American Wines Shine in Top 100 Wines of 2013
Jon Bonn? | San Francisco Chronicle | December 2, 2013 3:15pm
Nov. 30--If the past is prelude, then my conclusion from last year's Top 100 Wines -- that we're entering a glorious age for American wine -- is even truer in 2013.
The top wines coming from the West Coast right now are the best in a generation.
They excel in familiar forms we know and love, like Pinot Noir and Cabernet. Yet they push boundaries, they pursue greatness with grapes both long forgotten and newly discovered on these shores. They represent a great momentum that is changing the way Americans enjoy wine.
This year's Top 100, which seeks the most outstanding wines in the West, celebrates bottles that are helping to change the conversation -- toward a better understanding of what we can grow, and where it grows best. They all make a statement about what is possible.
That includes the familiar. Chardonnay, a grape as tortured as it has been adored in this country, is enjoying the start of a great renaissance -- with its best expressions beholden neither to the Old World nor to the stylistic excesses of the past, particularly in California.
Wines from producers like Liquid Farm and Hanzell run the gamut from new to timeless, revealing what the grape can do best: serve as a vehicle to understand the virtues of the site where it's grown.
Pinot Noir, too. Even with a couple of difficult vintages up and down the coast, the finest specimens of this grape are succeeding as never before. If, three decades ago, vintners worried that they ever could accomplish much with Pinot, today the best wines compete with their counterparts from anywhere around the globe.
That extends not just to red wine but to ros? as well; the best pink versions of Pinot (and much more) are good enough to warrant their own category again this year.
When it comes to Cabernet and its cousins, there is still a great hunt for success in the more-is-more realm. But there's also a diversity of styles, including extraordinary examples from Spottswoode, Ridge and Mayacamas that are finer than ever. They reflect the classic lines that made California Cabernet (and Merlot, too) a thing for the world to behold.
Speaking of California classics, Zinfandel at its best has rebounded brilliantly after a long spell of wandering.
Wines from Hobo, Broc Cellars and Turley, to name a few, are demonstrating the mix of exuberance, charm and nuance that not long ago was considered a liability. After chasing away many serious wine lovers, the grape has found a way to woo both its old partisans and a new generation that once dismissed it for more unusual fare.
Other long-present grapes on the West Coast are enjoying a similar bout of seriousness: Riesling (particularly from Oregon), Chenin Blanc, Barbera, Viognier and more.
They are sharing the spotlight with newer arrivals. Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner are moving beyond asterisk status to show their true potential.
Indeed, the fact that some very serious names are now tackling less-known grapes -- Chardonnay maestro John Kongsgaard working with Albarino grown by vineyardist Lee Hudson, to pick one example -- signals the extent to which these grapes are shuffling off their esoteric cloaks.
For that matter, we're now moving beyond the geography of the known to some exciting frontiers for American terroir.
I found wines for this year's list from southern Oregon's Applegate Valley, from San Diego County, from the Columbia Gorge and, for the second year, from Arizona. On the last, the simple fact that a wine like Sand-Reckoner's Malvasia Bianca -- a grape with a bright future, from the improbable locale of Cochise County -- exists at all is tribute to the current moment of ingenuity in American wine.
Thus this year's Top 100 is a tribute to this particularly auspicious time for our wine culture -- brilliant bottles made, for the most part, by small and diligent wineries asking tough questions about what is possible in the vineyards.
Their work is defining a great era for American wine -- one that respects the beauty of the past as it charges into the future.
Aside from the continued seriousness among the top sparkling-wine houses, there were a couple of other developments in the West Coast's fizz realms this year.
The first was that Roederer and its sibling Scharffenberger began putting dates of disgorgement -- when a wine is finished with a bit of sugar and placed under cork -- on their bottles, paralleling a positive, consumer-friendly trend in Champagne.
Beyond that, there is a spate of single-vineyard sparkling wines that are appearing or in cellars now, soon to make their debut. We didn't catch them in time for this year's roundup, but expect to see them soon.
As for our top wines, they're from names you know well -- a sign of continued excellence for a type of wine too often overlooked, and certainly not drunk as often as it could be.
NV Roederer Estate Brut Ros? Anderson Valley ($28, 12% alcohol): Arnaud Weyrich continues to make this a wine to beat in American bubbles. There's both power and remarkable finesse to the texture -- small bubbles to rival great Champagne, with aniseed, candied strawberry and dark mineral. Disgorged January 2013.
2005 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee Brut Carneros ($35, 12.5%): A quality push at Ferrer is evident, especially in this mix of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay. The extra aging has provided all the toasted hazelnut and subtly yeasty aspects you'd expect, but not at the expense of sleekness: fine bubbles, apricot, lemon peel and a subtle, meaty sweetness.
NV Scharffenberger Brut Excellence Mendocino County ($20, 12%): Winemaker Tex Sawyer keeps pulling off the extraordinary: fine Chardonnay (two-thirds of the blend) flavors of Bartlett pear and fig with a toasty character, almond and mandarin orange, in a wine that's remarkable for the money. Opulent, classy and a true credit to the skill this Philo-based house has often displayed. Disgorged January 2013.
2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut North Coast ($38, 12.5%): The barrel fermentation of some fruit from several counties in this historic cellar adds a bit of richness -- fig and buttery pastry -- but not at the cost of terrific acidity and focus, a fizzy parallel to what's happening in still California Chardonnay right now. Fennel seed and a pear eau-de-vie aspect add extra depth to what's an excellent vintage for sparkling wine.
The resurgence of great Chardonnay rolls on, with wines from both cold 2011 and moderate 2012 that show a mix of intensity and ripeness.
More than anything, there's a commitment by winemakers to make this grape about the specificity of great vineyards rather than craftiness in the cellar.
That's not true across the board; with 100,000 acres up and down the coast, there's a lot more Chardonnay planted than has the makings of greatness. But the top wines have pushed beyond the old view of Chardonnay as a synonym for white wine and become site-specific benchmarks for American quality.
2011 Ceritas Porter-Bass Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($55, 12.9% alcohol): Second year in a row this wine makes the list, but John Raytek's work with fruit from the biodynamically farmed Forestville vineyard of his wife Phoebe's family remains a California Chardonnay treasure. With its deep stony presence, bright citrus and yellow raspberry fruit, this is a pure, concentrated expression of the grape in classic western Sonoma sedimentary soils.
2011 Failla Haynes Vineyard Coombsville Chardonnay ($56, 13.8%): A fine example of the new mode of Chardonnay from Failla's Ehren Jordan -- this time tapping one of Napa's longest-producing plantings of the variety, an old dry-farmed site east of the city. There's deft textural work to bring ripe melon pulp fruit to its intense stone and citrus aspects. Give it a year for full effect.
2012 Arnot-Roberts Trout Gulch Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($33, 13%): Nathan Roberts and Duncan Meyers, The Chronicle's 2012 winemakers of the year, show a remarkable affinity for the grape. From a loamy site near Aptos, outside Santa Cruz, here is a pure, intense specimen: astonishing acidity to match dense lime and nectarine flavors, accented by a yerba buena-like herbal side. The perfect mix of textural weight and saline minerality, although it shows itself best on the dinner table.
2012 Adelsheim Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($22, 13.5%): One of Oregon's pioneering names has found a juicy expression that's a reminder of the Northwest's great potential. Mostly fermented in steel, its precise green apple and kiwi flavors, plus bay leaf and fennel accents, have a wonderful precision.
2011 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($24, 14.1%): A great showing from this established name in what's more typically Cabernet country. Winemaker Leo Hansen used a bit of skin contact and native yeast during fermentation to provide a great mix of richness and intensity. Pear drops, cantaloupe and citrus are balanced by a great creamy texture.
2012 Hanzell Sebella Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($36, 13.5%): This Sonoma site is arguably one of the birthplaces of California Chardonnay. In recent years, thanks to winemaker Michael McNeill, its affordable second label has emerged from under big brother's shadow. The Sebella offers the same magnitude but from younger vines and with a bit more immediacy. Ripe pear and finger lime flavors are match by an intense savory side: clover, white tea, bright minerality. Tank fermented and aged in old barrels, it's a full-fleshed expression that pays tribute to a Sonoma sweet spot for white grapes just north of San Pablo Bay.
2011 Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20, 13.1%): This marked the first full vintage for Lioco with its new winemaker, John Raytek, and amid a roster of hits -- a Russian River blend, an extraordinary Demuth designate -- this larger production blend was notable for having a level of depth rarely found for the price. Lots of ripe Bosc pear and cantaloupe are balanced by a beautiful acidity that shows what 2011 could offer: both energy and flavor.
2012 Sandhi Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($33, 13%): I wasn't sure whether a wine delivered more finesse for the money than the 2011 edition of this wine. But the 2012, from winemaker Sashi Moorman, plus Rajat Parr and Charles Banks, managed it. A whiff of savory oak leads to crunchy minerality and intense lemony flavors, plus Cameo apple and green pear. There's a textural mastery: the intense brightness of Santa Rita Hills mixed with riper fruit from farther north in the county.
2012 Liquid Farm White Hill Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($38, 13.8%): Nikki and Jeff Nelson work with the Dragonette Cellars team on this Chardonnay project out of Lompoc. Their more focused, edgy bottle, White Hill, uses a mix of Santa Rita sites for a pure, saline expression that shows the best of the area's white-wine potential. Rich pear and yellow fruit match a Granny Smith apple tang, accented by a heady oregano flourish.
2011 Memaloose Columbia Gorge Chardonnay ($25, 13%): Chardonnay is one of the things lost in the background of Washington's many wine talents, but the McCormick family taps a site in White Salmon, just above the Columbia River and due south of Mount Adams, for a tremendously juicy, bright effort: lemon, waxy apple, quince and a subtle richness to balance the tanginess that the little-known Gorge area can yield.
2011 Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay ($75, 14.1%): The tricky vintage meant even less of this than usual (in part because there's no fruit from the Hyde vineyard in the blend) but this is John Kongsgaard at his finest: green apple, a perfectly ripe quince, a bit of appealing oak, curry leaves and an astonishing mix of firm structure and ripeness. Quite simply, Chardonnay at its highest expression.
2011 Knez Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay ($37, 12.9%): The expressiveness in bottlings of Demuth's biodynamically farmed old vines, both those from owner Peter Knez and his fruit customers, reinforce that this is one of California's best Chardonnay sites. This latest, made by Anthony Filiberti (Anthill Farms), is savory and touched by a bit of oak vanillin, matched to that tangy Anderson Valley minerality: grey salt, aniseed, green olive and ripe tangerine. A roller-coaster ride of acidity and extract.
The white-wine renaissance continues on the West Coast -- with an ever-expanding roster of varieties that show a fearlessness to push what many Americans have accepted as white wine (usually Chardonnay).
In California, that includes grapes making a welcome comeback, like Chenin Blanc, and those making a new name for themselves, like Albarino and Grenache Blanc.
Looking farther afield, Oregon's talent with Riesling continues to dazzle, a slight shift in what we've believed is that grape's Northwest sweet spot. And Malvasia keeps gaining fans for its aromatic depth and charm.
And there's more seriousness than ever in Sauvignon Blanc, with examples that upend the common belief in that grape as just a simple pleasure.
2012 Ryme Cellars His Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros Vermentino ($28, 12.8% alcohol): Just a few years ago, it would be hard to believe that wine types could debate their preference between the twin Vermentinos from Megan (Hers) and Ryan (His) Glaab. Often Megan's has a slight popular edge, but His is worth noting this year for its deep fleshy texture -- just the thing to round out the resin, white tea and apricot aspects derived from its fermentation on the skins (versus the more conventionally made Hers). In this particular debate, no one loses.
2011 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Vermentino ($27, 13.1%): The Haas family's work with Paso limestone offers a different take on this grape, one perhaps more aligned with its life in southern France. The cool vintage brought a particularly taut version, full of fresh lime, fennel seed and mineral zestiness.
2011 Trisaetum Coast Range Estate Dry Yamhill-Carlton Riesling ($24, 11.5%): The Frey family is creating a new powerhouse for American Riesling in Newberg, Ore., with their small label. And Oregon has effectively captured the mantle for that grape from its neighbor to the north. This effort from their original planting in hills west of McMinnville is fine-boned and juicy, with a remarkable concentration of flavor -- green quince, hazelnut, dried herbs and nectarine skin.
2012 Abrente Napa Valley Albarino ($23, 13%): Michael Havens, who effectively introduced this Spanish grape to California vineyards, teamed up with Bedrock's Morgan Twain-Peterson, and fans of Havens' old Albarino will be impressed. From Carneros plantings near Havens' original source, this is plush and serious, full of chive, green papaya and ripe peach.
2012 Abacela Estate Umpqua Valley Albarino ($18, 13.2%): Earl and Hilda Jones continue to provide a benchmark for Spanish varieties from their plot in southern Oregon. This is eloquent, showing the grape's proper, minerally restraint. Peach blossoms and ripe orange, with a welcome ripeness.
2012 Galante Vineyards Estate Carmel Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25, 12.5%): Once again Carmel Valley rallies as a sweet spot for Sauvignon Blanc, with a superb example from this well-known name in the area. Aging in new oak bolsters the exoticism of the flavors: mango cream, dried pineapple, mustard seed, lime cordial. A style-driven effort, for sure, but with a great tactile quality so often missing in examples of this grape.
2012 Sand-Reckoner Cochise County Malvasia Bianca ($28, 13.6%): For our second year with Arizona wine in the Top 100, we turn to Rob Hammelman, who made wine with St. Cosme's Louis Barruol in the Rhone before settling with his wife, Sarah, in Willcox. This aromatic grape could be Arizona's great hope, certainly based on Sand-Reckoner's efforts. A day soaking on skins and fermentation in old barrels provides the seriousness found in great dry Alsatian Muscat: intense blossom aromas, plus a chaparral-like woodsy side, rose petal and dried pear. It's densely flavored and bone-dry, full of rich orange and ripe tree fruit flavors.
2012 Arbe Garbe Russian River Valley White ($28, 14%): Enrico Bertoz and Letizia Pauletto are making good on their pledge to revive the fortunes of Pinot Grigio in a serious Friulian-style white wine. This latest edition is mostly Pinot Grigio and Malvasia, with a bit of Gewurztraminer. Its dramatic, aromatic side -- geranium, plum and celery salt -- mixes with nectarine, apple skin and a honeydew-like musk. Big, expressive and touched with a marzipan-like richness.
2012 Cowhorn Spiral 36 Applegate Valley White ($28, 13.6%): Cal grads Bill and Barbara Steele migrated to southern Oregon to chase their wine dreams. Their ambitious biodynamically farmed project in Jacksonville has transcended curiosity to make some of the Northwest's most ambitious Rhone-style wines. Here the plump pungency of Roussanne -- think agave nectar -- bolsters Viognier and Marsanne in an opulent, exotic mix: orange blossom, juicy lime, barley, fresh peach. A remarkable complexity on display.
2011 Vesper Alcal? Highland Hills Vineyard Ramona Valley White ($28, 13.2%): In the improbable setting of San Diego County, Alysha Stehly and Chris Broomell are making wines that need no geographic explanation. From Marsanne and Roussanne grown in sandy loam at the edge of the high desert 25 miles northeast of San Diego, this more than holds its own with fine examples from the northern Rhone. Full of green quince, mandarin orange, sorrel and that nut-oil richness these grapes can demonstrate. Both luscious and refreshing.
2011 Skinner El Dorado Viognier ($24, 13.9%): Chris Pittenger's work at this Fair Play winery continues to push the foothills' cutting edge, here with a grape too often steered wrong. It's vibrant but also florid in that Viognier way, with hyacinth, nectar fruit, and remarkable acidity and mineral bite.
2012 Massican Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($27, 13.7%): While Dan Petroski's Annia blend gets more attention, this pure expression of an often underrated grape, here sourced from warm Pope Valley, provides an equally profound New World tribute to Italy's Friuli. The mix of fragrant herbs, ripe tangerine and creamy quince, and the balance of rich texture and salty tang, show an understanding of a uniquely Californian mode for Sauvignon Blanc.
2012 Miner Family Simpson Vineyard California Viognier ($20, 14.1%): Miner has, improbably, been using John Simpson's Viognier parcel in Madera County for more than a decade, and this latest version, fermented in steel, shows the pure, limpid aspect of Viognier: fresh honeysuckle, Meyer lemon and citron peel. It's taut and heady, exotic without being overwrought, and exuberant enough to please the grape's partisans.
2012 Tatomer Meeresboden Santa Barbara County Gruner Veltliner ($23, 13.5%): Graham Tatomer, having apprenticed with the Wachau's Emmerich Knoll, has come to fully realize Gruner's potential in California. The name means "sea bottom" and the fruit is from the John Sebastiano parcel on ancient seabed soils near the Santa Rita Hills. Gruner's verdant side -- sorrel, fresh lime -- mixes with polished peach fruit and a nuance that marks a New World coming of age for this grape.
2012 Habit Jurassic Park Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Chenin Blanc($30, 12%): Jeff Fischer of Los Angeles turned to Santa Barbara for his wine project, and this expression is one of the best from the old vines of Jurassic Park vineyard -- quickly becoming California's great beacon of Chenin Blanc. It's not shy on acid, but also has wild strawberry and green sorrel, and a peachy, spun-sugar sense of sweetness (it's completely dry) that evoke the state's good old days with this grape.
2012 Kinero Alice Paso Robles Grenache Blanc ($22, 13.6%): Another score from Anthony Yount, whose work with this grape stands to rewrite Paso's story line. A perfect balance of full texture and acid-driven tension, with chervil, pear blossom and bitter-almond accents. As serious an expression of Grenache Blanc as you'll find anywhere.
2011 Farmers Jane Santa Barbara County Field White($22, 12.7%): This project from Angela Osborne (A Tribute to Grace) and Faith Armstrong-Foster (Onward) aims to provide affordable wine in a proper agricultural context; the name is a tribute to sustainability advocate Temra Costa. This is all Chenin Blanc from Foxen Canyon's Jurassic Park, and it's juicy, subtly aromatic and flat-out delicious -- with peach blossoms, a talc-like mineral side and fresh apple flavors.
The pink realms continue to charm, especially with wines from the pleasant 2012 vintage on the current roster.
It's reassuring to see how many wine lovers have gotten over whatever fear made them think that ros? couldn't be serious -- and seriously enjoyable. And this goes beyond a summer fling; it's a sign that a whole new category of wine is now up for discussion and delight.
As for base material, the fact that several of our top wines tap Pinot Noir both does credit to vintners who use that grape for a pink wine, instead of red, as well as to the complexities that Pinot reveals in any form.
That isn't to dismiss other fine efforts this year using Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault -- and even Grignolino, which Heitz Cellar taps for a true Napa classic.
2012 J.K. Carriere Glass Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Ros? ($20, 13.5% alcohol): Carriere's pink wine remains a remarkable treat from the Northwest. This is ros? in serious form: aged in neutral oak, fermented indigenously, and slowly revealing its peach- and chervil-scented fruit. Thoughtful, bright and showing Pinot's truly nuanced nature.
2012 Analemma Atavus Vineyard Columbia Gorge Ros? ($25, 12.5%): A veteran of Walla Walla's Cayuse, Steven Thompson and his partner, Kris Fade, moved to the gorge, making wine in tiny Mosier, Ore., but harvesting one of Washington's oldest vineyards -- near the Cascades, on south-facing slopes at 1,700 feet near Mount Adams, with vines more than 40 years old. This is Pinot Noir, dry farmed, fermented in neutral oak and showing a remarkable iced-berry aspect, with freesia, garden herbs and ripe strawberry and apricot fruit. As soulful as ros? gets.
2012 Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Grignolino Ros? ($19, 13.5%): This has been one of the mainstays of this beloved Napa property since Joe Heitz bought it in 1961, and it's better than ever: full of strawberry blossom, mandarin, and that fresh, aromatic fruit. There's a bit of tannic grip that commends it to food, and a tribute to a side of Napa too rarely seen nowadays.
2012 Scherrer Dry Sonoma County Ros? ($20, 13%): Fred Scherrer's talent with Zin is well known, but again he finds glory in this mix of Syrah and Grenache. The ripe vintage brought plenty of stuffing: wild strawberry and citrus with a savory olive-brine and tea-like edge. Well-fleshed and juicy, it's the sort of ros? that reminds you of the joy of great fruit.
2012 Teutonic Laurel Vineyard Willamette Valley Ros? ($19, 11.3%): Barnaby and Olga Tuttle continue to turn out their roster of quirky, charming wines -- Chasselas? -- from Oregon, and while the high-elevation, cold Laurel vineyard can be tricky for reds, the pink version is just a bit sweet and full of mellow, zesty fruit: ripe raspberry and Seville orange to balance its cool, foresty Pinot side.
If the era of easy money in Pinot Noir has subsided, the grape has returned to a place that's both more difficult and more transcendental.
Part of that came from a couple of vintages in California and Oregon that left winemakers' fingernails bitten ragged. But the best successes are extraordinary wines, full of radiant flavors -- reminders of the glories of this grape in the New World.
Of course, great American Pinot Noir is an increasingly expensive proposition, although I'd argue that it always was. But there's an understanding of great sites and great farming for Pinot Noir here that now rivals anywhere around the globe.
2011 Alfaro Family Lester Family Vineyards at Deer Park Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($38, 12.6% alcohol): This site near Corralitos farmed by Prudy Foxx always shows the area's quintessential saline mineral side, and Richard Alfaro's interpretation is a beacon of the area's potential. Packed with heady coriander and black tea scents, and a wild strawberry tang.
2011 Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($42, 13.3%): While Josh Bergstrom's single-vineyard talents are superb, this outstanding example of the larger-production Cumberland is particularly worth a look. Brooding, with funky beetroot and sweet spice aspects to the dense plum and cherry flavors, it makes a great case for complexity through blending.
2011 Big Table Farm Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($38, 12.6%): Clare Carver and Brian Marcy's property in Gaston takes "farm to table" to its apotheosis, down to the animal-filled letterpress labels. This blended bottle is tangy and complex, full of cassia, oregano and black olive accents to its generous strawberry flavors.
2011 Brick House Les Dijonnais Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir ($52, 13%): Experience pays in a cold vintage, and as Doug Tunnell has been growing Pinot in Oregon for nearly a quarter century, he made the best of 2011. It is telling that this organically farmed parcel is planted to the earliest importations of Dijon clones (113, 114, 115). Their tension, versus opulent fruit, is on display. Spicy, coppery, and full of cinnamon, smoky sage and violets, this shows a classic Oregon refinement.
2010 Calera Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir ($48, 13.8%): Josh Jensen's original 1975 plantings often get more attention, but at 29 years old, his Mills parcel, planted in 1984 on its own roots with cuttings from the original sites, has more than come into its own. This latest is fragrant and delicate by Calera's modern standards (and a relative bargain) with tree bark and sweet carob aromas and a wet-flower subtlety to the rich cherry flavors -- but no shortage of structural power or Calera's classic muskiness.
2011 Chanin Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($48, 13.62%): His Chardonnay talents are such that Gavin Chanin's Pinot Noirs often occupy the background, but his work with this parcel north of the Purisima Hills -- well known to Au Bon Climat fans -- shows just how much we still have to learn about Santa Barbara's Pinot geography. It's a less flourishy style, but full of deep damson plum flavors, plus dark mineral, fenugreek and a zesty Seville orange bite. Pure, intense stuff.
2011 Chehalem Three Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($29, 12.7%): This classic mix of Chehalem's three key parcels (Ridgecrest, Corral Creek and Stoller) was in its finest form in years with this vintage, thanks to the talents of Harry and Wynne Peterson-Nedry. Finished in screwcap, it needs a few minutes to breathe, but then powerful aloe, raspberry and loam aspects come bursting forth.
2010 Cobb Wines Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($75, 13.3%): Ross Cobb has found generous flavor in this tiny plot, planted above the town of Bodega in tribute to his mother. It's got all the flourishes that this part of the coast can express: warm juniper and pink peppercorn, a dark-stone savory side, and ethereal pomegranate fruit. But for all the mineral tension, this forthcoming release is surprisingly open for Cobb's slow-aging style.
2011 Domaine de la Cote La Cote Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($90, 12.5%): This new project from Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr took over the parcels of Evening Land Vineyards, and this particular planting of 9 acres of heritage selections primarily on shale, with the grapes fermented entirely with their stems, is even in its first vintage a hallmark of California's achievements with this grape. Layer upon layer unfold: intense white-stone minerality, a subtle peppercorn-like spice, bergamot, wintergreen, plum and watermelon. Astonishing energy in this rare bottling.
2011 Kutch McDougall Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($59, 13.6%): This site on a ridge north of Cazadero provides Jamie Kutch and others with a remarkable intensity. Past some subtle oak tones lie the conifer and vibrant raspberry aspects that mark this part of the coast. It's matched by rich lower tones and sarsaparilla warmth to the fruit.
2011 Longoria La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($50, 13.6%): If it's not as flourishy as some of the newer models from Santa Rita, Rick Longoria's winemaking off a site farmed by area pioneer Richard Sanford makes for a great meeting of two authoritative Santa Barbara talents. Full of tar and salted licorice, and a mineral-edged blackcurrant and olallieberry fruit that's juicy and nutmeg-edged, it's a reminder of the area's classic bones.
2011 Anthill Farms Comptche Ridge Vineyard Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($44, 13.2%): This dry-farmed plot lies due north of Anderson Valley -- remote even by Mendocino terms, which is saying something. The Anthill crew derived a brooding, coniferous specimen in this vintage, full of Douglas fir, nori and dark earth aspects, and plummy skin grip to it. A year in the cellar will make it even better.
2011 Hirsch Vineyards Bohan-Dillon Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($34, 13.2%): While the rare 2010 Reserve may be one of the best wines ever to come from Hirsch, the vineyard's young-drinking effort, made by Ross Cobb (Cobb Wines), captures the nuance of this vintage on the coast. A blend of younger Hirsch fruit with neighboring parcels, it's bright and acid-driven, with more mineral edge than tannin, and a great fruitiness: sour cherry, watermelon, dried chamomile.
2010 Papapietro Perry Peters Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($54, 13.5%): Ben Papapietro and his crew tapped this site at the western edge of the appellation, near Sebastopol, for a deft take on a tricky year. A plush toasted-oak aspect and ripe black fruit mix with intriguing nutmeg and watermelon skin. Mostly, there's remarkable acidity, and a suppleness to the texture -- a modest expression for this label, but a beautifully finessed one.
2011 Rhys Bearwallow Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($59, 13.5%): Rhys' Kevin Harvey has had this steep Mendocino site since 2008; this vintage it finally seems to have come into its own. There's a meaty, musky aspect -- more darkly mineral than Rhys' Santa Cruz wines, and full of aromatics that bolster robust cherry fruit: winter savory, juniper, dried porcini. Densely flavored and ready to age.
2011 Haden Fig Cancilla Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($30, 13.5%): Before they took over the popular Evesham Wood label, Erin Nuccio and wife Jordan had this label of their own. Cancilla is a cool spot in a cool region, and this a cool year. And yet this wine exudes a savory, complex side -- a sign of mastery in the cellar. Sea spray and dried herbs add to plum and huckleberry fruit, with just enough tannin to ensure some aging potential.
2011 Soter North Valley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($30, 13.4%): Pinot veteran Tony Soter and winemaker James Cahill found a floral nuance in this blend of several sites. There's weight from juicy plum flavors, but also jasmine, fresh mineral and a red currant vibrancy.
2011 Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($25, 12.7%): Winemaker Melissa Burr, a Willamette Valley native, nailed the silken texture that was elusive for many in a cold vintage. This younger-vines bottling, plush and oak-accented, evokes a sunny forest: bergamot, nutmeg and dried bark scents provide nuance to the deep cherry flavors.
2011 Suacci Carciere Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($30, 13.2%): This effort from the Suacci family and winemaker Ryan Zepaltas isn't their estate bottling, rather from a mix of nearby parcels. It's a great expression of the tidy, dark-fruited Russian River style, buoyed by terrific acidity and lilac aromas.
CABERNET AND MERLOT
It is a good time to be a Cabernet lover on this coast, in part because 2010 provided a great, long-lived vintage, and in part because the beauty of Cabernet -- as compared with heft -- is making a welcome comeback.
This isn't universal, by any means, but both in California and Washington there's a level of nuance in many top wines that shows a willingness to combine opulent fruit with the variety's savory side, the latter of which seemed to get lost for a while (and still is in some high-dollar efforts).
On that: Prices of top wines are, sadly, creeping north again. We've heard the arguments, but all the logic surrounding Napa land costs and all the comparisons to classed-growth Bordeaux won't change the fact that Cab lovers are increasingly faced with tough wallet choices. That makes the efforts of wineries to provide affordable second wines, like Ridge's Estate Cabernet, all the more vital. Cabernet Franc, meantime, continues its worthy ascent. And Merlot, having endured its years in the doghouse, is re-emerging, with efforts that show just how distinctive the grape can be.
2010 Dominus Estate Napanook Yountville Red ($59, 14.5% alcohol): The rising price of the mainline Dominus makes its second wine an even better deal this year -- in a vintage that was almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon (98 percent), with just a touch of new oak. This is classic Napa benchland in its best state: fully fleshed, complex and showing a sleek side full of green olive and blackberry fruit. An especially age-worthy vintage.
2010 Larkmead Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($75, 14.7%): Andy Smith and Dan Petroski found a perfect balance of the cooler vintage and the lushness that the valley floor can yield at this historic Calistoga site. Dense and chewy, with a charred-herb complexity and ripe black fruit. A great example of modern Napa done right.
2010 Spottswoode Estate St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon ($145, 14.5%): One of the most seamless Spottswoodes in years, with all the muscle of the St. Helena benchland, yet a total refinement of its fresh tannins. The deep, rich licorice and cassis are matched by fragrant bay leaf and lavender aspects, and layers that keep emerging.
2010 Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette Spring Mountain District Red ($125, 13.8%): This vintage brought two new advisers to this historic property: Patrick Leon (ex-Mouton-Rothschild) and Bernard Hervet (Burgundy's Faiveley). It also yielded an Elivette with more Cabernet Franc (36 percent) and a markedly different style than of late -- one that nods to earlier Napa without giving up its Californian bones. Smoky ancho chile and graphite add a savory side to fresh, intense fruit.
2010 Continuum Napa Valley Red ($175, 14.7%): By 2010, Tim Mondavi had all but completed his move to grapes from his Pritchard Hill estate. It was a year for mountain fruit to shine. A big dose of sultry oak (100 percent new) mixes with dried spearmint, cinnamon stick and sandalwood, and a perfect integration into the lush black fruit. Seductive in its display of Pritchard Hill tannins without coming across as stiff or overly lavish.
2010 Snowden The Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($42, 15%): In a ZIP code where $100 gets a shrug, the Snowden family -- and winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses -- brings remarkable finesse to the fruit from its longtime Napa property above Rutherford. The Ranch, their second wine, is more immediate, but its spice and silken tannins provide a depth to blackcurrant flavors that show Cabernet at its classiest.
2010 Betz Family Clos de Betz Columbia Valley Red ($55, 14.2%): The leaner lines of Betz's Merlot-dominant (58 percent) 2010 Clos are truly appealing, with a bit of warm new oak to underscore the savory side of that grape and of Cabernet: dried juniper, chicory and birch bark, all balanced by a distinct juiciness to the berry and blackcurrant fruit. There's a vivacity that's reminiscent of some Betz vintages from nearly a decade ago.
2010 Favia Cerro Sur Napa Valley Red ($145, 14.8%): Annie Favia and Andy Erickson tapped the bounty of Coombsville for this mix of two-thirds Cabernet Franc, with Cabernet Sauvignon making up the rest. The Franc provides a subtle smoked paprika aspect, plus black olive, coffee and sleek, classic blackcurrant fruit. It's the spicy side that elevates it, plus fine, bright tannins that reveal Coombsville's strength.
2009 Robert Sinskey POV Napa Valley Red ($38, 13.8%): From Rob and Maria Sinskey's biodynamic vineyards comes a sign of what both Sinskey and the Carneros region do so well, namely the black-tea freshness of great Merlot and the spicy, sultry side of Cabernet Franc (plus Cabernet Sauvignon). Tangy and still young, it's got a brightness to the tannins and tobacco and oregano accents to deepen the plummy fruit. Bonus for label photos that display a realistic side of Wine Country.
2010 Cadence Tapteil Vineyard Red Mountain Red ($45, 14.4%): There's lots to like in Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt's lineup from 2010, but the Tapteil, with its often brawny Red Mountain tannins, is a winner for the cellar. The tannins are there, but with a magnitude of brambly fruit, plus rich earth, espresso and burnt sage from a mix of about two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon plus Franc and Merlot, that will keep getting better with time.
2010 Matthiasson Red Hen Napa Valley Merlot ($80, 13.3%): Steve Matthiasson's talents with white wines and Italianate fare are well known, but he's been championing Napa's classic reds for years -- including this brilliant specimen of pure Merlot from Oak Knoll, and a vineyard (known as Block 74) that once provided Christian Brothers with top fruit. Loamy and accented with jasmine, walnut shell and smoke, its brambly fruit frames the most gorgeous side of an often trampled grape.
2010 Purlieu Le Pich Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45, 14.5%): This newly launched Coombsville project combines the cellar talents of Julien Fayard and the vineyard skills of Steve Matthiasson. There's a particular charm to its second wine, Le Pich, which displays the juiciness that Coombsville can do so well, with a black-olive and cedary side to deep blackcurrant fruit. This degree of complexity in Napa rarely comes at this price.
2008 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($75, 14 1/4%): A momentous year for Mayacamas, which was acquired by Charles Banks and the Schottenstein family from longtime owner Bob Travers. Travers made this current vintage, and the forward nature of the 2008s balances Mayacamas' hard-edged ways, making this as approachable as you'll find from the legendary Mount Veeder property. All the tension, earthiness, wintergreen and black-olive depth are there, but also fleshier cherry fruit that provides a weight that makes it ready to enjoy now -- although another decade of aging wouldn't dent it a bit.
2010 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50, 13.9%): A fine vintage to witness the payoff of Bo Barrett's long work in Napa. This blended wine uses fruit from beyond the estate, aged mostly in older oak, in a vintage that's a reminder of Montelena's great successes over the years. Focused and spicy, with fleshy cherry, nutmeg and dusty tannins, a quintessential Cabernet.
2011 Leonetti Cellar Walla Walla Valley Merlot ($75, 14%): This grape remains well tended in the hands of the Figgins family, which has begun incorporating larger oak vessels into its Walla Walla cellar. The cool year, plus the alluring Leonetti style, add up to a fragrant, earthy specimen of Washington's best, full of chamomile, beef stock and robust cherry fruit. Age-worthy, but not austere.
2010 Scarborough The Royale Columbia Valley Red ($35, 14.4%): This mostly Merlot- and Franc-based blend from Travis Scarborough, based in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, remains a treat. There's particular delicacy this year: a spicy, vibrant side that brings sage, olive and freesia accents to racy berry fruit.
2010 Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($48, 14.2%): Greg Harrington has finessed both the Cabernet and Rhoneish realms in eastern Washington, and this time it's the former that's the one to beat: a Washington Cabernet based on fruit from Pepper Bridge, his own estate and elsewhere, that's full of a sanguine tang, cured tobacco and the dusty tannins Walla Walla does so well, all framing beautifully extracted fruit.
2010 Januik Champoux Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($55, 14.4%): A classic Washington pairing: veteran hand Mike Januik and the Champoux vineyard, which at 41 years has been a part of the state's wine lore since the very start. A super combination, with a quiet magnitude: hay, dust, a kirsch-like glow to its fruit flavors, and the power of tannins and subtle oak that demonstrate the maturity of Champoux's vines.
2010 Revelry Vintners The Limited Edition Reveler Columbia Valley Red ($35, 13.9%): Walla Walla's Jared Burns tapped several top sites for a classic Bordeaux-styled mix that displays fresh cherry fruit, subtle oak, graphite and a black-tea aspect. Densely flavored and very pretty.
2010 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Red ($160, 13.2%): Paul Draper is now the rare vintner opting for full disclosure on cellar work. Here he reveals a smidgen of deacidification in a cool, sleek vintage -- and one of the best Monte Bellos of the decade. If just a touch behind the timeless 2009, this is still a nearly perfect wine: dense, meaty and retaining the ethereal quality Ridge does so well. The savory sides -- celery, beef broth, a mineral tang -- combine with zesty blackcurrant fruit that always marks this historic site. Expect to enjoy it for at least another 20 years.
2011 Andrew Will Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc ($25, 12.8%): His single-parcel wines were superb, but Chris Camarda has embraced affordability in an astonishing way -- using the same top sources for bottles like this. This particular Franc combines fruit from Camarda's outstanding Two Blondes vineyard with Champoux and Ciel du Cheval for a result that's pleasantly smoky in its robust plum fruit, with heady accents of basil and fennel -- a reminder of how charming Washington Franc can be.
2010 Stony Hill Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60, 13.5%): This second vintage of Cabernet from the McCreas, already making white wine in Napa for 60 years, is a great snapshot of Spring Mountain in subtle form: full of eucalyptus and medium-roast coffee, and vibrant redcurrant and plum fruit. The dried-leaf side of Cabernet is here, and plenty of structure to warrant a stay in the cellar.
The big story for the Rhone-minded this year is a great spike in the quality of California Syrah. Not all of it by any means, but whether due to the chill of 2011 or a partial weeding-out of the less than obsessive, now is a time to take heart about the state of this wonderful but often under-loved grape.
Grenache continues to show its virtues, as does Mourvedre. In all, it adds up to a terrific time to be enjoying these varieties -- and to discover both old terroirs like Napa's Phoenix Ranch and new ones like Mark Adams' patch of Paso Robles.
2011 Drew Family Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Syrah ($45, 12.8%): Jason and Molly Drew are less well known for Syrah, but this parcel at the western border of Anderson Valley shows the grape's beauty on an obscure coastal edge. Tons of spice here -- a mix of green and black peppercorns, and a mint-leaf freshness that builds on plum and wild blueberry fruit. Its savory side is astonishing in its depth, less meaty than minerally, with perfect focus in its flavors.
2011 Hudson Vineyards Pick-Up Sticks Carneros Red ($39, 14.1%): Lee Hudson's vineyard work in Carneros is the stuff of legend -- including his Syrah -- but this Rhone-inspired mix, led by Grenache (with Syrah and Viognier) aged most in old oak casks is a brilliantly different take on a well-known region. Intensely perfumed with juniper and huckleberry, and a birch-bark warmth, it's nuanced and full of bright fruit.
2011 Lucia Garys' Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah ($45, 14.1%): The Pisoni family's efforts with Syrah are less well known than a certain P grape, especially in the Garys' vineyard, but it might be what they do best. Intense, savory and balancing deep blue fruit with violets, fine-ground pepper, cardamom and a hint of savory wood, with impressively refined tannins to bolster the texture. A benchmark for California Syrah.
2011 Jolie-Laide Phoenix Ranch Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah ($36, 13.8% alcohol): Scott Schultz is better known for his intriguing Trousseau Gris, but he got hold of fruit from one of California's great Syrah sites in Napa's Coombsville area. It's warmly flavored and relatively generous in its ways: cardamom and violet amid a peppery funk -- plus plummy fruit and a grippy texture. Schultz's work in the cellar of Syrah master Pax Mahle is paying dividends.
2010 Ledge Adams Ranch Vineyard Paso Robles Syrah ($55, 14.5%): While Mark Adams has put in time with the region's stars (Saxum), he also grew up in the Paso area; this comes from own-rooted vines on his family's land, about a mile from the famed James Berry plot. This is big, powerful Paso that sacrifices neither focus nor savory nuance. Fermented with whole clusters in neutral oak, it's pungent and inky, full of sweet grilled-meat aromas, black licorice and plum liqueur.
2011 Four Fields El Dorado Grenache ($18, 14.4%): If Ron Mansfield is the Sierra foothills' grape guru, he and his son Chuck launched this effort as their own interpretation of Grenache, a grape Ron knows like few others. It's hard to find this much quality at the price, specifically in a blend from the well-known Fenaughty vineyard and the Mansfields' own Goldbud planting. Vibrantly scented, with charcoal and allspice aspects that lift blackberry fruit.
2011 A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Santa Barbara County Grenache ($45, 14.4%): Angela Osborne's Grenache-focused project spread wings in this vintage to additional vineyards, but her original source high in the hamlet of Ventucopa remains a mainstay. The year brought a tenser, more evanescent aspect -- plenty of warm caramel and carob scents, and a rooty low tone, like bitter chocolate, but also a delicate minerality to subtle strawberry flavors. There's more structure than it first shows.
2011 Wind Gap Sonoma Coast Syrah ($36, 12.7%): Considering the quality of Pax Mahle's varietal Mourvedre and Grenache, it's hard to anoint this wine for a second year in a row. But Mahle made his name on Syrah, and this blend of three top vineyards (Nellessen, Majik, Armagh) is almost overwhelming in its cracked black pepper spice and transparent, pure flavors. Dried forest leaves, dusky plum fruit and licorice root, plus a minty freshness and intense tannic structure mark it as a new standard for New World Syrah.
2010 Holly's Hill Petit Patriarche El Dorado Red ($20, 14.5%): The Cooper family's tiny Placerville label remains a top source for affordable, minerally Rhone-inspired wines. This mix of 86 percent Mourvedre with Grenache and Syrah, aged in neutral oak, provides a beautiful foothills expression: Flowers, white pepper and dried thyme accent fresh red berry fruit. Mourvedre to enjoy in the moment.
2011 Enfield Wine Co. Haynes Vineyard Coombsville Syrah ($36, 12.6%): John Lockwood, a veteran of Littorai and Ehren Jordan's Failla, tapped another Coombsville resource: the cobbly Haynes vineyard, which also houses some of Napa's oldest Chardonnay. Surprisingly fruity given the savory style -- plum and aniseed and black olive -- with a remarkable concentration of tannin that adds structure to back up that fruit. Showing Napa Syrah's best, expressive side.
2011 Sheldon Ceja Vineyard Sonoma Valley Grenache ($40, 12.8%): Dylan and Tobe Sheldon tapped a well-known vineyard at the edge of Sonoma, abutting Carneros, albeit not one known for Grenache. Their light hands in the cellar show in whole-cluster fermentation (atop some white-grape lees) and aging in neutral oak. The result is wonderfully silken and savory, with green-olive and lily scents to lift delicate strawberry fruit.
ZINFANDEL AND OTHER REDS
It's a wonderful time to be a lover of classic Zinfandel. From the Sierra foothills to the heart of Sonoma, there are now examples that show the beauty of this most Californian of grapes in its pure form.
That ranges from the work of old-vine believers like Turley and Bedrock (often incorporating the rest of the state's old field-blend roster) to a bottle like Lagier Meredith's Tribidrag -- a very literal tribute to both Napa's bounty and the grape's noble, long history.
Carignane continues to provide its mettle up and down the state, and there are even some signs of hope for old Barbera, a grape with a proud (if uneven) California history, and one that deserves to be framed by noteworthy winemaking.
2012 Broc Cellars Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel ($27, 12.7%): Chris Brockway has once again redefined what's possible with Sonoma Zin. Buoyed by grape-stem spice that offers a pink peppercorn and dried thyme savoriness, this is packed with red berry fruit -- Zinfandel's enticing raspberry flavors, but more the freshness of a summer market than opening a jar of jam. Zinfandel that speaks fluent Pinot Noir.
2011 Forlorn Hope San Hercumer delle Frecce Amador County Barbera ($30, 13.9%): Matthew Rorick tapped one of the great foothills sites, Ann Kraemer's Shake Ridge Vineyard, for his work with Barbera. If many examples of that grape are unwieldy, this is pitch perfect: classic balsam aromas, a stony mineral side, tart cherry and oregano. Refined and tightly wound, it's a reminder of how Amador Barbera can succeed when handled with care.
2011 Hobo Branham Rockpile Vineyard Rockpile Zinfandel ($30, 13.2% alcohol): The Hobo wines aren't always the flashiest in Zin-land, but Kenny Likitprakong's 2011s are extraordinary -- including what might be the most distinctive expression of Sonoma's Rockpile I've encountered. Exuberant and floral, with intense raspberry fruit and a marjoram aspect. It's a masterful tribute to the fresh and heady Zins that the hillsides near Dry Creek once offered.
2010 Limerick Lane Sonoma County Zinfandel ($30, 14.5%): Another project from the Bilbro family, this time from brother Jake, who has taken over this longtime name in Zinfandel. Limerick's appellation bottlings this vintage were outstanding: classically styled expressions of Sonoma Zin. This countywide blend brims with cedar, fresh blackberry and a celery-salt savory aspect.
2011 Turley Wine Cellars Judge Bell Amador County Zinfandel ($32, 15.4%): Judge Bell marks Turley's return to Amador County. (Larry Turley bought the old Karly property last year, but this wine predates that.) There's rich, brambly fruit, plus sagebrush and cinnamon, and a brightness to the tannins thanks to the granite-based sandy soils at the Story vineyard near Plymouth. It's big, as Amador Zin is, but remarkably well mannered. And since Turley's wines are setting Zin benchmarks these days, if this is hard to find, the wider-release 2011 Juvenile ($20, 15.5%) will provide just as much pleasure.
2011 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel ($24, 14.8%): This historic label, still run by the Seghesio family but now owned by the Crimson Wine Group (Pine Ridge), continues to fight the good fight for Zin. Its blend from the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys is a great snapshot of both regions' abilities with the grape. A dusty, tannic side adds an edge to the sweetness, like crumbs from spiced cookies; it anchors the raspberry, blackcurrant and classy oak notes.
2011 Bedrock Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Contra Costa County Red ($30, 15.2%): A tribute both to Contra Costa and Frank Evangelho's site in Antioch, a century-old mix of Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Carignane and various white grapes. Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson is a true believer in Evangelho, and his own description of the wine is enthusiastically unprintable. (So was mine, frankly.) The structural finesse of those sandy soils provides a dusty, coppery aspect that bolsters brambly blackcurrant and berry fruit, heightened by the fragrance of lavender and aniseed. Profound, inky and astonishingly complex, a victory for the virtues of old vines and field blends.
2012 Idlewild Testa Vineyard Mendocino County Carignane ($32, 13.2%): Sam Bilbro's family (Marietta Cellars) knows plenty about North Coast heritage varieties, many of which are highlighted by this newly launched label from Sam and his wife, Jessica. Their Carignane is from Testa, an old dry-farmed site in Calpella near Highway 101. With carbonic maceration on one-third of the fruit, this has both a high-toned fragrancy -- iris, chamomile -- and funky low tones. It's deeply fruited and distinctly textured, like the best part of chewing a cherry.
2011 Lagier Meredith Tribidrag Mount Veeder Red ($45, 15.1%): Quick translation -- this is Zinfandel. But Carole Meredith, having solved the puzzle of the grape's historic roots, certainly earned the right to call it by its archaic name. She and husband Steve Lagier have produced an extraordinary specimen from their Napa property, full of candied violet and crushed stone to accent bright red fruit and wild blueberry. A beautiful example of Napa's abilities with the grape ... no matter what name it goes by.
2011 Neyers Vista Luna Borden Ranch Zinfandel ($24, 14.6%): Bruce Neyers' label has created several homages to the classic Zins of the '70s, and this one is crafted by Tadeo Borchardt from Markus Bokisch's amazing property in eastern Lodi. It's got warm plum fruit and sassafras, plus a dry dusty side that shows the fine tannin derived from the radiant heat of cobbly quartz soils. A reminder of Zinfandel's charms from a generation ago, with both ample fruit and structure.
Jon Bonn? is The San Francisco Chronicle's wine editor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jbonne Tasting coordinator: Sarah Fritsche