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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

July 18, 2017 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Mendoza:

White:

Argento, Mendoza (Argentina) Pinot Grigio “Cool Climate Selection” 2015 ($13, Blends, Manhasset, NY): It’s sometimes hard to get excited about Pinot Grigio, which too often ranges from bland to blah, but this example from Argento is praiseworthy indeed.  It stimulates the olfactory center and tastebuds with floral and lemony sensations plus a dose of stony minerality.  It has a pleasing mouthfeel, and it finishes on a note of bright, cleansing acidity.  Serve it with gazpacho and other cold, summer soups as well as seafood.
90 Marguerite Thomas Jul 18, 2017

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FRANCE

Roussillon:

Red:

Famille Lafage, Côtes du Roussillon (Roussillon, France) "Tessellae" Old Vines 2014 ($14, European Cellars):  This is a blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, which could raise the question, "Why not just buy Côtes du Rhône, which is usually pretty good and always easy to find?"  The answer is that this wine is much better than almost any $14 Côtes du Rhône you can find, and better than most $20 bottles from more glorified southern Rhône villages such as Vacqueyreas.  Moreover, plenty of retailers are selling this for only $12 or even less.  It shows excellent concentration but still seems natural and fresh, with no over-ripeness, no-over extraction, no excessive wood, and no cellar tricks.  The fruit is very expressive, but there are also savory nuances that lend remarkable complexity for a wine at this price level.  Surely one of the best bargains I've tasted during 2017.
92 Michael Franz Jul 18, 2017

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GERMANY

Rheinhessen:

White:

Köster-Wolf, Rheinhessen (Germany) Riesling Trocken 2015 ($15, Artisans & Vines): This is just the kind of wine to raise the profile of Germany among consumers in the USA and other world markets.  It is truly dry, so there's no guesswork about how it will taste or what foods it will work with.  The label is simple and the bottle has a screw cap closure, so again--nice and easy.  The wine itself is very refreshingly bright and energetic, with lots of acidity, but thanks to a warm vintage and the characteristic soft edge of Rheinhessen Rieslings, the acidity isn't sour or screechy.  Floral aromas are very subtle, so there's no suggestion that the flavors will be sweet.  All in all, the wine is on the simple side, but also very pure and coherent.  This is a great choice for summer sipping, and especially for by-the-glass pouring in restaurants.  Sold in a full liter bottle, this offers excellent value on top of all its other virtues.
90 Michael Franz Jul 18, 2017

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ITALY

White:

Tenuta Sant ‘Anna, Venezia (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2015 ($12, Montcalm): An outstanding Pinot Grigio, this is full-bodied and at the same time wonderfully fresh and zesty.  With fresh pear and even hints of pineapple in the aroma and on the palate, it is interesting enough to serve as an aperitif, but it is also a tasty wine with foods such as seafood pasta or risotto, and just about any dish that includes chicken breasts.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jul 18, 2017

Abruzzo:

White:

Tiberio, Colline Pescaresi IGP (Abruzzo, Italy) Pecorino 2016 ($21, The Sorting Table): Pecorino, the wine, not the cheese, is currently “hot,” which is surprising considering it was practically extinct as a grape variety as recently as two decades ago.  Now there are probably 60 producers on the bandwagon. Although I’ve not sampled them all, it’s hard to imagine finding one better than Tiberio’s.  (The grape likely gets its name from sheep herders who ate them while tending their flocks.)  Its semi-aromatic quality delivers a mixture of nutty and herbal aromas.  In the mouth, it has good density and a seductive slightly creamy texture.  Rich without being heavy, zippy acidity keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  It’s a star!
93 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

Piedmont:

Red:

Cantina Mascarello Bartolo, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) 2012 ($140, The Rare Wine Company):  Although single vineyard bottlings are all the rage in Barolo and elsewhere, Maria Teresa Mascarello continues her father’s time-honored philosophy that Barolo is best when it’s a blend of vineyards.  Mascarello’s Barolo is a blend of grapes from four vineyards they own, three in the village of Barolo itself, Rué, Cannubi, St. Lorenzo, along with one in La Morra, Rocche d’Annunziata.  The 2012 is a gorgeous wine, with a delicate, but persistent floral nose.  It delivers a combination of sour red cherry fruit mixed with spice.  Deceptively light in color (Nebbiolo lacks the skin pigments that color most red wines more deeply), it is powerful and persistent.  Although reminiscent of red Burgundy because of its paradox of power and lightness, the firm, though not harsh, tannins remind you quickly you’re in Barolo.  This is a beautiful balanced young Barolo that will show its best in a decade or two -- or three. 95 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

Sicily:

Red:

Gulfi, Sicilia Rosso IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Nero Bufaleffj” 2011 ($45):  Gulfi, the first estate in Sicily to give focus on site specificity to Nero d’Avola, continues to making stunning examples of wine from that grape.  This one, from their Bufaleffj vineyard, is eye-opening for its balance and complexity, delivering a ying/yang of black fruit and savory flavors offset perfectly by a hint of bitterness in the finish.  Robust yet elegant, it delights the palate.  Inherently high acidity of the grape keeps the wine fresh and lively, even in the summer’s heat.  Perfect for grilled meat.  Those who want to see the heights that Nero d’Avola can reach must try this wine. 95 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

Veneto:

Sparkling:

Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano 2016 ($26): Prosecco has become ubiquitous, which, of course, has made it a marketing challenge for the top producers, such as Nino Franco.  Why should a consumer pay $26 for Prosecco when plenty sell for less than half that?  For this one, the answer is easy:  It’s a far, far superior wine.  The explanation for its superiority is twofold.  First, Nino Franco has been a consistent beacon of quality and is considered one of the very best producers in the region.  Second, the grapes come from Valdobbiadene, a better area than the origin of grapes for inexpensive Prosecco.  Moreover, the grapes are from an ideally suited single vineyard in the Valdobbiadene area, the Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano.  Aromas of delicate white peach are immediately apparent and follow through on the palate.  Not bone dry, the hint of peach-like fruitiness actually amplifies the wine’s character and charm. This refreshing and zesty Prosecco is the real thing and explains the category’s success.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

White:

Pieropan, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2016 ($29): While the 2016 release seems more distinctly fruity than past vintages the wine is still admirably dry.  It has an appealing lightly floral fragrance, and though the wine may be somewhat less steely than one has come to expect from Pieropan it nonetheless shows good mineral components and fresh acidity.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jul 18, 2017

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Cloudy Bay, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($32, Möet Hennessey USA):  This is surely among the handful of most important wines in the history of New Zealand's wine industry.  As recently as a decade ago, it was pretty tightly allocated and difficult to find on store shelves, but the boom in Marlborough Sauvignon (and the rise of other high-end expressions of the genre) has now deprived this of its rarity.  By extension, it has also lost its sheen as a luxury product, and is actually being discounted to a previously unheard of price of $20 in my city of Washington, D.C. on the day I'm writing this review.  But with all that said, the wine is still outstanding, and has now become an actual bargain if purchased from the right place.  Who ever thought we could say that about Cloudy Bay?  The 2016 rendition is very complex but also very well integrated, with complexity in the fruit profile that includes layers of citrus, melon and even tropical notes.  There's plenty of energetic acidity, of course, but it is beautifully interwoven with the ripe fruit.  If you've never tried this wine, or haven't been back to it for a while, don't miss this vintage.
93 Michael Franz Jul 18, 2017

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SPAIN

Red:

Arínzano, Pago del Arínzano (Spain) “Hacienda di Arínzano” 2011 ($19, Stoli Group USA): The Vinos de Pago category sits at the pinnacle of Spain’s official wine hierarchy.  A Pago is basically a single estate that has its on Denominacion Oregin.  Arínzano was northern Spain’s first estate to be awarded Vinos de Pago status.  Surprisingly, the Hacienda di Arínzano, with all its power and grace, isn’t even the estate’s top wine.  But it’s likely the estate’s top bargain.  A blend of Tempranillo (80%) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot comprising the remainder, it’s explosive, yet defined.  Though powerful, there’s restraint so it’s not over the top or in your face.  A seductive silky texture makes it easy to enjoy now.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

Jerez - Xeres - Sherry:

Red:

González Byass, Jerez-Xeres-Sherry (Spain) Vermouth La Copa NV ($25, González Byass USA): This is a superb Vermouth from one of Spain’s best-known sherry bodegas that dates back to the mid-1880s.  It is made according to the original 19th century recipe, incorporating macerating botanicals including wormwood, cloves, orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, angelica root, and cinchona bark (quinine).  In addition to the spices, the aromatic and flavor perceptions include caramel, dried figs and chocolate.  This pretty, red Vermouth has a satiny texture and it is, of course, sweet, but it finishes on a somewhat drier note.  Serve it as a lovely aperitif on the rocks with, perhaps, a twist of orange or lemon.  It is also a smooth and harmonious partner for Gin (I like a ratio of 1/3 Gin to 2/3 Vermouth, with a generous squeeze of lime and a splash of high quality tonic such as Fever Tree or Q Tonic).
93 Marguerite Thomas Jul 18, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Domaine Anderson, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($50): Confession:  This bottle has been idling on my tasting runway for a couple of years, after being sent to me as a press sample that then got lost in the shuffle.  Last night it finally got cleared for take-off, and it was fantastic.  There's no doubt in my mind that it was more complex and integrated thanks to the additional aging it received, and more than 20 retailers around the USA are still selling this vintage, so "better late than never" really applies in this case.  The wine shows lovely aromas with interwoven scents of dark cherry fruit and mushroom-y accents, and the flavors are even more complex.  Almost all the wood notes are now integrated, and the tannins super soft but still sufficient to provide framing.  $50 is the list price and also the one most commonly charged at the moment, and though the wine is easily worth that, some retailers are charging less than $40--which is a steal.
93 Michael Franz Jul 18, 2017

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2015 ($22): I'm often asked where the best values in the wine world come from, and there are many answers, but it's pretty hard to beat Navarro when it comes to quality for your dollar.  This recent release is pure Anderson Valley in style, with cherry, fall spice, vanilla and some damp earth notes.  The 2015 vintage gave about half the normal crop for this bottling, but I have yet to see Navarro adjust their pricing just to make up for the challenge that a vintage might present.  That leaves you with a great bottle at a way more than fair price.  The challenge for you is how long to wait before pulling the trigger.
93 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Rombauer, Carneros (California) Merlot 2013 ($35): Gorgeous Merlot with a wildly layered nose of black cherry, blackberry, moderate oak toast, soft pepper and spice.  These elements are nicely integrated as flavors, adding a cola note and riding a rich texture and soft tannins through a long full flavored finish.  No Cabernization here -- just a pure, creamy expression of Merlot.  Well done!
94 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Silver Trident, Napa Valley (California) “Playing With Fire” 2013 ($40): I like Silver Trident's tasting room concept of keeping things elegantly casual and showing their wines in a relaxed atmosphere with a paired bite from chef Sarah Scott, who keeps the menu interesting and fun.  This ready to drink blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a lively, fully ripe mix of black and blue fruit, with bold oak spice, full body and a "have some more" attitude -- especially when paired with a pimento cheese whip.  Winemaker Kari Auringer is covering a wide spectrum of styles here. Check it out when you're in Yountville, and plan for an hour plus.
90 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Benovia, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir La Pommeraie Vineyard 2014 ($60):  This limited release, single vineyard wine isn't one you're likely to just bump into while browsing the aisles of your local wine shop, but the winery is still selling it, as is a national retailer.  It is a superb wine, showing the ripe, concentrated profile that one expects from California Pinot in this price range, yet is also displays exemplary freshness and excellent detail (meaning, lots of little aromatic and flavor nuances).  Fruit, acidity, tannin and wood are all perfectly proportioned, making this a pleasure to simply sip on its own, but its outstanding balance also enables it to work well with a very wide range of foods.  Terrific juice.
93 Michael Franz Jul 18, 2017

White:

Silverado Vineyards, Carneros (California) Chardonnay Vineburg Vineyard 2014 ($35): I like the understated style of this bottling.  It's completely dry, allowing for secondary characteristics like struck rock and white flowers to shine through the lemon crème fruit.  It's not overly viscous, but there's plenty of weight to carry the flavors and extend the finish yet remain light in feel.  Pair it with something delicate from the seafood counter.  Made by Jon Emmerich.
91 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Arrow & Branch, Coombsville (Napa Valley, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($35): A brightly floral Sauvignon, with accompanying pink grapefruit, melon, mild herb notes and a granite mineral streak keeping things together through a zesty citric finish.  Some barrel time rounds out the mid-palate nicely without sacrificing lively acidity that stretches the mouthwatering finish.  A great sipper or partner for seafood.
91 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Silver Trident, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc “Symphony No. 9” 2016 ($32): Winemaker Kari Auringer shows hands-on skills with this clone 1/musque clone blend, fermented in oak and stainless steel and stirred carefully to get all the subtlety out of the fruit.  The result is a crisp, bright glass of melon, lemon, stone and faint grass that comes across as an ode to joy right through the blooming finale.  Very nice!
91 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Castello Di Amorosa, Sonoma County (California) Pinot Bianco 2016 ($27): There isn't much Pinot Blanc bottled as a stand alone variety domestically, and I'll bet this is the only one that uses the Italian name on the label.  It's a go to bottle when you're looking for a refreshing white wine that's a little softer than its aromatic counterparts.  This offering delivers mixed stone fruit and subtle spice, with just enough residual sugar to brighten the fruit and not tip into sweetness.  It finishes long and bright and will pair nicely with chicken dishes and mixed appetizers.
90 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2015 ($20): A solid choice in its price category for its mix of citrus and stonefruit, with just a touch of oak spice adding complexity and persistence to the finish.  A great go to glass on your favorite restaurant's list.
89 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Sea Smoke, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Chardonnay Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard 2014 ($60): The acidity in this wine presents more boldly than its tech sheet data suggests, and that's a welcome bonus in this delightful wine.  It's quite tropical on the nose, with mango and pear joined by mild citrus and spice.  The palate starts plush and creamy, but quickly resolves texturally in the finish, leaving the flavor impression promised by the aroma profile while watering your mouth.  Lovely on its own, but with plenty of stuffing for seafood or chicken dishes.
93 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Oregon:

Red:

Ponzi, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Tavola” 2015 ($27): A nicely priced Pinot Noir with low alcohol, bright black and blue berries, and a hint of pepper under pie spice and a touch of chocolate.  Quite complex for the money, and ready to pair with a simple seared sirloin or pork chops.
91 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

Washington:

Red:

Cadaretta, Walla Walla Valley (Washington) “Southwind Red Blend” 2014 ($75): Give this wine a good airing in a decanter to get at all it has to offer, which is a lot of rich oak spice over mixed berry fruit, with an emphasis on the blue side of the spectrum.  The oak is still integrating and will remain bright even after a few years of bottle age, but for fans of big spice it'll fit the bill.  Contains 37% Malbec, 37% Petit Verdot and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon.
90 Rich Cook Jul 18, 2017

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