HOLIDAY GIFT (AND GIFT CARD) IDEAS

It is time to start looking for a special wine to give the wine lover in your life. With the extra investment involved, it is important to be extra careful in our purchases, to find that extra special gift. Or, if you are reading this after the holidays, you may be looking for ideas on how to spend a wine gift card. Well, I’m here to help, suggesting some exciting California Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and a special portfolio of Australian wines) to help you decide.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Chappellet Vineyard has been producing highly prized wines since 1967 and its flagship Pritchard Hill (2014, $235) has become one of Napa’s iconic Cabernets. The most expensive wine here, there is no questioning it is amazing. From and estate vineyard situated at 1,800 feet, it is made of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, with the rest petit verdot and malbec. Everything about this mountain grown wine is large scaled, with richness and complexity throughout. It opens with loads of blackberry and plum with touches of chocolate, cinnamon, and clove. It also exhibits intriguing elements of soil, earth and stone. It has the structure composition to evolve and drink well for at least 20 years.

If this one is beyond your budget, a fine alternative is the 2015 Chappellet “Signature” ($65). This is still is an impressive wine and any Cab lover would be happy to have it. With 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent petit verdot, and 9 percent malbec, it is laden with red berries plum and currants, earth, cedar and herb notes provide accents. It all comes together nicely in a densely packed palate characterized by assertive tannins.

Located on an esteemed vineyard in the highly sought after Adelaida District in Paso Robles, the Daou family is producing some of the California’s most impressive wines. Their 2014 DAOU Reserve ($56) features high elevation fruit (75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent petit verdot, 5 percent cabernet franc, and 6 percent merlot). And at this price, its robust but balanced character, achieved with a wonderful grace, elevates its status to that of the more expensive wines here.

Ehlers Estate is a winery and organic vineyard in Napa’s St. Helena sub-appellation that dates to 1886. All of the proceeds from the sale of its wines are returned to the LeDucq Foundation to support cardiovascular research. It’s flagship wine – the 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon (2015, $125) – is also worthy for its wonderfully concentrated, complex, fresh, firm character delivered with grace and finesse. With 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, supplemented with cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot, it is a keeper that should drink well for at least 15 years.

Anyone who follows the Napa Cult Cab world will know the iconic status of the Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. That wine runs around $200. The estate’s second wine – Lyndenhurst Napa Valley (2015, $85) – with about half of its fruit from the Spottswoode estate and the rest from trusted growers, is impressive in its own right.

It is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent merlot, and the rest cabernet franc and petit verdot. It’s bold fruit, herbal complexities and lush texture will impress any Cabernet fan.

Located in Stags Leap District, a celebrated Napa sub-appellation adjacent to the Silverado Trail, Chimney Rock is one of the area’s premier wineries. Its 2015 Estate Cab ($100) is an exemplary expression of the power and intensity balanced with finesse typical of the appellation. With 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent petit verdot, it opens somewhat tough but with time becomes quite expressive.

Further up from Stags Leap, the Atlas Peak sub-appellation is notable for even higher elevations and steep slopes. One of its newest estates, Acumen has set high aspirations to achieve Grand Cru status. On the evidence of its confidently structured, richly integrated 2014 PEAK “Attelas Vineyard” ($150), one of a trio of small-production wines from its finest vineyard blocks, it is well on its way. From an estate-grown site and comprised of 96 percent cabernet sauvignon and 4 percent malbec, it should develop and drink well for another 15 years.

Merlot

And now two wines that will make any red wine drinker fall in love with Merlot again, thanks to Jackson Family Wines and winemaker Christopher Carpenter. Carpenter established a premier reputation as the longtime winemaker at the highly regarded Jackson Family owned wineries Cardinale and Lokoya.

“If farmed right in the proper locations and treated similar to cabernet sauvignon, merlot can be great, just as it is in other countries, he told me.” In this case Carpenter is talking about the high elevation vineyards that source the 2015 Mt. Brave ($80) and 2015 La Jota ($85). These are serious, complex, full-bodied wines.

The Mt. Brave, from Mt. Brave Vineyard in the northern portion of the Mt. Veeder AVA, is a tribute to the previous inhabitants of the area. At 100 percent Merlot, it is full, structured and classy, with impressive, deep berry and plum fruit, cocoa, spice and mint.

The LaJota is made from fruit from two historic, neighboring Howell Mountain vineyards: W.S. Keyes, the first vineyard planted (1888) on Howell Mountain, and La Jota, planted 10 years later by Keyes’s neighbor, Frederick Hess. Including 10 percent petit verdot, it is densely packed with lovely cherry, blueberry and earth, mocha, spice and freshtannins.

Pinot Noir

The Dutton family has grown grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1964. Today, sons Joe and Steve also co-own their own wineries. Joe and Tracy Dutton established Dutton Estate in 1994. Steve and Theresa Dutton founded Dutton-Goldfield winery in 1998 with winemaker Dan Goldfield. I find their wines are distinguished by lively fruit and luscious textures. From an extreme cool climate vineyard near the Pacific Ocean, the 2015Dutton-Goldfield Redwood Ridge($62) presentslively, confident cherry with complimented with dried herbs, earth and a touch of anise. A firm, yet luscious texture is balanced with fresh tannins.

This Sonoma-Loeb winery dates to 1973 when former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark John Loeb began growing chardonnay and pinot noir grapes in Sonoma County. He eventually produced exceptional wines from his vineyards under the Sonoma-Loeb name. The winery is owned now by the Chappellet family of the renowned Napa winery and continues to release well-regarded expressions of the highly regarded Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma’s Carneros region and the previously mentioned Dutton Ranch.

From a special section of the famed Sangiacomo Vineyard, the 2016 Sonoma-Loeb Federick Ranch ($60) is redolent of dark berries, earth, cinnamon and anise; it’s firm, dense and persistent.

Chardonnay

From one of California’s most respected winemakers and most revered vineyards, the 2015 Ramey Rochioli Vineyard ($65) is wonderfully complex and satisfying. It’s a wine that even people who don’t like Chardonnay will enjoy. Built on a core of juicy citrus and stone fruit accented with light spice and floral notes, its tightly wound frame is balanced with a broad palate.

Part of the Duckhorn Vineyards portfolio since 2001 as a Pinot Noir specialist, adding Chardonnay in 2008, Migration has built a reputation for sourcing from cool-climate vineyards throughout California that balance vitality, refinement and complexity. From a vineyard in the Green Valley subappellation of Sonoma Coast that sources several of Sonoma’s best wineries, the 2016 Migration Charles Heintz Vineyard ($55) offers enticing lemon, apple and stone fruit, balanced with honeyed notes delivered on an elegant, refined texture.

Biodynamic Wines

Organic and sustainably produced wines have been relatively common for serious wine producers for a while now. Even the more stringent biodynamic methods have gained advocates lately. Bonterra Organic Vineyards has been at the forefront of both movements. They produce several value priced organic wines worth your attention but any wine lover would appreciate the three single-vineyard wines from their certified biodynamic ranches in Mendocino County.

2014 The McNab ($50) McNab Ranch was once a sheep ranch and became one of the original biodynamic vineyards planted in the U.S.An example of biodiversity, sheep still are used for weed control.This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and old vine petite sirah is intense with black fruits well integrated with oak and spices. Strong, yet polished tannins deliver a long finish.

2014 The Butler ($50) Butler Ranch is a mountain ranch near Ukiah that was once a cherry farm. Owing to its high elevation (overlooking the McNab Ranch), this is a Rhone-style blend (80 percent syrah,with mourvedre, grenache, zinfandel) of intensity and complexity with juicy black fruits, tobacco, anise, and mocha. It is firm with brawny, yet plush, tannins.

2016 The Roost Chardonnay ($40) Blue Heron Ranch is nestled between the Russian River and a blue heron nesting site and preserve in the coolest part of the Mendocino County valley floor. The vineyard presents an example of the biodynamic principle of integrating farming and wildlife. The wine is wonderfully complex bursting with lemon, pear,and apple; complimented with cream, butterscotch and fig; all carried on a creamy texture with brisk acidity.

Australia

Let me close with a recommendation for Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard located in the McLaren Vale district of South Australia about 22 miles south of Adelaide. It is one of Australia’s most highly regarded vineyards. Initially planted in 1971 on the ridgetops above the village of Clarendon and across the river from the prized 160 year-old Clarendon Vineyard, it has even supplied grapes for Penfolds’ iconic Grange wine. The property is now owned by California’s Jackson Family Wines and the winemaker is Chris Carpenter (see above). These are all wines that will improve over the next 10 years.

2015 “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) assertive currant and blackberry followed by toasty, savory elements, hints of wood spice and anise add enticing complexity to this finely tannic wine

2015 “The Revivalist” Merlot ($75) welcoming plum and blueberry, complemented with earthy, cedar, tobacco and spice notes; drinks satiny and finishes with nice grip

2015 “Brooks Road” Shiraz ($75) lovely juicy red fruits, notes of herbs, tea, anise, and black pepper; drinks elegantly but with power

2015 “The Peake” Cabernet Shiraz ($150) name-checking John Edward Peake, an outsized figure in 19thcentury Australia, this is a blend of 56 percent cabernet sauvignon and 44 percent shiraz; impressive concentration of red and dark berries; picks up hints of mocha, herbs and pepper; lively, succulent and complex

SPARKLING WINES ARE BUBBLING UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Although sparkling wine is appropriate for any occasion, the holidays are its prime time. Lucky for us effervescent wine is so popular there are versions made in virtually every wine region. This column focuses on bubbles from France and Italy, ideal for any celebration, party, or even your nightly meal.

Champagne still is the world’s most prestigious bubbly. And Moët & Chandon is one of Champagne’s most historic and influential houses. Their wines – blends dominated by pinot noir with lesser amounts of pinot meunier and chardonnay – balance richness and delicacy, just what I like in Champagne.

Brut Impérial ($40) is Moët’s iconic cuvee and with good reason. Its balanced, seamlessly juicy charms, currently available in a limited edition embossed bottle, are a nice holiday gift. The seductively lively Brut Rosé Imperial ($40) is more intense and structured, yet luscious.

Moët’sGrand Vintage wines are special offerings. They reveal a complexity that comes with maturity but will evolve for several years.The delightfully succulent2009 Grand VintageExtra Brut($65) is creamy and toasty, rich and complex. The 2009 Grand Vintage Rosé Extra Brut ($70) leads with a sense of elegance complimenting the firm texture. Toasty richness and complexity are its hallmarks.

While Champagne is the benchmark for French pétillantwine, there are good sparklers elsewhere in France that are affordable alternatives. I particularly like Crémant d’Alsace and Lucien Albrecht is one of the best. Try the fine, appley Brut ($22) blending chardonnay, pinot blanc, and pinot auxerrois or the 100 percent pinot noir Rosé Brut ($22) for its nice measure of complexity.

Italians take their bubbly every bit as seriously as do the French and Prosecco, the fresh frizzante from north of Venice, has really gained in popularity in recent years. Its fresh, delicate pear, citrus and peach fruit and frothy palate make for easy drinking and modestly priced wine.

One of my favorite producers is Adami, a family owned winery that produces benchmark Prosecco bursting with varietal purity and white flowers. The “Garbel” Brut ($15) is quite full flavored; the “Bosco di Gica” Brut ($18) is most lively and refreshing; and the 2017 “Vigneto Giardino” Brut ($22) is impressively focused and intense.

Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna is enjoying a reintroduction to American consumers as artisan bubbly – exuberantly fruity berries and mostly dry. One of the best is Cleto Chiarli. They are delicious, versatile, and inexpensive.

The effusive, luscious, savory 2017 Vigneto Cialdini ($15) is a good introduction to the style. The floral, fresh, crisp 2017 Premium Vecchia Modena ($15) shows admirable depth. The succulent, spicy lightly Centenario Amabile ($11) is a delightfully semi-sweet exception to the rule.

Although Piemonte in Italy’s northwest is most famous for its red wines, the region also excels with spumante. Enrico Serafino is a leader here in the production of what Italians call “Metodo Classico” (traditional method). In keeping with that these wines use chardonnay and pinot noir. The fine value 2013 Brut ($25), offers enticing stone fruit, orange oil, and a luscious texture. The 2014 Brut Rosé ($27) presents a sophisticated, lightly toasty experience. The 2010 Brut Zero ($52) is a very special wine. It is extremely dry, complex and creamy with vibrant acidity and finesse.

(NOTE: All wines here are nonvintage unless otherwise noted.)

SPARKLING WINES ARE BUBBLING UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Although sparkling wine is appropriate for any occasion any time of year, the holidays are its prime time. Lucky for us effervescent wine is so popular there are versions made in virtually every wine region. Whether for a celebration, a party, or to drink with your meals, these fine bubbles from France and Italy are just the ticket.

Champagne, though, still is the world’s most prestigious sparkling wine. While a Champagne house’s Nonvintage Brut is notable as it represents a house’s signature style and tends to be it’s most affordable, there are many other worthy styles.

Moët & Chandon, one of Champagne’s most historic (founded in 1743) and influential houses is an ideal place to start a stylistic exploration. Overall, these wines expertly balance richness and delicacy, just what I like in Champagne. These blends are dominated by pinot noir with significant but lesser amounts of pinot meunier and chardonnay.

Brut Impérial ($40) is Moët’s iconic cuvée. And with good reason. Currently available in a limited-edition embossed bottle, it would make a nice holiday gift. It is elegant and seamlessly juicy with apple and lemon with balance and complexity from toasty elements. The Brut Rosé Imperial ($40) is seductively lively, with intense, fresh red berries, delicate floral notes, and a luscious, expressive structure.

Moët’sGrand Vintage wines are special offerings. They will evolve for at least ten years. The 2009 Grand VintageExtra Brut($65) is delightfully rich, complex and concentrated with juicy, pitted and red fruits balanced with vanilla cream, almonds, toast and light spice. The 2009 Grand Vintage Rosé Extra Brut ($70) leads with ripe berries, then floral and lightly peppery notes. A sense of elegance compliments the firm texture. Toasty richness and complexity are its hallmarks. Given their age, both drink with refinement but will keep for several years.

While Champagne is the benchmark for bottle fermented sparkling wine, there are good sparklers elsewhere in France, usually labeled Crémant, is an affordable alternative. I particularly like Crémant d’Alsace, made using the Champagne method. Lucien Albrecht, a winery that dates to 1698 is one of the best. has produced fine, citrusy Crémant Brut ($22) using chardonnay, pinot blanc, and pinot auxerrois or the 100 percent pinot noir Rosé Brut for its crisp, berry fruit, finesse and nice measure of complexity.

Italians take their bubbly every bit as seriously as do the French and have been making it nearly as long.

Prosecco, the fresh frizzante from the Veneto hills of northeastern Italy, has really gained in popularity in recent years. Made from the native glera grape, it is produced using the Charmat Method (bubbles from second fermentation in pressurized tanks, instead of in the bottle as with Champagne). Its fresh, delicate pear, citrus and peach fruit and frothy palate make for easy drinking and modestly priced wine versatile for many occasions.

One of my all-time favorite producers (along with Bisol) is Adami, a family owned winery in the prized Valdobbiadene area. Established in 1920, they produce benchmark Prosecco bursting with varietal purity and white flowers. The “Garbel” Brut ($15) is quite full flavored for its price; the “Bosco di Gica” Brut ($18) is most lively and refreshing; and the 2017 “Vigneto Giardino” Brut ($22) is impressively focused and intense.

Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna is enjoying a reintroduction to American consumers as artisan bubbly – exuberantly fruity berries and mostly dry, not the sickly sweet, mass-produced froth of the past. One of the best is Cleto Chiarli. The wines below are made from regional variations of the lambrusco grape.I suspect these still may be an acquired taste for some but I think they are delicious, versatile, and inexpensive.

The effusive, luscious, firm, savory, peppery Vigneto Cialdini ($15) is a good introduction to the style. The 2016 floral, fresh, crisp, lightly Premium Vecchia Modena ($15) shows a bit more depth. The succulent, spicy lightly Centenario Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile ($11) is a delightfully semi sweet exception to the rule.

Although Piemonte in Italy’s northwest is most famous for its red wines – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, etc. – the region also excels withspumante. Enrico Serafino established the winery in the Roero district 140 years ago and is one of the area’s most respected producers. In addition the winery is a leader in the production of what Italians call “Metodo Classico” or the Classic (read Champagne) Method.

Its 2013 Brut ($25), a chardonnay/pinot noir blend with enticing white flowers, stone fruit, orange oil, and a crisp but luscious texture, is a fine value. The 100 percent pinot noir 2014 Brut Rosé ($27) offers a sophisticated, lightly toasty experience. The 2010 Brut Zero ($52) is a very special wine, even at this price. A pinot noir/chardonnay blend, “Zero” means it is extremely dry. It also is “late disgorged”, meaning each bottle aged on its lees – a process that adds complexity – an extended period before being corked. Expect Creamy apple and pear with vibrant acidity and finesse.

(NOTE: All wines here are nonvintage unless otherwise noted.)

Unless otherwise noted, all are blends of pinot noir and chardonnay with dollops of pinot meunier.

Nectar Imperial Rosé ($50): an elegant sweetness and intense fruitiness give it an air of opulence

Dry Rive di Colbertaldo

Alta Langa is also a

2013 Brut

N: white fruits and flowers, orange oil

M: crisp and tangy, finishing clean and delicate

2014 Brut Rose

100% pinot nero (pinot noir), racy, refined delicate berry, pastry dough whiff of flowering rosemary, delicate palate, racy elegant strawberry, tangy citrus hint of white pepper

2010 Zero (Brut Nature)

A blend of 85% pinot nero and 15% chardonnay, “Zero” means it is extremely dry  (AKA Brut Nature). It also is “late disgorged”, meaning each bottle rested an extended period before being corked – a process that adds complexity.

vibrant creamy apple, ripe pear, pastry and tangerine zest hazelnut fresh elegance finesse

CONSIDER BURGUNDY RELATIVES FOR HOLIDAY MEALS

One of the hallmarks of Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners and other gatherings is the coming together of family and friends. As you consider what wines to serve with your holiday meals, why not continue the theme by pairing Chardonnay for the white and Pinot Noir for the red? Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most common grape varieties in Burgundy and two of the most popular grapes worldwide. The two have long been thought to be related, what with growing in the same region for centuries and their vines having almost identical leaves.

But, though some have labeled the white grape “pinot chardonnay”, there never was conclusive evidence of familial connection. And chardonnay is not usually included in descriptions of the “pinot family of grapes” – pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot meunier. These are the same variety but different clones expressing mutations that have occurred over centuries. Now, DNA fingerprinting suggests that chardonnay is the result of a cross between pinot noir and gouais blanc (a Croatian grape the Romans are thought to have brought to France). Turns out pinot noir is actually one of chardonnay’s parents.

Pinot Noir typically produces lighter-bodied red wines with low to moderate tannins, notable for aromas and flavors of cherries and brown spices. Chardonnay produces white wines known for their aromas of white and yellow fruit, flowers and minerals. Consider sharing the following wine families with your family this Thanksgiving.

Cambria. Based in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, Cambria is a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist owned by Jackson Family Estates (creators of Kendall-Jackson wines). These are sustainably farmed, estate grown wines named after the founding family’s daughters: 2015 Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard ($22) ripe, stone fruit, creamy, toasty and 2015 Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard ($25) full flavored red dark and fruits, spice.

Cuvaison. Established in the Napa Valley in 1969, Cuvaison was an early pioneer of the Carneros region. Benefitting from the cooling effects of San Pablo Bay and sustainable farming practices, these estate bottled wines are distinguished by vibrant, balanced character: 2016 Pinot Noir ($42) light-bodied wine of red fruits and black tea with velvety tannins and 2016 Chardonnay ($26) redolent of stone fruits, with nice vanilla, crips acidity, and a plush texture.

Davis Bynum. A pioneer of chardonnay and pinot noir in the Russian River Valley, which is now one of California’s most acclaimed regions for those varieties, Davis Bynum also has claim the first single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from a vineyard planted in 1973. Today, it is owned by the family that owns Rodney Strong Vineyards. The 2016 Pinot Noir Jane’s Vineyard ($35) reveals generous bright red berries in a fruity style with forest and brown spice notes, somewhat tough tannins leading to a firm finish; the 2015 Chardonnay River West Vineyard ($25) offers nice apple, pineapple, and creamy notes in a fresh, lush texture.

Dutton Ranch. This one’s actually a vineyard source, not a winery. Six generations of Duttons have farmed in Sonoma County. But this story begins when Warren and Gail Dutton founded Dutton Ranch in 1964. Today, sons Joe and Steve co-own Dutton Ranch with their mother Gail and farm 1200 acres of certified sustainable grapes and 200 acres of certified organic apples, all within the Green Valley-Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Upwards of six dozen wineries produce wines from Dutton Ranch grapes. Joe and Steve also co-own their own wineries.

Dutton Estate. Joe and Tracy Dutton established their winery nearby in 1994 and produce wines from Dutton Ranch fruit. Their Sister’s Collection blends fruit from several Dutton Ranch vineyards. The brisk, fruitful, succulent 2015 Chardonnay Kyndall’s Reserve ($42) pleases with pretty lemon and a touch of mineral. The 2015 Pinot Noir “Karmen Isabella” ($46) charms with sweet red fruits and floral notes, complimented with a touch of forest elements. It is elegant, fresh, and earthy.

Dutton-Goldfield. Steve and Theresa Dutton founded Dutton-Goldfield winery in 1998 with winemaker Dan Goldfield. Their Dutton Ranch wines are distinguished by lively fruit and luscious textures: The 2016 Pinot Noir ($44) is supple with full plum and black and an impressive earthy character. The 2015 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch ($38) showed lovely pear and apple fruit in a luscious, elegant palate, with hints of mineral.

Frank Family. Hollywood executive Rich Frank founded this winery in 1992 near Calistoga after purchasing the historic Larkmead winery (established 1884) property. Frank Family has become highly awarded for its Cabernets and I’ve also enjoyed their Zinfandel and sparkling wine. But the winery also now produces fine Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs primarily from the family owned Lewis Vineyard in Carneros and other prime Carneros vineyards. The 2016 Pinot Noir ($38) opens with pretty cherry accented with earthy, woodsy elements. It drinks lushly textured and spicy. The 2016 Chardonnay ($35) is invigorating, with juicy citrus; it drinks lively and richly textured.

La Crema. Another Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist from the Jackson family, this time producing wines from multiple appellations and even Oregon. The Russian River Valley wines are stars. The Monterey and Sonoma Coast wines are especially good values.

Russian River Valley: 2015 Pinot Noir ($40) distinguished by strong earthy qualities, loaded with red berries proffered in an elegant but slightly chewy finish; 2016 Chardonnay ($30) fine citrus, pear and tropical fruits are enhanced with a sense richness

Sonoma Coast: 2016 Pinot Noir ($25) bright cherry, and lightly spicy notes compliment an oaky, velvety finish; 2016 Chardonnay ($23) light touches of apple, pear and cinnamon glide along a brisk frame

Monterey: 2016 Pinot Noir ($23) slight minty note leads into nice cherry and a silky, fresh texture; 2016 Chardonnay ($20) citrus and gingerbread, lush, creamy texture

Ladera. Ladera Estate is a twenty-year-old winery established by Midwesterners who traded in ranching for vineyards on Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain. Today, the owners continue to focus on fruit from high elevation vineyards. But they also added the Pillow Road Vineyard in the southwest Russian River Valley ten years ago for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are distinguished by vibrant and velvety textures. 2015 Ladera Pinot Noir RRV Pillow Road Vineyard ($50) herbs, smoked black cherry and blackberry black cherries, mulberries warm plums hints of underbrush and stewed tea full-bodied savory flavors firm, high-toned, chewy texture, velvety smooth and concentrated it finishes on an herbal note cardamom black tea; 2015 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pillow Road Vineyard ($50) intense, exuberant, creamy up-front acidity freshness floral velvety and exotic nutmeg and cardamom, oak and acidity integrated well.

Scheid. From one of Monterey’s largest growers (having farmed the Salinas Valley since 1972) and their cool-climate, certified sustainable, estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands: 2016 Pinot Noir Doctor’s Vineyard ($75) red fruits with herbal and spice, and a zesty finish; and 2016 Chardonnay Escolle Vineyard ($45) nice lemon, orange and pineapple with a mineral note and a light but lively texture.

Sea Slopes. From Fort Ross Vineyards & Winery, these wines are are excellent values for the price intended as more approachable and elegant expressions of Sonoma Coast fruit than their Fort Ross flagship wines. The 2016 Pinot Noir ($35) lively, red berries and plum, hints of spice, smooth texture; the 2016 Chardonnay ($30) opens with brown butter, citrus and spice, and follows with a firm, lively palate.

Sea Smoke. This twenty-year-old winery’s vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, which benefit from cooling Pacific Ocean fog (the ‘sea smoke’), also are farmed organic and biodynamic. Sea Smoke is known for its rich, complex, full-bodied but elegant wines. The 2015 Pinot Noir “Southing” ($60) – Southing refers to the south-facing hillside bluffs on the Sea Smoke estate vineyard – presents copious amounts of dramatic cherry and red fruits, with savory, smoky,  licorice, a firm structure, and a powerful, seamless palate.  The 2015 Pinot Noir “Ten” ($82), a selection of ten clones from the estate vineyard, is complex, yet harmonious, with bright red fruits and black cherry, spicy clove, anise and earthy notes. The 2015  Chardonnay ($60) dramatic pear and peach fruit meld with citrus and vanilla oak all head together with a bracing structure.

WINE BLENDS DEMONSTRATE WHY WHOLE IS GREATER THAN SUM OF PARTS

Whether you realize it or not most wines you drink are blends of multiple grapes (even those varietally labeled) from different vineyards. And industry sales data reveal more wineries these days are featuring wines specifically as blends.

Yes, certain grapes are popular for a reason and make fine wine flying solo, usually something to do with distinctive aromas, flavors or overall character. But just as cultural diversity is a societal strength, so winemakers of all stripes have found varietal diversity to have unique benefits. Try any of the wines below (reviewed in order of preference within each category) and you will taste the synergy in a product that embodies the classic sentiment of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

For many, the Bordeaux formula blending various percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot is the template.  For a winery that produces over 1.6 million cases of wine a year, J. Lohr maintains impressive quality at all price points. For our purposes here, a case in point is the Cuvée Series, which takes the exploration of Bordeaux blends so seriously theiy explore three of the main regions of Bordeaux. I’ve recommended these before and the current vintage (2014, $50) continues to impress.

Cuvée POM (Pomerol) 82% merlot + 18% malbec; my favorite of the trio; rich, succulent black cherry and plum, savory chocolate and spices, aroma of fresh soil, full-bodied; drinks supple and juicy, with refined tannins, seamlessly balanced

Cuvée PAU (Pauillac) 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec; 11% petit verdot + 7% merlot; rich, luscious dark berries; intriguing interplay of savory, sweet and oak elements;  quite full with a velvety texture

Cuvée ST. E (Saint-Émilion) 59% cabernet franc, 33% cabernet sauvignon, 7% malbec + 1% petit verdot; juicy plum and blackberry; with roasted notes and hints of oak; fleshy mouthfeel

The wines below are variations on the classic Bordeaux-style blend. Listed in order of preference, each should improve and drink well for the next ten years.

2014 Charles Krug “Generations” Family Reserve  ($60) 84% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 4% merlot + 3% malbec; herbal, earthy notes frame lively fruit, wrapped in rustic tannins

2014 50 Harvests “Meritage” Napa Valley Oak Knoll District ($50) 75% cabernet sauvignon + 25% petit verdot; deep, forward fruit, herbal, fresh textured; a fine collaboration of Napa winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Lodi winemaker Paul Scotto

2014 Acumen “Mountainside” Napa Valley ($45) 42% cabernet sauvignon, 19% malbec, 19% merlot, 14% cabernet franc + 6% petit verdot; minty, herbaceous, earthy, intense, spicy finish, needs time to come together

2016 Chappellet “Mountain Cuvee” Napa Valley ($34) 51 cabernet sauvignon, 13 malbec, 24 merlot, 3 cabernet franc + 9 petit verdot; lively, concentrated, sweet fruit, savory, herbal

2013 Dry Creek Meritage Dry Creek Valley ($26) all five Bordeaux varieties but mostly 40% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon; restrained but  juicy berries, touch of  dried herb and spice, drying tannins needs time to resolve

For others, the “Super Tuscans” of Italy are the benchmark, showcasing sangiovese, though often substituting zinfandel and sometimes syrah.

2015 Ferrari-Carano “Siena” Sonoma County Red Wine ($21) sangiovese, malbec, cabernet sauvignon + petite sirah; zesty, fruit-forward red berries, lush, anise and cocoa tinged

2014 Treana “Red” ($45) 75% cabernet sauvignon + 25% syrah; from one of Paso Robles pioneer wineries; intense fruit, tobacco, mocha and woodsy notes add complexity, lush, powerful

Duckhorn Winery’s Paraduxx winery is exemplary here. It is a winery devoted to making only blends. Each of these will benefit from a few years development.

2014 Atlas Peak ($80) 55% cabernet sauvignon + 45% sangiovese; firm, full, oaky, earthy, smooth structure, spicy finish

2014 Howell Mountain ($80) 65% cabernet sauvignon + 35% syrah; dense dark fruit, herbal, leathery, tannic finish

2015 Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine ($50) 54% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 16% zinfandel + 11% petit verdot; intense, bright fruit, forest and tobacco notes, smooth

Still others take southern France as inspiration, blending grapes like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petite sirah. The ones in this report, though, also mix in Bordeaux and Italian grapes. This is California, after all.

2013 Ancient Peaks “Oyster Ridge” Paso Robles Maragarita Ranch ($60) 75% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 5% petite sirah + 5% malbec; my favorite of the whole tasting; massive, complex, packed with intense dark fruits, herbs, licorice, mocha, spice, and rich polished texture; will age well

2015 Rodney Strong “Upshot” Sonoma County ($28) 44% zinfandel, 29% merlot, 15% malbec, 7% petit verdot + 5% Riesling (?!); don’t ask me about the resiling because I don’t know how or why that got in there; I just know this offers user friendly, zesty fruit, with hints of tobacco and toast ; it has a lush, slightly dusty texture

2016 Lucas & Lewellen “Hidden Asset” Santa Barbara County ($29) 32% malbec, 30% merlot, 26% syrah, 9% petite sirah + 3% cabernet franc; oaky, menthol, fruity dark berries, light spice, smooth

2016 Pedroncelli “Sonoma Classico” Barrel Select Dry Creek Valley ($19) merlot, zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah; bright fruit, baking spices, dried herbs, smoky notes, rustic texture; good value

CELEBRATE THE ALL YEAR WITH CALIFORNIA ZINFANDEL

California Zinfandel has long been my favorite red wine. There are many reasons it should be yours, too. It can be made in different styles: from bold and jammy with high alcohol to balanced, elegantand nuanced. Expect fresh, succulentfruit, a brash, wild character, moderate tannin, and spicy accents.

It is grown successfully all over the California. And some zinfandel vineyards are among the oldest in the U.S. Thus, the term “Old Vine” has become a badge of honor for producers and a clue to a more concentrated, intense wine.

Zinfandel is the quintessentially American grape, an immigrant that came to California in the early 1800s from Eastern Europe and has succeeded there better than anywhere else. It offers excellent value, considering the overall quality, which can rival the finest wines. Almost all the best are under $50 and there are countless good ones under $30.

Sonoma County (with beauties from the Dry Creek, Russian River, Sonoma and Alexander valleys) is arguably the premier source of superior Zinfandel in the state. Not all the valleys were represented in my tasting but here is ample evidence.

From Dry Creek Valley, the Pedroncelli family offers the zesty, minty, sleek 2015 Mother Clone ($19) from some vines over 100 and the woodsy, spicy, rustic 2016 Bushnell Vineyard ($26).The Dry Creek Vineyard produces its intense, lively, firm 2016 Old Vine ($35) from average 95+ year-old vines.

The cool-climate of the Russian River Valley is better known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But the valley’s Zins similarly are notable for good acidity and elegance. The comparison holds for Dutton Goldfield, who’s zesty, refined, seamless, complex 2015 Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard ($50) originates from a 100+ vineyard. And Sidebar offers a rich, heady 2016 Old Vine ($28), a field blend from the pre-1900 Alegria Vineyard.

I also had three good ones carrying a Sonoma County designation. The tight, concentrated 2016 Dry Creek Vineyard “Heritage Vines” ($24), from young vines grafted to pre-Prohibition budwood; rich, juicy 2015 Decoy ($25), the entry-level brand in the Duckhorn portfolio; and one of my favorites from the tasting, the seamless, fruit-filed 2016 Bear Flag ($30).

Though the Napa Valley is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, it is surprisingly reliable for Zinfandel. Good examples include: luscious, peppery 2016 Frank Family Napa Valley ($37) and juicy, focused, sleek 2013 Grgich Hills ($36).

For many, Lodi is synonymous with Zinfandel, as it grows an estimated 40 percent of California’s Zinfandel grapes. Its hallmark is good value, like these: jammy, smooth 2015 Seven Deadly Zins Old Vine ($16) and the berry compote of 2017 Cline Old Vine ($12).

A couple of other hidden gems: a bright, juicy 2014 Edmeades Mendocino County ($20); and the surprisingly rich and flavorful for the price 2016 Cline Ancient Vines ($15).

Finally a special feature: Ravenswood was established 1976 by Joel Peterson and both have reached icon status in California wine for an array of single-vineyard Zinfandels. Here are three (2015, $39), each from old vines: the concentrated, minty, luscious Dickerson Vineyard (Napa Valley) is one of the few 100 percent Zinfandel; dense, structured, licorice of Teldeschi Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley); and full-bodied, deep, energetic Belloni Vineyard (Russian River Valley).

TIRED OF THE SAME OLD CALIFORNIA REDS?

Although cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, zinfandel, and merlot remain the most popular red wine grapes in California, if you’re like me, you crave something different now and then. Here are a few of the most interesting alternatives – mostly Bordeaux and Rhône varieties – I’ve tasted the past several months.

One of the traditional Bordeaux blending varieties, petit verdot contributes color, tannin and intensity, bold dark fruit and a floral note to the flavor profile. It is made as a single varietal wine in the U.S. but you’re still more likely to find it in a blend like the spicy, herbal, soft 2016 French Bar “Gold Dust Red” ($19).

Another Bordeaux blender, malbec’s appeal as a varietal wine is based largely on a profile of forward dark fruit, mocha, admirable depth, and user-friendly texture. The 2014 Rodney Strong Reserve ($40) elevates this profile with structure, density, and seamlessness.

And then there is cabernet franc, which also plays a supporting role in Bordeaux blends. It is noted for bold red fruits, discreet acidity, and savory bell pepper. The 2016 Ironstone ($14) nicely balances bright fruit, and pepper. Although pricey, the supple, luscious 2015 Chappellet ($85), from one of Napa Valley’s best wineries, bursts with deep fruit, vanilla, mocha, and brown spice.

Syrah is most famous for its prominent role in the great wines of the Rhône Valley. It produces aromatic, fairly full-bodied wines, with dark berries, black pepper, meatiness, and ample but polite tannins. Like in the impressive 2013 Pomar Junction Paso Robles ($38).

These days, I especially appreciate the Rhône blends from Paso Robles. The 2014 ONX “Reckoning” ($59), whose two-thirds syrah is supplemented with grenache, malbec, and petite sirah, is an impressive offering. Complex, structured, and rich, it delivers ripe fruit, with savory, earthy and peppery notes. Also fantastic is the 2014 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas” ($55). Modeled after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it combines mourvèdre, grenache, syrah, and counoise. Another complex wine, it offers pungent forest notes, smoky anise and a solid frame integrate with a silky texture.

A delightful exception to my Paso rule, the 2014 Paraduxx Napa Valley “Candlestick Blend” ($58), two-thirds syrah/one-third grenache, is vigorous and concentrated, with tobacco, dried herbs and smoky oak.

One of my favorite “alternative reds” is the Rhône origin grape petite sirah. It makes a robust, dense wine of dark berries, tobacco, leather, earth, and pepper. The following wines are excellent examples.

  • 2016 Michael David “Petite Petit” ($18) with 15 percent petit verdot, rich, sweet, concentrated, lush, spicy
  • 2015 Scheid Hames Valley ($36) peppery, rustic but lush
  • 2015 Two Angels “Red Hills” ($27) full, firm, spicy, gripping
  • 2015 French Bar ($19) dried flowers, sweet fruit,

Grown extensively in southern France and Spain, carignan often is blended for color, acidity and tannin. As a varietal wine, like the 2016 1000 Stories “Batch Blue” ($19), which happens to be Bourbon Barrel-Aged, it can show red fruits with spicy and savory notes.

Finally, an exception to the French theme: dolcetto, an important grape in Piemonte, offers juicy plum, earthy, and light with friendly tannins, good acidity, combining bitter and sweet flavors. The 2016 Scheid “Riverview” ($34) is notable for its flowery nose, powdery texture, and tight acidity.

End of Summer Wines

I have tasted and reviewed quite a large number of wines in the first eight months of this year. But looking over my notes recently, I realized there still were a number of wines that just hadn’t made their way into one of my columns.

I noted many of these were value priced wines that would make nice everyday-type drinking through the rest of summer and into the cooler seasons. Don’t look for depth or complexity in these wines, just an easy drinking, consumer friendly experience that delivers solid quality for a reasonable price.

First up, I was surprised to find eight recommendable Pinot Noirs. Not long ago, it was almost impossible to find sound, affordable Pinot Noir. Start with the organic Mendocino grapes of the soft, spicy 2016 Bonterra ($16) or the Willamette Valley fruit of the forward, supple 2016 Oregon Trails ($20).

The rest, as it turns out, all benefit from California Central Coast fruit. The juicy 2016 Hess Select ($20) from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County; and the herbal, minty 2016 District 7 ($20), from Scheid Family Wines and cool-climate, certified sustainable, estate vineyards in Monterey County. Also from Scheid, the bright, savory 2016 Ranch 32 ($17) uses sustainably farmed, estate vineyards from Arroyo Seco area of Monterey.

Farther south, the bright, spicy, herbal 2015 Lucas & Lewellen ($20) also benefits from estate vineyards located in Santa Barbara County and the flavorful 2016 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve ($17) combines Monterey and Santa Barbara County fruit to fine effect.

I also found seven solid Cabernet Sauvignons. From Sonoma County, the 2016 Rodney Strong ($17), 2016 Chateau Souverain ($14), and 2015 Louis M. Martini ($20), are perennial good values with fine character, as is the substantial 2016 J. Lohr Seven Oaks ($17)from Paso Robles.

The fairly intense 2016 District 7 ($20) from Monterey County; the oaky, slightly sweet 2016 Ravage ($13) from Lodi; and the aromatic, structured 2015 Pacific Crest McNary Vineyard ($20) from the Horse Heaven Hills region in Washington all are good options.

And there were six worthy Chardonnays: the lively, lemony 2016 Rodney Strong Sonoma County ($17), focused 2016 Chehalem “Inox” Unoaked Oregon ($20), spicy, creamy 2016 La Crema Monterey ($20), buttery 2016 Edna Valley Vineyards Central Coast ($15), caramel apple 2016 Chateau Souverain North Coast ($14), and tropical 2016 EmBRAZEN ($16) – the label is a tribute to women’s empowerment and advancement, featuring heralded Latin singer Celia Cruz on the label.

I also was impressed with four blends. From Cline family vineyards in Contra Costa County and Carneros farmed according to the Green String Method, a type of sustainable farming, enjoy the pleasant red fruits and spiceof the 2016 farmhouse Red ($13)and the lively, citrus and pear of the 2017 farmhouse White ($13). Sonoma County’s Pedroncelli offers the exuberant floral, steely 2017 friends.white  ($13) and the fruitful, savory 2016 friends.red ($13).

Finally, two Rosés: the pinot gris-based 2017 Band of Roses ($13), from the highly regarded Washington State producer Charles Smith Wines and one of my all-time favorites, the lively, flavorful Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel (2017, $17).

CAN IT!

Will canned wine ever replace wine in bottles? I doubt that but it sure is a market segment that is growing fast. Forbes recently reported sales of canned wine in the U.S. increased 43 percent from June 2017 to June 2018.

And with still some summer left, there is plenty of time for picnics, concerts, festivals, cookouts, camping, parks, and beaches, where wine in cans are most convenient. And they are inexpensive. Yes, many are also cheap wine but there are some that are quite good, like those featured in this column.

One of the first and one of the best wineries to champion canned wine in the U.S. is the Denver urban winery The Infinite Monkey Theorem. It sells a red, rosé, and white for $15 for a four-pack of 250 ml (8.45 oz) cans.

Now big names in the California value wine category, like Barefoot (250 ml, $2) and Dark Horse (375 ml, $3) are getting into the act. Sofia, a label referencing Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, offers four packs of Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé (375 ml, $20). Bonny Doon Vineyard, the Santa Cruz winery best known as a pioneer of Rhone varieties in California, has just released La Bulle-Moose de Cigare, a dry, fizzy pink wine from a blend of red grapes similar to the winery’s celebrated Vin Gris de Cigare (2017, 375 ml, $8).

I have enjoyed a Rosé and Pinot Grigio from AVA Grace (both 375 ml, $5). The California wines in these cans are the same as what they put in their bottles. The Rosé had notes of red berries and watermelon and the Pinot Grigio showed vibrant citrus and pear.

And Oregon is getting into the act with Canned Oregon, a new brand from the trustworthy Stoller Family Estate. You should try the White and Rosé bubbles and the Pinot Gris (375 ml, $8).

Spain also has found canned wine success in the U.S. with brands like Tinto Amorio, a low-calorie sparkling red wine cocktail with lemon and Ah-So, Spain’s first estate grown, organic canned rosé. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it is produced by Juan Carlos Lopez de LaCalle of the celebrated Artadi winery in Rioja in partnership with Dustin and Carrie Chiappetta, owners of Denver’s Pearl Wine Company.

Can or no can, Ah-So is serious rosé. It is 100 percent old-vine garnacha, estate grown in an organically farmed, rosé-specific, high-altitude vineyard in the Navarra region. This crisp, refreshing, wine is packaged as four 250 ml cans ($19) and is notable for its bright cherry and raspberry and clean finish.

So, don’t shy away from canned wine. It has its place. Good wine is good wine regardless of its packaging, whether bottled, boxed, on tap or canned. Actually, sales of alternatively packaged wine are increasing, while retail wine sales in the U.S. between June 2017-June 2018 were flat (again according to Forbes).

Just keep in mind, those 375 ml cans hold half a bottle of wine. That’s more alcohol than two bottles (or cans) of that craft beer we all love, too.

ITALIAN WHITE WINES PROVIDE SUMMER REFESHMENT

I once was at a seminar on Italian at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and Victor Hazan began by declaring, “The color of [Italian] wine is red.” Well, as much as I tend to agree, I am here to say the color also is white and green, completing the colors of the Italian flag.

 

Italy is a cornucopia of vinous diversity, a boot overflowing with, by some estimates, over 2000 indigenous varieties. There are really good white wines from familiar grapes like chardonnay, sauvignon, gewürztraminer, sylvaner, and pinot grigio. There also is a cornucopia of varieties mostly regional-focused, small production wines well worth seeking out, most of which arebudget friendly. Here I highlight just a few.

 

The large northeastern regions of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia arguably have led the revolution in Italian white wine production. Most of these wines are unoaked to retain natural freshness. In general, the wines are notable for dramatic aromas, precise structure, and refreshing acidity.

 

Probably most recognizable to American consumers, Pinot Grigio can be produced in a variety of styles but is generally pleasingly light, brisk melon and citrus notes have been a winning combination. There are boatloads of insipid plonk produced but also quite a bit of distinctive, consumer friendly wines. Like these:

 

  • 2017 Ecco Domani Limited Edition Venezia($12), bright, fresh easy drinking
  • 2017 MezzaCorona Trentino ($14) estate bottled, crisp, lean, herbal and mineral
  • 2017 Attems Friuli ($20) founded in 1106 and now owned by the Frescobaldi family, it’s crisp citrus, apple, apricot and supple palate reveal vibrant fruitiness
  • 2016 Jermann FVG ($30) really satisfying with bracing, flavorful citrus, honey melon, peach and mineral

 

The pinot grigio grape also features prominently as half of a blend pinot bianco, ribolla gialla, and sauvignon by Villa Russiz, a winery in Friuli very near the border with Slovenia. The 2016  “Les Enfants” ($22) is flavorful and creamy with lively fresh lime flavors, with hints of peach and minerality, pera almond. Villa Russiz also offers a fine 2016 Pinot Bianco ($26) from Collio, a subregion revered for its white wines. It’s lively, with apricot, pear, herb and mineral notes.

 

Most consumers probably know Soave but don’t recognize garganega, its dominant grape.  Specific to the Veneto, Soave also went through a period of mediocrity. But in the hands of attentive wineries, Soave’s (especially from the original Classico zone) reputation has been restored. Typically, its apple, citrus, and stone fruit are nicely balanced with almond notes. The 2016 Pieropan ($20), from a family whose winemaking heritage dates to 1880, is delightfully aromatic, bracing and mouthfilling with apple and peach,orchard fruit, lemon, stone. I remember tasting it in the 1980’s and for the first realizing just how good Soave can be. While the Inama family has been making Soave Classico for “only” forty-plus years, though they have a long history in the region between Verona and Vicenza. Their 2017 “Vin Soave” ($15) delightfully light with touches of apple, nectarine, lemon, pear,stone and almond. The 2016 “Vigneti di Foscarino” ($25) is a special selection of old vines on the east side of the Monte Foscarino that is vinified (such as barrel fermentation) to recall traditional styles; yielding a wine with a lush texture and notes of apricot, pear and melon balanced with almond.

 

For a contemporary interpretation of gargenega, try the 2017 Scaia Garganega – Chardonnay ($13). A second label of Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Scaia is a project with a mission to craft a style of wines that respect the traditions of Veneto but tilt to modern tastes. One way they do that is to blend local grapes with international varieties, like this blend of 55 percent garganega and 45 percent chardonnay that is the most aromatic of the wines in my tasting, with a brisk tropical fruit but a lush texture and herbal notes.

 

Vermentino is a rare variety, grown mostly on the island of Sardegna, Liguria, and the western coast of Toscana, where it produces crisp, medium-bodied wines with refreshing citrus, apple and suggestions of sea air and almond. I found two excellent values  from the Maremma hills of Toscana. The 2016 Aia Vecchia($12) from a small, family owned winery of respected grape growers offers really nice energetic fruit with a hint of minerality and 2016 Rocca di Montemassi “Calasole” ($15) nicely adds melon and vanilla to the profile.

 

Over on the eastern coast of Central Italy on the Adriatic Sea, verdicchio is the signature white grape of the Le Marche region. The grape mirrors the green in the Italian flag as its name comes from the word “verde” reflecting the wines naturally green shades. Typically refreshing, it features apple, citrus, and stony notes. One of the most respected producers and the oldest family-owned winery in the region (dating back to 1871), Garofoli specializes in the grape, especially from the prestigious Castelli di Jesi area. Its 2017 “Macrina” ($14) is fresh, elegant, and structured with hints of peaches, lemon and mineral. The 2015 “Podium” ($25), a special selection of grapes from a single-vineyard, is impressively fruited and more structured  with notes of apples, honey and toast with almond with minerality.

 

Finally, two other wines from either end of the peninsula.

 

In Piemonte in the northwest, Arneis is a prominent white grape that yields typically full flavored wines with lower acidity and softer, fuller texture than the other grapes in this report. Luca Bosio has produced a 2016 ($20) with notes of lime, tangerine, almonds, and flowers. While the grape is thought to have originated in the Roero subregion of Piemonte, this one comes from the nearby Langhe, also known for its prized Barolo and Barbaresco.

 

Sicily’s grillo is one of several distinctive indigenous varieties on the island worth trying. And coming from Tasca D’Almerita, one of the most prestigious Sicilian estates with over 200 years of winegrowing. A leader in Italy in environmental, social and economic sustainability, the winery’s 2017 Tenuta Whitaker ($22), actually located on the former Phoenician island of Mozia off the western tip of Sicilia, is impressively flavorful with potency and deep citrus fruit and spice in a rather viscous frame.

SAUVIGNON BLANC PROVIDES FRESHING DRINKING FOR WARMER WEATHER

During warmer weather, it’s natural for wine drinkers to think about cooling off with a refreshing white wine and California Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal choice. But it is also a fine choice anytime you crave a fresh, cool wine.

 

While it comes in a variety of styles and expressions, it’s assertively aromatic, with refreshing acidity. Expect a flavor profile of brisk green citrus (lime, gooseberry) but also other citrus, especially grapefruit, and a distinctive (sometimes spicy) herbaceousness. Wines made from riper fruit often display peach, melon or even tropical fruits.

 

Most of the wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel to emphasize fresh, varietal characteristics; some use small amounts of mostly neutral oak and winemaking techniques to round out flavors and add texture.

 

First, I found a number of good everyday values. These tend to be lighter with the focus on varietal fruit. They are listed in order of price:

 

  • 2016 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve ($13) juicy, multifaceted
  • 2016 Hess Select ($13) snappy, assertive
  • 2017 J. Lohr “Flume Crossing” ($14)
  • 2016 Edna Valley ($14) nutty, luscious
  • 2016 Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” ($14) tangy, smooth
  • 2017 Two Angels ($17) nicely balanced
  • 2016 Decoy ($20) ripe, refreshing
  • 2017 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley ($20) enticingly green, sumptuous

 

As consumer friendly as these wines are, I found more complexity and flavor interest above $20. The 2016 Sidebar High Valley ($22), sourced from a cool vineyard in Lake County, is lively and succulent with smoke and spice. Without seeing any oak, the bright, assertive 2017 Cuvaison ($24) nicely expresses its cool climate Carneros estate fruit.

 

From the Russian River Valley, I especially enjoyed Dutton Estate’s brisk, spicy 2016 “Kylie’s Cuvee” ($25) from the family’s highly regarded Dutton Ranch, and the earthy 2017 Davis Bynum “Virginia’s Block” ($25) showcases the vineyard’s ripe fruit. In Napa Valley, another respected vineyard owner, the Gamble Family produced a rich 2016 Gamble Vineyard ($25), showing some oak and spice.

 

And there were several that breached the $30 threshold but each is exceptional.

 

The 2017 Acumen “Mountainside” ($30), from high altitude vineyards in Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak appellation, offers noticeable but well integrated oak. With fruit from the Oak Knoll District of southern Napa Valley, the 2017Ladera ($30) offers juicy flavors with a touch of oak.

 

Three Napa Valley wineries better known for their other wines also make fine Sauvignon Blanc. The lush 2016 Duckhorn ($30) has a nice touch of oak and licorice. The 2015 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc ($31) is enticingly brisk and herbal. The full-bodied 2017 Ehlers Estate St. Helena ($32) is bursting with clean, varietal qualities and succulent acidity.

 

Back in Sonoma County, Chalk Hill’s high altitude estate vineyards on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains in the Chalk Hill appellation yielded an intense, flavorful 2016 ($33) deftly integrating fruit, oak and structure. My favorite wine of the tasting. And Sidebar’s intense 2016 Ritchie Vineyard ($34) shows off its 44-year-old Russian River Valley vines, with verve.

 

And now for something completely different: a Tequila Barrel Aged Sauvignon Blanc from Cooper & Thief (2016, $30). The promo material says this is in answer to the growing popularity of tequila. The wine is aged in Casa Noble Añejo barrels and definitely exhibits tequila aromas and flavors, as well as caramel and vanilla.