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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

December 6, 2016 Issue

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FRANCE

Beaujolais:

Red:

Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais Villages (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($12): Dark color with a broad, expansive palate and supple tannins. Richer and more structured than a typical Beaujolais Villages. A mouth-filling, satisfying red that will pair nicely with fall and winter roasts and stews.
88 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) 2015 ($19):  Intense red-fruited palate with modest tannins and a long, persistent finish. This is a gutsy Beaujolais cru that can stand up to strong flavors and savory meat dishes. Drink over the next two to four years.
90 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Chiroubles (Burgundy, France) Domaine des Pontheaux 2015 ($20): Wonderful floral note, with hints of raspberry and an elegant mouthfeel. This cru is one of the most refined and delicate of the 10 Beaujolais crus. Serve it with tapas, zesty salads or a savory quiche.
92 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Cote-de-Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) Domaine du Riaz 2015 ($20): Lighter and leaner than other wines from this superb vintage, this is a mineral-driven Beaujolais that is a good prospect to improve over the next two to five years. Serve it with roast chicken.
89 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) 2015 ($20): Meaty and intense, with a beautiful core of red and black fruits and a richly textured palate. One of the more elegant Beaujolais cru you are likely to come across.
91 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Morgon Cote du Py (Beaujolais, France) Domaine de Javernieres 2015 ($20): One of the stars of this extraordinary vintage, showing exceptional depth, with bold fruit flavors and a touch of minerality. Excellent potential to age up to ten years. This is not your father's Beaujolais!  It has the guts to stand up to the strong flavor of lamb.
94 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Moulin-a-Vent (Beaujolais, France) Domaine de La Vigne 2015 ($25): Meaty and bold without sacrificing elegance, with intense red and black fruits and a touch of wood spice, this is perhaps the most sophisticated and compelling Beaujolais I have tasted from this vintage. Serve with richly sauced steak or veal, or with roast pork or rack of lamb.
95 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Burgundy:

White:

Domaine Parent, Corton Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($190, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection): White Corton is a rarity, since most producers label it Corton-Charlemagne.  Indeed, Anne Parent, who runs the eponymous domaine with her sister, Catherine, says she legally could label hers as Corton-Charlemagne, but since it comes from the east-facing portion of the hill in the Ladoix-Serrigny commune, she prefers to label it simply…Corton.  Domaine Parent, best known for their stellar wines from Pommard where they are based, also makes a stunning white Corton, in part because Anne Parent does not cut corners.  For example, when she replants a vineyard she lets the ground lie fallow for four to five years so that, as she says, “the soil can rejuvenate itself.”  And then she notes, “You need 10 years for vines to become ‘settled,’” before they produce high-quality fruit.  No wonder her 2014 white Corton sings.  It conveys a beguiling combination of floral notes, pineapple-like spice and a seemingly endless vibrancy, which amplifies all of the components.  Befitting a Grand Cru Burgundy, I’d put it in the cellar for a decade -- if you can keep your hands off it.
96 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

Domaine Louis Latour, Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) En Caradeux 2014 ($35, Louis Latour USA): This is what everyone is looking for in white Burgundy -- an affordable overachiever.  Three elements come together in a “perfect storm” to create this overachiever.  First, there’s the village itself.  Pernand-Vergelesses lies “behind” the hill of Corton (to the west) and is often overlooked since it is hidden as you drive the main road of the Côte d’Or.  These “hidden” villages are an excellent place to find an affordable overachiever.  Secondly, the En Caradeux vineyard, a Premier Cru, is good real estate, lining across the valley and actually facing the vineyards that comprise Corton-Charlemagne.  And finally -- and probably most importantly -- is the producer.  As a négociant Maison Louis Latour has a “green thumb” with wines, finding sources of top quality grapes and transforming them into exciting red and white Burgundy.  Less well appreciated is that Louis Latour is also a Domaine, owning and farming 120-acres of its own vineyards.  (Indeed, they are the largest owner of Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy.)  This wine comes from the portion of the En Caradeux vineyard they own.  Hence it carries the Domaine Louis Latour label, which is subtlely different from their Maison label. Along with a wonderful tension between perfect ripeness and enormous energy characteristic of the vintage, it delivers an alluring combination of spice and minerality. The wine is a steal -- a baby Corton-Charlemagne -- with the advantage of being far more approachable and enjoyable at a young age compared to that Grand Cru.  Latour’s whites evolve and develop beautifully with years of bottle age, so stock up on this one and drink it happily now and over the next five years.
94 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Pouilly-Fuisse (Maconnais, France) Emile Beranger 2015 ($35): The Emile Beranger is Duboeuf's chardonnays and is priced accordingly. The vintage was outstanding in the Maconnais region and Duboeuf capitalized. This wine is full and round without being heavy, offering complex aromas of pear and lemon and a subtle hint of wood spice. With bright acidity and exquisite balance, it is the consummate food wine. Serve it with smoked salmon or paired with pasta dishes in a light cream sauce.
91 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Georges Duboeuf, Pouilly-Fuisse (Maconnais, France) 2015 ($35): This is Duboeuf's negociant Pouilly-Fuisse, the one insiders call the "flower" label. It has an inviting lean streak, which isn't to say it is austere. Delicate notes of lemon and crisp pear with a hint of wood spice, and mouth-watering acidity, make this offering an exceptional food wine. Pair it with grilled swordfish or roast chicken.
90 Robert Whitley Dec 6, 2016

Rhône:

Red:

E. Guigal, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley, France) 2010 ($59, Vintus): Remarkable in many ways, this Chateauneuf-du-Pape is lean and vigorous.  It is earthy, with hints of sweet spice and wild herbs, plus soft, gentle tannins.  It has an agreeably long finish and it should get even better with a little more age.
92 Marguerite Thomas Dec 6, 2016

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Danzante, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($10, Folio Fine Wine Partners): Here is a lively, drink-me-now with a meal, super Tuscan-styled wine -- and you won't find the words “super Tuscan” next to a ten dollar price tag anywhere else.  Bright cherry, blackberry and spice with touches of dried herbs and oak toast are nicely integrated, and easy tannins don't keep the finish from hanging in there for a while.  Pair this with just about anything.  It might just become your house red.  Note:  It's a tad reductive, so give it a good airing before serving.
89 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

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PORTUGAL

Douro:

White:

Ferreira, Porto (Douro, Portugal) 20 Year-Old Tawny Port NV ($58, Broadbent Selections): Tawny Ports mature in wood casks, losing their youthful purple color, and developing the rich, tawny, nut brown hue referred to in the name.  Ferreira Ports have been made since 1751 and their 20-year Tawny Port continues a centuries-old tradition of quality.  Ferreira has succeeded brilliantly with the 20 Year Tawny Port. It has plum-like fruit with hints of allspice, almond, raisins, caramel, and toffee. Fine Tawny Port is an oft-overlooked beverage.  It is suitable as an apéritif -- with the tangy caramel livening the palate for the meal to come -- or as a traditional after-dinner drink. A glass of this fine Port makes an excellent dessert all by itself, or a perfect companion for nuts, Bosc pears, and blue cheeses (Stilton is the classic match).  Tawny Ports also endure well after opening. Since they have been exposed to air for a decades, they can last nicely for weeks or months.
95 Wayne Belding Dec 6, 2016

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SOUTH AFRICA

Rosé:

A.A. Badenhorst, Swartland (South Africa) "Secateurs" Rosé 2016 ($15, Broadbent Selections): The best way to enjoy the vivid and fresh style of a fine rosé in the autumn and winter here in North America is to seek out wines from the southern hemisphere.  The 2016 Badenhorst Secateurs Rosé is a lovely and fresh example of Swartland style.  A vibrant pink in color, it has a bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries followed by hints of wildflowers, sun-baked herbs and white pepper.  The flavors are pure and juicy, with strawberry and red cherry fruit enhanced by the classic dried herb and spice character of its component grapes.  Bring a touch of springtime to brighten up the cold and dark winter nights -- try this delicious rosé.  Made from  Cinsault (60%) and Shiraz (40%).
90 Wayne Belding Dec 6, 2016

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SPAIN

Red:

Bodegas Virgen del Agulia-Paniza, Cariñena (Spain) Garnacha Vina Vejas de Paniza 2012 ($14, Vinaio Imports): It’s curious -- and perhaps confusing -- that the primary grape of the Cariñena region is Garnacha and not Cariñena (a.k.a., Carignan in French and Carignano in Italian, and generally spelled “Carignane” in the U.S.A.).  That said, there’s nothing confusing about this wine -- it’s terrific.  The old vines (vina vejas) must account for the wine’s complexity -- a seamless combination of ripe fruitiness and spice.  The paradoxically subtle but persistent wild strawberry-like character of Garnacha is apparent without being sweet.  Suave tannins provide appropriate structure without intruding on the wine’s finesse.  This is a wonderful wine for hearty fare this winter.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

Cellars Uinó, Montsant (Catalonia, Spain) Garnacha “Perlat” 2014 ($12, Monsieur Touton): Montsant is sometimes referred to as a “little brother” appellation to its more famous and expensive neighbor, Priorat.  There’s nothing little brother about this wine.  Waves of aromas pour from the glass predicting pleasure on the palate.  It’s wonderfully dense, dark and ripe, yet does not go overboard and finishes with a subtle and paradoxical succulent bitterness.  There’s no flamboyance, yet it’s a robust wine, with an almost tarry element.  For all its power, it’s actually an elegant wine.  What a bargain!
93 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Peachy Canyon, California (United States) Zinfandel “Incredible Red” 2014 ($14): The Incredible Red is always a good value bet -- it's made to be a drink me up wine that works well on its own or with simpler fare, and it delivers as usual, with complexity that belies its price tag.  Bright berry fruit with equally bright oak spice and tangy acidity kept me coming back, with a touch of citrus extending the finish.  Cheese and charcuterie or grilled burgers will be right at home.
90 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Duckhorn, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Red Wine 2012 ($95): This bottling from Duckhorn is usually held the longest each year prior to release.  I'm guessing that the reasoning is to allow the more rustic mountain tannins to integrate a bit more -- no surprise from such a high quality producer.  This, from a heralded vintage, is a trophy, with classic California style.  Blackberry, currants, pencil, dried herbs and stony mineral aromas translate seamless on the palate, with great depth and concentration.  I'd hold it at least ten years, or decant a full day if you don't have that kind of time.  Spectacular!
97 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Spottswoode, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Lyndenhurst” 2013 ($80): Oh my!  If you know Spottswoode, you've probably already got your order in for this, the less expensive of their two Cabernet bottlings.  If you don't know them, here's an insider tip:  in my view, they are one of California's top producers, and this bottling is the best Lyndenhurst ever.  It's mostly estate fruit, and includes some supplemental fruit from other famed vineyards.  It's a “wow” bottle from a “wow” vintage, and it's a value price for a wine of its quality.  It's made to be approachable in its youth, but you'd be wise to tuck some away -- there's real structure and beauty here, with grand elegance promised in the future.  Bravo!
96 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Estate Grown 2012 ($43): If you think of California Merlot as soft but spineless, lacking both the complexity and power that distinguishes the state’s best reds, treat yourself to a bottle of this wine, from one of Napa’s most distinguished and consistently excellent producers.  It overflows with flavor -- berry fruit to be sure, but also herbs, spice, dark chocolate, and more.  It also exhibits superior length, lingering and evolving on your palate long after you’ve swallowed it.  In short, it’s outstanding.  Yes, it’s something of an anomaly in California.  But that’s not because Merlot as a variety is in any sense deficient.  It’s instead because so many winemakers treat it shabbily.  Thank goodness that Grgich Hills does not.
95 Paul Lukacs Dec 6, 2016

Franciscan, Napa Valley (California) “Magnificat” 2013 ($55): I'm a long time fan of this wine -- it's been turning heads since the mid-eighties, and this is another fine showing.  Built for some time in your cellar, it's firm and brooding at present, with vanilla, pie crust, mocha and blackberry aromas and flavors that are still integrating.  They will, and you'll have a relative value leader on your hands.  Another well made wine from Janet Myers.
94 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) “Cuvée POM” 2013 ($48): J. Lohr makes three Bordeaux-like Cuvées, “PAU,” “St. E” and “POM” inspired by the blend typical for those appellations, Pauillac, St. Estephe and Pomerol.   The 2013 Cuvée POM is a successful blend of primarily Merlot (84%) filled out by Malbec (8%) and equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  A sublime glossy texture and richness -- Merlot and Malbec speaking -- is supported by firm, but not astringent tannins -- Cabernet Sauvignon in action.  Cabernet Franc makes its presence known with captivating herbal notes that help explain the wine’s complexity.  An excellent choice for simply grilled steak.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop 2014 ($35): This vintage of Hilltop shows a bit more oak than the last two, but have no fear -- it will fold in nicely with another year in the bottle.  Bold Paso Robles blackberry, black cherry and red plum fruit ride supple tannins to a long, spice forward finish.  The Hilltop is always a solid value.
92 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles (California) “Côtes de Tablas” 2014 ($35): This well balanced wine is bright and broad on the palate, with hints of blueberry, other red and black fruits, and a savory tug of dark chocolate.  Among its other attributes are the nice, chewy tannins and a generous aftertaste.  A blend of 44% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 12% Counoise and 12% Mourvèdre.
91 Marguerite Thomas Dec 6, 2016

Williams-Selyem, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Eastside Road Neighbors 2014 ($88): I first tried Williams-Selyem Pinot Noirs nearly 30 years ago.  I was impressed then with their pure fruit expression and depth.  Today, even with a change of ownership, the wines maintain their singular and attractive style.  They are an integral part of the history of modern viticulture in the Russian River Valley.  Williams-Selyem Pinots are emblematic of their respective sites.  The Eastside Road Neighbors bottling is made from a variety of Pinot Noir vineyards and aged in new and used barrels.  It has a vibrant and spicy bouquet, with luscious aromas of ripe red cherry and blackberry fruits underscored by raspberry, violet, vanilla and baking spice nuances.  The rich texture and purity of the best Russian River Pinots is clearly evident here.  Layers of pure, juicy red cherry, raspberry and blackberry are underlain by a creamy texture and hints of, vanilla, lavender and allspice.  Bravo to Williams-Selyem for an exemplary Pinot Noir.
94 Wayne Belding Dec 6, 2016

LJ Crafted Wines, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Patient Terrier Vineyard 2015 ($37): Sit down -- this is going to take a minute to explain.  Last week I was invited to an press opening of a new winery in La Jolla, California -- an exclusive coastal town in San Diego County -- for an introduction to a whole new concept in a winery tasting room.  Owners Lowell and Anne Jooste came to California in 2012 after a twenty-year stint managing the family vineyards (not just any vineyards, but Capetown, South Africa's Klein Constantia) with a unique idea:  What if you could taste directly from a wine barrel in a tasting room without the hassle of climbing the barrel racks, pulling bungs and thieving wine, followed by topping off of the barrel, etc.?  To that end, Lowell designed what we’ll call a patent pending apparatus for now.  It's a system that allows tasting from the barrel without oxygen exposure to its contents, not to mention no mess, no hassle.  I tasted several barrels, and found fine quality from each wine that I tasted, including this Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Alison Greene-Doran, who just wrapped up her 41st harvest.  It's got a toasty nose, with black cherry, cola, deep earth and brown spice aromas which translate nicely to palate flavors.  Great acid balance props up a long finish where exotic spice notes come forward.  Sold in a 1 liter growler.  This is a winery -- and an actual green/sustainable concept -- to keep an eye on.
93 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Ancient Peaks, Santa Margarita Ranch (Paso Robles, California) Merlot 2014 ($18): I continue to be encouraged by the trend toward the de-Cabernization of Merlot -- where the grape is allowed to show its true colors instead of trying to emulate its more marketable partner.  Here it's joined by a healthy dose of Malbec (17%), adding a little blue fruit character to the expected cherry, leaf and spice.  Bold oak, bright acid and a firm grip make for a long finish that doesn't tip into astringency or offense, and you'd never guess the alcohol to come in under fourteen percent considering the full throttle flavors present.  Well done!
91 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Pali Wine Co., Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir “Riviera” 2014 ($22): Pali is trailblazing a new/old business model in the industry.  Their production facility in Lompoc fills three tasting rooms (including ones in Santa Barbara and newly in San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood).  The model of “Cut out the middleman and pass the savings on to the consumer” hasn't been done this way too often since the old Brookside Winery rooms that used to dot the Southern California landscape.   Pinot Noir specialists, they hit me square in the face with a twenty two dollar bottle that could easily command three times that, with deep cherry fruit, fresh turned field, cardamom and hibiscus aromas.  The palate translates the fruit and spice well over bright acidity, with mulling spice notes coming forward in a long finish.  A great value!
93 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Sea Smoke, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard "Southing" 2014 ($60): Another gorgeous bottling from Sea Smoke.  This vintage of Southing shows bright dark cherry fruit with layered pie spices, signature damp earth minerality and moderate oak toast aromas and flavors, with bold acidic structure and lively texture asking for some further bottle aging.  The finish blossoms, intensifying after the liquid is gone.  3 to 5 years in the bottle should show full potential.  Very well made.
95 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Sparkling:

Sea Smoke, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) “Sea Spray” Blanc de Noir LD 2012 ($80): This is a late disgorged release of a wine I reviewed last year -- one that I absolutely loved.  I love this version even more.  The extra two years on the lees definitely kicks it up a notch.  The additional time gives a depth to the yeasty character that adds real panache to the experience.  You can find the rest of my notes in the archives on the regular 2012 bottle, but rest assured, this version is one of the best bubblies in California.
97 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

White:

Albatross Ridge, Carmel Valley (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay Estate 2014 ($55): Yes!  A new set from Albatross Ridge, one that continues their rich, crisp, bright acid, low alcohol Chardonnay style.  The Estate bottling hits my rich yet crisp marker, delivering peach, apple, stone and citrus aromas and flavors, with just the right touch of oak spice.  I'm already salivating for the specialty bottlings.
93 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay Wildcat Mountain 2014 ($46): The Wildcat Mountain bottlings always please me -- great acid, complex interplay of fruit and winemaking choices, rich texture and crisp finish are there every vintage.  The 2014 emphasizes apple, citrus, honey and a spicy note.  This is my kind of cocktail white, but it's also a player at the table alongside creamy fish preps.  Another winner!
92 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

Washington:

Red:

Buty, Walla Walla Valley (Washington) Rockgarden Estate “Rediviva of the Stones” 2013 ($60): Rediviva is a Latin/Italian word that means restored to life, or the living image of a past person.  It's a fitting description for a wine that shows lively stony minerality in a deeply complex, rich blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre.  Supple on the palate, it shows black plum, pepper, meat, and a touch of oak char that enhances without distracting.  The finish is layered and blooms long and dry with full integration.  Very well made by Chris Dowsett and famed consultant Zelma Long.
94 Rich Cook Dec 6, 2016

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