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WINE REVIEWS

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MAY 2013
2011 Arietta On the White Keys White Wine California
($65) (79% sauvignon blanc and 21% semillon; bottled in July of 2012; one-third malolactic fermentation; aged in a combination of new oak, neutral oak and stainless steel barrels; the sauvignon blanc comes from three vineyards on Sonoma Mountain and the semillon from Hyde in Carneros): Bright yellow color. Pungent aromas of pineapple, lemon drop and botanical herbs. Tactile and glyceral-rich, but with the racy energy of the vintage giving verve and lift to the citrus and floral flavors. Really steely and fresh--and built to age. A faint note of dried fig from the botrytized semillon adds complexity to the finish.

2010 Arietta Artists' Reserve White Wine California
($85) (a 50/50 blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc; aged in 50% new and 50% used oak and bottled 20 months after the harvest): Bright yellow. Highly perfumed aromas of sage, juniper and botanical herbs. Thicker and less gripping than the 2011 On the White Keys but still nicely light on its feet, with racy acidity giving energy to the long, resiny aftertaste. A classically dry and energetic example.

2010 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
($65) (a blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon, 2% merlot, 19% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot; mostly from fruit grown in the cooler Coombsville area): Bright red with ruby highlights. Sexy, smoky aromas of brambly redcurrant, truffle, brown sugar and leather. Fat, thick, supple and sweet, but with harmonious acidity giving shape to this pliant blend. The tannins here are not as refined as those of the cabernet sauvignon, but the wine is nonetheless in a soft and very accessible style.

2010 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
($125) (100% cabernet sauvignon from Coombsville): Bright medium ruby. Musky, inviting aromas of blueberry, licorice, earth and bonfire. Sweet, plush and deep, with a distinctly layered mouth feel and no shortage of energy. Really mounts and builds on the long, structured, gripping back end. An outstanding and very fresh example of Coombsville cabernet.

2010 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon 88 Keys Napa Valley
($275) (two barrels of the best cabernet from Coombsville were selected for their density and aromatics and given an extra five months in barrel; bottled in December of 2012): Saturated, bright medium ruby. Inviting nose offers cassis, leather, black pepper and cocoa powder. Very suave and fine-grained, with harmonious acidity carrying the dark fruit and cocoa flavors through a very long, resounding finish. Polished tannins coat the front teeth. This is amazingly fresh for a wine that was only bottled in December of 2010.

2010 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
($100) (a 67/33 blend of syrah and merlot): Good deep, bright ruby-red. Musky, very ripe aromas of black raspberry, spicecake, menthol and meat; just this side of roasted. Large-scaled, plush and rich, with the wild meaty quality carrying through in the mouth. Impressively big, thick wine, but can't match the 88 Keys for lift. Finishes with ripe, building tannins and excellent persistence. (There is no H Block in 2010, as the cabernet franc was hit by branch necrosis as a result of the severe heat spike in late August.)

2011 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
(62% cabernet sauvignon, 19% cabernet franc, 17% merlot and 2% petit verdot): Dark red-ruby. Expressive aromas of black raspberry, pepper, mocha, leather, menthol and coffee. Dense and sweet but youthfully tight, with a sappy impression of firm acidity energizing the mid-palate. Finishes savory, peppery and perfumed, with a firm tannic spine. Not a thick wine but one that boasts excellent energy and supporting spine.

2011 Arietta Merlot Hudson Vineyard Napa Valley
Bright red with ruby highlights. Idiosyncratic nose combines raspberry, game, sage, sandalwood and sassafras. Fine-grained, vibrant and juicy; plenty dense but bright acidity gives the wine a light touch. Conveys a low-pH feel for a red from this producer, and yet shows a lot of personality. Finishes with serious, dusty tannins and excellent length. Different and captivating. An outstanding California merlot in the making.

2011 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
(a 50/50 blend of cabernet franc and merlot): Knockout perfume of redcurrant, tobacco leaf, brown sugar and cinnamon. Precise and perfumed in the mouth, with terrific lift and incipient complexity to the dark berry, brown spice and floral flavors. Tannins are firm but not at all hard or dry. Finishes with outstanding focus and lingering aromatic character. This wine has only been racked once. Delivers the energy and class of the best examples from this tricky vintage.

2011 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
(entirely from Coombsville): Bright ruby-red. Varietally precise aromas of raspberry, currant, tobacco leaf, pepper and fresh herbs. Dense, sweet and very intense; not hugely thick but wonderfully refined and light on its feet. Not quite as complex today as the H Block blend but boasts superb dark berry intensity and has the serious tannic structure for a long and graceful evolution in bottle. (Incidentally, there will be no Variation One in 2011, as the syrah was hit hard by rot.)

MAY / JUNE 2011
2009 Arietta On the White Keys White Wine California
($65) (sauvignon blanc with 18% semillon; 30% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation): Lemon-yellow. Bright, pungent sauvignon blanc aroma of candied grapefruit peel combines nicely with honeyed semillon on the nose. Then sweet and aromatic in the mouth, with lovely freshness and acid grip to the flavors of pineapple, grapefruit, kiwi, ginger and lichee. Distinctly tropical but light on its feet and perfumed on the finish. This was entirely fermented in barrel, one-third stainless steel, one-third new oak and one-third neutral oak.

2009 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
(a blend of 62% cabernet sauvignon, 17% each cabernet franc and merlot and 4% petit verdot): Good ruby-red. Expressive aromas of black fruits, violet and licorice pastille. Sweet, supple and spicy; not especially nuanced but offers plenty of early appeal. Sound, almost peppery acidity frames and enlivens the lush blueberry and spice flavors. Finishes with good energy and sweeter tannins than the 2008 is showing today.

2009 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
(78% cabernet franc with 22% merlot): Bright ruby-red. Blackberry, violet and flinty minerality on the nose. Juicy and tightly wound, with strong minerality carrying through on the classically dry palate. Not at all a sweet style, and the 14% alcohol is on the low side for this bottling. Finishes with dusty, slightly chalky tannins. This needs more elevage.

2009 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
(includes 6% cabernet franc and 2% merlot): Full medium ruby. Brooding but vibrant aromas of cassis, spices, dark chocolate, mint, pepper and violet. Urgent black fruit flavors convey superb concentration, but this very young and suave wine is like a tightly coiled spring today. Boasts terrific cabernet energy and depth of fruit and finishes with firm but ripe tannins. In fact, today this makes the H Block wine seem dry by comparison. This is mainly from Meteor Vineyard fruit, with a bit from Kennefick Ranch.

2009 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
(52% syrah and 48% merlot): Good full ruby-red. Smoked meat dominates dark fruits and gravel on the lightly reduced nose; much more syrah than merlot showing today. Sweet on entry, then seriously backward in the middle, with a piquant note of orange peel lifting the dark berry and smoked meat flavors. Tightens up on the back end, finishing classically dry, with substantial but rather lush tannins. Has the spine to age slowly.

2008 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
($50) (62% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 10% merlot and 2% petit verdot): Bright, deep red-ruby. Reticent aromas and flavors of currant and smoky oak; the most forward of these 2008 reds today. Supple, broad and sweet; not as dense as its 2008 siblings, but finishes with good length and aromatic lift. The substantial dusty tannins turned a bit dry with air.

2008 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
($150) (this is 100% cabernet franc for the first time; normally this includes some merlot but winemaker Andy Erickson said this frost-affected fruit was picked much later and the decision was made not to use it): Bright red-ruby. Aromatic nose combines smoke, flint, spices and violet. Then tightly coiled and firm in the mouth, with lovely energy framing the flavors of cassis, blackberry, violet and spice. A solidly structured wine that finishes with building tannins. Should be long-lived. Still, I miss the mid-palate pliancy normally contributed by the merlot. Winemaker Erickson notes that there were no heat spikes in 2008 to compromise aromas.

2008 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
($125) (includes 15% cabernet franc from Hudson Vineyards): Good deep red-ruby. Lovely lift to the aromas of cassis, violet, licorice and flint. Tight, cool, structured and backward; juicy and youthfully imploded--and quite uncompromising today, even if the tannins are rather suave. I like the fruit salad note provided by the cabernet franc, but this this very closed, almost medicinal wine needs time.

2008 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
($100) (a 55/45 blend of syrah and merlot): Full ruby-red. Ripe aromas of black plum, violet and spices lifted by piquant notes of pepper, citrus peel and dried herbs. Firmly built and energetic, with fruit of steel. This boasts outstanding inner-mouth energy and a powerful spine for aging. A sexy suggestion of white fruits adds interest. Finishes long and perfumed, with excellent lift. A superb showing, but there's more to come for the patient collector.


MAY 2010
2008 H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley (100% cabernet franc for the first time, as frost and rain at the peak of bloom resulted in the loss of 80% of the merlot) Deep ruby. Pungent graphite minerality lifts the dark berry and violet aromas. Dense, sweet and seamless, showing the floral and mineral side of the cabernet franc--and the vintage--in spades. Less lush than the 2007, and a bit wilder. Finishes with very suave tannins.

2008 Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley (55% syrah and 45% merlot) Full ruby. Blackberry, licorice and violet on the nose and palate. Quite fresh, even brisk, on the palate, with lively acidity giving definition to the middle palate. Finishes with firm tannic structure and a continuing note of licorice. Less opulent and explosive than the young 2007, and slower to reveal its meaty syrah side, but the flavors of black fruits, licorice and flowers show noteworthy energy for a wine that Hatton told me has a pH of 4.15.


MAY / JUNE 2009
2007 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Bright, saturated ruby. Vibrant aromas of black fruits and licorice. Densely packed and shapely, with good floral complexity and definition to the highly concentrated dark fruit and mineral flavors. A very young and gripping cabernet with noble tannins and superb length.

2007 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
(a 60/40 blend of syrah and merlot) Wild but reticent aromas of musky roast coffee and espresso; less meaty than the 2006. Lush and fine-grained, with surprising energy and acidity to the black raspberry flavor. A more brooding style than the 2006, but finishes with suave tannins.

2007 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
Good deep red. Aromas of black fruits, dark chocolate and licorice. Sweet, lush and generous, with complex and enticing flavors of black raspberry, chocolate and roasted herbs. This is deeper than the 2006 and finishes with noble tannins and impressive lingering sweetness. Winemaker Erickson describes 2007 as "more classically ripe and balanced than 2006. It has all the elements, with big ripeness." (My sample of the 2007 Hudson Vineyards merlot was too low in SO2 to assess with confidence.)

2007 Arietta On the White Keys White Wine California
($65; 80% sauvignon blanc from Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain and 20% semillon from Hyde) Pale, bright yellow. Wonderfully fresh aromas of grapefruit pith, honey, lanolin, minerals and fresh herbs. Dense and sweet, with terrific grip and pungency to the flavors of grapefruit, lemon and anise. Wonderfully chewy and tactile wine with a reverberating finish. This stayed fresh in the recorked bottle for days. Most of the sauvignon blanc component did not go through malolactic, but all of the semillon did-"to accentuate its honeyed character," noted winemaker Erickson.

2006 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
(60% cabernet franc and 40% merlot, co-fermented) Deep ruby-red. Complex nose melds black and red fruits, licorice, minerals, dark chocolate and dried herbs. Smooth and creamy on the palate, with good weight but also excellent energy. This lush, sweet blend tightens up toward the back, finishing with noteworthy breadth and substantial dusty tannins.

2006 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
(from David Abreu's Howell Mountain vineyard and Meteor Vineyard in Napa) Deep medium ruby. Very dark, perfumed aromas of crushed cassis, blueberry, mocha and menthol. Dense, sappy and spicy, with terrific energy to the flavors of dark berry liqueur, game, licorice and menthol; I picked up a note of Cointreau. This superconcentrated wine boasts a generous texture but also has superb supporting structure and energy to ensure a long evolution in bottle. Finishes with big, broad tannins and terrific length.

2006 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
(55% syrah and 45% merlot, co-fermented) Good full medium ruby. Wild aromas of black raspberry, game, smoke and gravel. Lush and sweet, with the gamey quality joined by chocolate and roasted herbs on the very ripe palate. Finishes with substantial fine-grained tannins. Big and rich but fresh: winemaker Andy Erickson told me he uses the merlot "to tame and freshen the syrah, and to lower the wine's pH."

2006 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
(48% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 16% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot) Good, deep ruby-red. Rather sullen aromas of bitter chocolate, licorice, smoke and menthol. Sweet, layered and deep, with a subtle sweetness to the flavors of blueberry and dark chocolate. Finishes with sweet tannins and an edge of acidity. Impressive for what is essentially this producer's entry-level wine.

2006 Arietta Merlot Hudson Vineyard Napa Valley
Dark red. Aromas and flavors of plum, minerals and dark chocolate, plus a whiff of menthol. Very ripe, sweet and lush, with impressive depth and power for North Coast merlot. Finishes with serious but ripe tannins and a suggestion of black olive.


MAY / JUNE 2008
2006 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
($150; a 60/40 blend of cabernet franc and merlot, co-fermented) Good deep ruby. Black raspberry, mocha and menthol on the nose. Sweet, creamy and densely packed, with rather wild flavors of raspberry, mocha, game and tobacco. Structured, backward wine with terrific length. The building tannins show full ripeness.

2005 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
($100; 55% syrah and 45% merlot) Wild aromas of mocha, graphite and game, with a complicating note of roasted nuts. Sweet, plush and seamless, but with excellent energy to the layered black fruit flavors. This comes across as remarkably vibrant for a wine with a pH of 3.9. Finishes with building but very fine tannins and excellent length.

2006 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
($125; 96% cabernet sauvignon and 4% petite verdot) Deep blue-tinged ruby. High-pitched aromas of cassis, blackberry, violet, menthol and mint. At once juicy and smooth, with intense black fruit flavors supported by a firm structural underpinning. Finishes long, fresh and youthfully medicinal, with fine tannins arriving late and coating the teeth. Elegant and strong.

2006 Arietta Quartet Red Wine Napa Valley
($85; a new wine that includes 45% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 22% merlot and 7% petit verdot) Full ruby-red. Blueberry, violet and mint on the nose. Juicy, fresh and vibrant, with firm acidity and solid tannic backbone giving it very good flavor definition. Today, this is the least fleshy of these young 2006s, with the result that the tannins come across as more dusty. A bit oaky on the back end too. From David Abreu's vineyard on top of Howell mountain, plus some cabernet franc from Hudson vineyard.

2006 Arietta Merlot Hudson Vineyard Napa Valley
($75) Good full ruby-red. Captivating aromas of black raspberry, smoked meat, bitter chocolate and minerals. Lush, sweet and seamless, with a deep core of raspberry and chocolate flavor firmed by minerality and complicated by a saline nuance. Deep, sexy, chewy wine, finishing with building tannins and excellent length. Merlot with real personality.

2005 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
($150) Good deep ruby-red. Captivating aromas of black raspberry, mocha, minerals, milk chocolate and nutty oak, lifted by sexy spices. Rich, luscious and creamy, with terrific weight in the mouth. Wonderfully supple and mouthcoating wine with smooth, sweet tannins and excellent persistence. This wine is based on 80% cabernet franc, the highest percentage since Arietta's outstanding 1997 red blend, which was indistinguishable from a topnotch St. Emilion when I last tasted it a year ago.

2005 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
($100; a 70/30 blend of syrah and merlot) Good deep ruby-red. Knockout wild nose combines black fruits, violet, mocha, bacon fat and game. Silky on entry, then less obviously sweet in the middle palate than the young 2006, with an insidious intensity to its smoked meat and mocha flavors. Finishes with building tannins. This is rich but in an awkward stage today.

2005 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
($125; a blend of 76% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cab franc and 6% petit verdot) Deep ruby-red. Aromatic nose features cassis, licorice, bitter chocolate and spices. Lush, rich and stuffed with fruit, but with underlying minerality and harmonious acidity giving life to the middle palate. Intriguing floral and dried sage notes add complexity. A solidly built midweight with some youthfully firm tannins that reach the front teeth. The 2006 may have more tannins and sheer size but this wine is also in need of patience.

2006 Arietta On the White Keys White Wine California
($65; 85% sauvignon blanc from Sonoma Mountain and 15% semillon from Hyde Vineyard in Carneros) Medium yellow. Pungent aromas of lemon, pineapple, fresh herbs, honey and hay, with a hint of lanolin. Then pure, dry and zesty in the mouth, with mouthwatering flavors of orange peel, stone fruits, hazelnut and spices framed by bright acidity. Very fresh and harmonious white wine, not to mention long on the aftertaste.


MAY / JUNE 2007
2005 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine Napa Valley
(A 67/33 blend of cabernet franc and merlot) Bright ruby. Cassis, licorice and violet on the nose. Silky and noble on entry, then penetrating, intense and sharply defined, offering an uncanny combination of opulence, power and cut. Captivating violet and dark chocolate notes. Finishes with big, broad tannins, superb spine and building length.

2005 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
(A blend of 70% syrah and 30% merlot) Good deep ruby. Very ripe, syrah-dominated aromas of black fruits, chocolate and meat. Lush, thick and sweet, with an opulence of texture leavened by the wine's serious tannic clout. Kongsgaard describes this as a "reverse blend" (it usually has more merlot than syrah), and mentioned the Hermitage lieu-dit Les Bessards as a comparison. He describes 2005 as "a great syrah year." This compellingly deep, chewy wine offers outstanding potential.

2005 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
(75% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot, from the Thorvilos and Lucia Abreu vineyards on Howell Mountain) Bright ruby-red. Expressive nose melds currant, blackberry, licorice pastille and chocolatey oak, hinting at an almost medicinal character. Suave on entry, then sweet, thick and pliant in the middle palate, with superb concentration and richness supported by a powerful spine of ripe tannins. This boasts compelling sweetness and a texture of velvet without going over the top, thanks in large part to the natural freshness of the vintage.

2005 Arietta On the White Keys White Wine California
(Two-thirds sauvignon blanc from Sonoma Mountain and one-third semillon from Hyde Vineyard, all barrel-fermented) Bright pale yellow. Complex, vibrant nose melds lemon drop, fresh fig, minerals and crushed stone. Large-scaled but sharply delineated, with a strong rocky character to the citrus, spice and mineral flavors. Today the wine's semillon side dominates, but the unctuous texture of this superconcentrated white blend is nicely lifted by the sauvignon blanc element. Finishes with superb energy and length. (Incidentally, Fritz Hatton bought out his long-time partner John Kongsgaard last year; Kongsgaard vinified the '05s and Andy Erickson, who also makes Screaming Eagle and was recently appointed winemaker at Dalla Valle, took over winemaking responsibilities for Arietta before the 2006 harvest.)


MAY / JUNE 2006
2004 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards
(A 60/40 blend of cabernet franc and merlot) Bright ruby-red. Perfumed aromas of black raspberry, smoked meat, dark chocolate and brown sugar. Superconcentrated, sweet and spicy, with a captivating sugar/acid balance. The violet and cassis flavors are complemented by deep, nuanced soil tones. A compellingly sweet, silky blend with outstanding breadth and opulence. Finishes with building, ripe tannins and great persistence. This amazingly expressive wine seems ready to bottle.

2004 Arietta Variation One
(60% merlot and 40% syrah, co-fermented; the fruit is destemmed but not crushed) Deep, bright ruby-red. Slightly reduced nose blossomed quickly to show black raspberry, dark cherry, mocha and chocolate. Lush and superripe on the palate, but saline and mineral elements as well as the wine's strong acid/tannin spine give it great definition and grip. Firm tannins are buffered by the wine's strong material.

2004 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
(Thorevilos cabernet sauvignon with 15% cabernet franc and 5% merlot from Hudson Vineyard) Full ruby-red. High-toned but quite closed on the nose. Then chewy, dense and sweet in the mouth, with highly concentrated, sappy black raspberry flavor and compelling vibrancy. Offers a rare combination of silky texture, outstanding breadth and bright acidity. As ripe as this is, there's no hint of raisins. The high-toned character carries through on the long, ripe aftertaste.

2003 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards
Good full ruby-red. Brooding, pure aromas of black fruits, licorice and shoe polish; this smells like young, austere Bordeaux. Then slightly reduced and tightly wound in the mouth and currently dominated by its powerful structure. There are intense black fruits here, but the wine is in an awkward stage today, with the tannins currently dominating. Almost certainly better than it's showing: I'd wait at least three or four years before pulling the cork.

2003 Arietta Variation One
Medium ruby. The nose is at once cool and exotic, with expressive, explosive aromas of black cherry, raspberry, smoked meat, iris and brown spices. Wonderfully sweet and dense in the mouth, saturating every square millimeter of the palate. A magical combination of syrah energy and merlot breadth. Finishes horizontal and with great persistence, with a strong element of baking spices. A great California red blend.

2003 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Deep ruby-red. Sappy black cherry, roast coffee, tobacco, mocha and brown spices on the nose. Densely packed and suave, with fruit so sweet that one could easily enjoy this wine right now. Wonderfully lush, layered cabernet, finishing with very fine, building tannins.


MAY / JUNE 2005
2003 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards
A 60/40 blend of cabernet franc and merlot. Ruby-red. Cool but ripe aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis and licorice. Wonderfully thick and dense but with superb life in the mouth. Compelling flavors of black fruits, with inner-palate floral lift. This is even lusher than the 2002. John Kongsgaard has figured out how to do something that too few California winemakers can do: make extraordinarily rich, layered wines that maintain vibrancy. A great showing today.

2003 Arietta Variation One
A 60/40 blend of merlot and syrah, co-fermented. Good saturated ruby-red. Nose offers a compelling combination of syrah and merlot perfume: black raspberry, minerals, licorice, flowers. Dense and thick, but with terrific flavor definition and lift and captivating notes of flowers and graphite. A powerfully structured wine that finishes with explosive fruits and minerals and great persistence. Incidentally, this syrah comes from a different block of the Hudson Vineyard than the syrah that goes into Kongsgaard's own syrah bottling. This is a hotter site that produces more full-blown wine, Kongsgaard explains. One of those rare 1+1=3 wines, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Obviously, the blend works.

2003 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Includes 15% merlot and 5% cabernet franc. Good bright ruby. Knockout nose combines black cherry, blackberry, licorice and bitter chocolate. Wonderfully sweet and concentrated, with snappy fruit flavors and perfectly integrated acidity. Can't quite match the complexity of the H Block blend, but this boasts terrific fruit and underlying sweetness. Finishes with broad, dusty tannins. Mostly from the Thorvilos Vineyard, on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain. Will make a worthy new entry to the Arietta line-up.

2002 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards
Good full ruby-red. Deep, highly complex nose combines blackberry, black cherry, violet, minerals, nuts and smoky oak. A wonderfully rich wine that offers great mouth coverage but maintains real zing, thanks to its mineral freshness and firm tannic spine. The pHs for this cuvee are routinely in the 3.8 to 3.9 range, notes Kongsgaard, but the wine always tastes fresher. Finishes very long and lively, with big, chewy tannins.

2002 Arietta Variation One
Good medium ruby. Brooding, medicinal aromas of inky black fruits. Tougher today than the 2003 from barrel, but offers outstanding flavor intensity and clarity, with notes of black raspberry, spice, licorice and chocolate emerging with aeration. Less obviously sweet today than the 2003 (I might have picked this blind as a classic Bordeaux blend including petit verdot and cab franc), but finishes with superb breadth of tannins. "The H Block is an homage to more refined Old World wines," notes Kongsgaard, "while this is more California exotic."


MAY / JUNE 2004
2002 Arietta H Block Red Wine Napa Valley
Good deep ruby-red. Rather restrained but complex aromas of currant, Havana tobacco, minerals, anise and espresso. Hugely dense, thick, and superripe, with mouthcoating flavors of dark berries, chocolate and mint. Not showing quite the same verve toady as the 2001, but this may well possess even stronger material for the long term. Finishes with palate-saturating tannins and suberb length. Winemaker John Kongsgaard believes that the 2001 has great length and should be drunk in the first ten years, while the 2002, due in part to it's larger tannic structure, will take longer to fully express itself.

2002 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
Fully ruby red. Superripe, complex, youthfully medicinal nose melds currant, leather, tobacco, black licorice, dark chocolate and game. Huge, lush and densely packed, with a depth charge of dark fruit flavor complicated by an exotic suggestion of maple syrup. Extemely young and long on the aftertaste. Both the syrah and merlot in this blend and the cabernet franc and merlot in the H Block are cofermented.

2002 Arietta Merlot Napa Valley
Saturated medium ruby to the rim. Wild liqueur-like aromas of currant, tar, menthol, graphite and wild herbs. Lush, creamy and impressively rich, with superb depth of flavor for California merlot. Highly complex flavors of currant, tobacco, iron, graphite and spices ("pencil shavings and rusty nails," offers Kongsgaard). An exceptionally classy merlot that finishes with serious but utterly suave tannins and outstanding persisitance.

2001 Arietta H Block Red Wine Napa Valley
Good saturated ruby-red. Explosive, highly nuanced aromas of currant, dried rose, tobacco, brown sugar, espresso and mint. Silky, lush, dense and penetrating, with uncommon lift in the middle palate. Captivating flavors of currant, spice cake, tobacco and earth. A red blend in a Right Bank style with superb definition and snap. Finishes very long and juicy, with firm but thoroughly ripe tannins. This should gain in bottle for a decade or more.

2001 Arietta Variation One Red Wine Napa Valley
Fully ruby-red. Superripe, slightly roasted aromas of black raspberry, meat, animal fur, mint and maple syrup. Sweet, dense and packed, with a depth charge of dark fruit flavor complicated by an exotic suggestion of maple syrup. Extremely young and long on the aftertaste.


MAY / JUNE 2003
2000 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards Napa Valley
A blend of 50% cabernet franc and 50% merlot) Both the H Block and Variation I are from Hudson Vineyard fruit. Full red-ruby. Explosively aromatic nose melds blueberry, cassis, red cherry, violet, minerals, brown sugar and a tobacco leaf note suggestive of a Cohiba robusto. Very intense and densely packed, with urgent, penetrating red berry, bitter chocolate, mineral and rose petal flavors. Superb thickness leavened by bright acidity. Wonderfully complex, gripping wine, with a firmly tannic, very long back end. This grew more and more complex as it opened in the glass.

2000 Arietta Variation I Napa Valley
A 72% merlot and 28% syrah blend. Deep red-ruby. Wilder, more animal aromas of black fruits, dark cherry, smoke, leather, licorice and game. Wonderfully sweet and stuffed with material; distinctly softer and fatter than the H Block bottling. Complex flavors of currant, plum, leather, licorice and minerals. Perhaps even longer on the finish than the H Block though not as fine, finishing with substantial dusty tannins. "A wilder, crazier, growling kind of a wine," admits winemaker John Kongsgaard.