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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 28, 2014 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

Barossa Valley:

Red:

3 Rings, Barossa Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2009 ($20, Quintessential): This Aussie powerhouse is like a vinous version of Cirque du Soleil, twisting and summersaulting across the taste buds, more acrobatic than graceful perhaps but certainly impressive in its own spirited, energetic fashion.  It’s hard not to like a wine that has such a robust personality.  Order a pizza, top off your glass, and enjoy the show.
90 Marguerite Thomas Oct 28, 2014

Western Australia:

Red:

Cloudburst, Margaret River (Western Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($250): Will Berliner, owner/winemaker at Cloudburst says he cares “about clarity and purity.”  He found both in his 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, an extraordinary wine.  In keeping with the Cloudburst style, Berliner squeezes incredible flavor and nuances out of his grapes without imparting heaviness.   The initial impact of this mid-weight 13.2% stated alcohol is herbs and ash -- an earthy minerality -- rather than fruit.  It’s a seductive and immediately appealing introduction.  A plethora of red and black fruitiness then fills in around the edges making for a spectacular Cabernet.  The tannins are fine, but not so highly polished that they don’t provide support. Not a cookie cutter style of Cabernet, it retains charms and character, qualities rarely found in wines from new producers. There is a classic -- not over ripe -- Bordeaux-like sensibility to this Margaret River wine.
97 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Cloudburst, Margaret River (Western Australia) Malbec 2012 ($225): Will Berliner, who has already shown his talent with his sensational Cabernet and Chardonnay, has added an equally impressive Malbec to his line up.  Berliner included a small amount of Malbec in his Cabernet Sauvignon previously and clearly liked how it did so he decided to make a small amount of wine (5,000 bottles) exclusively from that variety.  He’s one of the few to make a Malbec in Western Australia and judging from this wine, it could easily be that grape’s new home.  Cloudburst’s Malbec breaks the Malbec mould because it’s not big and bombastic.  Instead, it’s subtle, not just fruit-filled, with a haunting earthy complexity and a meaty, almost chewy texture.  Most surprisingly for Malbec, it has real finesse, in part, no doubt because of the modest 13% stated alcohol.  It’s likely the best Malbec I’ve ever tasted and redefines that varietal for me.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

White:

Cloudburst, Margaret River (Western Australia) Chardonnay 2012 ($200): I first tasted Cloudburst wines last year and was enthralled by them.  I figured owner/winemaker Will Berliner either had beginner’s luck or was a visionary.  Now that I’ve tasted another vintage of his Chardonnay, Cabernet and, now, Malbec, it is clear that his talents are not explained by beginner’s luck.  The 2012 Chardonnay is dazzling -- not because of its power, though it has that -- but because of its sleek racy profile.  Its power sneaks up on you.  A subtle refinement and extraordinary length makes it dazzles.  Not a muscular wine, there’s a warming touch of brioche -- perhaps a hint of hazelnut -- and balancing vivacious acidity that keeps it fresh.  What fascinates me is its graceful persistence.  It’s not flamboyant, but one sip tells you it’s a great wine.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

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CHILE

Red:

Maquis, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Lien, Red Blend 2010 ($30, Global Vineyard Importers): Rich, with layered complexity, this Chilean red blend shows off the ability of Chile's Colchagua Valley to produce wines with both power and grace. Complex layers of red and black fruits combined with supple, smooth tannins make this an inviting winter red at the price. Perhaps the oak is a bit too dominant, leading me to give this one a "drink now" nod while the fruit is still bright and fresh. 89 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

Apaltagua, Maule Valley (Chile) Malbec Reserva 2013 ($13, Global Vineyard Importers): This fruity Malbec from Chile's Maul Valley will do nicely at those tailgate parties and end-of-the-season backyard barbecues. With soft, supple tannins it is drinkable now, showing succulent black fruits, a hint of spice and a lingering finish. 86 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

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FRANCE

Rhône:

Red:

Famille Perrin, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Sinards” 2010 ($45, Vineyard Brands): With earthiness and spice, along with hints of dried fruit and wild fennel, this deep red wine has an appealing rusticity.  It is also fresh and lively, with sprightly tannins and a reasonably long finish.
90 Marguerite Thomas Oct 28, 2014

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PORTUGAL

Red:

Quinta do Noval, Vinho Regional Duriense (Portugal) “Cedro do Noval” 2009 ($19, Vintus Wines): Quinta do Noval, one of the world’s greatest Port producers, has been making dry wines from their home in the Douro Valley for about a decade.   They make three levels of dry wines. The first level, Cedro do Noval, named after the famous cedar tree that dominate the terrace at the Quinta do Noval, is a blend primarily of the classical Portuguese varieties with a small amount of Syrah.  It’s a robust red, to be sure, with succulent black fruit offset by vibrant spice and an almost chewy texture.  It’s lovely to drink now with hearty wintertime fare.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Douro:

Red:

Quinta do Noval, Douro (Portugal) Touriga Nacional 2011 ($56, Vintus Wines): Touriga Nacional, the most prized grape for Port, is also the most prized grape for Portugal’s dry red wines. Quinta do Noval’s bottling of their dry wine is as exemplary as their Port. This is an elegant and racy wine, a true thoroughbred.  Young and vigorous, it delivers intriguing spice.  It dazzles with its elegance, length and balance, not surprising given the stature of the 2011 vintage in the Douro.  Frankly, I’d cellar it for a few years, but if you’re set on drinking it sooner, decant it a few hours in advance and serve it with a robust dish.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

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SPAIN

Red:

Losada, Bierzo (Spain) 2011 ($23, Classical Wines from Spain): Bierzo may lack the name recognition of Rioja, but its wines can be equally memorable.  The Mencía grape, historically known for making dilute wines from over cropped vines, can make stunning wines, such as this one, when the vines are planted on the rocky hillsides in this northwestern region of Spain.  Losada’s Bierzo combines black fruit flavors with deep minerality to produce a wine with power, persistence and harmonizing gracefulness.  An alluring subtle bitterness in the finish means that if you pair this wine with a steak tonight, you’ll be very happy.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Aragon:

Red:

Las Rocas, Catalayud DO (Aragon, Spain) “El Renegado” 2012 ($14, Las Rocas USA): I must say that Gallo is working smart these days when it comes to their foreign interests.  This label is representing their Spanish portfolio with a flourish, with a great rosé earlier this year, and now this wine -- a blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Syrah that brings dry raspberry, cherry, black pepper, orange zest and tobacco in both aroma and flavor, with moderate grip and a long peppery finish that will pair with a wide selection of spicy red meat preparations.  Nice price, wide availability, food friendliness -- we've got another winner.
90 Rich Cook Oct 28, 2014

Navarra:

Red:

Bodegas Príncipe de Viana, Navarra (Spain) Garnacha Roble 2012 ($16, Classical Wines from Spain): My mantra is producer, producer, producer.  But when I am unfamiliar with a producer, I look at the importer, especially those who specialize in a country or region, because some importers’ portfolio are more consistent than others.  Classical Wines from Spain is one of those importers.  They rarely miss.  This simple Garnacha from Príncipe de Viana is an excellent example.  It’s a well-balanced cheery combination of fruity and spicy elements with hardly noticeable tannins -- just enough so it’s not soft and flabby.  It’s what I refer to as a “pizza wine,” but with unusual depth for a wine in that category.  It would also go well with rotisserie chicken.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Priorat:

Red:

Mas d’En Gil, Priorat (Spain) Coma Vella 2008 ($45, Classical Wines from Spain): The 2008 vintage in Priorat was cooler than usual, producing slightly less concentration, more vibrant wines.  Mas d’En Gil’s style leans toward less massive Priorat than many of the other producers.  The combination of their style and the vintage means that this wine, while still packing plenty of punch, is less muscular than the typical Priorat.  Spice and freshness balance its concentration and a pleasant bitter note in the finish makes this easy-to-recommend wine a good choice for this winter’s robust fare.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Rias Baixas:

White:

Morgadio, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) Albariño 2013 ($22, Classical Wines from Spain): Morgadio’s 2013 is to Rias Baixas what Martínsancho’s 2013 is to Rueda--a classic example of the denominacíon.  If you want to know what all the fuss is about Rias Baixas and its indigenous grape, Albariño, just taste this wine.  It has spice and palate-tingling energy, but more depth and length than many other wines from that DO.  Its savory, slight bitterness makes you salivate and return for another sip.  It’s a good choice when searching for a white that packs a bit of punch.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

Rioja:

Red:

Cune, Rioja (Spain) 2009 ($28, EuropVin USA): Ruby red in color, with great depth of flavor dominated by fresh red and black fruit accented by a faintly smoky backdrop, this is a serious wine that’s meant to be savored with food (lamb chops anyone?).  It has a medium body, with notable but not distracting oak, and tannins that are smooth and mouthwatering.
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 28, 2014

Rueda:

White:

Martinsancho, Rueda (Spain) Verdejo 2013 ($22, Classical Wines from Spain): Angel Rodriguez, the owner of Martínsancho, resurrected the Verdejo grape, the traditional cultivar of Rueda in the 1970s. King Juan Carlos of Spain recognized the importance of his work by awarding him the Cross of the Civil Order of Agriculture.  So it’s not surprising that this “Father of Rueda” should produce such a gorgeous wine.  Martínsancho’s 2013 captures Verdejo’s floral character and balances its almost white peach-like flavor and texture with riveting acidity.  This magical combination makes this sophisticated and versatile wine equally appealing with simple seafood or a more elaborate chicken breast in a rich and creamy mushroom sauce.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage "The Mariner" 2011 ($45): You've heard it before -- 2011 was a very tough vintage in California. When the weather got squirrely a lot of the newer players had trouble and made some suspect harvesting decisions.  But, as with any widely panned year, there are exceptional wines that find their way into the marketplace -- usually from the more experienced wineries who have lived through these kinds of events and know how to handle them.  Dry Creek has been making this blend since the 2004 harvest, and it's been a consistent performer.  This version shows deep blackberry, black cherry and cassis with hints of dried herbs, earth and brown spice in both aroma and flavor, delivered in a dry, food friendly style that will continue to improve with further bottle aging as the oak integrates more fully.  Kudos!  Contains 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec.
94 Rich Cook Oct 28, 2014

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage "The Mariner" 2010 ($35): This is what my tasting notes say about The Mariner:  “Sweet. Silky. Smooth. Savory. Had it with lasagna. Great match.”  Brief but succinct, right?  The only other observation I might add upon further reflection is that the wine also dazzles with its long bright finish.  And I should also point out that while it was indeed a great match with the lasagna, I’ve found very few hearty-type dishes, from pork chops to burgers to steaks, that aren’t wonderful with Dry Creek’s Meritage.  With every vintage, even the weaker years, it can always be counted on to deliver a consistent food-friendly taste profile.
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 28, 2014

Jayson, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($75): This vintage of Jayson from Pahlmeyer is all about power and heft without losing the appealing element of balance. Yes, it's big and rich at 15.2 percent alcohol, but all of the parts fit, creating a seamless Cab that delivers richness and complexity, delicious blackberry and cassis fruit, a note of chocolate and baking spice, and supple tannins that are feathery on the palate. 94 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

Volker Eisele, Napa Valley (California) Red Wine "Terzetto" 2009 ($60): The wine, blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, shows beautiful sweet ripe fruitiness is well balanced by a good tannic structure and fine, full aftertaste. Savory oak and the most subtle suggestion of vanilla are part of what makes this a special wine, as does an integrated alcohol application that heightens rather than dominates the overall taste sensation.
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 28, 2014

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($145): Talk about a nose!  Far Niente continues a long string of stellar Oakville bottlings with this aromatic mix of blackberry, cherry, cassis, cedar spice and a touch of saffron that are delivered on a tightly wound palate that currently is red-fruit forward, but showing the promise of the other elements under a firm grip and structured acidity.  This is a long haul wine that will please now with a long decant, and reward extended aging. Contains 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.
96 Rich Cook Oct 28, 2014

Robert Hall, Paso Robles (California) Merlot 2012 ($20): My experience with Merlot from Paso is that it is usually solid, sometimes even very good, but seldom great. I suspect it's simply too warm through the growing season to produce edgy Merlot, but this vintage from Robert Hall certainly fits nicely in the "very good," category, showing rich, ripe dark fruit aromas, vanillin spice and a long, pleasing finish. No, it's not Duckhorn, but then it's only $20, and a good value at that price. 88 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

Kenwood Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Artist Series” 2010 ($75): Long one of California's flagship wines, this vintage draws from Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley fruit and the art of Keith Wicks in a package that will please the sailors on your gift list as well as Sonoma Cabernet fans everywhere. Aromatics show a top layer of mint and eucalyptus, but further exploration reveals deep blackberry, cassis, mild dried herbs, vanilla and faint fall spice. The palate shows big acid structure, with medium weight and flavors that reflect the nose and are just beginning to integrate.  This is a wine for the long haul, continuing a tradition of over 35 years of excellence. Bravo!
95 Rich Cook Oct 28, 2014

Nickel & Nickel, Yountville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch 2012 ($100): Nickel & Nickel's State Ranch Cabernet is young and somewhat closed at this stage, but the underlying evidence suggests this is another in what is becoming an almost monotonous parade of spectacular single-vineyard Cabernets from N&N. The fruit is dense and ripe, showing aromas of cassis, blackberry and plum, with a hint of cedar, firm tannins and exceptional depth and palate weight. This wine holds almost limitless potential going forward and is a candidate for cellaring up to 20 years. 95 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

White:

Piña Cellars, Oak Knolls District (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay Low Vineyard 2012 ($34): One of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernet producers has branched out into the white wine world with this elegant Chardonnay.  A nose of white flowers, pear and apple with a light lemon crème touch are translated perfectly on the palate, with a soft feel, crisp acid and notes of peach, sweet soft oak spice and stone minerality coming through on the long finish.  One of the most Chablis like domestics I've tasted. Well done!
93 Rich Cook Oct 28, 2014

Trione, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($23): This vintage of Trione evokes memories of Sancerre, the money white wine of France's Loire Valley. Rather than the pungent yellow citrus aromas of grapefruit and lemon that are common characteristics of Sonoma Sauvignon, the Trione trends more toward the sweet red citrus fruits of tangerine and nectarine, with hints of melon and pear. This is a beautifully structured Sauvignon that exhibits mouth-watering acidity, a stony minerality, and exquisite balance. 94 Robert Whitley Oct 28, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

St. Innocent Winery, Dundee Hills (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Freedom Hill Vineyard 2012 ($40): St. Innocent is one of the best producers of Freedom Hill Pinot Noir.  The 2012 vintage shows the ripeness of the harvest with pure black cherry, raspberry, and plum fruits backed by hints of lilac, earth, vanilla and allspice.  The flavors are rich and ripe with blackberry, black cherry and raspberry fruits enhanced by a creamy texture, a hint of dried mushroom and lively spices at the finish.  Enjoy it with roasted meats and flavorful stews during the cooler months ahead.
91 Wayne Belding Oct 28, 2014

Chehalem Winery, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Stoller Vineyard 2012 ($50): The Stoller Vineyard has long been a source of fine Chehalem Pinot Noirs.  The 2012 harvest yielded perfectly ripe fruit character and a rich texture in the wine.  The bouquet reveals blackberry, red apple and black cherry fruits underlain by violet, vanilla, cracked pepper and baking spice nuances.  On the palate, the wine shows layers of strawberry, ripe cherry and blackberry fruits interwoven with nuances of vanilla, flowers and cinnamon spice.  The intense fruit and baking spice tones linger at the finish.  This rich and elegant Pinot Noir will age well for another 5+ years.
90 Wayne Belding Oct 28, 2014

White:

Cristom Vineyards, Eola Amity Hills (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Viognier 2013 ($29): The Cristom Vineyards Viognier offers a more restrained and elegant style of this aromatic grape.  The nose shows lovely ripe peach and apricot and ripe pear fruits with hints of apple blossom, honeysuckle and butter.  Round and full on the palate, it combines the luscious peach and apricot fruits with a range of floral and exotic spice elements.  It is a delicious rendition of Viognier that shows a lively and lifted style rather unusual among USA renditions of this grape.
89 Wayne Belding Oct 28, 2014

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