Wine of the Week

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.

Italian families like Parducci, Pedroncelli and Sebastiani added immeasurably to the development of the California wine industry, particularly in Sonoma County. (And of course Mondavi in Napa Valley.) Today’s Wine of the Week comes from Pedroncelli, family-owned since 1927; ; winemaker is John Pedroncelli. Over the course of its existence, the winery has been noted for red wines, of which the Pedroncelli “Mother Clone” Zinfandel 2011, Dry Creek Valley, is a delicious example. “Mother Clone” refers to the winery’s home vineyard, replanted in the 1970s using original budwood and featuring grapes from some of the vines remaining from 1904. The wine spent a year aging in American oak barrels and includes 10 percent petite sirah grapes. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge at the rim. The bouquet is exactly as racy, as briery, brambly and peppery as you want from a well-proportioned zinfandel that includes notes of wild blueberries, black currants and plums; the wine is gently but persuasively framed by oak and slightly chewy tannins and enlivened by brisk acidity and clean graphite minerality, all going to support tasty, spicy blackberry and black currant flavors touched by hints of lavender and licorice. 14.8 percent alcohol. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza; it would also be appropriate with roasted or braised meat dishes, pork chops with a Southwestern rub or burgers and steaks. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17, representing Excellent Value.

A sample for review.

The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, hails from a winery founded in the late 1980s by the Raventos family, owners of the giant Codorniu sparkling wine producer in Spain. Originally, the winery turned out a range of sparkling wines, but by the late 1990s, the intention shifted to still wine, particularly chardonnay and pinot noir, yes, natural components in sparkling wine and Champagne, as well as cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The winery’s name was changed to Artesa — “handmade,” as in artisan; it has not abandoned bubbles entirely, offering a Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve sparkling wine. Director of winemaking at Artesa is Mark Beringer, whose pedigree includes being the great great grandson of Jacob Beringer, a founder of the venerable winery that bears his name, and a long, successful stint as winemaker at Duckhorn. The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, aged nine months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new, and that seems just right to me. The color is brilliant ruby-magenta, neither too dark nor too light. Enticing aromas of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras, spiced and macerated black cherries and plums, and notes of leather, loam and graphite waft from the glass. The texture is both sinewy and satiny, with brisk acidity cutting a swath on the palate, highlighting ripe and slightly exotic-tasting black cherry, mulberry and plum flavors; oak offers a rounded, buffed shape to the wine, while staying discreetly in the background. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review. Image from

Perhaps you seared a fillet of salmon or tuna crusted with pepper for a simple dinner, served (again perhaps) with rice, a green vegetable and lemon wedges for squeezing over all. Here’s a terrific inexpensive accompaniment, the Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc 2012, Sonoma County. David Stare founded the winery in 1972, a few years after Robert Mondavi created the name Fumé Blanc, modeled on the Loire Valley’s Pouilly-Fumé region where the sauvignon blanc grape reigns supreme. Sauvignon blanc wasn’t selling as a varietal wine in the United States, and Mondavi thought that “fumé blanc” might entice consumers to try it. He was right. One finds both names in California, with some producers, including Dry Creek Vineyard, making a fumé blanc and a varietally-labeled sauvignon blanc. There was a tendency, in those days, to make a fumé blanc wine — “smoky white” — in a supposed Loire Valley style, while sauvignon blanc wines were made in a supposed white Bordeaux fashion, often with some semillon blended in and a bit of oak-aging; those modes even extended to the bottle shape, but such distinctions disappeared years ago. Anyway, the Dry Creek Valley Fumé Blanc 2012, made all in stainless steel, offers a pale straw-gold color and fresh clean aromas of lemongrass and celery seed, lime peel and grapefruit pith, with notes of green pea and thyme and hints of lilac and lavender. Pretty attractive stuff. Lemon and grapefruit flavors are highlighted by touches of mown grass, caraway and limestone in a bright thread that travels down a line of vibrant acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

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