Grapes for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, derive from five estate vineyards, with the addition of a small amount of grapes purchased from trusted growers on long-term contract. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The wine is, in other words, a summation of a house-style or region rather than an individual expression of a single vineyard; as such, it succeeds admirably. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of rose petals and violets, red currants and plums are buoyed by notes of cranberry and rhubarb, with hints of briers and cloves. Underlying loam and graphite elements support delicious red fruit flavors in a structure enlivened by taut acidity and just enough tannin to provide a modicum of grip; the texture is supple and satiny, while the finish adds more spice. 13.5 percent alcohol. A real crowd-pleaser for drinking through 2016 or ’17. Try with medium rare roasted duck. Excellent. About $29.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Anyone who has read Rockss and Fruit, the blog written by Lyle Fass, knows that he is enthusiastic, opinionated and articulate. Meet him in person, and you understand what a force of nature he is, a man of seemingly boundless energy and zeal for a particular sort of vinous purity and intensity. A little more than a year ago, Fass, who worked in retail for almost 20 years — a well-known figure at the distinctive Chambers Street Wines in lower Manhattan — launched Fass Selections, an online entity designed to get fine European wines into the hands of consumers at reasonable prices by by-passing the three-tier system. Such a scheme is possible for an importer only because in the state of California, since Jan. 1, 2012, it is legal for an importer to sell wine via the Internet and via direct mail without requiring the importer to maintain a physical retail location or to hold a beer and wine wholesaler license (California Business and Professions Code section 23393.5). So while Fass, a fourth-generation Brooklynite, lives in that borough of New York, the business itself is registered in the Golden State. His take on the three-tier system is that it is “beyond imperfect.”

In frigid mid-December, after a round of delayed flights, I met Lyle Fass at the improbable Michelin one-star Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District (60 West 39th Street), a bastion of retro 60s modernist decor inhabited by legions of lunch-going office workers intent on — I’ll say frankly — some of the most riveting Chinese food I’ve ever encountered. Odd as it may seem, the German and French wines that Fass, 39 by the way, brought to taste were terrific with this spicy and profound fare.

What does he look for?

“Wines that express a terroir, that show freshness and acidity, that show purity.” Fass travels to Europe several times a year, using his contacts to find small artisan producers that embody these criteria. He is especially fond of Burgundy and Beaujolais, several regions of Germany, and now Champagne.

How does his system work?

All it requires in the way of brick-and-mortar presence is a warehouse to store the wines before he offers them on his website. Because inventory is low, he doesn’t need a lot of space. Once the wines are sold, Fass has already moved on to the next offerings. “Inventory,” he said, “is the scourge of the industry.”

“All the business is conducted by email,” he said. “I contact the producer and put the wine on the website. I get the orders from customers and send an invoice to the producer, who gets paid before the wine leaves the winery. We outsource the packing and shipping. I deal with farmers. They don’t know how to do invoices.”

His goal, over the next five to seven years, is to find 35 to 40 producers “that I’ll work with for a long time.” He acknowledged that the first two or so years of a start-up are tough. “We had some unexpected expenses, but we also have low overhead. 2015 or ’16 should be the breakthrough.”

While the wines are sold individually at a bottle price, Fass discounts prices in four or six bottle-groups.

The following wines were tasted at lunch with Lyle Fass. They represent the kinds of wines he sells but might not necessarily be available now.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Ineluctable and ineffable earthiness; peaches and lemongrass and camellia; sea salt and salt marsh; pea shoot and lemon balm; ethereal texture and structure; heaps of scintillating limestone. Absolutely irresistible balance and authority. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. 7.5% alc. Medium gold color with faint green highlights; otherworldly purity, intensity and beguilement; totally fresh and appealing; lemon verbena, thyme, grapefruit and tangerine with backnote of pineapple; layers of limestone and shale-like earthiness yet sun-kissed with leafy hints of apple, lychee and fig; a golden beauty, for drinking through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $20, a Wonderful Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Laible Durbacher Plauelrain “SL” Riesling Trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and yellow plum fruit; spicy and savory; offers the energy of bright acidity and limestone minerality with the seductive power of a lovely almost talc-like texture, resulting in a winsome marriage of refinement and animation; pinpoint balance and integration. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Irancy is one of those places that you hope never disappears, absorbed into some larger appellation because it’s obscure and little wine is made. Nominally linked to Burgundy but lying southwest of Chablis in a picturesque hidden valley, Irancy produces red wine made from pinot noir grapes and a small amount of rose; the local cesar grape is allowed. Though wine has been made in Irancy for more than 1,000 years, the tiny region was accorded AOC status only in 1999. The Thierry Richoux 2010, Irancy (13% alc.), is one of the purest yet most unusual expressions of pinot noir I have encountered. This is 100 percent pinot noir that sees only old passage barrels, so there’s no tint or taint of new oak. Intense medium ruby color; scents and flavors of mulberries, red currants and blueberries tinged with licorice and cloves and a distinct mossy-loamy quality; this is a lipsmacking tasty wine, for which a bastion of dusty, slightly leathery tannins and brisk acidity provide support. Rustic in the best sense of a country wine that represents its place and grape with style, character and integrity. Now through 2018 to ’22. This was intriguing and evocative with the restaurant’s camphor-smoked duck. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A different perspective on pinot noir is the Hervé Murat Les Tuvilains Beaune Premier Cru 2010. Murat launched his Burgundian domaine in 2005, not an easy task in a region where vineyards are divided and subdivided and lost and regained through inheritance and where established land is expensive. Les Tuvilains in one of the smaller and lesser-known Premier Cru vineyards of Beaune; it was planted in 1947, and Murat owns half a hectare, that is, about 1.28 acres. This is classic, offering a medium ruby color with a hint of garnet; aromas of macerated and slightly stewed red and black cherries and currants with a hint of lilac and fruitcake and a spare, supple, sinewy structure through which clean acidity cuts a swath. Dark and dynamic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $39.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen (12.5% alc), is a dry riesling of tremendous tone, presence and character. Radiant medium gold color; replete with spicy apple, stone fruit and yellow plum elements, but fruit is almost superfluous — I think I’ve never said that before — in the face of its dense, almost chewy texture, its resonant crystalline limestone and shale minerality; this is a riesling that comes close to being tannic; huge dimension but real cut, swagger and detail. I mean, holy fucking moly. Now through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. About $23, practically a Give-Away. .
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here I go, pushing Spring again, when there’s treacherous snow and ice on the ground and on the roads in many regions between the shining seas. Perhaps it will do us good, though, to think in terms of Spring-like wines. The one of which I speak is the Leo Torrontes 2013, from the Valentin Bianchi winery in Argentina’s well-known Mendoza region, specifically from the estate’s Dona Elsa Vineyard in the San Rafael area, a whopping 2,493 feet above sea level. You probably know that some wines made from the torrontes grape can be overwhelmingly floral to the point of being vapid or crushingly dry and crisp beyond the point of austerity. This wine is not one of those. The quite pale Leo Torrontes 2013, made all in stainless steel, offers delicate notes of jasmine and camellia, with hints of roasted lemon, cloves, lime peel and greengage plum; tingling acidity keeps the wine lively and compelling, with a lovely structure balancing crispness with a moderately lush, talc-like texture. Acidity and limestone minerality win by a hint and a nod, however, keeping the wine glintingly honest, while its spiced citrus and stone-fruit flavors are delicious. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 into 2015 with grilled fish or seafood risottos. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. A sample for review.

The wine is named for Argentine soccer superstar Leo Messi, who plays for FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team. A portion of sales of the wine benefit the Leo Messi Charity Foundation, which focuses on health care and educational development of socially-disadvantaged children.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the job, the vocation, the quest of writing about wines on this blog is the sort of email I receive in which small wineries, mostly in California, ask if they may send products for me to review. This is a great way to learn about the wide diversity of wineries and the efforts of individuals or families that make amounts of wine that might not otherwise get attention. (I always emphasize that I cannot guarantee the outcome of a tasting or review.) One of those messages arrived recently from Ryan Sherman, winemaker for Fields Family Wines in Lodi. This winery defines what we mean by “small” and “family-owned.” The total number of cases produced for the four wines mentioned in this post is 625. The winery is owned by Russ Fields, an attorney in Sacramento, and his wife Melinda; Sherman, a real estate agent, is a partner, and both families and their children are involved in running the company. The wines receive very little or no new oak; they are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Alcohol levels are kept fairly low, for this group of wines 14.2 to 14.8 percent. Finally, these reds lean more toward elegance, refinement and nuance than blatant qualities of over-ripeness and blockbuster tannins; balance and harmony are the keywords. Those interested in purchasing any of these wines — I recommend the Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 and the Tempranillo 2011 — should contact the winery at https://fieldsfamilywines.com or call 209-896-6012.

These wines were samples for review.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The vines mentioned in the Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 are 55 to 60 years old and are found in the Sherman Family Vineyards in the Mokelumne River American Viticultural Area, located in the southwestern part of the overall of Lodi AVA. Mokelumne River was established as an AVA in 2006, though it was the first region in the county to be planted to vines. The wine aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels, less than 35 percent new; the number of months is not specified. The Fields Family Old Vine Zinfandel ’11 offers a dark ruby-mulberry color and pungent scents of briers and brambles, white pepper, spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with an undertow of plum; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lavender and lilac, cloves and sandalwood. Moderate tannins keep her steady as she goes, providing plenty of foundation for bright acidity and delicious black and red fruit flavors but never as a dominating factor. Lovely balance and integration. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Fields Family Tempranillo 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne River), evinces the transparent and radiant ruby color you see in glasses of wine in Dutch still-life paintings. The wine aged 20 months in neutral French barriques, a process that lent almost subliminal subtlety and suppleness to the structure. This is ripe and meaty, delivering red and black currants and raspberries, both fresh and dried, with smoky, roasted notes and hints of pomander and potpourri, then conjuring fruitcake and toasted walnuts. A silky texture and mellow but spicy black fruit flavors belie the leathery and slightly dusty tannins that take an hour or so to emerge, along with a hint of graphite minerality for backbone. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases, so good luck, though this wine was my favorite of the quartet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Fields Family Il Ladro 2011, Lodi, is an unspecified blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, 10 percent from Napa Valley. The wine aged in used French and American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple. The wine begins with attractive scents of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums highlighted by orange zest and black tea, lavender and potpourri. There’s lovely delicately velvet-like weight and texture (moderately dense and dusty) balanced by lip-smacking acidity and slightly tarry, leathery tannins, all in the service of tasty black and red fruit flavors. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was fewer than 175 cases. Now through 2017 or ’18. An enjoyable blend, certainly, but I wish it offered more stuffing and complexity. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
There wouldn’t be a darned thing wrong with the Fields Family Syrah 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne), if it were, say, a particularly intense pinot noir from Santa Lucia Highlands. What I’m sayin’ is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable and delicious wine but not very syrah-like, not even in the sense of a more restrained syrah. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, less that 25 percent new barrels. The color is a deep purple-magenta; the bouquet teems with quite spicy red and black cherries underlain by hints of smoke, tar and violets. It’s rich and succulent and satiny, a bit too sophisticated for syrah, but — I’ll say it again — quite a tasty glass of wine. 14.2 percent alcohol. 150 cases were made. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Building on last week’s Weekend Wines Notes devoted to cabernet sauvignon or cabernet-based wines from California, here are 10 more. Several are absolutely splendid, several more are well-made and enjoyable, a couple I do not wholeheartedly recommend and there are a couple of disappointments, but I’ll get over it. That’s the breaks in BTYH Land. These are brief reviews, ripped, as it were, from the cramped and crabbed penmanship of my notebooks, not intended to go into complete technical, historical or geographical detail but to pique your interest and, where appropriate, whet your palate. These were samples for review, and in the case of a few of them, I’m damned lucky that they were. Enjoy!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,475 cases. With 7% petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim; pure iodine and iron, sanguine and savory; unfolding layers of licorice and lavender, cassis, black cherries and raspberries, cloves and sandalwood; a paradoxical marriage of remarkable intensity and concentration with generosity and expressiveness; smoke, graphite minerality; acidity plows a furrow through bastions of sleek dense tannins; brings up notes of bitter chocolate, loam and shale; a long finish packed with spice and fruit compote; pinpoint balance and integration. Now through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $70.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) 76.2% cabernet sauvignon, 14.8% merlot, 4.9% malbec, 2.8% petit verdot, 1.3% cabernet franc. Lovely transparent ruby color; bouquet of graphite, lavender and violets, black currants and red cherries, hints of cedar, black olive and plum; mild tannins but very dry, bitter chocolate and exotic spice at the core, fairly austere finish, ending on a woody note; not badly-made but not compelling. Now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% petit verdot, 3% merlot. Dark ruby purple color; a cool and confident cabernet, very well-balanced and harmonious, every element under control; needs a bit of wildness and recklessness to be really interesting, something to ruffle the feathers and wake it up. Now through 2018 to ’20 Very Good+. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Flora Spring Trilogy 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% each merlot and petit verdot, 5% malbec. Dark ruby color; very intense and concentrated, very dry, highly structured, defined by stalwart grainy tannins and lots of dusty oak; the finish is austere, densely packed with wood and graphite elements; doubtless a well-made wine but so typically Napa Valley that you want to give it a shake. Try from 2016 through 2025. Very Good+. About $75.
The label image is one vintage behind.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. With 2% petit verdot. The signature on the label is that of winemaker Gina Gallo. Deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; ripe, fleshy, pungent; cassis and plums, notes of black raspberry, lively with cloves and allspice, lots of graphite minerality; pinpoint tannins and acidity bolster moderately dense and pliable tannins; really lovely depth and breadth; gratifying personality and character. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Halter Ranch ancestor Estate reserve 2010, Paso Robles. 15.5% alc. 900 cases. 39% cabernet sauvignon, 35% petit verdot, 26% malbec. I’m generally a fan of Halter Ranch’s products, but this wine is a disappointment. Dark ruby tinged with magenta; very intense, very concentrated, quite powerful; needs a moderating component and some coherence; lots of toasty oak, slightly over-ripe black and blue fruit flavors and sweet with alcohol; not much pleasure here, perhaps a few years aging will bring out the nuances. Very Good. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hooker Rugby Club “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. (Lawler Family Winery) 15.4% alc. 203 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; a real mouthful of lavender and violets, graphite, smoke and bitter chocolate; black currants, raspberries and plums with a touch of blueberry; quite rich, robust and plush, and you feel the oak too much from mid-palate through the finish, with that almost gritty charcoal-like edge; the 15.4% alcohol creates some heat on the finish too. If that’s yer cuppa tea, go ahead. About $32.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% malbec. (From the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard, the sparkling wine producers.) Profound in every sense. Deepest of ruby-purple hues with a violet rim; earth, loam, black tea, cocoa powder; intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; rich, expansive, enveloping yet shapely and supple, a monument with elegantly rounded edges chiseled by keen acidity; dusty, rock-ribbed tannins that manage to provide foundation and framework without being ponderous or austere. A real beauty. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 14.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 189 six-pack cases. Dark ruby color but not opaque or extracted; spiced and macerated black currants and plums; graphite, leather, loam; lavender and licorice, oolong tea and sandalwood; dense and almost chewy, solidly built, spicy oak in the background, yet not heavy or obvious; notes of winsome wildness, mint, black pepper, rose petal; long steady finish. Both profound and delightful. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $65.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Steven Kent Winery Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 143 six-pack cases. Definitely darker ruby (than the preceding SKW cabernet) with a mulberry edge; piercing minerality of graphite and ferrous elements; firm, powerful, lithe and muscular; tremendous presence and vivacity; black currants and plums, bitter chocolate, cedar, black olive and dried thyme; ascendent oak spreads its dusty influence, grainy tannins penetrate deep; a finish densely packed, sleek and supple. Try from 2016 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” revolves around the notion that places exist that represent the epitome of decency and decorum. I hope the late, great (but deeply troubled) author doesn’t mind if I borrow the term to apply to a group of wines that represent, for me, the epitome of clarity and crystalline transparency, wines that seem to radiate light and chiseled elegance. The six wines under review today hail from the roster of Alois Lageder, an estate founded in 1823 and now operated by the fifth generation. The vineyards from which these wines derive — all white, though reds are also produced — lie in Italy’s Alto Adige region and in the foothills of the Dolomiti — the Dolomites — where the Alps render national and regional boundaries inconsequential. The wines of Alois Lageder, the eponymous leader of the estate, are divided into two groups: Alois Lageder and Tenutae Lageder. Under the former label, the wines are produced partly from the company’s own biodynamically-farmed vineyards and partly from grapes purchased on long-term contracts with local estates. The second group encompasses wines made solely from biodynamic single vineyards owned by the estate. A third tier is Cantina Riff, a pinot grigio and a merlot-cabernet blend made from selected growers in the “Tre Venezie” region; these are the least expensive of the offerings. Winemaker is Luis von Dellemann.

Samples for review from Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image of the Dolomites from adventourus.com

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina 2012, della Venezia, is as delicate and crisp as a snowflake and just as faceted. The color is very pale gold; piquant aromas of lemons, apples and lime peel unfurl to backnotes of grapefruit and almond blossom and a hint of almond skin. In the mouth, this wine feels chiseled from green apples, limestone and crystalline acidity, bolstered by touches of ripe peach and spiced pear; the finish is lean and spare. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 as aperitif, with seafood and vegetarian appetizers or fish stews. Very Good+. About $10, an Amazing Bargain.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Higher on the quality and price scale is the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, deriving from more specific locations in Trentino than the generalized Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina ’12. The color is radiant straw-gold with faint green highlights; jasmine and honeysuckle dominate a bouquet inflected by notes of cloves, lilac, pomander, roasted lemons and yellow plums. Surprisingly full-bodied, ripe and spicy with citrus and stone-fruit, but leavened by crisp acidity and a shimmering limestone element; the texture is lovely and buoyant, the finish of medium length, packed with spice and minerals. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now into 2015. A superb aperitif, with seafood terrines, dry cheeses, green olives, or with grilled fish. Excellent. About $15, a Fantastic Bargain.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The grapes for the single-vineyard Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, derive from biodynamic-farmed vines certified by the Demeter organization. (I’m not advocating for biodynamic principles; just informing those who are interested.) The color is pale gold; the whole package feels like tissues of delicate froth seamlessly woven with tensile strength; jasmine and camellia dominate a nose that features notes of greengage, lime peel and lemon lightly spiced and touched with almond. The wine offers delicious citrus and pear flavors and moderately full body, almost creamy, but brightened by crisp acidity and streamlined limestone and flint qualities; the whole effect is of lovely transparency and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Now we go to pinot blanc, first with the “regular” Alois Lageder Pinot Blanc 2012, Dolomiti. The color is pale pale straw-gold; there’s a burst of floral energy, a seductive strain of jasmine and honeysuckle, then roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and a hint of grapefruit. That grapefruit element persists through the wine’s striking acidity and its note of bitterness on the finish. In between, this is bracing and saline, shot through with limestone and river-rock minerality in lovely crystalline filigree. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Quite delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Attractive Price.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2011, Alto Adige, derives from the Haberlehof estate vineyard that ranges in altitude from 1,500 to 1,710 feet. This is a cool-climate vineyard that sees extremes of day and night temperature variation. The color is mild gold; the wine overall is more subdued than its cousin mentioned immediately above, but is also more expressive and expansive. Yes, it is saline and bracing, as if it had feasted on seashells; yes, it features elements of roasted lemons and lime peel but adds spiced pear, a hint of lychee and dried thyme. The aura here is elevating and balletic, elegant, transparent; bright acidity arrows through to a finish heightened by notes of ginger and quince and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 with seafood pastas or risottos or grilled fish. Excellent. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Last in this roster is the Alois Lageder Müller Thurgau 2012, Dolomiti, made from a grape that we tend to associate with Germany (where it’s the second-most widely planted grape) and Austria but is grown all over Eastern Europe as well as in New Zealand, England and the United States. It was created in 1882 as a cross between riesling and madeleine royale grapes by Hermann Müller of the Swiss canton of Thurgau, hence the name. The wine derives from Alois Lageder’s highest vineyards, at 1,960 to 2,780 feet altitude. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is notably floral and spicy, weaving cloves and ginger with jasmine and camellia, as well as hints of roasted lemon, grapefruit pith and lime peel and a faint wash of musk. It’s more straightforward in the mouth, quite tasty, a bit savory and saline, very crisp and lively with acid and limestone minerality, but the real attraction is in the nose. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I’m not rushing Spring by offering as the Wine of the Week the Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013. Parts of the country are still under snow, and it’s even fairly chilly today in my neck o’ the woods. Rosé, however, can and should be consumed all year around, seasons and weather be damned! Scrambling an egg for lunch? You need a rosé. Laying out some charcuterie for a little snack? Another occasion where rosé shines. Having a vegetarian dinner? Ditto the rosé. The Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013 is a blend of 67 percent syrah grapes and 33 percent mourvèdre, grown in vineyards in the hills above Marseilles. The color is pale salmon-copper; attractive aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries are highlighted by notes of peach, white pepper and orange rind. The texture delivers pleasing balance between softness and moderate lushness, on one hand, and fresh, crisp acidity on the other; flavors of red currants and cherries are permeated by hints of dried thyme, caraway and limestone. That minerality builds from mid-palate through the dry, elegant finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. A tasty patio, porch, pool and picnic wine, through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, manifesting Excellent Value.

The appellation for this wine is Indication Géographique Protégée Méditerranée, IGP being the new term for the old Vin de Pays. La Méditerranée, as it’s called, is a vast region, created in 1999 (as a Vin de Pays), that encompasses l’Ardèche, Drôme, Var, les Alpes Maritimes, les Hautes Alpes, les Alpes de Haute Provence and Vaucluse. Corsica was added in 2002 and les Bouches du Rhône in 2003. Under the EU wine region reforms of 2009, Vin de Pays became Indication Géographique Protégée, a rather less salubrious title.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the cabernet sauvignon grape, in the hands of winemakers at Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other Napa Vallery estates, raised California to world renown. Cabernet sauvignon continues to dominate the state’s prestige winemaking efforts, as properties established in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and some more recently, command top prices at retail, in restaurants and, in terms of wineries like Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle, at auction. New labels appear every year; it’s a crowded and competitive field. Today, I offer nine examples of cabernet and cabernet-blend wines from producers that range from venerable (Mount Veeder, founded in 1973) to brand-new (Mt. Brave, on its third release) to an impressive debut wine with an impressive pedigree. Common threads include the fact that alcohol levels are comparatively low (compared to 20 and 30 years ago) at 13.7 to 14.7 percent; that none of these wines feels heavy with oak; that the emphasis is mainly on structure rather than ripeness. We touch several climes in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and, far to the south, Paso Robles. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I primarily avoid technical, historical, geographical and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy, hoping to spur your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby with a magenta-violet rim; black currants, raspberries and cherries, juicy, spicy, lots of graphite and lavender; that gratifying blend of ripe fruit and a rigorously tannic and mineral-tinged structure; oak providing a firm framework and foundation; lithe, almost sinewy, quite dry, even a little austere but lively, attractive, with an engaging personality. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verite. You know how some wines just hit you first thing, and you know they’re great; such a one is this. Opaque purple, almost more a force that a color; brilliant purity and intensity, scintillating and penetrating graphite and granitic minerality, very intense and concentrated black and blue fruit; lean and supple, lively and energetic yet with a brooding, inward cast; broad, deep tannins but a deftly poised marriage of power and elegance. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $60.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 13% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. 973 cases. Impenetrable dark ruby color; graphite, violets and lavender, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; very intense and concentrated black currant and raspberry fruit; densely packed with dusty tannins, dried spice and granitic minerality; yet manages to be open and generous, almost seductive, a sweet-talking brute, rigorous but buoyant. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Dark ruby-purple, motor-oil black at the center; ripe, fleshy and meaty on the one hand, rock-ribbed, granitic, intense and concentrated on the other; lavender, potpourri, sandalwood, black currants, raspberries and plums; dense dusty tannins, fluent acidity, lithe and supple texture; tremendous presence, vibrancy and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2028 to ’30. Were I the sort of person who bought wine by the case to drink it over the years of its development and maturity, this would be one. Exceptional. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daoa Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Paso Robles. 13.9% alc. 78% cabernet sauvignon, 8.5% merlot, 7.5% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot. Dark ruby-purple color; clean, intense, concentrated; very earthy, with piercing graphite minerality; mint, eucalyptus, dried sage and rosemary; black cherries and currants and plums, ripe, macerated and roasted; hint of plum pudding; dusty tannins, quite dry, a little austere but well-balanced; great structure and personality, pretty damned irresistible. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 3.5% merlot, 3% cabernet franc. (The former Chateau Potelle property.) Intense purple-black color, opaque at the center, a magenta rim; ripe and fleshy with black currants, raspberries and plums, notes of rosemary and cedar, lavender and licorice, hint of new leather; very dense and chewy, laden with graphite and polished, grainy tannins, deeply flavorful over a foundation of penetrating granitic minerals and bright vibrant acidity; brings in notes of moss, loam and underbrush; great presence and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14% alc. With 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% each malbec and syrah. Dark ruby-purple color, slightly lighter rim; cloves and sandalwood, bay leaf and sage, black olive and rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums; deeply, stalwartly tannic, dense and dusty; graphite and shale, but well-knit and balanced; a nicely done if predictable performance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alcohol. Second label of Amici Cellars. With 7% merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter at the rim; graphite, cloves, black currants and plums, an undertow of briers, underbrush, dusty tannins and keen acidity; ripe and flavorful, goes down smoothly. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $22.50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ravenswood Pickberry Red Wine 2011, Sonoma Mountain. 13.8% alc. 750 cases. 66% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 9% malbec. Medium ruby color with a light magenta cast; a seamless and gratifying blend, ripe, spicy, floral and deeply fruity, all edged by graphite and dusty tannins and dense oak that emerges after an hour in the glass; elements of loam, briers and brambles bring in the earthy note. I didn’t find this as exciting as some of the other selections in this post, but it’s immensely enjoyable as well as revealing a serious character. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

When Constellation purchased Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001, the consensus was: “Uh-oh.” No way, we thought, will the giant alcoholic beverage company allow Joel Peterson to make those single-vineyard old vine zinfandels with the same individuality, if at all. These fears proved groundless, as a decade shows. Peterson founded the winery in 1976, and it’s a measure of his dedication — and the slim profits that the winery generated — that he kept his day-job as head of a medical laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend wines enabled him to devote what must be his every waking moment to making wine and running the facility. Under review today are three samples of Peterson’s genuinely old vine products, as in each vineyard — Old Hill Ranch, Barricia, Belloni — contains at least part of the original vines planted more than a century ago. What I like about these zinfandels is that they deliberately eschew the blockbuster qualities of high alcohol, deep extraction and super-ripe fruit; don’t look for anything plummy and jammy in these wines, no cloying boysenberry flavors or alcoholic heat. Peterson’s hallmarks are purity and balance in terms of structure and fruit. He succeeds admirably.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
When one steps into Old Hill Ranch, in what is now the Sonoma Valley AVA, there’s a feeling of being on sacred ground. The vineyard was planted around 1880 by William McPherson Hill, who established his farm in 1851. The property passed through his descendents until Otto and Anne Teller acquired it in 1981 and decided not to uproot the historic but abandoned overgrown vines but to restore the vineyard to productivity, working with Joel Peterson, who released Ravenswood’s first Old Hill zinfandel in 1983. The vineyard contains more than 30 varieties of red grapes, the majority zinfandel but also a remarkable array of the well-known and the obscure. It is now farmed by Otto Teller’s stepson, Will Bucklin, who has his own label.

The Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley — 75 percent zinfandel, 25 percent mixed black grapes — offers a medium ruby-magenta color and pungent aromas of fresh raspberries and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite, with hints of dried thyme and cedar, all highlighted by some clear wild berry notes. The wine is quite dry but balanced and integrated, its moderately dense but supple tannins and lithe acidity providing support for black and blue fruit flavors inflected by pepper, cloves and a touch of mint. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, but the influence stays firmly in the background. The finish is clean and well-knit, packed with spice and graphite minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Barricia looks Italian or Spanish, but it’s a combination of the first names of Barbara Oleson and Patricia Herron, who bought the historic property in 1978. How historic is it? In the 1840s, the land belonged to Sonoma pioneer General Mariano Vallejo, who traded it to his children’s music teacher for piano lessons. Of the 10 acres of zinfandel vines on the estate, six were planted before 1892, the rest in 1995; two acres of petite sirah were planted in 1998. The vineyard now belongs to Mel and Angela Dagovitz.

The Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent petite sirah grapes. Fermentation is by indigenous yeasts; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is intense medium ruby; the wine is bright, clean, fresh and spicy, roiling with notes of macerated raspberries, plums and mulberries wreathed with hints of white pepper, leather and loam. In the mouth, this is, characteristically, muscular and sinewy but light on its feet and enlivened by brisk acidity; still, the tannins build incrementally, chiseled and faceted, along with granitic minerality, leading to a very dry, almost austere finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The property that became Belloni Vineyard was planted around 1900 and acquired by Italian immigrant Ricardo Belloni in 1971. Joel Peterson started making zinfandel from the vineyard after meeting Belloni in 1991. The owner died in 1997, but his widow, his children and grandchildren keep the legacy going. This is a flat, sea-level site in a cool foggy Russian River Valley climate.

The Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent mixed black grapes — Peterson’s magic numbers; the wine is fermented on native yeasts and aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is glowing medium ruby; the vivid bouquet offers spiced and macerated black and red cherries and raspberries with notes of sandalwood and fruitcake, licorice and lavender, staying just on this side of the exotic. As with its sister wine from Barricia, the Belloni ’11 gradually layers its sleek tannins, its granitic core and its seething acidity in seamless balance, while the oak component provides supple framework and foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. From 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

The chapter on Domaine Leflaive in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (University of California Press, 1997), is unsurpassed in its research, acumen and judicial enthusiasm. In quick summary, the family traces its origin to the 15th Century, and the beginning of the domaine to 1717. In accordance with French law, though, with the death of each patriarch, the vineyards were divided among the heirs, until all that remained to the family by 1905 was two hectares of vines (5.14 acres). Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953), a mechanical engineer — he helped design the first French submarine — saw opportunity in the depression that followed the phylloxera disaster and started buying tiny portions of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, totaling about 20 hectares (some 51.5 acres). Proprietorship passed to brothers Joseph Leflaive (1908-1982) and Vincent (1912-1993), and then, when Vincent retired in 1990, to his daughter Anne-Claude and nephew Olivier, who now operates his own negociant company. Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with biodynamic methods in selected parcels in 1990, and now the entire domain is operated on those techniques.

In 2004, the domaine acquired five sections of vines in the Mâcon-Verzé appellation. These vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wine is made by Eric Remy, Domaine Leflaive’s estate manager. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts; the wine spent 15 months in barrels. The vines are 26 years old.

The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 displays a clean light gold color and offers exceedingly attractive aromas of jasmine and lilac, talc, roasted lemon, yellow plums and lemongrass; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. This is a wine — 100 percent chardonnay — of tremendous tone and presence that still embodies all we desire in the way of harmony, delicacy and elegance. The lovely texture is almost powdery in effect yet enlivened by bright vibrant acidity and scintillating flint-and-limestone minerality. The finish — very dry, a little austere — delivers spare elements of cloves, lemon balm and shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 is drinking beautifully now and will through 2016 or ’17 and perhaps go longer. Excellent. I paid $50, the full asking price, but the wine is being discounted around the country to $35 or so as the 2012 version becomes available.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

« Previous PageNext Page »