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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 14, 2014 Issue

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CHILE

White:

Errazuriz, Aconcagua Costa (Chile) Chardonnay "Wild Ferment 2011 ($20, Vintus): Aconcagua Costa is a subregion of Aconcagua, Chile’s most northern most premium wine growing area.  Closer to the Pacific Ocean, it is a cooler area, perfect for Chardonnay, a grape than expresses itself best in cooler climate.  Errazuriz has taken advantage of the location to making a stunning $20 Chardonnay (if it carried a Napa Valley appellation it would be at least twice as much.)  As much as I liked their Wild Ferment Chardonnay from Aconcagua, this one, from the even cooler coastal region, is…well…just better.  It’s more refined, precise and even more suave.  You want a terrific $20 Chardonnay?  This is it!
92 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Errazuriz, Aconcagua Valley (Chile) Chardonnay "Wild Ferment" 2011 ($18, Vintus): Errazuriz, one of Chile’s leading producers, is based in the northerly Aconcagua Valley, instead of near Santiago, home to most of the other leaders in the industry.  Their “Wild Ferment” Chardonnay has always been one of my favorites, especially at the price.  The 2011 is no different.  There are two major differences between their Wild Ferment and their other Chardonnays, one in the vineyard and one in the winery.  In the vineyard, Eduardo Chadwick, owner of Errazuriz, told me that they are looking for batches of grapes that are less ripe and will therefore, translate into lower alcohol wine.  In the winery, as the name suggests, they use only wild yeasts, which he believes add complexity.  Subtly toasty and creamy, the Errazuriz’s 2011 Wild Ferment Chardonnay impresses with its purity and grace, not overwhelming power.  Open and left in the refrigerator overnight revealed even more complexity and plenty of pizzazz the following day, a sure sign that this wine is not a flash in the pan.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

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FRANCE

Sparkling:

Domaine Belluard, Vin de Savoie AOC (France) Gringet Brut NV ($24, Free Run LLC): A delightful bubbly with a fine mousse that is beautifully dry and crisp, with bright stony minerality, no doubt enhanced by the fact that vinification takes place in concrete tanks.  Grown near the Swiss border in the southeast of France, the fruit comes from higher elevations, and shows great fruit flavor balancing the minerals -- dry stonefruit, pear and a touch of almond linger long after the lively scouring acidity has cleansed your palate.  Delicious, and a great value at this price.  Try it as a mystery aperitif -- if your guests can identify the grape, give them a prize!
92 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

White:

Domaine de L'Idylle, Roussette de Savoie AOC (France) Altesse “L'Altesse 2011 ($13, Free Run LLC): An enticing aroma profile of fig, butterscotch, damp earth and spice lead to a creamy palate opening that is followed by a bright citric bite, brightening flavors of fresh herbs, pear and nut.  The finish shows a pleasant touch of bitters and hangs in there for quite a while.  Try it with fresh mixed green salads, or mildly spiced shellfish.
88 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Quenard Chignin-Bergeron, Vin de Savoie AOC (France) Roussanne 2013 ($20, Kermit Lynch): Want to ease your bunco club off of Chardonnay in a very non-threatening manner?  This is a huge mouthful of tropical fruit, with a silky soft mouth feel that is complimented by touches of nut and leaf.  It's very long on the finish and remains well integrated throughout.  It's great on its own, or will pair nicely with mild cheeses and nuts.
91 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Domaine de L'Idylle, Vin de Savoie AOC (France) Jacquere "Cruet" 2011 ($12, Free Run LLC):  very different sort of a white wine -- it presents as all stone minerals on the nose, but brings lively lemon zest and mild herbs to bear on the palate, in a dry, soft style with a lingering finish that brings aroma and flavor together.  I'd pair this with a simple sea bass plate or grilled prawns -- and fairly often at this price!
89 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Domaine Gilles Berlioz, Vin de Savoie AOC (France) Jacquere “Chignin” 2011 ($20, Free Run LLC): This is a very tart acidic style that begs for prosciutto wrapped asparagus.  It shows pear, lemon and herbs in an intentionally very slightly oxidized package that enhances the flavors well. The acidity shortens the finish a bit at present, but should soften a bit with another year in the bottle. Quite interesting.
88 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Bordeaux:

Red:

Château de Sours, Bordeaux (France) 2010 ($20, Old Bridge Cellars): Although the producer is always the most important information on the label, sometimes the importer’s name makes me sit up and take notice.  For example, if Jeanne Marie de Champs’ name were on the back label, I would buy the wine.  Similarly, when you see Old Bridge Cellars on a bottle, it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy it. Château de Sours, located not far from St. Emilion and Pomerol, but sporting a simple Bordeaux appellation, delivers more than its pedigree suggests.  This Merlot-based blend leads with slightly earthy aromatics that you’d expect from that grape and follows with a lovely combination of red fruit-like flavors and herbal savory notes.  Mild tannins allow you to enjoy this refined wine now with broiled lamb chops.
89 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Languedoc:

White:

Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon (Languedoc, France) “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut” 2013 ($13, H. B. Wine Merchants): Chapoutier, one of the great Rhône producers, has expanded into the Languedoc with a terrific trio of wines, a white, a red and a rosé, from the Côtes du Roussillon appellation.  This crisp and refreshing white has a surprising lift that balances and enhances the subtle stone fruit character.  It’s evidence that whites from the south of France needn’t be heavy.  This well-priced white works equally well as a stand-alone aperitif or as an accompaniment to grilled fish or sautéed chicken breasts.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

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ITALY

Piedmont:

Red:

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont, Italy) “La Court” 2011 ($52, Kobrand): La Court, a more polished and “important” wine, makes a fascinating comparison with Chiarlo’s other Barbera d’Asti, Le Orme.  The grapes come from the same vineyard, according to Alberto Chiarlo, but the ones destined for La Court are harvested later and then treated differently in the winery with fermentation occurring like Barolo, in open vats.  Half the wine spends time in oak barrels while the other half ages in large old barrels before Chiarlo blends the two components.  In place of Le Orme’s charming rusticity, La Court delivers a riper and more suave impression.  These two wines represent the opposite ends of the Barbera spectrum.  Both are easy to recommend.  While La Court might be more appropriate for prime rib and Le Orme for skirt steak, frankly I’d be happy to have either on my table this fall with either cut of beef.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont, Italy) “Le Orme” 2011 ($15, Kobrand): The 2011 vintage, a warm one in Piedmont, was particularly good for Barbera because the extra ripeness balances that grape’s inherent acidity.   With its bright signature and fruity charm, Chiarlo’s Le Orme is a great introduction for those who are unfamiliar with the virtues of that grape and wine.  It has plenty of punch and enough depth to be an ideal choice for a hearty pasta dish this fall.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Michele Chiarlo, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) "Cannubi" 2010 ($107, Kobrand): The 45-acre Cannubi vineyard, one of Barolo’s most acclaimed, is divided among 22 producers, according to Alberto Chiarlo.  With 3 acres, Chiarlo is the second largest owner, but they still produce only 6,000 bottles annually.  Chiarlo explains that Barolo’s two major soil types converge in Cannubi, which, in his opinion, accounts for its wines’ complexity and power.  With a black-fruited imprint rather than the red-fruited signature of their Cerequio, Chiarlo’s 2010 Cannubi is denser with more power.  Despite its muscle, a sublime elegance persists.  The combination of power and elegance reverberates in the finish.  Engaging now, yes.  But do yourself a favor and keep it in the cellar for a decade to allow it to unfold.  This wine sings and explains why Barolo, especially the 2010s, are so revered.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Michele Chiarlo, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Cerequio” 2010 ($107, Kobrand): Chiarlo owns more than half (23 of 40 acres) of this famed vineyard located in the commune of La Morra.  In the 19th century the Cerequio vineyard was considered the only first growth of Barolo, according to Alberto Chiarlo, describes the wine from this vineyard, a south-facing amphitheatre, as the “Queen of Barolo” because of its ripe and open character.  Chiarlo’s 2010 Cerequio is gorgeous, with an initial captivating floral character followed by rich red fruit flavors and an alluring bitterness in the finish.  The firm tannins hover in the background, but lend fine structure.  It has a Burgundian -- flavor without weight -- sensibility and conveys both elegance and power, without being overt.  The classic description of Barolo, “tar and roses” is appropriate in this case.  Surprisingly approachable now, its balance, structure and complexity suggest at least a decade of cellaring will reward you.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Tuscany:

Red:

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio Alle Mura Riserva 2007 ($80): Castello Banfi has been -- and remains -- a leader in Montalcino, specifically refining and raising the profile of one of Italy’s finest wines, Brunello di Montalcino.  They are one of the largest and best producers in the region and have devoted tons of money and done decades of research to determine which clones of Sangiovese do best in the region.  (With an unprecedented sense of good will, Banfi shared the results of their result with other producers).  Planted in 1992, the Poggio Alle Mura vineyard is the result of their clonal research.  The production from that vineyard continues to evolve, first with Poggio Alle Mura Brunello, then a Rosso di Montalcino from that vineyard in 2010, and now with this, their first Riserva, an explosive wine.  It has the marvelous seamless combination of spice and dark fruit flavors. As you’d expect from a refined wine, nothing shouts at you.  An intriguing almost tarry quality in the finish reminds you that this is a top-flight Brunello.   Firm, polished tannins support the tightly wound and ever-changing layers of ripe and yet savory flavors.   Though enjoyable now if you decant it a couple of hours before dinner, I’d suggest a better use for it will be in five to ten years, so put it in the cellar now.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Marchese Frescobaldi, Chianti Rùfina Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Nipozzano Vecchie Viti” 2011 ($29, Folio Fine Wine Partners): Frescobaldi, one of Italy’s finest producers, owns estates throughout Tuscany.  Their Nipozzano estate is home to their splendid line of Chianti from the often-overlooked Rùfina subzone of that region.  This bottling is from the oldest vines (Vecchie Viti) on the property.  A thrilling wine, it’s well proportioned and vibrant with an appealing smoky richness.  A sophisticated wine made from predominantly Sangiovese (90%), the other traditional indigenous grapes of the region, Malvasia nera, Colorino and Canaiolo, round out the blend.  The dark sour cherry-like notes and earthy nuances would make it a terrific choice for a grilled veal chop this fall.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Veneto:

Red:

Bolla, IGT Verona (Veneto, Italy) “Creso” 2010 ($23): Traditionalists are advised not to read the technical details of this wine before tasting it.  The Cabernet Sauvignon (one-third of the blend), the year’s aging in new French oak and the 15% stated alcohol all have the capacity to obliterate the character of the wine and throw it out of balance.  It’s a testimony to Bolla that this wine is balanced, sophisticated and very easy to recommend.  Beautifully concentrated without being overdone, it delivers cherry-like nuances and great vibrancy.  A lovely -- and lively -- bitterness in the finish reinforces the idea that this is a grand wine.  Layers of flavor emerge as the wine sits for an hour or so in the glass, leaving an ever changing -- but always enjoyable -- impression.  This is a great example of thinking outside of the box to create a Super Veneto wine, at a Valpolicella price.  Enjoy this exceptional value this fall with lamb chops.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

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SPAIN

Aragon:

Red:

Las Rocas de San Alejandro, Calatayud (Spain) 'El Renegado' 2012 ($14): A blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Tempranillo, Las Rocas' El Renegado is a zesty, refreshing wine that offers aromas of raspberry jam, spice and mouth-watering acidity in an inexpensive package. Perfect for sausages from the grill or with jamon or Mediterranean tapas. 88 Robert Whitley Oct 14, 2014

Priorat:

Red:

Vall Llach, Priorat (Catalonia, Spain) “Porrera de Vi de Vila de Vall Llach” 2010 ($65, Folio Fine Wine Partners): Priorat is one of just two appellations awarded Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) status, Spain’s highest official wine category (Rioja is the other).  Producers there are just starting to subdivide the region to show the distinctiveness of the wines from the various villages that comprise the DOCa.  I can’t determine whether this wine from the village of Porrera is, indeed, different from wines from another of the villages because Vall Llach doesn’t produce other village designated wines.  What I can report is that this wine is terrific and explains, in part, why area’s popularity has taken off.  Vall Llach uses the traditional blend for the region of mostly (75%) Cariñena -- in this instance, old vine -- and Garnacha for this wine.  Tradition works.  These varieties transmit a beguiling combination of wild strawberry-like fruit and minerality and carry the 15.5% stated alcohol effortlessly.  Despite its power, the wine has considerable grace and harmony.  It’s paradoxically bold, but floral and light a foot.  This is a perfect wintertime wine for those hearty lamb shanks.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Yountville Selection" 2010 ($195): Grgich’s 2010 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is one of California’s grandest wines.  It reminds us why Napa Valley, and in this case, the Yountville region, is so revered for that grape.  The winemaking team, led by Mike Grgich’s nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, has hit the bull’s eye with this wine.  It speaks clearly of Yountville and Napa Valley, but it has an Old World sensibility of refinement and complexity.  Despite its 15.1% stated alcohol, it’s not all about power and muscle, although there’s no shortage of those elements.  It’s about grace and elegance. It explodes -- more a gentle unfolding than a volcanic eruption -- in the glass.  This extraordinary Cabernet grows in the glass with a broad-shouldered mixture of fruit intertwined seamlessly with earthy savory notes.  Amazingly, it’s intense, but not massive or overdone.  Everything comes together.  This wine is the epitome of balance and harmony. It’s a young wine, with decades to go before it true grandeur will be apparent, but it reminds me of what a wise Burgundy producer once told me, “Great wines always taste great regardless of their age.”  This is a great wine.
98 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) "C Blend" 2011 ($52): This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Zinfandel and 1% Petit Verdot from the Duckhorn family of wines shows a brambly fruit nose that lets you know it has Zin in it, but with the Napa style and class you expect also evident due to the dusty blackberry and cassis notes. The palate is bold and shows a fair amount of dill with the red and black fruit mix, and some nice earthy notes coming forward in the finish.  Give this a good long decant and serve with blackened carne asada.
89 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) "Cuvee POM" 2010 ($50): J. Lohr is establishing quite a track record with their line of Bordeaux tribute bottlings. This vintage of their ode to Pomerol delivers plum, black cherry, red currant, leaf, baker's chocolate and fall spice are already well integrated this vintage, with the structure to age well.  I've been very impressed with these kinds of blends from Paso Robles of late, and with J. Lohr's for a while now. Contains 62% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc
93 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Ancient Peaks, Paso Robles (California) Merlot 2012 ($17): Lots to like here in this complex Merlot from Paso Robles.  Ripe cherry, plum, dried herbs and bright oak spice are present in aroma and flavor, with the sweet oak spice balanced with citrus like acidity in the finish.  It could use a little time to integrate fully, but should improve over the next five years or so.
90 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

J. Lohr, St. Helena (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Carol's Vineyard 2011 ($40): This blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot shows good concentration of red and black berries, violets and a touch of toffee on the nose, well translated on the palate with good depth and richness.  The tannins are in the medium range, making it approachable now and ready to improve with a little more bottle age. I'd pair this with grilled tri-tip in garlic olive oil, salt and pepper.
91 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

White:

McManus Family Vineyards, California (United States) Pinot Grigio 2013 ($10): When people complain they cannot find good inexpensive California wine, I point them to McManus Family Vineyards.  They have a consistent track record of producing good, well-priced wines, such as this Pinot Grigio.  Floral with the barest hint of pears, it has sufficient acidity to match it with a simple fish dish, but not so much that you’d shy away from drinking it by itself as an aperitif.   It has a surprisingly long finish for a $10 wine.
87 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Edna Valley, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2012 ($15): It’s refreshing to find a California Chardonnay that’s balanced and delivers so much enjoyment for $15.  The winemaking team has walked the line nicely by imparting a touch of seductive creaminess and a subtle patina of oakiness without going overboard.  It’s round enough to be enjoyed as an aperitif, as in “I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” but it has enough acidity to allow it to hold up with a roast chicken.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Scratchpad Cellars, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2011 ($13): Here's a fun concept in a gift bottle that has some decent wine inside.  It comes with a blank label styled after a torn out page from a spiral notebook, and also a black-charcoal pencil that you can use to personalize the label.  Then, if so inclined, you can share your creation with the world on Twitter @scratchpadcellars.  My only suggestion -- no selfies.  The world has seen enough of that already.  Write something inspirational!  The wine might inspire you with its tropical fruit and lemon mix, with mild oak toast and a medium long finish, but I don't think you should open it before you gift it.
86 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2012 ($35): The Merlot magicians at Duckhorn are branching out with this foray into Chardonnay, and they're starting off right, sourcing fruit from Oak Knoll District, Carneros, and Rutherford.  It's a mix of stone fruit, melon, citrus and mild herb notes, with racy acidity and structure that draws the elements together in a tightly knit package that needs food to show itself in the best light -- just like the rest of the Duckhorn line.  Seared halibut looks like a winning combination.
91 Rich Cook Oct 14, 2014

Black Kite, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard 2012 ($45): My problem with Black Kite's Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay is one of supply and demand. The supply is limited (140 cases produced) but the demand should be over the moon, and with good reason. This is one of the finest Chardonnays I've yet tasted from the gifted winemaker Jeff Gaffner (also of Saxon Brown fame). It has everything you would want in a world class Chardonnay. Though rich and oily, it has firm backbone, with mouth-watering acidity that keeps the wine fresh and inviting. The note of lemon creme is, to me, the sign of very high class California Chardonnay. Gaffner's use of oak is deft; the wine exhibits lovely spice notes and a toasty back note that complements rather than interferes with the gorgeous fruit. It's a truly stunning wine, and there is far too little of it to go around. 96 Robert Whitley Oct 14, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

Chehalem Winery, Chehalem Mountains (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Corral Creed Vineyard 2012 ($50): The plush and velvety character of the 2012 Oregon harvest is clearly evident in this bottling.  It bursts with ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit scents underscored by raspberry, lilac, vanilla, smoke and baking spice nuances.  Even though the fleshy ripeness of the vintage shows, the wine is remarkable for its purity of fruit.  Layers of juicy, ripe cherry and blackberry fruits are enhanced by a creamy texture and hints of cocoa, vanilla, lilac and allspice.  It is a complex and generous Pinot Noir that will appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers.  Enjoy it with most anything off the grill, from salmon to steaks to zucchini.  It will provide great pleasure for another 3 to 5 years.
94 Wayne Belding Oct 14, 2014

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee Hills (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir 2012 ($42): This is a ripe and forward Pinot Noir from the Domaine Drouhin Estate vineyards high in the Dundee Hills.  It impresses with red cherry and blackberry fruit aromas followed by hints of vanilla, lilac, clove and cinnamon.  On the palate, it shows pure cherry and blackberry fruit with floral tones and lively spice nuances.  It shows the generosity of the 2012 harvest and will provide delicious drinking for another 3 to 4 years.
89 Wayne Belding Oct 14, 2014

Ponzi , Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2012 ($40): This vintage is solid for Ponzi, showing notes of black raspberry, spice and cola. A restrained wine, it is nicely structured, with a bit of welcome grip on the back end. While drinking well now, this Pinot should improve over the next three to four years. 90 Robert Whitley Oct 14, 2014

White:

Troon Vineyard, Applegate Valley (Southern Oregon) Vermentino "Foundation '72" 2013 ($18): This is a delicious rendition of this aromatic Italian grape variety made in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.  The aromas are fresh and lively with lemon, green apple and peach fruits backed by hints of lily, mint and honey.  The flavors are bright and fresh with the citrus and stone fruits interwoven with the floral, herbal and honeyed elements.  It’s a superb white to enjoy with your favorite seafood and poultry recipe.  Given this evidence, perhaps more growers should consider adding some Vermentino to their vineyard mix.
90 Wayne Belding Oct 14, 2014

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