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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

September 19, 2017 Issue

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Joseph Drouhin, Volnay (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($50): As the 2015 red Burgundies begin to hit retailers’ shelves, they confirm my initial enthusiasm for this vintage.  Take, for example, this Volnay, a village wine from one of Burgundy’s top négociants.  Floral and lacey, it conveys the quintessential Burgundy characteristic that I call “flavor without weight.”  It dances on the palate amplified -- not in power, but in length -- by lively acidity.  Though it’s in its primary red-fruit stage, savory earthy notes peek through.  It reminds us that super enjoyable Burgundy can be found at the village level.  Engaging now with roast chicken in a mushroom sauce or grilled salmon, it has the requisite balance -- and Drouhin’s skill -- for wonderful development over the next decade. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Sparkling:

Domaine des Gandines, Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) NV ($17): Domaine des Gandines, a family run winery located in the Mâconnais, produces a variety of still white wines from that region, Viré-Clessé, and Macon-Peronne, that are available in the U.S.  This Crémant, as good as it is -- and well priced to boot -- is not available yet, but hopefully that will change. Organically certified, the family has expanded the Domaine gradually since it was founded in 1925 to its current 25-acres. This Crémant, from their young Chardonnay vines, is pure and delicately fruity with substantial depth and length for a wine made from young vines. A double-duty wine, its suaveness makes drinking it as an aperitif a pleasure, while its density allows you to take it to the table.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Guyot Choppin, Champagne (France) NV ($30): Real Champagne at 30 bucks a bottle these days makes you stop and look. One taste makes you buy a case.  Fresh and delicately fruity, this lighter styled Champagne has the elegance and length you’d expect.  Those looking for a toasty bigger style of Champagne will be disappointed, but others who favor the more delicate style will embrace this bargain-priced bubbly. An excellent choice as an aperitif, its vivacity will enhance simply prepared fish dishes. 88 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

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ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Kettmeir, Alto Adige-Sudtirol (Italy) Pinot Bianco 2015 ($22, SM USA): A refresher to toast the waning summertime.  Grilled peach, loquat, melon and citrus zest define this lively, dry white in both aroma and flavor, and they finish together in refreshing, lip smacking fashion.  There will be plenty of time for reds soon enough.
90 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Basilicata:

Red:

Musto Carmelitano, Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy) “Pian del Moro” 2012 ($30, Tenth Harvest): I have become a fan of the rustic, hearty red wines from this fairly obscure appellation in the arch of the foot in the Italian boot.  Grown in the rocky, lava rich soils of the extinct Vulture volcano, they have an intensity that Aglianicos from Campania often lack.  At the same time, though, they are earthier and hence less graceful.  This is an excellent example.  Taut and tannic, it offers well-integrated dark fruit and leathery flavors.  I suspect that the tannins will never really soften, so it is not a wine for folks who prefer their reds to be soft and supple.  But for wine lovers who want real guts in what they drink, this is delicious stuff.
92 Paul Lukacs Sep 19, 2017

Sicily:

Red:

Donnafugata, Sicilia DOC (Italy) "Sedara" 2015 ($16, Folio Fine Wine Partners): Bring on the braised short ribs for this meaty value wine.  There's a nice dose of pepper over the starring black fruit and savory character, with a long finish that requires a rich meat dish to really show itself.  With what you save on the wine you can upgrade the ribs a bit and have happiness all around.
90 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Veneto:

White:

Cavalchina, Custoza Superiore (Veneto, Italy) "Amedeo" 2015 ($18): The Custoza DOC, formerly known as Bianco di Custoza, has suffered in the past from watered-down versions made by co-ops and other industrial-sized producers.  Cavalchina is trying to change the reputation and certainly will do so as more consumers taste their wines.  The grape is Garganaga, the primary grape used in Soave.  Regulations for the superiore designation require lower yields in the vineyard—more flavor in the wine -- and an additional six months of aging before release.  Cavalchina’s 2015 Amedeo has a subtle creamy texture that enhances its richness.  Excellent acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  A hint of attractive bitterness in the finish reminds you this is serious wine.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Le Morette, Lugana DOC (Veneto, Italy) Mandolara 2016 ($22): Lugana, a small DOC just south of Lake Garda, is a treasure trove of well-priced white wines.  Le Morette’s single-vineyard Mandolara is just one example.  The grape, formerly thought to be Trebbiano di Soave (and sometimes still referred to that on labels), is Turbiano, a distinctly different variety as determined by DNA analysis.  Le Morette’s 2016 Mandolara, a youthful wine, opens beautifully after 30 minutes in the glass, revealing subtle floral aromas and a delectable balance of spice and stone fruit flavors.  It has good density throughout and zesty acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  It would be a good match for pasta and a clam sauce.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Ottella, Lugana Riserva (Veneto, Italy) "Molceo" 2014 ($30): Wines like this one will make Lugana a common name.  That Ottella could make a wine this polished in 2014, a “challenging” year, to say the least, shows the dedication of this producer.  It’s floral and elegant, with just the right understated hints of tropical fruit. It has good concentration and spice with a lovely lemony finish.  Clean and bright, without a trace of off-flavors, they must have selected the grapes with tweezers given the difficulty with the harvest in 2014.  Here’s a delightful white for a Wednesday night roast chicken.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Cà Rugate, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) Monte Fiorentine 2016 ($20): This wine ticks all the right boxes.  Cà Rugate is a top Soave producer. Monte Fiorentine, a single-vineyard bottling from their old vineyards with vines that are approximately 50 years old, according to Francesco Ganci, their Italian commercial direction, is their top Soave.  And 2016 is an excellent vintage in Soave because the wines have exhilarating acidity.  It delivers minerality, reflecting the vineyard’s dark volcanic soil.  A mouth-watering salinity balances a slightly waxy texture.  Its racy character becomes more apparent after a half-hour in the glass, so give this youthful wine time to show itself.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Cà Rugate, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) Monte Fiorentine 2015 ($20): Both the 2015 and 2016 are in some markets simultaneously.  They offer a superb example of the differences between the vintages, with 2015 being riper and 2016 being racier.  Hence, something for everyone.  Cà Rugate opts to use Garganaga exclusively from this 15-acre vineyard that sits about 600 feet above sea level.  A cooler microclimate from the elevation helps explain the excellent acidity and freshness in this 2015 Soave Classico.  The dark volcanic soil imparts depth of fruit.  Fresh and lively, it’s an energetic wine, especially for a 2015. Those preferring more richness in their wines will seek out the 2015, while those whose tastes run toward tauter wines will prefer the 2016.  Frankly, I’m happy with either.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Nardello, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2016 ($14): Nardello is one of the producers changing the image of Soave. A key to finding top quality Soave is to look for those, such as this one, that comes from the Classico subregion. Fortunately for consumers the price of Soave from these top producers has not caught up to the quality. Nardello’s 2016, made from grapes grown in a number of vineyards in the Classico area, is crisp and clean with good concentration.  A citrus quality and minerality in the finish keeps you coming back for another sip.  It’s zippy enough to stand up to antipasto and simple seafood.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

Cà Rugate, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) "San Michele" 2016 ($16): Not a single-vineyard wine, San Michele is the name. Cà Rugate’s San Michele bottling is a blend from several of their vineyards located in the Soave Classico subregion, the best area for Soave production.  More fruity than mineraly, it blossoms with air, befitting a young wine.  A delicate stone fruit character balanced by vibrant acidity comes through. It has lovely elegance and finesse for a “basic” Soave Classico.
89 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2017

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NEW ZEALAND

Red:

Goldwater, Wairau Valley (Marlborough, New Zealand) Pinot Noir 2011 ($24, Foley Family Wines): This 2011 is still available in some markets.  If you happen to be in one of them, run out and buy some of it!  The wine is mature but not at all old, and shows Burgundian complexity, with a silky texture, cherry and savory spice flavors, and a deliciously long finish.  Very few producers in the United States make anything like it.
93 Paul Lukacs Sep 19, 2017

White:

Goldwater, Wairau Valley (Marlborough, New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19, Foley Family Wines): If you find many Kiwi Sauvignons to be overly assertive, try this more subtle one.  It offers multiple layers of flavor, with characteristic New Zealand verve but nothing in excess.  A great aperitif sipper, it also will pair exceptionally well with many seafood dishes.
91 Paul Lukacs Sep 19, 2017

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SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Beaumont, Bot River (Walker Bay, South Africa) Pinotage 2015 ($30, Broadbent): This stylish Pinotage (not an oxymoron, as many believe) isn’t yet in the USA, but I found it marginally superior to the 2014, and am willing to wait…though I’ll probably buy a few bottles of older vintages that are currently on offer from American retailers to learn more about this wine from the highly talented by ultra unpretentious Sebastian Beaumont.  Medium-plus in body, with very expressive and complex aromas and very satisfying fruit that easily counterbalances the (very well managed) tannins, this is delicious and destined for years of positive development.
92 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Crystallum, Elandskloof (South Africa) Pinot Noir “Mabalel” 2016 ($45, Pascal Schildt): I encountered this during the vinous equivalent of a speed dating session with four very nice people, some of whom were showing wines they had made, some showing wines as producer representative, and all of them trying to explain a few wines from other producers in the broader region around Bot River, a sub-appellation of Walker Bay.  This wine falls into the latter category, and I don’t believe any of my companions in this endeavor actually have a commercial relationship with Crystallum.  Consequently, this is a bit of an orphan, and I don’t know much about it.  I do know that Crystallum is a project of Peter-Allan Finlayson along with his brother Andrew, sons of Peter Finlayson, who is widely regarded as South Africa’s premier pioneer with fine Pinot Noir.  The fruit is all purchased (rather than sourced from vineyards owned by Crystallum), and I was told that 30% of this was aged in new oak.  I can’t even find mention of this wine on the Crystallum website, but I can find evidence of its existence on the importer’s site, so this is not a mere unicorn.  Why the long preamble for this review?  Because the wine is wonderfully delicate, almost ethereal and weightless, though it shows lovely red cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors, along with stylish scents of spices and tomato leaf.  The tannins are ultra fine-grained and perfectly tuned to the wine’s lean frame.  This was shown alongside Crystallum’s Hemel en Aarde Ridge 2016 Pinot, which was significantly meatier, and preferred by most of my fellow tasters.  Fine people though they were, I sharply disagreed, as it is easy to find relatively meaty Pinots around the world, whereas finding gorgeous, gossamer wines like this outside of Burgundy is damned near impossible.
93 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Glenelly, Stellenbosch (South Africa) “Lady May” Red Blend 2011 ($50, Cape Classics): This flagship wine from Glenelly is entirely convincing and very Bordeaux-like, with lots of tannic grip but plenty of underlying fruit to permit this to develop in positive ways for at least a decade -- probably longer…and possibly much longer.  Cabernet Sauvignon is predominant, with dollops of Petit Verdot and Merlot.  Nearly 100% of the wine is aged for 24 months in new French Oak, so it is apparent from the formula that this is a very serious wine.  With that said, though, it is definitely enjoyable now with sufficiently robust food incorporating some dietary fat, so don’t shy away from ordering it if you see the wine offered on a restaurant wine list.  Still, buying this in a retail shop and laying it down for at least 5 years is highly recommended.
95 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Glenelly, Stellenbosch (South Africa) “Estate Reserve” Red Blend 2011 ($27, Cape Classics): This nicely-matured blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot is impressively complex, with each of the included varieties showing their various contributions.  The wine is released relatively late because, I am told, the Syrah element is dominant early on.  That seems plausible enough, as the fruit component is relatively restrained in relation to the spice notes and savory layer.  Fine-grained tannins, a notably dry profile, and nascent tertiary aromas give this an Old World style that really makes it a wine for food -- and an outstanding one.
93 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

L’Avenir, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Pinotage “Single Block” 2015 ($30, Canon Wines): Sourced from a single parcel of old vines, this shows excellent fruit concentration and very nicely balanced wood spice and acidity.  Importantly, it also shows an enticingly earthy streak that gives this a sense of European style.  Very well made and sure to improve for years to come, this is just the sort of wine needed to make Pinotage haters realize how good this variety can be.
92 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

White:

Beaumont, Bot River (Walker Bay, South Africa) Chenin Blanc “Hope Marguerite” 2016 ($35, Broadbent): I wouldn’t blame you a bit for shying away from buying a bottle of South African Chenin for $35, and in fact I’d thank you for doing that, as more would be left for me.  But selfishness is unbecoming, so let me tell you that this is not to be missed if you can find a bottle, as it combines thrillingly sharp green apple acidity combined with broader, more succulent melon notes and very appealing oak spice.  It is rather taut and tense right now, and really built to develop over the course of another three or four years, so you’d be well advised to buy several bottles and taste them at multiple points along this excellent wine’s developmental path.
94 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Beaumont, Bot River (Walker Bay, South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2017 ($21, Broadbent): This wine is an object lesson in the very high potential of un-oaked Chenin from South Africa.  It shows light floral aromas and notable breadth and substance on the palate, with fruit recalling ripe melons and even a faint tropical streak.  Yet those descriptors suggest a much less refreshing wine than one actually gets, as this is energized by terrifically zingy citrus acidity.  Only a few USA retailers have this 2017 in stock already, but it is indeed available.  But do not just look for this vintage, as older renditions may prove even more interesting, as South African Chenins can age marvelously, even without any oak ageing.
92 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Lismore Estate, Greyton (South Africa) Chardonnay Reserve 2016 ($40, Kysela): American ex-pat Samantha O’Keefe makes this delicious wine in Greyton, a tiny appellation marked by a harsh climate and 900 feet of altitude in which she is the only vintner…presumably on account of the aforementioned conditions.  The fruit for this wine was dry-farmed on steep slopes with shale “soils,” and the vines survive despite a lack of rain only thanks to a layer of clay subsoil that helps retain just enough moisture.  This shows more oak influence than O’Keefe’s non-Reserve Chardonnay (which is too good to be referred to as a “regular” Chardonnay), but largely by accident.  In earlier vintages, this was made in all older, neutral oak, but she needed more cooperage for increased production in 2016, so two of the 5 casks (500 liters in size) were new.  Still, the oak influence on the wine is subtle and very classy, and the overall impression of the wine is spicy and energetic, with an arresting streak of lime and a very stylish, fresh finish.  If more producers of very expensive Chardonnay around the world took a taste of this wine, they’d get a lot less sleep at night.
94 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Lismore Estate, Greyton (South Africa) Chardonnay 2015 ($32, Kysela): Entirely barrel fermented but with quite restrained oak influence, this shows wonderfully nuanced aromas, layered texture, and very impressive complexity in the finish, with all of the notes tailing off slowly and symmetrically.  Outstanding Chardonnay at an entirely reasonable price.
93 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Gabriëlskloof, Swartland (South Africa) Chenin Blanc "Elodie” The Landscape Series 2016 ($25, Pascal Schildt): This gorgeous wine is beautifully wooded for 12 months in 500 liter barrels, all of which are French and 30% of which are new.  That’s a pretty intense-looking regimen, but light toast cooperage is employed, and Chenin absorbs oak and still shows fruit better than almost any other variety, and that includes Chardonnay.  In the finished wine, the wood notes are actually quite subtle, showing spice in the aromas and a bit of tannic grip in the finish, but the mid-palate is all about delicious, rounded fruit.  Probably not easy to find at retail, but worth a search.
92 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

Momento, Western Cape (South Africa) Chenin Blanc/ Verdehlo 2016 ($30, Broadbent): Never having tasted a blend of these two varieties, I would probably not have stopped to even look at this wine on a retail store shelf, and if I had, I’d have put it back after seeing a $30 price tag as well as a very broad “Western Cape” geographical indicator.  And if I’d done that, I’d have made a very bad mistake.  Verdehlo comprises 22 percent of this blend, and it lends remarkable energy and freshness to the wine, which shows a relatively rich profile based on melon fruit with a hint of pineapple, but also an eye-popping zinginess derived from citrus notes.  Only older barrels are used in making this from whole bunch-pressed clusters.  Very, very exciting stuff that I’d like to try with about 30 different food items.
92 Michael Franz Sep 19, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($75): You may not be as familiar with Duckhorn's Cabernet lineup as you are their fine Merlots, but they are certainly worthy of the marque.  This appellation bottling features blackberry, cassis and full throttle oak spice that remains in balance to the bold fruit, with moderate tannic structure, a soft texture and a long finish that brings out a dusting of baker's chocolate.  I'd go with the bolder side of the cheese tray with this one.  Contains 13% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.
93 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Dutton-Goldfield, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Redwood Ridge 2014 ($62): Dan Goldfield keeps churning out great wines like this one, each unique and worthy of a separate bottling.  Here, lively wild berry fruit is right up front on the nose and in the mouth, with rich cinnamon spice and sarsaparilla joining in.  It's a bit more on the drink me now side of Dan's lineup, with softer acidity and the full cedar chest spice spectrum forward in the long finish.  This is up to pairing with red meat – something on the bolder prep side.
94 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2015 ($25): The Decoy label can be counted on to deliver value for your dollar, as evidenced once again by this easy to enjoy Merlot.  Blackberry, black cherry, vanilla and a hint of bell pepper fill the nose and mouth and stay knit together through a lingering finish, where a bit of oak spice comes forward.  Serve with burgers or bolder beef preparations.
89 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Sparkling:

Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (California) "Anniversary Cuvée" 2010 ($40): Here's a treat from Gloria Ferrer that's on a par with their Royal Cuvée and Carneros Cuvée bottlings.  After five and a half years on the lees, you've got a creamy texture, delicate brioche and pear aromas that translate to flavors beautifully and finish long with blossoming flavors and a nice green apple kiss on the end that will lead you right to the bottom of the bottle.  I don't often drink when tasting to review a wine, but this one is an exception. Cheers!
95 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

White:

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2015 ($20): A solid Chardonnay that stands out in today’s era of California excess because it is well-balanced and hence tastes complete.  There are better Golden State Chardonnays on the market, but most cost considerably more, and many that do cost more are nowhere as nicely constructed as this one.  The next vintage is due to hit store shelves soon.  It may be as good a value, but then who knows?  I thus recommend buying this 2015 now; it will drink well for a good year if not longer.
90 Paul Lukacs Sep 19, 2017

Oregon:

White:

Penner-Ash, McMinnville (Oregon) Riesling Hyland Vineyard Old Vine 2015 ($35): A gorgeous dry Riesling from 46-year-old vines that delivers classic character -- granite minerality, mixed citrus and stone fruit, and a touch of petrol all ride lip-smacking acidity through a long, intensifying finish.  I love wine like this as solo sippers, but you could run the table with it as well.  Riesling like this goes with just about anything.
95 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

Penner-Ash, Oregon (United States) Viognier 2016 ($30): A lively expression of this variety, with bright aromas of white flowers, peach and spice, with popping acidity that keeps it on the fresh, lighter side.  I like this as a solo drinker or a foil for salads or fish.  This is a style that should be emulated in domestic production.
92 Rich Cook Sep 19, 2017

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