Went out to find a riesling at retail because I don’t get enough riesling samples to keep on hand, and I would rather drink riesling than chardonnay nine times of of 10. Came home with the Elk Cove Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016, Willamette Valley. What a sweetheart! The color is very pale straw-gold; the wine features a refined bouquet of peaches and lychee, spiced pear and apple, with notes of lilac and lime peel in the background. Lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively on the palate; while quite ripe and juicy at the entry, the wine segues to dry from the mid-tone back through the finish that’s lithe with smoke, peach pit and limestone minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $18, a local purchase.

The Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2018, from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, is the first certified organic product to be released by the reliable producer of inexpensive wines. Winemaker is Sofia Araya, who took the reins last year from her mentor Rodrigo Soto. The Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2018 features a very pale straw hue with a faint green tinge; pert aromas of celery leaf, guava, lemongrass and spiced pear are infused with notes of fennel, lime peel and tangerine; a few moments in the glass bring in winsome hints of lilac and licorice. The texture is a pleasing combination of talc-like softness and lithe suppleness, lent energy by bright acidity; flavors are notable citrusy, with a touch of peach in the background, all devolving to a finish packed with limestone minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. No need to worry your pretty little heads about this one excessively, but buy it by the case for drinking through the rest of the year; should be a big hit out on the back porch or the patio. Very Good+. About $12, representing Good Value.

Imported by Gonzalez Byass USA, Chicago. A sample for review.

Made from 100 percent barbera grapes, as it must be, the Attilio Ghisolfi Maggiora Barbera d’Alba 2016, Piedmont, represents a lovely evocation of the variety and the marly-white tufa soil in which the vines grow at 1,200 to 1,300 feet elevation. The grapes fermented by wild yeast; the wine aged for 15 months, half in French barriques, half in large Slavonian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta that shades lighter at the rim; aromas of violets, raspberries and black currants are infused with notes of black tea, iodine and a slightly raspy-leafy quality. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where decisive acidity lends energy to velvety tannins and woodsy touches of loam and mushrooms; a few moments in the glass add hints of plums, lavender and orange zest. At the foundation of this dry robust wine lies a line of chalky, ashy minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2024 to ’26 with roasted or braised beef and pork, game dishes or mature cheeses. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

The rules that regulate the production of sparkling wine in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region are specific. The district is dedicated only to the production of sparkling wines made in the metodo classico — the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle; the grapes can only be hand-harvested chardonnay and pinot noir; the grapes can only be grown in vineyards that lie at or above 250 meters above sea level, 820 feet or higher. Only 18 producers works under these strictures, and one of them is the estate of Enrico Serafino, founded by the eponymous businessman and entrepreneur in 1878. (Since 2015 owned by the Krause family.) The Enrico Serafino Brut 2013, Alta Langa, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay, offers a pale straw-gold hue and a surging stream of tiny, glinting bubbles; it’s a clean and incisive sparkling wine that becomes more generous and expansive as the moments pass; smoke, freshly-baked bread, lemon balm and heather characterize a bouquet that adds notes of talc, spiced pear and chalk; it’s steely and brisk, displaying gratifying elevation and energy as it engages the palate , finishing in a welter of seashell salinity and limestone minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $24.

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

Sure, there are the cliches of the heart-shaped box of chocolates, the tired bouquet and dinner at an over-crowded restaurant, but you can never go wrong with Champagne. I offer today reviews of two products from Champagne Palmer, the Brut Reserve and the Rosé Reserve, non-vintage offerings made from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. “Non-vintage” actually means a blend of wines from several vintages. The house was founded in 1947, which makes it practically an infant in the ranks of Champagne houses that go back to the 18th Century. I would characterize these sparklers as the epitome of refinement, delicacy and elegance, with a sheen of shimmering style and sophistication. The products of Champagne Palmer are imported by TRU Estate and Vineyards, Rutherford, Calif., the fine wine division of Constellation Brands. These Champagnes were samples for review.


The Champagne Palmer Reserve Brut is a blend of 50 to 55 percent chardonnay, 30 to 35 percent pinot noir and 10 to 15 percent pinot meunier; reserve wines make up about 35 percent of the blend; the wine aged four years in the bottle on the lees. It’s a delightful and charming Champagne that possesses the structure to promote a serious edge. The color is pale straw-gold, a nod to the ethereal, and tiny, glinting bubbles are lively, almost hypnotic in their upward surge. Roasted lemon, spiced pear, notes of apple and toasted hazelnuts; hints of fresh-baked bread and almond blossom characterize the attractive bouquet, while frangible sheaves of limestone, seashell and flint (and brisk acidity) build a fairly intense background for subtle stone-fruit flavors. 12 percent alcohol.   Excellent. About $60.


The Champagne Palmer Reserve Rosé reduces the level of white grapes and boosts the quantity of red grapes in the blend, hence, 40 to 45 percent chardonnay, 40 to 45 percent pinot noir and 10 to 15 percent pinot meunier; about 30 to 35 percent of the wines are reserves from previous vintages, including 8 percent reds rotated in a solera system, first in oak barrels, then in stainless steel, that goes back 40 years; the Champagne aged three years in the bottle on the lees. The color is an entrancing pale salmon-copper hue, energized by a tempest of silver bubbles. Aromas of blood oranges and strawberries are enhanced by notes of acacia and heather, spiced pear and chalk, with hints of pomegranate and dried red currants; what’s exciting about this Champagne is the poise it achieves between elegance in texture and the tenseness of bright acidity that propels it to a finish layered with shelves of shale and limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $80.


The first rosé wine from California’s 2018 harvest that I tasted is a winner. This is the Wente Vineyards Niki’s Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, 100 percent pinot noir made all in stainless steel. The wine is named for Niki Wente, grape-grower and viticulturalist and cousin to Karl Wente, the winery’s chief winemaker. The estate was founded in 1883 and is operated by the family’s fourth and fifth generations. The wine is described as “small lot,” but the number of cases produced is not indicated. The hue is very pale onion skin or what used to be termed, more colorfully, “eye of the partridge.” Lovely, delicate aromas and flavors of peach and strawberry are permeated by notes of cloves, blood orange and heather with an undertone of red currant, bolstered by a hint of damp roof tiles; all of these winsome elements are elegantly etched by a pencil tip of graphite and a steely whiplash of bright acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. A superior
rosé . Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Saint-Amour is the northernmost and smallest of the 10 Beaujolais Cru vineyard areas. What are the others? From north to south: Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. These regions, which provide grapes for the best wines of Beaujolais, differ from each other in minute comparisons of soil and microclimate, enough so that experienced tasters can or might be able to detect general variations in character, or maybe you have to live there and drink it every day. Saint-Amour is typically regarded as a medium-bodied wine. The Cru Beaujolais wines usually develop well with three or four and in some cases up to 10 or 12 years aging. The Chateau de Saint-Amour 2016, Saint-Amour, is 100 percent gamay that sees no oak, only stainless steel tanks. The 49.4-acre estate is owned by the Sidaurin family; the wine is made by Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. The color is an entrancing dark to medium ruby-magenta with a glowing rim; this wine offers a smoky-spicy-floral expression of the grape, fluent and eloquent with notes of blackberries and blueberries that open to hints of violets, underbrushy currants, a touch of loam and a rising tide of slate and flint minerality. Lip-smacking acidity drives this satin-textured wine through ripe black fruit flavors to a vivid, dry yet juicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2021 or ’22, Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Occasionally I use a Wine of the Day post not to announce a product that everybody should rush out and buy for its QPR — quality/price ration — but to bring to the attention of My Readers a winery and winemaker that deserve scrutiny for their high goals and achievements. Thus, I present today the LaRue Wines Thorn Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, a pinot noir of such riveting purity and intensity that is practically smolders in the glass, though actually it’s more elegantly wrought than that metaphor implies. Thorn Ridge Vineyard is a steep, eastward-facing site strongly influenced by maritime winds. Owner and winemaker for LaRue Wines is Katy Wilson, who named the winery for her apparently indomitable great-grandmother Veona LaRue. Wilson produces tiny amounts of pinot noir and chardonnay from carefully chosen and tended vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA. The LaRue Wines Thorn Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and while that seems like excessive wood to me, the oak influence here is subtle, a gently shaping and defining force that feels inevitable, along with the wine’s dynamic acidity that cuts a swath on the palate.The color is a beautiful totally transparent light ruby hue; ethereal scents of cloves, heather and iodine open to notes of macerated red and black cherries and currants highlighted by traces of cranberry and pomegranate. The principle seems to be delicacy and elegance of fruit laid over a foundation of loam, briers and brambles, with slightly foresty tannins in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of violets, rose petals and sandalwood. All these elements are melded with deft, seamless and weightless harmony. And look at the alcohol content: 12.9 percent. Now through 2022 to ’25. We drank this last night with a lasagna of wild mushrooms and radicchio. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $70.

A sample for review.

Oh, sure, you’re thinking, “Hey, F.K., this is America! We drink beer when we watch the Super Bowl!” All right, I understand the issues involved, but even when you’re talking about barbecue nachos, baby-back ribs, Sloppy Joes, prime rib sliders, even certain varieties of chili and quesadillas, a large-framed, robust wine can be as appropriate as beer, though, I confess, not with super-spicy food laced with serranos and such. Anyway, following that premise, I offer nine examples of the sorts of wine you could serve this Sunday while watching two teams neither of which apparently deserve to be there contending on the gridiron of valor. Prices range from a comfortable $14 and $18, good for supplying bottles to crowds of football fans, up to $60. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes I deliver no elements of technical, geographical or historical data for the sake of quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. The regional spectrum is wide: Lake County and Paso Robles in California; Washington state; Argentina; France Rhône Valley; Portugal’s Douro Valley; and in Italy, the Northeast, Tuscany and the Bootheel. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)

These wines were samples for review.

Ancient Peaks Winery Santa Margarita Ranch Zinfandel 2016, Paso Robles, California. 15.5% alc. A big-hearted, two-fisted, high-alcohol zinfandel that manages to avoid the disadvantages of most 15+% zins; it’s not sweet, over-ripe, cloying or hot. Steady black-purple hue; luscious and spicy blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors, permeated by touches of fruitcake and plum pudding, violets, lilac and iodine; a swelling structure of dusty bacon-wrapped tannins and bracing acidity keep the whole package honest, while allowing pleasing qualities of loam, boysenberry and graphite to define the finish. Now through 2021 to ’23. Certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. Excellent. About $20, marking Good Value.

Cadaretta Southwind Syrah 2015, Walla Walla Valley, Washington. 14.9% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; large-framed, dense and chewy; loam and black pepper, briers and brambles, ink and underbrush; drenched with lavender, licorice and graphite, deeply spiced and macerated blackberry, blueberry and plum scents and flavors, tinged with bay and thyme; quite dry, a big wine but not overwhelming; the oak is a subtle, shaping presence. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.

Enzo Bianchi 2015, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 15.2% alc. 50% each cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Opaque ebony color with a vivid violet rim; ink, iodine and graphite; spiced and macerated black currants and blueberries opening to notes of mint, cedar and smoke; a dense, chewy, loamy, vital red blend sustained by stalwart dusty tannins and vibrant acidity while managing to stay light on its feet, almost elegant. Always one of my favorite Argentine red wines. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.
Quintessential, Napa, Calif.
Ferraton Pere et Fils “Plan de Dieu” 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, France. 14% alc. Grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carignan. Dark ruby color shading to a bright magenta rim; a melange of plums, currants and blueberries wrapped in lavender, licorice and violets; substantial and savory, notes of dry meadow herbs; underbrush, hints of tar and loam riven by keen acidity for a lively presentation with surprising character for the price. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.
Sera Wine Imports, New York.

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2015, Collio, Italy. 13.5% alc. Dark purple-magenta color with a glowing violet rim; ripe plums and blueberries, distinctive notes of leather and loam; smoke and iodine, hint of plum preserves; a deep well of graphite minerality bolsters an unexpectedly seductive silken texture, though the overall impression is of power and energy on the palate. Now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $28.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.

Masseria Li Veli “Orion” 2016, Salento, Italy. 14% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; lots of personality and presence on the palate; deeply spiced plums and currants, fairly briery and brambly, with foresty elements and loam; clean-cut acidity and flint-like minerality make an incisive impression. Now through 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $14, representing Good Value.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.

Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2016, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Lovely medium ruby hue; classic notes of dried cherries and raspberries, black tea, cloves and orange rind; vigorous acidity pushes through sturdy tannins to a finish lashed by graphite minerality; quite dry, a little austere, and layered with spare notes of red berry flavors. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $27.
Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.

Post Scriptum de Chryseia 2016, Douro Valley, Portugal. 13.5% alc. A blend of typical red grapes of the region. Dark ruby with a thin ephemeral rim; a compote of ripe, fleshy black and red plums and raspberries, replete with a spectrum of woody spices and forest floor elements; very gratifying structure balances dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and lips-smacking acidity for a full-hearted, robust package. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $27.
Premium Port Wines, San Francisco.

Two Angels Petite Sirah 2016, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. Deep dark black purple with a thermonuclear violet rim; ripe spicy and macerated black currants, cherries and plums; hints of leather, licorice and bittersweet chocolate with a back-note of vanilla from the oak; wiry tannins and a lithe, silken texture enlivened by bracing acidity leading to a slightly austere, iron-flecked finish. A superior petite sirah. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $27.

“Claret” is what the British call — or used to call — the red wines of Bordeaux, as in “we had a fine old claret for lunch at the club today” or “the claret that Oswald presented for dinner was more than amusing but less than distinguished.” The term is not to be confused with “clairette,” which is what the Bordelaise term a wine made from red grapes that is more robust than a rosé but less dense and dimensional than a regular red wine. Producers in California either take the term seriously or they have a riff and a laff, as in Bonny Doon’s red wine blend named “A Proper Claret,” which is anything but proper. David Ramey plays the game slightly slantwise by blending 8 percent of the decidedly not Bordeaux variety syrah with 52 percent cabernet sauvignon, 26 percent merlot, 12 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot for his Ramey Cellars Claret 2016, Napa Valley. (Malbec, though one of the traditional “5 Classic Red Grapes of Bordeaux,” is now seldom seen in the region.) The Ramey Claret 2016 aged 12 months in French and American oak, a scant 13 percent new barrels, and is all the better for such judicious treatment. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a transparent rim; it’s a ferrous and sanguinary red wine, whose black currant and raspberry scents and flavors are influenced by a ripe, spicy nature and deep permutations of iodine, iron, graphite and a fleshy, meaty character. Foresty tannins feel finely sifted into a firm texture that flows with lithe suppleness on the palate, abetted by the dynamics of lip-smacking acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very drinkable yet a serious effort. I hear this one crying out for standing rib roast, braised short ribs, a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Now through 2022 or ’24. Excellent. About $42.

A sample for review. The date on the label illustration is one year retrograde.

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