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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

August 16, 2016 Issue

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CHILE

Red:

Alcance, Maule Valley (Central Valley, Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2014 ($24): This is a marvelous $24 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Black fruit flavors, a savory green olive component and the structure provided by its suave tannins means it’s a great choice to accompany a slab of beef this summer or fall.  Refinement and unexpected length at this price makes you want to remember the producer’s name.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Alcance, Maule Valley (Central Valley, Chile) Carmenere Gran Reserva 2013 ($22): This Carménère from Alcance, a Chilean winery under the umbrella of the Jackson Family Wines Collection, is a good introduction to this grape.  Carménère was formerly planted in Bordeaux but has fallen out of favor there because it is a late-ripening variety that often failed to reach maturity there.  That’s not a problem for it in Chile.  This appealing example combines ripe red and black fruit flavors with the alluring herbal or leafy character inherent to the grape.  Mild supple tannins allow for immediate enjoyment -- perhaps with grilled chicken -- while providing sufficient structure.  Bright acidity keeps it interesting throughout a meal.  For those averse to any “leafy” character in a wine, select a bottle of Alcance’s Merlot, which delivers more obviously fruity character to pair with the aforementioned grilled chicken.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

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FRANCE

Languedoc:

White:

Domaine du Poujol, Pays D’Hérault IGP (Languedoc, France) Carignan Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2014 ($16, Ideal Wines & Spirits): Phil Minervino, one of the owners of a Newton Lower Falls Wines, a jewel of a wine shop outside of Boston, and a superb taster, recommended this somewhat obscure wine to me.  As he said, “No one comes in asking for Carignan Blanc.”  They should now.  This one from Domaine du Poujol has the lush stone fruit flavors and texture of a Mediterranean or southern Rhone white, balanced by a spice and vibrancy that sets it apart from many wines of that ilk.  While robust enough to stand up to grilled tuna, it has sufficient energy and verve to cut through August's heat and humidity.  Frankly, it would also be a welcome choice at Thanksgiving so don’t pigeonhole it to a summer fling -- it’s far more serious wine than that.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Loire Valley:

Rosé:

M. de Mulonnière, Rosé d'Anjou (Loire Valley, France) 2015 ($15, Pasternak Wine Imports): Anjou’s Rosés aren’t every American wine lover’s cup of pink wine.  Our palates seem to have become attuned to expecting rosé to be very dry and crisp, which is somewhat understandable in view of all the unpleasant examples of the genre -- you know, the low tier rosés that have zero character and are bubble-gum sweet.  Rosé d’Anjou is a different species altogether.  This one, for example, is typical of the genre.  Teeming with ultra ripe red raspberry, strawberry and cassis flavors, and plump and silky on the palate, it has both delicate nuances and an outspoken personality.  In that respect it is almost more like a cocktail, with the added advantage of boasting a mere 11% alcohol.
89 Marguerite Thomas Aug 16, 2016

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ITALY

Sparkling:

Villa Crespia, Franciacorta (Italy) “Novalia” Brut NV ($25, Vinifera Imports): This crisp, refreshing and dry sparkler based on Chardonnay from Italy’s Franciacorta region is a wonderful aperitif wine, but it will also be good with light fish dishes (oysters, steamed clams, spaghetti alle vongole). It hits the palate with a whoosh of fresh and fruity flavors that evolve into more of a nutty, mineral-tinged essence that invigorates and energizes the taste buds.  The persistent finish is another of Villa Crespia’s many virtues.
91 Marguerite Thomas Aug 16, 2016

Abruzzo:

Red:

Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane (Abruzzo, Italy) “Pieluni” Riserva 2010 ($70, Montcalm Wine Imports): This wine dispels any notion that truly great wines are not made in Abruzzo from the Montepulciano grape.  Yes, the nomenclature is confusing: Montepulciano, the grape, has nothing to do with Montepulciano the village in Tuscany known for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which uses the Sangiovese grape.  Colline Teramane is Abruzzo’s sole DOCG, which is the highest classification for quality in Italy.  But working through the label and pulling the cork gives grand rewards in this case.  The wine, packaged in one of those over-sized bottles, is like the bottle itself -- oversized, but with extraordinary refinement.  It’s majestic, yet not overdone. Its grace is even more amazing considering its power.  The fine tannins and patina of oak imparts a luxurious texture.  You feel the effects of oak aging without tasting it.  The focus is on subtle earthy notes, herbs and other savory nuances rather than ripe fruit.  The hint of bitterness in the finish makes it an ideal choice for a hearty lamb dish.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Tuscany:

Red:

Lamole di Lamole, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($19):  Fresh and pure, this is a tremendous example of top-notch Chianti Classico for less than $20 a bottle. Beautifully balanced, showing notes of black cherry and spice, the 2012 delivers ripe flavors without sacrificing its acid backbone. Serve this beauty with grilled meats or savory pasta sauces.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Piccini, Chianti DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($21): A delightful, savory Chianti that's already showing nicely, with classic notes of tart cherry, brush, meat and brown spice.  Food friendly as you would expect -- try it with paella, or just about any meat combination.
89 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Frescobaldi, Toscana IGT (Italy) “Mormoreto” 2011 ($62): So-called international blends in Tuscany can be fabulous or a heavy-handed disaster.  Put Frescobaldi’s Mormoreto into the former category.  The winemaking team there clearly knows what it’s doing.  The 2011 Mormoreto, a typical Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (20%), and Petit Verdot, brings together a marvelous mixture of fruity elements, savory nuances and a firm minerality.  An exotic hint adds to its complexity.  The parts fit perfectly.  Nothing stands out.  Suave, yet not soft, the Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and lively, carrying its 14.5%-stated alcohol effortlessly.  An exceptional finish, with a trace of bitterness, just adds to its appeal.  Delightful to drink now with a grilled steak, it should evolve beautifully with additional bottle age -- if you can keep your hands off it.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

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SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Chamonix, Franschhoek (South Africa) Pinot Noir "Feldspar" 2014 ($34, Vineyard Brands): If you aren’t yet familiar with the wines of Chamonix my recommendation is to sample some of this South African’s offerings.  I think you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.  I haven’t absolutely loved everything thing I’ve tasted from Chamonix, but my favorites loom high in my estimation, with this Pinot Noir being one of those favorites.  Don’t look here for the over-extracted juicy, fruity style that some Pinot producers continue to inflict on us.  Chamonix, by contrast, is in every way subtle, yet profound, and that is not a contradiction in terms.  Take the wine’s color:  Without being densely dark it shimmers with a luminous amethyst hue that invites immediate tasting.  The aroma offers up appropriate Pinot hints of earth and floral fragrance.  In the mouth the wine is both silky and sinewy, with fresh fruity flavors nicely balanced by soft tannins.  While it was matured in French oak barrels the influence of that oak is unobtrusive, adding perhaps a little muscle and texture to the wine but never stealing the show.
93 Marguerite Thomas Aug 16, 2016

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Jordan, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($55): Jordan consistently makes a beautifully graceful Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2012 is even more so, full-flavored, yet elegant with a suave texture.  Although a mouth-filling wine, it is not heavy.  It impresses with its elegance and complexity, not brute force.  Layers of red and black fruit flavors intermingle with herbal earthy notes.  It displays exceptional complexity and length.  A hallmark of the Jordan’s Cabernets is the enjoyment they provide upon release.  The 2012 fits that mold perfectly.  But don’t be deceived; Jordan’s Cabernets develop beautifully with decades of bottle age, so there’s no rush to drink the 2012.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Liberty School, Central Coast (California) Merlot 2014 ($16):  With a big dollop of plum and dark berry fruit on the front of the palate and a hint of wood smoke, this is a simple but yummy crowd-pleasing merlot that's a perfect foil for grilled meats or roast lamb.
87 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Edmeades, Mendocino County (California) Zinfandel Shamrock Vineyard 2013 ($31): A very complex Zinfandel that shows great balance despite the big number in small print on the front label.  I'm in the habit of tasting first and looking later to make sure that I'm not predisposed to turn off to a Zin based on its alcohol content, as there are myriad other factors that can make the wine work across the scale, from 13% to 16.5%.  The cranberry fruit element really makes this wine pop, bringing the pepper, herb, blackberry and dusty tannin texture together in a full flavored, long lingering delight.  This will win the high number haters back -- if you show it blind, of course. Contains 3% Syrah.
93 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley (California) "La Castallana" 2012 ($98): Thanks to this wine, 2012 might just come to be remembered as the vintage in which Castello di Amorosa came of age.  This iron fist in a velvet glove wine deserves a place in your trophy cellar right alongside your powerhouse Toscano IGT bottles.  Aromas of deep plum, cherry cedar spice wildflowers lead to a supple palate that delivers on the promise, with good grip throughout the lingering finish.  No problem aging this beauty for a long while, but it's a delight at present as well. Go for something a little gamey as a pairing for full enjoyment.  Contains 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Sangiovese and 9% Merlot.
97 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 2013 ($69): This wine shows the beauty of Napa Valley Cabernet.  Not bigger, but just a more muscular style of Cabernet Sauvignon than is the norm, the 2013 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon has extraordinary finesse.  It’s truly an iron fist in a velvet glove.  It conveys a gorgeous minerality, almost a hint of tarriness wrapped with supple, fine tannins.  It has a Pauillac-like power for those who like comparisons with Bordeaux.  But, indeed, this is Napa Valley Cabernet at its best with plenty of dark fruit and herbal flavors to enhance its mineral-like feel.  Long and balanced, Grgich Hills Estate has created the paradox of a wine that is delicious for drinking now with a lamb chops, but will evolve and develop beautiful over the next decade or two.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Louis M. Martini, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($38):  Martini was among the earliest benchmarks for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, and though these days you will find the majority fetch a much higher price, Martini continues to be a leading producer of Napa's money grape. The 2013 vintage is richly rewarding for the price, showing delicious layers of blackberry and black currant fruit, with a modest oak presence that delivers a hint of vanilla and fall spices. For the money, probably the best Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon you are likely to find.
93 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley (California) Sangiovese 2012 ($30): Only a precious few domestic Sangiovese wines turn my head.  Italy has so much value to offer with the variety that it's difficult for California to compete.  However, V. Sattui's Italian styled venture near Calistoga is making headway with wines like this, showing us solid varietal character with California style.  Bright cherry, cranberry, nut and a touch of sage say Italy, while a balanced dose of sweet oak and vanilla lure fans of Cali reds.  Knowing Sattui, I sense a long-term plan here.  Well done.
90 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard Old Vines 2013 ($23): Petite Sirah is what Clayhouse does best, and this bottle continues a long string of success with the variety. Add in the budget friendly price and you can't help but be seduced by the brambly red and blue berries, tar, fall spice and meaty notes, with firm but approachable tannic structure extending the finish and promising a long life ahead.  Wild boar sausage comes to mind as a suitable pairing.
92 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Malbec Red Cedar Vineyard 2013 ($14): Domestic malbec often pales when compared to wines from Argentina made from the same grape. Not so with this vintage from Clayhouse, which is an impressive expression of malbec for the price. It shows wonderful complexity, with a floral touch on the nose and notes of anise and fennel on the palate. The layers of red and blue fruits are supple and inviting, with a seductive finish.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Patz & Hall, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard 2013 ($90): The beauty of the Pisoni vineyard is its unique ability to produce pinot noir that shows power and remarkable depth without losing the edginess that defines the world's finest pinots, whether they come from Burgundy or some  other part of the world. The 2013 Pisoni from winemaker James Hall is a classic example, exhibiting rich layers of cherry, plum and currant. Notes of vanilla and clove linger in the background. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and rich, with a long, sensual finish. You can certainly enjoy it now, but ideally it would be cellared another two to three years at a minimum.
98 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($48): One whiff of this appellation bottling lets you know that this isn't made with fruit from second tier vineyards.  Sure enough, a look at the sources confirms some top-flight juice from Gap's Crown, Dutton Ranch, Goldrock Ridge, Jenkins and Chenoweth Ranch among others.  James Hall once again shows his talents as a blender, bringing us a classy glass of tart cherry pie with complementary notes of leaf and dry earth.  Lively acidity pushes the finish, with fine integration to the end.  You can't go wrong with Patz & Hall, regardless of variety.
93 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($25):  This is a solid effort for Duckhorn's second wine. It shows a complex palate of red and black fruits with enough bite on the back end to suggest it has life beyond this evening's dinner table. Show a hint of wood spice, too. Excellent choice with a rare steak.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Sparkling:

Schramsberg, North Coast (California) Blanc de Blancs 2013 ($39):  This latest Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg shows its youth, with firm acidity that will slowly soften with a bit of cellar age. The cuvee is 100 percent chardonnay from vineyards in the Napa Valley and Mendocino's Anderson Valley. Notes of crunchy apple and citrus dominate, with a hint of spice in the background. Even at $38 it represents exceptional value in domestic sparkling wine.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

White:

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County, California) Beeswax Vineyard “Le Cigare Blanc” Reserve 2013 ($28): Le Cigare Blanc, the white counterpart of Bonny Doon’s Cigare Volant, which emulates the red wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is a typical Rhône blend: Roussanne (55%), Grenache Blanc (26%), and Picpoul Blanc.  It’s a lovely interpretation of a white Rhône with stone fruit richness and sufficient balancing acidity to keep it interesting, but not so much as to make your mouth pucker.  Perhaps the name of the vineyard influences my perception, but it does have a subtle waxy texture.  As such, it’s a softer, gentler wine that would be a lovely aperitif that you carry to the table for a first course.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

J. Lohr, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County, California) Sauvignon Blanc “Flume Crossing” 2015 ($14): J. Lohr's continued experimentation with acacia wood really shows well in this value priced bottle.  It serves to round off the intense fruit and lively acidity, fleshing out the texture just right and not masking any of the brightness of its fruit, herb and bell pepper character.  I make a mixed pepper salad with olives, cucumbers, bacon and fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for which this seems tailor-made.
90 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Mirassou, California (United States) Moscato 2015 ($12): Though the Moscato craze is waning, there is definitely still a demand for it, and some producers have caught on to the true essence of what makes a good example.  Low alcohol, lightly frizzante and driven by peach, tangerine, and spice aromas and flavors.  Not overly sweet, but pleasantly so.  Popping fresh acidity that keeps it from becoming cloying.  All of that is in this bottle, and it's available everywhere.  I would have guessed this wine to be an Italian Moscato d'Asti, and a good one at that.  Kudos to winemaker Victoria Ferguson -- I can imagine Drake waving this bottle out of his limo's sunroof.
90 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Chronic Cellars, Central Coast (California) “Eunice X” 2015 ($15): Wish your Chardonnay had a little more spiced peach character to go with the apples and toast?  Here's a wine for you, and it's a value leader to boot.  Not only do you get the peach, but there's pear and tropical fruit as well.  I don't know who Eunice X is, but maybe I should find out….  Contains 75% Chardonnay, 14% Viognier, 8% Roussanne and 3% Marsanne.
88 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

La Crema, Monterey County (California) Pinot Gris 2015 ($20):  La Crema's new pinot gris release is a charming wine that offers up juicy notes of melon and pear, with excellent balance and above average length on the finish. Serve it as a quaffer or with mild grilled fish dishes.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Franciscan, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18): Here's evidence that light color doesn't necessarily mean light on flavor.  This barely straw-tinted wine blows out of the glass with lime, melon, lemongrass and white flower aromas, leading to a bright palate that translates the nose elements beautifully over vibrant, lip-smacking acidity that carries the slightest kiss of sweetness perfectly, and a finish that begs another sip.  I'd call this summer in a glass.  There are great things happening under Janet Myers at Franciscan.
92 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Dry Fumé Blanc 2014 ($31): When it comes to winemaking, Grgich Hills Estate can do no wrong.  Of course it excels with Chardonnay.  Miljenko “Mike” Grgich made the Chardonnay when he was at Chateau Montelena that instantly put California wine on the map when judges -- French no less -- placed it first, besting prestigious white Burgundies in a blind tasting, the so-called Judgment of Paris, forty years ago.  But Grgich Hills Estate excels with reds and with this wine made from Sauvignon Blanc.  Though labeled to evoke memories of the Loire’s Pouilly-Fumé, the 2014 Grgich Hills Estate Dry Fumé Blanc is more reminiscent of white dry Bordeaux with a seamless and refined mixture of creaminess and minerality.  It has suppleness without being soft and a hint of bitterness in the finish, the hallmark of a wine meant for food, as opposed to a sweet fruit bomb.  Chicken in a mushroom cream sauce pops to mind.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Migration, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2014 ($32): Migration, initially the second label of Decoy, Duckhorn’s Pinot Noir-focused outpost in Anderson Valley, now has its own home in Sonoma County.  It’s a first wine in its own right.  And though the focus was -- and is -- on Pinot Noir, it turns out, at least judging from this wine, they do a fine job with Chardonnay.  This 2014 Russian River Valley bottling combines a delicate fruitiness with an alluring creaminess supported enough acidity to keep it interesting.  It’s a “Three Bears” wine -- balanced and thankfully not overdone.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 16, 2016

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Fume Blanc 2015 ($14):  Dry Creek's fume shows a different side of sauvignon when compared to the winery's straight-up sauvignon blanc bottling. The style offers a Sonoma variation on the popular sauvignons being made in New Zealand, with a somewhat green, underripe nose and a strong note of mown grass. This pungent style has been a signature for Dry Creek through the years and is consistent from vintage to vintage.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Washington:

Red:

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($40): It's always refreshing to run across a restrained, elegant and flavorful Washington Cabernet Sauvignon in the midst of a bombastic flight of California examples.  Food friendly, and ready to drink with bright, ripe Cabernet character that's reined in by judicious use of oak and balanced acidity.  Serve with just about any red meat preparation to elevate both sip and bite. Contains 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot.
91 Rich Cook Aug 16, 2016

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