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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

May 26, 2020 Issue

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AUSTRIA

White:

Berger, Niederösterreich (Austria) Grüner Veltliner 2019 ($13, Terry Thiese Selection):  Grüner Veltliners in full liter bottles are some of the best buys on the market.  Erich Berger’s family winery in Kremstal offers a range of wines but has become best known in the US for his 1 Liter Grüner Veltliner.  Much of the fruit comes from Berger’s Kremstal vineyards and grows in deep loess soil.  The Berger 2019 Grüner Veltliner easily compares with $20-$25 bottles.  It is bright, fresh and bursting with juicy fruit aromas – lemon, lime and green apple fruits are backed by subtle green herb tones and white pepper spiciness.  The flavors are clean and refreshing with a delicious, summery lift and vivacity.  It also has a satisfying textural richness on the palate – typical of loess-grown Grüners.  With its inherent green notes, Grüner Veltliner is a versatile wine to pair with vegetable dishes, from summer salads to grilled zucchini.  It can pair equally well with your favorite fresh seafood recipes.     
91 Wayne Belding May 26, 2020


FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

André Tixtier & Fils, Champagne (France) Premier Cru, Millésime 2012 ($139, Avid Wines):  Super fine bubbles in a bright, golden liquid, offer the promise of pleasurable sensations to come, like yeasty, fresh brioche, citrus and hazelnut aromas.  The fine bubbles on the palate are gentle, yet tantalizing, mingling with the lacey, citrus fruit of Chardonnay (50%), light notes of raspberry and finesse from Pinot Noir (35%) and berry, floral, spicy, meaty notes from Pinot Meunier (15%).  It is a seamless union of flavors into a voluptuous, rich, creamy, yeasty, mouthwatering wine.  Enjoy with someone special, or someone you want to be special.   
93 Rebecca Murphy May 26, 2020

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Rhône:

Red:

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Abeilles” 2017 ($13, Taub Family Selections):  Jean-Luc Colombo is a star producer in the Northern Rhône appellation of Cornas.  Many credit him as a locomotive for that appellation, pulling it onto the world’s stage.  It turns out that he also makes a stylish, bargain-priced Côtes du Rhône.  His “Les Abeilles” (the bees) is both fruity and spicy with good power without being overdone.  A blend of Grenache (60%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvèdre, it is far more polished than you’d expect for a wine from this appellation.  It’s a super value.  Buy it by the case for this summer’s casual drinking with hamburgers from the grill.     
91 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Domaine Saint Gayan, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Trescartes” 2016 ($15, Europvin USA):  Domaine Saint Gayan, known for their Gigondas, also makes a notable Côtes du Rhône from grapes grown in the neighboring villages of Seguret and Sablet, two of the named villages of the more prestigious Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation, according to their website.  In keeping with the source of the grapes, the wine is a cut above the usual Côtes du Rhône, exhibiting more character than many.  Though from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (75%), Syrah (20%) and Mourvèdre, it is not a usual wine.  Fresh and juicy, it has a spice that gives it a charming edginess.  It’s another great choice for the grilling season.   
90 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020


GREECE

White:

Domaine Sigalas, Cyclades (Greece) Assyrtiko + Monemvasia 2018 ($24, Diamond Wine Importers):  Greek wines often exhibit a style that combines richness and refreshment in a most enticing way.  This wine is a blend of two native varieties grown in the Cyclades, the group of islands in the Aegean Sea that includes Santorini and Paros, among others.  This 50/50 combo of Assyrtiko and Monemvasia from Domaine Sigalas shows an exotic nose of honeysuckle, lemon, ripe apple and melon.  The flavors exhibit pure apple, honey, melon, and tropical fruits backed by hints of citrus peel and subtle herbs.  It has a rich texture and a lifted and lively finish.  The elegant honey and floral tones of the Monemvasia combine with the depth and mineral character of the Assyrtiko to give this wine an attractive style that is well worth a try.    
91 Wayne Belding May 26, 2020


ITALY

Rosé:

Menage a Trois, Italy (Italy) Sparkling Rosé NV ($15, Trinchero Family Estates):   The Trinchero family knows a thing or two about Rosé, including knowing how to spot a needle in a haystack of import possibilities.  Here’s a fresh take on fizz in a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Raboso that is long on white peach and key lime aromas and flavors that get a lively mousse to ride on.  There’s a fruit brightness here that’s hard to achieve in a dry sparkler.  Well done!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.      
92 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

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Piedmont:

Red:

Abrigo Fratelli, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Ravera” 2016 ($60):  Abrigo is a fairly common family name around Alba, and I have no direct experience at this house, though this exceptional wine from the great cru of Ravera makes me determined to change that.  Ravera is rapidly becoming one of the most highly esteemed vineyards in all of Barolo, and in 2016, all six renditions that were included in the Nebbiolo Prima blind tastings were excellent, scoring at least 93 points in my assessments.  Only 333 cases of this were produced, so you’ll need to be lucky to find it at all, but it is well worth a search.  A billowing, dramatic bouquet is entirely arresting, and the wine follows through brilliantly on the palate with intense flavor impact.  Most impressively, though, it provides layers of intense flavor without ever teetering from its near-perfect balance nor showing anything short of impeccable grace.  My raw note ends with the words, “bloody impressive.”    
96 Michael Franz May 26, 2020

Vietti, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Ravera” 2016 ($200):  Vietti’s 2015 release from the Ravera cru was my “Wine of the Year” for 2019, but the 2016 is down just a couple of clicks, and when tasted blind in January of 2020, finished a bit behind this great house’s Lazzarito bottling from the comune of Serralunga.  But with that said, this is still a sensational wine that anyone should feel extremely fortunate to own or taste.  Aromatically, it is phenomenal, showing an amazing array of notes recalling violets, spices, incense and cured meat…and more.  The flavors seem more compressed and the wine a bit thinner than its one year older sibling from 2015, but when I returned to it after another hour after my initial blind tasting, it had filled out a bit, and may very well just have been in a bit of a lull on the day when I tasted it.  (Nebbiolo-based wines definitely go through phases in which they are alternately more expressive or “dumb,” and though the wave form isn’t as dramatic as with Pinot-based wines from Burgundy, this really is “a thing.”)  Based on the bouquet alone, this is a great wine.    
96 Michael Franz May 26, 2020

Cagliero, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Ravera” 2016 ($70):  It seems that very little of this wine makes it to the USA, as I could only find one vintage on offer, a 2009 in New York, but I will damned sure be conducting a global search for this vintage from the stellar Ravera vineyard.  It is quite ripe but not at all over-ripe, showing sexy cherry liqueur notes with lovely hints of incense and spices.  Thanks to its impressive density, it has already absorbed nearly all the oak notes, leaving no overt wood to add to the tannin load, which is low in comparison to the savory and fruity signature of the wine.    
95 Michael Franz May 26, 2020

Franco Conterno, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Panerole” 2016 ($50):  I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a wine from this cru, and certainly not at this level.  It shows very good depth of flavor and impressive concentration and weight on the palate, yet stays pure and proportioned on the palate all the way through the long, detailed finish.  First tasted blind and then re-tasted because of my unfamiliarity with the vineyard, it earned exactly the same score in both assessments.      
94 Michael Franz May 26, 2020

Gagliasso Mario, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016 ($60):  This house makes ripe, fleshy, flamboyant Barolo from this cru as well as Torriglione, the latter of which is also the source for occasionally astonishing releases of Riserva in high acid vintages such as 2006 and 2010.  In 2016, I slightly preferred this Rocche dell’Annunziata, which is a bit fresher and more restrained, or at least restrained for Gagliasso.  Light floral and spice aromas get this off to a fine start, followed by dark cherry fruit notes with balsamic and liqueur undertones.   Plenty of tannins to help this age, but swaddled in fruit as they are, they won’t deter most tasters from cracking into this early on.       
94 Michael Franz May 26, 2020


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Mt. Beautiful, North Canterbury (South Island, New Zealand) Chardonnay 2017 ($24, Mt. Beautiful USA):  According to the winemaker’s notes, inclement weather required a crew to harvest a portion of the Chardonnay grapes earlier than they would have chosen.  Fortunately, the grapes they harvested later were some of the best the estate has ever produced.  Grapes were whole bunch pressed to preserve delicate fruit flavors and the juice was separated with half going to tanks and half to new and neutral barrels for fermentation.  The wine in barrel underwent a partial malolactic fermentation, and the wines from both pickings spent ten months on lees.  In retrospect, these factors explain the intriguing contradictions I encountered when tasting this beguiling wine.  Its striking honey-lemon color belie the subtle, chalky, citrus aromas.  In the mouth, Meyer lemon flavors open to peach and ripe apple with a round, creamy texture animated by vivid acidity.  It is at once rich and subtle and delicious.  Enjoy it with grilled halibut or roasted chicken.  Imagine my delight when I discovered the price!    
93 Rebecca Murphy May 26, 2020


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

V. Sattui Winery, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($48):   Here’s a richly flavored Pinot Noir from one of its best appellations.  Notes of black cherry, ripe strawberry, fall spice and gentle oak toast entice on the nose and please on the palate, with a supple texture and a long, fully integrated finish keeping you coming back for more.  Wines like this are why Pinot Noir is so popular.  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) "The Mariner" 2016 ($50):  Any wine drinker who gravitates toward beautifully made full-flavored red wines will love “The Mariner,” and they may especially love the 2016 vintage.  With its generally moderate temperatures, this was a year that seemed especially designed to produce grapes that yielded ripe flavors, lower sugars and good acidity.  Dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, the blend also includes Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and a little Cabernet Franc.  Still youthful, this is a powerful wine to be sure, showing off dark fruit flavors (notably berries and plums) accented by cedar spice.    
94 Marguerite Thomas May 26, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Old Vine Zinfandel 2017 ($35):  Full disclosure, Zinfandel is one of my least favorite wines.  Petit Sirah runs a close second because both usually are impossibly overdone wines.  So, I shuddered when I read the blend:  Zinfandel (76%), Petit Sirah (22%) and Carignane.  But that’s why you taste.  Dry Creek Vineyard has a stunning track record with their Zinfandels, especially their Old Vine bottling, which they define as coming from vines of more than 50 years of age.  Their website proclaims that many of the vines are over a century old and some have been around for 130 years.  Old vines typically provide smaller yields of higher quality fruit, imparting complexity to the wine.  That’s the case with this Old Vine Zinfandel.  Briary and spicy, it handles the 14.9% stated alcohol effortlessly.  Balanced and neither over the top nor hot, it’s classic full-bodied Zinfandel, but with elegance.    
92 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

V. Sattui Winery, Los Carneros, Napa Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($39):  Los Carneros is on glorious display here, with lively acidity tempering deep black cherry fruit, brown spice and damp earth tones in a brooding style that keeps you interested sip after sip.  There’s a nice grip to the finish that keeps the flavors taut and lingering, making it a pairing partner for a saucy fish dish or a well marbled steak.  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

V. Sattui Winery, Napa Valley (California) Malbec 2017 ($46):  A fruit-driven Malbec that gets a nice lift from the meaty character that, for me, make the variety so attractive.  Black and blue berries and the savory tones play well together and ride out together on an extended finish.  I’m thinking Cali parilla is a perfect partner.  Sattui just keeps on keepin’ on!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.   
95 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Cuvaison, Napa Valley, Los Carneros (California) Pinot Noir "Swan", Micro Lot, Estate Grown 2017 ($65):  With its emphasis on elegance this single vineyard wine from Cuvaison may convince you that not all Pinot Noir from California needs to be overtly rich and ripe.  Indeed, “Swan” is light and silky on the palate, offering discreet red fruits and a cleansing finish. It is also comparatively low in alcohol (13.4%).   
90 Marguerite Thomas May 26, 2020

Ranchita Canyon Vineyard, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Merlot 2016 ($28):  Stunning Merlot from this small producer, one who clearly went out of their way to bring this wine to life.  There’s a regal oak profile here, and it makes the cherry fruit and mild dried herb character pop with brightness and it enhances by adding gentle vanilla and spice in a way that elevates everything.  A great solo glass, or worthy of your finest beef dish.  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
95 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Hilltop" 2017 ($35):  Many red wine drinkers love “Hilltop” not only because the wine is not just lushly textured and flavored, but also because those delicious flavors are never flabby or too sweet.  The discreet presence of oak adds spiciness without dominating the tasting experience, and subtle tannins add to the wine’s overall complexity.  Hilltop’s end-to-end good balance makes this Cabernet a tasty partner for a variety of foods, from steak to the pasta Bolognese I recently enjoyed with it.      
93 Marguerite Thomas May 26, 2020

Imagery Estate Winery, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak (Sonoma County, California) Malbec Upper Ridge Vineyard 2017 ($45):  I’m a big fan of this white pepper-driven style, which gives a beautiful layer of interest to the rich black and blue berry fruit, almost providing a picket fence between the two berry flavors – not fully separating them, but allowing them to be distinct.  The pepper keeps pushing to the end, A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Lightpost Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($58):  Winemaker Christian Roguenant loves to let the location shine in his creations – in fact he’d say he doesn’t create his best wines at all, instead shepherding what is presented by the vineyards into a wine that speaks with clarity of its origins.  Such is the case here, with classic Russian River Valley cola and cherry on the nose and in the mouth, joined by minimalist oak spice and finishing altogether gorgeous.  A Santé!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Ron Rubin Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2017 ($25):  Consumers should be pleased with this well-priced Pinot Noir because it has more complexity than you’d expect at the price.  It’s ripe and supple, but unlike many Pinot Noir at this price, it has some earthy, savory nuances.  It’s not just sweet cherry juice.  It’s a great introduction to the charms of Pinot Noir without breaking the bank.     
88 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Lightpost Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Pinot Noir Ferrari Vineyard Reserve 2018 ($68):   I reviewed this prize winner earlier this year, and it gets a point bump after a few months – here are my notes, which still stand: 
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but this wine pays tribute to its dry farmed source’s name with full throttle flamboyance that’s driven to a win by an expert driver.  Just like Formula One racing, there’s power on top of power, but if the turns aren’t finessed, victory slips away quickly.  No worries here, with layered aromas and flavors of black cherry, rhubarb and damp earth minerality riding on a structured frame and accelerating through the finish.  Not everyone can handle a Ferrari, but those who can surely revel in its secrets. 
A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2016 ($20):  This is a rich, expressive Merlot, with lively black cherry, balanced oak spice, supple tannin structure and a well-integrated finish that lasts.  It’s easy to find, and a pleasure to drink.  Then there’s the value price.   Well done – again!   A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.     
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

St. Francis, Sonoma County (Californiaz) Zinfandel "Old Vines" 2017 ($27):  A longstanding treasure among Sonoma’s fine wine estates, St. Francis was founded in 1971. ”Old Vines” Zinfandel exemplifies why St. Francis is often referred to as “The House of Big Reds” for this particular Zinfandel is indeed big, as well as very dry, with dark red and black fruits along with a hint of licorice shining through.  
90 Marguerite Thomas May 26, 2020

Rosé:

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019 ($22):  It’s not often that a single wine will jump out of a pack of worthy competitors in a blind judging the way that this one does.  So much Meyer lemon freshness and punchy dry cherry fruit lift this wine beyond the status of its fellow rosés into a league of its own, helped along by layers of mild herbs and stony character.  It’s the essence of why dry rosé is here to stay.  Rejoice!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino County (California) Rosé 2019 ($21):   As the weather warms and we dream of a return to the outdoors, wines like this one will make the celebration even more special.  The Rosé craze is alive and well thanks to wines like this, where citrus and strawberry dance together with soft pepper and herb notes on a creamy midpalate that paves the way for a zesty crisp finish.  A serious and seriously fun wine that’s always a quick sellout – so run!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Sparkling:

Korbel, California (United States) Blanc de Noirs NV ($14):  This winery started me off on my wine odyssey, and they are still cranking out the hits at value prices.  This Blanc de Noirs has an attractive faint tinge of orange/pink and aromas of peach, apple and pear that translate directly to palate flavors, with zippy acidity pushing them through a lasting finish where a dash of sweetness brightens everything.  Easy to find, and easy to love!  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
93 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Carneros (California) Brut Rosé 2016 ($44):  Most sparkling Rosé doesn’t carry the kind of depth and complexity found in this beautiful offering from Eileen Crane’s team.  A blend of 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay, it exhibits aromas of brioche, lemon, strawberry and wildflowers that come in layers and draw you in for a sip.  That sip keeps the brioche and the fruit in tension on a creamy mousse that gives way to a finish with a cleansing pop and a citrus push.  Nothing left unsaid here – a complete statement of powerful elegance.  A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.   
95 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) "Cuvee 20" Brut NV ($45):  Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock nails this batch of Cuvée 20, showcasing pear, apple, lime zest, easy toast and stony minerality in both aroma and flavor profiles and keeping things bright and fresh from start to finish.  It’s a perfect aperitif style with the dryness to complement a host of pre-dinner fare.  A subtle saline note has me thinking of oysters as an especially promising pairing.  Great stuff!   A Platinum Award Winner at the 2020 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.    
94 Rich Cook May 26, 2020

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Washington:

Rosé:

Gramercy Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Olsen Vineyard Rosé 2019 ($22):  The 2019 Gramercy Cellars Olsen Vineyard Rosé offers up exactly what is desired for a summertime sipper.  It combines delicious, fresh fruit with a rich texture and a juicy and refreshing finish.  A pale pink in color, it shows enticing strawberry and cherry fruit scents backed by hints of orange peel and spices.  Blended from Cinsault (44%), Grenache (28%) and Syrah (28%), the flavors are bright and lively with cherry, strawberry and citrus fruits underscored by floral and spice tones.  It’s a perfect wine to serve with your favorite grilled foods, or just to enjoy on the patio while you enjoy a summer evening.    
90 Wayne Belding May 26, 2020


WINES FROM THE CELLAR

Red:

Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia (United States) Nebbiolo Reserve 2005 ($110):  Barboursville Vineyards were planted in the mid-1970s by Gianni Zonin of the Zonin wine family of Italy.  The original property was established in 1814 by James Barbour, governor of the state.   Among the grapes Zonin planted was Nebbiolo, perhaps the most finicky wine grape.  It behaves best in the Piedmont region of northern Italy where it produces the “King of Wines and the Wine of Kings,” namely, Barolo.  I attended a Nebbiolo conference in the region in 2006 along with Nebbiolo producers from around the world.  The only wine from outside the region that was getting any buzz was from the Barboursville Nebbiolo.  Maybe it was because winemaker Luca Paschina is originally from the Piedmont region.  Whatever the reason, he’s somehow managed to bring some of Piedmont’s magic with Nebbiolo (which definitely does not travel well) along to Virginia with him.  This 15-year-old wine is a testament to Zonin’s judgment and Paschina’s talent.  It displays the grape’s deceptively light ruby color with a red brick rim.   The aromas are more savory than fruity with dried mushrooms, cigar box, leather, dried roses and black cherry.   Flavors are surprisingly fresh and round with blackberries, plum and black cherry mingling with dried herbs and roses in a tightly knit structure of spirited acidity and muscle-bound tannins.  It is an impressive wine that still has plenty of good years to go.  The current release of this wine is from the 2016 vintage, but the winery is still offering a “Library Vintage” of this 2005 in magnums for $221.        
95 Rebecca Murphy May 26, 2020

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