Sonoma Valley


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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Do they still say in California that the best producers of zinfandel start with the letter “R”? Ridge, Rosenblum, Renwood, Ravenswood. Frankly, I hope that old saw has been abandoned, because many wineries, especially small, family-owned, organic properties make excellent zinfandels, often from unheralded, old vine vineyards. On the other hand, though it has been quite a while since I tried anything from Renwood and Rosenblum, this array of single-vineyard zinfandels from Ravenswood Winery proves that winemaker Joel Peterson is still at the top of his game. (I tasted the full range of Ridge single-vineyard zinfandels from 2016 in San Francisco back in January; though they varied in quality and emphasis, of course, they were mainly beautifully delineated.) These Ridge zinfandels are all hand-harvested, meticulously sorted, wild-yeast-fermented and punched down by hand. Four rate Excellent; one rates Exceptional.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, derives from a 30-acre property planted between 1913 and 1919 on gravelly-clay loam. It’s a blend of 78.2 percent zinfandel grapes, 15.8 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignane and 1 percent alicante bouschet, aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an impenetrable black-purple shading to a glowing violet rim; warm and enticing aromas of pure blackberry, boysenberry and plum are permeated by notes of cloves, smoke, and loam, with a hint of blueberry tart; the wine is lithe and supple on the palate, displaying appealing density and presence with real traction on the palate and sleek, polished elements of oak and tannin; all of these qualities seamlessly wrapped around an intense core of lavender and licorice, espresso and graphite. 15.1 percent alcohol. Production was 700 cases. An exemplary zinfandel. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $42.
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Made from 100 percent zinfandel grapes, the Ravenswood Big River Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Alexander Valley, originated in a 14-acre vineyard planted circa 1893. Situated at an elevation of 500 feet, the vineyard is composed of old volcanic cobbly, red clay loam. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark to medium ruby fading to a magenta rim; it’s a ripe and fleshy zinfandel, featuring elements of fruitcake, macerated black currants and raspberries with a touch of blueberry and undertones of iodine and graphite; the emphasis from mid-palate through the finish is on a structure of elegant and chiseled granitic minerality that balances the ripeness and savory quality of slightly roasted black fruit flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Production was 700 cases. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $42.
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Four acres of the 10-acre Dickerson Vineyard were planted in 1930; three were planted in 1979 and three more in 1985. This is on Zinfandel Lane in Napa Valley, at sea level, on a site sheltered by the Mayacamas Range to the west. Zinfandel Lane crosses Hwy 29 about 2.5 miles south of the town of St. Helena. The Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Napa Valley, is 100 percent varietal; it aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. It’s a rich, warm and spicy zinfandel, offering a beautiful dusky ruby-purple hue that segues to a transparent magenta rim; in the nose: hints of blackberries and blueberries, grated nutmeg and cloves, graphite and a hint of loam; the presence on the palate is both weighty and delicate, a pleasing and inextricable paradox, while notes of blueberry tart and boysenberry emerge; you feel some of the sweetness of the alcohol and the super-ripeness of the black fruit flavors, but overall, the wine is expertly balanced. 15.1 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $42.
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Planted around 1900, the 7.5 acres of the Belloni Vineyard lie on silty clay loam in a flat area at sea level. The Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent mixed black grapes, mainly petite sirah, alicante bouschet and carignane; it aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-magenta; a touch of the feral occurs in its wild blueberry and raspberry fruit infused with notes of lavender and lilac, licorice and graphite; a few moments in the glass add a hint of boysenberry jam. For all that, this zinfandel is solidly structured, bolstered by a framework of slightly astringent tannins and a lithe texture; elements of woodsy spice and rooty earthiness culminate in a finish laced with some dark loamy tea and granitic minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. An individualized and intriguing interpretation of the grape, for drinking through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $42.
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Old Hill Vineyard was planted around 1880 by William McPherson Hill. The property was purchased by Otto Teller in 1981. Teller cleared away the tangles of poison oak and wild blackberries (as well as junk cars and abandoned appliances) to uncover 14 acres of vines that research revealed held some 30 varieties of black grapes, a true field blend. Old Hill, one of California’s most historic and valuable assets, is carefully and devotedly tended by Will Bucklin, nephew of Otto Teller, who died in 1998 at the age of 90. Composed of clay-loam soil, the vineyard lies at sea-level, sloping slightly to the east. I visited Old Hill in 2003, and I’ll testify that standing amid its ancient, gnarled vines was as close to a religious experience as I have had in my 34 years of writing about wine.

Joel Peterson has been making a single-vineyard bottling from Old Hill since 1983. The Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Sonoma Valley, consists of 96.8 percent zinfandel and 3.2 percent mixed black grapes. It aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a vivid magenta rim; it’s a deep, spicy and mineral-flecked wine, vibrant and resonant; scents and flavors of blackberries and blueberries are permeated by notes of sage and heather, lavender and graphite, all energized by bright acidity; this is a perfectly balanced zinfandel, its sleek, lightly sifted and dusted tannins providing an inextricable framework for a harmonious, elegant structure. Oh, there’s plenty of depth and dimension, to be sure, and a hint of an untamed quality, but the emphasis is on exquisitely poised proportion. 14.5 percent alcohol. Let’s call it a Platonic zinfandel, for drinking now through 2023 to ’25. Production was 900 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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The range of these cabernet sauvignon wines starts with geography; we touch Napa and Sonoma in California, Clare Valley and Coonawarra in Australia, and Chile’s Maipo Valley. The deployment of the cabernet grape ranges from a 3/4 majority to 100 percent. Prices range from $20 to $140 and ratings from Very Good+ to Exceptional, implying that at least in those directions there’s something here for everyone who likes the grape. The vintages are 2013, ’14 and ’15. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the details of technical, geological, historical and personnel matters for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy … always in sensible moderation.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Burgess Cellars Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 11% petit verdot, 2% malbec. Very dark ruby hue, shading to a lighter rim; expanding notes of smoke, tobacco and iodine, briers and brambles, opening to hints of black currant, raspberry and raspberry leaf; dense, velvety, graphite-infused tannins coat the palate; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of cedar and dried rosemary; tightly wound black and red fruit flavors sing to a tune of vibrant acidity and the concluding resonance of granitic minerality. Classic Napa Valley. Try 2019/20 through 2028/30. Excellent. About $60.
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Cornerstone Cellars “Benchlands” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. Dark ruby-magenta with a transparent rim; iodine and iron, flint, lavender and licorice; very intense and concentrated black fruit, with deep, velvety heft and an immense presence of graphite and dusty tannins; lots of grip and traction across the palate, and bountiful ripeness from the alcohol, but while large-framed it’s essentially balanced and dynamic. Try from 2020 or ’21 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $65.
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Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 8% petit verdot, 3% merlot, 1% each malbec and cabernet franc. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; beautifully balanced and integrated, every element in place; ripe and spicy black currants and cherries, hints of lavender, licorice and baking spices; flint and graphite minerality and dusty, cushiony tannins dominate from mid-palate back through the lithe, supple finish. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Jim Barry “The Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Coonawarra, Australia. 13.5% alc. Deep, dark ruby color shifting to a magenta-garnet rim; mint, iodine and bay leaf; intense and concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit yet generous and approachable; real presence of flint and graphite minerality and penetrating yet velveteen tannins; pulsing acidity for liveliness and allure; expanding core of licorice, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Amazing personality, character and value for the price. Now through 2020 to’21. A personal favorite; buy it by the case. Excellent. About $20, a local purchase. A Real Bargain.
Negociants USA, Napa, Calif.
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Kunde Family Winery “Drummond” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma Valley. 14.5% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a slightly lighter rim; an intense and concentrated bouquet, displaying notes of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, black currants, cherries and plums, all infused with flint and graphite, lavender and licorice; sleek and lithe, supple and chiseled on the palate, energized by lip-smacking acidity and tannins both stern and cushiony; ripe and fleshy black fruit flavors, plush and velvety texture, yet large-framed, packed with dusty granitic minerality leading to a fairly austere finish. No mistaking this for anything other than a California cabernet sauvignon. Now through 2025 to ’27. Excellent. About $50.
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Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 3% petite sirah. Opaque ruby-garnet shading to a magenta rim; smoke, flint, bittersweet chocolate; intense and concentrated black cherry and currant scents and flavors; notes of blueberries and espresso; just a hint of mint, cedar and rosemary over briery-brambly elements; sleek dusty tannin for structure. Drink through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Predominantly cabernet sauvignon, with merlot and cabernet franc. Lovely medium transparent ruby hue with a flush of garnet; winsome aromas of mint, eucalyptus, bell pepper; black cherry and raspberry; cedar, lilac and lavender; sleek, lithe texture and a moderately tannic structure animated by clean acidity; black fruit flavors reveal a ripe, spicy nature opening to meadowy earthiness. Now through 2020 or ’21. Why don’t I see this charming and satisfying wine in by-the-glass programs? Very Good+. About $20.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 8% cabernet franc, 7% merlot. Dark ruby-magenta hue; smoke, loam, old leather; red currants and raspberries, touch of dark plum; real heft and traction on the palate, powerful forward energy propelled by bright acidity; huge depth of graphite minerality with layers of underbrush and spare woodsy floral and herbal elements; monumental tannins softened by their paradoxically elegant texture; the intensity and concentration continue through the boldly mineral-laced finish. Wonderful purity and integrity. Try 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $52.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; mint, cedar and rosemary, with a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent woody quality; spiced and macerated black and red cherries and raspberries; dense, chewy, gritty tannins, like heaps of velvet infused with iron filings; dusty, smoky, woodsy; very dry, lithe and sleek, allowing some semblance of deep black and red fruit to emerge; a long austere, mineral-packed finish. 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $60.
Seaview Imports, Port Washington, N.Y.
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Wakefield “The Visionary” Exceptional Parcel Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Clare Valley, Australia. 14% alc. Even bigger, larger-framed and structured, deeper in every aspect than its excellent and (relatively) less expensive “St. Andrews” stablemate. Medium ruby color; immediate impression of pure mint, iodine, graphite and espresso; a finely honed and hewed cabernet, sleek and chiseled, with tremendous heft and presence without being overbearing; deeply spiced and slightly roasted black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; saturated with powerful grainy tannins and a supple oak overlay; all devolving to a monumental finish of granitic proportions. Try from 2020 through 2030 to ’35. Exceptional potential. About $140.
Seaview Imports, Port Washington, N.Y.
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What qualifies as a “Big Deal” wine? You could say price, and while that enters in it’s not the determining factor. You could say a “big” wine in terms of power and structure and alcohol content, and those elements could also be important. What really clinches the deal, though, on a Big Deal wine is the producer’s intention that a wine represent the best of the vineyards and the treatment in the winery, a wine that manifests every quality that to the winemaker stands for integrity, purity and intensity, a wine that, in other words, encapsulates the best that a vineyard and a vat of grapes can possibly deliver. Today’s post is the first in a series of perhaps three entries that examine Big Deal red wines from various countries and regions. This post offers 10 wines — mostly cabernet sauvignon-based but also two merlots; two of the wines are from Chile, are, in fact, among the best cabernets that country produces, and eight from California, all Napa Valley except one from Sonoma Valley. They’re not cheap, and they tend to be limited in production, but as flagship wines they chart the dimensions and depths of their regions’ top achievements.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile, comes from the Vina Quebrada de Macul estate, where winemaker is Jean-Pascal Lacaze. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot, and 3 percent cabernet franc that aged a year in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby-garnet; black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of bell pepper and rosemary, cedar and tobacco, all with a blueberry and sage edge and a strain of penetrating graphite minerality. Dusty, flinty tannins seem precipitous, yet the wine feels quite engaging on the palate, bringing in touches of mint and eucalyptus and a whiff of iodine to the spicy black fruit and blue flavors — currants and cherries, blueberries and plums — all animated by bright acidity. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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With 8 percent cabernet franc with the rest cabernet sauvignon, the Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Puente Alto, Chile, aged 15 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby but shading to a transparent cherry rim; this is fairly closed presently, offering leafy-herbal notes of cedar, rosemary, thyme and black tea over fruitcake and tapenade; black currant and cherry flavors are concentrated and furled, and the wine is dry, mightily tannic and austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’32. Winemaker was Enrique Tirado. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $125.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2014, Napa Valley, is a massive, inky-purple blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 5 malbec, 2 petit verdot, 1 cabernet franc that aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. Intense and concentrated notes of black currant, blueberry and black raspberry are swathed in hints of bell pepper and green olive, cedar, tobacco and rosemary, with undertones of mocha and lavender. Bastions of dusty, rock-ribbed tannin and oak dictate some cellar time for this tightly coiled wine, say for trying from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $56.
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The character of the Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve 2013, Sonoma Valley, seems to partake of the rocky, volcanic soil where the grapes were grown. A blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The whole package feels immense on the palate. The color is black-purple shading to a cherry rim; deep, intense notes of cassis, black cherry and raspberry offer hints of pomegranate, fruitcake and mocha, plums, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Crushing dusty tannins and piercing granitic minerality define a structure that admits touches of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary, laved by creamy oak and energized by bright acidity, all leading to a sleek, chiseled finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Excellent. About $125.
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The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot; information on oak aging was not available. The color is the intense black-purple hue of motor oil; first, you detect notes of graphite, iodine and iron, then hints of concentrated black currants and cherries that unfold elements of smoke and grilled meat, briers and brambles; it’s a very dry wine, dense and chewy in the mouth but without being ponderous or truculent, rather, in fact, despite the size, it’s remarkably deft and light on its feet; around a winsome core of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and crushed violets, a haze of velvety tannins and charcoal-tinged wood wraps itself, tapering to a lithic finish inflected by granitic minerality.
14.6 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 to 2028 or ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, contains 10 percent petit verdot, to the balance of merlot grapes; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 76 percent new barrels. The vineyards on Howell Mountain lie at elevations from 1,700 to 1,820 feet. This is a wine of amazing purity and intensity, from its dark ruby-magenta hue to its piercing elements of graphite and flint minerality, to its penetrating scents and flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and black currant; in its vibrancy, resonance and appeal, this wine can only be described as “exciting,” though the dry, dusty tannins coat the palate; some time in the glass adds complex notes of fruitcake and espresso, truffles and loam and a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the finish fleshes out the wine with a complement of warm spices and cool minerals that reach fathoms deep. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. Exceptional. About $85.
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Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley — the name means “my dream” — is 100 percent cabernet sourced from the Coombsville and Oak Knoll AVAs, aged two years in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, and given another year in the bottle before release. The color is opaque inky-ebony shading to a glowing purple rim; notes of creamy cassis and ripe, fleshy black currants and raspberries open to touches of blueberry and boysenberry, leather and loam, lavender and licorice, with just a hint of well-integrated vanilla; boy, this one is ripe and plush and succulent, almost too gorgeous, really, but saved by bright acidity and a burgeoning sense of dusty, fairly rigorous elements that provide serious background and foundation; I’ll admit that what I admire most about this wine is the sense of vibrant tension between its frankly velvety allure and (from mid-palate back) its increasingly dry, rooty, underbrushy structure; that’s what makes me want to drink a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Rolando Herrera make 875 cases. Excellent. About $75, sold by allocation.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2014, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 20 months — that seems to be the magic number — in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is opaque black-purple; slightly fleshy and meaty aromas of black currants and plums are earthy and rooty, touched with notes of bittersweet chocolate, pomegranate and fruitcake and a piercing graphite element; a few moments in the glass add hints of bell pepper and black olives. Deep-set, dusty tannins and granitic minerality coat the palate, and though the wine slides on the animation by keen acidity, the whole package feels inchoate presently; try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’34. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+, with perhaps Excellent potential. About $100.
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If there’s one thing we know about Ravid Ramey, it’s that he’s a prestidigitator of oak, so while the Ramey Wine Cellars Template 2014, Napa Valley, received 18 months in all-new French oak barrels, and I’m thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of new oak,” the wine emerged from that regimen with a texture both sinewy and supple and with depths of walnut shell and briery elements that add density and heft on the palate; there’s no whit of what are to me the distracting taints of new oak: toastiness, coconut, vanilla. The grapes derived from three Napa Valley AVAs: 70 percent Mount Veeder (merlot); 24 percent Oakville (cabernet franc); 6 percent Rutherford (cabernet sauvignon). The color is a dark but warm ruby hue that shades to a lighter purple rim; this is, no mistake, a serious, intense and concentrated majority-merlot wine, trimmed with hints of black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar and rosemary, lavender and sage, all leading to a dry, fairly austere tannic finish. For this one, you need a thick, medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Devotees of merlot (and Napa Valley) will be fascinated to watch the wine’s development. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 90 cases. Excellent. About $85.
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A true flagship wine of tremendous presence and significance, the Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; right upfront are elements of penetrating graphite minerality and burnished oak, but after a few minutes in the glass, those aspects become more integrated, making room for an astonishing array of sandalwood and bergamot, lavender and candied violets, with concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit taking on a slightly resinous character of cedar and tobacco, ancho chili and sage. It feels ecclesiastical on the palate, with its cool, dusty, polished old wood nature and its warm incense-like spices, but make no mistake, this wine’s deeply-rooted rock-ribbed tannins could support mountains. More time in the glass brings out notes of poached raspberries, underbrush and dried porcini; the weight on the palate is lithe, supple and momentous, all these qualities adding up to a finish of Olympian austerity and dimension. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2034 to ’38. Winemaker was Cecilia Welch. Production was 250 cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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I managed to squeak by Merlot Month — October — by only mentioning the grape once. Whew! I deplore these marketing gimmicks, except, of course, World Champagne Day. That one, I happily go along with. Anyway, we look in this post at three merlot wines from Duckhorn Vineyards, a producer of merlot since 1976, not merely venerable but distinguished, even archetypal, particularly from the famed Three Palms Vineyard. Renée Ary was promoted to winemaker at Duckhorn in 2014, just in time to craft the Three Palms Merlot for that vintage, a stupendous wine that rates Exceptional in the review below. The other merlot wines here are from Gundlach Bundschu (Very Good+), Chelsea Goldschmidt (Excellent and a Great Value) and Mt. Brave (Excellent).

These wines were samples for review.
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Decoy is Duckhorn’s label for (relatively) inexpensive wines. The Decoy Merlot 2015, Sonoma County, is a blend of 92 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent violet rim; aromas of red currants, black cherry and blueberry are infused with cloves and graphite and a hint of loam; this is a briery, brambly merlot, not rustic — the texture is sleek and supple — but rooty and woodsy, the whole package kept lively by vibrant acidity; the finish is solid with dusty tannins and a hint of oak. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $25.
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The Duckhorn Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, represents an intense and concentrated rendition of the grape; it’s a blend of 88 percent merlot, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent cabernet franc, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. A totally opaque black-ruby color presages a merlot that’s dark in intensity and effect. This one reveals an oak influence greater than its stablemates also reviewed in this section, a factor that tends to mute the elements of red and black currants and blueberries that circulate below the surface, while adding a spicy and dried herb quality that manages to feel more generous and appealing. Graphite? You bet. Granitic minerality? Uh-huh. Dusty, velvety tannins? Count on ’em. A finish that expands the oak and tannic sway through toasty woody notes? Mais oui. 14.5 percent alcohol. Give this merlot another year to settle down and find better balance, and then consume through 2024. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $54.
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You’ll hear not a quibble or a qualm from me about the Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. This single-vineyard wine set the standard for Napa Valley merlot decades ago and continues to handily best the competition. For 2014, the blend consists of 86 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot; it aged 18 months in French oak, a whopping 75 percent new barrels. As often happens, however, when excellent grapes from a great vineyard meet a rigorous oak regimen, the wine soaked up that oak and turned it into a subtle, supple shaping factor rather than a dominating influence. The color, if that’s the word, is as opaque a black-ruby-purple as could be imagined; the gamut of sensations is here, but sustained, restrained and codified by the demands of immense dusty bastions of granitic-glazed tannins and a tremendous reserve of penetrating graphite minerality. While that description makes the Three Palms Merlot 14 sound as if it’s all about structure now, this wine adds intriguing and interesting detail to its dimension: black and red currants with touches of blueberry and raspberry, all slightly spiced and macerated; mocha and fruitcake, pomegranate and loam; dried porcini and woodsy herbs and flowers. This panoply is animated by bright acidity that plows a furrow through to the austere, mineral and oak infused finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. A monumental achievement, and thank god I have another bottle. Best from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Exceptional. About $98.
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Named for winemaker Nick Goldschmidt’s eldest daughter, the Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, is a 100 percent varietal wine that aged 12 months in 25 percent new oak, 60 percent French barrels, 20 percent each American and Hungarian. The color is deep dark black-ruby with a purple rim; aromas of cassis and black currant jam are permeated by notes of cloves and licorice, iodine and graphite, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Chewy, gritty tannins reach fathoms into layers of granitic minerality, all enlivened by vibrant acidity and laved by tasty black and blue fruit flavors. Yeah, it’s sort of like drinking gravel, and I mean that in the best way. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2019 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $19, an Incredible Value for this quality.
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If you dote on juicy, jammy red wines — as I do not — this one’s for you. The Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2014, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 89 percent merlot, 5 percent petit verdot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc, thereby accommodating the five classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 17 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is inky, opaque black-purple with a magenta rim; this opens with pure blackberry jam, penetrating aromas of graphite and lavender and a deeply spicy, macerated character that includes blueberries and mulberries. It’s quite dry but ripe, juicy and succulent, very dense and chewy and energized by bright acidity that rips through dusty, velvety tannins; you feel the sweet ripeness of the 14.8 percent alcohol on the finish. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Very Good+. About $35.
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None of these examples is a wimpy wine, as some people think of merlot, but the Mt. Brave Merlot 2014, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, pretty much takes the prize for structure. Made from grapes grown between 1,400 and 1,800 feet in elevation — it’s the old Chateau Potelle property — this 100 percent varietal wine aged 19 months in French oak, 93 percent new barrels. The wine displays another inky-black-purple hue with a violet rim; every aspect is intense and concentrated, from the tightly-wound notes of black currants, blueberries and (just a hint) boysenberry to the piercing granitic-and-graphite minerality to its rigorous tannins permeated by iodine, iron and loam. Give it a few minutes in the glass, and it calls up the dusty herbaceous quality of dried thyme and rosemary (with a touch of rosemary’s slightly astringent woodsy nature) that I associate with high-elevation red wines, all of these elements energized and bound by keen acidity; the finish feels chiseled from stone. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 532 cases. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. This is a wine built to age; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34, properly stored. Excellent. About $80.
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A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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For the 18th entry in this series about chardonnay and pinot noir wines, mainly from California but occasionally from elsewhere, I offer 15 reviews that mention wines whose geographical origins range from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge in the north, in Mendocino County, to Santa Maria Valley in the south, in Santa Barbara County. Some threads of the grapes’ innate characters run through the wines — certain central and peripheral fruit scents and flavors, certain spice notions, some earthy, minerally qualities — with differences among the wines derived from radical and inevitable variations in climate, elevation, exposure and soil type, the elements that comprise terroir. The issue of oak is involved, of course, with winemakers making decisions about how long to age their wines in wood and what percentage of new oak barrels to use. I prefer wines with a light oak (or no oak) thumbprint, so I’m pleased to say that none of these wines — 13 pinots, 2 chardonnays — is swamped by an overbearing oak influence. The wines considered today are all pretty terrific, a few more terrificker than the others, but I promise you would not turn any of them down. The order is alphabetical.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars bk-pinotGap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
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The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia bk-chardHighlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 donum-estate-grown-carneros-pinot-noir-napa-county-usa-10332775percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
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Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
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The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
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The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
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Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool macphail-logoclimate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
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The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 3-bien-nacido10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months 3-jamesin French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, 3-originfermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.

The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of ws-rrvthe winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River ws-westside-roadValley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
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One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Armida, Auteur and others.

Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines bill-600x880instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price III, a co-founder of TPG Capital (image at right), which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He purchased the well-known Gap’s Crown Vineyard in 2013.

Price’s Three Sticks label — named for his old surfing nickname — draws grapes from Durell as well as from other vineyards in Sonoma County and down to Santa Barbara County. These 2013s were made by Don Van Staaveren, who is now winemaker emeritus, having handed his former duties to director of winemaking Bob Cabral (former winemaker at Williams Selyam), associate winemaker Ryan Prichard and assistant winemaker Ashley Holland.

These wines were samples for review.
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13Chardonnay_Durell
I’m sorry to begin this series of reviews on a discouraging note, but the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, received the full in-house treatment, and it shows. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged for 15 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, and undergoing complete malolactic fermentation, the wine came out bold, bright and brassy, dense and lush to the point of being viscous, bursting with candied and caramelized citrus and stone-fruit flavors, stridently spicy, cloying and creamy and lacking the saving grace of minerality. It is my understanding that some people like this overdone, exaggerated character in chardonnay, but not me. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 713 cases. Not recommended. About $50.

Now, on to more pleasant matters.
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12_OriginChardonnay_750-215x700-1-copy
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, fermented 28 days in concrete eggs and aged for 12 months, unusually, completely in stainless steel. No oak for this baby! It did not go through malolactic fermentation, the transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamy lactic (“milk-like’) acid that can occur during barrel aging. The color is medium gold, and the first impression is of a bold, forthright but not flamboyant chardonnay that features quite spicy lemon and peach scents and flavors with notes of ripe and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all permeated by elements of cloves, quince and ginger. It’s a deep, almost rooty chardonnay with structure to burn and a smoky, cigarette paper character that lends depth and dimension. Crystalline acidity cuts through a supple texture and rich stone-fruit flavors enlivened by a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 409 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48. One of my favorite chardonnays produced in California.
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12_OneSkyChardonnay-292x10241
Unlike its stablemate Origin Chardonnay mentioned just above, the Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, ferments in French oak barrels and ages in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, for 15 months; it undergoes 100 percent malolactic. Sometimes that full oak treatment works out fine, thank you very much, but it has to be thoughtful and finely balanced. The color is bright, brassy gold to match the wine’s bright, brassy aromas and flavors. Lots of volume here, lots of structure and dimension, personality and character. Spiced and macerated grapefruit and pineapple have a slightly floral overlay, while the wine coats the mouth with ripe and slightly dusty citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of toffee and lightly candied and caramelized lemons, peaches and grapefruit. While the description of this panoply of sensual delights may sound overwhelming, the wine is actually deftly controlled and engaging, gliding over the palate with confidence and some fancy footwork. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 274 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50.
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2012-RRV-PN_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent rim; transporting and exotic notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb lend highlights to a macerated compote of cranberries and red and black cherries; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, lavender and heather. The texture is supremely satiny, with a luxurious drape on the palate that’s balanced by brisk acidity, slightly dusty tannins and touches of graphite and shale minerality, all at the service of tasty, spicy red and black fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 573 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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2012-Sta-Rita-PN-James_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills, gathers grapes from three familiar vineyards in this region of Santa Barbara County: Burning Creek, La Rinconada and (perhaps the best-known) Sanford & Benedict. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an irresistible limpid medium ruby that shades to transparent at the rim; you could call this wine “cherries, cherries, cherries,” though the heady influence of black and red raspberries and currants is undeniable, along with notes of cloves and sassafras, graphite and lavender; a few moments in the glass pull up hints of pomegranate and rhubarb. It’s a supple, sleek and satiny pinot noir, whose slightly dusty tannins, clean acidity and burnished oak keep it on the sane side of succulence, though let’s admit that it’s really tasty, too. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2013. Excellent. About $60.
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13Pinot_Durell
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, but you don’t feel the oak influence until the finish, where the wood element feels sanded and burnished. The color is transparent medium ruby; aromas of sassafras and cloves, black and red cherries and currants are permeated by hints of loam and an autumnal briery-brambly quality, like some ancient root-like brew; give it a few minutes and it dredges up a mysterious and seductive floral tone, as if dried violets and lilacs had been steeped in oolong tea. It’s all quite extraordinary. In the mouth, well, taut acidity cuts a swath on the palate, leading the way for a texture that feels both delicate and tense, poignant and dynamic; deeply spiced red and black fruit flavors seem suspended in a foundation of lightly dusted tannins and an increasing lithic, graphite character. Altogether a beautiful performance, exquisitely balanced, tensile with power. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 585 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Exceptional. About $65.
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13_GapsCrownPinot
The Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, received the same oak regimen as the Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir ’13 mentioned just above, and for whatever reason, you feel the oak more in this wine, a persistent presence from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, this is pinot noir of fine detail and dimension, offering a light transparent ruby-magenta hue and a meaty, fleshy, roasted bouquet that pulls up fathoms of spice in the juicy, peppery red and black fruit scents. Again, the wine hints at some rooty, loamy tea steeped in bark and mushrooms, with an allusive and tantalizing floral element. Flavors of very ripe, sweet cherries and currants open to touches of cranberry and rhubarb, while a supple lithe texture runs like warm satin across the tongue. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 329 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $65.
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The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
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Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
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alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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amity-vineyards-pinot-blanc-2013-bottle
Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
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mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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