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January 9, 2018 Issue

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Weingut Stadt Krems, Kremstal (Niederösterriech, Austria) Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($16, Winebow):  The Weingut Stadt Krems is noted for quality Grüner Veltliners offered at attractive prices.  Their 2016 Kremstal bottling is juicy, fresh and bursting with aromas of green apple, lemon and lime fruits underscored by subtle elements of fresh green beans and white pepper -- the signature characteristics of good Grüner.  The flavors are clean and refreshing with a satisfying textural richness on the palate. Grüner Veltliner is a great choice to pair with vegetable dishes.  Its inherent green characteristics give it an advantage over many other whites.  It’s a fine companion for fresh seafood dishes as well. 90 Wayne Belding Jan 9, 2018

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Georges Duboeuf, Fleurie (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Domaine des Quatre Vents 2015 ($18, Quintessential):  The reputation of Beaujolais is that of an easy-drinking fruity wine to be consumed soon after release.  That description may be accurate for most Beaujolais, but not those from ten villages, known as the cru of Beaujolais, whose wines are far more distinctive.  There is even variability with wines from a cru.  Take, for example, this Fleurie from Duboeuf.  (To be fair, the wine comes from the Domaine des Quatre Vents and is commercialized by Duboeuf.) It’s a substantial wine, exhibiting a marvelous stony character and amazing depth.  A pleasant tannic structure imparts a welcome firmness.  It needs time -- a year or two, at least -- unlike the Fleurie from Château de Fleurie, which is delectable to drink now.  Indeed, the Domaine des Quatre Vents was better the second night after I opened the bottle.  This is a bargain price for a serious wine from a super vintage. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Château de Fleurie, Fleurie (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2015 ($21, David Bowler Wine):  Sensational is the word that comes to mind when describing the 2015 vintage in Beaujolais.  Of course, we are talking about the cru of Beaujolais, the ten villages within that region whose wines stand apart from the remainder of the region, which explains why the name of the cru alone -- without the word Beaujolais -- appears on the label.  Fleurie is one of the top cru of Beaujolais.  The 2015 from Château de Fleurie is pure charm.  It conveys a wonderful mixture of red fruit flavors and minerality.  Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, fruitiness or sweetness is not the focus.  It’s a perfect choice now with a roast chicken, hamburgers, or even pasta. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018



Château Bellefont-Belcier, St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé (Bordeaux, France) 2015 ($42):  St. Emilion is among the most productive of all Bordeaux appellations and a source of outstanding wines in the 2015 vintage.  Château Bellefont-Belcier is one of sixty or so estates with the Grand Cru Classé designation.  Their 2015 is one of the top wines of the appellation and shows a classic St. Emilion style with blackcurrant, blackberry and a touch of red cherry fruit aromas enhanced by elements of roasted coffee, violets, herbs and toasty oak.  The flavors are round, elegant and supple, with the plush black and red fruits interwoven with the herb, vanilla and spice tones.  The wine exhibits a harmonious style even in its youth, and the 2015 Château Bellefont-Belcier will provide delicious drinking for the next decade and beyond.  A blend of  68% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.
92 Wayne Belding Jan 9, 2018



Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) Preuses 2014 ($75, Louis Latour USA):  Simonnet-Febvre, a top-notch Chablis producer, makes classically structured Chablis -- tightly wound and linear.  Their Preuses, from their own vineyards, is always one of their best wines. Preuses has the reputation of being one of the least elegant of the Chablis Grand Cru.  Not in Simonnet-Febvre’s hands and certainly not their 2014.  Their 2014 Preuses is very tight and youthful at this stage.  It actually took three days to open.  But when it did it was captivating with its paradoxical austerity and power.  This is a wine to lay down for years.  Since there’s some in my cellar, I’m betting you’ll be rewarded. 94 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Maison Louis Latour, Viré-Clessé (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($20, Louis Latour USA):  Viré-Clessé is an under-the-radar appellation in the Mâconnais that was created in the late 1990s from combining two villages, Viré and Clessé, that made distinctive wines that were previously included under the umbrella of Mâcon-Villages.  It joins St. Véran, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché, and Pouilly-Fuissé as names to remember for high quality Chardonnay-based wines from southern Burgundy.  Maison Louis Latour, the well-regarded Beaune-based négociant, produces a terrific Viré-Clessé. Latour’s 2014 Viré-Clessé, from an outstanding vintage for white wines, over delivers for the price.  This mid-weight, well-balanced wine combines Chardonnay’s floral and fruity elements with a firm stoniness characteristic of the region.  Bright acidity in the finish keeps you coming back for more.  Delightful now, I predict it will give enjoyment for years, based on the pleasure I still get from drinking their 2010 Viré-Clessé. Hence, I’d buy it by the case. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018



Diebolt-Vallois, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Prestige NV ($46, Petit Pois):  Diebolt-Vallois, a family domaine, is located in Cramant, a village in the heart of the Côte de Blancs, the part of the Champagne region that is best suited for Chardonnay.  Indeed, the grapes for this wine come from three villages in the Côte de Blancs that are rated Grand Cru:  Cramant, Chouilly and Le Mesnil sur Oger.  The wine, austere and elegant, is very edgy and long, showing the finesse of Chardonnay.  A lovely way to start an evening, it is also perfect with oysters. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

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Müller-Catoir, Pflaz (Germany) Riesling Feinherb 2016 ($22, Terry Thiese Selection):  Müller-Catoir is a top estate in Germany’s Pfalz anbaugebeit.  While they make a wide range of wines, their 2016 Pfalz Feinherb Riesling is one of the best values in the range.  It is a wonderful expression of Pfalz style made in a just off-dry style.  The bouquet is expressive and enticing with vivid peach, apple and citrus fruit scents interwoven with elements of flowers, subtle herbs and ginger.  On the palate, it shows pure flavors of peach and green apple backed by the ginger-like spice, a rich texture and stony minerality.  The herbal and spice nuances infuse the fruit elements to form a layered and complex whole. This is a delicious Riesling that will cellar well for another 3 to 5 years. 90 Wayne Belding Jan 9, 2018

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Noceto, Amador County (California) Sangiovese “AX-1” 2011 ($79):  WOW!  I’ve been a fan of winemaker Rusty Folena’s work with Sangiovese at Noceto for a long time, and this represents a major step up from previous releases.  It presents like a fine Brunello, with a subtle nose of red fruit, sage and spice that come to life on the palate.  Riveting acidity carries rich cherry fruit, cedar spice and underbrush flavors, with pleasing oak notes adding interest and some grip.  Things really get going in the finish, where all the flavors trumpet their presence and linger in long, lip smacking fashion.  After some time in the glass, a little anise comes into play as well.  An impressive achievement!
95 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Paraduxx, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Proprietary Red Wine 2014 ($80):  Paraduxx is Duckhorn’s winery and label best known for non-traditional blends of California grapes, such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  With the 2014 vintage, they have introduced some “foreign” grapes into the mix.  For this one, they borrow a South Australian concept of blending Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Syrah.  (There may be a small amount of Zinfandel in the mix, according to information sent to me by the winery.)  Regardless of the specifics of the blend, it’s a powerful wine that combines tarry elements with deep ripe black fruit and spice.  The blend works, keeping the 14.9 percent stated alcohol, in check.  Robust, but not hot or particularly sweet, it would be a good choice for a hearty slow cooked lamb dish when the temperatures drop into single digits. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($170): Far Niente has been firing on all cylinders for as long as I can remember, but recent vintages suggest a slight shift to a denser, more extracted style and the 2015 vintage is right there on that score. This richly layered vintage shows aromas of cassis and blackberry, with a hint of lead pencil and cedar on the nose. The tannins are ample but beautifully integrated, making for immediate enjoyment while providing the bones necessary to age well if that is the desired goal. Drink now or over the next 25 years. A triumph for a winery that already knows a thing or two about success. 99 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($170):  The Martin Stelling vineyard, which produced my first 100 point score last year, figures prominently in this offering, brought to bottled life by new winemaker Nicole Marchesi.  The focus here is on red fruit, with elegant cherry, red currant, chocolate, and delicate floral and dried herb aromas that entice you to sip, and things improve from there.  Vibrant acidity, supple tannic structure and a lively texture translate the aromas to flavors beautifully, and the finish goes on and on, already showing fine integration.  It’s a California trophy cellar “must have” -- make that world trophy cellar!  Contains 3% Petit Verdot. 99 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sullenger Vineyard 2015 ($100):  What I love about the Nickel & Nickel Cabernets is how they are all different.  Despite the same winemaking team using the same grape variety, the wines offer different flavor profiles, which supports the concept of terroir -- that somehow the soil, climate, and exposure in the vineyard determines the character of the wine.  Weighing in at a stated 14.5 percent alcohol, the Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet tastes even riper than the alcohol suggests, perhaps reflecting the vintage. Still, savory notes and elusive “not just fruit” elements keep it is balance.  This sturdy wine opens and is far more expressive as it sits in the glass for an hour or so.  Fine tannins allow you to enjoy this powerful Cabernet now, especially with a robust well-charred steak. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Olivet Lane 2015 ($68): Olivet Lane is Merry's signature Pinot and the reason she is the Queen of California Pinot Noir. The 2015 is a powerful wine with broad shoulders and layered richness. The most darkly fruited of all her Pinots, this Olivet Lane is built for the long haul. Its core is concentrated dark cherry deliciousness. There is an earthy note and plenty of wood spice, with a touch of mocha lurking in the background. One of Merry's best from her signature Pinot Noir vineyard. While drinkable now, I would prefer to lay it down and wait another three to five years before serving. This remarkable wine will only improve with additional bottle age. 98 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Coopersmith 2015 ($66): Merry's Coopersmith shows a floral nose that is seductive and inviting, leading to a richly layered, firmly textured palate that suggests this vintage will be best held in the cellar for another two to three years. Powerful and complex, showing dark fruits and ample wood spice, the Coopersmith is drinkable now but will be so much more enjoyable after a little bit of time. I suggest decanting this wine if you serve it within the next year. The aeration will not only soften the palate, but bring up remarkably complex aromas that are somewhat muted at this stage. 95 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch 2015 ($66): Merry's 2015 Klopp Ranch offers a seductive floral perfume on the nose, leading to leading to a richly layered palate of blueberry and black cherry with a touch of oak vanillin and fall spices. The tannins are relatively modest, making for immediate enjoyment. That said, this is a beautifully structured and well-balanced Pinot Noir that will deliver pleasure for several years to come. 95 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Georganne 2015 ($63): While Merry's Georganne Vineyard Pinot Noir lacks the edginess of some of her other vineyard-designate Pinot, it makes up for it with finesse. This is the smoothest of Merry's many Pinot Noirs. It shows luscious ripe cherry fruit with supple tannins that make for a creamy texture that is unique for a young Merry Edwards Pinot. Stunning now, stunning later, so drink up whenever the urge for a luxurious Pinot strikes. 94 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Flax Vineyard 2015 ($60): Merry's vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs are limited production by definition but Flax Vineyard is more limited than most, so hurry on down to your favorite wine merchant. This vintage is dense and concentrated, showing aromas of rhubarb and black cherry with a slightly leafy character. The oak regimen provides a judicious touch of wood spice but lets the grapes do most of the talking. The tannins are moderate and nicely integrated. Drinkable now, but will improve with two to three years of bottle age. 93 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir 2015 ($48): If you are a Pinot Noir enthusiast and you would like to take a walk on the dark side, the Merry Edwards Russian River Pinot might be the place to start. The 2015 is a powerful wine that exhibits deep, dark, layered black fruits, firm tannins and wood spice, with a slightly earthy, slightly floral nuance lurking in the background. It's the next best thing to one of her splendid vineyard-designate Pinots. 91 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Rutherford (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon C.C. Ranch 2015 ($115):  A riper style than is typical for this label, but of course, winemaker Darice Spinelli makes it work, taming the bold fruit with other elements like dried herbs, pepper and careful oak spice adding interest but allowing the fruit to shine as it should here.  A rigid tannic backbone will resolve with some time, and more complexity is sure to emerge.  Another great wine from Nickel & Nickel. 97 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Rutherford (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon C.C. Ranch 2015 ($115): Nickel & Nickel's C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage is a remarkable achievement in fruit purity. Despite an abundance of obviously high quality oak, the fruit sings. Aromas of blueberry, plum, blackberry in a firmly structured package with alluring accents of wood spice and oak vanillin. Very complex with impressive palate weight and length. Drink now or over the next 20 years. 96 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir 2015 ($45): The 2015 Sonoma Coast is likely the closest any Merry Edwards Pinot Noir comes to being a "fruit bomb." It's the easiest of all her 2015 Pinots to drink at this stage but shouldn't be dismissed as simple. Very elegant and complex, this wine shows notes of red and black fruits, a subtle touch of wood spice and supple, beautifully integrated tannins. Drink now. And enjoy. 91 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) “Upshot” Red Wine Blend 2015 ($28):  The winery’s press release describes this wine as “a non-traditional blend.”  That’s an understatement.  With Zinfandel (44%), Merlot (29%), Malbec (15%), Petit Verdot (7%), rounded out with Riesling, it is like no blend I’ve encountered.  But that’s one of the things that great about New World wine -- people are not afraid to experiment.  And this blend works.  Floral and fruity, with mild tannins, this mid-weight is not overdone or over-worked. Bright and lively (is that the Riesling speaking?), it would be ideal with BBQ. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Yountville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch 2015 ($100):  Nickel & Nickel’s State Ranch Cabernet, from a vineyard just down the road from Oakville in Yountville, is similarly ripe and intense as their Sullenger.  But it’s rounder and more supple than the its brother from Oakville.   A combination of dark black fruit and mineral-like nuances makes for an appealing ying and yang of sweet and savory flavors.  At just under 15 percent stated alcohol, this full-bodied Cabernet would be a good choice for a hearty beef or lamb dish. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018


Dolce, Napa Valley (California) Late Harvest Wine 2012 ($85): The 2012 Dolce exhibits intense aromas of pineapple, apricot, mandarin orange and honeycomb, with good balance on the palate and impressive length on the finish. While I would prefer to see a bit more acidity, the wine shows freshness and a clean finish. A blend of 89 percent Semillon and 11 percent Sauvignon Blanc, it resembles a fine Sauternes and will age remarkably well. This is America's most luxurious dessert wine and the 2012 is a very good vintage with near ideal growing conditions. Serve with foie gras or simply on its own. 95 Robert Whitley Jan 9, 2018

Dolce, Napa Valley (California) Late Harvest Wine 2012 ($85):  Styled after the great wines of Sauternes and Barsac, this blend of 89% Semillion and 11% Sauvignon Blanc delivers bright acidity that tames the 15.7% residual sugar and really makes the flavors sing.  Sweet ripe apricot, spice, marzipan and orange aromas and flavors are richly expressed and finish cleanly with a lingering mix of everything.  Classy dessert!  Sold in a 375ml bottle.
94 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Lang & Reed, Napa Valley (California) Chenin Blanc 2016 ($27):  One of a small handful of wineries that remain steadfastly committed to Chenin Blanc, and probably the best of the bunch year in and year out.  Peach and honey complemented by a stony mineral streak ride a round  barrel fermented texture through a long finish where a bright acid kiss wraps things up and pushes the flavors in unison.  Keep it up!
92 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) Proprietary White Wine 2016 ($32):  Long known for their non-traditional blends of red grapes, Paraduxx has released a white wine made from a non-traditional blend of white grapes:  Rhône varieties, Viognier (65%), Roussanne and Marsanne (7%), with Chardonnay (28%).  Floral and fruity, this mid-weight wine would be a pleasing stand-alone aperitif.  Nicely balanced, a hint of sweetness in the finish would make it a good choice for spiced Asian fare. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($36):  I for one am thankful that Merry Edwards gives the same care and attention to her Sauvignon Blanc that she gives the red side of the house — you can’t always drink Pinot Noir, right?  There’s a creamy crispness here that rings my bells, with melon, citrus, and a faint touch of grass, all refreshing and deliciously lingering long.  One of the top domestic Sauvignon Blancs. 94 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 2014 ($48):  There’s a fun “liar” quality to this tasty dessert, in the opposite way that Argentina’s Torrontes is typically caught in a lie.  There, the nose leads you to think sweet, but the palate surprises with crisp and dry.  Here, Merry Edwards gives you the full morning hayfield on the nose, and surprises with honeyed melon and citrus with a sweetgrass complement on the palate.  A true after dinner conversation piece.  Sold in a 375ml bottle. 93 Rich Cook Jan 9, 2018

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