The Jameson brand represents the largest-selling Irish whiskey in the world. The company was founded in Dublin in 1780 by (of all things) Scotsman John Jameson. Its parent entity is Irish Distillers Corp, formed in 1966, which in turn was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 1988. Pernod-Ricard encompasses 36 spirits and wine brands that include Absolut, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s Scotch, Beefeater Gin, Jameson, Kahlua, The Glenlivet, G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouet. Let me know if you haven’t heard of any of those names. The company owns 96 production sites in 23 countries, according to its annual report for 2012-13. Total assets currently are $8.72 billion, according to Market Watch. Pernod-Ricard is, in other words, a company that possesses worldwide depth and breadth, mega-clout and the dinero to back up its claims.

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is a winery located in the Napa Valley, in fact the southernmost winery in the appellation. Formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery and Reata Vineyard, the company changed its name to Jamieson Ranch in 2013; it happens to be located on Jameson (not Jamieson) Canyon Road. The history of the property is tangled, involving dubious business decisions going back to the late 1990s and bankruptcy filings, but it is owned now by Madison Vineyard Holdings of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company involved in myriad enterprises including high-end art storage in New York. Jamieson Ranch produces about 35,000 cases annually under its eponymous label, retaining the Reata name for some pinot noirs and chardonnays, and uses the Light Horse brand for inexpensive products. Prices for the Jamieson and Reata wines range from about $24 to $60. Assets of Madison Vineyard Holdings, according to the company’s website, are $250 million.

Early this year, Irish Distillers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Madison Vineyard Holdings, asserting that “Jamieson” is “confusingly similar” to “Jameson” and is “likely to cause consumer confusion and/or the appearance that your client’s business originates from or is endorsed or authorised by Irish Distillers,” the use of which is likely to dilute the mark “Jameson.” Madison Vineyard Holdings responded by filing suit against Irish Distillers for declaratory relief, a term that is totally meaningless to me but I assume implies that there’s no danger to Jameson Irish Whiskey from Jamieson Ranch Winery and that Jameson should leave Jamieson the hell alone.

It seems to me that only people who lack the intellectual prowess to tell the difference between, say, Lady Gaga and Little Lulu — meaning lawyers — would find the labels, intentions and products of Jameson Irish Whiskey and the wines of Jamieson Ranch Vineyard “confusingly similar.”

Let’s examine the evidence.

Jameson Irish Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from grain. The alcohol content is 40 percent. It’s a rich amber-brown color. It looks and tastes nothing like wine.

The products of Jamieson Ranch Vineyards are fermented from grapes. Alcohol contents tend to be about 13.5 to 14.5 percent. Colors range from ruby-purple to pale gold. They look and taste nothing like Irish whiskey.

Additionally, distilled spirits and wine are stored in different sections of retail stores, none of which want to muddy the waters by keeping whiskey next to wine. I cannot conceive that any person would set a bottle of one next to the other and think, “Oh ho, these brands must be the same.” Despite these factors, lawyers for Pernod-Ricard are tallying the billable hours in going after a harmless gnat with a baseball bat. This rigamarole makes as much sense as a case I mentioned three years ago in which the giant Anheuser-Busch InBev went after a tiny winery in Argentina called Budini because their label would “dilute” the effect of Budweiser. The result was than Budini became Bodini. Money counts, as if you didn’t know.

The Madeira Archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal, sits in the North Atlantic Ocean about 625 miles southwest of the European continent and 466 miles west of Morocco. It is the outermost reach of the European Union. Encountered primarily by shipwrecked sailors until the 15th Century, the islands were claimed by Portugal in 1419. Situated advantageously in the sea-lanes that ships used to journey to Africa, South America and India, Madeira and its capital of Funchal became a natural port-of-call and supply station for shipping companies. The islands’ major agricultural product was sugar cane and its industry sugar refineries, though when those activities migrated to the New World, vineyards and winemaking developed, and that’s where this post is concerned.

Madeira became a fortified wine sometime toward the end of the 16th Century, that is to say that, like Port, alcohol was added to the wine to strengthen it for long sea voyages; with fermentation stopped, the wine retained residual sugar and became sweet to varying degrees. Madeira was very popular in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as Brazil, North Africa, Great Britain and Russia. In fact, the Russian Revolution of 1917 dealt a severe blow to the Madeira industry, though from the mid-19th Century double whammies came from powdery mildew and phylloxera. From the 30 shippers working in Madeira at the end of the 17th Century, now there are six, with several of the better-known companies, such as Blandy and Cossart Gordon and other brands, gathered under the rubric of the Madeira Wine Company, of which the Symington family of Oporto has controlling interest.

The island of Madeira is mainly vertical, meaning that vineyards are allocated on steep and narrow terraces that must be tended and harvested by hand. The climate is subtropical, the rainfall high, so the altitude of the vineyards, some over 5,000 feet, helps alleviate problems of mildew and rot. What makes Madeira unique is that the wine is deliberately oxidized through a process called estufagem in which the wines in barrels are exposed to induced heat for periods ranging from at least 90-days — for bulk wines in stainless steel — to six months to a year in 158-gallon wood casks for better Madeiras to periods as long as 20 years for the finest products, these aging in the lodges in Funchal heated by the sun. While a number of lesser grapes made be grown in Madeira for the bulk wines, the best products are made from sercial, verdelho, bual and malvasia grapes; these are listed on labels as an indication of the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine.

Today, we look at seven Madeiras from Blandy’s, founded by John Blandy, who arrived at the island in 1808. His descendents still run the firm, though now in partnership with Symington.

Imported by Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco. These wines were samples for review. Image of terraced vineyards from madaboutmadeira.org.
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Blandy’s Sercial Madeira Aged Five Years. The color is light golden-amber; initial aromas are dominated by toasted almonds, hay, dried thyme and caramelized fennel, opening then to toffee and honey. This Madeira is dry yet filled with a strain of slightly honeyed and roasted peaches, enlivened by cloves and allspice, with the characteristic astringency of the latter; it’s quite vibrant and resonant, with vivid acidity cutting through the salted caramel flavor and a lovely satiny texture. The finish is dry and clean but slightly earthy. 19 percent alcohol. Delectable. Excellent. About $24.
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Blandy’s Verdelho Madiera Aged Five Years. Here the color is medium amber with a hint of green; here toasted almonds are married to toasted coconut with touches of almond skin and orange zest, cloves and ginger. The dense, chewy silky texture is seductive, though buoyed by brisk acidity, while the finish brings in notes of sea salt, salt-marsh and salted caramel; the impression is of shapely sweetness that tapers to dryness from mid-palate back. 19 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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Blandy’s Bual Madeira Aged Five Years. The color is burnished medium to dark gold-amber; hints of maple syrup and pine resin, toasted walnuts and coconuts, cloves and sandalwood waft from the glass. This Madeira is undeniably sweet, at least on the entry, but is neither cloying nor opulent; it’s quite lively and vibrant, spicy, wild, sleek, yes, dense and chewy and imbued with toffee and creme brulee flavors. The finish is clear, clean and lively. 10 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira Aged Five Years. Now the color is brilliant dark amber with a golden rim; aromas of toasted almonds and hazelnuts, fruitcake, orange zest, cloves and quince jam are finely-knit yet generous. This Madeira is rich and honeyed, thick and chewy, viscous but not heavy; it flows like money across the tongue in the denominations of baked peaches, spiced pears, salted toffee and crystallized ginger. 19 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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Blandy’s introduced the Alvada 5 Year Old Rich Madeira in 2002 as a different expression of the wine designed to appeal to younger consumers who don’t know anything about Madeira or believed that it’s the domain of crusty of English gentleman. In a radical move for the island, Alvada is a blend of Malmsey and Bual. The color is medium gold-amber; rich and smoky aromas of fruitcake and figgy pudding, toasted almonds and coconut, cloves, allspice and orange zest are woven in an alluring amalgam that subtly reveals a ghostly hint of bacon-wrapped dates grilled over an open fire. Dense, chewy, viscous, of course, but with high notes of roasted peach, toffee and caramel-apple, all wrapped in sea salt and almond skin. 19 percent alcohol. Pretty riveting stuff.. Excellent. About $18 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
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Blandy’s Sercial Madeira Aged 10 Years. A medium golden-amber hue seems both dense and transparent; this is an earthy Madeira, with dark notes of autumn leaves and moss under a surface of toffee, smoke and tobacco and the typical toasted coconut and almonds. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of orange zest, bitter chocolate and candied grapefruit rind. This is dense and chewy, deeply satiny, but given resonance by blinding acidity and a dry, spicy finish. 19 percent alcohol. Very Good+. $29 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
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Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira Aged 10 Years. The color is an entrancing tobacco-amber hue with a copper-gold rim; notes of buttery toffee and roasted caramel are blended with an aroma that personifies the best fruitcake, with all that implies of dried fruit and exotic spices and a sort of dark rum-imbued wheatmeal; this is rich, savory and saline, a Madeira that’s lively and vibrant, with a core of strong lapsang souchang tea, bitter chocolate, macerated peaches and maple syrup nestled in a luxurious texture that’s viscous without being heavy or cloying. The finish is surprisingly dry and vivid. 19 percent alcohol. Deliriously attractive and sensuous, and a few sips suffice. Excellent. About $30 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
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You’ll have to do a little searching for this beauty, My Readers, because the production is limited, but if you’re a fan of rosé wines, this is worth a phone call or visit to the winery website. The MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a radiant copper-salmon color and bright aromas of dried red currants and strawberries with a hint of peaches and orange zest. The wine is clean, fresh and dry, but nor austere; an earthy, slightly brambly background encompasses notes of wild berries and cloves, over a dusty limestone element; there’s even a touch of tannic power under the vivid acidity, but this is not one of those serious rosés that neglects its higher purpose: to be delightful and pleasurable and vivacious. 14.5 percent alcohol. 400 cases. James MacPhail founded the winery in 2002; it is now part of Hess Family Estates. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Your eyes do not deceive you, My Readers. Today’s Weekend Wine Notes offer 10 wines priced under $20, in actuality, from about $12 to $19. We flaunt our eclectic nature today, reaching from various regions of California to Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and Australia, and embracing many grape varieties and styles of wine. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes I dispense with large quantities of technical, historical and geographical data to bring you quick incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and titillate your taste buds. Remember, please, that all wines are not available in all areas of our country nor even in all retail stores in the same city. That’s just the mechanics of distribution and consumer interest. In any case, enjoy these selections where you find them, in moderation, of course. Except for one wine, these were samples for review.
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Adobe Pink 2013, Paso Robles. 46% syrah, 37% grenache noir, 17% mourvèdre. 14.5% alc. Brilliant salmon-peach color with a tinge of copper; pure strawberry and raspberry and lightly curranty, hints of tangerine and candied kumquat; watermelon and raspberry in the mouth, quite dry but ripe and juicy; snappy acidity, plenty of limestone minerality and a slightly earthy, austere finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Bonny Doon Albariño 2013, Central Coast. 100% albariño. 13.2% alc. Pale gold color; seductive bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, notes of camellia, almond blossom and lime peel; quite dry and spare, savory, saline, bracing acidity; large component of limestone and oyster shell minerality; attractive, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $18.
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Isabelino 2012, Rueda, Spain. 85% verdejo, 15% viura. 13% alc. Bright straw-yellow; earthy, savory and briny, seashell and limestone; roasted lemon and yellow plum, a hint of spiced pear and overripe peach and a shade funky; lovely silken texture riven by vibrant acidity. Line up the oysters fresh from the deep. Drink up. Very Good. About $12.
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Poggio Anima Belial 2011, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color, tinge of garnet; red and black currants and cherries, cloves and allspice; violets and potpourri; orange zest, oolong tea, slightly earthy and leathery; very dry with rousing acidity and lip-smacking tannins, lots of presence and personality for the price. Through 2015. Very Good+. About $16 (Discounted to $13 at the retail shop where I purchased it.)
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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt “RK” Riesling, 2012, Mosel, Germany. 100% riesling. 10% alc. Pale gold color; lemon and lychee, rubber eraser, heather and hay, wisps of jasmine and honeysuckle; modestly sweet entry then bone-dry from mid-palate through the finish; spiced peach and pear, slightly earthy; lithe and lively and with scintillating limestone minerality balanced by moderate lushness in texture. A sleek, tasty beauty. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $19.
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Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2012, North Coast. 100% sauvignon blanc. 13.5% alc. Light gold hue; lime peel, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, celery seed, hints of lilac and tangerine; quite bright, fresh, crisp and lively; lots of limestone and flint minerality; grapefruit rind and almond skin finish, with a hint of bracing bitterness. Super attractive. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $13.
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Vale do Bomfim 2011, Douro, Portugal. From the House of Dow’s. 14.5% alc. 40% tinta barroca, 25% touriga nacional, 25% touriga franca, 10% tinta roriz. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta rim; very engaging aromas: black cherries, blackberries and mulberries, lavender and potpourri, hints of graphite and blueberry jam; quite dry, sleek and supple, peppery, with raspy and briery tannins, touches of leather and woodsy spice. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $12.
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Vina Robles White(4) 2013, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Viognier 46%, verdelho 19%, vermentino 19%, sauvignon blanc 16%. Very pale gold hue; mango, ginger and quince, citrus and stone-fruit with emphasis on rinds and stones; jasmine and yellow plums; spare and slightly astringent floral and mineral elements; lovely texture, shapely and silky, almost lush but cut by bright acidity for liveliness and crispness. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.
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Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, South Australia. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple; cedar, tobacco, dried rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants, raspberries and cherries; hints of black olive, leather and loam; dense, chewy, sleek and lithe; ripe and tasty black fruit supported by earthy, leathery, very dry tannins and a touch of spicy oak. Grill a steak; open a bottle. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $13.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 100% pinot noir. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; pomegranate and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras, notes of leather, tomato skin, tobacco leaf and briers, a little rooty; smooth and satiny; smoke, black cherry, fairly earthy yet with a spare, ethereal character. An interesting interpretation of the grape. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $17.
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My Readers, about two weeks about I posted to this blog a piece that concerned the cabernet-based red wines of Renaissance Vineyards and Winery, tasted during an all-day event at the winery. Those red wines ranged from 2012 back to 1983. Today, it’s the turn of the winery’s white wines, table wines first and then dessert wines going back to 1989. Remember that these wines are made in small, even minute quantities. Eddie Schulter has been winemaker since 2012. Gideon Beinstock was winemaker from 1994 to 2011. Original winemaker was Karl Werner. Renaissance frankly wants to figure out what to do with the surprisingly large quantities of library wines it possesses, an issue about which I will express an opinion in a few days. The appellation is North Yuba, Sierra Foothills.
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Dry (or dry-ish) wines:

>Semillon 2013. Pale gold color; figs, roasted lemon; sunny and leafy; quince and ginger; rich, ripe, “golden,” but very dry and with spanking acidity. Lovely wine, seductive and elegant. .

>Roussanne 2013. Bright medium gold; straw, thyme, camellia; spiced pear; rich, viscous, creamy, balanced by clean acidity and an undertow of limestone minerality.

>Roussanne 2007. Bright yellow-gold hue; spicy and exotic, slightly honeyed, ripe and almost fleshy, more subtly floral; sandalwood, lilac, yellow plums and roasted lemon; quite dry with a close to austere finish. Needs three or four years.

>Late Harvest Roussanne 2006. Bright gold hue; lychee, mango and petrol (or call it diesel or rubber eraser); quince jam, crystallized ginger; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back; powerful and resonant acidity. Not so much a dessert wine as a notably intense and fruity table wine.

>Roussanne 2005. Medium gold color; quince, mango, fig and apricot; nougat and roasted honey, but dry, almost tannic in character; exquisite balance among fruit, acidity and limestone minerality; crystalline transparency and a dynamic presence. Drink now through 2020 or so.

>Roussanne 2002. Bright gold color; touch of maturity in notes of tobacco leaf, slightly overripe peaches and soft plums; bracing acidity, wet stone minerality and slightly bitter grapefruit and almond skin keep it honest.

>Viognier 2002. Medium gold hue; riesling-like nose, petrol, jasmine, bee’s-wax and lanolin; ripe and honeyed but lithe and sinewy on the palate; very dry, tremendous acidity. Lacks expression and balance.

>Riesling 2002. Medium gold color, green tinge; pure riesling: petrol, lychee, mango and pear, notes of camellia and jasmine; very intense, vibrant and resonance; wonderful supple texture buoyed by burgeoning acidity and a scintillating limestone element. In a restaurant with a sophisticated clientele, a canny sommelier could sell the hell out of this.
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Dessert wines:

>Late Harvest Semillon 2006. Medium gold-amber color, not quite sweet, not quite dry, needs four to six years to come together.

>Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1994. Medium amber color; maple syrup and toffee, pine, glazed peaches and apricots, candied lime; momentous acidity and limestone minerality. Drink now through 2020 to ’24.

>Late Harvest Riesling 1992. Entrancing medium gold-amber hue; jasmine and honeysuckle, baked peaches and pears, loads of cloves and sandalwood; caramelized grapefruit; seductive almost viscous texture but not cloying, cut by vibrant acidity; actually fairly light on its feet. Drink now through 2020 to ’24.

>Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1991. Bright gold-amber color; orange marmalade and flan, caramelized peaches and apricots, generous dollops of cloves and nutmeg; all supported by scintillating acidity that keeps a fine balance between lush fruit and taut structure. Drink now through 2018 to 2022.

>Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1989. Almost 25 years old and about as perfect as it gets. Medium gold-amber; cloves and allspice, orange zest and toffee; honeyed richness with a contrasting note of almond skin bitterness; nervy, lithe and supple; roasted peaches and hints of pears and grapefruit; lovely confidence and completeness. Now through 2019 to ’24.

>Late Harvest Riesling 1989. Dark amber-maple color; honeyed apricots, baked peaches, spiced pears, salted caramel and toffee, intensely floral; quite spicy and savory; very dense and viscous, slides across the palate like money, with brilliant acidity providing the saving grace. At its peak now but drink through 2019 to ’24.
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Grilling a piece of fish for dinner? Searing salmon or tuna? Or preparing a seafood risotto or perhaps clam linguine? Open a bottle of the Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2013, and you won’t be sorry. The wine, one of the most familiar Italian wines to American consumers, originates from a small area of the Veneto region, in the northeastern part of the country. While vineyards spread across the plains, the best Soave comes from about 2,800 acres planted on hillsides. Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2012 is composed of 100 percent garganega grapes and was made completely in stainless steel. The color is pale greeny-straw-gold; aromas of almond blossom, hay, spiced pear and yellow plums are woven with notes of acacia, grapefruit and quince, altogether quite enticing. Stone-fruit and citrus flavors highlighted by hints of cloves and lime peel are nestled in a sleek lithe structure that balances brisk acidity and limestone minerality with an almost powdery talc-like texture. The entire package is savory, saline and delicious. Alcohol content is a sensible 12.5 percent. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.

MW Imports USA, White Plains, N.Y. A sample for review.

Readers, today marks the 30th anniversary of my first wine column in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. That’s right, it was July 11, 1984, and I was still a full-time college English teacher living in a dry county in Mississippi, just south of Memphis. The rest, as they say, is history but a very special and meaningful history. Thanks to Jan Smith, librarian at the newspaper, for digging up that column on microfilm and sending me a copy.

Under the headline “Wine connoisseur’s palate goes public” — I was anything but a connoisseur — I introduced myself; explained the purpose of the column, which was to appear monthly but quickly went weekly and five years later national; and provided reviews of a series of wines including several examples of vintage 1981 in Bordeaux and a group of miscellaneous products. My choice for the best price-quality ratio among the Bordeaux wines was Chateau Lynch-Moussas ’81, a wine of “balance and breeding” priced at $10 to $13. I also liked the Silverado Sauvignon Blanc 1982, Napa Valley (about $9); the Mount Veeder Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980, Napa Valley (about $10 for a half-bottle); the Domaine de la Tour d’Elyssas Vin de Syrah 1981, Coteaux du Tricastin, in the southern Rhone Valley (about $5); the Simi Cabernet Sauvignon 1979, Alexander Valley (about $9); and the Shadow Creek Brut Cuvée No. 1 (about $10).

I leapt into wine reviewing with the same approach that I take today, though I hope that 30 years have honed my palate and technique. Here’s what I wrote about the Mount Veeder Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980:

This wine is a beautiful deep purple, almost opaque; the nose is tannic and fruity and just slightly sweet; deep, complex and mouth-filling, almost thick, grapes and berries, hints of chocolate and vegetal undertones. Magnificent! Drink this with a wedge of English cheese after dinner. It should last and improve for decades.

Not bad for a beginner, I guess.

Writing about wine, first for the newspaper and the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years, then on my old website and since December 2006 for this blog, has certainly given me the chance to taste and drink countless numbers of fine wines as well as afforded me the opportunity to travel not only to wine regions in this country but around the world. Most important, though, are the trust and the friendship that I have developed with so many people, from my local retailers and distributors to importers, producers and winemakers, public relations and marketing people and other writers and journalists — I see many of you almost daily on Facebook — to the consumers I see out and about who come over and say, “Hey, just read about this wine on your blog and went out and bought it.” All of you make this effort worth while. The awards don’t hurt either, so thank you for the confidence that those many votes expressed.

Tasting wines occurs under many circumstances and in many venues, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. Best, though, is to sit down with LL to a dinner that she cooked or perhaps we prepared together and I open a bottle of wine and pour it and we clink glasses and take a sniff and sip and say, often together, “Oh, yeah, that’s good.” I dedicate all this to her.

I smoked a filet of some kind of wild salmon from Whole Foods on the top of the stove, over alder wood chips, and made a classic Sauce Gribiche, with chopped eggs, capers and cornichon. LL served it simply with boiled new potatoes and a salad of butter lettuce, tomatoes and radishes. The whole ensemble was harmonious and delicious, the way food ought to be.

Additional enhancement came in the form of The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Oregon. By “Original Vines,” the winery means that the grapes for this wine derive from the vineyard that the pioneering David Lett planted in the Willamette Valley in 1965; yes, those vines are 49 years old. Lett and his wife Diana — who must have had a great deal of faith in her husband’s vision — founded the winery in 1966 and produced the first wines from the 1970 vintage. Lett’s approach was always deft and minimal, with the goal of the wines, especially pinot noir, being elegant and expressive. Lett died in 2008; his son Jason is now the winemaker for Eyrie Vineyards.

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012 offers a medium gold color and intriguing aromas of straw, mango, tangerine and melon, with notes of jasmine and camellia, smoke and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, it unfolds hints of crystallized ginger and candied quince. The wine is supple, almost lush with slightly roasted and quite spicy stone-fruit flavors, tempered by star-bright acidity and a faceted limestone element. The finish brings in some chastening grapefruit astringency. I employ no hyperbole in saying that this incredibly vibrant and resonant wine is one of the best pinot gris I have tasted, as in ever. A wonderfully sane 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 261 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Exceptional. About $33.

A sample for review.

Though I have been writing about the wines made by Gideon Beinstock for 20 years, I met him for the first time three weeks ago at a dinner party in the Sierra Foothills, northeast of Sacramento. Around dusk, a group of us were sitting outside, and Beinstock opened a bottle of his Clos Saron Out of the Blue 2013, a blend of 90 percent cinsault and five percent each syrah and graciano grapes. This was also my first encounter with a wine under the Clos Saron label, which he and his wife Saron Rice launched in 1996, while he was winemaker for Renaissance Vineyard and Winery. You know how it is, friends. You sniff a wine, take a sip, and you know that this is the real thing, an amalgam of such intensity and expansiveness, of such vibrancy and resonance that most other wines seem amateurish in comparison. The next day, I visited Clos Saron and tasted through the winery’s currant releases and wines in the barrel. My colleagues on this occasion were Gary Paul Fox, owner and winemaker of Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, and Cara Zujewski, who with her partner Aaron Mockrish, operates the local Three Cedars Ranch, she doing produce, he raising sheep.

The Israeli-French Beinstock arrived at what became Renaissance in the 1970s and helped plant the original vines. He spent most of the 1980s working in vineyards in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. and when he returned to Yuba County, he took the position as assistant winemaker to Diane Werner, widow of the estate’s first winemaker Karl Werner. Beinstock became winemaker for Renaissance in 1994, a job he held until 2011. He told me that for his last few years at Renaissance, his “heart was not in it,” and he extricated himself from the Fellowship of Friends, the spiritual organization that owns the estate, and took up the reins of Clos Saron full-time.

Clos Saron occupies a rustic compound near the community of Oregon House — motto: “We’re not actually in Oregon!” — where the structure in which he and his wife and children live lies a few steps from the winery. The Home Vineyard extends practically from their front door down a slight slope. Also on site are sheep, chickens and geese. Beinstock’s methodology is about as minimal as winemaking gets. The winery possesses neither a crusher nor a destemmer; all crushing is done by foot-stomping, and fermentation takes place with stems in open-top casks; because of the stems, fermentation is relatively short, that is, four to 10 days. Grapes are not inoculated with commercial yeast, but fermentation is impelled by natural yeast on the grape skins. Acidity is never “corrected.” New oak makes no appearance at Clos Saron. Battonage (stirring) and racking do not occur while wines are in barrel; wines are only racked directly to bottle. Sulfur dioxide is applied at a minimum degree, 20/25 parts per million. Red wines are neither fined nor filtered.

The result, to my palate, are wines that display a remarkable measure of authenticity and integrity, purity and intensity, the exhilarating quality of a wine that goes almost directly from the vineyard to the glass. I asked Beinstock if he missed working with cabernet sauvignon, the grape that put Renaissance on the map, admittedly a small map considering the limited production. He said, “Truly, what I’m most fascinated with is soil, not the grape. I worked with cabernet at Renaissance because of the microclimate. It’s one of the world’s best sites for cabernet. Here I work with different grapes because of the location. A lean soil over layers of volcanic ash and decomposed granite.” The Home Vineyard slopes gently to the northeast at 1600 feet above sea-level.

How do you find these wines, usually made in a total quantity of about 800 cases a year? They’re available at a handful of restaurants and retailers in California, New York and around Boston and Washington D.C.; or from the winery website: clossaron.com

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Current and recent releases:
>Clos Saron Syrah 2013. An experimental blend of Stone Soup syrah with 30 percent (white) verdejo; powerful, very spicy and fruity; seductive body and texture. $NA.
>Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah 2013. Inky purple, penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; very intense and concentrated, very spicy. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2023 to ’25. Typically 60 to 150 cases. About $50
>Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah 2012. A touch more open and approachable than the ’13; slightly fleshy and meaty, grounded in iodine and iron, bright acidity; fresh with ambient elegance. 2015 through 2025. About $50
>Out of the Blue 2013. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. The cinsault vines were planted in 1885, and the vineyard is still owned by the same family. Lovely heft and body, profoundly lively, vibrant and appealing; black and blue fruit scents and flavors, permeated by briers and brambles, graphite and dusty tannins. Approximately 170 cases. About $30.
>A Deeper Shade of Blue 2013. 56 percent syrah, 38 percent old vine grenache, 6 percent verdejo. Quite spicy and minerally, currants and blueberries and plums, slightly macerated and roasted; smooth and polished but earthy, rooty, slightly granitic. About $35.
>Pinot Noir 2011. Grapes from the Home Vineyard. Dark ruby with a violet tinge; deeply earthy and minerally, a bit of iron; but fresh and clean and penetrating, currant and plum fruit, tremendous presence, vibrancy and tenacity; dusty tannins but sleek supple texture; one of the most individual and expressive pinot noirs I have tasted. Approximately 108 cases. About $60.
>Stone Soup Syrah 2011. Awesome purity, intensity and concentration; you feel the rock-strew soil of that precipitous vineyard, the deep foundation of tannin and acidity, the cut and edge of graphite, the spareness and elegance yet the paradoxically voluptuous aura of ripe blackberries, currants and plums. Approximately 104 cases. About $50.
>Heart of Stone Syrah 2009. With 10 percent viognier. Very earthy, piercing graphite minerality, deeply and darkly spicy, intense and concentrated, black and blue fruit; powerhouse acidity and tannin, briery and brambly, root-like; incredibly supple texture. 125 cases. About $45.
>Cuvee Mysterieuse 2009. 64 percent syrah, 30 percent merlot, 6 percent viognier. Lovely, rich and warm but intense, well-knit, vibrant, supple, resonant; quite floral, very spicy, earthy and imbued with a huge lithic minerally component. About 96 cases. Price $45.
>Black Pearl 2008. 65 percent syrah, 27 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent petit verdot, 2 percent merlot. Ripe, spicy and minerally; black and red cherries and currants with a touch of plum; smoky, briers and brambles, touch of old leather, dusty tannins, vibrant acidity. Approximately 97 cases. About $45.
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From the barrel:

First, we tried a couple of wines made from fruit purchased in Lodi, a Tickled Pink Rose 2013 that won’t be released until 2015, 100 percent graciano grapes, a dry, spare, elegant and intellectual rose; and the Carte Blanche 2013, a half-half blend of verdelho and albarino grapes that builds remarkable density and character in the glass while remaining bright, clean, fresh and elevating.

Then, we moved on to the components of pinot noirs from 2013 and 2012, getting an impression of what the separate blocks or lots in the vineyard offer.

For 2013, the North Block (planted in 1999) is a radiant dark purple hue, deep and spicy, with notes of lavender and violets, very dry, bastions of tannin. The South Block is quite earthy and loamy, delivering rooty briers and brambles and tannins that are dominant but not punishing. The Lower Block is indeed the “blockiest,” the most inchoate and unformed, even feral. Older Block, grafted in 1995 to cabernet stock planted in 1980 and interplanted between, feels the most complete and comprehensible as pinot noir, very dry, with spanking acidity but with spice and violets and lovely fruit. Finally, in this group, we tasted the Pinot Noir 2013 that’s a blend of these separate blocks, a wine that’s inky-purple, very dry, impressively vibrant and resonant and starting to be expressive.

For 2012, the North Block offers a hint of floral character but is incredibly intense and concentrated and wrapped by tight tannins. Lower Block is deep, dark and spicy, roiling with earth and loam and quite tannic. Older Block delivers a thread of spice, dried flowers and black fruit through the vibrant acidity and minerally tannins. The blend of these three vineyards — we didn’t taste the 2012 from South Block — felt almost like real pinot noir, complete, confident, both deep and elevating.

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Swiss entrepreneur Hans Nef founded Vina Robles in 1996, in northern San Luis Obispo County. Today’s Wine of the Week is the Vina Robles Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The blend is 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot, all grapes derived from three estate vineyards; the wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels. Winemaker for Vina Robles is Kevin Willenborg. The color is dark ruby with a magenta tinge; the bouquet is ripe and fleshy, abundant with aromas of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums touched with lavender and potpourri, walnut-shell and briers, amid a background of iodine and iron. Lots of grip here, a real mouthful of dusty velvety tannins bolstered by graphite minerality and vibrant acidity, yet ripe black fruit flavors are packed with cloves and allspice, notes of roasted fennel and black olives wrapped around a core of bitter chocolate and mocha. The texture is sleek, lithe and supple. Altogether, a cabernet of lovely complexity and nuance for drinking with steaks and grilled leg of lamb, now through 2018 to 2020. And look at the alcohol content, a sensible and flattering 13.3 percent. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by the FTC.

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