Zinfandel


That term — “red wine blends” — should produce some rolled eyes and deep sighs among a portion of my readers. After all, there’s nothing unusual about red wine blends. However, a few years ago, my colleagues in wine writing and I began receiving press releases from eager and enthusiastic marketers and PR people extolling the hot new trend of blended red wines, particularly from California, and what an innovation these wines were. Apparently these bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked young persons never heard of, for example, Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Port and Chianti (or old-fashioned Chianti). Nevertheless, secure in that knowledge, I’ll review today a trio of pretty damned unusual or at least interesting red wine blends from Portugal, Uruguay and California’s Sonoma County. Each is quite individual from the others.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The Monte da Peceguina 2015 comes from the Portuguese region of Alentejo, where is was made by Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, a compound that includes a hotel, spa and restaurant as well as a winery. The sparsely populated region covers most of the lower third of Portugal; its chief asset and export is cork. Vinho Regional Alentejano, this wine’s category, is the designation for the entire region, VR being somewhat the equivalent of the French vin de pays. Monte da Peceguina 2015 is a blend of native grapes with several imports, none in the majority: 25 percent touriga nacional, 23 percent syrah, 22 percent aragonez, 20 percent alicante bouschet and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon; call it a sort of Portuguese-French hybrid. Information about oak aging is not available. Far from these divergent grapes uneasily co-existing, they came together to form a robust, vigorous whole greater than the sum of its parts. The color is intense dark ruby; it’s a ferrous and sanguinary wine that features ripe and fleshy black currants, blueberries and plums infused with cloves and sandalwood, mint and licorice, with a burgeoning tide of smoke and tar. A wallop of graphite bathes the palate ahead of dry dusty, gritty tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s a dark, brooding, pondering place in the black and blue fruit flavors slightly sympathetic to hints of lavender and violets that succumb to a dense, mineral-ridden finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30 with steaks, roasted goat and pork and game meats. Excellent. About $19.

Imported by Wine in Motion, Union, N.J.
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Bodegas Marichal was founded in 1938 and is now operated by the family’s third and fourth generation. The estate’s vineyards are located in the province of Canelones, 15 miles north of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Though this wine offers the simplest blend of this trio, it’s also the most unusual. The Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 is a blend of — yes — 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent tannat. Let’s think about this pairing. Pinot noir is often considered sacrosanct in its elegance and perfumed singularity, that is, a red grape so noble and highly characteristic that it is not to be blended with other grapes — unless producers in Burgundy surreptitiously pump up the color of their wines with a slurp of Cotes-du-Rhone from the south. Ha-ha, of course that would never happen! On the other hand, tannat, tough as a motorcyclist’s left boot and tannic as black tea left in the pot overnight, well, gosh, tannat seems an anomaly even if its function is to lend heft and structural might to pinot noir. The grape, declining in plantings in France, gives robustness and rusticity to the red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy in the Southwest, in the foothills east of the Pyrenees. Seventy percent of the Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 aged 10 months in oak barrels. The color is a brilliant medium ruby hue, and while the mild color might indicate a mild wine, the aromas of dusty, briery black currants and plums, permeated by cloves and graphite, tell us that the 30 percent tannat tends to dominate the enterprise; a silky texture feels slightly roughened by dry sifted tannins that provide grip and traction on the palate rarely encountered in pinot noir. In other words, the blend here is transformative, with the lesser grape working its powerful wiles upon the greater. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It’s certainly a very unusual drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 or ’24. Very Good+. About $20.

Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Looking at the roster of wines available from Rodney Strong Vineyards, your first thought might be, “Do they need another label?” The answer to your inquiry would be: “Probably not,” yet here is Upshot 2015, a Sonoma County blend — primarily Alexander and Knights valleys — of 44 percent zinfandel, followed by 29 percent merlot, 15 percent malbec and 7 percent petit verdot and — out in left field — 5 percent riesling. It’s not unprecedented for red wine to contain a bit of aromatic white to elevate the nose and provide a touch of softness to a rigorous structure; after all, among the 13 grape varieties permitted in the typically deeply dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape, only nine are red. (Few CdP producers today employ all 13 varieties or any white grapes at all.) Anyway, Upshot 2015 aged 18 months in oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; notes of black currants, cherries and plums are ripe and fleshy, slightly spiced and macerated and infused with hints of iodine and iron, mint and licorice and a touch too much vanilla to suit me. On the palate, the wine is super-charged by vivid acidity and layered with fairly stout, dusty, graphite-washed tannins; a bit of zinfandel-influenced blueberry and boysenberry emerges after a few minutes in the glass, and perhaps a whiff on the back-end of something astringently floral from that smatter of riesling. So, yeah, nicely made, yet I don’t find this model totally impressive, in fact a bit too much generically “red wine” or “cabernet-ish” than distinctive enough, especially for the price. On the other hand, you and this wine could have a really good time with a medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $28.
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I met Michael and Anne Dashe in San Francisco, a few weeks ago, at the ZAP conference — Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — cards were exchanged, and they sent me a couple of samples. Their Dashe Cellars winery does not occupy a facility on a vine-covered hillside in Napa Valley or Sonoma County, where sheep might graze and rabbits cavort, but a warehouse in Oakland. Mike Dashe, the winemaker and co-owner with Anne — she’s originally from a town on the coast of Brittany — makes wine from selected vineyards over which he exerts final control over farming techniques and harvesting practices. Our Wine of the Day is the Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, from a new AVA, Eagle Peak, in Mendocino County. The vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic. The wine is made, at least partially, by the method of carbonic maceration, a process in which a portion of whole grape clusters is placed in a large barrel or tank and then, as in this case, the rest of the uncrushed grapes are piled on top. Sealed under a blanket of carbon dioxide, the grapes begin to produce fermentation inside themselves and releasing juice as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes below. The chemical transformations involved and the possible variations are far more complicated than this simple — or simplistic — explanation implies, but the result, anyway, is a fresh, bright red wine. You can understand why the process is popular in Beaujolais. Les Enfants Terribles 2016 is certainly bright and fresh, with its seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but there’s a glittering edge of graphite, too, and dusty, fine-grained tannins for a structure both succulent and lithe. Five to six months in 900-gallon oak Burgundian barrels give this highly drinkable wine shape and firmness, all these elements contributing to a real sense of grip and traction on the palate. From mid-range back, the wine gains woodsy, raspy qualities of raspberry leaf and briers, with the finish a supple wreathing of fruit, spice, acid, tannin and a subtle mineral-floral character. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Lovely, with a serious aspect. Production was 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.

The label image is one vintage behind.

Every year, starting in October, I and probably every other wine-writer and blogger in the country receive bulletins from enthusiastic marketers encouraging the consumption of zinfandel wines with Thanksgiving dinner, based on the premise that zinfandel is the “All-American grape” or the “American heritage grape.” Let’s consider that notion.

Though widely planted in California from the middle of the 19th Century and a workhorse of the industry, the zinfandel grape’s origins were shrouded in mystery. Its rustic nature precluded it from status with other, so-called “noble” European grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir, yet its versatility made it supremely attractive and profitable. The advantage of zinfandel is that it flourishes in warmer climates, its abundance also being one of its disadvantages. Another disadvantage is the tendency toward uneven ripening, so the same cluster may simultaneously harbor perfectly ripe grapes along with unripe grapes and others ripening all the way to a raisin state. The point is that zinfandel must be carefully managed in the vineyard and picked carefully at harvest, factors that mitigate against the cheapness of the prices it fetches compared, particularly, to cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Even the grape’s name — not French, not Italian, sort of German but not quite — seems ambiguous.

Where the heck did it come from?

Charles L. Sullivan, the noted historian of the Golden State’s wine industry, through meticulous research, traced the grape’s journey from Vienna to Boston and then to northern California, in his book Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine (University of California Press, 2003). Apparently, cuttings from the emperor’s hothouses in Austria were brought to New England in the 1820s, and during the 1830s, in Boston, the grape was grown in nurseries for table consumption. Zinfandel cuttings traveled west to California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, where they proliferated in newly planted vineyards. If prospectors didn’t strike it rich — and most didn’t — they generally became farmers.

In the 1880s and ’90s, Italian immigrants planted what we call field blends, primarily in Sonoma and Amador counties, vineyards that contained many grape varieties, dominated, perhaps, by zinfandel but including as many as 20 or 30 other red grapes. Some of these vineyards remain, still producing grapes from their gnarly old vines and considered treasures of the state’s agricultural history and heritage. Still, no one really knew where zinfandel originated or what it really was.

The link between zinfandel and a largely unknown grape from Italy’s Apulia region called primitivo, a producer of rough and ready quaffing wines, came in the 1960s, though it took the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s to make the identification solid. DNA testing provided some surprises. Winemakers in Chile, for example, were astonished to discover that what was assumed for decades to be vineyards filled with merlot vines actually held an obscure grape from Bordeaux called carmenere, now touted as the country’s signature grape. Still, while the research may have linked zinfandel definitively to the Old World, it still didn’t explain the grape’s origin.

Matters get a bit confusing here, but thanks to the efforts of the determined Carole Meredith of UC Davis and scientists at the University of Zagreb in Croatia, the mystery was finally unraveled in 2001. It seems that zinfandel-primitivo is one of the parents of a Croatian grape variety called plavac mali. Motivated by the connection to Croatia, researchers made extensive expeditions through the vineyards of the Dalmatian coast and found nine surviving examples of crljenak kaštelanski vines, which turned out to be identical with zinfandel.

Does it matter that these connections have been made? Only, I suppose, if history means anything to you. For my part, I like knowing that the story behind the zinfandel wine I might be enjoying takes it back to what used to be known as the Balkans, where it was cultivated at least since the 15th Century, that the grape was taken to Apulia in the mid 18th Century and mutated into primitivo — implying “the first to ripen” — and that a link between zinfandel and primitivo was established. A story in every bottle, n’est-ce pas?

On the other hand, though zinfandel was among the first European grapes to be brought to this country, we should hardly honor it with the label “the All American grape.” After all, grapes thrived in the New World long before European explorers and settlers arrive on these shores. European wines grapes belong to the species Vitis vinifera. Native American grapes occur in several species, including Vitis labrusca (catawba, cayuga, Concord) and Vitis rotundifolia (muscadine, also known as scuppernog). Wines made from these grapes and other native American vines tend to be metallic and foxy, and while they may be of regional interest, as table wines they’re not commercially viable. The point, however, is that if any grape should be known as the “All American” or the “American heritage,” it’s one of these. Not that I’m trying to dethrone zinfandel from its rightful place as a European pioneer in America and a significant marker in the history of the California wine industry. After all, zinfandel arrived in the New World nearly 200 years ago. Anyone whose ancestry on this continent goes back that far deserves every honor and acclaim.

In a few days, I’ll post an entry about issues in zinfandel wines, primarily ripeness and alcohol level, based on about 100 examples I tasted at the annual ZAP conference, held in San Francisco last week. ZAP is an acronym for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. The non-profit organization encourages research into the history and implications of the grape and the preservation of old vineyards.

Image of zinfandel grapes from lodiwine.com.

The Oak Farm Vineyards Tievoli Red Blend 2016, Lodi, is a combination of zinfandel, primitivo, barbera and petite
sirah grapes. Only in California would you see such a blend. The name looks Italian, but it actually spells “I love it” backwards. Information on the oak regimen is not available, even on the winery website. The color is dark ruby that shades to a glowing magenta rim; it’s a black and blue wine, by which I mean blackberries, black currants and blueberries predominate in the nose and on the palate, these elements infused by notes of graphite, licorice, loam and bittersweet chocolate, with just a hint of dried meadow herbs and flowers. The wine is quite dry, but juicy and tasty on the palate, this effect borne by bright acidity and foresty tannins; the finish brings in more of the flinty mineral character. 14.5 percent alcohol. This one is a definite advantage paired with burgers and steaks, red sauce pastas and pizzas, meat loaf and pork chops. Drink through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $18.

Tasted at the ZAP conference in San Francisco last week. That’s Zinfandel Advocates and Producers.

I suspect that while many readers may find the annual roster of “50 Great Wines” interesting, they don’t necessarily find it essential. Today’s post, however — “30 Great Wine Bargains of 2017” — I hope will be greeted with expectation and gratitude. Who doesn’t love a bargain, especially when the price is attached to a wine that performs above its weight and class? Prices on this list range from about $7 to $20. Twenty-five of these selections rate Excellent, with the next five rated Very Good+, and each one offers a hefty and distinguishing serving of quality. The breakdown by genre is 15 white, 13 red and 2 rosé. By country or state: Italy 7; California 6; France 5; Spain 3; Germany 2; and one each from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Oregon, Portugal, South African and Washington. Whatever, it’s not the statistics that count but the wine inside the bottle. Many of these models I would recommend for buying by the case to enjoy in the months ahead, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Alain de la Treille Chinon 2015, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $19.

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Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado 2016, Bierzo, Spain. Rosé of 100 percent mencia grapes. Excellent. About $13.

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Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 70 percent loureiro grapes, 30 percent alvarinho. Very Good+. About $7-$10.

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Averaen Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $20.
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Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinette 2015, Rheinhessen. Excellent. About $14.

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Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 100 percent hondurrabi zuri grapes. Excellent. About $16.
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Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $19.

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Contrade Negroamaro 2015, Puglia, Italy. Very Good+. About $10.

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Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux Blanc. 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 10 percent muscadelle. Very Good+. About $13.
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Maquis Gran Reserva Carménère 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $20.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

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Masseria Li Veli Verdeca 2015, Valle d’Istria, Apulia, Italy. 90 percent verdeca grapes, 10 percent fiano minutolo. Excellent. About $18.

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Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 504 cases. Excellent. About $18.

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Mercer Estate Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2015. Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent syrah, 18 percent merlot, 14 percent petit verdot, 10 percent grenache, 2 percent carignane. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $16.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. Second label of Amici Cellars. Excellent. About $20.

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Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna. Excellent. About $15.

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Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” 2016, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $15.

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Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, Navarra, Spain. Very Good+. About $11.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County, California. With 6 percent petit sirah, 5 percent barbera, 4 percent syrah. 50-to-103-year-old vines. Excellent. About $20.
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The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, Western Cape, South Africa. Very Good+. About $11.

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Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $16.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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St. Urbans-Hof Nik Seis Wiltinger Alte Reben Riesling 2015, Saar Valley, Germany. Excellent. About $18.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi 2014, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa. Excellent. About $19.
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Serra Lor Rosato 2016, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardenia. An unusual rosé blend of 50 percent cannonau, 25 percent monica, 20 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale grapes. Excellent. About $15.

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Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County, California. Excellent. About $19.
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Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012, Bordeaux. 100 percent merlot, no oak. Excellent. About $12.

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Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier White Bland 2015, Sonoma County. 85 percent pinot blanc, 15 percent viognier. Excellent. About $18.
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Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne Brut nv, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $20.

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It’s an article of faith among marketers of wine and spirits that the Millennial cohort wants to consume products with stories that somehow make what they’re drinking seem more authentic and connected with human qualities. Well, here’s a story they’ll clasp to their bosoms with glee and gratitude.

Robin and Andréa McBride are half-sisters who grew up not knowing of each other’s existence. They shared a father who was not part of their lives. Andrea lived in New Zealand, having been placed in foster-care at the age of six, after her mother died. Robin was raised by her mother in Monterey, California, all the way on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Before their father died in 1996, he asked his family to try and connect the girls. They finally met in 1999, after tremendous efforts by their father’s family, and discovered that each worked in the wine industry on their separate continents. What else could they do but form a partnership in that business? They make and import a saugivnon blanc and a brut rosé from New Zealand and produce a chardonnay and the red blend under consideration today from the Central Coast. They are among the very few black women working in California’s predominantly white male wine industry.

The McBride Sisters Collection Red Blend 2015, Central Coast, is composed of merlot, zinfandel, malbec and petite sirah grapes — percentages not revealed — derived from Paso Robles and Monterey. The wine aged 18 months in primarily French oak barrels with a small portion in American and Hungarian oak. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent violet rim; scents of red and black currants unfold to notes of blueberry and mulberry, cloves and allspice, espresso, tar and lavender. A few moments in the glass unfurl hints of dusty thyme and rosemary, pomegranate and fruitcake and elements of briers and brambles; bright acidity keeps the wine on an even keel, while light graphite-tinged tannins provide ballast (to sustain the nautical metaphor), and ripe and juicy black and blue fruit flavors charge through to the slightly mineral-and-woodsy-inflected finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. A lot of satisfying detail and dimension at a more than fair price. Excellent. About $17.

A sample for review.

No, film buffs, I am not referring to the great and controversial film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, released in 1990, but to this pair of wines that feature tied-up and chained captives on their labels, reproductions of etchings by Goya, and are named The Prisoner and Blindfold. Not surprisingly, the wines, a red and a white, are bold, passionate and vivacious, qualities that work for the red but not, as you will see, for the white. As often happens in California, the tale of The Prisoner is complicated. Dave Phinney created this popular zinfandel blend shortly after founding Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, increasing sales to about 80,000 cases annually. He sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners early in 2010, who in turn sold The Prisoner Wine Company to Constellation Brands in April 2016 for about $285 million. Meanwhile, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E&J Gallo in June last year. There’s a lot of money flowing around the West Coast, I’d say. Winemaker for The Prisoner Wine Company is Chrissy Wittmann; consulting winemaker is Jen Beloz. These wines were samples for review.
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First, the good, and My Readers will be surprised, because I don’t typically endorse a wine bearing alcohol degrees of 15 percent or higher. The Prisoner Red Wine 2015, Napa Valley, is a bold and exuberant blend that emphasizes zinfandel with the fairly unusual addition of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono; the wine aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is opaque black-purple with a magenta rim, dark as a dungeon, you might say; a big snootful of graphite, lavender and wood-smoke assails the nose, woven with very ripe and spicy black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cherries, iodine and fruitcake, with the latter’s component of figs, dried fruit, brandy-soaked raisins and baking spices. The wine displays undeniable grip and power, a tide of bright acidity, rollicking velvety dust-and-leather-girt tannins and a granitic edge, all the while allowing its elements of ripe black and blue fruit flavors plenty of play. 15.2 percent alcohol. Grilled ribs, perhaps, or pork chops rubbed with cumin and smoked paprika? Here’s your wine. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $47.
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The Blindfold White Wine 2014, carrying a general “California” designation, is predominantly chardonnay, with some chenin blanc and a coalition of Rhone varieties — roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and marsanne. The wine aged for 10 months, 85 percent in a combination of French and Hungarian oak, 25 percent new barrels, and the rest in stainless steel. Sounds like a recipe for an interesting, even intriguing white wine, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately, this one embodies everything that I abhor about overblown, exaggerated white wine from the Golden State, exhibiting all the unbalanced qualities of strident spice, cloying floral nature, over-ripe tropical character, butterscotch, toffee and burnt toast that make such wines undrinkable. Someone must like them, but I am not a member of that cohort. Not recommended. About $32.
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As if David Ramey didn’t have enough to do, as proprietor of Ramey Wine Cellars, maker of single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, and as one of the most ubiquitous winery consultants in California, he recently launched Sidebar 2015-RFB-FrontCellars, the idea being to break out of the RWC mold to play with interesting grapes from Russian River Valley and lesser-known AVAs. I will eventually get around to five of the Sidebar offerings, but today, as Wine of the Day No. 259, I want to discuss the Sidebar Cellars Red Field Blend 2015, from the certified sustainable Alegria Vineyard in Russian River Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the grapes for this wine came from vines that were either 65 or 125 years old. The Sidebar Red Wine Blend 2015 is comprised of 80 percent zinfandel, 11 percent alicante and 9 percent petite sirah, fermented by native yeast and aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a lighter mulberry rim; aromas of blackberries, black currants and plums are wreathed with notes of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, with just a hint of lavender and blueberries, all framed both by immediate freshness and ripeness and knotty intensity and concentration. On the palate, the wine is dry, lively and focused, its pure black and blue fruit flavors inflected by boxwood and heather, loam and graphite and undertones of tannins that balance rigor with velvety plushness; an hour in the glass brings in elements of fruitcake and brandied raisins, while the chiseled finish is long and lithe. 14.5 percent alcohol. If you’re firing up the grill this weekend (or any day) and laying on the gridiron a leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary or pork chops rubbed with cumin, smoked paprika and Szechuan pepper or your version of barbecue ribs, this is the wine for you. Now through 2020 or ’21. Production was 1,200 cases. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, that is when they’re thoughtfully-made and well-balanced, but these admired grapes and the renowned wines made from them cannot be our be-all and end-all when it comes to beverages. Today, for the second Weekend Wines Notes in a row, I look at wines fashioned from other grapes, 12 this outing, including both 100 percent varietal wines and some interesting blends. We cover examples from various points in California, a pair from Southern Oregon, a wine from Portugal, one from Austria, an august Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany and several from Chile. As usual with this series, I forgo the details of technical matters, history and geography for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my wine-stained notebooks, in order to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices range from $15 to $75. Enjoy! (Moderately, of course.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Apaltagua Grial Carmenere 2012, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, Chile. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby shading to a purple rim; smoke, graphite, mint, eucalyptus and cedar; ripe and spicy red cherries and currants with a touch of plums and blueberries; a sizable wine, very dense and chewy, packed with dusty, velvety tannins and flinty minerality, feels a bit rock-ribbed and clasped by iron, clearly intended as a privileged and long-aging expression of the grape; try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Very Good+ for now with Excellent Potential. About $75.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2014, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 270 cases. Medium ruby hue with a pale magenta rim; raspberries and plums, hints of tar and lavender, raspberry leaf and black tea; intriguing notes of red cherry and cherry pit; an aura slightly macerated and baked, with dried fruit and spices; wood smoke and loam; swingeing acidity and spare, slightly dusty tannins. One of my favorite wines to try every year. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Bruce Patch Wines Carraras Ranch Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. 100 cases. A field blend With carignane, petite sirah and alicante bouschet, from vines planted in 1906. Dark ruby-purple; very ripe and spicy blackberry, black currant and blueberry, with a hint of boysenberry; notes of tapenade, fruit cake, tobacco and roasted fennel; lip-smacking acidity, tannins and loamy minerality keep it both lively and grounded; opens to touches of lavender, vanilla and cinnamon; finishes with notes of wild berries. A zinfandel that flaunts its purpose and struts its stuff but remains essentially balanced. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 14% alc. Inky violet-purple; warm, ripe, spicy and fleshy; plums, currants and mulberries, woodsmoke, cedar and dried rosemary; hints of black olive and bell pepper; sleek, slippery moderately dusty tannins; something not just robust here but wild, in its deep berry flavors, its dark, vivid acidity, its precipitous graphite character. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Concha y Toro Serie Riberas del Cachapoal Gran Riserva Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 13.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; a warm, fairly generous melange of black currants and cherries permeated by black tea, tar and loam, cloves, allspice and lavender; framed by dusty, velvety tannins, an inky wine, opening to a finish flecked with cedar, black olive and bell pepper. Very tasty. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $17.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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esporao
Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 14.5% Aragonez and alicante bouschet 40% each, syrah 20%. Inky-purple with a magenta rim; fresh and bright, notes of smoke, mint and graphite, spiced and macerated black and blue fruit; cedar, cloves, dried thyme and rosemary; robust, vibrant and juicy but stalwart with dusty, granitic tannins; pulls up green hints of olives and peppers and layers of leather and loam. Now through 2028 to ’30. Quite a performance. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Adil Wines & liquors, New Bedford, Mass.
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gaja
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta 2011, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany. 15% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium-hued but intense ruby color; deeply dredged from the spice cabinet; macerated red and black cherries and currants, with all the sangiovese undertow of oolong tea, orange rind, lavender and rose petals, these qualities being hints within the elements of resinous cedar, iodine and a profound factor of dusty, granular tannin and oak; lithe, supple, muscular texture, ultimately well-balance despite the alcohol level and the wood-framed bastions. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’33. Excellent. About $75.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois
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heinrich
Heinrich Zweigelt 2014, Burgenland, Austria. 12% alc. Certified biodynamic. Medium ruby-purple shading to transparent magenta; immediate Spring-like appeal of lavender and violets, opening to spicy blackberry, currant and plum scents and flavors; a little smoky and meaty; lithe supple texture animated by bright acidity and mild tannins; dry finish brings in graphite and a hint of mulberries. Needs rabbit. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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2014-POV-Front-Label
Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County. 14.5% alc. With 6% petite sirah, 5% barbera, 4% syrah, all from vines 50 to 103 years old. Opaque black purple with a glowing violet rim; black cherries and blueberry jam, mint, iodine, graphite and cloves; notes of lavender and bitter chocolate; very dry, enlivened by pinpoint acidity and founded on lavish, dusty tannins; a finish packed with granitic minerality, yet for all that, a classically-framed, delicious and highly drinkable zinfandel. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
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AMADO-SUR-MALBEC
Trivento Amado Sur 2014, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 79%, bonarda 11%, syrah 10%. Dark ruby-purple; first, lavender and tar, then notes of blackberries and blueberries, earthy briers and brambles, raspberry leaf and graphite with a hint of iodine; a dry, fairly tannic but lively and supple wine with lots of grit and bottom to it, entirely appropriate with hearty red meat preparations and pastas, or, say, a sausage pizza or bacon-cheeseburger. Very Good. About $15.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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troon mt
Troon Vineyard M*T Reserve 2014, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 60.1% tannat, 39.9% malbec. 240 cases. Opaque purple center shading to transparent fuchsia; a beautifully conceived, well-knit, vibrant and vivid blend that marries mulberries and blackberries with dusty plums and brandied black cherries; plush tannins bolster firm but moderate tannins; clean acidity and graphite minerality cut through smoke and loam, mint and iodine and an overall aura of pure blueberry. Irresistible but with a slightly serious edge. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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troon tannat
Troon Vineyard Estate Tannat 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 169 cases. Dark dark ruby hue; red and black currants, cherries and plums, loaded with smoke and graphite, tobacco and blueberries, brambles and pomegranate; very intense and concentrated core of lavender, iodine, mint and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-like tannins coat the palate, allowing for a supple velvety texture midst the granitic rigor; and for all that, a thoroughly balanced and drinkable wine appropriate for the biggest and most robust red meat preparations. Drink through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Made from free-run juice of early-picked grapes, all in stainless steel, the Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2016, Dry Creek Valley, PRT_ZR0162_PRTSMALLPIC_20170131_161452sports a lovely coral-pink hue and enticing aromas of Rainier cherry and tomato skin, rose petals and orange rind, over hints of dried thyme and a faint briery aspect. It’s a ripe and slightly fleshy rosé, though quite dry on the palate and bright with snappy acidity. A few moments in the glass bring out notes of watermelon, pomegranate and graphite. Really attractive presence with a feeling for the ethereal. 13.7 percent alcohol for easy drinking, now through the end of 2017. Production was 2,100 cases. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.

A sample for review.

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