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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 21, 2014 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

Western Australia:

White:

Frankland Estate, Western Australia (Australia) Riesling Netley Road Vineyard 2012 ($35, Quintessential Wines): Definitely dry, but without the mouth-puckering acidity that can make some Aussie Rieslings interesting to taste yet not especially pleasant to drink, this wine is beautifully balanced, with bright lime and other citrus fruit flavors, steely mineral-like notes in the finish, and an almost opulent bouquet.  It should age effortlessly for many years, but is downright delicious now.
92 Paul Lukacs Oct 21, 2014

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Domaine Pavelot, Savigny-lès-Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2010 ($30, Wasserman Selections): With prices of fine Burgundy rising every vintage, it’s refreshing to find wines of this quality still available at relatively affordable levels.  This is a lively Pinot Noir that shows the delicacy and complexity offered by many Côte de Beaune wines.  Ripe red cherry and raspberry fruit aromas are enhanced by dried flower, herb and spice tones.  The flavors are lively and spicy with the pure, tart red fruits followed by floral, earthy, herb and baking spice elements.  It is light on the palate but not at all insubstantial.  Burgundian Pinot Noir is endearing because it balances pure fruit character with an enchanting combination of texture and layering.
90 Wayne Belding Oct 21, 2014

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Vazart–Coquart & Fils, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs “Special Club” 2006 ($92, Wasserman Selections): If you are not familiar with Special Club Champagnes, it's time to introduce your palate to the finesse and elegance of these wines.  The group of 26 growers offers high-quality grower wines only in the best vintages.  The Vazart-Coquart 2006 shows the elegance and complexity of Special Club bottlings.  Vazart-Coquart & Fils is a small grower in the Côte des Blancs village of Chouilly, producing just over 6000 cases a year.  It shows the best characteristics of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.  The bouquet is pure and vibrant, with lemon, green apple and lime fruits infused with subtle, buttery, yeasty and creamy nuances.  The flavors are equally pure and lively, with fresh apple and citrus fruits underlain by the buttery-creamy character of the best Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.  The invigorating nature and layered, complex flavors show just how special the Special Club Champagnes can be.
95 Wayne Belding Oct 21, 2014

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ITALY

Delle Venezie:

White:

Ecco Domani, Delle Venezie (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2013 ($12): This familiar brand, imported by E&J Gallo, is something of a miracle in the bottle, considering about a quarter-million cases make it to our shores and yet quality is very good while the price is relatively low. This vintage, which includes a generous injection of Chardonnay for body and aroma, shows aromas of green apple and lime, is well balanced and it's so widely distributed you can count on finding it just about anywhere. If you're looking for a tasty house white, this could be your ticket. 88 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Tuscany:

White:

Doga Delle Clavule, Toscana Bianco (Tuscany, Italy) Vermentino 2013 ($16, Vineyard Brands): Light, bright and refreshing, this coquettish little wine comes from the hills of Tuscany’s Maremma region.  Take a sip, close your eyes, and you can almost taste the salt air blowing in off the sea and onto the vines. Like most Vermentino Doga Delle Clavule makes quite a nice aperitif, and it also goes well with simple pork dishes, and shellfish.  It was particularly delicious when I had it recently with shrimp.
89 Marguerite Thomas Oct 21, 2014

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NEW ZEALAND

Red:

Peregrine, Central Otago (New Zealand) Pinot Noir 2012 ($34, Vineyard Brands): This exquisite Pinot Noir puts the vast majority of American renditions of the grape variety to shame.  It is neither simple nor heavy, but rather graceful and subtly complex, with fruit flavors enhanced by nuanced notes reminiscent of spice and wood smoke.  Very Burgundian, it feels silky on the palate yet has plenty of power, so should prove quite versatile at the dinner table.
92 Paul Lukacs Oct 21, 2014

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Helderberg Wijnmakeri, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($13, Vineyard Brands): While this has neither the ardent grassiness of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc nor the subtle minerality of Sancerre, it is in its own original way an exceedingly satisfying little wine.  It offers a pervasive fragrance (hints of lime peel, floral backnotes), fruity flavors, and a crisp but not overly acidic finish.
89 Marguerite Thomas Oct 21, 2014

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SPAIN

Castilla y León:

Red:

Paixar, Bierzo (Castilla y León, Spain) Mencia 2011 ($70, Grapes of Spain): I’ve tasted every vintage of this Paixar ever made -- with the single exception of 2010 -- and regard it as one of Spain’s very best wines (and consequently one of the world’s best also).  The 2011 rendition shows typically impressive pigment concentration, and the first aromatic impression is of toasty oak.  Beneath the oak, subtle scents of anise, exotic spices and wood smoke prove quite alluring.  Medium-plus body is standard for Paixar and that’s what the 2011 shows; there’s richness and substance, but no sense of heaviness.  Dark berry fruit notes predominate, but there’s also a bright, fresh streak to the wine that also lends a suggestion of red fruits, and the overall impression is one of purity and precision.  On the palate and in the finish, oak remains rather prominent, but the proportions of oak, fruit and tannin are just right, and those who can give this the 10 years of ageing that it deserves will get a great wine in return for their patience.  If that seems like a lot to ask, remember that this is how you’d be advised to treat a $70 bottle of Bordeaux, and trust me:  This will turn out to be a much better wine than anything you’ll get from Bordeaux for $70.
95 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

San Roman, Toro (Castilla y León, Spain) 2011 ($70, Grapes of Spain): This is a fantastic young rendition of San Roman, which is probably the single most distinguished wine from the entire appellation of Toro. Whereas some past vintages have been extremely tight and oaky when first released, requiring years of cellaring to show their inevitable greatness, this release exhibits a notably different profile.  The 2011 is already amazingly generous, with highly expressive aromas, deep and lasting flavors, and wonderful texture combining fleshiness and grip.  Dark berry fruit is accented with toast and spice notes, but these wood-based sensations are really nicely balanced against the fruit, which outlasts them in the finish.  There’s a chance that this will still shut down and tighten up, but my guess is that it will prove to be one of those rare wines that shows its beauty from the start and stays beautiful for a good dozen years.
94 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Galicia:

Red:

Adrás, Ribeira Sacra (Galicia, Spain) Mencia 2013 ($19, Grapes of Spain): I fell in love with this wine instantly.  That may not be entirely surprising to those who know me, as I’ve probably written more about the Mencia grape than anyone based in the USA.  However, I also showed it to two different groups of people at dinner parties, and everyone else loved it immediately too.  For a wine that is just one year off the vine, it shows lots of juicy, primary fruit; and though it seems obvious that it would be assertively fruity at this early stage, the remarkable thing is that the fruit isn’t “obvious” in its character, but actually quite layered and interesting.  It shows fresh, sweet-seeming tones, but also wonderful bright acidity, and these sensory signals are woven together by subtle savory notes that really provide an excellent sense of integration and completeness that is utterly unexpected in a wine of such youth.  As a final testament to this wine’s captivating powers, a friend from one of the dinner parties -- who had never heard of nor tasted Mencia before -- showed up un-announced at our door the following evening, having just driven to a wine shop to find another rendition.  She demanded that we open it immediately to try it -- and it turned out to be Finca la Cuesta Mencia from Bierzo’s Luna Beberide (also imported by Aurelio Cabestrero). One more convert to Mencia!
92 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

White:

Adrás, Ribeira Sacra (Galicia, Spain) Godello 2013 ($19, Grapes of Spain): As a wine producing country, Spain is definitely stronger with reds than whites, and Aurelio Cabestrero’s portfolio reflects that in the sense that there are more red than white wines.  However, the relatively few whites that he brings to the USA are all near the top of the quality pyramids in their respective regions, and that’s certainly true for this lovely rendering of Godello.  Medium-bodied and very satisfying, with fresh aromas followed by delicious fruit recalling white peaches and poached pears, with excellent acidity that is very well integrated with the fruit.  There lots of punchy flavor here, but also a sense of real refinement.  Along with excellent renditions of Pinot Blanc, Godello can be one of the world’s most versatile whites for food-pairing purposes, to restaurateurs take note.
91 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Ribera del Duero:

Red:

Arrocal, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) “Selección” 2010 ($42, Grapes of Spain): If I had tasted this wine “blind,” I strongly suspect that I’d have guessed it to be a $75 bottle, and I wonder whether other reviewers have failed to give it the respect it deserves because it doesn’t cost more (or because it isn’t the winery’s top release; there’s also a “Maximo de Arrocal released in select vintages that can be sensational).  In any case, this is an exceptionally concentrated, deeply flavored, generously textured, downright delicious wine that is very open and expressive in both aroma and flavor.  Rich and ripe but also fresh and pure, it is a truly beautiful expression of Tempranillo, with the plush texture and open flavors that make excellent wines from Ribera del Duero the most immediately convincing of all renditions of this great grape variety.
93 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Astrales, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) 2011 ($70, Grapes of Spain): I always love this wine, but due to a very prominent overlay of oak in this vintage, it will take a little longer than usual for the 2011 to display all of its charms.  Impressively dark in color, its appearance is very promising, but the aromas are dominated by scents of toast and smoke.  The palate displays much more generosity, with dark berry and cherry flavors and pleasantly earthy, savory undertones.  The finish then turns a bit hard and dry, with wood tannins re-asserting themselves.  Very good now, and quite probably outstanding in another 5 years, this is a good bet for the cellar.
93 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Rioja:

Red:

200 Monges, Rioja (Spain) Reserva “Selección Especial” 2005 ($120, Grapes of Spain): This is a stunningly complex, gorgeous wine that is just reaching a plateau of maturity that should last for another decade.  Billowing aromas of saddle leather, damp earth, toast and spices are totally attention-grabbing, and the wine’s performance on the palate is equally impressive.  Medium-plus body indicates modest yields, and there’s very good depth of flavor but no hint of over-ripeness or excessive extraction.  On the contrary, the wine’s palate impression is natural and quite compelling, with delicious dark cherry fruit accented by a fresh edge recalling red pie cherries and baked pastry raisins.  Subtle savory undertones of carpaccio and wild mushrooms are starting to emerge at 9 years of age, and the wine shows a wonderful weave of primary fruit, secondary oak, and tertiary bottle bouquet and flavor.  This is the best bottle of Rioja that I’ve ever tasted from the 2005 vintage, and there’s no doubt that it will be even better in another few years.
96 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Pujanza, Rioja (Spain) "Norte" 2010 ($95, Grapes of Spain): This terrific wine combines serious flavor impact with a very fresh, energetic character that will make it an outstandingly versatile performer at the table (for those who lack patience) but also an excellent candidate for long-term cellaring.  Ripe but restrained fruit is accented by scents of high-class oak, with toasty, smoky accents that work beautifully with the dark cherry core.  The freshness and energy of the wine make it seem almost “bright,” which isn’t what some tasters expect from a $95 bottle of red wine, but the fact is that it shows plenty of “bass” notes to balance out all of that treble.  This is proved by the wines persistent, proportional finish, in which the wood and grape tannins never overwhelm the fruit. This is a beautiful bottle of Rioja, enjoyable now but best after 2018.
95 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Bodegas Faustino, Rioja (Spain) “Faustino I” 2001 ($40, Palm Bay International): This is old-fashioned Rioja, spicy and earthy, with wood notes from extended barrel aging, and dried rather than fresh fruit flavors.  It is rusty-colored and light on the palate, with a silky texture and enough acidity to keep its many disparate elements in harmony.  It also is seductively delicious, the sort of wine that excites the intellect as well as the senses.  If you only know Rioja in its modern form, one which includes many excellent wines but also many that taste as though they could come from just about anywhere, try this beauty.  It’s an outstanding example of the kind of wine that made Rioja famous, and still can today.
93 Paul Lukacs Oct 21, 2014

Viña Otano, Rioja (Spain) Reserva 2009 ($22, Grapes of Spain): This is a completely, gulp-ably delicious wine that also shows real complexity and class…for $22.  My first encounter with this Bodega included an excellent 2001 Gran Reserva and a very good 2011 Crianza, so we are off to a very good start.  Although I really do like the Crianza, $5 is a very small premium to buy up to this Reserva; likewise, $5 is peanuts to trade up to a Gran Reserva that is 8 years older.  So, this and the 2001 seem like the obvious wines to buy, and I actually like the two of them equally well, despite the fact that they are very different.  Thanks to a relatively warm growing season, this 2009 Reserva is very soft and immediate in its appeal, with lovely soft fruit and very broad texture for a five year-old Rioja Reserva.  Frankly, you could find plenty of Reservas from 2005 or 2006 that aren’t as open and seductive as this wine is right now.  Nevertheless, there’s a lot going on underneath all that soft fruit, with nice spice and smoke notes, as well as a subtle accent of cured meat.  This would be perfect with medium-weight dishes such as chicken, pork, duck or veal.
92 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Viña Otano, Rioja (Spain) Gran Reserva 2001 ($27, Grapes of Spain): I’ve never tasted a wine from this Bodega, and was amazed to see a current release Gran Reserva from 2001, which I regard as the greatest vintage for red wines in north-central Spain in my 20+ year-long career as a professional taster. Consequently, when I opened and tasted it, I was forced to recall the old film cliché:  “Where have you been all my life?”  Most 2001 Gran Reservas are now fully mature, and a few of them are starting to dry out and crack up, but this one is still very fresh and actually certain to improve during the coming years.  Medium-bodied, with good color that shows no amber at the edge, it offers complex aromas that still show primary fruit notes along with some subtly smoky oak and interesting earthy undertones that have developed from time in bottle.  The balance of fruit, wood and tannin is just right, and the finish is long and symmetrical as it tails off, with the fruit riding right alongside the tannins, which are very fine in grain and not overly grippy.  I’ve scored this conservatively, in light of the high probability that it will get even better with time (amazingly enough), but 92 seems right given that I don’t have any prior experience with the wine.
92 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Pingao, Rioja (Spain) Tinto 2013 ($13, Grapes of Spain): Based on the wines imported by Aurelio Cabestrero and Grapes of Spain that I've reviewed this week, you could get the misimpression that Aurelio Cabestrero only imports expensive wines.  That would indeed be a misimpression, and this wine shows that he excels at all price levels.  (An important example:  His collection of wines priced in the teens from Ribera del Duero are, unquestionably, the best of any importer working in the USA, but I’ve reviewed many of those, whereas this Rioja is new to me).  Pure and fresh but neither simple nor obvious, this provides lots of spicy, fruity aroma and flavors that are surprisingly deep and lasting given the moderate weight of the wine.  Very well made, and amazingly interesting for the price.
89 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

Rueda:

White:

Egeo, Rueda (Castilla y León, Spain) Verdejo 2013 ($13, Grapes of Spain): This is a very consistent wine from year to year, always showing very expressive aromas (cut grass and dried herbs) and fresh, energetic fruit (white melon with lemon and lime accents).  Other producers’ Verdejo bottlings from Rueda often show too much sulfur on the nose, this is always free from that flaw.  It is wonderfully refreshing when the weather is hot, and when things turn cool, that’s when oysters come into season, so this is a year-round winner at a bargain price.
90 Michael Franz Oct 21, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Bridlewood, Central Coast (California) 'Blend 175' 2012 ($15): Whether you are engaging in a late-season barbecue or grilling up brats at a tailgate party on a football weekend, Bridlewood's Blend 175 is a fitting companion to savory bites, and at a modest price. Technically a Rhone-style blend that's predominantly Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, there's also a splash of densely colored, spicy Petite Sirah. On the palate the wine is smooth and layered, with black fruits in dominance and a whiff of anise for intrigue. Nicely done and nicely priced. 88 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) The Mariner 2011 ($45): Dry Creek Vineyard is another producer that overcame the challenges of the wet, cool 2011 vintage to make a very credible wine at its top tier. The Mariner utilizes all five of the red grape varieties from Bordeaux -- cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and malbec -- in The Mariner, resulting in a complex, layered red meritage that delivers bright red and black-fruit aromas, notably a touch of black currant, with supple tannins and a long, spicy finish. 91 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Grenache 'Clos de Gilroy' 2013 ($20): Winemaker Randall Grahm was among the first in California to embrace the so-called Rhone grape varieties, and he's still one of the best at it. These grapes, historically grown in France's Rhone Valley, are loaded with quirky personality, much like Mr. Grahm himself. His Grenache has always been a highlight, with its succulent, juicy red-fruited bent. What Grahm does, however, that is most admirable is exercise restraint with this grape that has a tendency to get very ripe and produce high-alcohol reds. Grahm prefers to retain the freshness and minerality that is commonly found in the wines from the Rhone, and he manages to keep the alcohol in check (though this vintage comes in at 14 percent). Seductive and spicy, it has a long, clean finish with a suggestion of tannic grip at the very end. Beautiful. 92 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2011 ($95): It's not easy to say whether Duckhorn made the Three Palms Vineyard famous, or whether it was the other way around. Three Palms, situated at the northern end of the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail, has been a star in the world of California wine since Duckhorn made its first vintage in 1978. It has long defied the conventional wisdom that Merlot thrives in cooler climes but comes off dull and flabby in warmer areas. Three Palms is at the warm end of the valley, yet it consistently produces remarkable Merlot that combines firm structure with power and grace. This vintage is another in a long chain of superb vintages. It shows a nose of spice and cedar, with rich black and red fruits on the palate, and beautifully integrated firm tannins. Exceptional now and over the next 25 to 30 years. 96 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($145): Over the years the Far Niente Cabernet has evolved into a bigger, bolder version of the earliest vintages. The 2012 is robust and layered, exhibiting richness on the palate, exceptional depth and weight, and succulent black-fruited aromas that linger through an extraordinarily long finish. This is a classic Far Niete Cab, one of the finest in a long line of stellar vintages from one of the Napa Valley's most distinguished producers. It could certainly benefit from additional time in the cellar, but won't disappoint if opened tonight. 97 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Robert Hall, Paso Robles (California) Cuvee de Robles 2013 ($20): This juicy, mouth-filling red blend from Robert Hall isn't technically a Rhone-style blend, though the majority of the fruit in the bottle is divided between the Rhone grape varieties Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. But there's a significant shot (17 percent) of Petite Sirah, which is a grape that fares well during the warm Paso summers. It shows good fruit complexity, supple tannins and excellent length on the finish. Drinking very well at this early stage of its evolution, but with the potential to age nicely. 90 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Matanzas Creek, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2011 ($28): Merlot is Matanzas Creek's benchmark wine, the wine that threw a spotlight on this small Sonoma County winery nearly three decades ago. It was good back in the day and it remains very good, as this 2011 makes very clear. This is a beautifully balanced, exquisite Merlot that's a steal at the price. It exhibits intense aromas of plum and black currant, with the hint of cedar and lead pencil so commonly associated with Bordeaux. The tannins are modest and nicely integrated. 91 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

Louis M. Martini, Sonoma Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard 2010 ($64): For decades, the Monte Rosso vineyard has provided some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in California.  The old vines and low yields allow Cabernets of great intensity, power and balance.  The 2010 is concentrated and rich, but has a balance and structure found only rarely.  The wine shows pure black cherry and black currant fruit aromas with hints of vanilla, herbs, tobacco, cedar and black pepper spice.  Lush and layered on the palate, the black fruits are enhanced by elements of red cherry, baking spices, herbs and cedar.  The red fruit elements are interwoven with the spice nuances and linger at the finish.  The 2010 continues the legend of this great Cabernet and will age well for another 15+ years.
94 Wayne Belding Oct 21, 2014

B.R. Cohn, Sonoma Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Olive Hill Vineyard 2009 ($55): Admirers of big, whack ‘em - smack ‘em Cabernet that is just bursting with California ripe fruit will have plenty of reasons to fall in love with this wine.  But there’s more to it than simply brawn, for this Cab is also blessed with plenty of sinewy tension that keeps it smart and focused.  BR Cohn is one of Sonoma’s most venerable producers, and the Cabernet from Olive Hill is one of the main reasons why.
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 21, 2014

Nickel & Nickel, St. Helena (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hayne Vineyard 2010 ($100): The wine splashes dark and inky from bottle to glass sending a convoluted vinous aroma wafting up into the room.  My mouth starts to water. I sip, and sigh with happiness, and then enjoy another sip of this plush, plump Cabernet.  It’s a wine that’s luxurious in every sense -- texture, taste, fruit, oak, price.
92 Marguerite Thomas Oct 21, 2014

Grgich Hills Estate, Yountville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($195): Grgich's Yountville Selection embodies everything you've come to expect from a Grgich Cabernet, beginning with a gorgeous nose of cedar, red fruit and vanillin. On the palate the wine is suave and sophisticated, showing ample fruit in a well-balanced package that while far from muscular is impressive and subtle at the same time. Ready to drink now but a candidate for more cellar time, it's on the expensive side but clearly comes from Napa Valley royalty. 96 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

White:

Matanzas Creek, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22): Matanzas has always done right by Sauvignon, even before the grape variety gained popularity with the discovery of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc a generation ago. There are elements of this Sauvignon -- pungent grapefruit, fresh acidity -- that those fond of New Zealand Sauvignon will identify with, but there's also a whiff of peach and fig that is more typical of Bordeaux, a citrus and herbal notes that are more common in France's Loire Valley. In other words, it's a complex Sauvignon, delicious and what we've come to expect from Matanzas down through the years. 91 Robert Whitley Oct 21, 2014

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