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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

December 3, 2019 Issue

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FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Bruno Paillard, Champagne (France) “Premier Cuvée Rosé” NV ($60):  A gorgeous Extra Brut Champagne, with ripe strawberry, raspberry and citrus aromas that translate in linear fashion on the tart and tangy palate.  There’s a lot of finish push here with the emphasis on mouth-watering freshness and pure fruit expression.  A great all-around pairing partner or solo salutation!   
94 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019


GERMANY

Mosel:

White:

Peter Lauer, Mosel (Germany) Riesling Feinherb "Barrel X" 2018 ($22, Vom Boden):  The Peter Lauer estate in located in Germany’s Mosel anbaugebeit, although the wines are drawn from vineyards in the Saar – a tributary of the Mosel noted for the delicacy and finesse of its wines.  Florian Lauer currently manages the estate and is focused on producing dry or barely off-dry wines.  His Barrel X Riesling Feinherb is a perfect expression of the Saar style.  Feinherb is a designation of an off-dry character.  The bouquet is expressive and enticing with vivid citrus, apple and peach fruit scents interwoven with elements of flowers, subtle herbs, allspice and ginger.  On the palate, it shows pure flavors of green apple, lemon and peach backed by a ginger-like spice and the racy, electric finish that defines the best Saar wines. This is a delicious Riesling that will cellar well for another 3 to 5 years.  
90 Wayne Belding Dec 3, 2019


ITALY

Sparkling:

Medici Ermete, Reggiano Lambrusco DOC (Emilia-Romagna, Italy) “Concerto" 2017 ($21, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Lambrusco is often overlooked when fine Italian wines are discussed.  While there is a history of simple, inexpensive Lambrusco imported to the United States, the best Lambruscos bear little resemblance to their mundane brethren and are well worth seeking out.  The Ermete Medici estate produces delicious, classic Lambruscos. Their Concerto is a rare, single vineyard Lambrusco drawn from the low-yielding Tenuta La Rampata vineyard in Reggio Emilia.  The 2017 Concerto Lambrusco is a brilliant purplish-ruby in color and exhibits a lively fizziness when poured.  Ripe raspberry, strawberry and plum scents are enhanced by a floral violet aroma.  The flavors are pure and lively, with layers of strawberry, blackberry and raspberry fruits dancing across the palate with a juicy brightness that balances the barely off-dry finish.  Fine Lambrusco like the Concerto is the perfect companion for Prosciutto di Parma or other cured meats.  Try it and see.  You’ll be a fan for life.  
91 Wayne Belding Dec 3, 2019

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Abruzzo:

Red:

Umani Ronchi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (Italy) “Centovie” 2015 ($41, Vineyard Brands):  This is Umani Ronchi’s first vintage of its Montepulciano from its newly acquired vineyards in Abruzzo.  Also 100% Montepulciano, at this stage in its first year of production, it resembles the winery’s Cúmaro, but is readier to drink.  It has soft tannins, and has been made with ripe grapes, seemingly a trademark of Umani Ronchi’s wines, especially its reds.     
93 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

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Marche:

Red:

Umani Ronchi, Conero DOCG (Marche, Italy) “Campo San Giorgio”, Riserva 2015 ($71, Vineyard Brands):  Also from the Conero region, Campo San Giorgio is a single-vineyard Rosso Conero Riserva from a very small (2.5 acre) select vineyard that was planted in 1999, with the first vintage made in 2009.  The wine, 100% Montepulciano, is aged in new oak for 12 months, and then transferred to large oak casks. This is Umani Ronchi’s most tannic red wine; it will be at its best with several more years of aging.  Only 5,000 bottles are produced annually.  It should last for decades, and may well merit a higher score with aging.   
94 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

Umani Ronchi, Conero DOCG (Marche, Italy) “Cùmaro” Riserva 2015 ($37, Vineyard Brands):  Umani Ronchi’s most important red wine, Cúmaro is made in Marche’s Conero region near the sea, in Umani Ronchi’s revitalized winery in the city of Osimo.  Cùmaro, a Rosso Conero DOCG wine, is made from 100% of the Montepulciano grape.  It was first produced in the 1985 vintage, as a complement to Umani Ronchi’s Verdicchio wines.  Umani Ronchi does not release its wines until they are ready to drink; this 2015 Cùmaro, released just this year, is perfect to drink now.  It has some soft tannins, with good acidity.  It is fully ripe, with excellent balance and structure.   It should be fine for drinking for a decade or more.     
94 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

Umani Ronchi, Conero DOCG (Marche, Italy) “Pelago” 2015 ($48, Vineyard Brands):  From vineyards in the Conero region of Marche, Umani Ronchi’s Pelago is a blended wine.  It seems that almost every winery in central Italy makes at least one wine with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.  Pelago, first produced in the 1994 vintage, normally has 50% Montepulciano, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10 % Merlot. This 2015 has a 45-45-10% ratio.  Pelago is made only in the better vintages.  The 2015 Pelago is drinking well now, still retaining its Italian heritage in taste.   
92 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

White:

Umani Ronchi, Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC (Marche, Italy) Verdicchio “CaSal di Serra”, Vecchie Vigne 2017 ($31, Vineyard Brands):  The Verdicchio variety reaches new heights with this wine, made from 50 year-old vines planted in the early 1970s.  Umani Ronchi favors full ripening, not picking the grapes until mid-October.  The resulting wine, 100% Verdicchio, is full and complex, with so much citrus flavor, accompanied by great acidity.  I loved this wine!  It was easily the wine of the tasting for me.  And retailing at $31, it’s a really great value.      
97 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

Umani Ronchi, Castelli di Jesi DOC (Marche, Italy) Verdicchio “Plenio” Riserva 2017 ($31, Vineyard Brands):  Umani Ronchi’s "Plenio" Reserve 100% Verdicchio is aged longer than its other Verdicchio wines, and is a richer wine, more full-bodied and elegant.  I did think it was exceptional, but for me the Vecchie Vigne is the better wine.  Plenio retails at the same price as the “Casal di Serra” Vecchie Vigne.  
94 Ed McCarthy Dec 3, 2019

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Piedmont:

White:

Ninety+ Cellars, Langhe DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Nascetta “Lot 149” 2017 ($17, Latitude Beverage Company):  Latitude Beverage Company is a négociant established by Kevin Mehra.  The Ninety+ Cellars brand name came from Mehra’s initial buying strategy, namely, ratings from The Wine Spectator.   Today, he has his own tasting panel helping him identify wines for all the company brands.  This delightful white from an unusual grape variety of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy certainly over-delivers in terms of quality for the price.  It radiates cheer with floral notes mingling with fresh herbs in the nose, light and lively in the mouth with citrus and peach flavors and a savory salinity.  You can enjoy it on its own or with a light pasta salad.  According to Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Nascetta is native to the hamlet of Novello in Piemonte.  It has survived decades of indifference, but thanks to people like Elvio Cogno and brothers Mauro and Savio Daniele of Le Strette, it is an emerging star.   
89 Rebecca Murphy Dec 3, 2019

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Sicily:

Red:

Planeta, Sicilia DOC (Sicily, Italy) “La Segreta”, Il Rosso 2016 ($15, Palm Bay International):  A blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc, this easygoing Sicilian red offers bright red berry and cherry fruit aromas and flavors, plus a whiff of cocoa.  With its relatively low alcohol content (13%), fresh fruit nuances and light, smooth tannins this is a savory Sicilian red blend that is tasty and versatile.   
90 Marguerite Thomas Dec 3, 2019


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Dutton-Goldfield, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard 2017 ($58):  Angel Camp Vineyard overlooks the Navarro River, in the northern half of Anderson Valley, where cooling fogs and a large diurnal temperature variation are commonplace during the growing season.  The 2017 Pinot Noir is on the savory side, showing black tea, earth, and floral notes alongside red cherry and red plum fruit.  Some sandalwood and spice show on the palate.  The wine is smooth, with good length and slightly drying tannins.   
92 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Arroyo Grande Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir "Whole Cluster" 2018 ($44):  Whole Cluster fermentation adds a nice spicy kick to this bottling, and careful handling is in evidence with no overtly stemmy notes that might detract from the rich fruit core.  Black cherry, soft blackberry and easy pepper notes dance on the palate and finish extremely long and lively.  This was just released, but I don’t imagine it will last very long!  
94 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Arroyo Grande Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Clone 667 2017 ($35):  Another great Pinot from Laetitia.   This clone specific bottling showcases the fruity nature of 667, with bright cherry, strawberry and gentle oak spice helping to lift the fruit as it rises the balanced acidity through a long, rich finish.  If you prefer Pinot Noir as a cocktail glass, this is a perfect choice.  
93 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($27):  The 2016 Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon is a remarkable value among quality California Cabernets.  The fruit for this wine is sourced from Dry Creek Valley vineyards and the warmth of the site is reflected in the ripeness of the wine.  The nose offers a lovely floral note plus ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruits backed by hints of red cherry, cocoa, vanilla and herbs.  It is round and smooth on the palate, with considerable depth for such an affordable bottling.  The layers of black fruits are enhanced by the toasty oak nuances and the delicate herbal tones.  It is fully enjoyable now for its lush fruit character and it will cellar well for another five years or more. 
91 Wayne Belding Dec 3, 2019

J. Lohr, Estrella District, Paso Roblesre (Central Coast, California) Petit Verdot Home Ranch 2017 ($45):   This is from a block located directly east of the tasting room on Airport Road, and the first J. Lohr product to carry a sub AVA designation.  It’s beautifully realized, showcasing Petit Verdot's black and blue fruit character, supple tannin structure and finish extension properties.  There’s some age-worthy stuffing here, but it’s a delightful food wine upon release.  Try it with a mushroom-based dish.  
93 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Fort Ross-Seaview (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir McDougall Vineyard 2017 ($68):  Relatively light in color, with a mix of red fruit, forest floor, and savory notes – red raspberry, cranberry, bay leaf.  Fresh, this is a smooth and elegant wine, with fine tannins on a long finish.  Fort Ross Seaview, as the name implies, is one of Sonoma’s most maritime, ocean-cooled sub-AVAs.   
92 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Fox Den Vineyard 2017 ($62):  A somewhat newer vineyard, planted in 2002, Fox Den lies on the western edge of Green Valley.  The 2017 Pinot Noir is fairly dense and chewy, but not heavy.  The fruit spectrum is darker, with notes of plum and raspberry supplemented by sandalwood and exotic spice notes.  Tannins are ripe but firm. 
91 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, Emerald Ridge Vineyard 2017 ($68):  From a vineyard in the northern portion of Green Valley, this wine shows classic Russian River Valley fruit on nose, especially raspberry liqueur, blueberry, and blackberry.  Some clove and smoke notes appear on the palate, which is concentrated and intense.  Medium body, with a rounded mouthfeel that’s still firm and dry, with light tannins.   
89 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Marin County (California) Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch Vineyard 2017 ($72):  It’s easy to associate Marin County with the sprawling suburbs visible from the highway north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but growers are increasingly taking advantage of the farmlands to the west, closer to the cooling Pacific Ocean.  The Devil’s Gulch vineyard is a steep, terraced plot, winding around the curves of the hills.  Owner Mark Pasternak first planted vines there in 1980, and today he is one of the guiding lights for newer vineyards, many of which he manages or consults for.  The 2017 shows a mix of dark and red fruits on the nose, but is brighter on the palate, with touches of redcurrant, strawberry and raspberry.  Medium-bodied, it’s a bit juicy, with lively acidity.    
89 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Mendocino County (California) Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard 2017 ($68):  This is the most northerly vineyard Dutton-Goldfield sources from, lying some ways past Anderson Valley.  It was planted in 2010 and at 1,000 feet elevation lies above the usual fog line.  The 2017 Pinot Noir shows ripe blue and black fruits such as black cherry and boysenberry along with touches of pipe tobacco and clove.  It’s medium-bodied and well-focused, with firm tannins and good length.   
91 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Peju, Napa Valley (California) “The Farm” Red Wine 2015 ($80):  A domestic Super Tuscan sourced from Peju’s estate vineyards in Rutherford and Pope Valley, it features rich blackberry fruit with chocolate and cherry tobacco notes adding interest.  Supple structure makes this wine quite approachable now, and it promises to gain complexity with five to ten years of cellaring.  Decant well in the near term for full enjoyment.  Winemaker Sara Fowler is producing a solid portfolio here!  
93 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) “Cuvée St. E” 2007 ($50):  What a treat to taste winemaker Steve Peck’s inaugural ground to glass bottling of this wine!   It’s evolved into a wine that could just now sneak undetected into a blind tasting of Bordeaux.  It’s driving beautiful sweet tobacco aromas with complementary notes of fennel alongside calmed red and black fruit and soft oak spice.  On the palate, the nose elements are fully integrated and ride a long, elegant finish out.  If you’ve got friends that dismiss Paso Robles as a lesser wine region, use this bottle to educate them.  
96 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Petaluma Gap (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard 2017 ($62):  While Freestone Hill looks out from the northern side over the Petaluma Wind Gap, Azaya Ranch Vineyard is on its southern edge.  It’s a cooler site, with more direct wind.  This is a more concentrated, somewhat powerful style of Pinot Noir, with blackberry, black cherry, and boysenberry fruit offset by touches of spice, smoke, and graphite.  It’s full-bodied, and dense, with well-balanced, moderate tannins and good length. 
91 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, Freestone Hill Vineyard 2017 ($72):  This vineyard, planted a couple years before Dutton-Goldfield began production, is nestled in the southwest corner of the Russian River Valley, enjoying some of the cooling influences of the Petaluma Wind Gap.  This is a dark-fruited wine, with notes of blackberry, raspberry, and plum as well as a touch of spice.  It’s lush, weighty, and rounded, with satisfying length.   
90 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel Dutton Ranch, Morelli Lane Vineyard 2017 ($50):   The Morelli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel is dark fruited and ripe, but well-structured, with blackberry, black plum, and black cherry notes.   It shows some licorice and vanilla notes as well.  Fairly weighty, but still nimble, with moderate tannins.   
88 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Redwood Ridge 2017 ($62):  From another higher-elevation site, surrounded by the trees that give it its name.  It shows a generous nose, with notes of spice, lavender, pomegranate, and raspberry.  On the palate it’s concentrated and firm, with slightly drying tannins and a concentrated, long finish.   
93 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir "Deviate" 2017 ($72):  An exception to the single vineyard concept, Deviate combines fruit from two sites, Jentoft Vineyard in Green Valley and Putnam Vineyard in the West Sonoma Coast.  It’s a rich, round, and aromatic wine, with dark fruits – black cherry and plum – complemented by touches of anise, smoke, and black tea.  Tannins are ripe and well-integrated; overall the wine is generous and easy to enjoy in the best possible way.   
92 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Etude, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard "AVA Collection" 2017 ($50):  Sourced from Kathy Joseph’s famed Fiddlestix Vineyard and given the full Etude treatment, where all the nuance of Santa Rita Hills is allowed to shine.  Deep cherry fruit and regional damp earth minerality ride bright acidity through an extended finish with notes of subtle oak spice adding depth.  Wise picking decisions are in evidence here.   Well done!  
92 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

White:

J. Lohr, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County, California) Pinot Blanc F&G Vineyard 2018 ($35):  Pinot Blanc is underutilized in California, largely due to fewer and fewer plantings.  J. Lohr has remained dedicated to it, after originally planting it in 1972 in Arroyo Seco. This bottling comes from F&G Vineyard (Franscioni & Griva) in the same area.  It delivers apple, pear and citrus over a creamy texture with good weight band bright acidity that pushes the finish in a fully integrated way.  A compelling argument for more planting of this variety!   
93 Rich Cook Dec 3, 2019

Tolosa Winery, Edna Valley (San Luis Obispo County, California) Chardonnay Edna Ranch "1772 Series" 2018 ($58):  My husband pours a glass of wine for me in the evening, but before I can actually drink and enjoy it, he challenges me to analyze its characteristics to determine grape variety and region.  The grape variety for this one was pretty easy:  Not a very aromatic variety like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Gewurztraminer, but with the slightest hint of fresh asparagus, which for me points to Chardonnay.  In the mouth the wine was taut, vibrating with the tension between citrus zest, green apple, exotic savory, salty flavors and nervy acidity.  It clearly was a high-quality, intense wine and it seemed to have more Old than New World character, but I really couldn’t place it in either.  Finally, having mercy (or perhaps ready to get on with the evening), he revealed the wine.  I am delighted because I love the style of this Chardonnay and needed to learn more about it.  The wine comes from the Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County, considered the coolest California AVA (American Viticultural Area).  Owner Robin Baggett originally planned to grow cattle on the ranch, but realized the climate and geology was better suited to growing grapes.  He, with his partner Bob Schiebelhut, began planting vineyards in 1988 and in 1998 with an additional partner founded Tolosa.  In 2006 Baggett expanded his wine endeavors by creating Alpha Omega in Napa Valley.   
94 Rebecca Murphy Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch, Walker Hill Vineyard 2017 ($50):   This is a classic Russian River Valley expression of Chardonnay, with a pleasing mix of vanilla, pear, mandarin, and almond notes.  On the palate it shows more citrus and pineapple.   It’s rounded but not fat or heavy, with a dry, clean finish.    
89 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Rued Vineyard 2017 ($55):  Rued Vineyard, in the heart of Green Valley, is home to two notable clones of dry-farmed, old vine Chardonnay, Wente and a Chardonnay musqué now known as the Rued clone.  The 2017 is generous and even fruity on the nose, showing Meyer lemon, ginger, and Asian pear notes.  It’s a touch over medium body, ripe and rounded, with good length.  
89 Jim Clarke Dec 3, 2019

Steele, Santa Barbara County (California) Chardonnay “Cuvée” 2017 ($24):  With suggestions of grapefruit and apple plus a gentle lick of oak, this bright and versatile Chardonnay is easy to love and easy to pair with a variety of foods.  One of the things I served it with recently was grilled salmon, which was a stupendously successful pairing thanks to the wine’s gentle yet persistent flavors that stood up to the richness of the lightly charred fish without overwhelming it.   
92 Marguerite Thomas Dec 3, 2019

Steele, Santa Barbara County (California) Pinot Blanc 2018 ($20):  Pinot Blanc tends to be light and delicate in general and Steele’s is no exception.  The wine’s clear, clean flavors, led by peach and pear with a faint suggestion of caramel corn in the background, are graceful and serene on the palate.  This Pinot Blanc is delicious on its own, but it can also be a good accompaniment to unfussy foods such as simple chicken or shrimp dishes.  I enjoyed it a couple of nights ago with an onion and cheese omelet.    
90 Marguerite Thomas Dec 3, 2019

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Texas:

White:

Southold Farm + Cellar, Texas High Plains (Texas) “Don’t Forget to Soar” White Blend 2017 ($24):  Texas native Regan Meador started making wine on Long Island in New York.  He wound up back in Texas because of local permitting issues that made it near impossible to continue making wine on the East Coast.  He and his wife, Carey, now have a small winery in the Texas Hill Country with a limestone hillside of root stocks waiting for grafting.  Several months ago, Regan’s father, Rusty welcomed us in the tasting room perched upon that hillside with a panoramic view.  Among the wines we tasted was this gracefully stylish wine made from Roussanne with a dash of Albariño from the Texas High Plains, the state’s largest AVA.  Floral aromas invite further investigation of the wine’s luscious peach and pear fruit that is vitalized by Albariño’s tangy acidity. 
93 Rebecca Murphy Dec 3, 2019

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Virginia:

White:

Stinson Vineyards, Monticello (Virginia) Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($23):  This Sauvignon Blanc is both crisp and deeply flavored, with pink grapefruit shining through at the forefront of the palate.  Stinson Vineyards is a boutique winery located in the foothills of Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.  The vineyard is one of Virginia’s oldest, planted almost half a century ago by pioneering wine grower Gabriele Rausse.   
90 Marguerite Thomas Dec 3, 2019

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