Casillero del Diablo, Central Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014 ($12, Excelsior Wines): Twelve bucks for a wine that delivers varietal character and a sense of place? You won't find this very often, but it's happening in this bottle. Blackberry, black cherry, menthol and bell pepper with some sweet vanilla spice make for a delicious easy drinker that you can buy for your holiday parties -- Halloween, anyone? I'd consider a bottle in my pillowcase a treat. 87 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Casillero del Diablo, Casablanca Valley (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2014 ($12, Excelsior Wines): A quaffable style, it's fruit forward in a pink grapefruit and lemon focused way, with softer acidity than its more famous southern hemisphere cousins. Serve this with light tapas -- you can splurge a bit on the food with what you save on the wine! 87 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Back to Top
Fontezoppa, Verdicchio di Matelica (Marche, Italy) 2013 ($15, Soilair Selection): I'm glad to see more wine from the Marche region making its way to the US market. This one is very stony and mineral driven up front with light lemon and soft floral aromas. Pithy and dry on the palate, it delivers a long leafy finish. Quite pleasant.
88 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
La Marca, Prosecco DOC (Italy) NV ($17): La Marca's latest release of Prosecco DOC is just what the doctor ordered for a fall picnic or tailgate party: fresh, clean and fruity. It delivers notes of peach and melon, with gentle bubbles and a long, lingering finish.
88 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Piccini, Prosecco DOC (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV ($16, Foley Family Wines): Apples and oranges. Yes, that's what we're talking here, and this time they actually do go together. Aromas of baked apple and orange zest are quite pleasantly intertwined, and both show up on the palate in this refreshing off dry bubbly. A touch of pear comes forward on the finish to add some interest to this festive, tasty sipper.
88 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Pieropan, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2014 ($20): When Soave came out of the shadows a couple of decades back Pieropan was one of the producers leading the charge to lower yields in the vineyard and higher quality in the bottle. The thin, watery Soave of yesteryear has been replaced by wines of substance and character, such as this 2014 Soave Classico from Pieropan. It shows attractive aromas of ripe pear and melon, with a touch of tropical fruit and spice. The balance is superb.
90 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Pieropan, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2014 ($20, Pieropan Wines USA): Sadly, Soave has been one of the most abused names in wine, with many examples in the past -- and still some today -- that are dilute and without character. What makes it a real shame is how good and exciting authentic Soave, such as this one, can be. So how to find the real thing? Start with wines from the Soave Classico zone, with its prized hillside exposure, which, even with a new classification, remains the best sub-region, according to most growers. Then find a topnotch producer, such as Pieropan, who also makes single vineyard bottlings -- La Rocca and Calvarino -- that are extraordinary and develop beautifully with a decade of bottle age. Pieropan’s “basic” Soave Classico is a great introduction -- and a bargain to boot -- to this much-maligned region. It delivers a great punch, with a clean and fresh edginess and a subtle bitter almond finish. Of course, it’s a good match for grilled fish, but its character and verve also makes it a perfect choice for pasta in a light tomato sauce.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Back to Top
Boeschendal, Elgin (South Africa) Chardonnay 2011 ($50, Pacific Highway Wine & Spirits): Cote d'Or, Chablis, Sonoma Coast, Adelaide Hills -- meet Elgin, another great place to grow Chardonnay. It's so nice to run into a completely new expression of a grape. This already has some bottle age on it, and it shows a gorgeous mix of fig, lime, quince, honey, flint, peach and apple in aroma and flavor, with a long rich finish that shows real varietal character, but doesn't remind me of any other Chardonnay. That's a plus in my book! 93 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Back to Top
Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (Spain) “Villa de Corullon” 2012 ($40, Rare Wine Company): Almost a decade ago, Oscar Alegre, export manager at Descendientes de J. Palacios, told me, referring to Bierzo, that “Nobody in Spain thinks quality wine comes from here.” I do not know whether the thinking in Spain has changed, but I can assure you that very high quality, exciting wines come from Bierzo, especially those made by Descendientes de J. Palacios. The wines impressed me then and still do. Villa de Corullon is the label Palacios uses for wines blended from several vineyards they own -- all planted with Mencia -- in the village of Corullon. Less accessible than Pétolas at this stage, it’s more minerally and tarry, but more sleek and elegant. A subtle leafiness and spice just adds intrigue. Although it shows plenty of black fruit character, this wine is not just about fruitiness, by a long shot. Indeed, it’s the non-fruit elements that are captivating. Despite its size, it has tremendous elegance. But it’s best left in the cellar for a few years. Enjoy the Pétolas while you wait. You won’t suffer.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (Spain) “Pétalos” 2013 ($19, Rare Wine Company): Palacios is one of the most famous and revered names in Spanish winemaking. Alvaro Palacios, along with others, is credited with the revival of the entire Priorat region. Now at his family’s estate in Rioja, he is energizing and reconfiguring how people think about wines from that region. His nephew, Ricardo, is responsible for the outpost in Bierzo, still a relatively unknown area in northwestern Spain. Bierzo will not remain unknown for long as the public discovers the dazzling wines Palacios produces there from the Mencia grape. This one, Pétalos, is made from a combination of their own grapes plus some purchased from neighbors. Minerally and firm, it has a seemingly paradoxical austerity and richness with a slight appealing tarriness in the finish. This is an extraordinary bargain for the excitement it delivers. Few under $20 wines show this kind of complexity that unfolds in the glass. This easy-to-recommend wine is perfect for the heartier dishes of fall and winter.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Alvaro Palacios, Priorat (Spain) “Les Terrasses” 2012 ($38, Rare Wine Company): Palacios is one of the winemakers who were responsible for the renaissance of winemaking in this unique region. It’s easy to see why the vines were abandoned over the years: steep slopes of solid rock. A reasonable person could ask, why bother to replant vines here? Fortunately for us consumers, Palacios and his compatriots bothered. You can smell and feel the stone in this wine. A blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, locally referred to as Samsó, it’s firm and mineral-infused, yet not hard or astringent. The combination of power and elegance is simply stunning. Indeed, you can enjoy it now, albeit, with hearty winter fare. This is not a wine to sip as an aperitif. But, boy is it good with lamb chops.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Back to Top
Ferrari-Carano, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Pinot Noir 2013 ($36): Meaty, with plenty of flesh and savory character, this is a fine effort from Ferrari-Carano. With aromas of raspberry, strawberry and black cherry, it shows a complex flavor palate, including a hint of earthiness and woodsmoke lingering in the background. It finishes with a bit of grip that should smooth out after another year or two in bottle.
90 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
J. Lohr, Arroyo Seco (California) Pinot Noir "Fog's Reach" 2013 ($35): I believe that the Fog's Reach bottling was one of the first of J. Lohr's high end bottlings some years back, and it continues to deliver that high end promise at a reasonable price. As always, it's ripe and fleshy without sacrificing acidity or complexity of aroma and flavor. Black Cherry, cola, spice, red berries and sweet oak all come through clearly, and while it'll make a great cocktail, it's worthy of a range of food pairings, from pork chops to braised short ribs.
91 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Wild Horse, Central Coast (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($20): There are some very solid values in Cabernet Sauvignon from the Central Coast AVA and this bottle is one of the leaders of the category. Black Cherry, cassis, pie spice and vanilla are expertly blended in a wine that's ready to drink now as either a cocktail red, or a pairing with gourmet burgers. Contains 5% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 3% Merlot. 90 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($25): Dry Creek Vineyard's Dry Creek Valley Cab from the excellent 2012 vintage is as solid as any $25 Cabernet Sauvignon you are likely to find. On the value scale it's off the charts. It shows black fruits on the nose with a hint of oak vanillin, while on the palate the wine is rich and complex, with serious dimension and weight without heaviness. The tannins are nicely integrated and supple and the finish is long and satisfying. A steal at the price.
91 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Yountville Selection” 2011 ($185): There’s no question that Grgich Hills’ Yountville Selection Cabernet ranks with California’s greatest red wines. Once again, the winemaking team at Grgich Hills manages to convey great power without overdoing anything. Indeed, the marvel of this wine is its elegance, which is in keeping with the Grgich Hills style. Not as powerful or boisterous as some comparable Napa Valley wines, Grgich Hills seemingly has reduced the volume so that the notes are all the clearer and subtleties come through. It grows in the glass, becoming explosive after an hour or so, while still remaining fresh and vibrant. You do not tire of tasting -- or drinking -- this wine. It’s one to savor, so serve it with something simple -- such as grilled steak -- to allow the wine to be the center of attention.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Miner Family Winery, Napa Valley (California) “The Oracle” 2011 ($90): The packaging -- heavy bottle, name starting with “The”-- had two strikes against before I even pulled the cork. But, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover. This luxurious Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is stunning. Silky tannins make the cornucopia of flavors easy to appreciate and savor. Not surprisingly, for a wine of this stature, it blossoms as the flavors unfold over an hour. Along with the usual mixture of red and black fruit flavors, a hint of smoke and savory notes adds to the allure. And it finishes just ever so slightly bitter because this is serious stuff, not an over ripe fruit bomb.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Miner Family Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard 2012 ($75): Though Dave and Emily Miner founded their eponymous winery less than 20 years ago, they must be included among any list of the top tier of Napa Valley producers, at least judging from their current releases from there. This Cabernet Sauvignon has the captivating -- and paradoxical -- combination of an almost chewy yet very polished texture. They have captured the power inherent in Cabernet grown in a mountain vineyard and combined it with uncommon refinement. There’s an appropriate firmness without a trace of hardness or astringency, which makes it an ideal choice for the dinner table, with an unadorned piece of beef so as to appreciate the complexity of the wine.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Pahlmeyer, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2012 ($85): Pahlmeyer's Merlot from the 2012 vintage offers up a serving of that famous Napa Valley power and richness, a distinction usually attributed to Cabernet Sauvignons from the valley. This Merlot shows notes of ripe plum and blackberry, with a hint of graphite and cedar. The tannins are supple and integrated, and on the palate the wine is soft and fleshy and ready to drink now, a crowd-pleaser in search of a thick, juicy, rare steak.
93 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Franc 2011 ($70): Winemaker Renee Ary says that Cabernet Franc has a way of hiding some green tannin and bell pepper character when it seems ripe, so Duckhorn likes to let the fruit hang for a week or two beyond the time that they like the fruit. The wait shows in this bottle, which avoids and green character and plows right into big black cherry and blackberry pie fruit aromas and flavors, with very faint dried herbs and tobacco notes. It is full bodied, but doesn't venture into over ripe territory, and finishes long with refreshing spice notes. Beautifully made, as usual. Contains 6% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. 92 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($50): This vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet from Freemark Abbey is a bit ungainly, but that's to be expected. Winemaker Ted Edwards builds his Cabs for the long haul and this one is no exception. Muscular and bold, it shows deep aromas of black currant and blackberry, with a backnote of cedar and pencil lead. The finish has plenty of grip. This is a Cab that will need a good three to five years to begin to reveal its true personality, and then look out.
92 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Miner Family Winery, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Stagecoach Vineyard 2012 ($40): Those consumers looking for “a glass of Merlot” before dinner should avoid this wine. Those, however, who want to see for themselves the complexity that the varietal can deliver should embrace it. There’s a hint of leafiness and earthiness that, frankly, a Merlot-based wine should deliver to accompany and complement the black fruit notes. The polished tannins and overall density impart a suave texture. Only a hint of alcohol in the finish detracts from an otherwise excellent wine.
89 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Freemark Abbey, Rutherford (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($70): Freemark Abbey's Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from the excellent 2012 vintage is an impressive offering from Cabernet master Ted Edwards. This powerhouse exhibits deep flavors of black currant and blackberry with an inviting note of spice. On the palate the wine sings, showing fine, beautifully integrated tannins and layered fruit complexity, with a finish that lingers and begs another sip. Beautifully structured and balanced, it is a superb example of the quality of the 2012 vintage in the Napa Valley.
95 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Grgich Hills Estate, Rutherford (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Miljenko’s Selection” 2012 ($90): Grgich Hills, world famous for their Chardonnays, also produce stunning Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the first release of a specially selected Cabernet that comes from Austin’s Vineyard, which surrounds the winery in Rutherford. As you’d expect from a Napa Valley Cabernet, it’s full of flavor. It’s an opulent wine that’s not overdone, heavy or alcoholic. In a word, it’s balanced, with silky tannins, which is exactly what you’d expect from Grgich Hills. The combination of power and a suave texture is what makes this wine sing. Not an over ripe fruit bomb, it has an appealing slightly tarry bitterness in the finish. Amazingly enjoyable now, I have no doubt that cellaring it for a decade will reward your patience.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma County (California) Tresor 2012 ($52): Tresor is perhaps the most underrated of all the flagship red Bordeaux-style blends produced in California. It's not for want of quality. The 2012 vintage was kind to Ferrari-Carano and they were able to ripen all five Bordeaux grape varieties that go into the Tresor blend. The result is a spectacular vintage that shows deep notes of black fruits and spice, a fleshy and generous palate, and structure enough to ensure this wine will continue to improve over the next eight to ten years. It's a gorgeous wine at an attractive price from one of Sonoma County's top producers.
94 Robert Whitley Oct 6, 2015
Schramsberg, California (United States) "Mirabelle" Brut NV ($28): Schramsberg's budget friendly Mirabelle line is always a decent value, and this version of the Brut delivers as usual, with crisp apple, toast and stone minerality aromas that become flavors in the mouth, with a creamy feel and a lemon/lime zesty finish. By the case, this makes for a solidly dry wedding party value.
89 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Schramsberg, Napa Valley (California) “Cremant” Demi Sec 2011 ($39): Here is a unique sparkler -- it's composed of 85% Flora, a cross of Semillion and Gewurztraminer. Small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir round out the balance. Delicately floral and figgy on the nose, it also shows light touches of apple and pear. It's refreshingly sweet without any cloying or honeyed character, and it finishes crisp and bright. I'd go with mild cheeses as a pairing.
90 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Schramsberg, North Coast (California) "J. Schram" 2007 ($120): Hugh Davies isn't afraid to go outside of the Napa Valley to get the fruit he's looking for, especially when it comes to what goes into this flagship bottling. A blend of 84% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Noir, it's a testament to what is possible in sparkling wine from California, and would easily slide into a vintage Champagne tasting, detectable only by those familiar with its very specific bright Asian pear, fig and spice aroma profile. On the palate, I'm reminded very much of Tete-de-Cuvee Champagne -- it's incredibly deep and long, with brioche, stone and lemon zest joining the elements promised by the nose. It finishes incredibly long. All things considered, it's a great value as well as a cellar trophy. Fabulous!
96 Rich Cook Oct 6, 2015
Grgich Hills Estate, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay “Miljenko’s Selection” 2013 ($60): Power and grace. That sums it up. Mike Grgich is the undisputed master of Chardonnay. He proved that almost 40 years ago at the “Judgment of Paris” tasting when the Chardonnay he made for Chateau Montelena beat out top white Burgundies for first place. And it’s worth repeating that the judges at this blind tasting were French. He’s been making stylish Chardonnay -- plus stunning reds as well -- at Grgich Hills Estate ever since. The Miljenko’s Selection bottling is made from a selection of grapes from within blocks in their vineyard located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Carneros has long been revered for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir because both varieties thrive in cooler climates, precisely what Carneros delivers because of the maritime influences of the adjoining San Pablo Bay, an outcropping of the San Francisco Bay, which itself empties into the Pacific Ocean. Grgich happily marries a subtle but distinct fruitiness with bracing citrus acidity. A toasty nuance enhances without dominating. And like all great wines, its flavors change and emerge as it sits in the glass. So savor it with a relaxed dinner.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015
Back to Top