Wine of the Day, No. 500


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I won’t assert that the Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay 2018, Los Alamos Valley, is the best chardonnay I’ve tasted this year, but even framing the issue in that parameter implies that it’s a pretty damned good chardonnay. Made by Greg Brewer, of Brewer-Clifton — acquired by Jackson Family Wines in 2017 — this Diatom ’18 was fashioned in small stainless steel tanks; malolactic was inhibited. The result is a chardonnay of stunning purity and intensity. The color is pale straw-gold; immediately attractive aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, green apple and cloves are enveloped in a haze of talc, honeysuckle and damp flint. On the palate, this chardonnay — delicate as a seashell but displaying plenty of energy — hovers in exquisite poise between an almost powdery texture and bright, vivid acidity, so the effect is spare, dry and elegant, yet with a back-note of ripe, cushiony stone-fruit flavors; a tide of …

Wine of the Day, No. 499


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I like wines that feel true to their grape varieties yet express a sense of individuality, even wildness. Such is the case with the Newton Vineyard Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley. The wine is a blend of — and they get really precise about this — 85.27 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5.93 percent petit verdot, 5.74 merlot and 3.06 cabernet franc, It aged 14 months in French oak, only 15 percent new barrels, a remarkably restrained regimen for Napa Valley. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a vivid fuchsia rim; penetrating aromas of iodine and graphite, lavender, smoke and cedar unfurl notes of intense and concentrated black currants and raspberries, bolstered by exotic, feral undertones of cumin, ancho chili and rosemary, with a bit of the latter’s resiny astringency. It’s a vigorous and rigorous cabernet that offers a freight-load of grit and traction on the …

Wine of the Day, No. 498


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Sometimes a lighthearted wine of pure delight can move us as effectively as a wine of profound dimension. Our example today is the Breaking Bread Wines Grenache 2018, from Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley. One hundred percent varietal and fermented by whole clusters (carbonic maceration), the wine aged seven months in neutral French oak barrels; no sulfur was added. The color is a hypnotic bright cerise-magenta hue; penetrating notes of raspberry and cranberry are permeated by hints of graphite and lilac, with undertones of menthol and flint. Vivid acidity keeps the wine flowing with lively purpose on the palate, animating brushy red fruit flavors hedged by moderately sized dusty tannins. 12.9 percent alcohol. Lovely presence and personality. I could drink this wine all Summer long; you would have to be a real numb-nuts not to sell the hell out of it in by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for …

Wine of the Day, No. 496


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All rosé wines are not made equal, but then nothing is, right? A Swatch is not a Philippe Patek. A Ford Fiesta is not a Porsche Panamera. While you’re enjoying this moment of philosophical meditation, let’s broach the subject of a superior rosé. This would be the Gamble Family Vineyards Rosé Wine 2018, Napa Valley, a blend of 66 percent cabernet sauvignon (from Oakville grapes), 21 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot, which could, of course, be the blend of a regular table wine. These grapes, however, were purpose-grown for rosé; the wine sees only stainless steel, no oak. (Yes, we occasionally encounter a rosé that aged in neutral oak barrels.) The color here is the classic Provencal pale onion skin hue; aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry are infused with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, blood orange and spiced pear, with damp flint …

Alternative Reds: Not Cab., Mer., or P.N.


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No, friends, there’s not a darned thing wrong with cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir wines — unless they’re made in an overwrought, obtrusive manner — but they tend to dominate the discussion of the world’s red wines and so-called “noble” grapes. If you’re just a tad weary of those wines, I offer alternatives in today’s post, with grapes that include alicante bouschet, carignan, malbec, petite sirah, sangiovese, tempranillo, syrah/shiraz and tannat. Our Seven League Boots touch down in Mendoza, Tuscany, Paso Robles, Alentejo (Portugal), Chile’s Maule Valley, Apulia, Arroyo Seco, Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and Monterey County. Oh the things you’ll see! And the wines you’ll taste! Enjoy, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.

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Malbec is not exactly an unknown grape in the United States. One cannot go into a liquor store or big box venue without encountering shelves and boxes of malbec wines from …

Wine of the Day, No. 494


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The factors that elevate a rosé wine from enjoyable — and there’s nothing wrong with that! — to superior status include qualities of the inevitable and the essential, a vital allure and pent energy that entice us back to the glass repeatedly. Such a one is the Etude Wines Rosé 2018, derived from the North Canyon Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, the northernmost AVA in Santa Barbara County. The composition is “principally pinot noir,” according to the technical sheet I was sent, and I would give a lot to know what dollops of other grapes fit in there. The grapes were specifically grown for this rosé; this is not a product of free-run juice assembled as an after-thought. The wine is made entirely in stainless steel. The color is a medium copper-salmon hue; aromas of raspberries and strawberries unfold notes of candied melon, lime peel and a hint of blood …

Wine of the Day, No. 493


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One of the best nontraditional white wines made in California — I mean not chardonnay, riesling or sauvignon blanc — is the example of the kerner grape made by David Ramey for his Sidebar Cellars. The grape is a crossing, from 1929, of the red trollinger — schiava in northeastern Italy — with riesling. The Sidebar Kerner 2018 derives from grapes grown in the Mokelumne River AVA in Lodi, the only planting in the United States. The wine sees only native yeast and aged two and a half months on the lees in small stainless steel drums. The color is very very pale straw; the bouquet is a layered melange of pear and quince, lemongrass and guava, lemon drop and lilac; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of flint and limestone. The texture is a remarkably dense and sprightly structure animated by brisk, bright acidity and a …

Vinum Cellars’ Two Wines Help Celebrate 20th Anniversary


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Prior to our trip to Hungarian and Austrian wine regions, we received two wine from Winesellers, Ltd. Both wines were from Vinum Cellars. Vinum Cellars sources grapes from multiple AVAs in California including: Napa, Sonoma, Clarksburg, Monterey and Paso Robles.

Vinum Cellars CNW Cuvee Chenin Blanc Clarksburg AVA

The 2017 Vinum Cellars CNW Cuvee Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg AVA helps celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Vinum Cellars. The CNW stands for “Chard, No Way!” A statement that shows the passion that winemakers Richard Bruno and Chris Condos have for the grape variety Chenin Blanc. California can produce wonderful wines crafted with Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is also planted in France, and has made a home in South Africa where it is the most widely planted white variety.

The yellowed colored wine explodes with an intense aroma of tropical fruits. The taste reminds me of peaches, melons, pineapple and mango. The …

Wine of the Day, No. 489


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It’s rare to find a pinot noir for the price that exhibits the integrity and authenticity of the District 7 Pinot Noir 2017, Monterey County. District 7 is a brand of Scheid Family Wines, which, under the family name, produces limited edition, often single-vineyard wines of outstanding character. Grapes for the District 7 Pinot Noir ’17 derive from estate vineyards that occupy the cool, windy northern bench of the Salinas Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a stunning totally transparent light ruby hue; it’s a lovely expression of the grape that features red cherries and currants infused with notes of raspberry leaf and graphite, smoke, cola and rhubarb; vibrant on the palate, the wine is sleek and supple, deepening into elements of forest floor and flint for a slight darkening effect but remaining an object of elegant poise. A comfortable …

Pick Your Picpoul


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The white picpoul grape is native to France’s Languedoc region, where its high acidity — the name means “lip-stinger” — is an asset in that Mediterranean climate. It is mostly a blending grape, though it has its own AOC in Picpoul de Pinet, a roughly shaped triangle of about 3,000 acres that touches the lagoon of Thau, where the coast swings southwest toward Spain. There is an almost played out picpoul noir, which is why many examples in the United States are denominated picpoul blanc, but that device seems hardly necessary. Picpoul blanc and noir are among the roster of grape varieties allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but are seldom employed, the acreage for the grape in the appellation being under one percent. I offer today two excellent versions of picpoul, one from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, the other from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. These wines were samples for …

Wine of the Day, No. 488


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As we creep closer to outdoor grilling season — or perhaps you’re already deep into it — consider the Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec 2017, from Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. This Southern Rhone Valley-style blend of 47 percent syrah, 35 percent grenache, 11 mourvèdre and 7 counoise — fermented with native yeast and aged in French oak, 15 percent new barrels, 85 percent neutral — would be a natural with such items as grilled pork chops, leg of lamb or sausages. Nothing is heavily extracted here but presented with good balance and poise. The color is medium ruby, shading to a vivid magenta rim; aromas of black currants and plums, infused with briers and brambles, open to notes of red cherry and cranberry with burgeoning hints of loam and ground cumin and allspice, with a touch of the latter’s fragrant asperity. The wine is lively and alluring on …

Wine of the Day, No. 487


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Serving seafood tonight? Oysters, shrimp, mussels? How about a fillet of Arctic char, marinated with lime juice, soy sauce and sesame oil, seared in the good old cast-iron skillet? Open, then, a bottle of the Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling 2017, Edna Valley, made from a two-acre vineyard certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. Fashioned all in stainless steel tanks — winemaker is Coby Parker-Garcia — this is a riesling of scintillating limestone minerality and achingly bright acidity that feels essential and elemental on the palate. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of lychee, spiced pear and jasmine unfurl notes of quince and ginger, with a hint of cloves in the background. Savory and saline stone-fruit flavors emerge, bolstered by a touch of loam and animated by an edge of honed flint and damp, dusty roof-tiles; the whole enterprise feels fleet, lacy and transparent, an object that balances tensile strength …

Wine of the Day, No. 486


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How old are the vines in the Sidebar Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Russian River Valley? The vineyard was originally planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the youngest vines were 66 years old and the eldest were 126 years old. Is that old enough for you? The wine is a blend of 78 percent zinfandel grapes, 10 percent each alicante bouschet and petite sirah, and 2 percent 12 other grape varieties*. The grapes fermented by native yeast, and the wine aged 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta shading to a vivid violet rim; aromas of ripe blueberries and boysenberries are infused with notes of cloves, raspberry and raspberry leaf and stem, all encompassed by an aura of graphite and iodine, smoke and loam. There’s lots of personality here, lots of persuasive presence on the palate, expressed in a dense chewy texture …

Wine of the Day, No. 484


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The Red Hills AVA in Lake County was established in 2004. The soil is volcanic; Mt. Konocti, considered an active volcano, is nearby. Vineyards lie at elevations between 1,400 and 3,000 feet. Jed Steele, owner and winemaker at Steele Wines, has been making cabernet sauvignon from the area since 2002. The Steele Wines Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Lake County — it’s the county just north of Napa County — aged 18 months in a combination of French and French/American hybrid oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a riveting opaque black-purple shading to a transparent magenta rim; the bouquet is drenched with iodine and graphite, ripe black currants and cherries, permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, violets, flint and loam. The wine impresses with its scintillating purity and intensity, its whiplash acidity and lip-smacking dusty tannins; yes, there’s a lot of personality here. A few minutes in …

Pinot Noir Month Extends into April, No Kidding! Part 7


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This post began as a Weekend Wine Notes that I was not able to finish for the weekend. So, here it is, pushing the March Pinot Noir Month into April. So be it. I offer eight pinot noir wines from various regions of California, one rates Exceptional, six rate Excellent, and one Very Good+. All are well-made and worthy of purchase. I eschew technical, historical and geographical data in favor of quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-magenta shading to a totally transparent, ethereal rim; opens slowly, unfurling notes of black and red currants and plums, hints of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras; a bit of the feral quality of wild cranberry and blueberry; supremely satiny-like texture flows …

Wine of the Day, No. 483


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Finding a well-made pinot noir under $20 is about as difficult as discovering a diamond in a turkey’s craw. In other words — Good Luck! However, occasionally an example comes along that makes me think, “Hey, yeah, this is terrific! I can recommend this one.” So, the Toad Hollow Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, Monterey County, offers a dark ruby-mulberry hue that shades to a lighter, even transparent rim. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants open to notes of sassafras and cloves, plums and herbal tea, while on the palate the wine delivers a sleek satiny texture animated by bright acidity. A few minutes in the glass bring out hints of cranberry and pomegranate, with touches of graphite and underbrush in the background. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.