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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

May 22, 2018 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

South Australia:

Red:

Penfolds, South Australia (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon "Max's" 2015 ($25, TWE Imports):  Always innovative, Penfolds offers us here an eye-catching, cleverly packaged bottle.  Unzip the scarlet shrink-wrapped outer coat to reveal the traditional bottle inside, then uncork that bottle, pour yourself a glass of this fine Cabernet and savor its dense flavors of mixed dark berries highlighted by a flicker of mint, a touch of vanilla, and a minimalist layer of oak.  Luscious ripe tannins and a generous finish are part of the overall pleasure.  This wine was made by the illustrious Peter Gago to honor another renowned Penfolds winemaker, Max Schubert, who introduced the world to the estate’s Grange Hermitage in 1951.  
91 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

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FRANCE

Rhône:

Red:

Domaine Oratoire St. Martin, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne (France) Les Douyes 2013 ($38, North Berkeley Wine):  You may not be familiar yet with the Cairanne appellation in the Côtes du Rhône, but it was promoted to appellation status in its own right in 2016, joining such well known names as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.  One of the finest producers in Cairanne is Domaine Oratoire St. Martin, owned by brothers Frédéric and François Alary, the 10th generation of winemakers at this estate.  Since 2012 the estate has been run Biodynamically, and no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used in the vineyard, and some plots are still plowed by horse.  This Grenache-Mourvèdre blend is beautifully structured, with a superb fruit to acid balance.  Dense and complex, and with 13.5% alcohol, it is, all in all, a perfect red wine to enjoy with summer meals. 
94 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

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ITALY

Veneto:

Sparkling:

Bortolotti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Glera Brut Rive di Col S. Martino "Castel de Donà" 2016 ($24, Skurnik Wines):  This Rive bottling from Bortolotti is more assertive and dramatic than the house’s Rive di. S. Stefano "Montagnole" which succeeds more on subtlety than strength.  They are roughly equal in quality, though I had to give the nod to this wine simply because it is more likely to jar tasters into recognition of just how good high-end Prosecco can be.  Very expressive in aromas, with deep flavors showing a lot of grip and extract in addition to abundant fruit, this is a complete and utterly convincing wine.  With this praise stated, we should address why the producer would tack on the proprietary name of “Castel de Donà” onto all the other mind-numbing terminology involved in the wine’s designation.  The answer is that wines in the “Rive” category are sourced from entire villages rather than single vineyards, and because many other owners have holdings in the 15 villages entitled to bottle wines of this sort, some sort of verbiage is needed to distinguish them from one another.  It seems impossible that anybody could make German vintners seem concise and straightforward, but producers in the Conegliano - Valdobbiadene area have indeed achieved this dubious distinction. 
93 Michael Franz May 22, 2018

Bortolotti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Glera Extra Dry Rive di Rolle "Piai Alto" 2016 ($24, Skurnik Wines):  Most good Extra Dry Proseccos at the upper DOCG level leave me pleased by how alluring and fun they seem, rather than impressed by them as wines.  This stands as an exception.  A truly impressive wine, it shows much more dimension and intricacy of bouquet than Bortolotti’s standard Extra Dry, and likewise it seems to derive a higher proportion of its flavor from fruit than sugar.  The effervescence is finer in grain, yet every bit as abundant, and in overall terms, this Rive bottling actually comes across as being more “generous” in overall terms than the Bruts, yet no less serious on that account.  A standout at this sweetness level. 
92 Michael Franz May 22, 2018

Bortolotti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Glera Brut Rive di S. Stefano "Montagnole" 2016 ($24, Skurnik Wines):  Bottlings of Prosecco Superiore DOCG labeled with a “Rive” designation must be sourced entirely from a single village or hamlet within the Conegliano – Valdobbiadene production region, and must be vintage-dated.  The category is less than a decade old, and though the eligible villages are located in the generally highest-regarded subzone of the region, these are still not single-site wines from a “cru,” and they are very disparate in style.  Aside from the variations introduced by location and production technique, the wines may be finished at levels of sweetness ascending from Brut Nature to Brut to Extra Dry to, finally, Dry, which is -- of course -- the sweetest of all.  If you haven’t lapsed into a coma, but remain interested in this wine, its one saving grace is that it is absolutely delicious.  It is unusually intricate on the nose and broader and deeper in flavor than most Brut Proseccos at the exalted DOCG level, yet is fairly light in weight and admirably stylish and restrained, with terrific balance between fruit, acidity and effervescence. 
92 Michael Franz May 22, 2018

Bortolotti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Glera Brut NV ($21, Skurnik Wines):  Prosecco DOCG from the hills -- often very steep hills -- around the town of Valdobbiadene should not be confused with the mostly machine-made stuff bearing DOC designation.  However, it is easy to understand why confusion rules, in light of all the obscure and forgettable verbiage I’ve already needed to employ just to designate this wine and distinguish it from the ocean of fun but frivolous stuff that gets poured when somebody asks for “a Prosecco.”  To be clear about this particular wine, at least, it is subtly charming aromatically, with faintly floral scents and just a whiff of fruitiness.  The flavors are similarly restrained, with suggestions of peaches and apricots, but not particularly ripe ones, as there’s a refreshing zing of acidity running straight into the clean, defined finish. 
90 Michael Franz May 22, 2018

Bortolotti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Glera Extra Dry NV ($16):  Just to “clarify” things, Extra Dry Proseccos are less dry than Brut ones, so expect some fruity sweetness if you crack into this one, which you certainly should.  The grape from which this is made (called Glera since 2009, when “Prosecco” was turned into a geographical indicator rather than a variety name) is notably floral in character, and sparkling wines made from it often seem most “naturally” styled when finished with some sweetness.  This is true not only with regard to the interplay of aromas and flavors, but also in textural terms.  I don’t know quite how to explain this, but I’ve experienced it empirically hundreds of times, so let’s try this:  Extra Dry Proseccos seem notably “fluffier” in effervescence when finished with 15 or more grams per liter of residual sugar.  I’m tempted to liken them to vinous cotton candy, and though that simile works well as a textural image, it could mislead a reader into thinking that the wines are overtly sugary, when their flavors actually come off as ripely fruity.  This is a quite good rendition of the breed, well suited to stand-alone sipping before or after a meal, but particularly successful with spicy or smoky charcuterie. 
88 Michael Franz May 22, 2018

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SPAIN

Ribera del Duero:

Red:

Figuero, Ribera del Duero DO (Spain) 'Noble' 2014 ($162, Quintessential): This amazing Spanish red is 100 percent Tempranillo from 70-year-old vines. With exquisite balance and impressive complexity, it possesses an elegance that escape many of the powerful reds from Ribera del Duero. On the palate this wine shows notes of blackberry and blueberry, a beautiful hint of fall spice, and supple tannins that contribute to Noble's dazzling texture. An impressive wine in every way and destined to only get better over the next 20 years. 
98 Robert Whitley May 22, 2018

Milagros de Figuero, Ribera del Duero DO (Spain) Tempranillo 2014 ($100, Quintessential):  I don’t know if this wine is a genuine miracle, but it’s pretty close.  Incredibly dense red and black fruit ride a wave of supple tannins, structured acidity and full extraction, with oak spice and leafy tones that complement and add depth in mind bending fashion.  Go big at the table with this one!   
97 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Tinto Figuero, Ribera del Duero DO (Spain) 'Vinas Viejas' 2015 ($68, Quintessential): This dark, inky red from Spain's Ribera del Duero is as dense and rich as it looks. The Vina Viejas (Old Vines) are more than 60 years old, planted in a family owned vineyard in La Horra. Complex layers of blackberry and raspberry aroma are wrapped in toasty oak, lending a prominent spice note to the finished wine. With its muscular structure and elegant balance, this is a wine that will prosper from another eight to ten years in a temperature-controlled cellar. 
95 Robert Whitley May 22, 2018

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Apothic, California (United States) "Dark" Red Blend 2015 ($14):  Another wine from the indefatigable folks at E&J Gallo, “Dark” is following the growing trend of sweet red wines.  With flavor notes reminiscent of ultra-ripe fruit tempered by cappuccino and dark chocolate, this is a wine to serve with ribs, pulled pork, or just about anything that has been exposed to barbecue sauce.  Blended from Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot. 
90 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

Ladera, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014 ($100):  Howell Mountain is a great area for Cabernet Sauvignon that shows both power and elegance when hanlded correctly, as in the case of this fine bottling.  Loads of complexity and depth of aroma and flavor here, with blackberry, cassis, moderate oak toast and fall spice with just a touch of dried herb flood the nose and the mouth, carried by a supple structure that promises a long life ahead.  Excellent wine!  Contains 3% Petit Verdot. 
96 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Shooting Star, Lake County (California) Barbera 2016 ($15):  As with most of Jed Steele’s Shooting Star wines this Barbera is affordable, tasty, and versatile at the table.  Although Barbera is usually associated with the Piedmont region in Italy, Barbera actually has a long history in California as it was one of the favored vines planted by immigrant Italian farmers a century or so ago.  Shooting Star’s Barbera is characterized by bright fruit mingling with hints of oak spiciness, and with energizing acidity on the finish. 
90 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

Writer’s Block, Lake County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($18):  A lot of Cabernet drinkers -- and some wine writers, for that matter -- don’t like the green tones often present when the grape is picked a certain ripeness levels.  Others find that they can be quite complementary when not overdone, and I for one fall solidly in the latter camp.  As in the case of this wine, a touch of bell pepper can add interest and render the wine pairable with a host of foods that riper versions of Cabernet fail to complement well.  Blackberry, black cherry, brown spice and some baker’s chocolate easily join the pepper tones and finish long and integrated.  Nice price, too! 
90 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Dutton-Goldfield, Marin County (California) Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard 2015 ($62):  A favorite Pinot Noir Producer of mine strikes again with a wine from Marin County -- not the first county I think of when talking wine, but one that has some small pockets that are producing brilliant fruit.  Figure in the touch of Dan Goldfield and you know that the result will be worthy.  Lively red fruit, cinnamon, dry earth and rhubarb aromas translate nicely, remaining present in equal parts through a long finish.  It’s tasty now, or age it a few years to deepen everything. 
94 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Bridlewood Estate Winery, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($15):  With very ripe, juicy fruits reminiscent of blackberry and raspberry jam the sweetness of the wine is balanced by hints of spice, soft smooth tannins, and subtle acidity.  This is a big and bold red wine that tastes more sophisticated than the modest price would indicate.
90 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Merlot "Los Osos" 2016 ($15):  Another vintage, another value from the J. Lohr Estates line. I can’t think of another line of wines that will please a wide range of palates at this kind of price and availability.  The Los Osos is generous with black fruit and spice, moderate oak toast and a pleasing finish that makes for a fine cocktail or a great grilling partner. 
90 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, Freestone Hill Vineyard 2015 ($72):  A seductive cardamom earthiness opens the aroma profile of this gorgeous wine, adding black cherry and blackberry as you draw it in.  On the palate, rich fruit and spice meld in the silky soft mid, and finish brightly with a spice and citrus kick.  There’s age-worthy structure here -- plan to add a few points after five years in the bottle. 
95 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Limerick Lane, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel "1910 Block", Estate Grown 2015 ($56):  When Jake Bilbro took the helm at Limerick Lane he wisely decided to bottle the estate Zinfandel by the three separate planting dates to showcase what the grape can do over time.  This oldest block is a little under five acres of the classic Cali field blend of Zinfandel replacement vines – Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Peloursin, Syrah -- all of which add to the unique character of old school Zinfandel.  This is a wine that will age beautifully, thanks to the structure that the non-Zinfandel fruit contributes.  Dry in style, with popping red fruit, mild pepper and spice that fill the mouth and finish long, this is what Zinfandel is meant to be. 
95 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Limerick Lane, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Syrah "Headpruned Block" 2015 ($50):   Perhaps the only head-pruned Syrah in the state, and an acre that makes a stellar wine worth the space and trouble.  Bold black and blue fruit, with layered oak spice, pepper and a touch of orange zest ride age-able structure through a long, rich finish.  Serve this wine with something on the game side.  
94 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Limerick Lane, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Syrah 'Elie O' 2016 ($50): Floral and smooth, this traditional Cote Rotie-style blend of Syrah and Viognier provides further evidence that Limerick Lane has a deft touch with the so-called Rhone grape varieties that are popular throughout the south of France. Winemaker Jake Bilbro co-fermented the red (Syrah) and white (Viognier) grapes, creating a synergistic blending of the two that is enthralling for its freshness. With fine tannins and loads of high-toned red and black fruit, this is a beautiful wine for drinking now. Elie O is short for Elie Quaknine, a friend and neighbor of Limerick Lane with a four-acre Syrah vineyard. 
94 Robert Whitley May 22, 2018

Migration, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2015 ($68): This light-bodied Pinot Noir from the famed Dutton Ranch is packed with flavor and complexity.  It shows ripe cherry aroma with an earthy nuance and a hint of cola.  The tannins are moderate, making for enjoyable drinking now, and there's an inviting dash of wood spice on the finish. 
90 Robert Whitley May 22, 2018

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014 ($40):  I’ve had the pleasure of opening well aged Reserves from Ric Sayre’s team and they never disappoint.  With what comparable wines go for these days, you should consider this wine to be a crazy value.  Don’t let the rather generic AVA put you off -- all it means is that lots from all over the county are carefully selected and blended to make a wine that’s a testament to the area at a more than fair price.  Let it age a while to fully integrate the oak, and enjoy classic west of the Mayacamas character. 
93 Rich Cook May 22, 2018

Sea Smoke, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir "Ten" 2014 ($82):  Sea Smoke’s Biodynamic grapes are influenced by the cool microclimate of the Santa Ynez River Canyon.  This Pinot Noir is both intense and complex, with concentrated flavors of dark fruit lightly spiced with oak.  Firm, well integrated tannins support the wine’s overall good structure.  A little heat on the finish can be distracting (the alcohol content is 14.5 %), but this is still a very young wine whose rough edges will undoubtedly smooth out with a couple of years of cellaring.  Alternatively, if you can’t wait that long (I couldn’t) decant the wine before serving it. 
92 Marguerite Thomas May 22, 2018

White:

Cliff Lede, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($23):  Texas-raised winemaker, Christopher Tynan, shows restraint with this wine, letting the delicate notes of daffodil, mandarine, and powdered ginger shine through in a Sauvignon Blanc that offers a full body from partial time in oak barrel. 
94 Jessica Dupuy May 22, 2018

Sarah's Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Chardonnay 2016 ($32):   The 2016 Chardonnay from Sarah's Vineyard is typical of many Chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains in that it shows impressive richness and depth without losing the tension between fruit and acid that makes Chardonnay an exciting wine when it's right. This one offers notes of lemon oil and spice, with layered aromas of pear and apple, and a judicious touch of oak. 
91 Robert Whitley May 22, 2018

Ehlers Estate, St. Helena (Napa Valley, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($32):  Bright and crisp with aromas of white daisy and and juicy white grapefruit, this Sauvigonon Blanc offers vibrant flavors of lime peel and early peach with a high-toned finish.  A delicious wine as an aperitif or with grilled seafood.  
94 Jessica Dupuy May 22, 2018

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