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New Wine Reviews



Balzac Communications was kind enough to send me a few wines, even though I’ve been retired for three years, so, as is my wont when this happens, it’s only proper for me to review them on my blog.

A mini-vertical of Parducci “True Grit” Petite Sirah (Mendocino), 2004-2006.

It’s almost a given that wine critics call Petite Sirah ageable. I nearly always did in my career, for a couple reasons. First, it’s really tannic in youth, but balanced, and secondly, I’ve been lucky enough to taste many old Petite Sirahs, so I have first-hand experience. A good one, from a good vintage, will last for decades, in the right cellar. And Parducci’s Petite Sirah is always good; at Wine Enthusiast, when these three wines were released, I gave the 2004 93 points, the 2005 89 points, and the 2006 I scored at 90 points. I’m happy to say the wines continue to offer plenty of interest.

2006: The wine was $30 on release, a lot for a Peite Sirah, but it was quite good. I called it “consistently one of the best in California” and gave it 90 points. It was tasty when I reviewed it in 2009, and now, eight years later, it still is, although it’s showing its age. The fresh fruits—blackberries, currants—are drying out and turning savory and leathery, and there’s a soft, dark chocolate unctuousness, but the spices are still there, and so are the tannins. It’s a very nice wine to drink now, elegant and complex. I would keep the score at 90 points.

2005: When the wine was first released, I called it “young, dry, jammy, acidic and tannicly immature,” a rather “aloof” wine. Now, at the age of 12 years, it’s really blossomed. The tannins are resolved, although still firm, and the primary blackberry-cherry and cocoa nib flavors are evolving into secondary status: dried fruits and currants, with those mushroom, leather and bacon notes that mark more mature bottles of the variety. The wine now has a softness that makes it round and supple. Lovely to drink now, and will last for another ten years, at least. Score: 91 points.

2004: I gave the ’04 my highest score of the three wines, at the time of its release, but it has not aged as well as the ’05 or ’06. The official alcohol on all three wines, according to the winery, is 14.5%, but the ’04 tastes hotter than the other two. The 2004 vintage was, after all, a scorcher. There were multiple heat waves in the crucial month of September that overripened many grapes. I predicted, in April, 2008, that the ’04 True Grit would age, but I was wrong. The fruit is beginning to fade, with a pruney taste and porty heat replacing what once was fresh blackberries and cherries. Perhaps this was not a good bottle. Score: 84 points.

Locations non-vintage NZ Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand); $20.  I have to admit I was not a fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc when I was a working critic. I guess I was used to a richer California style. The green, pyraziney aromas were off-putting to me. The pyrazines are certainly there in this wine (call them gooseberries, if you prefer), but for whatever reason, in my dotage my palate has changed, and now I find this green, grassy herbaceousness, when done well, as it is here, adds an attractive, stimulating complexity. In the mouth, while it’s dry, there’s a lot of succulent, sweet fruit: nectarines, a hint of papaya, green melon, figs, and a brilliantly clean, swift acidic minerality. No oak, of course, to get in the way. This is an eminently sippable wine that I would happily drink every night, especially with the right appetizers. Goat cheese comes to mind, smeared on toasted sourdough bread, sprinkled with olive oil and chopped chives and a few grains of good salt. The alcohol is 13.5%. Score: 90 points.

Parducci 2015 “85” Red Wine (Mendocino County); $45. This red blend is rustic, a word I use to describe a wine that is not elegant, in fact awkward in texture, but okay for everyday drinking. There’s a green pepperiness that’s unusual in a California Bordeaux blend, which this is (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc). Fruit-wise, a kick of black cherry brings needed richness, rounded out by vague oak notes. The finish is very dry, and the tannins are pretty hefty. The “85” designation is to acknowledge Parducci’s 85th anniversary, which surely is worth celebrating. Drink this wine now and over the next year or two. Good with steak fajitas. Score: 87 points.

[The following wines were from my cellar, but I thought I’d include them.]

Staglin 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford); $185 on release. When I reviewed this, in late 2011, I wrote that it was a great success for a challenging vintage. I gave it 94 points, and praised it for the lush, dramatic flavors, although I warned it didn’t seem to be a long-term keeper. My judgment now is pretty much the same. It’s still rich and flamboyant in blackcurrants and dark chocolate, yet with a jacket of tannin-acid control that lends elegance and complexity, and seems perfect for drinking now. I suppose it will continue to glide path for another five or ten years, but why wait? Score: 95 points.

MacPhail 2011 Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $49 on release. When I reviewed this, back in the Spring of 2014, I gave it 92 points, and remarked on the acidity, which I called “vibrant.” Now, at the age of six, acidity remains a fundamental feature, making the wine almost sour, except for the core of raspberry, persimmon and rhubarb, which give it a balancing, sweet fruitiness. But what I like best is the complexity. There’s so much going on. The fruit is melding into herbs and mushrooms, so that the flavor experience changes second by second, in an exciting tension between fruit and earth. In my review, I suggested drinking until 2019. I still think that’s the case, and the sooner, the better. Score: 92 points.

MacPhail 2011 Rita’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills); $49 on release. I gave it 92 points back in the Spring of 2014, and called it “flashier than anything that MacPhail has produced in their Sonoma County Pinots.” Indeed, it is a thrill ride of colorful flavors: raspberries, cherries, vanilla parfait, just as rich as they were 3-1/2 years ago. The wine has barely aged. It still has a spine of minerals and that tingly acidity that makes it so clean, although not as tart as the Sangiacomo. I really love drinking this wine, which will pair well with anything Pinot Noir traditionally goes with. For some reason I’m thinking of beef tacos, but anything from filet mignon to ahi tuna. salmon or wild mushroom risotto will highlight the wine’s beauty. Score: 94 points.

Inizi 2012 Charbono (Calistoga); $32. Decades ago, when Charbono used to be planted in considerable quantities in California, I went to a vertical tasting in which we tried bottles that were 20-30 years old. I formed my impression then: A rustic, dark, full-bodied wine in youth that will live practically forever, gradually throwing tannins without necessarily growing more complex. I first reviewed this 2012 near the end of my career at Wine Enthusiast, gave it 90 points with an “Editor’s Choice” special designation, and called it “bone dry and tannic” but “food-friendly [and] of considerable interest.” I wouldn’t change a word. It’s still as black as a moonless night, with just a hint of garnet at the edge, and the aroma, of blackberries and dark chocolate, remains youthful. It’s still dry and tannic, yet at the age of nearly five years, the fruity sweetness is struggling to overcome the astringency, and very nearly succeeding. No doubt it will still be drinkable in 2037. I like this wine a lot despite its rusticity. It makes me think of comfort fare: pizza, short ribs, Szechuan beef, pepper steak, a great cheeseburger. The alcohol is a modest 13.4%, which gives it a shabby-chic elegance. Score: 90 points.

  1. Very interesting. Back several decades ago when we used to visit California and drink California wines, we made several visits to Parducci. I recently bought a bottle of their 2013 “Small Lot” Petite Sirah. I found it perfectly adequate. It must be an entirely different product from the ones you review here, as I paid $10.
    As to the Charbono, I’m not familiar with this producer, but I fondly recall drinking Inglenook Charbono in my younger days. I think your description is spot on — dark, full-bodied, will live forever, losing tannins but not growing more complex.

  2. Bob:

    This should take you down memory lane . . .

    From Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine
    (August 06, 1989):

    “Rare But Well Done : Charbonos by Inglenook Are Neither Common Nor Costly”

    By Robert Lawrence Balzer
    Wine Editor

  3. Jim and Beth Summers’s eponymous winery produces a Charbono from the “Villa Andrian Vineyard” in Calistoga (Napa Valley).

    Quoting the back label of their 2012 bottling:

    “A very rare varietal, Charbono is . . . Now only found growing in less than 50 acres in California.”

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