Malvasia


Current releases from Onward Wines confirm my belief that Faith Armstrong Foster is one of California’s best winemakers, notable for her deft touch, her thoughtfulness and care; she’s also the owner. She produces lamentably small quantities of wines — from impeccably maintained vineyards — that are low in alcohol, see minimal new oak and that are allowed to speak for themselves and the vineyards from which they derive rather than exist as proponents of the winemaker’s ego. I urge My Readers to seek out the Onward Wines and the second label Farmstrong as brilliant examples of honesty, authenticity and integrity.

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

The Onward Wines Capp Inn Ranch Petillant Naturel Malvasia Bianca 2017, Suisun Valley, is characterized by a brisk saline quality that reminded me of salt marsh and seashore. The color is pale straw-gold with a faint green tinge; notes of heather and damp flint, ginger and quince, lychee and lemongrass open to hints of jasmine and lime peel; there’s a touch of riesling-like oily rubber eraser quality that adds intrigue without detracting from the wine’s freshness and appeal; the wine is quite crisp and dry and finishes with layers of dried herbs and limestone minerality. 12.4 percent alcohol. Production was 386 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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The Farmstrong Field Rosé 2017 derives from dry-farmed vineyards in the northern Mendocino AVA of Redwood Valley. The wine is a fifty/fifty blend of carignane from 80-year-old vines and zinfandel from 65-year-old vines, the grapes harvested intentionally for rose and co-fermented with native yeast. It’s an ethereal and evanescent rose, offering a very pale onion-skin hue and delicate notes of strawberry and raspberry, lime peel and tangerine, with a touch of melon; it’s crisp, lively and refreshing, just slightly touched with graphite and a lovely hint of lilac. Quite beguiling. 11.9 percent alcohol. Production was 320 cases. Very Good+. About $18.
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The Onward Wines Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017, Redwood Valley, was fermented in stainless steel tank but aged briefly in neutral French oak barrels, lending the wine a soupçon of suavity and suppleness that doesn’t interfere with its innate delicacy and elegance. The color is very pale onion skin-copper; this is all dried strawberries and raspberries infused with orange rind and damp stones, maintaining a fine balance between ripeness and spareness; hints of rose petal, spiced tea and thyme offer deepening nuance into a tensile structure of limestone minerality. 11.3 percent alcohol. A superior rosé. Production was 246 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Yes, this 2013 is a current release. The Onward Wines Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged 18 months in French oak — 20 percent new barrels, the rest neutral — and then received two years of bottle aging before being sent out into the world. A steep, coastal, rocky site, lying at elevations from 650 to 1,100 feet, the vineyard is farmed by organic and biodynamic methods. The color is transparent medium ruby-garnet; it somehow combines the qualities of being elegant and ethereal with incisiveness and a definitely rigorous structure. Red and black cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, cedar and cigarette paper, a few moments in the glass bringing in undertones of leather, loam and autumn leaves; bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate, lending the wine propulsive power through a finish sustained by moderately dusty tannins and graphite. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 139 cases. Remarkable tone and presence. Exceptional. About $58.
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The Onward Wines Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Redwood valley, aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, the rest neutral, and then received 18 months of bottle aging. It’s a beguiling, lissome, weightless pinot noir that offers a ravishing and totally transparent medium ruby color and winsome aromas of cloves and sandalwood, rhubarb and cranberry, macerated red cherries and currants; touches of rose petals, lilac and pomegranate add to the effect. This pinot noir is meadowy and woodsy, with notes of heather, wild flowers and forest floor animated by brisk acidity and a lithe, sinewy texture; the finish develops more spice and slightly dusty tannins. 12.3 percent alcohol. Production was 347 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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Well, this was a surprise. A dry malvasia bianca made in Arizona from grapes grown in New Mexico, actually in the Mimbres Valley AVA, where vineyards lie at an average 4,000 to 6,000 feet elevation, making them some of the highest vineyards in the world. Mimbres Valley has an annual rainfall of some nine inches, making irrigation a necessity. The Aridus Wine Company Malvasia Bianca 2016 carries an “American” appellation, about as broad as you can get in the Northern Hemisphere. The reason for this general American designation is that the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau) does not allow more narrow or specific AVAs for cross-state wines. Anyway, this is a superb example of the grape, made all in stainless steel tanks, aging six months on the lees. The color is bright medium gold; penetrating aromas of pear nectar and lychee, quince and ginger, tangerine and almond blossom are immediate and exuberant; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of fig, guava and green tea. It’s a dry, crisp and lively wine, bristling with shivery acidity and a burgeoning limestone-flint element while it develops depths of spice and yellow fruit flavors, all leading to a touch of bracing salinity and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 479 cases. Winemaker was Lisa Strid. We drank this wine last night with seared swordfish in a rosemary-white wine-lemon sauce, a provocative and satisfying pairing. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $36.75.

A sample for review.

The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
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Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

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Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
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Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

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Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

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Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

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Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
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Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

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Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
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Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

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Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

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Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

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Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

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Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
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Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
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Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

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Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
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Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
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Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
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Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
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Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

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Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

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Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

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Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
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Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

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Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

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ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

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You know what I mean by “alternative white wines.” Not chardonnay or riesling or sauvignon blanc. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Big Three, except when chardonnay is sodden and strident with oak, as happens too often in California, but dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of grapes for what we call white wine exist in the world’s multifarious wine regions. In today’s edition, we look at nine examples. As usual in these posts, I omit details of history, geography, method and personality to offer quick and incisive snapshots of a wine’s character. I will mention at the outset that two of these wines, from Onward Wines and Stinson Vineyards are so-called “orange wines,” meaning that they’re produced from white grapes that ferment on the skins, not the typical process for whites. A lot of pleasure is to be gleaned from this selection, which is designed to introduce consumers to a range of products available beyond the usual choices. Enjoy — in moderation, of course.
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Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 9.5% alc. 70% loureiro grapes, 30% alvarinho. Very pale gold color; quite fresh and clean, slightly frizzante; apples and limes, hint of “greenness,” like sunny leaves and crushed herbs; crisp and vibrant with a stony spine. The definition of quaffable and charming. Very Good+ About $7 to $10, buy it by the case and enjoy.
Aveleda Inc., Pawtucket, R.I.
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Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 11% alc. 100% hondurrabi zuri grapes. Pale gold with a green tinge; hay and heather, green apple and lime peel, dried thyme and almond skin; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of melon and gooseberry; mineral element runs to a dusty roof tiles effect; slightly frizzante; quite dry but lively and engaging; limestone and bracing salinity in the finish. Loads of personality. Excellent. About $16, representing Fine Value.
Valkyrie Selections, Healdsburg, Calif.
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Godeval Godello 2015, Valdeorras, Spain. 13.5% alc. Medium gold; enticing scents of mint, thyme and lemon, hints of cloves and cumin; very dry, fairly austere with limestone and flint minerality but enlivened by brisk acidity; certainly a savory white. Very Good+. About $15.
Valkyrie Selections, Healdsburg, Calif.
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Höpler Grüner Veltliner 2015, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold with a delicate green tint; hay and quince, yellow plums and golden raspberries; very clean and crisp, a bit saline, with a savory background; a lime peel, lilac and gunflint finish. Charming and delightful. Very Good+. About $16, a local purchase.
USA Wine Imports, New York.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley. 12.8% alc. Pale gold hue; glorious bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, poached apple and pear; hints of mint, candied orange rind, iodine and graphite; very dry, resonant and animated; woodsy spices and meadowy flowers; lip-smacking acidity and a dry, elegant, almost austere finish. Brilliant winemaking. Exceptional. About $28, representing Extraordinary Value.
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Pazo Cilleiro Albarino 2015, Rías Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Straw-yellow with faint green highlights; a ripe, fleshy yet chiseled albarino; lime peel, pears and roasted lemon; riveting acidity and a filigree of scintillating limestone; hints of dried mountain herbs and a spare network of white flowers. Really charming. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, lime peel and grapefruit, white tropical flowers, backnotes of hay, heather and dried thyme; all knit with spareness and a delicate touch; very dry and crisp, heaps of limestone and flint minerality. Really lovely. Excellent. About $19.
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Stinson Vineyards Wildkat 2015, Monticello, Virginia. 10.5% alc. 100% rkatsiteli grapes. 75 cases. Very pale coral-gold; red apple and tomato skin, roasted almonds, cloves and a touch of honey; crisp, delicate, lively, well-balanced; very dry, with a light dusting of fine loam. Very Good+. About $28.
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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 55% marsanne, 45% viognier. 180 cases. Pale gold, practically shimmers in the glass; roasted lemon and spiced pear, bees’-wax and camellia, dried thyme, ginger and quince; an intriguing whiff of ground cumin; spare and sinewy on the palate, with bright, lithe acidity and a glittering limestone and flint quality. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $25.
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So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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Salina is one of the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. Composed of six volcanic peaks, the island comprises only about 10 square miles. While Salina claims to produce the world’s best capers, the island is also notable for sweet wines made from the malvasia grape. In 2013, however, Tenuta Capofaro, a property owned by Sicily’s Tasca d’Almerita, produced the island’s first dry malvasia. I recently tried the Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, and it’s one of the best white wines I have tasted this year. (“Didyme” is the ancient name for the island.) Made all in stainless steel, the wine displays a very pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of preserved lemon, bee’s-wax, melon and figs; a few moments in the glass unfurl notes of greengage, almond skin and camellia. Bright acidity, a necessity considering the grape’s tendency toward fatness, lends lift, litheness and energy to a dense and vibrant texture that seems filled with sunlight; flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear, touched with an aura of salt marsh and green leafiness, are framed by a sense of spareness on the palate, all leading to a burnished finish polished by sea breeze and heather. 12.5 percent alcohol. We were intrigued and entranced by this wine, which served as a fine accompaniment to salmon marinated in olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice and given a juniper berry rub, then seared in a cast-iron skillet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25, and Worth a Search.

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