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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

July 28, 2015 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Nieto Senetiner, Mendoza (Argentina) Pinot Noir 2014 ($13): You can spend a pile of money on Pinot Noir or you can spend next to nothing. Next to nothing usually gets you what you pay for, but this $13 Argentine Pinot is the exception to the rule. It's rustic and earthy, showing fruit notes of strawberry and black raspberry, with firm acidity and a chewy but pleasant finish. It has personality. For the price, a genuine find.
85 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

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AUSTRALIA

Clare Valley:

Red:

Wakefield Estate / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2014 ($17, AW Direct): Wakefield (called Taylor's within Australia) is on a roll across the price spectrum, as this entry-level offering demonstrates.  It's got a deep aromatic profile that I'll describe as a rustic berry tart, with jammy black fruit and spice, delicate wintergreen, and a little chocolate. These translate directly to flavors on the palate, and while it makes a great solo quaff, racy acidity suggests grilled red meats will be improved when mated with this tasty, approachable wine.
89 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

White:

Wakefield Estate / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Riesling St. Andrews 2014 ($40, AW Direct): Another knock out wine from Wakefield.  I talk a lot about acidity in my reviews, and I definitely have a preference for wines with a strong acidic presence.  It's on display in spades here, where it delivers a Champagne-like scouring character that cleans your palate and leaves a fresh citrus and stony mineral impression that lingers very persistently.  If you find bubbles to be a distraction, try this as an alternative.  Better yet, age it long term -- up to 20 years won't hurt it at all. I'm continually blown away by Aussie Rieslings!
94 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

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CHILE

White:

Casillero del Diablo, Casablanca Valley and Limarí Valley (Chile) Chardonnay Reserva 2014 ($12, Excelsior Wines and Spirits): From the Devil's Cellar comes this attractively priced Chardonnay that will be easy to find across the USA, and will satisfy a range of fans of the grape.  It's brightly tropical in aroma and flavor, with just a touch of sweetness in the finish that balances a pleasant bitter note.  A tasty, affordable, cocktail style wine.
88 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

White:

Domaine Louis Latour, Corton Charlemagne (Burgundy, France) 2010 ($120, Louis Latour USA): No one produces a better Corton Charlemagne consistently than Maison Louis Latour.  Latour, the largest owner of Corton Charlemagne, has ideally located plots on the hill of Corton.  The sheer extensiveness of their holdings means that even in “difficult” years Latour’s Corton Charlemagne is top-notch because they limit production by selecting only the very best grapes.  However, in a year like 2010 -- which was superb for both reds and whites -- Latour’s Corton Charlemagne is magnificent.  Tightly wound even now at four years of age, it takes time in the glass to open.  Indeed, its stature was far more apparent after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.  Very different from the other white Grand Crus (thankfully, in price as well as character), Latour’s Corton Charlemagne has appealing spice and citrus rind components atop its firm minerality.  The 2010 has enormous concentration complemented by breathtaking vigor.  Its lush and firm simultaneously.  Judging from my experience with their Corton Charlemagne, the 2010 will evolve gracefully over the next two decades.
97 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

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ITALY

Tuscany:

White:

Monteverro, IGT Toscana (Italy) Vermentino di Monteverro 2014 ($25, Opici Wines): Monteverro, a relatively new player in Bolgheri sweepstakes, is aiming to join the Ornellaia and Sassicaia Super Tuscan club with their red wine.  So it came as a great surprise to see the quality of this white.  Their 2014 Vermentino is crisp, with an enticing floral whiff.  Often Vermentino can be a light bland wine.  Not this one from Monteverro.  It conveys far more character than you’d expect from this grape.  There’s a lively saline character and a hint of bitterness in finish that indicates it’s serious stuff, indeed.   Wow!
92 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Kumeu River, Kumeu (Auckland, New Zealand) Chardonnay Maté Vineyard 2012 ($48, Wilson Daniels): Kumeu River’s Maté Vineyard Chardonnay, named for the patriarch of the family, is always their boldest and most complexity offering.  The 2012 fits that description.  Although richer and bigger than the winery’s other Chardonnays, it remains perfectly balanced without sacrificing any freshness or verve.  Indeed, it’s a weighty wine, yet not heavy or oversized.  With air, slightly smoky or flinty notes emerge and marry nicely with citrus notes.  The spice of oak, apparent when first poured, becomes seamlessly integrated with a half hour of air.  Like other great wines, it grandeur blossoms in the glass. Unlike Kumeu River’s Hunting Hill or Coddignton Chardonnay, I’d give this one a year or two in the cellar.  If you can’t wait, open it an hour in advance and savor it during a meal.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

Kumeu River, Kumeu (Auckland, New Zealand) Chardonnay Hunting Hill Vineyard 2012 ($50, Wilson Daniels): Though Kumeu River’s 2012 Hunting Hill Chardonnay is distinct from the winery’s other bottlings, it has the balance and precision for which that producer is known.  Showing more minerality than Kumeu River’s Coddington Chardonnay, it could pass for a Grand Cru Chablis because of its density. It, too, like the Coddington, has a wonderfully persistent and invigorating finish.  Either of these two Chardonnays -- Hunting Hill or Coddington -- would be a great choice for grilled swordfish this summer.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

Kumeu River, Kumeu (Auckland, New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2012 ($28, Wilson Daniels): With this Pinot Gris, Kumeu River, justifiably known for their fantastic line-up of Chardonnay, shows they know how to transform other varieties into top-notch wine.  It’s a unique Pinot Gris, falling somewhere between the lighter styled Italian version and the heavy ones from Alsace.  Firm crispness and a subtle bite balance its gorgeous texture.  Racy and elegant, it’s a delight.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

Kumeu River, Kumeu (Auckland, New Zealand) Chardonnay Coddington Vineyard 2012 ($42, Wilson Daniels): In my experience, Kumeu River is the best New Zealand Chardonnay producer.   Of course, I’ve not tasted every Chardonnay coming out of that country, but it’s hard for me to believe there’s a better overall producer of that varietal in New Zealand than Kumeu River.  Year in and year out their lineup of Chardonnay is simply stunning.  Each bottling is distinctive -- and thoroughly captivating.  Though Coddington vineyard faces north and gets maximum warmth, the 2012 Coddington Chardonnay has a taut Chablis-like verve with the barest hint of white pepper-like spice. Its laser-like focus is brilliant, while a lime-like finish amplifies its flavors.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

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SPAIN

Rias Baixas:

White:

Deusa Nai, Rias Baixas (Spain) Albarino 2013 ($17, Vineyard Brands): Part of the Marqués de Cáceres stable of Spanish wines, this Albariño tastes true both to the grape variety and the region of Rias Baixas.  It exhibits summer stone fruit flavors and a floral perfume, and it finishes with a hint of saltiness, all of which makes it an ideal partner for seafood.  Drink it in the near term in order to experience its bright freshness.
90 Paul Lukacs Jul 28, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Renwood, Amador County (California) Zinfandel “Grandpére” 2012 ($40): An elevated expression of Renwood's estate vineyard, this bottle shows what's possible when the fruit is picked at perfect ripeness in the Foothills.  Often the Zinfandels from Amador tip over into the jammy, fruit bomb style, and while the alcohol here is 15%, it's not showing itself as being out of line.  Rich red berry fruit, pie crust, delicate pepper and a touch of citrus, supple tannins and a long finish with an easy grip make for a great bottle of Zinfandel.  Well done!  Contains 10% Petite Sirah, 6% Mourvedre, 5% Syrah and 1% Marsanne.
92 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Renwood, Fiddletown (Amador County) Zinfandel 2012 ($25): Once upon a time Fiddletown was the epicenter of California Zinfandel. Other districts now have something to say about that and have far more production with which to spread their fame. But Zins from Fiddletown are still among the finest there are and the 2012 from Renwood is an exemplary expression of Fiddletown Zin, showing aromas of ripe blackberry and blueberry, oak vanillin, a touch of anise and a hint of baking spice. Well balanced and modestly priced.
92 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38): This wine offers great value in a classically styled Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Blackberry, cassis, saddle, mild dried herbs, fall and cedar spice, graphite and moderate oak toast -- just like it's supposed to be.  It's pretty firm at present, so decant if opening near term.  Herb encrusted prime rib -- definitely!  Contains 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.
92 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Adobe Red 2012 ($14): I used to think of Adobe Red as an entry level wine for Clayhouse. Always good, always easy, always modestly priced. That description doesn't do the 2012 vintage justice. This is the finest Adobe Red in memory, a juicy, spicy red blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Malbec. With excellent balance and supple tannins, this is a serious wine that can be enjoyed now, with haut cuisine or grilled meats from the barbecue. It's delicious, fun, fresh and intriguing, and still a good value.
92 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

VIE, Santa Barbara County (California) Syrah White Hawk Vineyard 2012 ($45): White Hawk Vineyard is becoming a go to source for Syrah.  This bottle is very intense, with black and blue fruits forward joined by white pepper and touches of orange zest and meat.  It's fleshy and full on the palate, but doesn't go overboard thanks to vibrant acidity and good grip through the long finish.  It's a big sexy wine that keeps your interest from start to finish, and will continue to improve with some bottle aging.  A very solid expression!  Contains 3% Viognier.
92 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Patz & Hall, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard 2012 ($90): Patz & Hall's Pisoni Vineyard Pinot from the excellent 2012 vintage is the perfect marriage of brilliant winemaker and brilliant grape grower. Winemaker James Hall is on his way to legendary status in California wine, and grape grower Gary Pisoni's namesake vineyard is an American treasure, one of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in the New World and certainly a worthy rival for the grand cru vineyards of Burgundy's Cote de Nuits. This blockbuster is rich and powerful yet in perfect balance. Aromas of blackberry, black raspberry and blueberry dominate, with a subtle earth note in the background and enough bright acidity to balance the sweetness of the fruit. On the palate it is mouth-coating and persistent, with a finish that lingers and expands beyond the imagination. This is a magical wine from two of the California wine industry's most talented contributors.
98 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Mansfield-Dunne, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyard 2013 ($48): The Peterson Vineyard Pinot from Mansfield-Dunne, delicate and slightly pale, runs against the conventional wisdom on Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It's anything but a fruit bomb. That said, it has an appealing array of complexities such as cola, forest floor and a black cherry/red raspberry flavor profile. With a bit of green tannin on the finish it has some bite, but for many Pinot enthusiasts that is a feature rather than a flaw.
89 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard 2013 ($70): Gap's Crown vineyard is perched just above Sonoma Coast's famed Petaluma Gap, where it spends a fair amount of the year shrouded in fog from the Pacific, and the weather and soil lead to some of the best Pinot Noir the area has to offer.  A relatively young vineyard, it has already produced some stellar wines, particularly under the stewardship of James Hall.  There's a ton going on here -- cherry pie, fall spice, cola, mellow herbs, some deep boysenberry and a hint of stemminess.  It's absolutely delicious now, and has the structure to deepen in complexity for years to come.  A trophy Pinot!
95 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Wild Ridge, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($45): This Wild Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot is something of a revelation. Rich and layered, it delivers enticing flavors of strawberry, raspberry and spice with exquisite balance and exceptional length. This is a Pinot with serious dimension and the prospect of a long life, though it is drinkable now. It delivers that rare combination of flavor without weight, a characteristic often described as elegance. If it isn't yet on your radar, get a new radar.
94 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

White:

J. Lohr, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County) Sauvignon Blanc 'Flume Crossing" 2014 ($14): This Sauvignon from J. Lohr is another in a long line of crisp, clean, fresh whites from Monterey County's most prolific winery. The Flume Crossing Sauvignon offers notes of bright yellow citrus and white peach, with a slightly oily texture balanced by good acidity.
88 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Lee Family Farm, Monterey (California) Albarino 2014 ($18): This project by Morgan Winery features an inexpensive set of wines that fall outside the regular production of the main label. The Albariño is fresh and lively, with flavors and aromas of peach, nectarine and lime, with a lemon zest and melon character in the refreshing finish.  Nice price, and a great summer tapas accompaniment.
88 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Fetzer, Monterey County (California) Gewurztraminer 'Shaly Loam' 2013 ($10): Fetzer has made a career out of producing stunning wines for the price and its 2013 Shaly Loam Gewurz is just another great example of Fetzer's knack for combining volume, quality and price into a winning combination. This slightly off-dry Gewurztraminer from Monterey County is a gem, showing tropical fruits such as mango, orange and tangerine, with a note of spice and bright acidity. Is it a wine for the ages? Not likely. But it is extraordinarily delicious and drinkable now.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay “Paris Tasting Commemorative” 2012 ($92): Miljenko “Mike” Grgich put California wines firmly on the world’s wine map in 1976 when a Chardonnay he made when he was Chateau Montelena’s winemaker beat out a bevy of white Burgundies for first place at a comparative tasting in Paris.  Though he has ceded winemaking responsibilities to his nephew Ivo Jeramaz, Grgich Hills Estate still produces Chardonnays -- and other wines -- that amaze.  This one, named after that famous Paris tasting, is the winery’s best Chardonnay, delivering pure California ripeness and richness -- even a touch of butterscotch -- offset by energizing acidity. An exceptional citrus-infused finish reinforces its stature as a great wine.  Filled with flavor, yet not heavy, it’s a marvelous balancing act.  Though immediately captivating, it expands in the glass, so give it time.  This is a wine to drink, not just taste because it’s even more extraordinary an hour after you pour it.
96 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

Volker Eisele Family Estate, Napa Valley (California) "Gemini" 2013 ($25): A white Bordeaux blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes grown in the Chiles Valley district of Napa, this is an exemplary California wine.  It shows richness as well as depth, but avoids the excesses of alcoholic heat and overt oakiness that mar so many Golden State renditions.  Very much a food wine in a classic style, it is a joy to drink.
92 Paul Lukacs Jul 28, 2015

McManis Family Vineyards, River Junction (California) Viognier 2014 ($11): This Viognier is an unbelievable bargain.  Viognier is notoriously difficult to get right because it often comes across as a heavy wine.  McManis got this one right.  It leads with a delicate whiff of white flowers and then dances delicately on the palate, finishing with a bright and racy signature.  It’s the perfect wine for this summer -- either as a stand-alone aperitif of with light seafood.  Buy it by the case.  You and your guests will be happy.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2015

Trione, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($23): The cool Russian River Valley often imbues Sauvignon Blanc with a grassy note, which is evident here. But any suggestion of greeness is quickly dispelled by the ever-so-slightly oily texture and fruit aromas of white peach. This is a delicate Sauvignon that delivers personality and character without being overdone. Served it with grilled or poached fish dishes, and don't shy away from sauces or fruit salsas.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Chardonnay McIntyre Vineyard 2012 ($42): Partial malolactic fermentation allows a winemaker some control over the mouthfeel and fruit expression of Chardonnay, and just 25% in this bottling keeps everything fresh and vibrant, allowing the tropical fruit elements to speak clearly, with passion fruit and pineapple dominating here.  The acidity is allowed to really drive the flavors and give a more Chablis-like mouthfeel, with notes of nut, apple and lemon joining the island fruits in the long finish.  This has some longevity in it -- lay some down next to your Mersault and see what happens five years on.  Well done!
93 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Chardonnay "Highland" 2013 ($28): This big-production Chardonnay doesn't show any sort of bulk wine character at all, with bright lemon cream and apple character complimented by a light leafy note. 60% malolactic fermentation keeps things creamy without getting heavy, and keeps the acidity singing to deliver flavors in a balanced and food friendly way.  You'll see this on menus as a by-the-glass pour, and you can't go wrong with it.
90 Rich Cook Jul 28, 2015

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Fume Blanc 2014 ($14): There's almost nothing more consistent in California wine than a Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. This vintage of DCV Fume Blanc, aka Sauvignon Blanc, is no exceptional. It's simple and straightforward, showing mouth-watering grapefruit and a spice note, with excellent balance. It finishes clean and fresh, inviting another sip. Most anyone would be happy to oblige.
89 Robert Whitley Jul 28, 2015

Idaho:

Red:

Sawtooth, Snake River Valley (Idaho) Tempranillo “Classic Fly Series” 2012 ($25): Richer and more muscular than most renditions of Tempranillo, no matter where they come from, this Idaho wine offers dark fruit flavors and plenty of tannin.  It is well-balanced, but intense, so needs to be partnered with equally forceful food.  Lam chops or a grilled ribeye would be perfect.
90 Paul Lukacs Jul 28, 2015

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