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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

March 3, 2015 Issue

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FRANCE

Bordeaux:

White:

Château Larrivet Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan Blanc (Bordeaux, France) 2012 ($55): The 2012 Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc is a star among white Pessac-Léognan wines.  Always a reliable producer, the Larrivet white reaches star status in the 2012 harvest.  The nose is rich with fruit scents -- peaches, pears, apricots and rich lemon are backed by hints of cream, honey, herbs and a touch of juniper.  Richly textured and creamy on the palate, it offers layers of ripe peach, apricot and grapefruit plus lemon curd, herbs, vanilla and spices.  It’s an exotic treat that is delicious now and will drink well for another 3 to 5 years.
92 Wayne Belding Mar 3, 2015

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Drappier, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs NV ($51, Dreyfus Ashby): Few houses make a non-vintage blanc de blancs because Chardonnay, the only grape allowed for that moniker, is not widely planted in Champagne and most producers need it to balance their blends.  Fortunately, Drappier does.  Creamy with a firm backbone, it delivers a paradoxical combination of richness and austerity that’s hard to explain.  Lovely as a stand-alone aperitif because of its length, its edginess makes it a brilliant choice to accompany sautéed shrimp, scallops or similarly rich seafood.
92 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

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ITALY

Basilicata:

Red:

Re Manfredi, Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy) 2011 ($32, Frederick Wildman): This is a powerful red wine with rich fruit and a rustic style that reflects its origin.  Grown in volcanic soils on the slopes of Monte Vulture in southern Italy, the Aglianico grapes yield an aromatic and rich wine.  Blackberry and blackcurrant fruit aromas are enhanced by elements of herbs, roasted espresso, smoke, vanilla and spice.  It offers a mouthful of flavor, with the rich black fruits backed by coffee, mint, black pepper, smoke and baking spice tones.  This is a satisfying red wine that can pair will with your most flavorful recipes.
91 Wayne Belding Mar 3, 2015

Friuli:

White:

Livon, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Friulano “Manditocai” 2013 ($23): This seems to show wood influence on both the nose and palate, and yet the overall profile of the wine is very fresh and even energetic, with excellent acidic cut that never seems to outrun oak so effectively.  Very faint floral aromas work beautifully with fruit and spice notes that mark the flavors and finish.  The only wine this resembles would be a superb barrel fermented Albariño, but that’s not all that helpful on account of the fact that this is a better wine than any barrel fermented Albariño I’ve ever tasted.
92 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Primosec, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Friulano "Belvedere" 2013 ($23): Sourced from a single site, this is a remarkably complex, layered, elegant Friulano.  It shows an uncanny combination of creaminess on the palate but edginess in the finish that really marks it as a wine from Collio… so much so that it would seem impossible any place else.  The lovely flavors recall mandarin oranges and stone fruit, and though these are quite generous, there’s still an overall sense of subtlety to the wine.
92 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Primosec, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio "Murno" 2013 ($23): This is an exceptional rendition of Pinot Grigio from a single vineyard side that was planted in the 1970s in the village of San Floriano.  The aromas are subtle but detailed, with very interesting suggestions of smoke and musk.  The medium-bodied flavors are surprisingly generous, with stone fruit and white melon flavors edged with citrus.  The finish is strikingly long, with suggestions of minerals, apricot skin and a faint smokiness.  This may actually get better over the course of the next year and perhaps two.
92 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Borgo del Tiglio, Collio Bianco (Friuli, Italy) “Studio di Bianco” 2011 ($24): Really ripe and generous in character, this is a wine with a lot of ripeness and weight on the palate but no lack of focus or freshness.  The generous fruit notes recall tangerine and mango, but just when this seems that it might be a bit too juicy, the late-arriving acidity energizes the finish.  Wines from the 2011 vintage in Collio often show this unusual sensory characteristic of late-arriving acidity, and this is a fine case in point.  Broadening out beyond the year, this also offers an object lesson in the unusually rich-but-sharply-defined template of Collio whites.
93 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Gradis’Ciutta, Collio Bianco (Friuli, Italy) "Bratinis" 2011 ($26): If you see this wine, buy this wine…and buy it without fear that it might be cracking up on account of being sourced from the 2011 vintage.  Excellent renditions of Collio Bianco can improve for five years or more and can hold for a full decade.  This particular rendition starts with a super complex bouquet, followed by flavors that are very generous and almost succulent and tropical.  These are mid-palate sensations; as the wine finishes, acidity gracefully supersedes the juiciness and provides remarkable refreshment value for a wine from a warm growing season.  Starting lavish but then turning energetic, this provides a surprising and downright exciting tasting experience.
93 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Ronco Blanchis, Collio Bianco (Friuli, Italy) “Blanc di Blancis” 2013 ($23): Blended from Friulano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia, this medium-bodied wine starts with subtle but intricate aromas, followed by fleshy texture and open flavors that are focused by fresh acidity.  Quite detailed and layered in profile, with exceptional quality in its aromatics, flavors and texture.
93 Michael Franz Mar 3, 2015

Piedmont:

Red:

Carussin, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) Lie Vi 2013 ($20, The Vine Collective): Carussin’s Barbera labeled Lie Vi shows the importance of old vines.  From a single vineyard whose vines average about 40 years, it delivers more purity, complexity and depth without losing any of the energy of their regular — Asinoi — bottling.  Indeed, it has even more vivacity, which amplifies the finish.  It would perk up a simply roasted chicken without breaking the bank.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Carussin, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) "Asinoi" 2013 ($17, The Vine Collective): Carussin, a family run estate founded in 1927, focuses on Barbera.  This one — Asinoi, an illusion to donkeys, which they also raise — is a blend from four of their vineyards.  Despite its fruit-filled profile and its concentration, it’s neither sweet nor jammy.  Zesty acidity, characteristic of Barbera, keeps it fresh and lively, making it just what you need for a meaty pasta dish this winter.
89 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Luigi Baudana, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Cerretta 2010 ($80): The Baudana family owns a small, 10-acre estate comprised of prized vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba, a subzone of the Barolo DOCG known for powerful wines.  Since 2009, G. D. Vajra, small but one of Barolo’s top producers, has been responsible for tending the vineyards and making the wines.  The 2010s, still sold under the Baudana label, are not to be missed.  The Barolo Cerretta, from a prized vineyard in Serralunga, has the power you’d expect from a wine from Serralunga, but with elegance and sophistication that is Vajra’s hallmark.  Baudana’s Cerretta, muscular with fine tannins, is impeccably balanced with amazing finesse and an engaging tarry bitterness in the finish.  Like great wine, it reveals itself slowly and becomes more impressive with time.  Barolo lovers should search for this wine and put it in the cellar for a decade or so.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

G. D. Vajra, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Ravera 2010 ($68): Vajra’s Ravera comes from the Barolo commune (subzone) where the two different soil types of the Barolo DOCG meet.  Hence, experts say that wines from this area are the most complete Barolo because, reflecting both soils, they exhibit both power and grace.  The experts must have tasted this wine when they came up with that assessment.  This is the first vintage Vajra has bottled Ravera separately.  Previously they included it in their multi-vineyard blend because the vines were too young to express the vineyard’s individuality.  Though the vines are still young by Barolo standards — about 10 years old — Vajra believes they are now starting to produce a distinctive wine.  The 2010 Ravera leads with beautifully floral aromas and follow with an alluring austerity.  Tannins are firm, but finely honed and perfectly integrated making this a seamless wine.  Like many great young wines, it explodes in the finish.  There is a Burgundian sensibility — flavor without weight — to it.  Another one for the cellar.  In a decade or so, you’ll be happy it’s there.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Sparkling:

Fizz 56 , Brachetto Spumante (Piedmont, Italy) NV ($21, Terlato Wines International): The gustatory equivalent of a pretty little party frock, this sparkler is more versatile than one might first think in that it can serve as aperitif as well as an accompaniment to light informal foods.  Both aroma and flavors are a heavenly mix of rose water and red berries and it has a touch of sweetness that floats rather than cloys.  The bubbles are nicely frothy without being too obtrusive.  Obviously this isn’t a wine to be taken too seriously, but it is tasty, refreshing, very pretty and definitely fun to drink.
90 Marguerite Thomas Mar 3, 2015

Sardinia:

White:

Santadi, Vermentino di Sardegna DOC (Sardinia, Italy) “Villa Solais” 2013 ($14, Empson USA): Vermentino is a relatively obscure, but deliciously aromatic and flavorful grape variety that yields especially fine wines on the island of Sardinia.  The grapes for Santadi’s 2013 Villa Solais Vermentino were grown on the southern part of the island and fermented at a cool temperature to enhance the fruit character of the wine.  It has a bouquet of peach, lime and lemon with hints of linden flower, tarragon and marjoram.  On the palate, it shows rich peach and citrus fruits underlain by a full texture and elements of herbs and lime zest.  It’s a perfect choice for Provençale seafoods or other flavorful Mediterranean dishes.
90 Wayne Belding Mar 3, 2015

Tuscany:

Red:

Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($25): Paolo de Marchi, who, along with his family, owns Isole e Olena, and is responsible for the wines, is a thoughtful, ever-questioning man who makes exceptional wines.   Rare, perhaps unique, in the region, he makes no Chianti Classico Riserva — only this one and his Super Tuscan, Cepparello, which is made entirely from Sangiovese and which is truly super.  He feels he would need to compromise the quality of his Chianti Classico and his Cepparello if he were to siphon grapes for a Riserva.   This philosophy helps explain why the Isole e Olena Chianti Classico is such an exceptional wine year in and year out.  Beautifully floral, Isole e Olena’s 2012 Chianti Classico is the classic example of understated power and elegance.  Deep black cherry-like nuances impart an attractive weight without heaviness and the signature Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  Its appeal becomes even more apparent as it sits in the glass and blossoms.  Easy to savor now, especially with decanting, it will only be more enjoyable with another few years of bottle age.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2013 ($20, Winebow): Castellare di Castellina, one of my favorite Tuscan producers, succeeded again with their 2013 Chianti Classico.   Not gussied up with new oak or Cabernet Sauvignon, Castellare di Castellina sticks with traditional techniques to produce an easy-to-recommend wine replete with herbal and earthy flavors that offset and complement its bright cherry signature.  Bright and vibrant, with a lip-smacking succulence, this is what Chianti Classico is all about.  It’s perfect for current consumption.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Castello di Uzzano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($18): The wines from Castello di Uzzano always show well at the comprehensive tasting of Chianti Classico held in Florence every year.   They use only Sangiovese — Cabernet need not apply — for their Chianti Classico and avoid small oak barrels to allow the flavors of the region to shine.  And shine they do.  A gorgeous floral nose predicts enjoyment.  The combination of bright dark cherry-like flavors seasoned with herbs and supported by mouth-watering acidity confirms the initial olfactory assessment. Castello di Uzzano’s 2012 Chianti Classico is a bit weightier than many, but impeccably balanced, without a trace of heaviness.  It finishes with enlivening freshness than makes it perfect for drinking now with hearty pasta.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Bellezza” 2010 ($40, Treasury Wine Estates): The most remarkable attributes of this vibrant Sangiovese are its central core of density and its multifaceted personality.  The wine is both tangy and lush, rich and also mysteriously restrained.  Because it is so well balanced in both flavor and texture it is a wine destined to bring out the best in a meal.
92 Marguerite Thomas Mar 3, 2015

Caiarossa, IGP Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($85): The 2010 Caiarossa, an extraordinary wine and the best from this estate since its commercial debut with the 2004 vintage, shows how far this producer has come in a very short time. Owned by same Dutch family who own the Margaux classified growths Château Giscours and Château du Tertre, and whose general manager, Alexander Van Beek, runs those two Bordeaux properties, Caiarossa uses a seeming mishmash of grapes — Bordeaux varieties, Syrah and even Alicante — to make this impressive Super Tuscan.  The 2010 has everything — fruit, spice, smoky herbal qualities — without having too much of anything.  The tannins in this beautifully proportioned wine are velvety — hey, they know Margaux — and lend sophistication.  Bright Tuscan acidity refreshes the palate and keeps you coming back for more.  For those of you who can spend $85, consider it a bargain.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

White:

Banfi, Toscana (Italy) Centine Bianco 2013 ($11):  This lovely white from Tuscany is an unusual blend (for Tuscany) of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, the latter grape lending body and weight that take what would otherwise be a light quaffer into another realm. Clean, crisp and fresh, Centine Bianco shows notes of citrus, pear and apple, with a touch of spice and a roundness on the palate that makes it go down easy, especially at the price.
88 Robert Whitley Mar 3, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Rodney Strong, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage “Symmetry” 2011 ($60): Very faintly floral, a tiny bit earthy, with a suggestion of that kind of minerality that seems to come from soil rather than stone, plus copious amounts of firm ripe fruit, all adds up to a stunning wine.  One of the most notable characteristics of this wine is its piercingly, luscious, long finish.  I’ve no doubt the wine will continue to age nicely, but unlike some vintages of Symmetry which benefit from a little cellaring to soften the sharp edges a bit, the 2011 is absolutely ready to enjoy right now.
93 Marguerite Thomas Mar 3, 2015

Black Kite, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Pinot Noir Kite's Rest 2012 ($48):  This is a delicious though somewhat delicate Pinot from Black Kite's estate vineyard. In this vintage the Kite's Rest block has delivered a floral wine with pretty red-fruited aromas and hints of forest floor and spice. Ready to drink now, but likely more ready in another year or two.
91 Robert Whitley Mar 3, 2015

Thacher Winery, Central Coast (California) "Constant Variable" 2012 ($45): A great name for a wine whose blend is bound to change each year, particularly for a winery that is very consistently producing top quality wine.  This vintage of this Rhone styled blend leans into the Grenache side, showing bright black cherry and white pepper over notes of leaf and medium oak toast.  It's dry and concentrated on the palate, delivering the nose and adding notes of orange zest and cinnamon.  Nice work!
88 Rich Cook Mar 3, 2015

Pedroncelli, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Three Vineyards 2012 ($18): I am so impressed by the wine Pedroncelli is turning out these days, and so will you be when you taste this fine Cabernet.  I’ve always like Pedroncelli Cabs, but recently these wines seem to have evolved from pleasant rusticity to a more refined dexterity.  Don’t worry -- it’s still reasonably big and bold, with plenty of ripe fruit and a sneaky little hint of fresh greenness on the finish along with a raft of soft, savory tannins.
90 Marguerite Thomas Mar 3, 2015

Kuleto Estate, Napa Valley (California) 'Frog Prince' 2012 ($35): The Kuleto Estate is tucked into the hills east of the Silverado Trail, where there is plenty of daytime sunshine and ripeness is never an issue. The Frog Prince is for all intents and purposes a red Bordeaux-style blend except for a splash of Syrah that keeps it from being a true meritage. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do all the heavy lifting for this wine, which exhibits impressive depth and layered complexity, with rich, ripe black-fruited aromas complemented by hints of cedar and vanillin. Given what most Napa Valley red meritage blends would cost, Frog Prince is an out and out steal at the price.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 3, 2015

Sculpterra, Paso Robles (California) "Maquette" 2012 ($40): I've been increasingly impressed with blends from Paso Robles that contain a high percentage of Cabernet Franc -- it seems to be just the ticket for adding acidity and flavor complexity to the Cabernet Sauvignon from the area. This wine shows solid age-worthy structure, with big grip throughout and dark, rich blackberry and cassis balanced by moderate oak char and fall spice. It finishes long with some Asian spice notes coming forward -- an exciting find!
90 Rich Cook Mar 3, 2015

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir "Angel Wing" 2011 ($90): A tribute to her son, Warren, who died in 2006, this is a monumental Pinot Noir, in the best sense of the word.  One whiff predicts its grandeur.  What follows is a glorious explosion of flavors — smoky, fruity, earthy — that flow seamlessly one into another. A hefty wine, its silky, velvety texture reinforces its overall gracefulness.  Unlike red Burgundy, which I characterize as “flavor without weight,” Merry Edwards’ Angel Wing definitely has weight, but it’s not in what I call the “Pinot Syrah” category.  Fresh and clean, its brightness makes it a joy to drink now.  It’s a worthy tribute.
96 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Founders Reserve 2012 ($65): The Founders Reserve is a departure in style from previous Sonoma-Cutrer Pinots, which have exhibited exceptional elegance and finesse. The Founders is hardly an oaf, but it is a powerhouse packed with layered dark fruits, particularly an intense black raspberry aroma that sets the tone. On the palate this wine is rich and dense, with excellent weight and structure, including a fair amount of tannin on the back end that will surely prolong the life of this bad boy.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 3, 2015

Fulcrum Wines, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Petite Sirah Landy Vineyard 2012 ($42): I don't get a lot of cooler climate Petite Sirah passing across my desk, but wines like this make me wish that I would.  It is pretty tight and tannic at this age, as is to be expected, but it is showing great promise. It is dry, with deep blackberry, blueberry and pepper just starting to peek out from behind all the structure.  I'd age this for five or ten years -- or more -- and likely push my score upward a few points.
89 Rich Cook Mar 3, 2015

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel Heritage Vines 2013 ($20):  Dry Creek Vineyard has long been among the most value driven of Sonoma County's premier wine producers. The wines are impeccably made from exceptional vineyard sources and sold at fair prices. The Heritage Vines Zinfandel is a stunner at the price. It shows lovely red fruits with notes of spice and earth, is well balanced and shows excellent length in the mouth, with a persistent finish.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 3, 2015

White:

Vino Noceto, California (United States) Moscato "Frivolo" 2014 ($17): Ahhh… this is what Moscato should be.  This wine would slide seamlessly into a tasting of DOCG Moscato d'Asti and surprise everyone at the unveiling with its California provenance.  Winemaker Rusty Folena has studied Italian practice in detail and brings a real elegance to this bottling.  Delicate flowers and spice accompany soft stonefruit on the nose, leading to a balanced palate that's elegantly "frizzante" and delightfully sweet and refreshing, with no cloying notes.  Extremely well made. Bring on the strawberry shortcake!
92 Rich Cook Mar 3, 2015

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