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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

September 10, 2019 Issue

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Maison Louis Latour, Côteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir “Les Pierres Dorées” 2017 ($26, Louis Latour, USA):  Côteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation, replacing Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, an appellation I’ve never seen in the U.S., perhaps because a “grand ordinary” wine is hard to sell.  Grapes for this appellation can come from anywhere in Burgundy, from Beaujolais in the south to Irancy in the north.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are the two chief grapes allowed for red or rosé, though less-well known ones, such as César, are also allowed.  From a practical point of view, it allows Beaujolais producers to now label their wines as Côteaux Bourguignons to take advantage of the cachet of Bourgogne.  To what extent they will do it remains to be seen.  In any case, Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s star producers, is using the appellation for their new project, planting Pinot Noir in Beaujolais.  Latour has been making Valmoissine -- a stylish Pinot Noir-based wine outside of Burgundy in the south of France -- for decades.  Now, they show it can be done in southern Beaujolais, the part known as Pierres Dorées, named for the golden color of the limestone rocks.  The soil there is closer in composition to that found in the Côte d’Or as opposed to the granite that is common in the cru of Beaujolais.  Earthy nuances complement juicy flavors in this mid-weight wine. The barest hint of tannic bitterness in the finish is a welcome component.  It’s a perfect choice for a simple take-out or oven-roasted chicken. 
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

White:

William Fevre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) 2018 ($25, Maison Marques et Domaines): Saint-Bris, formerly known as Sauvignon de Saint Bris before it was elevated to appellation d’origine controllée (AOC) status, is curious and unique in Burgundy.  Located in the far north, near Chablis and covering a mere 200 acres, it requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  A quick look at the map might explain why.  It is barely 80 miles from Sancerre, home to Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Producers insist that the same Kimmeridgian limestone of the nearby Chablis area imparts a lovely mineral component to the wine.  That is certainly apparent is this one from William Fevre, one of Chablis’ top producers.   They have crafted a stunning example of Saint-Bris.  Tightly wound, it delivers its cutting stony character after sitting in the glass for 15 minutes.  A subtle bite of Sauvignon Blanc reminds you of the grape, but the overall impression is one of minerals, not grassiness.  
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

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Champagne:

Sparkling:

Egly-Ouriet, Champagne (France) Premier Cru “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Brut NV ($74, Skurnik Wines):  You probably know that the main grape varieties in for Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  However, finding a Champagne made solely from Pinot Meunier like this one from grower-producer, Egly-Ouriet, is unusual, and definitely worthy of your attention.  It is made from 40 year-old-vines from Francis Egly’s five acres in the Premier Cru village of Vrigny.  It is a multi-vintage blend with 50 percent from 2011 and 30 percent from 2010 and 20 percent from 2009.  It is fermented and aged 36 months on lees in tank, and shows a pale golden color with a hint of rose and tiny, prolific bubbles that belies the power to come.  The combination of Pinot Meunier base wines from three vintages and extended lees contact has created a complex fusion of intensity, texture and grace.  Flavors of ripe raspberries and stone fruits are sumptuous and tempered by vibrant acidity.  Savor it by itself, it is worthy of an evening’s contemplation.  Its complexity and richness make it a fit for savory mushroom dishes, even veal or chicken entrees.   
95 Rebecca Murphy Sep 10, 2019

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Loire Valley:

White:

Domaine de la Pépière, Sèvre et Maine (Loire Valley, France) Muscadet Sur Lie 2018 ($16, Louis/Dressner):  This is a refreshing white from vineyards in the Pays Nantais -- where the Loire River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  The Sèvre et Maine district is the best growing area in the wider Muscadet region.  The Domaine de la Pépière is a top estate for Muscadet production.  Their organically grown vines are planted in sandy, granitic soils and they purchase a small amount of fruit for this bottling from their neighbors.  The result is a Muscadet with a bit more richness and roundness than the norm.  The 2018 La Pépie Muscadet has an attractive bouquet of lemon zest, pear, fresh-bread yeast and delicate flowers.  Clean and lively on the palate, the ripe citrus and pear fruits are enhanced by the yeasty richness and a crisp and dry finish.  It’s a perfect wine to pair with fresh seafood dishes.  
90 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019

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Rhône:

Red:

E. Guigal, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Vignes de L’Hospice” 2016 ($100):  This wine is certainly among the most famous and prestigious bottlings from Saint-Joseph, and though it is definitely not necessary to spend at this three-digit level to get a wine of the highest quality, the fact remains that this is a reference point to be taken seriously.  Aged in 100% new oak barrels, this gets the same high-end treatment of all the other top end Guigal wines (including the three $400+ single site Côte-Rôtie offerings), for better or worse.  (Meaning, better in excellent vintages when the juice can support the wood, and better for those with cellars and patience to let the oak be absorbed by the wine; worse for the impatient and those of more modest financial means.)  In 2016, the fruit material is definitely up to the challenge posed by the wood, and though it will take years for the wine to integrate what now seems like a one-two combination punch of dense fruit and aggressive oak, this will definitely become a great wine.  As an aside, I should note that while Guigal has enjoyed a nearly peerless reputation in the USA since the 1980s, thanks in large part to the lofty praise of Robert Parker, many of the European wine writers whom I’ve befriended when tasting in the Rhône think this house is over-rated, usually on the ground that the wines are insufficiently individuated because of the aggressive oaking applied to all of them.  There’s certainly some validity to that, but the criticism dissipates in validity over time as the wines age, suggesting to my mind that the overwhelming blame for mistreatment falls on consumers rather than the producer.    
95 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Ferraton, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” 2016 ($55):  Ferraton is a house of long-standing that has made two major changes in direction in recent years, first in 1998 when Michel Chapoutier got involved and shifted viticulture in organic and then biodynamic directions before buying the operation outright in 2006.  There’s a negociant side to the business, with quite good wines at attractively reasonable prices, but also some domaine wines made from excellent sites with old vines that were purchased decades ago by the Ferraton family.  These latter bottlings seem to get better every year, yet prices are not quite keeping up with the pace of improvement, which is a word to the wise.  This is sourced from a single site south of the village of Tournon that was planted in the 1950s on decomposed granite.  It is marvelous wine, with excellent density and almost bottomless depth of flavor, but also a layered character with very open flavors showing a host of both fruity and savory nuances.  The fruit is quite dark-toned, yet never hard nor unforgiving, and the gorgeous accents of violets, black olive tapenade, smoked meat and baking spices are enduringly appealing.   
95 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Yves Cuilleron, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) "Les Serines" 2017 ($50):  Cuilleron’s cellar releases wines every year that demonstrate the competitiveness of Saint-Joseph and Cornas with the historically more revered terroirs of Côte-Rotie and Hermitage; the four bottlings of Côte-Rotie are excellent, but the releases in 2017 from Saint-Joseph and Cornas are every bit as good when tasted side-by-side in close succession.  This was the best of the 2017s from St-Jo (narrowly but clearly), with very impressive density and depth of flavor, but even more impressive purity of fruit.  Indeed, my raw note taken when tasting this includes mention of “piercing purity,” as the fruit has uncanny freshness that punches straight through the wood and tannin to give this amazing lift and freshness for such a ripe, concentrated wine.  Now being sold in Europe, I’ve yet to see this on offer in the USA, but keep this in mind and pounce when you see it.  About 15,000 bottles were produced, and by the way, “Serines” isn’t a vineyard site, but rather a local synonym for Syrah.  This is an old vine cuvee, and a stunning one in 2017. 
95 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Pierre Gonon, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) 2017 ($120):  During the past five years or so, the St-Jo Rouge from this house has become a cult wine (no other term will do) that is very difficult to find at any price, and very difficult to afford if found.  I’ve got a couple of magnums of the 2012 in my cellar for which I paid about half what a 750 ml bottle now costs, which indicates just how crazy the cult has gone.  (Note to cultists:  My cellar is guarded by Marco, a Pit Bull / Rottweiler / Lab mix who doesn’t take kindly to intruders.)  Usually it isn’t a good idea to chase cult wines, but there’s no doubting that this is excellent in 2017, showing rich, dark-toned fruit with impressive intensity but also a suave side with lots of little aromatic nuances, layered flavors, and just the right touch of wood.  My close friend and WRO colleague Paul Lukacs tasted a bottle of this in a restaurant in Europe a couple of years ago…loved the wine…and then returned to the horrific discovery of what one must pony up to buy a bottle.  Beware of undergoing the same sequence of experiences.   
94 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Yves Cuilleron, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Cavanos” 2017 ($40):  Cuilleron makes a lot of different wines (white and red, from multiple different appellations), and this one isn’t even shows on the website, so I can’t tell you much about it…except that it is terrific in 2017.  By comparison to the lighter-but-lovely ““Les Pierres Sèches” bottling (which earned a mere 93 points), this shows both more muscle and more oak, but everything about this wine is so proportional and precise that it is already irresistible even at this young age.  Pure notes of red and black berries are intertwined with suggestions of cured meat, minerals, toast and spices, with the savory, fruity and woody facets all beautifully integrated.  
94 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Domaine Georges Vernay, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Terre d’Encre” 2017 ($50):  This house makes wonderful whites as well as reds, all very tastefully wrought, and rarely showing even a whiff of any excess ripeness or extraction or wood.  Unfortunately, they aren’t easy to find in the USA, and are usually much more expensive on our side of the Atlantic than in Europe.  This particular wine shows the house’s stylish side in the form of alluring floral topnotes and lively, spicy flavors, but also shows seriousness in the form of admirable concentration and very flavorful fruit that easily outlasts the wood and tannins in the finish.  Delicious St-Jo.  My approximate price halves the difference between the $60 you’d likely pay in the USA and the $40 or so this will cost you in Europe.  
93 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

François Villard, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Mairlant” 2016 ($32):  This delicious wine is notably more impressive than the “Reflet” St-Jo in 2016, though that wine is also very good and a fine representation of a wonderfully suave vintage.  Yet this “Mairlant” bottling offers up more of everything, including toasty, spicy oak aromas that lead into very dark-toned fruit flavors with accents of cured meat, campfire embers, iodine and pen ink.  A glass-staining wine with striking intensity.  I see very little of this currently on offer in the USA, but the state-run monopoly in Pennsylvania is selling it for the amazingly reasonable sum of $32, which is tempting me to make the drive from DC.   
93 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Louis Cheze, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Anges” 2016 ($34):  I rarely see this bottling of Saint-Joseph from Cheze in the USA, whereas the “Ro-Rée” bottling is much easier to find.  Still, this is the one you want if you can find it, as the 2016 displays terrific punch for a vintage that is more about poise than power, but also shows lovely perfume and a captivatingly layered character.  Probably the single best wine I’ve ever tasted from this producer, and a steal if you can actually track it down.  
93 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

M. Chapoutier, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) 2016 ($32, “Les Granilites”):  This isn’t easy to find in the USA, but the 2016 is so good that it is worth a search…even if that search requires a trip to France, Germany or Switzerland.  Although it displays admirable density, the real attractions derive from the open, vivacious aromas and flavors, which are layered and complex to a degree that seems uncanny in relation to the wine’s physical concentration.  In a word, magical--which is often a word that comes to mind when tasting Michel Chapoutier’s wines these days, whether from the eponymous house or the wholly-owned house of Ferraton.  I have no idea whether the magic derives from biodynamic viticulture (which certainly incorporates explicitly magical elements) or sheer skill or some other sort of dark art…but I don’t much care because the wines are so arrestingly interesting.    
93 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Emmanuel Darnaud, Saint-Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Lieu-Dit La Dardouille” 2017 ($45):  Showing the character of the vintage, this is big, dark, sappy and strong, with lots of muscle and structure but not all that much perfume at this early stage in its development.  I have little doubt that it was in a rather dumb state when I tasted it in the Rhône in April, but even if I’m wrong and it doesn’t show more primary aroma as it evolves, the advent of tertiary aromas from bottle aging will certainly turn this into a wine with enough aromatic interest to offer an appealing introduction to the existing fireworks of flavor.    
92 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Rosé:

Château de Ségriès, Tavel (Rhône Valley, France) 2018 ($19, Kysela Pere et Fils Ltd):  Tavel is a rare appellation that permits only rosé wines and winegrowers here take their craft seriously.  Château de Ségriès is one of the top producers of this storied wine and their 2018 bottling appeals to all the senses.  A vibrant pink in color, it has a bouquet of ripe strawberry, raspberry and cherry followed by hints of honeysuckle, aromatic herbs and white peppery spice.  On the palate, the wine impresses with its layers of pure, juicy strawberry and cherry fruits underscored by delicate floral, herb and spice elements.  The 2018 Château de Ségriès Tavel exemplifies the very special character of this unusual appellation, with more weight and texture than most rosés.  Bleded from Grenache (50%), Cinsault (30%), Clairette (10%) and Syrah (10%).  Enjoy it with fresh salmon -- it’s a delicious pairing.   
91 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019


GREECE

White:

Domaine Sigalas, Santorini (Cyclades, Greece) Assyrtiko 2018 ($39, Diamond Wine Importers Ltd):  Domaine Sigalas’ Santorini Assyrtiko is becoming a legend among Greek wines.  It is a consistently superb white that ages beautifully but provides a delicious tasting experience even in its youth.  The 2018 vintage continues an admirable string of winemaking successes.  The Assyrtiko vines grown in Santorini’s deep volcanic soils yield small quantities of concentrated fruit.  The happy result is richly-textured wines of considerable depth and complexity.  The 2018 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko shows scents of lemon, peach, pineapple, honey, and subtle herbs.  On the palate, pure citrus, peach and tropical fruit flavors are backed by hints of honey and herbs.  The layering of fruit and herb flavors gives the wine a rich texture, underscored by a bracing, crisp acidity.  This wine will develop nicely for several more years in the cellar.   
94 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019


ITALY

Sparkling:

Cleto Chiarli, Emilia-Romagna (Italy) Brut de Noir Rosé NV ($16):  The cuvee is primarily Lambrusco Grasparossa with a touch of Pinot Nero and the results is a bright, refreshing sparkling rose from Central Italy’s most famous region for gastronomy.   Shows lovely notes of strawberry and cherry, finishes clean and dry, with a finish that begs you take another sip.   
89 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

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Calabria:

Red:

Librandi, Val di Neto IGT (Calabria, Italy) "Gravello" 2016 ($26, Winebow):  Gravello was introduced to the international market by Librandi some 20 years ago.  It is a fine example of marrying traditional wine styles with more modern influences.  It shows the beauty and purity of Calabria’s Gaglioppo grape -- thought to be a relative of Sangiovese.  The lovely red cherry fruit of the Gaglioppo is enhanced in this case by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon (40%)..  Aged in small oak barrels, the combination is a sensuous delight.  Lovely aromas of pure red cherry, blackberry and raspberry fruits are interwoven with nuances of lilac, herbs, coffee, vanilla and cinnamon spice.  The flavors are equally exciting, with red and black fruits underscored by a rich texture and delicate floral, herb, coffee, cedar, vanilla and spice tones.  While Super-Tuscan blends still get most of the notoriety, it is well worth the effort to seek out this Super-Calabrian bottle. 
93 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019

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Sicily:

Rosé:

Tasca Conti D’Almerita, Terre Siciliane IGT (Italy) Nerello Mascalese “Regaleali” Le Rosé 2018 ($15):  Something is afoot when I can say that this is the second Nerello Mascalese rosé to cross my desk this year.  In a way, it’s not surprising given both the craze for pink wines and the tasty nature of this bottle, with deep cherry, berry, herb and spice rolled into a bright, lip smacking refresher -- worth seeking out!  
90 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

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Tuscany:

Red:

Tenuta Perano, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($27, Shaw-Ross International Importers):  This estate is owned by Frescobaldi and the underlying quality shows.  With a restrained style, the 2015 Perano Chianti Classico delivers elegance and freshness, exhibiting inviting notes of cherry and truffle along with firm acidity.  
90 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

Tenuta di Lilliano, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($28, Vos Vinum):  Tenuta di Lilliano’s vineyards lie at a 1000 foot elevation on clay/limestone soils and are mostly devoted to Sangiovese.  Known since the Middle Ages, the estate was brought into the modern wine era by Princess Eleonora Ruspoli Berlingieri who began bottling Lilliano’s wines in 1958.  The Ruspoli family now owns the estate.  The 2015 Lilliano Chianti Classico Riserva is a lovely example of the beauty of Sangiovese.  The nose shows pure red cherry and plum tones with hints of violets, tobacco, porcini mushrooms and subtle baking spices.  The red cherry and plum fruits dominate the palate and are enhanced by elements of black cherry, earth, tobacco and spice.  This is exciting Chianti, with the brightness and purity that defines the best of the appellation.  The vivid cherry fruit carries through the long finish.  It will be a fabulous companion for a summer grillfest this year, or it can be cellared for another decade.  
93 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019

Tenuta Perano, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($28, Shaw-Ross International Importers): The Perano Chianti Classico Riserva from this vintage offers ripe aromas of black cherry and plum, with a core of sweet fruit and spice that carries through on the long, lingering finish.  
92 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

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Veneto:

Rosé:

Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Veneto IGT (Italy) Rondinella "Scaia" Rosato 2018 ($14):  The march of virtually every variety showing its Rosé side continues with this 100% Rondinella offering.  Vibrant citrus is tempered by soft dried herbs and a mild earthy note which, taken together, make for a satisfying experience.  I love that wines like this are reaching this far out into the marketplace.   
90 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019


PORTUGAL

White:

Vinhos Azevedo, Vinho Verde (Minho, Portugal) Louriero - Alvarinho 2018 ($13, Evaton Inc. (Sogrape)):  Few Vinhos Verdes sold in the US show much more than a simple and refreshing style.  The Azevedo Loureiro-Alvarinho is much more than that.  The overlooked Loureiro grape variety adds richness and complexity when it is included in a Vinho Verde blend.  The aromas of the Azevedo 2018 vintage Vinho Verde are forward and attractive with a lovely floral freshness followed by a range of lemon, orange, pear and apple fruits.  The flavors are zesty and lively, as good Vinho Verde should be, but with far more depth and interest than most.  The pure green apple and lemon fruit is underlain by a surprisingly rich texture plus floral, herb and spice tones.  This is a marvelously fragrant and complex wine that shows the promise of the Loureiro grape.  The blend is 70% Loureiro and 30% Alvarinho. 
90 Wayne Belding Sep 10, 2019


SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Kaapzicht, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2017 ($11):  This refreshing South African Chenin Blanc evokes flavors of ripe peach, nectarine and pineapple, with a faint herbal hint on the finish.  Having had no oak treatment, the wine is wonderfully fresh tasting.  The fruit comes from some of the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyards in South Africa.  Kaapzicht is a large estate (190 hectares, or more than 460 acres) and it has been run by four generations of the same family. 
90 Marguerite Thomas Sep 10, 2019


SPAIN

Valencia:

White:

Bodegas Vibe, Utiel-Requena (Valencia, Spain) Tardana “Parsimonia” 2018 ($16):  When’s the last time you tasted a wine made from Tardana?  I’d have been hard-pressed to answer that question myself when I enjoyed this wine in March of 2019, but one thing I can tell you for sure is this:  I won’t miss my next chance to try a wine made from Tardana.  An extremely late-ripening variety, this doesn’t get picked until the weather turns bad in autumn each year, and even then, this producer noted that 12.5 percent alcohol is the highest they’ve ever yielded.  This 2018 rendition was labeled at 11.5 percent, and that seemed entirely plausible, as there’s a terrific sharp edge to this.  Yet, this is no tart little wine along the lines of classic Muscadet, and in fact, my tasting note likens it instead to Semillon, which is nearly at the opposite end of the white grape variety spectrum.  The aromas shows fascinating notes of garrigue, dried herbs and pine resin, and the flavors recall melons and figs…which is where the similarity to Semillon comes in, also on account of grippy texture.  I’d have loved to taste an older bottle of this wine, as I can’t imagine that it doesn’t show positive development for at least two or three years, but sadly, in the absence of direct experience, that’s merely guesswork on my part.  Hence my score, while high, is conservative.  Buy this if you can find it, which is exactly what I will do.   
92 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Saucelito Canyon, Arroyo Grande Valley (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel “Dos Ranchos” 2017 ($40):  A combination of a 40-year estate block and fruit from a neighboring vineyard that offers an exotic take on what Zinfandel is capable of, showing Asian spice, red plum, cranberry and a dash of pepper.  It exemplifies the house preferred lively acid profile, supple structure and a long finish where the pepper is emphasized slightly.  A great grill-side partner, and a wine that will work across the meat spectrum, from fowl to beef and beyond.   
93 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Saucelito Canyon, Arroyo Grande Valley (Central Coast, California) Zinfandel “Young Vines” 2017 ($32):  A new opportunity for deliciousness for second generation winemaker Tom Greenough, one made possible with a new block planting of the original 1880 clone that made the label famous among Zin lovers.  It’s light, fresh vibe is a fun alternative to the old vine classic, with bold cherry and cedar spice aromas enticing, leading to a palate of candied fruit and spice that lingers pleasantly.  In a way, it’s a look back in time to when the original vineyard was in its youth.  That’s even more fun!  
92 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Hesperian, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Kitoko Vineyard 2015 ($150):  I really don’t go out of my way to review small production wines (300 cases) in the $150 range from Napa, but this showed up on my tasting bench and I cracked into it without knowing how much it cost -- and it just kicked down the door.  A very serious wine that is brought up in 80% new French oak (2nd fill barrels for the other 20%), this is already amazingly integrated.  There’s plenty of toasty, spicy oak in the aromas and flavors, but they appear as accent notes, with rich, soft, very pure fruit easily holding center stage.  This will improve for years, but not drinking it earlier will prove extremely difficult if you taste it now, so beware.  The tannins are abundant but entirely appropriate to the weight of the fruit, and there’s no hint of over-ripeness or over-extraction.  In short, this is very, very skillfully made, and much as I would prefer not to write this -- it seems worth every penny.  
96 Michael Franz Sep 10, 2019

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Franc 2016 ($85):  This wine reminds me of the great Cheval Blanc, from the Saint-Emilion district of Bordeaux.  It offers notes of cassis and red currant, flavors I typically associate with fine Bordeaux, and a classic structure that exhibits firmness despite its richness and depth.  Though it shows well now, it would benefit from additional cellar age.  In the very small world of California Cabernet Franc (I should note it’s 76 percent Cabernet Franc, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot rounding out the blend) this is among the top two or three produced.   
95 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

Eberle Winery, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Syrah Steinbeck Vineyard 2017 ($30):  Winemaker Gary Eberle had the vision in 1975 to plant Syrah in Paso Robles, where it has thrived ever since.  Later, in 1978, Eberle produced the first 100 percent Syrah wine in the United States.  This long history with Syrah, and long association with the Steinbeck Vineyard, has served Eberle well.  His Syrah is among the most complex and elegant outside of its native Rhone Valley in France.  Though he is no longer the winemaker (that role is now managed deftly by Chris Eberle, no relation) the tradition continues.  The 2017 is a beautiful example.  Unlike other Paso Syrahs, the 2017 Eberle is restrained without being light or uninteresting.  It opens beautifully in the glass, revealing depth and complexity as notes of blueberry, blackberry, coffee and spice emerge.  Well balanced, it will benefit from additional cellar age although perfectly drinkable now.   
92 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

Eberle Winery, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) "Cotes-du-Robles" 2017 ($30):  This Chateauneuf-du-Pape style red highlights the red-fruited aromas of Grenache (64 percent) with the backbone of Syrah (24 percent) and the deep color of Mourvedre (8 percent) and Durif (4 percent).  It’s a complex spice bomb that pairs beautifully with grilled sausages, chops and roast chicken.   
90 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

Alara Cellars, San Benito County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir 2017 ($41):  California’s Central Coast is home to some of the state’s finest Pinot Noir vineyards, so this beauty from the relatively obscure Alara Cellars isn’t a complete surprise.  Showing notes of cherry and spice, with supple tannins and a long finish, it’s definitely a Pinot Noir worth seeking out.
89 Robert Whitley Sep 10, 2019

Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Estate 2016 ($65):  The grapes from this wine come from the same vineyard as the famous Monte Bello.  The winemaking team at Ridge noted that grapes from some vineyard blocks produced precocious wines that were approachable and showed more complexity earlier than the star.  They started bottling the wine as the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 2008.  It is a supple and approachable wine, with the complexity, but not the weight the Monte Bello.  Lots of rich, ripe black currant and a slight herbal note. 
93 Rebecca Murphy Sep 10, 2019

Kessler-Haak Vineyards and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir “Intuition” 2013 ($45):  Dan Kessler made six different Pinot Noir blends in 2013, showcasing different clones.   Intuition features clone 2A, and while it carries a touch of Santa Rita funk, it’s more fruit focused, with rich black cherry fruit, soft spice and gentle oak toast that finishes long and rich.   It’s not to early to start thinking about Thanksgiving pairings.   
93 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Kessler-Haak Vineyards and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($42):  Clone 2A shows the way in this structured wine, where a firm grip keeps black cherry, damp earth minerality and brown spice lively and bright throughout.  This is quite age-worthy; I’d revisit it in a few years, and I’d anticipate raising the score at that point.  Well done!   
93 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Kessler-Haak Vineyards and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir “Ohana” 2015 ($38):  A blend of all seven clones planted on the Kessler-Haas estate -- 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, 2A and Pommard 4 -- and it’s showing Dan Kessler’s blending talents to the full.  He’s given us a wine that shows solid regional character, yet maintains a widely accessible style where deliciousness is the main element.  Black cherry, fall spice, gentle oak influence and a long, spice driven finish that satisfies.  It’s got pretty good distribution.   
92 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Kessler-Haak Vineyards and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Syrah Estate Grown 2015 ($40):  I often wonder why there aren’t more Syrah bottlings from Santa Rita Hills.  The cool climate and soil types suit the variety well, producing wines like this one, a wine that maintains attractive pepper character that plays well off of black and blue fruit aromas and flavors.  A food friend -- think something along the lines of lamb or pit roasted pig.  
92 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Kessler-Haak Vineyards and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Estate 2014 ($45):   A Pinot Noir that shows its big red cherry nose proudly, but not without additional layers of complexity including regional earth tones and oak spice.  The finish is long and still integrating -- give this a long decant or a few years in the cellar for full enjoyment. 
92 Rich Cook Sep 10, 2019

Rosé:

La Crema, Monterey (California) Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 ($25):  La Crema can generally be counted on to produce big, bold wines and this rosé is no exception.  Although I generally prefer nuanced, more delicate rosés, perhaps what I particularly like about this voluptuous wine is the way it spreads juicily across the palate, a textural more than a flavor characteristic.  The flavors themselves express full fruity charisma that’s nicely balanced by little starlight-bursts of acidity.  The wine is the color of a ripe orange sunset hanging low in the late summer sky.  
90 Marguerite Thomas Sep 10, 2019

White:

St. Supéry, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Dollarhide Estate Vineyard 2017 ($35):  The character of this very aromatic New World Sauvignon Blanc points more towards California than New Zealand, with pink grapefruit, nectarine and toasty oak dominating the aromatic and flavor profiles.  The texture is relatively lush and the finish is pleasingly long and refreshing. 
90 Marguerite Thomas Sep 10, 2019

Mount Eden Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Chardonnay Estate 2015 ($62):  The Chardonnay grapes for this wine have are of a noble lineage.  Martin Ray, was the founder of the estate that is now Mount Eden.  Ray’s mentor and friend was Paul Masson, creator of the eponymous sparkling wine company.  His cuttings came from Burgundy.   Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson describes Mount Eden’s Chardonnays as reticent in youth, so they keep them at the winery for two years in bottle before release.  The grapes for the 2015 Chardonnay ripened in the fourth year of a drought, but Patterson says he had learned the previous years to be ready for an early harvest.  The wine is tightly structured with citrus, ripe apple, vanilla aromas, intense lemon apple, pear fruit with a savory salinity and vibrant acidity that makes the wine sing.   
96 Rebecca Murphy Sep 10, 2019

Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Chardonnay Monte Bello Estate 2017 ($55):  Ridge is famous for its red wines, the Monte Bello, Zins, Carignane, but not so well known for Chardonnay.   The effects of a cold winter along with late spring rains reduced the yield, while a cool, foggy summer delayed ripening.  The long ripening period allowed development of complexity.  Nine of twelve estate parcels were selected, whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented and aged 14 months in barrel.  This is a fresh and lively wine with floral, citrus, peach aromas.  The structure is linear and lean.  The American oak is nicely integrated, playing a supporting rather than a starring role.  
93 Rebecca Murphy Sep 10, 2019


WINES FROM THE CELLAR

Red:

Ridge Vineyards, California (United States) "Monte Bello" 1996 ($350): The winery ‘s vintage notes on their site say:  “The 1996 stands out--even in the remarkable decade of the nineties--as beautifully structured, complex, and balanced.  This is sensuous wine, with great depth and length--one of the finest Monte Bellos of the last twenty years.”  Today, twenty-plus years from when those notes were written, those words still describe this wine.  Opened two weeks ago, decanted 30 minutes before pouring, its color was youthful, deep and dark with very slight orange tint on the rim.  The aromas were pure, savory, black fruit and cassis with a wisp of dried herbs.  In the mouth, it was hard to untangle individual flavors, because they were intertwined as one.  The texture was velvety and smooth, and the wine was “beautifully structured, complex, and balanced.”  It could easily go on another 20 years.   
100 Rebecca Murphy Sep 10, 2019

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