Anyone could spend 10 minutes in a wine store and realize that 20 sauvignon blanc wines amount to about a quarter of a drop in a whole large bucket of sauvignon blancs produced in California every year. And why not? It’s a terrific grape with tremendous potential for making wines that range from simple, direct, snappy little numbers for quaffing out on the back porch to profound examples possessing great depth and character capable of aging for 25 or 30 years. Of course, it can also make wines that are bland, insipid and watery or screaming with acidity, but that’s hardly the grape’s fault. The Ur-territory for sauvignon blanc is the eastern end of the Loire Valley, in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several related areas, and Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the grape is generally blended with semillon (and sometimes muscadelle) to produce grand expressions of the grape and some favored terroir. Even in Bordeaux, however, sauvignon blanc can be a work-horse grape, as in Entre-Deux-Mers, and fashioned into simple, tasty wines of no great importance. Sauvignon blanc wines are produced almost anywhere in the world that grapes can grow, from South Africa and New Zealand to northeastern Italy and (in our own country) the state of Virginia and just about everywhere in California. The wines described in this post occupy the complete geographical range, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Knights Valley in the north, and a full complement of styles. As they say on the carnival midway, “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” With a couple of exceptions duly noted, these wines were samples for review. A subsequent post will deal with sauvignon blanc wines from other regions and countries.
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The Bernardus Grivia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Carmel Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and aged “several months” in 24-year-old French oak tanks. The wine contains a dollop of semillon grapes. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and sprightly sauvignon blanc, with subtle herbal and grassy elements and notes of pea-shoot, roasted lemon, tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity and a slightly chiseled limestone quality, while delivering a boatload of juicy citrus and stone fruit flavors; there’s a bracing hint of leafy fig and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, has a complicated genesis. The primary vineyard source, located in eastern PrintRutherford, has old vines planted to a heritage musqué clone and semillon. Another component of the sauvignon blanc came from a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley standing on ancient, weathered, alluvial fans of silty impoverished soils. Other grapes derive from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, while a vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, contributes sauvignon vert planted in 1947. The final blend was 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent semillon and 3 percent sauvignon vert. The grapes fermented and the wine aged 44 percent in stainless steel tanks, 49 percent in mostly neutral French oak barrels and 7 percent in concrete eggs. What was the result of all this activity and contrivance? A frankly beautiful sauvignon blanc with seductive and almost unlimited appeal. The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displays a very pale straw hue and riveting aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, lemongrass and a hint of mango, with herbal and grassy elements poised in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of fennel and grapefruit. The wine is very dry, crisp with fleet acidity and almost tannic in structure, while a soft, talc-like texture offers a haze of smoke and light oak accents; the finish offers hints of limestone, grapefruit and spiced peach. 14.7 percent alcohol. This wine should drink beautifully through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, is composed of grapes half from Russian River Valley and half from Dry Creek
2014_fume_labelValley. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is very pale straw with a faint green tinge; the leafy, grassy bouquet is characterized by notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with hints of jasmine and lavender in the background. Crisp and pert, the wine exhibits lovely purity and intensity in its lithe texture and lightly spiced citrus flavors, finishing with touches of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. Very refreshing and engaging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Tim bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Bargain.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, is a bit milder and more subtle than its Fume Blanc stablemate. It 2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
incorporates 14 percent of the sauvignon musque clone and 4 percent sauvignon gris. It, too, was made completely in stainless steel.The musque contributes honeysuckle and spiced pear to a melange of orange zest, honeydew melon, roasted lemon and lime peel and notes of grapefruit and tarragon. The wine is quite dry and crisp, supple and lively on the palate and bright with citrus flavors leaning gently toward stone-fruit and a tropical tinge; damp flint minerality infusing the clean finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 into 2017. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
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A wine of shimmering purity and intensity, the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, made from certified organic grapes, sees only stainless steel and neutral oak in its making. The color is very pale, an ethereal almost-not-there straw-gold; delicate notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemon balm and lilac wreathe themselves with hints of thyme and tarragon and a faint grassy tinge; matters are a bit bolder in the mouth, where chiming acidity contributes riveting crispness and a scintillating limestone and chalk element lends poignant vibrancy, all cutting through a slightly creamy texture. 13.2 percent alcohol. A masterpiece for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Excellent. About $28.
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The Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is beautifully modulated in every aspect — fruit, acidity, body, minerality. The 2014_napa_valley_sauvignon-blanc_labelgrapes, from the winery’s estate vineyard in Oakville, fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in large French oak casks and stainless steel drums. A very pale hue is almost colorless; subtle layers of lightly spiced stonefruit and citrus, herbs, fresh-mown grass and meadow flowers are delicate strung. The wine is quite tart and crisp, displaying lovely and elegant weight and heft, purity and intensity; it finishes with an infusion of limestone and grapefruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Winemaker was Paul Steinhauer. Excellent. About $25.
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Made from certified organic grapes, all in stainless steel, the Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa frog's sbValley, is about as limpid, lithe and crystalline as the grape gets. Notes of pea-shoot, gooseberry, lychee, fig and lime peel open to hints of grapefruit, orange blossom, licorice and lilac in a welter of sensation that amounts to awesome purity and intensity. Wonderfully poised among bright, accented citrus flavors, brilliant acidity and shattering limestone-chalk minerality, the wine is crisp and zesty yet not overly tart and quite dry without being austere. 12.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemakers were John Williams and Paula Moschetti. Excellent. About $22, a local purchased. (I paid more.)
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Winemaker Ondine Chattan reaches out to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties, and east to Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta for the grapes that go into the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which carries a California designation. For the price, this is a surprisingly subtle and nuanced sauvignon blanc. The color is pale gold; we get the expected notes of grapefruit, lime and orange zest, along with hints of leafy and herbal elements and touches of bell pepper and fennel, with a whiff of earthy white pepper. There’s plenty of pep here, without feral exuberance, in a wine happy to be crisp and vibrant and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14, meaning A Real Bargain.
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2012 RR Sauv Blanc- bottle shot
The difference in the Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, and its cadet stablemate mentioned just above is not merely the much narrower geographical focus — a single vineyard within an AVA inside Sonoma County — but in degrees of intensity and concentration. Again, the color is pale gold; the emphasis here is on gooseberry and dill seed, lime peel and spiced pear, with a marked enveloping of jasmine and verbena. The wine is quite dry and crisp, with bright acidity animating a pleasing softness in texture and tasty, slightly leafy citrus and stone fruit flavors, all wrapped in a scintillating limestone element and green notes of grass and thyme. NA% alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $22.
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They don’t all come as pert, tart and sassy as The Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, though the wine is not as flamboyantly crisp as some examples can be. Still, this pale straw-gold quaffer is energized by gripping acidity that carries a lithesome freight of tangerine, lime peel, green apple and spiced pear through to a limestone-laced finish. In the bouquet: almond blossom, jasmine and apple skin, grapefruit, peach and tarragon. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Dave Guffy is director of winemaking. Very Good+. About $22.
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The current release of this wine is 2014, but I was sent the 2013 several months ago, and it’s still drinking very nicely. The very pale Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, North Coast, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of lime peel and melon, celery seed and caraway; it’s very clean and fresh, energized by riveting acidity and limestone minerality; the finish admits hints of peach and apple skin. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009; it occupies the far eastern and warmer end of sybariteSanta Ynez Valley. The Margerum Wine Company Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, was made 91 percent in stainless steel and 9 percent in a combination of neutral and new French oak barrels, aging for 10 months. The result is a clean, spare and elegant sauvignon blanc that dips deeply into a dusty foundation of limestone and gun-flint, licorice and lilac. Notes of lime peel, thyme, heather and talc make for a beguiling entry into a wine that’s vibrant without being snappy and dry without being austere, though the finish comes on with prominent limestone and chalk minerality. 13.06 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Doug Margerum is director of winemaking; winemaker is Michael Miroballi. Excellent. About $21, a local purchase. (I paid more.)
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matanzas bennett
The Bennett Valley AVA, granted official status in 2003, exists primarily because of the petition of Matanzas Creek Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines. Bennett Valley lies almost totally within the Sonoma Valley AVA, with some overlap into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain. The Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bennett Valley, was made in stainless steel and used French oak foudres and barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a jaunty, zippy sauvignon blanc, sporting grapefruit and tropical notes infused with lime peel, fennel and thyme. Though quite dry and even a bit austere on the finish, it’s a pleasingly balanced and integrated wine that offers a sunny, leafy aspect with hints of fig and yellow plum; bright acidity keeps its aim straight through a limestone and flint-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Excellent. About $32.
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matanzas helena bench
Knights Valley is warmer than the fog-influenced Bennett Valley, a condition perhaps accounting for the slightly more ripe and spicy nature of the Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, a pale gold-colored wine made two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak barrels. There’s more fennel and roasted lemon in this wine, with hints of yellow plums, quince and ginger and a distinct herbal quality; a touch of oak lends suppleness and spice initially but grows to more than a hint from mid-palate back, dominating the finish and muting the character of the grape. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $40.
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Careful winemaking by Patrick Muran produced a beautiful Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles. The 14 PR Sauvignon Blanc ninerwine aged five months in 90 percent stainless steel tanks, 5 percent new French oak barrels and 5 percent neutral French oak, but that new oak was used only for the 10 percent semillon grapes that go into the blend; the rest is 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 28 percent musque clone. Yeah, that’s a lot of “percents” to read about, but I like for My Readers to understand what kind of thought goes into making a wine of authority and concentration. The color is pale straw-gold; penetrating scents of grapefruit and lime peel, peaches, quince and cloves are melded to layers of limestone and flint, while above all waft scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. This is a very dry sauvignon blanc, with about it something saline and savory, bracing and slightly astringent; it’s a bit smoky and earthy, a touch roasted in its citrus flavors that flow to a long, vibrant, steely finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
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A perennial favorite, the pale gold-colored Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Northern Sonoma, was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in French oak barrels. This is one of the most elegant and delicate of the sauvignon blanc wines enumerated in this post. Aromas of pear and roasted lemons offer notes of peach, hay and new-mown grass, with subtle hints of quince and greengage plum; the wine is dry, buoyed by brisk acidity and a smoky-stony-steely quality that lifts the mildly spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Very Good+. About $17.
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tonella sb
A subtle haze of oak envelops the S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, but it’s an element that adds depth and resonance to a beautifully detailed wine. The color is pale but rich gold; the bouquet is characterized by pear and roasted lemon, hints of figs, banana and mango and spare notes of cloves, quince and ginger; any nuances of grass and herbs are kept to a minimum. The wine is quite dry but juicy with the softness of ripe peach and lemon flavors; brisk acidity enlivens a slightly powdery texture, leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Production was “under 500 cases.” Winemaker was Fred Delibert. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Beautifully balanced and integrated but displaying tremendous energy and vigor, the Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, derives from vineyards 900 feet up the western slopes of the Mayacamas range. The grapes fermented 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in neutral French oak foudres, that is, large barrels; the wine did not undergo barrel aging. The color is pale gold; beguiling aromas of lemon balm, verbena, lime peel and grapefruit open to notes of fennel and celery seed, lemongrass and lilac, quince and ginger. On the palate, the wine is seductively poised between crisp vibrancy and a moderately lush, talc-like texture riven by brisk acidity and a crystalline limestone element; roasted lemon and slightly caramelized grapefruit flavors are mellowed by a touch of spiced pear on a finish that segues through deep resonant mineral qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. A real dreamboat of a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker was Lisa Valtenbergs. Exceptional. About $35.
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Four months in neutral French oak barrels lend the Trione Vineyards River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Trione-2014-Sauvignon-BlancValley, suppleness and suavity. The very pale straw-gold hue is as attractive as the aromas of pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel that open to notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, celery seed and fennel, all encompassed in a leafy, grassy character. The wine is exuberant without being flamboyant, a quality that extends across the palate in a line of bright acidity and freshness that culminates in a finish chiseled from damp limestone and flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Excellent. About $23.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Vina Robles Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles, offers a very pale straw-gold hue and bright aromas of lime peel, tarragon and celery seed, fennel, grapefruit and thyme; pretty darned crisp, tart and zingy, the wine sings through the mouth on a stream of citrus and stone-fruit flavors touched with leafy fig and infused with flint and limestone. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink up. Winemaker was Kevin Willenborg. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.
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Roero Arneis is one of those fortunate white wines that combines delicacy of detail with a savory quality to make it a perfect drink mic_arneis_lblfor Fall and Winter, or anytime, really, but I like to think of it as a bit autumnal. The grape is arneis, and it is grown around a group of villages with Roero in their names on the left bank of the Tanaro river in Piedmont. It is a wine best consumed within a year or two of harvest and best made in stainless steel to retain freshness and immediacy of effect. The color of the Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2014 is a pale straw-gold hue with a tinge of green; super-attractive but subtle aromas of jasmine and heather, peach and yellow plum are highlighted by spiced pear, almond blossom and a green leafy element. Pleasing tone and balance give the wine a sense of tension and poise on the palate that translates to a feeling of energy, while spicy stone-fruit flavors open to notes of apple peel and almond skin in a finish enlivened by fairly pert limestone minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.

Imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits, Purchase, N.Y. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Dry Creek Vineyard has been keeping the faith with the chenin blanc grape for 44 harvests, and not only with the grape but with the 2014_Chenin_label_rgbsame vineyard, Wilson Ranch, in the Clarksburg AVA of the Sacramento Delta. The wine is 100 percent varietal and is made completely in stainless steel tanks. I won’t tout the Dry Creek Vineyard Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc 2014 as a summer sipper, obviously, since we’re edging into the second week of November, but it works as a superb aperitif, as a quaffing wine while you’re hanging out in the kitchen cooking dinner, or as accompaniment to oysters and other fresh seafood, to clam linguine, chicken salad or lighter fish dishes. With its pale gold color and aromas of spiced pear, quince and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle and notes of damp straw and heather, this is an eminently attractive wine. It’s silky and vibrant on the palate, featuring peach, melon and mango flavors generously spiced and enlivened by crisp acidity and a hint of limestone minerality. 13 percent alcohol. A lot of personality for the price. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, a Remarkable Bargain.

A sample for review.

In the French language, the word is cidre, and it’s a tradition in Normandy and Brittany going back thousands of years. Those areas in northwest France, by the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel, are inhospitable to wine grapes but perfect for apples. Cider-applesmaking began with the Celts and continued with the Romans in a heritage that passes through Charlemagne — a cider-loving sovereign — almost unbroken through the history of France and northern Europe and England unto the present age, anywhere that apple orchards thrive, including North America. Cider is fermented apple juice, as wine is fermented grape juice. The reality, of course, is rather more complicated, but today’s post is a suggestion, not a treatise, though a few basic facts can’t hurt. First, the best apples for cider-making are sour and bitter, the “spitters,” in terms of your mouth’s reaction to biting into one. The best ciders, however, are made from a combination of many different types of apples, to lend balance and depth. Cider tends to be lower in alcohol than wine because even the sweetest apples embody less sugar than grapes. Finally, only in America is a distinction made between “cider” and “hard cider,” the first being just apple juice, the second being the mildly alcoholic beverage that the rest of the world terms “cider.”

Today, we look at six examples of cider — or cidre — from Normandy and Brittany, the heartland of cider-making. These ciders issue from small, family-owned farm-orchards and represent a level of character that might startle those used to commercial or factory-produced ciders in America. All are sparkling ciders marketed in the standard 750 milliliter bottle. I thought they were all intriguing, elemental, highly individual and excellent.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd, Niles, Ill.; samples for review. Apple image from jamesbeard.org.
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Brittany, the thumb of France that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, is represented here by Le Brun de Bretagne, which has been brun ciderproducing cider by traditional methods since 1955. The names of apples are as exotic as the names of roses or tomatoes. For these two ciders from Le Brun, the apples are Kermerrien, Marie Ménard, Douce Moên, Peau de Chien (“skin of the dog”) and Douce Coëtligné. The Le Brun Brut Cidre is a clean, brassy-gold color and offers mild and pleasing effervescence. Twist the cork — carefully — and a swoonable aroma of ripe apples bursts from the bottle. There’s something a bit fleshy and floral about this cider, a little musky and autumnal, like damp straw, apple peel and almond skin, and the finish offers a tinge of fresh wood shavings. Lovely, crisp, very dry. 5.5 percent alcohol. About $9. Le Brun Organic Cidre is certified organic by Ecocert. This is a demi-sec or medium dry cider, which to my palate is still pretty darned dry. You feel the tannins rummaging through your taste buds, though they are soften by notes of spiced and baked apple, apple skin and a hint of lemony cloves. The finish brings in a touch of elemental bitterness and rootiness. 4 percent alcohol. About $10.
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Domaine de la Minotière is a 37-acre single domain of apple orchards in Normandy — or 15 acres, depending on which piece of paper one minotiere ciderlooks at. Anyway, the orchards are cultivated completely under certified organic practices. The Cidre Fermier Brut Bio displays a bright gold color, a frothy head quick to elapse and aromas of ripe apples, orange peel, apple blossom and what cider devotees call “horse blanket,” which I assume refers to what I perceive as a musty, sweaty, feral aspect that is not unpleasant; in my notes, I wrote, “smells like apples & trees & leaves & earth.” Quite dry and with tannins to pucker the palate, this cider is crisp, lively and almost viscous. 5 percent alcohol. About $11. The stablemate is the Cidre Fermier Bio Doux, which for a cider marked beyond “Medium Sweet” and into the lower end of “Sweet” felt pretty dry to my sensibility, though a softening of the dry, tannic edge was distinctly perceivable. Here the bright bronze-gold color is tinged with green highlights, and the scents and flavors of cedar, orange peel, slightly musty jasmine and spiced pear are very attractive. 3 percent alcohol. I could drink this cider with duck a l’orange, rabbit terrine with fig sauce or a selection of soft cheeses. About $11.
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The Manoir de Grandouet is a third generation farm run by Stephane and Lucile Grandval in Normandy’s Pays d’Auge region. In addition manoir ciderto cider, the Grandvals make Calvados, a brandy distilled from apples. The couple recommends keeping their ciders for up to two years, well-stored, to allow them to develop the aromas further. Their Cidre Fermier Brut — dry farmhouse cider — exhibits a clean, brassy gold hue and beguiling scents of apples, orchards, roots, autumn leaves and a slightly wilted floral arrangement. It’s very dry, dense, almost chewy yet with a sleek lithe structure; close to the best part of it is its dazzling balance among tannin, acid, fruit and the hint of leathery, leafy bitterness that enlivens the finish. 5 percent alcohol. About $11, and My Favorite of this sextet. The Cambremer Cidre de tradition Pays d’Auge is billed as demi-sec but felt fairly dry to my palate. The color is radiant medium-gold, and the bouquet is ripe, musky, dusty and foresty, with notes of heather, mashed and slightly cooked apples and spiced pears. Tannins feel soft and finely sifted. About $13.
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Northstar was launched by Ste. Michelle in the early 1990s to exploit the terrain of several Washington state AVAs that seemed amenable for the merlot grape. The first vintage was 1994. Now, the winery produces a range of merlots, some vineyard and northstarAVA-specific, and at least one, today’s Wine of the Day, that carries a more general savor of western Washington. The first winemaker for Northstar was Jed Steele, since replaced by David “Merf” Merfeld. The Northstar Merlot 2011, Columbia Valley, gathered grapes from 13 vineyards in six AVAs — Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley and Red Mountain — and one non-AVA area, Floyd Slope. It’s a blend of 78 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent petit verdot. The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter violet rim. This is a sleek, chiseled merlot, notable for its elements of mint, graphite and lavender and its underlying touches of iodine and iron; fruit scents and flavors fall into the blueberry, mulberry, black cherry range. The wine is quite lively, almost turbulent on the palate, deeply spicy in its tasty blue and black fruit flavors, but very architectural in its tannins etched with dust and charcoal, its burnished oak and austere finish packed with granitic minerality and rooty-underbrush qualities. 14.7 percent alcohol. There’s a lot of there here. Drink through 2020 to 2023 with steaks, game, braised meats and hearty pasta dishes. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

The complete name of this estate in Piedmont is Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy, usually abbreviated to Marchesi di Gresy. A monte-aribaldo-dolcetto-alba-docproducer of high-toned single-vineyard Barbaresco wines, Marchesi di Gresy also makes more accessible wines for current drinking. One is the delightful and delightfully serious Monte Aribaldo Dolcetto d’Alba 2012, made from 100 percent dolcetto grapes and well-suited to last night’s homemade pizza. (The movie for Pizza-and-Movie Night was “The Babadook,” appropriate for Halloween.) The color is a pure medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black and red cherries and currants open to a bit of sour cherry and mulberry bolstered by dusty graphite in delicate balance with an increasingly intense floral quality. On the palate, the emphasis on black and red fruit allows for hints of blueberry and lavender to emerge, while dry, foresty tannins and thirst-quenching acidity give the wine structure and liveliness, along with a note of almond skin-apple peel bitterness on the finish. There’s a lot of presence here and a lot of pleasure. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Napa Valley is best known for its wines based on the cabernet sauvignon grape, exceeded in reputation only, if not actually, by Bordeaux. The merlot grape often lives in the shadow of cabernet sauvignon, used to add “flesh and roundness,” as Michael Broadbent says, to cabernet wines. Merlot, however, can make superb wine on its own or when used in the majority, as is demonstrated by the red wines of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, especially in the commune of Pomerol. Whether in recognition of that cousinage or because American consumers learned how to pronounce “mair-low” back in the 1990s, producers in Napa Valley cannot resist making merlot wines that may attain a competitive level. Here are six. These wines were samples for review.
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cornerstone merlot
The Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Station Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, represents one thrust in a focus on specific-site wines for Cornerstone Cellars. (Regrettably, I have no information about oak aging or other technical matters.) The color is a deep and concentrated ruby hue. Boy, you could eat this bouquet with a spoon; layers of ripe, fleshy black currants, raspberries and plums are infused with graphite, lavender and violets and notes of cassis, cedar and rosemary. The wine displays a lovely taut surface supported by dense, velvety tannins, supplemented, after a few minutes pass, by dusty, granitic minerality, underbrush and a root-like tea effect; bright acidity keeps the whole package lively and engaging, despite its sizable nature. Though the wine finishes with a touch of austerity, the fruit is gorgeous from beginning to end. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Keene, no longer with the winery. Production was 97 cases. Drink through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $75.
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The Flora Springs Merlot 2013, Napa Valley, contains 4 percent malbec in an otherwise pristine field of merlot. Most flora merlotof the fruit came from those districts that we think of as the heart of Napa Valley — 75 percent Rutherford, 9 percent Oakville — with 16 percent hailing from isolated Pope Valley — population 583 — east of Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley. The wine aged 15 months in 80 percent French and 20 percent American oak barrels, a combination of new and old. If opaque ruby-purple qualifies as a color, the definition is in this glass. It’s a very dark, rooty, spicy merlot, intense and concentrated yet animated and appealing. Spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors are permeated by notes of smoke and tar, cedar and rosemary, black licorice and oolong tea; the character here is dusty and dusky, pierced by graphite-flecked tannins and keen acidity. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Drink now through 2020 through 2023. Excellent. About $30.
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The 100 percent varietal Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2011, Napa Valley, embraces the palate with ripe, spicy, smoky grgich merlotblack cherry, raspberry and mulberry fruit, but despite its richness, depth and density, the wine doesn’t feel opulent or overbearing. The grapes fermented with indigenous yeast; the wine aged 18 months in a combination of large and small French oak barrels, 30 percent new. It’s actually a fairly austere merlot, at least from mid-palate back through the finish, bursting with earthy notes of briers, loam, underbrush and dried porcini and bolstered by velvety, graphite-flecked tannins. The texture is taut, supple and lithe, and it flexes itself accordingly. A perfectly sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Ivo Jeramaz. Drink through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $42.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
I try to maintain that essential sense of critical distance and discretion whatever wine I’m writing about, but then along comes a wine like the Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, and I feel myself giving in to paean and panegyric. This is a blend of 91 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot and 2 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes underwent native fermentation, and the wine aged 18 months in heavy-toast French oak, 75 percent new barrels. Friends, that’s a lot of oak, but the wine feels sleek, supple and effortless; there’s no sense of being oaky or over-played. This is a wine of unimpeachable character and presence, and you discern its confidence, depth and dimension with every sniff and sip. The color is dark to medium ruby; piercing aromas of black currants, blueberries and plums feel ripe, macerated and slightly roasted, while every molecule of the wine exudes lithic qualities of graphite and granite, iodine and iron. Rare is the wine that feels so deeply rooted in the bedrock of the vineyard. Mouth-filling? Ho-ho! Full-bodied? Are you kidding? This is a wine that caresses the palate with lithe and muscular attention even while it avoids any element of opulence or succulence; balance is all, from the purity and intensity of its start to its spice-and-mineral-packed finish. 15.2 percent alcohol. Yep, that’s high, but you feel no alcoholic heat or sweetness. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. Drink now through 2022 to 2025. Exceptional. About $85.
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The Rutherford Hill Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, begins with an entrancing dark ruby hue with a hint of magenta at the hillrim. The wine is a blend of 76 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent syran and 1 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot; it aged 15 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, a process that lent the wine shape and suppleness. Black currants and raspberry scents are ripe and fleshy, and they offer notes of blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and graphite, with a tantalizing hint of violets. This is an open-knit and juicy merlot that stops short of being lush because of its underlying granitic rigor and dusty tannic structure; it fills the mouth with luscious fresh and dried black fruit flavors, tempered by elements of iodine and iron, giving the wine a ferrous and sanguinary effect. Above all, it offers terrific balance and personality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Marisa Taylor. Drink now through 2019 to 2021. Excellent. About $28.
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swanson merlot
The sleek and chiseled Swanson Merlot 2011, Napa Valley, is a wine that exhibits edges and glances, as in a bright edge of iodine and mint, a deft glance at smoke, cloves and allspice. It’s not quite 100 percent merlot; there’s a bit of cabernet franc from Rutherford and Yountville and a dollop of petit verdot from Oak Knoll, south of Yountville. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of black currants, black cherries and plums are rooty and briery, opening to hints of ancho chile and bitter chocolate, and those other edgy, glanced at attributes. It’s a robust, vibrant merlot, with a panoply of dusty, bristly tannins, polished oak elements and clean acidity for structure and presence, though these qualities do not detract from an elegant, nuanced finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to 2021. Winemaker was Chris Phelps, no longer at the winery. Excellent. About $38.
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It’s not too early to think about wines for Thanksgiving dinner, so let’s get to it. Today I’m recommending a red wine that may be off touraine-tradition-rouge-caves-monmousseauthe maps for most American consumers but really deserves their attention. The Justin Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 hails from the region of Touraine in France’s central Loire Valley. The house of Monmouuseau, founded in 1886 by Alcide Monmousseau, devotes 70 percent of its production to sparkling wines from a range of Loire Valley AOCs, all made in the méthode traditionnelle, but fortunately the estate also produces still red and white wines. The Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 is a blend of 69 percent côt grapes (malbec); 30 percent cabernet franc; and a bare 1 percent gamay, fermented and aged only in stainless steel vats. The result is a wine with tremendous liveliness and elevation that offers a medium ruby color shading to a violet hue and penetrating aromas of ripe, fleshy blackberries, black cherries and plums, permeated by black pepper and allspice, underbrush and loam. The wine displays a lovely, bright structure on the palate, with fruit that leans toward well-spiced blackberry and blueberry flavors and — the effect of that mere dollop of gamay — an irresistible vivacious note of wild red raspberries, with that characteristic brambly, leafy element, this generous panoply upheld by an influx of dusty tannins. NA% alcohol, but not high. Serve slightly chilled and drink up with pleasure. Very Good+. About $16.

Tasted at a private wine event.

Maggy Hawk is an interesting name for a winery. It comes from the name of a racehorse owned by Barbara Banke, chairman and proprietor maggyof Jackson Family Wines and widow of Jess Jackson, the founder of it all who died in 2011. The property lies in the remote “deep end” of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley and is one of this sub-AVA’s closest vineyards to the Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses 57 acres, much of it in redwood forest, with 22.55 acres planted to vines. That acreage is divided among five vineyards, planted in 2000, that vary in size from a tiny 1.23 acres to a relatively expansive 10.03 acres. These five vineyards are named for off-spring of Maggy Hawk: Jolie, Unforgettable, Stormin’, Hawkster and Afleet, the latter a Belmont Stakes and Preakness winner. Maggy Hawk is one of the wineries that JFW counts among its Spire Collection of elite estates, though nothing fancy or luxurious there draws the Grant-Douglasvisitor. This is a place where vines, grapes and winemaking prevail over tasting rooms, winemaker dinners, tourism and wedding events. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, pictured here, also the director of winemaking at La Crema, another JFW property, acquired by Jess Jackson in 1993. The soil on this hillside, where the elevation varies from 300 to 500 feet, is decomposed sandstone, offering little nutrition for the vines but terrific drainage, an ideal situation for growing excellent grapes. Morning fog, combined with warm afternoons and a wide diurnal swing in temperature, also provide salubrious conditions.

I tasted the 2012 versions of Jolie, Stormin’, Hawkster and Afleet — Unforgettable was not made in 2012 — back in March with Grant-Douglas at lunch in Sonoma and this month at home with review samples. It was interesting to observe that eight months built some weight into the now three-year-old wines as well as adding to their layering of fruit, flowers, spice and minerality. These are serious pinot noirs, thrilling to taste and drink, each a projection of the wine’s roots in the earth of a specific site. They should drink beautifully until 2020 or so.
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Maggy Hawk “Hawkster” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This wine aged 14 months in French oak, 63 percent new barrels. The grapes derive from the estate’s Blocks 12, 13 and 14, adding up to 6.18 acres. The color is an uplifting transparent medium ruby hue; the complex layering of fruit, spice and minerals is beautifully knit and evocative, with notes of red and black currants, a hint of red cherry and touches of cranberry and pomegranate. Back in March, I wrote in my book that “Hawkster” was “the most spare — most slender in frame” of this quartet, though seven months have filled it out nicely, but, damn, it feels light as a feather while being supple and satiny and delivering a definite graphite-loamy edge. Sweet cherry fruit laden with cloves and smoke, briers and brambles slide across the palate with delicacy and nuance, while subtly dusty tannins and keen acidity provide support and staying power. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 268 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $66.
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Maggy Hawk “Jolie” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This wine comes from the steep slopes of 10.03-acre Block 7, by far the largest on the property; it aged 14 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. Here’s my impression from back in March: “Cloves and sassafras — spiced and slightly macerated cherries & currants — lovely fruit, loamy quality — spare, with a streak of vivid acidity.” This month, I would say: Fairly dark ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; dominant elements of ripe black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cranberries, pomegranate and cloves — there’s that consistency — though this is a more full-bodied wine than its cousins, but while it flirts with a lush texture, it pulls up plenty of graphite minerality and dry tannins, and exercises power that comes close to being muscular and sinewy. On the palate, it’s characterized by deeply spicy black and red fruit flavors and electric acidity. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 312 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $66.
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Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. Afleet, the smallest production of this pinot noirs from 2012, comes from the Maggy Hawk estate’s Block 4 vineyard, measuring only 1.23 acres; it aged in French oak for 14 months, 43 percent new barrels. Seven months put a little weight and depth on this wine from when I tasted it in March. Initially, I was impressed with its spareness and elegance, as well as its dusty, loamy quality and its smoky, spicy cherry and plum fruit. Presently, I was taken by a beautiful transparent medium ruby color; by its notes of red and black currants and cherries permeated by hints of cloves and pomegranate; by its deep, dark, spicy rooty character and its foundation in the earth, because this Afleet is a pinot noir that feels as if it’s still drawing nourishment from the soil and bedrock of the vineyard. The texture is almost powdery graphite and talc-like elements, though energized by (ahem) fleet acidity. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 156 cases. Drink now through 2022 to 2024. Exceptional. About $66.
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Maggy Hawk “Stormin'” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This Stormin’ pinot noir saw the least new oak of this foursome, meaning 41 percent, aging for the standard 14 months; the grapes derived from the estate’s 3.47-acre Block 6 vineyard, adjacent to the Jolie Block 7. Despite its lovely transparent medium ruby-magenta hue, almost an expression of lustrous fragility, the wine seethes with elements of leather and loam, with wild and briery red and black currant and cherry scents and flavors, and an array of domestic and exotic spices ranging from cloves and sassafras to allspice and sandalwood. Mainly, though, this is a resolutely vibrant and structured wine that reveals remarkable purity and intensity of the grape and its feeling for a patch of land; a few minutes in the glass bring out more delicate touches of violets and lilac and hints of tobacco and bitter chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 223 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $66.
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Let’s get right to it. You should buy the Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County, by the case for drinking over the martini cabnext three or four years, in the Summer with grilled steak, pork chops and barbecue, in Winter with braised short ribs, hearty pasta dishes, burgers and pizzas. Or anytime, all year-round. Made primarily from cabernet sauvignon grapes, with dollops of merlot and petite sirah, the wine derives from vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. It aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak barrels, a deviation from the philosophy of founder Louis M. Martini, who eschewed the use of any kind of oak in favor of 1,500-gallon redwood vats, employed by his son and grandson until 1989. Anyway, the color is opaque ruby-purple with a magenta rim; this is really classic Sonoma County cabernet that displays riveting aromas of ripe black currants and cherries with notes of cloves and graphite, cedar and rosemary and touches of smoke and sage. Dense and supple, this exuberant wine is supported by dusty, graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity, filling the mouth with lively black and blue fruit flavors leading to a mineral-packed finish that opens to nuances of lead pencil, black olive and bay leaf. Alcohol content is an eminently sensible 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

A sample for review. The winery has been owned by E.&J. Gallo since 2002.

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