Highlights from a tasting of Pahlmeyer wines

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I had my first opportunity to taste a variety of Pahlmeyer wines in November. Pahlmeyer is a Napa producer that fits squarely in the ultra-luxury California idiom: technically fine-tuned wines made from extremely ripe grapes, with the consequent high alcohol, and generally aged in a very high percentage of new French oak.

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The highlight of the tasting was actually the very first wine served, the 2012 Chardonnay Wayfarer Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, Sonoma Coast (private order in Canada, through Small Winemakers Collection, expected price about $110 CAD). The wine is light gold, with aromas suggesting white flowers, fresh lemon zest and grapefruit juice over vanilla and oak resin. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, but quite balanced and clean, wearing its 14.5% alcohol rather lightly. While the palate has lots of cream and yoghurt texture, it still maintains some freshness that lingers on the finish. Despite its character as a highly oaked (65% new French) and ripe California Chardonnay, it shows some genuine freshness and verve from its Sonoma coast origins. (91)

The 2012 Wayfarer Pinot Noir (Wayfarer Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, Sonoma Coast, 14.5% alcohol, estimated price via private order over $100.00) was also intriguing. What I particularly liked was the rich fruit profile on the nose, ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries, some earthiness, along with vanilla and oak spice. The palate displayed the rich, ripe fruit, and while there was some balancing acidity, I found just a little too much heat from the alcohol. This is well worth trying for those who embrace (and can afford) this style of Pinot Noir. (90)

Finally I want to mention the Pahlmeyer standard-bearer, their 2011 Proprietary Red, Napa Valley (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, and 1% each of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, 15.2% alcohol, Vintages #329375, $160.95). The wine is opaque ruby, with an intense nose suggesting ripe blackberry, black currant and blueberry fruit, a hint of dried twigs underneath, all swathed in vanilla, coffee and baking spice. The wine is ripe, rich, bold and dense on the palate, with elevated alcohol and tannins, and enough acidity to carry through the mid-palate. A big wine from a slightly cooler vintage that fits the profile of a luxury Napa Cab. (91).