Santa Lucia Highlands


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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What connects these eight pinot noir wines, besides a general geographical position along California’s Central Coast from Monterey County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south, is that they are certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. (So, nothing north of San Francisco, no Russian River Valley, no Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley or Carneros.) SIP is a not-for-profit organization that certifies wineries and vineyards that adhere to methods of preserving and protecting the environment and employing business practices that seek to ensure the viability of the environment for the present and the future. It is, then, a connection of philosophy and methodology rather than of actual winemaking regimen. You will see, for example, that the winemakers responsible for this roster vary widely in their use of oak barrels, from no new oak at all to a considerable amount. And obviously the terroir and climate differ markedly; Arroyo Seco is not Edna Valley, and that’s that. What is gratifying is that whatever divergences occur in the production of these wines, they all project a feeling of authenticity and integrity, a sense of faith in the grape.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Baileyana “Firepeak” Pinot Noir 2017, Edna Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing transparent medium ruby hue; The first impression is of black and red cherries infused with grated nutmeg and cloves, followed by notes of loam, sandalwood and cranberries; it’s a perfectly balanced pinot noir, subtle and nuanced, lithe and supple on the palate, with dynamic acidity that somehow seems both bright and dark; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of forest floor and heather, all leading to a blithe, elegant finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 through ’23. Excellent. About $30.
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The Effort Pinot Noir 2016, Edna Valley, from Center of Effort, aged 11 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. This is an intense, vibrant, almost tannic pinot noir that features a dark ruby color shading to transparent medium ruby; aromas redolent of wild raspberries and blueberries, sour cherry and raspberry leaf; acidity that brings the energy of a coursing arrow; sinewy presence on the palate; and a sense of dark graphite and loamy minerality. All for the good, of course, yet there’s a feeling of imbalance to the wine; if all great things should seem effortless, this pinot noir feels as if it’s trying too hard. On the other hand, I appreciate a wine that shows a bit of individualism. A year or two aging will probably right the equilibrium. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 through 2025 or ’26. Production was 1,201 cases. Winemaker was Nathan Carlson. Very Good+. About $30.
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The Fossil Point Pinot Noir 2016, Edna Valley, saw no new oak, only neutral and once-used French barrels, so the wood influence is subtle, almost subliminal. The wine first offers a mesmerizing transparent medium ruby hue; aromas of black and red fruit compote are permeated by smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; it’s a large-framed and supple pinot noir, expressive on the palate, with lots of grip and traction and supple acidity; you feel the earth in this real mouthful of a chiseled wine. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Neither the winery website nor the technical sheet included with this sample provided any useful information, so we’re on our own here. The Lafond Winery and Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, is a riveting ferrous and sanguinary wine that offers a dark ruby hue with a slightly lighter rim and seductive aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries and currants permeated by rhubarb and sassafras, sandalwood and cranberry. It’s a dense and chewy pinot noir that delivers considerable presence and power on the palate and an uplift of bright acidity; these elements flow on layers of briers and brambles, woodsy spice and meadowy qualities, all opening to notes of rose petals, lilac, smoke and graphite. For all that, there’s a languid quality about this one; it’s not a pinot noir in a hurry to get someplace, because it knows exactly who and where it is. Great confidence and elan. Now through 2024 to ’26. Exceptional. About $27, a Remarkable Value.
The label illustration is one vintage retrograde.
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The color of the McIntyre Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, registers as medium to light transparent ruby; the aromas come in waves: black cherry, red raspberry and raspberry leaf, loam, briers and brambles, sassafras and sage; the wine is sleek and lithe, satiny and fairly succulent on the palate, though leavened by bright acidity; a few moments in the glass add hints of sandalwood, allspice and cloves, and, in fact, this pinot noir gets pretty exotic, filling in the spaces with elements of cinnamon toast and toffee that I think do not contribute to its balance and integrity. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’22. Very Good+. About $38.
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The Riverbench Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Maria Valley, displays a transparent medium ruby color shading to a delicate brick-red rim; wow, what a bouquet: beguiling notes of rhubarb, pomegranate and sassafras, sandalwood, black cherries and raspberries; the wine gets fleshy and riper with a few minutes airing, also bringing up notes of loam and gravel. Dense and chewy, on one hand, and lively and energetic, on the other, this pinot noir is quite spicy and supple on the palate, its black and red fruit flavors wrapped around an intense core of lavender, violets and licorice. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Production was 686 cases. Excellent. About $30
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The Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015, Arroyo Seco Valley, aged 18 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. Where is this “dry canyon”? In Monterey County, 40 miles southeast of Monterey Bay, whose influence brings cooling breezes in the evening. The wine displays a perfect pinot noir color, totally transparent medium to light ruby with an invisible rim; hints of red cherry and raspberry are bolstered by sandalwood and rhubarb, cherry pit and wood-smoke, iodine and cranberry; acidity cuts a swath through a spare, sinewy structure that rests on loam and heather; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of rose petal and raspberry leaf. A beautifully knit pinot noir. 13.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Winemaker was Eric Johnson. Excellent. About $36.
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The Toloso “1772” Pinot Noir 2016, Edna Valley, conveys a lot of substance on the palate, though one feels the vitality of the structure from beginning to end. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, an eminently sensible regimen. The color is medium cherry-ruby shading to a transparent rim; it’s a ripe and fleshy pinot noir, pungent with notes of iodine and iron and deeply spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of sandalwood and cloves, rose petals and cranberry; graphite minerality dominates the wine from mid-palate back through a finish defined by marked intensity and concentration. 14.3 percent alcohol. A great performance. Production was 902 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Winemaker was Frederic Delivert. Excellent. About $68.
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Sounds like a ferocious tag-team for the WWF, doesn’t it, but actually these are the names of two wineries that do a thoughtful and highly individual job with pinot noir (and syrah) from Monterey County and Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.
These wines were samples for review.
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Wrath Wines was launched in 2007, when archaeologist and professor Michael Thomas and his mother Barbara acquired the San Saba Vineyard in Monterey County’s Salinas Valley. They replanted large sections of the vineyard to chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah vines and instituted a program of low yields, intensive grape sorting, native yeasts, minimal processing and light filtration. Grower is Steve McIntyre; winemaker is the supremely talented Sabrine Rodems, who under her label Scratch, makes riesling, grenache and pinot noir. These notes concern two Wrath pinot noirs and a syrah from 2015. The Wrath vineyards are certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice.
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The Wrath Swan/828 Pinot Noir 2015, Monterey, cuts a swath on the palate with decisive acidity and precise fruit delivered with well-balanced power. Swan/828 refers to the two clones of pinot noir from which the wine was made. French oak, 55 percent new. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent garnet rim; red fruit compote exudes notes of loam, pine, iodine and sassafras. The wine is notably sleek, lithe and supple, with a clean, spicy fruit-driven finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. I love the focus and energy of this pinot noir. Production was 347 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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Produced from one of my favorite vineyards, the Wrath Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, delivers gratifying depth and breadth in a package that feels wholly complete. French oak, 44 percent new. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; a bouquet of sandalwood, fruitcake, macerated black and red currants and cherries opens to notes of lavender, heather, rhubarb and sassafras; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of leather, loam and espresso. Lithe and sinewy on the palate, the wine is still generous and eloquent, drawing on reserves of dusty plums, briers and brambles and a sheen of burnished tannins for structure; a brightly lit and savory pinot noir that conceals dark shadows. 13.7 percent alcohol. Production was 214 cases. Now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $49.
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Classic syrah notes of smoke, charcoal, wet dog and loam characterize the Wrath San Saba Vineyard Syrah 2015, Monterey. Not surprisingly, the color is opaque ruby-magenta with a lighter magenta rim; black currants and blackberries are highlighted by a touch of blueberry jam, with forest floor and dried mushrooms in the background. There’s real traction on the palate and a dense chewy texture. Despite the wine’s size and power, however, it offers lovely lightness and fleetness, almost a sense of elegance in a finish that brings in baked cherries and a tinge of graphite minerality. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 235 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $39.
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The Franscioni family has been shaping the growth of Santa Lucia Highlands since 1996, when they planted Rosella’s Vineyard, followed in ’96 with Gary’s Vineyard, in partnership with the Pisoni family. Ever enterprising, the Franscioni’s planted Sierra Mar Vineyard, at more than 1,000 feet altitude, and Soberanes Vineyard. They sell grapes to a variety of wineries, but founded Roar wines in 2001 to exploit their own land and grapes. Winemaker for Roar wines is Scott Shaply.
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Roar Wines Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, derives from one of the AVA’s best-known vineyards, planted by owners Gary and Rosella Franscioni in 1999. The color is a beguiling ruby-cherry hue that shades from a dark center to delicate transparency; aromas of red cherry, cranberry and pomegranate unfurl hints of sandalwood and sassafras, rhubarb and beetroot, with a few moments in the glass bringing in notes of loam, underbrush and wood smoke. The wine displays lovely purity and intensity, gaining dimension in the glass even as it offers ethereal elements of talc, violets and rose petals to highlight its wild cherry and raspberry flavors; its sensual nature is held in check by definitive acidity and graphite minerality. A perfect marriage of elegance and power. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 449 cases. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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The Roar Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, exhibits a totally transparent medium ruby hue that fades to an invisible rim; the wine is clean, precise, intense and pure; spiced and macerated currants and cherries open to notes of cranberries and wood smoke, with iodine and graphite in the background. This pinot noir delivers amazing elegance, grace and presence on the palate, along with a slightly astringent quality, like a dark, rooty tea; it’s dense in texture yet fleet and lithe; it’s also quite dry, with a deepening layer of earthiness, as well as touches of cloves and nutmeg in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 646 cases. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $58.
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The Roar Wines Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, is the most rigorous and austere of this trio of pinot noirs. The color is opaque black-purple with a lighter magenta rim; it’s a large-framed, muscular and sinewy pinot noir, characterized by lively acidity, depths of blueberry, cranberry and rhubarb fruit imbued with nutmeg and sandalwood, and a vigorous framework of new oak and lightly sanded and sifted tannins. 14.9 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 through 2026 or so. Production was 281 cases. Very Good+ for now, with Excellent potential. About $58.
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Twelve examples of pinot noir today, as I catch up on wines that I tasted throughout the last six months. This post is just the beginning. There will be at least one more in this particular series, a post devoted to pinot noir from Willamette Valley, and a series about individual wineries and producers. We range from Sta. Rita Hills in the south, in Santa Barbara County, to Anderson Valley in the north, in Mendocino. Ten of these wines rate Excellent, one Very Good+ and one Exceptional. The arrangement is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, is a really pretty pinot noir that exhibits a serious depth of sinew and underbrush. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is a limpid, transparent medium ruby with an invisible rim, basically what I consider the perfect pinot noir hue; what’s in the nose? pomegranate, cranberry and loam, black and red cherries, cloves and sassafras, with a touch of cherry tart. This is supper satiny, sleek and supple on the palate, with lovely lush berry flavors bolstered by pert acidity and a real edge of dusty tannins, iodine, briers and brambles. Alcohol level is a comfortable and sane 13.7 percent. Now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Tyler Thomas. Excellent. About $44.
Edited image from damewine.com.
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The Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, is a muscular version of the grape, as well as being an exemplar of varietal purity and intensity. It underwent the same oak regimen as its stablemate mentioned in the previous review. The color is a beguiling medium ruby that fades to utter transparency at the rim; the bouquet is a warm and seductive melange of black and red cherries, cloves and sandalwood with notes of rhubarb and pomegranate compote; a touch of slightly bitter cherry skin and pit and a hint of loam keep it from being deliriously pleasurable. The wine is quite dry on the palate, carrying a considerable presence of cherry and plum flavors through a burgeoning element of underbrush and graphite. 13.2 percent alcohol. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, in Santa Barbara County. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $52.
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The color of the Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch-Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is dark ruby shading to a glowing magenta rim; pungent notes of black and red cherries and currants open to hints of violets and lilac and an array of elements that lean toward dried, sifted and refined baking spices and underbrush qualities; assertive acidity cuts a swath through a lithe, sinewy talc-like texture that flexes some tannic muscles through a finish packed with flint and forest floor. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The Green Valley of Russian River Valley, located at the southwestern corner of RRV, is one of the smallest and coolest AVAs in Sonoma County. Winemaker was Dan Goldfield. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $62.
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The Dutton-Goldfield Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels. Every aspect of this pinot noir is lovely until you realize how powerful it is, how dynamic. The color is medium ruby, fading to a transparent rim; all the floral qualities, the spice, the red berry fruit you could ask for characterize the nose, a seamless melange of rose petals and violets, sassafras and sandalwood, loam and graphite, cherries and cranberries; these elements segue onto the palate, where the wine is lithe and supple, propelled by energetic acidity yet so mouth-filling that it seems almost monumental. Every quality combines in pinpoint balance and integration. Production was 292 cases. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $62.
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The color of the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley, is deep royal purple with a transparent magenta rim; a transcendent compote of black cherries, currents and plums seethes with notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, bringing in touches of smoke and loam, briers and brambles; a dense and satiny pinot noir, it delivers tremendous presence on the palate as well as adding hints of black raspberry and lavender to its panoply of fruit flavors; the wine is quite dry yet succulent and enveloping, with a finish of just enough tannins and graphite mineral qualities to keep it serious. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 402 cases. Now through 2021 to ’23. Winemaker was Ryan Hodgins. Excellent. About $70.
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The Russian River Selection wines from Gary Farrell, at least the pinot noirs, tend to display forthright and robust qualities, and the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, does not disappoint. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. A radiant ruby-magenta hue offers a transparent rim; a well-spiced compote of red and black cherries and plums is permeated by notes of loam and leather, pomegranate, cranberry and beetroot, with a hint of sandalwood; it’s quite a substantial pinot noir, dense and chewy and satiny, vibrant with acidity and graphite elements and a background of briers and brambles. 13.9 percent alcohol. Eminently drinkable. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Ten months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, lend the Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, a touch of sheen, shape and exoticism. The color is transparent medium ruby; bright cherry-berry fruit is infused with notes of sassafras and sandalwood, lavender and loam, with cranberry and mulberry manifest in the background. A soft, supple texture and clean, precise acidity testify to the wine’s elegance and deft character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Boy, the Raeburn Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, is a bright and boldly-framed wine that aged 11 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color may be transparent medium ruby, shading to an ephemeral magenta rim, but the wine is vividly ripe and spicy. Black cherries and currants and blueberries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, sandalwood and pomegranate, with an under-layer of loam and forest floor; silky and supple in texture, this pinot noir offers weight on the palate that would be sumptuous except that it’s balanced by surging acidity and graphite elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 or ’23. Winemaker was Joe Tapparo. Excellent. About $25, representing Good Value.
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The color of the Sanford Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, is a beautifully transparent medium ruby, like a glass of red wine in a Dutch still-life painting; intense and concentrated aromas of macerated black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of cloves, pomegranate and loam; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of slightly resinous smoke and tobacco leaf. A dense, satiny texture feels lustrous on the palate, layering lovely purity and intensity that feels both weightless and sensual; the wine gradually builds a foundation of briers, brambles and underbrush tempered by bright berry flavors and lip-smacking acidity; the finish feels burnished by lightly sanded tannins and a dusty, woodsy character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Steve Fennell. Sanford, which traces its beginning to the planting of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971, specializes in single-vineyard and separate-block pinot noirs, but this one, the basic offering, feels as impeccable as anyone could ask for. Now through 2022 to ’24. Exceptional. About $35, and marked Worth a Search.
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This cadet offering, the Sarah’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Clara Valley, delivers fine quality for the price. Aged 11 months in French oak, only 10 percent new barrels, the wine displays a medium ruby hue with a transparent edge, and bright notes of red cherries, cranberries and pomegranate, infused with foresty notes, a touch of lilac and rose petal and a hint of rhubarb and sassafras. This array segues seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine exhibits medium weight, a sleek, satiny texture and pert acidity for animation; the finish is nicely balanced and integrated. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Production was 557 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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The 12-acre Muns Vineyard lies at 2,600 feet above Monterey Bay in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about half-an-hour south of Los Gatos. Sarah’s Vineyard produced 420 cases of the Sarah’s “Muns Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains. The color is a lovely totally transparent medium cerise hue; a soft melding of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, red currants and cherries displays a slight edge of beetroot and sweet loam, with graphite in the background. This is dry, spare and fine-boned on the palate, propelled by bright, fresh acidity that drives through to a finish that generates considerable dusty tannins as time passes, during which the wine picks up elements of pencil shavings and cigarette paper, cranberry and apple skin. 14.2 percent alcohol. A very pretty pinot noir that sports a serious side. Production was 420 cases. Now through 2023 to ’26. Excellent. About $45.
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The color of the Scheid Vineyards Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; scents of marinated black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot, rose petals and spiced black tea; a few moments in the glass bring in a touch of loam and graphite. Boy, this is sleek, subtle and suave on the palate, yet animated by the tension of bright acidity and a sense of spare, sinewy elegance; flavors of dark, spicy cherries and plums carry their weight through to a slightly dusty, mildly tannic finish. Beautifully-wrought. Excellent. About $75.
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You may be thinking apropos the title of this post, “F.K., why didn’t you just say ’12 California Chardonnays’? Why add ‘I liked'”? Because, Dear Reader, I don’t like many chardonnays made in California, so when I come across a dozen that I can write about together, I want to emphasize that fact. The reason, as you probably know from having been a devoted reader of this blog — bless your little pointy heads! — is that so many chardonnays from The Golden State are saturated with swamps of oak that I open even one with trepidation, and when I’m looking for an appropriate white wine to drink with dinner, I will open just about anything other than chardonnay. It’s a real crap-shoot, this whole chardonnay business. The wines reported on in this post age in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time and using various percentages of new barrels, but the important point is that all 12 achieve a state of balance among all elements, sometimes pushing the boundaries, it’s true, but sometimes that bold, risky factor adds a frisson of appreciation. Other selections here are more elegant and restrained. Today we range from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. Vintages represented are 2014, ’15 and ’16, with the ’14s really coming into a state of grace. These wines were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries and marketing people involved.
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The Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, saw 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is pale gold; aromas of grapefruit, pineapple and mango are intensified by notes of white pepper and gun-flint, lime leaf and a hint of fig; the wine is dense, powdery, almost chewy in texture but energized, sleek and chiseled by chiming acidity and a scintillating limestone and flint element. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of preserved lemon and quince, jasmine and lemon drop. Totally dry but juicy and seductive, this chardonnay is an example of superlative balance. 14.6 percent alcohol. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner produced 135 cases; he is also winemaker for his own label, Saxon-Brown. Excellent. About $48.
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The pale gold Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley-Carneros, was made from 35-year-old vines and vines planted in 1996. Ninety percent of the grapes were barrel-fermented, and the wine spent 10 months in French and Hungarian oak, 15 percent new barrels, with 50 percent malolactic. The result is a chardonnay that flaunts its spicy baked pineapple-grapefruit character and the ripe richness of its citrus and stone-fruit flavors — touches of lime peel and peach — but maintains exquisite balance through crystalline acidity and bright limestone minerality. You feel the structure and a lightly toasted influence from the oak, but nothing is overdone here, nothing cloying or creamy or tropical. The finish brings all elements together into a powerful, harmonious whole. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Winemaker was Chris Kajani. Excellent. About $30.
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The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 15 percent new barrels. The interesting point is that while the standard barrique bordelaise holds 225 liters, the capacity of the barrels in question is 400 liters, meaning less contact with wood. Not that there’s no oak influence, but it asserts itself primarily on the finish. This is a rich, vibrant but beautifully restrained chardonnay, bright medium gold in hue and delivering a pungency of pineapple, grapefruit and spice cake notes, with burgeoning touches of jasmine and camellia; flavorful, round and almost dense on the palate, the wine’s fecundity is reined in by riveting acidity and a dusty limestone and flint quality that carries through to the finish, which somehow manages to convey a sense of elegance and balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. This one offers the substance and depth for further development, say from 2021 through ’25. Winemaker was Tyler Thomas. Excellent. About $32.
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The Donelan Family Wines “Nancie” Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, derives from a vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA and another in Russian River Valley. Fermented with native yeast, the wine aged 10 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. The color is a glowing medium gold hue; beguiling aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and mango feel slightly baked and caramelized, but not excessively, and they’re highlighted by notes of apple skin, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and crystallized ginger, all elements contributing to the sense that this is a golden, luxurious chardonnay. Nothing is exaggerated, however, and all these qualities are expressed with delicacy and nuance. On the palate, the wine flows with silky presence that unfurls the tensile strength of bright acidity and a tide of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of woodsy spices, lemon balm and lemon curd. Rich? Oh, yes. Overdone, immodestly ripe and assertive? Certainly not. The balance, in fact, is risky and thrilling. 14 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Joe Nielson. Now through 2021 to ’24. Exceptional. About $48.
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Taking a deft and delicate approach, winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned the FEL Wines Chardonnay 2016, Anderson Valley, in neutral French oak barrels, aging for nine months with very limited malolactic. The result is a chardonnay of lovely balance and proportion that displays a pale gold hue and seductive aromas of lightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit with hints of spiced pear, lemon verbena and lime peel. A powerful strain crisp acidity and limestone and flint minerality drives the tasty citrus and stone-fruit flavors through a texture of delectable talc-like density, though the cumulative effect is of an artifact that’s precise and chiseled. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $32.
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About 20 percent of the grapes for the Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, is fermented in stainless steel, the rest in French oak; the wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, the remainder used from once to four times. The wine does not go through malolactic. The color is pale gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are moderately spicy and wreathed with jasmine and honeysuckle, gradually adding a touch of slightly dusty limestone. It’s quite dry but juicy and delicious with citrus and stone-fruit flavors highlighted by incisive acidity and a neatly etched limestone element; the texture marks a lovely balance between moderate softness and crystalline edginess. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $27.
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The Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley, illustrates the deft approach taken by Rob Davis, who has made every vintage for the winery since the first in 1976. The grapes fermented 51 percent in new French oak, 49 percent in stainless steel; the wine aged a brief 5 months and two weeks in 100 percent new French oak barrels, malolactic restricted to 26 percent. The result is a chardonnay of shimmering purity and intensity that satisfies on every level. The color is medium straw-gold: aromas of lightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by hints of guava and mango, limestone and gunflint; a few moments in the glass deepen the effect with touches of crystallized ginger and quince jam, jasmine and heather. This chardonnay is ripe and ripe on the palate for sure, but exquisitely balanced by lithe acidity and a transparent, lacy limestone element; the finish brings in lime peel and grapefruit pith and the faintest tinge of coconut and lemon cream. 13.7% alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $33.
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The pale straw-gold McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a rich, bold chardonnay that ultimately displays its balance and integrity. A heady bouquet of lightly toasted pineapple and grapefruit offers notes of green apple and pear, cloves and allspice, camellia and lilac; it’s a dense, vibrant and resonant chardonnay, obviously delivering a lot of personality, presence and flavor on the palate but restrained by a dry, crystalline edge of flint and chalk minerality. The finish brings in hints of dusty graphite, smoke and a touch of woodsy spice. 14.2 percent alcohol. Steve McIntyre made 840 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $28.
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David Ramey employed native yeasts to ferment the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. The wine aged 12 months in French oak, 21 percent new barrels, and went through full malolactic. Though made in a bold, upfront fashion, this chardonnay is intriguing complex and thoughtfully rendered. The color is bright, medium gold; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by hints of cloves and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of nutmeg, with its slightly astringent woodsy quality. A fairly dense and luscious texture is cut by chiming acidity and a just sufficient limestone element, all centered on ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit pith. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $42.
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Sarah’s Vineyard produces small quantities of impeccably balanced and harmonious chardonnays and pinot noirs that, despite their elegance, possess a wild side that adds intrigue to their effects. The Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, was barrel-fermented and aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a striking medium gold hue; bright notes of guava, quince and ginger open to elements of slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, with undertones of graphite and limestone. Crystalline limestone minerality and chiming acidity keep this chardonnay animated and appealing on the palate (as well as quite dry), supporting very pure and intense pineapple and grapefruit flavors, a touch candied around the edges, and, at the finish, a beguiling hint of leafy greenness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Winemaker Tim Slater crafted 227 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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How can a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged nine months in 100 percent new French oak barrels display such amazing purity and intensity, such crystalline tone and chiseled presence? Certainly, a factor must be the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vines that struggle to find nutrients in the hillside vineyard, sending roots ever downward in search of water. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, a favorite in our house whatever the vintage, offers a medium gold hue and arresting aromas of peach, pear and quince that unfurl notes of lemon balm and apple blossom, gunflint and limestone. Supernal in its lithe, supple texture and exquisitely poised between zephyr-like softness and riveting acidity, this chardonnay delivers spare and elegant citrus and stone-fruit flavors that culminate in a finish of glittering limestone minerality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. The Smith brothers concocted 850 cases. Exceptional. About $34.
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Winemaker for Stony Hill Vineyard since 1977, Mike Chelini continues to honor the minimalist approach advocated by the winery’s founder — in 1948, with wife Eleanor — and first winemaker Fred McCrea. The Stony Hill Chardonnay 2015, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, was fashioned from 24-to-33-year-old dry-farmed vines, aged 10 months in neutral French oak barrels and allowed no malolactic. The color is pale straw-gold; this is all white flowers and yellow fruit, a spare, elegant and luminous chardonnay highlighted by notes of ginger, tangerine and quince and drenched with limestone and flint. Bright acidity sends a strain of agile nervosity through the wine’s texture, while the entire package gains strength and character as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2025 through ’28. Excellent. About $48.
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What you will not find in today’s roster of 14 red wines is a mention of cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir. There is life, as you well know, beyond that dominate triumvirate. Even the 14 grape varieties featured here don’t begin to explore the manifold possibilities that exist in the world of red grapes. This, however, is a reasonable start. We’re fairly eclectic and ecumenical for this version of Weekend Wine Notes, touching various regions of California, the states of Oregon and Washington, Piedmont and Alto Adige in Italy and the upper reaches of Argentina’s Mendoza, in the Salta area. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the typical technical, historical and geographical data of which I am so fond for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy … in moderation, please.
These wines were samples for review.
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Giornata Wines French Camp Vineyard Aglianico 2015, Paso Robles. 13.8% alc. 100% aglianico. 100 cases. Dark ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; boldly aromatic: ripe and slightly roasted black currants and plums, smoke, loam and espresso; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of black tea, tar and rosemary; lithe and supple as a black panther, with unleashed acidity, all bolstered by deep and velvety tannins. An attractive and well-built red wine. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $30.
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Shooting Star Blue Franc 2014, Washington State. 13.5% alc. 100% blaufrankisch, also known as lemberger. A label from Steele Wines. Dark to medium ruby color; blueberries and cherries, then drenched with raspberry; touches of raspberry leaf and sour cherry; quite dry but juicy with blue fruit flavors, slightly resinous with a balsamic note; a nice combination of brooding and liveliness; moderate tannins for structure. One of my favorite inexpensive reds. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
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Steele Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, Lake County. 13.8% alc. Dark purple-magenta color; cherries and raspberries with a touch of blueberry; mint and mocha, high notes of violet; furry tannins and dusty graphite, but more robust than rustic; a bit woodsy but clean and bright, all elements strung along vivid acidity; some oak on the finish lends depth and seriousness. A very attractive mouthful of wine, now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $19.
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Scheid Vineyards Riverview Vineyard Dolcetto 2016, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 100 cases. Dark ruby hue with a vivid magenta rim; a muscular, loamy interpretation of the grape; deep and generous scents and flavors of red and black cherries with a core of lavender, graphite and toast; very dry, enlivened by vibrant acidity, bolstered by lithe, dusty tannins, all concluding in a spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $34.
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The Farm Winery Touchy-Feely 2013, Adelaida District, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. 80% grenache, 20% syrah. 241 cases. Very dark ruby fading to a delicate, invisible rim; cherries and raspberries in the nose, notes of lavender and leather, graphite and loam and a plangent hint of floral tea; 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. A real pleasure to drink. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
Image from lucas.store.com.
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Amalaya Malbec 2016, Salta, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. With 10% tannat, 5% petit verdot. Blue-black opaque with a faint blue-purple rim; spiced, marinated and slightly baked plums, currants and cherries, notes of black olives and rosemary, wood-smoke, cloves and sandalwood; this is rich, intense and juicy, with real grip and traction and an incisive mineral edge honed with iodine and graphite. Very impressive for the price. Excellent. About $16, representing Fine Value.
Imported by The Hess Collection, Napa, Calif.
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Troon Vineyards Kubli Bench Montepulciano 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 11.5% alc. 146 cases. Deep purple with a transparent violet rim; a dark, feral, ferrous and sanguinary rendition of the grape, bursting with notes of spiced and macerated red currants and mulberries with high tones of lilac and lavender and a throb of graphite; tremendously lively and vivid with brisk acidity that arrows through moderately mineral-laced tannins; finish is slightly bitter, as with cherry stems, pits and skins. Quite a performance. Excellent. About $25.
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Bel Colle Barbaresco 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% nebbiolo. Medium ruby-garnet hue; a deep, gritty, slightly rustic version of Barbaresco, offering notes of red cherries and currants, cloves and allspice, smoke and black tea, loam and violets; acid cuts a swath on the palate; moderate but robust tannins are dusty and silky, while a lovely overtone of black and red fruit compote lingers. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Scheid Vineyards Hames Valley Vineyard Petite Sirah 2015, Monterey County. 14.9% alc. Opaque inky-purple color; a deep, dense brooding wine; blue plums, black cherries and currants wreathed with iodine, graphite, espresso and bacon fat; very dry, boundless acidity and granitic tannins; black and blue fruit flavors very dark, spiced and macerated; a sleek chiseled finish that brings in boysenberry, black tea and a touch of vanilla. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
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Troon Vineyards Kulbi Bench Sangiovese 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Light, transparent ruby-garnet shading lighter; red cherries and currants, cloves and sandalwood, lavender and dusty graphite; slightly rustic tannins support layers of autumn leaves, loam and tobacco; some rooty black tea and a buzz of mint and iodine round out the finish. An intriguing interpretation of the grape. Excellent. About $25.
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J. Hofstatter Kolbenhofer Schiava 2016, Alto Adige-Sudtirol, Italy. 12.5% alc. Totally transparent ruby-brick red; sweet-tart red cherries and raspberries with a bit of raspberry leaf rasp and slightly bitter currants and cherry pit; notes of thyme and rosemary, with some of the latter’s slightly woody resinous quality; vivid acidity plows a furrow on the palate; a perfect wine for cutting through the fat of braised red meats. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Morgan Winery G17 Syrah 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.4% alc. With 9% grenache, 4% tempranillo. Opaque black-ruby color; intense and concentrated yet highly perfumed with notes of black currants, plums and wild raspberries, violets and lavender, leather and loam; a sleek, lithe and supple syrah that offers real grip and traction on the palate and depths of foresty elements that partake of robust tannins; a chiseled, faceted mineral-driven finish. A stylish and very drinkable syrah, through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $22.
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Fields Family Wines Lot 13 Vineyard Tempranillo 2014, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 14.5% alc. 100 cases. Dark ruby-magenta hue; ripe, spicy mulberries and raspberries, notes of coffee and violets, mountain herbs and wildflowers; quite dry, briers, brambles and raspberry leaf, hints of tar and graphite; lively acidity and a solid tannic framework that doesn’t obscure delicious black fruit flavors. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
Image from isaacjamesbaker.blogspot.com.
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Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel 2015, Mendocino County. 15% alc. Dark to medium ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; very spicy and macerated blueberries and boysenberries with notes of blackberry jam, lavender, licorice and graphite; quite dense and chewy, slick and chiseled, pretty damned smacky acidity and sanded tannins; the finish is dry and fairly austere. A big, bold zinfandel that’s a good representative of the style. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $17, marking Real Value.
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The evolution of Black Kite Cellars began in 1995 with the purchase by Donald and Maureen Green of a 40-acre property in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, overlooking the Navarro River. Their daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Tom Birdsall, fascinated by the wines of Burgundy, decided to replant an old gewurztraminer vineyard on the estate to pinot noir, producing a first crop in 2003. The winery is named for the endangered Black Shouldered Kite, since renamed (wouldn’t you know) the White Tailed Kite; a stylized depiction of the bird is featured on every label. Working with vineyard manager Paul Ardzrooni and winemaker Jeff Gaffner, distinct areas of the vineyard were identified; these are now bottled separately as Angel Hawk, Kite’s Rest, Redwood’s Edge, River Turn and Stony Terrace. In 2009, the team began purchasing grapes from vineyards several rows of which are farmed to their specifications; these include Gap’s Crown, in Sonoma Coast, and Sierra Mar and Soberanes in Santa Lucia Highlands. I’m dealing with these eight Black Kite pinot noirs from vintage 2014 in the Weekend Wine Notes format because the winery’s current releases are the 2015s. These ’14s, though, are definitely Worth a Search. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical details in favor of quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Gaffner, by the way, has his own label, the justly praised Saxon-Brown. These wines were samples for review.
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Black Kite Cellars “Angel Hawk” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.8% alc. 152 cases. Dark ruby hue shading through medium ruby to transparent magenta; very pure and intense initially but leans toward syrah-like power through the finish; ripe red and black cherries and currants with exotic touches of cloves, nutmeg and sandalwood; deep, dark and spicy — dense, silky and supple; lively and vibrant; brings in a strain of mint, iodine and graphite, with notes of loam and pine balsam. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Kite Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 14.6% alc. 292 cases. Entrancing transparent medium ruby-magenta with an ephemeral rim; you smell the spice, the loam and the cherry fruit as you pour the wine; cherry tart with hints of cranberry and pomegranate, notes of sour cherry and cherry stem, lilac and rose petals; wide range of contrast from sweet fruit and woodsy spices to a firm grounding in the earth; finishes with hints of flint and leather, smoke and cigarette paper. Beautiful poise, balance and resonance. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,254 cases. Light-filled medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; ripe red and black cherry and currant scents and flavors, notes of sassafras and rhubarb, lavender and violets; modestly loamy, with touches of briers, brambles and forest floor, shading toward autumnal; brings in elements of smoke and flint-like minerality, animated by brisk acidity; leans toward the exotic on the finish with lilac and sandalwood. Not quite the integration of the Stony Terrace and Redwood’s Edge. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $50.
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Black Kite “Redwood’s Edge” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 14.7% alc. 193 cases. Totally transparent cherry red shading to an ethereal rim; root-like, tea-like, loamy, with distinct notes of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and plums; hints of cloves and sandalwood opening to touches of rose petals and violets; quite dry but supple, lithe and satiny; unfurls wonderful depth and succulent character while maintaining the lightly tannic grip of briers, brambles and graphite. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Black Kite “River Turn” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.9% alc. 193 cases. The darkest ruby hued of these pinot noirs, though shading to a transparent magenta rim; sassafras and sandalwood, rhubarb, pomegranate and beetroot, all slicked by a smoky black and red cherry glaze; pretty damned unabashed, with lip-smacking fruit and acidity and upfront notes of woodsy spice, forest floor and loam; drapes the palate with sleek satiny texture; lasting hints of cedar, tobacco and resin; a bit of heat and sweetness from the alcohol on the finish. Now through 2021 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.
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Black Kite Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.6% alc. 120 cases. Transparent but vivid medium ruby-magenta hue; cloves and cardamom, black cherries and currants, wood-smoke and sandalwood; lovely shape and presence on the palate; sleek, lithe texture bolstered by vibrant acidity and mild, lightly dusted tannins; gets drier and earthier as the moments pass. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $50.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.8% alc. 572 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; a dusty and darkly musky pinot noir, spare yet generous, displaying the panoply of effects: ripe raspberries, mulberries and cranberries infused by notes of sandalwood and toasted cumin, lilac and lavender and hints of pomegranate, sassafras and rhubarb, all unfolding gradually in seamless subtlety; super satiny texture riven by bright acidity and a keen graphite edge. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Black Kite “Stony Terrace” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. 14.8% alc. 193 cases. Transparent medium ruby color fading to a lighter rim; large-framed, packed with spice and minerals; black and red cherries permeated by sandalwood and pomegranate, lavender and violets, rhubarb and cranberry; freighted with dense, dusty satin, lithe and vibrant; incredibly appealing and satisfying on the sensual level but gradually reveals depths of graphite, loam and forest floor; some time in the glass opens notes of raspberry leaf and tomato skin. Now through 2022 to ’24. Exceptional. About $60.
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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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Well, freakin’ BRRR, it got cold, and there’s even a chance of snow tonight, here in Memphis and elsewhere around the country. Morgan_label_Double_L_Syrah_2014_frontTime to break out a hearty, flavorful red wine for your dinner. How about the Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands — that’s in Monterey County, an east-facing ridge on the west side of the Salinas Valley. The vineyard is certified organic; the wine fermented with native yeasts and aged 14 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim, like royal raiment; the wine is ripe and juicy, intense and concentrated, offering notes of black cherries and plums permeated by leather and licorice, wood smoke, white pepper and violets. A burgeoning foresty-underbrush character lends support to sleek dusty tannins, and while the texture is lithe and supple, there’s a bit of velvety graphite resistance on the palate, a sense of the wine not giving in too easily to being consumed. Lovely stuff, with a serious slightly chiseled mineral edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 241 cases. Winemaker was Sam Smith. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $42.

A sample for review.

So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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acorn-2013-heritage-vines-zinfandel-rgb-72dpi
Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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gratien
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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chartogne
Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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eve-essence
Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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fields
Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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gamble
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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barb
Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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inman-ogv
Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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jayson-cab-label
Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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luscher
Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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macphail-logo
MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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alsace-1
Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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merisi
Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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montelena-riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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nerthe-2
Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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prv_lepetitclos_chard_sld_main
Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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red-newt
Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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german-2
Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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rmw_2013_cabernetsauvignon_oakville_lowres
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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seed
The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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smith-madrone-chardonnay
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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stonestreet-sb
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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3-sticks-durell
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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tongue-dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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troon
Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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2-sheps
Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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poete
Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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windracer
WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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