Randall Grahm leaves a few unsanded edges in the Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2014, Monterey County, so the wine comes traipsing on the palate like a happy-go-lucky country cousin, embodying the concept of rusticity in all its beneficial aspects: open-hearted, generous, robust and a little bumptious, forthright. It’s a blend of 89 percent grenache grapes, 9 percent mourvedre and 2 percent syrah, derived mainly from the Alta Loma Vineyard and with dollops from four other vineyards. The color is medium ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of raspberries and red currants, rhubarb and pomegranate are infused with peppery notes of cloves, briers and loam, while vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate and moderately dusty tannins offer a touch of density to the texture. The wine is lively and engaging, earthy without being profound or oratorical. Perfect for pizzas, grilled leg of lamb, or with cold roasted chicken on a picnic. When vinous-minded John Keats called for “a beaker full of the warm South,” he must have had this type of delicious, uncomplicated wine in mind. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review. The label image in one vintage behind.

High altitude cabernet sauvignon from Mendoza yesterday; high altitude zinfandel from Howell Mountain today — yes, ma’am and sir, the Wine of the Day requires Seven-League Boots, a vast imagination and flexible taste-buds. The zin in question is the Elyse Winery Zinfandel 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, a blend of 89 percent zinfandel grapes and 11 percent petite sirah, the zinfandel derived from Howell Mountain’s well-known dry-farmed, sustainably-operated Black Sears Vineyard, which rises to 2400-feet elevation. Ray Coursen is the owner and winemaker of Elyse. The wine aged 10 and a half months in American oak barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby-purple, and the bouquet, which I thought at first was too earthy, smoothed out admirably into an exemplar of the grape’s classic aspects of blackberry and loganberry with undertones of black currants and plums etched with notes of graphite, lavender and wood smoke, all borne on a foundation of loam, iodine and iron. Many of these characteristics segue faultlessly onto the palate, where the wine’s scintillating purity and intensity resonate with a feeling that combines energy with a brooding nature. Here, this zinfandel turns knotty, briery and brambly, adding to its ripe and spicy black fruit flavors long-drawn out touches of brandied raisins, black pepper, bitter chocolate and dusty tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 864 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20 with steak, venison, boar and similar hearty and big-hearted fare. Excellent. About $37.

A sample for review.


The Achaval Ferrer estate in the Mendoza region produces a handful of Argentina’s finest red wines, especially focused on malbec, the single-vineyard versions of which retail at $120 to $140. Today, however, we look at the more accessible and far less expensive Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, a 100 percent varietal wine made from vineyards at 2,297 and 3,608 feet above sea-level. Notice that no new oak is involved; the grapes fermented in cement tanks and the wine aged nine months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Though an “entry-level” wine for this producer, it reveals its pedigree and character in its intensity and concentration, its unassailable tone and presence. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet seethes with notes of red and black cherries and plums permeated by mineral dust, lavender and bitter chocolate, with undertones of allspice (with the attendant woodsy austerity) and graphite. As often occurs with high-altitude red wines, tannins feel slightly chiseled, and the profound acidity runs deep and faceted. Yes, you could say that the emphasis is on the wine’s structure, but it’s also quite approachable for its dark spicy and alluring black fruit flavors; the dynamic finish is packed with graphite, potpourri and some rooty smoky black tea. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’23. The question as to whether this wine would serve as superb accompaniment to a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, need not be broached. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Stoli Wine Group, New York. A sample for review.


A very pleasant way to pass the Summer would be by drinking Crémant d’Alsace, the sparkling wine produced in that most Teutonic portion of French geography that rubs uneasily against Germany. I’m a fan of the Crémants produced by the firm of Lucien Albrecht, founded in the distant days of 1425. These sparklers are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Oddly, I see that in the record of this blog I have written about the Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé thrice but not once about the Brut, so today is the day to right that omission. The Lucien Albrecht Brut Crémant d’Alsace, non-vintage — meaning a combination of several harvests — is a blend of 50 percent pinot blanc grapes and 25 percent each pinot gris and riesling. The color is pale straw-gold, animated by an enthusiastic surge of tiny glinting bubbles; enticing aromas of apple peel and lemon balm, pear and lemongrass open to notes of cloves, quince and ginger. Boy, this is a crisp, crystalline, almost tart sparkler that offers lovely presence and tone on the palate and a honed texture that’s spare and elegant in its limestone and flinty mineral character; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of jasmine, spiced grapefruit and an anchoring but close to ephemeral earthy quality that speaks of vineyards, sunlight and rainfall. 12.5 percent alcohol. Great as a leisurely sipper or try with savory hors d’oeuvre and appetizers. Excellent. About $22, a Fine Value.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Pat and Joe Campbell founded Elk Cove Vineyards in 1974, establishing them among a handful of Willamette Valley, Oregon, pioneers such as Erath, Ponzi, Amity, Sokol Blosser and Adelsheim, also launched in the 1970s. The winery focuses on pinot noir as its red wine and two other “pinots” — gris and blanc — as their whites. Winemaker since 1995 has been Pat and Joe’s son Adam Campbell. Our foray today, in this 15th entry into reviewing one wine every day, is the Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2014, carrying the Willamette Valley designation. Seeing only stainless steel, with no oak influence, this pinot gris offers the pleasing paradox of delicacy and prettiness embodied in blazing purity and intensity. The color is pale straw-gold; finely-knit aromas of jasmine and almond blossom, spiced pear and lime peel are highlighted by notes of grapefruit and damp limestone; the stony factor becomes a dominant motif on the palate, in the form of chalk and flint elements, while shivery acidity cuts a swath through a lovely talc-like texture and spare tones of pear and grapefruit. The austere finish — savory, saline, chiseled — resonates with touches of grapefruit rind, almond skin and limestone. 13 percent alcohol. The first thought regarding this wine is fresh oysters, succulent and briny; the second thought is grilled scallops or mussels in a mignonette sauce. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $19.

A sample for review.

Faithful readers of this blog — bless yer pointy little heads and may yer tribes increase! — know that California chardonnay and I have an uneasy and sometimes contentious relationship. I find too many of them over-blown, buxom, viscous and stridently ripe and spicy. On the other hand, chardonnays that display florid ripeness but manage to maintain an edgy balance with racy acidity and striking mineral elements can be not just delicious but exciting, even risky. Such a one is the Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands. The winery was founded by Dan Morgan Lee and his wife Donna in 1982; winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. The Lees purchased the Double L property, at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, in 1996, planting the following year. At present, the vineyard consists of 48.52 planted acres: 27.99 acres planted to pinot noir, 18.45 acres of chardonnay and minuscule amounts of syrah and riesling. The vineyard is certified organic. The Morgan Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new, the rest one- and two-year-old barrels. This is a golden and glittering chardonnay, offering a mild medium gold hue and forthright aromas of baked pineapple and caramelized grapefruit entwined with notes of jasmine, smoke, cloves and heather, spread on a background of damp crushed gravel. It’s indeed a sizable wine, quite dry but ripe and juicy with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors and animated by shattering acidity and dusty, scintillating limestone minerality. Oak provides a finely sifted and supple framework and foundation; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lemon balm and walnut oil. The finish is dense yet nimble, serious and exquisite together and radiant with chardonnay’s purity and intensity. 13.9 percent alcohol. A chardonnay this rich and layered, though elegantly (and dynamically) balanced, requires dishes of utmost simplicity; ultra-rich fare would compete with and clash with the wine. Something like grilled trout with brown butter and capers or roasted chicken with tarragon would be perfect. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Production was 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.

A sample for review.

Now run by the fifth generation, the Vietti estate, in the Langhe region of Piemonte, fashions wines — primarily red — that reflect traditional methods with modern techniques. The Vietti “Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti 2013, made completely from barbera grapes, was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged 14 months in a combination of small French oak barrels, the standard 59-gallon barrique, and large casks of Slovenian oak. (Winemaker is the estate’s owner Luca Currado.) The color is dark ruby, almost opaque at the center; aromas of red and black currants and plums permeated by notes of graphite and loam and woodsy touches of underbrush and dried porcini. These qualities segue seamlessly from nose to palate, with an infusion of red cherries, where the wine offers fairly dense but navigable tannins — dusty, granitic and clean together — and bright, zesty acidity that keeps it notably lively without crossing the edge to screaming and shrill. The wine is quite dry but attractive, engaging and delicious. We drank it — yep, the whole damned bottle — last night with a lasagna featuring tomatoes and sausage with plenty of basil and parmesan, mozzarella and fontina cheeses. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $17, representing Good Value.

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

Let’s be honest. Rosé wines should not be too serious, thought-provoking or complicated. Their raison d’etre is delight and evanescence, the way that a quick cooling breeze brings delight and relief on a hot afternoon. On the other hand, occasionally I taste — or greedily consume — a rosé of such startling freshness, such intense loveliness and layered pleasure that it transcends mere prettiness and joy and attains a level of perfection and provocation, as a scent-laden gloaming works upon our senses, memories and imaginations. Such a one is the Ehlers “Sylviane” Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, from the St. Helena AVA of the Napa Valley. This is, frankly, about the most beautiful rose I have encountered in my life of writing about wine. The estate is run on biodynamic principles and is certified organic; the grapes derive from portions of the vineyard dedicated to making rosé, so this one is not an afterthought. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is a radiant light fuchsia-sunset hue; aromas of raspberries and watermelon are woven with rose petal and woodsy notes, with touches of flint, dried thyme and balsam. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of strawberries and a sort of Necco wafer dustiness. The wine slides across the palate in a lively (but not crisp), sleek, lithe flow that propels flavors of wild berry compote and citrus rind through to a delicate, elegant finish. More time, more sniffing and swirling encourage the unfurling of an extraordinary core of lilac, talcum powder and Evening in Paris perfume; it’s hypnotic and tantalizing. 12.9 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2016. We had this last night with a Spanish omelet with potatoes, sausage and parsley. Exceptional. About $28.

A sample for review.

Grenache gris is a rare gray-skinned manifestation of the grenache grape, somewhere between “regular” dark grenache and the green grenache blanc. William Allen makes his Two Shepherds Gibson Ranch Grenache Gris 2013 from a 105-year-old vineyard in Mendocino County. It is fermented and aged nine months in neutral French oak, meaning that there’s no interference of toasty new oak with the wine’s purity and intensity, rather a contributing factor of shapeliness and subtlety. The color is pale but radiant gold with a tinge of topaz; an intoxicating bouquet of lilac and camellia, peach and spiced pear, quince and crystallized ginger is wreathed with notes of lemongrass and lime peel. The wine is vital and vivid on the palate, yet spare, delicate and elegant; on the other hand, it’s remarkably intense, displaying real presence without being heavy or obvious; it’s engaging, not obtrusive. Flavors are yellow and green fruit — citrus and stone-fruit and a touch of yellow plum — highlighted by a leafy, bracing savory, saline quality and a finish that brings in touches of grapefruit rind and almond skin. 13.2 percent alcohol. Only 90 cases produced, so mark this one Worth a Search. Drink through 2016 with grilled shrimp, seafood risotto, grilled trout with capers. Excellent. About $28.

A sample for review.

The Abella family has been growing grapes in Spain’s Priorat region since the 15th Century, which means, yes, since before Columbus sailed off to find India and instead stumbled upon the New World, “new,” that is, to some people but not to those who already lived there. The family didn’t actually go into the business of founding a formal estate and making wine until early in the 20th Century, which still puts them pretty early in the game. The vineyards are steeply sloped and lie at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,300 feet above sea level. The Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, blends 60 percent garnacha (grenache) grapes, 25 percent carignan and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon to make a wine that displays a vibrant deep ruby color and vivid aromas of cedar and dried thyme, red and black currants, cherries and plums and notes of cloves, lavender and bitter chocolate. The red and black fruit flavors are framed by chewy tannins brushed with dust and graphite and incisive acidity that lends liveliness and a thirst-quenching quality; dense and full-bodied, the wine offers a full complement of loamy and lithic elements, finishing with broad dimensions of peppery, spicy flavors, iron and iodine. 14.5 percent alcohol. A wine of real character, almost nobility, yet one that’s approachable and enjoyable, especially, I would say, with grilled leg of lamb adorned with garlic and rosemary or a medium rare rib-eye steak crusted with black and green peppercorns. Drink now through 2020 or so. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review.

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