We drink wine for many reasons, for pure enjoyment with a meal or perhaps for the prestige that a great, long-lived bottle brings; for raging thirst and desire or for the conviviality of friendship. Here’s a brief tale about one of those motivations.

In the early 1990s, we made the acquaintance of Jack M., an elderly man, a native Memphian, who had returned to the city after closing his gallery in New York. Before his sojourn in Manhattan, he had operated a gallery in Paris for several decades. He abandoned New York primarily because of a crippling ailment that gradually deprived him of the power of movement. Not of thought or expression, though, not a bit of that. Jack was sharp, witty, a little irascible but always courtly and considerate, widely-read and knowledgeable about all the aspects of life worth knowing about, but primarily art, literature and music, food and wine. His garden apartment in Memphis was filled with drawings, prints and paintings and books, many of these objects inscribed by grateful artists and writers to their benefactor. We visited Jack as often as possible; though a few relatives attended to his needs, he was lonely in his city of origin, a sad fate for such a gifted raconteur with a talent for friendship. Just in the time we knew him, he had to give up his car, yet he never complained about the pain his affliction brought him, only the inconvenience.

Much as he loved food and wine, Jack’s doctors forbade him any indulgence in the latter of those essential quantities, a ban that gave him a great deal of frustration. When we invited him to our apartment for dinner, an occasion that required the working out of all manner of logistics, I pondered the wine issue deeply. Would it be an act of mercy or arrogance to disobey his doctors’ orders and give Jack a glass of wine? And how would he feel if the rest of us had wine and he didn’t? And would it seem strange to have no wine on the table at all, a gesture that would make no sense to this Francophile?

The dinner was simple: A roasted chicken, scalloped potatoes and a salad. At a private wine tasting I had been to recently, a collector had given me a bottle of Madame Leroy’s Bourgogne Rouge 1989, the basic, classic entry-level wine from the most meticulous and expensive of Burgundy houses. At four years old, it would be drinking perfectly. That night, our friends drove to Jack’s place, brought him to our building and helped him up the stairs to our second-floor apartment. Setting the table for five, I positioned a wine glass at each place, but at dinner time poured only four glasses.

Jack regaled us with stories about his time in Paris and New York, anecdotes, a few scandalous, about artists and writers he knew, and tales about his life and travels. He kept an eye on that bottle of wine, though, and finally he said, “How about pouring me a little of that wine? Just an inch.” I looked at my wife and she nodded, so I said, “Sure, Jack, an inch of wine can’t hurt.”

On the candle-lit table in our darkened dining room, the wine glowed deep cherry-red, like a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting. Jack lifted the glass to his nose and sniffed the pinot noir aromas and then drank the wine down in one long supple swallow. He sat still for a moment, holding the glass, and then said, “God in heaven, that was good. Bless you.”

Jack died a few weeks after that dinner party, to which he brought a present of Armagnac in a funny old bottle that leaned over at the top, as if the bottle itself were joyfully inebriated. We held on to that Armagnac for years, sipping a glass late at night occasionally, until only an inch or even less pooled at the bottom. On Christmas Eve 2006, I poured the last of Jack’s Armagnac, and we toasted to the generosity and kindness of a man who knew how to live and how to die.

And that’s a great reason for drinking wine.

This little piece is dedicated to Meg Houston Maker, whose lovely and insightful writing about food and wine and whose talent for storytelling continue to inspire me.

It’s a beautiful Spring day in our neighborhood, and I hope that’s the case in your neighborhood too. You can tell that it’s a beautiful Spring Day because the lawn mowers and leaf-blowers fired up about 7:30 this morning. Beautiful Spring days — and Summer also — call for crisp refreshing rosé wines, and my candidate today is La Crema Winery Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, from Monterey County, the first produced by this winery that has been part of Jackson Family Wines since 1993. Appropriately made all in stainless steel, this delightful wine offers a lovely coral-smoky topaz hue and delicate aromas of orange rind and pink grapefruit with a hint of strawberry, opening, after a few moments in the glass, to almond blossom and a hint of heather. Bright acidity keeps this sleek rosé lively and appealing, while the finish brings in a welcome note of bracing limestone and seashell salinity. 13.5 percent alcohol. One need not ask for anything more from a thirst-quenching porch-patio-picnic wine. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.

One of my favorite wines of the year — any year — is the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc, made from grapes grown in the Clarksburg 2016_Chenin_Blanc_label_rgbAVA, an unusual region (approved in 1984) that lies athwart portions of three counties in Northern California: Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County, near the town of Clarksburg. Benefiting from the breezes that waft from San Francisco Bay, Clarksburg is cooler than nearby Sacramento. Fewer than 10 percent of the grapes grown in Clarksburg are actually crushed within the AVA, most being trucked to wineries in distant climes. And speaking of this wine, I would argue that the designation “Dry Chenin Blanc” is not necessary. Do consumers meet so much sweet chenin blanc that the “dry” distinction needs to be asserted? I don’t think so. Anyway, the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2016, Clarksburg, displays a very pale straw-gold hue and offers lovely aromas of hay and heather, quince and ginger, notes of roasted lemons and poached pears inflected by lilac and camellia. It is indeed a dry wine (made all in stainless steel) but juicy with flavors of yellow stone-fruit, clean and fresh with bracing acidity and an intriguing limestone edge; several minutes in the glass bring in hints of acacia and broom, flint and just a bit of guava. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of this year or into 2018 with all sorts of porch, patio or picnic fare, or as aperitif while you’re preparing dinner. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

You won’t find a sauvignon blanc much fresher than the just-released Stewart Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. The small winery, Stewart_Logofounded in 2000, is a close-knit family-run company whose winemaker is son-in-law Blair Guthrie, working with ubiquitous consultant Paul Hobbs. For its first foray into the variety, the winery whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented half in barrel and half in stainless steel. The color is palest straw-gold; arresting aromas of lime peel and guava, heather and hay are pert and lively and infused with notes of greengage and fig, fennel and lilac. On the palate, this wine runs fleetly and lightly, with a texture that’s partly lush and talc-like and partly lean and lithe, buoyed by bright acidity for pinpoint balance. The effect is quite dry and sprightly but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit delicately spiced with cloves and lent complexity by a burgeoning grassy-lemongrass element. 13.5 percent alcohol, and a delicious reflection of thoughtful winemaking. Production was 771 cases. Now through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the bernardus pnBernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
Blair-Reserve-Pinot-web (1)
The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
boenNobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a NewProofSheetV3transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Pinot-Savoy-Anderson-ValleyAnderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
head high pn
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s Morgan_Pinot_Noir_Twelve_Clones_2014_frontestate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color Morgan_Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2014_frontis dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am Morgan_label_Tondre_2014_frontnot disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
kali hart
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.

Readers, buy this wine by the case and clasp it to thy bosom as a long-lost friend, not to store under your bed or in a closet but to garnachadrink with pleasure for the rest of this year and into 2018. The Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, from Spain’s Navarra region, is 100 percent varietal — garnacha grapes, also called grenache — and aged a brief three months in older oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; this is a bright, spicy wine with immediate appeal, featuring red and black currant and plum scents and flavors infused with briers and brambles and notes of wild cherry. A lithe, supple texture leads the way across the palate to a slightly dusty, loamy finish; give this wine a few minutes in the glass, and it brings up hints of lavender and violets, graphite and smoke. 14 percent alcohol. Consume with burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, grilled pork chops, tacos and tapas; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $11, a Wondrous Bargain.

Imported by Classical Wines from Spain, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.

My introduction to wine mainly occurred through reading books about wine and wine production, primarily centered of France’s storied Bordeaux region. That’s where the interest lay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Learning about the legendary Bordeaux vintages of the past — 1900, 1928 and ’29, 1945 and ’47, 1959 and ’61 — certainly added to my knowledge about wine and whetted my appetite for experience, but the chances of actually encountering such wines, of course, was nil. Bordeaux doesn’t dominate the conversation as it once did, however, because the past few decades have seen a tremendous wave of diversity and change in the world’s wine industry, though the top properties in Bordeaux’s Right and Left Banks still demand high prices and receive the attention of the press and the auction houses. Very few people, though, will pay, say, $800 to $1,500 for a single bottle of wine, or even $200 to $500. The good news is that the region is filled with hundreds if not thousands of small estates that command not a lot of attention but are completely worthy of being investigated for their high quality and comparatively low prices. The wines under review today derive from properties located in what some would consider Bordeaux’s backwaters, appellations that may be familiar locally but scarcely get imported to these shores. These estates also exist at the forefront of contemporary thinking about Bordeaux wines. Most of these estates run on organic or biodynamic principles; most are family-owned and operated and pride themselves on their artisanal approach. They provided me — four whites and five reds — with a great deal of pleasure, and I urge My Readers to search them out.

These wines were samples for review.
This 24-acre estate, the property of Corinne and Jean-Michel Comme, is operated strictly on biodynamic principles. Only native yeasts are used, and the wine sees no oak, aging four months on the lees in vats. Chateau du Champs des Treilles “Vin Passion” 2015, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, is a blend of one-third each sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle. The effect is of impeccable clarity and purity, beginning with the very pale hue that evinces the merest shade of straw-gold, with a faint green tint; the primary notes are lime peel and tangerine, talc and lilac, with hints of leafy fig and peach; it’s very dry yet juicy in its citrus and stone-fruit flavors, lightly dusted with cloves and dried thyme and expanding into shelves of limestone and flint minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
Savio Soares Selections, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pierre Lurton owns two of the most august and authoritative properties in Bordeaux, Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion and Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes. He is also proprietor of this 146-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers, which dedicates 121 acres to red grapes and 25 to white. Chateau Marjosse 2014, Entre-Deux-Mers, is a blend of 50 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 15 percent sauvignon gris and 5 percent muscadelle, fermented in cement and aged two months in French oak. The color is medium gold-yellow; this is all yellow fruit and flowers, like peaches and golden plums, honeysuckle and jasmine, with, in the background, a note of guava; as to minerality, it’s like drinking liquid quartz in its dryness, its scintillating glitter and its vibrant acidity. Alcohol content N/A. It’s quite attractive, but feels just a tad musky and funky, so drink by the end of 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Peloton Imports, Naoa, Calif; Duclot La Vinicole, New York.
les charmes
Chateau Les Charmes-Godard is owned by the Thienpont family, which oversees a startlingly comprehensive roster of fine properties, including Vieux-Chateau-Certan and Le Pin in Pomerol. The 16-acre Les Charmes-Godard is far more humble than those prestigious estates but is operated on meticulous standards. Of the area under vines, only 2.5 acres is devoted to dry white wine. Chateau Les Charmes-Godard 2014, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux. is a blend of 65 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon gris and 15 percent muscadelle, fermented in oak and aged eight months, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old, one-third two years old. This is a pinpoint focused wine that offers a mild medium gold hue and lucid aromas of figs and tangerine, with the pertness of lime peel and the dusty richness of greengage; incisive acidity cuts a swath through a texture that deftly balances talc-like softness with crisp tartness. An indisputable limestone edge emerges from mid-palate back through the spare, chiseled finish. 13 percent alcohol. Terrific winemaking. I suspect that this wine possesses the tensile power and vitality to last beyond its immediate principle of pleasure, so drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
Olivier Bernard, owner of the august Domaine de Chevalier in the Graves region, acquired Clos des Lunes with the intention of producing well-made and clos-des-lunes-lune-blanche-bordeaux-2014affordable dry white wines. The paradox is that the 136-acre estate lies in the heart of Sauternes, right next to Chateau d’Yquem, which arguably makes the best sweet wines in the world. (All right, among the best.) Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche 2014, Bordeaux, is an old-vine blend of 70 percent semillon and 30 percent sauvignon blanc, aged six or seven months in vats (70 percent) and oak barrels (30 percent). The wine displays a pale gold hue and offers beguiling aromas of lilac and talc, roasted lemon, with notes of ginger and quince, lemon grass and tangerine; it’s quite dry and spare on the palate, developing a profound element of limestone minerality, but also opening to touches of starfruit, papaya and grapefruit rind for a finish that’s both seductive and a bit austere. 13 percent alcohol. Great winemaking on view here. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $20, another Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
Chateau Mauvesin Barton is owned by Lilian Barton and Michel Sartorius, owners of Chateaux Leoville Barton and Langoa-Barton, classified growths in St.-Julien The 126-acre estate is run by their children Melanie and Damien. Chateau Mauvesin Barton 2012, Moulis-en-Medoc, is a blend of 48 percent merlot, 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in oak, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old; one-third from two Leoville-Barton wines. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; an aura of dust, graphite and cedar encompasses concentrated, rooty and tea-like black currants and cherries. It’s a mouth-filling wine, robust and vibrant, and it pulls up more intensity as the moments pass, revealing a kind of meaty core touched with tapenade, fruit cake and violets. For all that, it manages to be quite tasty. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent, and a Great Value at about $21.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
Clos Puy Arnaud La Cuvee Bistrot de Puy Arnaud 2013, Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, is a blend of 70 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet bistr13_174x241franc, certified biodynamic. Seeing no oak, the grapes fermented and the wine aged three months in cement vats. A bright medium but transparent ruby hue presages the wine’s notion of freshness and drinkability; hints of red currants and cherries are light and tasty, while the wine unfolds a spicy and slightly fleshy aspect and notes of iodine and graphite, mint and cloves; clean acidity keeps the whole package lively and balanced. 12 percent alcohol. Exactly what you might drink in a bistro or cafe with a roasted chicken, steak frites or rabbit and pork terrine. Very good+. About $25. Charming as it may be, I would like this wine better at $18. Drink up; the ’14 is on the market.
Imported by Duclot La Vinicole, Manhasset, N.Y.
I was supposed to receive the 2010 version of this wine, but got the 2008 instead, and I’m glad I did. We don’t often have the chance to try an eight-year-old red wine from Bordeaux, so this was instructive. And I’ll say that people who love the red wines of Bordeaux but don’t want to pay the gasp-inducing prices attached to the Big Names should consider buying Chateau Reignac by the case, for present and future drinking. The 200-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers is owned by Yves and Stephanie Vatelot. Thirty percent of the grapes are vinified in new oak barrels after cold maceration in stainless steel vats; 70 percent are vinified in wood and stainless steel. Chateau de Reignac 2008, Bordeaux Superieur, is a blend of 75 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is very dark and intense black-ruby with the slightest fading at the rim; notes of tobacco leaf, walnut shell and dried rosemary point toward the structural elements in this wine, finding a complement on the palate in dry, tightly focused tannins and sleek graphite-tinged minerality. The texture is lithe, supple and sinewy and supports concentrated, spicy black currant and cherry flavors showing a hint of plum. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $31.
Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc, Long Island City, N.Y.
Paul Barre, owner of the 17-acre estate Chateau La Grave in Fronsac, was a pioneer of biodynamic practices in Bordeaux, having instituted la gravesuch methods to his vineyard 25 years ago. The word “chateau” carries many implications in the region, and at Chateau La Grave there is no 18th Century mansion; rather; rather, Barre, his wife and son and daughter-in-law live and work in a farmhouse in the midst of the vines. The vineyard is plowed by horse, the grapes are hand-harvested and only native yeasts are employed to start fermentation. Chateau La Grave 2011, Fronsac, is a blend of 66 percent merlot, 26 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent malbec. A very dark ruby robe shades to a bright magenta rim; there’s broad appeal and even charm here, in a wine that displays slightly fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants and raspberries in a dense, almost chewy texture bolstered by moderate tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s peppery and juicy on the palate, and as the moments pass, the wine acquires more substance and heft, through to a somewhat honed, graphite inflected finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $32.
Imported by Grand Cru Selections, New York. Image by Christine Havens.
The vineyards at tiny Clos du Jaugueyron — 7.4 acres divided into 16 separate parcels — are certified organic and biodynamic. The Clos du jaugueyron Jaugueyron 2012, Haut-Medoc, is a blend of 53 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot and 7 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in French oak, 75 percent older barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby, with slight fading at the rim; the glass bursts with notes of mint and cedar, iodine and graphite and black fruit steeped in spiced black tea. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine takes on aspects of forest and loam and dry, well-knit tannins, animated by bright acidity. Granitic minerality in the finish feels chiseled and almost transparent. 12.5 percent alcohol. Beautifully fashioned and well-balanced for drinking through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $36
Imported by Selection Massale, Oakland, Calif.

The Meli Riesling from Chile’s Maule Valley is always a favorite in our house. Made with no oak influence and fermented dry, the Meli Riesling 2016 is a notably clean, pure, fresh wine that shimmers in its pale pale gold robe and offers ethereal notes of peach, lime peel and honeysuckle buoyed on a persistent yet delicate aura of petrol and limestone. It’s very dry, crisp with chiming acidity and chiseled flint and chalk minerality, but the texture feels lithe and alluring. The finish is flush with pear, quince and crystallized ginger. 12 percent alcohol. The estate is owned by winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three adult sons, who bought the property is 2005. They make only two wines, this riesling and a carignan, both from 60-year-old vines. Ideal for picnics and porch or patio gatherings. Production was 500 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $14.

Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

The Finger Lakes AVA is New York state’s largest wine region, comprising about 11,000 acres of vines. The area south of Lake Ontario was formed about two million years ago when glaciers scoured the geography and created long narrow bodies of water from former creeks. The Finger Lakes consist of 11 of these features, splayed out pointing roughly north to south like fingers on hands. These are among the deepest 13PinotNoirlakes in America; Cayuga is 435 feet deep, while Seneca reaches down to 618 feet. Cayuga and Seneca hold their own sub-appellations within the larger Finger Lakes AVA. The warmth stored in the lakes is released in winter and helps to moderate the climate along the shores, where most of the vineyards are planted.

Our Wine of the Day, No. 251, is the Thirsty Owl Wine Company Pinot Noir 2015, which carries a Finger Lakes designation; the winery sits on the west side of Cayuga. The color is a delicate, transparent ruby-garnet; initially, it’s a light yet loamy pinot noir that offers notes of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants that open to hints of briers and raspberry leaf. The wine gains substance and heft in the glass, along with elements of leather and graphite, all nestled in a sleek, burnished, satiny texture, leading to a finish that’s bright with a wild cherry tone. With three grams of residual sugar, this pinot noir feels succulent and crunchy from mid-palate back, with a bit of candied berry around the circumference. 12.8 percent alcohol. A charming and tasty pinot noir, far different than West Coast models, as you would expect from the differences in terroir and climate. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review. The label image, taken from the winery website, is several vintages behind.

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