Few wineries in Napa Valley and indeed in California are as iconic, both physically and metaphysically, as the Robert Mondavi Winery. Its mission-style facility on Hwy 29 on Napa Valley is unmistakable. The story has often been told of how Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), in a feud with his brother Peter about the operation of the Charles Krug winery, left that business and launched his own winery in 1966, eventually becoming a wine-juggernaut of world-wide innovation and influence. As they say, the rest is history, though the history of the winery related on a timeline on the company’s website skips from 2002 to 2005, omitting the fact that the over-extended family sold the kit-n-kaboodle to Constellation Brands in November 2004 for a billion dollars. The wise move that Constellation made was to retain Genevieve Janssens as director of winemaking, a position she has held since 1997, thus lending a sense of continuity and purpose. Modavi continues to release a dizzying array of products — a rose! a semillon! (neither of which I have seen) — but the concentration is on the varieties that made its name, often produced at levels of “regular” bottlings, single-vineyard and reserve: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Today, in this series, I consider the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from 2012.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with red, this one being my favorite of the pair. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, spent 10 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and to my mind that’s a lot of new oak for pinot noir. Despite my opinion, however, the grapes soaked up that oak, and the wine came out sleek and satiny; this is no ethereal, evanescent pinot noir, but a wine of substance and bearing. The color is dark ruby with a purple/magenta tinge; aromas of black cherry and raspberry are bolstered by notes of pomegranate and sassafras, oolong tea, graphite and loam, all in all retaining a winsome quality in the earthiness. Nothing winsome on the palate, though; while the texture is wonderfully supple and attractive, and the black and red fruit flavors are deep and delicious, this is a pinot noir that takes its dimensions seriously, as elements of new leather, briers and brambles and slightly woody spice testify. 14.5 percent alcohol. At not quite two years old, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, is still in its formative years; try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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Unfortunately, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, pushes all my wrong buttons as far as the chardonnay grape is concerned. The color is medium straw-gold; with its rich and ripe mango-papaya trajectory, this is more tropical than I would want a chardonnay to be, not even accounting for its creamy elements of lemon curd and lemon tart, its vanilla and nutmeg and touch of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. The wine aged a sensible 10 months in French oak barrels, 58 percent new — that’s the sensible part — but its over-abundant spice and its nuances of toffee and burnt match detract from the grape’s purity of expression, and it lacks by several degrees the minerality to give the wine balance and energy. I know, I know, many of My Readers are going to say, “Well, look, FK, this is an argument about style, not about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine,” and I will reply, “Yes, I’m aware of that fact, but a style of winemaking that obscures the virtues of the grape is folly.” This is, frankly, not a chardonnay that I would choose to drink. 13.5 percent alcohol; that’s a blessing. Now through 2017 or ’18, but Not Recommended. About $40.
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I haven’t chosen a pinot grigio as Wine of the Week since sometime in February 2012, the primary reason being that this space is reserved for products that offer distinction, class, style and, usually, value. Many pinot grigios indeed don’t cost much, but they tend to fall down in the areas of style, class and distinction. An exception to that rule is the Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, from Italy’s northeastern province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Made all in stainless steel, this pinot grigio offers a pale straw-gold color with a faint green overlay; aromas of almond, almond skin, roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by notes of lemongrass, verbena, nutmeg and a bracing sort of salt-marsh aura. No inconsequential or innocuous little quaffer, the Livon Pinot Grigio 2013 delivers a fairly dense texture that supports lemon, spiced pear and yellow plum flavors enlivened by incisive acidity and decisive crystalline limestone minerality. The whole package resonates with expressive savory and saline qualities that lift the wine above the ordinary; the finish is elegant and a bit austere. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 with shrimp risotto, broiled trout with lemon and capers, clam spaghetti, that sort of thing. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.

Imported by Angelini Selections, Centerbrook, Conn. A sample for review.

This trio of Soave Classico wines from the Inama estate will probably be among the best examples, if not the best, that you have tried. Notable for their floral nature, their round fruity character balanced by keen acidity and limestone minerality and their impressive presence and tone, they are perfect for drinking with the seafood dishes so prevalent in the Veneto. Winemaker is Stefano Inama, who brings a thoughtful touch to his products, particularly in the nuances of used oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. The wines are made from 100 percent garganega grapes and are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, in the city of Napa, California. These were samples for review.
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Inama’s basic release, the “Vin Soave” 2012, Soave Classico, spends its formative months in stainless steel tanks, thereby retaining enticing freshness and crisp acidity. This is a pretty wine, abundantly adorned with notes of almond blossom and lilac, hay and grass, lemon and peach, all ensconced in a pleasing texture that balances resonant tautness and moderate lushness over a fair amount of limestone minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Very appealing for immediate consumption. Very Good+. About $15, representing Fine Value.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2012, Soave Classico. The color is pale gold, the bouquet a winsome amalgam of ginger and quince, lemon balm and almond blossom, roasted lemon and yellow plums, altogether deeply and broadly spicy. Fermentation occurs in used barriques with the wine racked to stainless steel vats for six months duration. A lovely moderately lush texture is animated by brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone element, the whole package being saline and savory, with a note of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico. For this single-vineyard wine, fermentation and malolactic take place in standard barriques, 30 percent new oak barrels, for six months; the wine then goes into stainless steel vats for another six months. The color is radiant medium gold, while the bouquet offers a beguiling (yet slightly spare and austere) wreathing of almond skin and almond blossom, the dusty dry floral nature of acacia, spiced pear with a hint of peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lemongrass and greengage plum. The wine is leafy, wind-blown, saline in the mouth, layering citrus and stone-fruit flavors with damp limestone and flint and chiming acidity. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16 with seafood risotto, fish stews, grilled salmon or swordfish. With its sleek tone and presence, this is certainly one of the two or three best Soave Classicos I have tasted. Excellent. About $30.
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The wines of the oddly named “The Furst …” label are produced in Kaysersberg — “the king’s city,” population about 2,800, birthplace of Albert Schweitzer — in Alsace. The Cave Vinicole de Kietzenheim-Kaysersberg is a small consortium of growers whose vineyards, usually three to five acres, are nestled in the foothills of the Vosges mountains. Overseen by one vineyard manager and one winemaker, the cooperative produces AOC Alsace wines from the typical grape varieties. The Furst … Pinot Blanc 2012, Vin d’Alsace, offers a pale straw-gold color and enticing aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, hay, jasmine, quince and ginger, with limestone and flint in the background. Though there’s a bare hint of sweetness on the palate initially, those dry mineral elements shoot to the fore and dominate the wine back through the lively finish. Nicely balanced citrus and stone-fruit flavors are animated by clean, bright acidity, while a lithe supple texture pleases the tongue. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 as aperitif or with fish and other seafood dishes; fresh oysters would be perfect. Very Good+. I paid $16 in Memphis, Tennessee. Prices elsewhere start at about $12.

Imported by Eagle Eye Brands, Chicago. Image from vivino.com.

California’s Lodi AVA was approved in 1986, but grapegrowing and winemaking in the area, straight east from San Francisco (and southeast of Sacramento) at the north extreme of the San Joaquin Valley, go back to the middle of the 19th Century. Zinfandel is the grape especially associated with Lodi, home to a remarkable collection of “old vine” vineyards planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The AVA was expanded in 2002 to the south and west. Lodi is divided into seven sub-appellations, and if you have not heard of most of these rest easy, because I had not heard of them either: Alta Mesa (which I have seen on labels from Lee Family Farms); Borden Ranch; Clements Hills; Cosumnes River; Jahant; Mokelumne River; and Sloughhouse. Interestingly, these sub-appellations, the subject of a five-year investigation and evaluation process, were approved by the federal government at once, in August 2006.

As most wine regions are wont to do, Lodi is busily promoting itself and its “subs” as viable entities. One of the steps is the establishment of the Lodi Native Project, this year focusing on the Mokelumne River AVA. This area is characterized by an alluvial fan of sandy, well-drained soils and is a bit cooler than the other six sub-appellations. The idea is that six winemakers would take grapes from old vineyards, ranging from 1958 back to 1901, and make their wines using similar traditional and non-interventionist techniques, including naturally occurring yeasts; no new oak barrels or oak chips, dust or innerstaves; no acid manipulation; no addition of tannin, water or concentrate products; no must concentration or extraction measures; no filtering or fining. Obviously, the idea is to allow the vineyards themselves, their terroir, to be expressed through the wine. Indeed, we have six quite different zinfandels here, some lighter and more elegant and balanced, others treading the path of more density, floridness and higher alcohol. Though I prefer the former to the latter, the project is a fascinating glimpse into the history of a region and the styles of wine that individual vineyards can produce.

The package of six wines is available for $180 online at LodiNative.com or, if you’re in the area, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center.

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Lodi Native The Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. Fields Family Wines, Ryan Sherman, winemaker. Three acres, planted in 1905. 14 percent alcohol. (Sherman said in a private communication that the alcohol content on this wine is closer to 13.8 percent.) Medium ruby color; red and black currants, red and black cherries; briers and brambles, lightly dusted graphite; flavors in the mouth lean more toward blackberry and raspberry, hints of fruitcake, black tea and orange zest; dense and chewy yet sleek; borne by dusty, slightly leathery tannins and bright acidity; well-knit, polished, lithic finish. Beautifully-fashioned and poised zinfandel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. St. Amant Winery, Stuart Spencer, winemaker. 8.3 acres, planted in 1901. 14.5 percent alcohol. Radiant medium ruby hue; slightly fleshy and meaty, very spicy, smoke and ash, graphite; notes of roasted plums and cherries, potpourri, loam; after a few minutes, raspberries and blueberry tart; very dry, slightly grainy, raspy tannins; you feel the wood, not as new wood but as a supple shaping influence with hints of rosemary and tobacco; dry, fairly austere finish. A high-toned zinfandel, rather grave and dignified. Try from 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. M2 Wines, Layne Montgomery, winemaker. 14.5 percent alcohol. Grapes from the oldest part of the vineyard, planted in 1916. Intense dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; bright, fruity, very spicy; rhubarb and blueberry. notes of macerated black currants and plums, and more cherry comes up gradually; a rich, warm, spicy mouthful of zinfandel; very dry, and you feel the robust tannins from mid-palate back, though the balance is resolved in perfect equilibrium; the 14.5 percent alcohol feels just right for this wine, a pivot, in a way, the gyroscope that keeps the even keel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. McCay Cellars, Michael J. McCay, winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. Vineyard planted in the 1940s. Dark ruby-purple color; deep, intense and concentrated, very spicy, earthy and loamy; a big mouthful of blackberries, blueberries and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, an element of fruitcake and oolong tea, and paradoxically, a sort of smoky cigarette paper fragility; still, beyond that nuance, this is a large-framed, dry, robustly tannic zinfandel, vibrant and resonant, that wears its oaken heart on its sleeve. Now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent, with slight reservations.
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Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. Maley Brothers Vineyard, Chad Joseph, winemaker. 14.9 percent alcohol. 21 acres, planted in 1958, which seems like a youngster compared to some of these other vineyards. Dark ruby-purple color; ripe, rich and spicy; blueberry and boysenberry, slightly caramelized plums and rhubrab; fruitcake, soft and macerated raspberries; very dense and chewy, packed with baking spice, dusty graphite and black and blue fruit flavors; lots of tannic power, even rather austere in the area of structure but also a little jammy; fortunately a clean line of bright acidity keeps it honest. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+.
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Lodi Native Noma Ranch Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumna. Macchia Wines, Tim Holdener, winemaker. 15.8 percent alcohol. 15 acres, planted in early 1900s. Opaque dark ruby-purple color; the ripest and fleshiest of these zinfandels, boysenberry, loganberry and tart raspberry, heaps of earthy briers and brambles; fruitcake and plum jam; very dry, on the finish reveals alcoholic heat and sweetness which on my palate throws the wine off-balance. Now — if this is yer cuppa tea — through 2016 or ’17. Very Good.
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When Gerhard Pittnauer won the 2014 Vintner of the Year Award in June from Falstaff magazine, a publication that deals with wine, restaurants and the gourmet life, in Austria, he was cited as an “avant-gardist” who makes “delicate red wines” filled with “character.” When I read the press release that came across my screen, I thought, “Well, good for him. I want to try these delicate red wines filled with character.” I made inquiries, wheels were set in motion, and I received six wines from the importer Savio Soares Selections in Brooklyn.

Weingut Gerhard und Brigitte Pittnauer lies in the Gols area of Burgenland, where eastern Austria is notched by Hungary. This is the wine region whence come the country’s best red wines and dessert wines. Pittnauer is run on organic and biodynamic lines. Fermentation is accomplished by natural yeasts, with no commercial inoculation, and no new oak is employed. Alcohol levels are low, 13 to 13.5 percent. “Delicate” is not necessarily the term I would use, rather “elegant” and “well-knit,” as well as earthy and profoundly unique. At least four of this group of six felt almost ferociously linked to their vineyards and the purity and intensity of their grapes. On the other hand, these are (blessedly) not spectacular, in-your-face, blockbuster wines; their making seems more thoughtful, careful and nurturing. Gerhard Pittnauer is dedicated to extracting the best qualities of the country’s traditional red grapes — blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and zweigelt — but he also works with pinot noir, which wines I did not get a chance to try. Altogether, this are fascinating wines that I would mark Worth a Search.

Image of Gerhard Pittnauer from rotweissrot.de.
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The Pittnauer Pitti 2012, Burgenland, Austria, is a 50/50 blend of zweigelt and blaufrankisch grapes. It aged 12 months, partly in used barriques, partly in stainless steel. This is the most uncomplicated and straightforward of these six red wines, though fresh and lively, vital and delicious. The color is deep ruby-ruby; aromas of ripe red and black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by notes of walnut shell, graphite and loam, qualities that persist on the palate and bring supple tannic gravity to dark and spicy black fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $16.50.
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The Pittnauer Heideboden Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland, aged 12 months in used barriques. The grape is a cross of Saint Laurent, itself of ambiguous origin, and blaufränkisch, about which more further on. The color is dark ruby-purple; this is a deep, spicy, woodsy elemental wine, brooding with notes of loam and mushrooms under the brightness of ripe black cherries, blueberries and mulberries imbued with hints of cloves and sandalwood. The wine is quite dry, firmly yet not aggressively tannic, founded on acres of briers and brambles and vivid acidity but never losing the grounding in ripe and slightly tarry fruit and never feeling rough-hewn. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About 19.50.
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The Saint Laurent (“Sankt” in German) grape is either a seedling of pinot noir or it’s not; the question may never be satisfactorily answered. It may have originated in France, and it is the most widely planted red grape in the Czech Republic. In Austria it comprises about 800 hectares, slightly more than 2,000 acres. The Pittnauer Dorflagen St. Laurent 2013, Burgenland, sports a medium ruby-magenta hue and enticing fresh aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted red and black currants and plums. The wine aged six months in used barriques. This is an approachable and quite drinkable red, soft and pleasing in texture, but with the necessary stones and bones of clean acidity, moderate tannins and a hint of graphite minerality. It’s almost charming. 12 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $24.
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Here’s an example of what the right winemaker can do with a grape usually regarded as “light.” The Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010. Burgenland, offers an intense ruby-purple color with a shade of mulberry; ripe, meaty, loamy aromas of black cherries, raspberries and plums are packed with notes of smoke and ash, briers and brambles, all wrapped around — and this goes for the flavors too — a concentrated core of lavender, bitter chocolate, bacon fat and graphite. The wine is robust without being heavy or obvious, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and slightly dusty, powdery, fine-grained tannins. It aged 18 months in used 500-liter oak barrels, a bit more than twice the size of the standard 225-liter barrique. Wow, bring on the rack of venison. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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The name of the blaufränkisch grape can be translated as “blue grape of the French,” though precisely why is a mystery. In Germany, blaufränkisch is called, helpfully, limburger and lemburger; under the latter name, the grape in grown in small amounts in Washington state. The seriously dubbed Pittnauer Dogma Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, is indeed a serious interpretation of the grape, displaying a vivid ruby-purple robe and rich, ripe, fleshy and meaty scents and flavors of black and red berry fruit. There’s no oak here at all; aging for 12 months occurred in stainless steel tanks. It’s an exceptionally spicy, lively and vibrant wine, and it brought to my mind notions of steak tartar or medium-rare burgers draped in melted Swiss cheese and laved with truffled aioli; you know what I’m talking about. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $33.
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The Pittnauer Pannobile 2010, Bergenland, is a blend of 60 percent zweigelt and 40 percent blaufränkisch grapes; it sees more oak than these other examples, 20 months in used barriques. With its racy, ripe, fleshy and feral character, its graphite minerality, finely burnished tannins and fleet acidity; its deep, dark, spicy black and red fruit qualities, and even something floral and evanescent, it feels like an amalgam — or an anagram — of all the wines mentioned previously. Although this is obviously a well-crafted and important wine, I prefer the Rosenberg St. Laurent ’10 and the Dogma Blaufränkisch ’12 to this Pannobile ’10 as being rather more distinctive varietally. Still, this is impressive work. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $37.50.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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LL coated a thick swordfish steak with tapenade and seared it in the cast-iron skillet to medium rare. I pulled the cork on the Condes de Albarei Albariño 2012, Rias Baixas, and we were fit as a fiddle and ready for fun. Rias Baixas is a vineyard area in the province of Galicia, in northwest Spain. The company is a cooperative that gathers grapes from many dedicated member-growers in Val do Salnés, usually considered the region’s best area because of the essential maritime influence, and indeed the wine is a fresh and bracing as a sea-breeze. The color is very pale gold; aromas of roasted lemons and yellow plums are woven with notes of quince and ginger, lime peel and grapefruit. A racy, lacy limestone element and pert acidity keep the wine lively and energetic, with citrus and stone-fruit flavors taking on savory and saline qualities. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.

Various importers. A sample for review.

Need I say more? Half-a-dozen very attractive, lively, spicy and savory — some more spicy than savory, some more savory than spicy — white wines designed to quench the thirst, caress and engage the palate, and accompany all sorts of the imaginative cuisine you’re so good at creating — or, you know, a package of fish sticks from the freezer (the only form of seafood we ate when I was a child). Anyway, quick reviews here, meant to tease your interest and whet your taste-buds. All were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Villa Robles Huerhuero Albarino 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and clover, roasted lemons and lemon balm,
cloves and ginger; very dry and crisp with zingy acidity but delivering a pleasing almost talc-like texture; tangerine with a note of peach and pine; juicy, saline, savory, mouth-watering. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $18, online and tasting-room only.
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Rocca Sveva Castelerino 2012, Soave Superiore Classico, Italy. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; quite fresh and clean; pineapple, mango, lemongrass, almond blossom, lime peel, but with a spareness and savory quality married to slight astringency; lively, spicy, slightly dusty limestone effect. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvee George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; crisp, clean, lean, blade-like but filled with notes of lychee and slightly over-ripe peaches and tangerines and hints of lime peel and little white flowers; chiseled, incisive limestone minerality and scintillating acidity; brings in touches of cloves, flint and loam on the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. This Gallo label was formerly known as MacMurray Ranch. Pale gold hue; citrus and stone-fruit, spare and lean; cloves, quince and ginger; dry but juicy with a very attractive mouth-feel; bright acidity and limestone/flint minerality; a dry, spicy, slightly austere finish; fine-grained complexity on the palate. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Cadaretta SBS 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% semillon. Very pale gold hue; melon and lime peel, lemongrass and fig, slightly grassy and hay-like, herbal in the thyme sense, musky and dusky; tantalizing hints of lavender and lilac; crisp and lively but silky smooth texture; savory, mouth-filling but limpid with crystalline purity and intensity and a limestone finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
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Mar de Frades Albarino 2012, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. You can’t miss the cobalt-blue bottle. Pale straw-gold color; decisively saline and savory, thrilling vitality; roasted lemon and spiced pear; intensely floral with notes of jasmine, almond blossom and some wild fragrance; very dry, with a citrus tang, clean acidity and heaps of vivid limestone minerality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

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