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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

September 18, 2018 Issue

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ARMENIA

Red:

Yacoubian-Hobbs, Rind (Vayots Dzor, Armenia) Areni 2015 ($32, Paul Hobbs Selections):  A new grape variety to me, and no doubt to you as well.  Part of the fun of wine is the element of discovery that’s inescapable for those willing to go past their daily usual.  There’s always -- and I mean always -- something new to experience.  Wines like this one make the journey worthwhile.  It’s a cool climate style that emphasizes freshening acidity that props up bright, moderately extracted blackberry and blueberry, pepper and soft oak toast.  The finish keeps you coming back, and the flavors intensify with a revisit.  Thanks to Paul Hobbs for opening a new door for me, and for most of us. 
91 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

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FRANCE

Rosé:

Moulin de Gassac, Pays d’Hérault (France) "Guilhem” Rosé 2017 ($11, Roanoke Valley Wine Company):  Very pale pink, with light floral facets and mineral overtones, this is a very delicate, dry wine.  The finish is not complex, but its distinct and cleansing acidity makes this a good wine to enjoy with the sort of Provencale foods one might find in Moulin de Gassac’s backyard, Salade Niçoise, for example, grilled fish, eggplant, and just about anything accompanied by aioli. 
90 Marguerite Thomas Sep 18, 2018

Burgundy:

White:

Domaine Pinson, Chablis 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) La Forêt 2016 ($44):  Pinson, one of my favorite Chablis producers, makes wines, even their village Chablis, that are focused, precise and well-priced.  This one, from a lesser known site, is quintessential Premier Cru Chablis, delivering a fine flinty stony signature that expands in the glass, but never becomes heavy or ripe.  An uplifting citrus finish amplifies all the components and insures that you never tire of it.  It punches well above its weight. 
94 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2018

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GREECE

White:

Domaine Sigalas, Santorini (Greece) Assyrtiko 2017 ($31, Diamond Wine Importers):  Domaine Sigalas’ Santorini Assyrtiko is a consistently superb white that ages beautifully but provides a delicious tasting experience even in its youth.  The 2017 vintage continues an admirable string of winemaking successes.  The Assyrtiko grapes grown in the volcanic soils and spare conditions of the island yield richly-textured wines of considerable depth.  The 2017 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko reflects the ripeness of the harvest.  It shows scents of lemon zest, peach, Rainier cherry, honey, and subtle herbs.  On the palate, pure citrus, peach and tropical fruit flavors are backed by hints of honey and herbs.  The layers of full and exotic flavors are underscored by a bracing, crisp acidity.  A recent tasting of the 2010 Sigalas Santorini shows that this wine will develop nicely for several more years in the cellar. 
94 Wayne Belding Sep 18, 2018

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ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Nals Margreid, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Bianco "Sirmian" 2016 ($20, Massanois Imports):  Nals Margreid is a cooperative winery in the Trentino – Alto Adige region.  It was formed in 1985 by the merger of two smaller cooperatives and now supports 140 growers in the region.  Nals Margreid is a consistent producer of exotic and appealing wines.  The Sirmian cuvée shows the character and style if fine Pinot Bianco.  It offers up impressive varietal purity with aromas of peach, pear and tropical fruits backed by floral and spice hints. The layered fruit character results in a rich and creamy texture. Although Pinot Bianco is often considered a second-echelon grape variety, this one shows marvelous elegance and complexity.  It has the capacity to cellar well for another five years or more, getting richer and deeper in color and style as it ages. 
92 Wayne Belding Sep 18, 2018

Abbazia di Novacella, Alto Adige (Italy) Kerner 2016 ($23):  Taut and linear, with echoes of slate and stone lurking beneath its crisp apple-scented fruit, this is a fine example of a relatively obscure grape variety from one of the finest wineries in Alto Adige, high in the Dolomites, just south of the Austrian border.   It tastes above all else refreshing, and while a good partner for light fish or poultry dishes, works very well as an aperitif before dinner. 
90 Paul Lukacs Sep 18, 2018

Friuli:

White:

Jermann, Friuli DOC (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2017 ($23):  Pinot Grigio has become so popular that, for many, it is a commodity, as in “I’ll have a glass of Pinot Grigio…” with no sense of site or producer.  The result is that a bevy of innocuous watery Pinot Grigio have diluted (no pun intended) the wine’s reputation.  For those who want to understand what real Pinot Grigio tastes like -- and see why it has become so popular -- reach for this one from Jermann.  Friuli, in the northeast of Italy, is one of the best sites for Pinot Grigio and Jermann is one of the top producers in that region.  Their 2017 is delicately floral, persistent and has real depth.  A bright finish makes even more engaging.  I recently had a 10-year old Jermann Pinot Grigio bottled under screwcap that had extraordinary complexity and suaveness.  For Jermann, Pinot Grigio is not a commodity, but a serious wine.  And very well priced. 
92 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2018

Veneto:

Red:

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso (Veneto, Italy) "Monti Garbi" 2015 ($20, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Tenuta Sant’ Antonio is a relatively new winery.  After tending their father’s vines for years, the four Castagnedi brothers decided to make and market their own wines.  Monti Garbi is a vineyard that produces pure and intense fruit that provides the basis for this wine.  The Ripasso process infuses the vibrant Valpolicella wine with the rich and powerful nuances of their Amarone bottling.  The bouquet is ripe and rich with blackberry and black cherry fruits underlain by hints of almond, savory dried herbs and spice.  Ripe, round and zesty on the palate, its layers of pure black cherry and blackberry fruits are enhanced by roasted almond, herb and spice tones.  This is a ripe, pure red that would be a great companion for your favorite grilled foods as well as a suitable match for rich, autumnal stews.  A blend of  Corvina (70%) Rondinella (20%) Croatina (5%) and Oseleta (5%). 
92 Wayne Belding Sep 18, 2018

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PORTUGAL

Douro:

Red:

Quinta de la Rosa, Douro (Portugal) Red Wine 2014 ($20, Winesellers Ltd.):  A blend of Touriga Nacional (40%) and equal parts Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, this is a deeply-flavored yet quite sophisticated red, with excellent balance and a firm structure.  It tastes of dark summer fruits (think plums), with a spicy accent in the finish and a well-integrated hint of wood.  Delicious, and at an attractive price to boot! 
92 Paul Lukacs Sep 18, 2018

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SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Raats Family Wines, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Cabernet Franc 2015 ($40, Cape Classics):  I’ve never tasted a vintage of this wine that didn’t leave me impressed, but I’ve also never tasted one as impressive as this 2015 (a great vintage for Bordeaux varieties from Stellenbosch, though not necessarily for leaner-style wines from cooler appellations).  Bruwer Raats is one of the country’s most accomplished and insightful winemakers, and tasting with him was such a pleasure that I’ve actually nicked a point off my score for this wine just to adjust for any excessive enthusiasm that could result from my esteem for him.  With that said, I also elected to buy a bottle of this in Cape Town to lug back to Washington, D.C. with me, and if you reflect on the massive disincentive to do this as the cost of waiting in the baggage claim area of an airport after 34 hours in transit…you’ll know just how highly I regard the wine.  One of the world’s undeniably great renditions of Cabernet Franc, this shows serious concentration but not the slightest heaviness, with wonderful red fruit tones but black fruit nuances as well.  With excellent acidity (especially for the vintage) and lots of fine-grained tannin, this shows impeccable balance and great precision in every important dimension.  In retrospect, I wish I’d bought more of it, and intend to do exactly that.  Fantastic wine. 
95 Michael Franz Sep 18, 2018

White:

Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc “The FMC” 2016 ($65):  Ken Forrester’s “Old Vine” bottling of Chenin is so good that you may find it difficult to pony up for this much more costly wine.  However, there’s also a cost to failing to try it, namely, the cost of missing a chance to taste how astonishingly complex and complete South Africa’s best renderings of Chenin can be.  Made from 46 year-old, dry-farmed bush vines, this shows very impressive concentration but also commensurately assertive acidity.  Forrester noted to me that his objective is to make, “The biggest possible wine with the most restraint,” and though this objective can seem internally inconsistent, the wine demonstrates convincingly that it is not.  The fruit component is so extravagantly rich and luxurious that my raw tasting note includes the descriptors, “peach marmalade” and “lemon curd,” yet the citrus component that focuses the mid-palate and drives the finish is to energetic that my note also reads, “almost stinging.”  This is a supremely exciting wine that is already spectacular, but is sure to improve for another decade.  Yikes! 
95 Michael Franz Sep 18, 2018

DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc Reserve 2017 ($35, Cape Classics):  This terrific wine was sourced from a single plot of vines planted more than 40 years ago, and the exceptional fruit was -- rightly -- treated to 100% French oak from the highly-regarded cooper Vicard, with more than 15% of the barrels being new.  The wood is very well integrated, showing spice notes much more than toast or smoke, which is exactly the result that Chenin lovers should hope for.  Notably rich but neither sweet nor heavy, this shows an uncanny combination of luxurious softness with firm edging…a hallmark of superb South African Chenin from a top producer and a great vintage.  As delicious as it is now, this is really made for the cellar, and another 5 years of aging will greatly improve its integration.  You’d be well advised to join me in buying this baby. 
93 Michael Franz Sep 18, 2018

Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc Old Vine 2017 ($15):  Among the world’s most consistent, ultra-high-value wines, the 2017 rendition of this bottling is especially delicious (as are most South African whites from this vintage).  Partially barrel fermented and aged in 400-liter French oak casks (20%) new, the wine is treated to production techniques that seem impossibly lavish for a $15 retail product.  It also tastes impossibly good in relation to its price, with medium-plus body but excellent definition thanks to bright acidity.  Aromas and flavors of stone fruit with citrus edging are at once rich but fresh.  Extremely versatile at the table but also delicious on its own, this is a standout selection.  And by the way, when tasting with Ken Forrester, he showed the 2007 vintage of this same wine, which is still looking terrific, with even more richness but still excellent focus. 
92 Michael Franz Sep 18, 2018

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SPAIN

Rioja:

Red:

Montebuena, Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo “Cuvée KPF” 2015 ($14, Kysela Pere et Fils):  A linear wine, with fruit and spice plus a dash of vanilla, this Tempranillo’s reasonable price and easy-to-open screw-cap make it especially attractive.  It’s a good match for a variety of foods such as burgers and chicken thighs.  The refreshing tartness on the finish makes it a particularly good wine to accompany lamb chops. 
89 Marguerite Thomas Sep 18, 2018

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Duckhorn, Atlas Peak (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2015 ($75):  Atlas Peak is well known for imparting a vibrant tannic structure to Merlot, and Duckhorn uses it to full advantage in this bottling, where pure Merlot character is expressed and given extended age-ability through that structure.  A long finish, certainly a hallmark of the line, is once again in evidence.  I like the restrained power on display here.
94 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Paraduxx, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Red Wine 2014 ($80):  Once again, this label marries varieties that don’t often play together well to great effect.  Howell Mountain’s rustic tannin profile it tamed here, but not so much that it loses its identity, allowing black, blue and red fruit to intermingle and play off the spice and leafy herb notes, finishing long into the distance with fine integration.  Quality juice! 
93 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

J. Lohr, Monterey County (California) Pinot Noir "Falcon's Perch" 2016 ($17):  When’s the last time you found a decent California Pinot Noir for under $20?   J. Lohr’s “Falcon’s Perch” fits that niche nicely, offering light floral aromas, hints of strawberry and cherry on the palate, and an easygoing soft texture.  Keep a bottle or two of this everyday Pinot Noir on hand for those “I wish” moments, as in, “I wish I had a glass of good, solid red wine right now,” or, “I wish I had some reasonable red wine to go with this hamburger.” 
89 Marguerite Thomas Sep 18, 2018

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2015 ($98):  Working with a vineyard long enough that when it comes up for sale you don’t hesitate to purchase it is, well, nice work if you can get it, and as you’d expect, the results continue to express the wisdom of the purchase and pride of ownership.  Another Merlot for the ages that shows great depth, concentration and elegance, with subtle earthen minerality, soft spice tones and carefully selected oak colorations that intrigue and satisfy.  Cellar trophy alert!
97 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel “Vortex” 2016 ($38):  One of my more useful aroma descriptors for Zinfandel like this is “empty raisin box” -- it has that hint of raisin that’s attractive without being resinous, and adds a touch of toasted wood, and adds anise with some air time. On the palate, the raisin is just a memory, as black and red berries take over, with rich oak toast and soft spice added.  This is a textbook “why people love Zinfandel” wine. 
90 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles, Adelaide District (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel Mustard Creek Vineyard 2016 ($42):  Bright raspberry liqueur aromas attract out of the gate, with accompanying spice and citrus zest notes.  It all shines on the palate, with a plush mid, and a nice retention of pepper character not usually found at this ripeness level.  Very nicely done! 
92 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles, Adelaide District (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel “Especial” 2016 ($46):  A deep, ripe take that shows blackberry preserves, plum, cinnamon, clove and a touch of toffee on the nose, and the palate is densely concentrated, with maybe just a trace or residual sugar the keeps all that dark fruit bright and lively without going sweet.  It’s a fairly lusty style that asks for strong cheeses or a venison steak. 
89 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles, Willow Creek District (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel Willow 2016 ($44):  A big, extracted style that succeeds with ripe fruit from what I’d guess are older vines that produce less, but more intense fruit.  A fresh minty note joins a deep briar patch vibe, and the orange zest, oak spice and toast levels match the fruit well.  A little stemmy astringency in the finish is interesting rather than off putting, and suggest a pairing with an herb rubbed turkey or prime rib of beef. 
89 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Jane's Vineyard 2016 ($35):  First the bouquet draws you in with inviting floral and fresh cherry aromas.  On the palate the balance and purity of fruit are impressive.  Then there’s the charming note of wood spice on the finish.  Finally, and perhaps best of all, the price. In a world of $60 Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, this Davis Bynum vineyard-designate holds its own at $35.
92 Robert Whitley Sep 18, 2018

Nielson, Santa Barbara County (California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($20):  Perhaps due to being four years old, this wine shows less exuberance than most Santa Barbara Pinots usually do, and instead exhibits grace and silky style.  Soft on the palate, it tastes foremost of cherry fruit, but without the annoying sweetness that mars so many others.  Impressive. 
91 Paul Lukacs Sep 18, 2018

White:

Ballard Lane, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2016 ($15):  Pale gold in color, this California Chardonnay first tickles the taste buds with its heady oak aromas and flavors, along with butter-infused apples and perhaps a little pear as well.  While it is round and rich, the wine is not heavy, and it has enough acid on the finish to keep it fresh and lively. 
89 Marguerite Thomas Sep 18, 2018

Jayson, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($30):  Melon and ripe nectarine aromas introduce this rather plush expression, translating well to palate flavors where the ripeness may seem sweet at first, but finish nice and dry thanks to nicely balanced acidity, lemon zest and wet stone minerality joining in.  A perfect solo glass. 
92 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay River West Vineyard 2015 ($25):  A steal at the price!   This Russian River Chardonnay offers a great mix of apple, pear, lemon crème and soft oak spice aromas and flavors, with a crisp, refreshing finish that invites another sip. Solo, seafood, poultry – it will all work. 
92 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

Washington:

Red:

Columbia Winery, Columbia Valley (Washington) Red Blend 2016 ($14):  This wine is a crowd pleasing red at a wallet pleasing price that you should have little trouble locating.  Bright red and black fruit, moderate oak spice and a supple grip make for a fine cocktail glass, or a successful pairing with Indian summer fare. 
88 Rich Cook Sep 18, 2018

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