Best Wines

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.

Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.

Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.

We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from
This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)

Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.

Following a godlike whim, I sprang for a bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998 for New Year’s Eve, and while you may call be a creature touched by the wing of madness, I’m not sorry, nor is LL. We reveled in the damned stuff!

Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne is one of the region’s legendary luxury products, along with such hallowed tête de cuvée or grand marque Champagnes as Moët et Chandon’s Dom Perignon; Louis Roederer Cristal; Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill; Krug Clos de Mesnil; Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame; Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne; Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle “La Cuvée”; Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises; and, perhaps in a class by itself, Salon. These rare and costly bottles of bubbly are the stuff of dreams and well-tended expense accounts, beloved by hip-hop artists and soccer idols, tsars and potentates.

What makes a truly great Champagne great are the same factors that make any wine truly great: the most impressive character, tone and presence derived from exceptional vineyards and wedded to impeccable craftsmanship. Sounds easy!

Taittinger traces its origin to 1743 and founder Jacques Fourneaux. Almost 200 years later, that is in 1932, the house was acquired by Pierre Taittinger, who was also able, because of the hard times, to buy a number of important vineyards, as well as the 13th Century chateau of the Comtes de Champagne. Taittinger first produced its flagship Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut, named for Thibaut IV whose device appears on the label and neck, from the vintage of 1952. It is made completely from chardonnay grapes, primarily from Grand Cru vineyards, though not all owned by the company. The Champagnes of Taittinger are more notable for finesse and elegance than for power and substance, yet while Comtes de Champagne evokes that principle it expands on those qualities into awesome realms of intensity, purity and dimension.

Tom Stevenson, in World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised and updated edition, 2003), says, ” … it is a crime to drink this wine before its tenth birthday; 15 to 20 years is the optimum window to show both freshness and complexity, and the best vintages keep improving for at least 30 years.” Vintage 1998 was excellent in Champagne, though perhaps not spectacular like 1996. At least by popping the cork after 12 years we weren’t committing infanticide.

Our bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998 — which we accompanied with 1.06 ounces of Royal Osetra caviar from Petrossian in New York on lightly toasted slices of baguette — opened almost shyly. At 12 years old, the color was still pale gold but radiant, while the surge of tiny, foaming bubbles was shamelessly prolific and entrancing. The bouquet, however, took a few moments to gently unfurl its seductive aromas of apple and pear, roasted lemon and acacia flower, all ensconced in an immense manifestation of cinnamon toast and freshly baked biscuits slathered with honey; in three words — To Die For. All right, I used the word “honey,” though my implication is not sweetness but richness, and richness that’s fairly tightly focused, rather than broad and general, since this is a Champagne composed of myriad tissues of delicacies woven into a fabric that wonderfully balances — oops, I automatically switched tenses for a sense of immediacy! — the ephemeral and evanescent and elegant with a dynamic structure of staggering acidity and monumental (but ever so lacy) limestone. So in body and flavor that feeling and form of balance toes the line from beginning to end: bracing as a sea-breeze over a salt marsh yet succulent as hazelnut cream and warm brioche; earthy as a crushed walnut yet dainty as a petal of orange blossom. My point is the whatever profundities Comtes de Champagne 1998 embodies, it remains the epitome of grace and refinement and high style. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional.

As to price, I paid $179, but around the country Comtes de Champagne 1998 can be found as low as $150 and as towering as $300. Seen in those terms, I sort of got a bargain.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York.

All right, I know that this is the list My Readers most want to see, a roster of terrific and affordable wines. No hierarchy; the order is chronological as the wines appeared on the blog. Prices range from $8 to $20, and notice that most of these inexpensive wines were rated Excellent. The value quotient on this list is unimpeachable.

<>Chateau des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Crémant de Loire, Savennières, Loire Valley, France. A sparkling wine composed of 85 percent chenin blanc and 25 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $18. (LDM Wine Imports)

<>Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Monterey County. Excellent. About $15.

<>Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2008, Monterey County. Syrah 55 percent, grenache 45 percent. Excellent. About $16.

<>Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $16.

<>Clos de los Siete 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Malbec (56%), merlot (21%), syrah (11%), cabernet sauvignon (10%), petit verdot (2%). Excellent. About $19. (Dourthe USA, Manhasset, N.Y.)

<>Plantagenet Riesling 2008, Great Southern, Australia. Excellent. About $20. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.)

<>Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 1,450 cases. Excellent. About $15. (Also the Gainey Sauvignon Blanc 2009 rates Excellent and sells for $14; production was 2,300 cases.)

<>Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

<>Oveja Negra Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Carmenère 2009, Maule Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $12. (Vini Wine & Spirits, Coral Sp[rings, Fla.)

<>Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009, Beaujolais, France. Very Good+. $10-$12. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y.)

<>Graham Beck Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008, Coastal Region, South Africa. Excellent. About $16. (Graham Beck Wines, San Francisco)

<>La TrinQuée Juliènas 2009, Les Vins de Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $16. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Llai Llai Pinot Noir 2008, Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $13. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Prieler Johanneshöle Blaufränkisch 2007, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $19-$20. (Terry Theise Selections for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syossett, N.Y.)

<>Bodegas Aragonesas Coto de Hayas Garnacha Syrah 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. Very Good+. About $8. (Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>Bodegas Agustin Cabero Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Very Good+. About $9. Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>X Winery Red X 2008, North Coast. A provocative blend of 55 percent syrah, 23 percent tempranillo, 14 percent grenache and 8 percent zinfandel. Very Good+. About $15.

<>Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca, Chile. Excellent. About $13. (Austral Wines, Atlanta)

<>Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $15. (Dark Star Imports, Neww York)

<>Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valley, Victoria, Australia. 83 percent riesling, 17 percent muscat of Alexandria. Very Good+. About $10. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal.)

<>Calcu Red Wine 2008, Colchagua, Chile. 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carmenère, 15 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Very Good+. About $12. (Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Alma Negra Bonarda 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20. (Winebow, New York)

<>Carrefour Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $18.

<>Joel Gott Riesling 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Very Good+. About $12.

<>Niner Estate Syrah 2006, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $20.

What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

We continue with a series that presents two great wines that I tasted within the last three months — April, May and June for this post — but didn’t get an opportunity to write about.

These wines were samples for review.
The “regular” bottling of Renaissance Winery’s Roussanne 2006 was released early in 2009. A year later came the wine under review today, the Renaissance “Vin de Terroir” Roussanne 2006. The winery lies in the North Yuba appellation of the Sierra Foothills region, about 70 miles north of Sacramento. Gideon Beinstock is a thoughtful and careful winemaker who keeps alcohol levels low and new oak at a minimum. The Renaissance “Vin de Terroir” Roussanne 2006 spent two years and eight months in bottle before release. The wine was fermented in stainless steel with natural yeasts and aged nine months in new and one- and two-year old barrels. Just pulling the cork unleashes scents of pears and roasted lemons into the room; the bouquet wafts like fragile tissues of apple, ginger and quince, bee’s-wax and camellia woven together, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of orange water and rose petals. Bear in mind that nothing bold or flamboyant mars the delicacy of these sensations. This wine is more spare and more elegant than its young cousin, the Renaissance Roussanne 06; the present “Vin de Terroir” version, though lush enough to be almost viscous, almost oily, is nonetheless very dry, lithe and supple, even austere, providing a gratifying paradoxical nature that balances richness with clean, crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Flavors of peaches and pears macerated in cloves and allspice unfold before a tide of wood that’s close to ecclesiastical in its dry, dusty, slightly smoky character (but not toasty or charcoal-y; this is not a new oak thing). In its integrity and individual nature, the Renaissance “Vin de Terroir” Roussanne 2006 is an exotic masterpiece. 13 percent alcohol. The rub? Beinstock made all of 63 cases of this wine. Excellent. About $45.
The related wineries Far Niente (founded in 1979), Dolce (1985) and Nickel & Nickel (1997) have been joined by a new affiliate, En Route, dedicated to making pinot noir in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The first vintage was 2007. Winemaker is Andrew Delos; director of winemaking for the group is Dirk Hampson. Grapes for En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, derive from two vineyards at different locations in Russian River with a touch of grapes from Sonoma Coast. The wine ages 11 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels. This is — what’s the word I’m looking for? — gorgeous, but thinking about the case for a few seconds, I hesitate to use “gorgeous” because it implies a quality of blatancy that the wine does not evince. It is, instead — what’s the word I’m looking for? — ethereal or evanescent or beguiling. The hue is moderate cherry-magenta with a slight blue cast, like the color of lipstick that men associate with danger. Aromas of black and red cherries are wreathed with dried cranberries, cloves and cinnamon, while in the mouth, flavors of black cherries, currants and plums nestle in a super-sexy, smooth satiny texture that’s seductive without being heavy or obvious. Traces of smoke, truffles and moss comprise a species of ripe earthiness that deepens the wine into layers of spicy oak and a hint of slate-like minerality. Really just incredibly lovely. Production was 1,993 cases. 14.8 percent alcohol, which might make the tail-end of the finish a trifle hot, but essentially the wine is superbly balanced and integrated. Excellent. About $50.

Earlier this week, I had Jamie Oliver’s Parsnip and Ginger Soup and Coda alla Vaccinara (Roman Oxtail Stew) ready for LL after her teaching night; she gets home about 8:45 or 9. The soup is from Jamie’s Food Revolution (Hyperion, $35); the oxtail stew is from the April issue of Saveur, and can be found here. While both dishes require some chopping and mincing, once you’ve done that, they’re easy.

Oliver’s book is subtitled “Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals.” Recipes are simple but inflected with the chef’s habitual enthusiasm. The soup truly is delicious, smooth and earthy, but needed more gingery flavors. Oliver calls for “a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root,” and I guess that thumbs come in different sizes.

The triumph was the Coda alla Vaccinara, a superbly rich and flavorful rendition of oxtail stew in an intense tomato sauce that simmers for about three hours, the last 40 minutes or so with stalks of celery that turn meltingly tender. This is the dish that requires a lot of mincing: pancetta or guanciale, onion, celery, carrots, garlic. After you brown the oxtails, which are cut into small sections, and remove them from the pan, you soften all the minced stuff in the remaining, highly flavored olive oil, add red wine and cook until it evaporates — this process adds to the intensity — and then put the oxtails back in the pan with the contents of a large can of tomatoes (squashed by hand) and some water. Cover the pan and go about your business for two hours. Then, for the last 45 minutes to an hour, with the celery stalks, you leave the lid off the pan, so the sauce reduces and the flavors and texture become concentrated. Altogether, it cooks about three hours. Yeah, this is a great dish, and the sauce alone would be fabulous with pasta. In fact, I prepared the recipe for four people, so I think when it’s time to hit the leftovers, I’ll scrape the meat from the bones and serve meat and sauce with penne or farfalle.

I know that I should have served an Italian red wine with the oxtails, but the only Italian reds I have on hand are some Barolos and Barbarescos from 2005, and I’m not touching those for five years. Instead, I turned to the Loire Valley, cabernet franc and the Clos Cristal Hospices de Saumur 2008, from the Saumur-Champigny region. Along this stretch of France’s longest river, the appellations of Anjou, Saumur, Bourgueil and Chinon all cultivate the cabernet franc grape, known in these areas as côt. Unlike in Bordeaux, where cabernet franc is an integral factor among other grapes in the red wines, in the Loire cabernet franc is not blended with other grapes.

Since 1928, profits from the Clos Cristal Hospices de Saumur wines have benefited a local children’s hospital.

The first impression is of a smoky, dusty, earthy wine that faintly emits hints of black currants and black cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring out touches of cedar and tobacco, powdered shale, and more deeply spiced and macerated black fruit. Dusty, graphite-laced tannins deliver not a little austerity for the first few hours the wine is open, though the next morning the wine had smoothed out beautifully, revealing lovely balance and tone– and more smoke and a whiff of black olive — though retaining a tight grip on vibrant acidity and a spare, reticent character. A textbook model of Loire Valley cabernet franc that could be a bit less unbending. I recommend opening the wine three or four hours before serving. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20 to $25.

A Bourgeois Family Selection, Asheville, N.C. A sample for review, but not from the importer.

So last night, we did use the rest of the oxtail stew for a pasta sauce, first carving and scraping all the tiny shards and shreds of meat from the chunky little bones. This was such a rich, hearty and deeply flavorful sauce that we didn’t even grate any Parmesan cheese; it would have been superfluous.

For wine, I opened the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley, made from a biodynamic vineyard certified by Demeter (if that means anything to you and if you care). The year saw much less rainfall than normal, so yields were reduced and grapes were smaller, a factor reflected in this wine’s intensity and concentration. What’s interesting is that in contrast to the ideal (or delusion) of heavily extracted zinfandels in California, this zinfandel offers a lovely medium ruby color rather than the dark purple nigh unto black that we so often see. (Remember, the opaque darkness of the color of a red wine has nothing to do with its quality.) This zinfandel is very spicy and peppery, bursting with notes of blackberry and blackcurrant with a back-tone of strawberry. Dusty, velvety tannins are palatable but firm, while the oak influence — 15 months in large French casks (no new small barrels) –contributes subtle shape and suppleness. Layers of briers and brambles, a distinct mossy/foresty element add complexity to the ripe black fruit flavors, which include hints of mulberry and boysenberry, and the wine finishes with a filigree of wild fruit and exotic spice. Alcohol content is 14.9%. A model zinfandel made in a thankfully non-exaggerated manner. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

If I can keep up with such matters as when quarters of the year start and end, I’ll launch this “Two Great Wines” as a new feature on BTYH. The idea is that in the first three months of 2010 — or the end of each three-month period — these are the best wines, or, to be fair, really great wines, one red and one white, that I have tasted but not yet written about or reviewed.

The august Burgundian firm of Joseph Drouhin owns 1.4 hectares (3.598 acres) of the Chablis Grand Cru vineyard Vaudésir; the total is about 36 acres. Drouhin, headquartered in Beaune, Burgundy’s iconic medieval city, at least the well-preserved center, maintains its own facility in Chablis. The chardonnay grapes are pressed there and the must immediately transported to Beaune, where it is fermented, and then the wine is placed in mostly older oak barrels to age eight or nine months.

The Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007 is incredibly intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; part of the thrill of drinking this wine — and it’s distinctly a thrill — lies in that slight sense of tension and exuberance in the presentation and resolution of these opposite tendencies. Aromas of white peach, tangerine, camellia and honeysuckle seduce the nose; in a moment come drifts of roasted lemon and lemon curd, and, under all this, penetrating scents of gunflint and damp shale for a bracing effect. The texture is such stuff as dreams are made on, a seamless marriage of cloud-like, dusty, talc-y roundness and electrifying acidity, bright as a star, taut as a wire. Flavors of roasted lemon and lime peel are deeply imbued with dried baking spice and a hint of some foresty, leafy element; the finish, which is dry and brings up limestone and earth, is long and satisfying. We drank this with seared swordfish that had been marinated in soy sauce, mirin, lime juice, garlic and fresh ginger. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Drink now through 2015 or ’17. Exceptional. About $72. I didn’t say that these wines were cheap or widely available, just that they’re great.

Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.
The Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend is close enough to being the best cabernet franc wine made in California that the others should just line up behind it. For 2005, the Robert’s Blend contains 90 percent cabernet franc and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. After tasting so many over-oaked Barbera wines in Piedmont a couple of weeks ago and coming home to racks of over-oaked chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons from California, it was a relief to perceive how carefully Ashley Heisey, winemaker at Oakville Ranch, managed the oak in this effort. While the wine spent 18 months in French barrels, 50 percent new, the oak is completely integrated into the structure, just as that structure is completely integrated with the fruit.

As a cabernet franc wine that tips a hat to the Loire Valley tradition, the Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend 2005, Napa Valley, teems with scents of black currant and blueberry with undertones of black olive, dried thyme, a hint of blackberry jam — revealing a toehold in the Golden State, and that’s just fine — and a whiff of damp, dusty slate-like minerality. Pretty heady stuff, all right, but grounded in the sober earthiness of the winery’s hillside property where vineyards rise to 1,400 feet. The wine is invigorated by smooth, supple tannins and lithe acidity; juicy black fruit flavors are wrapped around a deep core of smoke and bitter chocolate. The tannins assert themselves more insistently in the finish, bringing in a grown-up note of spareness and austerity. A suave performance and not what one usually thinks of as a pizza wine, but that’s how we employed it, with immense pleasure. Production was 393 six-bottle cases. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $90.

A sample for review.

Previously in this saga, I related the story of buying three bottles of wine at a silent auction to benefit a non-profit dog and cat spay and neuter group, thinking I was boosting the bidding but ending up purchasing the wine to the tune of $245. Almost immediately, we opened one bottle for dinner, and it tuirned out to be wonderful. This was the Cakebread Cellars Merlot 2002, Napa Valley.

Next, I opened Napa Valley wine, the Hartwell Misté Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Stags Leap District. We drank with my last excellent pizza — I mean the last pizza I made that was excellent; the next one was a (rare) dismal failure –and it was terrific.

The winery was founded in 1986 by Bob Hartwell, a veteran of the aerospace industry, and his wife Blanca. The first wine they produced was a cabernet from 1990 that spent 22 months in all-new French oak, giving you some idea of the seriousness of the enterprise.

The Hartwell Misté Hill Cabernet 2003 is no longer on the winery’s website, and retailers that carry it on the internet don’t describe the blend, but based on later bottlings the 2003 must be primarily cabernet sauvignon with some merlot and a dollop of petit verdot put through considerable oak. This is a grand effort, a wine that’s deep and broad and generous, dense, intense and concentrated. The color is dark ruby-purple through and through. Classic notes of cassis, cedar, dust, black pepper and crushed gravel define the seductive nose, while in the mouth the wine is succulent, almost plush, yet tempered and cooled by clean acidity and a towering mineral element. Flavors of ripe, spicy and slightly macerated black cherries and black currants are supported by sleek tannins and oak surprisingly unobtrusive for the usual Hartwell barrel treatment. Altogether, the wine is both engaging and dynamic, elegant and profound, a sort of amalgam of personality and character, and it should drink beautifully until 2015 or ’16. Excellent. The suggested retail price for this wine was about $60, which is what I paid for it at the silent auction, but it’s available on the internet from prices ranging from $42 to $72.

Next in the roster of three silent auction purchases: Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Alexander Valley.

Founded in 1978, Renaissance Vineyard & Winery turns out unfortunately minute qualities of Bordeaux- and Rhone-style wines that are sterling examples of individuality, integrity, restraint and frankly old-fashioned appeal. Old-Fashioned? Winemaker Gideon Beinstock uses minimal new oak and keeps alcohol levels low, as in generally between 12 and 14 percent. No commercial yeasts are employed and red wines are neither fined nor filtered; the vineyard now is completely organic. He also holds some of the cabernet sauvignon wines for extraordinary lengths of time before releasing them, as in 12 years for the Premier Cuvée cabernets. The winery is in Oregon House, about 70 miles north of Sacramento, in the North Yuba region of the Sierra Foothills; the vineyards lie at elevations of 1,700 to 2,300 feet. If you’re looking for wines that embody the antithesis of the over-ripe, over-oaked, high-alcohol fruit bombs still fashionable today, you need to search for the wines of Renaissance.

We’ll look today at Renaissance cabernets released in 2008 and 2009 (and one white wine after them). These were samples submitted for review.

The blend in the Renaissance Premier Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 11 percent cabernet franc; the alcohol level is an eminently sane 12.6 percent. This smooth, mellow but rigorously structured cabernet opens with classic and seductive scents of black pepper, licorice, black cherry and cedar. The wine spent two years in — you have to admire this forthright expression — “old oak barrels,” of German, French and American origin, so the effect of the wood is engaging shapeliness and suppleness, while grenadier-like acidity keeps a keen eye on appealing vibrancy and vitality. In the mouth, flavors of plums and dried red and black currants are packed with potpourri and dried spice and a hint of an earthy, granite-like minerality that expands into the slightly austere finish. 380 cases produced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
The Renaissance Claret Prestige 1996, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is composed of less cabernet sauvignon (63%) than the Premier Cuvée ’96, more merlot (25%) and almost the same amount of cabernet franc (12%). Oak aging — 23 months — is a smidgeon shorter. Alcohol is also 12.6 percent. The color is radiant medium to dark ruby with a tinge of light brick-red at the rim. The bouquet is rich and ripe with currants and plums, roasted and fleshy, displaying touches of ground walnuts and walnut shell. Dense, dusty, chewy tannins along with a tremendous backbone of acidity lend the wine plenty of structure, while mossy, forest-floor-like elements provide support of flavors of macerated red and black currants and black cherries freighted with what seems like all the savory dried spices in your cabinet. 390 cases. A great achievement for drinking from 2011 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.

The Renaissance Library Release Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, was originally issued in September 1999 and then re-released in May 2009.The blend is a fairly straightforward 86 percent cabernet sauvignon and 14 percent merlot, but there’s nothing ordinary about the wine. The color is deep brick-red with a hint of garnet at the rim. Swirl the glass and take a sniff; the rich, warm bouquet is saturated with spice and dried flowers and black currants, cherries and plums seemingly macerated for a lifetime in spiced brandy. Solid, dusty and slightly gritty tannins give some indication as to the motivation for putting this wine on the market again; a decade ago it must have been formidable, and indeed from mid-palate back through the finish, this cabernet picks up dry underbrushy austerity. Best from 2012 through 2015 to ’20. How great this would be with a roasted game bird, though I typically drank a couple of glasses with a particularly hearty cheese toast. Excellent. About $50.

Released in May 2009 in a quantity of 830 cases — you understand that’s a huge production for this winery — the Renaissance Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent merlot and 3 percent cabernet franc and syrah. Aging was up to 18 months in used French, German and American oak barrels; the alcohol level is 13.6 percent. The wine is ravishing. The clean, fresh, perfectly defined bouquet offers spiced and macerated black currants, mulberries and blueberries wreathed with smoke, cedar and tobacco and an edge of dusty, flinty minerality. In the mouth, this cabernet is smooth and mellow but no wimp; as usual with the red wines of Renaissance, the dimensionality of dense, dusty tannins dominates but does not overwhelm the rich warmth of wonderfully proportioned red and black fruit flavors that seem slightly fleshy and feral, with a fillip of wild berry. Best from 2012 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.

Here’s a note on a white wine from Renaissance that I tasted back in the Summer but neglected to write about.

The Renaissance Carte d’Or 2008, Sierra Foothills, is a blend of 70 percent semillon and 30 percent sauvignon blanc, aged six months in “neutral German oak ovals,” meaning large old German barrels. Few white wines made in California smell or taste like this one. The color is medium gold with a faint green highlight. Aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, dried rosemary and thyme with that dried herbal dustiness, smoke and pine resin dominate the nose; the wine is very spicy and lively in the mouth, very dry, quite austere with a tremendous foundation of limestone and chalk minerality under notes of fig, gooseberry and lemon and lime peel all enfolded in the sort of sunny leafiness I expect from dry semillon. Wow, quite a performance and probably capable of aging through 2012. Try with seared trout or swordfish. Excellent. About $20, which would be a Bargain of the Century except that Beinstock made only 58 cases.

With your indulgence, I’ll append my review of this wine in its manifestation of 2007, so you can see the differences that vintages and proportions make, and notice how much more of the wine Beinstock made in ’07:

LL called the Renaissance Carte d’Or 2007 “a gift to vegetarians,” and indeed the wine’s striking fruity, herbal nature would make it appropriate for all sorts of vegetable-based dishes, including risottos (which don’t have to be made with chicken broth) and pastas. The wine is a blend of 60 percent semillon grapes and 40 percent sauvignon blanc that ages six months in neutral German oak ovals. It opens with herbal-grassy scents with touches of apples and figs and smoky dried pear. Carte d’Or ‘07 is very dry, spare, clean, crisp and tart without being citrusy (read: no grapefruit), and it brings up hints of celery, ginger and melon, a bit of riesling-like honeyed peach, a wafting of jasmine. Don’t mistake this for an aperitif wine; it’s too serious, too thoughtful for that blithe purpose. Drink through the end of 2009. Production is 258 cases. Excellent. About $20.


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