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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

February 14, 2017 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

Red:

Wakefield / Taylors, Clare Valley / McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz “Jaraman” 2015 ($30): A very solid expression of Shiraz, starting out with aromas of fresh mint, menthol and black cherry in front of a backdrop of leaf and olive.  The palate is bold and well integrated, delivering the nose elements and bringing the fruit center stage.  Moderate grip carries the fruit through the finish while keeping the other elements in play.  Nicely complex Shiraz at this price point.
91 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

South Australia:

Red:

Penfolds, South Australia (Australia) Cabernet - Shiraz “Bin 389” 2014 ($69, TWE Imports): I’ve tasted almost every vintage of this wine for the past 20 years, so I’ve got plenty of context for what follows.  Naturally, I didn’t taste the wines side-by-side, so I can’t say that this is the best Bin 389 ever released by Penfolds, but I can certainly say that I can’t remember a better one.  That’s important because this wine’s price has increased appreciably in recent years, whereas it was once priced fairly closely to the Bin 28 and Bin 128 bottlings of Shiraz (now at $30).  Accordingly, if you were returning to this after an interim of some years, you’d expect a lot more for you money.  And in the case of this 2014, you’d get it.  Bin 389 has long been called Penfolds’ “Baby Grange.”  Although I’m not sure that winemaker Peter Gago is particularly fond of that coinage (since Grange is absolutely, positively unique…as anyone who has tasted the wine from any vintage will tell you), the 2014 Bin 389 really measures up to the “second wines” of Bordeaux’s First Growth Chateaux.  Moreover, based on the fact that the current low price for the 2010 vintage of Carrauades de Lafite is $200, there’s little question that Penfolds is outperforming the “Super Seconds” with regard to value.  This is very darkly pigmented and equally impressively concentrated, with extremely deep flavors.  However, what is most impressive is that the wine is already amazingly well integrated, with perfectly proportioned, dark-toned fruit that has already absorbed almost all the overt oak notes and easily counterbalances the serious (but not coarse or astringent) tannins.  Accents of cocoa powder and light toast add interesting complexity, and the wine’s freshness is uncanny for its weight.  In sum, this is absolutely terrific.
95 Michael Franz Feb 14, 2017

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CHILE

Red:

Peñalolén, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($20, Global Vineyard Importers): Good luck getting a better Cabernet than this for $20.  The wine shows quite expressive aromas and flavors, yet is really only medium-bodied, with enough structure to pair well with serious foods…but no harshness that would prevent you from enjoying it with light hors d'oeuvres.  That’s exactly what I tried the wine with recently at a party on Super Bowl Sunday, and though I totally lost my appetite during the 4th quarter, the wine was long gone by then.  Back up the truck…this is a steal.
91 Michael Franz Feb 14, 2017

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FRANCE

Bordeaux:

Red:

Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2014 ($40): A wine from a Chateau listed in famous 1855 Classification of Bordeaux -- a so-called Classified Bordeaux -- for $40 is a rarity.  Especially when it’s not the Chateau’s “second” wine, but actually their “grand vin.”  Château La Lagune has always been under-rated, delivering more than its price suggested.  Their 2014 is no exception.  Smooth and delectable, it delivers that alluring “not just fruit” character without being flashy.  Suavely textured, it’s easy to taste now.  But fine tannins and its harmony means it will evolve gracefully over the next decade or two.  If you’re just starting a cellar, this is a Bordeaux to buy by the case.  Even if you already have a cellar, I’d find room in it for a few bottles.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Château Coufran, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2014 ($18): Château Coufran, an oddity on the Left Bank because of its high proportion of Merlot, combines a leafy earthy component with fine tannins in their 2014.  It’s a steal.  And just because Coufran is not a “classified growth” (that is, it was not classified as Grand Cru Classé in 1855) do not dismiss its ability to develop with age.  I recently had a bottle of the 1982 Coufran, which was wonderfully fresh and complex. 
90 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2014 ($58): Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier, believes that the wines from Pessac-Léognan should be “feminine, not a powerhouse.”  In keeping with his philosophy, Domaine de Chevalier red is never a block-busting powerhouse.  But it’s always a majestic wine.  The 2014, while less concentrated and less dense than others from Pessac-Léognan, is exciting to taste.  It’s a magical combination of fruit and savory notes enveloped in supple tannins.  It has a Burgundian-like character.  Indeed, the phrase I often use to describe red Burgundy, “flavor without weight,” comes to mind.  It’s rare to find a wine of this caliber at this price.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Château Phélan Ségur, St. Estèphe (Bordeaux, France) 2014 ($40): Under Véronique Dausse’s management Château Phélan Ségur has catapulted into the top ranks.  Her team produced a positively gorgeous wine in 2014.  Though refined and polished, it retained the attractive gritty earthiness that makes the wines of St. Estèphe so engaging.  At $40 a bottle, it is one of the best buys of the vintage.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

White:

Château Coutet, Barsac (Bordeaux, France) 2014 ($44): Sweet wines, such as this one, need to be judged on their verve and acidity, not just their luxurious richness.  On that count, the 2014 Château Coutet is a winner.  It has plenty of energy to balance its honeyed character so it’s not cloying at all, but rather refreshing.  And long.  I prefer to serve these luscious sweet wines with cheese or by themselves as desert.  Paired with a sweet course often detracts from both the food and the wine.  Half bottles (375 ml) of are especially useful since one will serve four easily.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Burgundy:

White:

Alex Gambal, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($25): The 2014 vintage for whites in Burgundy across appellations is exceptional, ranking with 2010 and 2008.  The across-the-board quality is a boon for consumers because even wines from the lowliest appellations from top producers, such as Alex Gambal’s Bourgogne Blanc, shine.  Gambal, an American who started in Burgundy about 20 years ago, both owns vineyards -- even a parcel of the famed Bâtard-Montrachet -- and buy grapes from his neighbors and colleagues.  His 2014 Bourgogne Blanc has more depth and intrigue than you’d expect at the price. It’s classic white Burgundy with mineral-infused flavors and vivacity.  If you’re looking for big California Chardonnay, look elsewhere.  But for classic white Burgundy, look no further.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Maison Louis Jadot, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($17, Kobrand Wine & Spirits): This sensational bargain is clearly marketed to New World wine drinkers with the word Chardonnay in large type emblazoned on the label.  Marketing aside, with zesty energy and a hint of seductive creaminess, its flavor profile and character shouts -- in a refined way -- white Burgundy.  This is a blend of Chardonnay-based wines from the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise, and importantly, the Côte d’Or.  The inclusion of wine from the latter, and of course the stellar 2014 vintage for whites, explains why this Bourgogne Blanc stands out.  I have extensive experience with how marvelously well Jadot’s wines develop with bottle age.  Even this one, with its lowly Bourgogne Blanc appellation, will provide enjoyment for years to come, so buy it by the case -- or two.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Chablis (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($29, Frederick Wildman & Sons): With everyone raving about the Chablis and other white Burgundies from the 2014 vintage, those wines from 2015 may be overlooked, which would be a shame.  Domaine Christian Moreau made an exceptional village Chablis in 2015, a year that produced riper whites compared to 2014.  Fabien Moreau thought the key to their success in 2015 -- and they were across all levels -- was that they picked early to capture freshness.  This Chablis has a touch more ripeness than their captivating 2014, but plenty of verve and minerality to remind you of its origin.  Those who prefer less steely Chablis will really love it.  But frankly, even those, such as myself, who prefer more steely Chablis, will still love it.
89 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Vaillon 2015 ($41, Frederick Wildman & Sons): Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils labels his Vaillon as the singular, omitting the “s” to emphasize that their grapes come from the original and heart of the vineyard, not an adjacent vineyard that is allowed to use the name Vaillons.  Their parcel -- and of course their talent and attention to detail -- explain the stature of this wine.  A clear jump up from their village Chablis, it shows the stature of Premier Cru, with more length and complexity.  Its vivacity and stoniness screams Chablis!  Shellfish anyone? 91 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, Champagne (France) Rosé NV ($50): The blend -- 90 percent Pinot Noir and the remainder Chardonnay -- explains the power of this Champagne.  But its appeal is not just its power.  It has depth and most important, impeccable balance.  Nothing seems out of place.  Yes, drink it as an aperitif, but it’s sturdy enough to stand up to a salad Niçoise ladened with grilled rare tuna.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

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ITALY

Trentino:

Sparkling:

Ferrari, Trento DOC (Trentino, Italy) “Perlé” Brut 2008 ($38, Palm Bay International): Here's a great find in the world of bubbles.  This 100% Chardonnay spends a long rest on the yeast before disgorgement -- a minimum of five years -- and the result is a beautiful expression of apple, citrus and brioche aromas that lead to a palate of lively acidity that scours gently and leaves a zesty impression with apple coming forward as the citrus zest fades a bit.  A wonderful celebration bottle -- I plan to celebrate just about anything as soon as possible.  Saluté!
94 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Wither Hills, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($16, Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners): This is an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc in that it has the tart, crisp elements one expects from New Zealand, but here the acidity is subtly tempered by what seems to be a cushion of softness.  It is this very duality that makes Whither Hills’ Sauvignon Blanc both fascinating and succulent.  With its clean, briny finish it’s a great match for oysters, and I would bet sushi and sashimi as well (I had it recently with ceviche, which was a dynamite combo).  It also has enough depth of flavor and texture to be a good companion to other seafood dishes, pan-fried trout or flounder for example, or just about anything with shrimp.
92 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

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SWITZERLAND

Red:

Delea, Ticino (Swizterland) Merlot “Marengo” 2014 ($20, Siema Wines): This nimble little Swiss wine is light as a whisper, but its message is clear and compelling, led by tasty undercurrents of gentle fruit.  Thanks to the wine’s light body and clean flavors it is particularly suited to delicately scaled foods.  Serve it with light chicken dishes for example, or perhaps even sea bass or other meaty white fish .
90 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Chelsea Goldschmidt, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Merlot 2015 ($21): Dark beet red, with a sweetly floral impression adding more depth to the fruity fragrance, this is an impeccably balanced Merlot.  It has robust, sunny flavors and a lush texture, yet nothing here is overdone.  Another bonus is the persistent, follow-through flavors on the finish.  A lip-smacking wine indeed.
93 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) “The Mariner” 2013 ($45): One of Dry Creek's Meritage bottlings, and it always seems to be my favorite of the lot.  Like this vintage, they're always built in a way that you can enjoy them young, and, if you're the patient sort, will also age gracefully long term.  Gorgeous black berry, black cherry, mild leaf and chocolate notes, and just a touch of dried herbs are all present in aroma and flavor, and are already nicely integrated.  The tannin structure shows a touch of firmness at present, but a short decant will round it off just fine.  Another winner!
95 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Skinner, El Dorado (California) Mourvedre Estate Grown 2014 ($58): Skinner's two estate vineyards are at two different elevations, and this Mourvedre draws from both sites, giving it an elevation range from 1400 to 2700 feet -- some of the highest domestic vineyards. About three acres are under this Rhone variety, and a glass tells you that the sites are an appropriate home for the grape.  This is quite refined in style, with elegant spiced black cherry, dusty earth and faint tarry notes in aroma and flavor.  That said, it's not without the leafy, more rustic qualities that you expect.  This is a winery to watch -- as their vines mature, some amazing bottles no doubt loom on the horizon.  Well done!
94 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Skinner, El Dorado (California) Mourvedre 2014 ($28): You'll want to give this wine a good decant as it presents what wine geeks like to call a heavily reductive nose at first pour.  Not to worry -- this is due to a fairly common winemaking practice that in effect starves the wine for oxygen to bring out depth of fruit.  Be sure to give any wine that smells like rubber tire, burnt match, rotten egg or gas some good swirling before dismissing it.  This wine is a perfect example of why the method is advisable.  A little time exposes wildly deep black fruit aromas ranging from blackberry to spiced plum, with savory notes of tar and cedar adding interest.  The palate shows layered complexity, with the nose elements all present in a plush texture with a supple grip the pushes the finish well past the swallow.  Be careful with first impressions -- sometimes a little work is required on your part to experience all the good that someone else has put into your glass.
92 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) “Trilogy” 2014 ($80): This vintage of Trilogy shows a boldness that recent vintages have not, with a focus on forward black fruit, cedar spice, vanilla and crème de cassis.  It's a full throttle mouthful that shows stylized Napa character, and it's a delight now, with plenty of age-worthy stuffing for your cellar.  Contains 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec and 6% Petite Verdot.
95 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($72): Deep, dark and delicious, Duckhorn’s Cabernet is a triumph of good winemaking and excellent fruit (the grapes are sourced from a handful of different vineyards).  The texture is smooth and silky, with fine tannins adding textural interest and contrast.  The fruit is ripe and luscious, and the finish is long and lovely.
93 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Merlot “Los Osos” 2014 ($15): Another value leader from J. Lohr -- the winemaking team just can't seem to mess it up.  This is a juicy, ripe Merlot that stays in the red fruit zone, with a little touch of dried cranberry and proper green tones that add interest without overwhelming.  You'll find it for around twelve bucks, and you'll be happy that you did.
90 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Etude, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard 2014 ($45): Etude's AVA series reaches outside of their great Carneros estate fruit to show other facets of Pinot Noir, with all the care and skill that goes into the estate program.  This wine from Kathy Joseph's Fiddlestix vineyard shows rich black cherry, fall spice and just enough Santa Rita Hills funk to let you know where it comes from.  Bright acid drives a long finish that has some sweet oak notes blossoming.  I'd serve it with roast fowl with an under the skin butter and herb rub.
93 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

White:

Clos Pegase, Carneros (California) Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard "Hommage" 2012 ($45): This is one of those rare California Chardonnays where every piece fits together perfectly with the next.  The deep liquid gold color prepares you for the flood of fragrance that fills the senses like fine perfume.  Redolent of exotic scents including jasmine, musk and cardamom, that aromatic largesse segues to the broad and densely layered flavors (preserved lemon, vanilla ice cream and tropical fruits to mention just a few), and ultimately to the halo of taste and texture that caps off a uniquely satisfying sensory experience.
94 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

Baileyana, Edna Valley (California) Chardonnay “La Pristina” 2014 ($30): Run.  Yes, I said run, don't walk, to grab up some of this exquisite Chardonnay from the hardest working man in the wine business, Christian Roguenant.  It's easy to see why he separated this small lot out from the always delicious Firepeak offering -- it's a standout on its own, with fresh apple, pineapple, pear and lemon aromas and flavors, delivered on racy acidity and a long mouth-watering finish that brings very light touches of oak spice and vanilla into play.  This is my kind of Chardonnay!
95 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Dutton Goldfield, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch, Rued Vineyard 2014 ($55): This bottling is riding high now for several vintages in a row, and it's once again a star.  The nose is a bit shy upon opening, and it remains subtle with some air time.  The palate, however, is anything but, featuring bold spiced apple, pear, quince and touches of leaf and lemon crème, finishing long, dry and well integrated.  With a little bottle age, I suspect the nose will open a bit and push the score north a little.  Well done!
95 Rich Cook Feb 14, 2017

Washington:

Red:

Barnard Griffin, Columbia Valley (Washington) Merlot 2014 ($19): From one of Washington State’s most venerable estates, this Merlot is guaranteed to draw you into its glorious orbit.  Enticingly aromatic, with red and black fruits, orange peel, and perhaps a dash of black pepper, the whole flavor package is laced together with understated oak and vanilla elements. Texturally, it is smooth, silky and absolutely luscious.
93 Marguerite Thomas Feb 14, 2017

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