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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

November 29, 2016 Issue

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AUSTRIA

Red:

Paul Achs, Burgenland (Austria) Blaufränkisch “Heideboden” 2013 ($20, Winebow): Red wines from Austria’s Burgenland region are poised to make a big push toward prominence in export markets, and if that seems implausible to you…remember that you heard it here first.  Blaufränkisch is probably the best red variety that the nation has to offer, though St. Laurent is superb (but difficult to grow and thus likely not the tip-of-the-spear red for Austria).  Zweigelt, a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, is extremely easy to enjoy, and though it doesn’t have the elegance of St. Laurent nor the aging potential of Blaufränkisch, try it whenever you have a chance.  This fine rendering of Blaufränkisch shows a terrific balance of fruity and savory notes, with bright acidity but also plenty of bass to go along with all that treble.  Delicious now, this will likely improve for another five years at a minimum.  Best with poultry or white meats like pork or veal, this could also work well with pasta and all sorts of other dishes appropriate for a light / medium red.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

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CHILE

Red:

Don Melchor, Puente Alto DO (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard 2012 ($125, Excelsior): A noble wine that shows sense of place in a most positive way, and one that's built for the long haul.  Black cherry and red currant aromas are joined by deep earthy minerality and balanced pepper notes, and they translate well on the palate, with the oak and earth tones in front at present.  Have no fear, the fruit will come forward with extended bottle age and this will become an elegant gentleman.  Bravo!
95 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Dupont-Tisserandot, Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy, France) Vieille Vignes 2012 ($67): Gevrey-Chambertin, since it is a large and well-known appellation, is filled with both promise and peril for those seeking top-notch wines with a “village” moniker.  Some producers rely on the stature of the appellation to sell their wines, whereas the committed ones want to fulfill the potential the appellation has to offer.  Put Dupont-Tisserandot squarely in the latter category.  Their 2012 is a terrific village wine, in part, no doubt, because it comes from old wines.  That Dupont-Tisserandot is a consistently excellent producer doesn’t hurt either.  It delivers a slightly earthy and leathery quality combined with dark fruitiness that I associate with Gevrey-Chambertin.  Still youthful, with good concentration and fine tannins, it is not overdone.  It’s a great combination of power and elegance.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

White:

Domaine Parent, Monthélie Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($55, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection): Domaine Parent, run by sisters Anne and Catherine, is one of Burgundy’s stars.  Though their focus is on Pommard, where they are located, their talents extend to other villages in the Côte de Beaune.  Monthélie, a touch off the main stretch of the Côte de Beaune since it sits behind the main slope, borders Volnay and Meursault.  Although the vast majority of the wine from this village is red, wonderfully whites, such as this one, exist.  It conveys a Meursault-like richness and depth, with the vibrancy of the vintage imparting energy and life.  It has the complexity and finesse of a premier cru at a village price.  Lovely now, to accompany grilled swordfish, its balance and verve indicate a long life ahead of it, so there’s no rush.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

Roussillon:

Red:

Agly Brothers, Côtes du Roussillon (Roussillon, France) 2010 ($38, HB Wine Merchants): An older, yet current release wine that's a joint venture for France's Chapoutier and the Laughton family (known for their Australian Jasper Hill label) that's equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Carignane and delivers the best of both worlds.  It's a big boy, with a ripe nose of blackberry, plum and brown spice that leads to a bold palate with plenty of oak spice and stone minerality joining the ripe black fruit.  Decant well and serve with roasted meats.
93 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Michel Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Roussillon, France) “Bila-Haut” Rouge 2015 ($15, Sera Wine Imports): It's hard to beat the budget friendly Bila-Haut line -- each bottle seriously over delivers in the value department.  This vintage shows high toned blueberry and spice, with complementary tar and pepper aromas and flavors, with a firm grip that extends the finish where the pepper notes come forward.  A wild game bird would pair perfectly.  A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignane.
90 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

White:

Michel Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Roussillon, France) “Bila-Haut” Blanc 2015 ($15, Sera Wine Imports): Another Chapoutier bargain.  Floral and peachy on the nose, with a viscous yet citrusy mid palate and a crisp finish that is all about the peach and lime.  It's a nice warm weather sipper, or will pair nicely with your holiday bird.
88 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

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GREECE

White:

Gaia Estate, Santorini (Greece) Assyrtiko “Thalassitis” 2015 ($30, Winebow): This is a very refreshing, relatively light white wine…so it wouldn’t be a good choice for winter drinking, right?  Wrongo!  There is no such thing as a bad time to drink excellent Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini, and given that winter is prime time for oysters, that’s especially true now and in the months ahead.  Besides, anyone who enjoys fish and lighter preparations of chicken presumably continues eating those foods year-round, and you could hardly do better than pairing them with this wine.  It is fairly light in weight, but that doesn’t make it a “lightweight,” as its intense minerality gives it a lot of flavor impact and a very long finish.  If I missed on the score for this, I’m off on the low side.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

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ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Abbazia di Novacella, Valle Isarco (Alto Adige, Italy) Kerner 2015 ($21): If you’ll be compelled to entertain a know-it-all gasbag over the holidays, you’ll want to get a bottle of this for deflation purposes.  Barely anybody has tasted Kerner, and fewer still know what it is, so if you need to take somebody down a peg, this is your ticket.  However, that’s hardly the sole reason to buy this wine, as it is downright delicious and very interesting on its own or with a wide range of foods.  Kerner is a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, valued by growers for its resistance to frost and winter kill -- and by drinkers for its remarkable combination of intense spiciness and minerality with tropical fruit flavors and underlying nuttiness.  This excellent producer was particularly successful with this variety in 2015, so you should consider buying this by the case…which is exactly what I did.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

Sicily:

Red:

Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Sicily, Italy) 2013 ($18, Palm Bay International): Planeta is an exceptional producer with multiple winemaking facilities located at various points around the large island of Sicily…which is an important fact, as Sicily can get very hot, and trucking fruit over long distances is not a great idea when quality is one’s objective.  Cerasuolo di Vittoria is Sicily’s only DOCG wine (the highest quality classification with the strictest production requirements), but the fact is that the wines are often rather underwhelming, sometimes lacking freshness or flavor impact, and rarely showing both at once.  Planeta is conspicuous for achieving this combination consistently, and this may be my favorite of all the vintages of this wine that I’ve tasted.  It is -- at once -- light and fresh but also substantial and satisfying, with wonderful aromas and flavors of red cherry fruit and a host of subtle, savory accents.  Made from 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, this is a fantastic wine for stand-alone sipping or pairing with pizza or pasta, but also a promising partner for many other foods.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

Tuscany:

Red:

Danzante, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($12, Folio Fine Wine Partners): An inviting, bone-dry expression of Chianti, with a lively floral and cherry aroma profile.  The palate shows the dry cherry forward, with oak spice and fennel joining and riding racy acidity through a long finish.  Give it a good decant for full enjoyment, and pair with simply prepared red meats.
89 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Querciabella, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($32, Maisons, Marques & Domaines): Yes, $32 is a rather hefty price for a straight, non-Riserva Chianti Classico.  But then, it may well be that a shorter span in oak is why this non-Riserva shows such complexity, as wood notes are barely detectable, allowing all sorts of fruity and savory notes to shine through in the bouquet and flavors and finish.  This is a flat-out gorgeous rendering of Sangiovese from an excellent vintage and a great producer, so buy it with confidence.  If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your purchase price and also mow your lawn and wash your car, but first you’ll need to submit to a polygraph test regarding the “don’t like it” part of this offer.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

Corte alla Flora, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($24, Siema): Fine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are among Italy’s best renditions of Sangiovese, but they remain under-appreciated due to their rather cumbersome name, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “Chianti Classico.”  Lamentable though that may be, it also provides an opportunity for savvy wine lovers.  This excellent Vino Nobile shows superb balance and integration, with delicate aromas of pressed flowers, dried cherries and subtle spices, with all of these notes echoed on the palate.  The acidity is refreshing but not overly tart, and the fine-grained tannins are very well tuned to the moderate weight of the wine.  Already quite complex and thoroughly enjoyable, this will improve for several more years…though patience will be difficult to manage once you’ve tasted it.
92 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Mount Beautiful, North Canterbury (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2014 ($19): New Zealand has made such a name for itself with Sauvignon Blanc that one tends to forget it makes other excellent wines, such as this Pinot Gris.  This beautifully framed Pinot Gris conveys ripe, but not over ripe, stone fruit flavors offset by a hint of pear skin-like bitterness.  It has the perfect weight in the mouth -- not ethereal, nor heavy.  It’s a beautiful wine with invigorating balancing acidity that complements sushi, spiced Asian fare, or a simple roast chicken.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

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SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Chamonix, Franschhoek (South Africa) Pinotage “Greywacke” 2013 ($34, Vineyard Brands): Pinotage, South Africa’s signature red grape, is not always as successful as Greywacke from Chamonix.  This wine is deeply colored, and it has complex aromas and flavors dominated by tangy red fruits plus a tug of spice and hint of dark chocolate.  With its medium body and silky texture, Greywacke is a thoroughly enjoyable wine.
91 Marguerite Thomas Nov 29, 2016

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SPAIN

Galicia:

White:

Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) 2015 ($24, Baron Francois): An Albariño blend from the O Rosal subdistrict of Rias Baixas, including two local varieties that are new to me, this makes for a tasty drink.  Bright citrus, white flowers and mixed stone fruit aromas and flavors are delivered on a honeyed but lively texture, finishing long and tart with a sweet pink grapefruit note coming forward at the end.  Very nice!  Contains 70% Albariño, 20% Caiño Blanco and 10% Louriera.
92 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Bodegas Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) Albarino “Abadia de San Campio” 2015 ($20, Baron Francois): A beautifully dry and crisp Albarinõ, with aromas of pear, lychee, white flowers, apple and citrus.  The citrus takes the lead on the palate, making for a tart, refreshing wine that's built for oysters and other shellfish.  The viscosity extends the finish, with searing acidity keeping the bright citrus fruit alive and inviting another sip.  I'm a fan of this style.
90 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (California) Zinfandel "Westside" 2014 ($22): I am loving the Zinfandels from the Central Coast's 2014 vintage.  The Westside bottling is probably Peachy Canyon's best known offering, and it shows why once again with rich ripe berry fruit, pepper, clove and pie spice aromas and flavors, with bright acidity extending the finish and keeping things fresh throughout.  Thanks for a vintage that's like falling in love all over again!
93 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah 2014 ($32): I’ve been a little disappointed in some of the overly gentrified Petite Sirahs coming out of California recently, but this effort from Peachy Canyon restores my faith in the genre.  It is big and bold in flavor and texture, and its structure is impeccable.  Appropriately inky purple-black in color, with sensory elements recalling blueberries, wildflowers and hints of spice, it has a long finish cushioned by a blanket of soft tannins.  It shows best with richly texture foods such as slow cooked meats (short ribs for example), and I enjoyed it recently with some chorizo enchiladas.
92 Marguerite Thomas Nov 29, 2016

Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (California) “Cirque du Vin” 2012 ($19): This wine in the fun package juggles six varieties with ease in a "drink me now and enjoy the show" vibe, with a nose of bright berries, pie spice and a touch of sarsaparilla.  The palate is fruit forward, but doesn't neglect the spice elements, with supple tannins and a medium long finale. Encore!  Contains 60% Syrah, 28% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel, 3% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 2% Tannat.
92 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Ancient Peaks, Paso Robles (California) Zinfandel Santa Margarita Ranch 2014 ($18): This wine comes from the very southern reaches of The Paso Robles AVA -- a cooler spot that makes for a different style of Zinfandel than its northern neighbors.  This offering is quite wild berry driven, with lively oak spice, pepper and a citrus note that keeps things bright.  Decant this a while, or give it a few years in the bottle to fully integrate the oak.
91 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Beringer Vineyards, Paso Robles (California) “The Waymaker” 2014 ($28): This is a congenial wine with mid-range weight and fresh fruit flavors balanced by delicate hints of vanilla and oak.  One of Waymaker’s most appealing features is its light, chalky-mineral texture.  A blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
91 Marguerite Thomas Nov 29, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon "Seven Oaks" 2014 ($17): I recently put this wine up against a pedigreed Napa Valley offering that has drawn rave reviews in a blind preference tasting before about eighty tasters, and it garnered fifty percent of the preference vote -- until I told them the price, which set the preference at 75/25, and the amazement at one hundred percent.  It's hard to find a more consistently delicious bang for your buck Cabernet Sauvignon than this one.  Jeff Meier's winemaking team doesn't neglect the value line, and continues to make one of the best portfolios in the business.  Once again, well done!
91 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge Vineyard 2014 ($56): A bold style for MacRostie, with more black fruit than red.  It's quite ripe, but manages to carry very bright acidity to keep the ripeness from getting out of hand.  Black cherry, blackberry, cardamom and dry earth aromas translate nicely on the palate, with big oak spice coming forward in the finish.  Give this one a fair amount of air time and serve with a blackened salmon or prime rib.
93 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

White:

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Essence, “Miljenko’s Selection” 2014 ($55): Grgich Hills Estate is an extraordinary producer -- one of the world’s best -- because they consistently make a wide variety of stunning wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay, (even Zinfandel), to this Sauvignon Blanc.  Few producers anywhere exhibit this depth of winemaking ability.  This Sauvignon Blanc, made from their best grapes, shows extraordinary complexity.  Fermentation and aging in a combination of small and large older oak barrels adds suaveness without erasing the pleasant bite inherent to the grape.  They’ve tamed the potential exuberance of Sauvignon Blanc without eviscerate it.  There’s a captivating stony note in the finish that just adds enjoyment.
95 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

New York:

Red:

Hermann J. Wiemer, Finger Lakes (New York) Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24): If you go nuts for big, rich, “gobs of fruit” wines, this is not your thing.  However, if you like lighter reds with lots of complexity and broad versatility with food, this is a wine to relish for its stylishness and restraint.  To be clear, it is not an “austere” wine, just one that is very delicate and fine.  The fruit recalls fresh red cherries both aromatically and in terms of flavor, with very fresh acidity and extremely fine-grained tannins that are precisely measured in relation to the fruit’s light weight.  That’s an accomplishment of real importance, as a more extended maceration or a hotter fermentation would have produced a bottom-heavy wine without the grace or nimbleness of this lithe little beauty.
91 Michael Franz Nov 29, 2016

Oregon:

Red:

Roots Wine Company, Chehalem Mountains (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Leroy Vineyard “Racine” 2014 ($60): Roots was founded by the Berg family in 1999 and specializes in Pinot Noir, producing their first vintage in 2002.  Chris Berg, the current winemaker, was born in Racine, Wisconsin -- hence the name of this Pinot Noir, their reserve bottling, which is culled from the best barrels.  (Conveniently, racine is the French word for roots.)  Racine is a dramatic leap up from Roots’ regular bottling from Leroy Vineyard, delivering wonderful complexity enrobed in suave tannins.  The problem, of course, is that this bottling of 22 cases represents 25 percent of Roots’ production from the vineyard and has stripped the regular bottling, which, in comparison, is hollow.
Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

Patton Valley Vineyard, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 10-Acre Bottling 2013 ($49): From the inception in the late 1990s, Patton Valley Vineyard has focused on terroir, the concept that the specific characteristics of a site determine, in large measure, the taste of the wine.  Importantly, a corollary of terroir is that wines from different sites are unique and taste differently.  Many wineries claim “terroir” with single vineyard bottlings, but it’s more a marketing tool than a reality because the wines are virtually indistinguishable.  Not so with Patton Valley Vineyard.  One taste of their 10-Acre Bottling compared to their West Block Pinot Noir shows that they’ve hit the bull’s eye.  From a cooler, east-facing site, this Pinot Noir emphasizes elegance and angularity with lots of herbal elements a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

Patton Valley Vineyard, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir West Block 2013 ($49): From a warmer site compared to their 10-Acre Bottling, this West Block Pinot Noir delivers a riper, yet elegant, profile with appealing herbal character.  Less angular, it’s a fleshier, but still balanced, style of Pinot Noir.  Patton Valley Vineyard must think they are of comparable quality since they are priced the same.  I agree.  My advice is to buy they both, invite friends and discover the magic of terroir.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2016

Washington:

Red:

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Syrah 2013 ($35): Syrah lovers alert!  Here's a wine that's a great value and perfectly hits the midline of warm and cool climate style, showing the best elements of both.  It's got one of the most complete lists of classic varietal character I've tasted in a domestic Syrah, with blackberry, blueberry, fall spice, tar, pepper, leaf and savory all present on the nose and in the mouth, with focused acidity carrying it all through a beautifully integrated finish that lasts and lasts.  There's some good aging potential here to boot.  Well done!
95 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Windthrow” 2013 ($60): I appreciate the taut balance of fruit and savory character in this bottle -- blackberry, blueberry and leaf dance beautifully with raw beef and pepper aromas and flavors, all delivered on a firm structure and finishing long and well integrated.  I've liked previous vintages, and this one is a standout. Contains 75% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre and 8% Cinsault.
94 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($50): Cadaretta is on a roll with their red portfolio, and this Cabernet is a worthy participant, showing proper character with finesse and approachability, though it's got age-worthy acidity and structure in spades.  Blackberry, black cherry, black pepper, black coffee, soft spice and mild dried herbs are all in play, with a long mouthwatering finish that keeps you coming back.  This label is hitting its stride!
93 Rich Cook Nov 29, 2016

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