Sampling odds & ends: 12-19-13

Frog-kissing has been the primary order of the day at the Ward sampling table of late, with way more mediocre or crummy wines than good ones getting sipped and then dumped down the drain.

Among the highlights and lowlights:

• There has been a lot of chatter about the problematic 2011 vintage in northern California, including this post from the tireless and always interesting Steve Heimoff. I had not noticed much moldiness or other flaws in the pinot noirs I’ve been tasting, but a set of $15-$25 cabernets I just tried showed funk in some and no expressiveness whatsoever in others (one of my notes: “null set”). Clearly, a lot of producers had little idea what to do with one of California’s coldest vintages in decades.

• Paul Hobbs (below) has still got it. After wading through a buttload of Argentinian malbec that hobbslacked fruit, anything in the midpalate, or both, I finished with his 2012 Felino by Vina Cobos Mendoza Malbec. Juicy red fruit, a deft touch with the oak, just enough earthiness and a longish finish later, I had recovered from the spate of overblown and often way-over-smoky malbecs that preceded it.

• A few years ago, Doug Shafer of the estimable Shafer Vineyards told me that he was “almost ecstatic every time we pulled up a sangiovese vine” from the winery’s disappointing foray with “Firebreak.” Shafer switched to syrah, a much better fit for Napa anyway, and last year its “Relentless” was Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year. During Shafer’s transition, the so-called Cal-Ital movement appeared to be comatose.

Thankfully, others hung in there with sangiovese, and most of the ones I’ve tasted recently have been stout efforts, including the vibrant Midnight “Starlight” from Paso Robles and the Graziano Family’s lovely, balanced Monte Volpe bottling from Mendocino. In recent years, I also have enjoyed two delicious sangioveses coming out of the Dry Creek Valley: Ramazzotti and Unti. Viva Cal-Italia, I say.

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