California


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

A sample for review.

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

These wines were samples for review.
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Ancient Peaks Winery Santa Margarita Ranch Zinfandel 2016, Paso Robles, California. 15.5% alc. A big-hearted, two-fisted, high-alcohol zinfandel that manages to avoid the disadvantages of most 15+% zins; it’s not sweet, over-ripe, cloying or hot. Steady black-purple hue; luscious and spicy blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors, permeated by touches of fruitcake and plum pudding, violets, lilac and iodine; a swelling structure of dusty bacon-wrapped tannins and bracing acidity keep the whole package honest, while allowing pleasing qualities of loam, boysenberry and graphite to define the finish. Now through 2021 to ’23. Certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. Excellent. About $20, marking Good Value.
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Cadaretta Southwind Syrah 2015, Walla Walla Valley, Washington. 14.9% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; large-framed, dense and chewy; loam and black pepper, briers and brambles, ink and underbrush; drenched with lavender, licorice and graphite, deeply spiced and macerated blackberry, blueberry and plum scents and flavors, tinged with bay and thyme; quite dry, a big wine but not overwhelming; the oak is a subtle, shaping presence. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Enzo Bianchi 2015, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 15.2% alc. 50% each cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Opaque ebony color with a vivid violet rim; ink, iodine and graphite; spiced and macerated black currants and blueberries opening to notes of mint, cedar and smoke; a dense, chewy, loamy, vital red blend sustained by stalwart dusty tannins and vibrant acidity while managing to stay light on its feet, almost elegant. Always one of my favorite Argentine red wines. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.
Quintessential, Napa, Calif.
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Ferraton Pere et Fils “Plan de Dieu” 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, France. 14% alc. Grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carignan. Dark ruby color shading to a bright magenta rim; a melange of plums, currants and blueberries wrapped in lavender, licorice and violets; substantial and savory, notes of dry meadow herbs; underbrush, hints of tar and loam riven by keen acidity for a lively presentation with surprising character for the price. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.
Sera Wine Imports, New York.
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Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2015, Collio, Italy. 13.5% alc. Dark purple-magenta color with a glowing violet rim; ripe plums and blueberries, distinctive notes of leather and loam; smoke and iodine, hint of plum preserves; a deep well of graphite minerality bolsters an unexpectedly seductive silken texture, though the overall impression is of power and energy on the palate. Now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $28.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Masseria Li Veli “Orion” 2016, Salento, Italy. 14% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; lots of personality and presence on the palate; deeply spiced plums and currants, fairly briery and brambly, with foresty elements and loam; clean-cut acidity and flint-like minerality make an incisive impression. Now through 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $14, representing Good Value.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2016, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Lovely medium ruby hue; classic notes of dried cherries and raspberries, black tea, cloves and orange rind; vigorous acidity pushes through sturdy tannins to a finish lashed by graphite minerality; quite dry, a little austere, and layered with spare notes of red berry flavors. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $27.
Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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Post Scriptum de Chryseia 2016, Douro Valley, Portugal. 13.5% alc. A blend of typical red grapes of the region. Dark ruby with a thin ephemeral rim; a compote of ripe, fleshy black and red plums and raspberries, replete with a spectrum of woody spices and forest floor elements; very gratifying structure balances dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and lips-smacking acidity for a full-hearted, robust package. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $27.
Premium Port Wines, San Francisco.
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Two Angels Petite Sirah 2016, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. Deep dark black purple with a thermonuclear violet rim; ripe spicy and macerated black currants, cherries and plums; hints of leather, licorice and bittersweet chocolate with a back-note of vanilla from the oak; wiry tannins and a lithe, silken texture enlivened by bracing acidity leading to a slightly austere, iron-flecked finish. A superior petite sirah. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $27.
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“Claret” is what the British call — or used to call — the red wines of Bordeaux, as in “we had a fine old claret for lunch at the club today” or “the claret that Oswald presented for dinner was more than amusing but less than distinguished.” The term is not to be confused with “clairette,” which is what the Bordelaise term a wine made from red grapes that is more robust than a rosé but less dense and dimensional than a regular red wine. Producers in California either take the term seriously or they have a riff and a laff, as in Bonny Doon’s red wine blend named “A Proper Claret,” which is anything but proper. David Ramey plays the game slightly slantwise by blending 8 percent of the decidedly not Bordeaux variety syrah with 52 percent cabernet sauvignon, 26 percent merlot, 12 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot for his Ramey Cellars Claret 2016, Napa Valley. (Malbec, though one of the traditional “5 Classic Red Grapes of Bordeaux,” is now seldom seen in the region.) The Ramey Claret 2016 aged 12 months in French and American oak, a scant 13 percent new barrels, and is all the better for such judicious treatment. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a transparent rim; it’s a ferrous and sanguinary red wine, whose black currant and raspberry scents and flavors are influenced by a ripe, spicy nature and deep permutations of iodine, iron, graphite and a fleshy, meaty character. Foresty tannins feel finely sifted into a firm texture that flows with lithe suppleness on the palate, abetted by the dynamics of lip-smacking acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very drinkable yet a serious effort. I hear this one crying out for standing rib roast, braised short ribs, a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Now through 2022 or ’24. Excellent. About $42.

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

You say that you like your sauvignon blanc fresh, breezy, snappy and fruity, but maybe not excessively fresh, breezy, snappy and fruity the way they emerge from New Zealand? Well, friend, I have the wine for you. The Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2017 derives from volcanic, stony soil that lies about 2,100 feet above sea level in the High Valley AVA, established in 2005. That’s in Lake County, directly north of Napa County. High Valley is cooled by maritime breezes that seep in from the west, making it the coolest of Lake County’s vineyard regions. The color of the Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is very pale straw-gold; pert aromas of lime peel, guava and grapefruit open to winsome notes of tangerine, talc and lilac; lithe and spare on the palate, this sunny, leafy sauvignon blanc brings in herbal touches of bay and thyme with undertones of fennel and fig, all bolstered by bright acidity and juicy lemon and grapefruit flavors; the finish seethes with scintillating limestone minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. And it has a cute label! Excellent. About $17.

A sample for review.


So, what do you want in a chardonnay wine made in California? Lushness, oak, spice and tropical flavors? Or spareness, elegance and minerality? Somehow the Eberle Winery Estate Chardonnay 2017, Paso Robles, manages to meld all those qualities into a perfectly integrated whole that should gratify adherents of either mode. Half the wine is made in stainless steel tanks, the other half in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is bright medium gold; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by hints of cloves and jasmine, with touches of smoke and quince preserves; the balance between a moderately dense texture and lithe, lively energy provides not just pleasure but a kind of thrill on the palate. This chardonnay is dry but juicy and flavorful, all elements accruing to a burgeoning limestone quality through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 2,797 cases; the winery should make more. Drink through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

Actually, the title of this post is a misnomer. What I offer today, in the first Weekend Wine Notes of 2019, are 10 wines that rate Excellent and two that rate Exceptional, the latter both pinot noirs from different regions of California. Also included in this diverse roster are a Gewurztraminer 2012 from Alsace; a chardonnay from Sonoma Coast; two sauvignon blancs, one from New Zealand, the other from Tuscany; a monumental cabernet/shiraz blend from Australia’s McLaren Vale region as well as an equally monumental 100 percent shiraz from Padthaway; two wines from Costières de Nîmes in the Southern Rhone Valley, one white, one red; a Spätlese Riesling from Rheingau, in Germany; and a stylish merlot from Walla Walla, Washington. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, historical and geographical data that I dote on for the sake of quick and incisive reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my scribblings and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

With one exception, duly indicated, these wines were samples for review.
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Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Tradition” Gewurztraminer 2012, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Bright brassy-gold hue; honeyed peach and apricot, jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and baked pineapple, cloves and allspice; towering acidity and limestone minerality keep it dry on the palate, yet generous with stone-fruit flavors; flows like money to a spicy, energetic finish; a glittering, seamlessly integrated gewurztraminer. Through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $25, so fans of the grape should Buy a Case.
Encore Wine Imports, Pleasanton, Calif., according to the back label, though the company no longer lists the estate on its website.
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Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 143 cases produced. Bright medium gold hue and a golden wine in every respect; pineapple and lemon rind, touch of quince and ginger, hints of orange zest and spiced tea; dense and supple on the palate, almost talc-like; lively acidity provides balance to the ripe, succulent citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a long finish influenced by elements of flint and chalk. Just poised enough for my taste. Excellent. About $58.
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Byron Winery Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 13.3% alc. 200 cases. Medium ruby shading to utter transparency; spiced and macerated black cherries and blueberries with touches of pomegranate, red cherries and licorice; incredibly perfumed: violets and lilac, sassafras, rhubarb, cranberry; smooth as silk and as weighty as velvet, both ethereal and acutely present; time in the glass brings in notes of mocha and bittersweet chocolate, with a foundation of graphite minerality motivated by acidity as deep as a river. An extraordinary pinot noir. Now through 2023 to ’25. Exceptional. About $55.
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Hickinbotham “The Peake” Cabernet Shiraz 2015, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% shiraz. Very dark ruby-purple; ripe and fleshy black currants and plums with traces of blueberries; iodine and mint, graphite, smoke, lavender; an array of foresty, briery and brambly qualities; animated acidity drives through sturdy but not oppressive tannins; tremendous presence and energy, with sleek chiseled granitic minerality and a long juicy finish. Now through 2025 to ’29. Excellent. About $150.
Majestic Imports, Santa Rosa, Calif.
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Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz 2012, Padthaway, Australia. 15.5% alc. 100% shiraz. Inky purple; iodine and iron, sage, mint and eucalyptus; ripe and spicy black cherries and raspberries; smoke and cedar, tobacco and cigarette paper; a huge wine with swingeing acidity and searing tannins that paradoxically displays a surprisingly winsome character despite its size; develops notes of blueberry, violets and graphite; the finish stalwart with granitic minerality. Now through 2025 to ’28. Did someone mention rack of venison or haunch of wild boar? Excellent. About $80.
Quintessential Wines, Napa Calif.
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Michel Gassier Lou Coucardié 2014, Costières de Nîmes, Southern Rhone. 14% alc. 50% roussanne, 30% grenache blanc, 20% viognier. Bright medium yellow-gold; spiced pear and quince, bee’s-wax and lanolin; heather and white flowers, distinctly meadowy yet as bracing and saline as the seashore; lithe and supple on the palate, slightly powdery and talc-like texture, riven by bright acidity; crystalline in presence and purity. Through 2020. Excellent. About $26.
Imported by European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2017, North Canterbury, New Zealand. NA% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; lime peel and grapefruit, celery seed and leaf, hint of caraway; lavish with roasted lemon, quince and ginger; very dry, with the pent energy of vibrant acidity and crystalline limestone; real presence and personality; altogether fresh, clean and scintillating. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
Imported by Mt. Beautiful USA,
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Chateau Mourgues du Grès Terre d’Argence Rouge 2015, Costières de Nîmes, Southern Rhone. 14.5% alc. 70% old vine syrah, 30% grenache, touch of mourvèdre; farmed organically. Densely dark ruby hue; burgeoning bouquet of black currants and plums, notes of blueberry, loam and violets; juicy, ripe and fleshy, with mildly dusty tannins, but lots of grip and traction; intense core of graphite and lavender; quite dry, dynamic mineral-laced finish. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $22, marking Great Value.
Imported by Natural Wine Company, Denver, Colo.
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Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2016, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% alc. 80% sauvignon blanc, 10% each viognier and vermentino. From the famed estate in Bolgheri, in southwest Tuscany. Pure medium straw-gold hue; grapefruit, pear and preserved lemon; heather, crushed gravel and talc; hint of leafy greenness melded with Mediterranean herbs; quite dry, lithe, vibrant, seething with flint and limestone minerality; lots of personality and character. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $75.
Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
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Schloss Vollrads Spätlese Riesling 2014, Rheingau, Germany. 7.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a brilliant and appealing nose of melon and celery-leaf, lilac, camellia and tangerine, with a rising tide of lime peel and lemon balm, all delineated with marked intensity; it’s more peachy and stone-fruit in the mouth, slightly honeyed yet beautifully balance by blazing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; it finishes quite dry, yet never loses its aura of luminous purity. Truly lovely, for drinking through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $31. I paid $34 locally.
Imported by Schmitt Sohne USA, now part of Delicato Family Vineyards, Manteca, Calif.
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Seven Hills Winery “Seven Hills Vineyard” Merlot 2015, Walla Walla, Washington. 14.7% alc. Opaque black-purple with an ephemeral rim; loam, graphite and iodine; intense and concentrated black fruit framed by toasty oak and dusty tannins; a powerful stroke of lavender, lilac and bittersweet chocolate; plush texture tempered by brisk acidity and foresty-mineral elements; blueberry and more graphite in the finish. Seven Hills is part of Crimson Wine Group, which includes Pine Ridge Vineyards, Seghesio Family Vineyards and Archery Summit Winery. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Stewart Winery Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-magenta hue; pungent aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries and currants, a bit fleshy and meaty; unearthly perfumed and evocative; sassafras, sandalwood and rhubarb; cloves, rose petals and lavender; loam and graphite; generous and expressive, with a lovely silky, lithe, rippling drape on the palate; sweet supple tannins animated by bright acidity that cuts a swath; final hints of blueberries and pomegranate; altogether pure, almost rigorous in structure but delivering phenomenal sensual appeal. Now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $45. Buy a case.
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The EX label represents the second line products of Wrath Wines. Sabrine Rodems is winemaker for both brands. For EX, she makes an unoaked chardonnay, a pinot noir and a sauvignon blanc. EX was previously known as Ex Anima. Today, we look at the EX Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey County. True to the winery’s mission to utilize a minimum of new oak, this wine aged a brief eight months in mostly neutral French oak, a scant seven percent being new barrels. The oak influence is so subtle as to be almost subliminal, a gently shaping force. The color is a beguiling and totally transparent medium ruby; aromas of ripe and spicy red and black cherries and currants are bolstered by notes of smoke, bay leaf and sage, sandalwood and rhubarb, these elements gradually unfurling and segueing seamlessly onto the palate. The wine is supple, lithe and succulent, deftly balanced by vibrant acidity and touches of graphite-tinged tannins integrated in perfect equilibrium. 13.8 percent alcohol. A pinot noir that offers both depth and pleasing personality. Production was 700 cases. Excellent. About $29.

A sample for review.

The number in the name of the Santa Barbara Winery Lafond Vineyard 2.3 Riesling 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, indicates the level of residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation, that is, 2.3 percent. This is, in other words, a moderately, lightly sweet riesling whose scrupulously balanced character and crystalline acidity keep it zesty, refreshing and exciting. The color is very pale straw-gold, and any sweetness is really a function of the intense ripeness of its peach and lychee fruit scents and flavors, highlighted by classic notes of rubber eraser, smoke and lime peel; from mid-palate back through the lustrous flint, limestone finish and grapefruit-inflected finish, the wine is bone-dry, the whole enterprise riding on an element of exquisite tension. 12.9 percent alcohol. We happily drank this bottle with a pasta loaded with red cabbage and bacon, abetted by a touch of cream and toasted walnuts. Winemaker was Bruce McGuire. Production was 325 cases. The winery is certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

The title of this post needs no elaboration, but I’ll inform you that prices range from $7.50 to $20. It’s a diverse group of wines. Seven from France; 6 California; 5 Italy; 2 each Argentina, Australia, Chile and Oregon; 1 each Bulgaria, Germany, Portugal and South Africa. (Welcome, Bulgaria!) By genre or hue: 1 sparkling wine; 3 rosé; 10 red and 16 white. As a matter of fact, the 30 wines on this roster would make a great restaurant wine list. So, enjoy! In moderation, of course.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Albert Bichot Bourgogne Aligoté 2015, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $16.
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Amalaya Malbec 2016, Salta, Mendoza, Argentina. With 10 percent tannat, 5 petit verdot. Excellent. About $16.
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Domaine Bousquet Gaia Tupungato White Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 50 percent chardonnay, 35 pinot gris, 15 sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $18.
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Domaine Boyar Traminer 2016, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria. Very Good+. About $11.
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Calcu Reserva Especial Rosé 2017, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 90 percent malbec, 10 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $13.
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Canevel Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene de Cartizze, nv, Veneto, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

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CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2017, California. Very Good+. About $7.
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Fossil Point Pinot Noir 2016, Edna Valley, California. Excellent. About $20.

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Garofoli Macrina 2017, Le Marche, Italy. 100 percent verdicchio. Excellent. About $14.
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Grochau Cellars Melon d’Bourgogne 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 175 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Heinz Eifel Riesling Kabinett 2017, Mosel, Germany. Very Good+. About $12.

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Inama Vin Soave 2017, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Jim Barry “The Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Coonawarra, Australia. Excellent. About $20.

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Justin Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Les Hauts de Lagarde 2015, Bordeaux blanc, France. 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 40 percent semillon. Excellent. About $14.
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Domaine Lafond Roc-Épine 2017, Tavel, France. Excellent. About $19.
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The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé 2016, North Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

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Left Coast Cellars “The Orchard” Pinot Gris 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $18.
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Marchesi di Gresy Monte Aribaldo 2016, Dolcetto d’Alba, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

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Monte da Pecequina 2015, Alentejo, Portugal. 25 percent touriga nacional, 23 percent syrah, 22 aragonez, 20 alicante bouschet, 10 cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $19.
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Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2016, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $16.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Le Paradou 2015, Beaume-de-Venise, France. 75 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah. Excellent. About $16.
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Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling 2016, Eden Valley, Australia. Excellent. About $18.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2015, Morellino di Scansano, Italy. 85 percent sangiovese, 15 percent ciliegiolo. Excellent. About $15.
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Romain Chamiot Apremont 2016, Vin de Savoie, France. 100 percent jacquere grapes. Excellent. About $18.
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Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.

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Steele Wines Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Mendocino, California. Excellent. About $20.
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Veramonte Carmenere 2017, Colchagua Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $11.
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Yves Guegniard Domaine de la Bergerie La Cerisaie 2016, Anjou, France. 80 percent cabernet franc, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $18.
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Zocker “Paragon Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner 2016, Edna Valley, California. Excellent. About $20.
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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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