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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

February 27, 2024 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Mendoza:

Red:

Altocedro, La Consulta, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec “Año Cero” 2022 ($18):  Founded in 1999 by Karim Mussi, a third-generation Lebanese immigrant, Altocedro is a small winery whose owners helped draw attention to the La Consulta sub-region.  Located on the southern end of the Uco Valley, La Consulta is a small town surrounded by some of the oldest vineyards in the Uco Valley, and all the major players like Catena and Zuccardi now have a stake there.  For this Malbec, the winery follows a gravity flow system and begins by using native yeasts for the whole berry fermentation in concrete tanks.  About a third of the wine was aged in small oak for 10 months.  Pitch black in appearance, it offers up lots of juicy ripe plum and earthy, dried herbs aromatics.  It is amazingly rich and smooth on the palate with juicy berry flavors and velvety tannins that add to the texture.  The depth of flavor and texture set it apart from typical commercial Malbec.  It is enjoyable now and should hold up well through 2028.         
93 Norm Roby Feb 27, 2024

Passionate Wine, Tupungato, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) "Del Mono" Tinto 2021 ($15, Brazos Wine Imports):  Brazos Imports focuses on natural-leaning producers from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.  The wines range from broadly accessible to somewhat funky.  This wine represents the middle of that spectrum.  It shows significant sediment in the bottle prior to opening.  However, upon pulling the cork, there is a distinct lack of the funk I might associate with this low-level of intervention.   Entering the glass with a dense, vibrant purple color and following with balsamic-tinged, piney blackberry and currant aromas, this wine offers freshness at the fore.  The palate feel is fresh and vibrant, with judicious acidity and an open texture to the tannin which makes this wine exceptionally versatile at the table.  It could take a chill and stand up to spicy dish as creamy curry sauces or lentils, or be served closer to room temperature with grilled meats featuring an herbal marinade or chimichurri sauce on the side.  The blend is 50% Malbec and 50% Syrah.           
90 Andrew Holod Feb 27, 2024

Andeluna Cellars, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) Cabernet Franc “Pasionado” 2020 ($50, Banville Wine Merchants):  If someone mentions Cabernet Franc, your mind will likely drift to France.  However, Cabernet Franc thrives in Argentina’s cooler or high-altitude vineyards.  The 2020 Andeluna Pasionado Cabernet Franc announces itself with enticing brambly fruit — crushed blackberry, blackcurrants, and black raspberry underpinned by graphite, fennel, anise, and basil notes.  It is rich and full-bodied with lively acidity and ample tannins, providing structure and balance and hinting at its aging potential.  It has excellent complexity and a finish that just won’t quit.           
92 Miranda Franco Feb 27, 2024


CHILE

Red:

Los Vascos, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva "Cromas” 2020 ($25, Taub Family Selections):  My clear sense is that the “Lafite” side of the Rothschild family took a long time to really get its footing and start making excellent wine in Chile (despite a very early start), but this “Cromas” line offers further evidence that the team is really dialing things in.  This Cab Franc is just herbal enough to keep the grape in mind, and with a little touch of cedar and eucalyptus to keep Chile in the picture, but there’s also gorgeously pure fruit that makes this an exceptionally successful “New World” rendition of the variety.  Medium-bodied (thank you — good call — all too easy to thicken this up and lose connection with the variety) and very nicely ripened and modestly oaked, this is just flat-out delicious.  Sip after sip, it never shows a slip.       
93 Michael Franz Feb 27, 2024

Los Vascos, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Syrah Gran Reserva "Cromas” 2020 ($25, Taub Family Selections):  Both the Cabernet Franc and this Syrah in the Gran Reserva "Cromas” line are so well grown and made that I found it impossible to find a point’s worth of difference in their quality for scoring.  This is a bigger and more flavorful wine, but then, as Syrah — it should be.  However, it isn’t even close to the stereotype of Shiraz, but rather tastes as much Old World as New (which is what Chile, Uruguay and South Africa alone seems capable of outside of Europe).  Terrific flavor and detail here for the asking price.        
93 Michael Franz Feb 27, 2024


FRANCE

Bordeaux:

Red:

Chateau Leroy-Beauval, Bordeaux Supérieur (France) 2018 ($25, North Berkeley Imports):  Chateau Leroy-Beauval's Bordeaux Superieur is a fair value at $25.  A Merlot-dominate blend (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon), this wine is dominated by a bouquet of blue and black fruits with a touch of currant leaf.  The blue and black fruit notes follow through on the palate, transitioning to a pleasant dark chocolate finish.  The wine's alcohol is touch high at 15%, but it is well integrated, while the acidity could stand to be a bit higher.  Overall, this is a fine wine at a fair price, but it doesn't stand out from the crowd.        
89 John McDermott Feb 27, 2024

Chateau Les Cruzelles, Lalande de Pomerol (Bordeaux, France) 2019 ($41, Monsièur Touton Selection):  This wine was made during the last year of winemaker and Chateau-owner Denis Durantou's life.  He is famous for the excellent wine he produced at Clos L'Eglise in Pomerol, but he also bought lesser known vineyards and upgraded the farming and winemaking to produce some world-class value in Lalande-de-Pomerol, here at Les Cruzelles as well as at Le Chanade.  I understand that his daughters have taken over daily operations and winemaking duties.  This is a blend of mostly Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc which was aged in about 1/3 new oak.  Intense black raspberry aromas subsume the oak at this point in time.  I have had younger bottles closer to release where the plush fruit intensity might lull one into thinking that this was a plump, early drinking example showcasing the generosity of the 2019 vintage.  With another year of bottle age this is more overt with its inherent structure.  Its combination of dark, plush fruit and superb structure declare this an excellently balanced wine which is both accessible now and which should age well for decades.             
92 Andrew Holod Feb 27, 2024

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Burgundy:

Sparkling:

Vitteaut Alberti, Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) Brut Rosé NV ($35, Free Run Wine Merchants):  Spring is around the corner and I am welcoming its arrival with this sparking Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne.  Founded in 1951, Vitteaut Alberti is a family-run winery focused solely on making quality Crémant de Bourgogne.  Winemaker Agnes Vitteaut is the third generation to run the winery and has been methodically updating the winery since taking the helm in 2004.  Her Brut Rosé is sourced from the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and is produced with 100% Pinot Noir.  Done in the traditional method, the wine shows fine bubbles with baked apples, melon, brioche, and strawberry notes.  This wine is easy to enjoy and will appeal to a wide audience thanks to its classical profile.          
90 Vince Simmon Feb 27, 2024

White:

Dupont-Fahn, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) Chaumes des Perrières 2020 ($52):  The story goes that a parcel of vines in the Merusault Perrières vineyard lost its exalted appellation classification when the owner added 10-inches or so of topsoil to replace that which had been washed away.  That modification turned what is now called Chaumes des Perrières into Bourgogne Blanc — not even Meursault.  It’s a nice story, which I cannot confirm, but after tasting the wine, it could well be true.  Dupont-Fahn’s steely Chaumes des Perrières may not be Merusault Perrières, but it’s an exciting and riveting Bourgogne Blanc, ranking with the best of that category.  Stoney, indeed, as the Perrières name suggests, it delivers plenty of oomph to balance the mineral-infused acidity.  It gets high marks for delivering more than its lowly pedigree suggests.       
94 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

Domaine Buisson-Charles, Meursault (Burgundy, France) Vieilles Vignes 2021 ($106, Martine’s Wines):  Domaine Buisson-Charles, a well-regarded Meursault-based family domaine, blends grapes from six parcels to make this stellar village wine.   Some are hillside parcels that provide grapes with higher acidity, and some are lower down that imbue the grapes, and subsequent wine, with more richness.  The first whiff predicts you’re in for a treat.  And the palate is not disappointed!  The blend of this impeccably balanced and vibrant village Meursault works.  It is generous, but not too, with vibrancy and incredible length.  It shows that old vines, in the right hands, of course, make an enormous difference.  This is an extraordinary wine.  Don’t be fooled by its village appellation.         
94 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

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Rhône:

Red:

Forge Cellars, Vinsobres AOP (Rhône Valley, France) “Pièce by Pièce” 2021 ($28):  Founded in 2011, Forge Cellars is the handiwork of Louis Barruol, winemaker at Chatêau Saint Cosme, and Richard Rainey.  Together, they wanted to make world class Riesling and they did.  Piece-by-Piece is a side project that is bringing in Chatêau Saint Cosme’s Vinsobres under the Forge Cellars label.  Saint Cosme’s 2023 newsletter has an entire section dedicated to Vinsobres, Louis is clearly a fan and it is easy to see why.  This Vinsobres is dark and earthy displaying both incredibly ripe dark fruit notes ranging from black cherry to almost-blue boysenberry and earthy leather, and wet concrete notes.  The wine is also surprisingly loud and large, in part thanks to its heavy-handed 14.5 abv.  The connective tissue between Forge and Chateau Saint Cosme is fun to watch as the two wineries have distinctly similar but different goals.  Both use techniques to produce world-class expressions with grapes that produce wines true to their terroir.  Only, one is focused on Pinot Noir and Riesling and the other, Rhône varietals.      
92 Vince Simmon Feb 27, 2024

White:

Pierre Gaillard, Condrieu (Rhône Valley, France) 2022 ($54, J A E Wine Imports):  The Condrieu AOC is a single variety appellation located south of the Côte-Rôtie AOC in France.  Viognier (“VEE-on-yay") is the grape, and the wine it produces is considered the best example of what Viognier can do.  It displays a light golden color and elegant aromas of fresh peach, apricot, and pear with notes of honeysuckle blossoms.  In the mouth, the peach, apricot and pear flavors  are juicy and well balanced with surprisingly crisp acidity.  I write “surprisingly" because Viognier is usually a low acid wine.  Enjoy it with fresh Lobster, or roast chicken, even with a creamy sauce.         
94 Rebecca Murphy Feb 27, 2024


ITALY

Lazio:

White:

Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Lazio IGP (Italy) "Coenobium" Bianco 2022 ($30, Rosenthal Wine Merchant):  Eighty Roman Catholic nuns tend to their estate vineyards in the Monastery of Cistercian Nuns located in Vitorchiano, roughly 90 minutes north of Rome.  They have been certified organic since 1993.  Their Coenobium is a blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Verdicchio, and is a wine for wine nerds (for better or worse, but better for me).  Slightly reductive at first opening, the wine opens up to show its complexity with notes including crushed almonds, limestone minerality, honeysuckle, baked pear and apricot, red apple, and orange blossom.  In the early 2000s, the Monastery partnered with Giampiero Bea, a prominent winemaker from Umbria, to improve their winemaking.  Their partnership flourished and, today, in addition to their Coenobium Bianco, they produce Benedic Rosso (red) and Coenobium Ruscum (orange) wines.         
92 Vince Simmon Feb 27, 2024

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Sicily:

Red:

Girolamo Russo, Etna Rosso (Sicily, Italy) “‘a Rina” 2020 ($34):  This looks like a Rosé in the glass, but fortunately it displays enormous character and complexity, so you know it’s not a rosé.  Girolamo Russo, one of Etna’s top producers, makes a range of terrific wines from that mountain.  This one, ‘a Rina, is a blend, and could be considered his “basic” — though there’s nothing basic about it — wine.  Its pale color comes from the pale skinned Nerello Mascalese grape, the hallmark of Etna’s reds, from which it comes.  The wine’s complexity and captivating floral intrigue also comes from Nerello Mascalese grown on Etna’s lava enriched soil and Russo’s talents.  You feel the lava-tinged minerality on the palate, amplified by saline-like acidity.  Though light in body, its firmness and cutting edginess means it goes well with a wide variety of dishes, from light appetizers to robust seafood in a tomato sauce to grilled tuna.            
93 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

Sallier de la Tour, Sicilia DOC (Sicily, Italy) Nero d'Avola 2020 ($16, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  This is a member of the Tasca d’Almerita family of Sicilian wines, created in 2008 in the hills near Palermo.  It’s a very smooth wine, but a leaner smooth, with many blended red fruits in flavor with some barrel notes, light tannins and a kick-in of bright cherries at the finish.  Even though a lighter wine, it still has good presence on the palate.       
90 Roger Morris Feb 27, 2024

Occhipinti, Terre Siciliane IGT (Sicily, Italy) Frappato 2021 ($50, Louis/Dressner):  Frappato is a red grape variety from Sicily.  These grapes were grown in certified organic vineyards.  In the hands of winery founder and winemaker, Ariana Occhipinti, it produces a light, refreshing  wine  with a light ruby color and inviting red cherry, strawberry aromas laced with mineral notes with bright, lively acidity and chalky tannins.  Serve it with mushroom risotto, grilled swordfish or grilled baby back rib, or a loaded pizza.          
90 Rebecca Murphy Feb 27, 2024

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Tuscany:

Red:

Villa Calcinaia, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2020 ($21):  The ready-to-drink 2020 Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico shows why Chianti Classico is so popular.  Lip-smacking acidity acts as the foil for its succulent black cherry-like fruitiness.  Subtle spice common to Chianti Classico adds appealing complexity, preventing monotony.  Mild tannins lend support without intruding.  This mid-weight wine is a joy to drink with a platter of prosciutto or other Tuscan meats followed by fettuccine with a ragù.  And it’s a steal!      
92 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

Frescobaldi, Chianti Rùfina Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Nipozzano” 2020 ($18):  Rùfina, the smallest of the Chianti subzones, is mountainous and wild.  The wines, like this one, have an appealing wildness and refinement.  Frescobaldi, Rùfina’s largest and most important producer, never falters, which means that this 2020 delivers more than its price suggests.  Herbal nuances and spice act as condiments to it deep cherry-like fruit.  Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  Fine tannins impart suaveness that makes even this relatively young Riserva a joy to drink now with hearty pasta dishes or even burgers.       
90 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

Capezzana, Toscana Rosso (Tuscany, Italy) “Ugo Contini Bonacossi” 2019 ($60):  The Contini Bonacossi family owns Capezzana, Carmignano’s best producer.  Ugo Contini Bonacossi, who transformed the property from the typical sharecropping agricultural endeavor of the era, into the current modern wine and olive oil producing estate, adored a particular small Sangiovese vineyard that he thought consistently produced exceptional grapes.  The family honor him with this 100 percent Sangiovese-based wine from that vineyard.  Since the DOCG regulations for Carmignano limit Sangiovese to 80 percent of the blend and require Cabernet (either Franc or Sauvignon) along with some other red varieties to comprise the remainder, Ugo, as it’s often called, was relegated to the IGT Toscana designation.  So, don’t let the lack of a bureaucratic pedigree deter you.  Many of Italy’s best wines, like Ugo, are, or have been bottled, under the IGT designation.  The youthful and striking 2019 Ugo Contini Bonacossi demonstrates the heights to which Sangiovese can rise.  Austere at this stage, its grandeur and stature still show.  Red cherry-like fruitiness sits apparent atop a firm and refined structure.  Its purity, length, and finish are beguiling.  It captures your attention with suave refinement, not overt power.  But it makes a powerful statement.  Cellar it for a decade and smile when you pull the cork.         
95 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2024

Petrolo, Val d'Arno di Sopra DOC (Tuscany, Italy) Merlot “Galatrona” 2021 ($100, Nomenclature Wines):  Over the last decade, Luca Sanjust’s Petrolo has become one of Tuscany's most revered estates, with Wine Spectator calling this top cuvée, Galatrona, the “Le Pin of Tuscany.”  The Petrolo Galatrona was created in 1994 when Luca Sanjust's second child, Lucia, was born.  This is a beautiful expression of Merlot and the estate's headline wine.  The 2021 Merlot opens with ample fresh fruits and spices: black cherry skin, blackberries, crushed raspberry, dried mint, black pepper, and pencil lead.  On the palate, there is ample structure supported by the formidable tannins and acidity that promise decades more evolution in the cellar.  This offers a peek into the world of best-in-class winemaking.       
96 Miranda Franco Feb 27, 2024


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Brancott Estate, East Coast (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2023 ($12, Pernod Ricard):  I would imagine that the success of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand has locals occasionally pining for something else to satisfy their cravings for an alternative white wine.  Enter this delicious Pinot Gris – a wholly other and wholly worthy option to go to when something full of flavor but a less citric than its famed white.  Bright and viscous all at once, with a touch of signature wooly character and a long stone fruit finish, I feel confident in saying that you will love it.            
94 Rich Cook Feb 27, 2024


SOUTH AFRICA

Red:

Go There Wines / Ses'Fikile Wines, Paarl (South Africa) Pinotage Reserve 2018 ($39):  South Africa’s third most planted red variety, Pinotage, is experiencing a renaissance.  This 2018 Reserve Pinotage is from Nondumiso Pikashe, who runs Ses'Fikile Wines, an indigenous brand based outside of Cape Town.  Ses'Fikile is an IsiXhosa word meaning “we have arrived,” reflecting Nondumiso’s constant awareness that Black women such as herself have been excluded from the world of wine in South Africa for far too long.  Her Pinotage bursts with blackberry sauce, plum, and boysenberry that carry through to the palate alongside well-integrated tannins and ample acidity.  It is harmonious and opulent with a mouthwatering finish.        
93 Miranda Franco Feb 27, 2024

White:

Arendsig, Robertson (South Africa) Chenin Blanc “Inspirational Batch 3” 2021 ($36, Truvino):  There is rather a lot of detail on the label of this excellent white wine: soils, Calcareous Clay; vines aged 27 years; 12,2000 bottles produced; Farm No. 6069000, South in the Robertson Wine Region.  What I can say after tasting this wine is that it helps define the variety.  Starting with a pale golden yellow color, following on with aromas of quince, apricot and a savory tone composed of earth/soil tones and finishing with a richly textural palate feel which balances zesty acid with a broad and viscous texture.  It is both dense and fresh by turns and makes food flavors pop, a hallmark of Chenin Blanc, for me.  This is an under-the-radar gem from South Africa.        
91 Andrew Holod Feb 27, 2024

Lubanzi Wines, Swartland (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2022 ($16):  An American pair of backpackers, Charles Brain and Walker Brown, fell in love with South Africa and settled in.  In 2016 they formed Cape Venture Wine Company in collaboration with independent South African winemakers Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jac.  Since then, they have been successful with canned Lubanzi wines packaged and marketed in the US while the traditional wines are produced and bottled in Swartland.  Sourcing fruit from several dry farmed vineyards within Swartland, they ferment Chenin Blanc with the native yeasts and do everything else needed to make a 100% vegan wine.  This 2022 is pale straw in color and with aeration displays delicate tangerine and lychee aromas with some minerality.  Medium bodied with good texture, it delivers lively flavors of apricot and tropical fruit with good acidity asserting itself in the lengthy finish.        
90 Norm Roby Feb 27, 2024


SPAIN

Castilla y León:

Red:

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (Castilla y León, Spain) “Petalos” 2021 ($19, Rare Wine Company):  Alvaro Palacios, producer of one of Spain’s most expensive wines, L’Ermita from the Priorat region, is also the producer in partnership with his nephew, Ricardo Perez Palacios, of this more modestly-priced wine from the Mencia grape grown in the Bierzo DOP region of Spain.   In their hands, it is a complex, deeply colored dark ruby wine with delectable, lush, blackberry, plum, black cherry fruit enhanced with herbal, floral notes.  It is full bodied and well balanced with zesty acidity and ripe, well-integrated tannins.  It pairs well with an array of flavors like barbeque beef, mushroom risotto, or pepperoni pizza.         
95 Rebecca Murphy Feb 27, 2024

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Rioja:

Red:

Beronia, Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo “Elaboración Especial” 2021 ($25, Gonzalez Byass):  As I (perhaps too) often said before, those who love the tastes of well-made everyday red Bordeaux blends should drink more Rioja Crianza.  This one has especially charming floral aromas, and although light in body and fruit, this Tempranillo has enjoyable flavors of red cherries and extra-ripe strawberries blended in with the tastes of mellow wood and with a lot of dusty tannins in the finish.       
90 Roger Morris Feb 27, 2024


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) “Cuvée PAU” Red Wine 2021 ($50): The J. Lohr Cuvêe series wines always represent serious value for your dollar, and this vintage continues a couple of strings with this gorgeous Left Bank tribute.  String one is already alluded to above, and string two is the continuation of the parade of 2021 wines from the Central Coast.  If you have been experiencing this with earlier release 2021s keep some dollars in your wallet for these later releases.  This is pure, layered, long and age-worthy – I recently opened some more than ten-year-old bottles from this line, and they never disappoint.  Well done yet again.  Contains 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.      
95 Rich Cook Feb 27, 2024

Stolpman Vineyards, Santa Barbara County (California) Sangiovese “Love You Bunches” 2021 ($25):  Carbonic-macerated Californian Sangiovese isn't something that you come across every day but maybe it should be.  Stolpman Vineyard's “Love You Bunches' carbonic Sangiovese is just plain delicious.  It's floral, it's fruity, it's funky — it's everything you would want from an easy drinking, chillable red.  What is surprising is that even with the drinkability and fun that carbonic maceration lends the wine, Stolpman still manages to retain the depth and typicity of the Sangiovese grape, with notes of bright sour cherry and a subtly refreshing tomato leaf coming through.  This is a fun and surprising wine that will be perfect as warmer Spring weather moves in over the coming months.        
92 John McDermott Feb 27, 2024

White:

Rivers-Marie, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2018 ($50):  Rivers-Marie's 2018 Chardonnay is fun and refined at the same time.  Scents of golden apple and pineapple come through, fading into classic notes of toasted nuts and vanilla.  In the mouth, this Chardonnay is buttery and full-bodied without being overdone.  The alcohol is high at 14.5%, but it is well matched by the wine's body and richness, even if it is slightly hot.  Pair this wine with richer fare, like pork tenderloin over potatoes.      
91 John McDermott Feb 27, 2024

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Washington:

Sparkling:

Valdemar Estates, Columbia Valley (Washington) Sparkling Chardonnay Brut, Methode Traditionelle 2020 ($65):  This is the first sparkling wine produced by the talented winemaker Devyani Gupta in the Washington outpost owned and overseen by the Spanish wine producer, and it is a lovely one, more in the open-bodies style of the West Coast than the more-linear bubblies of Europe.  It is very creamy with mellow apple flavors and intriguing green herbal notes that add to its complexity.         
91 Roger Morris Feb 27, 2024

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