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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

April 16, 2019 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Andas, Argentina (South America) Malbec 2018 ($24, Penrose Hill):  I’m a fan of the forward savory qualities in this glass.  Meaty, nicely integrated pepper and spice join a mix of black cherry and blackberry fruit, riding supple structure and finishing with a bright burst of integrated flavor.  Designed for the Argentine diet -- beef eight ways.  Interesting to see no smaller appellation listed, which makes me want to know who blended everything together.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019


AUSTRALIA

McLaren Vale:

Red:

Angove Family Winemakers, McLaren Vale (Australia) Grenache Syrah Mourvedre "Family Crest" 2017 ($22):  A fine value in a bold, oak spice driven GSM, with plenty of blackberry, blueberry and tarry aromas and flavors that are up to the spice load and come to the front with a nice finish push.  Big red meat dishes are the way to go here.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

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South Australia:

Red:

Zonte's Footstep, Fleurieu (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Blackberry Patch” 2017 ($28):  Laced with a little Tempranillo, this Aussie Cabernet lives up to its name with delicious fruit recalling blackberries as well as black cherries.  Thankfully, there’s no heavy overlay of oak to obscure the very flavorful fruit, which shows great purity thanks to judicious timing on picking, with no over-ripe notes.  Pair with robust foods, but don’t worry about overwhelming more modest fare like duck or a pork chop, as this is so well balanced that it will prove very versatile at the table.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
92 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019


FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Champagne Delamotte, Champagne (France) Brut NV ($65, Vineyard Brands):  This wine is currently beating the pants off of most non-vintage Brut Champagnes from the region’s major houses, so keep this up on your radar.  Straddling the line between light- and medium-bodied, it shows more aroma and flavor than one would expect from its “size,” and though it is quite expressive and fully satisfying, there’s still a classy sense of restraint that keeps this fresh and interesting for many sips on end.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
94 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019


ITALY

Rosé:

Confetti!, Trevenezie IGT (Italy) Rosé 2018 ($12):  Don’t be fooled by the name here -- this is serious, bone dry rosé that will please the most serious Provencal fans out there.  Crisp and bright, it shows lively citrus and strawberry fruit, mild pepper and light herb tones that make for a refreshing glass of Italian summertime.  Drink up!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
93 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

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Abruzzo:

Red:

Umani Ronchi, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (Italy) “Jorio” 2015 ($19):  Here is a very serious rendition of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that can dispel any doubts raised by the many rather unremarkable wines released from the southern sector of the region.  The aromas are a bit reticent, but this speaks right up once the wine hits the palate, hitting with big flavors recalling blackberries and black raspberries.  Although the fruit is highly expressive, the wine’s overall profile is as savory as it is sweet or fruity, which keeps it interesting sip after sip.  Medium-plus body and above average intensity call for using this at the table, and grilled, garlicky lamb would be a great choice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge. 
93 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

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Sicily:

White:

MandraRossa, Terre Siciliane IGT (Sicily, Italy) Zibibbo Secco “Costadune” 2017 ($17):  Zibibbo is an Italian / Sicilian name for what is usually called Muscat of Alexandria elsewhere, so you should expect to get a lot of floral aromatics out of this if you try a bottle.  What you might not expect would be a wine that finishes dry, but that shows no “disagreement” or discordance between aroma, flavor and finish.  Very well grown and made, with lots of aroma but nothing too perfumed, plus richness but no heaviness on the palate, this would be fun just to sip before dinner, but could also be terrific with curried chicken.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
92 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

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Tuscany:

Red:

Banfi, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($19):  Riserva means more time in wood in Chianti, and it works to great effect here, without overwhelming the factors that make Chianti great -- cherry, sage, bright acidity and medium weight are as charming as they should be, and the additional barrel time extends the finish.  Bravo!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Castello Banfi, Toscana IGT (Italy) 'Belnero' 2015 ($30, Banfi Vintners): Castello Banfi's Belnero blend is an upscale Super Tuscan everyone can afford.  The 2015 shows bright acidity with layered aromas of black cherry and spice and firm tannins.  Drink now, but better to hold for another year or so.  A platinum award-winner at the 37th San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge. 
95 Robert Whitley Apr 16, 2019


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Duck Hunter Wines, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19):  This is an excellent example of a style of Sauvignon Blanc that’s becoming ever more prominent in Marlborough:  Fully ripe, well short of pungent, broad in texture, generous in flavor, and soft in finish.  The fruit profile leans more toward melon than citrus, but think honeydew melon freshened with a little squirt of lime.  This is pretty far removed stylistically from ultra-intense wines like Cloudy Bay that grabbed the world by the lapels a generation ago, but there’s no denying its deliciousness or breadth of appeal across the spectrum of wine lovers.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
93 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Baileyana, (Edna Valley) Pinot Noir Firepeak 2017 ($30):   A hat trick for this wine, with top awards at both Monterey International and The Toast of The Coast in 2019 preceding this award.  Always a great bottle of Pinot Noir, with a great mix of red and black cherry fruit, damp earth, soft spice and great acidity to carry it all.  This is a go-to wine when you want a medium bodied red wine with spice and depth.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Jeff Runquist, Amador County (California) Barbera Cooper Vineyard 2017 ($30):  Dick Cooper and Jeff Runquist, fortunately for us, have a long-term relationship based on their love of this variety, and it’s always a fine expression of its region.  Bold black cherry, vanilla and cedar spice aromas translate seamlessly on the palate, and the fleshy fruit lingers long.  Pure Amador with a nod to Piedmont!   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Jeff Runquist, Amador County (California) Barbera 2017 ($25):  This is an impressive and delicious wine in its own right, and also a rendition of Barbera that will be admired by those who know the variety from famous examples crafted in its original region in Piedmont, Italy.  The wine shows a whiff of the leathery, spicy character of its Italian cousins, as well as bright acidity that lifts the intense flavors of red berries and plums.  Oak was wisely given only a supporting role, keeping the fruit at center stage.  This should work very well with an extremely wide range of moderately robust dishes ranging from pasta to poultry to white meats or even beef and lamb.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
93 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

El Portal, California (United States) Red Blend 2017 ($12, Wine Insiders):  Based on 80% Zinfandel with the balance comprised of other unspecified varieties, this I a gutsy but tasteful red with lots of flavor but no rough edges.  The core of red berry fruit is fully ripe but still pure and fresh, with nice brambly accents and a touch of spice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
91 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Menage a Trois, California (United States) Red Wine 2017 ($14):  Solid quaffable red wine, with full body, a touch of sweetness and a rich finish that satisfies.  A fine grill-side partner, or worthy of just sitting and sipping when a fun wine is the order of the day.  This is the wine that got the label rolling -- roll on!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
91 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Menage a Trois, California (United States) Pinot Noir 2016 ($14):  A lightly sweet crowd-pleaser of a Pinot, this features fruit recalling pie cherries with a red berry backnote and just a bit of baking spice and a hint of vanilla to lend additional complexity.  Soft but certainly not formless, this will work for everyone in the room -- almost no matter how many people you’re hosting.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Sutter Home, California (United States) Pinot Noir NV ($6):   Those in search of a tasty value Pinot Noir can train their sights on this $6 buck beauty from Sutter Home.  This winery consistently over-delivers and has done it again with this delicious non-vintage offering that shows inviting cherry fruit, exceptional palate weight for a red in this price range, and lovely balance.  A Platinum Award winner at the 37th San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
90 Robert Whitley Apr 16, 2019

Ranchero Cellars, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Carignan Forchini Vineyard "The Tethered Beast" 2016 ($56):  Here’s the review copy I wrote from my first go at this great wine -- nice to see wine competition judges push it forward again.  The proprietary name couldn’t have been more appropriately chosen here.  This is a monster, restrained yet untamed, showing focused clove and anise notes over rich black fruit, carried on great structure with weight that is so well managed you don’t realize what a beast you’re dealing with.  Kudos to winemaker Amy Butler for helping to keep this variety in the public eye!   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
95 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Gnarly Head, Lodi (California) Zinfandel Old Vine 2017 ($13):  This big, burly red packs a lot of flavor for a $13 wine, with everything revolving around a core of red berry fruit that is fully ripe but neither overtly sweet nor raisiny in flavor.  Hearty and honest, this offers exemplary value among California reds.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge. 
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Made by James, Monterey County (California) Merlot San Lucas Estate Vineyard 2016 ($20):   Merlot thrives in the cooler areas of Monterey County.  The Made by James Merlot from the San Lucas Estate vineyard is an excellent expression of Monterey Merlot, showing ripe aromas of plum and red currant and a touch of spice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
93 Robert Whitley Apr 16, 2019

Girard Winery, Napa Valley (California) “Artistry” 2016 ($60):  This Napa blend makes a big statement with dark, dense, deeply flavored fruit braced by a big dose of smoky, spicy oak.  The palate impact is up to the level of almost any Cabernet Sauvignon at this $60 price level, so don’t turn to this if getting a softer, lighter wine is your objective.  But if you want a big wine with more intricacy on account of a multiplicity of varietal components, this is the ticked.  Comprised of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
93 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

V. Sattui Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel Old Vine 2016 ($39):   A recent addition to the Zinfandel stable, and it’s a horse worth riding.  Cooler climate Zins tend to maintain their pepper character in harmony with the fruit load, which is generously bramble and rich here, and the acidity balances the weight beautifully.  Another winner from a great producer.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Signaterra, Sonoma Valley (California) Sunny Slope Vineyard 'Etta's Blend' 2016 ($47):   This Bordeaux-style blend from Signaterra relies heavily upon Merlot (94 percent) and rightly so.  Showing rich notes of plum, currant and cassis, the Etta's Blend is a beautiful expression of Merlot from the Sonoma Valley.  Beautifully structured and elegant, with integrated tannins, it is drinking well now but should really hit its stride at 10 years or older.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge. 
95 Robert Whitley Apr 16, 2019

Rosé:

South Coast Winery, Temecula Valley (California) Grenache Noir Rosé 2018 ($18):  If you happen to taste this wine before seeing the label or learning its identity -- as I did -- you’ll probably have the same reaction I did when seeing it was crafted from Grenache, which was, “Of course!”   A big blast of red cherry fruit is at the core is the “tell” in that regard, but there’s also a sneaky savory tone underneath the fruit recalling rosé wines from the southern Rhône.  There’s just a bit of sweetness in this, so consider pairing it with something a little spicy or with a little char off the summer grill.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Sparkling:

J Vineyards & Winery, California (United States) "California Cuvee" NV ($27):   J’s newest bottling is a reintroduction of what made the label great in the first place -- refreshing brut style, fresh pear, apple and a hint of spice and subtle toastiness that linger together in lasting, fully integrated flavor.  Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock keeps on turning ‘em out.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Korbel, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) "Natural" 2015 ($16):   That this producer is still delivering this kind of value since they started me on my wine journey thirty-five years ago is remarkable to say the least.  The 2015 Natural is a zero-dosage glass of delight, with toasty apple, pear and citrus from start to finish.  Succinctly put, it’s a high-quality celebration in a bottle at a price that’s more than fair.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.   
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

White:

Gnarly Head, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2017 ($13):  Big and rich and full of persistent flavor, this is a very assertive Chardonnay for thirteen bucks.  Toasty, smoky aromatic notes lead to vaguely sweet flavors that stay sweet through the finish.  If big and sweet is what you’re looking for in Chardonnay, your ship has come in with this used as a sipping wine, but I’d recommend pairing it with spicy Thai or Indian dishes.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge. 
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Oceano, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard 2017 ($38):  This absolutely gorgeous Chardonnay shows a crisp and creamy profile, with lively tropical fruit alongside lemon, soft vanilla and well-chosen oak spice notes.  These elements are integrated with layered complexity and finish together with power that’s impactful without being heavy.  There’s a nod to Burgundian style here without sacrificing California freshness and the Central Coast’s inherent beauty.  A legitimate achievement in Chardonnay!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge. 
95 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Seaglass, Santa Barbara County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($12):  This certainly isn’t the world’s most “challenging” Sauvignon Blanc, due to its lack of pungency or tartness, but not everybody wishes to be challenged by their wine after a long day of work.  Lightly herbal aromas and citrus fruit flavors keep this true to varietal character, with enough acidity to keep it refreshing but not make anybody pucker up.  Very well made, and very broadly appealing.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

Imagery Estate Winery, Sonoma Valley (Sonoma County, California) Albarino Silva Vineyard 2018 ($29):   Currently you’d guess Sonoma Valley to be an unlikely source for Albariño, but I’m guessing not for long after tasting this offering.  Spot on varietal character all the way down to a pleasing saline note gets it done.  Albariño seems poised to take over the state -- stand by!   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
95 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

Santa Barbara Winery, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Riesling Lafond Vineyard "2.3" 2017 ($22):  Another repeat top award winner – always a good indicator of true quality.  Riesling producers have embraced the sweetness thermometer in labeling, and this wine takes things a step further by giving us the residual sugar percentage as part of the name.  2.3 percent is solidly medium dry, and in this bottle, it’s a level that preserves the spice and stony character prized by lovers of the variety while brightening the fruit.  A fine refresher!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

New Clairvaux Vineyard, Tehama County (California) Moschofilero St. James Block 2018 ($18):  This is an entirely faithful Golden State rendition of Moschofilero, one of Greece’s most admired varieties and a star in the northern Peloponnese.  The variety has a strong signature that’s somewhat akin to Viognier in its floral aromatics, but usually with more energetic acidity, and in that respect closer to Albariño.  If you have a chance to taste this, I think you’ll find that those likenesses really play out in this wine, which gets off to a great start with very expressive scents of honeysuckle and orange blossom, followed by stone fruit flavors with a little hint of mandarin orange.  Body is medium-plus, with a bracing shot of acidity in the finish that keeps the floral notes seeming fresh.  Delicious…and enduringly interesting.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
94 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

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New York:

White:

Wagner Vineyards, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling Select 2017 ($15):  This is not a dessert wine, as it isn’t fully syrupy, but it is definitely tasty enough and sweet enough to be extremely enjoyable at the end of a meal.  Tropical fruit notes and a suggestion of baked apples provide the core of its flavors, with just enough acidity to freshen the finish and keep you coming back for yet another sip.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

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Oregon:

Red:

Trella Vineyards, Umpqua Valley (Oregon) Malbec 2016 ($42):   Malbec appears to be catching on with domestic vintners and the most recent results are promising for this Bordeaux grape variety that trails Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in popularity.  This vintage from Trella delivers a brilliant burst of blueberry and black currant fruit, shows a touch of wood spice, and exquisite balance.  The tannins are supple and round, making for early consumption although this wine certainly has the structure to age nicely.  A Platinum Award winner at the 37th San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge. 
94 Robert Whitley Apr 16, 2019

Rosé:

King Estate, Willamette Valley () Rosé of Pinot Noir 2018 ($20):  A delicious rosé that offers a lot of flavor but still manages to come across as restrained and refined in the Mediterranean mode, this is quite a success.  Pale salmon color is quite attractive, as are the aromas and flavors recalling wild strawberries and watermelon.  Dry but not austere, with nice balance from fresh acidity, this will sip very well but also prove quite versatile at the table.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
92 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

White:

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards, Umpqua Valley (Oregon) Gruner Veltliner “Hefeabzug” Estate Cuvee 2017 ($24):  This is a very successful New World rendering of Grüner Veltliner, showing a bit of the white pepper bite associated with its Austrian cousins as well as the “crunchiness” I often find in the golden apple fruit flavors.  It is less acidic than is usual for Austria, but still comes off as clean and refreshing.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.  
90 Michael Franz Apr 16, 2019

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Washington:

White:

Rocky Pond Winery, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Glacial Treasure” 2017 ($20):  I often find real enjoyment in a winery’s intentionally blended white wine, especially in a dry, refreshing vein such as this example.  A floral blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, it hits all may markers for a fun white quaff that shows definition of its elements without being pretentious.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  
94 Rich Cook Apr 16, 2019

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