HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge

Winemaker Challenge

THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

January 19, 2021 Issue

Printable Version

Wine Search

ARGENTINA

Mendoza:

Red:

Siete Fincas, Tupungato (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec 2019 ($16, Copa Fina):  Siete Fincas is a family winery.  Created in 2000 by Edgardo Stallocca to continue the viticultural tradition that his grandfather, Juan Stallocca, began in Mendoza in 1904.  It has vineyards in seven sub regions.  This 2019 Malbec is dark, almost black in color suggesting it is not watered down but, rather, big volume stuff.  With ripe plum fruit along with a black pepper edge, the aroma is also slightly floral-earthy.  Medium bodied with soft edges from fine-grained tannin, but still nicely structured, with a touch of oak and good length in the finish.  It holds up well in the glass over time, which is a sign that it can be cellared for a few years.    
92 Norm Roby Jan 19, 2021


CHILE

White:

Montes, Aconcagua Costa (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc “Classic Series” 2019 ($12, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Better known for its red wines grown in Colchagua Valley, south of Santiago, Montes has expanded its lineup to become a leading exporter.  It now offers several levels of Sauvignon Blanc, with the “Outer Limits” being the most expensive and herbal, leaving the "Classic Series" as its entry level wine.  Coming from several coastal vineyards areas including Leyda and Casablanca, this 2019 combines typical cool climate Sauvignon Blanc traits (grassy, lime, and citrus) without any sharp edges.  Instead, it is medium bodied with a pleasing slightly rounded mouthfeel and ends on a refreshing, long mineral note.  2,500 cases imported.    
90 Norm Roby Jan 19, 2021

Carta Vieja, Valle del Loncomilla DO (Maule Valley, Chile) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($13, Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd.):  Loncomilla lies about 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  If you are there late in the day, you’ll feel the breeze that wafts in from the ocean, cooling off this very hot, sunny place.  The extreme diurnal difference (hot days, cool nights) is what makes this Sauvignon Blanc so special.  Its offering of a veritable fruit bowl of flavors — dominated by pink grapefruit mingling with tropical fruits plus a back-note of chalky minerality — is impressive.  Do not pass up this very affordable charmer.      
90 Marguerite Thomas Jan 19, 2021


FRANCE

White:

La Petite Perrière, Vin de France (France) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($14, Taub Family Selections):  La Petite Perrière is an easygoing and refreshing white wine — or, as the winemaker describes it on the back label, “The palate is a whirlwind of freshness, complexity [and] finesse…”.   As the wine swirls around one’s palate, it’s hard to improve on that general description.  Indeed, this Sauvignon Blanc is a good example of just how delicious good wines under France’s Vin de France classification can be.  Established in 2010 to replace the traditional “Vin de Table” designation, Vin de France is a rung below the appellation d’origine controllée.  The wines tend to be light bodied and fruity but, like La Petite Perrière, they may also be relatively complex in flavor and nicely balanced.  And, also like this wine, they are usually very reasonably priced.       
90 Marguerite Thomas Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Burgundy:

Red:

Gilles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Duresses Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection 2018 ($43):  With prices of Burgundy having gone through the roof, it’s a delight to find one that’s affordable, at least by Burgundy standards.  As I’ve long maintained, villages off the beaten path, such as Auxey-Duresses which sits behind Meursault, and talented producers who, for whatever reason, have never gotten the praise they deserve, like Gilles Lafouge, is the combination consumers should seek out.  Les Duresses is the village’s best vineyard, which is why its name has been appended to the village’s original name.  I tasted a barrel sample about 15 months ago in their cellars and loved it.  Now that it’s been bottled, it’s even better.  Its lovely firmness and bright cherry-like fruitiness show that Lafouge avoided the potential for over ripeness in 2018.   It’s glossy and long with minerals complementing its fruitiness.  Quintessential Burgundy, it’s filled with charm, is light as a feather, yet full of flavor.  Though you can safely buy any of Lafouge’s wines, this 1er cru from Auxey-Duresses is a star.     
93 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Château de la Maltroye, Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos du Château de la Maltroye 2018 ($80, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  This 2018 Clos du Château de la Maltroye, a monopole of the Château de la Maltroye, is one of the best red wines from Chassagne-Montrachet I’ve ever had.  It’s the epitome of power and grace.  Savory elements complement gorgeous dark fruity ones.  It has plenty of structure and vivacity, something not all wines have in 2018, but not a trace of aggressiveness in the tannins.  It has great finesse, not a character I often find in the reds of Chassagne.  It’s hard to resist its charms now, but its balance and my experience with the producer suggests that you will be amply rewarded by cellaring it for a decade.    
96 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Domaine René Leclerc, Gevrey-Chambertin (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) Clos Prieur 2018 ($77, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  The Clos Prieur vineyard, which is just across the road from Mazi-Chambertin, a Grand Cru, covers two appellations.  The upper part is Premier Cru and lower part carries a village appellation.  But once again, producer can trump geography.  René Leclerc’s village Clos Prieur has more style and substance than many producers’ premier crus.  It is classic Gevrey, with a mixture of leather and dark fruit-like flavors.  Succulent, but not just fruity by any means, it offers plenty of intriguing savory flavor in a bright and balanced package.  Excellent acidity in the finish amplifies its appeal.  Open now and capture its charms or cellar for five plus years.     
93 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Domaine Bart, Marsannay (Burgundy, France) Clos du Roy 2018 ($58, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection):  Domaine Bart is an A-list producer.  Of course, their Grand Cru Bonnes Mares and Charmes-Chambertin are stunning.  But, if you are looking for something that does not require taking out a mortgage before purchasing, look to their array of wines from Marsannay, a sleepy village north of Gevrey-Chambertin.  Here, and especially at Domaine Bart, you will find authentic wines filled with the savory Côte de Nuits character.  The growers in Marsannay are applying for premier cru status for some of their vineyards.  Clos du Roy is likely to be on that list.  Bright and lively acidity balance Bart’s ripe and succulent 2018 Clos du Roy, keeping it fresh.  The tannins are supple and mild, though paradoxically, the wine is structured, not soft.  Dark cherry-like nuances marry nicely with earthy ones and finish on an attractive hint of bitterness.  Juicy and long, this Marsannay is hard to resist now.      
93 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Champagne:

Sparkling:

Piper-Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Brut Cuvée NV ($45, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Founded in 1785, this venerable Champagne firm passed into the hands of the Descours family about a decade ago.  Its non-vintage Brut has since taken a leap in quality.  I remember Piper-Heidsieck as an ordinary Champagne a decade ago, lean and angular.  Well, that’s changed.  A red-grape-predominant blend (about 50% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier) explains its power.  The Chardonnay, that fills out the blend, and the use of 20% reserve wine, likely accounts for a striking elegance, which is all the more welcome considering the wine’s power.  It’s an excellent buy, considering how Champagne prices have taken off.      
92 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021


GERMANY

Mosel:

White:

Fritz Haag, Mosel (Germany) Riesling Brauneberg Juffer Sonnenuhr GG Trocken 2017 ($65, Loosen Bros.):  Riesling is undoubtedly one of the world's great wine grapes.  The best renditions like this 2017 Riesling Trocken (German for dry) offer great complexity and notable aging potential.  Some of the very best dry Rieslings are classified as Grosses Gewächs, or “great growths,” GG for short.  This GG Riesling immediately captures your attention with a beautifully complex and saline expression of slate minerality.  It is full of tension with lush texture set off by brisk acidity.  It has a seemingly endless finish.  This 2017 will evolve with ease over the next decade, but there is absolutely no shame in enjoying this exquisite wine now.       
96 Miranda Franco Jan 19, 2021


ITALY

Alto Adige:

White:

Cantina Andriano, Alto Adige DOC (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2019 ($18, Banville Wine Merchants):  From a high-altitude vineyard in the Aldo Adige region in northeastern Italy comes an intense and exciting wine.  It begins with aromas of lemon, grapefruit and lime zest with chalky mineral notes that introduce intense lemon fruit, zest and lemon oil flavors intertwined with lean citrus acidity and ends with a long, lingering finish.  It is a perfect wine to complement grilled or baked halibut.  Cantina Andriano is one of the earliest cooperative wineries in a region where cooperative wineries reign.  I was intrigued that the wine’s label said, “Bottled by Cantina Terlano,” a cooperative winery that is known for quality, outstanding wines.  Upon further investigation I found that Cantina Terlano bought Cantina Andriano in 2008.  Apparently, both wineries were established in 1893 in the town of Terlano.  Although Cantina Terlano owns Andriano, the wines are produced separately.      
92 Rebecca Murphy Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Piedmont:

Red:

Ratti, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Marcenasco” 2016 ($55, Lux Wines):  This 100 percent Nebbiolo is soaringly aromatic, with lots of rose petals and red cherry fruit beginning to appear.  In the glass, it is medium-bodied, balanced, and delicate for a Barolo.  The palate delivers cherry, crushed raspberry and faint cedar blended with notes of cinnamon, red licorice, and black tea.  Nebbiolo’s notorious tannins are graceful here, and the backbone of acidity will preserve this wine for the long term.         
95 Miranda Franco Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Tuscany:

Red:

Buli, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese “515” 2016 ($20, Dark Star Imports):  Robert Buly, an American who owns Buli, was drawn to Italy by heritage: his father married an Italian woman from Tuscany soon after WWII ended.  On their website, he jokes that his father met his mother while on the search for red wine to drink.  Decades later, Buly purchased land in Tuscany and is making red wine, very good red wine, I might add.  The 515 refers to the elevation of the vineyard, 515 m asl, which mitigates the daytime heat during the summer.  Paradoxically, the wine is restrained and austere, in the best way, yet is full of flavor.  The firmness of Sangiovese is a perfect foil for the dark bitter cherry-like flavors.  This sleek and racy wine is perfect with hearty pasta or grilled meats, as opposed to a stand-alone aperitif.  And moreover, it’s a bargain.      
93 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Buli, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) "Estate 44" 2016 ($20, Dark Star Imports):  Estate 44 pays tribute to the Allied soldiers, including the owner’s father, who liberated Tuscany in the summer of 1944.  A blend of Sangiovese (60%) Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and equal amounts of Syrah and Merlot, it is more muscular than Buli’s 515 bottling, but has the same grace, suaveness and structure.  This balanced and vibrant wine is a worthy tribute.  Another bargain!       
92 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Fanetti - Tenuta S. Agnese, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2015 ($33, Enotec Imports, Inc):  Fanetti, one of the great names for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, has produced a fabulous 2015 Riserva from their Tenuta S. Agnese estate.  Traditionally framed, that is, not all gussied up with oak and over ripe fruit, the dark cherry-like fruit of Sangiovese shines.  Not an opulent wine, it is well-structured and penetrating.  Pleasingly firm tannins impart a good grip.  It has great vivacity, a characteristic often lacking in 2015 Tuscan wines, which amplifies its appeal.  A hint of gentle bitterness in the finish reinforces its stature.  It screams for food — grilled meat or game.  Engaging now, and certainly a joy to drink, bottle age will only add to its complexity, so there’s no rush.          
93 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Veneto:

Sparkling:

Earl Stevens Selections, Prosecco DOC (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV ($15, 8 Vini Inc.):  Musician Earl Stevens, known more popularly as E40, is the latest personality to lend his name to a wine label, and he smartly starts things up in the budget friendly realm with this tasty Prosecco.  It’s pleasantly off-dry, and it avoids the beer-like finish that often plagues Prosecco in this price range, instead allowing the pear and stone fruit freshness to drive.  It’s a slappin’ glass straight up or in a brunch Bellini.       
90 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) “Symmetry” Meritage 2016 ($55):  Symmetry, according to Rodney Strong’s website, means balance.  And I must admit, this wine is aptly named.  It’s a suave complex Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant (70%) blend of five Bordeaux varieties.  Roughly equal amounts of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot fill out the blend.  Juicy and succulent, it delivers a lovely mixture of savory and dark fruit flavors.  Polished tannins make it not only approachable, but drinkable now.  This bold and balanced wine would go well with a pan-sautéed steak.        
92 Michael Apstein Jan 19, 2021

Joanta, Ballard Canyon (Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California) “Fenix” 2017 ($85):  Jonata is a remarkable, relatively new winery north of Santa Barbara in Santa Ynez Valley under the same ownership as Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle winery.  Their Fenix is a Bordeaux-style blend of 40% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot.  It offers a vivid and polished nose showing aromas of black fruit, almond, and violets.  The generous, full-bodied but focused palate offers luscious black fruit and spicy layers, with velvety tannins and lovely freshness paving the way to a lingering finish.  Approachable now, this nevertheless has a good ten-plus years of graceful evolution ahead of it.       
93 Miranda Franco Jan 19, 2021

Newsome Harlow, Calaveras County (California) “Derailed” 2018 ($26):  “Derailed” this wine certainly is not – it pulls into the station as a rich, Bordeaux inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Chatom and Rolleri vineyards near Murphys, California.  The payload delivered is a mix of bright black cherry fruit, brown spice and solid earthy character enveloped in lively acidity and finishing long and lively.   Take the bargain price into account and enjoy the ride!       
92 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Newsome Harlow, Calaveras County (California) "Meritage" 2018 ($32):  This bottling leans more into the “Cali style” profile for a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, with fresh dark berry character joined by fall spice and violets.  It is ready to drink now as a delicious solo glass or a pairing for grilled red meats.  I’m leaning toward a simply seasoned sirloin.       
92 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Newsome Harlow, Calaveras County (California) Zinfandel “Big John” 2018 ($38):  This wine is sourced from the Holleman Vineyard near San Andreas California, which lies a few miles northwest of Murphys in California.  John and Nancy Holleman planted 2.5 acres of Zinfandel in 1998, and it has been the source of “Big John” since 2001.   Winemaker Scott Klann always makes sure that the wine lives up to its name.  The 2018 shows deep mixed berry fruit, gentle black pepper and lively oak spice that balances the fruit load beautifully.  It’s a striking alternative in style to the winery’s other Zinfandel offerings, and a solid winner.  It is certainly a fitting tribute to Big John Holleman, who passed away recently at age 88.  Here’s to the man Scott calls “one of the good guys."     
91 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Seven Oaks” 2018 ($17):  “Vintage after vintage, a wine not to be denied.”  That’s how I ended my review of the 2017 vintage of this widely available crowd pleaser, and the 2018 vintage follows right in the same vein.  This quality level at this quantity level is a marvel of the scientific arts, and it continues to provide dependable house style and substance.  As always, well done!        
91 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Vino Noceto, Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills, California) Sangiovese “AX-1” 2014 ($54):  The AX-1 project at Noceto is all about making a Sangiovese that can rival the best Brunello and Chianti Classico Riserva bottlings of Italy, utilizing traditional techniques and minimal intervention to achieve such character, with the occasional California twist thrown in as deemed necessary.  This bottling saw a slow fermentation of Altesino clone Sangiovese in peril barrels (a unique conical shaped barrel) and new French oak puncheons (large barrels up to 500 liters), 36 months of aging in the same puncheons and an additional two and a half years of bottle aging prior to release.  The result is a rich, full throttle Sangiovese that achieves its style goals admirably, showing deep cherry fruit, lively spice and tobacco notes delivered over a generous structure that is at once approachable and ageworthy.  Here’s to continued experimentation!  Contains 3% Aglianico and 3% Canaiolo Nero.       
95 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Vino Noceto, Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills, California) Sangiovese Riserva 2017 ($34):  Not too many wines get the “Wow” in my handwritten notes during site visits, so I know when I go back to flesh them out for publication that we’re on to a winner.  This bottling is a blend of Brunello clone Sangioveses, including Altesino, Il Poggione and Biondi Santi, and it’s one of those wines that manages elegance and power in its youth, promising a beautiful future.  It’s structured for aging, with great acidity carrying deep cherry fruit, mixed herbs and spices.  That acidity also makes for a huge finish with a zesty, freshening push of integrated flavors that just keep coming.  This bottling typically “jumps around” a bit when young, but it’s showing great already.  Bravo!       
94 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Vino Noceto, Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills, California) Barbera Linsteadt Vineyard 2016 ($29):  Winemaker Rusty Folena has been sourcing this vineyard for some time now, and he knows how to draw the nuance out of the fruit.  This vintage finished at 12.5% alcohol, which can make for a lighter textured wine, but fear not – there’s plenty of supple tannic structure, and its carrying rich red and blue berry fruit that rides atop the variety’s signature racy acidity, and a dash of leafy herb character adds depth and complexity.  Give this a little cellar time, or a long decant near term.       
92 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Vino Noceto, Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills, California) Sangiovese 2017 ($21):  The winery flagship shows again winemaker Rusty Folena’s deep respect for this grape’s heritage and what it can do in the Shenandoah Valley.  The estate fruit delivers tart cherry fruit and Italian styled herbaceousness, and easy oak spice and gentle toast character enhances the fruit and herb.  It’s all drawn together with vibrant food friendly acidity that give the fruit profile a nice finish push.  I try to keep some of this in my cellar at all times – you might call it my house red.  It should be one of yours.       
92 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

Newsome Harlow, Sierra Foothills (California) Zinfandel 2018 ($24):  It’s not terribly often that I can read the newspaper through a glass of foothills Zinfandel.  This is the rare wine that manages to allow both that visual cue and unmistakable Foothills Zinfandel character simultaneously. It’s star bright to the eye, brambly and peppery on the nose, and delivers those elements as flavors over zippy acidity.  It is a refined style that winemaker Scott Klann uses to show another side of what can happen in the eastern reaches of the state’s wine country.  Count me as a big fan.      
93 Rich Cook Jan 19, 2021

White:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2018 ($22):  This very appealing Chardonnay delivers a complex web of aromas that includes both fruit and earthiness.  Notes of peach, pineapple and apple dance across the palate in tandem with a splash of lemon, a whisper of oak spice and a dash of minerality.  The Chalk Hill AVA (American Viticultural Area) is known for its chalky white volcanic soils that may have had an impact on vines growing in it and may therefore be the source of that subtle minerality.  If you are one of the people who still cling to the ABC or “Anything but Chardonnay” mantra, may I suggest you try Chalk Hill’s wine?  I think you’ll find it a far cry from the heavy, over-oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay that was popular in the days when acid-washed jeans, big shoulder pads and fanny packs were likewise trendy.      
94 Marguerite Thomas Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top


Oregon:

Red:

Lange Estate Winery And Vineyards, Dundee Hills (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Lange Estate Vineyard 2018 ($70):  I visited this vineyard years ago, and can still picture it in my mind, but that recollection can now be eclipsed by the vivid current experience of this wine’s beauty, as well as the sneaky power enveloped in its soft structure.  Deeply pigmented and quite rich and soft in feel, yet not at all chunky or obvious, it reminds me of a well-drawn, two-dimensional “optical illusion” cube that appears entirely different in three dimensions depending on how you choose to look at it.  (I drew thousands of these things while bored out of my gourd in high school classes, and know whereof I speak.)   It really is a light-bodied wine if you choose to regard it that way, but also punches way above its weight in terms of depth and length if you elect to pull those attributes into your sensory foreground.  This is the magic of terrific renditions of Pinot, of course: they can be lacy and ethereal, or coiled and formidable, but not that many renditions capture both of these characteristics.  This one does.  Absolutely delicious now, but surely more intricate if less fruity a decade from now.  Take your pick.           
95 Michael Franz Jan 19, 2021

Red Lily Vineyards, Rogue Valley (Oregon) Tempranillo “Red Blanket” 2015 ($22):  One of the very few Rogue Valley wineries with a focus, Red Lily makes Tempranillo in three styles, and a Rosé.  It also makes a delightful Verdejo.  Winemaker-owner, Rachael Martin draws from her 14-acre estate vineyard planted to four clones of Tempranillo in the Applegate Valley sub-region of the Rogue Valley.  The 2015 Red Blanket is blended with Cabernet but retains a solid core of Tempranillo’s plum and licorice flavors with a subtle dose of tobacco.  Medium-bodied with good structure and an open, broad palate with licorice and some fine-grained tannins.  A successful drink now style.       
91 Norm Roby Jan 19, 2021

Lange Estate Winery And Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 ($35):  I hadn’t tasted new releases from this winery for quite some time before a recent reintroduction, and am delighted to report on the results.  This “Reserve” bottling shows lovely, open fruit notes that that won’t require that the wine be reserved, and yet it shows finely integrated acidity and tannin that will enable it to become even more complex for at least another 5 to 7 years.  It combines both freshness and delicacy, on one hand, with excellent flavor impact and real length on the palate.  Excellent juice, deftly rendered.      
92 Michael Franz Jan 19, 2021

White:

Firesteed, Oregon (United States) Pinot Gris 2019 ($16):  Pinot Gris is one of Oregon’s shining stars, and this example from Firesteed proves why that’s the case.  A remarkably well-conceived Pinot Gris, with irresistible aromatics and lovely fruit flavors, it is clean and fresh, beautifully balanced, and offers a particularly nimble display of acidity on the finish.      
93 Marguerite Thomas Jan 19, 2021

Back to Top