s your lucky day, because today I offer reviews of 12 wines that all rate Excellent. No duds! No clunkers! And boy are we eclectic! Two whites, three rosés and seven reds, all representing myriad grape varieties, styles, regions and countries, including, on the broader scope, California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Chile and France. Dare I assert that there’s something for everyone here? As usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, the notion is to present concise and incisive reviews, cropped from the fertile fields of my tasting notes, in such a manner as to pique your interest and whet your palate, while omitting the sort of info pertaining to history, geography and technical matters that I include with other more detailed posts. Straight to the point, that’s the Weekend Wine Sips philosophy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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J Pinot Gris 2012, California. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold color; delicate hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of cloves and spiced peach; lovely soft texture endowed with crisp acidity; back wash of yellow plums, lilac and lavender; finely etched limestone minerality. Irresistible. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Brooks “ARA” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.5% alc. 300 cases. Very pale straw-gold color; a blissful state of pure minerality lightly imprinted with notes of rubber eraser, pears, ginger and quince, highlighted with smoke, lilac, chalk and limestone; shimmering acidity, whiplash tension and energy, spare and elegant, yet so ripe and appealing. A great riesling. Excellent. About $25.
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SKW Ghielmetti Vineyard “Lola” 2012, Livermore Valley. (Steven Kent Winery) 13.7% alc. 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon. 260 cases. Pale pale straw color; lemon balm and lemongrass, touches of peach, lime peel and grapefruit, quince and cloves; a few minutes bring out notes of fig and dusty leaves (bless semillon’s heart!); very dry, almost taut with tingling acidity; pure limestone from mid-palate back through the finish. Excellent. About $24.
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St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; pure grapefruit, lime peel, pea shoot, thyme and tarragon, notes of gooseberry and kiwi; totally refreshing and exhilarating, juicy with lime and grapefruit flavors, hints of orange zest (and almond blossom in the bouquet), very dry with resonant acidity; slightly leafy and grassy; picks up limestone minerality from mid-palate through the finish. Delightful. Excellent. About $20.
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Stepping Stone Corallina Syrah Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. A shade more intense than onion-skin, like pale topaz-coral; dried strawberries and raspberries, just a touch of melon; traces of cloves and thyme, sour cherry and pure raspberry with a slightly raspy, bristly edge; very dry but lovely, winsome; a bit chiseled by limestone and flint through the spare finish. A thing of beauty. Excellent. About $20 .
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.4% alc. 112 cases. The true pale onion-skin color; elegant and delicate in every sense yet with a tensile backbone of acidity and minerality that scintillates in every molecule; hints of strawberries and raspberries, touches of dried red currants, fresh thyme, a clean, slightly resiny quality that cannot help reminding you of Provence, many thousands of miles away. Fervently wish there were more of it. Excellent. About $24.
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Rosé de Haut-Bailly 2011, Bordeaux Rosé. 13% alc. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 50% merlot. Ruddy light copper color; strawberries both spiced/macerated and dried; raspberries and red currants woven with cloves, hints of cinnamon and limestone; lithe, supple texture, just a shade more dense than most classic French rosés, otherwise deft, quite dry, elegant; light red fruit flavors filtered through violets and gravel. Exquisite but with a nod toward heft and structure. Excellent. About $25, an online purchase.
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Inama Carmenere Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto. 14% alc. 75% carmenere, 25% merlot. Camenere in the Veneto! Who knew? Dark ruby color; pungent, assertive, robust, quite spicy, lively, lots of grainy tannins; deep, ripe black currant and plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of sauteed mushrooms, black olive, dried rosemary and lavender; a little tarry and foresty, with real grip, yet polished and sleek. Begs for grilled or braised red meat. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20.
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Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.3% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color; that enticing blend of red and black currants and red and black cherries permeated by notes of smoke, cloves, rhubarb and sour cherry; seductive super satiny texture; furrow-plowing acidity bolstering lissome tannins for an all-over sense of balance and harmony. Just freakin’ lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 15.2% alc. With 13% grenache, 11% tannat. 175 cases. Deep, dark ruby-purple; scintillating in every respect; while it delivers the earth-leather-graphite qualities and the fruit-spice-foresty intensity we expect of the best syrah (or shiraz) wines, the manner of presentation is gorgeously attractive, though (paradoxically) with a sculpted, lean schist and flint-like effect. Beautiful is not a word I often apply to syrahs, but it’s merited for this example. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Single Block Trinidad Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; earth, leather, dust, graphite; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; dense, chewy, solid, grainy tannins but with appealing suppleness and animation; deep core of bitter chocolate, lavender and granitic minerality. Today with a steak or 2014/15 to 2020. Excellent. About $21, a Fine Value.
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Penley Estate Special Select Shiraz “The Traveler” 2009, Coonawarra, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; a real mouthful of graphite, dusty tannins and intense and concentrated black fruit with tremendous acidity and iron-iodine minerality in a package that manages, whatever its size, to express a really attractive personality; touch of blueberry tart, something wild, flagrantly spicy, long dense finish. Smoking ribs this weekend? Look no further for your wine. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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This post of Weekend Wine Sips isn’t exactly a Mother’s Day edition, but I did receive a press release about wines for Mom from a Major Wine Publication that listed only sauvignon blancs (as if mothers drink only that grape variety), so in this roster of white wines for spring and summer I omit sauvignon blanc entirely. Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal; each is from a different region or country; each is made in stainless steel or receives minimal oak treatment including no new oak. (Actually I think that criterion applies to only one of these.) As usual, I eschew detailed technical, geographical and historical information in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews the better to whet your curiosity and thirst with incisiveness and immediacy. Prices here range from about $11 to $25; each wine marks a good value wherever it falls within that range. The motivation is delight, freshness, elegance, balance and appeal. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Plantagenet Omrah Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Great Southern, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a really pretty chardonnay — lemon, lime, lime peel and grapefruit; smoke and a hint of mango, touch of jasmine — but crisp acidity, oyster-shell and limestone all the way through the finish; dry with a bit of austerity. Very Good+. About $15.
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Protea Chenin Blanc 2012, Wine of Coastal Region, South Africa. 13% alc. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of hay, thyme and tarragon, pears and yellow plums; lovely satiny texture but bristly and prickly, fleet acidity and heaps of limestone and chalk, dry, crisp, refreshing and appealing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Principessa Gavia Gavi 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 12% alc. Pale straw color with a hint of green; sweetly expressive bouquet: pears and greengage, cloves and thyme, hints of leafy fig and sea-salt, jasmine and lemon balm; squinching acidity, lustrous elements of chalk and limestone and flint; deftly balanced between bone-dry and almost winsomely attractive floral and citrus qualities. Very Good+. About $14.
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Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. (Produced by Weingut Meinhard Forstreitter) 12% alc. Very pale straw-gold; melon and pears with hints of lemon, lime peel and grapefruit, touch of green pea and thyme; pert, tart, taut and sassy; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the limestone-laced finish. Delightful. Very Good. About $11.
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St. Supéry Estate Moscato 2012, Napa Valley, California. 10.5% alc. Very very pale gold color; apple and apple blossom, pear and peach, hint of lime peel and orange zest; soft, almost cloud-like texture but crisp acidity cuts a swath to the limestone-inflected finish; ripe and sweet on entry, but the acid and mineral elements tone down the sweetness to a sort of blanched dryness, so the finish comes out clean and elegant, delicate and balanced; stands out in the sea of vapid moscato presently engulfing the country; begs for dessert of fresh berries. Excellent. About $25.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.3% alc. Pale pale straw-gold color; pure lemon with a lime peel twist, hints of jasmine and slightly over-ripe peaches and an elusive scent of lavender; a little earthy and smoky; scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality, lots of energy and vitality and a sense of flaking schist and flint; very dry, all stones and bones from mid-palate back; marked spareness and austerity in the vigorous finish. An argument for planting more pinot gris in the appropriate areas and treating it right. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2011, Pfalz, Germany. 12.5% alc. (Produced by Dr. Loosen) Medium gold-straw color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, hints of cloves and smoke, slightly earthy; highly animated acidity and spicy qualities fuel this wines liveliness, while a silken texture and underlying limestone elements give it pleasing heft. Delicious. Very Good+. About $14.
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Greywacke Riesling 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 12% alc. Brilliant pale gold color; lychee and a touch of petrol, roasted lemon, spiced pear and honeysuckle, hint of lilac face powder; very dry, lean and clean, irresistible texture combining brisk acidity with lovely soft ripeness that does not preclude the glacial authority of crystalline limestone minerality. Excellent. About $25.
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Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Most writers describe the Yamhill-Carlton District, an American Viticultural Area in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as horseshoe-shaped, but as you can see from the accompanying map, it doesn’t look anything like a horseshoe; more like a deconstructed triumphal arch. The region, which occupies parts of Yamhill and Carlton counties, was approved in 2004, but only for elevations between 200 and 1,000 feet. Vineyard plantings in the district measure about 1,200 acres. The five wines under consideration today are all single-vineyards bottlings from Yamhill-Carlton, tasted at an afternoon event — a hot afternoon — at Elk Cove Winery in conjunction with the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland last August. The question, of course, is whether the five pinot noirs, all from 2010, display identifiable regional characteristics. If the experience had been based only on the first three wines, I would have said that the soil, elevation and microclimate of Yamhill-Carlton encourage bright fruit of brilliant purity and intensity, lean yet supple structures and fairly profound yet balanced earthy qualities. That assessment was thrown off, however, by the last two wines, which were tannic and austere. I make no conclusions, therefore, but encourage a search for the Belle Pente, Penner-Ash and Elk Cove pinot noirs in particular.
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Belle Pente Winery Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Jill and Brian O’Donnell established Belle Pente in 1994 and produced their first wines in 1996. Estate vineyards amount to 16 acres, farmed on organic and biodynamic principles. Production in 2010 was 3,600 cases. The Belle Pente “Belle Pente” Pinot Noir 2010 offers a medium ruby-cranberry color; it’s a wine of tremendous purity and intensity, with spiced and macerated black and red currants and plums that feel slightly stewed and undertones of briers and brambles, roots and branches for a distinctly earthy, loamy, foresty character; nonetheless, what dominates, as it were, are the utter transparency of beautiful fruit and clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. 785 cases. Information about oak aging and alcohol content is not available. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Image, much cropped, from vindulgeblog.com.
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Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. The winery was launched in 1998 by Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash; winemaker is Lynn Penner-Ash. Fifteen acres are planted to vines, now Oregon Certified Sustainable. Production in 2010 was 8,000 cases. This wine aged 10 months in a carefully calibrated regimen of French oak: 38 percent new barrels; 29 percent one-year-old; 29 percent two-year-old; four percent neutral. The color is a rich garnet-mulberry; the bouquet draws you in with seductive aromas of smoke, cedar and tobacco, sage and bay leaf, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants with a hint of plum. It’s a pinot noir that balances substantial presence in body and tone with an elevating and almost ethereal cast of red and black fruit flavors, enmeshed in a hint of lightly spiced oak. A seamless marriage of power and elegance. 575 cases. Alcohol level is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. about $60.
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Elk Cove Vineyards Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Elk Cove, founded in 1974 by Joe and Pat Campbell, was a pioneer in Yamhill-Carlton long before the notion of that AVA was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Producing acres on the estate amount to 232. Winemaker is Adam Godlee-Campbell. Production in 2010 was 35,000 cases. The Elk Cove Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 displays a slightly darker ruby-cherry color than the previous two pinot noirs; again, lovely purity and intensity, impeccable balance and integrity; ripe, sweet red and black cherry scents and flavors tinged with smoke and a hint of oak and dried spice in the cloves and sassafras range; undercurrents of briers and brambles lend an earthy foundation, along with tongue-swabbing acidity for liveliness and allure. The oak expands from mid-palate back through the finish, along with a touch of dusty tannins for a bit of austerity. 696 cases. Alcohol content N/A. Drink through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $48.
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Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010. The estate is named for the daughter of Danielle Andrus Montalieu and Laurent Montalieu who acquired their first 80 acres in 2000, forming the basis of a certified biodynamic vineyard, Domaine Danielle Laurent. Case production in 2011 was 9,000. Laurent Montelieu is winemaker. This wine aged 13 months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color tends toward ruby-garnet, while the totality of the wine tends toward an expression of oak-mineral-and-tannin structure with acidity playing an essential supporting role; you can almost smell the structure in the wine’s slightly woody-minerally aspects, and you certainly feel the structure on the palate. Perhaps the austere nature of the Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010 indicates its motivation as an age-worthy pinot noir; perhaps it will allow its fruit to unfurl in a year or two. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. 13.6 percent alcohol. 480 cases. Very Good+ with a nod toward Excellent potential. About $50.
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WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010. Bernard and Ronni Lacroute founded WillaKenzie Estate in 1992, with the first wines made from the 1995 vintage. Winemaker is Thibaud Mandet. Production in 2011 was 21,000 cases. The winery holds Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine status. I have tasted pinot noirs from WillaKenzie before, but the WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010, which aged 14 months in 50 percent new French oak, is the most tannic and austere example that I have encountered; it’s quite dry and austere and exhibits a full complement of the dusty-brushy-foresty graphite components that indicate a wine intended for the long haul. Is this the best method of treating the pinot noir grape? Not in my book, but they didn’t ask me, did they? I would give this wine from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 or ’22 to flesh out and allow other elements their legitimate expression. 13.5 percent alcohol. Number of cases N/A. Very Good+ with a Big If. About $42.
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Here’s a frankly beautiful rosé from Oregon to get you through until the rosés from 2012 start appearing, though rosés from the Southern Hemisphere have been showing up at my door for a couple of months. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011, Willamette Valley, is a blend of 80 percent pinot noir, 16 percent chardonnay and 4 percent gewurztraminer, sourced from Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee. Tony Soter founded the well-known Etude Wines in Napa Valley in 1982 and also consulted for a number of high-profile wineries, including a stint as winemaker for Spottswoode. Soter sold Etude to Beringer Blass in 2001; it’s now owned by Treasury Wine Estates. He and his wife Michelle are from Oregon, and Soter is something of a pinot noir specialist, so the return to Willamette seemed natural. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011 offers a limpid pale pink hue and lovely notes of watermelon, red currants and mint, with hints of lavender and jasmine and an undertone of limestone minerality. It’s fresh, clean and thirst-quenching in its weaving of delicate currant, melon and peach flavors highlighted by nuances of cloves, dried rosemary and flint. 13.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,450 cases. Winemaker is James Cahill. Drink through April or May 2013. Excellent. About $22.

Tasted at a trade event.

I encountered this splendid group of Willamette Valley pinot noir wines at a trade tasting in Memphis last week, these examples I tried merely a fraction of the tremendous line-up available. Just within this group, you will notice that the focus primarily is not on deeply extracted colors, flavors or tannins but on classic delicacy, nuance and subtlety, all, of course, displayed with varying degrees of interest and emphasis. I was particularly happy to taste three pinots from Rex Hill, whose wines I have not tried in many years. Notice, also, how many of these wines exhibit refreshing alcohol levels under 14 percent. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, I don’t provide extensive information about history, geography, geology, personality or winemaking techniques; just quick reviews designed to pique your attention and whet your palates. Enjoy!.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; utterly beguiling bouquet of red currants and blueberries, hints of cola, cloves and rhubarb, background of graphite, briers and brambles; satiny flow and drape on the palate, builds a sense of layering fruit, acidity and tannins with elegance, balance and integration; wholly seamless spice-and-mineral packed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Slightly darker medium ruby color, with a mulberry cast; fleshed out dimension and detail, red currants, black cherries and a touch of plum, cloves, sassafras, earthy and loamy; more power here, more resonance from velvety tannins, brisk acidity and polished oak that contributes seductive notes of sandalwood and allspice but also a touch of austerity to the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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Cloudline Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. The second label of Domaine Drouhin. Light ruby-mulberry color; earthy, slightly mushroomy bouquet, ripe, spicy macerated red currants and cherries, touch of cranberry; lots of graphite and loam, brier and brambles, pert acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; quite dry; has the fleet tone and litheness of a Savigny-les-Beaune. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. That lovely ineffable pale ruby-magenta color that pinot noirs ought to have; very pure, very intense; black and red cherries, touches of red currants and cranberries; paradoxically lean and muscular with a seductive satiny texture; deep elements of loam, briers and forest-floor; spicy character is very subtle, black and red fruit flavors feel just a bit spiced and macerated; long finish freighted with minerals and earthy elements. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.3% alc. Winsome moderate ruby-mulberry color; knock-out nose of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, slightly roasted and fleshy black and red cherries and currants, back-note of earth and graphite; gratifying balance of power and elegance but with a healthy bit of rusticity that lends texture and contrast; spicy, dark and delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $45.
Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. One of the most striking and beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted; “serene” indeed in every aspect yet with a seething depth of exotic dried spice, dried flowers and potpourri, essential acidity for liveliness and allure, and the resonance of exquisitely poised tannins and graphite/loamy mineral elements; you could swim in the entrancing and stunningly perfumed aromas; super-satiny texture but lapped with both delicacy and assurance; a pinot noir of immense presence, tone and confidence yet fundamentally a creature of fastidious refinement. Now through 2016 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Francis Tannahill Hermit Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 13.9% alc. Slightly more extracted than some of these other models, the color here is moderate ruby-magenta with a darker and quite radiant center; just gorgeous, a real flower-spice-and-fruit-filled sensuous lob across home-plate, but you feel the oak from mid-palate back with a hint of austerity and a subtle bolstering of the structure; give it a year or two to meld a little better and then drink through 2017 to ’19. Production was 236 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Red Label Pinot Noir 2010, Oregon. 14.5% alc. The winery’s entry level pinot is clean fresh and bright, a winsome amalgam of red currants and cranberries, with a hint of cherry and rhubarb, touches of cloves, leather, briers and brambles, a seductive satiny texture, and then a dry finish that reveals the sanded and burnished influence of oak, all played for sweet balance and integration. 150 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $38.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color; a sizable pinot noir, not plush or opulent but multi-dimensioned and richly detailed; it’s quite dense, quite dusty, and bears a minerally graphite and earthy core straight through the middle, all wrapped in dried baking spices, violets and potpourri and ripe and slightly macerated red currants and cherries touched by notes of blueberry and cranberry; briery and brambly, a bit of forest floor with the innate dried leaf and moss elements, and finally the oak comes through, building momentum. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Production was 320 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Equinoxe 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color shading to mulberry at the rim; at four years old and a bit more brilliantly fresh, spicy and appealing, with a surface of clean, ripe black and red cherry scents and flavors tinged with a fleshy character and depths of cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and graphite; grows more dense, opens to dusty mineral-flecked tannins and polished oak that drives the finish to a dry and powerful surge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 196 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Rex Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Made from sustainably-grown grapes from every AVA in Willamette Valley. Moderate ruby color with a flush of magenta and purple; ravishing bouquet of smoke, wheatmeal, tobacco, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, hints of cloves and sandalwood; lovely ripe black and red fruit flavors, balletic on the one hand, earthy on the other hand, quite dry though, a little austere, high-toned, long in the reach and grasp of the finish. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a permeating tinge of mulberry-purple; beautiful, bright, generous and expansive initially but shifting to magisterial, fairly dramatic and demanding; beguiling red currant and cherry flavors (just a hint of cranberry and rhubarb), deep, drenched with spice but still you feel the oak and tannin in a spreading tide; quite dry, briers and underbrush, a touch of dusty graphite, all packed into the long finish. 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Again that ineffable transparent medium ruby-mulberry color that belies the power and substantial character of this single-vineyard pinot noir; deep, rich, fleshy and meaty, almost abjures any spicy qualities for remarkable purity and intensity of pinot noir expression sustained by acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and a burgeoning sense of oak and tannin; in fact, of this group of Willamette Valley pinot noir, this Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt ’10 is the most focused on structure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $58.
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Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. A label for sustainable, reasonably priced pinot noir from the Soter winery. Beguiling light to medium ruby color; a delicate and subtle pinot noir, finely knit from red and black currant and cherry scents and flavors gently sifted with cola, cloves and rhubarb and slightly roughened, as if sanded by nuances of mild foresty and earthy elements. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
The label image is two vintages behind.
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Soter North Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.6% alc. Hate to flog the word “lovely,” but most of these wines qualify on several counts or all counts, so here we go: Just freakin’ lovely pinot noir; woven from many strands of delicate shading into an entity of tensile strength; red fruit through and through — currants, cherries and plums — exquisitely molded with hints of cranberry, cloves and sandalwood; seamless tone and structure, balance and poise, finespun, insinuating yet firm; you could drink this forever, if such an opportunity arose, but to be realistic, through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, Great Value for the Price and Quality.
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Soter Mineral Springs Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby color; very finely melded and knit in all elements but displaying power and resonance in sustaining structure and moderately dusty, earthy tannins; brightly etched red and blue fruit, that is, red currants and cherries with a hint of blueberries and plums; also brightly etched is the keen acidity that makes this pinot noir attractive and mouthwatering; still, you feel the slightly woody spice and touch of graphite from mid-palate back through the dry, slightly austere finish. Say, 2014 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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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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… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
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Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
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The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
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The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
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David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
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River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
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Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
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Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Cellars has come a long way since 1991 when two doctors from Memphis bought some surplus Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon grapes from Randy Dunn and started their own label. Great reviews poured in for Cornerstone’s cabernets, and continue to do so, issued under Napa Valley and Howell Mountain designations. The producer has a second label, Stepping Stone, while a recent addition to the roster is an even less expensive line, the punningly labeled Rocks. Cornerstone has expanded in several directions under the leadership of managing partner Craig Camp, and one of the directions is a collaboration with Oregon star-winemaker Tony Rynders (10 years at Domaine Serene, consultant to a flock of small producers) to produce Willamette Valley pinot noirs for the Cornerstone and Stepping Stone labels; there’s also a Willamette chardonnay for Cornerstone that I’ll report on in a subsequent post.

I tasted these wines at Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 in August and in October as samples for review.
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The Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon, aged 13 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent new. If you don’t mind a moment of geekiness, I’ll list the regional sources of the grapes, to give My Readers an idea of how the wine was assembled to represent the Willamette Valley as a sort of ideal; 45 percent of the grapes derived from the Yamhill-Carlton appellation, 33 percent from Eola-Amity Hills, 15 percent from Chehalem Mountain, 5 percent from McMinnville and 1 percent each from Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Hills. What are the implications? Most of these sub-appellations of Willamette Valley consist of vineyards that range in elevation from 200 feet (this is above the valley frost-line) to 1,000 feet. Differences in soil and weather patterns are fairly subtle but very real and are largely influenced by the presence of the Coastal Range to the west and the Van Duzer Corridor that allows moderating breezes from the Pacific through to a couple of these small areas in the afternoon. Chehalem Mountains offers the greatest variation in temperature; Yamhill-Carlton tends to be the most moderate in temperature and the driest. These regions provide a thoughtful winemaker with a finely nuanced palette of characteristics to work with, using percentages of grapes from each to create a picture of a valley-encompassing pinot noir.

The color of Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2010 is bright ruby with a magenta tinge; this is pure, bright and fresh, mounting an appealing bouquet of smoky and spicy black cherries and plums woven with rhubarb and pomegranate and that typical Willamette Valley element of briers and brambles over a base of clean earthy loam. The earthiness, the touch of loam and moss, remain consistent in the mouth, contributing a foundation for ripe and juicy black fruit flavors supported by slightly barky tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish takes on some of the austerity of those tannins and a hint of woody spice, but the wine is eminently attractive and drinkable. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 137 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $30.
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The first time I tried the Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, my first note was “beautiful”; the second time, my first note was “lovely.” Need I continue? Well, yes, of course. The oak regimen was 15 months in French barrels, 62 percent new; the appellation blend was 68 percent Yamhill-Carlton with diminishing percentages of — in this order — Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Hills. The color is a ravishing medium ruby with a violet rim; aromas of black and red cherries and currants are highlighted by touches of cola and cloves, rhubarb and cranberry and, after a few moments in the glass, tar, black tea, loam and bittersweet chocolate. It’s difficult to tear yourself away from such a panoply of sensations, but you won’t be unhappy to do so when you feel the wine’s smooth, supple and satiny texture, the way it adds spiced plums and mulberries to the mix, and how the bright acidity and slightly knotty tannins open to a fairly deep earthy-graphite quality. You feel a subtle crescendo of tannins and oak through the finish, but the wine is essentially balanced and integrated and complete. 13.5 percent alcohol. 498 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $50.

Label image, cropped and resized, from hogsheadwine.wordpress.com.
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