Alma Negra, Mendoza (Argentina) Brut Nature NV ($23, Vineyard Brands): Alma Negra is owned by Ernesto Catena, son of Argentina’s wine pioneer Nicholas Catena. The name translates as "black soul" for the color of the wine made from the Bonarda grape, one of Argentina’s major varieties. Winemaker Alejandro Kuschnaroff makes this pretty bubbly in the traditional method, blending Malbec and Pinot Noir and resting eight months on the lees before disgorgement. It displays a very light golden pink color with tiny bubbles dancing in the glass. Flavors of Ranier cherry, apple and pear have a very slight touch of sweetness which is nicely balanced with vibrant acidity. Try it with toasted salted almonds or Camenbert cheese.
93 Rebecca Murphy Dec 5, 2023
Yalumba, Barossa Valley (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon - Syrah “The Signature” 2018 ($65, Winebow): I have long been a fan of including Syrah in Bordeaux-grape blends ever since I first tasted such combos from Australia in the early 1980s. That love was further cemented more recently by Château Palmer’s Thomas Duroux’s blending of Rhône and Bordeaux grapes in his simply labeled, but premium priced, vin de pays. As we all know, the rule-makers that be in Bordeaux frown upon the use of Syrah in its blends, especially when it is done illegally by calling the resultant wine “Bordeaux.” This wine has a lot of energy – ripe, yet tangy, blackberry and black raspberry flavors with some blueberry notes, some herbal aspects and finish dusty tannins.
90 Roger Morris Dec 5, 2023
Domaine Perroud, Brouilly (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) L’Enfer des Balloquets 2020 ($23): The wines from Brouilly, the largest of the ten named villages of Beaujolais, typically provide more interest that a straight Beaujolais-Villages. This one supports that generalization. Fine acidity and a hint of tannic structure balances this ripe and generous Brouilly. This succulent and juicy wine will provide immediate enjoyment with anything from burgers to skirt steak.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2023
Jean-Claude Debeaune, Brouilly (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) “Domaine de Grand Croix” 2020 ($25, Saranty Imports): Brouilly is Beaujolais’ largest Cru, covering 1,300 hectares in an area surrounding Mont Brouilly. Despite the pandemic, 2020 was an excellent year for Gamay in Brouilly and Beaujolais writ large. Jean-Claude Debeaune's Domaine de Grand Croix is a nice example with concentrated fruit and balanced earthiness expected from this region. The red and black fruit flavors tend toward jammy without being too sweet or distracting. A nice undertone of leather and flint brings the wine together. Not only will this wine pair with a wide range of winter foods — butternut soup, please — the fruit’s ripeness will help newer wine drinkers venture into a drier wine style.
90 Vince Simmon Dec 5, 2023
Domaine des Bruyeres, Domaine des Bruyeres (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2020 ($22, Peter Weygandt Selection): Chénas, the smallest of the ten named villages of Beaujolais, typically produces dark wines, like this one, that combine minerality and fruitiness. This Chénas from Peter Weygandt, always a reliable name on a back label, displays a charming beefiness balanced by fine, not hard, tannins. The “not-just-fruit” component makes this Chénas stand out. Enjoyable now, this is a Beaujolais that will develop more complexity with age and continue to wow you.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2023
Jean-Claude Debeaune, Morgon (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) “Domaine des Versauds” 2019 ($25, Saranty Imports): Domaine des Versauds smells like aged Manchego rind in all the best of ways. It’s a little salty and savory and it melds wonderfully with the cranberry, red cherry skins, and minerality notes on the nose. The body has wonderfully balanced earthy tannins with dominant red fruit, leather, minerality, red licorice, and a touch of white pepper. Morgon is an excellent year-round wine, doubly so with seasonal white bean cassoulet.
91 Vince Simmon Dec 5, 2023
Jean-Claude Debeaune, Morgon (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) “Belles Grives” 2019 ($23, Saranty Imports): Surrounding the Villié-Morgon, the Appellation of Morgon is one of the more important Crus in Beaujolais. Known for producing denser fruit, many Morgon wines age incredibly well. Despite 2019 being a difficult vintage for Beaujolais, spring frosts and drought concerns mid-summer, Jean-Claude Debeaune's Belles Grives Morgon shows an excellent balance between minerality, ripe fruit, and earthy tannins. The nose also displays notes recalling fine cooking spices, including fried rosemary and thyme notes that can make anyone instantly hungry. Don’t let this wine’s light color fool you, as it has sufficient acidity and tannins to stand up to your favorite winter dishes.
91 Vince Simmon Dec 5, 2023
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Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2020 ($90): The Domaine de Chevalier is beautifully situated on a high point in the Pessac-Léognan appellation within the Graves region near the city of Bordeaux. The estate is well-known for its superb white wines that routinely rank among the best of the appellation. The 2020 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge joins the Blanc in the top rank of Pessac-Léognan wines. This is truly outstanding wine even at this youthful stage. The bouquet is rich and complex, with layers of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum fruits interwoven with hints of vanilla, violets, tobacco, cedar, smoke and baking spices plus subtle tones of herbs and earth. On the palate, it unfolds in layers of pure and opulent black currant, black and red cherry fruits followed by a glorious range of mint, cedar, savory herb, earth, smoke and spice nuances that seem to evolve as you savor the wine. The 2020 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge is a stellar Bordeaux that has the potential to age for 30 to 50 years. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Merlot (27%), Petit Verdot (5%), and Cabernet Franc (3%).
97 Wayne Belding Dec 5, 2023
Château Ormes de Pez, Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux, France) 2020 ($43): The village of Pez lies within the Saint-Estèphe appellation, just north of Pauillac in Bordeaux. Château Ormes de Pez is a noted Cru Bourgeois estate in the commune, and the 2020 red is a splendid example of the estate’s potential. Owned by the Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages, the Ormes de Pez vineyards average 30 years of age and are planted on a variety of clay, sand and gravel soils. The 2020 Ormes de Pez is forward and ripe with blackberry, blackcurrant and red cherry fruits enhanced by hints of violet, cocoa, olives, herbs, vanilla and baking spices. This is a delicious red Bordeaux that shows the opulence of the 2020 harvest and is enjoyable now for its youthful exuberance. It will cellar well for another decade.
92 Wayne Belding Dec 5, 2023
Louis Vallon, Crémant de Bordeaux (France) Brut NV ($14, Bridges Imports): Louis Vallon is the name of a wine produced by a cooperative winery that specializes in the production of traditional method sparkling wines in Bordeaux. It is made of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sémillon, with a touch of Muscadelle. Light and lively, it has very tiny bubbles, light yeasty citrus aromas and subtle green apple, citrus flavors with light toasty notes. For the quality delivered at this price, you can serve it proudly at all your holiday events.
91 Rebecca Murphy Dec 5, 2023
Château Doisy-Daëne, Sauternes (Bordeaux, France) 2020 ($70): Fine Sauternes is one of the wine world’s great taste treats. It is a marvelously opulent, sweet and intriguing category of dessert wines. The Doisy-Daëne estate is managed by famed wine consultant Denis Dubourdieu and the 2020 bottling is superb. Golden in color, the aroma is complex and attractive. Baked apple and pear tones are infused with elements of pineapple, apricot, honey, ginger, golden raisin, vanilla and exotic spices. Unctuous but still refreshing on the palate, it is a decadent treat with the apricot, almond, apple and tropical fruit notes underscored by a rich texture and a lifted, lively finish. Lovely now, it will grow in complexity for another 10 to 20 years.
94 Wayne Belding Dec 5, 2023
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La Chablisienne, Chablis 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Chablis 1er Cru 2020 ($60): La Chablisienne’s 1er Cru Fourchaume is rather bold for Chablis. It shoots out of the gates with a complex and potent aromatic bouquet of cream, lemon curd, Meyer lemons, pineapples, vanilla, cinnamon, and toasted oak. Flavor-wise, the wine is more straightforward, showing notes of lemons, apples, and cream. The finish is dominated by a toasted oak note that lacks subtlety that one might expect from Chablis. Though the oak usage might be slightly heavy by my estimation, this is nonetheless a complex and interesting wine that could surely stand up well next to heartier dishes.
92 John McDermott Dec 5, 2023
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M. Chapoutier, Côtes du Rhône Rosé (Rhône Valley, France) “Belleruche" 2021 ($14): Whether it is for the red, white or, yes, now the Rosé, Chapoutier’s Belleruche line delivers. A blend of Grenache (75%) with equal amounts of Cinsaut and Syrah, this Rosé gets your immediate attention with its unusual salmon-bronze color. It displays an attractive aroma of fresh strawberries with a hint of herbs. It is medium light bodied but balanced with lively berry-cherry flavors. With just enough acidity, it finishes clean and smooth. Good value here, and don’t be scared off by the vintage date if you see a bottle of this on offer.
88 Norm Roby Dec 5, 2023
Paltrinieri, Emilia-Romagna (Italy) “Radice” NV ($22, Lyra Wine): This Paltrinieri NV Lambrusco di Sorbara Radice is a far cry from the cloyingly sweet Lambruscos of yesteryear. This is for those seeking a lightly sparkling, dry, crisp wine boasting vibrant acidity. The Radice is made entirely with Lambrusco di Sorbara and opens with enticing citrus, berry, and wildflower scents. With secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle, the bright palate doles out pink grapefruit, strawberry, pomegranate, and a sprinkling of ginger and baking spice alongside the racy acidity. The mouthfeel is exhilarating and celebratory, with a long, memorable finish.
93 Miranda Franco Dec 5, 2023
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Villa Guelpa, Lessona (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo 2019 ($60): Villa Geulpa’s Lessona is a fun and approachable example of Northern Italian Nebbiolo. True to form, this wine brings out typical Nebbiolo aromas of red cherry, raspberries, and rose petals. But unlike many Nebbiolos, this wine is strikingly approachable in its youth. It certainly has structured and even coarse tannins, but those tannins are not the overbearing, mouth drying ones found in many young Barolos. Indeed, the wine rounded in the mouth, showing darker flavors than its aromas portended — black cherries, blackberries, and vanilla. This is a great wine for those that want the beauty of Nebbiolo without waiting decades for it to tame.
92 John McDermott Dec 5, 2023
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Santa Margherita, Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Brut NV ($20): As we all look toward the end of December and what we might like to serve for holiday gatherings, sparkling wines tends to be top of mind. Santa Margherita's Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore rises above the run of the mill offerings. It delivers solid brut style, with a little toasty character, fresh lime zest and stone fruit aromas and flavors and avoids the sudsy texture that many other examples suffer from. The medium length finish is cleansing without disappearing, making it a fine aperitif or a budget wise choice to ring in the new year. You will likely be able to locate it easily.
90 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2023
Santa Margherita, Veneto (Italy) Vino Spumante Brut Rosé NV ($20): It is rare to find a crowd pleasing wine that packs some nerd appeal — a feat accomplished here by the unusual blend of Chardonnay, Glera and Malbec that will give the cognoscenti something to discuss while others swill away. Its lightly copper tinged appearance leads to aromas of flowers and strawberry, a fleshy for bubbles texture and a mild kiss of residual sugar that keeps things bright. Cheers!
89 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2023
Viña Jaraba, La Mancha (Spain) Reserva 2017 ($16, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero): The growing season of 2017 was downright hot almost everywhere in Western Europe, so vintners who were successful were ones who knew how to deal with heat. That’s surely true of the best producers in La Mancha, and La Jaraba is indisputably among a handful of producers at the very top of the quality pyramid in this very big region. Rich and ripe with more structure and oak showing even than the younger 2020 “Selección Especial” from this house, this is a truly astonishing bargain for $16. A blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot that was aged for 12 months in 70% American and 30% French oak barrels. Some tasters will actually prefer this wine to the slightly more expensive “Selección Especial” from 2020, that though I do not lean that way, anybody who finds any of the wines from this house to buy would be insane not to try all of them.
91 Michael Franz Dec 5, 2023
Viña Jaraba, Vino de Pago DOP (La Mancha, Spain) "Pago de la Jaraba" 2020 ($30, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero): In terms of its physical properties and its flavor profile, this flagship wine from Jaraba doesn’t seem all that different from the wonderful “Selección Especial” bottling from the same 2020 vintage (which is an outright steal at $20). And yet, tasted and re-tasted over the course of two days, this shows more class or “fine-ness” in every respect — aromatic complexity, depth and breadth of flavor and texture, quality of tannins and integration of wood, and more. But the really impressive thing about this by comparison to the other wines in this producer’s phenomenal portfolio is that there’s nothing pushy about it, and there’s a nothing-to-prove self-confidence in the styling of the wine that I find very impressive (regardless of the fact that the styling was evidently not intended to impress). As a result, my considered opinion is that this is ready to enjoy already (with food and a bit of aeration, but those are more advisable than required) but also capable of years of positive development. Among the best values in all of Spain (which is saying something), this is also one of the dozen-or-so best $30 wines from anywhere in the world.
94 Michael Franz Dec 5, 2023
Viña Jaraba, Vino de Pago DOP Jaraba (La Mancha, Spain) “Selección Especial” 2020 ($20, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero): Silky and marvelously graceful for all the flavor and pleasure that it delivers, this is an obviously well-made wine sourced from skillfully grown fruit. Nearly full-bodied but very soft in texture, this is what — for most consumers and especially restaurant guests — Merlot was supposed to be but never quite was, and what Malbec was for a while before it wore out its welcome with many tasters. A blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, this shows both red and black fruit tones, but leans more toward black fruit. It is serious without being stern, as wonderfully fine tannins and reserved oak make this extremely inviting already, though it can stand up to formidable foods and become much more complex as tertiary notes build in over the next decade.
92 Michael Franz Dec 5, 2023
Marchelle, Mendocino County / Sonoma County (California) Pinot Noir "Grower's Reserve" 2020 ($45): Winemaker Greg La Follette reaches north to Mendocino County’s undersung Oppenlander vineyard for part of the blend here, the balance coming from Hawks Roost vineyard in Sonoma County. The result in the glass was my tasting panel favorite in a flight of solid Pinot Noir, showing cherry, raspberry, fall spice aromatics, with some earth and kirsch on release. A bold, fruit-driven palate entry with nice acidity, some edgy oak and rich earthy character join the promised fruit and run together through a bright finish. It is still integrating its wood, but it should ease into an elegant expression with some cellar time.
93 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2023
Marchelle, Mokelumne River (Lodi, California) Cinsaut Bechthold Vineyard 2020 ($54): Bechthold Vineyard is a famed site — planted in 1882, and highly sought after. Greg La Follette has a relationship with the owners and got a piece of the action for this new venture. It is a medium-bodied expression that leverages the cherry/blueberry fruit and signature minerality of the site. Greg adds a little wood spice to set things off, and the well-integrated flavors finish long and complex. Unique!
92 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2023
Marchelle, Mokelumne River (Lodi, California) Proprietary Red Wine “Family Cuvée” 2021 ($39): Here is a delicious blend that will please fans of oak spice alongside bright red fruit. It is a blend of Zinfandel, Cinsault and Carignan from famed Lodi vineyards — Jessie’s Grove, Royal Tee and Bechthold. Bramble berry and vanilla take the lead aromatically, with spice and earth tones joining the fruit on the palate. Give this a good decanting or age a while before serving with red meats, or festive holiday dinners if you want to liven things up a bit.
90 Rich Cook Dec 5, 2023
Goosecross, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard 2019 ($90): This wine from the Yountville region is the kind of Cabernet that brings a smile to your face the way a good single-malt Scotch will do – very harmonious, very structured, made for sipping slowly if you have the time to do that. The primary flavors are those of dark berries with a hint of mintiness that blends well with the woody, walnutty, savory undertones. The harmony of the wine extends to the finish, with the tannins so well-integrated you barely notice them except for their addition to the taste.
92 Roger Morris Dec 5, 2023
Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) “Holiday Blend” Red 2019 ($95): Are you old enough to remember the Coors Light holiday commercial featuring Leslie Nielsen in pink, fuzzy house slippers? The one in which he explains his footwear by saying, “Sometimes I just like to feel pretty.” Well, sometimes a holiday wine bottle, I suspect, wants to feel pretty, too. Flora Springs is known for its colorful engraved bottles of holiday reds, and this one comes with caroling gnomes, perfect for your holiday table or as a house gift for a mooch ‘n’ munch party. The wine? It appropriately has warm berry aromas and flavors – dusty, murky, slightly muddled cassis, dark plums and blackberries followed by savory woodiness. The finish is a tad soft, yet there is enough acidity to still make it enjoyable. Deck the halls, y’all!
90 Roger Morris Dec 5, 2023
Hirsch Vineyards, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir “The Bohan-Dillon” 2021 ($45): David Hirsch is one of the pioneers of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, going on a hunch that the unique geology and climate would produce exemplary wine. For years, David sold his fruit to Sonoma's top names, including Kistler and Williams Selyem. Ultimately, he decided that the best way to show the true expression of his terroir was to make his wine, which he started doing in 2002. His Hirsch 2021 Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir pours a beautiful ruby with hints of magenta before bursting out of the glass with juicy cherry, currant, raspberry, rose petals, dried violets, forest floor and warm cinnamon. The palate is medium-bodied and caressing with a delicate tannin coating before a jolt of mouthwatering acidity brings it to a refreshing close.
94 Miranda Franco Dec 5, 2023
Three Sticks, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2021 ($75): The Sonoma Coast (especially the part of the Sonoma Coast AVA that is west and elevated) is known for cooler temperatures that produce restrained, tensile Pinot Noirs, like this one. Bright and brimming with red cherry-like flavors, this fruit-driven, pristine Pinot Noir has good depth without being heavy. Its 14 percent stated alcohol shows itself with a delicate, pleasing sweetness. A hint of savory notes emerges as it sits in the glass. Enjoy now for its youthful fruitiness or cellar it for a few years and wait for the savory elements to unfold.
93 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2023
Domaine de la Côte, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir DDLC Estate 2020 ($125): Domaine de la Côte is one of Rajat Parr’s and Sashi Moorman’s esteemed projects, focused Pinot Noir. Its estate wine, DDLC, is a blend of all of their single-vineyard wines. It is a beautiful wine, marrying old world earthiness with new world fruit. Notes of freshly overturned earth, twigs, and tree moss intertwine seamlessly with red cherries, cranberries, and red plums. The wine is light and ephemeral in the glass, with bright acidity giving way to a lingering finish.
94 John McDermott Dec 5, 2023
Paula Kornell, Napa Valley (California) Blancs de Noirs, Methode Champenois 2020 ($48): This enticing wine is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown in Mitsuko’s Vineyard in the cool-climate Carneros region. It has a pale yellow color and vigorous, very tiny bubbles streaming to the surface. It offers juicy Meyer lemon and apple flavors and crisp, mouthwatering acidity that provide a long, lingering finish. The Kornell family has a long history in Napa Valley, beginning when German born Hanns Kornell bought the Larkmead Estate in Napa Valley and founded the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars in 1958. His daughter, Paula, began to work at the winery in 1982 when several large Champagne companies were arriving in the valley creating major competition for the Kornells. They closed the doors in 1992. Hanns Kornell died in 1994. After several years of working for wineries and serving on trade and community boards, she launched the Kornell Wine Company offering wine consulting. In 2019 she opened Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine. Today, Scotland native Robin Akhurst is the winemaker.
93 Rebecca Murphy Dec 5, 2023
Stolpman Vineyards, Ballard Canyon (Santa Barbara County, California) Roussanne "Uni" 2021 ($30): Best known for Syrah, Stolpman turns out to be a strong advocate of Roussanne. As for background and an introduction, the winery notes that Roussanne “might be the richest, most decadent white grape in the world.” But apparently it benefits from some assistance as this wine is 70% Roussanne with 30% Chardonnay. Subtitled “Uni,” this 2021 captures the honeysuckle, nectarine and orange rind aromatics that are Roussanne’s core features along with some tea and jasmine. The texture is rich and smooth and the flavors remain vibrant and mouth-watering. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, the wine ends on a strong, ripe, and youthful note. Overall, high marks for its texture and vibrancy.
93 Norm Roby Dec 5, 2023
Goosecross, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2022 ($46): We often speak of “value” when thinking about of everyday and entry-level wines, but the term should apply at all levels, as it does here. This is a very good, quite-complex Chardonnay for the price. Beginning with an exotic fruitiness in the aroma that carries over to the taste, it also has plump apple and pear flavors with a touch of grapefruit to add intrigue. It is satiny in texture with a considerable depth of flavors yet with a light, spicy finish.
92 Roger Morris Dec 5, 2023
Inglenook, Rutherford, Napa Valley (California) “Blancaneaux” 2020 ($71): This is an interesting wine, focusing on an expression of the estate, per the winery's website. The production inputs are that the fruit was biodynamically farmed, sourced from 120 different plots; only 11% new oak in the elevage. These facts, as well as the grapes selected to produce it — Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne — seem to confirm that this is less of a commercial concern and more an attempt to achieve their stated goal. While initially shy in the glass, with some time after opening (and more importantly aeration in the mouth), a huge range of scents and flavors blossom: Sweet, oily almond, perfumed pear skin, and zesty citrus oil. This range of aromas is carried along by the weighty, richly textured palate, which also shows a good backing structure of acidity. This is delicious now and while it may age well, I don't see a reason to wait to enjoy it. Given the balance of this wine, it should pair beautifully with a wide range of foods. I can imagine white fish baked in parchment with zucchini and green olives or a sheet pan roast of chicken scented with herbs de Provence or a simpler garlic and thyme rub and new potatoes.
94 Andrew Holod Dec 5, 2023
Littorai, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard 2018 ($119): Littorai is a small, family-owned, and operated winery that produces vineyard-designated Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the coastal mountains of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The 2018 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard is pure, classic, highest-quality Chardonnay. It shows a yellow-gold in the glass and delivers brooding notes of bruised pear, yellow and green apples, preserved Meyer lemon, crushed salted almonds, and honeycomb. On the palate, layered flavors of orchard fruit unfold with a broad palate-coating texture and invigorating mineral zip. This is serious Chardonnay, to be poured alongside any high-praised bottle from Burgundy.
94 Miranda Franco Dec 5, 2023
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