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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

August 15, 2017 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

South Australia:

Red:

Penfolds, South Australia (Australia) Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Max's 2015 ($25): This wine tribute to Max Schubert is Shiraz dominant and it shows in the intense blueberry aroma on the front of the palate. Darker fruits such as blackberry emerge mid-palate and the finish shows a touch of attractive wood spice. Well balanced and inviting, this is a red that can be enjoyed now or savored and cellared easily for another six to ten years.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

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FRANCE

Rosé:

Locations, France (France) Grenache Rosé “F6” NV ($19): Dave Phinney opts for a fleshy style in a 100% Grenache Rosé, and it works with macerated strawberry, white pepper spice and touches of melon and citrus presented in a mouth filling, easy to drink summer quencher.  There's enough oomph here for medium strength cheese or spicy side appetizers.
89 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut, Pays d’Oc IGP (France) 2016 ($15): This absolutely delicious rosé from the Languedoc region in the south of France is from the M. Chapoutier family of wines. Chapoutier is one of the three or four finest producers in the Rhone Valley, but applies the same care and respect to the wines they make elsewhere. This is a refreshing rosé that exhibits aromas of strawberry and orange peel. The finish is bright and crisp, which is largely the appeal of dry rosé wine in the warm summer months.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

Burgundy:

White:

Jean Claude Boisset, Borgougne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits Blanc (Burgundy, France) Chardonnay 2014 ($22): A very crisp, bright Chardonnay that is long on lip smacking acidity and long on tart lemon and apple flavor.  Very little if any oak character maintains the brightness of the fruit and keeps things on the refreshing side.  A fine solo glass for warm weather or warm clothing.
91 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

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GERMANY

Red:

Weingut Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadter (Franken, Germany) Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg GG 2014 ($90, Rudi Wiest): Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, and the Rudolf Fürst estate in Franken ranks among that country’s top producers. GG is an abbreviation for Grosses Gewächs -- a designation for the top vineyard sites in Germany -- and the Centgrafenberg vineyard in Bürgstadt yields wines of great complexity and interest.  The 2014 Centgrafenberg GG from Fürst has a stunning bouquet that shows beautifully pure raspberry and cherry fruits interwoven with floral hints and elements of herbs, tea and smoke.  On the palate, the pure fruit flavors of ripe cherry and raspberry are underlain by a range of floral, herbal, smoke and spice nuances.  The wine has the breadth and depth of a fine red Burgundy.  It is a stellar example of the quality and character of the best German Pinot Noirs.
92 Wayne Belding Aug 15, 2017

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ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Kettmeir, Alto Adige DOC (Italy) Muller Thurgau 2015 ($22): Muller Thurgau is one of Italy’s most underrated white wines. Planted in the Alto Adige region in what used to be Austria before World War I, this rich, juicy white thrives in the cool climate of the area. This vintage from Kettmeir exhibits aromas of peach and lemon, shows a nutty side, and finishes with a hint of pepper.
92 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

Piedmont:

Red:

Antonio Vallana, Gattinara (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo 2007 ($30, Skurnik): There are a number of quality appellations in the Novara-Vercelli Hills of the Alto Piemonte.  Ghemme, Boca, Fara and Sizzano are all Nebbiolo-based wines drawn from local vineyards.  The top wine, however, for most producers is their Gattinara.  The Antonio Vallana estate is a long-standing producer of traditionally-styled wines.  Vallana’s 2007 Gattinara bottling has developed nicely during its years of barrel and bottle age.  It shows the plush and velvety style of the estate but has years of growth and development ahead.  The nose shows a combination of black cherry, raspberry, and dried red cherry fruits combined with hints of licorice, dried flowers, green herbs, earth, tobacco and subtle spices.  It is plush and full on the palate, but also shows the definition of flavor and firm structure that makes Gattinara so distinctive.  Flavors of dried cherry, blackcurrant, prune and raspberry are underscored by a delicious range of tea, anise, potpourri and tobacco nuances.  Fully enjoyable now, it has the structure and complexity to provide great enjoyment for another decade.
93 Wayne Belding Aug 15, 2017

Tuscany:

Red:

Viticcio, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2014 ($18): This is a masterful Chianti Classico that walks the line between the so-called “modern” and “traditional” styles.  A hint of Merlot (2%) in the blend with Sangiovese (98%) adds fleshiness without being overt.  The engaging herbal earthy notes still dominate.  A portion of the wine was aged in small oak barrels, but its presence is barely noticeable, demonstrating that oak is not a problem -- it’s how the winemaker uses it that can be.  In this sense, Viticcio’s winemaking team excelled.  The use of oak and the dollop of Merlot contribute to a suave texture, but again, it’s not a highly polished wine.  A slight bitterness in the finish reminds you that its role is at the table with hearty pasta, not as an aperitivo.  Again, don’t be put off by the 2014 vintage, considered “difficult” in Tuscany.  Wineries often opt not to make their top wine in a “difficult” or mediocre vintage, which means that some very high quality fruit winds up the their “lesser” bottling.  I suspect that part of the reason Viticcio’s basic Chianti Classico is so exceptional in 2014. It delivers far, far more than the price suggests.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Ruffino, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Riserva Ducale” 2012 ($25): Ruffino is one of the leading names in Chianti Classico, producing a range of traditionally styled wines at reasonable prices.  Their top one, Riserva Ducale Oro (with a gold label), made only in the best vintages has an extraordinary ability to develop amazing complexity with bottle age. One level down is this one, Riserva Ducale (with a tan label), which is a great introduction to classically proportioned Chianti Classico.  Despite the inclusion of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with the Sangiovese (80%) and some small oak barrel aging, this is a traditionally framed Chianti Classico, combining cherry-like fruitiness with earthy, herbal notes and lip-smacking acidity.  Nothing is out of place.  Not flashy, just satisfying, which is why it’s easy to recommend.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Grignano, Chianti Rùfina (Tuscany, Italy) 2014 ($18, Montcalm Wine Importers): Chianti Rùfina, the smallest of the eight subzones of Chianti, a vast area in the middle of Tuscany, accounts for only about three percent of the region’s production.  By comparison, Chianti Classico, the best known of the subzones and the area located in the hills between Florence and Siena, produces ten times the amount of wine.  Chianti Rùfina’s cooler climate -- it is further north and east compared to Chianti Classico -- explains, in part, why its wines are less ripe and more savory compared to those from its more famous neighbor. This one from Grignano is a perfect example, conveying herbal earthy notes that complement its juicy and succulent black cherry fruitiness.  Bright acidity and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish keep you coming back. Its charming rusticity makes it a good choice for penne arrabiata or flavorful pasta dishes. Don’t be put off by the press that damns the 2014 vintage in Tuscany.  Wines like this one show the limitations of vintage charts.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Le Volte Dell’ Ornellaia, Toscana IGT (Italy) 2015 ($31): It has been apparent for a couple of decades that Tuscany is an exceptional location to plant Merlot, particularly in the Maremma district west of Montalcino. This vintage of Le Volte is 67 percent Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese making up the difference. The Merlot provides the flesh, Cabernet the structure, and Sangiovese the bright acidity that allows this wine to soar. Notes of tart cherry and plum dominate on the front of the palate, leading to a spicy finish.
92 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

White:

Tenuta Sassoregale, Maremma Toscana DOC (Italy) Vermentino 2016 ($18): I must confess, Vermentino is one of my favorite white wines from Italy, especially in summer. It’s light and refreshing, has the acidity to hang in with tomato-based appetizers, pairs well with shellfish and is easy on the wallet. This one shows a floral note and aromas of green citrus.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

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MEXICO

White:

Monte Xanic, Guadalupe Valley (Baja, Mexico) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($16, Domaine Select): On the list of growing areas for Sauvignon Blanc, you will not often find the Guadalupe Valley of Mexico.  This is a small growing area, not far south of San Diego, that produces 90% of Mexico’s fine wine.  Monte Xanic is an estate founded in 1987 with the intent of showing the world what the Guadalupe Valley has to offer.  Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is a fine example of the area’s potential.  It shows a wonderful combination of lemon, grapefruit and green apple fruit scents are followed by hints of lily and fresh herbs.  The flavors of mouthwatering citrus and green apple fruits are backed by subtle floral and herbal hints.  The wine is refreshing, pure and bright and is a great match for fresh seafood dishes.
90 Wayne Belding Aug 15, 2017

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Peregrine, Central Otago (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($25, Vineyard Brands): Even at the higher end of Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand these days, the issue is balance.  The famously energetic acidity that vintners can conjure from the cool Kiwi climate on the south island always raises a winemaking question:  Do I let the fermentation run all the way to dryness, producing a Sauvignon that will be zesty enough to awaken the dead, or do I leave enough residual sugar to buffer that acidity and make a rendition that will appeal more to the masses than connoisseurs?  This wine shows that a happy medium is possible, as it shows brilliant balance between bright citrus fruit and softer melon notes that really wear well after the first glass (and the second, too).  Indeed, the balance here is so precise and the wine so complete that it could serve very well as a sipper, or as a partner for freshly shucked oysters, or for pairing with finfish or lighter preparations of chicken.
92 Michael Franz Aug 15, 2017

Mount Beautiful, North Canterbury (New Zealand) Chardonnay 2015 ($14): The name of the winery aptly describes the wine:  Beautiful.  Crisp and lemony, it carries its 14.5 percent stated alcohol effortlessly.  This stylish edgy Chardonnay has a green apple-like vivacity to support its mid-weight body.  It works as a stand-alone aperitif or a fitting accompaniment to simply grilled fish. It’s a fabulous value!
92 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Mount Beautiful, North Canterbury (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($14): Although the Marlborough region of New Zealand put Sauvignon Blanc on the map, other regions fashion distinctive and equally enjoyable versions.  Take this one from North Canterbury, a region on New Zealand’s east coast in the mid-portion of the South Island.  Paradoxically, it has more weight and fruitiness than many from Marlborough despite its more southerly (cooler) locale.  It maintains a balancing zestiness that keeps it fresh and lively.  Another bargain!
92 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

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SPAIN

Rioja:

Red:

La Rioja Alta, Rioja Reserva (Spain) “Viña Ardanza” 2008 ($32): Where else but Spain, and specifically Rioja, do you find a nine year old wine as the current release?  And look at the price.  Not to mention that La Rioja Alta is one of the best producers in Rioja. Here’s a chance for consumers to taste the magical transformation of youthful fruitiness in a wine to intriguing and hard to define non-fruit flavors of leather and earth. Not overdone, successive waves of flavor crash over the palate. Brilliant juicy acidity and moderate power makes it a divine choice for grilled meat once the weather turns chilly in the evening.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Goldeneye, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir Split Rail Vineyard 2014 ($82): One of Goldeneye's weightier offerings from the vintage, and one that shows bold savory character, with damp earth, mushroom and brown spice enhancing rich black cherry fruit and spice.  The rich texture at mid palate belies the acidity that shows in the finish and keeps things on the lithe side of the bigger style.  There's a lot to showcase in the region, and Goldeneye's portfolio covers a lot of bases.
96 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

Chateau Montelena, Calistoga (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($58): This is winemaker Matt Crafton’s first vintage at Montelena from harvest to bottle and it bodes well for the future. This vintage delivers ripe aromas of blackberry and cassis, subtle hints of wood spice and notes of cedar and graphite that are generally markers in exceptional Cabernet. Well balanced and richly layered, it’s a keeper that should improve in the cellar over the next ten years.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

Duckhorn, Carneros (California) Merlot 2014 ($75):  Duckhorn is certainly among the USA's most famous producers of Merlot, and their Three Palms Vineyard bottling is among the most sought-after Merlots on the planet.  That wine costs about $100, so you might figure that this Carneros bottling, which isn't vineyard designated, would be a lot less expensive and a lot easier to find.  The bad news is that you'd be wrong on both counts, as this rings up for $75 and only 480 cases of it were made.  But the good news is that the wine is absolutely terrific, and by the time you've gotten a glass of it down the hatch, you'll be thoroughly consoled if you weren't able to track down a bottle of the Three Palms rendition.  The most outstanding feature here is a combination of great richness and depth of flavor with amazing freshness, thanks to very bright acidity that enlivens the wine all the way through its long, symmetrical finish.  The oak component is notable but still modest, which reflects a wise winemaking decision to let the remarkably lovely fruit hold center stage.  This will develop additional complexities over the course of the next 5+ years, but it is already extremely enjoyable.  And lest you think you'd need lighter fare with which to enjoy it now...wrongo...this would rock with the most robust preparations of beef or lamb.  In sum, wicked good wine.
94 Michael Franz Aug 15, 2017

Bella Union, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($85): Bella Oaks Lane has long been coveted ground for Cabernet Sauvignon growers. So it’s no surprise the partners at Far Niente carved out a 25-acre plot in their never ending quest to produce ever-better Napa Valley Cab. The Bella Union Vineyard takes its name from the road’s historical roots – Bella Oaks Lane was originally called Bella Union – and in 2014 yielded a vintage for the history books. Remarkably complex, it shows aromas of red berries, blackberry and cassis, lovely wood spice, a fair amount of heft and power, yet elegance in the fabled Far Niente vein.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($160): Far Niente’s track record over three decades is superb, but the past decade has been nothing short of astonishing, with a solid string of spectacular vintages. The 2014 is yet another show-stopper for Far Niente, delivering a richly layered palate of dark fruits and spice with supple grape tannins. An attractive complexity is the note of pencil shavings found only in the finest Bordeaux and world-class New World Cabernets.
96 Robert Whitley Aug 15, 2017

Sonoma-Loeb, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2015 ($40): A Pinot Noir from the dark side of the variety’s spectrum that showcases black cherry, pie spice and mixed berry fruit, with moderate oak spice and vanilla.  A solid cocktail-hour drink with a toasty finish.
90 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

J. Lohr, Santa Lucia Highlands (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Highlands Bench Vineyard 2014 ($35): A fine example of a full throttle style, with rich black cherry, some Santa Lucia Highlands funk and bright toasted oak. This will stand up to the bold side of the Pinot pairing possibilities list -- try it with duck, or even lamb.
92 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

Cobb Vineyards, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Emmaline Ann Vineyard 2014 ($75): I've heard it said that one should be able to read the newspaper through a glass of Pinot Noir.  In California, this can be a difficult goal to achieve in tandem with a wine's main goal, which is, of course, to be delicious.  No problem meeting these and other lofty goals for winemaker Ross Cobb, who once again brings us a riveting expression of this vineyard.  Lively red fruit with forest floor and savory notes ride racy acidity across a silky texture and finish beautifully integrated, gaining intensity for a good while.  An achievement!
97 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard 2014 ($56): You can count on MacRostie's Wildcat Mountain to deliver the food friendly acidity that makes for a fine table companion.  This vintage focuses on bright red fruit with rich oak spice and notes of damp earth and mushroom adding complexity, finishing with a zesty feel that invites a revisit.  If you're starting to think Thanksgiving, this is a good place to start.
92 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

White:

J. Lohr, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay “October Night” 2015 ($25): This vintage of October Night delivers its typical bold, spicy style, but adds some crisp acidity to counter the richness and weight, making it a great solo glass that features apple, pear and citrus fruit that are nicely integrated from start to finish, where that acid pop hits you in the best possible way.  A mildly spiced white fish dish will showcase this beautifully.
93 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

Clos Du Val, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay Estate 2015 ($32): I like the restraint shown in this bottling -- judicious picking for low alcohol, present but not overt oak spice and vibrant acidity taming the bright lemon and apple flavors.  A soft toffee note adds some flair without taking over, and the finish brings it all together and blooms after swallowing.  Take your time with this one -- it's worth savoring.
94 Rich Cook Aug 15, 2017

Kendall Jackson, Santa Maria Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Jackson Estate, Camelot Highlands 2015 ($35): This is an easy wine to recommend for its creamy seductive texture.  Some will complain it’s heavy or overdone, but those who like a rich Chardonnay with a hint of butter will embrace it.  It does double duty as a stand-alone aperitif or to accompany a roast chicken with a creamy mushroom sauce.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

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