Zinfandel


Yes, another title change, from “Weekend Wine Sips” to “Weekend Wine Notes,” because I think that nomenclature more accurately described what I do in these posts. “Sips” implies that all the wines are recommended, and that’s not always the case. So, today, a dozen wines that derive from many grapes varieties and combinations thereof and from many countries and regions. Prices range from about $14 to $53, and if you were hoping to buy some wines by the case, they would be the Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley (about $15), and the Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles (about $14). There are also some hearty red wines to accompany steaks and burgers, pork chops, leg of lamb and other items from the grill. As usual, I eschew technical matters and concerns of history, geography and biography for quick, incisive reviews, sometimes transcribed directly from my notes. The purpose is to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, these were samples for review.
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Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo (which is really zinfandel, right?). Pale copper-salmon color; very charming bouquet of strawberries and raspberries with undertones of peach and orange zest; loads of juicy berry and stone fruit flavors but dry, spare, mildly spicy; limestone and flint minerality and zippy acidity provide structure. Hugely enjoyable quaffer and substantial enough to accompany all manner of picnic and pool-side fare. Very Good+. I paid $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.3% alc. Very pale straw color; hints of guava and lime peel, grass and grapefruit, a bit of fig and celery seed; dry, vibrant, lively; lovely texture poised between crispness and an almost talc-like silkiness; citrus and stone fruit flavors imbued with notes of grass and dried herbs; the limestone minerality burgeons from mid-palate through the finish. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
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Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean and zesty; pear and grapefruit, lime peel, thyme and tarragon, celery seed and freshly mown grass; a nicely chiseled sauvignon blanc, faceted with brisk acidity and scintillating lime and chalk elements; a touch of oak lends spice and suppleness to a texture that seethes with leafy notes of pear, honeydew melon and hay; finish is dry and austere. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.
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The Whip 2012, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. (Murrieta’s Well) 13% alc. 43% chardonnay, 15% gewurztraminer, 13% sauvignon blanc, 9% orange muscat, 8% viognier, 5% pinot blanc, 3% muscat canelli. Pale gold color; boldly floral, with notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom; peach and pear, touches of roasted lemon, mango and greengage, apple peel and almond skin; quite dry, spare, savory and saline with an austere permeation of limestone and flint on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $21.
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Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14/1% alc. 36% carmenere, 31% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah. Very dark ruby-purple; strikingly fresh, clean and fruity, with cassis, blackberry and blueberry, plums and blueberry tart, hint of fruitcake dried fruit and spices; velvety, cushiony tannins; very dry, dusty graphite; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors; finish packed with tannin and minerals. Fairly rustic for a wine from Lapostolle. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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Una Selección de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty tannins and granitic minerality; dense and chewy yet supple; cassis, ripe black raspberry, cherry and blueberry; hints of cloves and sandalwood, graphite and underbrush; lippsmacking acidity and velvety tannins; slightly astringent finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2015 or ’26. Very Good+. About $19.
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El Malbec de Ricardo Santos La Madras Vineyard 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherries and plums, lavender, violets and a tight line of bitter chocolate and allspice; a real graphite-granitic edge, intense and concentrated but a deeply flavorful wine, with roots, earth and forest floor elements. Perfect for steak, burgers and rack of lamb. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $19.
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Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Lovely medium ruby-mulberry color; spiced and macerated red cherries and currants, highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras; opens to hints of black cherry and rhubarb; very attractive tone and heft, pretty juicy but dry, with swath-cutting acidity and mild-mannered and supple tannins for structure, oak staying firmly in the background; the finish brings up slightly funky elements of clean earth, underbrush and more spice. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; heady yet slightly brooding notes of blueberries and black currants, bacon fat, black olives and cedar; big finely-honed, plush tannins; well-honed and polished, lots of personality but plenty of grit and grip; intense flavors of black and blue fruit, very spicy and with hints of dried herbs and flowers; long, dense mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Well-made rendition of the grape that’s beggin’ you for a medium-rare ribeye steak or a rack of ribs. Excellent. About $19, Good Value.
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim that practically glows in the dark; lots of depth and layers, intense and concentrated; bitter chocolate, lavender and leather, earth and graphite; very ripe, spicy and pure blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors with a wild strain of ebony juicy delicious restrained by stalwart tannins and vibrant acidity; wheatmeal and walnut shell austerity characterize a finish crowded with oak, tannin and graphite. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ to Excellent Potential. About $25.
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Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordòn Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, garnacha 15%, mazuela 5%. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter rim; ripe and spicy, fleshy and meaty; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; white pepper, sandalwood, cloves, hint of lavender; silken and mellow but with plenty of dry grainy tannins and mineral-based power. Now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted quail or duck or grilled pork tenderloin. Very Good+. About $17. Rioja Reservas tend to be excellent value.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. Consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California. Dark ruby-purple color; amazing dimension, detail and delineation; intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; meaty, roasted and fleshy fruit scents and flavors, with macerated wild berries and plums infused with leather, briers and brambles, touch of damp moss and wet dog; squinching tannins are round and plush, while acidity plows a furrow on the palate; huge graphite and granitic mineral character solid through the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $53.
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Summer’s high temperatures don’t seem to keep dedicated grill-meisters from the heat of their grills. Steaks, pork chops, leg of lamb, pork ribs, chickens, skewers of shrimp are still there, waiting to be doused in marinates or rubbed with dry spice mixtures and set over white-hot coals. This week’s featured wine is a sure bet with all sorts of grilled food, especially beef and pork, and it would be perfect with slow-cooked or smoked ribs. It’s the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County. The winery traces its origins to 1895, when Italian immigrant Edouardo Seghesio planted zinfandel vines in Alexander Valley. Through four generations, the Seghesio family tended their vineyards, grew grapes, made wine and sold grapes to other wineries before starting to bottle under its own label in 1983. In 2011, the family sold the winery and the brand to Crimson Wine Group, a Napa-based company that owns Pine Ridge in Napa Valley, Chamisal in Edna Valley and Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, offers a medium ruby color and an exuberant bouquet and flavors drenched in wild berries, blueberries and currants and notes of cloves, briers and brambles with undertones of graphite, lavender and licorice. You’re thinking, “How could a zinfandel so attractive deliver anything serious?” Good question, but fear not, because this wine bolsters its seductive qualities with vibrant acidity for resonance and liveliness and highly-planed and polished tannins for structure, as well as, deep as a well, a gradually burgeoning granitic mineral element. In a sense, you could say that it successfully has something for everyone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $24.

Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.

Generally, I try to keep the prices of the Wines of the Week fairly reasonable. It would be a rare product that would inspire me to go above $25, but today is one of those occasions, because the Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley, is — I’ll be frank — the best zinfandel I have tasted this year. The color is dark ruby-purple; in the nose and on the palate, the wine displays remarkable depth, purity and intensity of black currant, plum and blueberry scents and flavors permeated by cloves and white pepper, briers and brambles and penetrating graphite-granitic minerality. Give this wine a few moments, and it unfurls hints of bay leaf, leather, lavender and licorice, with bottom-notes of bitter chocolate and sandalwood, all of these elements bound by vivid acidity and dense but supple, slightly dusty tannins. The 2010 has 6 percent petite sirah, and it aged 15 months in French and American oak barrels. The alcohol content is a soaring 15.9 percent, yet the wine feels completely balanced and harmonious, showing no trace of over-ripeness, sweetness or alcohol heat. Rather, it offers a distinct feeling of appealing personality and dignified character together and serves as a model of the marriage of power and elegance. The 2011 version of this wine has been released, but if you look online, you’ll find plenty of the 2010 available; even the winery has half-bottles on its website. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. The price at the winery is $34, it’s $30 in my neck o’ the woods, and around the country you see it as low as $25. Don’t miss it.

Tasted at a trade event in Memphis.

In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

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Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
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Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
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Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
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Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
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I made the Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012 my Wine of the Week on March 19. Now it’s the turn of the Toad Hollow Erik’s the Red Proprietary Red Wine 2011, which carries a general “California” designation. Pour quoi? Because the zinfandel and petite sirah grapes for this robust blend came from Lodi, the syrah and malbec from Central Coast, and the dolcetto from Mendocino County. I have a great deal of fondness for this winery that delivers well-made wines at prices sometimes far below what could be asked if quality were the criterion; in other words, Toad Hollow turns out authentic and drinkable wines at great prices. The last Erik’s I reviewed was the 2009; the blend for that wine was primarily merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel with dabs of souza, tannat, syrah and petite sirah. A different roster of grapes, however, has not changed this wine’s defining characteristic, a combination of attractive rusticity and bumptiousness with full-throttle dark and spicy black and blue fruit flavors and fine detailing of acid, tannin and mineral elements. The color is dark ruby-mulberry; the bouquet teems with notes of black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of mocha, black tea, black olives and pepper. The wine is lively and vibrant, moderately dense and chewy and bursting with ripe, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and currants; a wash of earthy briery-brambly-graphite completes the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Great for barbecue ribs, grilled pork chops and steaks or hearty pasta dishes, through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

The pizza was pretty simple — and great! — consisting of lots of fresh basil, sliced Roma tomatoes, diced green onions and sopressata and loads of mozzarella, and then just a minute before the pizza was done, I flung on a handful of baby spinach and arugula and let that cook briefly. I wanted a red wine with some power and flavor but nothing flamboyant or overwhelming, and I got that from the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley.

Gary Farrell produced his first pinot noir under his own label — from the Rochioli Vineyard — in 1982. He sold the winery in 2004 to Allied Domecq; it’s owned now by Vincraft, which also owns the noted pinot noir producer Kosta-Browne. Present winemaker for Garrell Farrell (the winery) is Theresa Heredia (formerly at Joseph Phelps’ Freestone), but the wine we’re looking at today was made by Susan Reed, now at Geyser Peak Winery. Gary Farrell (the person) presently is a partner in and makes the wines for Alysian. Readers, you can’t tell the players if you don’t have a scorecard.

The color of the Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley (made from 48-year-old vines), is medium ruby from stem to stern, not the deep purple-black of heavy extraction. There’s nothing over-ripe or sweet here, no boysenberry or fruit tart elements; instead , this is a balanced and integrated zinfandel that features aromas and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums bolstered by cloves and allspice, clean graphite and a slightly and appropriately rustic brambly quality. The wine is quite dry, and it’s packed with dusty graphite-like minerality, spicy oak — it aged 13 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels — and fairly dense, chewy tannins, though the effect isn’t ponderous, and in fact this zinfandel feels pretty light on its feet for all its dimension, aided by the bright acidity of a cool vintage. The long finish brings out touches of leather and pepper and a hint of fruitcake. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 318 cases. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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