For the 150th entry in this series, which started in May 2015 after my right arm was broken in a tussle with an extension ladder, let’s go to one of the world’s great rosé regions. Our wine is the Chateau d’Aqueria 2015, from Tavel, down in France’s southern Rhône region. Tavel, across the river from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and just north of the city of Avignon, produces only rosé wines and only blends. French wine law forbids making a rosé by blending red and white wine — except in Champagne — so estates and cooperatives in the south of France are permitted to use red and white grapes together by mixing them before fermentation. The French are so rational! The Chateau d’Acqueria 2015 is predominantly grenache, with the addition of clairette, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah, bourboulenc and picpoul; the wine aged six months in stainless steel tanks. The color is a riveting medium copper-salmon hue; this is pure blood orange, strawberries and peaches infused with dried thyme, orange zest and a tinge of damp limestone minerality; notes of tomato skin and heather round out the picture. The package segues consistently from nose to palate, where bright acidity gives it a tang and a touch of orange marmalade deepens the effect; flint and chalk elements lend body, presence and a moderately lush and lithe texture to a wine that could age a year or two. 14 percent alcohol. Rather more substantial than most rosés, this one could accompany roasted chicken, veal piccata, rabbit fricassee and porcini risotto, as well as the typical picnic fare. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

quivira elusive
If you’re grilling leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, here’s a wine for you. The Quivira Elusive 2013, from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, is a southern Rhône-style blend of 49 percent syrah grapes, 27 percent mourvèdre, 18 percent grenache and 6 percent counoise. The wine aged in large French barrels, called foudres that hold 600 and 900 gallons; compare that figure to the 59 gallons in the typical French barrique. The point is that the larger the barrel, the smaller the ratio of wine directly exposed to wood and the less penetrating (or at least more gentle) is the wood influence. The color is vibrant dark ruby-magenta; it’s a deep, raspy, briery-brambly wine that delivers black and red cherry scents and flavors, slightly spiced and macerated and imbued with notes of blue plums and blueberries, leather and lavender, dried thyme and sage. Quivira Elusive 2013 is a shapely wine, replete on the palate and almost lavish with dusty, velvety tannins and bright acidity for liveliness and energy. It draws out a line of finely spun graphite and granitic minerality in a finish packed with tantalizing dried spices and flowers. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 612 cases. Winemaker was Hugh Chappelle. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. This post marks number 1,750 on BTYH.

If you owned a winery in a region recently granted status as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) by the generous folks at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), how would you go about capturing the hearts and minds of wine consumers? Would you start by establishing a solid reputation as a producer of reliable wines, wines that even punch above their weight, in the range of, say, $18 to $30? Or would you attempt to capture the elite spender’s attention by releasing the Mercedes and Porsche models of your line, the wines that cost $50 to $175? My recommendation would be to take the first route to consumers’ approval and their wallets, but a group of wineries in the Coombsville AVA chose the second alternative, sending out the top dogs for review. Coombsville was granted AVA status in December 2011.
All producers and winemakers want their wines to be unique, and one way they see to achieving that special status is an emphasis on a specific place. That drive is the primary motivation, in this country, for petitioning the TTB to grant official status as an American Viticultural Area to increasingly smaller regions within larger AVAs. The thinking goes that if, for instance, Napa Valley, however illustrious its history may be, seems a bit broad and uninteresting as a designation, how much better to mention on a label that one’s wine derives from Oakville District or Howell Mountain, important splinters within the Napa Valley AVA. Vineyard owners, winery owners and winemakers hire consultants, geologists and climatologists to determine the individual qualities and values of a proposed AVA, often working for years to secure approval. In 2014, for example, the Paso Robles AVA, itself a delineated region within the larger San Luis Obispo AVA, was divided into 11 sub-AVAs all at once, on the assumption that consumers will harken to the call of Paso Robles Willow Creek AVA or Santa Margarita Ranch AVA on wine labels.

Coombsville is the most recent (and the 16th) sub-AVA granted in Napa Valley. It lies east of the burgeoning city of Napa, bordered on the west by the Napa River, on the east by the Vaca Range, on the north my Mount George and runs south to Imola Avenue. This newish AVA encompasses 11,075 acres, of which something like 1,400 acres are planted to vines. Located in the southern Napa Valley, Coombsville comes under the influence of San Pablo Bay and its cooling maritime nature, being, actually, the coolest AVA in Napa Valley except for Carneros. The unique feature of the Coombsville AVA — named for Natham Coombs, who founded the town of Napa in 1848 — is a vast caldera, an ancient horseshoe-shaped ridge that is the result of a collapsed volcano. The volcanic ash and debris left from this geologic event created a soil suited for the nurture of grapevines and the necessary stressing of their roots. In addition, alluvial flows from Mount George contributed to the rocky-volcanic quality of the soil.

I received six samples for review from wineries in the Coombsville AVA, and while several struck me as classic Napa Valley, compounded of distinct mineral-black fruit-sleek tannin elements, others felt too emphatic, over-determined and unbalanced. I also thought that some of these prices smacked of delusions of grandeur. Lemme see what you can do at $25, please, before you send me the bottle that carries a $175 tariff. I omit, unfortunately, a great deal of technical information I would typically include in these reviews because the websites of most of these wineries seem not just reticent but downright secretive. Come on, people, the point of a website is to deliver information.

Map from winemag.com.
Cairdean Acquaintance Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. The color shades from dark ruby at the center to medium ruby at the rim; it’s a highly structured wine now, with a bouquet characterized by elements of toast, dust and graphite, charcoal, cedar and tobacco, rosemary, lavender and licorice and a core of iodine and iron. The segue onto the palate produces similar results, with the glimmering addition of intense and concentrated blue and black fruit — blueberries and blue plums, black currents and cherries — drenched in granitic tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 224 cases. Try from 2018-’20 through 2028-’32. Very Good+ for now. About $84.
Covert Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. Signaling a wine of deep extraction, the color here is opaque ruby shading to glowing purple-magenta at the rim; the bouquet delivers powerful snootfuls of iodine and graphite, with notes of charcoal, cedar and lavender, black currants and baked plums touched with mint, mocha and fruitcake in an array of structural and esthetic effects. Not surprisingly, the wine is quite dry, characterized by a vibrant arrow of graphite minerality and resonant, lip-smacking acidity that serve to animate black and blue fruit flavors encased in depth-charge tannins, both dusty and succulent. A lingering finish pulls in elements of smoke, tobacco, cigarette paper and iron. 14.9 percent alcohol. 356 cases produced. Drink from 2018 or 2020 through 2030 or ’32. Excellent. About $175.
Maroon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. This wine spent 30 months in French oak, though we are not informed of the percentage of new barrels. It is, in any case, a strapping example of dynamic structure, cloaking its modicum of rich, jammy black and red fruit scents and flavors, all spiced, macerated and roasted, with blueberry undertones, in a panoply of large-framed, dusty and gritty tannins that seethe with charcoal, cold ashes and foresty funk. 14.4 percent alcohol. Nowhere near drinkable now, try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Production was 1,340 cases. Very Good+, for now. About $80.
scalon cab
Scalon Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. The color of this 100 percent cabernet wine is very dark ruby-purple; it aged 20 months in all new French oak barrels. Penetrating aromas of ripe blackberries and and black currants carry hints of blueberry jam, graphite and lavender, rosemary and cedar, black olives and braised fennel; a few minutes in the glass unleash elements of iodine and iron. On the palate, this cabernet sauvignon is lively and vibrant, lent dynamism by vivid acidity and a keen mineral edge that bolsters a dense, dusty, chewy texture and velvety but rigorous tannins. 13.8 percent alcohol. 235 cases produced. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
scalon priorityScalon Cellars Priority Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. This very limited edition wine is a blend of 51 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent cabernet franc and nine percent merlot; it aged 20 months in French oak barrels. It starts with a dark ruby-purple hue and opens with aromas of ripe and slightly roasted black cherries and plums infused with cassis and cloves; the wine is quite woodsy and foresty, with undertones of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. It’s very dry, even a bit austere, yet imbued with jammy and spicy black fruit flavors, leaning altogether, with its shaggy tannins, toward a rustic presentation. The least coherent of this group, the wine needs more balance and integration. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 50 cases. To give it chance to cohere, try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’32. Very Good+. About $50.
silver stag
Silver Stag Parsley Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; the chief feature of the bouquet is ripe black currant and black raspberry scents permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, iodine, iron and loam; it’s a lively and energetic cabernet but dense with a towering structure of austere oak and dusty tannins, still, somehow, managing to be rich and jammy on the palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of lavender, bitter chocolate and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Give this a few years to find better balance. Very Good+. About $90.

Champ de Rêves was founded in 2010 to exploit the potential of the 85-acre Boone Ridge Vineyard CDR_13PNoir (WebLowRes)that lies at 1,400 to 2,000 feet above sea level in Mendocino County’s cool-climate Anderson Valley. The winery is a project of Jackson Family Wines. Winemaker is Eric Johannsen, who previously worked at such pinot noir-centric wineries as La Crema, Cuvaison and Williams Selyem. The Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged nine months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels, the sort of judicious use of wood that I like to see. The name means “field of dreams,” and indeed the wine is a sort of drowsy daydream of pinot noir beauty. The color is dark ruby shading to transparent magenta; aromas of ripe and smoky black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of violets and rose petals, and the whole package blossoms with hints of heather and loam, cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, a cedar box of dried spices and potpourri. The texture is superbly sleek and shapely, its lovely suppleness animated by bright acidity and an elusive edge of graphite minerality. Give the wine a few moments, and it brings up elements of pomegranate and cranberry and layers of underbrush, briers and brambles. It’s quite dry, and after an hour or so expands into considerable tannins, slightly dusty, chiseled and flecked with ebony. 14.5 percent alcohol. A marvelous expression of the grape from a high-altitude vineyard, for drinking through 2020 to ’23 with roasted chicken, seared magret of duck, squab or pork tenderloin. Exceptional About $45.

A sample for review.

The Cleto Chiarli “Modén Blanc” Pignoletto dell’Emilia Brut, a non-vintage vino spumante from Emilia-Romagna, was fashioned from grechetto grapes, not a variety that I association with sparkling wine, and indeed the product offers individuality that demands that it be purchased and enjoyed, especially at the price. It’s made in the “cuve close” method, that is, the process in which the second fermentation that produces the bubbles occurs in tanks rather than in the bottle. No matter! The color is a very pale straw-gold hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny glinting effervescence; the bouquet is pure apples and pears, quince and ginger, with a stream of smoke and steel and lingering notes of heather and roasted lemon. On the palate, this engaging sparkler is quite dry, layered with limestone and flint minerality and powered by bright acidity, all serving to highlight subtle citrus and stone fruit flavors touched with an unusual seashell-marsh flower-herbal element. 12 percent alcohol. Very attractive as an aperitif with savory snacks. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.

Maryhill Winery occupies part of the site of the farming community instituted along the northern bank of the Columbia River beginning in 1907 by Sam Hill (1857-1931), a legendary settler in 2015_Rose_FrontWashington state who was an attorney, entrepreneur and advocate of good roads. One can see his visionary prowess (and eccentricity) in two monuments he was instrumental in building, the replica of Stonehenge at Maryhill, a memorial to fallen World War I soldiers from Klickitat County, and the Peace Arch that stands at the border between Blaine, Washington, and Surrey, British Columbia. If we move forward in time to 1999, we find Craig and Vicki Leuthold buying property in the area, followed by the founding of the winery in 2001. And if we move forward to today, well, I’m writing this post about the Maryhill Rosé of Sangiovese 2015, Columbia Valley. The color is a bright salmon-peach hue; aromas of ripe and fleshy strawberries and raspberries are tinged with melon and peach, with hints of tomato skin, cloves and some exotic bloomy white flower. This is fairly robust for a rosé, and it reflects its grape in elements of orange zest, black tea and cranberry, all elevated by riveting acidity and the bass-notes of graphite-flecked earthiness on the finish. I don’t mean to emphasize the wine’s size and substance; this is still a rosé that abounds in freshness and immediate appeal. 12.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 with flavorful picnic fare. Excellent. About $16, marking Good Value.

A sample for review.

I know too well what you expect from sauvignon blancs originating in New Zealand. Sporting penetrating aromas of lime peel, grapefruit, pea shoot and, particularly, jazzed-up gooseberry, assaulting the nostrils and clearing the sinuses, these wines were all the rage five and 10 years ago. Matters have Capture0009calmed down more recently, in many cases anyway, and while I assume that most New Zealand sauvignon blanc wines will still be fairly bright and bold, I also assume that the effect will be more modulated. That’s certainly the case with the beautifully balanced Giesen “The Brothers” Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from the island nation’s well-known Marlborough wine region. The wine fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks, large German oak casks and smaller French barriques, with new oak only seven percent. (Winemaker was Andrew Blake.) The color is very pale straw-gold; clean-cut aromas of green apple, lime peel and grapefruit, with beguiling notes of jasmine, briers and flinty, piquant gooseberry, are permeated by an element of talc and graphite and just a hint of smoke and mango. It’s lithe and supple on the palate, vivid with acidity and a scintillating limestone-chalk quality; taste-wise, a few moments in the glass bring in touches of peach and roasted fennel to the citrus, pear and lime flavors. The finish steps up the effect of limestone and brisk, bracing grapefruit bitterness. Very lively tone and presence. The alcohol level is a sensible 12.6 percent. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with fresh oysters, grilled mussels, shrimp salad, trout amandine or as a snappy aperitif. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wine & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

I have long been a fan of the pinor noir wines from Pfendler Vineyards, a small producer located in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. I rated the 2010 and 2012 Exceptional and the 2013 Excellent; all appeared on the list of “50 Great Wines” of the appropriate review year. Oddly, though, the only chardonnay I have written about from Pfendler is the 2010. Here is that mention, in the Weekend Wine post for March 22, 2013:

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.

The key to the wine seems to be a sense of risk — “bold and rich,” “oak comes through from mid-palate back” — combined with an effort toward elegance and balance. I wish I could say the same for the version under review today.
I don’t know if the oak regimen at Pfendler changed recently; the winery’s website is still on pfendler chard2013. It seems to me that winemaker Greg Bjornstad has always favored a hands-off approach, though the Pfendler Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, exhibits a strangely marked presence of wood. The color is bright medium straw-gold, and the initial aromas consist of attractive notes of green apple, grapefruit and pineapple tinged with fresh coconut and lemongrass. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in touches of oak-influenced toffee and burnt-match, and on the palate the wine displays a stridently spicy character that leads to an astringent finish. No balance or elegance here. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Not recommended. About $38.
No such worries about the Pfendler Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, an exemplar from beginning to pfendler pinotend. The color is an entrancing transparent medium cranberry-mulberry hue shading to an invisible rim; I could read my handwritten notes through this wine. It’s a bosky pinot noir that offers notes of foresty herbs and flowers, briers, brambles and loam, all to support scents and flavors of ripe and dried black cherries with currant and plum undertones; as the moments pass, this wine develops hints of cloves and rhubarb, lilac and rose petals. Bright acidity cuts a swath through a super-satiny texture, serving as counterpoint to elements of graphite and mildly dusty tannins; plenty of lithe, supple structure here, but not at the expense of generous fruit flavors or a mineral-flecked finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, rabbit and duck terrine. Excellent. About $45.
These wines were samples for review.

The sort of zinfandel I dote upon is one that expresses, either forthrightly or eloquently, the character of the grape without the hyperbole of over-ripeness, strident spicy qualities, tough tannins and the fatal sweet heatedness of high alcohol. We often find those kinds of zinfandels in Lodi, where the wines typically soar above 15 percent alcohol, but a model much more balanced is the Oak Farm Vineyards “Indigenous” Cemetery Vineyard Zinfandel 2014, Lodi, which clocks in at a mild and sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. The color is deep ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of ripe blackberries and black currants are highlighted by notes of blueberries, cloves, briers and brambles and touches of fruitcake and iodine. Dusty tannins display a honed graphite edge, and indeed this zinfandel, while being warm and spicy and tasty with its black and blue fruit flavors, exudes the coolness of chiseled limestone, wrapped around an animated core of vibrant acidity and hints of lavender, leather and loam. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with steaks or burgers, grilled pork chops, chili, hearty pastas and pizzas. Production was 361 cases. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

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