Here are two very attractive selections from the roster of Windsor Sonoma. Winemaker is Marco DiGiulio. Samples for review.

The Windsor Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Russian River Valley, is a solid middle-of-the-road style sauvignon blanc, and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t slap you in the face with excessive grapefruit/pea shoot qualities, though it possesses a modicum of each, nor is it so stony, minerally and austere that it sucks your breath out, though it offers, indeed, just the right amount of stoniness and limestone-like minerality. Aromas of tangerine, roasted lemon and a bit of melon cosy up to a bit of the grapefruit-pea shoot-lime peel element, all of which draw you in, quite prettily, to flavors of lime and nectarine bolstered by touches of dried thyme and tarragon, scintillating acidity — the wine was made in stainless steel — and a finish nicely balanced between spice and stones. Thoroughly enjoyable. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 750 cases. Drink through 2011 with delicate fish and seafood dishes or as an aperitif. Very Good+. About $15.

We drank the Windsor Sonoma Zinfandel 2008, Dry Creek Valley, with pizza last night. The wine contains four percent petite sirah grapes and ages 15 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent of which were new. The color is a bright medium ruby red; the bouquet wafts scents of ripe black currants and raspberries and a bit of slightly roasted plums at your grateful olfactory nerves, gradually bringing in hints of orange Pekoe tea and fruit cake, with the range of dried fruit and spices implied by those elements, though there’s nothing raisiny here. Black and blue fruit flavors are deeply imbued with baking spice — cloves and allspice — and smooth, lightly oaked tannins that provide a firm but not aggressive structure; graphite-like minerality, along with touches of lavender and licorice, stir in the depths. A model of a non-blockbuster zinfandel, though the alcohol content may be 14.9 percent, according to the bottle, or 15.4 percent, according to the winery website. In any case, the wine is not hot or over-ripe. 807 cases were produced. Drink through 2012 with braised meat dishes, hearty pastas and pizzas or burgers and steaks. Excellent. About $22.

The Shaw Vineyard was planted in 1882, so the Kunde Reserve Century Vines Shaw Vineyard Zinfandel 2005, Sonoma Valley, is made from vines that are actually 29 years more than a century old. The wine, at a bit more than five years old, is wonderfully smooth and mellow, as well as being surprisingly clean and fresh and more than a little exotic with notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and potpourri seeping through the scents and flavors of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums. It aged 17 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak, with 20 percent of the barrels being new; the result is a structure of appealing suppleness and firmness layered with moderately dense and chewy tannins in the sleek, fine-grained mode. Lovely balance and integration all around and an irresistible drink for those who weary of over-blown, over-ripe, high-alcohol zinfandels. Production was 1,900 cases. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Excellent. About $30 to $35 and definitely Worth a Search.

Tasted at a trade event.

Wine Guerrilla produces about 5,000 cases of zinfandel-based wines from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander valleys. The three examples I tried recently reveal a deft hand at the helm, so that while the wines are ripe and sometimes high in alcohol, they’re also nicely balanced and integrated. (All right, two out of three, as you will see.) In fact, the absence of over-ripe boysenberry tart elements and alcoholic heat/sweetness while yet being filled with flavor and spice made me wonder if these zinfandel wines resemble the 19th Century zinfandels for which California was once famous. Another gratifying aspect is that the colors of these wines are surprisingly moderate, if not light, in contrast to the deep, dark purple/black hues favored by producers of thunderous, blockbuster zins. These wines are unfiltered and unfined. The labels are colorful and intriguing. Samples for review.

The Wine Guerrilla Adel’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley, is an exemplar of balance and restraint while offering all that is good, beautiful and true about the zinfandel grape. It is, by the way, the winery’s first 100 percent zinfandel wine; all the others have been and are field blends. The color is radiant medium red cherry/ruby; aromas of smoke, cloves, new leather, black currants and black cherries are highlighted with notes of sage and black pepper. One feels on the palate a finely woven fabric of spicy nuance and supple texture that envelopes flavors of black and red fruit — with a touch of wild plum and mulberry — and hints of mocha and earthy briers and brambles, all framed with subtle, slightly chewy tannins. Those who favor zinfandels that run over their taste buds like a motorcycle gang on its way to a beer bash may not appreciate this style, but it’s my notion of what zinfandel ought to be. 170 cases. 14.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $30.

There’s no question that the Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley, is more emphatic than the Adel’s Vineyard model. This is a warm and spicy blend of 83 percent zinfandel, 12 percent petite sirah, 2 percent each carignan and alicante bouschet and 1 percent grenache. The color is medium to dark red ruby with a black cherry hue at the center; a bouquet of ripe raspberries, mulberries, blackberries and plums is permeated with smoke, tobacco leaf, lavender and licorice and a distinctly roasted and fleshy quality. The wine is ripe and juicy but very dry and far more minerally, in the slate-shale range, and earthy-mossy than its cousin, though the texture is weightier, so dense and chewy that it’s almost viscous. Still, there’s nothing overpowering here, nothing heavy or obtrusive, and the wine slides through the mouth like liquid velvet. 238 cases. 15.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $30.

I found the Wine Guerrilla Forchini Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley, more problematic than its stablemates, solely because, to my palate, the alcohol level throws it a bit out of balance, particularly on the finish. Made from vines that are more than 100 years old, the wine contains about 95 percent zinfandel grapes with dollops of carignan, petite sirah and alicante bouschet. The immediate impression is of lavender and licorice, blueberries, blackberries and blue-bluer-bluest plums, circumscribed by walnut shell and wheatmeal and a broad element of fruit cake and brandied cherries and raisins. The whole enterprise is cast in the mold of powerful spice, black pepper and deeply macerated and roasted fruit flavors ensconced in a dense, thick, chewy structure. The finish is not hot, but it comes through as rather sweet and almost unctuous; yes, I’m sure devoted fans of the style will love it, but I feel a discordant note at the conclusion. 240 cases. 16.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $35.

We’ve been tasting and drinking quite a few vigorous and rigorous cabernet sauvignon wines from California, even if they didn’t necessarily make a good match with what we were eating, so for Saturday night’s pizza — pepper-cured bacon, roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms. goat cheese — I went in the direction of something more simple, more direct and more appropriate. That turned out to be The Climber Red Wine 2009, a blend of zinfandel (63%), cabernet sauvignon (21%), syrah (12%), petite sirah (2%) and merlot (2%), the sort of fruitful melange you’re likely to see nowhere but in California. The Climber label comes from the people that started the Clif Bar company in 1992. While the winery and farm are in Napa Valley, the grapes for the Climber 2009 came from Mendocino and Lodi; the wine carries a California designation. So, what’s here? A robust, ripe and vibrant red wine that’s packed with fleshy, meaty blackberry, black currant and plum flavors deeply permeated by spice, black pepper, briers and brambles and soft, cushiony tannins that float over the palate like a dusty cloud. This is a terrific pizza wine, though it would serve equally well with burgers, fajitas, pulled pork and other such hearty carnivore-targeted items. Winemakers are Sarah Gott and Bruce Regalia. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

A sample for review.

Naturally we made — rather LL made — a deep rich broth from the turkey carcass and then used that for a splendid, hearty Turkey, Barley and Mushroom Soup from The Williams Sonoma Cookbook (Free Press, 2008, $35.95). I had to take a cleaver to those thick bones, but talk about rib-stickin’ earthy flavors!

We slurped up bowls of this concoction last night, perfect for the chilly weather, with glasses of the Artezin Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino County, a label from The Hess Collection. The wine sees no new oak and contains 8 percent petite sirah grapes and 1 percent carignan. Bright and appealing aromas of blueberry, black currant and black raspberry are woven with a touch of wildness, something like mulberry, red plum and dusty herbs with undertones of briers, brambles and black pepper. Unlike many zinfandels, the Artezin 2009 displays no annoying hotness, no cloying over-ripeness; instead, the wine is balanced, integrated and thoroughly drinkable, and I mean that assessment in the best sense. Black fruit flavors are permeated by baking spice and a bit of dusty shale-like minerality and nestled in a texture of moderately dense and finely-milled tannins. Give the wine a few minutes in the glass, and it brings up lovely notes of potpourri and thyme, sandalwood and smoke. Drink now through 2012. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $18.

And being Thanksgiving, these are the wines I’ll be serving at the festive groaning board on Thursday. These are the same wines I have been offering, but at different vintages and prices, since our first Thanksgiving in this house in 2005. These are American wines, two from California, one from Oregon. I wish I could have some wines from Virginia, Michigan and New York too, but those are hard to come by in what’s called the Mid-South, this corner where West Tennessee, North Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas meet at the banks of Ol’ Man River. (You understand — Geography Alert! — that Tennessee and Mississippi are east of the river, and Arkansas is on the other side.) Anyway. I bought these wines a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the annual feast.

Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008 & 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. Trefethen’s Dry Riesling is consistently one of the best rieslings produced in the Golden State. It’s quite a versatile wine, matching with a variety of foods, from the Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings to a dish we made recently, a Catalan cannellini bean and radicchio soup that was supposed to be vegan, but I cheated and unapologetically used bacon. Boy, it was great! When I said to LL that I was going to look for an appropriate wine, she said, “The Thanksgiving riesling,” and she was absolutely right. About $24. I bought one each of the 2008 and the 07, just to see how the latter is doing since I last tasted it. Here’s a link to the New York Times website with the recipe.

The Ridge Three Vineyards 2008, Sonoma County, is a blend of 74 percent zinfandel, 11 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignan, 4 percent of mataro (more often called mourvedre or, in Spain, monastrell), and 3 percent each syrah and grenache. I like drinking zinfandel with Thanksgiving dinner, especially in a rendition that brings in a few other grapes like the 15 percent Rhone Valley varieties in this wine. Ridge’s Three Valley, while supple and spicy and flavorful is never over-ripe or over-alcoholic, making it a terrific pairing with the myriad and sometimes contradictory sensations that the Thanksgiving dinner affords. About $25. I bought two bottles of this wine.

Finally, I like to have a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on hand. The vintage available in my town is the 2007. The pinot noirs from Domaine Serene to me comprise the perfect balance of power and elegance that’s the hallmark of great pinot. You may ask, “Does pinot noir belong on the Thanksgiving table?” To which I reply, “Hey, it’s my table.” About $47 in my neck of the woods, $42 on the winery’s website. I bought a single bottle of this one.

My plan is to drink one glass of each of these wines, in the order in which I mentioned them here. I like to see how each reacts with the turkey and gravy, the potatoes, the sweet potatoes and so forth.

Whatever wines you choose to serve at Thanksgiving don’t really matter because the meal, being what it is, draws almost any wine close to its heart. That’s why people who write about wine seem to provide such contradictory advice at this time of year; mainly we fall back on our favorites. So go for it, do your thing, be happy, and have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Though it clocks in at a heady 15.1 percent alcohol, the Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards “Knotty Vines” Zinfandel 2008, carrying a Northern Sonoma designation, does not come across as a blockbuster. In fact, it not only feels fairly mild-mannered but impresses with its balance and subtlety. True to its nickname, the wine is rather “knotty” in the dusty, slightly woody briery and brambly sense. Some of the grapes here derive from 15 acres of vines planted in 1904 on the west side of the Russian River that Rodney Strong (1928-2006) acquired when he was first buying vineyards in the 1960s. The “Knotty Vines” Zinfandel 2008 includes 1 percent each of syrah and merlot — merlot? — and aged 17 months in American oak barrels (62%) and French oak (38%). The color is medium ruby with a magenta sheen. Aromas of spiced and macerated black and red currants, black pepper, leather and a hint of bitter chocolate waft from the glass; in the mouth, the wine offers black and red fruit flavors with a tincture of mulberry threaded with touches of cloves and tobacco, all ensconced in moderately dense, chewy tannins, acidity so pert that it practically glistens, and an oak influence that turns slightly austere on the finish, an appropriately grown-up rounding-off. What this wine is blessedly NOT is over-ripe, stridently spicy or sweet/hot with alcohol. The winemaker is veteran Rick Sayre. Drink now to 2012 or ’13. This would be very nice with the Thanksgiving feast. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

The pizza was great, one of my best efforts, and the wine was great too.

Sometimes these matters are ineffable, unexplainable. Whatever the case, I made the pizza dough exactly right, with the correct balance of flours, yeast, water, salt and olive oil; kneaded the dough just as long as it, um, needed; the heat on the back porch was perfect for the first and second rising; I mean it all worked so that the crust, when it emerged from the 500-degree oven after 11 minutes, was thin yet with a slightly dense and chewy texture and a bit crisp at the moderately puffy circumference.

(BTW, I read somewhere that an oven heated at 500 degrees for an hour will reach a temperature of 550, the upper limit for a domestic range. That’s adequate, but I yearn for a wood-fired brick oven and the ideal 800 degrees that cooks a pizza in four minutes and chars the bottom of the crust. Sob. Weep.)

As you can see in the photograph, the pizza was topped with slices of tomatoes and bell pepper — very thin slices — with splotches of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and Italian sausage. Underneath was a foundation of chopped fresh basil. Also: some diced white onion and two stalks of chopped green onion and, finally, gratings of Parmesan and pecorino cheeses. A dribble of olive oil across the surface as the last touch. Have mercy, everything worked together beautifully.

So did the wine. I opened a bottle of the V. Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, from Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain appellation. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, Black Sears in one of the highest vineyards in California. The wine ages 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new, 50 percent used or “seasoned.” The color is ruby-black, nigh unto opacity, and while that dark hue indicates quite a bit of extraction, the wine is compellingly clean and fresh. The bouquet teems with hints of blackberry, black currant and mulberry is a cloud of cloves, black pepper, lavender, licorice and slate-like minerality. The most important aspect of the wine, other than that it’s downright delicious, is its precise balance and its impeccable integration of elements married to the power of dusty, rock-ribbed mountain-grown tannins and scintillating acidity. It’s the sort of warm, spicy, lively wine that makes you want to keep sipping. Truly a fine example of the zinfandel grape, with no exaggeration, no flamboyance of over-ripeness or high alcohol; by high, nowadays, I mean 15 percent and over. Alcohol in here is 14.5 percent. Production was 400 cases; winemaker was Brooks Painter. Excellent. About $40, at the winery or mail order.

A sample for review.

I don’t mean that the Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County, is the kind of wine that brings you to your knees, makes you want to kiss the earth and thank your lucky stars that you’re alive. Those wines are rare. What I do mean is that this is a reasonably priced, thoughtfully crafted, quietly confident wine that dictates no extremes and tolerates no exaggeration. Its balance and integration are lovely to behold, and it happens to be delicious. It’s not an Exceptional wine in my rating scheme, but in its own way, it’s perfect.

Last night, I made Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma, about which I have written before, and opened to drink with the dish this Ridge Three Valleys 2008. The wine is a blend of 74 percent zinfandel, 11 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignane, 4 percent mataro and 3 percent each syrah and grenache. Mataro is a little-used synonym for the mourvèdre grape. Notice the oak regimen: American oak barrels, 33 percent new and 1-year-old; 20 percent 2-years-old; 47 percent 5- or 6-years old. No taint of toasty new oak or woodiness mars the integrity of the wine’s fruit and finely-meshed tannic structure. Bouquet and flavor profile meld seamlessly in a welter of dusty plums, black and red currants and a touch of pert mulberry bolstered by hints of potpourri, sandalwood and granite-flecked minerals. Vibrant acidity whets the palate, leaving your taste buds eager for another sip, while the smooth, supple texture fills the mouth with impressive but not imposing weight. To remind us that the majority of grapes in the blend are zinfandel, the finish brings in notes of briers, brambles and black pepper. While head winemaker at Ridge is still the venerable, if not saintly, Paul Draper, the artisans of this wine were Eric Baugher, winemaker at the company’s Monte Bello facility, and John Olney, winemaker at Ridge’s Lytton Springs winery. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $22; I paid $25 here in Memphis.

Reading over what I wrote in this post, it occurs to me that in its wholesome clarity of purpose, its authenticity and integrity, its complete level of sensual and intellectual satisfaction, its general unfussiness and lack of ego, the Ridge Three Valleys 2008 is precisely the sort of wine that should make us thank our lucky stars.

As faithful readers of this blog know — bless yer little pointy heads! — every feasible Saturday night it’s Pizza-and-Movie Night in the FK/LL household. This has been a steady occurrence for 15 years or so, and for most of that time I adhered to pretty much the same routine in making the pizza. Recently, though, I radically changed the way I make pizza, in terms of basic ingredients and technique.

The first inspiration was an article that ran in the food section of The New York Times on May 18 (and available online), called “The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” by Oliver Strand. Following the advice of a number of professional pizza-makers, the story advocates making the pizza dough and letting it rise at room temperature for 24 hours or at least overnight. Now I’ve always indulged in what I thought of as a slow rising of the dough at about eight hours, but overnight was new to me. I tried the technique soon after I read the article, making the dough on Friday night and leaving the bowl on the counter until the next morning. About 11 o’clock, I punched the dough down, kneaded it a few times, put it back in the bowl and set it out on the back porch. By the time I was ready to make the pizza at 6 p.m., the dough has been working for about 20 hours.

What happened next was remarkable. Usually, when you roll out the dough, you have to have do it a couple of times because the gluten is still elastic, so it has to rest for a couple of minutes and then be rolled again. With the new technique, I rolled the dough out and it immediately spread across the edges of the wooden paddle and onto the counter. Whoa! I actually had to trim the circumference because the pizza would have been too big for the stone. (Sorry I don’t have images of the process.) When we ate the finished pizza, the crust was thinner than I have ever achieved before, yet still chewy, not cracker-like, with a texture that had a little give and a rim that was slightly puffy. Fabulous, yes, but for me anyway, this technique is a little tricky, and over the past two months or so, I have had — it seems to me; LL is more generous –about a 25 percent failure rate, by which I mean that the crust was not up to a fine standard. I think I just have to keep trying to tune the method until I get it right.

The other change is that I began buying, at the Memphis Farmers Market, the hard white whole grain wheat flour from Funderfarm, a milling operation run by a young couple in Coldwater, Miss. The flour is not cheap — $8.50 for four pounds — but it’s ground the day before I purchase it, and it contributes wonderful texture and flavor to pizza. Now I can’t make a pizza with only the Funderfarm flour (the result is rather heavy), so I worked out a formula of about 40 percent Funderfarm hard white whole grain flour, about 50 percent King Arthur Bread Flour and about 10 percent rye flour from Whole Foods. All of these flours are organic.

We have also benefited from a bumper crop of local aubergines, including little globular eggplant; slim, tender baby eggplant; and pale lavender eggplant with faint white stripes. I slice these thin, marinate the slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and oregano, salt and pepper and then grill them briefly over hardwood charcoal. This is great on pizzas, especially in conjunction with pepper-cured bacon (as in the image above), and what’s interesting is that usually I can’t stand eggplant, it sort of
hurts my stomach. Ratatouille, yuck! I also like combining fresh tomatoes and marinated dried tomatoes on the same pizza, dribbling on a bit of the marinade as the final touch. (This image is of a small vegetarian pizza I made one Saturday when LL was traveling.) And recently I’ve been using four cheeses: mozzarella, feta, parmesan and pecorino.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening in My Pizzaworld. As far as wine is concerned, here are notes on the variety of wines we’ve had with pizza over the past few months. These were all samples for review.


When Easton says “old vine,” they’re not kidding. The grapes for the Easton Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, derive from the Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard, some of whose vines date to the original planting of 1865, up there in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. Can there be an older vineyard still producing grapes in California? This is a beautifully balanced and integrated zinfandel, with loads of poise and character. The color is rich dark ruby with an opaque center and just a nod to cherry-garnet at the rim. Scents of macerated and meaty plums and red and black currants are permeated with smoke and cloves with a touch of leather and briers. In the mouth, the wine is rich and warm, displaying an intriguing combination of the savoriness of ripe, fleshy black fruit flavors with a sweet core of spicy oak and a touch of the grape’s brambly, black pepper nature. It’s quite dry, though, gaining a bit of dignified austerity and mineral presence on the finish. Nothing jammy, nothing overdone, and surprisingly elegant for an “old vine” zinfandel. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Winemaker was Bill Easton, who also makes Rhone-style wines under the Terre Rouge label. Alcohol is 14.5. percent. Excellent. About $28 and definitely Worth a Search.
The Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2006, Napa Valley, asserts an individual character, unlike so many merlot-based wines that just taste “red” or like an imitation cabernet. From the winery’s Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards, this intense and concentrated merlot delivers a bouquet of ripe black currants and black cherries etched with smoke and bitter chocolate and hints of lavender and Damson plum. A few minutes in the glass bring on a slightly roasted element, with flavors of black currants and blackberries permeated by cedar and dried thyme, all of these sensations cushioned by gritty, velvety tannins and fairly militant dusty, gravel-like minerality. The wine aged 18 months in a combination of French barriques and casks (that is, small and large barrels), some 30 percent of which were new. Such a regimen lends the wine shape, tone and seriousness without the frippery of toast or overt spiciness. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz, nephew of the winery’s co-founder and winemaker emeritus, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $42.

The winery was founded in Australia’s Barossa Valley as Karlsburg Wines in 1973 by Czech winemaker Karl Cimicky; his son Charles changed the winery’s name to Charles Cimicky Wines when he took the reins. The blend in the Cimicky Trumps Grenache Shiraz 2007 is 55 percent of the first, 45 percent of the second. The wine spends 15 months in two-year-old French oak barrels that lend subtle spice and suppleness. This is a big, dark, rich and, yes, jammy red wine that bursts with aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and plums swathed with licorice and lavender and crushed gravel. Despite the intense black fruit nectar-like ripeness, the wine is completely dry, even austere toward the finish, but it also just rolls across the taste-buds like liquid velvet couched in furry, chewy tannins. A little swirling unfurls notes of clean earth, new leather and smoke. This was terrific with the night’s pizza, but Lord have mercy, would it ever be great with a medium-rare, pepper-crusted rib-eye steak. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.

La Mozza is jointed owned by Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe Bastianich and his partner is the restaurant business, Mario Batali. None of these celebrities — especially Batali — needs an introduction. (Mother and son also own a winery, launched in 1997, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the Colli Orientali Giulia D.O.C. region.) La Mozza was founded in 2000 and is located in Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma area. La Mozza Aragone 2006, Maremma Toscana I.G.T., could be called a combination of Italy and France; on the Italian side we have 40 percent sangiovese and 25 percent alicante grapes, and on the French side, specifically the southern Rhone Valley, we have 25 percent syrah and 10 percent carignane. The wine aged 22 months in 500-liter French casks; the standard French barrel is 225 liters, so theoretically, because of the greater mass of wine in proportion to wood, the oak influence with a cask is less, or at least more subtle. Not that the point matters tremendously for this dark, robust and vigorous red wine. Scents of red and black currants (and a touch of mulberry) are permeated by elements of graphite and potpourri, moss, briers and brambles and a bass note of mushroomy earthiness. Yes, there are intriguing, seductive layers in the bouquet, and if the wine is a bit more brooding in the mouth, that’s nothing that a little bottle aging won’t ease. The wine is well-balanced, but the emphasis is on dense but smooth, almost sleek tannins and rich, smoky black fruit flavors that need a year or two to develop. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Alcohol content is a comfortable 13 percent. Excellent. A few months ago, the price range for this wine was about $38 to $42; today it’s about $28 to $35.

Dark Star Imports, New York.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard, located in Australia’s McLaren Vale appellation, is part of the Jackson Family Wines empire. While the Yangarra wines are promoted as “100% estate grown,” the federally required designation on the back label mysteriously does not say “Produced and Bottled by …” but “Vinted and Bottled by …”; the implication is that the Yangarra wines (at least the ones shipped to the U.S.) are not made at the estate. Whatever the case, the Yangarra Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, is a wonderful, I’ll say it again, a wonderful expression of the mourvèdre grape. While a traditional component of the blended red wines of the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc in southern France, mourvèdre is seldom bottled on its own except for a few instances in California and Australia. At first, this is all black: Blackberry, black currant, black plum, black pepper, black olive. Then a touch of dried red current enters the picture, along with sweet cherry and sour cherry, red plum, new leather. Give the wine a few more minutes and it turns into a glassful of smoldering violets and lavender, with overtones of bitter chocolate, espresso and dried thyme. The mineral element expands into layers of dusty granite and graphite that permeate the bastions of polished, chewy tannins. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, only 15 percent of which were new, so the wood influence is sustained yet mild and supple and slightly spicy. This could mature for a year or two, so drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 500 six-bottle cases; winemaker was Peter Fraser. Alcohol content is the now standard 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.

Just as the Yangarra Estate Mourvedre 2008 mentioned above represents a Platonic embodiment of the mourvedre grape, the Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, performs a similar service for syrah. Syrah was planted in Darien in 2000 and 2001, so the vines have reached a point of development that should lend rich character to the wine and continue on a plateau of quality for 50 or 60 years. There’s a whole truckload of crushed thyme, marjoram and Oolong tea in this wine, as well as baskets of blackberries and blueberries imbued with hints of prunes, plums, lanolin and leather and an all-over sense of ripe fleshiness. The color is inky with a faint violet/purple rim; the granite and shale-like mineral element feels/seems inky too. So add the caprice of lavender, licorice, bitter chocolate and potpourri crushed by mortar and pestle and scattered on a smoldering field of wild flowers and herbs. Yes, I’m saying that this is a syrah that reaches a level of delirious detail, depth and dimension, and the deeper it goes, the darker and denser it gets, until you reach the Circle of Austerity and the Chamber of Tannins and the Rotunda of Oak. (The wine aged 14 months in French barrels, 42 percent new.) Despite those fathoms, the wine is surprisingly smooth and drinkable, huge in scope yet polished and inviting. Production was 974 cases. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. Drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’20 (well-stored). Winemaker was Darice Spinelli. Exceptional. About $48.
Desiring something probably less complicated and certainly cheaper on a subsequent Pizza-and-Movie Night, I opened the Estancia Zinfandel 2007, Keyes Canyon Ranches, Paso Robles. Estancia was founded in 1986 on the old Paul Masson vineyards in Soledad, in Monterey County. The winery is now owned by Constellation. Keyes Canyon is in Paso Robles, down south in San Luis Obispo. The wine is touted on its label as “Handcrafted” and “Artisan-Grown,” whatever those nebulous terms mean. As is the case with many of the products from wineries purchased by Constellation, this wine says on the label “Vinted and Bottled … “; check your bottles of Mt. Veeder and Franciscan, also owned by Constellation. Actually what the complete line on this label says is “Vinted and Bottled by Estancia Estates, Sonoma Co.” So the question is: Where the hell was the wine made?

Anyway, I didn’t like it. I tried manfully for 15 or 20 minutes to coax something out of the glass that might resemble anything to do with the zinfandel grape, but all I got was a generic sense of smoky, toasty red wine that could have been cabernet or merlot. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Scott Kelley. Avoid. About $15.

Finally, LL said, “Oh, just open something else. Something better.” So I went looking and found the next wine.

Yes, as you know, I’m the kind of guy who will open a Jordan Cabernet to go with pizza, but, damnit, the movie was going and we were chowing down and I had to grab something. And of course I’m not implying that a wine that costs $52 is necessarily better than a wine that costs $15; the case is simply that every wine should perform up to or better than its price range, and the Estancia certainly didn’t do that.

Anyway, the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, offers lovely balance, integration and harmony. The blend is 75 percent cabernet sauvigon, 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Aging was 12 months in French (67%) and American (33%) oak barrels, of which 33 percent were new. The bouquet is first a tangle of briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and black olive with a background of iron and dusty walnut shell; a few minutes bring in the notes of black currants, black cherries and cassis. The wine is intense and concentrated, dense and chewy, with finely-milled tannins and polished oak enfolding flavors of spicy black currants and plums and a streak of vibrant acidity contributing a sense of purpose. A model of the marriage of power and elegance and a delight to drink. Try now through 2015 or ’16. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Rob Davis. Excellent. About $52.


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