HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline.com on Twitter

Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition

THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

December 5, 2017 Issue

Printable Version

Wine Search

FRANCE

Burgundy:

White:

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Pouilly-Vinzelles (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) 2015 ($20, Dreyfus Ashby):  The 2015 vintage in Burgundy delivered outstanding reds and whites.  It’s a rare vintage that is successful for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but 2015 was.  The reds, for the most part, though engaging now, are best put in the cellar.  The whites are hard to resist now, especially those from the Mâconnais.  Pouilly-Vinzelles, a microscopic appellation compared to its more famous neighbor, Pouilly-Fuissé, can deliver equally enjoyable wines.  Usually less ripe and robust compared to Pouilly-Fuissé, the wines from Pouilly-Vinzelles often have an attractive taut and racy quality.  Drouhin’s 2015 Pouilly-Vinzelles marries that raciness with ripeness characteristic of the vintage.  Exceptionally long, this is a great bargain.  My advice?  Buy it by the case. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Champagne:

Sparkling:

André Jacquart, Champagne (France) Premier Cru Blanc de Blanc Brut NV ($46, Esprit du Vin):  This 100% Chardonnay Champagne, a Premier Cru with 40% Les Mesnil-sur Oger fruit, shows apple, lemon and brioche aromas that translate on the palate beautifully, with a very fine, persistent mousse that adds a little pop to the creamy mid palate texture.  The apple and lemon bloom in the long finish, where mouthwatering acidity revives you and brings you back to the glass for more.  I'd serve this alongside a creamy white fish dish, or just drink it in solo. 
92 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Rhône:

Red:

Laudun Chusclan Vignerons, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Esprit du Rhône” 2015 ($17, Quintessential):  Laudun and Chusclan are two villages, practically adjacent to one another, on the right bank of the Rhône, across the river from Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Although both villages are included in the umbrella appellation of Côte du Rhône-Villages, the members of the very good co-operative there, Laudun Chusclan Vignerons, also make straight Côtes du Rhône from vineyards that lie outside the strict borders of the two villages.  Comprised of the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsault, it has good density and an herbal, peppery component that gives it an appealing “not just fruit” character.  This mid-weight wine is satisfying now and goes right into my “wine with roast chicken” category. 89 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Back to Top


ITALY

Sparkling:

Martini & Rossi, Asti DOCG (Italy) NV ($13):  This sweet bubbly from Asti is the perfect end to a holiday meal, aromatically inviting and not too sweet to overwhelm the taste buds.  Made from the Moscato Bianco grape, this wine shows lush aromas of pear and tropical fruit with a soft, elegant mousse and a clean, lingering finish.  Serve it with cakes or pies that are not sticky sweet, or with Italian cookies, particularly the wedding cookie. 90 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Piedmont:

Red:

Luca Bosio Vineyards, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) 2013 ($15, Quintessential):  Though the Piemontese speak of Barolo and Barbaresco with reverence, they all drink Barbera d’Asti with gusto.  And this wine shows why.  Its bright red fruit flavors mingle nicely with a spiced herb component.  The naturally high acidity balances good concentration, making it energetic and lively.  It delivers more than the prices suggests, so it’s a perfect choice for pasta with a tomato sauce or even take-out pizza any night of the week. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Bérto by Quaglia Distillery, Piedmont (Italy) Vermouth “Ross Da Travaj” NV ($17, Kermit Lynch):  A very superior fortified and aromatized Vermouth, Bérto is a rich topaz-amber color, and is characterized by sweetness tastily balanced by light bitterness.  It is made with a base of red wine from the Piedmont region, and aged in stainless steel tanks.  Following a recently resurrected recipe dating back to the 1930s (the heyday of Vermouth) it is evocative of -- but not overwhelmed by -- spices and herbs.  On a recent tasting the most obvious aromatic and flavor elements to me were cinnamon, clove and orange peel, but then everything changes with every new encounter.  In past experiences with Bérto I’ve picked up light suggestions of cardamom and even mint.  This is overall an exotic yet soothing beverage, which can definitely stand on its own as an aperitivo (ice and slice of orange or lemon peel are optional), or as a digestivo (friends who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I like it either before or after dinner with a splash of gin and generous squeeze of lime).  Serve Bérto in a generous wine glass, or with ice in a classic cocktail tumbler, but don’t serve it in a coupe (as least not to me).  Sold in a 1 liter bottle.
93 Marguerite Thomas Dec 5, 2017

Tuscany:

Red:

La Mannella, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2013 ($72, Quintessential):  Though the wines are bottled and in distribution to wholesalers, the official release date of the 2013 Brunello di Montalcino is the beginning of 2018.  The growing season was cooler than 2012, which suggests the wines might be more elegant than powerful, but generalizations can’t be made, if at all, until tasting a full range of them.  As with many Brunello producers, La Manella blends wines made from Sangiovese grown in vineyards in two parts of the DOCG, north and southeast of the village itself, to achieve a balanced and complex finished wine.  They have achieved that with their traditionally framed 2013.  It has impressive combination of density and suaveness with luxuriously silky tannins.  A refined wine, it’s long, with bright acidity that imparts an uplifting freshness. There’s the barest hint of attractive bitterness in the finish that reminds you this a serious wine. 93 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Back to Top


PORTUGAL

Red:

Graham's, Porto (Portugal) 10 Year Old Tawny Port NV ($36, Premium Port Wines):  This is the 10-year-old tawny that wants to be a 20-year-old.  It borders on the richness and complexity you would expect to find in the 20, with notes of raisin and red fruit bathed in brown baking spices.  The finish shows impressive depth and length and more weight than the average 10-year-old.
91 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Warre's, Porto (Portugal) Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port NV ($30, Vineyard Brands):  Otima is one of the most elegant of 10-year-old tawnies, smooth and round with a soft palate and a long finish.  This bottling exhibits notes of red berries, nuts and dried fruits.  Serve it with soft savory cheeses or simply an end of the evening aperitif.
91 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Alentejo:

Red:

Alexandre Relvas, Alentejano (Portugal) Herdade de São Miguel “Art.Terra Amphora” 2016 ($23, Quintessential):  Consumers should not be put off by the incredibly confusing label because the wine is, in a word, delicious.  (The name of the producer, perhaps the single most important piece of information, is relegated to small type on the back label.)  A blend of autochthonous grapes (Aragonez, Trincadeira and Moreto), it delivers an engaging and exotic combination of dark fruit and herbal flavors with a charming rustic edge.  A ripe and dense wine, it’s not overdone and indeed, weighs in at less than 14 percent stated alcohol.  Tannins are smooth, which makes the wine an excellent choice for robust fare this winter. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Back to Top


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Mt. Brave, Mt. Veeder (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2014 ($75):  This is serious mountain grown Merlot, sourced from vineyards at elevations between 1400 and 1800 feet on Mount Veeder, at the southern end of the Napa Valley.  At that elevation the cool nights help red wines retain freshness.  This beautifully structured Merlot has exceptional backbone combined with beautiful aromas of blueberry and boysenberry and fresh acidity.  Drinking beautifully now, though the tannins are firm and could benefit from another five to ten years in the cellar. 
96 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2014 ($98):  This iconic vineyard near Calistoga is near flawless regardless of vintage.  The 2014 Merlot from Duckhorn is another stunning example of the majesty of Three Palms.  On the nose the wine shows a note of cedar, with a hint of floral and bright plum and blackberry fruit.  On the palate the wine is layered and powerful, with firm tannins that bode well for long life. 96 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2014 ($54):  As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Duckhorn’s every vintage of Napa Valley Merlot seems to be cut from the same cloth.  The 2014 is impressive for its richness and depth, showing notes of plum and cassis, beautifully integrated tannins and a long palate that finishes with a note of wood spice.
93 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Signature' 2014 ($100):  This second vintage of J. Lohr’s “Signature” Cabernet comes from a slightly different angle, more in keeping with Paso’s reputation for big, rich Cabernet that while crowd-pleasing is slightly soft for great long-term potential.  That said, it’s a stunner that won’t leave many disappointed.  It shows richly layered dark fruits such as blackberry and cassis, with a hint of mocha and wood spice and lush, supple tannins. 96 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Claiborne & Churchill, Paso Robles (California) Syrah 2015 ($32):  Syrah is one variety where a little smoke taint can work out in a wine in today’s marketplace.  With so many Syrah bottlings showing heavy oak treatment, the 2015 fires in the Paso Robles area made this fruit show in that zone without needing to burn a bunch of barrels to achieve the characteristic, and here it works well with the mixed berry and spice.  Sourced from Rancho Margarita. 
90 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Presqu’ile Vineyard 2015 ($60):  One of the things that winemakers hope for is consistency -- a difficult thing to achieve when Mother Nature is involved.  This wine is on a roll for a very consistent profile across vintages, with a specific, subtle and intriguing tomato leaf note that enhances the black cherry and dry earth beautifully.  Very food friendly -- I’d try it with an herb encrusted salmon or game bird. 
93 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Sparkling:

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (Monterey County, California) “Cuvée M” 2014 ($40):  2014 looks like a vintage to remember for the Laetitia sparkling program -- here’s the second sparkler in the line that I’ll call my favorite to date.  The Cuvée M started as a millennium bottling, and has continued into the present -- thankfully so.  It seems to aim at a pear-focused profile each year, and this offering is squarely in that camp, with spiced pear joined by golden apple and granite aromas and flavors that carry power and weight in the mid palate, and finish cleanly with a brightly integrated push of flavor. 
95 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (Monterey County, California) “Brut Coquard” 2014 ($40):  Winemaker Dave Hickey makes seven different sparkling wines at central coast gem Laetitia, and while they’re better known for their Pinot Noir that Dave’s son makes, Dad is no slouch when it comes to the bubbly program.  This is an 80/20 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively, and it’s a bone dry, crisp and doughy expression that’s worth seeking out.  Brioche, citrus, pear and a hint of dry strawberry, beautifully integrated and delivered over freshening acidity and leaving an intensified mix of flavors in the finish.  My favorite Coquard to date! 
93 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (Monterey County, California) Brut Rosé 2015 ($36):  This wine varies a bit year to year, with savvy winemaker Dave Hickey allowing vintage variation to dictate where the final sugar level should be.  This vintage is quite dry, letting the tart strawberry and citrus speak clearly and finish brightly.  This is great on its own, but don’t ignore its table potential -- try it anywhere you’d serve a still dry rosé or an aromatic white for a new twist. 
92 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

White:

Claiborne & Churchill, Edna Valley (Central Coast, California) Dry Riesling Claiborne Vineyard Estate 2015 ($28):  It’s great to see Claiborne & Churchill split out this wine as a vineyard designate, planted in 2005 to two clones, on domestic and one from Alsace, and they produce a classic style dry Riesling.  Cork finished to assist with graceful aging, the wine exhibits apple, melon, citrus, stone, and interesting herb and petrol notes.  Built to go long, it’s delightful now and will only improve. Bravo! 
95 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Claiborne & Churchill, Edna Valley (Central Coast, California) Dry Riesling 2016 ($22):  A blend of fruit from Oliver’s Vineyard and Wolff Vineyard, one that shows complexity of aromas and flavors, with melon, apple, spice and stone mineral notes that ride on soaring acidity that is crazy bright now and will integrate in gracefully with several years in the bottle.  A perfect holiday table wine that goes with virtually anything.
92 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay Estate Grown 2014 ($43):  Grgich Hills Estate is a master at Chardonnay, continuing “Mike” Grgich’s tradition.  He made a truly world-stunning Chardonnay for another Napa producer, Château Montelena, which shocked the world when, in 1976, it came in first in a blind tasting that included top French white Burgundies.  Grgich Hills’ 2014 Chardonnay has more ripeness and is more forward than usual, but has the signature palate-cleansing acidity and verve that keeps it together. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($36):  Merry Edwards is a genius of a winemaker.  She makes fabulous Pinot Noir as well as this under-the-radar Sauvignon Blanc.  Well, it won’t be under the radar for long because she’s been excelling at this variety for years -- and the 2016 continues her streak, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a fabulous combination:  A hint of pungency, some herbal minty notes and lively freshness in the finish.  Then you notice a creamy element -- where did that come from?  Her Sauvignon Blanc is more in the complex layered tradition of fine white Bordeaux than the straightforward Sancerre rendition.  I don’t often think $36 for Sauvignon Blanc is a bargain, but this one is. 93 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Presqu’ile, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Steiner Creek Vineyard 2015 ($40):  This vineyard is located in the next county north of the winery, and it produces quite a different vibe than the estate wine, showing a solid stony mineral core, with crisp green apple, tart lemon, and soft spice that hits my crisp and creamy markers dead on.  Winemaker Dieter Cronje strikes again!  
93 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Black Kite, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard 2015 ($48):  This is Chardonnay made in a somewhat restrained style that downplays oak influence in favor of bright, crisp citrus aromas that are zesty and refreshing.  That said, the flavors of lemon crème, apple and pear are intense and inviting, and the palate shows a slight oiliness that works well with potential food pairings, especially grilled fish.
94 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Chardonnay Presqu’ile Vineyard 2015 ($45):  Presqu’ile continues to impress with this new release.  Lemon creme, nut, mild toast and faint herbal notes entice on the nose, and translate well on the palate, and racy acidity cuts the creamy feel in the finish, and keeps the flavors pumping brightly.  This is custom made for turkey or chicken dishes. 
93 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2017

Black Kite, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2015 ($58):  Winemaker Jeff Gaffner has a deft touch with Chardonnay, which he exhibits on this vintage from the Gap’s Crown Vineyard.  Achieving the ripeness necessary to deliver exceptional richness without losing the tension necessary to keep the wine fresh and the fruit bright is no small feat.  But here it is.  The Gap’s Crown has depth and richness without being heavy, and the lemon oil note shows that Gaffner didn’t push the ripeness too far before picking.  Notes of pear, apple, citrus and fall spices tantalize the senses.  Beautifully done.
94 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Matanzas Creek Winery, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2015 ($26):  For my palate this bright, light Chardonnay has all the right elements.  It offers a medium body and the merest tweak of vanilla.  The nuanced flavors of fresh-baked bread, bright citrus and apple fruit, plus an undercurrent of stone-minerality are a delight.  Aromatically pleasing, it can boast both delicacy and muscle -- as a good Chardonnay should. 
92 Marguerite Thomas Dec 5, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc "Fumé Blanc" 2016 ($15):  The vision of David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard in the early 1970s, was to make world-class Sauvignon Blanc just as the French did in the Loire Valley.  Well, he and now his family, have continued that effort even after making headline with their other excellent varietal and blended wines.  Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, labeled Fumé Blanc to remind consumers of its kinship to the Loire’s Pouilly Fumé, is herbaceous and racy.  A perky wine with bright palate-cleansing acidity and an edgy character makes it perfect for sushi, highly flavored Asian food, or frankly, just steamed clams.  It’s a bargain. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Oregon:

Red:

Penner-Ash, Eola-Amity Hills (Oregon) Pinot Noir Zena Crown Vineyard 2015 ($65):  This darkly fruited Pinot Noir from the Zena Crown Vineyard is bigger and bolder than most other Penner-Ash Pinots from the 2015 vintage. The flavor profile trends toward black fruits, massively layered, with long, slightly chewy tannins. Sit on this one another two to three years and it will really shine, though it drinks just fine for the near-term. 93 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Penner-Ash, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 'Pas de Nom' 2015 ($125):  This limited bottling (350 cases, or about 14 barrels) from Penner-Ash is a stunning example of richly layered, lush Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  Beautifully balanced, it offers a deep note of black cherry with a hint of plum and a judicious amount of wood spice that doesn’t overwhelm the fruit.  With impressive length and a lingering finish, it’s a memorable effort.
95 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Penner-Ash, Yamhill-Carlton (Oregon) Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard 2015 ($65):  Showing a gorgeous nose of blueberry and strawberry fruit, with just a hint of floral, the Penner-Ash estate Pinot Noir is inviting from the first whiff.  But there’s so much more there.  In addition to its fruit purity, there is impressive structure and length in the mouth. The tannins are firm, but will soften with bottle age, so give this wine another year or two or three to shine its best. 91 Robert Whitley Dec 5, 2017

Washington:

Red:

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Syrah 2014 ($35):  A meaty, almost chewy, style of Syrah, it is certainly bold -- 14.4 percent stated alcohol -- but by no means overdone.  Freshness in the finish keeps it alive and keeps you coming back for another sip.  Toasty nuances complemented by a hint of bacon fat and suave tannins make it a good choice for hearty beef dishes this winter. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Canvasback, Red Mountain (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon “Grand Passage” 2014 ($80):  Canvasback, Duckhorn’s outpost in Washington State, has turned out a masterful Cabernet from the 2014 vintage.  It’s a “big” Cabernet, to be sure, but not overblown, hot, or out of balance.  Indeed, it is precisely the combination of expressiveness and elegance with its density that is so awesome.  Plush tannins provide structure without being aggressive.  Fresh acidity amplifies the gorgeous black fruit qualities complemented by mineral notes and prevents palate fatigue.  You want to return for another sip.  Engaging now, especially with a holiday roast, its balance suggests cellaring for a decade or so will be rewarding. 95 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Back to Top