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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

March 28, 2017 Issue

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ITALY

Abruzzo:

Red:

Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (Abruzzo, Italy) “Zanna” 2011 ($38, Montcalm Wine Imports): The somewhat unwieldy name of Abruzzo’s sole DOCG and the reputation of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for producing only inexpensive wine might put some consumers off from ordering this one.  That would be a mistake.   The Colline Teramane area within Abruzzo is uniquely well suited for the Montepulciano grape because its exposure to the sea and the elevation of the vineyards act as cooling influences, which allows the grapes to maintain their acidity thus instilling liveliness to the wines.  Illuminati is one of the leading producers in the DOCG.  Mineraly and dense, but with surprising elegance, this is a great choice for hearty pasta dishes or grilled beef.  An attractive hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you it’s serious wine.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

Puglia:

Red:

Tenute Rubino, Salento IGT (Puglia, Italy) “Torre Testa” 2013 ($45, Vinity Wine Company): Torre Testa was the winery’s first release of a Susumaniello wine.  It is made from older vines, some of which were planted in the 1930s.  It is appassimento style, made from late harvested grapes dried for two to three weeks before fermentation.  It spends 12 months in French barriques and another 12 in bottle before release.  As you might expect, it is a rich and serious wine with flavors of blackberry preserves, baking spices and a touch of dark chocolate.  Acidity keeps the intense flavors bright and ripe tannins provide a solid structure.
93 Rebecca Murphy Mar 28, 2017

Masseria Li Veli, Salento IGT (Puglia, Italy) Susumaniello 2015 ($21, Dalla Terra): This Susumaniello is from the Falvo family’s Askos project dedicated to discovering and growing endangered, ancient, indigenous grape varieties of Puglia.  They grow head-pruned vines in a settonce pattern developed by the Romans.  In the winery they use modern winemaking techniques such as délestage and circulation pumping for color and flavor extraction and cooler temperature fermentation to preserve fruitiness.  The wine spends nine months in 500 and 225 liter barrels.  The wine is deliciously juicy with bright raspberry, cherry fruit laced with anise, round and luscious in the mouth.  Crisp acidity keeps it fresh, while the grapes’ sturdy tannins keeps it firm.
91 Rebecca Murphy Mar 28, 2017

Tenute Rubino, Salento IGT (Puglia, Italy) “Oltreme” 2014 ($14, Vinity Wine Company): Luigi Rubino’s mission is to make the Susumaniello grape the flagship wine of his area in the Brindizi Province of Puglia.  Oltreme, made from young vines, is a very friendly introduction to the grape’s charm.  It has an appealing dark ruby color, exuberant fresh pomegranate, spicy red cherry fruit balanced with zesty acidity and finishing with dusty tannins.
90 Rebecca Murphy Mar 28, 2017

Tuscany:

White:

Poggio al Tesoro, Bolgheri IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Vermentino 'Solosole' 2015 ($23):

Vermentino from Bolgheri may well be the best-kept secret in Tuscan wine. The 2015 Solosole from Poggio al Tesoro, situated on the Tuscan coast, is one of the finest. With a spicy, floral nose, this inviting wine offers a complex array of aromas on the palate -- from peach to apricot to pear, with a hint of orange peel -- along with exquisite balance. It's a gem, and a steal at the price.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Matakana Estate, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($15, Artisans & Vines): Pucker up, friends, and accept the kiss of acidity Matakana’s Sauvignon Blanc is going to bestow on you.  After inhaling the wine’s deep, rich fragrance (reminiscent of green rain fortest plants plus hints of citrus) the tingling embrace of acidity seems absolutely perfect.  Of course you’ll want to pair the wine with some oysters on the half shell, but you can also enjoy it with other nautical fare -- grilled shrimp or a crab cake sandwich, for example.
92 Marguerite Thomas Mar 28, 2017

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Fairview, Western Cape (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($15, Vineyard Brands): Riper and richer than previous Sauvignon Blancs from Fairview (hello global warming?) the wine has a multitude of tropical fruit and melon flavors set off by a faint echo of grassiness.  The grapes were raised in Darling, the coastal region of South Africa.  It’s an easy sipping wine that will complement a range of foods, including mild fish (filet of sole or trout, perhaps), anything that features chicken breasts, and creamy pasta dishes.
90 Marguerite Thomas Mar 28, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Paraduxx, Atlas Peak (Napa Valley, California) Red Wine 2013 ($80): A super-Tuscan styled wine with a twist from Duckhorn's offbeat blends label succeeds with wild raspberry and ripe strawberry fruit complemented by pepper and dried herb aromas and flavors that's a real pleasure to drink.  With Zinfandel and Sangiovese traditionally performing well on Atlas Peak, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this sort of blend.  Toss it into a blind tasting of blends and see who can pick out the components.  Contains 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Zinfandel and 18% Sangiovese.
94 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Baileyana, Edna Valley (California) Pinot Noir La Entrada 2014 ($35):

Baileyana's La Entrada Pinot offers bright cherry and raspberry aromas with excellent weight and length on the palate and a bit of grip on the finish. The wine is well balanced and shows hints of wood smoke and wood spice. This is a friendly, easy to approach Pinot that you can enjoy now, though an additional year or so in the cellar certainly wouldn't hurt.
90 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Cosentino, Lodi (California) Old Vine Zinfandel "Cigar" 2015 ($20): The ever popular Cigar Zinfandel gets a makeover inside and out, with a new label and a drier style.  It works thanks to ripe Lodi fruit that gives a rich brambly character to the nose and the palate, with proper pepper and pie spice letting you know what you're drinking.  It finishes with the juicy spicy vibe that Zin aficionados love, and it's perfect for summer burgers and steaks.
89 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Dutton Goldfield, Marin County (California) Pinot Noir Devil's Gulch Vineyard 2014 ($68):

This is the vineyard that made Marin County famous for Pinot Noir, such as it is. Dutton Goldfield has been making stellar Pinot from Devil's Gulch for a number of years and the 2014 is another good one. Showing notes of cherry and plum, with back notes of wood spice and black tea, this is a ready to drink now Pinot from one of California's most reliable producers.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Morgan, Monterey (California) Cotes du Crow's 2015 ($18):

Mogan's interpretation of a classic Rhone Valley blend includes a bit of Tempranillo, but its still essentially a Rhone-style blend at 52 percent Grenache and 44 percent Syrah. The red-fruit brightness of the Grenache shine through, as does the backbone and structure of the Syrah. This is a wine that shows a complex array of red and black fruits, wood spice and supple tannins. If ever there was a wine meant for a backyard barbecue, this is it.
88 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Cabernet Bosché” 2013 ($150): A flagship wine -- one of Napa Valley's heritage wines -- that simply stuns with depth and staying power with the 2013 vintage.  Classic in every sense of the word, it's a wine that I hesitate to give a list of descriptors on.  If you'd like to taste a true benchmark wine of the region, this is a great place to start.  I dare say it's a bargain at this price.  Ted Edwards has been doing this for a long time, and this might be his ne plus ultra moment.  Spectacular!
99 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) Rector Creek Vineyard Red Wine 2013 ($80):

Paraduxx, from the Duckhorn family of wineries, pioneered the practice of blending Zinfandel with Cabernet Sauvignon -- to great effect. The 2013 blend from the Rector Creek vineyard is a 50-50 blend that combines the structure and elegance of Cabernet with the inviting brambly fruit charisma of Zinfandel. This vintage shows notes of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry, with excellent balance and an elegance that is often missing from stand-alone Zinfandel.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Sweetzer Cellars, Santa Barbara County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($30): It’s worth keeping your eyes out for wines from this new small producer in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County.  Sweetzer, like many producers in the Sta. Rita Hills, buys grapes from growers as opposed to owning their own vineyards -- a set-up that is similar to a small Burgundy négociant.  For this bottling, the grapes came from both the Santa Maria Valley and the Sta. Rita Hills.  This Pinot Noir, a blend of wines that failed to make the cut for Sweetzer’s single vineyard bottlings, is paradoxically delightfully delicate yet packed with flavor.  It’s a lovely contrast to the all-too-common over ripe, powerful style of Pinot Noir coming out of California.  Try it with grilled salmon.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

Beringer, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir 2014 ($25):

Beringer isn't known historically for Pinot Noir, but this one's pretty good and the price for the quality makes it an attractive proposition. It offers good weight on the palate, layered density, and aromas of cherry and wood spice. The wine also shows a leafy note with a savory aspect. In this price range it's near the head of the class.
88 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($20):

Rodney Strong's Sonoma County Cabernet is one of the most reliable in California in this price range. The 2014 exhibits red and black fruit aromas, with a note of dried herbs, vanilla and spice in the background, supple tannins and good persistence of flavor on the palate and through the finish.
88 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Flying Goat Cellars, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Rio Vista Vineyard “2A” 2012 ($42): Norman Yost, owner and winemaker of Flying Goat Cellars, acquired detailed knowledge of the vineyards of Santa Barbara County when he worked for Foley Estates, one of the region’s largest producers.  Now, making his own wine, he knows from whom to buy grapes.  For the last 10+ years he’s been buying grapes from the Rio Vista Vineyard, a highly regarded one where other well-known Pinot Noir producers, such as Hitching Post and Ken Brown, get fruit. The 2A designation indicates the part of the Rio Vista Vineyard from which the grapes came.  Flying Goat’s Pinot Noir has a masterful combination of ripe, but not over ripe, red fruits and intriguing savory elements.  Suave elegant tannins add to its appeal.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

Rosé:

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Rosé of Pinot Noir Winemaker's Release 2016 ($25):

Sonoma-Cutrer's Rosé of Pinot Noir shows one key characteristic that is missing from most domestic dry rosé wines: acidity. The firm acidity delivers the structure that makes dry rosé  from the south of France so appealing. Crisp, with mouth-watering acidity, the Sonoma-Cutrer exhibits aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry and watermelon, with an intriguing floral note.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Sparkling:

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) 'Cuvee 20' NV ($38):

Cuvee 20 has long been one of J Vineyards' most popular sparklers and it's easy to see why. It hits you on the front of the palate with a dollop of Meyer lemon and then keeps you with mouth-watering acidity that seems to linger long after the last sip.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Flying Goat Cellars, Santa Barbara County (Central Coast, California) Brut 2013 ($42): Norm Yost, owner of Flying Goat Cellars, was either crazy or a visionary when he was the first to make a sparkling wine in Sta. Rita Hills in 2005.  Now there are more than 30 producers who have followed him, so you can draw your own conclusions.  He uses the traditional Champagne method -- secondary fermentation in the bottle, hand riddling and disgorging -- and the proscribed grapes, Pinot Noir (85%) and Chardonnay, the former coming from the Rio Vista Vineyard in Sta. Maria and the latter from a vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  The wine sings -- white peaches, creaminess and the barest hint of tannins (from the Pinot Noir) with the perfect vibrant acidity and not a trace of harshness.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

White:

Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2015 ($30):

Freemark Abbey's latest Chardonnay release shows the fine hand of winemaker Ted Edwards, who chooses to ferment part of the batch in French oak to develop richness and a creamy texture, and part in stainless steel to preserve freshness and acidity. The result is a well-balanced Napa Chard that delivers a complex palate of lemon oil, pear and baked apple, with hints of wood spice.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Vermentino 2015 ($27): With hints of floral and tangerine in the aroma, plus a dash of fruit and a dose of limestone acidity on the palate, this medium-bodied and refreshing white wine is a winner in my book.  Fruit from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles was fermented in stainless steel, with no oak to distract from the basic purity of the wine, and it is also relatively low in alcohol (13.4%), which is part of what keeps it so refreshing.
90 Marguerite Thomas Mar 28, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Estate Block 10 2015 ($32): This wine represents a dilemma for wine critics.  It’s not a style of Chardonnay that I like personally, but it is well made and will appeal to a broad range of consumers, especially those who prefer bold Chardonnay.  The wine making team used the usual techniques for amping-up the profile:  Ripe grapes translating to a 14.5 percent-stated alcohol, fermentation and aging in the barrel, and malolactic fermentation (which converts harsher malic acid to a creamier lactic acid).  The result is a rich, buttery-style of Chardonnay that would be good as a stand-alone pre-dinner drink or to accompany veal in a cream sauce.  It took a double gold medal at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
90 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

Sweetzer Cellars, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Chardonnay Presqu’ile Vineyard 2014 ($40): For this zesty Chardonnay, Sweetzer purchased grapes from Presqu’ile Vineyard.  They aspire -- and have achieved -- a Chablis styled wine that is both slightly creamy and steely.  It’s a hard combination to master, but Sweetzer has.  The uplifting finish belies the 14.4 percent stated alcohol.  As with their 2014 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, it would go well with grilled salmon.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 28, 2017

Oregon:

Red:

Fullerton Wines, McMinnville (Oregon) Pinot Noir Momatzi Vineyard 2014 ($60): Most Pinot Noir makers will tell you that the goal is to carefully nurture the wine in the vineyard, and then not mess it up in the winery.  This wine hits the mark really nicely, with minimal intervention and only 13% new oak allowing the vineyard to speak clearly, resulting in very complex aroma and flavor profiles that include ripe strawberry, black and blue berries, citrus zest, herbs and Asian spices.  It's got racy acidity and a sturdy backbone that says 5 to 10 years of aging will bring an elegant lady to life.  Fullerton is a fairly new player, and one to watch.  Well done!
95 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Fullerton Wines, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Croft Vineyard 2014 ($45): Here's a plush Oregon Pinot Noir -- not words generally found in the same sentence together -- and it shows the warm 2014 growing season on the northwest coast.  Black cherry and red plum lead the aroma profile, with pie spice and a little fennel in the background.  The palate shows a rich texture, and a supple grip carries the promise of the nose through a long finish that brings some sweet oak notes forward.  This is a fine solo glass of Pinot Noir.
93 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Siduri, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2015 ($30):

Siduri is best-known for its often stunning vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs, but there's much to be said for the winery's less expensive "appellation" wines that are essentially blends from multiple vineyards. Winemaker Adam Lee puts as much care into those wines as he does the vineyard designates, and the upshot is these offer some of the greatest values in domestic Pinot Noir. The 2015 Willamette Valley from Siduri shows exquisite balance between acidity and fruit, with a light touch of wood spice and a lasting, satisfying finish. A gem at the price.
90 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

White:

Fullerton Wines, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay "Five Faces" 2015 ($33): Food friendly acidity is the hallmark in this crisp Chardonnay, which beautifully combines low (12.7%) alcohol, just a touch of oak and vibrant aromas and flavors of lemon crème, pineapple and passion fruit. It finishes with mouth-watering tart green apple and lemon up front.  Bring on the creamy fish dishes!
93 Rich Cook Mar 28, 2017

Washington:

Red:

Woodward Canyon, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series #23 2014 ($59):

Woodward Canyon Cabernet is something of a benchmark wine in Washington's Columbia Valley, and the 2014 Artist Series offers current example of its exceptional character. Artist Series #23 is a seamless wine that shows lovely black fruits, with smooth tannins and a seductive note of wood smoke.
91 Robert Whitley Mar 28, 2017

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