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Wine Reviews



This is another of my occasional wine reviews. I’m not looking to do this a lot, but if wineries care to send me tasting samples, I’ll review them. I have no financial connection to any of these wineries.


En Garde 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); $98. I gave their 2007 Reserve 95 points and a Cellar Selection back when I reviewed it 1-1/2 years ago. This was my first taste of the ’09 Reserve, but my former colleague at Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone, recently gave it 94 points, and another Cellar Selection. There’s something about the aroma, right out of the bottle, that suggests fresh blood that must come from Diamond Mountain’s volcanic soils. Also an eruption of black currants, cassis liqueur and vanilla-y new oak, with something herbaceous: black olive tapenade? An impressive, well-structured, even dramatic wine, but very young. The official alcohol is a mere 13.9%, but it actually feels more spirituous than that, suggesting pairing with a well-marbled steak. You really do want to cellar it for at least six years. Score: 93.

En Garde 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); $78. It’s not clear why En Garde has three major Cabernet-based wines from Diamond Mountain, when it seems like two would do: a regular and a reserve. Having said that, this “regular” Cab is quite impressive, rich and bold in blackberries, black currants, red licorice and blueberries, with a grip of tannins and the acidity to get your mouth watering. It has the same blood-iron tang as the Reserve. It’s the brightest, most accessible of the three, which is why it’s my top-rated of their ‘09s. But it also will develop for a dozen years in the cellar. Score: 94.

En Garde 2009 Adamus (Diamond Mountain); $78. I’ve always given high scores to En Garde’s Cabs, and here’s another one. It’s a rich, generous wine that, at nearly six years of age, is starting to shed its youthful precociousness and develop true bottle bouquet. There’s intensely concentrated mountain fruit, in the form of black currants from Cabernet Sauvignon and red cherry liqueur from Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot contribute additional complexities of perfume and structure. There’s a grain of rocky stone that comes from the soil that feels structurally hard in the mouth. We do have to talk about the alcohol which, at 15.5%, is quite high. It does not impact the wine itself, except to give it some body and heat. But it does make it heady. I would drink this lovely wine now. Score: 92.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 545 Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville): $29. Who knows where Cameron Hughes gets his grapes and/or wines? He’s a negociant of sorts, and the details of his deals are secret. But somebody sold this to Cameron at a great price, and consumers benefit. It’s a very good Cabernet, dry, full-bodied and richly tannic, with proper varietal flavors of blackberries, black currants, black licorice and dark, unsweetened baker’s chocolate. There’s some spirituous heat throughout, but all in all, this is quite an interesting wine that grows as it breathes in the glass. What a super value. Score: 92.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 515 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): $32. Monte Rosso Cab for thirty-two bucks? Yes, and it’s a very good one. It shows the mountain concentration of this famous vineyard, with intense flavors of black currants, cassis liqueur, licorice and raisins, with a firm minerality. The tannins are wonderfully smooth and complex. At 15.4%, it’s high in alcohol, but the slight heat is part of the overall package, and the wine is balanced. This is really a wonderful Cabernet that will gain in the bottle over the next four years, but it’s fully ready to drink now. Score: 93.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 535 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $29. From a Calistoga mountain vineyard. Lots of juicy cherries, licorice and red currants in this lovely Cabernet, along with a touch of cocoa powder, anise and pepper. The tannins are ultra-smooth, and there’s a great bite of acidity. Full-bodied and silky, it combines power and elegance, the way Napa Cab should. It’s an absolutely delicious wine right out of the bottle. No aging necessary, just a top-notch Cab. Score: 92.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 525 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $29. This is a Cabernet that tastes more expensive than it is. It has a plush, full-bodied mouthfeel that’s so expressive in black currants and blackberries, it could only be New World Cabernet, and quite a good one, at that. There’s some oak here, too, just enough to provide a hint of smoke and woodspice. The tannins play an important role, being thick and complex, but silky, making the wine easy to drink now. You’ll find some liqueurish heat from alcohol that characterizes many Napa Cabs, but it’s nothing a great steak can’t handle, and provides a pleasant, heady buzz. Forget spending $50 or more on a Napa Cabernet if you can find this one. No wonder it’s so good; it’s from Stagecoach Vineyard. Score: 91.

Save Me San Francisco 2013 California 37Cabernet Sauvignon (California); $15. Burgers? Pizza? Tamales? Chopped liver? Sure. This wine is just fine. Don’t be snobby, just gulp it down. Shows nice, ripe blackberry jam and cassis liqueur flavors, with a touch of smoky oak. The brand is from the rock band, Train, and their hearts are in the right place: All profits go to Family House, a San Francisco charity that provides temporary housing to seriously ill kids who are being treated at U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital. Score: 84.


Save Me San Francisco 2013 Calling All Angels (California); $15. Chardophiles will find the usual buttered toast, peach, orange, pineapple, vanilla, cream and toast flavors. The wine is a bit thin and watery, but the price is fair, and it’s clean and zesty. The brand is from the rock band, Train, and their hearts are in the right place: All profits go to Family House, a San Francisco charity that provides temporary housing to seriously ill kids who are being treated at U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital. Score: 84.


Save Me San Francisco 2012 Hella Fine Merlot (California); $15. Tastes like cherry-flavored cough medicine, with a slight sweetness and a punch of acidity. It’s the kind of wine someone will serve you at a party, and you’ll drink it with burgers or beef teriyaki and not get all bent out of shape. The brand is from the rock band, Train, and their hearts are in the right place: All profits go to Family House, a San Francisco charity that provides temporary housing to seriously ill kids who are being treated at U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital. Score: 83.


Krupp Brothers 2012 The Doctor (Napa Valley): $100. The blend on The Doctor this year is 48% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. Tempranillo always plays a major part in The Doctor, and good for Krupp for continuing to tinker with this elusive and often frustrating variety. The 2012 is a lush, complex wine that will have you reaching for metaphors. Raspberries, blackberries and cherries are there, jammy and savory. So are violets, licorice and sage, and a leathery sweetness that may include a touch of brett. Oak barrels bring that smoky, charred wood edge, leading to a finish that’s impressively long in spices and cherry essence. With firm tannins and fine acidity, it’s a wine you can drink now, after careful decanting, but it will have no trouble negotiating the next 12 years. Score: 92.


Handley 2014 Pinot Gris (Anderson Valley); $20. I’m sure there are lots of foods that will pair well with this wine, but pot stickers surely must be among the best. It’s a little sweet, with residual sugar of 1.8%, which gives a honeyed taste to the oranges, papayas and nectarines. The malolactic fermentation was prevented, so the acidity is just right, giving the wine balance and savoriness. It’s a clean, satisfying sipper from a region that does very well with these Alsatian varieties. Score: 89.


Handley 2012 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $32. Handley’s Pinot style is to make a lighter-bodied, more elegant wine, and they’ve succeeded. The ’12 is very dry and elegant, with complex flavors of raspberries, cherries, cured tobacco, dusty spices and dried herbs. The acidity is just fine. It’s not a blockbuster Pinot, and not an ager, but a very pretty, polished and interesting wine for drinking now. The price and quality make it a good restaurant by-the-glass wine. Score: 89.

En Garde 2012 Olivet Court Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $54. A pretty wine, silky and polished, showing lots of deft winemaking skill. The alcohol is a refreshingly moderate 13.5%, so there’s no heat to the cranberry, pomegranate and raspberry fruit. But there is a pleasing earthiness that suggests cured tobacco and dusty Asian spicebox. Plenty of acidity too, to cut through the fat of roasted salmon or lamb. It’s a bit light in body, and probably not ageworthy, but a very pleasant, upscale Pinot Noir for drinking over the next three years. The Olivet Court name refers to a part of the south-central Russian River Valley that produces distinctively cool-climate Pinots. Score: 90.

En Garde 2012 Starkey Hill Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $54. Give this wine a little time to breathe before you drink it. Right out of the bottle, it’s tight and earthy. After a little while, the prettiest aroma of raspberries emerges, although there’s still a wild mushroom scent, and the sweet, charred richness of broiled steak fat. Very fine, refreshing acidity and smooth tannins give the wine tremendous structure. The wine is from a vineyard near Green Valley, planted in the famed Goldridge soil, which seems to give it a distinctive translucency and delicacy. The alcohol is a moderate 14.1%. I would decant it for an hour or two and drink it now, or hold it for up to four years, but only in a cool storage place. Score: 92.

En Garde 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $60. A bit severe and brittle, with lots of acidity and a bone dry finish. There’s a nice core of raspberries and cherries, and sweet, smoky oak has been tastefully applied. But that acidity is quite searing. It’s also a little hot, even though the official alcohol is only 14.3%. Needs rich, fatty foods, like grilled salmon, to balance it out. Score: 88.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 483 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $24. For the price, this is one of the best Pinots on the market. It’s so easy to drink, with a silky texture and rich flavors of raspberries, red licorice, cola and toast. All the parts are nice; it’s just a little on the watery side. Score: 87.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 482 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $22. This is a Pinot Noir a good restaurant could sell by the glass at a very fair price. It’s a bit thin, but elegant and silky and dry, with proper Pinot flavors of raspberries, licorice, cola and spices. It has lots of vital acidity. There’s some heat from alcohol, which suggests drinking it with rich, smoky, fatty meats, like steak or lamb, although it would probably overpower salmon or sear Ahi tuna. Score: 88.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 481 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $24. Nicely dry and silky in the mouth, showing real Pinot delicacy. You’ll find flavors of cola and raspberries. The wine turns somewhat harsh towards the finish, the result of acids, tannins and some green tannins. Give it an hour or so of decanting and drink now. Score: 86.

Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 480 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $22. I don’t think this wine is capable of aging, the way many 2012 Russian River Valley Pinots are. It’s too thin. But it does offer plenty of Pinot quality, and drinks very well now, which makes it an especially good value at this price. Bone dry, with plenty of mouthwatering acidity, its flavors are fairly complex, ranging from raspberry and cherry Lifesaver candy to root beer, leather, coffee, mushrooms and exotic baking spices. Oak adds a layer of toast and sweet vanilla. If I owned a restaurant, I’d look for this for my by-the-glass program. It’s the best of Cameron Hughes’ new 2012 Pinot Noirs. Score: 90.

Save Me San Francisco 2013 Soul Sister Pinot Noir (California); $15. With Pinot Noir more than any other variety, you get what you pay for. With this wine, you get a fifteen buck Pinot Noir. It’s delicate and silky enough, and the alcohol is nice and low, but the wine is tough and gritty, with a scoury mouthfeel and thin strawberry, smoke and spice flavors. The brand is from the rock band, Train, and their hearts are in the right place: All profits go to Family House, a San Francisco charity that provides temporary housing to seriously ill kids who are being treated at U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital. Score: 84.


Senses 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $??. This polished blush is marked by three things: dryness, acidity and delicacy. The grapes come from near Occidental, and the vineyard is sustainably farmed. The color is sort of salmon-orange, which is typical of Pinot Noir rosés, and there’s an earthiness that accompanies the strawberry, grapefruit and orange peel flavors. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.2%. It’s a lovely rosé, fancy and sophisticated. I’d love this with sushi. Sorry I don’t know the price. The winery didn’t tell me, and it’s not on their website. Score: 89.

Siren Song 2013 La Vie Est Belle Pinnot Noir Rosé (Lake Chelan): $25. The Lake Chelan appellation is located within the greater Columbia Valley of Washington State. With an unusual salmon-orange color, the wine is 100% Pinot Noir, a variety that not too many people are vinifying into rosé. It’s a good, sound wine, marked by dryness and mouthwatering acidity. Flavorwise, it’s all about strawberries with a slightly green tinge, with complexing notes of orange and lemon rind and an intriguing herbal quality suggesting dried sage. The alcohol is a refreshing 13.5%. In a day and age when everyone is trying to get a rosé onto the market, this successful bottling is a welcome addition to the club, less fruity than most California rosés and perhaps for that reason more interesting. Score: 88.


Save Me San Francisco 2013 Bulletproof Picasso Sauvignon Blanc (California); $15. This brand is from the rock band, Train, and its guitarist, Jimmy Stafford. The label depicts the famous “Painted Ladies” on San Francisco’s Steiner Street, near where Train used to rehearse. All profits go to Family House, a San Francisco charity that provides temporary housing to seriously ill kids who are being treated at U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital. The grapes hail from Monterey County, and that region’s cool climate up in the mouthwatering acidity. The wine is quite dry, with interesting flavors of guavas, green melons and lemon curd. The alcohol is a refreshingly modest 13.6%. Production was 15,000 cases. The winemaker suggests pairing with garlic prawns, and I can’t do better than that. Score: 87.


Siren Song 2013 The Muse Blanc de Noirs (Lake Chelan): $45. This is a good, proper, everyday sparkling wine. It has an invited aroma of baked dough, vanilla, limes and raspberries. In the mouth, it’s a little scoury, with vanilla bean, toast, citrus and raspberry flavors. You can taste the dosage in the sweetness. There’s a nice creaminess throughout. Score: 88.

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