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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

November 18, 2014 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Alamos, Mendoza (Argentina) Red Blend 2013 ($13, Alamos USA): Here's yet another bargain leader from South America.  Winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt shows his blending acumen in a wine impressive for its delivery of varietal character from each of its components.  Malbec's  bright plum and vinous character, Bonarda's full body and rich black cherry fruit, Tempranillo's lively red berry and Syrah's pepper and tar are all present, balanced by moderate oak spice and supple tannins, and delivered in a juicy yet dry style.  At under ten dollars in the discount shops, this is a serious quality to price winner that's ready to drink, and with 105,000 cases imported to the US, it'll be easy to find.
90 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Alamos, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec "Seleccion" 2012 ($20, Alamos USA): From the high side of Catena's entry level portfolio comes this concentrated 100% Malbec.  It's loaded with violet, vanilla and berry aromas, which are well translated on the palate with a bit of pleasant black pepper showing itself in the lingering finish.  A touch of green tannin should integrate nicely with a little more bottle age.  Pair it with a spicy burger or a well peppered roast.
89 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Tilia, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec - Syrah 2013 ($11, Winebow): This is a bold and rich wine (60% Malbec and 40% Syrah) from Argentina’s Mendoza region.  Its deep purple color portends the richness to come.  The nose offers aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit backed by hints of coffee, mint, vanilla and black pepper.  The flavors are full and smooth, with the luscious black fruits enhanced by roasted coffee, cocoa, vanilla and black pepper tones.  This is a full flavored red that will please Cabernet lovers as well as Malbec and Syrah fans.
89 Wayne Belding Nov 18, 2014

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AUSTRALIA

New South Wales:

Red:

Wild Oats, Central Ranges (New South Wales, Australia) Shiraz 2011 ($15, Pacific Highway Wines and Spirits): A very nice, medium bodied, red fruit driven Shiraz from the Robert Oatley family of wines that's got a lot of stuffing for the price.  Raspberry, cherry, plum, vanilla, fall spice and mild meaty flavors are complimented with hints of roasted coffee and baker's chocolate.  Citrus zest keeps the finish lively, making this an excellent autumn quaffer that could pair well with bold appetizers.
89 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

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CHILE

Red:

Casillero del Diablo, Central Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013 ($11):  Casillero del Diablo is an entry level wine produced by Concha y Toro, Chile's largest and perhaps most important wine company. This it has access to reliable grape sources on a regular basis, which is an important factor at this price point. The 2013 Cab offers a burst of juicy red fruit, with a slightly herbal note that is far from off-putting. In its price range it is a star among inexpensive Cabernets.
85 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

White:

Domaine Begue-Mathiot, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Vaillons 2011 ($35, Massanois Imports): This is an utterly convincing Chablis from a producer I’d never encountered before.  Crafted from 45 year-old vines, it shows excellent depth and persistence of flavor despite being -- appropriately for Chablis -- light and refreshing.  Subtle fruit notes of green apple and lime flavor taper off slowly as the mineral notes become more predominant in the finish, which is long but still sharply defined by refreshing acidity.  Begue-Mathiot makes an excellent straight Chablis and an impressive 1er Cru Vacoupins, but this Vaillons is the standout of the stable and well worth a search.
92 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

Maison Roche de Bellene, Montagny Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) 2011 ($30, Loosen Bros. USA): An excellent wine from Montagny, located in the southern portion of Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise, this shows admirable freshness and lovely balance between fruit and acidity.  The fruit flavors recall baked apples with a spritz of citrus, and the finishing accents are more mineral than wood-based, which helps the wine to stay refreshing while also seeming substantial.
90 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

Domaine de Bellene, Saint-Romain (Burgundy, France) Vieilles Vignes 2011 ($35, Loosen Bros. USA): This is a wicked good wine from Nicolas Potel, showing very classy, pure, energetic Chardonnay fruit that never yields to the ample dose of high-class oak to which it was treated.  Light spice and smoke notes from the wood are very appealing, and a bit of grip in the finish from wood tannins poses no problem thanks to the wine’s depth of flavor.  That depth wasn’t purchased at the cost of any heaviness, and indeed the overall profile of the wine is light and nimble, with lots of little accents.  Terrific juice from an often-overlooked village in the Côte de Beaune.
92 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Marc Hébrart, Champagne (France) Rosé Brut NV ($59, Skurnik): The Marc Hébrart Champagne house farms vines on many sites around the village of Marieul-sur-Aÿ.  Their Rosé Brut (made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir) is a ripe and luscious Champagne.  The color is a lovely salmon hue.  The bouquet shows berry and cherry fruit with nuances of yeast, toast and wildflowers.  The flavors are ripe and forward, with the juicy fruit underlain by yeasty, toasty and subtle spice tones.  If you want to toast the holidays with a fine Champagne this year, the Hébrart will be a fine and elegant choice.
91 Wayne Belding Nov 18, 2014

Loire Valley:

Red:

Domaine Vincent Delaporte, Sancerre Rouge (Loire Valley, France) Vieilles Vignes sur Silex 2012 ($45, Vineyard Brands): Few consumers in the USA are aware that such a thing as Sancerre Rouge even exists, and historically speaking, that wasn’t much to their detriment, and most of it was thin, under-ripe, angular, and simply difficult to like on any ground other than novelty appeal.  The category is made entirely from Pinot Noir, by law, and in recent years a few producers such as Delaporte have been turning out excellent renditions.  One suspects that climate change is what’s producing this effect, but hey, if we’re going to encounter environmental perils anyway, at least we can console ourselves with some excellent wine.  This is fully ripe but still light by global standards, though not lighter than would be normal for a Burgundy from a northerly village like Fixin.  The fruit is fresh and lively but also quite respectably deep in flavor, with pure notes of dark cherries predominating.  Oak is notable but still restrained, and both the quality of the fruit and the winemaking are exemplary.  Absolutely delicious, this is now a wine to buy solely on its merits, regardless of novelty value.
92 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

Rhône:

Red:

Famille Perrin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Sinards” 2011 ($38, Vineyard Brands): Both 2009 and 2010 were terrific years in the southern Rhône, so I was prepared to see a major drop-off in quality in 2011.  Well, as I continue to taste releases from this vintage, I’m still waiting to see that drop-off, and still not finding it.  This wine (made by the family behind Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, presumably from fruit that was predominantly purchased) is very expressive in both aromatic and flavor terms, with nice savory undertones, admirably restrained wood, and at least 5 to 7 years of positive development still ahead of it.  Attractively priced and styled to enjoy now or later, this is a strong value and an impressive effort
92 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

Famille Perrin, Rasteau (Rhône Valley, France) “L’Andéol” 2011 ($25, Vineyard Brands): The wines under the “Famille Perrin” label (from the family behind the ultra-famous Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape) have gotten strikingly better in the last couple of years, and this wine provides ample evidence for this upward swing.  The fruit shows an uncanny combination of freshness and savory earthiness, with very subtle oak that lets the interplay between fruit and earth hold center stage.  Delicious now, this is sufficiently structured to improve for another three or four years if you’d prefer to let the fruit recede a little in favor of an even more earthy profile.
91 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Southern Right, Walker Bay (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18, Vineyard Brands): This wine is also very good, but Southern Right seems to have stepped up its game with Sauvignon in the 2014 vintage.  Obviously it is very fresh, given that it was made within this calendar year, but it is surprisingly free of the sharp, grating edge that very young, high-acid Sauvignons can show when first released.  Actually almost medium-bodied, it shows fine breadth on the palate, with good depth of flavor, but still the cut and definition for which one turns to Sauvignon Blanc in the first place.
91 Michael Franz Nov 18, 2014

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SPAIN

Castilla y León:

Red:

Convento San Francisco, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) Roble 2011 ($17, Winebow): Convento San Francisco crafts excellent wines drawn from old-vine sites in the Ribera del Duero of north-central Spain.  Their 2011 Roble shows a lovely bouquet of pure cherry fruit backed by hints of violets, blackberry and vanilla.  Lively and bright on the palate, it has layers of ripe cherry and blackberry fruits underscored by vanilla, nutmeg and clove tones.  It offers a wonderful balance of pure fruit and exotic spice elements.  Serve it with your favorite red meat dish – grilled, sautéed, braised or grilled.  Its pure and powerful flavors will make a fine match.
90 Wayne Belding Nov 18, 2014

Rueda:

White:

Naia, D.O. Rueda (Spain) 2013 ($13):  Naia is 100 percent Verdejo from old vines, some 90-plus years. It's a classic Verdejo that shows ripe tropical fruit and lime notes, with an inviting thread of minerality. The acidity is slightly soft, likely because the wine was aged in oak barrels for eight months, but that doesn't detract from the immediate appeal and all-around pleasure this wine delivers. Serve it with grilled fish.
89 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Stuhlmuller Vineyards, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38):  This gem of a Cabernet vineyard in the heart of the Alexander Valley produces some of the most robust, mouth-filling Cabernet Sauvignon made in California. The 2012 is ripe, lush and full-bodied, showing a floral nose with a hint of spice. On the palate the layered dark-fruit aromas show exceptional intensity, and the mouthfeel is rich and luxurious. As you would expect from an Alexander Valley Cab, the tannins are supple and smooth. Tremendous bang for the buck.
93 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

Renwood Winery, Amador County (California) "Clarion" 2012 ($20): Here's a blend of grapes that you don't see every day, and it's a lesson that there's more than one way to tame a tannic beast.  Winemaker Joe Shebl adds 25% Marsanne to this blend of equal parts Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Syrah and comes up with an elegantly rustic wine that will please fans of Amador style.  Raspberry hard candy and blackberry pie with an attractive touch of Amador heat make this a perfect spicy angus burger accompaniment.
88 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Jeff Cohn Cellars, California (United States) “The Impostor” 2012 ($35): I was at a ZAP symposium a few years ago where I heard Jeff Cohn say "don't worry about whether my wine is age-worthy or not.  Go ahead and drink it -- I'll make more for you."  That said, he's made an age-worthy wine with this blend.  It takes a long time in the glass to show itself, with initial raspberry, leaf and spice underneath sulphury notes, but it comes around smartly, blowing off to a garden of flowers and spice, with rhubarb and raspberry fruit.  It's fairly oaky and shows lots of dill, but comes into balance with a lot of airtime.  If you're taking Jeff's advice, decant this one for a few hours before serving with something saucy and spicy.  If you want my advice, get a few bottles to age 5 to 10 years as well.
90 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) Syrah 'Le Pousseur' 2012 ($26):  This latest Le Pousseur Syrah from Bonny Doon is a spicy pepper pot of a wine, with savory notes mouth-filling fruit despite a relatively modest alcohol-by-volume level of 13.5 percent. Winemaker Randall Grahm is the master of extracting flavor and body from grapes farmed and harvested to produce lower levels of alcohol. As with most of Randall's reds, this wine will improve as it evolves over the next several years, providing one has the patience to cellar it for an extended period.
90 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

Pedroncelli Winery, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Block 007 Estate Vineyard 2012 ($25): This is a solid value in California Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full bodied, moderate alcohol, blackberry, red and black currants, mild dried herbs and brown spice notes are delivered with a firm grip and structured acidity.  Decant in the near term for a good two hours, or age it for up to ten years.  At this price, you can do both!
91 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Tofanelli, Napa Valley (California) Charbono Family Vineyard 2010 ($35): Fairly recent DNA testing shows that what is called Charbono in California is the same grape that is widely planted in Argentina, where it is known as Bonarda, and that that grape is actually from France's Savoie region where it is called Corbeau. Or Douce Noir.  While Argentina now has the majority of acreage of the variety, small plantings remain in California and France, including 1.5 acres in the Tofanelli family vineyard in Calistoga. But enough geek-speak -- this wine is worth looking for.  It's jammy and full bodied, with aromas of leaf, plum, blueberry, fall spice and hard candy. It delivers the nose well on the palate, with good integration and food friendly acidity.  A very interesting, rich, fruit forward wine with a long finish.
91 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon Martin Stelling Vineyard 2012 ($155):  This is the finest Cabernet Sauvignon from Nickel & Nickel's bumper crop of vineyard-designate Cabs from the 2012 vintage, and that's usually the case. The Martin Stelling Vineyard also shares its grapes with Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel's sister winery, and the two together are perhaps the most dynamic duo of the Napa Valley, where Cabernet is quite clearly the money grape. Rich and luxurious on the palate, with a nose of violets and cedar and spice, supple tannins and remarkable length, the 2012 Nickel & Nickel Stelling is everything you want in a Napa Cab and more. Though pricey, when compared to comparable "cult" Cabernets from Napa, the price tag doesn't seem so bad.
99 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop 2011 ($35):  J. Lohr's Hilltop Cabernet is produced from a selection of vineyards in the Paso Robles district and crafted to have structure and complexity. If you are expecting a fat, weighty Paso Cabernet you will be disappointed. What you get is a beautifully balanced Paso Cab that offers red and black fruit aromas, hints of mocha and coffee, and a touch of spicy oak. And tremendous bang for the buck.
90 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

Robert Hall Winery, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($20): For those who like their Cabernet in a bold, fruit forward style with more spice and vanilla than herb tones, this wine is a winner and a great price.  Blackberry, currants, vanilla, moderate oak toast and fall spice aromas and flavors in a plush package with enough grip to keep things together through a medium long finish suggest pairing with a nice grilled porterhouse steak.
90 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Jane's Vineyard Dijon Clone 667 2012 ($55):  Davis Bynum has a long and proud history with Pinot Noir going back nearly 40 years. The brilliant Gary Farrell was winemaker for many of those years and crafted some of the earliest California Pinots that could stand up to the finest red Burgundies. The tradition continues even though Farrell hasn't made the wine in years. This Clone 667 from Jane's Vineyard, deep in the Russian River Valley, is a distinctive, earthy Pinot that exhibits an inviting nose of forest floor and spice, with seductive red-fruit aromas on the palate and finely integrated tannins. If you're one of this Pinot lovers who eschews cookie-cutter Pinot, this is the Pinot for you.
93 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

White:

Mirassou Winery, California (United States) Pinot Grigio 2013 ($12): A bracing, fresh Pinot Grigio that makes me think that this style has a future in California.  Rare is the wine that delivers exactly what the back label says it does.  This does that, plus a bit more.  Apple, peach, pear, lemon, stone and faint herb notes shine through crisp acidity, with a touch of residual sugar serving to brighten rather than over-sweeten things.  Try this with your next spicy Szechuan take out.
90 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Patz & Hall, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2012 ($60):  Patz & Hall's commitment to single-vineyard wines accomplishes two goals. The first is making great wine from unique sites. The second is the preservation of iconic identities such as the Hyde Vineyard, a remarkable vineyard site in the Carneros district of southern Napa Valley. This cool-climate site makes it possible to turn out world-class Chardonnay that has that rare combination of richness and power with structure and elegance. The 2012 P&H Hyde is a big wine, with mouth-coating richness and mouth-watering acidity. It exhibits nuances of lemon oil, red citrus and spice. It is long and rich on the palate, with a lingering finish.
95 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

Illumination, Napa Valley / Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($45):  Winemaker Charles Thomas cast a wide net to produce this extraordinary California Sauvignon. Souring grapes from both Napa Valley and Sonoma County, he used two different clones of Sauvignon Blanc and a rather serious jolt of Semillon in the blend. The result is a Sauvignon that seems to be inspired by the French, both in the Bordeaux region and the Loire Valley. For starters, it exhibits the richness and stone-fruit character of a fine Graves (Bordeaux) but with the zesty element of red citrus and mouth-watering acidity found in Sancerre (Loire). Bottom line, though expensive for a Sauvignon, it is positively dazzling.
96 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) 'Gesture' RVG 2013 ($30):  This new line from J. Lohr, Gesture, has produced an impressive array of wines, a good example being the 2013 Rhone-style blend named RVG. The RVG is shorthand for Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, all grapes commonly found at the southern end of France's Rhone Valley. As you might expect, this is a wine with a complex flavor profile, showing nuances of pear, lemon and yellow citrus, all with a distinct savory note that will tie it nicely to savory cream sauces.
92 Robert Whitley Nov 18, 2014

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) “The Derivative” 2012 ($34): Winemakers Mike Officer and Jay Maddox are keenly interested in the heritage of California winegrowing, and are best known for producing Zinfandel from old vineyards that contain what they call "mixed blacks" and producing traditional field blend wines that can contain over thirty different varieties of grapes.  For this slice of history, they bring us a wine styled after what was known as "hock" over a hundred years ago. It was a popular dry white blend, and the fruit for this bottling comes from vines planted in that era, between 1886 and 1920.  A blend of Semillion, Muscadelle and Palomino from some very famous California vineyards, it shows a distinctive quinine (think tonic water) aroma mixed with bright lemon and soft white flowers.  On the palate it's quite full, with a viscous feel countered by racy citrus-like acidity and long lasting lemon and lime flavors.  It's startlingly unique, and not only that -- it's delicious!
93 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

Washington:

Red:

Owen Roe, Columbia Valley (Washington) "Abbot's Table" 2013 ($24): Sometimes a wine tasting is a humbling experience.  In a blind tasting, my notes said "Lots of nice Syrah and Grenache in this blend." Wrongo!  All the markers are there, like blackberry, blueberry, leaf, tar, orange zest -- all of which presented to me as rich and Rhône-ish, with firm grip, great length and nice white pepper coming forward.  Then the reveal -- 41% Zinfandel, 34% Sangiovese, 11% Malbec, 9% Blaufrankisch, 5% Merlot.  From Washington?  Slide this into your next blind tasting of Rhône styled wines and see what happens.  Nicely done!
92 Rich Cook Nov 18, 2014

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