The Campofiorin red wine from Argicola Masi, produced since 1964, tends to over-perform for its price range, making it a must-have when My Readers are confronted with a platter of pappardelle with rabbit sauce or beef Carpaccio or a veal or pork haunch roasted with garlic and rosemary. Hmmm, venison, too. The Masi Campofiorin 2011, Rosso del Veronese I.G.T., is a blend of the typical red grapes of the Valpolicella region — corvina, rondinella and molinara. It’s made in a fashion similar to the great Amarone wines, that is, after it is vinified — turned into wine! — it is fermented again on the semi-dried grapes of the same variety. After that, the wine aged 18 months in barrels, 2/3s in 90 hectoliter Slavonian oak botti — big-ass barrels; 90 hl equals 2,377.5 gallons — and 1/3 in 600-liter new French oak casks, barrels of 158.5-gallon capacity; by comparison, the standard French oak barrique holds about 59 gallons. The point is to allow the oak to be a shaping but not dominant influence on the wine. The color is dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of dried raspberries, black cherries and plums, potpourri, sandalwood and cloves, all knit by notes of iodine and iron, seque to the mouth as a wine that features spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors deeply imbued with the permeating factor of slightly dusty, finely-sifted tannins. Acidity is electric, almost pert, and it drives the dryness through a finish that becomes a bit austere. Give this a few minutes in the glass and it brings in hints of orange zest, oolong tea, loam and leather, all powered by a dynamic lithic element. The alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, a Remarkable Value.

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

Nobilo Wines qualifies as a pioneer winery in New Zealand, being founded in 1943, a mere blip in time for many estates in Europe. Better late than never, right! Anyway, the Icon label is Nobilo’s top designation, and today I look at the Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough. The wine is a blend of grapes from three estate vineyards lying at different altitudes on different types of soil. It aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby in the center shading to a transparent rim; very attractive aromas of raspberries, cloves, rhubarb and smoked black cherries are twined with fairly profound notes of loam and underbrush, while a few minutes in the glass deepen the spicy element. This pinot noir is quite dry, edging toward finely-sifted dusty tannins, but it retains a feeling of juicy ripeness around the circumference, as well as offering a supple and satiny texture. It trades principally, however, on the earthy aspect, as it gathers its forces of mushrooms, briers and brambles, a touch of some rooty tea and dollops of graphite for a cool, slightly chiseled finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled lamb or veal chops. In some degree, this pinot noir lacks the balancing effect of grace and elegance so essential to the grape, but it offers an interesting and satisfying exploration of the dark side. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

Constellation Imports, Gonzales, Calif. A sample for review.

I’ll confess to a sense of ambivalence when I write about what used to be called Kendall-Jackson and is now Jackson Family Wines. After all, this is the company — let’s call it an empire — that was launched, in 1982, with the Kendall-Jackson Vintners’ Reserve Chardonnay 1980, a wine that did not change how America drank chardonnay but confirmed its secret and terrific yen for a ripe, fruity, slightly sweet white. Proprietor Jess Jackson, an attorney and horse-racing enthusiast, bought an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., with his first wife in 1974 as a getaway from San Francisco, planted grapes and sold them to wineries including Fetzer. When an order from that winery fell through, the opportunity to make some chardonnay arose, with, apparently, a mistake in fermentation leaving the wine with a touch of residual sugar. Bingo! Selling at $4.50 a bottle, the first Kendall-Jackson Vintners’ Reserve Chardonnay created a niche and a craving in the wine-consuming habits of American consumers.

Jess Jackson died in 2011, at the age of 81. The company is still closely held by the family, with Jackson’s widow, Barbara Banke, as chairman.

Soon after the winery produced its first vintage in 1982, Jackson started acquiring properties. In 1988, for example, he bought Edmeades Vineyards in Mendocino. In 1994, he purchased Robert Pepi, the winery and vineyards. (Pepi cannot use his name on labels now and makes cabernets under his Eponymous label.) The year 2006 saw Jackson in high acquisition mode; within two months that summer, he took in Robert Pecota and Murphy-Goode and then for $97 million purchased Legacy Estates, which owned Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron, a purchase that included winery facilities, brands, inventory and vineyards, all of these brought under the Kendall-Jackson umbrella.

In fact, let’s go ahead and list the labels and brands that fall under Jackson Family Wines’ broad banner.

The top of the line is the Spire Collection, consisting of Anakota (Knights Valley); Arcanum (Tuscany); Capensis (Western Cape, South Africa); Capture (Sonoma County); Cardinale (Napa Valley); Cyneth (Napa Valley); Chateau Lessegue (Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux); Chateau Vignot (Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux); Galerie (Napa Valley); Hickinbotham (McLaren Vale, South Australia); La Jota Vineyard (Napa Valley); Lokoya (Napa Valley); Maggy Hawk (Mendocino County); Mt. Brave (Napa Valley); Verite (Sonoma County);Windracer (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County). I have tasted wines from 12 of these 16 estates, and they are impressive in every sense.

Also under the Jackson Family Wines rubric but not included in the Spire Collection, are Champ de Reves and Edmeades (Mendocino); Carmel Road (Monterey); Atalon and Freemark Abbey (Napa Valley); Byron and Cambria (Santa Barbara County); in Sonoma County, Arrowood, Carneros Hills, Hartford Family, La Crema, Matanzas Creek, Murphy-Goode, Stonestreet, Silver Palm and the recently acquired Siduri; and in Oregon, Gran Moraine, founded in 2014.

Kendall-Jackson is now a brand inherent in the Jackson Family Wines stable, and it too is divided into a roster of labels and categories that includes K-J Avant (three wines); Vintners’ Reserve (10 wines); Grand Reserve (eight wines); Jackson Estate (eight wines); and Stature (two wines). Yes, just under the Kendall-Jackson label are 31 wines. Stonestreet offers 17 wines, primarily single-vineyard chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon: Murphy-Goode produces 19 wines, including chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. You get the point. Add all the brands and labels together, from the heights of the august and costly Cardinale and Verite down to the common denominator of its least expensive offerings, and the company oversees the production, at many levels and price-points, of close to 100 different wines each year. That’s a lot of territory to cover, geographically, varietally and stylistically, but the gratifying fact is that, while of course variations in quality and style inevitably exist, the diverse range of wines tends to be consistently and thoughtfully well-made, with my ratings typically ranging from Very Good+ to, in a few instances, Exceptional.

That assessment is not the same as saying that all of these brands, labels and wines seem absolutely necessary. No winery or group of wineries can be all things to all people, and at prices, say, between $18 and $30, the line-up of Jackson Family Wines might be competing with itself, though I suppose that marketers and strategists take that aspect of the business into consideration.

In the rarefied echelon of the Spire Collection, where prices rise to a dramatic $250 a bottle for Cardinale, the competition is the realm of California’s famous and highly sought-after cult cabernet sauvignons. Certainly the wines from Cardinale, Cyneth, La Jota, Lakoya and Mt. Brave in Napa Valley and Anakota and Verite in Sonoma display the remarkable detail, depth and dimension and the capacity for long-aging that great wines must evince. I have tasted a number of the Spire Collection wines in the past, and in March spent a day in Napa Valley and a day in Sonoma County tasting the most recent vintages of these labels, as well as the sauvignon blanc wines of Galerie, the pinot noirs of Maggy Hawk and the chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons of Stonestreet. In a few days, I’ll post an assessment of these individual wineries that fall under the rubric of the Spire Collection.

Argyle’s Lone Star Vineyard in Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA allots just under seven acres to the riesling grape, amounting to a bare two percent of the cultivation of the estate’s vineyards. The three blocks of riesling are divided into grapes that will undergo fermentation and aging in stainless steel, coming out with a smidgeon of residual sugar, and those that go into neutral French oak, coming out totally dry. That combination lends the Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, remarkable vibrancy and resonance, as well as real presence on the palate, though you would swear that the wine was weightless. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of peach and spiced pear are wreathed with notes of lychee and petrol, quince and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; give the wine a few moments in the glass — serve it chilled and let it gradually and softly warm up — bring in hints of nectarine and lime peel. This is a richly golden, slightly honeyed reisling whose riveting acidity drives through a generous talc-like texture to allow the emergence of burgeoning limestone minerality; it displays a liveliness that goes beyond just crisp acidity to an essential dynamism that does not negate its delicate and elegant structure. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 1,300 cases. I happily drank a glass of this wine with a Parmesan cheese omelet with tomatoes and green olives. Now through 2019 to 2023. I consider this riesling among the best not only in Oregon but on the West Coast. Exceptional. About $30.

A sample for review.

The Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard Cuvée Marcel Dupont 2012, Washington state, boasts an Old World label and an Old World attitude in this 100 percent syrah wine that spent 14 months in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. There’s a lot of info on this label, but only on the back do we find a hint that the wine originates from Hedges Family Estate. The winery was instrumental in the application of Red Mountain for AVA status, supported by Kiona Vineyards, Blackwood Canyon Vintners, Sandhill Winery, Seth Ryan Winery and Terra Blanca Winery, granted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in 2001. Red Mountain, not so much a mountain as a steep, long southwest-facing slope of deep gravelly soil, lies within the Yakima Valley AVA, which is part of the sprawling Columbia Valley AVA; with only about 600 acres under cultivation, Red Mountain, known for its distinctively tannic and minerally cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, wines of grain and substance, is the smallest of Washington state’s grape-growing regions. The wine’s name derives from the family names of Anne-Marie Hedges — Liegeois and Dupont — who is from the Champagne region and married Tom Hedges in 1976. The vineyard on Red Mountain is Les Gosses and the cuvée is named for Anne-Marie Hedges’ grandfather, a noted bon vivant (as my grand-children will say about me).

As for the wine, the color is dark ruby-purple with a slightly lighter magenta rim; aromas of dried blackberries, cherries and currants are permeated by notes of leather and loam, oolong tea and some heady rooty elixir; there’s a sense of dried mountain flowers, potpourri and heather, as well as a provocatively ripe, earthy, funky aspect. All of these qualities segue handily onto the palate, where they are buoyed by riveting acidity and profoundly deep, dense and dusty tannins and graphite minerality that assert a kind of Old World rusticity and structure. Nonetheless, there’s nothing rude or plodding about this wine, which, rather, displays a fleet-footed feeling of animation and vigor, as opposed to many New World syrahs that trade on succulence and opulence and high alcohol. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 2,902 cases. Drink through 2018 to ’22 with game birds, grilled leg of lamb, veal chops seared in a cast-iron skillet with garlic and rosemary. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.


Fans of sauvignon blanc wines from New Zealand will love this snappy streamlined number. Made all in stainless steel, the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, opens with an exuberant burst of grapefruit, gooseberry, lime peel and pea shoot; it’s fairly grassy and leafy and displays notes of fig and dried thyme. The texture is lithe and lively, and the wine flows across the palate in a crisp zippy stream of melon, grapefruit and mango. It’s all a bit exotic and pretty darned tasty and obviously produced for immediate enjoyment as an aperitif or to accompany a plateful of grilled shrimp or fish tacos. Don’t worry yer pointy little head about it; just gulp it down, especially in these hot humid days. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12 to $14.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash. A sample for review.

I don’t cotton to wines with fanciful names, but I’ll admit that after a few moments in the glass the Loomis Family Ember Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley, seethed like a seductive glowing coal of smoldering lavender, licorice and graphite. The wine is a blend of 49 percent syrah grapes, 22 percent grenache and 7 percent mourvèdre, grapes associated, of course, with France’s Rhône Valley, and it aged 20 in French oak barrels. Winemaker is Timothy Milos. The color is dark ruby with a hint of magenta at the rim; aromas of ripe and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums open to elements of briers, brambles and underbrush for a fairly rigorous foundation, leading to a gradually burgeoning structure of chiseled granitic minerality, taut dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. There’s a tinge of red to the succulent and spicy black fruit flavors, but despite the frank deliciousness, the wine is quite dry. Give it a chance, and it develops an intriguing earthy, funky edge from mid-palate back, driving an exotic finish that’s packed with cloves and sandalwood, loam and leather. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review, a bit of information I am required to provide according to ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. This dictate applies only to bloggers; print journalists are not so required.

The Dorgogne region is one of the oldest inhabited areas of France, as testified by numerous caves filled with wall paintings and etchings that date back 30,000 and 40,000 years. It’s also one of the country’s wildest and most beautiful areas, marked by rugged and towering cliffs, many topped by ancient castles; deep river valleys; rolling hills and forests; and a network of villages and towns that retain much of their medieval appearance. Recently, we spent a week in France’s Dordogne region, with LL’s son and his children, Julien, 14, and Lucia, 10, eating local food — dominated by foie gras, magret and confit of duck — and drinking local wines. We rented a centuries-old stone cottage outside the village of Beynac et Cazenac — pop. 560 — an almost mythically quaint hamlet perched right on a bank of the Dordogne River and winding up the cliff dominated by an immense castle, Chateau de Beynac, seen in this image from sourcedordogne.free.fr.

Our locale was at the southeastern corner of the Dordogne department, not wine-country itself but not too far from the appellations of Bergerac, Côtes de Bergerac, Montravel and Pécharmant, all cultivating the Bordeaux grape varieties and producing country cousin versions of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot for red, sauvignon blanc and semillon for white. About a two-hour drive to the east in the Lot department is Cahors, a traditional region for hearty wines made from the malbec grape, known as cot in that area. Though I had been offered visits to chateaus and wineries by some of my contacts in importing and marketing in the US, my determination was that this sojourn would be strictly vacation and that any wine we drank would come either from grocery stores, open-air markets or restaurant wine lists.

Our first dinner, at a hotel restaurant in Beynac, was mediocre, but we enjoyed the wines. These were a 2011 rouge, in a 500-milliliter bottle, and a 2013 blanc, in a 375 ml bottle, from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts, Côtes de Bergerac. The rouge offered a bright, seductive floral and spicy bouquet but was fairly rude and rustic on the palate; the more palatable blanc was fresh, young and zesty, with yellow fruit and dried herbs. Each cost 14 euros, about $15.66 at today’s rate. Far more successful, in both food and wine, was our dinner the following night, a Sunday, at La Petite Tonnelle, just a few yards up the street from the restaurant of the previous night. Built right into the cliff that dominates this strategic site overlooking the Dordogne river, the restaurant was pleasing in every aspect. Our waiter, a young woman, was friendly and accommodating; the restaurant served the silkiest foie gras, smoked magret and confit of duck I have ever tasted; and the wine list emphasized regional products highlighting sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods. With the hearty fare, we drank a bottle of the Chateau Masburel 2010, Montravel, a predominantly merlot wine with dollops of cabernet sauvignon. The restaurant owner came over and nodded his approval, telling us that it was a powerful wine. Powerful indeed and robust, but sleek too, packed with dusty tannins, graphite-tinged minerality, black fruit flavors and vibrant acidity. It cost 42 euros, about $46 at today’s rate.

Both in cafes and at our rented house, we consumed a great deal of rosé wine, not just because we love rosé but because the weather was unseasonably hot, with temperatures going to 100 and higher every afternoon. Rosés in the Dordogne are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec and typically are more robust than their cousins in Provence. For example, in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, generally just called Tayac, home to the National Museum of Prehistory and the center of a cluster of caves with prehistoric art, we ate lunch at Cafe de Mairie and downed a 500 cl bottle of the delightful Clos des Verdots 2014, Bergerac Rosé, at 14 euros. Other rosés we tried during our sojourn included La Fleur de Mondesir 2014, Domaine de Mayat 2014 and Domaine de Montlong 2013, all Bergerac, and the simple but tasty Mayaret 2014, Vin du Pays Perigord. Tayac is absolutely worth a visit. We were too late to get admittance to the cave called Font de Gaume, which features wall paintings, so we drove to the cave of Les Combarelles, a few minutes away, and saw the exquisite series of rock engravings executed 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The town itself, with many of its houses and buildings carved directly into the cliffs, is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Other red wines we tried, back at the house with various dinners, included Chateau des Hautes Fargues 2010 and Domaine La Closerie 2011, both from Pécharmant, and, from Bergerac, the excellent Domaine Maye de Bouye 2010, and the best red wine of our time in the Dordogne, Clos de Gamot 2008, a superb, deeply characterful Cahors that cost all of 12.5 euros, about $13.70. Clos de Gamot is owned by the Jouffreau family and has been in operation since 1610. The grapes derive from two vineyards, one over 120 years old and the other with vines 40 to 70 years old. The wines age 18 months to two years in large old oak casts.

The way to explore this ancient region is to drive to as many of the towns and villages as possible, preferably one each day, park the car (hopefully in the shade) and then wander through the plazas and narrow streets, stopping to walk through churches, alleys and courtyards. If there’s a chance, for a few euros, to tour a castle or old mansion, do that; the rewards in history, esthetics and emotional satisfaction are immense. We particularly enjoyed Sarlot, Domme and the medieval section of Soulliac, and we visited two castles that were traditional enemies during the Hundred Years’ War, Chateau Beynac, “our” castle, and just up-river, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

Oh, what the hell, let’s have a bottle of sparkling wine! Surely you can come up with something to celebrate. Or not. I would just as soon drink Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine for any purpose, any whim, any occasion, even if it’s merely standing around the kitchen preparing dinner. For our category of sparkling wine today, then, I choose the Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, a non-vintage blend of primarily chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with a dollop of pinot noir, the sources being the Carneros regions in Sonoma County (58 percent) and Napa County (42 percent). The wine rested sur lie — on the residue of dead yeast cells — five years in the bottle after the second fermentation that produces the essential effervescence. The color is an entrancing medium copper-salmon hue riven by an upward-surging torrent of glinting silver bubbles. Notes of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry unfold to hints of lime peel, quince and ginger, with, always in the background, touches of limestone, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and orange marmalade; think of the tension and balance between the subtle sweet fruitiness and bitterness of the latter. On the palate, this sparkling wine works with delicacy and elegance to plow a furrow of juicy red berry and citrus flavors — with a bit of pomegranate — into a foundation of slate and limestone minerality and lively acidity for a crisp, dynamic texture and long spicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

Like a poem by Walt Whitman or the notion of democracy itself, the best wines embrace contradiction and resolve paradoxical elements into a sense of palatable completeness. An excellent or exceptional wine may be both elegant and propulsive, chiseled and generous, rich and warm yet cool and aloof, glamorous and rigorous altogether. The best scenario occurs when such a wine conveys the panoply of its character with subtlety and nuance. Must all wines exhibit such a congeries of effects, depth and dimension? Certainly and thankfully not. Sometimes — quite often actually — all we require is a decent quaff, a well-made but uncomplicated wine, to accompany a simple meal. It must be a bit wearying always to drink the world’s finest, most complex, demanding and attention-grabbing wines, though aside from collectors possessing rare fiduciary prowess and a select crew of wine critics that does not include me, most of us will never be able to test that hypothesis. After that prelude, then, here is a pinot noir wine of gratifying qualities, a perfectly balanced projection of the attributes I mentioned above. The Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is a hand-crafted product — the popular term today is “artisan” — that was pressed in a wooden basket press, fermented with native yeast, saw only 40 percent new French oak and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The color is a lovely medium ruby hue that shades to a transparent rim. First, we notice the wine’s spicy nature: cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, and then the expansive quality of its scents and flavors of macerated red raspberries, currants and plums, tinged with black fruit, something like cherry skins and pips and a note of black currant; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of dust, graphite and loam for the essential earthy quality without which pinot noir wines seem to lack varietal integrity. While sensually pleasing with its supple and satiny texture, this pinot noir unfolds a burgeoning mineral edge honed, it feels, by a beam of bright and bracing acidity. The finish builds a case for the floral aspect with touches of lavender and rose petals, while the combination of wild berries and slightly candied berry fruit gives it a sheen that’s both feral and sophisticated. The alcohol content is a blessed and beautifully manageable 13.6 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, a grilled lamb or veal chop. Production was 224 cases. Winemaker for Foursight Wines is Joe Webb. Excellent. About $46.

A sample for review.

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