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My latest wine reviews

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This is the latest of my occasional wine reviews. I hope you enjoy.


Vina Robles 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles); $24. There’s a tartness to this Cab that gives it a cranberry-like bite. The acidity is quite high, which makes me wonder if it was added or is natural. At any rate, it does throw the mouthfeel off balance. Flavorwise, everything is perfect. Blackberry preserves, dried black currants, cassis liqueur and a fine layer of smoky oak. The tannins are just right for Cabernet: thick, dusty and intricate. And the finish is long and impressive. If it weren’t for that acidity, I’d give it a much higher score. Drink now, with fatty, greasy foods, like barbecued beef. Score: 88.

Healdsburg Ranches 2013 California Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon (California): $14. Every great wine-producing region needs a good, sound, affordable bottling that shows what it’s capable of. We call these sorts of wines “rustic” or “charming” or whatever, and what that means is, “Hey, this is a really nice, easy-drinking wine, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.” This is that kind of wine. Who knows where the grapes came from? Who cares? It’s dry, full-bodied and tannic, the way Cabernet should be, with flavors of black currants, raisins, mushu plum sauce, unsweetened baker’s chocolate and a touch of smoky oak. It all leads to a peppery, slightly bitter finish. Score: 88.

Stonegate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford): $35. Here’s a big, juicy, ripe Cabernet, brimming with the pure essence of blackberries and black cherries. There are complexing notes of black tea and licorice, while oak adds a delicious coating of smoky toast and vanilla bean. The all-important tannins are strong and sweet, while just-in-time acidity adds to the structural integrity. All in all, a very good Cab, easy to drink now with steak. It will hold in the bottle for five years or so. Score: 90.


Healdsburg Ranches 2013 “The Ranch Reserves” Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $19. Ripe and oaky, this will please Chardonnay fans who like this style. The underlying fruit flavors are strong in pineapples, peaches, limes and kiwi fruits, while oak brings those toasty vanilla notes that come from wood. There’s a buttered popcorn taste that may come from the malolactic fermentation. Meanwhile, the acidity is nice and crisp, and the mouthfeel smooth and creamy. There may be some residual sugar, to judge by the sweet finish. Not bad for the price. Score: 87.

Senses 2013 Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast): $35. There seems to be a movement towards drier, lower alcohol, more minerally and less fruit-driven Chardonnays, and this bottle could stand as its poster child. It’s all those things, and more, with the sleek stone profile of Chablis, relieved by hints of golden apricot, orange peel and Meyer lemon. There’s some new French oak, not too much, just enough to provide a jacket of vanilla bean and smoke. In such a wine, the lees play an important part, giving it a yeastiness that becomes an integral part of the profile, the way it does with Champagne. Acidity also plays an important role. I continue to believe there’s a place for lush, ripe, buttery, flamboyant Chardonnays in California, but it’s interesting that wines like this are emerging to give consumers a choice. Score: 90.

Knez 2013 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay (Anderson Valley): $39. Knez is a new winery for me. I’m including them in my upcoming tasting of Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. I bought that bottle; they graciously included a free Chardonnay in the box, so I’m reviewing it. The vineyard sits at 1,500 feet, in the mountains above Boonville. Way back in late 2004, I reviewed a 2002 Demuth Chardonnay (from the winery of that name). My description of it could fit this 2013 from Knez. I called it dry, leesy, acidic and streamlined, “doesn’t hit you with fruit,” but I liked the minerals. Same here. I guess it’s the extreme elevation. This is an elegant, rather austere and bone dry wine whose limey acidity makes the mouth water. Fruit-wise, it suggests Meyer lemons, grapefruits and perhaps some tropicality and white floweriness. If they had let the grapes hang longer, it would be a richer wine, but then, the alcohol wouldn’t be a mere 13.2%. So what you see is what you get: severe, Chablisian, an acquired taste. But if you can dig that taste, you’ll find lots to be intrigued by. Score: 90.


The Wine With No Name 2013 (Central Coast); $15. From Truett Hurst. They don’t tell us what the blend is. It could be anything, but who cares? Anonymity is the name of the game. It’s a lovely wine, dry, tannic and full-bodied, with good acidity. Spicy, too, with black currant, tobacco, blackberry and blueberry jam and leathery flavors. All in all, somewhat rustic, but easy to like, especially with barbecue. I’m giving it an extra point or two because it’s so easy to drink, even though it’s not particularly complex. Score: 90.

Vina Robles 2012 Estate Petite Sirah (Paso Robles); $29. To call this wine “rustic” is accurate. Its tannins are a little awkward, and the flavors veer towards briary, brambly wild blackberries, tobacco, sweet leather, teriyaki beef and chamomile. The finish is entirely dry, but what’s harder to put into words is the feeling that this is a wine that no doubt tastes better where it was made, with a locally-grown meal, than it does if bought in a store or restaurant. It’s certainly impressive for the sheer volume of fruit: so ripe and savory and delicious. The grapes were grown all over the extensive Paso Robles region and then blended “for overall synergies,” says winemaker Kevin Willenborg. It’s a big, hearty wine you want to drink with hearty fare: short ribs, certainly, or barbecued beef in these waning days of summer. It will warm your bones during the cold winter months. I like it a lot, but the basic rusticity keeps on coming back. Score: 89.

A pair of Petite Sirahs from Retro Cellars

Retro 2011 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley); $35.

Retro 2011 Petite Sirah (Howell Mountain); $45.

I have long admired these two bottlings from Retro, which has done a good job with Petite Sirah from both appellations.

Of the two, the Napa Valley is firmer, drier and more structured. It’s quite dry, with substantial tannins and a leathery earthiness to the blackberries, raspberries, cocoa powder and soy sauce. The finish is long and spicy, like red licorice. It is a wine that can take some time in the cellar, but it’s drinkable now, although I would decant it. The vineyard where the grapes were grown is in the Pope Valley region. The official alcohol is 13.4%, which is lower than you’d think tasting it. Given the tannins, I would drink this wine with the richest, most complex foods possible: short ribs of beef, Chinese Mongolian beef, or beef or chicken in a Mexican mole sauce. Definitely for fans of big, full-bodied, complex red wines. Score: 91.

Then we come to the Howell Mountain. It is completely different, as opposite in flavor as you can imagine. The wine is softer, sweeter and riper than the Napa Valley, although the word “sweeter” is misleading, for it’s completely dry. But it does dazzle with the ripest, most succulent raspberries and red licorice, and seems oakier too, with that sweet, wonderfully toasted wood quality. It is perhaps notable that the wine was aged in 100% new French oak for 30 months. That amount of wood would swamp most red wines. Not this one. Once again, the official alcohol level, 12.8%, seems weirdly low, given the ripeness. Considering the wine’s forwardness and accessibility, I would pair it with a good steak, and drink it soon. Score: 92.


Vina Robles 2014 White4 (Paso Robles); $16. I’ve always liked this interesting, offbeat white blend from Vina Robles. The quality is high, and the price is crazy good. This year, the blend is based on Viognier, with smaller quantities of Vermentino, Verdelho and Sauvignon Blanc. In the history of the world, these varieties have never met, but it works here to produce a pleasant wine, with great complexity. There are flavors of tangerines, white peaches and vanilla bean. No oak was introduced, so what you get is what the grapes give. There’s sweetness in the finish, but the acidity is great, providing balance. What a nice wine to drink with Asian fare: pot stickers, Vietnamese chicken or pork dishes, spicy Indian lamb or Thai fish cakes. The winemaker recommends fish tacos, which sounds good. Score: 89.


Senses 2013 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $40. What a pretty Pinot Noir. It has the translucent clarity you expect from a Sonoma Coast Pinot, with fine acidity highlighting complex strawberry and cranberry fruit flavors. There are exciting hints of wild mushrooms, licorice, exotic Indian spices and cured golden tobacco, leading to a long, contemplative finish. The wine is fairly tannic, and has excellent brisk acidity, both of which give it structural integrity. The alcohol level is 14.2%, just enough to give body, but not so much as to give heat. As good as this wine is now, I would age it for four more years, and who knows, it could be rocking in 2023. Score: 91.

Senses 2013 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $55. This is exactly the kind of Pinot Noir those clamoring for more “balanced” wines are asking for. The alcohol is officially 14.2%, lowish, if not super-low. The wine is bone dry. The mouthfeel is silky, and yet the flavor profile is deep and intense. The vineyard is in the Occidental area, on a hillside with good drainage. The 2013 vintage fully ripened the grapes, so that the wine has raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate flavors. The tannins are fine, the acidity brisk and mouthwatering. French oak has been tastefully applied, bringing notes of sweet vanilla and toast. All in all, this is a high-quality Pinot Noir, balanced and beautiful now on release, and capable of at least six years of aging. Score: 93.

Waits-Mast 2012 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $45. The immediate impression of this wine is that it’s robust in flavor and quite tart in acidity. This hit of acid marks the winery’s 2012 Pinots in general. The wine, which is a combination of multiple Dijon clones, was grown in a tiny block of the vineyard, at a high-altitude above Philo. Production was a mere 48 cases. It is rich in raspberries and cherries, licorice, sassafras and pomegranates, as well as earthy, foresty things, like wild mushrooms and balsam. With alcohol at 13.5%, it has a delicate mouthfeel. The acidity calls for pairing with fatty foods: steak, tuna, lamb. But I have a feeling this is an ager. You can drink it now, after a few hours of decanting, and through 2025. Score: 93.

Waits-Mast 2012 Nash Mill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $40. The Nash Mill Vineyard is in the northwestern, cooler end of the valley, and is owned by the family that owns Husch. The wine is entirely dry, with significant acidity and yet a delicate mouthfeel. The flavors in this good vintage are quite ripe, suggesting raspberries and strawberries, with vast amounts of exotic spices and a fine earthiness. It has what might be called a gout de terroir. But it’s a touch hot in alcohol (officially 14.5%), which is a limiting factor. Some critics liked this wine more than I do. Drink now-2017. Score: 89.

Waits-Mast 2012 Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge); $42. People grow old-vine Zinfandel in the high mountains of the Mendocino Ridge, so Pinot Noir can be a challenge, as this wine is. It feels a bit too hot in the mouth. The flavors are lovely, ranging from raspberries and strawberries to the most deliciously earthy wild mushrooms and Asian spices. The tannins are smooth and fine. Yet for me, it’s marred by the heat and also by high acidity, both of which combine to make it fierce. Score: 88.

Waits-Mast 2012 Oppenalnder Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $44. As with the winery’s other 2012 Pinots, I found this immediately to be quite tart in acidity, which emphasizes the alcoholic heat even though the official reading is just 14.2%. There are gorgeous flavors, of raspberry and cherry jam, with a nice earthy mushroominess and a good smoky overlay of oak. But when I taste a Pinot Noir I don’t want the first impression in my mouth to be of acid. Even as the wine warmed and breathed in the glass, which is when it might soften and become more mellow, it gave my palate the bite of a stingray. Very hard to explain this phenomenon. Score: 87.

Waits-Mast 2012 Deer Meadows Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $55. A fierce bite of acidity marks this young Pinot Noir. It has concentrated flavors of raspberry and cherry pie filling, with lots of dusty exotic spices, a rich coating of smoky, toasty oak, and an earthy taste of wild mushrooms. It also shows the wild, feral quality of Pinot Noir you associate with the Fort Ross-Seaview area, which is quite pleasant and complex. The problem is the acidity. It’s cuts like a razor blade through the palate, and doesn’t seem like it will fade away with time. Score: 88.


Truett Hurst 2014 Bluebird Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley); $23. Classic Sonoma Sauv Blanc here, dry, brilliantly crisp in acidity, and with grassy flavors that venture into richer notes of green melons, peaches, limes and tropical fruits. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.8%. If there’s any oak, it’s not apparent. What you get is purity and cleanliness, and plenty of flavor, and a hint of honey on the finish. You have to give this wine credit for being so well-made and easy to drink. Score: 90.

Vina Robles 2014 Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles): $16. Sauvignon Blanc may be Paso Robles’ little white secret. The wines across the board are good; Vina Robles’ 2014 Estate is very good. It fulfills all the basics, being dry and zesty in acidity, and the grapefruit, Meyer lemon, Asian pear and papaya flavors have a tart grassiness that’s lovely. No wood here, just clean, pure 100% Sauv Blanc. Winemaker Kevin Willenborg wisely chose not to put the wine through the malolactic fermentation. Score: 90.


Inconspicuous 2013 Zinfandel (Lodi); $20. Captures the essence of zinniness in its briary, brambly flavors of juicy summer blackberries, blueberries and dark chocolate. With sweet tannins and a dry finish, it’s smooth and round in the mouth, and wears its highish alcohol well. If it’s hot out, drink it with a nice summer barbecue. If it’s cold, this wine, which contains 20% Petite Sirah for body, will pair well with beef stew. Score: 88.

  1. Vina Robles 2012 Estate Petite Sirah (Paso Robles)

    Maybe this is the type of Petite Sirah that Anthony Dias Blue was railing against?

    “Petite Sirah “garbage”? C’mon, Andy Blue!” – Steve Heimoff Wine Blog


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