Zinfandel


I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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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.

Winemakers in California often have little side projects that involve specialties near and dear to their hearts. When I was in Napa Valley recently, I met with Rebekah Wineburg and Erica Kincaid to try the initial effort from their Post & Vine label. I didn’t realize until we started talking that Wineburg is winemaker for Buccella Winery, a producer of limited edition, high-end wines, released in very self-consciously designed packages. The Buccella wine that I reviewed a couple of years ago, a cabernet sauvignon from 2009, cost $145 a bottle. I suppose one needs to unwind a bit from such monumental endeavors. Wineburg and Kincaid met while working at Rudd Winery; they decided to partner for Post & Vine, with Wineburg making the wine and Kincaid handling operations.

The Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 is a blend of 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane and 21 percent petite sirah grown at the Testa Vineyards, founded in 1912 in Mendocino County near the hamlet of Calpella (pop. 679) by Italian immigrants Gaetano and Maria Testa and operated now by the fourth generation. As with many of the old Italian vineyards in Mendocino and Sonoma, the Testa Vineyard is planted to a mixture of carignane, petite sirah, zinfandel, barbera, grenache and charbono grapes; a neaby vineyard supplies cabernet sauvignon. The family makes wine under its own label as well as selling grapes.

The Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 spent 18 months in mostly neutral oak barrels and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The color is a vibrant dark lavender-violet hue; aromas of spiced and macerated red cherries and mulberries with a hint of blueberries (and raspberry raspiness) are couched in notes of slightly dusty graphite and a touch of mint; a few moments in the glass bring in elements of rose petals and loam. On the palate, the wine delivers a lively, resonant flow of blue and red fruit flavors permeated by earthiness, a tinge of briers and brambles and wisps of exotic spices — sandalwood, allspice — all energized by a lithe, supple texture and a structure that features clean lines and good bones, as one used to say about Audrey Hepburn’s face. 14.4 percent alcohol. There’s so much life and vibrancy in this wine that I found it irresistible. In its purity and intensity, it reminded me of one of my favorite wines from last year, the Clos Saron Out of the Blue 2013, 90 percent old vine cinsault, made by Gideon Bienstock in the Sierra Foothills. I don’t want to oversell the Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 — nor the version for 2013, which contains less zinfandel and 11 percent grenache, tasting a barrel sample. These are not deeply profound potentially long-lived wines, though this 2012 should drink nicely through 2018 or ’20; they are, on the other hand, exactly the kinds of authentic and individual wines that I love to drink. Wineburg made 143 cases of this wine, so you’ll have to do a little digging to find some. I hope you will. The website is PostAndVine.com. Excellent. About $28.

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.

I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014″ and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review. This post is the seventh of 2015 on BTYH.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace, France. Variable blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay. Excellent. About $19.
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Nieto Senetier Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 34 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent malbec, 33 percent merlot. Excellent. About $19.
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Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, nv, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. Excellent. About $18.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. Old vine carignane with some grenache. Production was 253 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $18.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvée George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $17.
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Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $17.
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J Pinot Gris 2013, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Excellent. About $16.
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Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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CVNE Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, Spain. 100 percent viura grapes. Very Good+ verging on Excellent. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 100% sangiovese. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Excellent. About $14.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.
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Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $14.
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Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 100 percent verdejo grapes. Excellent. About $14.
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Stemmari Dalila 2012, Bianco Terre Siciliane, Italy. 80 percent grillo grapes, 20 percent viognier, Excellent. About $14.
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Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2013, Toscana, Italy. With 5 percent viognier grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12.
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Li Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 100% negroamaro grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California. With 15 percent merlot, 3 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $11.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County. Very Good+. About $10.
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Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain. 85 percent grenache, 7 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, 1 percent syrah. Very Good+. About $10.
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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.

Well, thank goodness all that Thanksgiving hubbub is over and the attendant brouhaha about what wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and so on, so now we can focus just on wines to drink because we like them. Here are brief reviews of 12 such wines that should appeal to many tastes and pocketbooks. Prices range from $15 to $56; there are three white wines and nine reds, including a couple of sangiovese blends and a pair of white Rhône renditions from California, as well as a variety of other types of wines and grape varieties. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of offering incisive notices designed to pique your interest and whet the palate, after which you may choose to wet your palate. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011, Tuscany, Italy.13.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby-purple hue; raspberry, mulberry and blueberry, notes of potpourri, dried herbs and orange peel; a bit of stiff tannin from the cabernet, but handily a tasty and drinkable quaff with requisite acidity for vigor. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y.
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Bordòn Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 80% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuela. Medium ruby color; mint, pine and iodine, macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and cherries; violets, lavender, pot pourri, cloves and sandalwood; very dry, autumnal with hints of mushrooms and moss, nicely rounded currant and plum flavors, vivid acidity; a lovely expression of the grape. Now through 2016 to ’18 with roasted game birds. Very Good +. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Jacopo Biondi Santi Braccale 2010, Toscano. 13.5% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot. Medium ruby color; raspberries and red currants, orange zest and black tea, hints of briers and brambles, touches of graphite, violets, blueberries and cloves, intriguing complexity for the price; plenty of dry tannins and brisk acidity for structure, fairly spare on the plate, but pleasing texture and liveliness; flavors of dried red and black fruit; earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or braised meat, hearty pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $19, marking Good Value.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Clayhouse Estate Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache blanc, 30% viognier. Production was 650 bottles, so Worth a Search. Pale gold color; crystalline freshness, clarity and liveliness; jasmine and acacia, yellow plums, quince and ginger; beautifully balanced and integrated, exquisite elegance and spareness; saline and savory, though, with bracing acidity running through a pleasing talc-like texture; backnotes of almond blossom and dried thyme; a supple, lithe limestone-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $23.
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Les Trois Couronnes 2011, Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache, 20% syrah, 10% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-violet color; lovely, enchanting bouquet of black olives, thyme, graphite, moss and mushrooms, opening to plums and black currants, pepper, leather and lavender; a bit of wet-dog funkiness aligns with dusty, supple tannins and beautifully integrated oak and acidity; rich, spicy black fruit flavors with a hint of blueberry; undertones of loam, underbrush, black licorice; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Great with beef braised in red wine. Excellent. About $23.
Imported by OWS Cellars Selections, North Miami, Fla.
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Paul Dolan Zinfandel 2012, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent ruby with a magenta rim; notes of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry with a nice raspy touch and hints of briers and brambles, black pepper, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; ripe and spicy raspberry and cherry flavors, a bit meaty and fleshy, but increasingly bound with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, all enlivened by generous acidity. Not a blockbuster but plenty of stuffing. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Very pale gold hue; green apple, peach and spiced pear; lemon balm, ginger and quince; wonderful tension and resolution of texture and structure; taut acidity, dense and almost voluptuous yet spare, tensile and vibrant with crystalline limestone minerality; seamless melding of lightly spiced and macerated citrus and stone-fruit flavors; feels alive on the palate, engaging and compelling. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $28.
The winery website has not caught up with the current vintage.
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Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 14.1% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Dark to medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and raspberry scents and flavors with plenty of tannic “rasp” and underlying notes of briers, brambles and loam; cloves, a hint of rhubarb, a touch of cherry cola; all enlivened by pert acidity. A minor key with major dimension. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $30.
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von Hövel “R” Spatlese Dry Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; peach, pear and lychee; hints of honeysuckle, grapefruit and lime zest; a chiseled and faceted wine, benefiting from incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements; tremendous, indeed inescapable resonance and presence, yet elegant, delicate and almost ethereal; long penetrating spice and mineral-inflected finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 8% merlot, 1% each petit verdot and malbec. Deep ruby with a magenta tinge; cedar and thyme, hint of black olive; quite spicy and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of black and red cherry; lithe, supple, muscular and sleek; dense but soft and finely sifted tannins adorned with slightly toasty oak, a scintillating graphite element and vibrant acidity; long spicy, granitic finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Cuvee R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 14.9% alc. 100% grenache grapes. 593 cases. (Available to the winery’s DEWN Club members.) Dark reddish-cherry hue; dusty, spicy red and black cherries, with a curranty note and hint of raspberry; some cherry stem and pit pertness and raspiness; cloves and sandalwood, with a tide of plum skin and loam; the finely-knit and sanded tannins build as the minutes pass; clean, vibrant acidity lends energy and litheness. Terrific grenache. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $48.
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Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 91% merlot, 8% malbec, 1% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby color; intense and concentrated aromas of cassis, black raspberry and plum; notes of cloves and sandalwood with a tinge of pomegranate and red cherry; a hint of toasty oak; sinewy and supple, almost muscular; deep black fruit flavors imbued with lavender and bitter chocolate and honed by finely-milled tannins, graphite minerality and keen acidity; a substantial merlot, not quite monumental because of its innate balance and elegance; through some miracle, you don’t feel the heat or sweetness of high alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22, Excellent. About $56.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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California’s Lodi AVA was approved in 1986, but grapegrowing and winemaking in the area, straight east from San Francisco (and southeast of Sacramento) at the north extreme of the San Joaquin Valley, go back to the middle of the 19th Century. Zinfandel is the grape especially associated with Lodi, home to a remarkable collection of “old vine” vineyards planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The AVA was expanded in 2002 to the south and west. Lodi is divided into seven sub-appellations, and if you have not heard of most of these rest easy, because I had not heard of them either: Alta Mesa (which I have seen on labels from Lee Family Farms); Borden Ranch; Clements Hills; Cosumnes River; Jahant; Mokelumne River; and Sloughhouse. Interestingly, these sub-appellations, the subject of a five-year investigation and evaluation process, were approved by the federal government at once, in August 2006.

As most wine regions are wont to do, Lodi is busily promoting itself and its “subs” as viable entities. One of the steps is the establishment of the Lodi Native Project, this year focusing on the Mokelumne River AVA. This area is characterized by an alluvial fan of sandy, well-drained soils and is a bit cooler than the other six sub-appellations. The idea is that six winemakers would take grapes from old vineyards, ranging from 1958 back to 1901, and make their wines using similar traditional and non-interventionist techniques, including naturally occurring yeasts; no new oak barrels or oak chips, dust or innerstaves; no acid manipulation; no addition of tannin, water or concentrate products; no must concentration or extraction measures; no filtering or fining. Obviously, the idea is to allow the vineyards themselves, their terroir, to be expressed through the wine. Indeed, we have six quite different zinfandels here, some lighter and more elegant and balanced, others treading the path of more density, floridness and higher alcohol. Though I prefer the former to the latter, the project is a fascinating glimpse into the history of a region and the styles of wine that individual vineyards can produce.

The package of six wines is available for $180 online at LodiNative.com or, if you’re in the area, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center.

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Lodi Native The Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. Fields Family Wines, Ryan Sherman, winemaker. Three acres, planted in 1905. 14 percent alcohol. (Sherman said in a private communication that the alcohol content on this wine is closer to 13.8 percent.) Medium ruby color; red and black currants, red and black cherries; briers and brambles, lightly dusted graphite; flavors in the mouth lean more toward blackberry and raspberry, hints of fruitcake, black tea and orange zest; dense and chewy yet sleek; borne by dusty, slightly leathery tannins and bright acidity; well-knit, polished, lithic finish. Beautifully-fashioned and poised zinfandel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. St. Amant Winery, Stuart Spencer, winemaker. 8.3 acres, planted in 1901. 14.5 percent alcohol. Radiant medium ruby hue; slightly fleshy and meaty, very spicy, smoke and ash, graphite; notes of roasted plums and cherries, potpourri, loam; after a few minutes, raspberries and blueberry tart; very dry, slightly grainy, raspy tannins; you feel the wood, not as new wood but as a supple shaping influence with hints of rosemary and tobacco; dry, fairly austere finish. A high-toned zinfandel, rather grave and dignified. Try from 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. M2 Wines, Layne Montgomery, winemaker. 14.5 percent alcohol. Grapes from the oldest part of the vineyard, planted in 1916. Intense dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; bright, fruity, very spicy; rhubarb and blueberry. notes of macerated black currants and plums, and more cherry comes up gradually; a rich, warm, spicy mouthful of zinfandel; very dry, and you feel the robust tannins from mid-palate back, though the balance is resolved in perfect equilibrium; the 14.5 percent alcohol feels just right for this wine, a pivot, in a way, the gyroscope that keeps the even keel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. McCay Cellars, Michael J. McCay, winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. Vineyard planted in the 1940s. Dark ruby-purple color; deep, intense and concentrated, very spicy, earthy and loamy; a big mouthful of blackberries, blueberries and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, an element of fruitcake and oolong tea, and paradoxically, a sort of smoky cigarette paper fragility; still, beyond that nuance, this is a large-framed, dry, robustly tannic zinfandel, vibrant and resonant, that wears its oaken heart on its sleeve. Now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent, with slight reservations.
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Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. Maley Brothers Vineyard, Chad Joseph, winemaker. 14.9 percent alcohol. 21 acres, planted in 1958, which seems like a youngster compared to some of these other vineyards. Dark ruby-purple color; ripe, rich and spicy; blueberry and boysenberry, slightly caramelized plums and rhubrab; fruitcake, soft and macerated raspberries; very dense and chewy, packed with baking spice, dusty graphite and black and blue fruit flavors; lots of tannic power, even rather austere in the area of structure but also a little jammy; fortunately a clean line of bright acidity keeps it honest. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+.
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Lodi Native Noma Ranch Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumna. Macchia Wines, Tim Holdener, winemaker. 15.8 percent alcohol. 15 acres, planted in early 1900s. Opaque dark ruby-purple color; the ripest and fleshiest of these zinfandels, boysenberry, loganberry and tart raspberry, heaps of earthy briers and brambles; fruitcake and plum jam; very dry, on the finish reveals alcoholic heat and sweetness which on my palate throws the wine off-balance. Now — if this is yer cuppa tea — through 2016 or ’17. Very Good.
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Actually, it’s unseasonably chilly today in my neck o’ the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking rosé wines and posting about them. Here we touch the South of France, Spain’s Rioja region and two areas of California for pale wines that are light-hearted yet versatile, quaffable yet good with all manner of fare, especially if you’re on a picnic or sitting on the porch or patio. These are quick notices, not intended to bother your pretty little heads about technical, historic or geographical data but desiring to picque your interest and whet the ol’ palate. Enjoy! These wines were samples for review.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2013, Vin de France; the postal code on the bottle indicates Caunes-Minervois, northeast of Carcassonne. 12.5% alc. 100% syrah. Pale pink-salmon color; ripe and fleshy, strawberries and raspberries, fairly spicy; notes of potpourri and orange rind; quite dry, with snappy acidity and a hint at a stony structure. I like this version of 2013 a bit better than the 2012. Very Good. About $11, a Fine Value.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.2% alc. Bright rosy-pink color with a magenta tinge; robust for a rose, very spicy and floral, scents and flavors of red currants, raspberries and red cherries; hints of limestone and flint, enlivened by vibrant acidity; medium body woven of delicate supple strands; tasty, thirst-quenching; lots of personality and appeal. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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El Coto Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. A 50/50 blend of tempranillo and garnacha. Medium salmon-copper hue; rose and violets, lightly macerated strawberries and raspberries with a touch of tea and orange zest; hint of dried thyme; clean, fresh, dry; good acidity though a moderately lush texture; could you a bit more tautness, still quite enjoyable and better than I remember. Very Good. About $13.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Grenache 50%, cinsault 40%, syrah 10%. Pale salmon-copper color; tender and robust, lithe, taut and tart; nervy, attractive; raspberries and red currants, blood orange, touch of what Keats calls “the warm South” in its dried herb, sunny, slightly saline nature; all qualities strung on a line of limestone and flint buoyed by brisk acidity. Very tasty. Excellent. About $15.
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M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Unspecified blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. Slightly ruddy onion skin hue; lively and engaging; cloves, spiced tea, orange zest; ripe and dried red currants, raspberries, hint of cherry; rose petal and lilac; good body, even a bit lush yet light on its feet and fleet with vibrant acidity; very clean and refreshing. Excellent. About $15.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2013, Central Coast. 13% alc. Grenache 55%, mourvèdre 23.5% roussanne 10%, cinsault 7% carignane 2.5%, grenache blanc 2%. Very pale pink color; beguiling aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a faint flush of blood orange and violets; a transparent filigree of limestone lends a crisp yet talc-like aura to the structure while tense acidity keeps it lively and appealing. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $18.
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