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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

January 26, 2021 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Mendoza:

Red:

Finca Sophenia, Gualtallary, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec Estate Reserve 2018 ($19, CNS Imports):  This 2018 is beautifully dark and deep in color, and offers well-defined Malbec notes of ripe plum, floral and smoked meat scents.  Medium full in body, but showing some youthful fruit, it is rich enough with ample tannin to stand up to sausages and richly flavored meat dishes.       
93 Norm Roby Jan 26, 2021


CROATIA

Red:

Ivo Skaramuca, Pelješac Peninsula (Dingac, Croatia) Plavac Mali 2017 ($32, Vinum USA):  Plavac Mali is a native grape to Croatia and the country’s most planted red grape variety.  The name means "little blue" in Croatian, which refers to the small, bluish fruit produced by this vine.  It is the offspring of two native grapes, Dobričić and Tribidrag – the latter also being known as the original Zinfandel.  This 100 percent Plavac Mali is rich and full-bodied with ample acidity and tannins to support the layered notes of plum, blackberry, blueberry, violet, and earth.  If you like Nebbiolo, this is the Plavac Mali for you, and for existing Plavac Mali fans, this is worth seeking out.         
92 Miranda Franco Jan 26, 2021


FRANCE

White:

La Petite Perrière, Vin de France (France) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($14, Taub Family Selections):  La Petite Perrière is an easygoing and refreshing white wine — or, as the winemaker describes it on the back label, “The palate is a whirlwind of freshness, complexity [and] finesse…”.   As the wine swirls around one’s palate, it’s hard to improve on that general description.  Indeed, this Sauvignon Blanc is a good example of just how delicious good wines under France’s Vin de France classification can be.  Established in 2010 to replace the traditional “Vin de Table” designation, Vin de France is a rung below the appellation d’origine controllée.  The wines tend to be light bodied and fruity but, like La Petite Perrière, they may also be relatively complex in flavor and nicely balanced.  And, also like this wine, they are usually very reasonably priced.       
90 Marguerite Thomas Jan 26, 2021

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Burgundy:

Red:

Domaine Lamarche, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Chaumes 2018 ($140, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  Vosne-Romanée could be considered the most revered village in Burgundy.  Its wines, even those sporting just a village appellation, carry hefty price tags.  And with the 25 percent tariffs, the prices are truly extraordinary.  That said, this is a pretty extraordinary wine.  In the 15 years that Nicole Lamarche has been in charge of the winemaking, the quality of the wines has sky-rocketed.  Les Chaumes vineyard sits in the middle of the village, abutting La Tâche in one corner.  Lamarche’s 2018 Les Chaumes is dazzling with its sublime finesse.  Delicate fruitiness and alluring spice, especially in the finish, is mesmerizing.  A racy wine with plenty of energy, its allure resides in its elegance.  There no shouting here. It captivates you by sneaking up on you.  An archetypal Burgundy, it displays flavor without weight leaving you with a sense of…wow, where did that come from?         
95 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

White:

Domaine Paul Pernot et ses Fils, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) 2019 ($30, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  Domaine Paul Pernot, one of the top producers in Puligny-Montrachet, opts to use the new appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, for this wine that they formerly labeled as Bourgogne Blanc.  The new appellation requires that the grapes come exclusively from the Côte d’Or, the heart of Burgundy. ( For a wine labeled Bourgogne Blanc, the grapes could come from anywhere within Burgundy.)  In Pernot’s case, nothing except the label has changed.  The origin of the grapes remains the same, from parcels that lie outside of the delimited Puligny-Montrachet area.  The delicate Pernot style and the high quality of the wine remains constant.  The clean and crisp 2019 delivers peachy nuances, enlivened by good acidity.  Long and refined, it represents an excellent expression of white Burgundy and remains a good value.       
91 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

Domaine Michel Bouzereau et Fils, Meursault (Burgundy, France) “Les Grands Charrons” 2018 ($68, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  It’s hard to go wrong with the wines from Domaine Michel Bouzereau, a leading name in Meursault.  Here are my notes for this wine from a visit in November 2019: “Good as most people’s 1er cru.  Gorgeous acidity and presence.  Clean and precise.  Long and minerals.  Precise, cutting.  Impeccable balance.”  Now that it’s bottled and arrived on our shores, it has closed up.  Indeed, its grandeur and appeal became apparent only after it sat opened for a day in the fridge.  Then, the alluring combination of subtle creaminess, spice, and riveting acidity was center stage.  My advice is to buy as much as you can afford and cellar it for a few years.      
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

Jean Pascal et Fils, Puligny-Montrachet (Burgundy, France) “Les Enseignères” 2019 ($56, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  This lieu-dit, entitled only to a village appellation, lies across the road, but downhill from the Grand Cru Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet.  Even in Jean Pascal’s talented hands, this village wine is not in the Grand Cru category, but it is more impressive than many producers’ premier cru — and at a far more attractive price.  It leads with the lovely floral scent characteristic of Puligny-Montrachet and follows with a haunting minerality.  Long and lacey, its charms are readily apparent now, so treat yourself.        
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

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Languedoc:

Red:

Gerard Bertrand, Languedoc (France) Grenache / Syrah 2017 ($13, Soutern Glazers):  Having explored and been blown away by many wines from Minervois and Roussillon, I was curious to see how Bertrand, former athletic hero and now the largest exporter of Languedoc wines, would handle them.  His top-of-the-line Château l'Hospitalet is a beauty, and the 2015 Minervois La Liviniere is a winner for value.  But the real test to me was this supermarket favorite, entry-level Languedoc.  From its medium-dark color, bright appearance and black fruit, floral tinged aroma, it easily passed inspection.  Medium-bodied with spicy berry and cola flavors, it ends with some Syrah-like spice, smoked meat and subtle grainy tannin notes.  Nicely rendered and restrained.         
90 Norm Roby Jan 26, 2021

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Rhône:

White:

Famille Perrin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Sinards” 2019 ($39, Vineyard Brands):  To be perfectly candid, I don’t often taste white Châteauneuf-du-Pape that really seems to be worth asking price, but this is a very impressive case in counterpoint.  My surprise was lessened by knowing that this release comes from the team behind Châteauneuf’s uber-famous Château Beaucastel, but still, this is a superb specimen of the breed.  Nutty, toasty scents intermingle with rich fruit notes and an aroma reminiscent of wild honey, and they are every bit as alluring as these descriptors suggest.  Medium-bodied on the palate, with a broad, soft texture that is energized by fresh acidity and provided framing from classy oak (some of which seems to be new, but with no distracting charry notes), this is straightforwardly delicious but also impressively nuanced.  The various flavors (stone fruit, citrus and tropical fruit) tail off symmetrically in the finish, supported by the oak and lifted by the acidity.  This will be a wonderful partner for many dishes suited to white wine, but sauteed chicken with mushroom cream sauce would be a good place to start with your experimentation.  Terrific juice.          
93 Michael Franz Jan 26, 2021


ITALY

Sicily:

Red:

Donnafugata, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG (Sicily, Italy) “Floramundi” 2017 ($30, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Cerasuolo di Vittoria, located in southeastern Sicily, is that island’s only DOCG wine.  Regulations require that Nero d’Avola comprise at least 50, but no more than 70, percent of the blend.  Frappato fills out the blend.  Donnafugata, of course, is one of the locomotives that has advanced the reputation of Sicily’s wines over the decades.  So, it’s comes as no surprise that they make an exceptional Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  It delivers a balanced bundle of floral elements, spice, and, as the name suggests, cherry-like flavors (Cerasuolo means “cherry-like”).  This mid-weight wine dances on the palate. Mild tannins lend support and backbone.  With its bright acidity and low (13 percent stated) alcohol, you’d never guess it comes from what is generally assumed to be a hot climate.  Not all of Sicily is roasting, as this wine, and many other Sicilian wines, demonstrates.  Donnafugata’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria is lacy and delicate, but paradoxically, leaves a big impression.  Drink it with a tomato-based fish stew or pasta.  It’s also fine when you’re grilling a hearty fish, such as salmon or bluefish.    
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

Donnafugata, Terre Siciliane IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Tancredi” 2016 ($39, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  While Donnafugata maintains a traditional focus on indigenous Sicilian grapes, such as Nero d’Avola, they also have planted international ones, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and unusual ones, such as Tannat.  Those three grapes comprise the majority of the blend of Tancredi.  Despite the potential power that Cabernet and Tannat can deliver, this wine retains finesse.  Dark bitter cherry-like flavors combine with an alluring mineral or earthy component in this powerful, yet refined wine.  Remarkably fresh and long, it would be a great choice for hearty wintertime fare.         
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

White:

Cantine Florio, Marsala Riserva Secco (Sicily, Italy) Vergine “Terre Arse” 2003 ($26, DiSaronno International):  Marsala is a fortified wine made on the island of Sicily.  When I visited Sicily several years ago, I tasted several high-quality Marsala wines. When asked why these wines did not have a presence in the U.S., I was told that Americans think it is a cooking wine.  Fortunately, it seems the Marsala winemakers have not given up on us, because no one could mistake this one for a cooking wine.  Made solely from the Grillo grape, a white variety, it was fermented dry then fortified with grape brandy.  Vergine means that the wine has been aged a minimum of five years in barrel, in this case ten years.  It is a sophisticated and delicious wine with aromas of caramel, orange zest, a touch of hazelnut and aged leather.  In the mouth the wine is dry and silky smooth with nutty, caramel, and Meyer lemon zest flavors.  The alcohol is labeled 19 percent, but it is integrated and balanced with the flavors.  Enjoy it as an aperitif, with a pork roast or with a savory hard cheese.  Sold in a 500 ml bottle.     
96 Rebecca Murphy Jan 26, 2021

Cantine Florio, Marsala Superiore (Sicily, Italy) "VecchioFlorio" Sweet 2017 ($16, DiSaronno International):  English businessman John Woodhouse gets the credit for introducing the Sicilian wine, Marsala, to the rest of the world in the late 1700s.  It is a fortified wine made from with several varieties, red and white allowed depending upon the style.  Made from Grillo, Cataratto and Inzolia grapes, it has a bright amber color and aromas of dried figs and dates, a high note of orange zest and roasted walnuts.  As stated on the label this is sweet, with a little over 10 percent residual sugar, but it is not cloying, with a pleasing balance of rich dried fruit, brown sugar and citrus zest flavors and vibrant acidity.  Serve it before dinner with roasted walnuts or hazelnuts, or with a dessert like pound cake with berries or a traditional Zabaglione.       
90 Rebecca Murphy Jan 26, 2021

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Tuscany:

Red:

Il Poggiolo, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($70, Enotec Imports, Inc):  A paradox, the traditionally framed Il Poggiolo Brunello marries the ripeness of the 2015 vintage with a lovely austerity.  Not a blowsy wine, it combines dark cherry-like fruit with a core of minerals.  Importantly, especially for the vintage, it has great acidity, which imparts a wonderful vivacity to the wine.  Firm, not aggressive tannins, add structure.  It impresses with grace rather than opulence.  Surprisingly engaging now, its real stature will emerge in another five years or so.     
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

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Veneto:

Sparkling:

Bortolomiol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Rive di Santo Stefano “70th Anniversary” Brut Nature 2017 ($27):  This is among the handful of best Proseccos I’ve ever tasted, I’ve traveled repeatedly to the heart of the prime growing region and tasted all of the top wines from multiple vintages.  I’m not trying to impress anybody by writing this, just indicating that high-end Prosecco sourced from the steep slopes around the lovely town of Valdobbiadene is among my specialties, and even when judged against hundreds of the very best dry wines from the region, this is still an astonishing wine and a competitor — in its way — to the world’s best sparkling wines, including Champagne.  Making Prosecco that is generous rather than austere or sharp with no sugar at all added at bottling (which is what “Brut Nature” means on the back label) is very hard to do, requiring absolutely pristine fruit that has been perfectly ripened and then crafted with great care.  That’s evidently what was done in this case, as the wine’s aroma, appearance, initial flavors, mid-palate texture and long, symmetrical finish are utterly impeccable.  The single most remarkable element of the wine is its texture, which is so soft thanks to ultra-tiny bubbles that the wine is truly creamy in feel, though the effervescence is so abundant that the wine is still vibrant.  This is not a stand-alone virtue, as the wine’s creamy texture allows its flavor nuances express themselves, rather than being swept off the palate by coarse bubbles.  The team at Bortolomiol obviously devoted great care to this 70th Anniversary bottle, which is an object lesson in how fantastic Prosecco from Valdobbiadene can be.     
95 Michael Franz Jan 26, 2021

Bortolomiol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) “Ius Naturae” Organic 2019 ($23):  I hope I’m being fair to this terrific wine with a score of 92, but worry that I may be a little low on account of tasting it alongside Bortolomiol’s spectacular 70th Anniversary release from 2017 from the Rive of Santo Stefano.  This wine can certainly hold its own even against the most formidable competition, with very expressive aromas and delicious, pure flavors that really persist through the finish.  The subtly floral bouquet is quite alluring, and the fruit flavor are open and generous, with just the right acidity to keep the wine fresh without seeming tart.  Although it is quite dry, there’s nothing remotely austere about this organic bottling, which is so inviting in aroma, flavor and texture that every sip invites another.  This has been one of my favorite Prosecco Superiore houses since my first visit to the region years ago, and they are quite evidently still performing at the very highest level.       
92 Michael Franz Jan 26, 2021


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Craggy Range, Martinborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road Vineyard 2019 ($20, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Opaque with a hint of green, this Sauvignon leans more toward apple and tangerine aromatics than in-your-face grassy, weedy aromas.  Unlike most Kiwi Sauvignons from Marlborough, this Martinborough version stands out more for its rich, smooth mouthfeel than overt weedy-grassy varietal character.  As a result, it is quite versatile.  There’s ample acidity to hold it together leading to a long, citrus-lime finish.     
88 Norm Roby Jan 26, 2021


PORTUGAL

White:

Anselmo Mendes, Monção e Melgaço (Vinho Verde, Portugal) “Alvarinho Contacto” 2019 ($19):  Monção e Melgaço, one of the nine official sub-regions of Vinho Verde, lies on the southern border of Galicia, the Spanish province that occupies the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula.  The Alvarinho grape reigns here.  Mendes is a new wave producer aiming to show what can be done with this grape in this sub-region, announcing his wines with a bottle engraved with the name of sub-region, the grape, as well as his name.  This Contacto is a richer and more muscular expression of Alvarinho, yet still retains its wonderful cutting edginess.  Zesty lime accents, which imbue the wine with great energy, are still apparent.  It’s a great choice the next time you are grilling fish.       
92 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

Anselmo Mendes, Monção e Melgaço (Vinho Verde, Portugal) Alvarinho “Muros Antigos” 2019 ($15):  Vinho Verde, Portugal’s largest appellation, lies in that country’s northwest corner, bordering Spain.  It’s known for racy high-acid wines.  Some, sadly, provide little more than acidity.  Enter Anselmo Mendes.  His Muros Antigos delivers the mouth-cleansing zippy edge, but in addition there’s a lovely floral quality and an engaging lime-like quality.  Precise and clean, it a superb example of what the region can produce — and a bargain to boot.  Stock up.  Spring will be here before you know it.  Once you open a bottle, you’ll realize that spring has arrived.         
91 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021


SPAIN

Galicia:

White:

Benito Santos, Monterrei DO (Galicia, Spain) Godello 2018 ($18, Williams Corner Wine):  This pale straw-colored, 100 percent Godello opens with a fragrant and appealing bouquet of crushed stone, pithy citrus, and white flowers.  It is loaded with lemon peel, white blossom, stone fruit, fresh grass, salty sea air, and honey.  The flavors are buttressed by lively acidity that leads to a long and persistent finish.  Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc aficionados should give this one a try.         
91 Miranda Franco Jan 26, 2021


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Michael David Winery, Lodi (California) Syrah "Sixth Sense" 2018 ($18):  There is a lot of sexy Syrah character in this nicely priced offering, with blueberry, fig, mocha, meaty and tarry notes all well knit together in both aroma and flavor profiles.  It holds together through a long, plush finish that will have you salivating for a slab of beef or lamb.  There’s a stylistic shift of late in this region, and I’m liking the results.         
92 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

Clarice Wine Company, Santa Lucia Highlands (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($85):  Clarice is a new project by veteran winemaker Adam Lee, one of the best-known Pinot Noir winemakers in California and founder of Siduri Wines.  His wines are sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is situated south of the Monterey Bay on California's central coast.  The glass bursts with dark cherry, tobacco leaves, rosebud, and damp earth aromas.  The palate is rich with ripe dark fruits that are enhanced by forest floor notes.   The wine is 77.9% whole cluster fermented (wine made with whole bunches of grapes including their stems), which provides a firm but round tannin structure that carries over to a generous finish.  Sourced from two sites (62.5% Garys’ Vineyard, 37.5% Rosella’s Vineyard).   I would anticipate this firing on all cylinders for the next five years at least.           
94 Miranda Franco Jan 26, 2021

Vino Noceto, Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills, California) Aglianico “Fumo e Terra” 2016 ($54):  Aglianico makes terrific bold red wine in southern Italy, and, as it turns out, in the Sierra Foothills.  Winemaker Rusty Folena relates that this is the last fruit to come in at harvest time, and that it ripens unevenly like Zinfandel, often with raisins and pips (unripe grapes) on the same cluster.  Like Zinfandel, this varied ripeness adds complexity to the resulting wine, the pips adding peppery character and acidity, and the riper grapes delivering rich black fruit.  The 2016 shows blackberry, graham cracker spice and orange zest aromas that translate well on the palate, where bright pepper notes add tension and depth.  Give this a good decanting in the near term, or age it up to ten years.      
92 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

Sparkling:

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (San Luis Obispo County, California) Brut Cuvée NV ($28):  I’ve been a fan of this bottling since the brand took the reins from Maison Deutz many years ago.  Always a solid value, it’s a pure expression of its source, with apple, melon, pear and citrus set against brioche and a little spice.  It’s long on flavor, and long on value.  I’d be surprised if the new ownership doesn’t increase production of this bottling – it would be to our mutual benefit.       
90 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

White:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2018 ($22):  It is not surprising that Rodney Strong’s Chalk Hill Chardonnay continues to be an outstanding wine.  If anyone knows where to grow Chardonnay in Sonoma, it’s Rodney Strong.  He was bottling a Chardonnay under that label before there even was a Chalk Hill AVA.  The grapes come from five vineyards, three of their own and two from growers.  It’s a balanced zippy wine, conveying both pleasingly tart green apple-like flavor and riper pear-like ones.  Not overdone, its 13.5 percent-stated alcohol reminds us that you don’t need super ripe grapes to make a super wine.  To their credit, they manage to maintain its quality despite making about 720,000 bottles of it annually, which means it should be easy to find.  It’s also easy on the wallet.         
93 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2021

Raeburn Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2019 ($20):  Here is a value-driven Chardonnay that leans into its oak profile in a pleasant way, adding some depth without detracting from the fruit mix of apple, pear and white peach.  25% of the cuvee didn’t go through malolactic fermentation, helping to preserve the acidic pop that makes everything work here.  It’s a very well realized wine considering the large production – which of course means that finding it below retail is a good bet.  Let the search begin!      
90 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

Bright Angel, Yountville, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Morgaen Lee Vineyard 2018 ($36):  I love the direction that California Sauvignon Blanc is headed these days.  After a brief flirtation with styles suited to other climes south of the equator, many producers have looked to other models right in their own backyard and embraced a new California style, where melon, minerality and citrus take the lead and herbal characteristics serve to enhance rather than overwhelm.  That’s exactly what is going on in this bottle – one whose branding reflects what’s inside beautifully.    
92 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

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Oregon:

White:

Firesteed, Oregon (United States) Pinot Gris 2019 ($16):  Pinot Gris is one of Oregon’s shining stars, and this example from Firesteed proves why that’s the case.  A remarkably well-conceived Pinot Gris, with irresistible aromatics and lovely fruit flavors, it is clean and fresh, beautifully balanced, and offers a particularly nimble display of acidity on the finish.      
93 Marguerite Thomas Jan 26, 2021

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Washington:

Red:

Owen Roe, Columbia Valley (Washington) Syrah “Ex Umbris” 2019 ($21):  “From Shadows” was intended as a one-time bottling to show off a fire affected vintage and the smoky character that can play well with Syrah.  While the smoke is gone, the name remains seventeen vintages later.  The 2019 is a savory offering, with violets, pepper and complementary charred oak notes mixed with black and blue fruit, brown spice and freshening menthol in the finish.  Let’s call this a griller’s delight!        
91 Rich Cook Jan 26, 2021

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