Anderson Valley


This post began as a Weekend Wine Notes that I was not able to finish for the weekend. So, here it is, pushing the March Pinot Noir Month into April. So be it. I offer eight pinot noir wines from various regions of California, one rates Exceptional, six rate Excellent, and one Very Good+. All are well-made and worthy of purchase. I eschew technical, historical and geographical data in favor of quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-magenta shading to a totally transparent, ethereal rim; opens slowly, unfurling notes of black and red currants and plums, hints of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras; a bit of the feral quality of wild cranberry and blueberry; supremely satiny-like texture flows like money on the palate; brings up woodsy spice and a subtle floral element; some time in the glass allows spare tannins to emerge. A lovely balance between power and elegance. Now through 2024 to ’26. Excellent. About $35.

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Dutton Estate Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Radiant and ethereal medium ruby hue; layer upon seamless layer of seductive detail and dimension; sandalwood and sassafras, beetroot and boxwood, violets and rose petals; compote of macerated currants and plums; super satiny and supple, lithe but generous; darkly spicy and fruity elements of mulberry and cranberry, but quite dry; fairly muscular from mid-palate back through the flint-and-graphite-inflected finish. Now through 2023 to ’25. Haunting, platonic. Exceptional. About $46.

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FEL Wines Pinot Noir 2016, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. Pure, limpid medium ruby color; loam, briers and brambles; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants; hints of plum and rose petal, with a wild note of cranberry; especially sleek, lithe and supple on the palate, quite dry but juicy with black and red fruit flavors; forest floor and a touch of rhubarb; a poignant and elegant mineral edge for the finish. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $38.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby with a transparent magenta rim; abundant aromas of black and red cherries and plums, permeated by notes of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras; a bit of time in the glass brings in hints of cranberry and pomegranate; dense and sinewy on the palate, with a lustrous and lacy element of bright acidity and dusty tannins; lovely harmony and poise. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.

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Lucas & Lewellen Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Barbara County. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby hue; a warm and spicy pinot noir, with notes of raspberries and plums, cloves and sandalwood; lively and appealing on the palate, good balance between ripe berry flavors and a fairly spare texture; the finish leans toward baking spices and dried herbs. Through 2020. Very Good+. About $20.

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Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple shading to a bright magenta rim; spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries; cloves and sandalwood, rhubarb and sassafras; very sleek and satiny, full-bodied, dense, with lots of presence on the palate; burgeoning elements of underbrush, briers and brambles; hints of graphite, oolong tea and rose petals with moderate, slightly dusty tannins. A joy to drink. Through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. 200 cases. Limpid medium to light ruby hue; a compote of cherries and currants infused with touches of cloves and sandalwood, cinnamon and cumin; some rooty black tea, hints of blueberry, rhubarb and lilac, bittersweet chocolate and beetroot; powered by tingling acidity and a honed edge of flint and graphite; a lovely ethereal character, but defined by foresty tannins. Wonderful balance and integration of all qualities. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $49.

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ZD Wines Founders Reserve Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros. NA% alc. Transparent ruby-brick red color; first, cloves, sassafras, rhubarb; then, cherries, raspberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in a note of pomegranate; a powerful presence on the palate, dense, satiny, almost chewy; rooty and foresty with a touch of candied red cherries; animated by lively acidity and a honed edge of graphite minerality; lots of personality and character. Now through 2024 to ’26. Excellent. About $80.

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Last week, “Pinot Noir Month, Part 5A,” covered the 2015 wines from Black Kite Cellars. Today, we look at Black Kite’s same single-vineyard pinot noirs from 2016.

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Black Kite Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. 215 cases. 11 months French oak, 50% new barrels. Dark ruby shading to a light mulberry rim; iodine, graphite and loam; intensely floral and spicy; honed flint; black currants and cherries, hint of blueberry; rhubarb and sandalwood, pomegranate and cloves; real tone, presence and substance; perfectly complete, balanced and integrated; seductive but with a serious spine of minerals, oak and tannin; exquisite detail and dimension. Now through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.

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Black Kite Sierra Mar Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.3% alc. 200 cases. 11 months French oak, 50% new. Transparent medium ruby fading to an ethereal rim; cloves, sandalwood, balsam, oolong tea; macerated black cherries and currants; super satiny and supple, balancing opulence with rigorous structure; dry, a bit reticent from mid-palate back through a finish defined by graphite and slightly dusty tannins. Try 2020 through 2026 or ’28. Excellent. About $45.

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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.8% alc. 268 cases. 11 months French oak, 66% new. Magnetically attractive, totally transparent medium ruby hue, shading to an invisible rim; exotic and seductive; sassafras and beetroot, rhubarb and cranberry, sandalwood; compote of red and black cherries and currants; sleek, supple and silky, picking up notes of underbrush and loam; after a few minutes, you feel the alcohol a bit, making for a slightly hot finish. Lacks finesse and elegance. Now through 2021 to ’24. Very Good+. About $45.

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Black Kite Kite’s Rest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.6% alc. 1,625 cases. 11 months French oak, 66% new barrels. Dark ruby-mulberry hue, shading through magenta transparency; intensely aromatic: smoke and tobacco, leather and loam, violets and lavender; deeply spiced and macerated black raspberries and plums; succulent but with a touch of hauteur; vibrant and vivid, with bright acidity; brings up hints of blueberry and pomegranate; penetrating and persistent elements of pine and mint; beautifully proportioned. Now through 2023 to ’26. Excellent. About $50.

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Black Kite Stony Terrace Block Pinot Noir 2016, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. 132 cases. 18 months French oak, 66% new barrels. Transparent medium ruby color, like an agency for light; quite free with the spice-box: cloves, allspice, hint of cumin; macerated black and red cherries opening to notes of sassafras and loam, with rhubarb and cranberry in the background; lithe, supple and silky on the palate, energized by acidity that cuts a swath; sleek with honed flint and graphite, emanating from mild, slightly dusty tannins. Now through 2022 to ’26. Excellent. About $60.

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Black Kite River Turn Block Pinot Noir 2016, Anderson Valley. 14.6% alc. 131 cases. 18 months French oak, 66% new barrels. Ineffable medium to light ruby color; a quickly evolving melange of iodine and mint, black cherry and lilac, sandalwood and beetroot; notes of blueberry and cranberry; heady and exotic but serious strains of acidity and tannic structure with a touch of oak; no kissy-face little pinot noir here. Now through 2023 to ’27 or ’28. Excellent. About $60.

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Black Kite Redwood’s Edge Block Pinot Noir 2016, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. 132 cases. 18 months French oak, 66% new barrels. Medium ruby shading to a light cherry rim; woody spices and woodland elements of wild fruit and flowers; black and red cherries, plums and a hint of fruitcake; firmly structured but long, lissome threads of delicious berry flavors and bright acidity; a hint of some rooty, woodsy tea; grows more elegant and nuanced as the moments pass; the finish brings in dried herbal notes. Really lovely. Now through 2022 to ’26. Excellent. About $60.

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Tom and Rebecca Birdsall, devotees of Burgundian pinot noir and chardonnay, launched Black Kite cellars in 2003, on land that Rebecca’s parents, Donald and Maureen Green, had purchased in 1995. This land comprised 40 remote acres in Mendocino Country’s Anderson Valley, overlooking the Navarro River. The estate vineyard is Kite’s Rest, with three blocks receiving separate treatment and bottling: Redwoods Edge, Stony Terrace and River Turn, selected by differences in elevation and exposure. The Birdsalls also purchase pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from vineyards to the south, Gap’s Crown in Sonoma Coast, and Sierra Mar and Soberanes in Santa Lucia Highlands. The rows of vines they purchase are tended to their specifications. Home wines receive black labels; “away” wines get blue labels. Winemaker for Black Kite Cellars is Jeff Gaffner, who has his own celebrated winery. Saxon Brown. I have been a fan of these wines since I first encountered them in the 2007 vintage. Seldom do I find California pinot noirs that so exquisitely balance the ethereal and the elegant with power and might. In the next day or so, I’ll post similar reviews for the 2016s.

These wines were samples for review.

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Black Kite Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.3% alc. 91 cases. 12 months French oak, 50% new barrels. Totally transparent medium ruby color shading to an ethereal rim; exotic, seductive; black and red cherries and plums, fleshy and meaty; a spicy compote but structured with a ferrous and sanguinary edge; iodine, graphite and forest floor; acidity that plows a furrow; cranberry and sassafras, touches of cumin and allspice; a dry finish of briers and brambles. Graceful, expressive, eloquent, leaning toward profound. 2022 to ’27, if stored properly. Exceptional. About $50.

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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.3% alc. 219 cases. 12 months French oak, 50% new barrels. Limpid medium to light ruby-magenta hue; rhubarb, sassafras and beetroot; blueberry, black cherry and raspberry; hints of loam and graphite, and, on the palate, a touch of slightly dusty tannins; depths of baking spices and foresty-meadowy elements — savory, feral and floral; a pinot noir that’s lovely and multi-dimensional in every sense. Through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.

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Black Kite Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. 221 cases. 11 months French oak, 50% new barrels. Fairly dark ruby color shading to a transparent mulberry rim; a marinated macedoine of black cherries and raspberries, spicy and minerally; subdued, reticent, with touches of leather and loam; super sleek with a slightly roughened texture as if lightly sandpapered; very gradually unfurls more spice and a floral element. Now through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+. About $60.

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Black Kite Kite’s Rest Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley. 14.7% alc. 1,362 cases. 10 months French oak, 1/3 new barrels. Medium transparent ruby with a rim like an infinity pool, fading into the ether; opens slowly and gathers intensity; black and red currants and cherries, talc and lavender, notes of sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb; super satiny texture slightly roughed by the delicate sandpaper of tannin and bright acidity; a long fathomless finish. Through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.

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Black Kite River Turn Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley. 14.9% alc. 198 cases. 16 months French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Transparent medium ruby-magenta; succulent and generous, expressive and expansive; deep, dark and exotic; black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate; rose petals and violets, sassafras and rhubarb; platonic satiny texture with real heft on the palate; a backbone of vibrant acidity and sleek, dusty tannin. Through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.

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Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. 195 cases. 16 months French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; black cherry and currant compote, infused with rhubarb and cranberry and the whole exotic spice box — sandalwood, cloves , cumin; hints of new leather and potpourri; quite dry but seductively satiny, ethereal but displaying potent graphite minerality; finish brings in notes of black raspberry, raspberry leaf and smoke. Through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.

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Black Kite Redwood’s Edge Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley. 14.2% alc. 194 cases. 16 months French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Medium transparent ruby color; concentrated, tight and structured; intense notes of black and red cherries and currants; forest floor, briers and brambles, acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; spare and lithe; slowly gather an intense floral perfume. Through 2021 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.

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The “50 Great Wines of 2018” represent regions of France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and various AVAs in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and, of course, a wide range of grape varieties and styles of wine. Prices range from a fabulously low $15 to a pretty high $140, with plenty bottles falling into the sweet spot between about $20 and $30; a great wine does not have to be expensive. These are wines that I not only admired but loved during my reviewing last year. The roster could have been expanded by 10 or 12 wines, but I like to stick to 50 — as I have for many years — because that number forces me to be analytical as well as emotional and totally subjective. For the first time in preparing this annual list, I include snippets of the original reviews to lend My Readers some clues as to why I doted on particular wines. No technical information is included. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.

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Barton Family Wines “Holiday” Clairette Blanche 2017, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, California. 94 cases. Excellent. About $32.
“very dry, spare, elegant, yet vibrant with bright acidity …”
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Berryessa Gap Rosé 2017, Yolo County, California. Equal parts grenache, barbera and zinfandel. 225 cases. Exceptional. About $15.
“not just a great rosé but a great wine.”
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Black Kite Cellars “Stony Terrace” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $60.
“incredibly appealing and satisfying on the sensual level but gradually reveals depths of graphite, loam and forest floor …”
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Reserve Vin Gris de Cigare 2016, Central Coast, California. 50 percent grenache, 15 percent grenache blanc, 12 percent each cinsault and mourvedre, 8 carignane, 3 roussanne. 826 cases. Excellent. About $35.
“a savory, silken rosé, fresh as sun and rain …”
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Booker Pink 2017, Paso Robles, California. 92 percent grenache, 8 percent syrah. 250 cases. Excellent. About $30.
“unusual presence and resonance for a rosé. Don’t miss this one if you can get it.”
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Brovia Ciabot del Re Dolcetto d’Alba 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $40.
“I can’t think of a Dolcetto I have tried that was better than this one.”
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Burgess Cellars Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 11 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $60.
“Classic Napa Valley.”
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Champagne Bruno Paillard Grand Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, nv, France. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $70.
“… as steely and elegant, as refined and balletic as Champagne gets.”
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Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs 2012, Carneros, California. 100 percent chardonnay. Exceptional. About $115.
“A sparkling wine of impeccable class and sophistication.”
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Catena “La Consulta” Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $20.
“A superb example of the grape.”
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Churchill’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal. Excellent. About $80.
“A lovely evocation of earth and elegance and a joy to drink.”
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Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, Eagle Peak, Mendocino, California. 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.
“… bright and fresh, with seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but a glittering edge of graphite, too…”
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Day Wines Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 450 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
“Amazing tone, shape and presence.”
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DeForville San Rocco Nebbiolo d’Alba 2014, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
“… fairly seethes with spare black fruit flavors that lead to a chiseled, faceted finish.”
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Donelan Family Wines “Nancie” Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, California. Exceptional. About $48.
“Rich? Oh, yes. Overdone, immodestly ripe and assertive? Certainly not. The balance, in fact, is risky and thrilling.”
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Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012, Douro, Portugal. Excellent. About $24.
“A powerful expression of the LBV style.”
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Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California. 317 cases. Exceptional. About $72.
“Altogether, a remarkable marriage of power and elegance.”
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Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc 2015, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California. Excellent. About $65.
“A terrific Napa Valley interpretation of the grape.”
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Ehrhart Domaine Saint-Remy Hengst Grand Cru Riesling 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $30.
“…sleek and suave, tremendous tone and presence but more spare and elegant than opulent.”
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The Farm Winery “Touchy-Feely” 2013, Adelaida District, Paso Robles. 80 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah. 241 cases. Excellent. About $60.
“… elegant and authoritative together, a silken texture emboldened by slightly sanded tannins and stirring acidity, all wrapped in a generous, chiseled, fine-spun granitic structure.”
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Chateau Faugeres 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc, 5 cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $45.
“Beautifully made, and perfect for a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding.”
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Fields Family Wines Delu Vineyard Vermentino 2016, Alta Mesa, Lodi County, California. Fewer than 70 cases. Exceptional. About $21.
“A truly exquisite wine … scintillates with crystalline purity and intensity.”
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Forge Cellars “Les Allies” Dry Riesling 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. 262 cases. Excellent. About $28.
“… a potent riesling notable for clarity, crispness and depth.”
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Gamble Family Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Yountville, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $25.
“Always one of the best.”
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Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, California. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $31.
“… chiseled, faceted and crystalline with varietal purity and intensity and a feeling of connection to its vineyard, the sun and the wind.”
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Groth Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent merlot. Excellent. About $65.
“… a beautifully balanced and precise cabernet sauvignon that displays admirable equilibrium.”
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Halter Ranch Vineyard Grenache Blanc 2015, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, California. 80 percent grenache blanc, 14 percent picpoul, 4 roussanne, 2 viognier. Excellent. About $28.
“Well, this is just beautiful.”
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Highlands Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California. 350 cases. Excellent. About $75.
“… remarkably fresh, exact, dynamic and compelling.”
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Schloss Johannisberger “Gelblack” Riesling Feinherb 2014, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $25.
“… a lovely, golden, savory riesling, fresh and appealing…”
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Jordan Vineyard and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, California. 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13.7 percent merlot, 5.8 percent petit verdot, 1.2 percent malbec and 0.3 percent cabernet franc. Exceptional. About $56.
“… an intriguing marriage of power and elegance, finishing with faceted and chiseled granitic minerality.”
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Jordan Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley, California. Exceptional. About $33.
“… a chardonnay of shimmering purity and intensity that satisfies on every level.”
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Kreck Wines Del Barba Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, California. 45 cases. Excellent. About $42.
“… a surprising elegant and lithe structure that it feels as if it emits a special lightness of being.”
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Lafond Winery and Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, California. Exceptional. About $27.
“… a dense and chewy pinot noir that delivers considerable presence and power on the palate and an uplift of bright acidity.”
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Champagne Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, nv, France. 55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir, seven years on the lees in bottle. Exceptional. About $140.
“… amazing presence on the palate, lovely, impressive, regal. ‘Grand,’ indeed.”
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Maryhill Proprietor’s Reserve Albariño 2017, Columbia Valley, Washington. 719 cases. Exceptional. About $20.
“… the finest albariño wine I have tasted… An extraordinary performance.”
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, California. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
“… lovely, almost sensual weight and heft on the palate with an elegant and refined feeling of weightlessness.”
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Onward Wines Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California. 139 cases. Exceptional. About $58.
“… combines the qualities of being elegant and ethereal with incisiveness and a definitely rigorous structure… Remarkable tone and presence.”
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Domaine Ostertag Muenchberg Riesling 2014, Alsace Grand Cru. Exceptional. About $42.
“… a golden wine that feels like liquid money on the tongue… A marvel of resonant personality and varietal character.”
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Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Sonoma Valley, California. 96.8 percent zinfandel, 3.2 percent mixed black grapes. 900 cases. About $60.
“… plenty of depth and dimension and a hint of an untamed quality, but the emphasis is on exquisitely poised proportion.”
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Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, California. Exceptional About $25.
“My reaction … was, short of weeping, just to fall in love.”
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Roar Wines Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California. 449 cases. Excellent. About $60.
“… lovely purity and intensity, gaining dimension in the glass even as it offers ethereal elements of talc, violets and rose petals…”
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Sanford Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, California. Exceptional. About $35.
“… feels as impeccable as anyone could ask for.”
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Domaine Savary Premier Cru Vaillon 2017, Chablis, France. Excellent. About $35.
“For all that focus on structure, however, the wine projects innate delicacy and elegance.”
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Scheid Vineyards Gruner Veltliner 2016, Monterey County. 133 cases, Excellent. About $24.
“A fabulously attractive texture feels almost powdery on the palate, yet it remains light, lissome and elegant.”
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Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California. 850 cases. Exceptional. About $34.
“… amazing purity and intensity … crystalline tone and chiseled presence.”
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Tres Sabores Rutherford Zinfandel 2014, Napa Valley. California. 500 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
“… a remarkable, incisive, decisive wine of impeccable presence, integrity and allure.”
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Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc 2017, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 52 percent marsanne, 48 percent viognier. Excellent. About $25.
“An extraordinary wine, sleek with personality and character.”
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Wrath Wines Alta Loma Vineyard Grenache 2015, Monterey County. 82 cases. Exceptional. About $39.
“… you feel as if you’re drinking the vineyard.”
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Wrath Wines Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, California. 249 cases. Exceptional. About $49.
“… delivers gratifying depth and breadth in a package that feels wholly complete.”
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Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.
“Just lovely.”
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Twelve examples of pinot noir today, as I catch up on wines that I tasted throughout the last six months. This post is just the beginning. There will be at least one more in this particular series, a post devoted to pinot noir from Willamette Valley, and a series about individual wineries and producers. We range from Sta. Rita Hills in the south, in Santa Barbara County, to Anderson Valley in the north, in Mendocino. Ten of these wines rate Excellent, one Very Good+ and one Exceptional. The arrangement is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, is a really pretty pinot noir that exhibits a serious depth of sinew and underbrush. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is a limpid, transparent medium ruby with an invisible rim, basically what I consider the perfect pinot noir hue; what’s in the nose? pomegranate, cranberry and loam, black and red cherries, cloves and sassafras, with a touch of cherry tart. This is supper satiny, sleek and supple on the palate, with lovely lush berry flavors bolstered by pert acidity and a real edge of dusty tannins, iodine, briers and brambles. Alcohol level is a comfortable and sane 13.7 percent. Now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Tyler Thomas. Excellent. About $44.
Edited image from damewine.com.
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The Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, is a muscular version of the grape, as well as being an exemplar of varietal purity and intensity. It underwent the same oak regimen as its stablemate mentioned in the previous review. The color is a beguiling medium ruby that fades to utter transparency at the rim; the bouquet is a warm and seductive melange of black and red cherries, cloves and sandalwood with notes of rhubarb and pomegranate compote; a touch of slightly bitter cherry skin and pit and a hint of loam keep it from being deliriously pleasurable. The wine is quite dry on the palate, carrying a considerable presence of cherry and plum flavors through a burgeoning element of underbrush and graphite. 13.2 percent alcohol. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, in Santa Barbara County. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $52.
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The color of the Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch-Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is dark ruby shading to a glowing magenta rim; pungent notes of black and red cherries and currants open to hints of violets and lilac and an array of elements that lean toward dried, sifted and refined baking spices and underbrush qualities; assertive acidity cuts a swath through a lithe, sinewy talc-like texture that flexes some tannic muscles through a finish packed with flint and forest floor. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The Green Valley of Russian River Valley, located at the southwestern corner of RRV, is one of the smallest and coolest AVAs in Sonoma County. Winemaker was Dan Goldfield. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $62.
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The Dutton-Goldfield Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels. Every aspect of this pinot noir is lovely until you realize how powerful it is, how dynamic. The color is medium ruby, fading to a transparent rim; all the floral qualities, the spice, the red berry fruit you could ask for characterize the nose, a seamless melange of rose petals and violets, sassafras and sandalwood, loam and graphite, cherries and cranberries; these elements segue onto the palate, where the wine is lithe and supple, propelled by energetic acidity yet so mouth-filling that it seems almost monumental. Every quality combines in pinpoint balance and integration. Production was 292 cases. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $62.
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The color of the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley, is deep royal purple with a transparent magenta rim; a transcendent compote of black cherries, currents and plums seethes with notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, bringing in touches of smoke and loam, briers and brambles; a dense and satiny pinot noir, it delivers tremendous presence on the palate as well as adding hints of black raspberry and lavender to its panoply of fruit flavors; the wine is quite dry yet succulent and enveloping, with a finish of just enough tannins and graphite mineral qualities to keep it serious. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 402 cases. Now through 2021 to ’23. Winemaker was Ryan Hodgins. Excellent. About $70.
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The Russian River Selection wines from Gary Farrell, at least the pinot noirs, tend to display forthright and robust qualities, and the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, does not disappoint. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. A radiant ruby-magenta hue offers a transparent rim; a well-spiced compote of red and black cherries and plums is permeated by notes of loam and leather, pomegranate, cranberry and beetroot, with a hint of sandalwood; it’s quite a substantial pinot noir, dense and chewy and satiny, vibrant with acidity and graphite elements and a background of briers and brambles. 13.9 percent alcohol. Eminently drinkable. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Ten months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, lend the Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, a touch of sheen, shape and exoticism. The color is transparent medium ruby; bright cherry-berry fruit is infused with notes of sassafras and sandalwood, lavender and loam, with cranberry and mulberry manifest in the background. A soft, supple texture and clean, precise acidity testify to the wine’s elegance and deft character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Boy, the Raeburn Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, is a bright and boldly-framed wine that aged 11 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color may be transparent medium ruby, shading to an ephemeral magenta rim, but the wine is vividly ripe and spicy. Black cherries and currants and blueberries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, sandalwood and pomegranate, with an under-layer of loam and forest floor; silky and supple in texture, this pinot noir offers weight on the palate that would be sumptuous except that it’s balanced by surging acidity and graphite elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 or ’23. Winemaker was Joe Tapparo. Excellent. About $25, representing Good Value.
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The color of the Sanford Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, is a beautifully transparent medium ruby, like a glass of red wine in a Dutch still-life painting; intense and concentrated aromas of macerated black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of cloves, pomegranate and loam; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of slightly resinous smoke and tobacco leaf. A dense, satiny texture feels lustrous on the palate, layering lovely purity and intensity that feels both weightless and sensual; the wine gradually builds a foundation of briers, brambles and underbrush tempered by bright berry flavors and lip-smacking acidity; the finish feels burnished by lightly sanded tannins and a dusty, woodsy character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Steve Fennell. Sanford, which traces its beginning to the planting of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971, specializes in single-vineyard and separate-block pinot noirs, but this one, the basic offering, feels as impeccable as anyone could ask for. Now through 2022 to ’24. Exceptional. About $35, and marked Worth a Search.
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This cadet offering, the Sarah’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Clara Valley, delivers fine quality for the price. Aged 11 months in French oak, only 10 percent new barrels, the wine displays a medium ruby hue with a transparent edge, and bright notes of red cherries, cranberries and pomegranate, infused with foresty notes, a touch of lilac and rose petal and a hint of rhubarb and sassafras. This array segues seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine exhibits medium weight, a sleek, satiny texture and pert acidity for animation; the finish is nicely balanced and integrated. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Production was 557 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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The 12-acre Muns Vineyard lies at 2,600 feet above Monterey Bay in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about half-an-hour south of Los Gatos. Sarah’s Vineyard produced 420 cases of the Sarah’s “Muns Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains. The color is a lovely totally transparent medium cerise hue; a soft melding of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, red currants and cherries displays a slight edge of beetroot and sweet loam, with graphite in the background. This is dry, spare and fine-boned on the palate, propelled by bright, fresh acidity that drives through to a finish that generates considerable dusty tannins as time passes, during which the wine picks up elements of pencil shavings and cigarette paper, cranberry and apple skin. 14.2 percent alcohol. A very pretty pinot noir that sports a serious side. Production was 420 cases. Now through 2023 to ’26. Excellent. About $45.
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The color of the Scheid Vineyards Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; scents of marinated black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot, rose petals and spiced black tea; a few moments in the glass bring in a touch of loam and graphite. Boy, this is sleek, subtle and suave on the palate, yet animated by the tension of bright acidity and a sense of spare, sinewy elegance; flavors of dark, spicy cherries and plums carry their weight through to a slightly dusty, mildly tannic finish. Beautifully-wrought. Excellent. About $75.
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Current releases from Onward Wines confirm my belief that Faith Armstrong Foster is one of California’s best winemakers, notable for her deft touch, her thoughtfulness and care; she’s also the owner. She produces lamentably small quantities of wines — from impeccably maintained vineyards — that are low in alcohol, see minimal new oak and that are allowed to speak for themselves and the vineyards from which they derive rather than exist as proponents of the winemaker’s ego. I urge My Readers to seek out the Onward Wines and the second label Farmstrong as brilliant examples of honesty, authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review. Every accompanying label image is one vintage retrograde; the winery website has not caught up to the current releases.
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When we tried these petillant naturel sparkling products from Onward Wines, my wife said, “Can we get a case of these?” Yes, they’re that delightful and charming and perfect for Summertime. The Onward Wines Hawkeye Ranch Petillant Naturel Rosé 2017, Redwood Valley, is 100 percent pinot noir, made in the ancient method of bottling the wine with some lees before fermentation is complete, so a bit of carbon dioxide remains in the bottle. The result is a mild and pleasant effervescence that gently tickles the nose and stimulates the palate. The color here is very pale copper-salmon; aromas of hibiscus and lime blossom, ripe and macerated raspberries and strawberries with a note of lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a piquant hint of cranberry segue smoothly into the mouth; the general effect is delicate and spare, fairly lithe in texture, dry, meadowy and breezy, and it goes down easy. 11.3 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

The Onward Wines Capp Inn Ranch Petillant Naturel Malvasia Bianca 2017, Suisun Valley, is characterized by a brisk saline quality that reminded me of salt marsh and seashore. The color is pale straw-gold with a faint green tinge; notes of heather and damp flint, ginger and quince, lychee and lemongrass open to hints of jasmine and lime peel; there’s a touch of riesling-like oily rubber eraser quality that adds intrigue without detracting from the wine’s freshness and appeal; the wine is quite crisp and dry and finishes with layers of dried herbs and limestone minerality. 12.4 percent alcohol. Production was 386 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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The Farmstrong Field Rosé 2017 derives from dry-farmed vineyards in the northern Mendocino AVA of Redwood Valley. The wine is a fifty/fifty blend of carignane from 80-year-old vines and zinfandel from 65-year-old vines, the grapes harvested intentionally for rose and co-fermented with native yeast. It’s an ethereal and evanescent rose, offering a very pale onion-skin hue and delicate notes of strawberry and raspberry, lime peel and tangerine, with a touch of melon; it’s crisp, lively and refreshing, just slightly touched with graphite and a lovely hint of lilac. Quite beguiling. 11.9 percent alcohol. Production was 320 cases. Very Good+. About $18.
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The Onward Wines Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017, Redwood Valley, was fermented in stainless steel tank but aged briefly in neutral French oak barrels, lending the wine a soupçon of suavity and suppleness that doesn’t interfere with its innate delicacy and elegance. The color is very pale onion skin-copper; this is all dried strawberries and raspberries infused with orange rind and damp stones, maintaining a fine balance between ripeness and spareness; hints of rose petal, spiced tea and thyme offer deepening nuance into a tensile structure of limestone minerality. 11.3 percent alcohol. A superior rosé. Production was 246 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Yes, this 2013 is a current release. The Onward Wines Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged 18 months in French oak — 20 percent new barrels, the rest neutral — and then received two years of bottle aging before being sent out into the world. A steep, coastal, rocky site, lying at elevations from 650 to 1,100 feet, the vineyard is farmed by organic and biodynamic methods. The color is transparent medium ruby-garnet; it somehow combines the qualities of being elegant and ethereal with incisiveness and a definitely rigorous structure. Red and black cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, cedar and cigarette paper, a few moments in the glass bringing in undertones of leather, loam and autumn leaves; bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate, lending the wine propulsive power through a finish sustained by moderately dusty tannins and graphite. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 139 cases. Remarkable tone and presence. Exceptional. About $58.
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The Onward Wines Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Redwood valley, aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, the rest neutral, and then received 18 months of bottle aging. It’s a beguiling, lissome, weightless pinot noir that offers a ravishing and totally transparent medium ruby color and winsome aromas of cloves and sandalwood, rhubarb and cranberry, macerated red cherries and currants; touches of rose petals, lilac and pomegranate add to the effect. This pinot noir is meadowy and woodsy, with notes of heather, wild flowers and forest floor animated by brisk acidity and a lithe, sinewy texture; the finish develops more spice and slightly dusty tannins. 12.3 percent alcohol. Production was 347 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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You may be thinking apropos the title of this post, “F.K., why didn’t you just say ’12 California Chardonnays’? Why add ‘I liked'”? Because, Dear Reader, I don’t like many chardonnays made in California, so when I come across a dozen that I can write about together, I want to emphasize that fact. The reason, as you probably know from having been a devoted reader of this blog — bless your little pointy heads! — is that so many chardonnays from The Golden State are saturated with swamps of oak that I open even one with trepidation, and when I’m looking for an appropriate white wine to drink with dinner, I will open just about anything other than chardonnay. It’s a real crap-shoot, this whole chardonnay business. The wines reported on in this post age in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time and using various percentages of new barrels, but the important point is that all 12 achieve a state of balance among all elements, sometimes pushing the boundaries, it’s true, but sometimes that bold, risky factor adds a frisson of appreciation. Other selections here are more elegant and restrained. Today we range from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. Vintages represented are 2014, ’15 and ’16, with the ’14s really coming into a state of grace. These wines were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries and marketing people involved.
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The Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, saw 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is pale gold; aromas of grapefruit, pineapple and mango are intensified by notes of white pepper and gun-flint, lime leaf and a hint of fig; the wine is dense, powdery, almost chewy in texture but energized, sleek and chiseled by chiming acidity and a scintillating limestone and flint element. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of preserved lemon and quince, jasmine and lemon drop. Totally dry but juicy and seductive, this chardonnay is an example of superlative balance. 14.6 percent alcohol. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner produced 135 cases; he is also winemaker for his own label, Saxon-Brown. Excellent. About $48.
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The pale gold Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley-Carneros, was made from 35-year-old vines and vines planted in 1996. Ninety percent of the grapes were barrel-fermented, and the wine spent 10 months in French and Hungarian oak, 15 percent new barrels, with 50 percent malolactic. The result is a chardonnay that flaunts its spicy baked pineapple-grapefruit character and the ripe richness of its citrus and stone-fruit flavors — touches of lime peel and peach — but maintains exquisite balance through crystalline acidity and bright limestone minerality. You feel the structure and a lightly toasted influence from the oak, but nothing is overdone here, nothing cloying or creamy or tropical. The finish brings all elements together into a powerful, harmonious whole. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Winemaker was Chris Kajani. Excellent. About $30.
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The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 15 percent new barrels. The interesting point is that while the standard barrique bordelaise holds 225 liters, the capacity of the barrels in question is 400 liters, meaning less contact with wood. Not that there’s no oak influence, but it asserts itself primarily on the finish. This is a rich, vibrant but beautifully restrained chardonnay, bright medium gold in hue and delivering a pungency of pineapple, grapefruit and spice cake notes, with burgeoning touches of jasmine and camellia; flavorful, round and almost dense on the palate, the wine’s fecundity is reined in by riveting acidity and a dusty limestone and flint quality that carries through to the finish, which somehow manages to convey a sense of elegance and balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. This one offers the substance and depth for further development, say from 2021 through ’25. Winemaker was Tyler Thomas. Excellent. About $32.
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The Donelan Family Wines “Nancie” Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, derives from a vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA and another in Russian River Valley. Fermented with native yeast, the wine aged 10 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. The color is a glowing medium gold hue; beguiling aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and mango feel slightly baked and caramelized, but not excessively, and they’re highlighted by notes of apple skin, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and crystallized ginger, all elements contributing to the sense that this is a golden, luxurious chardonnay. Nothing is exaggerated, however, and all these qualities are expressed with delicacy and nuance. On the palate, the wine flows with silky presence that unfurls the tensile strength of bright acidity and a tide of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of woodsy spices, lemon balm and lemon curd. Rich? Oh, yes. Overdone, immodestly ripe and assertive? Certainly not. The balance, in fact, is risky and thrilling. 14 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Joe Nielson. Now through 2021 to ’24. Exceptional. About $48.
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Taking a deft and delicate approach, winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned the FEL Wines Chardonnay 2016, Anderson Valley, in neutral French oak barrels, aging for nine months with very limited malolactic. The result is a chardonnay of lovely balance and proportion that displays a pale gold hue and seductive aromas of lightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit with hints of spiced pear, lemon verbena and lime peel. A powerful strain crisp acidity and limestone and flint minerality drives the tasty citrus and stone-fruit flavors through a texture of delectable talc-like density, though the cumulative effect is of an artifact that’s precise and chiseled. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $32.
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About 20 percent of the grapes for the Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, is fermented in stainless steel, the rest in French oak; the wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, the remainder used from once to four times. The wine does not go through malolactic. The color is pale gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are moderately spicy and wreathed with jasmine and honeysuckle, gradually adding a touch of slightly dusty limestone. It’s quite dry but juicy and delicious with citrus and stone-fruit flavors highlighted by incisive acidity and a neatly etched limestone element; the texture marks a lovely balance between moderate softness and crystalline edginess. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $27.
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The Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley, illustrates the deft approach taken by Rob Davis, who has made every vintage for the winery since the first in 1976. The grapes fermented 51 percent in new French oak, 49 percent in stainless steel; the wine aged a brief 5 months and two weeks in 100 percent new French oak barrels, malolactic restricted to 26 percent. The result is a chardonnay of shimmering purity and intensity that satisfies on every level. The color is medium straw-gold: aromas of lightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by hints of guava and mango, limestone and gunflint; a few moments in the glass deepen the effect with touches of crystallized ginger and quince jam, jasmine and heather. This chardonnay is ripe and ripe on the palate for sure, but exquisitely balanced by lithe acidity and a transparent, lacy limestone element; the finish brings in lime peel and grapefruit pith and the faintest tinge of coconut and lemon cream. 13.7% alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $33.
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The pale straw-gold McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a rich, bold chardonnay that ultimately displays its balance and integrity. A heady bouquet of lightly toasted pineapple and grapefruit offers notes of green apple and pear, cloves and allspice, camellia and lilac; it’s a dense, vibrant and resonant chardonnay, obviously delivering a lot of personality, presence and flavor on the palate but restrained by a dry, crystalline edge of flint and chalk minerality. The finish brings in hints of dusty graphite, smoke and a touch of woodsy spice. 14.2 percent alcohol. Steve McIntyre made 840 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $28.
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David Ramey employed native yeasts to ferment the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. The wine aged 12 months in French oak, 21 percent new barrels, and went through full malolactic. Though made in a bold, upfront fashion, this chardonnay is intriguing complex and thoughtfully rendered. The color is bright, medium gold; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by hints of cloves and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of nutmeg, with its slightly astringent woodsy quality. A fairly dense and luscious texture is cut by chiming acidity and a just sufficient limestone element, all centered on ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit pith. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $42.
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Sarah’s Vineyard produces small quantities of impeccably balanced and harmonious chardonnays and pinot noirs that, despite their elegance, possess a wild side that adds intrigue to their effects. The Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, was barrel-fermented and aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a striking medium gold hue; bright notes of guava, quince and ginger open to elements of slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, with undertones of graphite and limestone. Crystalline limestone minerality and chiming acidity keep this chardonnay animated and appealing on the palate (as well as quite dry), supporting very pure and intense pineapple and grapefruit flavors, a touch candied around the edges, and, at the finish, a beguiling hint of leafy greenness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Winemaker Tim Slater crafted 227 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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How can a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged nine months in 100 percent new French oak barrels display such amazing purity and intensity, such crystalline tone and chiseled presence? Certainly, a factor must be the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vines that struggle to find nutrients in the hillside vineyard, sending roots ever downward in search of water. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, a favorite in our house whatever the vintage, offers a medium gold hue and arresting aromas of peach, pear and quince that unfurl notes of lemon balm and apple blossom, gunflint and limestone. Supernal in its lithe, supple texture and exquisitely poised between zephyr-like softness and riveting acidity, this chardonnay delivers spare and elegant citrus and stone-fruit flavors that culminate in a finish of glittering limestone minerality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. The Smith brothers concocted 850 cases. Exceptional. About $34.
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Winemaker for Stony Hill Vineyard since 1977, Mike Chelini continues to honor the minimalist approach advocated by the winery’s founder — in 1948, with wife Eleanor — and first winemaker Fred McCrea. The Stony Hill Chardonnay 2015, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, was fashioned from 24-to-33-year-old dry-farmed vines, aged 10 months in neutral French oak barrels and allowed no malolactic. The color is pale straw-gold; this is all white flowers and yellow fruit, a spare, elegant and luminous chardonnay highlighted by notes of ginger, tangerine and quince and drenched with limestone and flint. Bright acidity sends a strain of agile nervosity through the wine’s texture, while the entire package gains strength and character as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2025 through ’28. Excellent. About $48.
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We drank the FEL Wines Pinot Gris 2017, Anderson Valley, with a stir-fry of tofu, asparagus and red bell pepper, and lo, it was good. The wine aged a brief five months in French oak, 35 percent in neutral barriques, 65 percent in a 900- gallon oval. The color is pale straw-gold; tantalizing aromas of baked pear and lemon, jasmine and honeysuckle, open to notes of meadowy complexity and touches of golden plum and guava. A lovely fairly dense talc-like texture is riven by pinpoint acidity, supporting flavors of green grapes, mandarin orange and fig, encompassed by a mildly herbal-leafy quality. From mid-palate back through the finish, this is all quite savory and bracing, infused by iodine and sea-salt and bolstered by burgeoning limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. An exemplar of the grape. Now through 2020 or ’22. Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned 673 cases. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

The evolution of Black Kite Cellars began in 1995 with the purchase by Donald and Maureen Green of a 40-acre property in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, overlooking the Navarro River. Their daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Tom Birdsall, fascinated by the wines of Burgundy, decided to replant an old gewurztraminer vineyard on the estate to pinot noir, producing a first crop in 2003. The winery is named for the endangered Black Shouldered Kite, since renamed (wouldn’t you know) the White Tailed Kite; a stylized depiction of the bird is featured on every label. Working with vineyard manager Paul Ardzrooni and winemaker Jeff Gaffner, distinct areas of the vineyard were identified; these are now bottled separately as Angel Hawk, Kite’s Rest, Redwood’s Edge, River Turn and Stony Terrace. In 2009, the team began purchasing grapes from vineyards several rows of which are farmed to their specifications; these include Gap’s Crown, in Sonoma Coast, and Sierra Mar and Soberanes in Santa Lucia Highlands. I’m dealing with these eight Black Kite pinot noirs from vintage 2014 in the Weekend Wine Notes format because the winery’s current releases are the 2015s. These ’14s, though, are definitely Worth a Search. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical details in favor of quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Gaffner, by the way, has his own label, the justly praised Saxon-Brown. These wines were samples for review.
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Black Kite Cellars “Angel Hawk” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.8% alc. 152 cases. Dark ruby hue shading through medium ruby to transparent magenta; very pure and intense initially but leans toward syrah-like power through the finish; ripe red and black cherries and currants with exotic touches of cloves, nutmeg and sandalwood; deep, dark and spicy — dense, silky and supple; lively and vibrant; brings in a strain of mint, iodine and graphite, with notes of loam and pine balsam. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Kite Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 14.6% alc. 292 cases. Entrancing transparent medium ruby-magenta with an ephemeral rim; you smell the spice, the loam and the cherry fruit as you pour the wine; cherry tart with hints of cranberry and pomegranate, notes of sour cherry and cherry stem, lilac and rose petals; wide range of contrast from sweet fruit and woodsy spices to a firm grounding in the earth; finishes with hints of flint and leather, smoke and cigarette paper. Beautiful poise, balance and resonance. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,254 cases. Light-filled medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; ripe red and black cherry and currant scents and flavors, notes of sassafras and rhubarb, lavender and violets; modestly loamy, with touches of briers, brambles and forest floor, shading toward autumnal; brings in elements of smoke and flint-like minerality, animated by brisk acidity; leans toward the exotic on the finish with lilac and sandalwood. Not quite the integration of the Stony Terrace and Redwood’s Edge. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $50.
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Black Kite “Redwood’s Edge” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 14.7% alc. 193 cases. Totally transparent cherry red shading to an ethereal rim; root-like, tea-like, loamy, with distinct notes of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and plums; hints of cloves and sandalwood opening to touches of rose petals and violets; quite dry but supple, lithe and satiny; unfurls wonderful depth and succulent character while maintaining the lightly tannic grip of briers, brambles and graphite. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Black Kite “River Turn” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.9% alc. 193 cases. The darkest ruby hued of these pinot noirs, though shading to a transparent magenta rim; sassafras and sandalwood, rhubarb, pomegranate and beetroot, all slicked by a smoky black and red cherry glaze; pretty damned unabashed, with lip-smacking fruit and acidity and upfront notes of woodsy spice, forest floor and loam; drapes the palate with sleek satiny texture; lasting hints of cedar, tobacco and resin; a bit of heat and sweetness from the alcohol on the finish. Now through 2021 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.
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Black Kite Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.6% alc. 120 cases. Transparent but vivid medium ruby-magenta hue; cloves and cardamom, black cherries and currants, wood-smoke and sandalwood; lovely shape and presence on the palate; sleek, lithe texture bolstered by vibrant acidity and mild, lightly dusted tannins; gets drier and earthier as the moments pass. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $50.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.8% alc. 572 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; a dusty and darkly musky pinot noir, spare yet generous, displaying the panoply of effects: ripe raspberries, mulberries and cranberries infused by notes of sandalwood and toasted cumin, lilac and lavender and hints of pomegranate, sassafras and rhubarb, all unfolding gradually in seamless subtlety; super satiny texture riven by bright acidity and a keen graphite edge. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Black Kite “Stony Terrace” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.8% alc. 193 cases. Transparent medium ruby color fading to a lighter rim; large-framed, packed with spice and minerals; black and red cherries permeated by sandalwood and pomegranate, lavender and violets, rhubarb and cranberry; freighted with dense, dusty satin, lithe and vibrant; incredibly appealing and satisfying on the sensual level but gradually reveals depths of graphite, loam and forest floor; some time in the glass opens notes of raspberry leaf and tomato skin. Now through 2022 to ’24. Exceptional. About $60.
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Last week I posted an entry to this blog about exquisite pinot noirs, one of which was the Onward Wines Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. Two responses on Facebook recommended that I try a different wine from the same vineyard, the Lioco Wine Company Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, also carrying an Anderson Valley appellation. Ever eager to follow a suggestion for a good wine, I went to a local retail store and purchased a bottle of the wine, which, while not falling into the exquisite category entertained by the post certainly was amazing. Lioco was founded in 2005 by Kevin O’Connor, former sommelier for Spago-Beverly Hills, and Matt Licklider, who worked for North Berkeley Imports. Kevin Kelly was winemaker until 2011, when he was replaced by John Raytek (who made the wine under review), in turn replaced in 2017 by Kai Kleigl, the same year that Matt and Sara Licklider took control of the winery.

The Lioco Wine Company Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, derives from a low vigor vineyard that varies in altitude from 1,030 to 1,100 feet, where vines have to struggle to find water and nutrients. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, only 25 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; a provocative and enveloping bouquet offers notes of graphite and iodine, briers, brambles and raspberry leaf, with hints of raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of sandalwood and allspice, with an element of the latter’s slightly astringent woodsy nature. Dense and satiny, supple and lithe on the palate, the wine delivers a surge of acidity to power its nicely spare red berry flavors; despite the heft, the texture feels almost ethereal. The wine grows more exotic, opening to loamy qualities, with rose petals and lilac. 13.7 percent alcohol. Production was 165 cases. Drinking beautifully now; try through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $52. (A local purchase; I paid $56.)

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