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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 20, 2020 Issue

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CHILE

Red:

Viña VIK, Millahue – Colchagua Valley (Chile) "VIK" Red Blend 2013 ($140):  VIK is the flagship wine and the icon of the winery, a rich red blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Carmenere, and 2% Merlot.  Sticking with the book analogies, VIK is the literary classic that will stand the test of time.  It has a riveting complexity, like a great classic book that challenges you.  The palate is graceful and expansive, unfolding with layers of blackberry, cassis, currant, and a hint of cigar wrapper.  The wine resonates with supreme freshness beside fine-grained tannins.  It conveys a timeless “Old World” elegance but retains the essence of the dynamic Chilean terroir.   
97 Miranda Franco Oct 20, 2020

Viña VIK, Millahue – Colchagua Valley (Chile) "La Piu Belle" Red Blend 2015 ($79):  If the Milla Cala is the Cliff Notes of VIK, then the Piu Belle is the novel you read year after year.  It's a wine that becomes a permanent fixture in your wine cellar, and each time you taste it, you learn something new.  The Piu Belle is more “New World” in style than the Milla Cala and VIK.   This blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Carménère and 14% Syrah has a remarkable definition, with a textural richness developed after 23 months in French oak.  The Piu Belle showcases notes of ripe blackberries, plum, cassis, blueberries, and violets that mingle with more savory hints of wild herb and cocoa.  The flavors are softly layered, with round tannins leading to a long memorizing finish.  To further enhance the wine's appeal, a colorful painting from artist Gonzalo Cinefuegos adorns the bottle, lending another distinctive touch to a beautiful wine.    
94 Miranda Franco Oct 20, 2020

Viña VIK, Millahue – Colchagua Valley (Chile) “Milla Cala” Red Blend 2016 ($35):  This is a Bordeaux-style red blend of 67 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 17 % Carménère, 11 % Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1 % Syrah.  If we view VIK wines like books, Milla Cala is perhaps the Cliff Notes of VIK.  It provides you with an introduction to the attention to detail placed in the creation of VIK wines.   The style is opulent and impressive.  At the core, you'll find strawberry, blackcurrant, and blackberry laced with subtle baking spice and floral notes.  The wine is energized with ample acidity and polished tannins.  Given the caliber of this wine, Milla Cala is the pinnacle of value.    
92 Miranda Franco Oct 20, 2020

Rosé:

Viña VIK, Millahue – Colchagua Valley (Chile) "La Piu Belle" Rosé 2019 ($25):  Comprised of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 % Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah, the Piu Belle Rosé is “the beach read” you can't resist.  The desire for freshness inspired the creation of the Piu Belle Rosé from an estate that also clearly holds ambitions of historic proportions.  There are hints of raspberries, red plum, and subtle floral notes of lavender and violet on the nose and palate.  It delivers soft texture, richness, and the desired mouthwatering freshness.  This is a rosé to enjoy poolside and all-year-round, but also table-side, as it will amplify the flavors of many of your favorite dishes.    
92 Miranda Franco Oct 20, 2020


FRANCE

Rosé:

La Galope, Comte Tolosan (Gascony, France) Rosé 2018 ($16):  Fresh and tangy, with a seductive, fruity palate, this gem from southwestern France is both delightfully fruity and refreshingly dry.  Its come-hither aroma and flavors include hints of rose petal and fresh raspberry, plus cherry and lemon.  This is not a shy rosé; in fact, it is hearty enough to be paired with foods that boast a certain amount of spice.    
92 Marguerite Thomas Oct 20, 2020

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Provence:

Rosé:

Château La Gordonne, Côtes de Provence (France) “Tête de Cuvée” Rosé 2019 ($17):  Fresh and fragrant, this fine rosé is adaptable to a range of different occasions, from pre-dinner aperitifs to light pasta dishes and seafood.  I enjoyed it on two recent occasions, the first as an accompaniment to a cream-based orzo soup, the other with a sweet, but not too sweet, cranberry-raisin cake.  The wine’s dominant fruity flavors tend towards red berries, especially raspberries, and its crisp finish keeps it nicely balanced.   
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 20, 2020


GERMANY

Rheingau:

White:

Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau (Germany) Riesling Silberlack Trocken GG 2018 ($75):  Schloss Johannisberg, whose Riesling planting started in 1719, is thought to be the oldest Riesling producer in the world.  (The first documented wine harvest from the site itself was a roughly a thousand years earlier, in 817.)  The estate grows only Riesling, yet makes many different wines depending on where in the vineyard the grapes grow and when they are harvested.  Stefan Doktor, the estate director, explains that they make many different wines because of the diversity of soils and microclimates within the vineyard, which is located at the confluence of warmer air from the Rhine river and cooler air from the north.  He emphasizes that you need cold climate to make superb Riesling.  Cold nights especially — and the nights are cold at Schloss Johannisberg — slow ripening and allow flavors of the Riesling grape to develop.   The other advantage of this northern clime, according to Doktor, is long hours of daylight during the summer, from 5 AM until 10 PM, which helps the grapes achieve ripeness.  He adds that the quartz in the soil retains heat, which also aids ripening.  This wine, labeled Silberlack Trocken for the vineyard parcel, is bone dry with a measured residual sugar of 2.7 grams/liter.  To put that wine-geek number in perspective, tasters can typically start to detect sweetness at a level of about 5 grams/liter.  The GG stands for Grosses Gewachs, the equivalent of Grand Cru, indicating the stature of the growing site.  The grapes come from the coolest part of their vineyard, the southwest corner, which is always the last to be harvested.  The wine is positively gorgeous, racy, minerally and penetrating.  It’s all you could want.  The first sip makes you smile.  With impeccable balance, all the elements are in harmony and dance across the palate.  The tension between vibrant minerality and alluring peach-like fruitiness is splendid and seemingly never ending in the aftertaste of the wine.  Sip it by itself, or drink it with virtually anything.  You will be surprised how wonderful it is, even with a steak.    
96 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020


ITALY

Sardinia:

Red:

Agricola Punica, Isola del Nuraghi IGT (Sardinia, Italy) "Barrua" 2015 ($46):  Agricola Punica is a collaboration between Tenuta San Guido, the Bolgheri producer responsible for Sassicaia, and Sardinia’s Cantina di Santadi.  The late Giacomo Tachis, who was a genius at sensing the utility of the so-called Bordeaux varieties in selected Italian locales, suggested the blend of Carignano, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for their wine to be called “Barrua.”  It turned out to be an outstanding recommendation.  Despite the stated 15 percent alcohol, the 2015 Barrua does not come across as ripe or overdone.  Quite the contrary.  Lush fruitiness gives way to savory and herbal elements amplified by a lively freshness in the finish.  The tannins are present for support, but they are refined and supple, not aggressive.  Yum!   
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

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Tuscany:

Red:

Santa Cristina, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2018 ($10):  You might call this a “baby” Super Tuscan.  It’s affordable, made for immediate consumption, and utterly delicious.  A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, the flavors are ripe and balanced, show nice complexity of dark and red fruit aromas, excellent palate weight and good persistence through the finish.  From the Antinori stable of wines, so quality standards are high. And it’s hard to argue with the price.   
88 Robert Whitley Oct 20, 2020


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Dutton-Goldfield, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard 2018 ($62):  Ripe, raspberry aromas, very good concentrated flavors, similar to raspberry preserves.  Angel Camp has substantial texture, with richness and a full-blown character, and tannins that complete its definition.  It is spicy and fruity, but to my taste could use more acidity.  It’s a bit soft on the palate.  My tasting partner awarded it a 93.  14.1% Alcohol; 364 cases produced.     
90 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage Red Wine 2018 ($35):  Generous in color, in aroma and in flavor this is a splendid edition of Dry Creek Vineyard’s Meritage.   The fruit is bright and flavorful with the oak and acid beautifully balancing all that lovely dark fruit.  A little sweet spice, a hint of cocoa and light floral notes all add to this Meritage’s charm.   It's a blend of 63% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot.   
93 Marguerite Thomas Oct 20, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Fox Den Vineyard 2018 ($62):  Fruity, ripe black cherry aromas and flavors, with earthy notes.  It has high acidity, with firm tannins and excellent concentration of fruit, with smooth texture.   A full-bodied wine, my kind of California Pinot Noir.  Although it is drinkable now, I would give Fox Den a few years of aging to evolve completely.  13.5% Alcohol; 630 cases produced.     
95 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Avalon Winery, Lodi (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($11):  Need a house wine for everyday consumption but don’t want tart or insipid?  This vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from Avalon Winery is the ticket.  It shows impressive palate weight and depth, ripe cherry and plum aromas, a hint of oak vanillin and a long finish.   And the price won’t break the piggy bank.      
88 Robert Whitley Oct 20, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Marin County (California) Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch Vineyard 2018 ($72): Devil’s Gulch is one of Dutton-Goldfield’s most popular vineyard locations; the vineyard also produces an excellent Chardonnay.  Its Pinot Noir has still unevolved aromas, with pronounced tart red cherry flavors.  It has high acidity with substantial tannins, a reflection of its very cool Marin County location.  Devil’s Gulch’s Pinot Noir is fairly light-bodied, and lovely to drink now — an apéritif-style wine.  13.8% Alcohol; 455 cases produced.      
91 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Mendocino Ridge (California) Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard 2018 ($68):  Fresh, fruity attack, with rich aromas and flavors of black cherry and raspberry.  Almost creamy texture, with good palate length.  Docker Hill has lively acidity; it is slightly closed now, and needs some time to develop.  It has a longer finish on the palate than other wines in this grouping.  14.1% Alcohol; 402 cases produced.      
93 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Minus Tide, Mendocino Ridge (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Mariah Vineyard 2017 ($42):  I was very impressed with the initial offerings from this new player in Anderson Valley, and this Pinot Noir keeps the string going.  Mendocino Ridge is a unique AVA - it's based on an elevation cutline rather than the usual border, making for non-contiguous "islands in the sky" above 1200 feet of elevation.  It's coastal, but it sits above the usual fog line that dominates the weather patterns of the lower lying areas.  Mariah Vineyard sits at 2600 feet, so it gets plenty of sunshine during midday.  The wine expresses the terroir beautifully, with crisp acidity propping up ripe strawberry, cherry and complementary notes of tea and rhubarb.  It's quite different than its valley counterparts, and quite deliciously so.   
93 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

Black Stallion Estate Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2017 ($60):  The packaging — over-sized bottle — and 15 percent stated alcohol suggests this Cabernet is from the “bigger is better” school.  And there is no question, it’s a big, ripe wine with plenty of power.  Yet, it’s not overblown or overdone.  The grapes come from the producer’s estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll district of the Napa, and the wine is essentially a barrel selection from the cellar, according to Black Stallion’s website.  It leads with lovely aromatics and then delivers a mix of deep black fruit-like flavors, spice and herbs.  The tannins provide structure, but are unobtrusive under the layers of fruit.  Good acidity keeps it fresh and in balance, except for a touch of heat in the finish, reflecting the high alcohol.  Though not my style of Cabernet, it is well-made and people who enjoy high octane “Napa Cab” will love it.  Its supple and velvety texture makes it ideal for drinking tonight with a grilled hunk of meat.   
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2017 ($56):  This wine is an empire builder if ever there was one.  As Duckhorn celebrates their 40th harvest with the 2017 vintage, it's worth noting again that they've stuck with the date that they came to the dance with through years of ups and downs.  If you're a true fan of Merlot, you know this wine as a domestic benchmark bottling, and this bottling doesn't stray.  Classic black and red fruit character gets a sturdy dose of oak spice that enhances the fruit and extends the finish.  I sense a bit of other Bordeaux varieties in the mix, but again, only to enhance the clear Merlot character that shines through.  A tip of the hat!    
92 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

Castello Di Amorosa, North Coast (California) Pinot Noir “Il Rubino” 2018 ($39):  Winemaker Peter Velleno reaches into California's stylistic past for this expression of cool climate vineyards, leaning into tart black cherry fruit and an intriguing mix of dry earth minerality.  At just over thirteen percent alcohol, all the parts function well together and make for a suitable paring for lighter side fish or chicken dishes.    
90 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Signature" 2016 ($90):  An over-sized bottle with the wine weighing in at 15.1 percent stated alcohol accurately predicts the nature of this Cabernet Sauvignon:  powerful.  Fruit-forward and dominant, it’s a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and Saint-Macaire, an ancient grape from Bordeaux, which is no longer used there, but was included in the allowed mix for Meritage wines in California.  Ready now, it’s a soft, fleshy wine that imparts sweetness, then finishes nicely with an offsetting hint of bitterness.  Those looking for density and oomph in their Cabernet will embrace it.  It’s ironic that J. Lohr, who won the 2020 California Green Medal Sustainability Award and prides itself on a commitment to sustainability, opts to use a heavy bottle that most environmentalists criticize for adding unnecessarily to the wine’s carbon footprint.   
90 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Petaluma Gap (Marin County, California) Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard 2018 ($62):  Its alluring aroma gets your attention immediately, with its seductive, juicy black raspberry and plum notes.  Its flavors suggest vibrant Bing cherry fruit.  Along with its enticing entry, the Azaya Ranch has a rich texture, with silky ripe tannins well-integrated in the wine.  It is fresh and pure, with a good concentration of tart red cherry fruit.  The wine has very good acidity, a mark of its excellent location.  The Petaluma Gap is a cool ocean wind tunnel cutting through Marin County into Sonoma County.  Azaya Ranch Pinot Noir will benefit from two or three years of aging.   13.7% Alcohol; 360 cases produced.   
94 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard 2018 ($72):  Ripe black cherry and plum fruits; spicy, with cranberry notes.  Freestone Hill has good depth of flavor, with firm but not intrusive tannins, and a long, fruity finish.  It demonstrates the fullness and fruitiness of the better Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.  It’s a wine of substance and character, with complex, dark fruits showing on its finish.  Enjoyable now, but will age well for several years.  Good fruit and good winemaking; Dutton Ranch lives up to its reputation.  My favorite of the group.  13.8% Alcohol; 467 cases produced.  
96 Ed McCarthy Oct 20, 2020

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch 2018 ($66):  The Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir is always a favorite of mine from Merry Edwards' portfolio, and it again delivers what it's known for -- vibrant damp and dry earth tones over rich black cherry and raspberry fruit, structuring acidity, a bit of tannic grip and a fair dose of toasted oak the serves to deepen all the flavors.  Give it a good decanting near term, or age it up to ten years.    
95 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

Raeburn Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2019 ($22):  The focus of the 2019 Raeburn Pinot Noir is firmly on bright pure cherry-like fruit.  Suavely textured, it is easy to enjoy this mid-weight wine now.  A touch of heat and a hint of sweetness in the finish likely results from the 14.5 percent stated alcohol.  It’s rare to find a Pinot Noir that’s this enjoyable at this price.   
88 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Clarice, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard 2018 ($85):  Adam Lee's new project (after selling off his Siduri label) is a tribute to his grandmother, who he credits with introducing him to winemaking through her style of cooking.  It was her judicious use of ingredients that inspired Adam's quest with Pinot Noir.  If this wine is an indicator, I think we all missed out on some fine dining.  Lesson one?  Great main ingredients, sourced well.  It doesn't get much better than Rosella's Vineyard Pinot Noir, and Adam handles it deftly, using wood and time to enhance the core without masking its beauty.  It's the first vintage I've tasted, and it's a winner!   
94 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2018 ($25):  If a lively, affordable, quaffable, bursting with fruit red wine is on your list, you can't go wrong with this Decoy Merlot.  From the other side of the Mayacamas mountains from the famed Merlot from parent Duckhorn's estate vineyards, it's long on quality to price ratio, and makes for a satisfying solo glass or grilling partner.    
89 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

White:

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Rued Vineyard 2018 ($55):  From one of the finest Chardonnay terroirs in the state of California, the 2018 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay from Dutton Goldfield is a masterpiece.  This vintage exhibits richness without losing the freshness and tension that are the benchmarks of all great Chardonnay.  Showing notes of lemon oil, ripe pear and baked apple, with fall spices, a creamy mouthfeel and lively acidity.  This vintage of Rued Vineyard Chardonnay is exquisitely balanced and possesses exceptional depth and length.    
98 Robert Whitley Oct 20, 2020

Luli, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay 2017 ($20):  Master Sommelier Sara Floyd partners with the Pisoni family to produce this unique expression of Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay.  Made with no malolactic fermentation, low pH, high total acidity and neutral oak, it showcases a purity of fruit that you can miss when going through the usual Chardonnay production motions.  The result is fresh apple and pear fruit and soft spice notes in both aroma and flavor profiles, and ringing acidity that gets a gentle polish from the used oak barrels.  If you want a good look at the base layer of Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay this is a fine example.    
91 Rich Cook Oct 20, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($20):  Founded in 1972 by David Stare and still family-run, Dry Creek Vineyard continues to excel.  Dry Creek Vineyard’s initial focus was on Sauvignon Blanc because Stare loved the wines of the Loire Valley.  So, it’s not surprising that Dry Creek Vineyard continues to make a consistently fine Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2109 follows in those footsteps.  It takes a balanced, middle-of-the road approach with a little bit of everything and not too much of anything.  Fleshiness offsets an invigorating citrus element.  Lively, but not aggressive, acidity stimulates the palate.  A delightful hint of grapefruit pith-like bitterness in the finish enhances the overall picture.  Although you can enjoy a glass by itself, it really shines next to a plate of grilled swordfish.    
92 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

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Washington:

Red:

Col Solare Winery, Red Mountain (Columbia Valley, Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($75):  Another brilliant vintage from Col Solare, the collaboration between Piero Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle.  This blend is 97 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc filling out the rest.  Rich and layered, this is a muscular wine without the rough edges.  Suave and juicy, with impressive depth, it offers aromas of blackberry and cassis with subtle oak influences, exquisite balance and a bright future for those who choose to cellar it for 10 to 20 years.  
97 Robert Whitley Oct 20, 2020

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