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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

February 24, 2015 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

South Australia:

Red:

Yalumba, Barossa Valley (South Australia) Shiraz "Patchwork" 2012 ($19, Negociants USA): Yalumba has never quite attained the renown in the USA for its venerable history and broad range of outstanding wines as a company like Penfolds, but the fact is that it really plays in that league.  At lower price levels, the “Y Series” Viognier is almost certainly the best varietal wine of its type anywhere near its price of $12.  Moving up to this wine, one enjoyed a commensurate boost in density and complexity.  This is packed with ripe berry fruit interlaced with earthy nuances and braced by spicy oak.  Already complete and convincing, this will get better still during the next few years.
92 Michael Franz Feb 24, 2015

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CHILE

Red:

Viña Carmen, Colchagua Valley (Rapel Valley, Chile) Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011 ($15, Trinchero): Is it just a coincidence that a producer named Carmen should excel with Carmenere, which is arguably Chile’s national grape?  Coincidence or not, they’ve excelled with this 2011.  The Apalta area, one of the most famous ones in the Colchagua Valley, supplied the raw materials and the winemaking team at Viña Carmen turned them into excellent wine.  One of the attributes of Carmenere is its ability to convey non-fruit flavors, even when young.  Viña Carmen has exploited this characteristic admirably, combining a plum-like fruitiness with an endearing savory funkiness.  Its suave texture makes it all the more appealing.  This beautifully balanced wine continues to show excellence with a hint of bitterness in the finish, making it an ideal choice for hearty wintertime food, such as slow simmered lamb shanks.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Hacienda Araucano, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013 ($12, Winesellers Ltd.): I almost hesitate to shower praise on relatively inexpensive Cabernet from Chile for fear of deepening the widespread assumption that inexpensive wines are all that Chile makes well (when in fact the country makes killer wines -- and Cabernets in particular -- at every price level from $10 to $100).  Still, this is just too good to keep to myself.  Showing amazing layered complexity for the money, it provides dark berry fruit with a whiff of dried herbs and a softly tannic finish.  This will be a star with burgers or any moderately robust dish based on red meat, and it would likewise work very well with pork or veal.
90 Michael Franz Feb 24, 2015

Santa Rita, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Casa Real' 2010 ($85): Santa Rita is well known for its value wines from Chile. The best-kept secret about Santa Rita, however, is that its top of the line red is a blockbuster Cabernet from the Maipo Valley that can compete with the finest wines made anywhere in the world. The 2010 Casa Real is a stunning example with its intensely floral nose, layered black fruits on the palate, and supple tannins. This powerhouse isn't cheap, but brilliance in wine often isn't. 94 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

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FRANCE

Bordeaux:

Red:

Château Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2012 ($28): Although 2012 was a lighter vintage for Bordeaux overall, the best wines have a lot of charm and character -- and prices that are much friendlier than other recent harvests.  Château Poujeaux, in recent decades, has been a consistent producer of high quality wines in all harvests.  The 2012 Poujeaux continues this winning streak and is rich with blackberry, blackcurrant and red cherry fruits underscored by hints of violets, tobacco, smoke, vanilla and baking spices.  It is exemplary claret that belies the reputation of a light vintage with its beautiful purity of fruit and complex layering of flavors.  This is a wine you can enjoy now or cellar for another 5+ years.
92 Wayne Belding Feb 24, 2015

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ITALY

Lazio:

White:

Falesco, Lazio IGP (Italy) “Ferentano” 2012 ($20, Winebow): This is a delightful, full-flavored white from an obscure grape variety and a relatively unknown region.  The 2012 Ferentano is made from Roscetto grapes, a local variety indigenous to the area around Montefiascone, north of Rome in northern Lazio.  The Roscetto vine is naturally low yielding and offers fruit with concentrated flavors and the ability to retain refreshing acidity.  The wine is barrel fermented and aged in French and American oak.  The 2012 Ferentano has a forward nose of peach, mango, apple, vanilla, cream and spice.  On the palate, the luscious layers of peach and exotic tropical fruit are enhanced by a lively, lemon zest nuance and a creamy texture.  Try it with roasted chicken or grilled fish and fowl.
90 Wayne Belding Feb 24, 2015

Piedmont:

Red:

Damilano, Barbera d'Asti (Piedmont, Italy) 2013 ($17): I admit it.  I love good Barbera.  Along with Dolcetto, another workhorse grape and wine from Piedmont, Barbera is often my go-to choice at Italian restaurants because it meshes so nicely with food and almost always offers good value.  Damilano (an estate that also made excellent Barolo in 2010) made a 2013 Barbera d’Asti that’s easy to embrace.  It is bright and vibrant with excellent concentration.  Its cherry-like nuances and lip-smacking acidity help it stand up nicely to a hearty pasta dish.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Damilano, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Cannubi 2010 ($85): Cannubi is one of the truly great vineyards in the Barolo zone.  If there were a Burgundy-like classification system of vineyards in Barolo, Cannubi would clearly be awarded the equivalent of Grand Cru status.  Combine grapes from this vineyard, the stunning 2010 vintage, and an excellent producer and… bingo, you have a stellar wine.  It conveys the textbook “tar and roses” description of young Barolo.  It’s structured with fine tannins that are clearly evident but not aggressive.  Each sip brings additional nuances.  Bright acidity amplifies the already persistent finish.  An exciting wine, some might enjoy it now for its youthful exuberance -- as long as you don’t mind a healthy tannic punch.  I’d suggest putting it the cellar for a decade or so.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Mirafiore, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Paiagallo” 2010 ($80, Domaine Select Wine Estates): Here’s another example of the stature of the 2010 vintage in Barolo. Serralunga, the village within the Barolo DOCG zone where the Paiagallo vineyard is located, is known for powerful wines.  Mirafiore’s certainly fits that description. Most amazingly, it has extraordinary finesse that belies its power.  Adding to the paradox of power and elegance is its explosion of floral elements more characteristic of the wines from the communes of Barolo or La Morra. Surprisingly approachable now because of that aromatic profile, I would still put this easy-to-recommend Barolo in the cellar for a decade or so to allow its complexity to develop fully.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Damilano, Barolo DOCG (Piemonte, Italy) “Lecinquevigne” 2010 ($35, Vias Imports): Year in and year out, this is an amazing value among Barolos.  Damilano’s Lecinquevigne Barolo is drawn from vineyards in five communes – Barolo, Verduno, Novello, La Morra and Grinzane Cavour -- and the wine reflects the pure fruit and vivid character of its origins.  The 2010 Lecinquvigne is an elegant, appealing and complex Barolo.  While it shows the ripeness of the 2010 harvest and the sleek spiciness of French oak, the unique character Nebbiolo grape is clearly evident.  Layers of juicy raspberry, plum and cherry fruits are underlain by floral rose hints and elements of leather, sandalwood, smoke and spice.  The beautiful, long finish reveals the inherent delicacy and complexity of the wine.  Delicious now, it can cellar well for another 10 years.
91 Wayne Belding Feb 24, 2015

G. D. Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) “Coste e Fossati” 2013 ($26): G. D. Vajra, one of my favorite Barolo producers, also makes excellent wines from other traditional Piedmont grapes, such as this Dolcetto.  This is an unusual Dolcetto because the vines are over 100 years old and they are planted in a two vineyards -- Coste and Fossati -- that actually lie in the Barolo DOCG and could be planted with Nebbiolo and sold at a far higher price.  But Vajra decided to preserve the old vines and the tradition of making Dolcetto from these prized sites.  Bigger and more powerful than most renditions of Dolcetto, Vajra’s 2013 “Coste e Fossati” has a definite structure (this is not your innocuous grapey Dolcetto) which makes it a good choice for robust meaty fare this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

White:

Luigi Baudana, Langhe Bianco (Italy) "Dragon" 2012 ($22, The Country Vintner): This is a wickedly good white blend of 80% Chardonnay rounded out with another 20% comprised of Sauvignon, Riesling and Nascetta (a rare local variety).  Medium-bodied but full of subtle flavors, it shows stone fruit and green apple flavors, with interesting mineral undertones and nice balancing acidity.
90 Michael Franz Feb 24, 2015

Tuscany:

Red:

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($14, Dalla Terra Direct): This Chianti Classico reminds us that Badia a Coltibuono consistently makes attractive wines.  The vintage was difficult in the Chianti Classico region because of less-than-perfect weather.  Nonetheless, Badia a Coltibuono has fashioned a traditionally framed -- that is, not overdone -- Chianti Classico.  Not a flashy wine, it conveys both red fruit flavors and engaging earthy notes framed by perfectly integrated acidity and firm -- but not hard -- tannins.  With real elegance and depth, it’s very easy to recommend for current drinking.  And a bargain to boot!
91 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($34, Dalla Terra Direct): Since the 2010 vintage was superb in Chianti Classico and Badia a Coltibuono is one of the star producers in that region, it is not surprising that this wine is stellar.  Not boisterous, this is a classically proportioned Chianti Classico Riserva with great elegance and a seamless combination of bright red fruit flavors and earthy notes.  Still closed at this stage, alluring black cherry bitterness appears in the finish.  Give this one five years in the cellar and enjoy their 2012 Chianti Classico now.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Sono Montenidoli, Toscana Rosso IGT (Italy) "Sono Montenidoli" 2007 ($55, Artisans Wines, Inc.): Since Montenidoli is one of the star producers of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, their red wines, such as this IGT Toscana, are often overlooked.  That’s a mistake, since this one, labeled redundantly Sono Montenidoli for emphasis, is a sleeper of a Super Tuscan.  The winemaking team, led by Elisabetta Fagiuoli, has a pure and precise style that shines in this wine made exclusively with Sangiovese.  Not overdone, the firm, black cherry-like fruit of Sangiovese radiates elegance. An alluring but subtle bitterness in the finish balances its tightly-wound power.  Though it certainly needs another several years of age before it blossoms fully, it’s a treat now with a simply grilled steak.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

White:

Sono Montenidoli, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany, Italy) “Fiore” 2012 ($25, Artisans Wines, Inc.): Montenidoli is one of the very best producers of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  Anyone who has been disappointed by this category of Italian white should taste their wines to see how grand this DOCG can be. Montenidoli makes three Vernaccia di San Gimignano; this one, made from free-run juice and labeled Fiore (flower) is, indeed, floral, fresh and clean.  An invigorating wine, it manages to convey a subtle, though appealing nuttiness, while still retaining freshness and energy.  It has unusual depth and length for Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  It’s a great choice for simply grilled fish.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

Sono Montenidoli, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany, Italy) “Carato” 2009 ($32, Artisans Wines, Inc.): Carato, another Vernaccia di San Gimignano from the exemplary producer Montenidoli, is fermented and aged for a year in barrel before bottling.  The winemaking here is so precise that you don’t taste woodiness.  Rather, you feel the effect of wood on the wine -- it’s a fuller, richer version of Vernaccia di San Gimignano that retains finesse and vigor.  Uncork this one with richer fish dishes or fettuccine with a clam sauce.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Scherrer, Alexander Valley (California) Zinfandel “Shale Terrace” 2012 ($35): This is a nice big Zinfandel that doesn’t lean into overripe flavors, showing blackberry pie, vanilla, root beer and fall spice aromas.  On the palate, it is dry, with black cherry, brambly blackberry, pepper, and a touch of charred oak.  The wine is nicely integrated, long and peppery on the finish. A little bottle aging will open things up a bit, but it’s quite approachable now.
89 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

Nello Olivo, El Dorado County (California) Sagrantino 2012 ($65): This is the first California example of this grape that I've tasted that successfully captures its Umbrian essence.  It is a big, meaty mouthful of red wine with lots of savory character over vibrant berry fruit and mild dried herbs.  Like its Italian counterparts, this wine is made to age for a long time -- up to 20 years. A real achievement!
92 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

Carol Shelton, Lodi (California) Zinfandel Piazza Ranch "Pizazz" 2012 ($19): This wine is the newest member of Carol Shelton’s growing Zin portfolio, and it fits in nicely with the rest of the group.  A bit shy at first, it opens up smartly with aromas and flavors of blackberry, pepper, cherry, vanilla, and dill.  On the palate, a soft entry is followed by big red cherry and berry fruit augmented by notes of vanilla, pepper and dill.  It is made in a fun and fruit forward style, and it’s got a lingering finish with good integration. As it airs in the glass, the cherry pie vibe comes out even more.  Try it with grilled meats or strong cheeses.
90 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) Trilogy 2012 ($75): This is a very, very good Trilogy that offers concentrated dark-fruit aromas of blackberry and cassis with hints of spice. On the nose it shows a hint of cedar with notes of floral and spice. Grippy on the finish, the rough edges should smooth out over time. Lay this one down for another three to five years and you will likely be thrilled with the result. 92 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Ramsay, North Coast (California) Petite Sirah 2013 ($17): Asking for a Petite Sirah that is restrained and subtle would be barking up the wrong tree.  Nevertheless, it is isn’t unreasonable to ask for a wine that would knock on the door rather than kick it down (if you’ll permit the mixed metaphors), and this is a very well make, intelligently styled, impeccably balanced Petite that one can actually drink rather than merely marvel at.   Muscular and graceful at once, with dark berries fruit and a subtle edge of oak, this is terrific.
92 Michael Franz Feb 24, 2015

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2012 ($57): The Meredith Estate is typically Merry's star vineyard, but that's splitting hairs because her grape sourcing is impeccable. There's a reason, though, that Meredith is the star and it's embodied in this superb vintage. With seductive floral aromatics and intense, complex fruit aromas, the 2012 Merry Edwards Meredith is a stunning example of the complexity produced by the Meredith vines. Then there is the structure, with its brilliant and rare combination of power and intensity without weight. This is a seamless Pinot that exhibits remarkable elegance and depth, well worth the hefty price tag. 97 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Bishop’s Peak, San Luis Obispo County (California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($22): I’ve had consistently good luck with the Bishop’s Peak wines that I’ve tasted during the past few years, but this is probably the best of all of them.  It is an exceedingly welcome departure from the overtly-sweet, all-too-thick norm in California Pinot at this price level, showing layered aromas and flavors of red cherries and berries with a softly smoky, spicy finish.  Very classy for the money…and in my opinion, the whole point of Pinot is to be classy rather than brassy.
90 Michael Franz Feb 24, 2015

Saxon Brown, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road 2012 ($48): If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a Saxon Brown wine you are in for a treat. Winemaker/proprietor Jeff Gaffner is the evil genius behind Saxon Brown and there are few in the winemaking craft that are his equal. I say evil genius because Gaffner doesn't produce enough Saxon Brown to satisfy the demand, but that's probably a good thing in so many ways. The Sangiacomo Vineyard Roberts Road Pinot is a case in point. There were but 157 cases produced, which is about six barrels. This earthy beauty is exquisitely balanced, firmly structured and intensely flavored. It's superb now, but will be even better in another year or two. And the price, $48, is a steal given the quality. 95 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

St. Francis, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel Old Vine 2012 ($15): St. Francis doesn’t make a lot of different bottlings -- they prefer to concentrate on making great wines at affordable prices in quantities that make them easy to find.  This is a great Zin -- it’s very shy initially, but opens to deep black cherry, with leaf and soft spice notes.  There’s great depth and richness in this serious wine. It seems very young, and has a long life ahead.  Well done!
92 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

White:

Saxon Brown, Carneros (Napa Valley) Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2012 ($58): Hyde Vineyard is a national viticultural treasure located on the Napa Valley side of the Carneros district, a spot greatly influenced by the cooling breezes off the nearby San Pablo Bay. The Chardonnay from Hyde is consistently among the finest in California, if not the world, and winemaker Jeff Gaffner makes the most of his allocation. In this vintage he made a mere 200 or so cases, the equivalent of seven or eight barrels, and it is exquisite. What makes Hyde Chardonnay special is that exceedingly rare combination of structure and richness; a creamy texture buttressed by firm acidity. The 2012 from Saxon Brown shows notes of lemon custard, butterscotch and spice, with splendid weight and length on the palate, and a lingering, persistent finish. 94 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Double Bond, Edna Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Wolff Vineyard 2013 ($32): Edna Valley fruit is evident here, with glittering cool climate acidity propping up lemon crème, apple and spice flavors. Everything is very well integrated and stays in place through the long rich finish.  This is great as a stand alone Chardonnay, and can stand up to lobster or saucy fowl preparations.
92 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

Carol Shelton, Paso Robles (California) “Coquille Blanc” 2013 ($24): This is currently Carol Shelton's favorite of all the wines that she makes -- and she's known for Zinfandel, so as you might imagine, this is pretty interesting wine.  An artful blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, it shows a nice mix of peach, honeysuckle, stony minerality and lightly roasted nut in both aroma and flavor, and bright acidity adding a crisp note to the soft mouthfeel and extending the finish.  Great as a soloist, or pair it with a spiced roasted chicken.
92 Rich Cook Feb 24, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($21): This Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay will find an adoring audience among those who've been trying to nudge California vintners in the direction of balance and restraint. On the nose it shows a hints of lemon creme and vanilla, while the palate reflects that plus an added nuance of stony minerality. Behold, it's a Chardonnay you could even serve with oysters. Winemaker Mick Schroeter is well deserving of kudos for riding the trend away from overripe California Chardonnay. 90 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

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