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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

October 13, 2020 Issue

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FRANCE

Beaujolais:

Red:

Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais AOC (France) 2019 ($12, Quintessential Wines):  The Beaujolais AOC designation is the broadest in the region and encompasses those vineyards that can’t legally be declared Villages or Cru.  Hence the low price despite the fact that in some vintages, such as 2019, the wines can be stellar.  The Duboeuf sports a deep garnet color and on the palate the wine is floral with excellent depth and, typical of the AOC, slightly harder tannins than you might find in the Villages or Cru wines.    
87 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

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Bordeaux:

Red:

Château Léoville-Barton, Saint-Julien (Bordeaux, France) 2008 ($109):  The 2008 Bordeaux vintage is a harvest that is often overlooked.  The wines were made during an economic downturn and the vintage lacked the effusive praise offered for the 2009 and 2010 harvests.  The 2008 clarets are still available in the market and are well worth investigation.  They offer a lighter style for claret lovers and the best wines show a fine balance of fruit and tannin.  The wines have shed their youthful tannins and are beginning to show their best now.  For most of the last three decades, Château Léoville-Barton has been producing top-notch Bordeaux at a relatively reasonable cost given the quality of the wine and the formidable prices of its second-growth peers.  The 2008 is a delicious example of Saint-Julien style and shows a classic claret character with blackcurrant, plum and blackberry fruit aromas enhanced by elements of cedar, violets, herbs and toasty oak.  The flavors are elegant and supple, with the plush black fruits interwoven with the herb, vanilla and spice tones.  As it is maturing, the 2008 Château Léoville-Barton shows a perfectly harmonious style and will provide delicious drinking for yet another decade and beyond.    
93 Wayne Belding Oct 13, 2020

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Champagne:

Sparkling:

Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne (France) "Reserve Exclusive" Brut NV ($38):  In the world of non-vintage brut Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive is a tough act to follow when it comes to price.  This excellent cuvee delivers aromas of crunchy apple and citrus, shows a delicious note of toasty brioche, and exhibits impressive length on the palate.  And Nicolas Feuillatte beats just about all the other serious Champagne houses on price.  
91 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

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Languedoc:

White:

Sur le Pont, Vin Pays d’Oc IGP (Languedoc, France) Viognier 2017 ($18, Wine Circle):  A grape native to France’s northern Rhône Valley, plantings of Viognier have spread across the world’s vineyards in the past few decades.  With aromas tending toward floral as is the norm for classic Viognier this pleasing white wine delivers a reasonably complex taste profile suggesting stone fruits (peaches, apricots, plums) burnished by a hint of tangerine.  The wine rolls easily across the palate and leaves a subtle oily sensation on the tongue that is typical of Viognier, and it finishes with just enough acidity to keep it pleasantly refreshing.  Sur le Pont Viognier is an excellent aperitif, and it is an adaptable white wine to serve with such things as grilled sausages, roast chicken and pasta carbonara.    
92 Marguerite Thomas Oct 13, 2020

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Rhône:

White:

E. Guigal, Côtes Du Rhône Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2018 ($18):  A blend of 60% Viognier, 15% Roussanne, 10% Marsanne, 8% Clairette, 5% Bourboulenc and 2% Grenache Blanc, this wine’s lacy texture and fresh fruit flavors interact beautifully with its energizing acidity, while tantalizing floral notes also contribute to the overall charm.  A satisfyingly generous finish carries a suggestion of minerality.  Remarkably adaptable to many different foods, I enjoyed it one night with spicy Japanese seafood ramen, and the next with grilled cheese sandwiches.   
93 Marguerite Thomas Oct 13, 2020


ITALY

Tuscany:

Rosé:

Belguardo, Maremma Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Rosé 2019 ($15, Taub Family Selections):  A sophisticated and versatile wine, this blend of equal parts Sangiovese and Syrah should convince even those few remaining rosé skeptics that serious pink wine is indeed a reality that no serious wine lover should overlook.  After spending three months on the lees in stainless steel tanks the result is an intensely fresh, flavorful dry wine that is not only a satisfying zingy aperitif but also makes a good partner for some of the season’s delicious dishes including pumpkin risotto, pasta with clams, and chicken tagine.   
93 Marguerite Thomas Oct 13, 2020


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Kim Crawford, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($20, Constellation Imports):  Like many of New Zealand’s current top rung of Sauvignon Blancs, Kim Crawford’s recent releases seem to have a tad less mouth-puckering acidity than they did a few years ago.  While some people may miss those thrills and chills the rest of us probably agree that today’s leading Sauvignon Blancs such as Kim Crawford’s are generally more pleasingly balanced while still showing off plenty of refreshing acidity.  The Marlborough area, New Zealand’s largest wine growing region, is known for flavors calling to mind grapefruit, pineapple, passion fruit and lemon grass, all of which enhance this graceful wine.  Appropriately crisp and lean in texture yet bursting with fruit flavors, this is a wine that should be ideal with white meats (chicken breast, pork), seafood (including shellfish) and many cheeses (Feta, chèvre, and sharp cheddar for example).    
91 Marguerite Thomas Oct 13, 2020


PORTUGAL

White:

Aveleda, Vinho Verde (Minho, Portugal) Louriero - Alvarinho 2019 ($13, Aveleda Inc.):  Most Vinho Verde wines we see in the US are light-bodied, simple and refreshing whites.  The Aveleda Loureiro-Alvarinho is much more than that.  The Alvarinho grape is the most noted for Vinho Verde and offers a bright, citrusy style.  The Loureiro grape, while less known, provides richness, depth and complexity when it is included in a Vinho Verde blend.  The aromas of the Aveleda 2019 Vinho Verde are forward and attractive with lovely floral tones followed by a range of lemon, grapefruit, pear and apple fruits.  The flavors are pure and lively, as good Vinho Verde should be, but with more depth and interest than most.  The green apple and lemon fruit is underlain by a surprisingly rich texture plus floral, herb and spice tones.  It is a lovely and refreshing white wine.      
90 Wayne Belding Oct 13, 2020


SPAIN

Castilla y León:

Red:

San Román, Toro (Castilla y León, Spain) 2016 ($65, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  I believe I’ve tasted every vintage of this wine that’s been imported into the USA, and think that this may be the best of them all.  It is still quite young, but obviously very beautiful in character and virtually perfect in ripeness, structure and proportionality.  Quite deeply pigmented, with exceptional flavor impact but no heaviness, it is marvelous Tempranillo with many years of improvement ahead of it.  Rather tight when first opened, with notable but definitely not excessive oak, it unfolds gradually over the course of its first hours after opening to display ever more layers of fruit and minerality, and ever better integrated toast and spice from oak.  Tasted again 24 hours later, it is better still.  Fresh with acidity, it is beautifully bright, with gorgeous purity of fruit.  It really needs time to unwind, and will no doubt not hit its peak until it is at least a decade from the vintage, and quite possibly not until a decade from now.  I’ve seen the reviews from other critics, including Luis Gutiérrez from The Wine Advocate (whom I greatly respect), and all of them underscored this wine, no doubt because they tasted it while it was still too young and tight.  Odds are I’ve underscored it too.     
96 Michael Franz Oct 13, 2020

San Román, Toro (Castilla y León, Spain) "Prima" 2017 ($24, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  taste this wine every year, and find it easy to recommend every year on account of its great consistency of style, but this 2017 stands as a departure.  It is very ripe (but not pruny at all, nor hot with alcohol), and shows this in the form of very soft, succulent fruit that is much more open and flamboyant than usual.  Additionally, this is the first release of the wine I’ve tasted that shows a slightly funky, earthy, Brettanomyces character, which actually makes the wine interestingly wild and more complex than usual.  The Brett does not overwhelm the wine at all (just makes it seem French!), though it will make drinking this earlier rather than later advisable.  That’s hardly a sacrifice or a flaw, as the ripe fruit makes this totally enjoyable now.  Food pairing?  Easy:  garlicky braised lamb shanks.  Bingo!       
92 Michael Franz Oct 13, 2020


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Jonata, Ballard Cannon, Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Syrah “La Sangre De Jonata” 2017 ($145):  Syrah is taking center stage in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon, and Jonata has set the high bar for all other producers.  The 2017 La Sangre de Jonata (the blood of the live oak) is a blend of 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier with soaring aromatics of crushed violets, cassis, blueberries, and ground pepper.  The wine is generous and expansive with notes of plum, black cherry, lavender, and sage on the palate.  Full-bodied, dense, and lush, framed by elegant tannins and a superb compact finish that lingers effortlessly.  This is hitting on all cylinders now should you, like me, be unable to control yourself and cellar it.   However, I expect this will unfold with layers upon layers in the years to come.    
96 Miranda Franco Oct 13, 2020

Altipiano Vineyards, California (United States) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve NV ($150):  It’s a shame when wine “aficionados” dismiss a wine on label information alone.  I see it happen all the time, particularly when the label says, “Non Vintage, California Appellation.”  If I could, I would pour every one of these culprits a taste of this Cabernet blind and take them down a notch or two.  In this case, the wine is a blend of two barrels of 2016 Pine Mountain (Sonoma) fruit and one barrel of 2015 fruit Aron Hill Vineyard in Paso Robles.  The result is an artful realization of the variety, showing elements of both terroirs — lively Paso ripeness coupled with the structured backbone of Pine Mountain, finishing long and complex with solid primary varietal character and nuanced winemaking.  A fine expression well shepherded by winemaker Denise Clark.  Price is for a magnum bottle. 
93 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Shooting Star, Lake County (California) Pinot Noir 2017 ($15):  Steele's budget brand is one of the more dependable moderately priced lines in wine, and here is yet another example.  For what you can no doubt find for around twelve dollars, you get genuine Pinot Noir character, approachable drink-me-now structure and acid balance to complement a range of situations.  From mildly chilled out by the pool to the roasted chicken dinner, it's right at home and allows you to splurge on other aspects of the meal.   
88 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Calera, Mt. Harlan (San Benito County, California) Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard 2017 ($75):  It's hard to top Calera when it comes to layered complexity in California Pinot Noir.  From an appellation basically defined by the estate's vineyard holdings, Reed is often my favorite in a line of stellar designated wines, each carefully handled in a way that allows the unique character of each one to shine through.  The 2017 Reed takes the top prize for me again, as I'm a sucker for its brilliant mix of cherry and rhubarb aromas and flavors that gain depth from added notes of mild dried herbs and shimmering spice.  As for the finish, well, it really doesn't -- it keeps going, and going, and going.    Dazzling!     
97 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

CHEV, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($80):  Michael Browne's new project is already cranking out winners -- I loved the Chardonnay, and this Pinot Noir is certainly in the same league.  Initial aromas of fennel and powder give way to deep raspberry and black cherry, all of which translate directly on the palate, where they ride a plush texture and are joined by fall spice and moderate oak toast, and they all finish together with good length.  This is delicious now, and will reward a few more years of bottle aging.  An auspicious beginning.    
93 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Emeritus Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Estate Grown 2018 ($35):  This "macro AVA" bottling brings more than meets the eye.  It's a blend of dry-farmed estate vineyards that each bring their personalities to bear in this flashy Pinot Noir.  Located on the cool far western end of the AVA, they combine to show plenty of acid structure and oodles of rich red fruit and fall spice that carry through from start to finish.  This is a terrific value from this fine producer!  
93 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Ron Rubin Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2017 ($25):  Ron Rubin opts for a toasty oak-spice-driven style in this bottling, and the ripe black cherry fruit is up to carrying the load.  The spice tones stay dominant without overpowering, making it a fine foil for grilled meats or mushroom sauced poultry dishes.  It's priced right, and ready to drink now.    
90 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Domaine Artefact, San Diego County (California) Grenache Noir 2018 ($44):  San Diego County is the oldest wine producing region in California.  That said, the county has struggled to find its way of late, having lain fallow for many years, and having only recently decided to rejoin the rest of state as a beacon of domestic production.  Some have leaned toward market forces that say, “Plant what sells” while others, like Domaine Artefact, have researched the terroir and moved to plant varieties that could do well in the given circumstance.  This Grenache shows a careful consideration of circumstance, and the result is a wine that can reach past the local stage and shout the attributes of the area with full throated authority.  It’s fully ripe, with singing strawberry fruit and bright white pepper that hang in from start to finish.  It’s a pleasure to drink now, and it will continue to improve over the next five to six years.      
92 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Sarah's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Pinot Noir Tondre’s Grapefield 2018 ($48):  I love it when Pinot Noir strikes fine balance between rich texture and bracing acidity in the way that this offering manages to do with elegance and style.  The ripe character of the cherry, strawberry and red plum soar over a bright citric vibe, with soft oak toast and mild spice adding depth and remaining interwoven through a blown-out finish that keeps pumping flavor.  It's a delight as a solo glass, and it will be a treat alongside a grilled beef tenderloin.
94 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Tongue Dancer, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($49):  Blending wizard James MacPhail works his magic once again in a 50/50 blend from two of his favorite sites.  Pratt Sexton Road and Putnam do the dance as equal partners, with a portion of the Putnam fruit harvest a couple of weeks after the initial pick, no doubt to add some ripe fruit character to the cool climate structure.  The result is a glass of wine that's hard to put down as the cherry fruit and spice complexity hold the floor in a seemingly endless song.  If you don't know this brand, do yourself a favor and discover it before it becomes an allocation-only, former option.  Bravo!   
95 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2018 ($25):  The Decoy wines, a second label of Duckhorn Vineyards, continue to be one of the great values in California wine.  The 2018 Merlot is as solid as it is affordable, showing notes of blueberry, plum and red currant with a subtle hint of wood spice and mellow tannins.   
90 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “S.L.V.” Estate Grown 2017 ($195):  The 2017 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon is wonderfully expressive, revealing classic Napa Valley Cabernet character.  The aromatics are bright and lifted, offering a rush of dark chocolate, graphite, ripe currants, dried fig, and a subtle touch of violet.  The multi-faceted aromas are echoed in the flavor.  Rounded and rich on the palate, it has a concentration that is impressive and age-worthy.      
94 Miranda Franco Oct 13, 2020

Clos Du Val, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Franc Hirondelle Vineyard Estate 2017 ($100):  In 2014, Clos Du Val decided to dramatically reduce production and focus solely on making wines from their estate vineyards.  It’s an effort that has paid off as the winery is making superb wines, including their noteworthy 2017 Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc is often relegated to a supporting role, but here it shines on its own.  There are only the slightest green bell pepper notes that characterize Cabernet Franc; it’s much more about fruit and warm spice, including black cherry, blackberry, black pepper, cedar, and cocoa.  The palate is medium-bodied and well-poised, with great freshness, finely grained tannins, and a long, mineral-laced finish.   
93 Miranda Franco Oct 13, 2020

Sparkling:

Mumm Napa, Napa County (California) Brut Prestige NV ($24):  Mumm’s Brut Prestige has long been one of the most consistent of all California bubblies and one of the best values around, too.  The balance between fruit and acid is exquisite, and the mousse is soft and refreshing, all things that make this cuvee one of the finest non-vintage brut sparklers money can buy.  The current release shows notes of lemon and pear, subtle richness and a long, persistent finish.    
92 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

White:

Altipiano Vineyards, California (United States) Pinot Gris 2018 ($27):  Owner/winemaker Denise Clark doesn’t make white wine at her tiny Highland Valley, San Diego County winery -- the home vineyard produces Sangiovese, Barbara and Petite Sirah -- but she wisely adds this crisp, dry Pinot Gris to her menu.  Sitting on her patio for my first out-at-a-tasting-room experience of the pandemic era, in 100 degree Indian summer heat, I can more than appreciate the decision.  Aromas and flavors of apple and peach joined by a soft honeyed note, crisp acidity and a long finish with a mild touch of herbs takes the edge off the heat, and is a pleasure to drink.  The tasting menu says, “pairs with Ella Fitzgerald singing All of Me,” and I’m not going to argue!   
90 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch / Walker Hill Vineyard 2018 ($50): Winemaker Dan Goldfield strikes again.  Goldfield has a deft touch with Chardonnay, producing many of the finest in California from a selection of exceptional terroirs.  This wine is a combination of fruit from the Dutton Ranch and Walker Hill Vineyard, located in the Russian River Valley’s coolest subzone, Green Valley.  Richly layered, it shows gorgeous aromas of pear and apple with a touch of toasty oak and oak-inspired spice notes.    
97 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2018 ($46):  Before Jack and Dolores Cakebread acquired a Napa Valley vineyard in the early 1970s, they owned Cakebread’s Garage in Oakland.  As they planted vines and built a winery while also operating the garage, they commuted from Oakland to Napa Valley with their three sons.  The first wine they released was a 1973 Chardonnay.  Today, two of their sons, Dennis and Bruce run the winery.  Grapes for the 2018 Chardonnay come from the cool region of Carneros.  The grapes went directly to the press and nearly 90 percent of the juice was fermented in French oak barrels, the remainder in stainless steel.  It displays elegance in its pale-yellow color, and aromas of ripe apple, citrus zest and a light note of vanilla.  The apple, pear, peach and vanilla flavors are concentrated and supported by vibrant acidity.  Sadly, I learned that Dolores Cakebread died on October 2, leaving behind her husband, their three sons, four grandchildren, a great-grandchild and the legacy of a great winery.  She will be missed.     
95 Rebecca Murphy Oct 13, 2020

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc "Aveta" 2018 ($26):  This vintage of Aveta Sauvignon Blanc from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is fresh and crisp, showing notes of mown grass and grapefruit, refreshing acidity and excellent persistence of flavor through the finish.   
90 Robert Whitley Oct 13, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay DCV Block 10 2018 ($34):  This lovely wine ranks consistently as one of California’s most delicious Chardonnays.  It has all the right attributes including one of the most obvious: flavor.  Here we get touches of peach, pear, citrus and a touch of spice including nutmeg and clove, with a fleeting hint of oak seeming to anchor these different flavors together into a unified whole.  Balance may be another of the most important, if subtle, things we praise in the best wines, and in this Dry Creek Chardonnay the flavors are beautifully balanced by just the right touch of refreshing acidity.  All in all this is a remarkably well-executed and enjoyable white wine.  
93 Marguerite Thomas Oct 13, 2020

Lieu Dit Winery, Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($25):  If you like Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley such as Sancerre, I think you will like this one from Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County in southern California.  It has subtle aromas of grapefruit, lime zest, a touch of melon and lemon verbena and stony minerals.  The flavors of Meyer lemon, white peach, lime zest and melon are pure and focused and linger on the palate.  Try it with oysters on the half shell or grilled shrimp.  “Lieu Dit” from French means a named place.  For example, In the wine world Monte Bello vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a lieu dit.  The Lieu Dit Winery was created by two very busy men who met several years ago in Santa Barbara, Justin Willet and Eric Railsback.  They agreed to focus on Loire Valley grape varieties, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, along with Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and others.  Willet, who owns Tyler Winery and consults with other wineries is the winemaker.  Railsback, a sommelier, was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Sommeliers of the Year in 2014 and owns the winery Railsback Frères with his brother Lyle.    
93 Rebecca Murphy Oct 13, 2020

Domaine Artefact, Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Grenache Blanc “La Dame Blanche” 2019 ($35):  There is something about a freshly bottled white wine that makes me smile.  There's a freshness, a pulsing liveliness that is so attractive in a well-made white that adds to the experience.  This Grenache Blanc shows both things in abundance, with fresh stone fruit and citrus, and that dash of bottling fizz that probably only has a few weeks left before it folds into the mix.  Proprietor/winemaker Mark Robinson grows this variety, so he must have really loved this fruit to bring it in to his lineup.  Bonus for the rest of us.     
92 Rich Cook Oct 13, 2020

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Oregon:

Red:

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Tempranillo 2017 ($30):  As much as I liked Naumes 2016 Tempranillo, their 2017 struck me as even better.  Its firmness and minerality presents a great contrast to the fleshy and fruitier Malbec.  It is structured without being aggressive or hard.  Its stature is apparent in the long and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  With air, its focus on minerality rather than fruitiness becomes more apparent. You could sip the Malbec by itself.   This serious Tempranillo needs a grilled steak.    
94 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Syrah 2017 ($35):  This big, bold Syrah has beautiful balance and bright acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  It conveys a splendid combination of savory, almost bacon fat-like nuances, spicy black pepper notes, and dark fruitiness. Though youthful and forceful, it is not overdone or boisterous.  Instead, there’s an appealing elegance to accompany all that muscle.     
93 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2017 ($40):  Captivating herbal notes are immediately apparent in the nose and later on the palate. A blend of several clones of Pinot Noir, this is a delicate and airy example of the varietal, displaying a wondrous mixture of savory and fruity flavors. Its focus is on elegance, not power or concentration. A perfect choice for grilled salmon.   
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) “Triolet” 2017 ($40):  The blend, Barbera (60%) and Malbec, is unique.  I know of no other winery producing it.  The name, Triolet, which is a type of poem, according to the dictionary, is equally unique.  Corey Shultz, the winery director, says the name is to honor the Naumes Family’s triplets and that in subsequent vintages there will be third grape in the blend.  Initially this intriguing blend was flat, but within 30 minutes in the glass, the wine blossomed.  The more assertive Malbec adds muscle to Barbera’s charm, resulting in more power and less finesse.  But, very much in the Naumes style, the wine is balanced and not overblown.  It’s a trade-off.  Those who prefer heft in their wines will prefer the Triolet.  Consumers looking for a more nimble and spritely wine will embrace their straight Barbera.  
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

White:

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Viognier 2018 ($30):  The Viognier grape is tough to translate properly into a wine.  Ripeness is necessary to release its inherent floral character, but over-ripeness results in a heavy wine.  Naumes strikes the balance. Lovely floral apricot aromas predict the stone fruit flavors that follow.  In a less well-crafted version, those stone fruit flavors would be heavy.  In this one, they’re bright, despite the 14.5% stated alcohol.   
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

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