Wine of the Week


One of the most reliable red wines in California is the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel, which for 2013 lives up to its reputation for delicious dependability. “Heritage Vines” doesn’t mean that the vines in question are old themselves but that they were grafted onto rootstock from “historic pre-Prohibition vineyards,” thus, in a way, preserving a connection to Sonoma County’s tradition of old zinfandel vines. At 76 percent zinfandel, this wine barely qualifies as varietal, the federal government requiring 75 percent of a grape variety in order for it to be declared on the label. (The ratio rises to 85 percent for estate wines.) The rest of the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma County, consists of 21 percent petite sirah, two percent primitivo and one percent carignane. The sharp-eyed among My Readers will immediately exclaim, “But primitivo and zinfandel are the same grape, n’est-ce pas? DNA has spoken.” Actually, DNA testing revealed that the Italian primitivo grape and the zinfandel grape, originating in Europe but grown primarily in California, are clones of the rare Croatian grape named Crljenak. Hence they are very similar — some references assert that zinfandel is closer to the parent grape — but not exactly identical, though they tend to be regarded as synonymous. American labeling laws, however, do not allow the names to be used interchangeably, so grapes from primitivo vines grown from Italian cuttings must be cited separately. Got that?

Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013 aged 15 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is a radiant dark ruby with a violet-purple edge; aromas of blackberries and blueberries are infused with notes of graphite, mint, lavender and burgeoning elements of iodine and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of tapenade and fruitcake. Over a lithe and supple texture, just hinting at muscularity and moderately dusty tannins, the wine offers faceted, spiced and peppery flavors of blackberries and blueberries with undertones of black raspberry and plum; from mid-palate through the finish the wine takes on effects of briers and brambles and slightly chiseled mineral qualities. This is about as classic as zinfandel gets. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 with pizza — which we did — burgers and steaks, braised meat dishes, hearty pastas, fajitas. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Boy, the weather certainly has improved down in my neck o’ the woods. The temperature is reaching 75 this afternoon, and the sky is blue and clear as a bell. I see on the weather map that it’s going up into the mid 80s in southern Florida and California. Time, then, to break out a winsome, uncomplicated little white wine to sip while you’re out soaking up rays or relaxing on the porch or patio or perhaps while you’re in the kitchen rustling some dinner together. The wine is The Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from South Africa’s Western Cape region, and yeah, it’ll remind you of lying around on a beach or make you wish you were basking on one. It’s a blend of 75 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon, made all in stainless steel for freshness and crisp immediacy. The color is very pale straw-gold, with a shimmer of light green; penetrating aromas of lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit and mango are suffused with notes of figs and a kind of sunny-leafy quality. The brisk acidity and scintillating limestone elements start right at entry and continue to bring liveliness to the wine all through its passage of pineapple, peach, roasted lemon and hint of thyme through your happy mouth; an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness brings pizazz to the finish. The alcohol content is a nicely manageable 12.5 percent. Drink up and don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing, just nibble on some shrimp or chicken salad, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $10, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

The idea behind Rotation Wines is to produce drinkable cross-vintage blends and sell them at reasonable prices. No sneakiness enters into the concept. It is acceptable to the TTB — widely recognized abbreviation for Federal agency, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — that if a vintage wine carries a general “California” designation, it must contain at least 85 percent of wine from stated vintage, or only 85 percent — see the TTB code: §4.27(a)(2). A vintage wine that displays a specific American Viticultural Area (AVA), like Russian River Valley or Paso Robles, must contain at least 95 wine from the stated vintage. So, the Rotation Red Blend 2012, California, is a blend of 60 percent merlot and 30 percent zinfandel from 2012 and 10 percent ruby cabernet from 2010; the zinfandel was briefly aged in oak barrels. The grapes derived from Napa Valley and “nearby areas.” One does not often see ruby cabernet mentioned as a grape on a label, and indeed its use even as a blending grape in California is diminishing. It’s a cross between carignan and cabernet sauvignon produced at the University of California, Davis, in 1936. And what about the wine under consideration today? The Rotation Red Blend 2012 offers an intense, dark ruby color and fleshy, meaty aromas of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants; the spice notes involved lean toward the woodsy side of cloves and sandalwood; there’s also a touch of lavender and graphite. On the palate, the wine is simple and direct, very tasty with black fruit edged with red (both ripe and slightly baked) and bolstered by moderate tannins and lively acidity. Drink through the end of this year or into 2016 with burgers and pizzas, with hearty pasta dishes and fajitas. Very Good. About — and here’s the great part — $9 to $10.

A sample for review.

Most of us, including people in the wine industry, can have no idea what it feels like to own an estate where grapes have been grown since 1273. That privilege belongs to the establishment Marco Felluga — now run by fifth generation Roberto Falluga — which purchased the 250-acre Russiz Superiore property — half planted to vines — in 1967. The part of the world of which I write here is Collio, in the Friuli region of Italy, far in the northeast, an area influenced by the warmth of the Adriatic Sea, 12 miles away, and the coolness of the nearby Alps. Friuli and the northeast generally are white wine territory, but red wine is also produced, and our Wine of the Week is one of those. The Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2012, Collio, offers a deep black-ruby hue with a vibrant violet rim; it’s all a bit thermonuclear. The wine is 100 percent cabernet franc, and it aged 12 months in small oak casks, a device that lends it lovely suppleness and a subtle spicy background, but nothing obtrusive. This feels, in fact, like classic Loire Valley cab franc, with its seamless amalgam of cedar and tobacco, plums, blueberries and raspberries permeated by notes of black olives, loam and oolong tea; hints of cloves and sandalwood emerge after a few moments in the glass. The wine is robust, dense, almost chewy yet never heavy or overbearing, being, rather, sleek and chiseled in texture. Black fruit flavors are supported by clean acidity, mildly dusty tannins and an undercurrent of earthy graphite minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with hearty braised meat dishes, full-flavored pastas, grilled pork chops or steaks. Excellent. About $28.

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

If your weather week is anything like ours, you’ll require a robust red wine to accompany the hearty meals you’re preparing to shore against the chill, the wind, the ice and snow. Here’s an example that will do very nicely indeed. The Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008, produced by Agricole Vallone in the Brindisi region of the Salento Peninsula — otherwise known as the heel of the Italian boot — adds 20 percent montepulciano grapes to the balance of negroamaro; the wine spends its infancy in stainless steel tanks, then ages six to eight months in 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels, finishing with a year in concrete and five or six months in bottle before release. (Fifty hectoliters equals 1,320.86 gallons.) At six years old, the single-vineyard Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008 is notably fresh and appealing; the color is a rich ruby-purple with a magenta rim, and deep aromas of black currants, cherries and plums smell ripe, spicy and dusty, with hints of violets and lavender, graphite and loam and in the background dried spices and potpourri. Flavors of black fruit offer touches of blueberries and red cherries in a welter of oolong tea, dried porcini, orange rind and clean earth; bright acidity lends verve to a settling darkness of mineral-laced tannins and a wash of woodsy effects on the finish. All in all — finally – this is a completely satisfying, full-bodied, tasty wine for that roast pork loin, pasta Bolognese or sausage pizza. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. This bottle was a sample for review.

Michel Chapoutier’s venture from the Rhone Valley west to Roussillon produced the Domaine de Bila-Haut label. The basic reds are rustic, wholesome and tasty, while the upper-tier wines reveal more complexity and refinement. One of the latter, in the current vintage, is the Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. Occultum Lapidem means “hidden stone,” and the words occur in the Medieval Latin alchemical motto: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicina, which translates to “Visit the interior of the earth and by purifying (what you find there) you will discover the hidden stone, which is the true medicine.” That’s a heady requirement for a wine to fulfill, but this one does so handily. The vines average 60 years old and are farmed biodynamically. The wines see no new oak or small barriques but ferment using natural yeasts in cement vats and age half in cement and half in 600-liter demi-muid barrels. This is a blend of 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache and 10 percent carignan.

Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 offers a dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Every element — to be alchemical — you expect from this combination of grapes is present but both intensified and made elegant; the herbal-floral-woodsy qualities are here in notes of sage and rosemary, violets and lavender, sandalwood, allspice and underbrush; fruit falls into the plum, blackberry and blueberry range, with touches ripe and succulent as well as dried and spare, and punctuated by a hint of slightly raspy raspberry; a foundation of leather and loam rounds out the profile, along with hints of iodine, graphite, buoyant but not sharp acidity and mildly dense tannins. All of these factors are melded with a hand so deft that it amounts to artistry. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.

An R. Stack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York. This wine was a sample for review.

Because I am late with the Wine of the Week, I offer a pair of products to atone for my procrastination. These are two bargain-priced wines from Bordeaux and are definitely Worth a Search. Each, incidentally, was acquired within the past few years by Russian and Chinese companies. Imported by The Wine Trust, Mattituck, N.Y. These wines were samples for review.
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Chateau de Birot overlooks the Garonne River from its hillside in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux. Wine has been made on the estate for more than 200 years; the impressive chateau — the Dutch writer Hubrecht Duijker calls it “alluring” — dates from the second half of the 18th Century. Acquired by Eric and Hélène Fournier-Casteja in 1989, the estate was sold in December 2014 to the Chinese hospitality company New Century Tourism Group.

Blanc de Birot 2012, carrying a Bordeaux designation, is a blend of 65 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 35 percent semillon; it aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is pale gold; speaking of “alluring,” an extraordinary bouquet of lemongrass, pineapple, fig, lime peel and jasmine teases and tantalizes the nose; on the palate, the wine is clean and fresh, tart with lemon and grapefruit flavors and scintillating with bright acidity and crushed gravel/limestone minerality. The whole effect offers gratifying balance between sassy briskness and a soft talc-like texture. 13 percent alcohol. A wine that practically gets down on its knees and begs for a platter of just-shucked oysters, though it also serves handily as aperitif. Drink through 2016. Very Good+. About $13 or $14, a Bargain of the Decade.
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The red wine of this pair is Les Sources de Livran 2009, Medoc, the second label of Chateau Livran, an estate that traces its long history back to 1280, when King Edward I of England granted the right to brother knights Arnaud and Beraud de Got to build a fortress on the land, a few kilometers west of the Gironde estuary. Their more famous brother was Bertrand de Got, who served as Pope Clement V from 1305 to 1314. Nothing of that fortress remains, but the estate itself has produced wine for hundreds of years. In 1889, the property was acquired by the Englishman James L. Denman, and then in the mid-20th Century by Robert Godfren, under whose ownership the estate released what are usually described as “correct” and “adequate” wines. In 2008, however, Chateau Livran was purchased by a Russian investment firm, and if things can be turned around in a couple of harvests, that may have been the case here, because Les Sources de Livran 2009 is a lovely wine, not overly serious or weighty but delicious and satisfying, what the British call a “luncheon claret.”

This ’09 is a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, aged 12 months in oak. The color is dark ruby with a touch of garnet at the rim; aromas of dried currants and plums, cloves and sandalwood, violets and potpourri dominate a bouquet that meshes with dusty, woodsy notes, dried herbs and a hint of graphite. Animated by lip-smacking acidity and featuring a firm though not tight tannic grip, the wine is spare but not austere, slightly dusty and powdery in texture and decently furnished with black and blue fruit flavors that peel back touches of dried spices and lavender; in fact, the floral element grows as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this wine through 2016 or into ’17 with game terrines and patés, beef stew or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $15 to $17, another Great Value.
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If you’re looking for a hearty robust red wine to drink with burgers, braised spare ribs or grilled pork chops, slide the cork out of a bottle of the Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County. The venerable winery began its modern period in 1973, under Jim Bundschu, though traces its history back to 1858; that’s ancient in terms of California. Understand, we’re not talking about finesse or elegance here but about power, grip and deep flavors. The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet of this cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend is ripe, meaty and fleshy, bursting with notes of black and red currants and cherries, a strain of graphite and hints of cloves, crushed violets, vanilla and slightly creamy oak. A mouthful of dusty, velvety tannins serves as backdrop for black fruit flavors that offer a tinge of blue and a core of tightly wound lavender, bitter chocolate and woody spices. The whole effect is gamey and a little feral, with qualities of wild berries and forest-floor that emerge in the finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.


When I first tasted the Oak Knoll Winery Pinot Noir 2011, assembled from six vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, my reaction was, “Well, O.K., that’s nice.” As I continued to sniff and sip the wine, however, my assessment changed to “Hmmm, that’s really good” and finally to “Excellent. Well-done.” The point is, give this pinot a little time, say 25 to 30 minutes, to develop in the glass. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced tea, rose-hips and loam are blended with notes of macerated raspberries and currants, tobacco, briers and mushrooms. A few moments bring in hints of cloves, lavender and sassafras, and the wine, both in nose and mouth, becomes a little fleshy and meaty, picking up some slightly dusty tannins and graphite elements. The wine also develops more firmness, offering a tantalizing texture that’s part dense, part ephemeral, all enlivened by spanking fresh acidity. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Reticent, spare, elegant. Oak Knoll was founded in 1970 by Ron and Marjorie Vuylsteke; it is operated now by their sons, Tom and John. Excellent. About $18, marking Good Value.

A sample for review. This post is the 9th on BTYH for 2015.


Brewers that work in the craft or European tradition often issue seasonal or limited release beers, so why should wineries be any different? Here’s an example, and if you’re feeling bewitched, bothered and bewildered — or rather beset by the obligations and responsibilities of late December — turn to Besieged 2013, a limited release red wine from Ravenswood, the well-known zinfandel producer in Sonoma County. Made from an unspecified blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvedre grapes, the wine sports a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of ripe blackberries, red and black currants and blueberries, these notes highlighted by elements of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. This is robust and rustic in all the right ways, with rollicking acidity, lip-smacking tannins and a slightly shaggy texture to support its fleshy and dusty black fruit flavors flecked with hints of ancho chili and cloves. Lots of the power you need to power through big dinners of braised short ribs or lamb shanks, hearty beef stews or just a bacon-cheeseburger. Winemaker is Joel Peterson. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.

This wine was a sample for review.

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