It’s not easy to grow European wine grapes in hot and humid Brazil, and in fact the center of the vast country’s wine industry lies in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, as far as you can get away from the Equator (marked in red on the accompanying map) and still be in Brazil. In that state, most of the vineyards and wineries are in the hilly region of Serra Gaúcha. Wherever grape-growing occurs in Brazil, mostly what is produced are table grapes of American origin; the most widely grown grape in the country is Isabelle, a cultivar of the species Vitis labrusca, the native American grapes. Attempts made to introduce European or Vitis vinifera grapes beginning in the 16th Century were largely unsuccessful. The advent of Italian immigrants in the 1870s brought greater success to establishing vineyards and making wine, but it took another 100 years before truly serious efforts began, mainly because of the infusion of capital from European companies like Moët & Chandon, Seagrams, Domecq and Martini & Rossi.

Another problem that winemakers face in Brazil is that it is not a wine-drinking nation, suffering from low per-capita consumption and a general attitude that wine is not part of everyday culinary culture. In addition, the different taxing situations among Brazil’s states make dealing with logistics difficult.

Still, the industry seems to be growing, and perhaps because of that factor, I introduce the first Brazilian wines that I have ever reviewed, not only on this blog but in my entire career writing about wine. This pair issued from the country’s oldest winery, Vinicola Salton, which traces its origin to 1878, when Antonio Domenico Salton, an immigrant from Italy’s Veneto region, arrived in Rio Grande do Sul. His seven sons took over the business in 1910 and established the winery and vineyards on a firmer viticultural basis. Salton is still operated by the family, in its fourth generation. The products of Vinicola Salton are brought to American by A & M Imports in Baltimore. These wines were samples for review.

So, the Salton Intenso Brut, Serra Gaúcha, is a delightful but not particularly intense blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent riesling grapes. Made in the Charmat method in which the second fermentation is induced in large tanks, this sparkling wine displays a pale gold color and a constant stream of small bubbles. Aromas of green apples and spiced pear, with hints of seashell and roasted lemon, tantalize the nose; the wine is crisp and lively, slightly tropical — guava and pineapple — and just off-dry on the palate though the finish is a bit drier; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of almond and almond blossom. Similar to prosecco but with more body and presence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15 to $17.

The Salton Classic Tannat 2013, Serra Gaúcha, is pretty much what you would expect from a red wine at the price — robust, acidic, a bit rough around the edges but a decent drink with the right food. The color is dark ruby, the bouquet delivers vivid notes of blueberries and red and black currants with touches of graphite, violets and bitter chocolate, and in the mouth the wine strikes a swath of tannin and acid on the tongue. 13 percent alcohol. Reserve this for burgers, barbecue, braised meat and rustic pasta dishes. Good+. About $10 to $12.

“Brazil State RioGrandedoSul” by Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg#/media/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg

The red grape variety lagrein dates back at least to the 17th Century in Italy’s Alto Adige region and is generally recognized as one of the oldest varieties grown there. This is in the country’s northeastern reaches, up where speakers of Italian and speakers of German segue rather seamlessly and place names and other nomenclature are often given in both languages. For example, the producer of today’s Wine of the Week is listed on the label as Kellerei-Cantina Andrian. The cantina, founded in 1893, was the first cooperative in Alto Aldige, a cool climate mountainous area of calcareous soil also referred to as Sud — or South — Tirol. Andrian was absorbed into the cooperative Cantina Terlano in 2008, though the wines are made separately to preserve their individuality. Winemaker for Andrian is Rudi Kofler.

The Andrian Rubeno Lagrein 2013, Alto Adige, ages briefly in large, old oak casks that lend the wine some shape and dimension. The color is an intense dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet edge. Full-fledged aromas of spicy red and black currants and plums are buoyed by notes of sour cherry and brambles and a hint of mocha-like richness. These elements slip easily to the palate, where the wine feels robust and vibrant in character but displays soft tannins and appealing dusty graphite minerality. This is, in other words, a pleasurable and easy-drinking red wine that you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about and just enjoy with grilled sausages, simple pasta dishes and pizzas, a burger; you get the idea. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $12 to $14.

Imported by Banville Wine Merchants, North Bergen, N.J. A sample for review.

The history of Youngberg Hill is as complicated as such things often are in the West Coast wine industry. This land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was farmed by a Swede named Youngberg until 1987, when Norman Barnett, a financier from Boston, rolled in, bought the acreage and built an inn. In 1989, the legendary Ken Wright planted two vineyards here and used those grapes for his Panther Creek pinot noirs. Wayne Bailey, originally from Iowa but nurtured on the wines of Burgundy and his work there, bought the property in 2003, and 10 years later he is still the owner and winemaker of this family-owned business, which includes the inn — now renovated — that Barnett established 26 years ago. The winery has practiced organic methods since 2003. The property includes a bed-and-breakfast facility that looks absolutely splendid.

I am a fan of the winery’s pinot blanc, one of the best made on the West Coast, so I was happy to receive samples of the three pinot noir wines under consideration today. These turned out to be bigger, more highly structured and earthy pinots that I had expected, but fall entirely within the parameters of the grape and of the Willamette Valley. They are produced in small quantities, so I encourage a search on the internet or a visit to the Youngberg Hill website.
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The Youngberg Hill “Cuvée” Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, is the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, a blend of grapes from three vineyards, including the Youngberg Hill estate vineyard. It offers an entrancing mulberry-magenta hue and arousing aromas of loam and graphite, ripe and slightly smoky black and red cherries, currants and plums, and a profound reservoir of exotic spices in the form of cloves and sassafras and a wisp of sandalwood. The wine is quite dry on the palate, satiny and raspy together in texture, but juicy with red and black fruit flavors and lively with bright acidity and a refreshing granitic mineral element. As moments pass, it becomes more spiced and macerated, finding more depth but getting a touch austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 298 cases, says the label; 290 cases according to the winery website. Drink now or from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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The Youngberg Hill Natasha Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, originates from a 6.6-acre parcel of vines that faces southeast toward the morning sun. The color is an intense purple-magenta; vivid scents of red raspberries and blueberries are permeated by hints of cloves and allspice, sour cherry and melon ball and a back-note of pomegranate, all arrayed over a foundation of loam and new leather. These qualities segue seamlessly to the mouth, where sleek, supple tannins and lip-smacking acidity cut a swath on the palate. Nothing ephemeral here, this pinot noir is lithe and muscular, but not chunky or clunky; you feel the power and dimension of the structure as well as its energy and liveliness. The wine evolves toward more dryness in the glass, and you feel the oak and tannin injecting serious claims on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’24. Production was 137 cases, printed on the back-label, 327 cases from the winery website. Huh? Excellent. About $40.
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Of this trio, the Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, came closest to my ideal of greatness in the grape, and that is a marriage of powerful earthy dimension to details of ineffable and ethereal delight. The vines form a 3.3-acre block that faces south on a steeper slope than the rest of the vineyard. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet is aggressively loamy, briery and brambly, with hints of moss and mushrooms, but entwined with high notes of lavender and rose petals, black cherries and currants and an undertone of pomegranate. “Jordan” is even more muscular than “Natasha,” more lithe and sinewy, deeply rooted in its rooty, woodsy character yet never relinquishing trust in its spiced and macerated black fruit flavors and the fleet acidity that lends fruit and structure their vibrant nature. The finish is all polished graphite and flowers. 13.4 percent alcohol. Production was 300 cases (or 270 cases). Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
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I’ll admit that choosing the Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, for Wine of the Week is a pretty obvious move. After all, it’s widely-known and available, and it’s fairly priced. Sometimes obvious choices, however, are the only ones to make, at least when they involve quality and consistency. The Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône wines — there are also a red and a white — emerge from the M. Chapoutier stable, where their humble presence does nothing to tarnish the reputation of the company’s thoroughbreds; these are all exceedingly well-made wines, at whatever level. Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, is composed of grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes purchased from throughout this region of France’s southern Rhône Valley. The wine is made completely in stainless steel vats to ensure freshness and immediate appeal. The color is light but radiant salmon-peach; aromas of slightly spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries are wedded to notes of pomegranate and pomander, with a delicate structure of lavender and limestone in the background. This is a rose that melds its delicate nature to a moderately lush texture supported by bright acidity for a thirst-quenching character; on the palate, it adds a touch of peach and tart cranberry to the red berry flavors. It’s an attractive and tasty wine in every aspect. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2015. If your household goes the route of baked ham for Easter luncheon, Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, would be perfect. Also good for such picnic fare as fried chicken, deviled eggs and (for the Anglophiles) cucumber or watercress sandwiches, crusts trimmed, if you please. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. I borrowed this image from my wine-blogger pal Benito.

Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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One of the most reliable red wines in California is the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel, which for 2013 lives up to its reputation for delicious dependability. “Heritage Vines” doesn’t mean that the vines in question are old themselves but that they were grafted onto rootstock from “historic pre-Prohibition vineyards,” thus, in a way, preserving a connection to Sonoma County’s tradition of old zinfandel vines. At 76 percent zinfandel, this wine barely qualifies as varietal, the federal government requiring 75 percent of a grape variety in order for it to be declared on the label. (The ratio rises to 85 percent for estate wines.) The rest of the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma County, consists of 21 percent petite sirah, two percent primitivo and one percent carignane. The sharp-eyed among My Readers will immediately exclaim, “But primitivo and zinfandel are the same grape, n’est-ce pas? DNA has spoken.” Actually, DNA testing revealed that the Italian primitivo grape and the zinfandel grape, originating in Europe but grown primarily in California, are clones of the rare Croatian grape named Crljenak. Hence they are very similar — some references assert that zinfandel is closer to the parent grape — but not exactly identical, though they tend to be regarded as synonymous. American labeling laws, however, do not allow the names to be used interchangeably, so grapes from primitivo vines grown from Italian cuttings must be cited separately. Got that?

Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013 aged 15 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is a radiant dark ruby with a violet-purple edge; aromas of blackberries and blueberries are infused with notes of graphite, mint, lavender and burgeoning elements of iodine and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of tapenade and fruitcake. Over a lithe and supple texture, just hinting at muscularity and moderately dusty tannins, the wine offers faceted, spiced and peppery flavors of blackberries and blueberries with undertones of black raspberry and plum; from mid-palate through the finish the wine takes on effects of briers and brambles and slightly chiseled mineral qualities. This is about as classic as zinfandel gets. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 with pizza — which we did — burgers and steaks, braised meat dishes, hearty pastas, fajitas. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Winemakers in California often have little side projects that involve specialties near and dear to their hearts. When I was in Napa Valley recently, I met with Rebekah Wineburg and Erica Kincaid to try the initial effort from their Post & Vine label. I didn’t realize until we started talking that Wineburg is winemaker for Buccella Winery, a producer of limited edition, high-end wines, released in very self-consciously designed packages. The Buccella wine that I reviewed a couple of years ago, a cabernet sauvignon from 2009, cost $145 a bottle. I suppose one needs to unwind a bit from such monumental endeavors. Wineburg and Kincaid met while working at Rudd Winery; they decided to partner for Post & Vine, with Wineburg making the wine and Kincaid handling operations.

The Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 is a blend of 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane and 21 percent petite sirah grown at the Testa Vineyards, founded in 1912 in Mendocino County near the hamlet of Calpella (pop. 679) by Italian immigrants Gaetano and Maria Testa and operated now by the fourth generation. As with many of the old Italian vineyards in Mendocino and Sonoma, the Testa Vineyard is planted to a mixture of carignane, petite sirah, zinfandel, barbera, grenache and charbono grapes; a neaby vineyard supplies cabernet sauvignon. The family makes wine under its own label as well as selling grapes.

The Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 spent 18 months in mostly neutral oak barrels and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The color is a vibrant dark lavender-violet hue; aromas of spiced and macerated red cherries and mulberries with a hint of blueberries (and raspberry raspiness) are couched in notes of slightly dusty graphite and a touch of mint; a few moments in the glass bring in elements of rose petals and loam. On the palate, the wine delivers a lively, resonant flow of blue and red fruit flavors permeated by earthiness, a tinge of briers and brambles and wisps of exotic spices — sandalwood, allspice — all energized by a lithe, supple texture and a structure that features clean lines and good bones, as one used to say about Audrey Hepburn’s face. 14.4 percent alcohol. There’s so much life and vibrancy in this wine that I found it irresistible. In its purity and intensity, it reminded me of one of my favorite wines from last year, the Clos Saron Out of the Blue 2013, 90 percent old vine cinsault, made by Gideon Bienstock in the Sierra Foothills. I don’t want to oversell the Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012 — nor the version for 2013, which contains less zinfandel and 11 percent grenache, tasting a barrel sample. These are not deeply profound potentially long-lived wines, though this 2012 should drink nicely through 2018 or ’20; they are, on the other hand, exactly the kinds of authentic and individual wines that I love to drink. Wineburg made 143 cases of this wine, so you’ll have to do a little digging to find some. I hope you will. The website is PostAndVine.com. Excellent. About $28.

Even for France, home of many venerable wine properties and vineyards, the domaine of Les Pallières qualifies as ancient, having been farmed by the same family since sometime in the 15th Century. Located in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail outside the village of Gigondas in the Southern Rhone valley, the estate endured hard times in the 20th Century, and in 1998, faced with extensive repairs to the property and vineyards, the Roux brothers decided to sell. Fortunately, another pair of brothers, Daniel and Frédéric Brunier, owners of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, learned about the situation and, with Kermit Lynch, their American importer, purchased the old estate and instituted a series of improvements and innovations. Particularly important was the separation, beginning in 2007, of the various lieux-dits, previously blended into one cuvée, into two distinct wines to emphasize the attributes of the terroir. Cuvée “Terrasse du Diable,” encompasses the low-yielding vines from the higher altitudes, up to 400 meters, that express great structure and intense minerality. Cuvée “Les Racines” showcases the vineyard parcels surrounding the winery—the origin of the domaine with the oldest vines—with the emphasis on freshness and an abundance of fruit. This division does not imply that Terrasse du Diable does not possess delicious fruit nor that Les Racines lacks structure.

These two wines, in their manifestations from 2010, are what I consider today. I encountered the pair at a trade tasting for Kermit Lynch products mounted by a local wholesale house. Now the current vintage on the market apparently is 2012, but distributors often showcase older wines they still have in stock at these events, hoping to interest retail stores that may have suitable costumers.

Until 1966, the wines from Gigondas were bottled as simple Côtes du Rhône; that year, they were elevated to Côtes du Rhône-Villages, and in 1971 Gigondas was awarded its own appellation. The reds must contain up to 80 percent grenache grapes, with syrah and/or mourvèdre accounting for 15 percent (though these two wines do not have that 15 percent). The other wine is rosé; whites are not produced.
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Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable 2010, Gigondas, is a blend of 90 percent grenache grapes, and five percent each mourvèdre and clairette, the latter a white grape, one of those allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The vines average 45 years old and are planted on steep one-row terraces in poor soil partly covered with rocky scree, in the northernmost area of the Gigondas appellation. The grapes were fermented in concrete and wooden vats, and the wine aged 10 months in vats and another 12 months in foudres, which is to say that these are large oak barrels; no small barriques were employed. The wine was bottled unfiltered. The color is medium ruby permeated with a mulberry hue; the first impression is of a wine that lives where the Wild Things are; it feels feral, fleshy and meaty, rich, ripe and spicy, bursting with notes of red and black currants and cherries with undertones of wild plum, graphite and lightly roasted fennel; a few moments in the glass bring up traces of violets, cloves, lavender and leather. This is weighty but not heavy on the palate, quite dry and framed by a wealth of slightly sanded and dusty tannins, as if the wine had been lightly burnished and delicately brushed with sage and thyme. Though well furnished with fresh and dried red and black fruit flavors, from mid-palate through the finish, Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable 2010 builds granitic austerity, dictating a few years aging to find poise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2016 or ’17 to 2025 or ’26. Excellent. About $45.
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Les Pallières Les Racines 2010, Gigondas, does not receive as much cement and wood aging as its stablemate mentioned above does. A blend of 80 percent grenache, eight percent syrah, seven percent cinsault and five percent clairette, Les Racines — “the roots” — ferments in cement cuves and large oaken foudres and then ages 10 months in cement and seven to nine months in foudres. Perhaps for that reason and a slightly lower altitude,, Les Racines ’10 feels a bit more generous and less extracted than Terrasse du Diable ’10, though no less rich in detail and dimension. This is all about ripe black fruit — blackberries, cherries and plums — supported by finely milled tannins, bright acidity and a polished graphite presence; aromas of cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender sift from the glass in an exotic stream, while the wine flows through the mouth in a texture that’s spare and lithe. It’s very dry but flavorful and woodsy, infused with clean notes of loam, moss and forest floor, and the finish brings all elements together is a well-knit amalgam. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Boy, the weather certainly has improved down in my neck o’ the woods. The temperature is reaching 75 this afternoon, and the sky is blue and clear as a bell. I see on the weather map that it’s going up into the mid 80s in southern Florida and California. Time, then, to break out a winsome, uncomplicated little white wine to sip while you’re out soaking up rays or relaxing on the porch or patio or perhaps while you’re in the kitchen rustling some dinner together. The wine is The Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from South Africa’s Western Cape region, and yeah, it’ll remind you of lying around on a beach or make you wish you were basking on one. It’s a blend of 75 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon, made all in stainless steel for freshness and crisp immediacy. The color is very pale straw-gold, with a shimmer of light green; penetrating aromas of lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit and mango are suffused with notes of figs and a kind of sunny-leafy quality. The brisk acidity and scintillating limestone elements start right at entry and continue to bring liveliness to the wine all through its passage of pineapple, peach, roasted lemon and hint of thyme through your happy mouth; an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness brings pizazz to the finish. The alcohol content is a nicely manageable 12.5 percent. Drink up and don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing, just nibble on some shrimp or chicken salad, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $10, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

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