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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

May 19, 2015 Issue

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FRANCE

Red:

Domaine de la Pertuisane, Cotes Catalanes IGP (France) Grenache “Le Nain Violet” 2011 ($23, USA Wine West): This is the gigantic side of Grenache (despite the fact that the proprietary name means, “The Purple Dwarf).  It is super ripe, but maintains nice character through its elevated alcohol.  Raspberry jam, pepper, leaf, and a firm grip at the end keeps all of the flavors intact -- if you like 'em big and ripe, this is for you!  It continues to open in the glass -- and the ripeness seems to recede a bit, lending more balance.  Very interesting!
90 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Jacquesson, Champagne (France) “Cuvée no. 737” Extra Brut NV ($75, Vintage '59 Imports): Jacquesson isn’t a big name in Champagne in the USA market, but it is among the most highly respected houses among those who really know the category and aren’t fixated on the giant producers that continue to dominate in terms of restaurant placements and 4th quarter sales.  Given that fact for starters, adding in the factor that this is a multi-vintage blend rather than a vintage dated wine amounts to a second strike against it, at least in commercial terms.  And yet, two strikes mean exactly nothing when a home run is hit on the third pitch, and that’s precisely what this wine delivers from the glass.  The aromas are highly detailed and intricate, showing ripe flavors from the 2009 vintage on which the blend was based, but a very low dosage of 3.5 grams per liter of sugar leaves the wine seeming fresh, taut, and highly energetic.  Some deep bass notes, derived from reserve wines that were used to round out the blend, provide richness and complexity.  All of this adds up to a wine that is marvelously complete and complex, indicating great blending skill as well as utilization of first rate raw materials.  To put the price in context, you’d be wrong to wince when this rings up for the price of a vintage-dated Champagne, for the simple reason that it is actually much more intricate than most millesime wines, and also capable of considerable positive development from cellaring.
95 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Taittinger, Champagne (France) “Les Folies de la Marquetterie” Brut NV ($80, Kobrand Wine & Spirits): I first tasted and reviewed this wine two years ago, but then showed it in a class on Champagne this week...and it was not only still fresh and well balanced, but vastly more complex after two additional years of ageing in my cellar.   Les Folies is a single-vineyard cuvee, presumably one that was introduced in answer to the rise of “grower Champagnes,” which have become sufficiently successful to cause some sleepless nights among managers at the Grandes Marques.  Stylistically, it is a bit surprising in the context of Taittinger’s typical profile, as its chief characteristics are richness, depth and complexity, whereas I usually turn to Taittinger for lean, lemony, linear wines.  But let me be clear:  There’s nothing remotely oafish about les Folies, which is rather assertive for Taittinger but still a very sophisticated, nimble Champagne, even though there’s more bass and a little less treble than one associates with the house. 
95 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Gosset, Champagne (France) Grande Réserve Brut NV ($65, Palm Bay International): Gosset has long been known as a source for big, assertive, deeply flavored Champagnes, and this wine fits that description perfectly.  A blend that proves remarkably consistent across multiple releases over the years, it offers dramatic aromas with plenty of yeasty notes and positive oxidative scents.  The palate follows through with excellent balance between fruit notes, biscuity flavors, and bright finishing acidity.  The effervescence is abundant but delicate in texture, and the overall impression left by the wine is one of carefully measured power and deeply convincing deliciousness.
93 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Réserve Brut NV ($60, Rémy Cointreau USA): This wine was re-designed about three years ago, and it is an object lesson in how good the house of Charles Heidsieck has become at every level.  A multi-vintage blend that includes fully 40% of reserve wines, many of them more than 10 years old, it packs one of the most powerful and layered bouquets of any Champagne you can buy at any price.  At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I should observe the word “bouquet” should only be used as a wine descriptor when--as in a floral arrangement--it describes a bundle of many distinct things.  That is indeed the case with the surpassingly complex, layered scents given off by this wine.  The flavors are also very deep, rich and impressive.  Although the wine’s finish isn’t flawed in any way, one must say that it doesn’t quite live up to the aromas and flavors of the wine, though that is really just another way of saying that this is a Champagne that smells and tastes amazing.  I’ve seen it priced below $50 on occasion, which makes it one of the best bargains offered by the entire Champagne region.  More soon on the Vintage Brut 2000 from this house, which is on a terrific tear.
92 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

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ITALY

Friuli:

Red:

Villa Russiz, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Merlot “Graf de la Tour” NV ($40): Collio is rightly famous for white wines, but it is also a source for some mind-blowingly good reds, such as this one.  It offers a marvelous mix of fruity and savory aromas and flavors, with a core of black plum and dark berry fruit with accents of tobacco leaf and baking spices.  Very fine-grained tannins lend just enough spine to help this finish with some firmness, but there’s noting astringent about it, and the texture is as impressive as the aromas and flavors.
94 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

White:

Borgo Conventi, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Sauvignon Blanc “Colle Blanchis” 2012 ($25): Established in 1975, Borgo Conventi is among the largest of Collio’s producers, and its wines are consistently solid.  This one, however, is downright striking.  Sourced from a single vineyard site, it is made in very limited quantities (roughly 2,000 bottles per year) from a special clone planted on just four terraces.  Of these four, only two of the terraces are used for making this special wine, which is notably rich in the signature Collio style, yet also quite fresh as well--also in the signature Collio style.  Exceptionally persistent aftertaste notes all tail off symmetrically, which is yet another indication of superior quality.  An extremely impressive wine that speaks even more of place than grape variety.
93 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Villa Russiz, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Sauvignon “De da Tour” 2013 ($30): This is one of the world’s finest Sauvignon Blancs…every single year. Villa Russiz makes a ”regular” Sauvignon that is very good (about 40,000 bottles per vintage), but the “De La Tour” bottling is sourced from a single vineyard site and only about 10-15 thousand bottles are made in any particular year.  The clusters are not de-stemmed before pressing, and after vinification it spends 10 months on its yeast lees rather than the 6 months for the regular bottling.  All of this adds up to a wine with phenomenal dimensionality for a Sauvignon, with a fruit profile that includes both citrus and melon aspects, and also a riveting combination of substance and freshness.  This must be tasted to be believed, and even more amazing is the fact that this wine isn’t even the house’s top rendition of Sauvignon; the “Bleu” bottling earns that distinction, but at a price of roughly $120 in the USA, we’ll consider that wine on another day when I’m feeling more flush….
93 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Livon, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Ribolla Gialla Tenuta Ronc Alto 2013 ($30): Ribolla Gialla vies with Friulano for the title of Collio’s signature indigenous grape variety, and though Friulano seems the more consistent of the two, this is a Ribolla that shows such superb quality that the competition between the two varieties seems unlikely to end anytime soon.  Notably high acidity is expected from this grape and is certainly present in this finished wine, but there’s also exceptional concentration and substance that results in terrific balance and internal symmetry.  Interesting, the wine’s edgy acidity and rich breadth of texture are so well integrated that this is more a wine of harmony than tension, as is usually the case with Ribolla.  Terrific juice.
92 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Villa Russiz, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2013 ($28): Villa Russiz is an historic and exemplary producer in many different respects, one of which is that it makes one of the world’s most convincing renditions of Pinot Grigio.  Whereas this is usually a non-descript wine category, the Villa Russiz 2013 (still going strong) is quite complex and uncanny in its combination of seamless integration along with interesting interplay between fruit and acidity.  This vintage was described to me as a “perfect” harvest that was conducted over a long span of 25 days with cool nights and no consequential rain, permitting the picking of every variety and plot at optimal ripeness.  This wine offers powerful testimony to back up this claim.
92 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

Gradis’Ciutta, Collio Bianco (Friuli, Italy) “Bràtinis” 2011 ($30): Collio is one of Italy’s three premier white wine sources (along with Alto Adige and Campania), and though it produces a wide range of single-variety wines, Collio Bianco is always a blend.  For many producers, Collio Bianco is the house’s flagship wine, but it can’t quite be the region’s flagship wine due to the fact that the varieties in the blend differ among producers. Gradis’Ciutta (an exemplary producer) always uses Ribolla Gialla, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and always draws the fruit from the same vineyard sites.  There is some vintage variation, however, due to differences in the warmth and yield levels of different growing seasons.  I haven’t tasted enough different renditions to know how the 2011 stacks up against other vintages, but I tasted this particular wine on three separate occasions…and adored it all three times.  Not only is it still alive at this stage, but actually quite vibrant and highly complex, with multiple layers of generous flavors and a very long, symmetrical finish.  It is so complex that it seems impossible that no wood was involved, but that’s indeed the case.  A totally compelling wine.
94 Michael Franz May 19, 2015

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SPAIN

Calatayud:

Red:

Las Rocas, Calatayud (Spain) Garnacha 2012 ($14): This little-known DO in north-central Spain is warm and dry in summer, making for intense, bold red wines. Garnacha is the money grape of the region and Las Rocas does it proud with the 2012 vintage, which exhibits jammy red fruits, spice and a touch of anise for an exotic complexity. Exceptional quality in value-priced red wine from Spain. 89 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Roth, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($28): Alexander Valley is renowned for its richly layered Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what you get with this vintage of the Roth. Bold, lush and mouth-filling, this is a superb example of the Alexander Valley model for Cabernet, and it comes with a relatively modest price tag. 90 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Murphy-Goode, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Terra a Lago' 2012 ($40): Another superb Cabernet for Murphy-Goode from the 2012 vintage, the Terra a Lago shows blackeberry and cassis aromas, with a juicy, layered palate. Slightly drying wood tannins are the only off note, but that simply means age will not flatter this wine. Drink now and enjoy! 89 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Truchard, Carneros (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38): Cool-climate Cabernet is the ultimate risk-reward gamble in California, where there is plenty if sunshine in most places to fully ripen the late-ripening Cabernet vines just about every vintage. That's why planting Cab in Carneros is generally avoided. Unripe, green Cabernet is unpleasant at the very least. But when it's good, it's really good. That's the case with this 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from the lontime grape-growing Truchard clan. This vintage is flavorful and elegant, with fine tannins and exceptional complexity and length on the palate. 92 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Truchard Vineyards, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38): Who knew that Carneros is cool for Cabernet -- in more ways than one?  Fans of Truchard know that this region famed for its Burgundian varieties can produce delicious, food friendly Bordeaux styled wines in the hands of a skilled vineyard manager and winemaker.  They've dialed this one in nicely, with solid varietal character markers of blackberry, cassis, dried herbs and brown spice, with just a touch of cola to let you know from whence it came.  It's very long, and a moderate extraction keeps it bright through a long finish.  Go for something big and saucy as a pairing -- this will work across the land animal spectrum.
92 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Calera, Mt. Harlan (California) Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard 2012 ($65): Don't let a hint of matchstick aroma put you off when you pop and pour this wine -- give it a good swirling in the glass and enjoy its evolution into an elegant, flavorful Pinot Noir.  It's solidly in the red fruit camp, with soft cherry, strawberry and sweet cranberry joined by soft tea, cardamom and roses in both aroma and flavor, with a long finish that shows just enough acidity to keep all the flavors in play.  This needs a delicate meal -- white fish with cream sauce and mushrooms sounds good.
94 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Calera, Mt. Harlan (California) Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard 2012 ($65): Calera's 2012 Reed is firmly structured and will need time to blossom, but the elements of suave red fruit and spice are already present. For those who must consume it at this youthful stage I recommend decanting at least an hour or two prior to serving. Better, however, to lay it down for several years and enjoy a more evolved and complex Pinot nearing its peak of maturity. 92 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 2012 ($65): Grgich Hills' estate grown red wines are very distinctive across the board -- they're often recognized by experienced tasters in blind flights.  There's a particular violet character that seems to wave its flag every year in this bottling that has the power to draw you in deeper, where you'll find rich blackberry and currants complimented by leafy herbs and soft spice notes.  It's structured on the palate, with the flavors presenting themselves in layered complexity, with a long finish that adds a refreshing menthol note.  It's very attractive now, and is stuffed with aging potential.  Serve with your finest beef or lamb recipes.
95 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($65): Over the years Grgich Cabernet Sauvignon has been money in the bank when it comes to quality. Grgich Cab is always beautifully balanced and structured, with the ability to improve with age for up to 20-30 years. The 2012 is yet another in a long line of exceptional Cabernets from Grgich, a suave, exquisitely balanced, elegant Cabernet that can be enjoyed now or after many, many years in the cellar. Ripe cassis and blackberry fruit notes dominate, with hints of cedar and spice in the background, and finely integrated tannins. 95 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

V. Sattui Winery, Napa Valley (California) Grenache 2012 ($35): I'm still waiting for a wine from V. Sattui that I don't want to tell you about…and I’ve been waiting for a long time.  This Grenache finished well ahead of a group of six examples of the variety, including representatives from Spain and France.  It shows bright cherry and strawberry fruit aromas, with a dusty note adding interest.  The palate sensations are soft and round, with supple tannins and a very approachable feel.  Cherry, strawberry and soft oak spice and pepper flavors hold on, thanks to balanced acidity, through a soft, elegant finish that has enough grip to bring you back for more.  This is ready to drink, and very well made.
92 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($40): Cabernet is king in the Napa Valley, a fact that's hard to run away from given current prices. So it is both remarkable and a bit of a relief to come across a Napa Cab from a top producer that isn't priced like a museum piece. Whitehall Lane's basic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a mouthful of blackberry and currant fruit, with a note of spice and oak vanillin that strikes just the right chord. 91 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Patz & Hall, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Burnside Vineyard 2012 ($75): Burnside Vineyard benefits from the cooling influence of the Petaluma Gap, and this bottling represents a very different style for Patz & Hall.  The nose brings bright cherry cola and raspberry with touches of damp earth, hibiscus and cinnamon, followed up with like flavors balanced with sweet oak and moderate tannins.  It's slightly astringent at present, but it will come around nicely as the oak integrates more fully.  An interesting, exotic wine that will pair nicely with an Asian spiced fish preparation.
92 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Rosé:

Silver Trident Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014 ($28): A very expressive rosé from new Napa Valley players Silver Trident.  Aromas of bright strawberry and citrus with a touch of spice and a hint of stone fruit lead to a thirst quenching palate that translates the promise of the nose into layered flavors.  The finish leaves lingering minerality and leaf notes that invite you back.  I'd lay out a spread of mild cheeses and charcuterie with this and enjoy a long summer afternoon.
91 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Silver Trident Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Rose of Pinot Noir 2014 ($28): A culture of dry rose is slowly emerging in America so it's no surprise new wineries are out to capitalize. This effort from Silver Trident with a Rose of Pinot is encouraging. This vintage is crisp and refreshing, with notes of strawberry and cherry and a clean, mouth-watering finish. Good answer to a hot summer day! 89 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

White:

Matanzas Creek, Bennett Valley (Sonoma County) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($32): Sauvignon blanc is a versatile white grape variety that flourishes all over the world under varying conditions. The result is a wine with a bit of a split personality. That's not a bad thing, and in the case of Matanzas Creek the Sauvignon seems to be inspired by the Sauvignon-based whites of the Graves district of Bordeaux, in southwest France. This vintage offers a note of white peach and spice, is well balanced and delivers exceptional persistence of flavor through a long and satisfying finish. Without a doubt one of the top Sauvignons from California. 91 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

HandCraft, California (United States) Pinot Grigio 2014 ($12): HandCraft is another emerging star in the value lineup from Monterey County's intrepid Indelicato Family. These are serious grape growers turned producers making wines across a broad range of prices. All, however, have one thing in common: No matter the price, the quality shines through. This Pinot Grigio is inexpensive yet delicious, with more complexity than anyone has a right to expect from a $12 domestic Pinot Grigio. The fruit (lime and peach) is bright and forward, and on the palate the wine is mouth-watering and refreshing. Great bang for the buck. 88 Robert Whitley May 19, 2015

Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($25): Niner's current stable of wines shows a serious upgrade in quality, with solid performers across the menu.  This cool climate Chardonnay exhibits lively tropical fruit, with emphasis on pineapple and banana, complimented by notes of apple, pear and spice.  Racy acidity and a touch of stony minerality contribute to a lip-smacking package that can work well on its own or compliment an array of foods from simple appetizers to rich fish preparations.  And take note -- a recent barrel sampling of Niner's 2013 and 2014 reds tells me you'll want to keep them on your radar.
90 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

Oregon:

White:

Raptor Ridge, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2014 ($20): Here is a delightful Pinot Gris that features fresh lemon, lime, lychee, white flowers and stony minerality delivered over racy acidity that begs for a pairing with oysters or whitefish.  It's quite long on the palate and manages a rich feel that lingers over the crispness.  Very well made!
92 Rich Cook May 19, 2015

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