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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

August 26, 2014 Issue

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FRANCE

Loire Valley:

Red:

Clau de Nell, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) Cabernet Franc 2012 ($57, Wilson Daniels): Anne Claude Leflaive, who runs Domaine Leflaive, perhaps the most celebrated producer of white Burgundy, and her husband, Christian Jacques, purchased this domaine in 2008.  It’s remarkable to see how a woman who made her reputation making some of the world’s greatest wines from the Chardonnay grape excels with Cabernet Franc.  In a very un-French twist, the appellation, Anjou, is relegated to back label whereas Cabernet Franc is highlighted on the front.  The labeling may be unconventional, but the taste is Cabernet Franc at its best.  Fully ripe, it conveys the alluring hint of leafy essence that is the hallmark of Cabernet Franc.  This mid-weight wine delivers an intriguing herbal character without a trace of greenness.  The flavors and tannins caress the palate, they don’t bombard it.  The overall suaveness allows you to enjoy it now -- perhaps with turkey at Thanksgiving -- but its balance suggests further development with cellaring.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Clau de Nell, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) “Cuvée Violette” 2012 ($57, Wilson Daniels): Here is an example of a wine that far exceeds the reputation of its appellation.  Though there are well known appellations for red wines in Loire -- Bourgueil and Chinon spring to mind -- Anjou is not one of them.  But this wine, and its stable mates made by Anne Claude Leflaive and her husband Christian Jacques, shows what talented producers can do even in areas considered down market.  Though mostly (70%) Cabernet Franc, the Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) in the blend makes its presence known with firm tannins and broad shoulders.  At this stage, the lovely leafy character of Cabernet Franc is in the background, but I suspect that with a few more years of bottle age the marriage will round out nicely.  Juicy acidity keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  It would be an excellent choice for a hearty beef dish this winter.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Clau de Nell, IGT Vin de Pays du Val de Loire (France) Grolleau 2012 ($57, Wilson Daniels): The Oxford Companion to Wine notes that Grolleau, a local red grape of the Loire, “produces extremely high yields of relatively thin, acid wine and it is to the benefit of wine drinkers that it is so systematically being replaced with Gamay and, more recently, Cabernet Franc.”  Indeed, Grolleau is held in such low regard by regulators that it is not allowed in appellation wines.  The authorities will want to reconsider their regulations after tasting this superb bottling.  I assume the quality and excitement this wine delivers is from a combination of old vines (60 to 90 years) and the talents of Anne Claude Leflaive.   With leafy undertones and hints of ash in the nose, it suggests Cabernet Franc.  On the palate its firmness and tannic structure is reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon, but without the power of that grape.  The combination makes it a wonderfully complex and harmonious wine that intrigues you with its “not just fruit” character.  I think it would show best in another couple of years as the tannins round out.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

White:

Patient Cottat, Pays du Val de Loire (France) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($14, Vineyard Brands): It’s a delicate whisper of a wine but don’t let that lacey filigree mislead you, for Patient Cottat still delivers surprising flavor and texture.  The unexpected depth of character is due to both the winemaker’s sensitive approach and the maturity of the vines, which are more than 30 years old.  The most significant component here is that chalky trace of minerality that one often finds in wine made from grapes grown in the limestone soils characteristic of the Loire region. 
89 Marguerite Thomas Aug 26, 2014

Provence:

Rosé:

Chateau Routas, Coteaux Varois en Provence (France) 2013 ($14, Routas USA): A rosé that is light and amiable, Chateau Routas’ nimble offering makes a very appealing warm weather aperitif.  It is perhaps too ethereal to stand up to highly seasoned dishes, but it can be an amiable and gracious partner for cool summer and autumnal salads or delicate seafood dishes as well as light pasta preparations such as linguine with clam sauce.  Blended from Cinsault (45%), Grenache (35%) and Syrah (25%)
89 Marguerite Thomas Aug 26, 2014

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GERMANY

White:

Matthias Müller, Mittelrhein (Germany) Riesling Bopparder Hamm Alte Reben Feinherb 2012 ($33, Traubenhaus Fine Wines): The glory of Riesling is clearly evidenced in this bottle.  From the steep vineyards of the Mittelrhein, it reveals a depth and purity of flavor that is truly admirable.  Luscious aromas of lemon, green apple, pineapple and guava fruits are bolstered by elements of flower and spices.  On the palate, it is equally pure and invigorating with the vibrant panoply of fruits playing out across the palate in a delicious cascade of juicy ripeness.  The exotic fruit nuances linger nicely in the long, dry finish.
92 Wayne Belding Aug 26, 2014

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ITALY

Abruzzo:

White:

Tenuta Giuliano, Terre Di Chieti DOC (Abruzzo, Italy) Pecorino 2012 ($15, Premier Wine Company): This wine might be tricky to locate, but it is worth the effort.  Bright banana, melon, wool and mint flood your nose with a spiced peach impression sitting in the background.  It's got nice viscosity and crisp acid -- very nicely balanced, with a warming character on the palate that feels fresh rather than hot. The finish is very long with richness and solid integration of flavors. Very interesting, and priced to buy in bulk.
91 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Lombardy:

Red:

Arpepe, Valtellina Superiore Riserva (Lombardy, Italy) Sassella “Stella Retica” 2006 ($45, Tellitalia Imports): The steeply-sloped vineyards of Sassella in the Valtellina Superiore have yielded a delicate but richly nuanced red wine in the 2006 vintage.  Made from the Nebbiolo grape (locally called Chiavennasca), it has a lovely bouquet of raspberries, cranberries, dried flowers, anise, leather and spices.  Its pale color belies its rich and multilayered flavors.  Dried cherry, raspberry and cranberry fruits are enhanced by subtleties of potpourri, autumn leaves, anise, vanilla, herbs and spices.  The remarkable combination of delicacy and complexity make this wine a memorable taste treat.
90 Wayne Belding Aug 26, 2014

Tuscany:

Red:

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio all’Oro 2007 ($140, Cru Artisan Wines): When Castello Banfi purchased land and established a winery in Montalcino in the late 1970s, the locals nervously joked that they would ruin Brunello’s reputation by bottling it under screw top -- they were (and still are) the USA importer of Riunite. The locals’ anxiety turned out to be misplaced. Banfi invested enormously in Montalcino over the subsequent decades, carrying out tedious research to determine which clones of Sangiovese do best in the area -- and then sharing the information with the other producers. The results of that research are now bearing fruit, both literally and figuratively. Banfi produces four Brunello -- two “normal” ones, one of which is labeled simply Brunello di Montalcino and the other one from their Poggio alle Mura vineyard, and two Riservas, one from their Poggio alle Mura vineyard and this one, their flagship, from their best vineyard, Poggio all’Oro. The Poggio all’Oro Riserva is always the pick of the litter, but requires more cellaring. The 2007 Poggio all’Oro is simple gorgeous with slightly more elegance, minerality and captivating silky texture than the excellent Poggio alle Mura Reserva from the same year. The flavors explode and persist on the palate, yet the wine is not flamboyant. It’s balanced and suave. This fabulous young Brunello needs a decade in the cellar to reveal the complexity that is lurking beneath the surface. It will be worth the wait.
98 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Veneto:

Red:

I Saltari, Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) 2007 ($55, Cru Artisan Wines): This is an easy-to-recommend Amarone from the highly regarded 2007 vintage. It’s appropriately big and concentrated while retaining elegance and balance. The truly appealing character is an invigorating interplay between the sweetness of the fruit and the bitterness from the structure. Certainly not a wine to savor as an aperitif, it screams for wintery fare. This wine belongs in every Amarone-lover’s cellar.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Sartori, Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) Corte Brá 2007 ($50, Cru Artisan Wines): As good as Sartori’s Valpolicella and IGT Veronese wines are, this wine shows that Amarone deserves the reputation it has and why it has been awarded DOCG status. From grapes grown in the vineyard, Corte Brà, around the winery, this Amarone has great power without sacrificing elegance or complexity. Young and vibrant, it has the barest hint of raisiny flavors, earthiness and richness with an appealing tension between ripe and savory flavors. It finishes with a beautiful bitterness. It’s still a very young wine that ideally needs another decade to settle down and round out, but it is remarkably enjoyable now if it were 20 degrees outside and you had a leg of lamb in the oven.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Sartori, Rosso Veronese IGT (Veneto, Italy) “Regolo” 2010 ($20, Cru Artisan Wines): Though made entirely from Corvina Veronese, the most prized grape of Valpolicella, and grown in the mandated area, Regolo can not be labeled Valpolicella because Sartori uses the ripasso method -- combining the wine with the lees of the prior year’s Amarone, adding yeast and starting another fermentation -- which is prohibited by DOC regulations. The second fermentation runs for about three weeks and creates an extra percent of alcohol and, more importantly, much more flavor. Think of it like a Valpolicella on steroids. Andrea Sartori emphasizes that you must use “wet” lees that contain some residual sugar to nourish the yeast. Otherwise, the method is akin to using a tea bag twice. The 2010 Regolo reflects the stature of Corvina Veronese and the elegance of Sartori. A powerful wine, there’s considerable grace in the finish. It would be a good choice for a hearty roast this winter.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Sartori, Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Veneto, Italy) 2011 ($15, Cru Artisan Wines): Andrea Sartori refers to their Valpolicella Classico as “the disappearing version” because so many producers are abandoning it for a wine made using the ripasso method, a technique that adds power. One taste and you’re glad this bottling hasn’t disappeared. It has plenty of concentration without going overboard. Smooth silky tannins allow you to immediately enjoy the combination of red fruit flavors and herbal nuances the wine delivers. This well-priced red is easy to recommend with pasta and meat sauce or, for that matter, pizza.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Kumeu River, Auckland (New Zealand) Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard 2011 ($52, Wilson Daniels): Readers know I am an enthusiastic fan of Kumeu River’s wines.  For me, this one, named in honor of the patriarch of the family, is always their best.  It holds that position in 2011.  It conveys the all-too-often elusive balance of richness and vivacity, with just the right amount of each.  Add great length and waves of flavors -- none of them bombastic -- as it sits in the glass and you have an exceptional wine.  It’s a gorgeous wine to drink now when celebrating a special occasion or simply a Wednesday night.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Aril, Atlas Peak (Napa Valley, California) Syrah 2009 ($45): In a blind tasting, this wine is intriguing because it can seem rather European in style.  The wine’s complex, concentrated aroma speaks of fresh fruit -- dark berries in particular -- with floral nuances and black-pepper spiciness.  In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied but lean and controlled in structure, a big wine but not powerful or heavy.  Flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, inky minerality and a meaty note are pronounced but not overwhelming, and the fruity notes suggest fresh fruit rather than over-ripeness.  This is a wine that seems to be holding itself back for your next taste rather than presenting itself to you head-on.  It is complex and it has some sophistication -- the kind of Syrah that I could sip all night long.  From a fairly new winery, established in 2006, this current release is already almost four years old, and seems to be at its peak.
91 Mary Ewing-Mulligan Aug 26, 2014

Vie Winery, California (United States) "Mélange Maison II", Old Vines NV ($29): This blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache is sourced from well-known vineyards across California, including Las Madres in Carneros, Sol Rouge in Lake County, and White Hawk in Santa Barbara County.  It's an easy to drink red that delivers more than just a pleasurable quaff.  Blackberry, blueberry, sweet oak spice and leafy notes ride on a creamy palate that is well integrated and long.  At this price, you might think simple grilling, and you'd be right, but it will also work well with more sophisticated fare -- roasted game bird comes to mind.
90 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Dutton-Goldfield, Dutton Ranch (Russian River Valley, California) Zinfandel Morelli Lane Vineyard 2012 ($45): Morelli Lane is a ridge-top vineyard near Occidental where this dry farmed Zinfandel was planted over 100 years ago.  It's handled deftly by Dan Goldfield, who brings out a nice dry expression that shows classic varietal character -- cherry, briar, pepper, cinnamon and leaf mix beautifully and finish long and rich, displaying intensity that Zin fans love without becoming overblown. Very food friendly -- beef, charcuterie,  big cheeses -- this wine is ready to take them all on.
92 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($60): In so-called "off" vintages I liken Grgich to Bordeaux' Chateau Latour, which has the remarkable capacity to excel even when growing conditions aren't ideal. This is a very good Grgich Cabernet from a truly challenging vintage. It has good weight, shows complex layers of blackberry and cassis fruit, with hints of cedar and leather. Good over the next 20 or so years. 92 Robert Whitley Aug 26, 2014

Robert Craig Winery, Napa Valley (California) "Affinity" 2011 ($55): Another fine vintage of this bottling.  Everything is here -- blackberry, black cherry, currants, dried herbs, fall spice, mild roasted coffee and baker's chocolate fill the nose, and are delivered seamlessly on the palate over structured acidity and a firm tannic grip.  The finish lingers and blooms, showing excellent integration already, and promising to improve with 5 to 10 years of bottle aging.  No problem with a difficult year here!  Contains 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec.
92 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Hawk & Horse Vineyards, Red Hills (Lake County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($65): Proprietor Mitch Hawkins has built a solid track record in recent vintages with Cabernets from Lake County that can rival those made in the Napa Valley, 30 miles of winding mountain roads to the southwest. This vintage of his Red Hills Cab shows a complex mix of red and black fruits, firm tannins and splendid length and weight on the palate. It should improve in the cellar over the next six to nine years. 90 Robert Whitley Aug 26, 2014

Fog Crest Vineyard, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($55): A lovely, refined Pinot Noir from a relatively new player in Sonoma.  Black cherry, rhubarb, mild fall spice, damp earth and kirsch are present in both aroma and flavor, with a style that's fleshy and full, but not at all flabby.  Solid acidity and moderate grip keep all of the flavors intact through a very long finish.  This is great on its own and will go well with a range of meats, from pork roast to prime rib.
92 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Sans Liege Wines, Santa Barbara County (California) Grenache “En Gedi” 2011 ($40): This is a very spicy, earthy expression of Grenache.  It's got plenty of alcohol, but so do almost all of the California versions of this variety. It carries its 16.2% with finesse, showing nice pepper, damp earth, mushroom and black cherry, with some fig and jammy blackberry underneath. A bit of exotic spice makes itself known in the long finish.  This is a truly unique wine -- and it's good, too.
91 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Pina, Yountville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard 2011 ($85): Vintage conditions be damned, this Wolff Vineyard Cabernet from Pina is a stunner that would be a standout even in a good year. It exhibits rich layers of back fruit with hints of spice and chocolate. The tannins are supple and smooth, making for easy drinking when young. And the finish is long and seductive. Bravo to Pina for overcoming the odds in a very tough year. 95 Robert Whitley Aug 26, 2014

Rosé:

Etude, Carneros (California) Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir Rosé 2013 ($28): Etude's Rosé, always among the finest in California, is made the old-fashioned way, with grapes farmed specifically aimed at Rosé production. The grapes are harvested and pressed at night, while the juice is still cool and with minimal skin contact. This vintage shows a light salmon color, with delicious aromas of fresh strawberry, and mouth-watering acidity. 94 Robert Whitley Aug 26, 2014

White:

J Vineyards & Winery, California (United States) Pinot Gris 2013 ($16): J strikes again with another solid Pinot Gris.  This has turned into a very popular wine -- easily the most popular domestic of this variety, and one of the best.  It's sourced from Clarksburg, Lodi, Monterey and North Coast. The combination of pear, honey and stony minerality propped up by bracing acidity make it easy to see why it has found so many fans.  With a 60,000 case production, it's easy to find, and worth going past your usual summer white to try, not to mention that it's something of a production miracle.  This one will carry you well past summer and deep into fall.   I'd even try it with creamy soups.
91 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Sans Liege Wines, Central Coast (California) “Cotes-du-Coast” 2012 ($26): Bright aromas of peach, white flowers, citrus zest and spice lead you into a palate that shows silky viscosity balanced by racy acidity, delivering the nose elements directly and adding nice stony minerality.  The use of 20% new French oak adds some richness but allows the wine to remain lively with a long, fruit forward finish.  This will be great with saucy seafood or complex garden salads.  Contains 54% Viognier, 19% Roussanne, 15% Grenache Blanc and 12% Marsanne.
92 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Sans Liege Wines, Paso Robles (California) Alta Colina Vineyard "Call To Arms" 2012 ($30): A blend of 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Roussanne, this is a lusty expression that satisfies on multiple levels. It's quite complex, with fresh forest aromas riding on top of lemon, nectarine and honey.  It's packing some alcohol, but carries it gracefully, translating the nose well with touches of citrus zest and vanilla added. Long and full-bodied, and is ready for saucy seafood preparations -- scallops, anyone?
90 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Sanctuary, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard and Dutton Ranches 2012 ($30): The brand “Sanctuary” refers to the sourcing of the grapes for each of its wines, specifically sites that could be considered hallowed land for each grape variety.  For Chardonnay, the sanctuary-spot is two celebrated vineyards in the Russian River Valley.  The wine is dry and full-bodied with creamy texture and ready flavors of fresh apple, peach and caramel. The aroma is less intense but shows pretty nuances of honey, apple and pear.  The wine is very well-made, with traces of oaky firmness complementing the creamy texture but not upstaging it; likewise, fresh, vibrant acidity holds the wine’s 14.2% alcohol in check.  Winemaker Dennis Martin creates this effect through detailed techniques that involve whole cluster pressing and barrel fermentation -- with half the wine under ambient yeasts -- and only partial malolactic conversion.  With only 514 cases produced, this wine is a very good buy at $30. 90 Mary Ewing-Mulligan Aug 26, 2014

Cougar Vineyards, Temecula Valley (California) Pinot Grigio La Vigna a Destra 2013 ($19): A very fresh and lightly spritzy expression of Pinot Grigio from winemaker Rick Buffington, who's having some success with Italian varieties in Temecula.  The nose exhibits vibrant fresh cut nectarine and stony mineral. The palate is spot on nectarine -- the flesh, the skin -- it's got the whole fruit happening. Very refreshing and cleansing, with nice mouthwatering acidity and lingering nectarine flavors. Chill this up and enjoy for the rest of the summer!
90 Rich Cook Aug 26, 2014

Colorado:

Red:

Bookcliff Vineyards, Grand Valley (Colorado) Syrah Reserve 2012 ($25): Syrah can take many forms.  From the New World, Syrah is most often a dense, powerful wine.  From its Colorado vineyards, Bookcliff has crafted a more elegant, but no less complex and multilayered, rendition of this noble grape.  The 2012 Bookcliff Reserve Syrah is notable for the absolute purity of fruit aromas and flavors.  Lovely scents of black cherries, blackberries and plums are underlain by nuances of violets, vanilla, smoke and leather.  The flavors are equally pure and bright, with luscious black fruits enhanced by floral and spice tones.  If you like Syrah, this one is worth seeking out.
92 Wayne Belding Aug 26, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Reserve 2011 ($60): Dick Ponzi was one of the Oregon wine pioneers when he and his wife established their winery and vineyard in 1970.  At the time, scarcely anyone thought Oregon was a place to grow Pinot Noir.  Well, he was correct, as Ponzi’s Pinot Noirs have shown over the years.  The 2011 Reserve continues that fine tradition delivering all you’d want from Pinot Noir -- persistence and complexity without weight.  There’s a terrific tension between the sweet aspect of the fruit and the savory nuances that Pinot Noir delivers when done properly.  Not overdone, the plethora of flavors flow gracefully across the palate.  Silky tannins and a refined texture allow you to enjoy it now.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

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