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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 17, 2017 Issue

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Didier Montchovet, Hautes Côtes de Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($28, Jenny & François Selections):  Didier Montchovet tames the coarseness found in many wines from the “Hautes Côtes.”  In this Pinot Noir-based example, he has fashioned a charmingly rustic Burgundy than marries earthy and fruity qualities.  Montchovet must be talented, indeed, to produce a red like this from the Hautes Côtes in 2014, a difficult year for Pinot Noir in that appellation.  Ready now, it’s an ideal choice for a roast chicken with sautéed mushrooms. 90 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

White:

Domaine Oudin, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Vaugiraut 2014 ($35, Jenny & François Selections):  Chablis remains one of the best values in white wine.  Where else can you find a Chardonnay-based wine, a premier cru no less, with such character for the price?  Nowhere.  Domaine Oudin uses no oak aging, enhancing the complexity and body of this wine by stirring the lees.  The pedigree of Premier Cru shines with that the subtle richness (we’re not talking opulent New World Chardonnay), buttressed by a crisp, long, lemony finish.  A great choice for seafood this fall. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Didier Montchovet, Hautes Côtes de Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($29, Jenny & François Selections):  Since the prices for Côte d’Or Burgundy have gone through the roof, Burgundy lovers must look elsewhere.  The Hautes Côtes de Beaune, the hinterland really off the beaten track, is a good starting point if you can find a producer who can tame the inherent rusticity in wines from this appellation. Didier Montchovet can, judging from this white and a red (also reviewed this week).  Both mineraly and fruity, but thankfully not opulent nor filled with tropical flavors, this is a crisp and appealing Chardonnay-based wine.  Bright, balanced and precise, it’s a good choice for grilled or simply prepared fish. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Jean Diot, Champagne (France) “Selection” NV ($45):  A new producer to me, and it's a fine introduction.  Pear, golden apple, granite and soft white flowers entice on the nose, and the pear, apple and stone translate nicely on the palate, with pleasant toasty notes adding to the dance.  Time to celebrate?  If not, celebrate this wine as an occasion.  Contains 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Pinot Noir. 93 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

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GREECE

White:

Vassaltis, Santorini (Greece) Assyrtiko 2016 ($34, Diamond Wine Importers):  Not ready for summer to be over?  Here's a glass that will put you right back in it with fresh aromas and flavors of citrus, nectarine and stony minerality, finishing with a nice honeyed note that isn't cloying thanks to racy acidity that blossoms and extends the experience.  A white delight. 91 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

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ITALY

Marche:

White:

Boccadigabbia, Colli Maceratesi DOC (Marche, Italy) Ribona “Le Grane” 2016 ($16):  So you’re not familiar with the Colli Maceratesi DOC or the Ribona grape?  Join the club.  Ribona, more commonly known as Maceratino Bianco, takes its name from the city (Macerata) in the western part of the Marche region.  The Colli Maceratesi DOC, comprising only about 600 acres, does not produce a lot of wine, which explains why we in the U.S. don’t see much of it.  Judging from this example, that will change.  It delivers bright stone fruit flavors with a slightly alluring lanolin-like texture.  Not a heavy wine, it finishes with an uplifting and refreshing crispness.  It would be a good choice as an aperitivo-style wine as well as accompaniment to prosciutto or other antipasti. 89 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Sicily:

Red:

Barone Sergio, Eloro DOC (Sicily, Italy) Nero d'Avola “Sergio” 2010 ($19, Artisanal Cellars):  Nero d’Avola, the most widely planted red grape in Sicily, makes a diverse style of wine, ranging from fruity to more savory depending on where the grape grows and the producer’s style. This one focuses on the earthy, herbal character, though there’s plenty of dark fruit flavor as well.  A big wine -- it weights in at 14 percent stated alcohol -- it’s not boisterous or overdone.  It suave texture makes it easy to drink now, as does the price. 94 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Assuli, Terre Siciliane IGT (Italy) Nero d'Avola “Besi” 2014 ($18):   Enter a different style of Nero d’Avola.  Assuli’s emphasizes the fruitier side of the grape.  At 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it is riper and more lush, with fewer savory notes than the Nero d’Avola from Barone Sergio (also reviewed this week).  At a gathering of experienced tasters, my table of eight was split equally between the two.  Also ready to drink now, this one is another good choice for a robust pasta dish or a plate of hearty beef.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Tuscany:

Red:

Fattoria Fibbiano, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Ciliegiolo 2015 ($30, Artisanal Cellars):  Often confused with Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, which means small cherries, usually comprises part of a blend.  But a few producers, such as Fibbiano, make a monovarietal wine from it.  This is a lovely example, combining cherry-like fruit, earthiness and an attractive subtle bitterness in the finish.  Not a stand-alone aperitivo type wine, it is a fantastic choice for pasta with a hearty ragù. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

White:

Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Selvabianca” 2016 ($20, Artisanal Cellars):  Despite being Italy’s first DOC, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (yes, you read that correctly) rarely receives the accolades it deserves, which is a boon for consumers because its low visibility keeps the prices down.  Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara is one of the region’s top producers, so their wines are a good place to start for consumers who want to know what Vernaccia di San Gimignano should taste like.  Their Selvabianca, a selection of their best wine, delivers an ever so slightly creaminess buttressed by vibrant acidity.  It has good depth, with an attractive hint of bitter nuttiness in the finish.  It’s concentrated and zesty enough to stand up to hearty seafood-based pasta or grilled swordfish. It delivers far more than the price suggests. 93 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Veneto:

Sparkling:

Valdo Spumanti, Prosecco DOC (Veneto, Italy) Brut NV ($10, EDV Esprit du Vin):  There is a lot of inexpensive Prosecco on the market, most of it giving the category a bad name.  Not this one.  Tasted side-by-side with Valdo’s stable mate release from the Veneto’s prime region, Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (also reviewed this week), it pales in comparison.  But considered on its own, it’s a delight -- clean, refreshing, not candied.  An amazing $10 bottle of bubbly. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

Valdo Spumanti, Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) “Oro Puro” Brut NV ($15, EDV Esprit du Vin):   Often the line between DOC and DOCG -- and IGT, for that matter -- is blurred as far as quality is concerned.  Not this time.  For Prosecco that is a cut above the others, reach for the DOCG because it encompasses the original zone where the grapes are grown on less-fertile hillsides, which translates to better wine.  Just as Valdo Spumanti’s straight Prosecco is a fantastic bargain, so is this one.  Their Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG has more finesse, length and elegance compared to their Prosecco DOC.  Another bargain!
90 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2017

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SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Paul Cluver, Elgin (South Africa) Pinot Noir 2016 ($24, Verity and Winebow):  I’ve tasted multiple vintages of this wine that were obviously much better than most Pinot Noirs costing twice as much from anywhere in the world, and the 2016 rendition joins that illustrious group.  Compellingly complex, with spice notes intermingled with fruit (that is juicy but not sweet) and savory accents, this expressive wine punches far above its weight in terms of aroma and flavor, which is precisely what defines excellent Pinot Noir.  This should scare the hell out of Pinot producers all over the world asking more than $50 for their wines. 93 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Craven, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Cinsault 2016 ($24, Vine Street and Metro Cellars):  There’s a lot of Cinsault in South Africa, leading this winemaking duo to refer to it as “the red Chenin,” which makes good sense (Chenin is also widely planted, and for decades wasn’t taken seriously, but is now on the rise).  This is a very unusual and exciting little wine, and I don’t employ the word “little” to diminish this in any way.  On the contrary, it impresses precisely because it is fine and fresh and fun it its lightness, with very bright, tart red cherry fruit with fine tannins that are entirely appropriate to the weight of the wine.  It is bottled just five months after vinification to capture these characteristics.  Extremely useful, this would make wickedly good Thanksgiving wine if you can track down a bottle. 92 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Sparkling:

Graham Beck, Robertson (South Africa) Blanc de Blancs Brut 2012 ($20):  Many Americans wine lovers have never even tried a bottle of bubbly from South Africa, and this might well be the bottle to show such people, as it is phenomenally good by any standard, and an absolute steal relative to its selling price.  The base Chardonnay fruit is sourced entirely from the estate, including only the first round of delicately pressed juice.  It shows very delicate flavors and excellent freshness thanks to lemony acidity, yet there’s nothing austere or screechy about the finish, despite a very modest dosage of just 5.2 grams of sugar.  Fresh and fine. 92 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Graham Beck, Western Cape (South Africa) Brut Zero 2012 ($22):  It is quite difficult to make no-dosage sparkling wine that doesn’t come off as hard or austere, often requiring a long period of bottle aging on the yeast lees from the second fermentation prior to disgorging.  That period was a full five years in this case, and, well… it worked beautifully.  Blended from 80 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Pinot Noir, this shows the slightest pinkish hue, which is actually a bit misleading if one thinks of pink in gendered terms.  The wine is steely in character, with lots of coiled energy and great linear drive.  It is much more nuanced than overt, with interesting little details that emerge as the wine warms and settles in the glass.  I could only taste this over the course of about 5 minutes, and would much preferred to have afforded it a full hour.  In light of the difficulty of making a wine like this, and the inventory carrying costs involved, this is an incredible value. 92 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

White:

Paul Cluver, Elgin (South Africa) Chardonnay 2016 ($24, Verity and Winebow):  I’ve gone on record more than once with the assertion that South Africa makes the best moderately-priced Chardonnay in the world.  Although New Zealand and Mâcon in southern Burgundy are tightening the race, I stand on my assertion, and point to a wine like this as a question-closing case in point.  It gets off to a great start with subtly spicy scents from oak, intermingled with expressive fruit aromas.  On the palate, the fruit impressions recall ripe apples and white peaches, with beautifully balanced acidity (only 15% of the wine went though malolactic fermentation) that makes the wine seem as linear as it seems rounded and generous.  Full of flavor but still very focused, this was aged in 20% new oak barrels, with the remaining cooperage used for the 2nd, 3rdor 4th vintage.  An indisputably outstanding wine and an unbelievably strong value, this reflects great skill in both the vineyard and the winery. 93 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Paul Cluver, Elgin (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($17, Verity and Winebow):  This wine is always very good, though this vintage is a bit different than usual.  The aromatics show less of the grassy, dried herb and citrus profile than in most years, which seems to have resulted from a growing season that was very dry -- though not excessively hot.  The palate shows fruit notes recalling ripe melon and passion fruit, but there’s enough zingy citrus-style acidity in the finish to provide definition and cut.  Very successful, regardless of the rather unusual style. 91 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Paul Cluver, Elgin (South Africa) Riesling 2017 ($17, Verity and Winebow):  As the cliché goes, I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is that this is an extremely tasty wine, with an overtly sweet profile but good balance thanks to zesty acidity that freshens the finish.  The bad news is that this exemplary producer has discontinued making a dry Riesling, which was a fantastic wine that could give the best dry Rieslings from Australia a run for their money (and though those Aussie wines are not widely know, those who are familiar with them know that they can be spectacularly complex and long-lived).  I managed to avoid weeping openly when told this by Paul Cluver, but just barely.  Considering this wine solely on its own merits, it is very showy, with expressive aromatics and gorgeously juicy fruit.  You can take it to a BYOB Thai restaurant with great success, which is some consolation for the loss of the Cluver Dry Riesling, which you could take anywhere. 90 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

Craven, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc Karabib Farm 2016 ($24, Vine Street and Metro Cellars):  The young winemaking couple behind this delicious wine is an interesting story all of their own -- she is South African, he is Australian, they met making wine in California, and they have a little kid and a boatload of talent.  As this wine shows, they also have a love for energetically acidic wine, as do I, though I didn’t quite expect to find it in this wine (which shows lovely golden color and honeyed aromas up top).  The color is explained by some oxygen interchange, as this went through elevage in older 500 liter barrels.  The honeyed note doesn’t show up in the midpalate or finish, as this is a rich but truly dry wine with excellent definition. 92 Michael Franz Oct 17, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Duckhorn, Atlas Peak (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2014 ($75):  Classy Napa Valley Merlot with solid varietal character, chalky tannins, firm structure and a long finish that's just starting to crack open. Give this a good decant near term or age it five to ten years. I tasted this the day of the Atlas Peak fire -- I hope this source survives!
94 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Duckhorn, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2014 ($75):  Another fine Merlot from the undisputed California king of the variety.  This one is a nice mix of black and red fruit, with a little pepper joining in on the palate and intensifying in the finish.  The fruit stays forward, as you've come to appreciate in Duckhorn's portfolio.  Very nice!  Contains 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. 93 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Gnarly Head, Lodi (California) “Authentic Black” 2014 ($12):  I'm very encouraged by this wine.  It sits in the price range where most domestic wines lack the one thing that could really improve them. What's that one thing, you say?  Acidity.  Food friendly, mouth-watering, grape-produced acidity that gives wine its desirability factor.  This one shows it so well that it had me reaching for the tech sheet to confirm my impression.  It has some residual sugar, but it's not a problem here.  Blackfruit, pie spice, a little chocolate and little oak toast are well integrated and keep you sipping.  Go for the bold cheese or fall grilling fare to pair.  A blend mostly of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. 89 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Castoro Cellars, Paso Robles (California) Syrah Whale Rock Vineyard Estate Grown 2015 ($30):   Whale Rock Vineyard is in the Templeton Gap District, one of Paso Robles' 11 new sub AVA's.  This bottle shows the ripe and spicy possibilities of the area, with rich black fruit, fall spice, pepper and moderate oak toast.  The finish brings the spice and pepper into focus without covering the fruit, and invites another sip.  Go for something rich and a little fatty as a pairing.
92 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Sarah's Vineyard, Santa Clara County (California) Pinot Noir 2015 ($25):  There is not much ninety plus point Pinot Noir at this price point out there!  This one shows lively cherry, strawberry and spice, with great acidity and a long, mouth-watering finish.  Salmon simply seared, please. 91 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

White:

Migration, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Running Creek Vineyard 2015 ($55):  A full-bodied, plush expression that's big on spiced apple and peach aromas and flavors, with enough acidity to rein in the richness and brighten the finish as it blooms after swallowing.  A fine cocktail, or try it with a broiled white fish on a bed of pasta al limone. 92 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Washington:

Red:

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Syrah 2014 ($35):  Score another winner for Cadaretta.  This wine is long on black cherry, tar and brown spice, with a deep peppered savory character that will have you panting after a blue rare bison steak or a slow roasted prime rib of beef.  Give it a good decant to push the fruit forward a bit. 92 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($45):  This is one of the few riper style of Cabernet Sauvignons from Washington that have crossed my desk, and it succeeds by bringing the spice level up to the bold red fruit, while not overpowering a touch of dried herb character.  Serve this with something big -- a thick rib-eye comes to mind.
92 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) "Windthrow" 2014 ($50):  A dark side Rhone blend that needs a bit of air time to show its charms, so give it a good decant to get everything that's there.  Blackberry, tar, roasted coffee and meaty character speak together after some air time, and linger nicely with good integration.  Go for a game bird as a pairing. 90 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

Cadaretta, Walla Walla Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon "Southwind" 2014 ($75):   Ripe, dark, rich and bold are the first descriptors that come to mind for this big boy.  Black fruit and spice drive it, with toasty oak notes riding shotgun and adding depth.  The finish is long, and there is enough grip to keep things lively through the bright, lingering finish.  A fine cocktail glass, or up to the cheese plate as well.  Contains 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot.
94 Rich Cook Oct 17, 2017

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