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On My Table

A Steal of a Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 27, 2014

Now that the era of over-oaked, heavy-handed winemaking is behind us, I find that California Chardonnays are reaching new heights of quality, and I am enjoying these wines more than I ever have. In a recent blind tasting of ten Chardonnays ranging from $15 to $50-plus, I rated all but two of them at 90 points or higher. Of my favorite wines, one that particularly struck me was this Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay -- not only for its quality but also for its exceptional value.

A Beauty of a Pinot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 12, 2014

Even if you have never encountered a bottle of wine produced by Charles Heintz Vineyard and Winery, you might have seen the Heintz Vineyards name listed as the source of fruit on other brands of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More than two dozen wineries purchase grapes from Heintz Vineyards, including highly-respected names such as Littorai, Peay, Freeman, Flowers, Radio Coteau and Williams Selyem. Heintz Ranch, the farming arm of the Heintz famly, has existed since 1912; today it includes vineyards in Sonoma County's cool western AVAs -- Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Green Valley. Heintz Vineyards is particularly renown for its Chardonnays, but in a recent blind tasting of Pinot Noirs, I could see that the land is equally gifted for its Pinot Noir.

Viva Vermentino
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 29, 2014

If I had to name my favorite native Italian white grape variety, I might very well say Vermentino. It's not a variety that you see a lot of. The island of Sardinia is the principal source for Vermentino in Italy, and Sardinian wines aren't really mainstream in Italian restaurants here, or in wine shops. And of the few wineries that produce Vermentino wine on Italy's mainland, most of them are small. To find Vermentino in this market takes a bit of hunting, but if you ask me, of course I'll say that it's worth the effort.

Re-Defining a Category
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 15, 2014

In a recent blind tasting of miscellaneous white wines, I suddenly 'got' the Oregon Pinot Gris style. Here before me was a well-made white wine, solid in quality and yet simply delightful in personality, a pretty, flavorful wine that aimed to please more than simply to impress. It was a wine that, on a warm summer day, might tempt a critic to quit the analytical wine-tasting, grab the chilled bottle and head for the patio. I knew that many Oregon producers aim for a crowd-pleasing style in their Pinot Gris wines, and here it was.

A Welcome Late-Release Bordeaux
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 1, 2014

In 2005, I happened to visit Bordeaux just as the harvest was starting. Winemakers and chateau owners were giddy with excitement over the fruits of the warm and very dry growing season. The Merlot grapes were gorgeous -- plump, dark and healthy. At one chateau when the owner described with pride the extreme care he takes in sorting the grapes prior to crushing, I wondered how much incremental benefit that process could offer in a year when all the grapes appeared so perfect. It was an effortless harvest of even ripening in which winemakers could wait for just the right moment to pick each parcel.

Summer Itself
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 17, 2014

La Sirena is a winery owned by renowned California winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett. Barrett's intense red wines produced for Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle earned her cult status and acclaim, from wine critics and the mainstream media alike. La Sirena is her own operation, which she started on a fluke in 1994. Under the La Sirena label -- 'the mermaid,' a tribute to her love of diving -- she produces mainly red wines in the powerful style that she is famous for. And then there is this Moscato.

A Rosé with Character
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 3, 2014

Surprises are fun. When I settled into a blind tasting of dry rosé wines I figured that my favorite would be one of the really interesting rosés before me from Washington state, or maybe an Italian rosato. But this great-value rosé from Spain emerged as the wine of the night. Not only that: It's not from one of the predictable wine regions of Spain, such as Rioja or Navarra; it's a rosado from a wine zone that I couldn't spell correctly until this wine gave me the chance to practice.

Beautiful Subtlety
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 20, 2014

I could go one of two ways on this review. I could tell you about the winery owner I met for lunch in a casual Manhattan restaurant -- a lovely, sensitive woman who breeds Arabian horses and loves the California countryside -- and how I liked her Chardonnay and her Pinot Noir despite the ordinary glassware and distracting surroundings of our encounter. Or I could tell you about the blind Chardonnay tasting I conducted at home, in which I and my fellow taster each selected her wine as our favorite.

Bringing Portugal to the Table
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 6, 2014

Domini 2010 and Domini Plus 2008 (Palm Bay International, $20 and $32): For all of the play that we wine critics give to geeky wines these days -- wines from unusual grape varieties, oddball styles of wines, secret finds -- Portuguese wines deserve more than a tiny piece of the action. Like Greece and Italy, Portugal boasts many fascinating native grape varieties. The wines offer a vast range of styles. And they offer outstanding value. In looking for Portuguese wines to recommend, I turned to José Maria da Fonseca, one of Portugal's most historic wineries, founded in 1834 and still family-owned. Admirably, the company has managed to embrace change while maintaining its historic roots.

An Appreciation of Classic Styling
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 22, 2014

If you love fine Pinot Noir but your wine budget is limited, you are in an unfortunate situation. Of all the main varietal wines, Pinot Noir is the one that suffers the most when viticulture or winemaking decisions favor large volume and low prices. That's why I consider this Pinot Noir from Edna Valley a real find. I tasted this wine in a blind flight of ten California Pinots from six producers and five AVAs. Prices for the wines ranged up to $70, and at $30 this wine was one of the two least expensive on the table. But its quality equaled and in many cases surpassed that of the other wines.

Time-Tripping Into New York's Wine History
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 8, 2014

Two of the compelling attractions of wine, for me, have to do with time. Older wines enable us to feel that we are experiencing the past. Paradoxically, wine is eternally new, each year bringing new harvests and fresh, new vintages. Occasionally time collapses: We taste a thoroughly new wine that evokes a strong sense of history. The moment that I saw the label of this Riesling I recognized it, as I would recognize a depiction of Abraham Lincoln. It is the iconic label of an historic winery, bearing the signature of a winemaker who was pivotal in the development of New York State as a fine wine region. But this nostalgic label carries the vintage 2012 -- now. The wine is a fresh rendition created to honor history.

Another Discovery from Washington State
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 25, 2014

The number of wineries in Washington has burgeoned over the past decade. Today the state boasts more than 750 wineries compared to half as many just ten years ago. One of these new wineries is EFESTE, pronounced F-S-T, which came into existence in 2005 through the collaboration of three friends whose surnames begin with F, S and T. Despite being young, the winery has garnered quite a lot of favorable reviews for its reds and whites, which carry playful names such as 'Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon,' 'Final Final Red Blend' and 'Upright Merlot.' What caught my eye, though, was the mention of Chris Upchurch and Jay Soloff, founders of Washington's DeLille Cellars -- one of my favorite U.S. wineries -- as consultants in the early stages of EFESTE's development.

A Beautifully Balanced Sonoma Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 11, 2014

California's Sonoma Coast is a special place for growing Pinot Noir because it encompasses varying pockets of cool climates, suited for delineated wines with concentrated fresh fruit flavors. Most Pinot Noir producers also make a Chardonnay, but those wines tend to enjoy less buzz -- probably just because Chardonnay is less fashionable these days than Pinot Noir is. But I continue to love good Chardonnay wines, and the 2012 Pfendler Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is worthy of attention.

Getting Geeky over a Fine Washington Riesling
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 25, 2014

As I tasted this wine, the thought occurred to me, 'I'd sure hate to have to identify this in a blind tasting!' I hope that I would peg the grape variety correctly because of the intensity of fruity aromas and flavors and the high acidity typical of Riesling -- but where in the world could this wine hail from? And what winemaking techniques could produce a wine with such weight and richness without the presence of residual sugar and without high alcohol?

A Maestro of Dolcetto
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 11, 2014

I drink Dolcetto wines frequently, but I generally don't think about them a lot: Dolcetto is simply one of my go-to red wines. In the Piedmont region of Italy, Dolcetto plays much the same role around many a dinner table: It is the starter red wine, the wine to sip with pre-dinner nibbles of dried salami or with antipasti at the table, leaving room for the more important red wines with the rest of the meal. Granted, the Dolcetto grape has some tough local competition from Barbera and especially Nebbiolo, the grape that makes Barolo and Barbaresco. Nonetheless, some Dolcetto wines have begun to attract a spotlight, because under the right circumstances they can be impressive.

A Welcome Harbinger of Spring
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 28, 2014

This 2012 Fumé Blanc is particularly impressive. The vintage was ideal, a relatively cool year with no heat spikes and a long growing season. The estate vineyards for this wine -- in Carneros and in American Canyon, which can be as much as 10 degrees cooler than Carneros -- also are in cool districts. Balancing the cooling influences, the wine comes from the rich and fragrant Musqué strain of Sauvignon Blanc, and the grapes are harvested in three passes, so that the juice reflects a slightly early harvest, a normal harvest and a somewhat riper harvest, all together. The resulting wine is fragrant and flavorful combining rich creaminess with improbably vibrant acidity.

Exceptional Napa Valley Merlot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 14, 2014

I recently sat down to a tasting of eight Napa Valley reds, six of them Merlots and two Cabernets, which really excited me. It was a collection of current Duckhorn Vineyards releases, mainly from the 2010 vintage. I loved and indeed admired every single wine. 'What was your overall impression?' my fellow taster asked, prior to our discussion of the individual wines. I didn't expect that question -- he never asks me that -- and so I answered without much thought: 'Very well-made wines, very California but showing restraint; superb varietal character, maxing the potential of the Merlot grape.' A day later, I stand by those hasty comments, except to elaborate by adding that the wines combine the glorious raw material of Napa Valley with a winemaking sensitivity that transcends the region.

A Trio of Washington Syrahs
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 1, 2014

I have decided that one of my (wine) resolutions for 2014 will be to keep a closer eye on Washington State Syrah. I have admired Syrah wines from Washington for more than 15 years and as the number of wineries making Syrah increases, the category warrants closer and closer attention. From a mere 800 acres planted in 1999, Syrah plantings climbed to more than 3100 acres in 2011, and the Syrah grape now ranks a solid third among red grapes in the state, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Letting the Vintage Sing
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 17, 2013

A couple of years ago, I shared lunch with Benoît Gouez, Chef de Cave of the Champagne giant, Moët & Chandon. What I heard and tasted that day turned upside down some of my long-held beliefs about Moët's best-selling Champagnes. The wines were going dryer. The Vintage Champagnes were assuming a stronger importance in the company's range. The Extra Dry (slightly sweet) White Star, which was the leading Champagne in U.S. sales, was history. That day I also saw the dramatic new label for Moet's vintage-dated Champagnes, on which the vintage year dwarfs the company name itself. It was gorgeous and it seemed to symbolize a new direction for what the company is now calling its Grand Vintage bottlings. Now, Moët & Chandon has released two new Champagnes in the Grand Vintage line, the 2004 and the 2004 Rosé. Both are very fine and are good value for the serious quality they represent.

Napa Valley's Classic Riesling
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 3, 2013

I can count on one hand and maybe a couple of fingers the Riesling wines from California that I admire, and most of them come either from Anderson Valley or Monterey. An impressive Riesling from Napa Valley is a rare bird. But then so is Stu Smith who, with his brother Charles, owns and farms the Smith-Madrone estate high on Spring Mountain in western Napa Valley, where vines occupy steep slopes from 1300 to 2000 feet in altitude, some of them dating back to the original estate planting in 1972. The artisanal winery produces a mere 4000 cases a year, only Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, all from dry-farmed vines.

Recalibrating My Pinot Noir Benchmarks
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 19, 2013

It was a lucky day early in November when I met David Rossi, owner and winemaker of Fulcrum Wines. Thanks to David, I discovered a winery that was new to me, and well worth knowing. I tasted six impressive Pinot Noir wines from four different terroirs in California. And in the process, I re-discovered the Chalone appellation as a unique site for impressive Pinot Noir.

Proper or Not, a Delicious Red
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 5, 2013

In the wacky world of wine that proprietor Randall Grahm has fashioned at Bonny Doon Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon has been persona non grata for the past 28 years, while red Rhône and South-of-France varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan hold court along with Nebbiolo and other Italian grapes, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and an assortment of mainly counter-culture white grapes. It might come as a bit of a surprise, then, to hear that Bonny Doon Vineyard has released a Cabernet-dominant blend. And not only a Cabernet blend, but one that invokes the very traditional, very British name for a red Bordeaux wine, 'claret.'

Zinfandel, and More
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 22, 2013

I have known Julie Johnson for decades but, as can happen all too easily these days, I had lost touch with her activities, except to know that she had moved from Frog's Leap Winery, (which she co-founded) to a new venture in Napa Valley called Tres Sabores. Our paths crossed again recently at a conference for women involved in the wine business -- logically, because our earliest associations involved Women For Wine Sense, an organization that Julie co-founded in 1990 with Michaela Rodeno. I was fascinated by the story of her winery and impressed by the wines she makes.

Freshness and Vibrancy in Red Burgundy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 8, 2013

If you enjoy reading about wine, you have probably encountered more than a couple of articles over the past 18 months about the 2010 vintage in Burgundy. It is an improbably successful vintage, you would have read, because the flowering was poor and the summer cool and wet. But the small harvest produced high-quality red (and white) wines that over-deliver on drinking pleasure. I recently had the opportunity to pop the corks on a quartet of 2010 Burgundies that shared the theme of being from the same commune --Nuits-Saint-Georges -- and the same producer ---Joseph Drouhin. To say that tasting those wines was an exercise in pleasure is a huge understatement.

A Terrific Bianco from Italy's Adriatic Side
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 24, 2013

You could have made a comedy skit out of the conversations in my home involving this wine, Pecorino, and our inadvertent confusions with the cheese, Pecorino. Noticing the other's confusion, each of us on separate occasions baited our spouse ('How could you fit it in the cheese tray?!) until he or she realized: 'Oh -- Pecorino, the wine!' Pecorino, the wine, comes from the Pecorino grape, a white variety thought to be native to the Marche region of Italy, just north of Abruzzo, and grown today in scattered zones within several wine regions of Central Italy. The grape makes wines that are dry and generally un-oaked, with minerally, herbal or fruity aromas and flavors.

Off the Beaten Path
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 10, 2013

The smile on my face as I opened a box of wine samples turned into a grin when I saw what was inside: Six white wines from Edna Valley, courtesy of Niven Family Wine Estates in San Luis Obispo and winemaker Christian Roguenant. These were not your typical California whites but an eclectic set of varietal wines that included Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Grüner Veltliner along with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. These grapes are just half the range that Roguenant grows in the Niven Family's Paragon Vineyard, which has enjoyed a fine reputation for four decades, particularly for Pinot Noir.

A Napa Valley Cab of Moderation and Balance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 27, 2013

I blind-tasted a group of California Cabernets recently and began thinking about the tasting descriptor, 'extractive.' It is common these days to praise red wines for their denseness of texture, for the sense they give us of containing a particularly high amount of the stuff of the grape and of winemaking. Extractive red wines taste as if their grapes had soaked up every last bit of sun-blessed ripeness and all of it found its way into the wine in concentrated form, mingled with the gifts of oak. Extractive red wines can be very good, but I believe they represent a style, rather than a level of quality. The alternative style -- reds of refinement and elegance -- can also be very good.

White Burgundy with a Veiled Pedigree
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 13, 2013

'Trust your wine merchant,' I frequently tell people who ask for advice in finding good wines. I recently took my own advice and tried a bottle of this white Burgundy, which a trusted retailer recommended. I was delighted with the wine's quality, and in researching the wine discovered that it has something of a pedigree. Not only is the producer Nicolas Potel, a respected figure in the Burgundy region, but also the U.S. importer is Loosen Bros., the U.S. arm of Ernst Loosen, who is highly regarded as a wine producer in Germany and also here in the States.

A Mouthful of Elegant Richness
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 31, 2013

Living on the East Coast, I unfortunately don't have the opportunity to be as up-to-date on what's happening in California as writers living in wine country do. Nonetheless, I suspect that I am not alone in admitting that this winery, Ten Acres, is a discovery. It is not only a small winery, making tiny quantities of mainly single-vineyard wines, but it is also a new winery, barely five years along in producing wines.

A Beauty of a Walla Walla White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 16, 2013

When I taste through a line-up from a winery in Walla Walla, Washington, I expect to be impressed by the red wines, especially the Cabs but also the Syrahs, and the Merlots, too. But twice now I have tasted the wines of Buty Winery and have been particularly struck by the quality of the whites. Not that the reds are not impressive -- but the whites are surprisingly fine. This blended white derives 60 percent from Semillon, 19 percent from Sauvignon Blanc and 21 percent from Muscadelle. The combination of these three grapes is traditional in France's Bordeaux region (although Muscadelle is the least used of the three in Bordeaux), but Buty is the only winery in Washington combining these three varieties.

Choosing Distinctiveness over Sameness
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 2, 2013

The relative richness of this wine owes itself to the technique of drying some of the grapes. In September, thirty percent of the grapes are set aside for drying off the vine, while the remaining grapes are harvested for immediate fermentation. In December, the already-fermented wine is mixed with the fermenting juice of the dried grapes for, in effect, a second fermentation, which gives the wine characteristics such as richness, some fleshiness, and yet freshness. Aging in second-use barriques follows. This is a variation of the 'ripasso' method common for fine wine in the area, which involves re-fermentation instigated by the addition of skins from Amarone, the iconic dried-grape wine of the Valpolicella zone.

Just Add Food
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 18, 2013

It was decades ago, but I can still remember my first encounter with dry Lambrusco wine. I was in Italy, of course, because the U.S. market at the time was wild about sweet Lambrusco, not the dry versions that Italians considered authentic. I was at a restaurant in the city of Modena, in the culinary mecca that is the Emilia Romagna region. The dish was cotecchino con lenticchie, moist slices of a two-inch diameter fatty pink pork sausage served atop dark, earthy lentils. The wine was fizzy, fruity and bone dry; it cut through the rich food like a cleansing tonic. I have loved dry Lambrusco since that day, and I'm pleased to see that it is finally making inroads here.

The Journey to Fine Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 28, 2013

By now you might have heard the story: How the owners of two iconic Napa Valley wineries critically acclaimed for Cabernet and Chardonnay abandoned their comfort zone to establish another winery producing only Pinot Noir -- and not in Napa Valley but in Sonoma County. When I heard that news four years ago, I was more than a bit surprised. Far Niente, one of the two wineries, is an elite Napa Valley wine estate; the other, Nickel & Nickel -- a sister winery dedicated to making vineyard-designated Cabernets (thirteen of them, along with Chardonnay, Merlot and some Zinfandel and Syrah) from the grapes of respected growers -- hit the ground running with its first vintage in 1997. Many winery owners with that much success would stop there.

Cool-Vintage Grenache
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 14, 2013

Wines from the red Grenache grape are everywhere, but it's not often that we have the chance to focus on Grenache as an unblended, varietally-labelled wine. Cotes du Rhône blends, Châteauneuf du Pape, many blended Spanish reds, Sardinian Cannanou, and Provence rosés -- all these wines rely on the Grenache grape. But generally winemakers feel that Grenache can use a little help, either because its color is weak, or its alcohol is too high and its tannins too soft, or it lacks heft on the mid-palate. This delightful 100-percent Grenache is an anomaly.

25 Years of Wild Yeasts
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 23, 2013

California is a-brimming with wine anniversaries lately. One of the less obvious of them is the 25th release of the first California Chardonnay to be fermented entirely by ambient yeast. The original vintage was 1987, the winery is Franciscan Estate, and the 2011 Franciscan 'Cuvée Sauvage' Chardonnay is the anniversary release. At a moment when non-interventionist winemaking is the rage, it is interesting to note that this particular non-interventionist innovation is now a generation old in California.

Vibrancy and Clarity in Chianti Classico
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 9, 2013

As relationships go, mine with Chianti Classico is experiencing a rough patch. Chianti Classico has always been one of my favorite wines. But it has been changing, for many understandable reasons -- clonal research on the Sangiovese grape, climate issues and the evolving international wine market, to name a few. In the process, characteristics that I had valued in the wines, such as clarity, focus and vibrancy, seem to have morphed into softness, fleshy texture and soft-focused flavor expression. The DOCG zone has hundreds of producers of course, and many of them still make great wine. But at a recent Chianti Classico tasting in New York, I was surprised at how unrecognizable many of the wines were. Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva is one of the wines that I can still get excited about.

Prosecco for Discriminating Palates
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 26, 2013

Once upon a time, as the agent for a major producer of Prosecco, I tried to convince members of the wine trade that Prosecco deserves a place in the U.S. market. It was an uphill struggle that ended without success. I was ahead of the times: Prosecco eventually became hugely popular. Prosecco became a victim of its own success, however. Inferior wines appeared on the market and, where once you could find pleasure in almost any glass of Prosecco in any restaurant, increasingly you might be disappointed with the wine -- such has been my experience, at least. Now drinking Prosecco requires discrimination. That's where this fine Prosecco from Adami comes in.

An Exotic Find from Foreign Shores
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 12, 2013

Sometimes I envy wine drinkers who are just beginning to learn about wine, because they have so much discovery ahead of them. When you have been involved in wine for several decades, the moments of discovery become infrequent -- although each discovery becomes all the more special as a result. This white wine discovery from the island of Sardinia is exciting to me not only for its story but also for its unusual taste.

A Rich, Expressive Pleasure
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 26, 2013

In the range of styles that Petite Sirah wines can embody, this 2010 Petite Sirah is on the big end in terms of weight and richness, but it is a refined wine, with nothing rustic about it. The wine's aromas suggest dark berries and jam as well as notes of red berries, and spicy accents; all of the fruity notes are fresh and vibrant rather than suggestive of sun-dried or baked fruits. In your mouth, the wine is huge, with pleasantly soft texture offset by dusty tannins. The wine is dry, but the ripeness of the fruit and the hefty alcohol (14.9 percent) create a welcoming impression of sweetness on the entry, which gives way to rich flavors of blackberry, tobacco and black pepper spice. These flavors carry through in the wine's finish.

Real Burgundy, and Wallet-Friendly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 12, 2013

Lately it seems that everywhere the talk is about Burgundy. A great tasting of 2011 new releases by a major importer, an article in the NY Times about 2010 red Burgundies, a blog post exalting the unpredictable pleasures of great Burgundies, an annual Burgundy extravaganza on the calendar. All this Burgundy chatter has inspired me to review a red Burgundy. Because when was the last time I did that? (Almost three years ago, if I must confess.)

Low-Key Charm
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 29, 2013

In tasting this wine blind and commenting on it, I found myself using the term, 'restaurant wine.' That's one of those terms that is sometimes a back-handed compliment: A wine that most people will like, a good wine to drink in certain circumstances, not necessarily a great wine but one that's useful and serviceable. I hasten to say that I personally apply the term in only the most complimentary way. A 'restaurant wine' to me is a fine wine that's relatively low-key for its type, a wine that seeks to accommodate food rather than stand out for its own sake, and is relatively affordable. A wine with finesse.

A Taste of Oakville
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 15, 2013

Last year I attended a seminar and tasting spotlighting the Oakville district of Napa Valley, which was organized by the Oakville Winegrowers Association. It was an eye-opening experience, thanks not only to the superb wines but also to the commentary of expert panelists such as geologist and author David Howell, Master of Wine Mark deVere, Master Sommelier Paul Roberts and winegrower Tor Kenward, who together described and explained what makes Oakville a special terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon. Two months later, with a taste of 2009 Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet in my mouth, the whole experience came back to me: I was again tasting Oakville.

The Opposite of 'International'
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 1, 2013

Call me crazy, but I have always liked the Carignan grape. Many Southern France producers have reduced, or eliminated, the rustic Carignan element in their wines in favor of 'ameliorating varieties' intended to produce a more refined result, but I continue to believe that Carignan can make good wine -- a tannic wine, sure, but a wine that has the ability to be substantial without being overripe.

Not the Predictable Italian Bubbly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 18, 2012

Although it is not well known in the U.S., Franciacorta is Italy's most prestigious wine zone for the production of dry, classic-method sparkling wines. It is a relatively new wine, the first Franciacorta sparkling wine having emerged only in 1961. As recently as 1990, producers formed a consortium to tighten production criteria and began organized promotion of their wines. In 1995, the DOC zone of Franciacorta earned DOCG status exclusively for its sparkling wines.

A Sauvignon Blanc That Couples Zing with Finesse
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 4, 2012

This racy Sauvignon is from the Friuli region in Italy's extreme northeast. This is the region that makes most of the finest Sauvignon wines in Italy. Russiz Superiore, the estate where the grapes for this wine grow, is an historic property in the heart of the Collio DOC district. Collio is considered one of Friuli's two finest wine areas because of its hills, its climate-tempering proximity to the Adriatic Sea, just 12 miles away, and the protective influence of the Pre-Alps in the north. The Russiz Superiore estate in Collio dates to the 13th century; the Roberto Felluga family, makers of Marco Felluga wines, has owned the property for about 50 years.

Re-Discovering Muscadet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 20, 2012

Thinking back on it, two of the most memorable wine-tastings that I have attended over the past year have been tastings of Muscadet. They featured some seriously good wines but more significantly than that, these tastings upset pre-conceptions. Muscadet -- the fairly light, dry unoaked white wine from the coastal part of France's Loire Valley region -- is not, as many believe, a simple or insignificant wine, but in fact, a wine to be taken seriously by those who love wine.

A Spicy Red from Northern Italy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 6, 2012

Lagrein is one of the great, unsung native red grape varieties of Northern Italy. Stylistically, I classify its wines as 'spicy reds,' of which there are many in Italy, including Dolcetto, Freisa, and Montepulciano -- but Lagrein defines the style for its lean structure, its firm tannin and its often exuberant aromas and flavors of dark fruit and spice. Lagrein grows mainly in the Alto Adige section of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, where it occupies about eight percent of the vineyards. It ranks second in that region among red varieties, but far behind Schiava, the leading red grape.

An Italian White That Wears Its Age Beautifully
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 23, 2012

Remember Verdicchio? Maybe you don't, and maybe that's just as well, because Verdicchio is a finer wine today than it used to be. The native Verdicchio grape grown in the Marche region, on the Adriatic Sea side of central Italy, is an important part of Italy's viticultural patrimony. Today its wines rank among Italy's finest whites. Umani Ronchi is a family-owned winery whose wines I have always admired. In addition to Verdicchio, the company produces several red wines from Marche based mainly on the Montepulciano grape, as well as a Montepulciano wine from the neighboring Abruzzo region. It is the Verdicchios that excite me the most.

A Pioneering Syrah
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 9, 2012

This Syrah from Chile embodies two exciting trends: the emergence of Syrah as an important red wine for Chile and the development of new vineyard regions that push Chilean viticulture beyond the confines of the Central Valley. It also embodies the vision of two pioneers who believe that a remote, challenging region can produce world-class wines.

German Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 25, 2012

Weingut Bernhard Huber, Baden (Germany) Pinot Noir, 2010 (Valckenberg International, $38): All the excitement over Riesling in the past few years is a boon for Germany and other places that make fine Riesling, and deservedly so. But while Germany has been reinforcing its position as a pre-eminent Riesling territory, the focus within Germany has slowly been shifting. Red grapes now occupy 36 percent of Germany's vineyard acreage, up from just 11 percent 30 years ago.

New Life for an Ancient Property
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 11, 2012

If you occasionally taste wines blind, you might have experienced one of the main benefits of blind tasting, the pleasure of discovering something unexpected or new. When I tasted several 2011 dry German Rieslings recently, I discovered the new face of a very old and very famous wine property. Weingut Liebfrauenstift is named for the ancient Monastery of Our Lady in Worms, an historic crossroads city in the Rheinhessen region. It is the winery that gave its name to Liebfraumilch wine, an estate wine which enjoyed high acclaim in Europe 200 years ago -- before its name went into wider use in 1908 and eventually came to apply to a large-volume wine produced by numerous wineries in four regions.

Soulful Syrah
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 28, 2012

Washington State is young enough in its wine development that the definitive word on its top red varietal wines is still a matter of opinion, and it changes over time. Merlot was once considered to be Washington's true calling, but the Cabernet Sauvignon grape now occupies 20 percent more vineyard land in the state than Merlot does. Syrah ranks third, with acreage that's about 30 percent less than that of Cab, but its growth is strong: acreage of Syrah has tripled since 1999. Syrah also seems to have captured the hearts of a few wine critics -- present company definitely included -- more than Cab or Merlot.

Three Tempting Pinot Noir Choices
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 14, 2012

I recently tasted three beautiful 2009 Pinot Noirs from Goldeneye, the Duckhorn Wine Company property in Anderson Valley, and I faced quite a dilemma in choosing the one to review because the wines differ in their appeal, their price and their aging potential. I chose the Gowan Creek Pinot not least because it is the middle wine of the three in price and ageability.

A Chardonnay with Class
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 24, 2012

Not many of the wine lovers I know on the East Coast are talking much about California Chardonnay these days, probably because so many exciting alternatives exist among wines from other grape varieties and other places. But it's a pity to ignore some of the very good Chardonnays that California makes -- particularly the relatively small-production, estate wines that carry an AVA designation that's smaller than just 'California.' This wine from the Mt. Veeder district of Napa Valley is just such a Chardonnay. It's made entirely from Chardonnay grapes that grow on the Mayacamas property, its production is less than 1200 cases, and at $30 it offers great value.

A Substantial Yet Refreshing Tuscan White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 10, 2012

Sipping a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano brings to my mind all sorts of clichés along the lines of 'blast from the past' and 'everything old is new again.' In all the excitement about Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Assyrtiko and other hot white varietal wines, I had forgotten all about Tuscany's Vernaccia. I'm delighted that a recent sit-down with winery owner Andrea Cecchi has brought this grape variety and this wine back to my attention.

A Star Is Born
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 26, 2012

Called Tenuta di Biserno, the estate marks a new branch on the family tree of renowned Tuscan wines that began with Sassicaia, the red wine from Bordeaux varieties created in Bolgheri by the Antinoris' uncle, Marchese Piero Incisa della Rochetta in the late 1960s and continued with Tignanello and Solaia, Piero Antinori's elite blends of Sangiovese and Cabernet (and vice versa) from the Chianti Classico area, and then the Ornellaia estate in Bolgheri, including the extraordinary Masseto Merlot as well as Ornellaia itself, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend. Could there be room on such a family tree for another exceptional property? Apparently, yes.

All Sangiovese, All Napa Valley
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 12, 2012

To my delight, after expressing my disillusion with most California Sangiovese wines in a recent column, I have discovered an excellent and exciting Sangiovese from the Napa Valley. And the wine's story is almost as good as the wine itself.

A Prime Candidate for Your Season of Riesling
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 29, 2012

If I had to name my top ten wine producers in the world, Trimbach might very well be one of them. I have enjoyed many great Trimbach Rieslings over the years -- not only the exalted Clos Ste Hune Riesling, one of the world's greatest white wines, but also Trimbach's Cuvée Frederick Emile, a Riesling that seems to defy age. Add to the list the fine Pinot Gris wines from this estate, particularly the Reserve Personnelle, and even the occasional Gewurztraminer.

A Different Taste of Argentina
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 15, 2012

Ever since I first visited Argentina, I have been intrigued by Bonarda -- the wine itself, but also the grape variety. Viewing it as an Italian variety, I was predisposed to like its wines, even if some of the tastiest examples I first tried reminded me more of Beaujolais. I saw Bonarda as a welcome change-of-pace from the ubiquitous Malbec and its alternative, Cabernet Sauvignon. Bonarda's underdog image -- once the most planted variety in Argentina, usurped by Malbec twenty years ago -- heightened the intrigue. Now, the availability of this lovely, great-value, award-winning wine has given me all the excuse I need to spread the word about Bonarda.

Once Again, Zinfandel
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 1, 2012

Maybe my taste in wine is revolving full circle, from loving Zinfandel in the 1980s and early 1990s, to abandoning it for its excessive (to my mind) opulence, to appreciating it for what it is. Whatever forces were in place, I thoroughly enjoyed my recent blind tasting of six Zinfandels from Dry Creek Valley. The alcohol levels were mainly in the 15-point-something range, the oak was evident in many a wine, and sweetness was a given -- all characteristics I normally dislike -- and yet the wines had a compelling generosity of fruit that was undeniable.

An Italophile Finds Satisfaction in California
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 17, 2012

I can count on one hand the number of good Sangiovese wines that I have tasted from countries other than Italy. 'Good Sangiovese' is, of course, a subjective judgment and, being an Italian wine specialist, I probably judge non-Italian Sangiovese a bit more harshly than the next critic. All the more credit, therefore, goes to Frank Family Vineyards for its splendid 2009 Sangiovese Reserve.

Springtime in Piedmont
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 3, 2012

The 2010 Fontanafredda Arneis is a thoroughly delightful and engaging dry, unoaked white wine that's extremely easy to enjoy. When I tasted it on an unseasonably warm day in February, it seemed to embody springtime itself in its fresh, youthful, vibrant aromas and flavors. When you swirl the wine, you might notice scents of flower blossoms and white fruits, along with minerality and a suggestion of sweet, freshly-turned soil (especially if you are in the throes of Spring fever!).

Just Don't Call it 'Little'
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 20, 2012

If you read this column regularly, you probably realize that I'm on a Pinot Noir kick. One of the aspects of Pinot Noir that intrigues me these days is the broad range of available styles, which is probably the result of more winemakers being more respectful of the individuality of their various terroirs. Excluding the monster Pinots that to me run contrary to the inherent nature of the variety, I can find many expressions of Pinot Noir to love. This 2009 Fogdog is the antithesis of those monster Pinots.

Outstanding Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 6, 2012

Tasting Pinot Noirs from California is a continual journey of discovery. It seems that the Pinot Noir excitement that inspired Sideways, and then increased in intensity because of Sideways, has spawned a whole new universe of wines. Over the past decade new Pinot Noir regions have emerged, new producers have become key players, growers have turned winemakers, and we wine lovers have more good Pinot Noir to choose from than ever before.

A Super Red from Tuscany
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 21, 2012

With some time to kill in the Rome airport not long ago, I was delighted to spot a wine bar and restaurant branded with the Frescobaldi name. I knew that the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi company makes so very many wines, and such very good wines, that an exploration of the restaurant's wines by the glass could easily keep me busy and happy until my connecting flight was called for boarding.

Smokin' Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 8, 2012

Sea Smoke is a Pinot Noir with buzz. When I first tasted it four years ago, I had heard that it was something of a cult Pinot, an insider's wine. I don't like many of the California Pinots that pass for 'cult' because I find them too dark in color, too heavy in alcohol and oak and too weak in true Pinot Noir aromatics. My initial impression of the Sea Smoke Pinots was mixed: I liked their aromas and flavors, but found some of the wines clumsy. Those wines were from the 2005 and 2006 vintages. Fast forward to the 2009 vintage, and I'm admiring the wines. (Which changed, I wonder: me or the wines ---or both?)

A Very Special White from Greece
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 24, 2012

This is a wine with a fascinating story. It's one of those back-from-the-brink stories, about a grape variety that almost certainly would have become extinct if not for the efforts of a savior. The grape variety is Malagousia, a native Greek white grape, and the savior is Vangelis Gerovassilou.

A Tuscan Secret
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 10, 2012

As New Year's resolutions go, I believe a wine lover could do a lot worse than resolve to drink more Chianti in 2012. Chianti is one of the world's great red wines, but I get the feeling that these days it has been overshadowed by the sheer multiplicity of red wine choices from all over the world. When I refer to Chianti as a great wine, of course I don't mean all of the wine produced in the various zones of central Tuscany whose name begins with 'Chianti,' much of which is uninspiring. I am referring to the wines of good producers from the most favored zones. Chianti Classico is the largest of these and boasts the highest number of interesting producers. Chianti Rufina is perhaps the smallest--and it's where the value lies.

Refinement Trumps Power
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 27, 2011

It's holiday season, and we all need a fine wine that's ready to drink now. Some wine lovers are lucky enough to own wines laid away until they reach their personal best, but statistics say that most will be buying wine that's on the shelves now, and drinking it now. If you're buying this 2008 Stag's Leap Vineyards Cabernet, you can have it both ways: Fine wine, on the shelves now, and ready to drink.

Chile's Coastal Wave
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 13, 2011

If you've been drinking wine for a decade or two, you might remember the typical Chilean Sauvignon Blanc of the old days, a high-acid, fairly thin wine nearly devoid of flavor. In this century, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile has improved big time, and is now one of Chile's top categories of wine in my opinion. What changed? Chilean winemakers have gone west, planting cool-climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc in coastal vineyard areas -- Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda, Limari…and now Paredones.

A Breath of Fresh Air from Austria
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 29, 2011

If you were to attend a seminar on the wines of Austria, you would hear that most of them are white and that Austria's wines represent less than one percent of the world's wine. True to the small scale of the nation's wine industry, most Austrian wines on export markets such as the U.S. are limited in production and are priced at a level more acceptable to connoisseurs than mainstream wine drinkers. This situation explains what distinguishes this particular wine: not only is it a red wine but also its production is large enough for wide availability and its price is an affordable $14.

Royal Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 15, 2011

It is nigh impossible to visit wineries in Chile without hearing, again and again, the term 'icon wine.' That's because almost every winery is making such a wine, a wine intended to represent the best of what Chile can produce. Santa Rita's Casa Real is the icon of Chile's icon wines -- first produced 22 years ago by a winery founded 131 years ago, from a vineyard planted about 55 years ago.

A Collaboration of Winemakers and of Grape Varieties
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 1, 2011

Greece boasts an array of excellent native grape varieties, most of which are still unknown to wine drinkers. Wine producers in Greece often combine these native grapes with internationally well-known varieties to create intriguing blends, and in doing so they bring an element of familiarity to the wine, a frame of reference of sorts for wine drinkers. This particular wine for example combines the native Greek variety, Assyrtiko, with the internationally known variety, Semillon.

Fanciful Name, Serious Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 18, 2011

I write this review cognizant of the fact that a few readers probably know more than I do about the wine and winery in question. Oh, of course I know and admire Randall Grahm, the irrepressible, creative, brilliant, obsessed Bonny Doon 'Winemaker and President-for-Life,' and I delight in his writings, from back-labels to newsletters to website to book. Over the years, I have enjoyed many of his wines. But not being a particular devotee of wines from France's Southern Rhône Valley and the California wines inspired by that region, I don't follow these wines with the diligence that others might. Where the 2007 iteration ranks in the galaxy of Le Cigare Volant vintages, which date back 23 vintages, I can't tell you. I can tell you that this 2007 is a wine well worth drinking.

Unexpected Pleasure
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 4, 2011

I have long admired this surprising wine made from an obscure grape in a minor wine region. It is one of those wines that's so much fun to share with friends, because chances are they might not have tasted a wine from the Silvaner grape before, nor a wine from Germany's Franken (or Franconia) region. The wine's quality is solid and its price is very reasonable. The wine is very easy to drink and it has such a moderate alcohol level (11.5 percent alcohol-by-volume) that you can get through a meal without unduly policing your consumption.

A Master of Zinfandel
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 20, 2011

I have said that I do not enjoy Zinfandel as much as I used to, but that general statement emphatically does not apply to the single-vineyard, old-vines Zinfandels that Joel Peterson produces at Ravenswood. Joel is a gifted winemaker who for decades has sourced much of California's finest old-vine Zinfandel fruit and produced wines that reflect their vineyard rather than their winemaker. Because each Ravenswood single-vineyard Zinfandel is individual and also so well-made, choosing a favorite is challenging. Even the biggest, richest Ravenswood Zins are wonderful (even though I don't favor rich, ripe Zins) and even the huge Zins are not sweet.

A Sauvignon Score
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 6, 2011

Because I have been so disappointed in California Sauvignon Blancs in recent vintages -- their sweetness, and a bitterness that seems to come from their high alcohol are my main issues -- I taste them at every opportunity. Maybe this one will buck the trend, I say to myself as I open each bottle from another winery or another vintage. And last night I scored: This Quivira Sauvignon Blanc is dry and crisp and has plenty of delicious, delightful varietal character.

The Antidote for Summer Stifle
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 23, 2011

Germany's 2008 Rieslings began appearing in U.S. wine shops two years ago. In the process of moving my wine cellar recently, I uncovered a mixed case of 2008 Rieslings from Germany that I had completely forgotten about. I didn't doubt that they would be in good shape -- German Rieslings can live for decades, especially in classic vintages. And, I discovered that, sure enough, the majority of them are still available in wine shops according to the wine-searcher.com website. Tasting these Rieslings blind made for joyful work on a muggy August day.

Great Value South African White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 9, 2011

One of the sad realities of the wine scene is that Chenin Blanc wines struggle to gain a following among wine drinkers in the U.S. Chenin Blanc is one of the world's noble white grape varieties. It makes wines that are distinctive and delicious, ranging in style from dry to botrytis-affected sweet, to sparkling. But the wines have little traction in the market - even the dry style.

A Fresh, Exemplary Douro Red
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 26, 2011

I remember vividly my first visit to Portugal's Douro Valley more than ten years ago, undertaken not to explore the region's famous Port wines but rather the emerging category of red Douro DOC table wines. Most of the wines I tasted at that time were powerhouses forged of ripe, dark fruit, strong mineral notes, considerable tannin, and improbable grace. But the Douro DOC region can also produce lighter reds, and this 2009 Assobio gives testimony to how good the lighter wines can be.

A Great White Wine from the Land of the Red
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 13, 2011

I love the red Tempranillo-based reds of the Bodegas Fariña winery in the Toro district of northern Spain. That's doesn't surprise me, given that Toro is a gifted growing area for the variant of Tempranillo that's locally called Tinta de Toro, and that Bodegas Fariña is one of the pioneers in the district. What is surprising is this white wine, made by a red wine specialist in a red-wine production zone. It is a splendid wine in its own right and all the more so in the context of the Toro district.

A White For Summer That's More Than a "Summer White"
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 28, 2011

This is an inexpensive white wine that you can taste without context and enjoy thoroughly for its rich flavor, its refreshing acidity, and its ability to suit a wide range of foods. Having recently visited the Lugana zone, however, I find that I cannot separate my experience of the wine from its context -- its grape variety and region -- and I enjoy the wine all the more in relation to its setting.

Seriously Delicious Pinot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 14, 2011

Gloria Ferrer is a wine estate in the Carneros area of Sonoma County. It was founded by Jose and Gloria Ferrer, whose family owns Freixenet and Siguras Viudas -- hugely successful Cavas from Spain. Gloria Ferrer is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. In addition to its critically-acclaimed sparkling wines, the winery now produces seven varietal wines, including four different Pinot Noirs. Tasting blind recently, I was intrigued by two of the single-vineyard Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noirs, moving back and forth between them to determine my favorite.

Where Tannin is a Tradition
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 31, 2011

The territory of Montefalco lies in the center of the Umbria region which itself lies in the center of Italy. Montefalco has been a DOC production area for red and white wine since 1992; in 1992, the area also earned DOCG status for the production of Montefalco Sagrantino, a red wine made entirely from the local Sagrantino variety, which had been a DOC wine since 1977. The DOCG wine is a dark, powerful red that must age for two and a half years before it can be sold, and even then is extremely tannic. Montefalco Rosso DOC is what the locals actually drink while waiting for their Sagrantino to come around.

A Cab That Stands Apart
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 17, 2011

Wine names can be misleading. I had a bottle of this Cabernet kicking around for a few months and maybe would never have gotten around to tasting it, had my husband (a.k.a. house sommelier) not presented it to me blind. My issue had been the name, 'Date Night.' Another 'lifestyle' brand, I thought, remnants of 'Little Black Dress,' 'White Lie' and similar female-directed names stuck uncomfortably in my mental craw. But in fact this is a serious wine. And seriously commendable.

A New Venture for a California Legend
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 3, 2011

I'm a classicist when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon: I like lean, firm wines that might be austere when young and are not particularly fruity, but that develop complex secondary flavors and supple texture over time. This wine is not that. It's a big, soft hug of a Cabernet that isn't holding back. And I find it delicious.

Let the Pendulum Swing
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 19, 2011

One of the first California wines I ever loved was a late-1970s vintage Chardonnay from Santa Ynez Valley, which I tasted in the early 1980s. As someone who drank mainly Italian wines, I had never encountered such richness and seductiveness in a white wine before, and I was smitten. Barely a decade later, the pendulum swung to the leaner, 'food wine' side for California Chardonnays, and then to wherever it is today, when taut and firm Chardonnays co-exist with huge but soulless cousins. In that context, this 2009 Chardonnay is a throwback to richness that I heartily welcome.

Discovered: A New Tuscan White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 5, 2011

I don't know a single wine lover who isn't excited by discovering a terrific wine that is completely new to him, or her. (If that wine is a great value, the excitement doubles.) I am telling you about this white Tuscan wine in that spirit: I had never heard of Prelius, I opened a bottle to drink with an ordinary weekday meal, and I discovered a delicious, well-made and affordable wine that I will be happy to drink again and again.

Quality, Meet Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 22, 2011

It was somewhat startling for me to realize that in almost six years of writing this column, I have never before featured a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It was surprising for many reasons: I have always enjoyed the spicy red wines made from the native Montepulciano grape in Italy's Abruzzo region; a few exciting producers have emerged in recent years; these wines are terrifically food-friendly; and it's hard to find better value.

Semillon, Splendidly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 8, 2011

My fascination with Semillon wines began 20 years ago when I blind-tasted an aged, unoaked Hunter Valley (Australia) Semillon and confused it for a white Burgundy. The richness and power of that wine thrilled me, as did its smokiness and its complexity of flavor. In the years since, unfortunately, Semillon wines seem to have become a rare commodity. Luckily, the Mendel winery in Argentina has brought a new Semillon to the U.S.

A New Crown Jewel for Argentina
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 22, 2011

When I visited Bodega DiamAndes four months ago, I felt as if I had entered a parallel universe. In the midst of Argentina's largest vineyard region, in the midst of mainly fresh-fruity-delicious red wines, I found sophistication. What I had actually entered was the Clos de Los Siete, an 1800-acre gated community of five individually-owned wineries that was envisioned and created by Bordeaux-based winemaker Michel Rolland.

Argentina's Exciting White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 8, 2011

If you want to experience Torrontés at its best, just unscrew the cap of a bottle of Crios. Winemaker Susana Balbo, who is regarded as the queen of Torrontés, produces this wine from grapes grown in a gifted terroir for Torrontés, the Cafayate area of Salta province, where high-altitude (5000 feet) brings the vines plenty of sun by day and very cool nights. Assuming that you do not rigidly limit your taste preferences only to oaked white wines, this wine should bring a smile to your face.

Beyond Fruitiness
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 25, 2011

On a visit to Argentina last autumn, I tasted dozens of delicious, fruity reds every day. In reviewing my tasting notes, I noticed that the wines I rated highest were those that had some age on them, from the 2007 and earlier vintages. Age toned down the exuberant fruitiness and gave the wines a bit of complexity. That's one reason why I like these two vintages of Zuccardi's Tempranillo, especially the older of the two. I also like them because they offer a change of pace from the predictable Malbec wines that rule Argentina.

Cross-Cultural Success
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 11, 2011

If I had not tasted this wine blind, I might think that my reaction to it was influenced by the magical 'Antinori' name on the label -- or by the supremely classy label itself, for that matter. But when I tasted this Napa Valley Cab among a dozen blind reds, most of them Italian, I liked it for its taste. It was an interesting context for a wine born of Italian ownership from grapes grown high in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley.

A Rosy Start to the New Year
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 28, 2010

With one or two exceptions, the greatest Champagnes I have ever tasted have been traditional, 'white' Champagnes. But most of my most satisfying experiences in drinking Champagne with food have involved rosé Champagnes. Thanks to their richer weight and flavor intensity, rosé Champagnes have more flexibility with flavorful or moderately rich dishes. Bollinger ranks as one (among several) of my favorite Champagne houses, and Bollinger's two rosé Champagnes -- the vintage Grande Année Rosé, and this non-vintage Rosé -- are fine wines.

Take Me to the Mountain
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 15, 2010

The moment had an air of ceremony to it: Alessio Planeta was about to pour the first bottle of his Planeta Carricante ever opened in New York City. What brought drama to the occasion was the improbability of Planeta, one of Sicily's largest private wineries and the most well-known in this country, venturing to the heights of volcanic Mt. Etna to grow the obscure but highly-regarded white Carricante grape.

Tuscany's New Royalty
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 30, 2010

This is the most exciting new wine that I have tasted all year. It's a wine that haunts me, conjuring images in my mind of the picturesque hills of Chianti Classico, their history of noble landowners and sharecropper-farmers, and their iconic wine that has evolved over centuries, surviving through thick and thin. The winery name, Barone Ricasoli, is certainly one of the triggers for these impressions: The 19th century 'Iron Baron,' Bettino Ricasoli, developed a formal blend of grape varieties for Chianti Classico and is the most notable figure in the history of the wine. The wine's label adds to the effect, being a detail of the Ricasoli family tree, dating back to 1584. But the wine itself plays a role, because it proves convincingly the enduring greatness of Chianti Classico.

175 Years Young
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 16, 2010

When I first started learning about wine oh-so-many years ago, I didn't think of Tio Pepe Fino Sherry as a wine, but instead categorized it vaguely in my mind as some sort of bar drink. In actuality, Sherry is one of the world's most fascinating and compelling types of wine, and Tio Pepe, as the single most famous dry Sherry, deserves a place on the table of wine lovers.

The Beat Goes On
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 2, 2010

For the many American writers and wine buyers who were fond of the Rhône Valley's large, affable Jaboulet family, it was a sad day when the family sold its very successful Paul Jaboulet Ainé winery. And it was a happy day two years later when the wines of Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet became available in the U.S. For 30 years, Philippe Jaboulet had been the director of production at Paul Jaboulet Ainé, a member of the fourth generation of winemaking Jaboulets. Now he and his son, a trained enologist, run the small Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet, producing only about 6,500 cases of mainly Northern Rhône reds and whites.

'Lesser' is a Relative Term
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 19, 2010

Some of the most extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons that I have ever had from California have come from Chateau Montelena. Many other wine critics probably make a similar claim; Chateau Montelena's Cabernets are widely recognized as being among America's finest. Now that I've set the stage, let me qualify the immediate discussion. Chateau Montelena makes two Cabernets each year, and this 2007 is the lesser one -- not the legendary 'Montelena Estate' Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery's home vineyards, but the 'Napa Valley' Cabernet.

A Walk on the Wild Side
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 5, 2010

When the island of Sicily began to transition from making huge quantities of mainly everyday-quality red and white wines to producing some finer wines as well, much of the new efforts involved international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. That was twenty-plus years ago. The international varietals succeeded in capturing the attention of the world market, even as they disheartened Italian wine aficionados. Since then, Sicilian wine producers have come home to their native grape varieties, particularly the red Nero d'Avola grape. If the reviews published on this site are any indication, most of the Sicilian wines that critics applaud are based on Nero d'Avola.

A 'New' California Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 21, 2010

Comes a time when you want a change of pace. For some wine lovers, a change of pace might be a rosé wine, an off-dry Riesling, or a red wine made from some grape other than Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir. My change of pace at the moment is a full-throttle California Chardonnay.

Venturing Beyond the Mainstream
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 7, 2010

This is the story of an underdog wine made from an unknown grape variety in a style that that is the opposite of mainstream. Considering what this wine has going against it, I actually wondered whether I should choose a different wine to review -- some important wine, instead of this simple little delightful bit of obscurity. Except that I've always had a thing for underdogs.

Where Delicious Meets Serious
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 25, 2010

As much as I agree with those critics who lament the overly-ambitious style of many California Pinot Noirs today - wines that are too dark in color and in personality, with excessively high alcohol levels and inadequate finesse - I must admit that some California Pinots are absolutely terrific. My favorites hail from California's cooler regions, especially the Sonoma Coast AVA. This wine is from another cool climate zone, Sonoma's Russian River Valley AVA.

The Price Is Right
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 10, 2010

This column is for those of you who don't want to spend a fortune on good wine. It's for wine lovers who are struggling with the heat and humidity, and feeling frustrated that the weather seems to make 'serious' wines taste disappointing. It's for anyone who is a bit disillusioned with the style of many Sauvignon Blancs from California today. Here is a wine that you can afford, that you can enjoy in the summer and beyond, that's dry, and that's food-friendly.

Richness, Minerality and Elegance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 27, 2010

I am a huge fan of Chablis, particularly in what you might call 'classic' vintages in which the wines retain a strong backbone of acidity and express minerality of aroma and flavor in no uncertain terms. The 2008 wines that have just come on the market have that great acidity and minerality -- and their vintage does 'classic' one better by also endowing the wines with body and richness. Lucky days for Chablis lovers!

An Italian White with Real Flavor
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 13, 2010

Ever since the 1970s, Italy has been tremendously successful in making clean, fresh, food-friendly white wines that are popular with wine drinkers, even though wine professionals deride their lack of flavor. Fortunately, such wines tell only half the story of Italian white wine today. At the opposite end of the spectrum are high-quality, individualistic, flavorful whites. The region of Campania on Italy's southwest coast lays claim to several of these wines.

Modern, But Not Cookie-Cutter
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 29, 2010

Have you noticed that I am an Italophile? Searching for inspiration for this column, I blind-tasted, from California, six 2008 Chardonnays and six prestigious reds, mainly Cabernets and one Syrah. Good wines, all -- but none of them struck that chord in me that says: I really want to tell others about this wine. Then I blind-tasted this red from Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It whispered to me, 'Welcome home.'

Microcosms of Pinot Noir Expression
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 15, 2010

I've been following with excitement the Pinot Noirs produced from grapes grown on the far Sonoma Coast -- that part of the large Sonoma Coast AVA that is closest to the Pacific Ocean. Over the past year, I've come to know and admire the Pinots of Cobb Wines, a fairly new winery founded in 2001. Although the brand is relatively new, the Cobb family is well established on the Sonoma Coast viticulturally, because David Cobb planted Coastlands Vineyard in the coastal southern portion of Sonoma County in 1989 and was a pioneer in the area.

Redefining Brunello
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 1, 2010

Brunello di Montalcino was the first great wine I ever tasted. The occasion was dinner for two at Sabatini restaurant in Florence many years ago, when I was so young that the waiter thought me unworthy of Brunello and tried to steer me toward Chianti instead. In stumbling Italian, I explained to him that Brunello di Montalcino was not available in the U.S., and that I was therefore determined to taste it in Italy. I can still remember that glorious wine.

Racy Meets Delicious
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 19, 2010

I find German Rieslings to be utterly compelling, fascinating, sometimes mind-bending in their improbable combination of sweetness and acidity, weight and delicacy. Every time I taste them I realize that I should drink them more often.

The Legend Lives On
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 4, 2010

I suspect that I have tasted more Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve than any other California wine. I've been fortunate to have attended vertical tastings going back to 1971, and I have also bought and cellared the wine. It is always one of my favorite Napa Valley Cabs, in fact one of favorite Cabernet-based wines outside of Bordeaux.

Sangiovese That Sings
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 20, 2010

The Chianti Classico DOCG zone in central Tuscany is one of the world's most historic and most beautiful wine regions. It's a fairly compact area of about 100 square miles, but because the zone is all hilly, almost everything that defines terroir -- vineyard altitude, the directional aspect of the vines, the soils and the climate of the vineyards -- varies from one part of the territory to the next. As a result, Chianti Classico wines display enormous variation in style according to the location of their vineyard estate (and of course further variation according to the winemaking techniques employed). The diversity of the area and its wines has given me happy material for research for many years.

Seeing the Light of Luce
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 7, 2010

When Robert Mondavi and Vittorio Frescobaldi decided to create the wine called Luce in 1995, the venture was hailed as a momentous one, along the lines of Mondavi's collaboration with Baron Phillipe de Rothschild to create Opus One in 1978. Followers of Italian wine might have seen it differently. Another Super Tuscan wine, envisioned in large part by a California winemaker - what's the point of that? I was skeptical. But I have come to believe that over its15 years of history, the Luce della Vite winery has developed authenticity, and its wines are worthy of attention in their own right, not just for the famous names that created the brand.

A Quest for Cool-Climate Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 23, 2010

Migration is a brand within the Duckhorn Wine Company, which embodies the Goldeneye, Paraduxx and Duckhorn wine estates. Unlike those estates, which are grounded in specific terroirs -- Anderson Valley for Goldeneye and Napa Valley for the other two -- Migration's identity (picture the label with ducks in flight) is to make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cool climate terroirs without being tied to a specific AVA. Since its founding in 2001, Migration has made only Pinot Noir, only from Anderson Valley. With this wine, the ducks take flight to Russian River Valley, and Duckhorn Wine Company's very first Chardonnay is the result.

A Brilliant Gem of a Barbaresco
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 9, 2010

At the Masters of Wine Study Course in Napa Valley last month, several of us presented an Italian wine seminar followed by a walk-around tasting that featured 45 outstanding Italian reds and whites. I spent most of the tasting behind the white-wine table, but broke free to taste the northern and central reds. I tasted one great wine after another but the wine that stopped me in my tracks was this Barbaresco.

On Top of the World, Ma!
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 23, 2010

Although I agree with most other wine critics that far too many California Chardonnays are far too oaky and far too huge, I am mighty glad that not every winemaker has followed the pendulum's swing toward delicacy. A lavish Chardonnay can be pure delight. This Stonestreet Chardonnay provides that kind of treasure.

Beautifully Balanced and Beautifully Priced
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 9, 2010

Many wine drinkers enjoy Pinot Noir wines because they are flavorful, fruity and not so tannic as Cabernet. What I love about Pinot Noirs is their diversity. Even a limited group of Pinot Noir wines -- all New World, say, or even all from California -- can present a fascinating range of dryness levels, weight and body, richness or delicacy of aromas and flavors, and personality, let alone the range of aromas and flavors themselves. I had a ball when I recently blind-tasted a dozen California Pinots, and was thrilled to discover that my favorite, this La Crema 2008, was also one of the least expensive wines in the group.

Return to Roots
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 26, 2010

Some wineries come out with new wines, line extensions or new brands as a normal matter of business. However, for a winery such as Shafer Vineyards--a fairly small (32,000 cases), family-owned estate winery--I imagine that a new wine is a big step, especially when that winery already enjoys a respected reputation from critics and connoisseurs. The new wine, in this case One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon, now in its third vintage, has mighty big shoes to fill.

Texture and Class
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 12, 2010

In the past year, I reviewed two fine Merlots from California, the 2005 Matanzas Creek and the 2006 Duckhorn. I wish that I could time-travel back to the occasions when I tasted each of those wines and try this Swanson 2005 Merlot side by side. Which of the three Merlots would be my favorite at that moment? All three are classic Merlots and excellent wines. Today, this Swanson is so satisfying that I can't imagine it could be trumped.

A New Super-Tuscan Debuts
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 29, 2009

Monte Antico is a brand created by Neil and Maria Empson in 1977, five years after they launched their company, Neil Empson Selections, a highy-regarded Milan-based operation that exports and markets fine Italian wines all over the world. Their partner in Monte Antico is Franco Bernabei, one of Italy's earliest consulting winemakers and one of the finest, in my opinion. After 30 years of experience with Monte Antico, Neil Empson and Bernabei created Supremus, a 75-15-10 percent blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Like Monte Antico itself, Supremus comes from grapes grown in various parts of Tuscany, including the coastal Maremma zone, Chianti Classico and other growing districts.

A Stylistic Dilemma
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 15, 2009

I don't particularly have difficulty making decisions, but when compelled to choose between two wines that are stylistically different, both of which I like a lot, I can become stymied. That happened when I dined with Seven Hills Winery owners, Vicky and Casey McClelland, and it happened again when I tasted my two favorites of their wines at home. One wine is softer, subtler and more approachable, and the other is tight and lean with concentrated fruit character and oak to age -- but both are excellent.

Grown to Go the Distance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 1, 2009

I first tasted this wine blind alongside what turned out to be other Chardonnays from California. This one was so different from the others that I didn't fully appreciate the wine at first. It was a rich, oaked Chardonnay like the others, but unlike them it was bone dry and had very high acidity and relatively low alcohol. With time, the other wines became tiring while this one grew more and more interesting. If I'd been drinking instead of tasting, this would have been the bottle that I emptied.

Powerhouse Dolcetto
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 17, 2009

Tasting wine is never-ending learning. A case in point is this wondrously rich Dolcetto. I know what Dolcetto tastes like: it's a dry, generally lean-structured, dryish-textured, spicy-style red with flavors of dark fruit whose degree of concentration renders the wine either moderately serious or everyday quaffable. And then I encounter a Dolcetto like this one, and I must reconsider all my assumptions.

Carmenere Beyond Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 3, 2009

The Carmenere grape has emerged from obscurity in recent years because of the number of Carmenere wines available from Chile and the belief that Carmenere can be Chile's flagship wine, just as Malbec is Argentina's. I have not espoused that belief, because I've found Chile's Carmeneres as a group inferior to its Cabernets. They often don't seem to get ripe enough to lose their herbaceous notes. But I have found one Carmenere-based wine that I can enthusiastically endorse. It is from, of all places, northeastern Italy.

An Austrian Star
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 20, 2009

I first had this bubbly at an informal tasting of Austrian wines, where it stood out to me as a star. But I don't put a lot of stock in the impressions that I take away from walk-around wine-tastings, and I decided to taste the wine again -- this time blind, in the company of similar sparkling wines. It was my favorite.

Cross-Cultural Bonding
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 6, 2009

When I prepared to taste this wine, I had mixed expectations. I wanted to like it, and expected to like it, because I have so much admiration for the Huneeus family, which owns the Quintessa estate in Napa Valley and the Veramonte winery in Chile. But how much can you expect these days from a $20 wine? And does the world need really another Argentine Malbec?

Honest Wine, Honest Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 22, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola owns some of the finest and most pedigreed Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in California, namely, the Rubicon Estate land once owned by Gustave Niebaum and the neighboring land which was the source of the legendary Inglenook Cabernets of the 1940s made by John Daniel. Those vineyards make Rubicon ($145) and Rubicon Estate 'Cask' Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a wine named in tribute to those earlier Inglenook 'Cask' Cabernets. Coppola also produces two moderate-priced Cabernet-based wines that deserve their own fifteen minutes of recognition.

California Pinot Noir from a Top Specialist
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 8, 2009

California has many wineries that are Pinot Noir specialists, and maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to be in a position to judge which winery over time is the stellar Pinot Noir specialist in the state. For now, I will say that Hartford Family Winery in Sonoma County is definitely on my short list. This winery grows Pinot Noir in nine vineyards -- mainly in Sonoma County but also in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County -- and makes ten distinct Pinot Noir wines. And yet its total Pinot Noir production is only about 8,000 cases per year; most of its Pinots are produced in quantities of fewer than 500 cases per year. Quality across the board is excellent, and the diversity from one Pinot to the next proves what individual attention each terroir receives.

A New Summertime Classic
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 25, 2009

Vermentino has long grown on the island of Sardinia but my favorite renditions of the grape variety hail from the adjacent regions of Liguria and Tuscany, where the wines seem to have more substance. In Tuscany, the grape grows not in the central part of the region but along the coast, as it does in Liguria. This wine is from the DOC zone of Bolgheri, about 50 miles southwest of Florence, world-famous for its red wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia; the regulations for Bolgheri DOC permit blended whites from Trebbiano, Vermentino and/or Sauvignon Blanc, as well as varietal whites from either Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc, which are the finest whites of the zone.

A Cabernet with Historic Roots
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 11, 2009

I do love California's mountain Cabernets! They combine power with character, and richness with restraint, pushing the limit of Cabernet's intensity without going over the top. Now I'm adding another Cabernet to my list of favorites in this style: The 2005 J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon.

A Real Wine That Happens to Be Rosé
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 28, 2009

When the circumstances are right -- hot summer day, cold wine and a relaxed atmosphere -- I can find pleasure in almost any dry rosé wine that you might hand me. But how good are these wines really, I mean technically, when you scrutinize them against each other as wines rather than simply drinking them for pleasure? I recently put more than a dozen to the test, and the Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir blew the other rosés off the table.

A Terrific Bubbly and a Terrific Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 14, 2009

When I agreed to meet Marcello Lunelli, chief winemaker of the family-owned Ferrari wine house, and taste through his sparkling wines, I had my eyes on the company's prize wine, the $95 vintage-dated Giulio Ferrari Brut Reserve. Much to my surprise, the wine that captivated me was the basic, regular non-vintage (NV) Ferrari Brut. Don't get me wrong: the 1999 Giulo Ferrari is fantastic, and I rate it higher than the NV Brut. But the Brut is so utterly enjoyable!

One of the World's Greatest Merlot Wines
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 30, 2009

I've forgotten the vintage, but I can still recall the taste of the first Masseto I experienced many years ago. I had never encountered an Italian wine that was so plump and so dense with fruit character. As a Merlot, it was also vastly different from the fairly austere and simple Merlots from Italy's northeastern regions -- a revelation. Masseto is the star of the outstanding collection of wines made by the Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, in the Bolgheri wine zone on the Tuscan coast. The estate was founded in 1981 by Ludovico Antinori and now, after various changes in ownership, is the property of the Frescobaldi family. The wine called Masseto comes from a single vineyard of the same name, whose 17 acres are planted entirely to Merlot.

A Syrah That's Fruity but Far More Than Just Fruity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 16, 2009

I can get really excited about Syrah, but only certain expressions of it: Not the delicious, bright-fruity Southeastern Australian versions; not the supremely powerful, super-ripe wines that some Barossa Valley producers make; and not the dullish, baked-fruit wines that California used to make (and sometimes still does). I want weight in Syrah, but with sleekness, fresh fruity character, and complexity that goes beyond fruitiness -- characteristics that Syrah can have when the grapes grow in cool wine regions. Luckily for me, fanatics like Steve MacRostie are taking a gamble on growing Syrah in California's cool-climate fringes.

A Sauvignon Blanc at the Top of the Mountain
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 2, 2009

I have tasted many great red wines from Mayacamas Vineyards over the years. The winery has a reputation among collectors for making seemingly immortal Cabernets. I recall blind-tasting the Mayacamas 1975 Cabernet in 2000 and thinking it was a 15 year old, classified-growth Bordeaux; only when I could not find a Bordeaux vintage whose style and age fit the taste of the wine did I realize the wine was a sensational 25-year-young Cab from California. Actually, Mayacamas makes white wines, too: about 2000 cases a year of Chardonnay and 600 cases a year of Sauvignon Blanc.

The Pleasure of Refinement
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 19, 2009

I am a longtime fan of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. Sometimes, people have been surprised to hear me say that. This wine is not one of the new, cutting-edge, powerful Cabernets or Cab blends that excite critics and collectors. It has been around forever (since 1976, anyway) and it never seems to vary much in style. In today's bombastic milieu, it speaks the language of restraint and moderation. But that is precisely what I love about it.

A Tale of Two Loire Valley Sauvignons
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 5, 2009

My plan was to review just one Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc-based wine, the very fine Sancerre of Lucien Crochet. But just for fun, I also opened a wine from a lesser Loire appellation: a straw dog I suppose I considered it. Rather than serving as a foil to the Sancerre's quality, however, that wine set up a fascinating and intriguing stylistic opposition. Essentially, the pairing is that of a humbler wine whose charms are immediately available and a more elite wine whose quality is indisputable and whose style is extremely refined. The common man and the aristocrat, as it were; both wonderful, depending on your taste, your mood and the food.

Dry Rieslings Have No Monopoly on Character
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 21, 2009

Of all the styles of Riesling that exist, the dry style is my favorite. But sometimes when I taste an off-dry Riesling, I can hear in my head (like the voice of conscience) my German-wine-loving friend who maintains that dry Rieslings can be austere and that the best German Rieslings have some residual sugar to balance their refreshingly high acidity. Tasting this Riesling, I think that he has a point.

Simply Classic Merlot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 7, 2009

Of all the producers in California, Duckhorn Vineyards is probably the one most closely associated with Merlot. Duckhorn has made celebrated Merlots since its first harvest, in 1978, and the success of its Three Palm Vineyards Merlot in particular was undoubtedly an impetus behind the emergence of Merlot as one of California's major red varietal wines. These days, Duckhorn makes relatively small amounts of the Three Palms Merlot and since 1995 has made an Estate Merlot (both are priced at $85). This Napa Valley Merlot, which has been a staple for the winery since 1979, is Duckhorn's other Merlot, and the one that you can most easily get your hands on.

Brunello for the Long Term, and for Now
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 24, 2009

I don't drink Brunello di Montalcino on a regular basis (who does?) and therefore I sometimes forget how much I love this wine. Thirty-plus years ago, a Brunello was the first great wine that I ever experienced -- my 'Aha!' wine, as Oprah might put it -- and my admiration for Brunello has grown ever since. Tonight I am fortunate enough to be swirling in my glass a terrific Brunello from a top producer in an excellent vintage. A seven year old Brunello Riserva should by all rights be a baby, too young to enjoy. But Col d'Orcia's Riserva Poggio al Vento is approachable and delicious, a powerful wine that is nonetheless soft and ample and fills the mouth with ripe rather than aggressive tannin. The reason has to do with the production area as well as the wine's traditional winemaking technique.

Too Good for Leftovers
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 10, 2009

I enjoy Pinot Noirs from cool climate regions, and the Sonoma Coast is probably the coolest of California's cool regions. The 2006 Freestone Pinot Noir is indeed impressive and it epitomizes all that I love in this style of Pinot Noir. Its pronounced flavors are fresh, complex and concentrated within a sleek frame that has plenty of depth.

A Welcome Change of Pace
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 24, 2009

My husband Ed is the cellarmaster and sommelier in our family. Every night he's the one who decides what might be fun to drink, and he usually serves his selection to me blind. After months of choosing mainly California wines as research for our upcoming book (California Wine For Dummies), he surprised me one evening with a thoroughly delightful Valpolicella. It was a complete change of pace from our recent norm, and a real discovery.

Cool Climate Syrah
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 10, 2009

In 2007, California wineries crushed 25% more Syrah grapes than they did just five years earlier -- and more than 200 times as much as they did in 1990. Although Syrah plantings represent only 24% of Cabernet Sauvignon's acreage in California, Syrah is clearly gaining steam. Much of the enthusiasm about Syrah is coming from those who have planted this grape in cooler parts of the state, such as Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara and, in the case of this wine, Carneros.

Classic Unoaked Chablis
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 27, 2009

Domaine Laroche Chablis 'Saint Martin' 2006 ($30, Remy Cointreau USA): Some readers might consider Chablis to be an odd wine to review in the middle of winter. I agree that crisp, refreshing white wines do not soothe the spirit when snow is falling outside quite so effectively as a lusty, full-bodied red wine would. I weighed that thought against the possibility that by the time Spring comes, this fine wine might no longer be available in this vintage; the bird in the hand won.

Fruity, But No Trip to the Candy Store
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 13, 2009

Of all white grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc might very well be the one whose wines vary most in style from one wine region to another and, in the case of New World wines, from one producer to another. California Sauvignon Blancs vary quite a lot in the nature of their fruit character, which can be extremely fruity or minerally or slightly vegetal. These variations in raw material are then compounded by winemaking differences stemming from the presence or absence of oak, the inclusion or exclusion of Semillon, and the amount of residual sugar left in the finished wine. In general, the fruity versions are not my favorites. But, as this particular wine has caused me to realize, there's fruity and then there's fruity….

Cool Region, Cool Vintage, Cool Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 30, 2008

Whenever I write about Merlot, that disparaging remark in the film, Sideways, continues to pop into my mind just the way a competitor's website might annoyingly pop up when you google your own business. I look forward to the day when good California Merlots no longer have to take a defensive stance. I applaud wines such as this fine Matanzas Creek Merlot that will help speed the arrival of that day.

New Wine, Ancient Winery
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 16, 2008

Sometimes a wine's story can captivate you as much as the taste of the wine does. That is the case with this new Rioja wine, which is the first release in modern times from an ancient, rock-walled winery that has been painstakingly restored by its owner.

Rosemount, The Sequel
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 2, 2008

The name Robert Oatley doesn't mean a lot to many wine drinkers in America, but those in the wine trade who have followed the success story of Australian wines might be inclined to genuflect before the Ozzie octogenarian. For he is the man who created Rosemount Estate, which in turn became the phalanx that opened the U.S. market to Australian wines. (I remember well the stir that Rosemount Chardonnay caused when it debuted in a blind tasting at International Wine Center in 1985--and stole the show, to the astonishment of tasters who had never before tried an Australian wine.)

Excellent Nebbiolo--From California
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 18, 2008

Italy's Nebbiolo grape--the grape behind Piedmont's glorious Barolo and Barbaresco wines--is notorious for its inability to perform well outside its home region. But every rule has its exception, and what's more, patience pays off. After decades of commitment to Nebbiolo and other Italian grape varieties, California winery Martin & Weyrich is producing Nebbiolos that are better than any I have tasted outside of Italy.

A Wonderful Chardonnay -- Yet Again
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 4, 2008

This wonderful Bouchaine Chardonnay from Carneros is the fifth Chardonnay wine that I have reviewed in the past two months. I have wondered whether I am overdoing it. After all, we all hear (and I have written) that wine drinkers are bored with Chardonnay, that the wines all taste the same and are too big and oaky to enjoy with food, and so forth. But I have been tasting good Chardonnays lately. Bouchaine's 2006 Estate Chardonnay is one of the best.

A Great Pinot from San Francisco's Back Yard
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 21, 2008

Willowbrook Cellars is a seven-year-old winery that specializes in Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and other cool-climate locales. It is a partnership between winemaker Joe Otos and retired technology executives John Tracy -- who owns a vineyard in Forestville, in the Russian River Valley -- and Ed Sillari. For its first two years, Willowbrook produced small amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Tracy's vineyard; subsequently, Otos has branched out, seeking additional small vineyards that offer distinctive Pinot Noir fruit. The winery's current offerings include Pinots from Sonoma Coast (Kastaniah Vineyard and Dunah Vineyard), Russian River Valley, and this delicious Pinot from Marin County.

A Terrific Value in Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 7, 2008

I discovered this fantastic-value Chardonnay on a day when value was far from my mind. My mission was to taste Michael Mondavi's brand new, elite Cabernet Sauvignon, 'M' by Michael Mondavi, which hadn't yet been released. I previously was fortunate enough to have an early taste of 'Continuum,' the impressive new wine made by Michael's brother, Tim, and I was eager to know how 'M' would stack up. It did not disappoint in the least. But the opening act was, in its own way, also remarkable: a dry rosé and this Chardonnay from Michael's wife, Isabel.

Domaine Leflaive's Southern Front
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 23, 2008

You might already know that the illustrious Domaine Leflaive winery in Puligny-Montrachet, in Burgundy's famed Côte d'Or district, now makes a wine from the Mâconnais district, about two-hours' drive south. Or maybe, like me, you heard that, and you even tasted the wine, and then (the Information Age being so impossibly full of information!) you forgot. In that case, I am happy to remind you, because the result of Anne-Claude Leflaive's venture to the south is a delicious, high quality and pedigreed white Burgundy that's actually affordable enough to drink more often than just on special occasions.

A Great Aussie Cabernet Discovery
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 9, 2008

I love Bordeaux, and maybe that's why this Australian Cabernet stood out when I tasted it in the midst of dozens of other wines at a trade convention this summer. Part of what caught my attention was the improbability of it all: A Cabernet from Australia, the land of fruity, flavorful wines, that reminds me of Bordeaux reds, which are generally low-key in flavor.

Antinori's Signature White
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 26, 2008

Would it sound like boasting if I said that I've known Cervaro della Sala since that wine was just a glint in the winemaker's eye? I can say this at all only because, of all the wineries I have visited, my evening at Antinori's Castello della Sala in the early 1980s, when winemaker Renzo Cotarella gave me a taste of a new Chardonnay, still stands out for me.

Chablis Great Emerges in Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 12, 2008

I have long been a fan of William Fèvre's Chablis wines. About 20 years ago, before oak returned to its current favor among Chablis producers, Fèvre was one of the few who consistently made Chablis using oak, and his wines excelled in that style. Ten years ago, Fèvre sold his Chablis winery and vineyards to the Henriot family, which continues to make and market the wines as Domaine William Fèvre. Now Fèvre himself makes Chardonnay halfway around the globe, in Chile.

Australia's Classic Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 29, 2008

I've been tasting lots of Sauvignon Blancs this summer, and have reviewed a few of them here on WRO already. Time to give it a rest, move on to other types of wine. But I feel compelled to share my feelings about this Sauvignon Blanc from Australia, which just might be my favorite Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere in the New World.

Winemaking as Art
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 15, 2008

In the early days of Washington's emergence as a wine region, all the talk was about the quality of its Merlot. Then somewhere along the way, some critics (including me) decided that the state's Cabernets were more impressive. Well, Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2005 'Artists Series' Meritage (a blend of 57% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, along with 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec) might put to rest any arguments about which is Washington's better variety: It might prove that the best is a blend of both.

Act Two for a Famous Washington Wine Name
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 1, 2008

The first time I ever had a bird's eye view of the vineyards of eastern Washington State, it was in a small plane piloted by grapegrower Mike Hogue of The Hogue Cellars. Recently I encountered Mike in a whole new capacity, seven years after he sold The Hogue Cellars; he is now co-owner of the new Mercer Estates winery in partnership with grower Bud Mercer and both of their families.

Platinum-Medal Shiraz Offers Nuance and Complexity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 17, 2008

Capel Vale 2005 Shiraz from Mount Barker in Western Australia is a terrific example of a Shiraz that's more elegant and refined than the Barossa model, and far more nuanced than the ubiquitous and popular South Eastern Australia brands. It's the kind of Shiraz that will intrigue thoughtful tasters and yet provide plenty of straightforward pleasure for more casual drinkers.

A Riesling Power
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 3, 2008

When I visited Western Australia a year ago, a highlight of my trip was a vertical tasting of Howard Park Riesling going back to the 1988 vintage. The wines were terrific, and showed impressive longevity. I understood then that Howard Park winery is a Riesling power.

Pinot Bianco at Its Best
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 20, 2008

At a recent tasting of Alto Adige wines, I sampled the wines of twelve producers and rated none of them lower than 87, although some cost as little as $12 a bottle. One wine that captivated me was this single-vineyard Pinot Bianco from Elena Walch, a former architect who is one of the most admired winemakers in the region.

A Winning Match
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 6, 2008

The 2005 Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Gravieres is a surprisingly affordable premier cru Burgundy that shows all the charm of the vintage itself. It has impressive concentration of black cherry fruit on the nose, coupled with a marked mineral character that I find typical of Santenay.

A Sauvignon Blanc Standing Out from Its Peers
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 22, 2008

I was particularly intrigued by several California wines in a recent tasting of every recent-vintage Sauvignon Blanc in my cellar, including this 2006 bottling from Silverado Vineyards. All were unoaked, with high acidity and yet ripe, fruity flavors and softer texture than you would expect for wines with high acidity. The Silverado stood out from the rest because of the delicacy of its fruit character and a certain understatement of expression, as well as its depth and length across the palate.

Yesterday's Wines, Today
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 8, 2008

In 1976, I traveled by car from Sicily to Italy's northernmost reaches, on my personal Italian wine odyssey. One of my fondest memories from that trip was an audience (yes, as if with the Pope!) with Mr. Nino Negri, the frail head of the leading winery in Lombardy's remote Valtellina district. Of the relatively few brands of Italian wines available then in the U.S., Negri was one of the best. To sit with Mr. Negri at his winery was an honor I never forgot.

A Riesling for the Table
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 25, 2008

I recently enjoyed a remarkable wine-on-the-table experience with a modest, $11 bottle of Riesling. The wine was Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. The Pacific Rim brand had been part of the Bonny Doon Winery in California, but in 2007, owner Randall Grahm spun off the brand into an independent operation situated in Washington. Eighty percent of this wine comes from grapes grown in Washington and twenty percent comes from the Mosel region of Germany, in cooperation with respected winemaker Johannes Selbach.

Tradition, Terroir and Modern Winemaking
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 11, 2008

What is Rosso di Montalcino anyway? It's usually explained as a readier-to-drink version of Brunello di Montalcino. But Brunello is (classically speaking) a wine that requires more age than almost any other wine in the world; a younger version of an eternal wine is not a throwaway everyday red. Rosso's identity is further confused by the fact that producers take different approaches to the wine, using the fruit of young vines in some cases, or selecting out wines that are not appropriate for Brunello--within the legal parameters dictating that the wine be entirely Sangiovese from the Montalcino area.

One of the Best Wines You Never Heard Of
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 26, 2008

One of the reasons that I like the 2004 Val delle Rose Morellino di Scansano is that, despite being very modern--fresh, clean, with bright fruit character--it is also very typically Italian, in its trim cut, its fairly high acidity and its firm, characterful tannin. To maintain the traditional and yet incorporate the modern is an admirable trait.

Having Fun with Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 12, 2008

Despite all the overly-ambitious California Pinot Noirs that the 'Sideways' Pinot boom has spawned, I am grateful for the boom because it has given all of us many more opportunities to have fun with Pinot Noir. Good, poor, or in-between, Pinot Noir is fascinating to taste and fascinating to think about. Having a bit of fun myself, I sampled the 2005 Logan Pinot Noir recently with dinner. A bit fleshier than I like my Pinots, I thought at first. And yet so richly flavorful--not to mention that it's showing no particular oaky character. And it's fairly priced. I like it!

An Elite Appellation Goes Mass-Market
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 29, 2008

I am a big fan of Christian Mouiex--president of Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix, a major Bordeaux négociant company that owns or manages legendary châteaux such as Petrus and Trotanoy, and owner of Dominus winery in Napa Valley. Now, this great value wine gives me all the more reason. What's so special is not just the wine's very good quality but also the fact that it's part of a dynamite concept: a line of regional Bordeaux reds with non-traditional labels, fair prices, and approachable taste for today's wine drinker.

Coming Home to White Burgundy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 15, 2008

I don't drink nearly as much white Burgundy as I would like. Recently at a very special wine dinner at Blantyre, a homey yet truly luxurious Relais et Chateaux resort in Lenox MA, we drank four terrific white Burgundies as a prelude to two main-event flights of red Bordeaux, and the folly of my ways hit me. Returning home, I scoured my cellar for every expendable (that is, affordable) recent-vintage white Burgundy, and opened them one by one with dinner. What satisfied me most were the 2004's I tried.

Crisp as Crisp Can Be
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 1, 2008

If you like dry Rieslings, you know that finding them can be tricky. Many domestic wines labeled as Dry Riesling really aren't truly dry; they are merely less sweet than the wine labeled simply as Riesling by the same producer. And Alsace, once a reliable source for Rieslings that are dry, now makes many Rieslings that are so ripe and rich that they do not offer the bracing satisfaction of a truly dry wine. My own personal frustration has ended, however, because I have discovered the Rieslings of Western Australia.

Impressed by a Pinot's Finesse
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 18, 2007

New Zealand is the promised land for Pinot Noir in the New World -- or so they say. Personally, I haven't been sure, especially as far as New Zealand's Marlborough region is concerned. But this wine has convinced me that Marlborough has more range and more potential for greatness in Pinot Noir than I have previously given it credit for. Here is a world-class Pinot.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Scores a Bull's-Eye
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 4, 2007

Ever since I tasted my first Washington Syrah -- Columbia Crest's first, the 1994 if I remember correctly -- I have been convinced that Washington has special talent for this grape. That wine had real complexity of aroma and flavor, of the sort that was unusual outside the Northern Rhône, and yet it boasted unmistakable New World fruitiness, with none of that cooked fruit dullness so common in California Syrahs of the day.

Jesting Aside, a Concentrated Cab Full of Grace
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 20, 2007

I've sometimes wondered why Frank Mitolo, owner and founder of the Mitolo winery in McLaren Vale, would name this wine in honor of a court clown. I have a feeling that it might have to do with things being different than they appear. Shakespeare's jesters played fools, but were actually clever; this wine is so concentrated and rich that it could be mistaken for a standard Aussie powerhouse, but actually it has real grace.

Oz Meets Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 23, 2007

Of the wine producing countries not traditional for Syrah, Chile might prove to be one of the very best. It was only 14 years ago that French clones of Syrah came to Chile thanks to the Errazuriz winery, and only 11 years since the first Syrah vineyard was officially registered in the country. The newest entry on the Chilean Syrah market is a formidable one. Pangea is made at Viña Ventisquero by none other than John Duval, former Penfolds chief winemaker, together with Ventisquero's own talented winemaker Felipe Tosso.

Misunderstanding Muscadet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 9, 2007

Google 'Muscadet,' and you'll come up with references to good value wines, wines for hot weather, and wines for diabetics. Muscadet, it seems, has been relegated to a remote fringe of the wine world populated by wines for special needs rather than the more desirable neighborhood of good quality, great-tasting wines. Two things are wrong with this situation: one, it is unfair to the fine Muscadets that exist; and two, it deprives many wine lovers of experiencing the tremendous pleasure they might get from a bottle of Muscadet.

An Extremely Stylish Pinot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 25, 2007

If you didn't know that J Vineyards & Winery is owned by a woman, you might nevertheless figure that it is. The evidence, in a word, would be style: stylish bottles, stylish website, innovative and stylish branding. And the wines themselves? Well, my summary descriptor for this 2005 Pinot Noir just happens to be 'extremely stylish.'

An Original, Classic Chianti
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 11, 2007

Change being the constant that it is, many Chianti Classicos these days are not particularly classic. Exaggerated ripeness, fleshy texture, and strong aromas and flavors of oak are fairly common among high-end Chianti Classicos--those that have the extra year of aging necessary for the Riserva category--and the wines are therefore richer and heavier than they traditionally were. In Castello di Volpaia's Riserva, however, classic delicacy and grace still reign.

An Exceptional California Gewurztraminer
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 28, 2007

Even if my first encounter with this wine had not been on one of those steamy days that white wines are made for, and even if winery CEO Jeff Bundschu had not personally handed me the glass, I think that I would still have been bowled over by this wine.

A New Wrinkle for Rioja
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 14, 2007

When I first got involved in wine, Rioja was fairly easy. The wines of only a few major producers, all tradition-minded, were available in the U.S. Some of them made two styles - their soft, full-bodied 'Burgundian' style, and their leaner 'Bordeaux' style - and of course some wines were reservas or gran reservas. But the complexities of the Rioja region in terms of terroir, grape blend and modern versus traditional styling were not yet hot issues.

Surprising Albariño
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 31, 2007

Albariño, the white wine from the Rias Baixas region, in northwestern Spain, seems to have come on even faster than Grüner Veltliner, Austria's "hot" white wine. The appeal for wine drinkers is similar: both are vibrant, fresh, flavorful whites with character.

Rebel with a Cause
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 17, 2007

Italy has her share of iconic, independent-minded wine producers--guys (they mainly are guys) who break with the status quo in their region by trying new techniques, planting new grape varieties, and/or disavowing the local DOC identities for their wines. In the Soave district of the Veneto, that would apply to Roberto Anselmi.

A California Chardonnay that Stands Out
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 3, 2007

I stuck my nose into the glass of 2004 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay and time-travelled more than 20 years back to my early experiences with California Chardonnays. The aroma of this Freemark Abbey was almost indescribable, and it struck a chord. Oak, certainly, but in the sweetest, most seductive way, and apples, slightly baked as if in a succulent apple pie. What's not to like?

After All These Years, Different but Still Fabulous
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 19, 2007

This review begins in a confessional tone. I once followed the wines of Chalk Hill closely, but then I forgot all about them. Back when David Ramey was winemaker, this was one of my favorite California wineries. I was intrigued by Ramey's then avant garde techniques such as barrel fermentation with ambient yeast, and I adored the wines, especially the whites (especially the Sauvignon Blanc). Then I moved on. Too many wines and wine regions, too little time, I suppose. Mea culpa.

Beaujolais Gets Some Respect
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 5, 2007

I was blind-tasting a group of Beaujolais wines, many of them cru Beaujolais, when I came upon this wine. It seemed completely out of place because it was so much more concentrated than the other wines. For my immediate purpose of identifying 'summer wines' to recommend to mainstream wine drinkers, it was useless. But as a fine wine to recommend to wine lovers...bingo!

The Affordable White Burgundy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 22, 2007

People will call me crazy if I say that my favorite type of white Burgundy is Chablis. I admit that no Chardonnay wine in the world can compare with a top Corton Charlemagne that has had enough aging, or with a Montrachet from a great producer. But such wines need time to develop, are rare and hence difficult to find, and are mighty expensive. Chablis delivers authenticity and quality for a fraction of the price, and in my experience is more reliable more often from more producers.

Baby Barolo
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 8, 2007

This wine has so many stories to tell, I'm not sure where to begin. There's the story of Nebbiolo, of course: Italy's very special, very particular noble red grape. And there's the story of the Langhe Hills, the wondrous wine district of tiny hilltop villages that evoke a calm, simple approach to the good life. And the story of Vietti, a family winery whose owners, the Currados, have long been leaders in bringing the warmth and richness of the Piedmont region to American wine lovers.

Born to Fly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 24, 2007

Yes, another wine with animals on its label. But no, definitely not a 'critter-label' wine, as in mass-market, popularly priced, millennial-generation crowd-pleaser wine. The wine called Blackbird Vineyards is a connoisseur's wine through and through.

Syrah in the Service of Gastronomy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 10, 2007

In 2005, approximately 270 new wineries opened in California. Terlato Family Vineyards was one of them. As start-ups go, however, this new winery was hardly new. Its owners, the Terlato family, have been major players in the wine world for more than 50 years. Its director of winemaking, Doug Fletcher, has been making fine wine in California over four decades. You could say that this new Syrah coming from this 'new' winery was generations in the making.

Go Coastal, Young Man
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 27, 2007

You know that you've got a hot tip on a wine when you hear it from the winery's competition. I was sipping pisco sours at a restaurant in Santiago in the company of several wine producers, talking about the remarkable progress that Chilean Sauvignon Blancs have made in recent years. I complimented one of the winemakers on his own Sauvignon Blanc. Then he asked, 'Have you tried Montes' Leyda Valley Sauvignon? It's one of the best.'

A Wine For All Tastes
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 13, 2007

I hate to be a follower of trends, but it's Academy Awards night as I write this, and I am drinking Pinot Noir. The Sideways effect lives on, not just in mainstream wine drinkers but also, apparently, in me.

Vintage Isn't Everything
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 27, 2007

My deadline was looming, and inspiration was lacking. I just didn't seem to like any wine I opened. The affordable Mercurey was too tart, the $75 Napa Valley Cab was boring, and the fancy new Riesling was clumsy and too sweet. Rescue came in the highly improbable form of a 2002 red wine from Tuscany --"improbable" because that vintage was roundly criticized at the time as one of Italy's worst recent years. In Tuscany, some producers call it "disastrous."

Love, Finally
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 13, 2007

Some wines wow you at first taste, but others conquer you gradually, until (as it were) you discover that you are in love with someone whom you had always considered just a good friend. That is my experience with the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve. I always liked and admired the wine, and then, tasting the 2004 vintage at a Napa Valley Vintners seminar two weeks ago, I experienced a moment of truth: it is one of my very favorite white wines.

Name That Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 30, 2007

This could be the last review I ever write of a Tocai Friulano wine. It's not that I have sworn off the wine; in fact, I consider it one of Italy's best white wines. But as of March, wine producers of Italy's Friuli region can no longer label wines with the varietal name, "Tocai Friulano," because EU wine authorities have deemed the name "Tocai" too similar to Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary's wine region famous for the botrytised dessert wine, Tokaji Aszú.

Pinot Noir as Silk
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 16, 2007

When Argyle Winery was founded two decades ago, it put Oregon on the map for sparkling wines. Still today, many wine drinkers would say that bubbly wine is precisely what Argyle is about--and understandably, because Arglye Brut (and the winery's limited production sparkling wines available mainly locally) are excellent wines. But actually the Argyle still wines are every bit as fine as the bubblies, and in fact dominate the winery's production.

Cool Sophistication at a Crowd-Pleasing Price
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 2, 2007

Wine today has become rather like Las Vegas: colorful, flashy, vibrant, with lots of flavor to stimulate the senses, and, in most cases, a lowest-common-denominator appeal. The wines of Bodega Norton, especially the very fine 'Privada' red blend, are an antidote to this crass trend toward sensory overload. They are understated, genuine wines for sophisticated appreciation.

Barbaresco Star Aces Barbera, Too!
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 17, 2006

For a few months now, I have had the impression that the wine gods have been sending me messages about Marchesi di Gresy. Wines from this producer seem to be constantly crossing my consciousness quite by chance: a terrific 2001 Barbaresco from the Martinenga vineyard that someone handed me a glass of, unidentified, at a trade tasting, for example, or an exceptionally good 1999 Barbaresco from the Gaiun vineyard that someone brought to a BYO dinner recently.

Marques de Borba, Alentejo (Portugal) Reserva 1999 ($45, Signature Imports)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 5, 2006

This wine has received stellar reviews over the years, garnering a score of 91 points from Robert Parker several years ago, and being named one of the 100 Best Wines in 2001 by Wine & Spirits magazine. So why is it still available? The only answer that I can fathom is that it is Portuguese, and therefore belongs to a class of wines that the marketplace simply does not sufficiently appreciate, even when the wine is excellent, as this one is.

J. Hofstätter, Alto Adige (Italy) Kolbenhof Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2005 (Domaine Select, $44)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 21, 2006

One of the advantages of connoisseurship is spotting wines (or music or art) that mainstream consumers might pass up. Whenever I see this Italian Gewürztraminer on a restaurant wine list, for example, I am likely to order it. Gewürztraminer is an unlikely grape variety for an Italian wine, but this particular Gewürztraminer happens to be one of the finest in the world.

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville-Napa Valley (California) Rock Cairn Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($80)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 7, 2006

I first tasted the wines of Nickel & Nickel in 2000, when the winery's inaugural vintage, 1997, was released. I was immediately captivated by the concept - a collection of small-lot, 100%-varietal, single-vineyard wines - and by the wines themselves, especially the Cabernets. Six vintages later, the wines continue to excite me.

Handley Cellars, Dry Creek Valley (California) Handley Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 ($19)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 24, 2006

Wineries situated in Mendocino County tend to be overlooked by many critics and wine lovers, perhaps because they are far off the beaten tourist path. They deserve attention, however, because their wines are generally very good. Handley Cellars, one of the top wineries in the Anderson Valley, is a personal favorite of mine, and the Handley wines continually please me.

Clos de los Siete, Mendoza (Argentina) 2004 (Slocum & Sons, $18)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 10, 2006

When I taste Clos de los Siete, I can imagine that I am experiencing the infancy of a new grand cru. This wine has everything going for it that a first growth wine might need: a special vineyard, pedigreed ownership, and first-rate winemaking talent. It is a wine being built from the ground up with a spirit of discovery, and it somehow conveys a sense of destiny.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) Cutizzi Vineyard 2004 (Palm Bay Imports, $33)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 26, 2006

How very good Italian white wines have become! Never before have there been so many wines with real flavor and concentration without oakiness. Whites with character. Immediate case in point: Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo from the Cutizzi Vineyard.

Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley (British Columbia, Canada) Merlot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 12, 2006

Give me the choice of Merlot or another red wine from the same producer, and I will usually choose the other one, especially if it's a Cabernet or Syrah. But Mission Hill S.L.C. Merlot from the Okanagan Valley in western Canada fooled me. It is the best varietal red from this very serious winery, and it deserves to be a front-line choice.

Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon), Pinot Blanc 2005 ($17)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 29, 2006

I love this wine. It is as pristine and refreshing as I imagine glacial water might be, but it is also as succulent, as a crossing of peach and grapefruit might be. It is a terrific, inspired wine, very solid in quality, not at all flashy.

Trefethen, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley (California) Dry Riesling 2005 ($20)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 15, 2006

When the temperature soars and the menu grows lighter, this Riesling becomes one of my favorite wines to drink. Notice that I said "drink." Encountering this wine in a tasting is always a pleasure, and it's also a great choice for sipping slowly at a party-but this wine is made for drinking.

Alma Rosa, Santa Barbara County (California) Chardonnay, 2004 ($19)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 1, 2006

The dozens of wineries that debut each year in California all have interesting stories behind them, but Alma Rosa's story is more compelling than most. It stars Richard Sanford, the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Santa Ynez Valley, founder of Sanford Winery together with his wife, Thekla, and a pioneer and zealot for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County.

Marco Felluga 2004 'Molamatta', Collio, Friuli (Dalla Terra, $16)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 18, 2006

Summertime, and the living is easy. A salad, grilled fish marinated in soy sauce, ginger and garlic, an inexpensive white wine that's easy to drink, and you're all set ... But hey --you're a wine lover and you won't settle for a white wine that isn't high in quality. And interesting. It should fascinate you, but be affordable.

Mount Veeder Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($40)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 4, 2006

In a buying culture of "expensive equals better," this wine has the good sense to be reasonably priced. You might perhaps think that $40 for a bottle of Cabernet is not all that reasonable. But this is really good Cabernet! It's rich and ripe and velvety and generous. It's well-made, well-balanced for drinking now and for aging, and it's delicious.

Alois Lageder, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Bianco Haberlehof 2003 (Dalla Terra, $18)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 20, 2006

I dislike many wines from the 2003 vintage because that hot and dry year in Europe produced overly big wines with dull or baked-fruit aromas and flavors and undeveloped tannins. This Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige, however, reminds me of the dangers in generalizing. While it is a big wine, it is fascinating and delicious.

Pasanau, Priorat (Spain) Finca La Planeta 2002 (Classical Wines, $40)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 6, 2006

I still have not visited the rugged, forsaken Priorat region, but I am a fan of it anyway, because I have fallen in love with its powerful wines. My current flames are the wines of Ricard Pasanau, whose family has farmed vineyards in Priorat since the 13th century, and in 1995 built a modern winery there.

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel "Old Vine" 2003 ($25)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 23, 2006

Over the years, I've had a love-hate relationship with Zinfandel. Loved it until about the mid-1980s, back when many of the best Zins were lean and concentrated. Hated the super-ripe, exaggerated fruit versions that many people exalted in the 1990's. Here again in this offering from Dry Creek is a Zinfandel that I love--and maybe one that those who enjoy extreme Zin can love, too.

Nozzole, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2001 (Kobrand Corp., $25)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 9, 2006

Nozzole Chianti Classico is one of those wines that you come to appreciate when you find yourself dining in a restaurant of the sort that you would never go to for the wine list alone.

Dow 2004 Vale do Bomfim Douro Reserva (Portugal)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 25, 2006

I can still remember the trip I made to the Douro in 2000 to explore the emerging table wine production there. I tasted some fantastic red wines (and some just-average wines) made from the classic varieties used for Port, from vineyards whose grapes were formerly dedicated to Port production. Those wines really moved me. I felt a bit like Columbus, discovering a whole new world that actually had been there all along.

Schiopetto, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Bianco, 2004 (Vintus, $40)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 11, 2006

If I tasted a whole line-up of Schiopetto 2004s, maybe I would find one I liked even more than this Pinot Bianco, but this wine is so good and so satisfying that further research seemed unnecessary. Lowly Pinot Blanc is the wine that textbooks describe as "neutral," and suggest, between the lines, is useful mainly as a high-acid palate-cleanser between bites of food. People who write that have obviously not experienced the character that Pinot Blanc can achieve in Northeastern Italy. Here is Pinot Blanc that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Lodola Nuova, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy), 2001 (Icon Estates, $22)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 28, 2006

I don't expect much when I open a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. These wines are are usually decent, but in my mind they are underachievers. The rich history of the vineyards around the town of Montepulciano and the wine's lofty position in the hierarchy of Tuscan reds--it is part of the classic triumvirate that includes Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico--causes me to want more from the wines than what they usually deliver. But this particular Vino Nobile does not disappoint.

Rubicon Estate, Rutherford (Napa Valley, California)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 14, 2006

The 2002 Rubicon--the namesake of the now re-named Rubicon Estate winery--is a worthy representative of the historic re-uniting of the former Inglenook vineyards and winery. It is a smashing wine, rich and soft and seductive yet very powerful.

Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 28, 2006

Some wines are pure pleasure, while others set you to thinking. The 2002 Trilogy falls into the second category. It's not just a delicious wine; it seems to represent things beyond more. The Bordeaux heritage re-born in California. Napa Valley mountain fruit versus valley floor fruit. The modern idiom of enjoyable-young-yet-ageworthy. Wine for thought.

Shafer Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2003 ($44)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 14, 2006

Shafer has long been one of my favorite California wineries, and Shafer Merlot is consistently one of the Shafer wines I prefer the most. It's not nearly as dense, concentrated and powerful as the admirable Hillside Select Cabernet, which most regard as the finest wine in the Shafer stable, but to me, especially in recent vintages, its beauty is more appealing than the Cabernet's brawn.

Cheval des Andes, Vistalba (Mendoza, Argentina) 2002 ($65, Moët Hennessy USA)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 31, 2006

A recent visit to Argentina filled me with excitement for what is to come in Argentine wines. Not that you can't find plenty to enjoy in the wines today--but the potential is so much greater even than the pleasures that today's wines offer. Argentina seems to be a land destined to make some great wines.

Delaforce, Porto (Portugal) Colheita 1986 (Kobrand Corporation, $33, 500 ml)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 17, 2006

Dark, powerful Vintage Ports claim the lion's share of attention from wine connoisseurs, and therefore it's easy to forget that those elite wines are not the only Ports worthy of acclaim. The tawny Port category encompasses great wines that are readier to drink upon release than Vintage Ports are, easier to handle, and every bit as delicious, in a kinder, gentler style.

Columbia Winery, Yakima Valley (Washington) Wyckoff Vineyard Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 3, 2006

Over the years, I have come to understand that David Lake's finest wines need time to develop. Sometimes, at large tastings, the long-time winemaker of Columbia Winery has brought along an older vintage of one of his wines to pour alongside the current vintage; tasting the older wines, I gained insight into his younger wines. They are tightly wound, and become more expressive with age.

Gonzalez-Byass, Sherry (Spain),
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 20, 2005

In the wine classes I teach, we discuss the market performance of the types of wines we study--which for Sherry means admitting that few wine lovers today care much about this type of wine. This, to me, is one of the tragedies of today's wine market. Sherry is not only one of the world's classic and historic wines, but also Sherries such as this dry, aged amontillado are great and glorious wines, period.

Masi, Rosso del Veronese (Veneto, Italy),
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 6, 2005

My taste runs to wines that are not very fruity. In the interests of being open-minded and pleasing readers whose tastes might differ from my own, I thought that I should make an effort to review a fruity wine. I tasted various reds from California and Australia without finding inspiration. Then I remembered this bottle of Campofiorin, which had been sent to me with the idea that it's an appropriate wine to recommend with turkey. Bingo!

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) 2004 ($29, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 22, 2005

I love Chablis. Although Chablis wines generally don't have the weight of white Burgundies from the Côte d'Or and they definitely lack the flavor intensity of California Chardonnays, no other Chardonnay-based wine in the world can match the compelling minerality and endless finish of a good Chablis.

Antinori, Toscana (Italy), "Tignanello" 2001 ($70, Remy Amerique)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 8, 2005

Winemakers in Tuscany are enthusiastic about their 2001 wines--especially those whose vineyards are in the Chianti Classico area. Antinori's elite "Super Tuscan" Tignanello hails from the Chianti Classico district, and not surprisingly, the 2001 grandly lives up to expectations.

Ferrari-Carano 2001 Tresor, Alexander Valley (California)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 25, 2005

Because I taste hundreds of under-$15 wines each year, when I sit down to a blind tasting of pricier wines, I'm prepared to be impressed. But the wines don't always comply. A recent tasting of several elite West Coast reds, mainly Cabernets priced at $35 to $50, was a punishing undertaking. But one entry--Ferrari-Carano's 2001 Trésor--was a breath of fresh air.

Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills (South Australia) Chardonnay M3 Vineyard 2003 ($34, Vintus Imports)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 11, 2005

I have often seriously considered joining the "Anything But&" club--but then I taste a Chardonnay of such refinement and pedigree that I recall why Chardonnay is considered a noble grape. My most recent such epiphany was sparked by the fine Chardonnay that winemaker Martin Shaw fashions from the M3 vineyard in Australia's cool Adelaide Hills region.

Château Lagrezette, Cahors (Southwestern France), Malbec, 2001 & 2002 (Martin Scott Wines, $25)
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 27, 2005

I faced a wine lover's dream dilemma: which of two good vintages of a favorite wine would be better? This question is often moot, because for most wines only one vintage is normally available at any point. In the case of the wine I chose to review, Château Lagrezette Cahors, a re-release of the 2001 vintage put that wine side-by-side on the shelf against the 2002. Which would I prefer?

Domaine du Tremblay, Quincy (Loire Valley, France) 2004
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 1, 2005

This wine delights me in two ways. First, it's a Quincy (a Sauvignon Blanc-based wine from a tiny district in the central Loire) and therefore a fairly unusual find. Second, it's so thoroughly satisfying. It doesn't make a dramatic first impression the way a New Zealand or South African Sauvignon Blanc might, but the more I tasted the wine, the more it delivered. It's genuine, it's delicious, and it's high quality--all for about $17 a bottle.