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Tongue Dancer, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Putnam Vineyard 'Pinot de Ville' 2015 ($65)
  Winemaker James MacPhail has a passion for great vineyards, which is why his wines almost never fail to soar. This Tongue Dancer Pinot from the Putnam Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA is a classic example. The fruit does most of the talking. James makes his voice heard through clonal selection, tender loving care in the cellar, barrel selection (yes, there are many options when it comes to barrels for aging) and timing. The wine shows ample ripe cherry fruit, earthy forest-floor aromas and a dash of wood spice. It needs time to smooth the rough edges, but this is a wine that will improve in the cellar. You could drink it now, but it would be best to give it another three to five years of bottle age. 94 Robert Whitley


Posted by Robert Whitley on January 7, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Winemakers of the Year

By nature, winemakers are a modest breed. They do most of their work in jeans and boots and almost always give credit for any critical acclaim to their vineyards.

Vineyards are indeed important, but behind every great vineyard is a winemaker deciding the precise moment to pick, the best yeast to optimize flavor and complexity, whether to barrel down or not, which type of barrels to use, older barrels or new, and so on until the wine is finally bottled.

It's anything but a push-button job, especially when grape-growing conditions are less than ideal.

Over the course of the past year, numerous winemakers stood out. Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey and Darice Spinelli of Nickel & Nickel produced wines -- Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons in each case -- that inspired the rare 100-point score in the "Wine Talk" ratings.

Dan Goldfield at Dutton Goldfield released a string of exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He also had the uncanny ability to step outside his perceived comfort zone and produce a dry Gewurztraminer that is probably the finest of the genre in the United States.

The same can be said of Merry Edwards, the queen of California Pinot Noir. Edwards' Pinot Noir and Chardonnay releases in 2017 consistently topped the class, and her Sauvignon Blanc, made in the style of Bordeaux Blanc, was second to none.

Then there is Luca Paschina, the brilliant winemaker at Virginia's Barboursville Vineyards, located in the Blue Ridge mountains two hours southwest of Washington, D.C. Paschina, a native of Italy's Piedmont region, has been winemaker at Barboursville since 1990. He is perhaps the most decorated winemaker in the history of Virginia wine, and 2017 was no different. Barboursville wines took 10 gold medals at the four annual wine challenges staged in San Diego. Paschina dazzled with a red Bordeaux-style blend "Octagon," a Nebbiolo Reserve that is consistently the finest Nebbiolo made in America, a Vermentino Reserve, a Cabernet Franc Reserve, a Viognier, a Sauvignon Blanc and even a splendid Cabernet Sauvignon.

Among a deluge of impressive performances in 2017, these winemakers stood out for me and are thus the 2017 "Wine Talk" winemakers of the year.

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
My Top 20 'Value' Wines of 2017
Robert Whitley

Looking back at memorable wines from my 2017 evaluations, I would be remiss if I didn't reflect upon the exceptional value wines encountered throughout the year. Value, as Wine Talk readers know, doesn't necessarily mean cheap. I prefer to describe value wines as inexpensive and quality driven. In my calculations, they must always deliver a bang for the buck. They must taste like much more expensive wines. This year's Top 20 is actually 22 wines, including ties. To make the list a wine had to cost $20 or less and receive a numerical rating of 91 points or higher.
Beloved Wine Books
Rebecca Murphy

I love books, especially wine books. Since I was a child, I always had my nose stuck in a book, though not wine books at the start, of course. As an adult, I've traveled with books, piling pound after pound of reading material into my backpack or briefcase. When I've devoured the material I had packed, I head out to find another book to read for the remainder of my trip. When e-readers first appeared, I was skeptical. I loved the feel of a book, the heft, the texture of the paper. I was in no way convinced of the value reading on some sort of electronic device. It was the third household move in two years that inspired my e-reader epiphany. Out with all the novels with a few exceptions and of course, my wine books.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Beef and Barley Stew

The middle and eastern sections of the country were hit last week with what seemed like truly arctic conditions. During frigid winter days and nights like the ones we braved, we want warm, comforting foods such as hearty soups and nourishing stews, which are perfect when temperatures plummet, the wind howls and icy snowfall keeps us indoors. This stew, for example, and an accompanying red wine, is guaranteed to warm the body and soothe the spirit. This is clearly a red wine dish, but since weight is as important as color when pairing wine and food, what sort of red works best? Our tastings provided a clear answer. Choose a wine with plenty of heft and at least a modicum of noticeable tannin. This is a very hearty and satisfying dish. The wine needs to offer a similar profile.
On My Table
Chile Goes Cabernet Franc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

When someone tells me that he or she has a good wine from Cabernet Franc, I am immediately interested. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, the production of Cabernet Franc is small and isolated enough that every Cabernet Franc wine from the New World piques my curiosity. The best wines are more flavorful and sprightly than most Cabernet Sauvignons, with enticing fresh fruitiness and yet enough weight to be considered serious wines. Larry Challacombe, President of Global Vineyard Wine Importers in Berkeley, oversees a large portfolio of wines from artisanal family wineries in South America. He pointed out that several of his Chilean wineries have embraced Cabernet Franc and produce varietal Cabernet Franc wines, while many others are relying on this grape as part of their blends. He believes that the growing acreage of Cab Franc in Chile signals increasing importance of this variety in South America.