The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

Some people have jobs that just make you say, “Awww, man, no fair …!” I’m thinking in this case of Nicolas Palazzi (image at right), whose family owns Bordeaux properties in Cotes de Bourg, Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves — his mother is French, his father Italian — but whose heart lies in the world of spirits. Palazzi’s work is to haunt old cellars in Europe and search out barrels of spirits or fortified wines that have been quietly aging for generations, bottle them in small quantities and hand-sell them all over the globe. I previously wrote about his Paul-Marie et Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux Fut #3 (here) and his Paul-Marie et Fils “devant la porte” Grande Champagne Cognac (here). A more recent foray took him into the realms of Spanish brandy and rum, bottled under the Navazos-Palazzi label, indicating a joint venture between Palazzi and Equipo Navazos. An interesting story itself, Equipo Navazos began as a group of sherry-loving friends that searched for ancient hidden treasures in the region’s cellars and bottled what they selected in limited editions, beginning in 2005, for a small circle of connoisseurs, collectors and writers. In 2007, a company was formed to market the sherries to the public, still keeping quantities at the artisan level.

Today, I look at each of these three collaborative products — two brandies and the rum — tasted from small samples provided by Palazzi.
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First is the younger of the two brandies, a six and a half year old single-cask brandy found in the cellars at the Rey Fernando de Castilla bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. For the initial three years of its life, this spirit rested in multiple-use sherry casks; the next three and a half years were spent in 600-liter casks that had formerly been used for fino sherry. Made from 100 percent airen grapes, it is bottled unfiltered and at full proof, 41.1 percent alcohol, and no additives were employed. The color is pale but radiant gold with green highlights. This is a very young, powerful, impetuous and fiery brandy, yet it manages to be ultimately well-balanced and harmonious. Notes of spiced pear with hints of banana and bay leaf dominate a bouquet that brings up touches of toasted wheat, candied orange peel and some astringent little white flower. Profound acidity grips the palate and keeps this brandy vibrant; the texture is lithe and sinewy, and the overall impression is of blond wood, bitter orange, fruitcake, walnut shell and a tinge of toffee. It stays with you. Production was 720 half-bottles. Excellent. About $80 a half-bottle.
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The “Montilla” is a single cask brandy that’s at least 50 years old. Palazzi and his partners found it at Bodega Perez Barquero in Cordoba. It spent its whole life in what is apparently an oloroso sherry cask. Like its stablemate mentioned above, it was bottled unfiltered, at full proof (40.1 percent alcohol) and receives no additives like caramel coloring. It is also made from 100 percent airen grapes. The color is medium gold-amber; the bouquet offers hints of cloves and allspice and a plethora of woody and woodsy notes: dried porcini, walnut shell, moss, smoke from a leaf fire, pencil shavings, all opening to toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather; and far in the distance, a subliminal touch of woodland flower. This is a deep, multi-dimensional brandy that when it first flows across the tongue feels infinitely smooth and mellow, but boy does it have an afterburn as it goes down. The last elements that I pointed out in the bouquet — the toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather — define the flavor profile but add depths of fruitcake and plum pudding and an intriguing steely mineral quality. Again, 720 half-bottles was the production. Excellent. About $115 per half-bottle.
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A bit of mystery surrounds the Ron Navazos-Palazzi. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, Nicolas Palazzi can reveal only that the rum originates from an island at the southern end of the Antilles and that it is made from molasses. This rum aged five years in former bourbon casks at the distillery and then was shipped to Jerez, where the bodega emptied it into old oloroso sherry casks and aged it for 15 more years. It was kept around because the bodega simply did not know what to do with it. The alcohol content is 51 percent, translating to 102 proof. Navazos-Palazzi will produce 1,500 bottles a year for four years; the present example represents the first release. The color is medium amber with gold highlights; not surprisingly, there’s a lot of wood here, but the rum, at least initially, feels clean and bright. You have to imagine a combination of sherry and rum, with sherry’s dryness, spareness and elegance and rum’s hint of sweet fruit. Still, to reiterate, there’s a lot of wood here; this is dense, almost viscous, powerful, dominated by leather and loam, with faint notes of maple syrup, dark molasses and toffee, allspice and sandalwood; a wayward whiff of mango. Unique, perhaps an anomaly. Excellent (sort of). About $165 for a standard 750ml bottle. As Palazzi told me, “Yes, we don’t really give things away,” but what price does one put on such a rarefied product? For thoughtful sipping after dinner, not for your daiquiri or Dark and Stormy.
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For these brief notes on 12 wines appropriate for accompanying pizzas and burgers, we look, first, for reasonable prices and, second, for robust, full-bodied wines with lots of flavors and good acid structures. Prices range from $12 to $25. I avoided the obvious candidates like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, except perhaps as part of a blend, mainly to give a chance to other equally worthy grape varieties. And speaking of variety, we touch down today in Tuscany and southeastern Italy, in France’s Rhone Valley, in Chile and Spain and Portugal, and a couple areas of California. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I do not include much in the way of technical information, except for grapes, or historical and geographical data. The intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate quickly. Actually, I just realized what a great case of mixed red wines this group would make as a gift, to yourself or someone else, to consume through this Summer and into Fall. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Vino dei Fratelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% montepulciano grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet rim; young, intense, grapey; raspberries, plums, mulberries, hint of spice and brambles; goes down smoothly and easily but quite tasty; bright acidity with light tannins for structure. A decent quaffer with pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good. About $12, for buying by the case.
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Le Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; black and red cherries and raspberries with a wild note of mulberry, hints of cloves and sandalwood; quenching acidity keeps you coming back for another sip, while barely perceivable tannins keep the wine upright; dry but delicious with deep black and red fruit flavors, fleshed out with spice and a hint of briers and graphite. A terrific pizza quaffer, now through 2015. Very Good+. About $12, a Can’t Miss bargain.
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Adobe Red 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.7% alc. From the Clayhouse division of Middleton Family Wines. Zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 22%, cabernet sauvignon 21%, malbec 17%, petit verdot 10%, tempranillo 4%, syrah 3%. Dark ruby color; black cherries, plums, blueberries, undercurrents of briers, brambles and graphite; rollicking spicy element and bright acidity; very dry, moderate tannins, even-tempered and fun to drink. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Cachette 2012, Cötes du Rhöne. 13.5% alc. 70% grenache, 10% each syrah, carignan and cinsault. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; ripe, meaty and fleshy; blackberries, blueberries, plums with a hint of wild berry; notes of leather, lavender and white pepper, loam and graphite; spicy black and blue fruit flavors, a vein of potpourri and bitter chocolate, hints of cedar and dried thyme; very dry, lively, spicy finish. Good job! Would make a respectable house wine for drinking into 2016. Very Good+. About $15.
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Coltibuono “RS” 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; potpourri and pomander; oolong tea; red and black currants and plums; amenable and amiable but does not lack an acidic backbone and deftly shaped slightly leathery tannins with a touch of dried porcini about them; very dry spice-and-mineral-laced finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Particularly appropriate with sausage pizza. Very Good+. About $15.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Dark ruby color; bay leaf, sage and cedar; a lift of spiced and slightly roasted currants, plums and raspberries with a wild, exotic note; background of graphite and bitter chocolate; serious structure, very dry with relentless yet soft and chewy tannins and a foundation of polished wood and granitic minerality; but delicious with a blend of fresh and dried raspberries and plums with a hint of fruitcake. You might want to forgo a burger for a medium rare ribeye steak in this case. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $16, Great Quality for the Price.
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Viña Maquis Carménère 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carménère. Dark ruby-purple color with violet tones; ripe and fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums; briers and brambles, graphite, notes of lavender, bay leaf, thyme and black olive; very dry in the bitter chocolate, walnut-shell, dried porcini range of polished tannic density; arrow-straight acidity cuts a swath; black fruit flavors open with hints of exotic spice. Lots going on here; you’ll want that burger with bacon, grilled onions and jalapeño. Now through 2016 to ’17. Very Good+. About $19.
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Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County. 14% alc. 77% grenache, 18% syrah, 5% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-magenta color; grapey, plummy, notes of black currants and raspberries; cloves and pomegranate, bright acidity, undertone of loam and graphite but mainly tasty and delightful. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Garzon Tannat 2012, Uruguay. 13.8% alc. Dark ruby; robust and rustic, quite lively and spicy; deep and intense blackberry and currant scents and flavors, a bit roasted and fleshy; loam and mocha, a crisp pencil line of lavender and graphite minerality; gritty tannins make it dense and chewy; dry fairly austere finish. You’ll want that burger nicely charred, with a side of brimstone frites. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vizcarra Senda del Oro 2012, Ribero del Duero, Spain. NA% alc. 100% tempranillo. Intensely dark ruby-purple; plums and mulberries, dried red currants, hints of iodine and iron; the whole shelf of exotic dried spices; potpourri and lavender; very tasty, deep flavors of black and blue fruit, with an acid backbone and mild tannins. Straightforward and hard-working. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Bechthold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsault 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. How “ancient”? These vines were planted in 1885; it’s the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi. 100% cinsault. Dark cherry color; cloves and sandalwood, red and black cherries and currants, hints of fruitcake, pomander and loamy graphite, but clean, bright and appealing; lithe and supple texture, black and red fruit flavors with touches of dried fruit and flowers, lively acidity and moderately dense tannins with a faint undertone of granitic minerality. As tasty as it sounds with a slight serious edge. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Vina Valoria Crianza 2010, Rioja, Spain. 70% tempranillo, 20% graciano, 10% mazuelo. Dark ruby color; a combination of fresh and dried fruit, plums, lavender, hints of sandalwood and coriander, touch of bay and black tea; leather, mulberries; slightly dusty graphite-flecked tannins with elements of walnut shell and dried porcini add depth and some austerity to the finish. Delicious, well-made, some seriousness to the structure. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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There are rosés, and then there is the Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. The wine’s nickname commemorates the long relationship between winery owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman and her husband, Simon. At first, she made the wine only for them and the family, but you can’t keep a great wine hidden endlessly. This rosé derives from Inman’s Olivet Grange Vineyard, from pinot noir vines dedicated to that purpose. It is fashioned, of course, completely in stainless steel. The color is the true Provençal rosé hue of light salmon-copper, more gris than pink; delightful and enticing aromas of dried currants and strawberries are buoyed by thyme, damp gravel and a tinge of ripe tropical fruit. This is a zesty rosé, layered with notes of peaches, watermelon and cloves riven by crisp acidity and a lacy limestone element that seems to lend tensile strength to what might be ephemeral and evanescent. The total effect is dry, spare, elegant, lively, irresistible. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,350 cases. Drink now through the Summer of 2015 with such picnic fare as cold fried or roasted chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, rabbit terrine. I don’t often rate rosé wines Exceptional, but this one is an exception. About $25.

A sample for review.

Actually, it’s unseasonably chilly today in my neck o’ the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking rosé wines and posting about them. Here we touch the South of France, Spain’s Rioja region and two areas of California for pale wines that are light-hearted yet versatile, quaffable yet good with all manner of fare, especially if you’re on a picnic or sitting on the porch or patio. These are quick notices, not intended to bother your pretty little heads about technical, historic or geographical data but desiring to picque your interest and whet the ol’ palate. Enjoy! These wines were samples for review.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2013, Vin de France; the postal code on the bottle indicates Caunes-Minervois, northeast of Carcassonne. 12.5% alc. 100% syrah. Pale pink-salmon color; ripe and fleshy, strawberries and raspberries, fairly spicy; notes of potpourri and orange rind; quite dry, with snappy acidity and a hint at a stony structure. I like this version of 2013 a bit better than the 2012. Very Good. About $11, a Fine Value.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.2% alc. Bright rosy-pink color with a magenta tinge; robust for a rose, very spicy and floral, scents and flavors of red currants, raspberries and red cherries; hints of limestone and flint, enlivened by vibrant acidity; medium body woven of delicate supple strands; tasty, thirst-quenching; lots of personality and appeal. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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El Coto Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. A 50/50 blend of tempranillo and garnacha. Medium salmon-copper hue; rose and violets, lightly macerated strawberries and raspberries with a touch of tea and orange zest; hint of dried thyme; clean, fresh, dry; good acidity though a moderately lush texture; could you a bit more tautness, still quite enjoyable and better than I remember. Very Good. About $13.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Grenache 50%, cinsault 40%, syrah 10%. Pale salmon-copper color; tender and robust, lithe, taut and tart; nervy, attractive; raspberries and red currants, blood orange, touch of what Keats calls “the warm South” in its dried herb, sunny, slightly saline nature; all qualities strung on a line of limestone and flint buoyed by brisk acidity. Very tasty. Excellent. About $15.
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M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Unspecified blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. Slightly ruddy onion skin hue; lively and engaging; cloves, spiced tea, orange zest; ripe and dried red currants, raspberries, hint of cherry; rose petal and lilac; good body, even a bit lush yet light on its feet and fleet with vibrant acidity; very clean and refreshing. Excellent. About $15.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2013, Central Coast. 13% alc. Grenache 55%, mourvèdre 23.5% roussanne 10%, cinsault 7% carignane 2.5%, grenache blanc 2%. Very pale pink color; beguiling aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a faint flush of blood orange and violets; a transparent filigree of limestone lends a crisp yet talc-like aura to the structure while tense acidity keeps it lively and appealing. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $18.
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If national borders were erased and a sort of primal geography took over, northeastern Italy would fittingly spill over into Austria and Switzerland, where place names, surnames and grape varieties are shared in abundance. That’s certainly true for the mountainous areas of Italy’s Alto Adige region, where Germanic terms are as common as Italian. Taking a prominent place among producers in Alto Adige is Elena Walch, who, with her daughters Julia and Karoline, makes some of the best white wines, well, that I have tasted so far this year. A specialist in gewürztraminer and pinot blanc grapes, Elena Walch — person and estate — farms along rigorous sustainable practices and was among the first in the region to do so. The two examples under review today represent the “regular” bottling of gewurztraminer, drawn from several vineyards, and a single-vineyard model from Kastelaz. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel tanks and are all the fresher and appealing for it, though stinting not a whit on complexity. These were samples for review, imported by Walch/USA, Sausalito, Calif.
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The Elena Walch Selezione Gewürztraminer 2013, Alto Adige, Italy, is the estate’s standard or regular bottling, but the quality is far above standard. The color is medium-gold; pungent aromas of peach, jasmine and lychee, cloves, quince and ginger are seamlessly woven with notes of yellow plum, lightly roasted fennel and a stray finger of coriander; if you think it’s difficult to tear oneself away from these seductive scents, you’re not wrong. Spicy and lively citrus and stone fruit flavors are buoyed by bright, lithe acidity, while the long dry finish offers refreshing notes of celery seed, grapefruit bitterness and brisk salinity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value for the Price.
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The Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, derives from a steeply terraced vineyard (pictured here) that lies 340 to 360
meters — 1,115 to 1,240 feet — above sea level; the soil is chalk-clay with raw rock of volcanic origin. The color is radiant medium-gold; a dazzling array of effects, however splendid, is beautifully integrated. The highly perfumed bouquet features notes of jasmine and lilac, cloves, candied ginger and lime peel, orange zest and blossom, all wreathed with fruit tones of peach, spiced pear and lychee; yeah, pretty heady stuff. Overall, though, the wine is both luscious and seductive, on the one hand, and spare, supple, elegant, on the other, even a bit demanding in its dryness and steely, limestone character. Wonderfully alive and resonant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.
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Our ideal of and faith in the minuteness of soil variations is formed by Burgundy, where vineyards separated by only a stone wall or the width of a country lane are assumed to evince subtle differences in wines made from the same grapes, either pinot noir or chardonnay. Why, then, wouldn’t a difference in 200 feet elevation produce some deviation in wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, all other aspects being equal?

That’s the question that two 100 percent cabernet wines from Anakota in Knights Valley asks. Winemaker Pierre Seillan, who also makes the Verite wines for Jackson Family, produces these wines from the Helena Dakota vineyard, which lies at 750 feet elevation, and the Helena Montana vineyard, 200 feet higher at 950 feet elevation. Knights Valley, nestled in the western reaches of the Mayacamas range, is the warmest AVA in Sonoma County as well as the most isolated and least populated, at least by wineries and vineyards. The landscape is dominated by the 4,339-foot peak of Mount St. Helena, located just west of the cusp where Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties meet. In the 1840s, the vast area of what was then Mallacomes Valley formed the hunting grounds of Jose de los Santos Berryessa, whose lodge still stands. When California became part of the United States in 1850, Berryessa returned to Mexico; Thomas B. Knight purchased a large portion of the ranch and eventually the valley was named after him. Beringer and Kendall-Jackson own most of the vineyard acreage. Just north of Anakota is the Peter Micahel Winery and its Les Pavots Estate Vineyard.

While only 200 feet — 2/3 of a football field — separate Helena Dakota and Helena Montana, they are also divided by Yellowjacket Creek and a rocky ridge, geographical or geological factors that must have some influence on the make-up of the vineyards. Below the creek, Helena Dakota consists of red-brown silty loam, and vine roots tend to be deeper; above the creek, Helena Montana contains yellow-white sandy soil and gravelly loam, and the vines are shallow and stressed. Both wines — this pair is from 2009 — see 15 months aging in new French oak barrels; both exhibit 14.5 percent alcohol. The first vintage of these wines was 2001.

These wines were samples for review. The label images below display previous years.
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The color of the Anakota Helena Dakota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, is deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; aromas of dust, briers and graphite, cloves and allspice, lavender and bitter chocolate are tightly wound around notes of intense and concentrated dark plums, currants and cherries. This is a deep, dark and dusty cabernet, gird by polished tannins, granitic minerality and a slightly austere finish with a hint of a charcoal edge, yet the whole package is vibrant and resonant. I knocked the cork back in the bottle and reopened the wine 24 hours later; it had opened beautifully, adding more spice, more graphite minerality, though also softer and more macerated fruit and a touch of anise. Still, the structure was forthright and rigorous. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. about $75.
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So, a clamber over the rocks, jumping the mountain stream and a short stroll upward, and here’s the Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, not so much a different wine as an intensification of all the virtues of its lower elevation cousin. The same opaque ruby hue, yes, but a wine that’s deep and powerful yet expressive, almost elegant in its litheness and sleekness, its chiseled minerality — this sounds like the guy you don’t want to work out next to at the gym; you certainly feel the dusty mountain roots, translated as leather and loam and earth, and something cool and distant, aloof, even; yet the wine is wrapped around a seductive ash, lavender, bitter chocolate core that only hints, sparely and obliquely, 24 hours later, at the ripeness of its intense black and blue fruit character. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-operated wine operation in California; winemaker is the fifth-generation Karl D. Wente. I say “operation” rather than “winery,” because Wente owns vast tracts of vineyards not only in Livermore Valley, where German immigrant Carl H. Wente (1851-1934) was a pioneer, but in Monterey County, where in the 1960s the family also was an early developer. Wente was the first winery to bottle varietally-labeled chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and for several decades both before and after Repeal sustained a reputation as the finest producer of white wines in California. Naturally, in a company with a 130-year history there have been ups and downs, and for Wente Bros. — the name was changed to Wente Vineyards in 1996 — the down occurred during the expansion and acquisitions of the 1980s, when quality slipped. More rigorous standards apply today, though, and Wente offers a range of attractive and fairly serious red and white wines from all its properties.

Today’s Wine of the Week hails from the red side of the roster. This is the Wente Vineyards “Southern Hills” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay*, and if you don’t find the aromas entrancing, you just don’t have a heart. The color is dark ruby with a medium ruby rim; notes of star anise, lavender and graphite, black olive, cedar and a hint of caramelized fennel leap from the glass, amid a welter of ripe, spicy black cherries and currants. The wine aged 14 months in a combination of neutral** French, American and Eastern European*** oak barrels, a tactic that lends supple and mildly spicy support to tasty blue and black fruit flavors nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, lightly dusted tannins and some slightly ashy iron/iodine minerality on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Loads of personality and just gets down on its knees and begs to be drunk with a fat juicy bacon-cheeseburger. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

*The ridiculously far-ranging San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, largely due to the efforts of Wente Vineyards. It gathers under one region not only the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda and parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz but the city of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. You can leave your heart in San Francisco and sell your wine everywhere else.

**Meaning already used, as many as two or three times, so the wood influence is very subtle.

***”Eastern European” oak generally refers to Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian or Hungarian oak barrels.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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The phrase “Wine and Memory” may evoke for readers the memories we carry within ourselves of the great vintages of wine we have consumed or the wonderful times we spent with others, in some trattoria in Tuscany, next to a canal in Venice, on a wind-swept plain in Extremadura, high in the hillsides of the Douro region, in sight on the Andes in Mendoza, or among the lush vineyards of Napa Valley, always with the perfect bottle of wine, be it rare and costly or a simple everyday luncheon quaff, all bound by the congenial cords of friendship and landscape and pleasure.

Those evocative images, however, are not what I intend by writing “wine and memory.” What I mean is the memory of the wine itself, of wine as an evanescent record of the verities of soil and weather and location, the factors that merge to create the character of the wine, along with, of course, the nature of the grape itself. The reverse scenario also applies; wine can be stripped of its memory, rendered forgetful and inchoate.

I was impelled to write this little essay by a recent reading of two books, one of which has nothing to do with wine, the other of which has everything to do with wine.

First, then, from The Situationist City (MIT Press, 1998), in which Simon Sadler, speaking of the anti-modernist situationist architects and designers of the 1960s and ’70s, writes: ” … they deplored modernism’s tabula rasa approach to the city, one that would effectively leave the city without a memory.” And he mentions “the authority of narrative,” by which he means the deep accumulated history of cities that in its layers and diversity create a unique complexion and identification. You may wonder why those ideas reminded me of wine and winemaking, but if you don’t catch the drift, have a little patience.

Let me juxtapose that quotation with two from a book that should be essential (though difficult) reading for anyone connected with making, selling or writing about wine, Robert E. White’s Soils for Fine Wine (Oxford University Press, 2003). Much of the material in this volume is highly technical, algebraic and meticulous, but White, a professor of soil management at the University of Melbourne, makes clear, in his examination of the soils of St. Emilion, the Medoc, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Napa Valley and Australia’s Coonawarra region that there is “a significant influence of soil on wine character for particular grape varieties” grown in those areas. In addition, “the distinctive character of this wine will depend on the terroir (soil and climate), provided this influence is not obscured by extraneous factors in the vineyard or the winery.”

My point in aligning quotations from these disparate volumes is my sense that as in the city decimated by the rationalist and utopian methodology of modern architects, urban designers and sociologists, so it may occur in the vineyard and the winery, where producers have the ability to tailor wines to their own and their customers’ expectations rather than allowing the cogent features of geography, landscape, soil and microclimate — which White narrowly defines as the conditions that maintain in the vine canopy down through the roots — to shape the final product.

Now I am neither so naive nor so romantic that I would advocate for what is called “natural wine,” the current buzz-concept, nor would I assert that wine should “make itself.” For wine to be totally “natural” and “make itself,” it would have to be the product of ripe grapes that fell off the vine and fermented because of native yeasts on the broken skins, an elixir for the beetles and worms that burrow in the dark earth. Making wine calls for dozens if not hundreds of crucial decisions in the vineyard and the winery, most of which don’t involve mechanics as much as instinct, knowledge and experience. On the other hand, there’s virtue in simplicity, and while many so-called New World winemakers bristle — or become downright vituperative — at terms like “nonintervention” and “nonmanipulative,” it’s my feeling that the best wines result from a balance of sensibilities and techniques that concentrate on the benefits to the integrity of the wine.

What, for example, is the use of bottling single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs if whatever qualities those vineyards might embody are obscured by an aggressive oak regimen? I frequently receive samples from wineries that take pride in a series that involves a separate and increasingly limited bottling for, say, a region, a valley, a vineyard, a block within that vineyard; the implication is that the sequence of these releases will provide a more accurate and profound expression of a particular place. How tragic, then, that the hoped-for eloquence is muted or disrupted or actually negated by the sweetness of high alcohol or tediously ripe flavors or a toasty overlay of new wood.

As you learned in Philosophy 101, tabula rasa is Latin for “blank slate,” a concept most familiar from John Locke’s idea that the human mind is a tabula rasa upon which the world imprints its impressions and effects. A few years ago, a very well-known winemaker for a venerable producer in Napa Valley said to me, “You know what I love about chardonnay? It’s a blank slate. You can do anything you want to with it.” That must explain why I could not drink this winemaker’s stridently spicy, toasty, cloyingly tropical chardonnays.

A grape variety is not a blank slate, My Readers, nor should winemaking devolve to an exercise in ego and dictatorial principles. If you’re not in the business of making fine wine because you revere a place and the grapes you work with and will not through thoughtful nurturing allow that place and those grapes complete expression, why bother? There’s history in the vineyard, geology in the vines and a narrative in the bottle that satisfies a deep longing for connection and gratification on many levels. It should be a privilege to husband that character to ultimate realization.

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