A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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At just under three years old, the Helfrich Riesling 2014, from Alsace, is drinking beautifully, with promise of increasing its burnished character for four to six more years or so — such estimates are always inexact, though based on knowledge, experience and intuition. Fashioned all in stainless steel, the wine offers a very pale straw-gold hue and sprightly aromas of green apples, ginger and quince, with notes of petrol, heather and hay and more subtle hints of lychee and mango; as the moments pass, the floral element of honeysuckle and jasmine burgeons and blossoms. The entire effect is of a crystalline, chiseled substance, equal parts limestone and steel, propelled by scintillating acidity and buoyant flavors of spiced pear and lime zest. The finish delivers a bracing hit of apple peel, almond skin and pure shimmering minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink with fresh oysters, grilled trout with capers and brown butter, pike quenelles, or, as we did last night, miso soup. Excellent. About $16, representing a Top Value.

Imported by Advantage International Distributors, Miami, Fla. A sample for review.

The Côté Mas Brut Rosé, Crémant de Limoux, barely qualifies as a rosé wine by most measures, being a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent pinot noir. In other words, 90 percent of this charming sparkling wine is white, with only a few dollops of a red grape to lend the requisite rosé color, in this case a beguiling light copper-salmon hue animated by a stream of tiny, glinting bubbles. The nose is pure raspberry, peach and lime peel; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of heather and seashell. This is crisp, dry and tart on the palate, where lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively and engaging and the minerality of damp limestone and flint delivers reasonable structure for nice heft and balance, all these elements supporting subtle flavors of roasted lemon and strawberry. 12 percent alcohol. A lovely aperitif. You could sell about a million glasses in bars and restaurants. Very Good+. About $16 and often found discounted to $13 or $14.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes. Limoux — pop. 9,781 souls — a commune and subprefecture in the Aude department in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region, lies a mere 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of the celebrated castle-city of Carcassonne, nestled in the French foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.


It must have been moon-glow or maybe the dark side of the moon, but unfortunately, on our street, the eclipse was blocked by a thunderstorm that came right during the moments of our imperfect 93 percent totality, which is the word of the moment, n’est-ce pas, as in “Dude, that tattoo of the eclipse on your forehead looks totality awesome on you!” Or, “My fellow Americans, we are totality going to wipe out ISIS before lunch tomorrow!” But enough chit-chat, though we’ll stick to a lunar theme with Wine of the Day, No. 295, the Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier White Blend 2015, Sonoma County. Made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic, this combination of 85 percent pinot blanc grapes and 15 percent viognier seethes like smoky silk in a bracing sea-breeze. This is a product of the Madrone Estate, first planted in 1863. Winemaker was Kat Doescher. Though bright with tropical scents and flavors of grapefruit, guava and mango, the effect is subdued and rather spare, melded with notes of spiced pear and lemongrass, jasmine and honeysuckle, with an element of damp limestone that starts in the background and swells to a tide from mid-palate back through the finish. The viognier also brings a hint of slightly honeyed bee’s-wax, a touch of camellia, a bit of fig. The whole package is animated by brisk acidity and seashell minerality and salinity. Delightful, elegant, beautifully balanced. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.


Are you in for the long haul that culminates in the Eclipse-O-Rama on Monday? Camping out and cooking over a fire or Coleman stove or gas contraption? Here’s a bargain in a hearty red wine that will drink perfectly with those grilled sausages or pork chops or steaks. Coming from Portugal’s Douro Valley, the Vale do Bomfim 2015 is a blend of traditional grapes grown for Port, that is, 40 percent touriga franca, 25 percent touriga nacional and — here’s the interesting part — 35 percent of a field blend of whatever grapes happened to be growing in the vineyards, in this case Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira belonging to the House of Dow, the great Port producers. Aging for nine months in French oak barrels, the wine offers an opaque ruby-purple hue and enveloping aromas of black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of black tea, loam and fruitcake and a rather penetrating hint of iodine and graphite. It’s robust and forthright, nicely touched with slightly shaggy tannins and soft, subtle oak, and its spicy black fruit flavors are highlighted by wood-smoke, cedar and tobacco. The whole package is animated by vibrant acidity and fruit freshness. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $13, marking Terrific Value for Buying by the Case.

Imported by Premium Port Wines, San Francisco. A sample for review.

Robert Mondavi Winery established a reputation for the sauvignon blanc grape soon after the charismatic and innovative Robert Mondavi broke away from his family and established his own winery in 1966. Long a neglected grape in California, used for blending generic proprietary white wines or badly made on its own, sauvignon blanc became in his hands a fresh, grassy, appealing wine that bore a made-up French name on the label, “Fumé Blanc,” a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé appellation in the eastern Loire Valley, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. The result was a marketing triumph. In fact, some wineries in California still maintain a theoretical distinction between sauvignon blanc wines, supposedly made in the fashion of white Bordeaux, and fumé blanc wines, fashioned in the Loire Valley manner, if such distinctions can practically be made.

Today I look at three fumé blanc wines from Robert Mondavi. While I give out two Excellent ratings here and one Very Good+, my caveat is that the winery seems to make a fetish of French oak barrels and of employing every possible winemaking technique to shape a sauvignon blanc in a particular image rather than — especially in the instances of the Oakville 2014 and Reserve 2014, made from the almost hallowed To Kalon Vineyard — allowing the character of the vineyard to achieve eloquent expression. One feels, again particularly for the Reserve ’14, that the wines were poked and prodded and minutely examined rather than being allowed a natural development. Still, two Excellent ratings out of three ain’t bad. I especially liked the basic Fumé Blanc 2015, which at about $20 rates as a distinct bargain.

Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.

These wines were samples for review.
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The winery’s basic product in this iteration is the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 4 percent semillon. The grapes derived from a Wappo Hill vineyard in Stags Leap District (70 percent); from Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard (13 percent), with the balance from Napa Carneros. Eighty-five percent of the juice was barrel-fermented — the rest in stainless steel — and then aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, hand-stirred twice a month. This is a smoky sauvignon blanc, truly fume, that offers a very pale straw-gold color and entrancing aromas of roasted lemons and lemon balm, lime peel, pea shoot and lilac. The texture is silky, talc-like but balanced by bright acidity and the burgeoning edge of limestone minerality, all in support of pert and tart flavors of guava, greengage, lemon and heather, the latter for a subtly grassy touch; spicy oak stays at the filigreed periphery. 14.5 percent alcohol. One of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines of the year. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, Oakville District, contains 21 percent semillon grapes, a factor that lends the wine notes of honeydew melon and fig and a particular sunny-leafy aspect that I associate with the variety. Ninety-one percent of the wine fermented in French oak and then aged on the lees for eight months, undergoing regular bâtonnage (hand-stirring); only eight percent of the oak was new barrels. Grapes for this wine derived from the renowned To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The color is pale gold; besides the features I already mentioned, the wine teems with hints of lime peel and lemongrass, crushed gravel, verbena and fennel, hay and heather. Vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality provide the balance between fruit and oak, which indeed as the moments pass becomes a dominating aspect of the wine: dry, spicy and burnished, a bit more powerful than I would like. Still, this sense of tension and resolution in texture and structure gives the wine its exciting quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Strangely, or sadly, my least favorite of this trio of sauvignon blancs is the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. The amount of new oak increased to 42 percent, the aging to nine months, from the previous example; a small difference one might think, but enough to make this wine feel burdened by its wood regimen rather than enhanced, at least from mid-palate back through the finish. There’s a bare two percent semillon. The grapes came from the To Kalon Vineyard, half from Robert’s Block, first planted in 1960. A small portion of the fruit was fermented in cement egg-shaped containers and was added to the final blend. Of course the wine was barrel-fermented and hand-stirred in barrel. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel and celery leaf, lemongrass and preserved lemon are woven with notes of spiced pear, tangerine and just a hint of fig, all abetted by a snap of gunflint and graphite. The wine offers a texture almost dense in its fluid materiality, though it’s lightened and heightened by vibrant acidity and a sense of lithe energy. That oak, though, develops from a subtle haze to a formidably drying factor in the mouth, powering over all other aspects to become the wine’s raison d’etre. Through all the technique exercised in the winery, does the character of the vineyard shine through? It just feels all too handled. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $52.
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We recognize that the kings of Napa Valley are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, while the queens are chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but the storied region is home to a spectrum of interesting and intriguing grapes, especially in the white category. Think, for example, of the rieslings produced by Smith-Madrone, Trefethen and Stony Hill. Perhaps an improbable grape for the region is the Rhone variety grenache blanc, yet here is our Wine of the Day, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, made all in stainless steel from grapes grown on the Somerston Estate at an elevation of 1,250 feet in the Vaca Range that defines the area’s eastern boundary. This is one of the palest wines I have encountered, its hue as ineffable and pure as water; distinct aromas of lemon balm, peach and spiced pear are woven with notes of straw and heather, while after a few minutes in the glass hints of dried honey, jasmine and bees’-wax emerge. The wine is clean, precise and dry on the palate, crisp and vibrant yet offering lovely balance between litheness and a soft, almost talc-like texture; it’s the sort of contrast that makes a wine exciting to drink. Flavors of roasted lemon, peach and melon are inextricably melded with bright acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality; the finish is bracing in its marsh grass-sea breeze austerity and seashell salinity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared salmon or swordfish or as a scintillating aperitif. Production was 1,271 cases. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

I don’t often feature chardonnays made in California in the Wine of the Day series because basically it’s difficult to find examples that aren’t overblown with strident spice, rampant tropical fruit and strenuous oak. When I find one that matches my idea of what chardonnay should be, however, I will man the barricades for it. Such a one is the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley. David Ramey is one of the busiest people in the Golden State’s wine industry, overseeing his own roster of mainly single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah under his primary label, but also managing a recently launched second label, Sidebar, as well as consulting for a wide range of top producers. It requires a pinpoint sense of attention to detail to be able to carry off such a spectrum of activity and responsibility. The Ramey Chardonnay 2014, RRV, falls under the winery’s Appellation series that features wines made from grapes derived from vineyards including several that Ramey uses for his single-vineyard bottlings. The wine fermented by natural yeasts and underwent full malolactic and bâtonnage, that is, stirring of the lees while in barrel; it aged 12 months in French oak, only 13 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, a subtle shaping. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole package feels like a fine sifting of fruit, spice, oak and minerals, animated by bright, persistent acidity. Scents of apple peel, pineapple and grapefruit open to smoky notes of roasted lemon, cloves and lemon balm, over layers of slightly dusty limestone. Notably clean and dry, this is one lithe and chiseled chardonnay that features ripe, spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors washed by a texture that’s like pulverized flint; the sense of deftness combined with heft is remarkably gratifying on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. At close to three years old, this chardonnay is drinking beautifully and will continue to do so through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

Now that American consumers have embraced rosé wines as a legitimate drink not just for girls and sissies, and practically every winery on the planet that makes red wine is also turning out rosé to cash in on the trend — bleeding off some of that first-press juice before too much skin contact — an inevitable backlash is occurring. Popping up on social media are posts and comments asserting not only that “Rosé Sucks!” — in addition to the die-hards who insist that “Derrick Rose Sucks!”– but that the category itself is a trash wine, an afterthought not worthy of consideration to people who drink “real” wine. Leaving aside the issue of Derrick Rose, those of us who love rosé wines know that our exemplars are far from trashy afterthoughts, but totally real wines that offer style, elegance, grace, refreshment and complexity — and a great deal of pleasure.

The actual problem, I think, isn’t that rosé wines suck, but that, in the broad scheme of the vinous realm, most wine sucks. Looky here, friends, the wines that receive most of the attention and praise, the wines that consumers and collectors alike search for avidly, the wines that receive the high scores from the slick magazines and young sommeliers wet their pants over to get onto their lists — these wines account for about five percent of the wine made in the world every year, 10 percent, if you want to be generous. The other 90 to 95 percent of the wine made in the world annually is basic plonk, designed to be gulped thoughtlessly while people work their way through a platter of nachos and scarf down a burger or a slice of pizza or a bowl of chili. Decent, perhaps, drinkable, harmless, bland, dull, innocuous, forgettable: the everyday quaff.

Unfortunately, many of these wines are an amalgam of de-acidifiers (or their opposite), oak chips, powdered tannin, color stabilizers and, oh right, grapes, all assembled in anonymous warehouses in industrial suburbs. Hardly wine at all, though you can slap a weird name and goofy label on it and Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco can sell it for $5 a bottle.

But what the hell, most products of human ingenuity, industry and sweaty brows suck, so why shouldn’t most wine? Most books are dreadful; most films and television programs are stupid; the music industry churns out enough garbage to clog our ears to the end of time yet manages to sleep the sleep of the just every night and rake in the dough. Art, architecture and design? Don’t get me started! And how often do we get someone to come in and perform a home repair job with competence and fairness?

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Mediocrity is the quotidian.

Why should the wine industry be any different? Oh, right, it’s swathed in a haze of romance and mystique, an aura which is, frankly, entirely fictitious. Very few people outside of tech CEOs and media giants can afford the “wine country life,” whether the environment is Napa Valley, Tuscany or Provence.

I’m tending far afield in riffing mode here, so getting back to the actual point: Don’t blame the mediocrity — the “sucky factor” — of wine in general on rosé wines in particular. There’s a lot of nasty sauvignon blanc and over-oaked chardonnay and cloyingly alcoholic cabernet sauvignon out there, and that’s at the ultra-premium level. I have nothing against well-made inexpensive wine, and when I come across one of those wines, I’ll promote it eagerly. I think, in fact, that there’s more honor in creating 10,000 cases of an authentic and essential 10-dollar wine than in creating 1,000 cases of a 100-dollar wine that tastes like every other 100-dollar wine. Chose your wines carefully, readers, and when you find some you like, grasp them to your bosoms with gratitude. Even rosé.

Here’s a beautiful pinot noir for lovers of the style that toes a line between lush and lovely, on one hand, and sinewy and dynamic, on the other. What I’m saying is that the FEL Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County), strikes a perfect balance in nose and palate in terms of the elegant, the ethereal, and the powerful. The wine, made by Ryan Hodgins, aged 16 months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels. The color is an alluring dark ruby that shades to an utterly transparent magenta rim; ripe and spicy black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lilac and rose petals and subtle undertones of loam and oolong tea. Lip-smacking density is riven by persistent acidity that enlivens flavors of black and blue fruit leaning toward plum and mulberry, all set in a compelling, lithe, satiny texture; a tide of slightly dusty, velvety tannins brings a sense of framing and foundation that joins with a wisp of oak and all that dark, spicy fruit compote for a succulent finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with a roasted chicken, seared duck magret, pork tenderloin. Anderson Valley’s FEL Wines is an adjunct of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

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