Category Archives: Wine Review Online

Poggioargentiera, Morellino di Scansano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Bellamarsilia” 2019

($16):  Morellino di Scansano is yet another Tuscan wine region that uses primarily Sangiovese for its red wines.  Located in the Maremma part of Tuscany on the region’s southeast coast, it received DOCG designation (Italy’s highest official wine classification) in 2006.  By Italian standards, Poggioargentiera is relatively new to the area, having been founded in 1997.  Nonetheless, their 2019 could be a poster child for the region.  This is a cheery mid-weight red brimming with bright cherry-like fruitiness.  A touch of herbal bitterness and mild tannins provide welcome balance.  With no rough edges, it easy to enjoy now with pizza or simple pasta dishes.  Its bargain price makes it especially attractive for drinking this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

Capezzana, Carmignano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Villa di Capezzana” 2010

($56, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Carmignano, lying just northwest of Florence and Tuscany’s smallest DOCG, is really the original Super Tuscan.  Regulations there mandated the marriage of Cabernet, either Sauvignon or Franc, with Sangiovese long before that blend became popular elsewhere in Tuscany.  Capezzana, a top, if not THE top producer in the DOCG has always been an innovator as well.  Since 2006, they have introduced the practice of holding back a portion of their Villa di Capezzana Carmignano for release a decade later so that consumers can appreciate how beautifully this wine develops.  It’s a real treat to taste and yes, drink, a mature Tuscan wine without the expense and effort of cellaring it.  This 2010, a mid-weight wine, is warming and suave, yet still bright and lively.  With smoky and herbal nuances, it has plenty of that ethereal “not just fruit” character of mature wine, which adds another level of intrigue.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

($35):  Full disclosure, Zinfandel is one of my least favorite wines.  Petit Sirah runs a close second because both usually are impossibly overdone wines.  So, I shuddered when I read the blend:  Zinfandel (76%), Petit Sirah (22%) and Carignane.  But that’s why you taste.  Dry Creek Vineyard has a stunning track record with their Zinfandels, especially their Old Vine bottling, which they define as coming from vines of more than 50 years of age.  Their website proclaims that many of the vines are over a century old and some have been around for 130 years.  Old vines typically provide smaller yields of higher quality fruit, imparting complexity to the wine.  That’s the case with this Old Vine Zinfandel.  Briary and spicy, it handles the 14.9% stated alcohol effortlessly.  Balanced and neither over the top nor hot, it’s classic full-bodied Zinfandel, but with elegance.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 30, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Pian della Casina “Sergioveto” 2016

($53, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe changed the blend, vineyard site, and appellation for this wine starting with the 2015 vintage.  The wine was originally created in 1985 as a Super Tuscan by Italo Zingarelli, the company’s founder, and named for his son, Sergio, the current head of the company.  With the 2015 vintage, they eliminated the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and now use only Sangiovese from a single site, their Pian della Casina vineyard.  It’s now a Chianti Classico Riserva, not a “Super Tuscan,” but it is definitely still super.  The 2016 version is sensational.  Gently explosive, is combines both savory and dark cherry-like flavors into a seamless package.  It has wonderful density without being heavy.  Lovely discreet bitterness in the exceptionally long and uplifting finish adds appeal.  The bright Tuscan acidity amplifies its charms. Remarkably enjoyable now, its impeccable balance suggests you will be rewarded with cellaring the stellar wine.
95 Michael Apstein Jun 30, 2020

Domaine Saint Gayan, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Trescartes” 2016

($15, Europvin USA):  Domaine Saint Gayan, known for their Gigondas, also makes a notable Côtes du Rhône from grapes grown in the neighboring villages of Seguret and Sablet, two of the named villages of the more prestigious Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation, according to their website.  In keeping with the source of the grapes, the wine is a cut above the usual Côtes du Rhône, exhibiting more character than many.  Though from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (75%), Syrah (20%) and Mourvèdre, it is not a usual wine.  Fresh and juicy, it has a spice that gives it a charming edginess.  It’s another great choice for the grilling season.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 30, 2020

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Meursault (Burgundy, France) 2018

($100):  This village Meursault, a blend of five plots from the northern end of the appellation, is vinified at the Domaine du Pavillon, just down the road in Pommard.  One taste shows the dramatic textural difference between this white from the Côte d’Or and the Les Champs-Michaux from the Côte Chalonnaise.  Creamy, as opposed to stone-y, this Meursault has good weight on the palate.  Fine acidity keeps it lively.
89 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine Adélie (Bichot), Mercurey (Burgundy, France) “Les Champs-Michaux” 2018

($55):  Albéric Bichot purchased this almost 20-acre estate in Mercurey in 2003, the year of his first daughter’s birth.  Hence the name of the domaine.  Mercurey is known for its red wines, but with more whites like this one, the reputation of its whites might well outdistance the reds.  Christophe Chauvel (who is in charge of viticulture for all the domaines owned by Bichot) explains that the soil at Les Champs-Michaux is better suited for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and believes that the clay in the soil imparts roundness to the wine.  Punching far above its weight, this exceptional village Mercurey is sensational.  Floral, with hints of ripe stone fruits, it has extraordinary elegance for a white Mercurey.  Delicious now.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($260):  Bichot owns about three acres in the Les Languettes lieu-dit, a sunny southeast facing part of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard.  From it, they have made a glorious wine in 2018, showing nuances of spiced pineapple offset by a crispy edginess.  Its stature is not in overall weight or power, rather in its layered complexity and elegance.  Very tight at this stage, it starts to show is stature with air.  A Grand Cru white that will need years to show itself.
94 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine Long-Depaquit (Bichot), Chablis Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) “Les Clos” 2018

($112):  With holdings totaling 150 acres of vines, almost half of which are located in Premier or Grand Cru vineyards, Bichot’s Long-Depaquit is one of the most notable estates in Chablis.  They own roughly ten percent of all Grand Cru acreage in Chablis, including the entirety of La Moutonne, an anomalous site of almost 6-acres spanning two Grand Cru vineyards, Vaudésir and Preuses.  In Les Clos alone, Long-Depaquit owns two parcels totaling almost 4 acres, which they blend together for this wine.  The full-bodied and mineral-y 2018 is forward and easy to appreciate now, but should develop beautifully over the next several years because of its impeccable balance.  The long and graceful finish makes it particularly attractive.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Pommard (Burgundy, France) “Clos des Ursulines” 2018

($55):  Unlike Bordeaux, most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners, which explains why the consumer can see multiple bottlings of Pommard Epenots, for example.  By contrast, Clos des Ursulines, a nearly 10-acre vineyard located in the southeast part of the village, is owned entirely by the Domaine du Pavillon.  It’s what the Burgundians call a monopole.  The 2018 is muscular with remarkable suaveness for a wine from Pommard, which gives real elegance to its burly frame.  An excellent village wine — and bargain-priced for what it is.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Château Gris (Bichot), Nuits-Saint Georges 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($130):  The 1er cru vineyard, Château Gris, takes its name from the 19th century castle the Earl of Lupé-Cholet built on the site after phylloxera destroyed the vines.  Instead of the usual multi-colored tiles of Burgundian roofs, it had only slate tiles, giving arise to the nickname of Gris (grey).  This monopole, owned by Bichot since 1978, covers 8.5 acres and is planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but only the red wine from the site is classified as 1er cru.  The 2018 is positively stunning.  Far more elegant than you’d expect from Nuits-Saint Georges, it still conveys a touch of wildness for which the appellation is known.  Long and finesse-filled, it dances on the palate.  Chauvel believes that the terraced rows at different elevations in the vineyard allows for varying levels of ripeness of the grapes, imparting freshness to the wine.  That likely explains its bright finish, which amplifies the wine’s charms.
95 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Clos Frantin (Bichot), Echézeaux Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($360):  Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin owns two and a third acres in the lieu-dit of Champs Traversin from which they make a consistently spectacular Echézeaux.  The 2018 is no exception.  It is explosive, yet not weighty.  It delivers a touch of spice along with a plethora of subtle fruit flavors.  Its understated power and suaveness are captivating.  It’s my definition of Burgundy — flavor without weight.
96 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine de Rochegrès (Bichot), Domaine de Rochegrès (Bichot) (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2018

($28):  Bichot purchased this 12.5-acre estate in the heart of Moulin-a-Vent, arguably the top Beaujolais cru, in 2014.  The grapes come from three lieux-dits within Moulin-a-Vent, La Rochelle, Au Mont, and the young vines from Rochegrès itself.  It is ripe, spicy and suave, combining richness, minerality and bright acidity.  A triumph.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Terre del Palio, Rosso di Montalcino DOC (Tuscany, Italy) 2017

($32, Seaview Imports):  Rosso di Montalcino is a great introduction to Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s greatest wines.  Similar to Brunello, Rosso must be made entirely from Sangiovese — no blending with Cabernet, Merlot, or anything allowed.  This mid-weight wine delivers sour cherry-like fruitiness — the Sangiovese speaking — and a hint of tarry minerality, which is emblematic of the area.  Good length, a welcome whiff of bitterness in the finish, and classic uplifting Tuscan acidity makes it a joy to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 16, 2020

I Magredi, Friuli Grave DOC (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($17, Seaview Imports):  Most people don’t think of northeastern Italy for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Indeed, Friuli Venezia Giulia is home to some of Italy’s best white wines.  But, some Cabernet — both Sauvignon and Franc — are grown on the well-drained gravelly soil, which gives its name to the DOC (Friuli Grave).  With a combination of delicate red fruit-like flavors and lovely earthy notes, this mid-weight wine is decidedly enjoyable now.  Mild tannins allow it to take a chill without unmasking astringency.  Bright acidity and herbal nuances add to its appeal.   Those looking for the power and oomph of California Cabernet will not embrace this restrained style of wine.
88 Michael Apstein Jun 16, 2020

Finca Mangato, Tupungato (Mendoza, Argentina) “Estela Perinetti” 2016

($55, Seaview Imports):  The name of the wine, Estela Perinetti, is also the name of the owner and winemaker at Finca Mangato.  She is one of Argentina’s first female winemakers and viticulturists, according to the Finca Mangato website.  She should know a thing or two about making wine in Argentina since, according to her biographical sketch, she worked with the Catena family, one of, if not the country’s leading wine family, for two decades.  This, their flagship wine, is a big, bold blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Malbec wrapped with silky supple tannins.  Powerful and concentrated, it thankfully avoids going over the top.  Suave structure and bright acidity make it perfect to accompany hearty meat from the grill this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 16, 2020

Bichot is Back

If I needed any convincing—and I did not—that Bichot, the venerable Beaune-based Burgundy négoçiant, is back, it was after tasting a line-up of their 2018s.  That vintage was precarious for winegrowers because the weather provided the potential for both fabulous wines or over-ripe ones with high alcohol levels depending on harvest date, location of the vineyards, and viticulture practices.  Bichot avoided the potential pitfalls and hit the bullseye with both their reds and whites in 2018.

Matthieu Mangenot, formerly the estate manager at Bichot’s Chablis property, Domaine Long-Depaquit, and recently promoted to Assistant Technical Director to Alain Serveau, Bichot’s Technical Director, summed up the growing season succinctly, in four words: wet, drought, hot and sunny.  The winter was wet with twice as much water as usual, which turned out to be beneficial because it kept the vines from stress during the drought that occurred from April through September.  The summer was hot and sunny, with the thermometer breaking 100º some days in September.  The overall result was the potential for alcoholic wines with low acidity.  Mangenot echoed what I had heard from many other growers, namely, that the key to success was an early harvest.  Bichot started theirs about two weeks earlier than usual, at the end of August.  In the cellar, Bichot opted on shorter aging with less time in barrel to preserve the vibrant fruitiness of the wines.  Like many other growers to whom I spoke, they were anxious about the wines at harvest, but thrilled with how they turned out by the time of bottling.

Although I have tasted at Bichot many times over the years, I did not have the time to taste their wines during my annual trip to Burgundy in November, and due to COVID-19, the usual spring press tastings are not occurring.  That did not stop the Bichot team from showing me their 2018s.  They put together an inventive tasting by pouring small, two-ounce, samples of finished, ready-to-be bottled wines—not barrel samples—into small screw-top jars and then rapidly distributed them to tasters (and, indeed, right on schedule they appeared on my porch).  We could taste them simultaneously, via Zoom, with the Bichot team in France, who had assembled in the cellar of their famous Nuits-St.  Georges-based property, Domaine du Clos Frantin.  In addition to Mangenot, Christophe Chauvel, who is in charge of viticulture for all their domaines, and Albéric Bichot, who runs the family-owned business, guided us through the wines.

Before getting to the wines, some background about Albert Bichot is helpful.  Albert Bichot, the grandson of Bernard Bichot, who founded the company in Monthélie in 1831, expanded it and moved its headquarters to Beaune, where it remains, in 1912.  Since 1996, Albéric Bichot, representing the 6th generation of the family, has been running the company and has been responsible for its meteoric rise in joining the other top-tier Burgundy négoçiants.  Under his direction, Bichot has expanded, adding domaines to their portfolio and acquiring other négoçiants, such as Nuits St. Georges-based Lupé-Cholet.

The most critical change that Albéric instituted was a conversion from a “quantity” to a “quality” mentality.  A major part of that change occurred in the vineyard.  Enter Chauvel, a revered viticulturist.  (I’ve heard so much praise from many respected sources about Chauvel that I think “revered” is appropriate.)  Chauvel joined Bichot in 1999 after working for seven years with Pierre Morey, one of Burgundy’s top winemakers, who currently makes wine at his eponymous domaine and was winemaker at Domaine Leflaive for years.  Chauvel told me during a visit in 2008 that his toughest decision was when he and the Bichot team decided to decrease yields by 10 to 15 percent.  He noted it was far more important for the reds than the whites because Chardonnay can handle a higher yield better than Pinot Noir.  But the major hurdle was a mental one.  As a farmer, decreasing yields voluntarily—without a guarantee that the price will increase—is a big challenge and an even bigger risk.

Like the other well-regarded négoçiants, Bichot is an important grower, owning six individual domaines, comprising about 250 acres of vines, from Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south.  Unlike other négoçiants who own vineyards, and therefore are growers as well, the Bichot properties, Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis, Domaine du Clos Frantin and Château-Gris, both in Nuits St. Georges, Domaine du Pavillon in Pommard, Domaine Adélie in Mercurey, and Domaine de Rochegrès in Moulin-a-Vent, each have their own winery and dedicated team, all, of course, under the supervision of Chauvel and Serveau.  The advantage of this organization, according to Albéric, is that the grapes have only a short distance to travel from vineyard to winery and there is a certain amount of friendly—one hopes—competition among the domaines each year.

Bichot’s total annual production is about two million bottles, with 25 percent of that total sourced from their six domaines.  The remainder comes from their négoçiant business, which is, as Albéric describes it, non-traditional.  He explains that they buy grapes or must, not wines, from growers who control roughly 1,000 acres throughout Burgundy.

The Wines

Domaine Long-Depaquit, Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2018 ($112):  With holdings totalling 150 acres of vines, almost half of which are located in Premier or Grand Cru vineyards, Long-Depaquit is one of the most notable estates in Chablis.  They own roughly ten percent of all Grand Cru acreage in Chablis, including the entirety of La Moutonne, an anomalous site of almost 6-acres spanning two Grand Cru vineyards, Vaudésir and Preuses.  In Les Clos alone, Long-Depaquit owns two parcels totaling almost 4 acres, which they blend together for this wine.  The full-bodied and mineral-y 2018 is forward and easy to appreciate now, but should develop beautifully over the next several years because of its impeccable balance.  The long and graceful finish makes it particularly attractive.  93

Domaine Adélie, Mercurey “Les Champs-Michaux” 2018 ($55):  Albéric purchased this almost 20-acre estate in Mercurey in 2003, the year of his first daughter’s birth.  Hence the name of the domaine.  Mercurey is known for its red wines, but with more whites like this one, the reputation of its whites might well outdistance the reds.  Chauvel explains that the soil at Les Champs-Michaux is better suited for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and believes that the clay in the soil imparts roundness to the wine.  Punching far above its weight, this exceptional village Mercurey is sensational.  Floral, with hints of ripe stone fruits, it has extraordinary elegance for a white Mercurey.  Delicious now.  92

Domaine du Pavillon, Meursault 2018 ($100): This village Meursault, a blend of five plots from the northern end of the appellation, is vinified at the Domaine du Pavillon, just down the road in Pommard.  One taste shows the dramatic textural difference between this white from the Côte d’Or and the Les Champs-Michaux from the Côte Chalonnaise.  Creamy, as opposed to stone-y, this Meursault has good weight on the palate.  Fine acidity keeps it lively.  89

Domaine du Pavillon, Corton-Charlemagne 2018 ($260): Bichot owns about three acres in the Les Languettes lieu-dit, a sunny southeast facing part of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard.  From it, they have made a glorious wine in 2018, showing nuances of spiced pineapple offset by a crispy edginess.  Its stature is not in overall weight or power, rather in its layered complexity and elegance.  Very tight at this stage, it starts to show is stature with air.  A Grand Cru white that will need years to show itself.  94

Domaine de Rochegrès, Moulin-a-Vent 2018 ($28):  Bichot purchased this 12.5-acre estate in the heart of Moulin-a-Vent, arguably the top Beaujolais cru, in 2014.  The grapes come from three lieux-dits within Moulin-a-Vent, La Rochelle, Au Mont, and the young vines from Rochegrès itself.  It is ripe, spice-y and suave, combining richness, minerality and bright acidity.  A triumph.  93

Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard “Clos des Ursulines” 2018 ($55):  Unlike Bordeaux, most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners, which explains why the consumer can see multiple bottlings of Pommard Epenots, for example.  By contrast, Clos des Ursulines, a nearly 10-acre vineyard located in the southeast part of the village, is owned entirely by the Domaine du Pavillon.  It’s what the Burgundians call a monopole.  The 2018 is muscular with remarkable suaveness for a wine from Pommard, which gives real elegance to its burly frame.  An excellent village wine—and bargain-priced for what it is.  90

Château Gris, Nuits-St. Georges 1er Cru “Château Gris” 2018 ($130):  The 1er cru vineyard, Château Gris, takes its name from the 19th century castle the Earl of Lupé-Cholet built on the site after phylloxera destroyed the vines.  Instead of the usual multi-colored tiles of Burgundian roofs, it had only slate tiles, giving arise to the nickname of Gris (grey).  This monopole, owned by Bichot since 1978, covers 8.5 acres and is planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but only the red wine from the site is classified as 1er cru.  The 2018 is positively stunning.  Far more elegant than you’d expect from Nuits-St. Georges, it still conveys a touch of wildness for which the appellation is known.  Long and finesse-filled, it dances on the palate.  Chauvel believes that the terraced rows at different elevations in the vineyard allows for varying levels of ripeness of the grapes, imparting freshness to the wine.  That likely explains its bright finish, which amplifies the wine’s charms.  95

Domaine du Clos Frantin, Echézeaux 2018 ($360):  Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin owns two and a third acres in the lieu-dit of Champs Traversin from which they make a consistently spectacular Echézeaux.  The 2018 is no exception.  It is explosive, yet not weighty.  It delivers a touch of spice along with a plethora of subtle fruit flavors.  Its understated power and suaveness are captivating.  It’s my definition of Burgundy—flavor without weight.  96

A word about the prices.  They all reflect the 25 percent tariff imposed on most European wines under 14 percent alcohol by the U.S. government in retaliation for subsidies European governments give to Airbus.  The tariff money goes to the U.S.  government, not the Burgundy producers, although that’s no consolation to the consumer who ultimately pays what is, in reality, a new tax.

In summary, Bichot’s 2018 whites reflect their sites.  The Meursault is creamy, while, in contrast, the Mercurey is stone-y.  Those who criticize négoçiants by claiming a “house style” obliterates site specificity are just plain wrong, at least in this case.  The whites are charming and forward with surprisingly good acidity.  While most of them, the Corton-Charlemagne aside, lack the verve for long aging, like the 2010 or 2014 whites, they are beautifully proportioned and, most importantly, delicious.

The reds, like the whites, speak of their origins.  They are all wonderfully balanced, showing no signs of the over-ripeness that one might have expected given the growing conditions.  They are stylish, balanced, and should evolve beautifully over the decade with proper cellaring.  These wines convey the charm of Burgundy, no easy feat with such heat during the growing season.  Clearly, careful and thoughtful minds were at work here, all the better for us who will drink and admire these fine wines in the years to come.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or Bichot in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

Frog’s Leap Winery, Rutherford, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2017

($40):  This Merlot shows why it’s such a popular kind of wine.  Silky tannins enrobe plummy-like fruitiness and make this wine a delight to drink now.  In the Frog’s Leap style, it shows restraint, impressing you with elegance and suaveness rather than weight and power.  An attractive hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces its breeding.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Frog’s Leap Winery, Rutherford, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 2017

($65):  John Williams, owner and winemaker at Frog’s Leap, has a knack for whimsy.  It’s apparent from his website, from his tagline, “time’s fun when you’re having flies,” to the fine print at the very end of the back label —”open other end.”  But there’s no whimsy in this bottle.  It’s serious.  And gorgeous.  Beautifully proportioned, it combines savory, olive-like nuances with lush dark fruit.  It’s a wonderfully deep, yet restrained Cabernet, the kind that gave Napa Valley its well-deserved reputation.  Its structure is suave, showing no astringency or harshness.  I just wish he’d ditch the oversized bottle — it detracts from the restraint and elegance of the wine.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Frog’s Leap Winery, Napa Valley (California) Zinfandel 2018

($35):  Here’s a Zinfandel for those of us who generally avoid that wine.  Frog’s Leap signature style of restraint highlights the charms of the varietal.  Briary and spicy notes complement its dark fruitiness.  Bursting with flavor, yet not overdone, it’s balanced.  Those looking for a brawny powerhouse Zinfandel will be disappointed.   But those who want a wine you can actually drink throughout a meal of barbequed chicken with adore it.
91 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) “The Mariner” 2017

($50):  Dry Creek Vineyard, founded by David Stare in 1972, has been a leader in the Dry Creek Valley wine renaissance.  Stare started by focusing on Sauvignon Blanc because of his love of Loire Valley wines, but quickly expanded the portfolio.  The Mariner, a typical Bordeaux-blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%) Merlot (15%), Cabernet Franc (6%) and equal parts Malbec and Petit Verdot, is powerful yet elegant.  Suavely textured, it has plenty of structure without being astringent or aggressive.  Savory, olive-like notes intermingle beautifully with dark fruitiness.  Long and graceful, it’s a delight to drink with a grilled steak.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Toscana IGP (Tuscany, Italy) Cabernet Sauvignon “Roccato” 2016

($58, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe created Roccato, their Super Tuscan 50/50 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, in 1988.  Starting with the 2015 vintage, it is now entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, which is grown on their Poggio alle Pecchie vineyard on the Le Macìe estate located in Castellina in Chianti.  Its lovely green olive-like nuances act as a perfect foil for its dark fruitiness. Finely textured, it has good weight.  Classic Tuscan acidity enlivens it and amplifies its charms.  This excellent wine shows that distinctive Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon is not limited to Bolgheri.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Famiglia Zingarelli” 2017

($27, Palm Bay International):  This is great success for the difficult and hot 2017 vintage in Chianti Classico.  One producer was so despondent he actually told me that you could forget about the vintage entirely.  This wine clearly shows that assessment to be inaccurate.  The grapes from Rocca delle Macìe’s “Famiglia Zingarelli” Chianti Classico Riserva come from their four estates and is a blend of Sangiovese (90%) with equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Riper and less energetic than their 2016s, it reflects the warmth of the vintage. Still, it has remarkable acidity for the vintage, which gives it life, and good weight without being overdone.  I suggest drinking it with hearty pasta while you keep their 2016s in the cellar.
89 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Sergio Zingarelli” 2016

($100, Palm Bay International):  As with their superb Chianti Classico Riserva, “Sergioveto,” Rocca delle Macìe has tweaked the style of their Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Sergio Zingarelli.”  They reduced the oak aging and eliminated the Colorino, so the 2016 is made entirely from Sangiovese.  As much as I liked their Sergioveto, their Gran Selezione “Sergio Zingarelli” sings even more.  Overall, the major difference is in its texture.  The Gran Selezione is glossier, more polished and more refined than their superb Sergioveto.  Cashmere versus lambswool.  The Gran Selezione comes across as slightly riper and lusher as well, but retains the same alluring hint of bitterness in the finish.  There’s plenty of structure, but without a trace of astringency.
96 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Ron Rubin Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2017

($25):  Consumers should be pleased with this well-priced Pinot Noir because it has more complexity than you’d expect at the price.  It’s ripe and supple, but unlike many Pinot Noir at this price, it has some earthy, savory nuances.  It’s not just sweet cherry juice.  It’s a great introduction to the charms of Pinot Noir without breaking the bank.
88 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

($35):  Full disclosure, Zinfandel is one of my least favorite wines.  Petit Sirah runs a close second because both usually are impossibly overdone wines.  So, I shuddered when I read the blend:  Zinfandel (76%), Petit Sirah (22%) and Carignane.  But that’s why you taste.  Dry Creek Vineyard has a stunning track record with their Zinfandels, especially their Old Vine bottling, which they define as coming from vines of more than 50 years of age.  Their website proclaims that many of the vines are over a century old and some have been around for 130 years.  Old vines typically provide smaller yields of higher quality fruit, imparting complexity to the wine.  That’s the case with this Old Vine Zinfandel.  Briary and spicy, it handles the 14.9% stated alcohol effortlessly.  Balanced and neither over the top nor hot, it’s classic full-bodied Zinfandel, but with elegance.
92 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Domaine Saint Gayan, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Trescartes” 2016

($15, Europvin USA):  Domaine Saint Gayan, known for their Gigondas, also makes a notable Côtes du Rhône from grapes grown in the neighboring villages of Seguret and Sablet, two of the named villages of the more prestigious Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation, according to their website.  In keeping with the source of the grapes, the wine is a cut above the usual Côtes du Rhône, exhibiting more character than many.  Though from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (75%), Syrah (20%) and Mourvèdre, it is not a usual wine.  Fresh and juicy, it has a spice that gives it a charming edginess.  It’s another great choice for the grilling season.
90 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Abeilles” 2017

($13, Taub Family Selections):  Jean-Luc Colombo is a star producer in the Northern Rhône appellation of Cornas.  Many credit him as a locomotive for that appellation, pulling it onto the world’s stage.  It turns out that he also makes a stylish, bargain-priced Côtes du Rhône.  His “Les Abeilles” (the bees) is both fruity and spicy with good power without being overdone.  A blend of Grenache (60%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvèdre, it is far more polished than you’d expect for a wine from this appellation.  It’s a super value.  Buy it by the case for this summer’s casual drinking with hamburgers from the grill.
91 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rogue Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2018

($25):  Although Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the French and Italian words for the same grape, the name chosen by New World producers usually defines the style of the wine.  Naumes’ rendition, with its subtle hint of pear-like flavors, delivers the fleshy Pinot Gris version.  This is definitely not the innocuous style of Pinot Grigio.  Bright and racy acidity balances its weight.   Some barrel fermentation adds texture without being intrusive or obnoxious.  It’s a great choice for hearty seafood.
92 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2019

($20):  The inclusion of Sauvignon Gris, a faintly colored mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Musqué, which some believe is a biotype of Sauvignon Blanc, helps explain this wine’s appealing fleshy texture.  (Sauvignon Musqué and Sauvignon Blanc have identical DNA and therefore are the same grape, according to Jancis Robinson et al’s Wine Grapes.)  Whatever the composition, Dry Creek’s is a softer and gentler expression of Sauvignon Blanc.  Its graceful, lengthy finish and modest bite adds to its appeal.  It’s a delightful wine to sip before dinner and then carry to the table.
89 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

($58):  Jordan made the difficult decision several years ago to abandon their longstanding and original concept of an estate wine, that is, one made entirely from their own grapes.  They made the honest assessment that their grapes were not always the best ones that were available.  It must have been a scary decision.  In retrospect, it was a brilliant move.  They now use their best grapes plus ones from a dozen or more growers to fashion their Cabernet.  The 2016, a classic Bordeaux-blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Merlot (11%), Petit Verdot (7%) and Malbec, maintains their classic refined style.  Jordan has always focused on an understated elegance and their 2016 fits that mold perfectly.  With a glossy texture, it delivers layers of fruit, spice and savory elements.  As it sits in the glass for a half an hour, it expands.  Thankfully, it is not in the bigger is better style.  An engaging hint of bitterness in the finish reminds us that they have avoided the temptation to pick super-ripe grapes and make an over-the-top jammy Cabernet.
94 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Dog Point, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2019

($21, Vintus):  New Zealand is known around the world as a top producer of distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.  And Dog Point has rapidly become one of the best producers of Sauvignon Blanc in that country.  Their 2019 is stunningly good.  It’s vibrant without being over the top.  Its bite is electric, but not outrageous.  It combines a wonderful texture with an alluring grapefruit-like subtle bitter fruitiness.  Take-out Chinese or sushi, let me introduce you to 2019 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s also an ideal choice if you’re grilling fish yourself.
93 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Pian della Casina “Sergioveto” 2016

($53, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe changed the blend, vineyard site, and appellation for this wine starting with the 2015 vintage.  The wine was originally created in 1985 as a Super Tuscan by Italo Zingarelli, the company’s founder, and named for his son, Sergio, the current head of the company.  With the 2015 vintage, they eliminated the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and now use only Sangiovese from a single site, their Pian della Casina vineyard.  It’s now a Chianti Classico Riserva, not a “Super Tuscan,” but it is definitely still super.  The 2016 version is sensational.  Gently explosive, is combines both savory and dark cherry-like flavors into a seamless package.  It has wonderful density without being heavy.  Lovely discreet bitterness in the exceptionally long and uplifting finish adds appeal.  The bright Tuscan acidity amplifies its charms. Remarkably enjoyable now, its impeccable balance suggests you will be rewarded with cellaring the stellar wine.
95 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige DOC (Italy) Chardonnay 2019

($17, HB Wine Merchants):  With rare exception, consumers don’t usually think of Italy for distinctive Chardonnay.  More wines like this one could change that perception.  Racy and refined, it’s paradoxically mouth-filling yet not heavy. It’s cutting and spicy profile is refreshing.  Undoubtedly, the decision to ferment and age the wine entirely in stainless steel allows its citrus-tinged fruitiness to shine.  It’s a steal, so buy it by the case for this summer’s drinking.
92 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  Unbelievable value!  That’s the best way to describe this Cabernet.  It displays a wonderful — and rare at this price — balance of dark fruit and savory olive-like flavors.  Wonderfully textured, it’s not flabby or soft.  It’s structured, but not aggressive.  By not overdoing it, they have resisted the temptation to try to make something grand or “important.”   What they have made is classic and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has a surprisingly long finish, complete with a hint of bitterness, for such a short price.  Buy it by the case and enjoy it this summer while grilling burgers, steaks, or leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Langlois-Chateau, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) 2019

($25, Vintus):  Langlois-Chateau, though best known for their sparkling wines, also makes noteworthy still wines, such as this Sancerre.  The appealing bite of Sauvignon Blanc is apparent, but it speaks of minerals and chalk rather than overt fruitiness.  Fresh, bright and clean, it’s a refreshing and graceful expression of that grape.
90 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Langlois-Chateau, Crémant de Loire (Loire Valley, France) Brut NV

($23, Vintus):  Edouard Langlois and Jeanne Chateau founded their eponymous company in 1912 and has been a leading producer of Crémant de Loire ever since.  This, their standard NV Brut, is a blend of Chenin Blanc (at least 60%), and roughly equal parts of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Just as Champagne producers use black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) in their blend, Loire producers use one of their indigenous red grapes in their sparkling wines.  It’s taut and focused, with bright and refreshing acidity without harshness.   A great aperitif, it will also cut through things like grilled swordfish so don’t be afraid to take it to the table.
90 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Focusing on Terroir, Following Burgundy’s Lead

If terroir—that French concept that where the grapes grow determines the character of the wine—is so important, why haven’t American consumers embraced it?  Maybe wine appellations, which should define terroir, are just not all that important.  That could be, but I doubt it. Wine appellations should help the consumer know what to expect: Is the wine sweet or is it dry?  Full-bodied or more delicate?  I think Americans haven’t embraced terroir because our focus has always been—and still is—on the importance of grape varieties, brands and winemakers.  But that may be changing as evidenced by a recent release of a trio Pinot Noirs by Siduri Wines, one of the properties owned by Jackson Family Wines.

Wine appellations should allow a consumer to predict, more or less, what’s in the bottle.  Wines from particular areas should have unique characteristics that reflect the locale.  European laws governing the various appellations mandate what grapes are allowed within the defined geographic area, further narrowing the range from a particular appellation.  Consumers, especially those just learning about wine, can confuse the appellation of Pouilly Fumé with that of Pouilly Fuissé, but quickly discern the difference between the herbal bite of the former with the gentler minerality and fruitiness of the latter.  Certainly, there will be differences among the styles of Pouilly-Fuissé depending on the producer, just as different chefs prepare different tomato sauces.  But overall Pouilly-Fuissé should be identifiably different from Pouilly-Fumé just as a plain tomato sauce is different from a tomato-based meat sauce.

Some U.S. producers have focused on terroir with single-vineyard bottlings.  Merry Edwards, Siduri Wines, and Dutton-Goldfield with their single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Nickel and Nickel with their single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons are superb examples of terroir in California.  These producers have shown the importance of site and that where grapes grow make a difference.  Edwards’ Meredith Estate Pinot Noir is consistently different from her Klopp Ranch bottling despite both vineyards being in the Russian River Valley.  Similarly, Nickel and Nickel’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sullenger Vineyard in Oakville differs from their State Ranch bottling in neighboring Yountville.  Site matters.

By and large, the U.S. wine industry has focused on individual producers, less so on differences between regions.  But despite our focus on American wine brands and their winemakers, terroir does exist on these shores. It’s not some French philosophic fantasy.  It exists outside of France, but is difficult to isolate unless—and this is critical—a single producer bottles wines from different American Viticultural Area (AVAs), our equivalence of European appellations.  Consumers can taste Domaine Drouhin Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and compare it to Merry Edwards’ Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, but are the differences due to terroir or to winemaking style?  One just doesn’t know.

That’s where Burgundy has led the way.

UNESCO has inscribed Burgundy’s vineyards—its terroir—on their list of World Heritage Sites, recognizing its importance as ground zero for terroir.  Two reasons explain Burgundy’s unique status.  Firstly, for 800 years, monks who planted the vineyards, with little else on which to focus (among worldly matters, at least), were able to study which sites did best year after year, decade after decade, and century after century.  Equally critical, in my opinion, has been the unique marketing system of the wines—based on the centrality of négociants.

The fragmented ownership of vineyards in Burgundy with most farmers owning portions of vineyards scattered over several villages, meant it was impractical for individual growers to make, bottle and market their wines themselves.  The négociant, or wine merchant, system evolved in the 19th century from this patchwork of vineyards and growers.  Growers from throughout Burgundy would sell their grapes or newly pressed juice to larger merchant houses, such as Albert Bichot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Joseph Faiveley, Maison Louis Jadot, and Maison Louis Latour to name just a few.  In turn, these houses would make, bottle and market the wines under their name.  Although the system started for economic reasons, the unanticipated consequence was the introduction of the concept of terroir to the general consumer.

Customers could—thanks to the efforts of the négociants—taste wines from the various villages and vineyards made using the same winemaking techniques.  The differences between wines from the villages (soon-to-be appellations beginning in the 1930s) of Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny could be appreciated because winemaking practices were the same.  The only differences among the wines was where the grapes were grown. Unexpectedly, the uniqueness of terroir became easy for the entire world to see, understand and appreciate.  The négociants made the transparency of site apparent to everyday consumers.

Today, though the distinction between négociant and grower has blurred, the concept of terroir remains clear.  Négociants have purchased more and more vineyards.  Growers, seizing on their rock star-like reputations, are becoming “micro-négociants” by buying grapes from other farmers and expanding their range.  With the growth of more micro-négociant model, the practice of a single producer bottling wines from a plethora of individual appellations has expanded and is stronger than ever.   A mini-version of this fragmentation exists in Piedmont, but with the exception of the Produttori del Barbaresco, a co-operative that bottles up to nine site-specific wines, and Sordo in Barolo, which bottles eight single-vineyard wines, most producers bottle no more than two or three separate wines.  Burgundy is the only place in the world where a single producer bottles 50+ individual appellation wines made from the same grape.

Unsurprisingly, Oregon, with its focus on Pinot Noir, a variety that has the potential to express terroir beautifully, has taken a lead in focusing on AVA.  The Drouhin family led the way when they established Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987.  Now they produce two distinctive and different Pinot Noirs from two AVAs there, Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills.  Jadot followed suit in 2013 when they established their Oregon outpost, Résonance, in the Yamhill Carlton AVA and within a few years expanded by making Pinot Noir from another AVA, the Dundee Hills.  As with Drouhin’s Oregon bottlings, Jadot’s reflect the different growing areas.  Árdíri, based in Oregon, and Siduri based in California, have taken it a step further by crossing state lines.  Árdíri makes a Pinot Noir from Chehalem Mountains AVA in Oregon and from the Carneros AVA in California. Siduri has expanded the idea by producing multi-vineyard blends of Pinot Noir from three of America’s best AVAs for Pinot Noir: Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara County in California.  Paradoxically, by being less focused on specific vineyards, these wines allow consumers to see—taste, really—the broad differences among these three prime areas or appellations.

Siduri, named for the Babylonian goddess of wine, has always specialized in Pinot Noir, especially single vineyard bottlings.  According to their website they make single vineyard wines from a total of 20 vineyards throughout California and Oregon.  These multi-vineyard single AVA additions to their portfolio are a boon for consumers because each of the wines is easy to recommend and is reasonably priced—at least for Pinot Noir.  Plus, if you taste the three side-by-side, you can easily discern the differences among the AVAs.  Everything except the where the grapes are grown is the same: same vintage, same grape, same winemaking team.  So, the only difference is the origin of the grapes.

Siduri’s Willamette Valley bottling ($35) comes from grapes grown in three AVAs within that valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, and Eola-Amity. Racy and juicy, it delivers far more that bright fruitiness.  Indeed, savory notes are clear and balance the red raspberry-like quality.  A welcome hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal and shows the understated charm that Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley delivers.

Compared to the Willamette Valley bottling, their Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40), which comes from several vineyards throughout the valley, is broader and riper, with dark fruit flavors.  There’s no bitterness in the finish in this plush, suavely textured wine.  The slight increase in stated-alcohol (14.5 vs 14.3%) is noticeable in the hint of heat in the finish.  Overall, the greater power reflects the warmer Russian River Valley sites compared to those in the Willamette.

The grapes for the Santa Barbara bottling ($30) come primarily from the Sta. Rita Valley, whose east-west orientation is rare in California, where most of the valleys run north-south.  Sta. Rita’s orientation allows cool Pacific Ocean influences to reduce temperatures, especially close to the coast, making it an ideal locale for growing Pinot Noir, a grape that prefers lower temperatures to higher ones.  Siduri’s Sta. Rita bottling is a fine contrast to their other two, falling somewhere in the middle. Slightly riper and more full-bodied that their Willamette offering, it is more restrained compared to the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, reflecting the cooler environment.

Finally, consumers can learn for themselves the wonderful differences between Pinot Noir from the Willamette, the Russian River Valley, and Sta. Rita Hills without wondering whether they are tasting terroir or the producer’s signature.  Thanks to Siduri for reminding us that France does not have a monopoly on terroir. It’s alive and well in the USA.

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Email me your thoughts about terroir at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

May 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rogue Valley (Oregon) “GSM” 2017

($40):  GSM stands for the classic Mediterranean blend:  Grenache (50%); Syrah (33%) and Mourvèdre.  Naumes has fashioned an exquisitely balanced mid-weight wine from these grapes, each of which adds something.  Grenache makes its presence known with lively spice, while Syrah adds power and Mourvèdre savory nuances.  It’s a ripe wine, yet graceful and harmonious.  A subtle hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  It’s a great choice to accompany meat on the grill this summer.
94 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rogue Valley (Oregon) Barbera 2017

($35):  Plantings of Barbera in Oregon, let alone in the Rogue Valley, must be miniscule.  The 2018 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report doesn’t even mention the grape in their detailed statistics.  Judging from this wine, more wineries will be planting it.  Immediately appealing, this wine combines alluring spice with bright red fruit flavors.  Fresh, juicy acidity keeps this mid-weight wine lively while a supple texture makes it easy to enjoy now.  It’s a charming wine delivering the liveliness of Barbera without a trace of astringency.  Bring on the pasta with a hearty, tomato-based sauce.
94 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Inama, Soave Classico DOC (Veneto, Italy) Vigneto du Lot 2017

($27, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Inama, one of Soave’s top producers, make a great Soave from a blend of vineyards in that appellation.  He also makes two stunning single-vineyard ones — this one, and one from Vigneto di Carbonare.  Inama’s Vigneto du Lot has power and finesse balanced by piercing acidity.  For all its power, there’s not a trace of heaviness.  A lovely lava-like sensation comes through.  This redefines Soave.
93 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2019

($17, HB Wine Merchants):  There’s Pinot Grigio, and then there’s Pinot Grigio.  One taste of Peter Zemmer’s explains why the category is so popular.  Delicate hints of white flowers greet you when you pull the cork.  A refined and restrained fruitiness follows.  It startles you with its elegance, not its power.  Bracing acidity in the finish amplifies its charms.  Fine as a stand-alone aperitif, it would do well with delicate seafood, such as sautéed sea bass.
92 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio Giatl Riserva 2017

($38, HB Wine Merchants):  Peter Zemmer’s single-vineyard Giatl is a very different style of Pinot Grigio from his regular (I hate that word to describe that wine, which is anything but regular) bottling.  The Giatl has power and a Burgundian-like weight and to it.  A hint of lanolin-like texture makes it all the more appealing.  This is weighty serious stuff.  Those looking for a glass of “Pinot Grigio” should look elsewhere.  Those who want to see what the grape can achieve should pull the cork.
94 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Pinot Noir 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  European regulations for naming wines are Byzantine.  The top tier is labeled Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) formerly known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).   (A quirk in regulations allow the French to continue to use the older AOC nomenclature.)   A step below is Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP).  IGP wines typically are labeled by grape name whereas AOC (AOP) wines are typically labeled by where the grapes are grown and usually prohibit the use of grape names, though that prohibition is not rigorously enforced at the lower prestige appellations, such as Bourgogne Rouge.  Regulations are more relaxed for IGP wines, allowing for greater yields and a great choice of grapes.  Hence, you see this Pinot Noir coming from outside of Burgundy.  Rather than shunning this less prestigious IGP category, consumers should embrace it because they can offer exceptional value, as this wine and others from Domaines de Cabrials demonstrate.  This uncomplicated wine delivers ripe black fruit flavors with a hint of savory nuances.  Suave tannins and the right amount of acidity make it ready to drink now.  Is it one of the most compelling Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted?  No.  Is it one of the best $12 Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted?  Yes.
88 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  Unbelievable value!  That’s the best way to describe this Cabernet.  It displays a wonderful — and rare at this price — balance of dark fruit and savory olive-like flavors.  Wonderfully textured, it’s not flabby or soft.  It’s structured, but not aggressive.  By not overdoing it, they have resisted the temptation to try to make something grand or “important.”   What they have made is classic and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has a surprisingly long finish, complete with a hint of bitterness, for such a short price.  Buy it by the case and enjoy it this summer while grilling burgers, steaks, or leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Siduri Wines, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2018

($35):  Siduri, named for the Babylonian goddess of wine, specializes in Pinot Noir, especially single vineyard bottlings.  According to their website they make only single vineyard wines from a total of 20 vineyards throughout California and Oregon.  Fortunately, they have expanded their production and now produce blended wines from three appellations: Willamette Valley in Oregon, plus two from California, specifically, Santa Barbara County, and the Russian River Valley.  These additions to their portfolio are a boon for consumers because each of the wines is easy to recommend and reasonably priced — at least for Pinot Noir.  Plus, if you taste the three side-by-side, it allows you to taste and discern the differences among the AVAs.  Everything except where the grapes are grown is the same: same vintage, same grape, same winemaking team.  So, the only difference is the origin of the grapes.  The verdict, as you will see, is that terroir is alive and well in the USA.  Siduri’s Willamette Valley bottling comes from grapes grown in three AVAs within the valley:  Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, and Eola-Amity.   Racy and juicy, it delivers far more that bright fruitiness.  Indeed, savory notes are clear and balance the red raspberry-like quality.   A welcome hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  Less ripe than Siduri’s Russian River Valley or Santa Barbara bottlings, this one shows the understated charm that Oregon’s Willamette Valley delivers.
93 Michael Apstein May 5, 2020

Siduri Wines, Santa Barbara County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir 2018

($30):  The grapes for this multi-vineyard bottling come primarily from the Sta. Rita Valley, whose east-west orientation is rare in California where most of the valleys run north-south.  Sta. Rita’s orientation allows cool Pacific Ocean influences to reduce temperatures, especially close to the coast, making it an ideal locale for growing Pinot Noir, a grape that prefers lower temperatures to higher ones.  Siduri’s Sta. Rita bottling is a fine contrast to their other two, falling somewhere in the middle.  Slightly riper and more full-bodied that their Willamette offering, it is more restrained compared to the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, reflecting its cooler environment.  This is a great trio.  Thanks to Siduri for reminding us that France does not have a monopoly on terroir.
90 Michael Apstein May 5, 2020

Siduri Wines, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2018

($40):  Siduri, known for their single-vineyard bottlings of Pinot Noir has expanded their portfolio to include ones from a variety of vineyards.   In this case, the grapes come from throughout the Russian River Valley.  Compared to its Willamette Valley bottling, their Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is broader and riper, with dark fruit flavors.  There’s no bitterness in the finish in this plush suavely textured wine.  The slight increase in stated-alcohol (14.5 vs 14.3%) is noticeable by a hint of heat in the finish.  Overall, the greater power and ripeness reflects the warmer Russian River Valley sites compared to the Willamette.
88 Michael Apstein May 5, 2020

Talenti, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015

($50):  Talenti must have harvested the Sangiovese at precisely the right time in 2015, judging from the balance in this wine.  The 2015 growing season in Montalcino was, similar to the remainder of Tuscany, hot and produced rich, ripe wines, sometimes even over-ripe and jam-y ones.  Talenti’s 2015 is ripe, but not overdone, with suave tannins.   Despite its power, it’s a graceful and refined wine that finishes with a delightful touch of bitterness.   Its plush texture provides immediate pleasure, but its balance suggests wonderful evolution with a decade of bottle age.
95 Michael Apstein May 5, 2020