Category Archives: Reviews

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Vespa” 2019

($35, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  Barbera is a terrific wine for a meal because the grape has inherently high acidity, which makes it lively and perfect for food.  Its problem is image.  When consumers see many on retailers’ shelves selling for less than $10 a bottle, the question is, why spend more?  Well, let me tell you.  With Barbera, you get what you pay for.  Ten bucks gets you thin acidic swill.  Paying a bit more does wonders.  Take the Barberas from Cascina Caslet, a top producer.  This one, with a Vespa on the label, is juicy with ripe black fruitiness and fabulous balancing acidity that keeps it in balance.  Mild tannins lend structure without being aggressive.  Indeed, you could chill the wine for thirty minutes in the frig when it’s hot outside.  Try it with a hearty pasta dish.  You’ll fall in love with Barbera.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Litina” 2016

($40, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  The label sports CCC in bold letters on the bottle, the abbreviation of the winery, Cascina Caslet, plus the village, Costigliole, where it’s located. The important information can be found on the neck label. Similar to their Vespa bottling, the Litinia, named after a family member, is a robust wine that delivers black fruitiness buttressed by zippy acidity.  In addition, there’s an intriguing savory component and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish.  The biggest difference, however, is textural. It’s suave and displays an unusual sophistication for a Barbera.  This is serious wine that shows the potential of Barbera in the right hands.  It would be a great choice to accompany a grilled steak.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2016

($80):  Site matters.  A skeptic of that statement just needs to taste this Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in a vineyard located in the windy Petaluma Gap of Sonoma next to the Gary Farrell Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley.  This one has the power and robust nature of the Toboni and Martaella, but with layers of savory nuances that add complexity.  Though it displays a muscular style, it is not overdone.  Bright acidity keeps it from falling into the “Pinot-Syrah” category.  More tightly wound than Farrell’s other Pinot Noir, this wine could use further bottle age.  It should develop beautifully because of its wonderful balance.  If you can’t wait — and that’s understandable — open it a couple of hours before dinner.
94 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Santa Maria Valley (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2016

($70):  Santa Maria Valley’s east-west orientation is unusual in California where most of the valleys run north-south.  Its orientation, which allows cooling Pacific Ocean breezes, explains its cooler climate despite its southern California location.  The bright red fruit-like profile reflects the coolness of the site.  Though this Pinot Noir has fewer savory notes, touches of spice season it nicely and add complexity. Its raspberry-like flavors dance on the palate.  It’s a lighter and brighter Pinot Noir, which Theresa Heredia, the winemaker, calls, “sexy and spicy.”
92 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Toboni Vineyard 2016

($55):  The warmth of the Russian River Valley compared to the Sonoma Coast or Santa Maria Valley accounts for riper raw material for this Pinot Noir, which is translated into a more robust wine.  Similar to the one from Martaella Vineyard, it delivers power at the expense of subtlety.  But, showing that site is critical, its fruit and spice profile differs from the Martaella even though the vineyards are a stone’s throw apart. It’s not the style of Pinot Noir I personally look for, but it is well made and certainly will have an audience.  The glossy tannins, a hallmark of Farrell’s Pinot Noir, make it a good choice now with grilled beef.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Martaella Vineyard 2016

($65):  Those who love a more robust style of Pinot Noir will embrace the Martaella Vineyard bottling from Gary Farrell, in relation to the rest of this producer’s lineup.  The focus here is on the ripe, plum-like fruitiness.  As with all of Farrell’s Pinot Noirs, the tannins are fine and the textured refined, which makes it easy to enjoy now.  The sunny Santa Rosa plain where the vineyard is located helps explain the opulence in the wine.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard 2016

($55):  This wine presents a fascinating comparison with the Farrell’s Dijon Clones Pinot Noir from the same vineyard.  The winemaker says it’s a blend of five clones of Pinot Noir instead of two Dijon clones.  It has the same power as the Dijon Clones bottling, but reveals less complexity at this stage.  In my mind, it suffers by comparison to its stablemate.  As a stand-alone wine, I’d be thrilled to drink it with grilled salmon.  The lesson for me is that clones matter, but that subject is far too geek-y for this review, so I’ll leave it at that.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard Dijon Clones 2016

($60):  The warmer Russian River Valley compared to Farrell’s Fort Ross bottling explains the riper style of this Pinot Noir.  Black fruit flavors mingle with savory earthy components in this juicy, bright, and long wine.  Though slightly bigger and bolder than their Fort Ross Pinot Noir, it remains impeccably balanced.  Again, a modest -– by today’s standards — 13.7 percent stated-alcohol reinforces the notion that riper grapes don’t necessarily make better wine, especially when dealing with Pinot Noir.
95 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Fort Ross – Seaview (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard 2016

($75):  The Fort Ross Vineyard is a cold site, lying less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean and roughly 1,500 feet above sea level.  The temperature rarely exceeds 85º, all of which explains the wine’s profile: a fabulous combination of beguiling fruitiness and smokey savory nuances.  Lively acidity gives it brightness and amplifies its charms.  Beautifully balanced, it’s long and refined, with suave tannins.  It conveys what I think of as a Burgundian sensibility, namely, one of flavor without weight.  All of 13.2 percent stated-alcohol shows you don’t need super ripe grapes to make a super wine.
96 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2020

Sosie Wines, Sonoma County (California) Brut Nature “First Things First” 2018

($30):  To borrow Sosie’s phrase, first things first: people will either love or hate this well-made sparkling wine because it’s different.  Composed entirely of Roussanne, a white grape indigenous to France’s Rhône Valley, it conveys stone fruit — think nectarine-like — flavors.  It’s made by the traditional Champagne method of performing the secondary fermentation in the bottle.  The resulting fizz keeps it fresh and balanced, so it’s not heavy, but it doesn’t exactly dance on the palate as would a more traditional sparkler made entirely from Chardonnay.  Fine as a stand-alone aperitif, it works even better with food, such as grilled swordfish with a caper butter sauce.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2020

Gianni Gagliardo, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Castelletto 2013

($100, Enotec Imports / Blair Taylor Selection Denver):  The village of Monforte d’Alba, where the Castelletto vineyard is located, is a Barolo zone that typically produces weighty and muscular wines, similar to those from Serralunga d’Alba.  So, I was surprised by lovely fragrance and elegance that emanated from Gagliardo’s bottling.  Make no mistake, there was plenty of power.  The sublime fruitiness and a patina of oak made the tannins fade into the background.  This Barolo, at seven years of age, a joy to drink now, but those who prefer more savory nuances in their wines need to give it more time to develop.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2020

Palladino, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) S. Bernardo Riserva 2013

($88, Enotec Imports / Blair Taylor Selection Denver):  Though the 2016 vintage in Barolo has been receiving great critical acclaim — rightfully so — other vintages from that DOCG are not far behind.  Case in point, this 2013 from Palladino, based in Serralunga d’Alba, a Barolo zone known for tannic and tough wines.  This one is terrific, muscular, but not tough at all.  In fact, it’s surprisingly glossy, especially for a wine from Serralunga.  A traditionally framed Barolo, it exudes a wonderful mixture of savory notes (especially, meaty ones) and dark fruit flavors.  It’s chewy but tender.  Engaging now, this wine is for the cellar to allow more development.  Palladino has less than two acres in the small San Bernardo vineyard, so production is limited.  It is worth the search.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2020

Barone Sergio, Eloro DOC (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola “Sergio” 2018

($21, Artisanal Cellars):  “Eloro is a grand cru for Nero d’Avola,” according to Ian d’Agata, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Italian wines.  Barone Sergio has 75 acres of vineyards, two-thirds of which are devoted to that grape, one of Sicily’s most important varieties.  Sergio, a robust wine, delivers bright plummy fruit-like flavors accompanied by mild tannins.  The focus is on its fruitiness, while bright acidity keeps it fresh.  It would be a good choice for grilled foods this summer.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Tenuta Carretta, Roero DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Bric Paradiso” Riserva 2015

($55, Blicker Pierce Wagner Wine Merchants):  Roero, located on the left bank of the Tanaro River, across from the Langhe, produces lighter Nebbiolo-based wines compared to those from across the river due to a generally lighter soil.  This, a fragrant beauty, has the Burgundian sensibility I call, “flavor without weight.”  It’s like a baby Barolo with hints of tar, floral character and firm, yet not astringent or annoying, tannins.  In short, a delight!
92 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Tenuta Carretta, Barbaresco DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Garassino” 2016

($50, Consortium Wine & Spirits Imports):  Tenuta Carretta is the sole owner of 11.5-acre Garassino vineyard, a recognized MGA (Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva) or “cru” in the Treiso part of the Barbaresco zone.  It’s what the French would call a monopole.  Their well-price 2016 is elegant and understated.  Like many great wines, its grandeur sneaks up on you.  Only after it has been on the palate awhile do you really sit up and take notice.  Its floral notes and hint of tarriness are reinforced by a long, fine and explosive finish.  Not a powerhouse, this is a very pretty wine with fine tannins that, unsurprisingly, needs several years to open up.  I’d find room in the cellar.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Il Nocio 2016

($159, Empson USA): The 2016 Il Nocio is an extraordinary wine. Boscarelli is one of the top producers — some would say THE top producer — of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Il Nocio, from the vineyard of the same name, is their top wine.  The 2016 is exceptional, but I repeat myself. Crystalline and pure, it delivers hints of cherries and plenty of minerality.  Though not a fruity wine, it is plush, but not soft. Indeed, there’s a beauty in its austerity.  Then, all of a sudden, it’s no longer austere, but mouth-filling.  A long and elegant wine, the 2016 Il Nocio reveals more with each sip after time in the glass.  Its super suave texture is deceptive because it’s lovely to drink now, but the 2016 Il Nocio is a wine to age. Their website notes, “The aging potential of our Nocio is measured in decades. . .”   From my experience, the 2004 Il Nocio was just starting to show maturity in 2013, at a decade of age, and the 1996 was magnificent at 17 years of age at that same 2013 tasting.  So, I’d put the 2016 in a deep corner of your cellar.

96 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2020

Colle Santa Mustiola di Fabio Cenni, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese Poggio ai Chiari 2011

($80, Selezioni Varietali):  This is my first encounter with this producer, but it certainly will not be my last given the quality of this wine.  Their importer tells me Cenni’s focus is Sangiovese, with their 12 acres planted entirely with 28 clones of that variety.  Poggio ai Chiari, their flagship wine, is impressive from the first fragrant whiff.  Stylish and refined, it transmits a lovely austerity without being hard. Paradoxically, it is both delicate and powerful, but not heavy.  Hints of cherries come through and mingle with mineral-like flavors.  Uplifting acidity keeps it fresh and lively and balances its chiseled profile.  An engaging hint of bitterness in the finish increases its appeal.  Cenni clearly knows something about Sangiovese.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2020

Bocale di Valentini, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (Umbria, Italy) “Bocale” 2015

($47, Tradizione Imports):  The Sagrantino grape does not make wimpy wines.  So, there’s no surprise that this one is big and bold, weighing in at 15.5 percent stated-alcohol.  And, as expected from wines from this DOCG, its tannic youthfulness is in evidence.  The surprise, however, is the balance. Despite its size, it’s not heavy. It carries the alcohol, the tannins, and the flavor beautifully.  Great acidity keeps it fresh.  A hint of bitterness in the finish shows it’s not made from over-ripe grapes.  Its profile demands hefty meat, such as grilled lamb studded with garlic, or wild game.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Il Nocio 2016

  ($159, Empson USA): The 2016 Il Nocio is an extraordinary wine. Boscarelli is one of the top producers — some would say THE top producer — of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Il Nocio, from the vineyard of the same name, is their top wine.  The 2016 is exceptional, but I repeat myself. Crystalline and pure, it delivers hints of cherries and plenty of minerality.  Though not a fruity wine, it is plush, but not soft. Indeed, there’s a beauty in its austerity.  Then, all of a sudden, it’s no longer austere, but mouth-filling.  A long and elegant wine, the 2016 Il Nocio reveals more with each sip after time in the glass.  Its super suave texture is deceptive because it’s lovely to drink now, but the 2016 Il Nocio is a wine to age. Their website notes, “The aging potential of our Nocio is measured in decades. . .”   From my experience, the 2004 Il Nocio was just starting to show maturity in 2013, at a decade of age, and the 1996 was magnificent at 17 years of age at that same 2013 tasting.  So, I’d put the 2016 in a deep corner of your cellar.

96 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Pietro Beconcini, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Reciso” 2015

($35, Beivuma Wines):  Beconcini, located in San Miniato, a small town halfway between Pisa and Florence, makes range of wines from a Chianti to this one, his top of the line.  Made entirely from organically-grown Sangiovese, it’s a beauty, probably, in part at least, because of the age of the vines.  According to their website, about one-third of the vines for this wine are 45 years old while the rest are 25 years of age.  A ying and yang of savory and cherry-like flavors dance on the palate.  Though it has good density and ripeness — the 2015 vintage speaking — it’s not heavy.  Classic Tuscan acidity keeps it lively and fresh.  A charming rusticity and a hint of bitterness in the finish speaks to its authenticity.  It would be an ideal choice tonight for grilled steak.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Colle Santa Mustiola di Fabio Cenni, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese Poggio ai Chiari 2011

($80, Selezioni Varietali):  This is my first encounter with this producer, but it certainly will not be my last given the quality of this wine.  Their importer tells me Cenni’s focus is Sangiovese, with their 12 acres planted entirely with 28 clones of that variety.  Poggio ai Chiari, their flagship wine, is impressive from the first fragrant whiff.  Stylish and refined, it transmits a lovely austerity without being hard. Paradoxically, it is both delicate and powerful, but not heavy.  Hints of cherries come through and mingle with mineral-like flavors.  Uplifting acidity keeps it fresh and lively and balances its chiseled profile.  An engaging hint of bitterness in the finish increases its appeal.  Cenni clearly knows something about Sangiovese.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Usiglian del Vescovo, Terre di Pisa DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Il Barbiglione” 2015

($32, Wine Worldwide Inc): The Terre di Pisa DOC is not even a decade old, having been founded only in 2011.  It’s a tiny area (less than 150 acres) with only a handful of producers, surrounding the Tuscan town of Pisa on Italy’s west coast, north of Bolgheri.  Unsurprisingly given its locale, the red grapes allowed include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah.  Judging from this wine, consumers can expect to hear more about the region.  The 2015 Il Barbiglione displays good weight and power without being overdone.  Sufficient structure that avoids astringency balances the dark cherry-like flavors.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish makes it ideal for grilled meat this summer.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Castello La Leccia, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Bruciagna” 2015

($40, Ideal Wine):  Gran Selezione, a category introduced a decade ago, sits at the pinnacle of the Chianti Classico quality pyramid, above Riserva.  To qualify for this distinction, the wine must come from the producer’s estate — no purchased grapes allowed — be aged for a minimum of 30 months, and receive approval from a tasting panel.  It’s meant to be a producer’s flagship Chianti Classico.  Castello La Leccia, a consistent producer, makes a wonderful array of Chianti Classico wines.  Their 2015 Bruciagna, reflecting the ripeness of the vintage, is powerful, youthful and, importantly, balanced. In short, nothing is out of place.  Savory and fruity elements act as a foil for one another.  Good acidity keeps it bright, no small feat in 2015.  I would give it a few years in the cellar while you drink La Leccia’s regular Chianti Classico.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Tua Rita, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Rosso dei Notri” 2019

($22, Winebow):  One of the things I admire about producers, such as Tua Rita, who can make a high-end wine (in Tua Rita’s case, their Redigaffi a $300+ per bottle Merlot) is that they can also produce a perfectly delightful $25 wine, such as this Rosso dei Notri.  I was enthusiastic about the 2017 recently, giving it 91 points, and am pleased to see their consistency with this 2019.  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah fill out the Sangiovese and provide added richness, compared to, for example, a Morellino di Scansano.  A welcome touch of bitterness in the finish balances and enhances the wine’s fleshy character.  They’ve achieved excellent weight without heaviness or astringency.  This slightly more than mid-weight wine is a great value for current consumption.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

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

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