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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

July 21, 2015 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

Clare Valley:

Red:

Wakefield Estate / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2014 ($17): Wakefield continues to offer tremendous bang for the buck, as this Shiraz from the Clare Valley demonstrates. Rich and layered, it exhibits gorgeous aromas of ripe black fruits, with hints of anise and spice, beautifully integrated tannins and a long, floral finish. A gem at the price.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

White:

Wakefield Estate / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Riesling St. Andrews 'Single Vineyard Release' 2014 ($40): You could argue whether Australia's finest Rieslings come from the Clare or the western part of the country, from Margaret River to the Great Southern. No matter your preference, you wouldn't be wrong, but for my money the Clare takes the prize, and Wakefield is one of the best in the business in the Clare. So this beautiful St. Andrews Vineyard Riesling from Wakefield was hardly a surprise. It shows the telltale signs of fresh lime and zesty lemon that mark it as Clare, and with a subdued minerality that experience tells me will become more expressive with time, providing additional complexity that will set this Riesling apart from lesser wines.
94 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

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FRANCE

Loire Valley:

Sparkling:

François Pinon, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Brut Non Dosé NV ($23): This sparkling wine from François Pinon, one of the leading producers in Vouvray, dazzles with its mineraly chalky signature. The limestone and flint soil gives it real character and structure.  It conveys a pleasing firmness without being aggressive because the inherent fruitiness of Chenin Blanc balances its moderate fizziness.  Lending to harmony is use of a local traditional method of making sparkling wine:  Corking the bottle before the primary fermentation has been completed so the yeast still have a touch of sugar to ferment, in contrast to the method in Champagne in which a full secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

White:

Domaine du Clos Naudin, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Moelleux 2011 ($53): Philippe Foreau and his family-owned estate, Domaine du Clos Naudin, is one of the stars of Vouvray.  The Domaine consists of just under 30 acres of Chenin Blanc vines, from which Foreau makes a stunning range of wines.  This one, Moelleux, which means sweet, has apricot nuances and an invigorating freshness.  A vibrant and cutting crispness supports the richness so the wine is not cloying or heavy.  This rich and precise wine would be great as dessert.  I avoiding pairing sweet wines with sweet desserts because I think they fight.  But it would be a great choice with a cheese course.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Château de Montfort, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Demi Sec 2013 ($16): It’s worth repeating: The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  And this wine is a perfect example.  The label reads “Demi-Sec,” which implies sweetness.  But it’s not really a sweet wine because electrifying acidity creates a wonderful tension and edginess.  Fruity… yes.  Sweet… no.   This is a great choice for flavorful dishes -- either Asian influenced or something like fettuccine and pesto.  You’ll get a lot of enjoyment for the price.  Don’t miss it.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Domaine d’Orfeuilles, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Les Coudraies 2012 ($16, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection): The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  Here’s yet another example.  There’s no indication on the front label regarding level of sweetness.  The back label says, “medium dry,” a term which is impossible to quantify or define.  The wine, however, is easy to recommend because it’s an impeccable balance of fruitiness and invigorating energy.  Fresh and lively, it cleans your palate with each sip.  A waxy texture and a lingering, almost honeyed -- yet not sweet--richness adds to its appeal.  It’s guaranteed to freshen the most sultry summer day.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Domaine de la Robinière , Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Bel Air” Sec 2013 ($15): The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  Domaine de la Robinière (a.k.a. Vincent& Julien Raimbault) help the consumer by labeling their “Bel Air” cuvée as Sec -- and it is dry with exhilarating green apple-like freshness that enhances its bracing minerality.  This is a perfect summertime wine either as a stand-alone aperitif or with grilled swordfish.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Rhône:

Red:

Domaine Raspail Ay, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2012 ($40): At their best, southern Rhône red wines capture an enticing array of fruit, floral, earth, herb and spice nuances.  The 2012 Domaine Raspail-Ay Gigondas definitely exhibits these attractive characteristics.  Made mostly from Grenache grapes, it captivates with its combination of juicy, ripe fruit, flowers and spices.  The bouquet reveals luscious blackberry, cherry, and strawberry fruits backed by hints of lavender, marjoram, vanilla and cinnamon.  On the palate, the layers of ripe strawberry and blackberry fruit are enhanced by the exotic floral, herb and spice tones.  While certainly robust, the Raspail-Ay Gigondas displays a fine balance that bodes well for further development.
93 Wayne Belding Jul 21, 2015

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

MAN Vintners, Coastal Region (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2014 ($9): The MAN Chenin Blanc affirms that South Africa is a fantastic source of affordable and delicious Chenin.  Sourced from dry-farmed bush vines in the Agter-Paarl area, the 2014 “Free-Run Steen” bottling continues a string of successes.  Fresh and fragrant, the bouquet is replete with scents of honeysuckle, pear, green apple and lemon.  The flavors are pure, bright and lively, with pear, lemon, grapefruit and green apple fruits underlain by delectable floral and spice tones.  Year in and year out, the MAN Chenin Blanc ranks among the best white wine values in the world.  It’s a perfect summer sipper.
90 Wayne Belding Jul 21, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Goldeneye, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard 2012 ($82): Don't be put off by the initial aroma profile of this wine.  Almost all wines, red and white, will benefit from some airtime, and this bottling requires a good decant for maximum enjoyment.  What comes off as very smoky and oaky on the initial pour will integrate into a bright raspberry vanilla and exotic spice package with the smoky oak character becoming complimentary rather than overriding.  Like a good book, sometimes you've got to wade in a few chapters before it gets you. This wine got me!
92 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

FEL, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($38): I'm liking what I'm tasting out of Anderson Valley from the 2013 vintage.  FEL is a new label in the Cliff Lede stable focusing on the valley, and this Pinot Noir offers black cherry, cola, sweet oak spice and a faint hint of balsamic in aroma and flavor, with a long finish that has some grip and brings a pleasant coffee note forward.  There's some ageworthy structure here as well.  Sourced from Donnelly Creek, Savoy, Wiley and Ferrington vineyards.
90 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

Truchard Vineyards, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($40): One word describes this wine -- graceful.  Truchard Vineyards has resisted the temptation to join the crowd with an over-the-top blockbuster Cabernet.  Instead, they’ve chosen the graceful path with a wine displaying an alluring herbaceous quality without being under-ripe.  There’s plenty of power here, but it doesn’t scream or overwhelm your palate -- or the food for that matter.  It is the kind of wine you want to drink, not just taste. It’s graceful.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Clos du Val, Carneros (California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($32): Clos du Val's Pinot from the 2013 vintage has a decidedly European personality. It is lean and restrained, shows delicate red-fruit aromas, and a touch of earthy forest floor with a hint of truffle. Well balanced and refined, this Pinot is a good match for simple roast chicken or pork dishes.
89 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) “Le Cigare Volant” 2011 ($45): This is one of the bigger versions of Randall Grahm's Flying Cigar that I've tasted to date, featuring full savory characteristics of red meat, tar, and brush over vibrant blueberry fruit and elegant brown spice, all delivered over a rigidly structured backbone.  Give this a long decant before serving with fresh shot boar or other game dishes.
93 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

Talbott Vineyards, Monterey (California) Pinot Noir "Kali Hart" 2013 ($21): Talbott continues its string of beautiful wines, even at their low end of the price spectrum, with this budget friendly bottle.  It's on the tart side of red fruit, with cranberry out front and cherry and soft oak spice following on.  Milder acidity than their more expensive bottlings makes this a drink me now offering that will pair nicely with grilled meats of many colors.  Once again, well done!
90 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

Calera, Mt. Harlan (California) Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard 2012 ($58): Craisins.  Yep, Craisins.  That's the aroma that first jumps out at me in this wine, denoting very ripe fruit in the best possible way.  That's not all that's going on though -- there's a complex mix of black cherry, orange, cranberry, earthy minerality, Asian spice and a touch of pepper adding interest, with a very approachable structure.  Pair this with something a little bolder, like a pepper encrusted pork loin.
92 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

Nickel & Nickel, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Suscol Ranch 2012 ($60): Nickel & Nickel specializes in single vineyard wines -- not as a marketing tool, but because the wines are different and unique.  Their two 2012 Merlots, sourced from Suscol Ranch and Harris Vineyard, show, in clear relief, the value of their approach.  The 9-acre Suscol Ranch is located south of the city of Napa, in a windy foggy and hence cooler area of Napa Valley, which gives the grapes a longer ripening period.  The wine grows enormously in the glass, so it’s one to open well in advance and aim to savor over a long meal.  Though ripe and plush, with silky tannins, it’s not in the “I’ll have a glass of Merlot” category because of its restrained power and alluring mineraly finish.  With air, it becomes extremely expressive with a mixture of earth, herbs and dark fruit.  Beautifully balanced, nothing sticks out -- all the components fit snuggly.  It’s an explosive wine, but not overdone or in-your-face.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Franciscan Estate, Napa Valley (California) “Magnificat” 2012 ($50): As Napa Valley Left Bank Bordeaux styled blends go, this wine is still a great value.  Aromas of blackberry, dried cherry, cassis, brown spice and a touch of pepper come across well on the palate, with a long finish with full tannins at present.  I'd get some of these to lay down next to my hundred dollar plus wines and see where the real value lies in ten years.  Contains 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc.
93 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2011 ($42): If all Merlot tasted like this one from Grgich Hills Estate, the varietal would not be lampooned but rather lionized.  This one manages to be plush and seductive without be flabby.  Indeed, its structure shows it’s serious wine, not to be confused with the “I’ll a glass of Merlot” category.  Savory nuances enhance its appeal.  It has the Grgich Hills Estate hallmark of suaveness and elegance, which I suspect comes, at least in part, from its modest -- by today’s standards -- 13.5%-stated alcohol.  It’s a delight to drink now, but, given Grgich Hills Estate’s track record, it will, undoubtedly, develop additional complexity with bottle age.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38): One of the best deals in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 from Clos du Val is a rich, dense Napa Cab with impressive depth and dimension. It shows fleshy black fruits, a suave mouthfeel (the tannins are ripe and supple) and tremendous length. And it comes in at a stunning price for a Cabernet Sauvignon from an historic Napa Valley producer.
92 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Merlot Harris Vineyard 2012 ($60): The Nickel & Nickel Harris Vineyard Merlot, though similarly floral to their Suscol Ranch bottling, is firmer with more backbone and structure at this stage.  The tannins are more apparent, but still not aggressive or astringent.  It delivers a marvelous leafy character that compliments and reinforces its dark, warm fruit and dense minerality.  It’s compact and tightly wound at this stage, revealing its significant charms slowly, suggesting you should open and decant it several hours before serving or keep it in the cellar for a few years.  You won’t be disappointed -- it has the requisite balance to reward your patience.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop Vineyard 2012 ($35): This vintage follows the previous two or three in showing the ripe side of Paso Robles Cabernet, with bold blackberry, plum and oak spice, with notes of nut and baker's chocolate rounding things out.  Rare and juicy red meats will be elevated with this as an accompaniment. Contains 9% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.
91 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

VIE, Santa Barbara County (California) Syrah White Hawk Vineyard 2012 ($45): The White Hawk Vineyard Syrah from VIE will be catnip to those wine enthusiasts who like their Syrah rich and ripe. This one is fleshy and muscular, showing dark fruits and spice, with supple tannins. There's enough acidity to keep it from coming across as sweet, but you will want to serve this wine with richer, bolder flavors at the table.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard 2013 ($70): Patz & Hall's Gap's Crown Pinot is a bit of a beast, but in a good way. Rich, layered and darkly fruited, it's a powerful example of this vineyard's ability to develop ripeness without losing the suave character that makes Pinot Noir so appealing. Notes of damp forest and spice provide intriguing accents, and on the palate this Pinot delivers personality with persistence. Ripe but firmly structured, with noticeable bite on the finish, it's a world class California Pinot from one of America's most successful Pinot producers.
95 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Ravenswood, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel Old Vine 2012 ($16): Ravenswood is synonymous with quality Zinfandel.  Founder Joel Peterson is legendary for his power-packed -- but still complex and balanced -- style of Zin.  The 2012 Ravenswood Sonoma Old Vine Zin is an archetype of the house style.  Deep in color, it engages the olfactory sense with layers of blackberry, black cherry and plum fruits underlain by nuances of cocoa, herbs, vanilla and spice.  The richness of the bouquet plays out across the palate with the luscious, ripe black fruits enhanced by a lilt of raspberry.  The cocoa, vanilla and spice elements that round out the flavor profile are underscored by a rich, almost creamy texture.  With grilling season upon us, the Ravenswood Old Vine Sonoma Zinfandel will complement the flavors of your favorite red meats, salmon or fowl.
89 Wayne Belding Jul 21, 2015

Sparkling:

The Winery SF, California (United States) Glitter NV ($20): The Winery San Francisco is nothing if not daring. It's "Glitter" bubbly is a fruit-driven sparkler made using the Charmat method, which means it's all done in a big stainless steel tank. No oak barrels, no second fermentation in bottle, no problem. The result is a refreshing bubbly that will give Prosecco a run for the money. The fruit is its most appealing feature, with notes of pear, green apple and lemon zest. The dosage is modest, delivering a sparkler that can be labeled "sec" or dry.
88 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

White:

Patz & Hall, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2013 ($44): The Dutton Ranch in Sonoma's Russian River Valley is easily one of the most renowned vineyards in America, let alone California, for the Chardonnay grape. The 2013 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from winemaker James Hall does that idea justice with this exquisitely balanced Chardonnay that strikes that delicate and difficult balance between power and finesse. There is plenty of acidity to provide tension, and the fruit is fairly remarkable, showing a bit of lemon oil and pear, with a thread of minerality. One of the finest California Chardonnays I have tasted from this very good vintage.
96 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc “Winemaker's Release” 2014 ($25): A delicious combination of dry ruby grapefruit and stony minerality are complimented by notes of leaf and lemon zest in this lively yet elegant expression of Sauvignon Blanc.  Cleansing acidity readies your palate for another oyster, or try it with mild cheeses and nuts.
93 Rich Cook Jul 21, 2015

MacRostie, Russian River Valley (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($32): MacRostie's RRV Chardonnay is a style that I'm particularly fond of, so there is that. The notes of lemon creme and spice that are my benchmarks for top-notch California Chardonnay are on full display. The wines is superbly balanced as well, with enough acidity to counter the richness. On the palate the wine exhibits impressive weight without being heavy, and the finish is very long. Beautifully done.
91 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

Oregon:

White:

Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Blanc 2014 ($20): Pinot Blanc when handled right can be a refreshing alternative to Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. Ponzi's 2014 is a fleshy version with mouth-watering acidity and a hint of sweetness. On the nose the wine shows aromas of ripe pear, honey and red citrus. On the palate it is racy and complex, with an array of ripe fruits and spice, and it has a long, clean finish.
89 Robert Whitley Jul 21, 2015

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