WINE REVIEWS

November 19, 2019 Issue

FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Jean Diot, Champagne (France) Extra Brut NV ($50):  Those looking to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet can rejoice in the current trend toward Extra Brut in Champagne and other sparkling wine producing regions.  This can be a little confusing at first.  Extra Brut is not the same as Extra Dry. Though the French word brut translates to the English word dry Extra Dry on a bottle of bubbly means “dry with a little extra” – sugar that is.  Extra Brut on a label tells you that little or no dosage is used, keeping the residual sugar around a half gram per liter or less.  Extra Dry, on the other hand generally refers to a sparkler with residual sugar around 15 grams per liter.  While this may not sound like a huge difference, it’s certainly apparent in the glass.  Lesson over – let’s get to the wine at hand.  A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier finished at 4.5 grams per liter residual sugar, the Jean Diot presents crisp and very dry, with aromas and flavors of toast, apple and citrus, finishing cleanly and watering the mouth for another sip.  Cellared 48 months prior to release, it shows pleasant yeasty character and complementary autolysis tones.  A nice buy for the holidays!   
92 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019


ITALY

White:

Cerulli Spinozzi, Colli Aprutini IGT (Abruzzo, Italy) Pecorino “Cortalto” 2016 ($15, Romano Brands):  Pecorino is, of course, a cheese.  But it turns out to also be a grape and a wine.  An attractive bite is what the cheese and the wine have in common. Cerulli Spinozzi, one of the top producers in Abruzzo, a region due east of Rome on the Adriatic, has consistently made a winsome Pecorino.  With a pleasant white pepper-like bite, their 2106 leads with a floral hint and finishes with an invigorating saline stoniness.  Lively and refreshing, it cuts through delicately fried foods and also holds its own against full-flavored pasta.  At $15 a bottle, it’s a steal.    
92 Michael Apstein Nov 19, 2019

Marco Felluga, Collio Bianco DOC (Italy) “Molamatta” 2015 ($26, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  A bright blend of Pinot Bianco, Tocai Friulano and Ribolla Gialla that has a tempered edge thanks to six months on the lees and extended time in the bottle prior to release.  Pear and yellow apple are joined by a little tropical fruit on a creamy mouthfeel and finish with a good amount of push.  Seafood or mixed appetizers with work well here.  
90 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Piedmont:

Red:

Attilio Ghisolfi, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) "Bussia" 2015 ($70, Quintessential Wines):  If there can be a silver lining to climate change, it might be the earlier approachability of Barolo in recent years.  This bottling offers generous ripe fruit and a rich texture without sacrificing structure.  Black cherry, medium oak toast and fluttering mild herbs are well knit and expressive from start to finish.  I would get to this earlier in its evolution for full enjoyment.  
94 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Attilio Ghisolfi, Langhe DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo 2017 ($34, Quintessential Wines):  This is a wine to enjoy while your Barolo rests in the cellar awaiting calmer presentability.  The flavors you love are here, with bright tart cherry and blueberry riding atop sage and oak spice, lingering long with food friendly acidity leading the exit charge.  I would go for something mushroom-driven as a pairing here.  
90 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019


PORTUGAL

Red:

Warre’s, Porto (Portugal) OTIMA 20 Year Old Tawny NV ($43): With cool, crisp weather finally flowing into my area on the East Coast, my taste is turning to Port, and this delicious wine is a standout performer.  Packaged in a clear, stylishly modern, clear glass bottle holding 500 ml, this is a very attractive wine that smell and tastes as good as it looks.  Expressive aromas of toffee, caramel and dried fruits are very inviting, and the flavors are fresh and focused.  Only moderately sweet, the finish is well defined thanks to fresh acidity.  Enjoy this lightly chilled, which will knock down the alcohol and play up the acidity. 
92 Michael Franz Nov 19, 2019

Graham’s, Tawny Porto (Portugal) 10 Year-Old NV ($34, Premium Port Wines):  Aged tawnies from Graham’s are among the very best to use when initiating novices to the joys of the genre, as they are fresh and fun and full of fruit while also showing the wonderful aromatic complexities of years of oxidative development.  That description holds especially true of the 10 year-old bottling, and the current release (which is what you want to buy, and which shows on the back label that it was bottled in 2009) shows delicious notes of raisins and dried cherries and berries with lots of little aromatic and flavor nuances interlaced with the sweetness and fruit. 92 Michael Franz Nov 19, 2019


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Carol Shelton Wines, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Carignane Oat Valley Vineyard Old Vine 2016 ($28):  Carignane has suffered from an “image problem” for about five decades, often being over-cropped to fill out blends and rarely being used to make varietally-designated wines (either around the Mediterranean or in the New World).  But the tide has turned in favor of this variety, which is now getting the respect it can deserve when cropped sensibly and crafted carefully, as in this delicious case.  Spice and toasty notes derived from wood grace the bouquet without dominating it, and red berry fruit shows both ripeness and freshness on the palate.  There’s an almost ineffable streak of rusticity to the flavors that I loved -- not quite savory and not quite earthy but definitely present -- and this contributes both complexity and varietal character.  
93 Michael Franz Nov 19, 2019

Jeff Runquist, Amador County (California) Barbera 2017 ($25):  This is an impressive and delicious wine in its own right, and also a rendition of Barbera that will be admired by those who know the variety from famous examples crafted in its original region in Piedmont, Italy.  The wine shows a whiff of the leathery, spicy character of its Italian cousins, as well as bright acidity that lifts the intense flavors of red berries and plums.  Oak was wisely given only a supporting role, keeping the fruit at center stage.  This should work very well with an extremely wide range of moderately robust dishes ranging from pasta to poultry to white meats or even beef and lamb.  
93 Michael Franz Nov 19, 2019

Home Field, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Red Blend 2016 ($25):  Pepper lovers rejoice!  Here’s an easy-to-love red made in the classic California field blend style but propped up a bit with some Cabernet and Merlot.  The pepper character rides above rich black cherry and a note of clove, and it stays prominent throughout without burying the other elements.  Fire up the grill and get busy with beef, sausage and ribs – you’ve got a partner here.  
90 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Masut, Eagle Peak (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard 2016 ($40):  Brothers Ben and Jake Fetzer, third generation vintners in Mendocino county’s Hopland area, bring us this fine Pinot Noir from the Eagle Peak AVA which joined the growing list of producing regions in 2014.  It’s long on spice, with bold black cherry fruit and dry earth mineral notes dancing with the spice on the nose and in the mouth, finishing with good push and integration.  Lean toward the red meat side of the menu when pairing.  
92 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Provenance Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) “Deadeye” 2016 ($50):  Provenance's "Deadeye" is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend that is very ripe and full of bold black fruit aromas and flavors but shows no signs of intrusive heat or over the top character.  It’s quite impressively structured for a wine this stylized.  Priced to sell considering its provenance – Provenance continues to deliver great value.   I’d get a case knowing it’s too tasty to sit on just a couple of bottles, but you’ll want to age some as well.   
95 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Spottswoode, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Lyndenhurst” 2016 ($85):  Focus is the first word that comes to mind when I think or Aron Weinkauf’s work at Spottswoode.  He is perfect for the winery’s “let’s do what we can do best, and let’s take it as far as we can” philosophy.   As vineyard manager and winemaker, Aron knows what’s possible from year to year, and he takes it as far as he can once again in this vintage of Lyndenhurst.   There’s a sturdier structure here than the last few vintages, but it’s managed beautifully here, showcasing subtle mixed berry fruit that’s just starting to peek through a dense spice array.  Give this a good decant before serving, and/or age some for a few years.   
94 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Ramey, Petaluma Gap (Sonoma Coast, California) Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard 2015 ($65):  My radar goes up when a Syrah sourced from what is generally thought of as a Pinot Noir vineyard crosses my desk, and it goes up again when winemaker David Ramey is involved.  All the best elements of Syrah are here, with meaty peppery character in front, and lively acidity carrying black and blue fruit right alongside the savory and spice character.  Add in mouth filling texture, supple grip and a long fully integrated finish and you’ve got a serious bottle on your hands.  I’d add this to your holiday table as a gift to what the grape can be when properly handled.  
94 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Pedroncelli, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir “Signature Selection” 2017 ($22):  Kudos to Pedroncelli for making a Pinot Noir that is deliciously light and elegant.   Welcome the spicy oak aromas and mouthwatering strawberry, cherry and other red fruit flavors, savor the smooth tannins and enjoy the wine’s energetic acidity.   
90 Marguerite Thomas Nov 19, 2019

Laetitia, Santa Barbara County (California) Pinot Noir “Limité” 2017 ($25):  Winemaker Eric Hickey has a way with Pinot Noir – he’s able to deliver the goods at multiple price points.  This bottling is a blend of clones planted at some of the highest vineyard elevations in the county, and it showcases raspberry aromas joined by tea and Asian spice.  There’s good translation to the palate, and limited new oak use lets the fruit speak clearly.  Bright acidity carries everything through an extended finish where notes of earth and cocoa add interest.  A great value!     
92 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Ancient Peaks, Santa Margarita Ranch (Paso Robles, California) “Oyster Ridge” 2016 ($60):  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I love what Mike Sinor is doing at Ancient Peaks.  The brand is focused on value for your dollar, and though this wine is on the higher dollar side, it still delivers the value ratio.  It is a bold expression of the five principal Bordeaux varieties, carefully oaked and nuanced into an age-worthy trophy.   It's easily the equal of more expensive Paso bottlings of a similar ilk.   
94 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Pellet Estate, St. Helena (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Pellet Vineyard 2014 ($95):  Pellet Estate is a somewhat under-the-radar producer in the Napa Valley, and one worth checking into.  This Cabernet Sauvignon shows typical blackberry, currant and earthy spices, solid tannic structure and weight, and a long finish where the spice is forward at present, but will continue to fold in with further aging.  Tasty stuff!   
92 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

White:

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Bear Point Vineyard 2016 ($55):  This sublime Chardonnay has pretty much everything going for it.  Elegant yet concentrated, with gorgeous fruit flavors tempered by lively acidity plus a delicate streak of minerality.  The oak is judiciously balanced, suggesting spice rather than wood.  Bear Point Chardonnay, whose vines grow at 1000 feet altitude, is complex as well as firm and creamy on the palate without being heavy.  It is refreshing, great with food, and has a satisfyingly long and lavish finish.  
94 Marguerite Thomas Nov 19, 2019

Sonoma-Loeb, Carneros (California) Chardonnay “Envoy” 2017 ($40):  Stony minerality takes the lead in this tasty bottling, with pear, golden apple and soft oak spice balanced nicely against the rocky backbone.  The finish is long and clean, with good push of pear and apple.  I like this as a solo sipper, or you can pair it with mild cheeses or oysters.   
92 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Sonoma-Loeb, Carneros (California) Chardonnay “Private Reserve” 2017 ($33):  Sonoma-Loeb's Private Reserve Chardonnay is a crisp, pear and guava forward package, with lively spice and lemon crème adding interest.  The finish is crisp and mouth-watering, with just a touch of sweetness helping extend the flavor impression.  A fine cocktail-style Chardonnay.  
91 Rich Cook Nov 19, 2019

Carmel Road, Monterey (California) Chardonnay Unoaked 2017 ($15):  From vines growing in the cool coastal region of Monterey this affordable Chardonnay is bright and straightforward, offering both green apple and tropical fruits in its flavors and touches of floral in the aroma.  Aging in stainless steel tanks also contributes to this wine’s easygoing, uncomplicated character.  
90 Marguerite Thomas Nov 19, 2019

Pennsylvania:

White:

Galer Estate, Chester County (Pennsylvania) Chardonnay "Red Lion" 2018 ($18):  A well made Chardonnay with strong citrus accents dominated by lemon zest, this nicely dry Chardonnay has a breezy and refreshingly crisp finish.  The estate-grown fruit was hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, and fermented in stainless steel.  This wine is relatively low in alcohol (12.7%).    
89 Marguerite Thomas Nov 19, 2019

Washington:

White:

Novelty Hill, Columbia Valley (Washington) Viognier Stillwater Creek Vineyard 2016 ($25):  Grown in the Columbia Valley east of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, this Viognier is fresh and appealing, with hints of floral fragrance and summery fruit flavors.  The wine was barrel fermented but the oak stays politely in the background rather than dominating the scene, adding just a touch of creaminess to the overall palate sensation.   
90 Marguerite Thomas Nov 19, 2019