Category Archives: Reviews

Bouvet Ladubay, Loire Valley (France) Rosé Excellence, Brut NV

($16):  Bouvet Ladubay, one of the Loire’s largest producers of sparkling wine, is back under Monmousseau family control since 2015, after having been run by a succession of corporate enterprises.  This mid-weight rosé, made exclusively from Cabernet Franc grown in the Saumur region of the Loire Valley, delivers spice with a hint of sweetness.  This energetic wine would be a good match for spicy food or sushi and a superb way to welcome guests this Thanksgiving.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, Saint-Aubin (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  Saint-Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru Saint-Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village Saint-Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) 2017

($27):  Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2018

($40, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits (Burgundy, France) “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018

($30):  The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many.  It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2018

($27):  Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, I could include their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess.  It punches far above its weight class.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Parent, Monthélie Blanc (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($48):  Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineraly and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.
94 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre (Burgundy, France) Gueules de Loup 2017

($35):  Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2015

($26, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Bart, Marsannay (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) “Les Finottes” 2018

($30):  Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I would be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy, France) 2017

($27): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($37):   One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Firesteed, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2019

($16):  With roughly twice the acreage planted as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio, in Italian) is Oregon’s second most widely planted variety, after Pinot Noir.  As a wine, Pinot Gris’ spectrum is wide, ranging from light and innocuous to rich with stone fruit flavors and even some sweetness.  Firesteed’s falls into the latter category with subtle pear-like flavors had a hint of sweetness in the finish.  Bright acidity keeps this fleshy wine fresh.  It would be a good choice for highly spiced food and for those who like wasabi with their sushi.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay “Russian River Selection” 2018

($35):  Gary Farrell is well-known for producing excellent single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.  They also produce a bevy of single-vineyard Chardonnays.  This one, however, their Russian River Selection, is a blend of Chardonnay grown in five vineyards: Westside Farms, Bacigalupi Vineyard, Rochioli, Allen and Olivet Lane.  It is a wonderful expression of Russian River Valley Chardonnay with just the right amount of richness anchored by riveting citrus-like acidity.  In short, it’s easy to describe this Chardonnay in one word, yummy!  You’ve heard this from me before, but it needs to be repeated: Its 13.3 percent stated alcohol demonstrates that you don’t need super ripe grapes to make a super wine.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Estate 2019

($22):  Let me jump to the bottom line: This is a great value Chardonnay.  Racy and clean, this vigorous Chardonnay has the barest hint of alluring creaminess as well.  Though not an opulent style of Chardonnay, it still has plenty of stuffing and terrific energy.  Its charm is amplified by a trace of grapefruit pith-like flavor in the finish.  Its 13.4 percent stated alcohol, once again, belies the idea that you need super-ripe grapes to make a super wine.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2017

($68):  Wow!  It’s worth repeating, Wow!  And I don’t mean that in terms of power, I mean that in terms of stature and finesse.  Merry Edwards has always been one of my favorite producers, especially for Pinot Noir, but she has outdone herself with their 2017 Meredith Estate.  Talk about a track record.  In the last decade, I’ve scored only one Meredith Estate less than 95 points—the 2011 received 94.  She purchased the 24-acre site in 1996 and planted to Pinot Noir a couple of years later.  They consider it their flagship wine.  I think the 2017 is their best ever, showing more finesse and sleekness than in previous years without sacrificing intensity.  Heidi von der Mehden, who is Merry Edwards new winemaker after serving as Edwards’ assistant since 2015, told me during The SOMM Journal’s Geographical Digest webinar, “Domestic Bliss,” that the 2017 vintage was cooler than usual, which she felt explained the slightly different profile of the wine.  It’s a gorgeous wine with what I think of as the hallmark of Pinot Noir — flavor without weight.  Without a trace of heaviness, it dances, seemingly forever, on the palate.  It’s both racy and voluptuous, but not overdone, with an emphasis on the savory side of Pinot Noir.  Its suaveness makes it a joy to drink now.  Its impeccable balance suggests it will evolve beautifully with age, so there’s no rush.
98 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Ridge Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) “Lytton Springs” 2018

($44):  Full disclosure: I am prejudiced against Zinfandel.  So, perhaps my enthusiasm for this wine is helped by the absence of a varietal name on the label, but I don’t think so because I tasted it in a line-up of Zinfandels at a SommCon Virtual Summit.  This is a captivating red blend, based primarily (72 percent) on Zinfandel.  Petite Syrah (18 percent), Carignane (8 percent) and Mataro, all grown in the same vineyard and vinified together, a so-called field blend, round out the wine.  The beauty of this wine is its balance  — lush dark fruit intermingled with spice cresting a brambly profile.  The tannins contribute balance by adding a welcome hint of bitterness, offsetting the apparent ripeness.  It’s actually restrained, at least for contemporary Zinfandel. (At “only” 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it could be considered low alcohol for Zinfandel.)  This is great choice as we head into colder weather and heartier food.  Ready now, but Ridge’s wines develop beautifully over time, so there’s no rush if you lay down a case.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Col d’Orcia, Sant’Antimo DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Rosso Col d’Orcia” 2014

($25, Taub Family Selections):  Col d’Orcia, best known for their stunning Brunello di Montalcino, makes other wines.  At first glance at the label, you might think this is their Rosso di Montalcino.  It’s not.  Also, don’t be put off by the 2014 vintage, which was, as the Italians themselves describe it, “difficult.”  Col d’Orcia, like other talented producers, still manages to do well in difficult years.  The Rosso Col d’Orcia is a blend of Sangiovese clones (60 percent), many of which were ancient and at risk of becoming extinct, with two other less common, but traditional, Tuscan grapes, Foglia Tonda (30 percent) and Bersaglina.  It’s a great mixture of fleshiness, minerality and herbal, savory elements supported by firm tannins.  It has the hallmark elegance of Col d’Orcia’s Brunello.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Travaglino, Oltrepò Pavese DOC (Lombardy, Italy) Pinot Nero Poggio della Butinera Riserva 2015

($42):  Italy is not known for Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) the way it is for Nebbiolo or Sangiovese.  In the relatively cool Oltrepò Pavese region, the grape does well, as Travaglino shows with this 2015 Riserva.  Nicely concentrated, but certainly nowhere near a New World style, it delivers both fruit flavors and savory character, the latter of which is immediately apparent in the nose and carries onto the palate.  Bright acidity (it is Italian, after all) amplifies its charms, while refined tannins provide structure. It even finishes with a delightful hint of bitterness, reinforcing its Old World origins.  Drink now with grilled salmon or even beef, rather than sipping it by itself.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Champagne Devaux, Champagne (France) “Augusta” Brut NV

($40, Seaview Imports):  The Augusta refers to Augusta-Maria Herbin, Devaux’s wife, another widow of Champagne, who led the firm from 1879 to 1895.  Family ownership ended in 1987, when, according to their website, it passed to the Union Auboise, now Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux, a co-operative.  There are 22 coops in Champagne, accounting for over a third of all the wine pressed there, according to the Comité Champagne, the trade group that represents all of the growers and producers.  Coops, unfairly in my view, have a poor reputation.  Indeed, they often are the place to find value, since they have the ability to produce many wines of differing quality.  Take this one, for example.  Champagne Devaux is the coop’s flagship wine.  Most of the wine comes from the 2016 vintage with 20 percent reserve wine (older vintages) rounding out the blend.  A blend of Pinot Noir (80 percent) and Chardonnay, it delivers both power and elegance. Its engaging roundness allows you to enjoy it on its own before dinner, but its intensity and length means it’s fine at the table with, say, grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Bodegas Caro, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Aruma” 2018

($15, Taub Family Selections):  This Malbec is an unusual wine for Bodegas Caro, a collaboration between Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and Nicolas Catena, two stars in the wine world.  It is unusual because they pride themselves on combining two winemaking cultures, Bordeaux and Argentina, and their two respective grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, but there’s no Cab in this.  Ideas evolve and it’s perhaps not surprising that they would produce a 100 percent Malbec since that grape is emblematic of Argentina.  (As an aside, Lafite had Malbec planted in their vineyards in the 19th century.)  The 2018 Aruma focuses on ripe, dark fruit with soft tannins balanced by good acidity.  It may lack the wonderful complexity of Bodegas Caro’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend, but it’s hard to find stylish, ready-to-drink Malbec at this price.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

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

($20):  Founded in 1972 by David Stare and still family-run, Dry Creek Vineyard continues to excel.  Dry Creek Vineyard’s initial focus was on Sauvignon Blanc because Stare loved the wines of the Loire Valley.  So, it’s not surprising that Dry Creek Vineyard continues to make a consistently fine Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2109 follows in those footsteps.  It takes a balanced, middle-of-the road approach with a little bit of everything and not too much of anything.  Fleshiness offsets an invigorating citrus element.  Lively, but not aggressive, acidity stimulates the palate.  A delightful hint of grapefruit pith-like bitterness in the finish enhances the overall picture.  Although you can enjoy a glass by itself, it really shines next to a plate of grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Raeburn Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2019

($22):  The focus of the 2019 Raeburn Pinot Noir is firmly on bright pure cherry-like fruit.  Suavely textured, it is easy to enjoy this mid-weight wine now.  A touch of heat and a hint of sweetness in the finish likely results from the 14.5 percent stated alcohol.  It’s rare to find a Pinot Noir that’s this enjoyable at this price.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Signature” 2016

($90):  An over-sized bottle with the wine weighing in at 15.1 percent stated alcohol accurately predicts the nature of this Cabernet Sauvignon:  powerful.  Fruit-forward and dominant, it’s a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and Saint-Macaire, an ancient grape from Bordeaux, which is no longer used there, but was included in the allowed mix for Meritage wines in California.  Ready now, it’s a soft, fleshy wine that imparts sweetness, then finishes nicely with an offsetting hint of bitterness.  Those looking for density and oomph in their Cabernet will embrace it.  It’s ironic that J. Lohr, who won the 2020 California Green Medal Sustainability Award and prides itself on a commitment to sustainability, opts to use a heavy bottle that most environmentalists criticize for adding unnecessarily to the wine’s carbon footprint.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Black Stallion Estate Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2017

($60):  The packaging — over-sized bottle — and 15 percent stated alcohol suggests this Cabernet is from the “bigger is better” school.  And there is no question, it’s a big, ripe wine with plenty of power.  Yet, it’s not overblown or overdone.  The grapes come primarily from mountain vineyards throughout the Napa Valley, which accounts for its freshness, according to Black Stallion’s website.  It leads with lovely aromatics and then delivers a mix of deep black fruit-like flavors, spice and herbs.  The tannins provide structure, but are unobtrusive under the layers of fruit.  Good acidity keeps it fresh and in balance, except for a touch of heat in the finish, reflecting the high alcohol.  Though not my style of Cabernet, it is well-made and people who enjoy high octane “Napa Cab” will love it.  Its supple and velvety texture makes it ideal for drinking tonight with a grilled hunk of meat.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

 

Agricola Punica, Isola del Nuraghi IGT (Sardinia, Italy) “Barrua” 2015

($46):  Agricola Punica is a collaboration between Tenuta San Guido, the Bolgheri producer responsible for Sassicaia, and Sardinia’s Cantina di Santadi.  The late Giacomo Tachis, who was a genius at sensing the utility of the so-called Bordeaux varieties in selected Italian locales, suggested the blend of Carignano, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for their wine to be called “Barrua.”  It turned out to be an outstanding recommendation.  Despite the stated 15 percent alcohol, the 2015 Barrua does not come across as ripe or overdone.  Quite the contrary.  Lush fruitiness gives way to savory and herbal elements amplified by a lively freshness in the finish.  The tannins are present for support, but they are refined and supple, not aggressive.  Yum!
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau (Germany) Riesling Silberlack Trocken GG 2018

($75):  Schloss Johannisberg, whose Riesling planting started in 1719, is thought to be the oldest Riesling producer in the world.  (The first documented wine harvest from the site itself was a roughly a thousand years earlier, in 817.)  The estate grows only Riesling, yet makes many different wines depending on where in the vineyard the grapes grow and when they are harvested.  Stefan Doktor, the estate director, explains that they make many different wines because of the diversity of soils and microclimates within the vineyard, which is located at the confluence of warmer air from the Rhine river and cooler air from the north.  He emphasizes that you need cold climate to make superb Riesling.  Cold nights especially — and the nights are cold at Schloss Johannisberg — slow ripening and allow flavors of the Riesling grape to develop.   The other advantage of this northern clime, according to Doktor, is long hours of daylight during the summer, from 5 AM until 10 PM, which helps the grapes achieve ripeness.  He adds that the quartz in the soil retains heat, which also aids ripening.  This wine, labeled Silberlack Trocken for the vineyard parcel, is bone dry with a measured residual sugar of 2.7 grams/liter.  To put that wine-geek number in perspective, tasters can typically start to detect sweetness at a level of about 5 grams/liter.  The GG stands for Grosses Gewachs, the equivalent of Grand Cru, indicating the stature of the growing site.  The grapes come from the coolest part of their vineyard, the southwest corner, which is always the last to be harvested.  The wine is positively gorgeous, racy, minerally and penetrating.  It’s all you could want.  The first sip makes you smile.  With impeccable balance, all the elements are in harmony and dance across the palate.  The tension between vibrant minerality and alluring peach-like fruitiness is splendid and seemingly never ending in the aftertaste of the wine.  Sip it by itself, or drink it with virtually anything.  You will be surprised how wonderful it is, even with a steak.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Viognier 2018

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

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) “Triolet” 2017

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

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2017

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

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Syrah 2017

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

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Tempranillo 2017

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

Miolo, Vale dos Vinhedos (Brazil) Brut “Cuvée Tradition” NV

($14, CapCity Beverage):  There’s probably no greater statement regarding the potential of the sparkling wine industry in Brazil than the investment by Moët & Chandon there in the 1970s.  Miolo has been producing sparkling wines from there vineyards in Vale dos Vinhedos, the first Brazilian area to receive DO status, long before Moët invested in the country.  This one, their Cuvée Tradition, is made, as the name implies, by the traditional Champagne method with the secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle.  A blend of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it was disgorged in 2017.  It has a lovely austerity.  Its charms blossom after being opened (and re-stoppered) for a day.  A fine stream of bubbles enlivens the palate.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 29, 2020

Casa Perini, Farroupilha (Serra Gaúcha, Brazil) Moscatel NV

($20, Aiko Imports):  Brazil ranks third in wine production in South America after Argentina and Chile, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine.  And almost a quarter of the country’s production is sparkling wine.  Most of the fine wine production is located in the Serra Gaúcha area, where Italian and German immigrants settled, in the southern (cooler — away from the equator) part of the country near the border with Uruguay.  Made with the Moscato grape, this sparkler is stylistically reminiscent of Asti Spumante — floral and slightly sweet.  It’s the type of bubbly you might sip while sitting by the pool in the afternoon since it weighs in at a mere 7.5 percent stated alcohol.
86 Michael Apstein Sep 29, 2020

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