Wine of the Week



It took the insight of Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena to understand that chardonnay vineyards could be planted at high altitudes and produce excellent grapes. From the Andean areas of Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato, grape-growing regions of Mendoza, and family vineyards at heights ranging from about 3,100 to 4,700 feet, comes the Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, from Bodega Catena Zapata, a wine that spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The color is radiant medium gold. Aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit, with a hint of peach and mango, are wreathed with cloves, lime peel, wet stones and a touch of buttered toast; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of jasmine and lilac. This chardonnay is distinguished by its deeply spicy nature and a lovely, seductive texture that perfectly balances the muscle and bone of limestone minerality and bright acidity with an almost cloud-like, talc-y softness. The wine picks up sinew as it goes, with a close to tannic effect, and builds to a conclusion of tremendous presence, tone and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Winemaker was Alejandro Vigil. Excellent. About $20, a Bargain to Shiver Your Timbers.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

The Ricardo Santos Semillon is consistently one of my favorite white wines and one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from 70-year-old vines, the wine delivers wonderful character for the price, actually performing far above its scale, and without the benefit (or detriment) of oak aging. Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina, offers a medium gold color and beguiling aromas of fig, roasted lemon and greengage plum with hints of fennel, cloves and a touch of dusty talc. A lovely supple texture and fleet acidity support lemon and grapefruit flavors highlighted with notes of bay leaf and dried thyme, a sunny leafy element with a hint of grass and a background of wet stones. The whole package is savory and saline, deeply spicy, bright, lively and delicious. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 850 cases, so call around and order a case. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $16.

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

Because the Wine of the Week is a couple of days late, here’s a twofer, a red and a white. These wines were samples for review.
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The white is the Jekel Vineyards Riesling 2012, Monterey, a medium gold-colored wine that exudes winsome notes of golden apples, grapefruit and lime peel with touches of mango, lychee and candied orange rind; there’s just enough mineral action going on, in the form of a scintillating limestone element, and bright acidity, to keep it on the straight-and-narrow path. Faintly sweet on entry, with spiced peach and grapefruit flavors, the wine turns bone-dry through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Charlie Gilmore. Drink now through 2014. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $16.
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For the bonus wine, we’ll go with the Noble Vines 1 Red Blend 2011, carrying a California designation. This well-made amalgam of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel is a product of DFV Wines, that is to say, the umbrella of the Indelicato family for a wide range of labels. Their legacy in Monterey goes back to 1924 and vines planted by Italian immigrant Gaspare Indelicato. The color is medium ruby with a magenta tinge; scents of black raspberries, black currants and plums include notes of graphite, lavender and blueberry tart. Tasty and spicy black and blue fruit flavors are ably supported by moderately dusty, chewy tannins, a clean mineral element and bright acidity. Lots of verve and personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
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Looking for a nifty red to go with burgers, steaks, hearty pizzas and pasta dishes? What Dr. FK orders is the deeply flavorful Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011, from Il Poliziano, an estate established in 1961 in the Montepulciano commune of southeast Tuscany. A blend of 80 precent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot, the wine matures for eight months, about 20 to 40 percent (depending on the vintage) in two-year-old American 59-gallon barriques and the rest in large vats. The color is rich dark ruby; aromas of mulberries, black raspberries and black currants are permeated by notes of dried rose petals, violets, orange rind and Earl Grey tea. The flavor profile is consistent with the bouquet, perhaps a bit fleshier, though wrapped around a spine of firm slightly dusty tannins, lively acidity that makes you crave another sip and a touch of graphite-like minerality for depth. The finish is dominated by spicy oak that takes on some austerity as the minutes pass. 14.5 percent alcohol, which seems to be the universal standard now. Drink through 2015. Winemaker was Federico Carletti. I’m not saying that the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 wouldn’t be appropriate with the ever-nearing Thanksgiving feast, but I’m just sort of finished with that topic, O.K.? Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image from cellartracker.com.


Edoardo Seghesio and his wife Angela put down roots in Sonoma County’s northern Alexander Valley in 1895, building a house and planting their Home Ranch to zinfandel vines. The historic winery, owned by Crimson Wine Group since 2011, has a long tradition, then, of making zinfandel wines, though the family didn’t start bottling under its own label until 1983. The example suggested today as Wine of the Week is the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, a blend of zinfandel grapes from vineyards in Alexander and Dry creek Valleys. It aged 10 months in American and French oak barrels, 75 percent and 25 percent respectively. This deep ruby-purple hued zinfandel bursts with notes of blackberries, blueberries and black currants seemingly steeped in graphite and lavender with bass-tones of earthy briers and brambles. Vibrant acidity keeps the wine lively and appealing, while moderately dense and dusty tannins and granitic minerality lend weight and vigor. Spicy black and blue fruit flavors are juicy and lip-smackin’ ripe, but not at all over-ripe or jammy. The complete effect is of a creature slightly untamed but essentially balanced and integrated. 14.8 percent alcohol. The Seghesio Zinfandel 2011 is drinking perfectly now and would be ideal for Thanksgiving’s groaning board. Excellent. Suggested price for the wine is $24, but many retail outlets around the country have it discounted to $20.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.


Belle Glos is the pinot noir arm of the Wagner Family of Wines that includes the iconic Caymus cabernet sauvignons and the popular Conundrum white and red blends (yes, there’s a red now). The Meiomi label represents the more moderately priced and accessible pinot noir from the Belle Glos line. Winemaker is Joseph J. Wagner. Meiomi means “coast” in the languages of the Wappo and Yuki tribes that once thrived in California, and the wine is indeed a coastal product, derived from vineyards in three coastal counties, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. (Though I have to say that every time I see a bottle of this wine I think, “Me-oh-my!”) The color of the Meiomi Pinot Noir 2012 is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine generally is dark, spicy, berryish, with heady aromas of black and red cherries and currants and plums touched with cranberries and cloves and a hint of sassafras. It’s super satiny on the palate, and its ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are permeated by smoke and leather that lead out to a keen graphite edge, all set midst moderately dense, dry and slightly dusty tannins. At 13.8 percent alcohol and with this panoply of effects, it’s a stylish crowd-pleaser. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Randall Grahm, irrepressible owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, will have his way with us, won’t he? Take his new wine, A Proper Claret 2012, bearing a California designation. Now Grahm hasn’t made a cabernet sauvignon-based wine since 1985; he’s a perennial critic of the full-blown, over-ripe, high alcohol fashion that prevails in many of the Golden State’s wineries. In a sense, then, A Proper Claret 2012 functions as a rebuke to the high-flown cabernet style. (“Claret” is the historic term in the British Isles for the red wines of Bordeaux.) What would a proper claret be? From Bordeaux’s Right Bank communes — think of Pomerol and St.-Emilion — it would be a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, with perhaps a dollop of cabernet sauvignon; from the Left Bank — Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien, St.-Estephe — it would be predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with perhaps varying degrees of cabernet franc and petit verdot. What, then, Readers, is the blend of A Proper Claret 2012? First, we have 62 percent cabernet sauvignon, to which is added 22 percent petit verdot. What next? A quite improper 8 percent tannat, 7 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah. Every proper claret-loving English person is not amused. Grahm, however, is chuckling behind the scenes, well aware that the visual joke on the label gives the game away. The proper English gentleman depicted there, relaxing in his library, glass of wine and decanter at hand, wears, under his dressing gown, red fishnet stockings supported by a garter belt. The joke is on us.

There’s nothing joky about the wine, though. A Proper Claret 2012 sports a radiant dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim; the bouquet is a melange of black cherries, raspberries and plums permeated by notes of briers, brambles and cedar, wood smoke, lavender and licorice, iron and iodine and a trace of blueberry tart. Plenty of ripe but not sweet black fruit flavors hang on a fairly rigorous yet approachable structure of soft but dense and slightly dusty tannins, dusty graphite minerality and vibrant acidity, all seamlessly arrayed in fine balance. The wine is quite drinkable, even lovely, though it has a serious aspect too. The alcohol content is an eminently manageable 13.2 percent. Now through 2015. We happily drank this wine with Saturday night’s pizza and guessed at a price at least $10 more than it actually costs. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.

This wine was a sample for review, as I am required to inform you by dictate of the Federal Trade Commission.

Here’s a tasty and well-structured red wine for quaffing with hearty meals as the weather turns colder. The Pennywise Petite Sirah 2011, carrying a California designation (and sporting a radically new label design for the brand), is a blend of 86 percent petite sirah grapes, 8 percent merlot and 6 percent tannat. It earned its California moniker by drawing grapes from Lodi (mainly), Mendocino, Clarksburg and (way down south) Paso Robles. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of magenta; aromas of black and red currants, black raspberries and blueberries are touched with notes of cloves, graphite, lavender and licorice. A modicum of slightly dusty, mineral-flecked tannins and a swinge of acid allow for appropriate framing of juicy, spicy and cedary black and blue fruit flavors. The wine is dry and delicious and perfect for simple braised meat dishes, burgers and flavorful pasta preparations. It won’t knock your socks off or sing the birds out of the trees, but that’s not its aim. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Who ever said that the Wine of the Week had to be posted on Monday? Though that is my wish, my ideal and usually my habit, priorities insist that writing for money takes precedence over writing for mere fame and prestige, that is to say, freelancing for whatever pittance comes before posting to this blog. So, here it is, Thursday, and I am getting around to this week’s Wine of the Week, shamefully tardy but that’s the way the cookie crumbles, and it has nothing to do with the 16-day government shutdown. Having said that, here’s a terrific sauvignon blanc at a great price. Cono Sur — “southern cone” — produces a variety of wines at different price ranges from most of Chile’s vineyard and wine-making regions. From Casablanca Valley, an up-and-coming location for fine sauvignon blanc, comes the Cono Sur Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, a wine that is notable for its fresh and clean aura, savory and saline, its notes of jasmine, grapefruit and lime peel, its memorable pungency of earth, gravel and gun-flint. This sauvignon blanc is spicy and lively and replete with flavors of slightly spiced and macerated stone fruit touched with dried thyme and tarragon. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of lilac and greengage plum, while the finish is long, vibrant and packed with limestone and flint. 13 percent alcohol. Quite engaging personality and depth. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Alabama. Tasted at lunch at Cafe Society in Memphis with bacon-wrapped shrimp in a horseradish cream sauce.

The sparkling wine from Italy that most American consumers are familiar with is Prosecco, made in a specific area of the Veneto region from the glera grape in the bulk Charmat process. Prosecco tends to be simple, tasty, with notes of apples and almond blossoms, and often fairly sweet, though the best examples imported to this country are increasingly dry. Another area of Italy produces sparkling wine that deserves attention, however, and that’s Franciacorta, in Lombardy, where the sparkling wines use not only the traditional champagne method but the typical chardonnay and pinot noir grapes of the Champagne region. These are sparkling wines of real character that make Prosecco and other Italian sparklers look like mere bagatelles. Not that there’s anything wrong with mere bagatelles; sometimes they fill a necessary place in life. My recommendation today, Wednesday, is the Satèn Lo Sparviere non-vintage Franciacorta from the producer Gussalli Beretta. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine, which fermented 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in large casks, offers a pale gold color with a gentle surge of tiny glinting silver bubbles. The initial effect is clean, fresh and energetic; aromas of roasted lemon, jasmine, ginger and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast are delicate and fine-spun, while the whole package, though enlivened by dynamic acidity, is dry, elegant and high-toned, with great bones and a whip-lash limestone spine. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this delightful Franciacorta over several nights as aperitif with various snacks and appetizers. Excellent. About $22, a Steal, and a terrific addition to restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Siema Wines, Springfield, Va. A sample for review.

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