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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

November 25, 2014 Issue

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FRANCE

Alsace:

White:

Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace (France) Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim Vendage Tardive 2011 ($33, Kobrand Wine And Spirits): Though labeled, late harvest (“vendage tardive”), which would imply sweetness, this Gewürztraminer is not any sweeter than Zind-Humbrecht’s regular bottling.  It’s just more concentrated, with a dash of botrytis-like richness and a racy vibrancy in the finish.  A subtle and appealing bitterness in the finish reinforces the impression that this wine is not about sweetness, but rather concentration.   It would be a fabulous option to accompany a cheese course.  A half bottle will serve six people easily because of the wine’s concentration and richness, so it’s actually well priced.
94 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Burgundy:

White:

Jean-Paul Brun, Beaujolais Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2013 ($16, Louis Dressner Selections): Yes, it’s the Beaujolais Nouveau time of the year, and yes, 95% of Beaujolais is red, but that’s all the more reason to draw peoples’ attention to this wonderful Chardonnay-based wine. Jean-Paul Brun under the label of Terres Dorées redefines (red) Beaujolais.  He also makes a masterful white version, entirely from Chardonnay, which actually does well in the granitic soil of the appellation.  This one has an appealing creamy stoniness and uplifting vibrancy.  It’s another fine choice for Thanksgiving for you last minute shoppers.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Simonnet-Febvre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($12, Louis Latour USA): A mere $12 delivers a lot of charm and pleasurable sipping with this snappy little French white wine.  Along with fresh green leaf and citrus notes you can almost taste the icy, stainless steel tanks in which the wine was fermented.  Drink on its own or serve it with light, simple foods.
90 Marguerite Thomas Nov 25, 2014

Rhône:

Red:

Domaine de Durban, Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône Valley, France) Vieilles Vignes 2012 ($19, Kermit Lynch): The reputation of Beaumes-de-Venise hails from it sweet wines.  But the red wines from Beaumes-de-Venise were recently promoted to “cru” status, much like neighboring Gigondas. Domaine de Durban, one of the leading producers of sweet Beaumes-de-Venise, shows itself to be equally adept with the red wine.  A blend of mostly (60%) Grenache, Syrah (25%) and Mourvèdre round out the blend.  It’s a sturdy red, full of mineral-like flavors, a hint of tar and herbs that complement deep black fruit flavors.  It’s a wintertime wine to accompany a hearty leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

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ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Cantina Terlano, Terlaner Classico Alto Adige (Alto Adige, Italy) 2013 ($25, Banville & Jones Wine Merchants): Terlano, the name of the co-op formed in 1860, is also the name of the town, which can lead to some confusion.  There’s nothing confusing about the wine, however.  This harmonious blend of Pinot Bianco (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Sauvignon Blanc combines richness with vibrancy.   A versatile wine, it does double duty as an welcoming aperitif or to accompany grilled fish or a roast chicken.
89 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Friuli:

White:

Livon, Collio (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2013 ($17, Angelini Wine): With all the mediocre examples of Pinot Grigio on the market, it’s understandable that those consumers really interested in wine just avoid the category entirely.  As is often the case, price doesn’t separate the wheat from the chaff with many vapid ones occupying the same price point as this commendable one.  Fresh and mineraly, one sip explains why the category became so popular.  It’s lively with plenty of depth putting it a cut above the usual.  You can reintroduce yourself to Pinot Grigio with Livon’s.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Piedmont:

Red:

Massolino, Langhe (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo 2012 ($33, Vineyard Brands): A radiant, harmonious Nebbiolo that thrills the senses and envelopes the palate in a passionate embrace.  It is one of those rare and wonderful wines that transcends the usual descriptors of fruit and oak treatment and so on, relying instead on mesmerizing liveliness and extraordinary equilibrium to weave its spell.  Less intricately structured than, say, quality Barolo (and certainly less costly), it demands sensual appreciation rather than intellectual analysis.
94 Marguerite Thomas Nov 25, 2014

Montalbera, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “La Tradizione” 2011 ($16, Soilair Selections): Ruché, an obscure grape native to Piedmont, thrives and, dare I say, achieves greatness, in the DOCG zone of Castagnole Monferrato.  A savory, almost truffle-like, nose draws you.   And then, with a paradoxical lightweight sensibility, it delivers an alluring mixture of sweetness and firmness.  The flavors dance on the palate.  Firm, but not aggressive, tannins appear in the subtly bitter finish.  It delivers far more complexity than you’d expect at the price.  It would work with turkey or other fowl
91 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Sicily:

Red:

Firriato, IGT Terre Siciliano (Sicily, Italy) Nero d'Avola “Chiaramonte” 2011 ($15, Soilair Selections): Nero d’Avola, a grape indigenous to Sicily, has the potential to set the wine world on fire because it is capable of delivering both fruity and earthy flavors when young -- as in this rendition.  Herbal aromas complement the black-fruited flavors in the mid-weight wine.  Vibrant acidity along with a haunting bitterness in the finish and suave tannins makes in a great choice for a hearty pasta dish this fall.  It’s a steal at the price.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

White:

Firriato, Etna Bianco (Sicily, Italy) 2013 ($13, Soilair Selections): For those in need of a last minute recommendation for a Thanksgiving white, here it is.  Made from mostly (80%) Carricante, an indigenous Sicilian white grape, it delivers a hint of peach-like notes without being sweet.  Indeed, there’s an alluring bitter nuance in the finish along with the signature Italian bracing acidity.  You could welcome guests with this fresh and lively white and then bring it to the table.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Umbria:

Red:

Falesco, IGP Umbria (Umbria, Italy) “Vitiano” 2012 ($11, Winebow): In 1979, Riccardo Cotarella, one of Italy’s greatest winemakers, along with his brother, Renzo, founded Falesco, a winery that has been producing exceptionally valued wines ever since.  Vitiano, a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon, delivers fruit and earthy flavors supported by fine tannins and vibrant acidity with an enchanting slight bitter finish. At $11 a bottle, it’s a sensational bargain, delivering far more enjoyment and sophistication than you’d expect.  Try it with a hearty pasta dish or a simply seared steak.  Buy it by the case.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

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SPAIN

Castilla y León:

Red:

Bodega Alejandro Fernández, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010 ($49, Classical Wines from Spain): Commonly just known as Pesquera, this 2010 Reserva from Ribera del Duero expands on that wine’s dazzling reputation.  It has marvelous minerality, penetration and spice, all wrapped in finely polished tannins that convey a sumptuous texture.  There’s an almost magical combination of herbal nuances, earth and dark fruit seamlessly intertwined.  Like all great wine, its stature is apparent immediately, but it grows as it sits in the glass.  Resist the temptation to drink it know with a simply grilled steak, but rather find a place in your cellar where you won’t be tempted by it for a decade.
95 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Fulcrum, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2011 ($54): Smooth and lushly flavored with a solid core of red fruit bolstered by autumnal earthiness (dried leaves, damp underbrush), this Pinot Noir is focused and cohesive.  It dances lightly across the taste buds, leaving behind a lingering, savory imprint.
91 Marguerite Thomas Nov 25, 2014

Ravenswood, California (United States) Zinfandel Old Vine “Vintner’s Blend” 2012 ($12): Friendly, uncomplicated and comfy, this Zinfandel is the wine equivalent of hanging out with an easygoing old friend.  You don’t have to work hard to appreciate this wine: the fruit is ripe and sweet, the acid balance is right where it should be for relaxed imbibing, and the body is mellow rather than intense and heavy.
88 Marguerite Thomas Nov 25, 2014

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Grenache Rancho Solo Cuvee R 2012 ($48):  This single-vineyard Grenache from Rhone master Randall Grahm shows impressive intensity of aroma, a spicy combo of red-fruit aromas that are the signature of this grape variety so prominent in France's southern Rhone. It pushes the envelope on the alcohol, but manages to maintain its balance and euro-centric charm. The Rancho Solo vineyard in Monterey was formerly Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo vineyard, making the name change little more than a tweak. But by any name, the Rancho Solo Grenache is a serious wine and a captivating expression of Grenache.
93 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

Far Niente, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Cave Collection" 2008 ($160): After recently reviewing the current release 2012 vintage, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to taste this offering from 2008. This wine is still available through the winery, and it’s definitely worth a look for the serious collector.  2008 was sort of an off year after a three-year string of great vintages in Napa Valley, but you’d never know it from this example.  It’s very fresh on the palate, showing classic Napa character of blackberry, cassis, cigar box and mild dried herbs, with a brightness you wouldn’t expect from a wine of this age.  It’s got a good 15 to 20 years ahead of it, yet it's an extreme delight at present as well.  What to do, what to do….
98 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Corison, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($80): You can read Linda Murphy’s column here on WineReviewOnline.com about how the “difficult” 2011 vintage in California produced some stellar wines, mostly in the hands of experienced winemakers who have been through the ups and downs of many years and all the variations that they can bring.  Cathy Corison is certainly one such winemaker.  She isn’t focused on what the latest trend is, and she’s not interested in abandoning sources she’s used for many years when the weather gets tough.  What she is focused on is quality in the glass, and this wine is yet another example of her deft hand with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  Her 25th anniversary vintage, this wine is classic Corison -- blackberry, currants, wild flowers, dust, mild dried herbs and delicate brown spice notes delivered over structured acidity and supple tannins that bode well for a long life ahead.  That said, it’s great to drink now with a good decant. Congratulations to Cathy on 25 years, and thanks for sharing your talents with us!
96 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Corison, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Helios" 2010 ($52): I love a wine where the acidity comes right out front and says, “Hi. I’m made to go with food.”  Always a hallmark of Corison wines, the acidity here is vibrant without being sharp, and carries flavors of rich cherry, raspberry, leaf, dried herbs and cedar spice notes in a structured package that’s very approachable now and worthy of at least 5 years of further development in the bottle. This could pair nicely with turkey or fine beef prepared simply with olive oil, salt and pepper.
94 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Corison, Napa Valley (California) Syrah "Helios" 2006 ($38): You won’t find much 2006 Syrah available these days, from anyone, anywhere. Cathy Corison is focused on food friendly wines and releases them when she feels that they are ready for your table, and this bottle is ready to sit alongside your finest holiday fare. It shows decadent blackberry, tobacco leaf and mild fall spice notes in both aroma and flavor, with a light meaty note adding interest. I’d serve this with roast duck, or rack of lamb, to great effect.
93 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Mourvedre 2012 ($30):  The promising new "Gesture" lineup from J. Lohr is nothing if not provocative. This Mourvedre is a good example. It's a bold red that doesn't hold back on the heft, with some fairly big tannins to boot. Yet it has plenty of charm, with layers of dense, ripe black fruit and spice. Tasty and interesting, but not for the faint of heart or palate.
88 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Jane's Vineyard Dijon Clone 115 2012 ($55):  A superb Pinot Noir from Davis Bynum, a winery on a roll. This vintage of the Jane's Vineyard of the Dijon Clone 115 exhibits an inviting earthiness, with aromas of forest floor and ripe red fruit. On the palate it shows flavors of strawberry and raspberry, with finely integrated tannins and a firm structure that indicates it will improve over the next several years. Drink tonight or cellar it.
92 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

Laurel Glen, Sonoma Mountain (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($65):  There is something new and exciting afoot at Laurel Glen Vineyard, which had thrived for 30 years under the principled and exacting guidance of Patrick Campbell. He sold the winery in 2011 to a group headed by Bettina Sichel, daughter of the legendary Peter Sichel, who once upon a time made the German wine Blue Nun famous and did wonders for Bordeaux, too. Bettina has put together an all-star team on the operations side, starting with famed viticulturist Phil Coturri. Randall Watkins is the lead winemaker, in consultation with David Ramey, one of California's most sought-after enologists. The 2011 Cab is the new team's first release and, whether by design or by an accident of nature, the result is a California Cabernet with Bordeaux sensibilities. While rich and lush, it pays homage to structure and elegance. This complex Cab exhibits aromas of both red and black fruits, with a gentle whiff of Cabernet's herbal side, so often found in young Bordeaux.
92 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

Sparkling:

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (California) Brut Rose NV ($38):  The J Brut Rose has a long and consistent track record and nothing about that has changed under the direction of new winemaker Melissa Stackhouse, whose resume also includes a lengthy stint at La Crema. The non-vintage J Brut Rose is beautifully structured, with crunchy pippin apple character and notes of strawberry and raspberry. It is long in the mouth, with a clean, lingering finish. Another winner from one of the finest sparkling wine producers in the U.S.
93 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

J Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) Cuvee 20 Brut NV ($28):  This creamy non-vintage brut from J is a crowd-pleaser to be sure, both for the taste and the price. An excellent value, Cuvee 20 shows pretty fruit aromas of lemon creme and apple, a frothy bead and silky texture on the palate.
88 Robert Whitley Nov 25, 2014

White:

Corison, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Gewurztraminer 2011 ($30): I'm seeing more dry aromatic white wines in California, and it's a trend that I support wholeheartedly.  Master Cabernet Sauvignon vintner Cathy Corison brings us this Alsatian styled dry Gewurztraminer that shows stony mineral, white flowers and lychee on the nose.  All this is delivered clearly on the palate, with crisp acidity, cleansing wet stone and soft tangerine flavors. It’s very long and will pair nicely with milder Asian cuisine.
92 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Far Niente, Napa Valley (California) "Dolce" 2008 ($85): A rare example of a domestically-produced Sauternes style wine. At once delicate and decadent, this beautifully balanced dessert wine will make a great finish to your holiday celebrations. Some producers get almost everything right with their botrytised “stickies,” but if the acidity isn’t bright enough, sticky is exactly what you get, with cloying, sugary sensations left behind. None of that with this wine, its acidity singing clearly and allowing the complexity of sweet dried stone fruit, tangerine and spice to linger long without making you want to rinse your mouth out. Beautifully made, and wrapped in a lovely artistic (375ml) bottle that will make a fantastic gift presentation.
96 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Far Niente, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay "Cave Collection" 2011 ($70): The Cave Collection program at Far Niente holds back a small percentage of Chardonnay from each vintage to released in the January following the initial release, showing what can happen to a well made wine when cellared under proper conditions.  This wine shows the vibrant character of the 2012 vintage, but the lemon crème, pear and apple fruit is receding slightly, allowing the spice and minerality to come forward.  It’s got plenty of lively acidity and has a long life ahead.  I’d love to try this ten years from now to see where it ends up.
95 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Far Niente, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($65): Just about to be released, the 2013 shows its youth with forward pear, lemon and apple in both aroma and flavor, with silky viscosity underneath a bright acid pop up front. Nice stone minerality complements the fruit mix, and some soft spice is starting to show in the background, rising in the finish.
94 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

Far Niente, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2012 ($65): A rich, concentrated, Chardonnay, showing bright acid, lemon crème, mild apple and light smoky oak notes. It's very solidly balanced with lovely soft spice notes and an extremely long finish that brings a soft vanilla note forward. Already extremely well integrated, it will continue to improve in the bottle for another 5 to 6 years.  Delicious!
94 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

WALT Wines, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay “La Brisa” 2012 ($35): In this blend of fruit from Dutton Ranch and Sangiacomo vineyards, you'll find apple, pear, quince and bright oak spice in both aroma and flavor profiles.  A viscous feel countered by lively acidity keeps everything knit together on the palate, and a flinty note adds some interest to the finish.  A pleasant, easy to like wine.
88 Rich Cook Nov 25, 2014

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