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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

April 14, 2015 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Nieto Senetiner, Mendoza (Argentina) Pinot Noir 2013 ($13, Foley Family Wines): Pinot Noir is not likely to replace Malbec as Argentina’s signature red grape, but this wine will still get your attention. Thankfully, not overworked, this Pinot Noir is fruity and fresh.  To their credit, Nieto Senetiner is keeping it simple with this bright Pinot Noir, not trying to make a bargain-priced wine into something “important.”  Try it with burgers.
86 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

White:

Nieto Senetiner, Valle de Cafayate (Salta, Argentina) Torrontés 2013 ($11, Foley Family Wines): Torrontés, Argentina’s signature white grape, is gaining in popularity as consumers realize the zingy wine, such as this one, it can produce and, at a bargain price.  Fresh, clean and zippy, Nieto Senetiner’s curiously has a whiff of mintiness that lends roundness, which actually allows consumer to enjoy it as a stand-alone aperitif.  Its best use, however, is to offset spicy Asian fare or a pork loin in a mustard cream sauce.
88 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Mendoza:

Red:

Nieto Senetiner, Mendoza (Argentina) Bonardo 2012 ($13, Foley Family Wines): Bonarda may, indeed, rival Malbec for Argentina’s top red grape.  This extraordinary value example shows why.  A hearty red with even a hint of tarriness, this Bonarda has polished tannins, making it a great choice for robust beef dish now.  Similar to Nieto Senetiner’s other wines, it’s not overdone.  This easy-to-recommend wine provides a lot of enjoyment for the price.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Nieto Senetiner, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Camila” 2013 ($10, Foley Family Wines): Full disclosure, Malbec is not my favorite wine because all too often I find it overblown and just too big.  So imagine my surprise when I ran across this one.  It’s refined -- not a word commonly used to describe Malbec -- with a lovely texture and freshness.  Not heavy-handed, it is an extraordinary value and a perfect choice for beef tonight.
88 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

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FRANCE

Alsace:

Sparkling:

Louis Sipp, Alsace (France) Crémant d’Alsace NV ($25, Maritime Wine Trading Collective (San Francisco)): Like many Champagne companies, this one was started by a woman, Louise Sipp, who acquired the first vineyard plots while her husband, Louis, was away at World War I’s Russian Front.  There have been ups and downs, of course, in the intervening years, but today’s Louis Sipp Crémant is simply delicious.  You can taste the gorgeous freshness that only impeccably grown and harvested fruit can convey.  The tiny, elegant bubbles are perfect, and the complex aromas and flavors of this particular blend of grape varieties is pleasing indeed.  It is light enough to be an excellent aperitif, but also has a robust enough character to be a good companion for light fare.
91 Marguerite Thomas Apr 14, 2015

Burgundy:

Red:

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-les-Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2012 ($28, Dreyfus Ashby & Co.): Chorey-les-Beaune, a small village just north of Beaune, is a sleeper location for value packed red Burgundy, such as this one.  Lying just off the main Dijon Beaune road, Chorey, as it’s sometimes called, is off most everybody’s radar screen.  With this 2012, Drouhin, one of the Burgundy’s top producers, has made a lacey fragrant wine whose savory notes make it good choice for roast chicken or salmon tonight. Light on its feet -- this is not an opulent New World Pinot Noir -- it is surprisingly full of flavor and has the hallmark Drouhin elegance.
88 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Rhône:

Red:

Domaine Brusset, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Hauts de Montmirail” 2013 ($38): This sensational wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre that underwent elevage in 70% new French oak and 30% stainless steel.  It shows the density and power of the 2013 in Gigondas (which was marked by miniscule yields after poor spring flowering), yet the wine is nevertheless admirably graceful, as the marvelous fruit material has already soaked up much of the spice and toast notes from the oak to achieve excellent integration.  Many bottles of this wine will be drunk far too young for it to achieve its optimal maturity, but it offers up so much kick-down-the-door deliciousness that nobody could be blamed for cracking in early.
94 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Famille Quiot / Château du Trignon, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2010 ($29): A wonderful wine from a historically strong vintage, this shows full ripeness but also striking freshness for a wine now approaching five years of age.  This combination of characteristics is entirely in keeping with the profile of 2010, and the strong raw materials easily counterbalance a notable edge of spicy oak to offer a very well balanced finished product.  A pleasantly earthy edge lends additional interest to the dark fruit and spice notes, and all of the aromatic and flavor notes are express themselves in harmony.  Terrific now but destined for at least another five years of positive development.
93 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine du Terme, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2010 ($30): I’ve seen this wine reviewed (by talented tasters) with scores that are quite significantly lower than what the wine now deserves, and can only assume that it was tight when first released (which isn’t surprising, given the relatively high acidity of wines from the 2010 vintage).  Be that as it may, the wine has now really blossomed into something beautiful, with a degree of density that makes it almost sappy in mouthfeel while still showing remarkable lift and freshness thanks to all of that 2010 acidity.  Big and rich and very deeply flavored, it nevertheless seems downright lithe--which is a bit uncanny, but the wine remains natural-seeming, very pure, and utterly convincing.  This is not yet at its apex, and after a couple of additional years in bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that my score was also too low.
93 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine Les Pallières, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Terrasse du Diable” 2012 ($36, Kermit Lynch): This is a wildly, wonderfully expressive wine that many others would love even more than I did, as I knocked it down a couple of points on account of a whiff of alcoholic heat in the finish that I found distracting.  This might well have gone un-noticed if I had been able to try the wine in the midst of a meal, but in any case, it is definitely not a vitiating flaw, and it is more than counterbalanced by superb depth of flavor and a powerful, complex profile.  Full of fruit but also edged with fascinating leathery, meaty accents, this is muscular but not rough, and is quite the thrill ride.  Pass the grilled lamb chops.
93 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Santa Duc, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Hautes Garrigues” 2012 ($48, Robert Katcher Selections): An ultra-serious Gigondas that shows very deep color and excellent concentration.  Despite these impressive attributes and a serious dose of new oak, there’s no hint of over-ripeness, over-extraction, or over-oaking, and the wine really comes off as wonderfully balanced and proportional.  Blended from 65% Grenache and 35% Mourvèdre, this is faintly earthy but definitely clean and free of any taint of brettanomyces.  Although it is very expressive and full of character, all of its most notable aspects stem directly from superb fruit material.
93 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine du Grand Montmirail, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2012 ($30): This excellent producer almost always seems to turn out wines that show excellent density and power but also fine freshness (a characteristic that seems traceable to vineyards perched near the top of the appellation that ripen fruit notably later than those of most other growers).  This rendition from 2012 shows impressive complexity on both the nose and palate, with excellent balance between fruit, acidity, tannin and wood.  Already very enjoyable, it will nevertheless improve for years to come.  And stay tuned for the 2013, which is very concentrated and impressive.  I tasted the final but as yet un-bottled blend, and though I choose not to score it yet, I’ve made a note to buy it upon release.
92 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine du Grapillon d’Or, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “1806” 2013 ($27): One of two fine releases from Grapillon d’Or, this “1806” bottling shows lovely, lifted aromatics that feature red cherry and berry notes that seem sourced predominantly from Grenache.  Oak edging is notable but very nicely attuned to the fruit profile, with some faint undertones of leather and garrigue already emerging.  This has a few years to go before it will really hit its stride, but it is damned sure off to a good start.
92 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine du Grapillon d’Or, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Excellence” 2012 ($30): This 2012 “Excellence” bottling from Domaine du Grapillon d’Or shows less oak than the 2013 “1806” bottling, yet it displays even more depth, density and guts.  The fruit profile is also notably different, centered on dark cherries and berries rather than red fruits.  The aromas and flavors are quite open and expressive right now, though the wine may shut down somewhat before hitting optimal maturity in another five years or so.  Delicious and enduringly interesting.
92 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine la Roubine, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2012 ($28): Made from Biodynamically-raised fruit, this excellent wine shows serious ripeness but also admirably purity and expressiveness.  Open and delicious already, it is very generously flavored but not obvious or chunky.  A meaty quality underlying the fruit lends special interest, and the finish is wonderfully symmetrical and persistent.
92 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine Les Pallières, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Racines” 2011 ($38, Kermit Lynch): Made from fruit yielded by vines averaging 65 years of age, this is packed with power and built for the cellar.  The blend is based on 80% Grenache, with the remaining 20% comprised of Syrah, Cinsault and Clairette.  Meaty and robust, with gutsy tannins but plenty of fruit to balance them out beautifully, this will be terrific for those patient enough to age it for another five years.
92 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

Domaine Brusset, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) “Tradition le Grand Montmirail” 2013 ($30): A blend of 70% Grenache with 10% each of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, this is a pure rendition of Gigondas with little oak influence but winning fruit flavors.  I’m quick to add, however, that this isn’t just a simple and fruity wine, as it shows serious structure from plenty of grippy tannins and a nice leathery undertone.  Hold for a couple of years if possible.
91 Michael Franz Apr 14, 2015

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Poggio di Sotto, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($160): Poggio di Sotto, one of the region’s traditional producers, made one of the top wines of the vintage in 2010.  Though not a powerhouse, there’s plenty going on in Poggio di Sotto’s 2010 Brunello.  The first whiff tells you it’s something special.  And then, like a ballerina, the flavors dance over the palate.  The pure and fine tannins are apparent, though paradoxically, not noticeable. In an odd way, it reminds me of great red Burgundy in that it has flavor without weight.  The problem is its scarcity -- only 12 thousand bottles produced.  It’s worth the search.
96 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Antinori, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Pian delle Vigne” 2010 ($62): It should come as no surprise that Antinori, who, as much as anyone, is responsible for the quality of Tuscan wines, should produce an outstanding Brunello.  They certainly have with their 2010 Pian delle Vigne.  Lofty aromatics predict an exciting wine.  Fine supple tannins surround a solid core sprinkled with dark, almost bitter cherry-like nuances and mineraly overtones.  Despite its depth and ripeness, there’s remarkable elegance in this fresh and lively wine.  The long and succulent finish reinforces the grandeur of this Brunello.  Here’s another one for cellar.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Castello di Verrazzano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($23): A traditional producer, Verrazzano uses only Sangiovese and Canaiolo for their Chianti Classico, reserving Cabernet and Merlot, the so-called international varieties, for their Super Tuscan bottling.  Their powerful style is readily apparent with this 2012 Chianti Classico.  Despite its concentration, the wine is balanced with an interplay of dark cherry-like fruit and savory elements all enlivened by refreshing acidity.  A subtle bitterness and firm, but not astringent, tannins cry for food.  Verrazzano’s Chianti Classico are slow to develop -- I’m still enjoying their 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva -- so even though this one is not a Riserva, give it a couple of years in the cellar.  Your patience will be rewarded.  If you can wait, decant it a few hours before serving and opt for a hearty lamb dish.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

Querciabella, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($32, Maison Marques & Domaines): Querciabella, one of the stellar producers in the Chianti Classico region, does not rest on their laurels.  They are in the process of making Chianti Classico from several of the subregions of that DOCG, which will give consumers an opportunity, at long last, to discern the differences among the areas in the Chianti Classico region since the winemaking will be constant.  For now, consumers should focus on this marvelous 2012 Chianti Classico made from grapes grown in a variety of vineyards within the area.  It’s a real treat, combining deep red cherry-like fruit notes and savory earthy ones.  There’s a sophistication and excitement in their Chianti Classico that sets it apart.  The fine tannins and lively acidity provide support and make this wine a great choice with hearty pasta or grilled meats now.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

White:

La Lastra, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany, Italy) 2013 ($15): La Lastra is one of leading producers of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, an often-overlooked DOCG.  With its cutting edge and slightly nutty finish, La Lastra’s 2013 could be the poster child for the appellation.  This bright and energetic wine is perfect for linguine and clam sauce or simple broiled fish. And look at the price!
90 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Red Cedar Vineyard 2013 ($14): This Cabernet has a lot going for it.  At the top of the list of reasons to like it is the reasonable price, which belies the wine’s excellent quality.  Far from tasting like a budget wine, this one has a rich, dark amethyst color, full cherry and blueberry flavors, with a dash of cedary oak flavors adding a subtle, spicy note to the blend.  The wine is plump and juicy, and finishes with smooth tannins.
89 Marguerite Thomas Apr 14, 2015

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($45): Merry Edward's "normal" bottling shows her artistry as a blender, with fruit from six different Russian River vineyards in play.  Vibrant cola rides over black cherry fruit, mild damp earth and sandalwood aromas, with excellent translation to flavors on the palate.  The finish shows concentration and integration of the flavors and lingers long.  This makes a great solo sipper, or a pairing for roast pork or game birds.
92 Rich Cook Apr 14, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Vine Hill Vineyard 2012 ($46): Give this bottle a chance to air out when you open it and enjoy the rewards of your patience.  We've got cherry, dry earth, bright fall spice and a bit of stone minerality delivered over racy acidity, with the fruit coming forward in the long spicy finish.  A touch of barrel toast adds interest without adding any burnt quality, making this a likely pairing for the rich character of a seared flatiron steak.  It's a little more structured than the regular Russian River bottling, and worthy of 5 to 6 years further aging.
92 Rich Cook Apr 14, 2015

Pahlmeyer, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($75): Though I'm not typically a fan of this level of oak on Pinot Noir, everything works in this bottling, the first made under the direction of consulting winemaker Bibiana Gonzalez Rave.  The intensity of fruit handles the oak load with finesse, and the high quality of the barrels is evident, with moderate toast and singing spice well matched to the red and black berry mix.  A sweetness of the oak expressed as vanilla comes forward and extends the finish in a way that makes me want to serve this as a soloist.  Riveting Pinot Noir!
95 Rich Cook Apr 14, 2015

Saxon Brown, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block 2012 ($48): Cherry cola with a side of rhubarb pie will give you a good idea of what's going on in this fine glass of Pinot Noir from winemaker Jeff Gaffner.  It's very full bodied, but avoids any hint of flab or overripe notes, showing vibrant acidity and a long integrated finish that brings some sweet oak spice forward.  I don't taste many Pinots with this kind of focus and attention to detail.  Well Done!
94 Rich Cook Apr 14, 2015

White:

Bonny Doon Vineyard, California (United States) "Gravitas" 2014 ($16): According to the label, this wine seeks to be "not obviously fruity, not overly oaky, nor as buttery as, say, a pukka Stilton" and it succeeds in delivering on its promise, with a bright floral nose undergirded by rich stonefruit and soft spice aromas and flavors of white peach, stony minerality, faint vanilla and light herbaceousness.  It's very viscous on entry, yet remains crisp and refreshing, and it's a bargain to boot.  I'm seeing this poolside all summer long, with mild cheeses and fresh raw vegetables.  Contains 54% Semillion, 43.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2.5% Orange Muscat.
90 Rich Cook Apr 14, 2015

MacRostie Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2012 ($32): A beautiful wine made from grapes grown in a relatively cool region, this Chardonnay has subtle yet very enticing floral and citrus aromas.  On the palate it delivers stunningly fresh and tasty lemon/lime fruitiness and a long aftertaste.  It manages to be light and delicate yet also lush and mouth-filling, elegant as well as robust.  This very duality is part of the wine’s considerable charm.
92 Marguerite Thomas Apr 14, 2015

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