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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

April 26, 2016 Issue

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Domaine Humbert Frères, Fixin (Burgundy, France) Vieilles Vignes 2014 ($50, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): It’s a sad commentary of wine pricing when a bottle of Burgundy from Fixin, one of the least prestigious villages in the Côtes de Nuits, costs fifty bucks.  But that’s life, and compared to many of the Pinot Noir coming out of California, it’s still a reasonable price for a wine made from that grape--especially this one.  Domaine Humbert Frères, a consistently good producer, has fashioned a village wine from old vines (60 years) that has the character and complexity of a premier cru.  An underlying savory, almost leathery quality complements the bright red and black fruit notes.  This is an example of how old vines trump the appellation system, resulting in a wine that exceeds its pedigree.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2016

Domaine Lignier-Michelot, Morey St. Denis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Faconnières 2014 ($105, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): I often wonder who is spending $100+ for a bottle of wine.  I will not presume to judge whether this bottle, or any bottle, is worth that amount.  What I will say is that Domaine Lignier-Michelot’s Morey St. Denis Les Faconnières is a captivating wine.  The domaine, run by Virgile Lignier for about the last 15 years, produces exceptional wines, year in and year out.  If you can’t afford this wine, and most of us can’t, remember the name of the domaine because it also produces Bourgogne Rouge and more affordable village wines. From the first whiff and then taste of the Les Faconnières, you know you’ve found something special.  It has more substance, density and structure than many 2014 red Burgundies, probably because of the 70-year old vines.  An over-achieving Premier Cru wine, it has glorious balance with the signature almost bitter black cherry notes of Morey St. Denis actually complementing its firm structure.  This is another wine I cellar for another five to ten years.  You will be rewarded.
94 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2016

Domaine Parent, Pommard Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Epenots 2014 ($140, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): Domaine Parent, a top producer based in Pommard, has made a great array of wines in 2014.  While many 2014 reds are forward and charming, Parent’s Les Epenots has structure and balance that will reward years of cellaring.  A blend of grapes from both Les Grands Epenots and Les Petites Epenots, it has the power you’d expect from Pommard and grace more usually associated with Volnay.  It’s long and mineraly.  In short, a captivating young wine. 93 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2016

White:

J. J. Vincent, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) “Marie Antoinette” 2014 ($26, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): If J. J. Vincent’s name is on a label, you can buy the wine with confidence knowing that you’ll enjoy it.  Vincent, based in Pouilly-Fuissé, owns several vineyards in that appellation and makes distinctive wines from each of them, highlighting the diversity of the terroir there.  They also make this terrific wine from grapes purchased from family members.  Always easy to recommend because it delivers far more than the price suggests, it’s especially noteworthy in the 2014 vintage.  It’s real Pouilly-Fuissé with a subtle creaminess atop a firm and bright stoniness.  Don’t miss it.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2016

Languedoc-Roussillon:

White:

Les Costieres de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet (Languedoc - Roussillon, France) “H. B.” 2014 ($10, Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd): Picpoul, a wine from the warm, dry Languedoc-Roussillon region, reminds many people of Muscadet.  I can see why as both wines are rigorously dry, with a bracing acidity, and are wonderful with oysters and other shellfish, but to my palate anyway, Picpoul’s acidity tends to be broader, with somewhat softer edges.  Its minerality is perhaps less noticeable than in the best Muscadets, but it does offer a pleasantly delicate suggestion of fruit, especially on the finish.  Picpoul de Pinet is rarely designed as a wine to ponder over, to analyze -- it’s meant for refreshment and enjoyment.
90 Marguerite Thomas Apr 26, 2016

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Cecchi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Villa Cerna 2013 ($25): Cecchi, though one of Tuscany’s great producers, flies under the radar.  A family firm run currently by brothers Andrea and Cesare Cecchi, they produce a range of wines from estates in Tuscany and Umbria.  This one, a traditionally framed Chianti Classico made from a blend of Sangiovese and Colorino, exhibits the near magical combination of bright red cherry-like fruit and savory herbal qualities.  Unencumbered by oakiness, it has good density without being heavy.  Zippy Tuscan acidity makes it a joy to drink with rich pasta dishes.  No wonder Chianti Classico is so popular.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2016

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc "Petit" 2015 ($11, USA Wine Imports): Chenin Blanc is a wine that tends to be overlooked and underappreciated. Perhaps this lack of endorsement is because it seems to be somewhat terroir specific, or at least it triumphs in certain specific places, most notably France’s Loire region.  Also, and somewhat like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is versatile:  It can be vinified as a sublime sweet wine, a fine sparkling wine, or an excellent dry white wine.  South Africa has now emerged as the world’s other great Chenin country, where it is the most planted grape.  “Petit” is a sterling example of a wine that delivers big satisfaction for little money. Its sensory perceptions suggest bales of hay, ripe pears and honey but it is definitely dry rather than sweet.  While it is not compellingly complex or long on the palate, this wine delivers plenty of pleasure.
90 Marguerite Thomas Apr 26, 2016

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SPAIN

Rias Baixas:

White:

Martin Codax, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) Albarino 2014 ($15, E.&J. Gallo): Thanks to the importing savvy of Modesto's finest, you should have no trouble locating this delightful summer quaff.  When you do, you'll have found a glass of lemon, lime, stony mineral and a tough of tangerine riding a wave of racy acidity through a long, zesty and cleansing finish that leaves a mixed citrus impression.  Poolside, with mild cheese or pasta al limone should start the summer off right.
90 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Trione, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Block Twenty One 2011 ($67): I've been impressed by Trione lately -- they seem happy to hold onto wines until they feel they are ready for release.  This must be one of the last 2011's to hit the marketplace other than the usual long holding suspects, and it was worth the wait.  Full extraction brings deep blackberry and cassis with recognizable Alexander Valley herb and spice, delivered on supple tannins and good grip through the long finish.  This is a food friend that's delicious now and will cellar well.
93 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

Duckhorn Vineyards, Atlas Peak (Napa Valley) Merlot 2011 ($72):  The Atlas Peak appellation hasn't been in the Duckhorn stable for very long, but it is very quickly proving itself as worthy more established bottlings. While not as polished and complex as the exceptional 2010 release from Atlas Peak, the 2011 is nevertheless an impressive wine that shows juicy plum and black cherry notes with hints of tobacco leaf and spice.
91 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Clos Pegase, Calistoga (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Tenma Vineyard “Hommage” 2012 ($125): At its best, the Napa Valley produces sublime beauty in the bottle, and in 2012, the growing season lent itself to long ripening on the vine, and many great wines like this one resulted.  I love the nose here -- it's layered with complexity, offering black fruit initially, then revealing spicy raspberry, cassis, pepper, dried herbs and spice.  Mildly chalky tannins help to translate the aromas into flavors, which are well integrated and linger long.  There's a touch of oak boldness in the finish that covers things slightly at present, but it should resolve with a few more years in the bottle.  This artist series bottle would make a beautiful gift for a great friend -- it's one of the classiest packages I've seen.
96 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

Rodney Strong, Knights Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($35): Rich and lush but also balanced and harmonious, this wine exhibits forward fruit flavors resembling dark berries and plums, augmented by notes of sweet vanilla and mocha that gain intensity in the finish.  It is exuberantly and unabashedly Californian, and you can almost taste the bright sunshine that ripened the grapes so fully.
90 Paul Lukacs Apr 26, 2016

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) X2 Estate Red Wine 2012 ($95): When Duckhorn Vineyards (the parent winery) set out to create the ultimate Paraduxx, it had the good sense to launch in an excellent vintage. Paraduxx X2 is the evolution of the original Paraduxx, an eclectic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel that combines the muscle and elegance of Cab with the zesty, spicy fruit of Zinfandel. Paraduxx X2 is a selection of what the winemaker believes are the best barrels from the vintage. It's entirely estate fruit and its fairly sensational and definitely delicious. This inaugural vintage of X2 is 90 percent Cabernet, 10 percent Zinfandel.
96 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) "Trilogy" 2013 ($80): This bottling has been around since 1984, and it features a different blend of three of the five main Bordeaux varieties each year.  This year small amounts of Petit Verdot and Malbec join the full throttle Cabernet Sauvignon, and together they form a bold, fruit forward wine that adds lively oak spice of the mild coffee and baker's chocolate type, and just a touch of dried herb character.  Very nice now, and worthy of ten years of bottle aging
95 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

Hawk and Horse, Red Hills (Lake County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($65): The hand of Dr. Richard Peterson is evident in this vintage from Hawk and Horse, a Lake County winery that flies a bit under the radar despite having racked up a number of stellar vintages. Its best wines are cabernet sauvignon and this one is a beauty. The elegance, structure and seductive mouthfeel are typical of a Peterson-inspired wine. He is one of California's most respected consulting winemakers and has served Hawk and Horse well. This one, in particular, is a stunner.
94 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch 2013 ($63): Merry Edwards continues a string of exceptional 2013's with the Klopp Ranch bottling, bringing deep black cherry, Asian spice, cedar, leaf and damp earth aromas and flavors, all nicely integrated with judicious oak and finishing long and complex.  I can't wait to taste the next vintage.
94 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

Trione, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Syrah River Road Ranch 2010 ($32): An exceptional California Syrah, certainly the best I have tasted this year, this wine tastes ripe but balanced, and offers significantly more than just plum-like fruit flavor.  Lurking beneath that forward fruit is a leathery, earthy undertone, not unlike a fine Syrah-based wine from the northern Rhône Valley.  The Golden State rendition is brighter and more opulent than its French cousins tend to be, but it is equally complex and hence compelling.  First-rate!
93 Paul Lukacs Apr 26, 2016

Kendall-Jackson, Santa Barbara County (California) Syrah 2014 ($17):  K-J has always had fairly good success with syrah and the 2014 bottling from Santa Barbara County is an excellent example. It shows dark, dense, layered red and black fruit aromas with good balance and outstanding length, finishing on a note of dark berries, spice, mocha and wood smoke. A steal at the price.
89 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

ROAR, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($42): ROAR is one of the most consistent pinot noir producers in North America largely because it controls its vineyard sources. Owner Gary Franscioni is one of the most highly regarded grape growers in Monterey County and it shows in the wines. The Santa Lucia Highlands bottling (as opposed to its vineyard-specific bottlings) is hardly a comedown in quality, although a bit easier on the wallet. The 2014 shows enticing aromas of red fruit and spice, with a leafy note and a touch of earthy forest floor. The wine is firmly structured and will improve with a bit of age.
90 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Nielson, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County) Pinot Noir 2014 ($29):  Once upon a time, cheap pinot noir tasted like cheap pinot noir. That would be thin and uninteresting, or flawed with notes of green, unripe fruit. Those days are quickly coming to an end. Growers know better now how to grow the finicky pinot noir grape and winemakers have a better handle on it in the cellar. This vintage of Nielson, the second label of the well-regarded Byron winery, shows plump, juicy red-fruit notes with a touch of spice and soft tannins. And it's less that $30 a bottle, which ranks as an attractive price in today's pinot noir world.
88 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Rosé:

Chronic Cellars, Paso Robles (California) "Pink Pedals" 2015 ($15): Light hearted and prettily pink, this unapologetically fruity wine is saved from being cloying by a strand of acidity curling through it like a refreshing breeze on a summer day.  With its textural heft plus hints of rose petal, nectarine and raspberry this rosé would be good with richer spicy foods such as chili and curries.
89 Marguerite Thomas Apr 26, 2016

White:

Murphy-Goode, California (United States) Pinot Grigio 2014 ($12):  This is just what the doctor ordered if you're in the market for a light and easy summer white to sip the night away. The Murphy-Goode pinot grigio shows pleasing notes of pear and green apple and a slightly floral nose.
83 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Clos Pegase, Carneros (California) Chardonnay Mitsuko's Vineyard "Hommage" 2012 ($45): A Chardonnay with full body and richness, and the acid balance to manage it.  There's real complexity here, with quince and honeycomb over plush lemon crème, spice, stony minerality and a mild herb note that adds interest.  The finish is very long with crispness and blooming flavors after swallowing. Food is required here -- mild cheeses or a halibut steak will sing!
94 Rich Cook Apr 26, 2016

Cycles Gladiator, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2014 ($11):  Winemaker Adam LaZarre has had a long and distinguished career making brilliant but inexpensive wines throughout the Central Coast. There are several elements at play that enable LaZarre to smack so many home runs with affordable wines. First, he has a knack for sourcing grapes and knows the Central Coast well. Second, he relies upon a remarkable palate for blending that never seems to fail him. Finally, he knows all the tricks of the trade to get the most from his grapes. This 2014 chardonnay is lip-smacking good, showing notes of lemon oil and pear with a hint of spice. It's a deal and it's a steal.
88 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Murphy-Goode, North Coast (California) Sauvignon Blanc 'The Fume' 2014 ($14):  Murphy-Goode's historic signature for its sauvignon blanc has been a pleasant melon note that plays well with food. "The Fume" follows in that tradition. It's inviting and easy and affordable.
85 Robert Whitley Apr 26, 2016

Cambria, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Chardonnay Katherine's Vineyard 2013 ($22): Somewhat fleshier than past vintages and throbbing with oaky vanilla flavors, this is a wine that will have a lot of appeal for wine drinkers who adore California’s upfront, no-holds-barred Chardonnays.  It delivers a surge of rich, ripe fruit nicely balanced by a generous finish.
89 Marguerite Thomas Apr 26, 2016

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