Wine of the Week


Before we get into the qualities that made me like the quite beautiful Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley — well, that sort of gives it away, doesn’t it? — let’s look at the interesting technical data, because for a wine that radiates purity and intensity of varietal purpose, it took considerable thought to make it that way. Cade Estate Winery was founded on Howell Mountain in 2005 by partners Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty — names with which to conjure, fiduciary-wise — and general manager John Conover. The most visible of the trio is Newsom, who was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and 2007 and lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and whose business successes make me think that I just got off to the wrong start in life. First came the PlumpJack wine store in 1992, followed by PlumbJack Winery in Napa Valley and then a host of cafes, restaurants, resorts and retail outlets. Sheesh. And the guy is good-looking too.

Let’s turn, however, to Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whose work I much admired when she was at St. Clement, and the regimen for this sauvignon blanc. In terms of grape origin, 39 percent of the grapes for this wine derived from Cade’s vineyard in Oakville; the rest came from growers in Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Calistoga and the Napa Valley AVA. Fermentation occurred in a combination of stainless steel tanks (71 percent), stainless steel drums (11 percent), French oak barrels (61. percent new and 11.8 percent used) and the remaining .1 percent in concrete eggs. That is, I will say, the most complicated fermentation process I have ever heard of. Oh, wait, of the portion that fermented in barrels, 80 percent of that was inoculated with yeast and 20 percent fermented on naturally-occurring yeasts. No malolactic (or secondary) fermentation occurred, leaving the wine with crisp acidity. The wine aged in tanks and barrels for five months. There’s a bit of a blend: 2.5 percent each semillon and viognier.

Did it actually require that much calibration to creative this wholly attractive sauvignon blanc? Whatever the case, this is a damned fine wine. The color is pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; fresh, enticing yet spare aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, pert gooseberry and earthy celery seed, peaches, tangerines and notes of lilac and lemon balm characterize the bouquet. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc elegantly balances vibrant, finely honed acidity with cloud-like lushness and a scintillating crystalline limestone element, all supporting citrus flavors etched with a slight sunny, leafy, herbal quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. We drank the Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013 one night with chicken breasts first seared and then poached in white wine and the next night with a roasted tuna Nicoise. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $28, the upper limit of what I would recommend in these Wine of the Week posts.

A sample for review. The label image on the winery website has not caught up with the change to the 2013 vintage of this wine.

The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

There are rosés, and then there is the Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. The wine’s nickname commemorates the long relationship between winery owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman and her husband, Simon. At first, she made the wine only for them and the family, but you can’t keep a great wine hidden endlessly. This rosé derives from Inman’s Olivet Grange Vineyard, from pinot noir vines dedicated to that purpose. It is fashioned, of course, completely in stainless steel. The color is the true Provençal rosé hue of light salmon-copper, more gris than pink; delightful and enticing aromas of dried currants and strawberries are buoyed by thyme, damp gravel and a tinge of ripe tropical fruit. This is a zesty rosé, layered with notes of peaches, watermelon and cloves riven by crisp acidity and a lacy limestone element that seems to lend tensile strength to what might be ephemeral and evanescent. The total effect is dry, spare, elegant, lively, irresistible. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,350 cases. Drink now through the Summer of 2015 with such picnic fare as cold fried or roasted chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, rabbit terrine. I don’t often rate rosé wines Exceptional, but this one is an exception. About $25.

A sample for review.

Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-operated wine operation in California; winemaker is the fifth-generation Karl D. Wente. I say “operation” rather than “winery,” because Wente owns vast tracts of vineyards not only in Livermore Valley, where German immigrant Carl H. Wente (1851-1934) was a pioneer, but in Monterey County, where in the 1960s the family also was an early developer. Wente was the first winery to bottle varietally-labeled chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and for several decades both before and after Repeal sustained a reputation as the finest producer of white wines in California. Naturally, in a company with a 130-year history there have been ups and downs, and for Wente Bros. — the name was changed to Wente Vineyards in 1996 — the down occurred during the expansion and acquisitions of the 1980s, when quality slipped. More rigorous standards apply today, though, and Wente offers a range of attractive and fairly serious red and white wines from all its properties.

Today’s Wine of the Week hails from the red side of the roster. This is the Wente Vineyards “Southern Hills” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay*, and if you don’t find the aromas entrancing, you just don’t have a heart. The color is dark ruby with a medium ruby rim; notes of star anise, lavender and graphite, black olive, cedar and a hint of caramelized fennel leap from the glass, amid a welter of ripe, spicy black cherries and currants. The wine aged 14 months in a combination of neutral** French, American and Eastern European*** oak barrels, a tactic that lends supple and mildly spicy support to tasty blue and black fruit flavors nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, lightly dusted tannins and some slightly ashy iron/iodine minerality on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Loads of personality and just gets down on its knees and begs to be drunk with a fat juicy bacon-cheeseburger. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

*The ridiculously far-ranging San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, largely due to the efforts of Wente Vineyards. It gathers under one region not only the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda and parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz but the city of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. You can leave your heart in San Francisco and sell your wine everywhere else.

**Meaning already used, as many as two or three times, so the wood influence is very subtle.

***”Eastern European” oak generally refers to Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian or Hungarian oak barrels.

With last night’s pizza, which combined the basil/radicchio/red onion food group with the roasted eggplant/caramelized tomato/bacon food group, I opened a bottle of the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012, from Argentina’s San Juan region, abutting Mendoza to the south and similarly located in the Andean foothills, though San Juan tends to be hotter and drier than Mendoza. The winery was founded in 1870 by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna and remained in the family until 1980, when it was sold to Allied Domecq, in turn acquired in 2005 by Pernod Ricard. The term “Elevation” isn’t used trivially; these vineyards average 4,600 feet about sea-level. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012 is an equal five-part blend of bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah and tannat grapes. You would not be surprised, then, that it’s a robust and rustic red wine, offering a dark ruby color and aromas of ripe, fleshy black currants, blackberries and plums thoroughly imbued with graphite, lavender, bitter chocolate and cloves. The wine is sleek and supple, though full-bodied, borne by healthy, slightly shaggy tannins and bright acidity under tasty blue and black fruit flavors, all devolving to a cast of moderately astringent dried porcini, underbrush and brambly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with such hearty fare as burgers, grilled pork chops, braised shanks or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is $15, but I have seen it marked down as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

Just when you think that you’ll scream if you have to drink another cabernet sauvignon or merlot, along comes the refosco grape to renew your faith in individual red wine. The grape is native to the vineyard regions of northeast Italy and is also cultivated in neighboring Slovenia and Croatia and a bit in Greece. Its use was recorded as long ago as the late 14th Century, and its wine was a favorite of the libertine and memoirist Casanova. Of a group of related refosco grapes, the most prominent and widely cultivated is refosco dal peduncolo rosso, referring to the reddish color of its stem. These tend to be forthright and robust red wines, high in acid because of the late ripening of the grapes and deeply tannic; they do not take well to aging in small oak barrels. Today, then, I recommend the Ronco dei Moreri Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011, Venezia Giulia, from the estate of Marco Felluga. The name of the vineyard, Ronco dei Moreri, means a hillside surrounded by mulberries. The grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine aged 12 months in a combination of large and small oak casks. The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this bottle with homemade pizza dominated by mushrooms, green olives and bacon; its robust and packed character would be appropriate with roasted veal chops, game such as venison and boar or braised beef or bison short ribs. Excellent. About $20.

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

Grapes for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, derive from five estate vineyards, with the addition of a small amount of grapes purchased from trusted growers on long-term contract. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The wine is, in other words, a summation of a house-style or region rather than an individual expression of a single vineyard; as such, it succeeds admirably. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of rose petals and violets, red currants and plums are buoyed by notes of cranberry and rhubarb, with hints of briers and cloves. Underlying loam and graphite elements support delicious red fruit flavors in a structure enlivened by taut acidity and just enough tannin to provide a modicum of grip; the texture is supple and satiny, while the finish adds more spice. 13.5 percent alcohol. A real crowd-pleaser for drinking through 2016 or ’17. Try with medium rare roasted duck. Excellent. About $29.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Here I go, pushing Spring again, when there’s treacherous snow and ice on the ground and on the roads in many regions between the shining seas. Perhaps it will do us good, though, to think in terms of Spring-like wines. The one of which I speak is the Leo Torrontes 2013, from the Valentin Bianchi winery in Argentina’s well-known Mendoza region, specifically from the estate’s Dona Elsa Vineyard in the San Rafael area, a whopping 2,493 feet above sea level. You probably know that some wines made from the torrontes grape can be overwhelmingly floral to the point of being vapid or crushingly dry and crisp beyond the point of austerity. This wine is not one of those. The quite pale Leo Torrontes 2013, made all in stainless steel, offers delicate notes of jasmine and camellia, with hints of roasted lemon, cloves, lime peel and greengage plum; tingling acidity keeps the wine lively and compelling, with a lovely structure balancing crispness with a moderately lush, talc-like texture. Acidity and limestone minerality win by a hint and a nod, however, keeping the wine glintingly honest, while its spiced citrus and stone-fruit flavors are delicious. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 into 2015 with grilled fish or seafood risottos. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. A sample for review.

The wine is named for Argentine soccer superstar Leo Messi, who plays for FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team. A portion of sales of the wine benefit the Leo Messi Charity Foundation, which focuses on health care and educational development of socially-disadvantaged children.

I’m not rushing Spring by offering as the Wine of the Week the Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013. Parts of the country are still under snow, and it’s even fairly chilly today in my neck o’ the woods. Rosé, however, can and should be consumed all year around, seasons and weather be damned! Scrambling an egg for lunch? You need a rosé. Laying out some charcuterie for a little snack? Another occasion where rosé shines. Having a vegetarian dinner? Ditto the rosé. The Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013 is a blend of 67 percent syrah grapes and 33 percent mourvèdre, grown in vineyards in the hills above Marseilles. The color is pale salmon-copper; attractive aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries are highlighted by notes of peach, white pepper and orange rind. The texture delivers pleasing balance between softness and moderate lushness, on one hand, and fresh, crisp acidity on the other; flavors of red currants and cherries are permeated by hints of dried thyme, caraway and limestone. That minerality builds from mid-palate through the dry, elegant finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. A tasty patio, porch, pool and picnic wine, through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, manifesting Excellent Value.

The appellation for this wine is Indication Géographique Protégée Méditerranée, IGP being the new term for the old Vin de Pays. La Méditerranée, as it’s called, is a vast region, created in 1999 (as a Vin de Pays), that encompasses l’Ardèche, Drôme, Var, les Alpes Maritimes, les Hautes Alpes, les Alpes de Haute Provence and Vaucluse. Corsica was added in 2002 and les Bouches du Rhône in 2003. Under the EU wine region reforms of 2009, Vin de Pays became Indication Géographique Protégée, a rather less salubrious title.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

At least in my neck o’ the woods, we’re entering a transitional season between Winter and Spring. The temperature is gradually rising, the wind is occasionally blustery, and the sky is flecked with white, long-tailed clouds. Late nights and early mornings are chilly. Here’s an inexpensive red wine, then, to match the food you might be preparing to placate this state of things. If you live in the Northeast, where the sky still rather gratuitously dispenses heaps of snow, this would be fine for a hearty home-cooked meal, the family seated — as I picture the scene — around a long hand-hewn wood table in a warm kitchen facing steaming bowls of beef stew. The product in question is the Calcu Cabernet Franc 2011, from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. The wine is made completely from cabernet franc grapes and matures mainly in stainless steel tanks with a smaller portion in used French oak barrels. The grape speaks for itself in a dark mulberry-magenta hue and with notes of smoke and wood shavings, lead pencil, cedar and dried thyme and gradually emerging elements of black currants, cherries and blueberries; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of black olives and lavender. There’s no denying that this is a robust and rustic red wine, dense and dusty, a little chunky, deeply spicy and flavorful but not slavishly clinging to ripeness; revel in the stalwart tannic and graphite tinged structure and the vibrant acidity that compels you to take another sip. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $14, representing Good Value.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

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