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November 13, 2018 Issue

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Henriot, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs NV ($60):  Henriot’s Blanc de Blancs is a classic 100 percent Chardonnay Champagne crafted primarily from grand cru and premier cru vineyards.  The cuvee is bolstered by 40 percent reserve wines, which lend depth and richness without losing the freshness and brightness of the younger wines in the blend.  Notes of citrus and apple dominate the flavor profile, with a touch of spice that adds nuance. 
90 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018

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Feudi di San Gregorio, Irpinia Aglianico DOC (Campania, Italy) "Rubrato" 2015 ($17, Terlato Wines International):  Wines made from the Aglianico grape are often referred to as the Barolo of the South because of their firm tannins, high acidity, overall depth and need for bottle age to bring all the components together.  Feudi San Gregorio has managed to marry these elements in this Aglianico and make it a pleasure to drink now -- as long as you select the correct food and time of year.  Think roast lamb in the winter.  This wine delivers tarry nuances along with dark sour cherry notes and supported by firm, yet not aggressive, tannins.  An attractive hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces the idea that this wine is best enjoyed with food, not by itself.  I almost forgot, it’s a terrific bargain. 
94 Michael Apstein Nov 13, 2018



Attilio Ghisolfi, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) "Bricco Visette" 2014 ($95, Quintessential Wines):  I always hate opening wine like this as it’s several years too soon, but it comes with the territory, and I’m pleased to inform you that a beautiful future is in store for this already elegant and expressive bottle.  Beautiful cherry and blueberry fruit are already showing, and typical youthful Barolo acidity is on full display, carrying those flavors into the distance now, and making for a wine that will have an overnight long finish when it reaches full maturity -- in fifteen years or so.  Bravo! 
96 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018

Bel Colle, Verduno Pelaverga (Piedmont, Italy) 2017 ($30):  Don’t be fooled by the light color.  This pepper-pot of a red wine delivers character and flavor in spades.  Spicy, with notes of bing cherry and firm tannins, it’s a delightful surprise from a small appellation in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.  The grape, Pelaverga Piccolo di Vernuo, is obscure and typically used only in blends. 
90 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018



Rivera, Castel del Monte DOC (Puglia, Italy) Nero di Troia "Violante" 2015 ($17):  Nero di Troia, a virtually unknown grape outside of Puglia, is capable of making attractively rustic -- in a good way -- wine.  This one packs a punch, but without the rough tannins that frequently accompany that kind of power.  It’s a big red, with dark fruits flavors, but great bright acidity that keeps it lively and fresh.  There’s alluring spice that complements its fruitiness.  It would be a good choice for roast lamb this fall. 
92 Michael Apstein Nov 13, 2018

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Chelsea Goldschmidt, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Merlot Guidestone Rise 2016 ($20):  A pleasant, red fruit-driven Merlot, with complementary oak spice, savory and clove notes, perfect acid balance and a long finish that melds all the elements nicely.  Add in a great price, and you’ve got serious value here. 
91 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018

Black Kite Cellars, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir 2016 ($60):  Winemaker Jeff Gaffner isn’t afraid to build a bit of structure in his Pinot Noirs, and this vintage from the Black Kite estate in Anderson Valley is an excellent example.  It shows deep aromas of raspberry and cherry, notes of wood spice and firm grape tannins that will lengthen the shelf life of this beauty. 
95 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018

Steele, Carneros (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard 2016 ($36):  Jed Steele has captured the lovely delicacy and subtle savory notes that are the hallmarks of Pinot Noir.  Lively acidity keeps it fresh, while fine tannins allow enjoyment now, without additional bottle aging.  It finishes with a hint of sweetness, which allows you to enjoy a glass by itself while preparing to grill the salmon. 
88 Michael Apstein Nov 13, 2018

La Jota Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2015 ($85):  This is an excellent California Merlot, among the best I’ve tasted in recent years.  It looks forbiddingly dark, but serves up gorgeous, open berry aromas that are backed up with equally generous flavors of Bing cherries and blackberries.  With that said, don’t mistake this for a juicy fruit bomb, as it is bolstered by spicy oak and buttressed by firm but fine-grained tannins.  It will surely benefit from five years of cellaring, but would prove thoroughly enjoyable now either as a stand-alone sipper or with food… and not just a giant steak or grilled wolverine, but even a nice veal chop (which is where Merlot can show an edge over Cabernet).  I don’t wish to gloss over this point too quickly:  It is a significant achievement to produce a wine that can be sipped, or dined with, or cellared -- all with equal appropriateness, and all upon initial commercial release.  Very impressive. 
94 Michael Franz Nov 13, 2018

Mt. Brave, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2015 ($80):  This delicious wine helps to chip away at the widespread stereotype that Merlot is a second-rate grape of a rather wimpy nature.  Serious students of wine have always known that was merely a stereotype, but of course, wine shouldn't just be for “serious students” but for all of those who enjoy fine things in life.  Moreover, those who’ve been hoodwinked by the stereotype aren’t usually to blame.  There really was a lot of wimpy Merlot made over the years to be drunk as a cocktail, and then, the general sense that those wines were what the variety should be had the result of dumbing-down the category to prevent consumer disappointment.  But enough diagnosis… let’s get on with the prescription:  This is the cure for a whole host of mis-impressions, with excellent color saturation, rather brooding but still notable aromatics, truly full body, deep and quite ripe flavors recalling blackberries and dark cherries, a notable edge of oak, and a gutsy finish.  Definitely a wine for the table rather than the bar, it is nevertheless very enjoyable right now with food, and wasn’t over-extracted or over-oaked to prove a point.  Yet it does, indeed, prove a point. 
94 Michael Franz Nov 13, 2018

ZD Wines, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($75):  ZD has produced a quintessential Napa Valley Cabernet and shows, once again, why that region is one of the best places in the world for that grape.  It’s a powerful Cabernet --  it is from California, after all -- but it has elegance and is not overdone.  It’s a balanced mixture of savory and dark fruit flavors.  Very fine tannins provide structure.  Minerality, not fruitiness, comes through in its extraordinarily long finish.  Hard to resist now, its balance suggests that it will develop beautifully over the next decade or two.  
96 Michael Apstein Nov 13, 2018

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2015 ($54):  If your ideal Merlot is soft and supple (some might even say simple) then you’ve come to the wrong place.  The 2015 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot is a muscular wine with richly layered dark fruits, a touch of vanilla, and firm tannins that make this vintage a serious candidate for long-term cellaring. 
94 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018

Stewart Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2014 ($40):  Made from Atlas Peak fruit, this Merlot has a very expressive aroma profile showing savory notes over the blackberry and black cherry fruit.  Bright acidity, supple tannins and a long well integrated finish make for a very polished Merlot.  Serve where you would normally serve a brighter side Cabernet Sauvignon, and hold the reveal. 
93 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018

Acumen, Napa Valley (California) "Mountainside" Red Wine 2014 ($45):  A blend of Bordeaux varieties made in a rich, fruit forward style that’s sure to please.  Typical blackberry, cassis and cigar box spice aromas and flavors abound, and lively acidity carries the flavors through a bright finish where more red cherry and plum flavors make themselves known.  There’s AVA structure here not often found in this price range.  A solid buy from a producer to watch!  Contains 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Malbec, 19% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. 
92 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018

Newton, North Coast (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Skyside" 2016 ($23):  Sweet dark berry fruit is this wine’s distinguishing characteristic.  “Skyside” Cabernet Sauvignon is a good choice for those whose taste buds gravitate towards opulent fruit-sweet wines.  The presence of lavish oak flavor adds further richness to this big red. 
88 Marguerite Thomas Nov 13, 2018

Steele, Red Hills, Lake County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($28):  What’s particularly impressive about this Cabernet Sauvignon is the complexity and poise it delivers for the price.  It should be surprise because of Jed Steele’s experience and the source of the grapes.  The Red Hills part of Lake County is a relatively new AVA.  Andy Beckstoffer, the noted Napa Valley farmer/viticulturist, purchased land there and planted vineyards.  Steele has been buying Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from him since 2002.   It should come as no surprise that he can make excellent wine.  With good weight, but not a hint of being overdone, this is classic California Cabernet.  It delivers a lively combination of savory -- olive-like flavors -- and dark fruit seamlessly.  It’s a bargain for what you get.  Try it with a grilled steak.  You’ll smile with every sip. 
92 Michael Apstein Nov 13, 2018

J. Wilkes, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir 2015 ($30):  This Pinot Noir is fragrant and light-to-medium bodied.  It has mild spicy oak flavors and discreet tannins.  With its soft, silky texture and fruit flavors that are nicely ripened without being overly sweet, this is a perfect wine for the season.  It would be an excellent choice to accompany the holiday turkey, for example.
91 Marguerite Thomas Nov 13, 2018

Tongue Dancer, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Putnam Vineyard "Pinot de Ville" 2016 ($65):  Winemaker James MacPhail prides himself on his skill at choosing vineyard sources.  The 2016 Pinot de Ville from the Putnam Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA shows off MacPhail’s talent as a judge of vineyard character.  The Putnam delivers bright cherry notes with exceptional fruit purity, fall spices and impressive length. 
95 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018

Stewart Cellars, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge 2015 ($50):  I love the acidity in this glass of 777 clone Pinot Noir, which shows black cherry, rhubarb, fall spice and rich oak tones that are balanced and not arguing with the fruit.  A rich midpalate is followed by a long oak spice kiss that meets the fruit and lingers into the distance.  I would age this a while for full integration of the oak spice, but I’m picky that way -- it’s doing just fine right now. 
94 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2016 ($25):  By Duckhorn standards the 2016 Decoy might seem a tad light, but this easy drinking Merlot delivers fresh, pleasing aromas of plum and blackberry, with supple tannins and a lingering, spicy finish.  For the price, very solid and a good candidate for the Thanksgiving table this year. 
89 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018


Stewart Cellars, Sonoma Mountain (Sonoma County, California) Rosé 2017 ($30):  Mostly Pinot Gris, with a small amount of Pinot Noir. Very crisp and bright, with a touch of grip scouring the palate and extending the finish.  Pretty lemon, strawberry and stony minerality meld together well, and crisp acidity cleanses and sets up the next sip or bite.  A different and very pleasant sort of rosé. 
90 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018


Black Kite Cellars, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Gap's Crown Vineyard 2016 ($58):  A brilliant Chardonnay from a brilliant winemaker, the 2016 Black Kite Gap’s Crown exhibits lush aromas of lemon oil, apple and pear, with a solid backbone to balance the richness of the fruit.  This wine shows impressive length and a seductive, spicy finish. 
96 Robert Whitley Nov 13, 2018

Stewart Cellars, Sonoma Mountain (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2017 ($35):  A rich expression that avoids cloying viscosity thanks to bright acidity and carefully selected oak.  Apple, vanilla, pear and lemon creme aromas translate beautifully on the palate, with my crisp and creamy requirement satisfied with style.  This will move your buttery oaky fan friends toward the center of the Chardonnay spectrum. 
93 Rich Cook Nov 13, 2018



Cowhorn Vineyard, Applegate Valley (Oregon) "Spiral 36" 2016 ($28):  This succulent Rhône style white blend is a delight either as an aperitif or with any number of different foods.  While the exact percentage of the three grape varieties varies from year to year, the 2016 vintage is 45% Viognier, 30% Marsanne and 25% Roussanne.  Barrel fermented and aged predominantly in neutral French oak barrels, the fruit is always estate grown, and native yeast ferments are always used.  Cowhorn practices Biodynamic® farming.  Intensely aromatic, the wine has mouth-filling flavors of peach and citrus, plus slate-minerality. 
92 Marguerite Thomas Nov 13, 2018



SR262, Columbia Valley (Washington) Merlot 2016 ($15):  A surprisingly good $15 wine, SR262 has bright, tasty fruit and a healthy amount of refreshing acidity on the finish.  It is very well balanced overall, and drinks well with any number of different foods -- meatballs, sausage, moussaka -- you name it.  Named for a scenic stretch of road in Washington State’s Columbia Valley (State Road 262), the wine is blended from six local vineyards, including Sundance and Hawk Ranch on the Wahluke Slope.  Merlot will always be the dominant grape depending on the vintage, but the 2016 blend is comprised of 85% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Merlot and Syrah come straight from stainless steel, with the Cabernet getting 12 to 14 months in French Oak. 
90 Marguerite Thomas Nov 13, 2018

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