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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

January 22, 2019 Issue

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ITALY

Sparkling:

Caposaldo, Prosseco DOC (Italy) Brut NV ($16, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Prosecco is one of the fastest growing segments of the wine industry and it’s easy to understand why.  Quality, on the upswing over the past decade, is high and the price relatively low.  That and the fact that more producers have embraced the brut style and moved away from the sweetness levels that turned off many consumers in the past.  The Caposaldo shows notes of ripe apple with a fine mousse and a crisp, clean finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Tuscany:

Red:

Castello Banfi, Toscano IGT (Tuscany, Italy) "SummuS" 2015 ($70):  The greatest feat in winemaking is the ability to craft a rich, powerful red wine that is all of that and elegant, too.  The Banfi 2015 SummuS is a remarkable Super Tuscan blend that is suave and sophisticated, combining nuance and balance with impressive depth and complexity.  Showing seductive aromas of blackberry, cassis, cherry and blueberry on the palate, with supple tannins, a note of graphite and exceptional length, this is an impeccably made wine that rivals Banfi’s other heavy hitters in quality.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
98 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Duck Hunter, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($20, 1849 Wine Company):  A well balanced Sauvignon Blanc, one that gathers the best elements of Marlborough and presents them like a fine string quartet, with the citrus, gooseberry, herb and wet stone all complementing each other from introduction to coda.  Oysters all around!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

The Seeker, New Zealand () Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($14):  This tangy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand delivers mouth-watering acidity along with notes of grapefruit and lime.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
91 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

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SPAIN

La Mancha:

Red:

Muchos Manos, La Mancha (Spain) Red Wine 2017 ($10, Wine Insiders):  I love running across a $10 wine to which I can assign a full-throated recommendation.  Complex ripe red and black fruit aromas are joined by soft oak spice, all of which translate well on the palate.  This finish is a bit oak forward at present, but it’s not obtrusive, and will round off with a little bottle aging.  Get a case and enjoy its evolution.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
93 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Bee’s Box, California (United States) Pinot Noir 2017 ($21):  Always a value leader, Francis Ford Coppola rolls out this new brand with a bang.  Solid Pinot Noir with layered aromas and flavors of cherry, fall spice, orange blossom and complementary oak toast.  A long finish where all the elements dance together rounds things out.  This is a case buy wine.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Starfield Vineyards, El Dorado (California) Aglianico 2016 ($38):  The Sierra Foothills area simply doesn’t get proper respect for its work with Italian varieties, and here’s a wine that makes that fact all the more a crime.  Spot-on varietal purity shines on the nose and in the mouth, with a touch of rustic charm adding pleasure to the proceedings.  Good tannic structure provides a finish that is long, fully integrated and has a supple grip that keeps the flavors coming.  Beef, please!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Starfield Vineyards, El Dorado (California) Tempranillo 2016 ($25):  The warm, dry climate of California’s Sierra Foothills is ideal for Mediterranean grape varieties such as Tempranillo, the money grape of Spain’s Rioja region.  Starfield does a exceptional job with this grape and the 2016 is an impressive example.  Perfectly ripe and beautifully balance, the 2016 shows gorgeous red and black fruit notes, a touch of wood spice and smooth, supple tannins.  A deserving Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
95 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Gnarly Head, Lodi (California) Zinfandel "Old Vine Zin" 2017 ($13):  Textbook lusty Zinfandel that maintains beautiful peppery character that is perfectly balanced against brambly fruit and oak spice, with a texture that sticks the flavors to your palate and holds them there for a tasty long time.  You’ll find it everywhere for around ten bucks -- drink up!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard Reserve 2015 ($150):  One of California’s most renowned vineyards is paid full tribute in this stellar bottling.  A deeply concentrated nose of classic Cabernet Sauvignon aromas is finely layered, with a slow draw revealing its many charms.  The palate achieves the paradoxical iron fist in a velvet glove style, with linear presentation of the aromatic elements as vibrant flavors that ride together in a seductive, nuanced trip all the way to the end.  The best I’ve ever tasted from this producer.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
98 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Broken Earth Winery, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Limited Release” 2016 ($29):  A Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon that will please fans of lively oak spice that rides comfortably alongside ripe black fruit.  A firm grip helps keep it all together through a long toasty spice finish.  I’d give this a little time to fully integrate the oak -- perhaps two more years in the cellar for full enjoyment.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

V. Sattui Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard Old Vine 2016 ($42):  V. Sattui is so famous for its vineyard-specific Cabernet Sauvignons that it would be easy to overlook the Sattui Zinfandels.  That would be a mistake.  The Napa Valley winery takes great pride in its Zins, and with good reason.  The Gilsson Vineyard in the Russian River Valley is one of V. Sattui’s Zinfandel treasures.  The 2016 is beautifully structured and well balanced, showing pure red and black fruit aromas and a generous note of wood spice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
96 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

CRU Winery, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard 2017 ($50):  This beauty from Santa Barbara’s Sierra Madre Vineyard delivers a dollop of earthy goodness, with notes of forest floor and damp leaves, bright cherry fruit in the nose and on the palate and a touch of sweet oak spice on the finish.  Beautifully balanced and refined.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Francis Coppola, Sonoma County (California) Merlot "Director's" 2015 ($21):  A beautifully approachable Merlot with forward blackberry, cassis, black cherry, rich oak spice, a fleshy texture with good tannic structure and weight. The long, well integrated finish keeps pumping flavor, suggesting a medium strength cheese plate as a pairing.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Sonoma Valley (California) Estate Vineyard "Belliisimo" 2015 ($86):  This red Bordeaux-style blend is decidedly Right Bank inspired, with Merlot making up 60 percent of the blend (the balance is Cabernet Sauvignon).  Richly layered and full-bodied, it shows note of plum, blackberry and cherry with firm tannins and a prominent touch of wood spice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
95 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Lafond Winery & Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir SRH 2016 ($28):  This is a sensational effort from Lafond and it comes at a price that is simply dazzling.  Showing exceptional fruit purity with exquisite structure and balance, the Lafond SRH has the chops to hang with Pinot Noir at twice the price.  Fleshy aromas of raspberry and cherry fairly jump out of the glass.  With a burst of oak spice on the finish, this is a beautiful package at a beautiful price.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
95 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Sparkling:

J Vineyards & Winery, California (United States) "California Cuvee" NV ($40):  Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock is widening the J sparkling wine line with this new bottling, and it something to cheer about.  Lemon, apple and brioche aromas are spot on, with a vibrant elegance.  The palate shows a soft scouring acidity that doesn’t detract at all from the promised flavors, freshening your mouth for the next bite or sip.  A very fine all-purpose glass of domestic bubbles.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Carneros (Sonoma County, California) “Le Reve”, Blanc de Blancs 2012 ($115):  Truly a dream come true in each declared vintage, this prestige cuvee never disappoints, and is consistently among the top domestic sparklers available.  Deep brioche, lemon crème and fine-tuned oak toast aromas draw you in, announcing their presence as flavors with authority on the palate with truly tiny bubbles and a fine mousse, showing refinement and class.  A slight hint of autolysis makes things all the more attractive and promises a long and distinguished future ahead.  Spring this on your “French-bubbly-only” friends in a blind tasting and watch the eyebrows rise on the reveal.  Stellar Bubbly!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 97 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) "Sonoma Brut" NV ($22):  This rock solid bubbly from Gloria Ferrer is delicate and elegant on the palate, with impressive length, a fine mousse, and pretty aromas of apple and spice.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

White:

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino, California) Gewurztraminer Dry 2017 ($22):  Showing an intensely floral nose with hints of spice, the Navarro dry Gewürztraminer is a classic.  Of course, that’s nothing new for this exceptional family winery in the heart of the cool Anderson Valley.  The 2017 is mouthwatering and fruity, showing notes of peach and apple, with exquisite balance and an impressive finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino, California) Muscat Blanc Dry 2017 ($22):  Muscat is a tricky grape to ferment to dryness but Navarro is adept at avoiding the bitterness that mars some dry Muscats.  The 2017 offers aromas of white flowers, apple and a very subtle touch of citrus.  Bone dry, smooth and a Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

V. Sattui Winery, Anderson Valley (Mendocino, California) Gewurztraminer Dry 2017 ($29):  V. Sattui’s dry Gewürztraminer is rich and lush, with a floral nose, notes of spice, apple and pear, with a long finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Barefoot, California (United States) Riesling NV ($7):  This tasty sweet Riesling is a miracle of production.  To make a wine of this quality in the massive quantity that the gang at Barefoot does is more than commendable.  Sweet stone fruit and spice ride perfectly balanced acidity through a clean finish that leaves a strong fruit impression that satisfies.  Pound cake, mild cheeses, or just a solo glass, you can’t go wrong here.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Anthony's Hill, California (United States) Riesling NV ($10):  A fine quaffable sweet Riesling that’s a great easy drinking party wine, with proper Riesling character, bright acidity and a spiced pear finish that’s quite attractive.  By the way, the price of $10 is for a 1.5 liter bottle, so let the festivities begin!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
90 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Sunscript, Cenral Coast (California) Chardonnay 2017 ($23):  Balanced Chardonnay was once a lost art.  The pendulum is swinging back toward balance in recent times and the Sunscript is a good example.  This vintage shows subtle notes of lemon, apple and pear, with a touch of wood spice and a clean, crisp finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
90 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Oak Farm Vineyards, Lodi (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19):  Oak Farm white wines have been knocking it out of the park in recent vintages, and the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is another home run.  Showing bright notes of melon and citrus, this young wine is refreshing and clean, well balanced and exhibits good length.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

V. Sattui Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay “Collina d’Oro” 2017 ($40):  A new bottling for V. Sattui from one of Sonoma’s hills of gold.  The focus here is on the tropical side, with lively coconut and papaya aromas in front of lemon crème.  The palate doesn’t disappoint on any front, and my crisp and creamy bells are ringing.  This has a saucy halibut dish written all over it.  Just another fine wine from winemaker Brooks Painter’s workshop.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Santa Barbara Winery, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Riesling Lafond Vineyard Dry 2016 ($19):  An interestingly herb driven Riesling, with pleasant green tones riding above stony minerality and tart citrus.  Scouring acidity is just beginning to soften enough to let all the voices speak, and a nice price suggests buying in bulk and aging -- some long term, some short term.  From an under-heralded source for the variety, one that should be inviting more Riesling plantings to the region.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

North Carolina:

White:

JOLO Vineyards & Winery, Yadkin Valley (North Carolina) "Golden Hollows" 2018 ($26):  The hybrid grape varieties widely planted in the eastern and midwestern United States may not be well known, but the wines they produce are increasingly well made.  This blend of Vidal Blanc and Traminette from Jolo offers bright citrus and tropical aromas, is well balanced, bone dry and long on the palate.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

Virginia:

Red:

Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia (United States) Nebbiolo Reserve 2015 ($35):  Barboursville makes just about the finest Nebbiolo in North America and the 2015 could well be its best ever.  Firmly structured, it is true to type but with more flesh and richness than is typical.  Show aromas of cherry and wood spice, with a subtle earthy note.  This wine will no doubt improve with additional time in the cellar, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it now.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
95 Robert Whitley Jan 22, 2019

White:

Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia (United States) Vermentino Reserve 2017 ($23):  Barboursville’s long-standing dedication to Italian varieties pays big dividends in this fine Vermentino, with ripe peach and white flower aromas enticing a sip from the glass.  That sip brings classy dry style, and delivers the peach with notes of citrus, surrounding a stony mineral core and finishing long with a little white pepper note coming forward.  Great food wine!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

Wisconsin:

Red:

Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery, Wisconsin (United States) “Frozen Tundra Red” NV ($14):  Okay Green Bay Packer fans (yes, I’m one of you), here’s a delicious glass of off dry red wine that will take the cold edge off your next Lambeau tailgate party.  Fresh flavors of cherry and raspberry and a delightful sweetness balanced by good acidity and a spicy finish will work with that bratwurst nicely.  You can’t drink beer all the time, right?  Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

White:

Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery, Wisconsin (United States) Seyval "Door 44, White Door" NV ($16):  A new player to the Challenge series of wine competitions makes some noise with their second big award, this time for Seyval.  A pretty nose of soft white flowers leads to a crisp palate of golden apple, pear and lemon, and zippy acidity gives a nice push to the finish.  Use it as a just off-dry aperitif, or pair with pan fried walleye!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Rich Cook Jan 22, 2019

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