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 …

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 …

Weekend Wine Notes: It’s Mid-Fall. Keep Drinking Rosé


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And here are eight lovely, diverse examples, ranging from the delicate to the savory, employing a multitude of grape varieties from a healthy spectrum of regions and countries. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical data, as well as information about geology, geography, historical and personnel matters, for the sake of quick, incisive review intended to whet your palate and pique your interest. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Berne Inspiration Rosé 2017, Cotes de Provence. 13% alc. 70% grenache, 20% cinsault, 10% syrah. Very pale pink-onion skin; quite dry, spare, elegant; strawberries and raspberries, lilac and lavender; hints of almond blossom and almond skin; tangerine; lithe, supple; a sleek limestone finish. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Provence Rose Group, Miami.
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Berne Urban Provence Rosé 2017, Cotes de Provence. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 35% cinsault, 15% syrah, …

Wine of the Day, No. 436


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The Ramey Wine Cellars Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, is a pinot noir of penetrating presence, bold expression and elemental power, yet it does not lack nuance and allure. The grapes derived from three vineyards of differing soil types and were fermented in tank with native yeasts, then spending 14 months in French oak, 49 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby, and by “transparent,” I mean that I could read my written notes through the wine if the glass were held at an angle. The first impression is down-to-earth, with qualities of roots, loam and woodsy spices and herbs; these quickly fill out with notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants, cherries and plums. On the palate, this pinot noir registers as dense and lively, balanced between rusticity and elegance, and energized by seething acidity; a few moments in the glass gradually pull up …

Pinot Noir Day: California, Part I — 2014, ’15, ’16


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Twelve examples of pinot noir today, as I catch up on wines that I tasted throughout the last six months. This post is just the beginning. There will be at least one more in this particular series, a post devoted to pinot noir from Willamette Valley, and a series about individual wineries and producers. We range from Sta. Rita Hills in the south, in Santa Barbara County, to Anderson Valley in the north, in Mendocino. Ten of these wines rate Excellent, one Very Good+ and one Exceptional. The arrangement is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, is a really pretty pinot noir that exhibits a serious depth of sinew and underbrush. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is a limpid, transparent medium ruby …

12 California Chardonnays I Liked


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You may be thinking apropos the title of this post, “F.K., why didn’t you just say ’12 California Chardonnays’? Why add ‘I liked’”? Because, Dear Reader, I don’t like many chardonnays made in California, so when I come across a dozen that I can write about together, I want to emphasize that fact. The reason, as you probably know from having been a devoted reader of this blog — bless your little pointy heads! — is that so many chardonnays from The Golden State are saturated with swamps of oak that I open even one with trepidation, and when I’m looking for an appropriate white wine to drink with dinner, I will open just about anything other than chardonnay. It’s a real crap-shoot, this whole chardonnay business. The wines reported on in this post age in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time and using various percentages …

Wine of the Day, No. 387


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The Sidebar label is a side project of David Ramey, owner and winemaker of the well-known Ramey Cellars. The Sidebar wines tend to be unique or unusual or simply not exactly a fit with the roster of products featured under the primary Ramey brand. Here, then is the Sidebar Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Russian River Valley. The grapes derive from a vineyard planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the wine could legitimately be labeled “old vines” and “older vines.” It’s a field blend of zinfandel with 14 other grape varieties, aged 12 months in older oak barrels, so the toasty, coconut-vanilla influence of new oak isn’t a factor. The color is a riveting dark ruby-magenta with a vivid violet rim; aromas of ripe plums, raspberries and blackberries are deeply infused with notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and black licorice, while iodine and graphite broaden in …

Wine of the Day, No. 376


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A whimsical name belies a seriously well-made sparkling wine in the Inman Family “Whole Buncha Bubbles” Blanc de Noirs 2014, Russian River Valley. Made completely from pinot noir grapes, as is the tradition for blanc de noirs, derived from the winery’s OGV Estate vineyard and aged three years on the lees, this champagne-method sparkler offers a very pale straw-gold hue and an abundant radiant shimmer of tiny bubbles. Alluring scents of jasmine, smoke and steel, roasted lemons and pears unfurl just a hint of fresh-baked brioche. as well as notes of quince and ginger, seashell and heather. The whole construct is elegant, delicate and fine-boned, like a china tea cup so thin that it’s almost translucent, yet there is no mistaking the tensile foundation in flint and limestone minerality nor the clean acidity that lends the structure a crisp, chiseled aura. 12 percent alcohol. A real pleasure to drink, now …

Chardonnay & Pinot Noir XXIII: Striking Gold with Dutton Goldfield


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Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield each grew up in families intimately connected through generations to the cultivation of grapes in Sonoma County. They formed a partnership and launched Dutton Goldfield Winery in 1998, with Steve as vineyard manager and Dan as winemaker. Dutton Ranch, a term that appears on their labels, is not one piece of earth but a collection of over 60 non-contiguous parcels in Russian River Valley comprising approximately 1,300 acres of land that they either own, lease or manage. About 1,150 of these acres are planted to grapes, and the other 150 to apples. As we say of certain automobiles, the Dutton Goldfield products are performance wines, immediately gorgeous, dramatically appealing, ambitious and dense with possibility, and delivering immense presence on the palate. Dan Goldfield is not shy with oak, though I thought only one of these examples displayed its barrel influence overtly. Alcohol levels for the …

Weekend Wine Notes: A Case of Sauvignon Blanc


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We touch on several regions today on this brief survey of sauvignon blanc wines: Lake County, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma in California, the poetic Horse Heaven Hills in Washington, the North Fork of Long Island, and New Zealand’s Marlborough appellation. The wines range for tasty little quaffers to products that display great tone, character and dignity. As usual in this series, I eschew data of the technical, historical, geographical/geological and personal for quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. Enjoy, but in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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District 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Pale gold hue; a hit of pure lime peel, celery seed, lemongrass and gooseberry, hay and thyme; very dry but juicy, displaying taut acidity and flint-like minerality and a pleasing silky texture. Very Good+. About $16.

50 Great Wines of 2017


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The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as …

Chardonnay & Pinot Noir XXII: Tongue Dancer Wines


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Tongue Dancer Wines is a project of longtime winemaker James MacPhail and Kerry MacPhail, listed on labels as “Knowledgeable One.” The MacPhails produce minuscule amounts of pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and sell them only by mailing list. I’m a huge fan of the Tonge Dancer pinot noirs, which seem to encompass all the aspects I adore about the grape, from elegance to boldness, from the ethereal to the lithe and muscular, usually presented in a dynamic and superbly poised fashion. Unfortunately, I have to enter a dissenting voice for the winery’s first chardonnay, a model I thought embodied all the worst elements of over-determined California chardonnay. The pinot noir reviewed in this post, however, is a real gem of nuance and complexity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Tongue Dancer Wines Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the winery’s first chardonnay, received all sorts of …

Wine of the Day, No. 315


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The good news is that the Iron Horse Gratitude Brut Rosé 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is superb. Also good news is that $5 from each bottle sold will go to The Redwood Empire Food Bank, which is providing critical supplies to evacuation centers and shelters in Sonoma County for people displaced by the recent devastating wild-fires, while working to ensure that those who needed food assistance before the fires are still able to receive help. It’s a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, resulting in an entrancing hue of very pale coral-smoky topaz, enlivened by a fervent upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. The first impression is of pure strawberry, a notion quickly subsumed by delicate notes of macerated peaches and spiced pears, highlighted by apple skin, blood orange and seashell and limestone minerality; in the background blossoms a trace of fresh-baked brioche. …

Ron Rubin 2013 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Syrah: A delicious cool-climate wine!


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Hello Friends,

Today I’m enjoying a glass of Ron Rubin’s 2013 Syrah from Sonoma County’s Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation. This is one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County and one of the coolest within Russian River Valley. The region is defined by its trademark foggy marine layer which produces cooler temperatures that are well-suited for varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. On the other hand, cool-climate Syrah should not be overlooked; especially from this producer. Syrah is an interesting grape. It’s one of the few varieties that performs superbly well in both cool and warm climates. I prefer the latter, but appreciate both depending on my mood and/or food. Syrah from cool climate regions are generally brighter, showcasing more red fruits, and leaner than their warm weather counterparts.  

After many years of success in the beverage industry, including recently celebrating 25 years of owning

Martinelli 2013 Zinfandel, Vellutini Ranch


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Martinelli 2013 Zinfandel, Vellutini Ranch

Martinelli 2013 Zinfandel, Vellutini Ranch

Can you believe it?  Let’s all welcome the cloned children of Jackass Vineyard.

Allow me to explain, Jackass is a vineyard that was planted in the late 19th century in Russian River Valley. Head pruned Zinfandel, non-trellised and dry farmed; this is one of the great historic vineyards in California.

Vellutini Ranch was planted in 2001 with zinfandel budwood (clones) from Jackass Vineyard. It’s located on a similar hillside nearby, with similar Franciscan soils. Over the past decade, Martinelli has shown that the wines from this vineyard are of the same high quality as the original.

Deep, lush and velvety. It is full bodied to the extreme, what with it’s alcohol content pushing toward 17%. Flavors are reminiscent of Hermitage, with iron,  game, and burning herbs in the mix.

 

Wonky Wine Articles We are Reading Right Now

Within the survey that was carried out …

An Eclectic Case of Rosés


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This survey of 12 rosé wines began as a Weekend Wine Notes post, but here it is, Wednesday, hardy the weekend at all, so I’m keeping the usual Weekend Wine Notes format but dropping that designation. We touch many styles of rosé wine amid this roster as well as many far-flung geographical regions. The grapes involved are also of broad variety, including merlot, pinot noir, tempranillo, grenache, syrah and even cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. While a few of these rosés could tolerate aging beyond this calendar year, all are really intended for immediate appeal and consumption, whether your choice of venue is the porch, the patio, by poolside or on a picnic or just standing around the kitchen while someone prepares a light Spring or Summer meal. Prices range from about $10 to $28, so nothing outlandlish. The point is to enjoy, while consuming in moderation, of course. These …

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Wine of the Day, No. 259


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As if David Ramey didn’t have enough to do, as proprietor of Ramey Wine Cellars, maker of single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, and as one of the most ubiquitous winery consultants in California, he recently launched Sidebar 2015-RFB-FrontCellars, the idea being to break out of the RWC mold to play with interesting grapes from Russian River Valley and lesser-known AVAs. I will eventually get around to five of the Sidebar offerings, but today, as Wine of the Day No. 259, I want to discuss the Sidebar Cellars Red Field Blend 2015, from the certified sustainable Alegria Vineyard in Russian River Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the grapes for this wine came from vines that were either 65 or 125 years old. The Sidebar Red Wine Blend 2015 is comprised of 80 percent zinfandel, 11 percent alicante and 9 percent …

Quick Sip: Square Peg 2014 SP-SL Block 8 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir


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Hello Friends, 
Today’s Quick Sip is Square Peg’s 2014 SP-SL Block 8 Pinot Noir. Square Peg is owned by Brad Alper, a former commercial pilot, and his wife Alanna Roth, an accomplished artist. Their SP-SL vineyard is named for Square Peg’s estate location on Stoetz Lane in western Sonoma County. This Russian River Valley site is co-located in two Sonoma County appellations: Green Valley and Sonoma Coast. These two regions are some of California’s most highly regarded viticultural areas for growing expressive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Square Peg practices dry-farming, meaning no irrigation; they only rely on natural rainfall for growing wine grapes. This practice sets them apart from many of their neighbors. Dry-farming not only conserves water and energy, but many wine-growers say it produces more balanced, concentrated flavors. Wine-growers will also assert that dry-farming is the only truest way to express the unique character of the vineyard (or …