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Top 6 wines of the week


This week saw a mostly poor showing, so the Top Ten wines has been reduced by 40%. Too many of the wines I tasted were marred by the California Dullies, as in dull: they were clean and well-made, and they showed proper varietal character, but somehow failed to excite. A wine has to be pretty good to make my Top Ten list.

There are some wineries that never seem to rise above a certain mediocrity, even though they charge high prices and obtain their grapes from coveted regions. I could name many, although I’m thinking of one in particular in the Santa Rita Hills that primarily makes Pinot Noir. I’ve tasted their wines since 2002 and managed only once to give one a score of 90 points, for a 2006 single-vineyard Pinot. The rest of the scores ranged between 82 and 88. This winery’s neighbors consistently score higher. It’s a mystery. Either the proprietor is deliberately aiming only at a middle level (and why would that be?) or else he doesn’t know that he’s under-performing.

Merryvale 2007 Oakville Grade, $75, 400 cases, 14.9%. This rich Bordeaux blend comes from various vineyards throughout Napa Valley, including Beckstoffer ToKalon. Will age for a decade. Praise also for Merryvale’s 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Silhouette Chardonnay.

Kirkland Signature 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. A wonderful value in a rich, smooth Napa Cabernet. $20, case production not revealed, 14.5%.

Taz 2008 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir. Taz’s best Pinot in years, from this well-regarded vineyard in the southern Santa Rita Hills. $35, 1,384 cases, 14.7%.

Clos Pegase 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Cassis and chocolate flavors mark this blend from up and down Napa Valley. $43, 3,941 cases, 14.9%.

Navarro 2009 Estate Gewurztraminer. $19, 3,430 cases, 13.6%. Another Bingo! Gewurz from Navarro. Spicy and zesty, with crisp Anderson Valley acidity.

Athair 2008 Pinot Noir. $36, 919 cases, 14.7%. This Russian River Pinot is good to drink now.

* * *

Off later today for Monterey town and the Great Wine Escape Weekend, which Wine Enthusiast co-sponsors. Tonight, I “host” a 5-course dinner, with each course accompanied by two Monterey Pinot Noirs, for a total of 10 wines not counting, I suppose, introductory glasses of white. I hope I’m still standing and able to enunciate clearly by the end. (I put “host” in quotation marks because I don’t know what other word to use. “Host” sounds like I’m paying for it, which I’m obviously not. I’m just there to introduce winemakers and talk a little about the wines.) A few years ago, at this same dinner, I drank a little too much and called Chef Cal Staminoff “Stal Caminoff.” It’s unusual to stick to a single variety throughout an entire dinner. Many years ago, in one of the most famous wine and food pairings in California history, Alice Waters created a dinner at Chez Panisse at which only Yquem was served. That sounds strange to us, but don’t forget that in the 19th century Sauternes was routinely served with the roast beef, showing how times and tastes change.

Have a great weekend!

  1. Between your description above and WE’s online database, I’ve found two possibilities for your habitual under-performer. Not quite a perfect match based on time and scores, but pretty darn close.

    Maybe this producer has a full mailing list of folks who like the style as it is. Who knows? Your descriptors are pretty darn close to objective, but scoring is anything but objective. It’s mostly hedonic. Are the wines deficient or are they just not quite hitting your favorite notes?

  2. Greg, I think most practiced reviewers would give this winery’s Pinots lower scores than most of its neighbors.

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