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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

December 16, 2014 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Pascual Toso, Mendoza (Argentina) Barrancas Vineyards “Magdalena Toso” 2011 ($87, TGIC Importers): A collaborative effort of Paul Hobbs and Rolando Luppino, this wine shows the possibilities of Mendoza and what can be done blending Malbec with other grapes to give it depth and character.  Blended with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, this fully extracted wine shows brooding blackberry and black cherry fruit, with dusty minerality, brown spice and vanilla notes lending complexity to this very powerful and complex new world expression.  I’d serve this with strong cheeses, or let it stand alone.
94 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

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CHILE

Red:

Santa Rita, Valle Central (Chile) Carmenere "120" 2013 ($9, Palm Bay International): Year after year, this Santa Rita 120 Carménère is a remarkable value.  Deep in color, the 2013 Carménère offers an attractive bouquet of ripe blackberries, blackcurrants and cherries with nuances of espresso, mint and spices.  Full flavored and rich on the palate, it unfolds to reveal layers of black fruits underlain by herb and spice hints.  The wine avoids the excessive green elements of many Carménère bottlings and offers a lovely and balanced version at an amazingly affordable price.
88 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

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FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Pascal Doquet, Champagne (France) Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004 ($75, Robert Kacher Selections): This is not only among the best Champagnes that I tasted in 2014, but also among the very best wines of any type.  Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes sourced from vineyards in the famous village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, it conveys all of the best qualities of a great Blanc de Blancs Champagne from the first whiff to the last sensory note of the delicate but exceedingly persistent finish.  Soft scents of stone fruit and brioche get it off to a great start in aromatic terms, and the flavors are at once deep and rich but also surpassingly delicate--in the uncanny combination that seems to derive from wines from Le Mesnil more than any other great village in Champagne’s Côte de Blancs.  In terms of texture, there’s a palpable creaminess to the wine that is also a classic expression of this type of wine.  One last attribute worth noting is that the wine’s aromas, flavors, and structural elements are all wonderfully integrated, providing a sensory experience that--while quite complex--is equally notable for its proportionality and seamlessness.  An indisputably great wine at a very fair price.
96 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Jacquesson, Champagne (France) “Cuvée no. 737” Extra Brut NV ($75, Vintage '59 Imports): Jacquesson isn’t a big name in Champagne in the USA market, but it is among the most highly respected houses among those who really know the category and aren’t fixated on the giant producers that continue to dominate in terms of restaurant placements and 4th quarter sales.  Given that fact for starters, adding in the factor that this is a multi-vintage blend rather than a vintage dated wine amounts to a second strike against it, at least in commercial terms.  And yet, two strikes mean exactly nothing when a home run is hit on the third pitch, and that’s precisely what this wine delivers from the glass.  The aromas are highly detailed and intricate, showing ripe flavors from the 2009 vintage on which the blend was based, but a very low dosage of 3.5 grams per liter of sugar leaves the wine seeming fresh, taut, and highly energetic.  Some deep bass notes, derived from reserve wines that were used to round out the blend, provide richness and complexity.  All of this adds up to a wine that is marvelously complete and complex, indicating great blending skill as well as utilization of first rate raw materials.  To put the price in context, you’d be wrong to wince when this rings up for the price of a vintage-dated Champagne, for the simple reason that it is actually much more intricate than most millesime wines, and also capable of considerable positive development from cellaring.
95 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Taittinger, Champagne (France) “Comtes de Champagne” Rosé Brut 2005 ($250, Kobrand): Although I remain rather lukewarm regarding the category of Rosé Champagnes, this is an indisputably marvelous wine and a completely convincing rendition of the type.  Given the fact that this is--and has always been--a very expensive Champagne, as well as the reality that the common shortcoming of Rosé Champagnes is that they tend to be too big and obvious, this wine proves very surprising with its cool, reserved character.  To be clear, it proves very satisfying, but its most impressive attribute is that it doesn’t try too hard to impress in any respect.  The aromas are detailed and extremely appealing, yet the fruit- and yeast-based scents are delicate and very well balanced against one another.  The flavors show very good depth and persistence, yet they never seem pushy or overt.  Moreover, the texture is rich but not heavy, and the mousse is generous but very fine.  You’ve probably getting the idea by this point, but it is also worth noting that the wine’s finish is very long, yet it is also perfectly symmetrical and very elegant in the impressions left as it tails off.  In sum, this is the sort of wine that seems so intricate that it could not possibly have been made from something as commonplace as grapes.
95 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Lilbert-Fils, Champagne (France) Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs “Perle” Brut NV ($66, Vintage '59 Imports): Lilbert is one of the best-kept secrets in Champagne, and since I am in the sustained habit of actually buying the wines, it is contrary to me self-interest to make them any better-known.  But this is the season for giving, so here we go:  The Lilbert family makes nothing but Grand Cru, Chardonnay-based Champagnes from their own vineyards, which are largely located in prized sites around the famous village of Cramant.  They riddle the bottles by hand, disgorge without freezing, and produce about 2,150 cases per year.  (By way of context, Moët & Chandon makes about 25 million cases per year.)  Out of this tiny total production, the rarest of the three wines is this “Perle” bottling, which is a non-vintage Champagne finished with gentler effervescence than ordinary Champagnes, which enhances the overall impression of delicacy that characterizes all Lilbert wines.  Lean, fresh and mineral in character, with a striking elegance that never seems faint or austere, this is arguably the perfect aperitif wine and a wonderfully distinctive Champagne.
94 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Gosset, Champagne (France) Grande Réserve Brut NV ($65, Palm Bay International): Gosset has long been known as a source for big, assertive, deeply flavored Champagnes, and this wine fits that description perfectly.  A blend that proves remarkably consistent across multiple releases over the years, it offers dramatic aromas with plenty of yeasty notes and positive oxidative scents.  The palate follows through with excellent balance between fruit notes, biscuity flavors, and bright finishing acidity.  The effervescence is abundant but delicate in texture, and the overall impression left by the wine is one of carefully measured power and deeply convincing deliciousness.
93 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Gosset, Champagne (France) Grande Réserve Brut NV ($65, Palm Bay International): Gosset has long been known as a source for big, assertive, deeply flavored Champagnes, and this wine fits that description perfectly.  A blend that proves remarkably consistent across multiple releases over the years, it offers dramatic aromas with plenty of yeasty notes and positive oxidative scents.  The palate follows through with excellent balance between fruit notes, biscuity flavors, and bright finishing acidity.  The effervescence is abundant but delicate in texture, and the overall impression left by the wine is one of carefully measured power and deeply convincing deliciousness.
93 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Piper-Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Rosé “Sauvage” NV ($55, Rémy Cointreau USA): Virtually every wine writer that I know has jumped on the Rosé bandwagon--except me.  In almost every case, I find the wines to be too fruity, or sweet, or clumsy and obvious, and I almost never find one that doesn’t make me wish that I wasn’t holding a blended Brut or a Blanc de Blancs instead.  With that said, however, I adore this wine.  It shows deep strawberry color and a highly expressive nose that recalls red currants and wild strawberries, and though the palate packs intensely fruity flavors…it then tightens up to show a long, lean, marvelously dry finish.  “Sauvage” is one of many proprietary terms used to indicate with that aren’t “dosed” with sugar after disgorging, and the fact that Piper-Heidsieck chose to style a Rosé Champagne in this style is yet another testament to the recent renaissance at this house.  The interplay of juicy red fruit flavors and a taut, refreshing finish is almost uncanny as a sensory combination, and this would be a great wine to pour for almost anyone, whether your friend is a novice or a thoroughly jaded Champagne snob.  In either case, this wine would provide them with a strikingly memorable experience.  As an aside, Piper-Heidsieck’s current release 2006 Vintage Brut is also terrific, and though I’ll review it soon here on WRO, this Rosé is such a remarkable departure of the norm that I had to hit it first.
93 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Réserve Brut NV ($60, Rémy Cointreau USA): This wine was re-designed about two years ago, and it is an object lesson in how good the house of Charles Heidsieck has become at every level.  A multi-vintage blend that includes fully 40% of reserve wines, many of them more than 10 years old, it packs one of the most powerful and layered bouquets of any Champagne you can buy at any price.  At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I should observe the word “bouquet” should only be used as a wine descriptor when--as in a floral arrangement--it describes a bundle of many distinct things.  That is indeed the case with the surpassingly complex, layered scents given off by this wine.  The flavors are also very deep, rich and impressive.  Although the wine’s finish isn’t flawed in any way, one must say that it doesn’t quite live up to the aromas and flavors of the wine, though that is really just another way of saying that this is a Champagne that smells and tastes amazing.  I’ve seen it priced below $50 on occasion, which makes it one of the best bargains offered by the entire Champagne region.  More soon on the Vintage Brut 2000 from this house, which is on a terrific tear.
92 Michael Franz Dec 16, 2014

Languedoc:

Rosé:

Domaine de Nizas, Languedoc (France) Rosé 2013 ($17, Goelet Wine Estates): An unusually succulent rosé, crafted from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, this brings both delicacy and complexity to the table.  And that’s not its only magic trick:  The pale pink wine also expertly and deliciously juggles fruitiness and acidity, floral notes and a breath of wild fennel.  Because it’s fresh but not frivolous, this is a rosé that is just as enjoyable in cold weather as warm.  To paraphrase a traditional carol:  Oh the weather outside is frightful / But the rosé is so delightful….
92 Marguerite Thomas Dec 16, 2014

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ITALY

Piedmont:

White:

Massolino, Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) 2013 ($24, Vineyard Brands): As bright and cheerful as a Christmas tree, as light and delicately patterned as a snowflake, this is possibly the most festive wine you could pour this holiday season.  The intrinsic sweetness of Moscato is beautifully balanced here by a twinkle of effervescence and a shimmering acidity, all of which makes the wine dance nimbly across the palate. Another reason to embrace this charmer is its low alcohol content (5%).
92 Marguerite Thomas Dec 16, 2014

Veneto:

Sparkling:

La Marca, Prosecco DOC (Veneto, Italy) NV ($17):  La Marca Prosecco is slightly off-dry but well balanced, showing an inviting floral note, hints of pear and pippin apple, with fine bubbles and a lingering finish. Perfect for a holiday aperitif!
89 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

WALT Wines, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir "Blue Jay" 2012 ($40): A blend of fruit from the Savoy and Anderson Creek vineyards hits your nose with big lavender and spice up front, with bright berry, sassafras and fresh turned field coming forward in subsequent whiffs.  Very forward dark berries and bright oak spice fill the mouth, and the structure of the wine has no trouble handling its 14.9% alcohol.  This is the big side of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
90 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) Le Cigare Volant Reserve 2010 ($79):  Winemaker Randall Grahm is not one to let the world pass him by. His Le Cigare Volant Reserve (which it is said was subject to elevage in glass following fermentation) is a unique wine that offers an array of complexities, not the least of which is its peppery nose and savory note on the palate. This Rhone-style red is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Mourvedre and Cinsault, with no one grape dominant. It shows power and depth without being jammy, and the somewhat rustic expression it makes is no doubt part of Grahm's master plan. Bottom line, it's a sensational wine in an eclectic sort of way.
95 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Signature' 2012 ($52):  In the more than three decades since the evolution of what might be called the modern era of Napa Valley wine, no Cabernet Sauvignon has been more consistent through the vintages than those produced by Chappellet. They are frequently stunning wines that are exquisitely structured, earthy, rich and powerful and beautifully balanced. Yep, the 2012 is right there with the other great vintages from this stellar winery. This vintage shows rich notes of cassis and blackberry, with a hint of cedar and pencil lead on the nose, classic aromas whether they come from Bordeaux or Napa.
94 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

Phifer Pavitt, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Date Night" 2011 ($80): Here's a wine that could impress on a first date night, or seal the deal several dates in to the relationship.  Sourced mainly from Temple Family vineyards in Pope Valley and fermented with wild yeast, it shows the full throttle side of Napa Valley Cabernet, with ripe black plum, baked brown sugar, vanilla, bright oak spice and a touch of chocolate in both aroma and flavor.  A long, soft, well-integrated finish and good acidic structure seem to say "buy a few of me so you can pull me out on a distant anniversary!"  Pair it with simpler beef preparations.  Contains 2% Petit Verdot.
94 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Waterstone, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($28): There isn’t a lot of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon available at this price, and the few that are don’t generally match this one in terms of quality.  Blackberry, currants, medium oak toast and touches of pepper and dust ride on top of bright acidity and moderate grip through a medium long finish that pleases without breaking the bank.  Easy drinking, nicely done!  Contains 18% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.
90 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Juxtapoz, North Coast (California) Red Wine Blend 2012 ($25):  One of the emerging wine trends in recent years has been the movement in the direction of eclectic blends. Juxtapoz winemaker John Killebrew seems to have embraced this philosophy, crafted a red wine that brings together Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is a delicious red that is complex and approachable, exhibiting dark-fruited flavors with mouth-watering acidity, supple tannins, an overlay of spice and a finish that lingers. Unusual but delicious and inviting.
90 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sullenger Vineyard 2012 ($100):  Nickel & Nickel's 2012 Sullenger Cab is a beauty among beauties, just another ridiculous (in a good way) Oakville Cabernet that will merely blow your mind. Showing impressive layers of blackberry and cassis fruit, with firm but supple tannins, a hint of oak vanillin and a note of spice, this complex Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is clearly one of the wines of the vintage. That said, a person with deep enough pockets could line up all of the Nickel & Nickel Cabs from this vintage and repeat that line ad nauseum over each one.
97 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

Carol Shelton Wines, Rockpile (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel Florence Vineyard “Rocky Reserve” 2011 ($35): If you like your Zins big and bold without reaching outlandish alcohol levels, this wine is for you.  Carol Shelton coaxes a lot of character out of the Zinfandel grape.  This wine comes from the relatively unknown Rockpile AVA in Sonoma County.  Ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cherry fruits fairly jump from the glass and are underlain by violet, cinnamon, black pepper and vanilla tones.  The flavors are equally bold and forward, with the juicy red and black fruits interwoven with subtle herb and spice elements.  This is a lively, rich and smooth Zin that will be a fine match for your favorite grilled foods or hearty, cold weather fare.
90 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Georganne 2012 ($57):  At first blush this vintage of Georganne from Merry Edwards seems to be on the lighter side, but that's merely a feint. This is a beautifully structured Pinot with firm acidity that will hide some of the gorgeous red- and black-fruited aroma until the acids soften. Pair it with roasted or braised meat dishes for near-term consumption. For more subtle pairings, a few years in the cellar will benefit the Georganne Pinot mightily.
93 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Merlot 2011 ($50): Merlot has been relegated to a relatively forgotten status among world-class red wines.  This rendition, however, should convince you that the Merlot grape should regain its stature as a top echelon variety.  This is delicious red wine.  The nose reveals pure black cherry, blackberry and raspberry fruit scents backed by hints of violets, vanilla, cocoa and baking spices.  The flavors are pure, luscious and ripe, with black and red fruit flavors enhanced by hints of vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon and clove.  The flavors unfold to reveal a long and intriguing finish.  Wines like this will re-establish Merlot as one of the world’s great red wine grapes.
93 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

MacRostie Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge 2012 ($54): I love it when a winery takes a unique lot of fruit from a specific site and sets it apart from their appellation blends for a good reason, not just to have something different to offer, but to show a side of the variety that you might not expect.  This wine delivers a mix of vibrant red fruit, with leaf, cocoa, citrus zest and cigar over racy acidity and a viscous feel that keeps you interested through the second and third sips.  I like this by itself, and I’d pair it a roasted chicken or pheasant if pressed.
93 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

WALT Wines, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard 2012 ($65): Gap's Crown is gaining a reputation as one of California's premier Pinot Noir vineyards, and this wine is a great example of why that's the case.  The fruit profile is on the darker side, with aromas of currants and black cherry mixed with Asian spice and sarsaparilla.  The palate delivers the nose in linear fashion over vibrant acidity and beautifully stylized oak notes.  It's very long and food friendly, with a touch of cola coming forward in the long finish.  Excellent!
93 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

MacRostie Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($34): Rich black cherry and raspberry fruit are complimented with cinnamon, talc, mild dry earth and touches of mushroom make up aroma and flavor profiles in this nicely priced Sonoma Coast offering.  Structured acidity and a long finish that shows a bit of damp earth suggests pairing with roasted meats with tarragon, rosemary and sage.
90 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Kenwood, Sonoma Mountain (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Jack London Vineyard 2011 ($30): There’s a reassuring, almost nostalgic, aspect to this Cabernet, with its light touch of herbaceousness and medium (as opposed to corpulent) body.  The fruit, likewise, is held in judicious equilibrium rather than ostentatiously flexing its muscle.  All in all this an excellent example of a relaxed, engaging California Cabernet, and it’s priced just right.
90 Marguerite Thomas Dec 16, 2014

Yorkville Cellars, Yorkville Highlands (Mendocino County, California) Malbec Rennie Vineyard Organic 2012 ($30): I recently reviewed a sparkling Malbec from this producer, and this still version makes me think that Yorkville Cellars is on to something with Malbec.  A fairly complex, black fruit driven wine with soft tannins and mild oak spice, it shows what's possible in the cooler climate with the grape.  It's got enough going on to pair well with more serious beef dishes in rich sauces.
88 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Yorkville Cellars, Yorkville Highlands (Mendocino County, California) Sweet Malbec Rennie Vineyard Organic 2013 ($22): I know, the mere words "Sweet Malbec" may strike fear in your heart, as it did mine, but this is a pretty serviceable, not too sweet red wine that's similar in character to a Brachetto from Piedmont.  It's grapey, like a simple Malbec, but manages to add raspberry and spice, with a slightly bitter note on the finish that keeps it from being cloying.  Pair it with a fruit driven dessert that isn't overly sweet and you've got a nice light evening finisher.
87 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

White:

Waterstone, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($18): Here is a nice, crisp, food friendly Sauvignon Blanc that is ready for bright salads or shellfish.  It’s very dry, with mixed citrus and stony minerality complimented by light herb notes.  The lively acid profile keeps it all together through the long, cleansing finish.  Very enjoyable.
89 Rich Cook Dec 16, 2014

Colorado:

Red:

Bookcliff Vineyards, Colorado (United States) Malbec 2013 ($20): The market is awash with Malbec.  Beyond the myriad Argentine renditions, many other areas of the world are now planting the grape.  The 2013 Bookcliff Malbec points to Colorado as a truly fine source for the popular Malbec variety.  Deep in color, it has an effusive and attractive nose of pure blackberry, black cherry and plum fruits enhanced by nuances of violets, vanilla, clove and cinnamon.  The flavors reflect the purity and intrigue of the nose.  Layers of bold black plum, blackberry and cherry fruits are interwoven with vanilla and spice elements.  The texture is rich and the finish lingers long and well.  Try it if you have the chance.
92 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

Michigan:

White:

Shady Lane Cellars, Leelanau Peninsula (Michigan) Dry Riesling 2013 ($16): It is becoming clear that the vineyards of northern Michigan are becoming great sources for fine Rieslings.  The Shady Lane Cellars Dry Riesling comes from the Leelenau Peninsula and shows the vitality and the broad range of aromas and flavors that sets Riesling apart from other varieties.  Scents of white flowers, apricot, peach and spices will intrigue you when you sniff it.  The delicious citrus, peach and apple fruits veritably explode on the palate in a juicy symphony of tasting pleasure.  If you like good Riesling, take the time to explore the many fine Michigan bottlings being made today.  You will be repaid handsomely in sensory delight.
92 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

New York:

White:

Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling Hanging Delta Vineyard 2011 ($40): The cooler winegrowing regions of the United States are proving to be a great source of high quality Rieslings.  The Fox Run Hanging Delta Riesling shows the beautiful complexity and racy appeal of the world’s best Rieslings.  The bouquet reveals lovely scents of white flowers, green apple, lemon zest, honey and guava.  The flavors are deliciously pure and complex with the citrus and apple fruits underscored by honey and spicy tones.  The razor’s edge of Riesling acidity makes the multivariate flavors all the more vivid and appealing.  If you love good Riesling, do not miss the chance to sample the best bottlings from the Finger Lakes.  You will be impressed. 93 Wayne Belding Dec 16, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

Stoller, Dundee Hills (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2012 ($30):  Stoller's 2012 Pinot falls into that sweet spot of $30 or less for top-notch Pinot Noir. Though a simple wine, the purity of fruit expression (think raspberry and black currant) and supple tannins make it very appealing both as a quaffer and a wine to serve with salmon or grilled fish prepared with savory herbs.
89 Robert Whitley Dec 16, 2014

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