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Wakefield / Taylors, Clare Valley (South Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon "The Visionary", Exceptional Parcel Release 2014 ($140)
 A quick search of my reviews over the years likely will show a repetitive use of certain words -- acidity, structure, finish, etc. -- but this wine reminds me that one word could benefit just about every review, and that word is decant.  Nearly every still wine, but youngish red wines in particular will surely benefit from the practice.  As a taster often faced with a large number of wines to get through, it’s easy to miss the glories that air time can expose.  This wine offers a perfect example:  On pop and pour, it’s rather off-putting, with strident green eucalyptus aromas.  An hour in the decanter takes that element and weaves it into the background of a complex nose of black fruit and spice. The palate shows great depth of varietally-correct fruit flavors, complementary oak spice, supple tannins, and a finish that goes on and on, with that kiss of eucalyptus freshening your senses and inviting more.  Some of the best things in life unfold slowly. Take time to peel back the layers!
95 Rich Cook


Posted by Rich Cook on October 10, 2018 at 3:26 PM

The Joy of Discovery: Baxter Winery

One of my favorite aspects of wine lies in the endless possibility that something new will cross my horizon, something that makes me consider the world from a different perspective, whether it be the beverage world in particular or the broader world we live in.  Sometimes it is a bottle that arrives from a producer that is familiar but comes from a different site than last year’s offering.  Sometimes it is an older wine that I tasted in its youth that has evolved into a completely different animal.  Sometimes -- and this may be the best way -- someone who knows what I like makes a recommendation for a site visit that ends up knocking me out.  Such was the case with a recent visit to Baxter Winery in Mendocino County’s idyllic Anderson Valley, a place where Pinot Noir is king, but other surprises lurk, awaiting discovery.

Phil Baxter Jr. took a time out from new fatherhood to meet at the tasting room in Philo and show off the current offerings, and to say that they knocked me out would be an understatement.  Everything poured was beautiful and promises to remain so in the future.  The family wine philosophy is to focus on purity of fruit that expresses each site clearly, with minimal intervention.  They use only neutral oak -- white wine barrels that were used for multiple vintages -- and aim at lower-than-average alcohols so that the cool climate acidity keeps the wines fresh and lively.  To my taste, there’s clearly a table-friendly thread of continuity that runs through the portfolio.  Phil grew up in Napa Valley and made his first vintage in 2003, and his wines show the gracious living style that comes with the locale.

If you find my praise of the wines overly effusive, I will add that during our meeting several locals noticed that we were inside and stopped in to taste, and no one left without purchasing a few bottles.  Some highlights:

2014 Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $52:  This vineyard faces northeast, so it is a cooler site that gets morning sun, which means it gets more solar ripening than heat ripening, preserving natural acidity in spades.  The wine received a 30% whole cluster fermentation treatment and finished at 13.4% alcohol.  The result is a glassful of cherry, cranberry, umami, rich oak spice, vibrant acidity and subtle stemmy character that gives the fruit and spice good push in the finish.  An impressive first taste of the producer!  93

2014 Pinot Noir, Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $48:  This bottling is primarily clone Roederer 32, a sparkling wine clone that Phil allows to ripen longer -- this vintage was picked at 24.5 brix, a point higher than most of his other Pinot Noirs -- which reduces the acidity levels.  Don’t fear, there’s plenty of acidity left to carry bold cherry and strawberry fruit and complementary spice and dry earth notes.  A very lively, age-worthy wine.  95

2014 Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, $60:  A vineyard that’s gaining in Pinot Noir fame located northwest of the northern end of Anderson Valley near the small town of Comptche.  This bottling is another snootful of fruit from Baxter, with ringing cherry, fall spice and wildflower aromas.  The palate is quite rich, with crazy bright acidity managing the richness and allowing notes of barrel crème, dry and damp earth minerality and soft savory notes to balance the fruit load.  Delicious!  93

2015 Pinot Noir, Run Dog Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52:  A tiny vineyard -- just .7 acre -- that is planted to clones 114 and Pommard.  Small but mighty, I’d say!  This wine is wildly floral on the nose, with pine and forest floor joining high toned cherry and fall spice.  The palate folds the elements together beautifully with a silky entry and a trailing pop of acidity.  A touch of pepper joins the fruit in a bright, mouth-watering finish.  94

2014 Carignan, Caballo Blanco Vineyard, Mendocino, $34:  There are a few pockets of this varietal kicking around the state that produce some great fruit -- it’s a shame that more of it doesn’t find a home in varietal bottlings like this one, sourced from a dry farmed vineyard of nearly century old vines.  A wild, spicy raspberry nose translates well on the palate, where the fruit and spice are presented in bone dry, bright fashion, and there’s well played extraction of skin tannins that don’t get into sour tones at all.  Soft pepper notes and a long finish make for a great red meat accompaniment.  93

2014 Montepulciano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino $34:  This bottling pulls off classic Italian style better than just about any domestic wine I’ve tasted to date.  The vineyard is near the old Whaler winery east of Highway 101 near Hopland, and it’s another great find by Baxter.  A wonderfully deep nose of blackberry, plum, fall spice and damp earth lead to a plush palate with popping acidity and supple grip that carries the nose elements through a blossoming, lingering finish.  Bravo!  95

Some great wines await you at Baxter -- if you find yourself in Anderson Valley, make a stop a top priority.

Follow Rich Cook on Twitter as @RichCookOnWine

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Chianti Classico: The Times They are A-Changing
Michael Apstein

With apologies to Bob Dylan, 'The Times They are A-Changing' in Chianti Classico. Three decades ago, producers were embracing the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other so-called 'international varieties,' to bolster Sangiovese. But now, with dramatic improvements in the vineyards, growers have shown the heights that Sangiovese can achieve in Chianti Classico. It no longer needs support. As Francesco Ricasoli, of Castello Brolio, an excellent producer in Gaiole, told me in February, 'Sangiovese in Chianti Classico is unique. We need to preserve it.'
A Great Wine?
Paul Lukacs

I was fortunate enough recently to sample a new super-premium wine from Spain's Ribera del Duero. It's called Pinea, the vintage is 2014, and it retails for $150. I venture to say that any red wine lover will consider it delicious. Packed full of sweet, succulent red and black fruit flavors enhanced by echoes of creamy chocolate and vanilla (from expensive French oak aging), with enough tannin for structure but not so much as to get in the way of drinking pleasure, it exhibits plenty of class and sophistication. I rated it at 94 points. And yet . . . I came away from the experience with the nagging suspicion that something was missing. I couldn't tell if that something was in the wine or in me, and my musings here are the result of my pondering just that.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Lamb Navarin Simmered in White Wine

Navarin d'agneau is a stew of lamb (or, in an earlier age, mutton) simmered in wine with potatoes, carrots, onions and turnips. In the spring it is called Navarin Printanière and will include fresh peas. The ingredients may be cooked in red wine, but white is more traditional. If the stew is simmered in red wine, a red would logically be the most enjoyable wine to open with it. When simmered in white, however, a Navarin can pair equally well with either a white or a red in your glass. We invited a couple of friends to join us recently, and offered a selection of both red and white wines to accompany the stew. Neither color proved inherently better than the other.
On My Table
Cabernet Franc in the Spotlight
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

The 2015 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc is the product of a drought year whose warm and sunny weather resulted in historically early budding and ultimately a small, concentrated harvest. The wine's concentration of fruit expresses the vintage but nothing about the wine is exaggerated or overblown. It is a firm, structured wine infused with unobtrusive tannins and gorgeous fresh fruit. The wine's aromas suggest fresh red berries, black cherry, cranberry and floral notes, along with smoke and vanilla. In your mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with enough acidity to lend depth and some juiciness. Firm but ripe tannins are integrated all through the fabric of the wine, an admirable and exceptional characteristic. Leather and dried-herb flavors emerge along with a vibrancy of fresh, beautifully ripe fruit. The wine's texture is velvety, which is to say that the wine has a soft but substantial feel in your mouth. The finish echoes the wine's fresh fruit and its leather note.