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Loveblock Vintners, Marlborough (South Island, New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc “Tee” 2022

($22, Terlato Wines International):  The owners of Loveblock Vintners, Erica and Kim Crawford, are certainly no newcomers to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, having established the very popular Kim Crawford label.  Loveblock Vintners is their new venture, after selling the Kim Crawford brand to Vincor which eventually was gobbled up by Constellation Brands.  The Loveblock wines are made entirely from vineyards that Erica and Kim own.  This electrifying 2022 Sauvignon Blanc fits the profile of one from the Marlborough region with a crisp lime-tinged zing.  The barest sensation of sweetness in the finish balances all those refreshing and mouth-cleansing citrus notes.  For those to whom it matters, the wine contains no added sulfur.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2023

Domaine Pernot Belicard, Bourgogne Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) Chardonnay 2021 

($35, Jeanne-Marie de Champs):  I repeat what I’ve said before: Value in Burgundy these days is found at the lower pedigree appellations made by talented producers.  Pernot Belicard is a great example of a top producer bottling exceptional white wines at every pedigree.  The relatively new moniker, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, indicates that the grapes — Chardonnay, it is white Burgundy — come only from that revered heart of Burgundy and not from the Mâconnais or the Côte Chalonnaise.  The energy inherent in the wines of the cooler 2021 vintage support the subtle creamy minerality of this wine.  It has more depth than you’d expect from the appellation, which simply shows the talent of the producer.  Pernot-Belicard’s 2020 Bourgogne Côte d’Or, which I also recommend highly, is a little richer, reflecting the warmth of that vintage, while the 2021 delivers a refreshing and mouth-cleansing raciness.  There’s a case in my cellar, which is probably more meaningful as a recommendation than 93 points.  There is also a case of the 2020 beside it.  Get the point about the producer?
93 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2023

Xanadu, Margaret River (Western Australia) Chardonnay “Circa 77” 2021

($18, RWG USA):  The 77 moniker refers to 1977, the year Dr. John Lagan, an Irishman, founded Xanadu.  This light, fresh Chardonnay, weighing in at only 12.5 percent stated alcohol, will delight those who avoid the opulent buttery style of that varietal.  Seemingly unoaked and despite the lack of opulence, the Circa 77 Chardonnay has a wonderfully glossy texture.  Glenn Goodall, Xanadu’s winemaker, explains that the wine was, in fact, aged entirely in oak barrels, all of which were several years old.  He ascribes the texture to the technique of stirring the lees, not oak aging.  Mild citrus notes amplify its stony character.
89 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2023

Xanadu, Margaret River (Western Australia) Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon “Vinework” 2022

($27, RWG USA):  Glenn Goodall, Xanadu’s winemaker, explains that the blend, two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Semillon, is the signature of Western Australia, especially the Margaret River.  He treats the varieties differently, “no witchcraft” as he puts it for the Semillon, simply tank fermentation.  The Sauvignon Blanc, in contrast, receives lees stirring and oak fermentation.  Witchcraft or not, this is balanced beauty, a seamless combination that combines the energy, punch, and zing of Sauvignon Blanc with a subtle creaminess of Semillon.  It is remarkably long and graceful.  Plenty of balancing acidity keeps it lively and fresh.  In short, a delight to drink now with you name it.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2023

Xanadu, Margaret River (Western Australia) Chardonnay “Vinework” 2021

($27, RWG USA):  Xanadu’s rich and luxurious Vinework Chardonnay bookends beautifully with their Circa 77.  It is plush yet not heavy.  It may not have the alluring minerality of white Burgundy, but it does have the Burgundian sensibility of flavor without weight, as the 12.5 percent stated alcohol reflects.  Finesse and elegance combine with an ideal depth of flavor.  The less-is-more philosophy works well here.  While there are nuances of white peaches and citrus notes, the exact flavors are far less important than the overall impression: a balanced racy Chardonnay that’s a joy to drink.  And a bargain to boot!
95 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2023

Three Takes on Second Wines

No one wants to be second.  Nobody strives to come in second.  Second place is just not built-in to our DNA.  For example, my daughter, a NCAA Gold Medal winner coxswain during college, referred to a Silver Medal winner—2nd place—as “the first loser.”  So, the so-called “second wines” can have a pejorative connotation.

Nevertheless, a recent instance of serendipity reinforced why I maintain that consumers should be embracing second wines, not shunning them.  But before describing the serendipitous encounter, let me remind readers about second wines.

Though second wines are mostly associated with Bordeaux, they are found all over the world, and in many instances aren’t even called a “second wine.”  Regardless of labeling or nomenclature, the concept is the same: categorize the grapes and/or wine from a property based on quality and character, and bottle them separately on two tiers.  It’s easy to understand that not all parts of a vineyard will produce the same high-quality grapes because the soil and exposure of the vines are not uniform.  Furthermore, the age of the vines has an enormous influence on the grape quality, and since growers replant their vines periodically, vineyards will contain plants of differing ages.  So, you can understand why producers might opt to keep grapes from older vines that produce higher quality fruit separate, and relegating fruit from young vines to the second wine.  In appellations where blending of varieties is allowed, another important factor will be how each variety performed that year.  The late Paul Pontallier, the long-term director at Château Margaux, once told me that he diverted a substantial amount of grand vin-quality Merlot into their second wine, Pavillon Rouge, in 2005 because putting all the Merlot, even though it was of the highest quality, into the Grand Vin (1st wine) would upset its balance.

In a forgotten corner of my cellar, I recently discovered a bottle of 2013 of Aria di Caiarossa lying next to a bottle of its big brother, 2013 Caiarossa.  Owned and managed by the same team that owns the famous Margaux Grand Cru Classé Château Giscours in the Margaux appellation of the Médoc, Caiarossa is a unique “Super Tuscan” that includes Rhône varieties and Alicante in addition to the more traditional Bordeaux grapes.  Here was a great opportunity to see how Caiarossa, the 1st wine, and Aria de Caiarossa, the 2nd wine, had evolved over a decade.

The graceful 2013 Aria di Caiarossa, an IGT Toscana blended from Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, has evolved extremely well into a finesse-filled beauty.  Weighing in at a modest 13.5 percent stated alcohol, it now wows you with a Bordeaux-like complexity, poise, and elegance.  Mild tannins lend needed support while Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and delightful to drink.  Its graceful and suave texture can remind us why we age wines.  By contrast, the more youthful 2013 Caiarossa, also an IGT Toscana, is bolder (14.0 percent stated alcohol) with a tarry minerality, perhaps in part because of the addition of Sangiovese, Alicante, and Petit Verdot to the blend.  Still a pleasure to drink, its youthful vigor and tannins just gave it a more robust profile.  To my taste, the Aria is at a perfect stage, whereas the Caiarossa, the 1st wine, unsurprisingly, still needs another five to 10 years to mellow.

Alessandro Lunardi, the U.S. representative for Ornellaia, explains that all their vineyards are farmed with the same attention to detail, with the potential for any of the grapes to go into the first wine.  It’s only after tasting the wines from the 100+ separate plots that the team decides which ones will go into Ornellaia and which go into Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, their second wine.  Lunardi points out that sometimes even grapes from young vines wind up in Ornellaia.  Le Serre Nuove is typically Merlot-dominant in contrast to the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Ornellaia, which helps explain why it is more approachable when young.  The fleshy and accessible 2021 Le Serra Nuove dell’Ornellaia combines alluring savory and mineral notes, all wrapped in suave tannins.  It’s a joy to drink now (93 pts., $75).  In contrast, the far more youthful, though chronologically older, 2020 Ornellaia, a spectacularly beautiful and balanced young wine, needs at least a decade for its true grandeur and complexity to show (96 pts., $250).  For what it delivers, Le Serra Nuove dell’Ornellaia is a bargain, especially compared to Ornellaia.

Marcel Ducasse, the brilliant winemaker and general manager that Suntory hired when they purchased Château Lagrange, a Third Classified Growth in the 1855 Médoc Classification in 1983, once told me that the fastest way to improve the quality of a wine was to make a second wine.  Which is exactly what he did and why the quality of Château Lagrange soared after Suntory’s purchase.  Unusually for a Bordeaux Cru Classé, Château Lagrange actually bottles more second wine than Grand Vin.  In addition to elevating Château Lagrange virtually overnight to a place among the leading estates in St. Julien, the creation of the second wine, Les Fiefs de Lagrange, has been a boon for consumers.  Take the succulent 2016 Les Fiefs.  At seven years of age—and still available in retail shops—its lush, black current-like fruit balanced by fine tannins and enlivening acidity makes it a fine choice for current drinking with a steak (92 pts., $46).  By contrast, the monumental 2016 Château Lagrange, one of Lagrange’s best efforts, is a harmonious treasure but needs another decade of cellaring to show its full charms (96 pts., $75).  With a more velvety texture—think cashmere versus lambswool—and more complexity, it’s unquestionably the better wine, but for drinking tonight, I’d uncork the ’16 Les Fiefs.

So, my advice is to embrace those “first losers.”

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E-mail me your thoughts about second wines at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

September 20, 2023                  

Iris Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2022

($18):  Iris Vineyards does it again with their racy and sleek 2022 Pinot Gris.  Despite a modest 11.5 percent state alcohol, this light-weight wine packs a pleasing punch.  Floral and bright, it dances on the palate, revealing delicate hint of pears and stone fruit flavors.  A lively saline acidity energizes this beauty.  Subtle bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  It’s a versatile wine, enjoyable as a stand lone aperitive, but equally well-suited to cut through a wide range of flavors on the table from spicy Asian fare to a tomato basil pasta.
95 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2023

Mount Veeder Winery, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2021 

($50):  Mount Veeder Winery, justifiably known for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends, has released their first Chardonnay — and it’s a resounding success.  Opulent but not overdone, it displays a buttery richness supported by uplifting acidity and energy.  It even displays a welcome hint of bitterness in the finish, reinforcing the sensory impression that it’s not a fruit bomb.  This would be an excellent choice for a roast chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2023

Tenuta Perano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2021

($33, Frescobaldi):  Though I have always been impressed by any of Frescobaldi’s Chianti Rufina — after all they are THE name in that appellation — I remember being disappointed when I tasted their first vintage of Chianti Classico a few years ago.  No longer!  With black juicy fruit, this vivacious mid-weight wine is a wonderful example of Chianti Classico.  A touch of spice and a hint of bitterness in the finish adds complexity and keeps you coming back for another sip.  A delightful choice for a hearty pasta dish this fall.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2023

Maison Louis Jadot, Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir 2021

($22, Kobrand):  Value in Burgundy these days is found at the lower pedigree appellations made by talented producers.  Enter this Bourgogne Rouge from Jadot.  With an engaging combination of savory notes intertwined with hints of red and black fruit, this mid-weight wine is real Burgundy, or Bourgogne as the French would prefer to call it.  Thankfully, like Burgundy in general, it’s not heavy or particularly fruity.  That character along with its bright acidity and mild tannins make it ideal for grilled salmon.  It would also take a slight chill nicely which means it’s a good substitute for a Rosé.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2023

Caprio Cellars, Walla Walla Valley (Washington) “Sanitella” Estate Red Wine 2020

($88):  An unnecessarily heavy bottle forecasts a hefty wine, which it is.  A Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blend pumped up with Malbec and Merlot, it delivers riper black fruit notes wrapped with suave tannins.  Despite a richer and deeper profile compared to Caprio’s “Eleanor” bottling, it still has an engaging and balancing bitterness in the finish.  This is a bolder, more minerally — almost tarry — rendition without going over to the darker side.  Lovely now, if it’s the style you’re looking for.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2023

Conde Valdemar, Rioja Crianza (Spain) Tempranillo 2018

($20):  It’s hard to beat Rioja for satisfying mid-weight well-priced reds.  Take this delightful example.  Conde Valdemar has made a seamless combination of dark fruitiness touched by a kiss of seductive oak, all enlivened by lip-smacking acidity.  Fine tannins make this bright and fresh beauty great for current drinking with anything from a roast chicken and mushrooms to skirt steak fresh from the grill.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2023

Duca di Salaparuta, Sicilia DOC (Sicily, Italy) Grillo “Calanica” 2022

($18):  It is no surprise that Duca di Salaparuta, one of Sicily’s leading producers, makes a delightful wine from Grillo, one of Sicily’s indigenous white grapes.  This crisp and clean light-weight beauty cries for fish or shellfish.  A saline-like acidity and hint of bitterness in the finish imparts a surprising length.  This refreshing white is ideal for the summer’s seafood.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2023

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos des Ruelles 2015

($50):  This delightful wine shows that value in Burgundy is alive and well.  Owned by the Devillard family, the Château de Chamirey is one of, if not THE, leading estates in Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, just south of the Côte d’Or.  Just as with wines from that famed strip of land, red wines from Mercurey must be made with Pinot Noir.  This venerable estate covers almost 100 acres, of which roughly 40 percent are classified as premier cru.  The just under 6.5-acres Clos des Ruelles Premier cru is a monopole, that is, Château de Chamirey owns it entirely in contrast to most vineyards in Burgundy, which are divided among multiple owners.  The vineyard is composed of two pieces with slightly different exposures, which adds to the wine’s complexity.  Even the youngest vines are 40+ years old.  The combination of the old vines, complexity of the vineyard, stature of the vintage, and the talent of the producer explains the wonder of this mid-weight wine.  Suave and seductive, this energetic wine wows with its depth and persistence, not brute force.  Delicious now, its balance and stature suggest it will continue to develop over the next decade.  Why it is still available at retail for this price is inexplicable to me.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2023

Frenzy, New Zealand () Sauvignon Blanc 2022

($15, Wilson Daniels):  The Marlborough region of New Zealand’s south island is responsible for the acclaim, enthusiasm, and world-wide excitement for that country’s Sauvignon Blanc.  That region does make distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.  But, as this wine shows, Marlborough does not have a monopoly on distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.  About a third of the Sauvignon Blanc in this wine comes come from Marlborough.  The other two-thirds comes from Gisborne, a warmer area on New Zealand’s north island, which likely explains why this wine has more depth ripeness than many New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  It achieves that extra oomph without losing any of the energy and verve typically associated with the varietal from New Zealand.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2023

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay (Burgundy, France) Clos des Gatsulards 2020

($51, Kobrand):  Domaine Gagey in the rectangle at the bottom of the label means that the Gagey family, the longtime directors of Maison Jadot, owns the property.  So, in essence, this is an estate wine as opposed to a négociant wine for which Jadot would have purchased the grapes from another grower.  The potential advantages of an estate wine include managing the vineyard yourself and determining exactly when to harvest and press the grapes.  The stature and complexity of this village wine — more exciting than many producers’ Premier Cru — reflects those advantages.  Here is a marvelous mixture of red fruit notes, spice, and other savory elements.  Jadot has deftly added a touch of elegance to the charming rusticity found in wines from Santenay.  Even with the heat of the 2020 growing season, this wine retains grace and finesse, so, embrace for those qualities not sheer power.  This mid-weight well-priced beauty is a reminder to focus on the producer rather than worry about the pedigree on the vineyard.  Speaking of price, an even better value is the 2016 vintage of the same wine, which is gorgeously developed and even more complex, and which I have seen still available at retail for $44.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2023

Maison Louis Jadot, Bourgogne Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) 2020

($26, Kobrand):  In a word, delicious!  And an extraordinary value.  You rarely see Burgundy of this quality at this price.  Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, takes advantage of a relatively new appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, which means all the grapes came from the famed Côte d’Or part of Burgundy, rather than the region’s less prestigious subzones.  One sip explains why the Côte d’Or is so revered.  With plenty of dark red fruit but enough savory balance creating an alluring ying/yang, this mid-weight wine shouts authentic Burgundy in contrast to the all too many New World fruit-focused Pinot Noir.  Bracing uplifting acidity keeps it fresh.  The long and graceful finish is astounding for a “simple” Bourgogne.  This wonderful Bourgogne shows that value exists in Burgundy today.  Though ready to drink now — the tannins are finely polished — I bet even with this lowly pedigree it will evolve nicely over the next five years.  I usually don’t focus on the packaging — I am more interested in what’s in the bottle — but this is a startlingly unconventional and modern label for Jadot, a traditional producer.  My editor, no doubt, will shudder at a 93-point score for a Bourgogne Rouge, but it deserves high praise for what it delivers for the price.  My advice, buy it by the case.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2023

Maison Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) “Celebration” 2020

($63, Kobrand):  Jadot started this unconventional, by Burgundy standards, bottling with the 2009 vintage to celebrate its 150th anniversary.  Contrary to the Burgundy mantra of terroir — a specific delineated location is paramount — Jadot blends wine from upwards of 15 individual premier cru vineyards within Beaune, to produce a wine representative of the best Beaune has to offer (there are no Grand Cru vineyards in Beaune.)  They produce it only in the best years, like 2020.  Explosive on the palate, this is real 1er cru. Suave tannins support a glorious mixture of red fruit, spice, and complementary savory herbal notes.  Refreshing acidity adds life to this racy wine.  Though a joy to drink now, I suspect it will close down in a year or so to reawaken in a few years.  So, dive in now to get a sense of what top-notch Beaune has to offer.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2023

Oregon: The Latest French Invasion

The French have always played an important role in the American wine industry.  Burgundy-born Paul Masson started making wine in California in the late 19th century, followed by Georges de la Tour, founder of Beaulieu Vineyards, in 1900.  The second wave started in 1973 when Moët et Chandon established Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley.  Other Champagne houses—Taittinger with Domaine Carneros and Champagne Mumm’s Mumm Cuvée Napa—soon followed.  To me, however, the Burgundy-based Drouhin family started the most fascinating wave when they established Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987.  Over the succeeding 35 years other Burgundy producers, notably Louis Jadot and Méo-Camuzet, have spread the Burgundian concept of terroir to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the results have been nothing short of sensational.

Véronique Drouhin (the fourth generation of the family who oversees winemaking at Domaine Drouhin Oregon), Guillaume Large (the winemaker at Jadot’s project, Résonance) and Jean-Nicolas Méo, who is in charge at Nicolas-Jay, all agree that they are not trying to make Burgundy in Oregon. Instead, they seek to express the unique Oregon terroir through the great Burgundian grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  When Méo hosted a tasting of his Méo-Camuzet Burgundies side by side with Nicolas-Jay Oregon Pinot Noir in Boston recently, the differences were striking.  Wines from both continents were stunning, though vastly different, reinforcing the concept that Oregon Pinot Noirs, even when made by Burgundian winemakers, are not Burgundies—nor do the winemakers want them to be.

The story starts with Robert Drouhin, the third generation of the family, who has a habit of being a visionary when it comes to finding prime vineyards.  In the 1960s, he engaged in what many of his Côte d’Or counterparts felt was “folly,” but which has turned out to be a spectacular decision, when he purchased vineyards in Chablis, revitalizing the appellation and, with their 95 acres, making Drouhin the most important Beaune-based producer there.  He did it again when he founded Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1987.  To their 125 acres of vines in the Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA), Drouhin went on to add another 125 acres in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in 2013.  Both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from these two AVAs and made by the same winemaking team are wonderfully different, reminding us that Burgundy does not have a monopoly on distinctive terroirs.

As though to emphasize the differences between the wines (and terroir), Drouhin opted to label the wines from the Eola-Amity property, Drouhin Oregon Roserock, not Domaine Drouhin Oregon.  The differences shine when comparing the mineral-y and firm 2020 Drouhin Oregon Roserock, Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay “Maigold” ($80, 94 pts.) with the creamy and suave 2020 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills, Chardonnay “Édition Limitée,” 2020 ($80, 94 pts.).  The differences imparted by site are equally dramatic when comparing Pinot Noirs, even taking vintage and cuvée differences into account.  The charming and finesse-filled 2019 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($47, 92 pts.) delicately marries red fruit and savory nuances and contrasts vividly with the glossy and more structured 2021 Drouhin Oregon Roserock, Eola-Hills, Pinot Noir “Zepherine” bottling (their top cuvée; $66, 95 pts.) with its black fruit and distinct dark mineral profile.

Though Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noirs develop beautifully, gracefully morphing from the fresh red fruit notes of youth to the alluring mushroom-like savory flavors of maturity, they maintain their New World identity, at least to an experienced taster.  When I served a 1989 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir blind a couple of years ago—a 30-year-old wine—to a group of Burgundians, all marveled at its development and charm.  Anne Parent of Domaine Parent in Pommard, one of the Burgundy’s most talented winemakers, immediately identified a hint of sweetness in the finish that alerted her to its non-Burgundian origins.

Louis Jadot gingerly put a toe into the Oregon water, so to speak, in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in 2013 when they purchased Resonance Vineyard, a never-irrigated 20-acre vineyard that had been planted with un-grafted Pinot Noir vines about 30 years earlier, in 1981.  (They have a dedicated tractor for this vineyard, so they do not inadvertently bring diseases into it.)  Initially they rented space in a winery because as Pierre-Henry Gagey, the recently retired longtime President of Louis Jadot who orchestrated the project, told me that they wanted to make sure the experiment would work before they built their own winery.

Well, it clearly has.  A decade later, they’re all in.  Jadot has since added 60 more acres of Pinot Noir vines on the Yamhill Charlton site, with the potential to add more, and built a gravity flow, state-of-the-art winery there.  They added a gorgeous, seamlessly connected tasting room, meeting area, and private dining area all made from reclaimed local barnwood on the property.  They next purchased another 15-acre vineyard, Découverte, in 2014 in the Dundee Hills AVA and are building a small tasting room there.  Just last year, Jadot again expanded by purchasing the Koosah Vineyard, an 82-acre site, 44 of which are planted, in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.  Currently, they produce wines from two AVAs, Yamhill-Charlton’s Résonance Vineyard, and Dundee Hills’ Découverte Vineyard, and anticipate producing wine from Koosah Vineyard soon.

After tasting three vintages (2018, 2019, and 2021) of the Résonance vineyard and Découverte Vineyard Pinot Noirs with Large, the differences between the Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills AVA stood in clear relief, vintage after vintage.  The Résonance Pinot Noir from Yamhill-Carlton was always denser, more mineral-y with a more structured frame compared to the more elegant and lacier Découverte Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills.  While all six of these wines are balanced and graceful, a stand-out is the striking 2019 Résonance Vineyard, which magically combines power and elegance ($65, 95 pts.) and is a bargain for what it delivers.  But frankly, I’d be happy drinking any of them tonight.

Though Jadot is clearly focused on the distinctiveness of the different Willamette Valley AVAs, they also make a Willamette Valley blend under the Résonance label (without the Résonance Vineyard designation) with fruit coming from the Résonance and Découverte Vineyards that they find unsuitable for bottling under the vineyard name, the Jolis Monts Vineyard, which are newer plantings nearby the Résonance Vineyard, and from purchased fruit.  The stylish and fresh 2021 Résonance Willamette Valley blend ($35, 92 pts.), in my opinion, the best one they’ve produced to date, is a mini version of the 2021 Résonance Vineyard bottling and manages to combine dark fruited depth with finesse.  It’s rare to find a Pinot Noir of this stature at $35.

Focusing on terroir and perhaps drawing on his experience running the small négociant business that he recently added to his Burgundy portfolio, Jean-Nicolas Méo took a different approach.  As Tracy Kendall explained (she’s Associate Winemaker at Nicolas-Jay and the on-site full-time winemaker), Méo and music executive Jay Boberg, wanted to spend money on the vineyards, not make a castle or a shrine.  Méo wanted to learn about the various terroirs, so when they started in 2014, the partners purchased grapes from various well-regarded vineyards to learn the lay of land.  As for the winemaking, they rented space at Adelsheim for three years, and then rented space for another three years at Sokol Blosser.

By 2017, they were convinced of the potential for excellent Pinot Noir from the Willamette, so they started looking to build a winery.  Finally, they found an old cattle barn in the Dundee Hills that had the skeletal potential for a gravity flow building.  Along with it came a north-facing slope for a vineyard whose exposure would minimize the effects of climate change and produce less ripe grapes that would translate into lower alcohol wines.  They transformed the barn into a modern winery just in time for the 2020 harvest, which they opted not to make because of lamentable smoke taint from wildfires.  Kendall’s eyes beamed and she became even more animated when she described how it felt to finally make wines, the 2021s, in their own place.

Méo’s model worked brilliantly.  The partners fell in love with the wines from the Bishop Creek Vineyard in the Yamhill Charlton AVA and eventually bought the vineyard, which sits at a 450-foot elevation and has own-rooted (not grafted) vines that were planted in 1988.  Wine from Bishop Creek, either bottled as a single vineyard or included in a blend, now accounts for half of their production.  Nicolas-Jay buys from seven other vineyards and has four single vineyard bottlings currently.  Their Willamette Valley blend, Ensemble, contains fruit from every AVA within the Willamette Valley except Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge.  The suavely textured 2019 Ensemble ($77, 92 pts.) is a stunning expression of the potential of what the Willamette has to offer.  All of Nicolas-Jay’s wines come from organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards, even though they may not be certified as such, and are fermented using native yeast.

The superb Nicolas-Jay 2019 Pinot Noirs reflect the diversity of the Willamette’s AVAs.  The charming Nysa (Dundee Hills AVA) bottling ($114, 95 pts.) displays a captivating finesse and elegance, while the powerful 2019 Momtazi (McMinnville AVA) bottling ($109, 95 pts.) with its dense, black, mountain fruit tension is just what you’d expect from the area’s rugged wind-blown volcanic soil.  What’s unexpected is a meagre 13.2 percent stated alcohol and its marvelous balance.  The youthful and brooding 2019 Bishop Creek (Yamhill Charlton) ($110; 96 pts.), combining power and finesse, is truly an iron fist in a velvet glove.

The splendid array of Nicolas-Jay’s 2019s Pinot Noirs is simply staggering.  It’s hard to imagine a leap in quality from this vintage for them, but I predict there will be one with the 2021s vinified in their own cellar.

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Email me your thoughts about Oregon Pinot Noir in general at Mic[email protected] and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

August 16, 2023

Vino Vasai, Laurelwood District – Chehalem Mountains (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir “Barrel Select” 2021 

($48):  Vino Vasai is Italian for Potter’s Wine and explains why the latter is what you see when you pull the cork.  Bill Sanchez, the winemaker and owner with his wife, Sandy, is a potter.  Sandy explains that they had trouble when they tried to trademark Potter’s Wine, so, given her Italian heritage, they opted to name it in Italian.  What is not confusing is the quality of the wines.  This refined one, for example, is the dual-headed Janus, showing both the savory and red fruited side of Pinot Noir.  Though not fruit-focused, this charmer delivers plenty of crunchy red fruit.  Thankfully, it’s not a bombastic wine, weighing in at a modest 12.9 percent stated alcohol. Instead, it’s refined and graceful.  It’s not a powerhouse but it commands a powerful presence.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2023

Vino Vasai, Laurelwood District – Chehalem Mountains (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Estate Reserve 2021 

($58):  Co-owner Sandy Sanchez, describes the Estate Reserve as their top wine.  Certainly, it’s more concentrated and denser with more apparent oak character compared to their Barrel Select bottling.  At this stage, it’s also has a slighter sweeter profile, presumably from what I assume is more substantial oak aging.  Though denser with darker fruit character, it still weighs in at only 13 percent stated alcohol and remains balanced with a glossy texture.  Judging from the sensational 2019 Estate Reserve, this poised 2021will benefit from a couple of years in the bottle.  That said, it’s hard to resist now with grilled salmon.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2023

Vino Vasai, Chehalem Mountains (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Estate Reserve 2019

($58):  Vino Vasai’s Pinot Noir dispel the myth that you need super ripe grapes, which translates into 14+ percent alcohol, to make stunning wines.  This stunning 2019 Estate Reserve is a case in point.  With only 12.7 percent stated alcohol, it delivers what to me is the hallmark of Pinot Noir — flavor without weight.  The wine explodes in your mouth while simultaneously dancing on the palate. It’s not the least bit ponderous but it leaves a pronounced impression.  A suave texture, bright acidity, a hint of mushroom-y like maturity makes it a delight to savor now.  Each sip brings new delight.  Winemakers, take notice, you don’t need über ripe grapes to make an impressive wine.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2023

Conde Valdemar, Rioja Blanco (Spain) 2022

($18, Cru Selections):  Fragrant floral notes immediately capture your attention here.  Along with them, Conde Valdemar has managed to combine a subtle fruity roundness with bright invigorating citrus notes in this mid-weight white.  A delicate hint of bitterness in the finish adds a balancing touch.  In addition to the usual white grapes allowed for Rioja, Viura and Malvasia, there’s a touch (5%) of Tempranillo Blanco, a white mutation of the more common red Tempranillo that is now included within the regulations for white Rioja.  This fresh white Rioja could be used as an aperitivo or to accompany a summery salad Niçoise or most anything from the sea.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2023

Henri Perrusset, Mâcon-Villages (Burgundy, France) 2020

($22, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants):  Wines labeled Mâcon-Villages vary from the banal to extraordinary value.  Put this one squarely in the latter category.  Mâcon-Villages, a regional appellation in southern Burgundy, is large by Burgundy standards, 8,500 acres, and comprises 26 named villages lumped under the same umbrella.  If all the grapes come from the same village, the wine is typically more interesting, and the producer can append the village name to Mâcon.  But do not ignore ones, like this one, simple labeled Mâcon-Villages from a talented producer.  Perrusset has a small domaine that he harvests by hand, uses only native yeasts in the fermentation, and ages this wine on the lees in stainless steel vats for eight to ten months to preserve fruitiness.  His 2020 Mâcon-Villages has charm and depth with requisite enlivening acidity that keeps it fresh.  It is a great choice for drinking this summer — and beyond.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2023

M. Chapoutier, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Belleruche” 2021 

($15, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Chapoutier is one of the top producers in the Rhône, so it’s no surprise that this mid-weight red Côtes du Rhône of theirs is easy to recommend.  It displays a balanced and marvelous mixture of black and red fruits, offset by herbal elements that lend a savory touch.  Mild tannins lend support but are hardly noticeable and certainly don’t detract from its suave texture.  Given its price and overall ready-to-drink profile, it’s a good choice for large or even small groups feasting on grilled food this summer.  Wedding caterers would be wise to stock this widely available crowd-pleaser as opposed to much of the insipid stuff they usually serve.
89 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2023

Jean-Marc Burgaud, Beaujolais Villages (Burgundy, France) Beaujolais Lantignié 2021

($19, Thomas Calder Selection):  Normally, wines from the Beaujolais-Villages appellation are a blend of wine from several different villages and do not carry the name of an individual village on the label.  However, French regulations allow producers to indicate the village, Lantignié in this case, on the label if all the grapes came from it.  Judging from this wine and several others I have had from Lantignié, that village deserves to be promoted to cru status and stand beside Juliénas or Brouilly.  Add the origin of the grapes to the talent of Jean-Marc Burgaud and it’s no surprise that this wine punches far above its weight class.  This zesty red balances juicy red fruit flavors with plenty of herbal and spicy ones, so it doesn’t come across as sweet or sappy.  This uplifting wine has amazing complexity.  Mild tannins allow it to take a chill nicely without becoming astringent, making it a delightful substitute for rosé this summer.  Buy it by the case for summertime drinking.  I am.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2023

The Wines of Laudun: Under the Radar Now, but Not for Long

The French wine authorities, Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), are notoriously rigid and immoveable.  However, they are poised to change the pecking order in the Rhône, putting the wines from Laudun on a level, administratively, at least, with Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.  The INAO moves slowly since they are responsible for food, wine, agriculture in general, and forestry.  Frustrated wine growers in Pommard and Nuits St. Georges have been petitioning the INAO for decades to have a vineyard in each of those villages elevated to Grand Cru status.  No luck yet.  It took the growers in Pouilly-Fuissé well over a decade to get the INAO to recognize Premier Cru vineyards in that appellation.  Despite a decade-plus of lobbying, growers in Marsannay haven’t had the same success as those in Pouilly-Fuissé in attaining official recognition of their best sites.  Yet, in the Rhône the INAO is seemingly always re-arranging the hierarchy of the Rhône quality pyramid, adding villages to the Côte du Rhone-Villages category, and promoting others from that category to cru status.  That’s where Laudun comes in.

Why should consumers be concerned with France’s Byzantine classification system?  (You’re about to see in the next paragraph how complicated it is, too!)  Because the prices of wines from villages that get promoted will take a decade to catch up to their quality.  Just look to Gigondas, which was promoted to cru status from Côtes du Rhône Villages Gigondas in 1971.  As late as the mid-1980s, you could find a top Gigondas for about $10.  Now they’re closer to $60, a hefty increase even accounting for inflation.  So, if you want high-quality Rhône wines at good prices, look at those villages whose distinctiveness has recently been, or is about to be, codified.  Since the village of Laudun is now poised to be promoted to cru status, that’s a name to learn and remember.

There are four levels to the Rhône quality pyramid.  As you ascend, the regulations for wine making become stricter and the allowable yields lower to achieve higher quality wine.  At the base sits the vast Côtes du Rhône appellation, encompassing just under half of the Rhône’s entire output.  A step up sits Côtes du Rhone Villages, a group of 73 villages who have the potential to make more distinctive wine, but not so distinctive that they can put their village name itself on the label.

Sitting above Côtes du Rhône-Villages are 22, as of last count, villages whose wines are distinctive enough to allow them to sport the name of the village on the label.  They are known as Côtes du Rhône Village with a geographical name.  The village of Nyons, which also has an AOC for olives, was the last village to be promoted to this category in 2022.  So, soon, consumers will see appellation Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun, instead of the just the appellation Côtes du Rhône Villages, on the label.  Together, all the Côtes du Rhône Villages, with or without a specific name, account for about 11% of the Rhône’s total production.

At the top of the pyramid, and accounting for about 15% of the Rhone’s total production, sit the top AOCs of the Rhône, the crus: eight in the northern Rhône (Château Grillet, Condrieu, Cornas, Côte Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St.  Joseph, and St. Péray) and nine in the south: (Beaumes-de-Venise, Cairanne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Lirac, Rasteau, Tavel, Vacqueryas, and Vinsobres).  Cairanne was the last to make the jump from Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne to cru status (2016).  In general, the prices of wines from Cairanne have still not yet risen to reflect their quality.  Laudun is on track to make the jump to cru status in 2024.  If the pattern of price increases for the wines of Cairanne, Gigondas, and Vacqueryas is any judge, I predict it will take another decade for the prices of the wines from Laudun to reflect their quality.

Laudun, a village on the west bank of Rhône River, will join Tavel and Lirac as the only crus on that side of the river.  Wines from the cru on the west (right) bank of the Rhône are generally lighter, less muscular, and more finesse-filled compared to those of the east (left) bank.  Matt Walls, a Rhône wine authority, attributes the differences, in part, to sandier soil containing more patches of limestone with fewer of the heat-reflecting galets, emblematic of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Additionally, Walls reminds us of the importance of exposure: east facing vineyards, such as those of the west bank, see the less intense morning sun and are protected from the hotter afternoon sun, resulting in less-ripe grapes with greater acidity.

Laudun has a long history of making distinctive wines.  The Romans cultivated vines here two millennia ago.  It was included in the initial Côte du Rhône classification in 1937 and was one of the first to be promoted to Côtes du Rhone Villages status in 1953 along with Cairanne, Chusclan, and Gigondas.  It gained the Côtes du Rhone Villages Laudun moniker in 1967.  Laudun is unique in having a tradition of making fine white wine.  When Louis XIII visited the area in 1629, he was presented with a barrel of Laudun white.  Even today, 28% of Laudun’s production is white, compared to only about 10% for the Rhône in general.  Laudun’s production is relatively small, only about 2.2 million bottles annually from 18 private estates, 6 co-operatives, and a handful of Rhône-based négociants, which means it can take some effort to find them.  Believe me, it’s worth it.

The composition of the blend for both Laudun reds and whites will change when it is elevated to cru status.  Currently, in the case of the reds, two of the principal varieties, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, must be included in, and comprise 60% of, the blend.  To increase complexity and quality, cru regulations will require all three of the principal red varieties to be included.  Currently for whites, three of the principal varieties—Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier—must be included in, and comprise 50% of, the blend.  Cru regulations will require the use of at least four principal white varieties.  Rosé will be prohibited by cru regulations.

Importantly, the hierarchy displayed in the Rhône pyramid reflects distinctiveness and potential for grandeur.  The levels do not necessarily reflect quality.  Some producers over-achieve with their Côtes du Rhône, surpassing less talented growers’ Côtes du Rhône Villages wines.  So, don’t be a slave to the appellation pyramid.  Remember my cardinal rule: Producer, producer, producer.

Here are a few reds and whites Laudun from three producers that I recommend enthusiastically:

Château Courac, with their 250 acres producing 150,000 bottles of red Laudun and 30,000 bottles of white, is one of the largest producers in the appellation.  They are also one of the best.  Floral but not flamboyant, their fresh and finesse-filled 2021 Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun Blanc delights the palate with subtle peachy and nutty nuances offset by winsome white peppery notes.  Uplifting acidity in the finish amplifies its considerable appeal.  Clairette planted on sand over clay and comprising 80% of the blend—the remainder is Grenache Blanc—likely helps explains the wine’s finesse (93 pts.; $15).

Domaine Pélaquié’s lively and vibrant 2021 Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun Blanc is more evidence of the quality of whites coming from this appellation.  Pélaquié, another of the region’s top producers, imbues this white with richness, minerality, and a seductive touch of tropical fruit but skillfully avoids even a hint of heaviness.  Spice and a hint of appealing bitterness in the finish add complexity and balance (92 pts.; $15).

With its alluring combination of black fruit and savory elements, Château Courac’s stunning 2020 Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun Rouge 2020 will make you a fan of the appellation’s red wines.  It has a bit of everything—hints of tar, gorgeous spice, and minerals—without being boisterous or heavy.  A suave texture and a fresh finish leave a lasting impression (93 pts.; $13 for the 2018).

Domaine Pélaquié’s refined mid-weight red 2019 Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun is as impressive as their white.  Subtle spice and herbal notes complement the dark cherry-like fruit in this finesse-filled charmer.  Though, thankfully, not an overwrought powerhouse, this elegant red makes a powerful presence.  You’d never guess it weighs in a 14.5% stated alcohol because there’s not a trace of heaviness or heat.  It’s perfect for this year’s grilling season (92 pts.; $14).

Maison Sinnae, the largest producer in the AOC, is a label from the very fine cooperative, Laudun Chusclan Vignerons.  Founded in 1925, it now has about 250 members and controls a staggering 7,000 acres.  They produce a fine array of Côtes du Rhône Laudun wines, both red and white.  Take, for example, their vibrant 2022 white Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun, “Éléments” Luna.  It delivers enormous pleasure for the price.  An alluring and subtle bitterness in the finish offsets its initial pleasant bite and then amplifies the zingy peachy notes.  This energetic white makes a fine choice as a stand-alone aperitif or a match for spicy Asian fare (91 pts.; $15).  Similarly, their racy 2021 white Laudun, “Excellence,” with hints of white flowers, delicate stone fruit notes, and lively acidity, delivers more than you’d expect at the price.  A hint of bitter almonds in the finish reminds you this is not a heavy fruity wine (92 pts.  $15).  The sophisticated 2020 “Villa Sinnae,” with its heavier bottle and wax covered cork, is Maison Sinnae’s top Laudun white.  It manages to be plusher and slighter riper without losing any finesse or elegance.  It delivers, what for me is the telltale sign of refinement, a hint of bitterness in the finish as though to emphasize it’s not just about the fruit (93 pts., $20).

Maison Sinnae also excels with their red Laudun Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun.  The bright and juicy 2021 “Les Dolia” delivers black and red fruits accented by black peppery spice.  It takes a chill nicely because the tannins are refined, hardly noticeable, yet still provide needed structure.  Try it in place of a rosé this summer (92 pts.; $15).  A step up in power and structure is their flagship Laudun, “Villa Cesar.”  The muscular 2021 still has a patina of sweet oak and some wood tannins, so I wouldn’t chill this one.  I’d instead open this robust and balanced bottling a couple of hours before the garlic-laden lamb comes off the grill (91 pts.; $20).

I am grateful to Matt Walls who led a fabulous masterclass on the wines of Laudun earlier this year in Avignon.  Much of the technical information about Laudun in this article came from his class and his excellent book, Wines of the Rhône (The Classic Wine Library, 2021).

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E-mail me your thoughts about Rhône wines in general or those from Laudun in particular, at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

July 12, 2023

Iris Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) “Areté” Brut Blanc de Noirs 2019

($34):  Made entirely from their estate-grown Pinot Noir, Iris’ brilliant bubbly displays the barest copper-colored hue.  A fabulous array of red fruit nuances — wild strawberries, raspberries, and the like — are supported by a strict spine of acidity that keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  Perfect as an aperitif, this Blanc de Noirs has enough complexity and power to cut through most anything on the dinner plate, from sushi to grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2023

Raventós i Blanc, Vino Espumoso de Calidad (Penedès, Spain) “di Nit” Rosé 2020

($25, Augustan Wine Imports):  Raventós i Blanc, one of the leading Cava producers, left the Cava DO in 2012 to highlight their unique and individual terroir around the Anoia River Valley.  Their wines are no longer labeled Cava, but instead with what they hope will become a DO, Conca del Riu Anoia.  Millions of years ago the Anoia River Valley was covered by the sea as evidenced by the marine fossils in the limestone bedrock.  This unique terroir, Raventós i Blanc’s biodynamic viticulture, and their high standards explain why their wines, including this di Nit, are so riveting.  For all their wines they use only native varieties.  For di Nit, it’s a blend of Xarel-Lo, Macabeo, Parellada, and a touch of Monastrell, which adds enormous complexity and the barest hint of copper color.  So, instead of a seductively looking pink Rosé, you get a marvelous mixture of delicate red fruits supported by intriguing minerality all supported by firm acidity.  Its palette-caressing texture allows you to enjoy it as a stand-alone aperitif, while its substance and structure imparts enough oomph to stand up to flavor-filled Asian fare.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2023

Te Awanga Estate, Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand) Syrah 2018

($28):  Yes, New Zealand makes distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.  As those late-night television ads proclaim, “but wait, there’s more.”  And indeed, New Zealand produces more than Sauvignon Blanc, including Syrah, as exemplified by this one.  Hawke’s Bay lies on the east coast of the north island and is well suited for reds, such as Syrah and the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  Te Awanga Estate has managed to marry robust black pepper-scented notes with vibrant dark fruity ones in their 2018 Syrah.  This northern Rhône look-alike has mild tannins and bright enlivening acidity that allow you to enjoy it now with grilled beef.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2023

Clos Apalta, Apalta (Colchagua Valley, Chile) 2019

($146, Winebow):  Clos Apalta has become one of Chile’s most acclaimed red wines, and deservedly so.  The 2019 certainly merits that accolade.  Despite a 15 percent stated alcohol, the 2019 Clos Apalta is balanced and suave.  Intense and rich, yes, but not flamboyant or over-the-top.  Instead, it is a seamless marriage of lush dark black cherry-like fruitiness intermingled with dark minerals.  Refined tannins lend support without intruding.  Savory, herbal nuances, add intrigue and complexity.   As with all great wines, a delectable hint of bitterness accents its long finish, reminding us that wine is more than just ripe fruit.  Uplifting acidity makes this energetic wine a delight to drink now, but its balance suggests a graceful evolution.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2023

Caprio Cellars, Walla Walla Valley (Washington) “Eleanor” Estate Red Wine 2020

($68):  This harmonious red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (64%), Merlot (17%) Malbec (17%) and Cabernet Franc, speaks to the potential of Walla Walla Valley.  Ripe black and red fruit notes dance on the palate effortlessly without a trace of heat or heaviness.  Smokey and herbal nuances add a welcome savory counterpoint.  You don’t initially appreciate its power because of its elegance and suaveness.  But then it appears, sneaking up on you, without shouting.  An appealing hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you that it’s not just about the fruit.  Lovely to drink now, its balance suggests a graceful evolution over a decade or more.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2023

Campo alla Sughera, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Campo alla Sughera” 2019

($89):  With an unusual blend of roughly 70 percent Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, Campo alla Sughera’s Super Tuscan is remarkably well-balanced.  The unnecessarily heavy bottle predicts the weight of this 14.5 percent stated alcohol wine.  That said, it retains suaveness and poise.  Bolder than their Arione, its lavish black fruit harmonizes seamlessly with a dark minerality.  Lively acidity keeps the wine bright, which means it does not tire during a meal.  Unsurprisingly, and befitting a young grand wine, it grows and develops as it sits in the glass.  Campo alla Sughera’s appealing hint of bitterness in the finish just adds to its allure.  If you drink it now, decant it well before a meal and pair with a hearty beef dish.  Otherwise find room in the cellar for it.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2023

Tenuta Luce, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Lucente” 2020

($25, Vintus Wines):  The stunning 2020 Lucente could be the red wine buy of the summer.  This Merlot Sangiovese blend delivers a marvelous combination of black fruit and dark minerals wrapped in a suave, silky texture.  Black fruit character is evident, but this is not a fruity wine.  The focus is more pointed towards a dark mineral quality accented by an appealing hint of bitterness in the long finish.  Lush and ready to drink now, the 2020 Lucente has concentration without being overdone or overblown.  It’s a steal at the price.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2023

Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri Superiore DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Arnione” 2019

($78):  Arnione, a blend of roughly 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with equal parts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, is their Bolgheri flagship.  As much as I liked their Adèo, Arnione is just, well, a much better wine.  Here, minerals balance the lush black fruit and take center stage.  There’s an alluring interplay among the elements.  Though a weightier wine, Arnione still is not heavy and retains finesse.  As with Adèo, an appealing bitterness emerges in the finish.  With a more tannic structure — the tannins are still refined and unobtrusive — this balanced wine would benefit from a few more years in the bottle to allow its complexity to shine.  But to be fair, for those who like a bolder, more structured wine, it’s a delight to drink now.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2023

Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri Rosso DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Adèo” 2021

($37):  Founded in 1998 by the German Knauf family, Campo alla Sughera has become an estate to watch in Bolgheri.  Their ravishing reds represent a variation on Bordeaux blends.  Adèo, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, delivers bright and juicy red cherry notes supported by mild tannins.  An agreeable hint of bitterness in the finish emphasizes that there is more going on here than just bright fruitiness.  Indeed, as it sits the glass, alluring savory nuances peek out imbuing it with welcome complexity.  Despite a 14.5 percent stated alcohol, this well-balanced beauty is not heavy or hot.  A suave texture and lively acidity make this energetic wine ideal for current consumption.  A simply grilled skirt steak will allow this wine to shine.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2023

Iris Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2021

($25):  Iris Vineyards draws on three AVAs from the Willamette, Eola Hills, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton, for this crunchy red fruited Pinot Noir.  Alluring smokey nuances, thankfully not from wildfires, adds a counterpoint to the crisp raspberry-like fruit in this mid-weight, 13.7 percent stated alcohol, Pinot Noir.  It is well-priced for a Pinot Noir of this quality and sophistication and would be an excellent choice for grilled salmon this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2023

Iris Vineyards, Rogue Valley (Oregon) “House Call” Red Blend 2020

($20):  This lively and juicy fruit focused blend of equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, displays an array of black and red fruits supported by mild tannins and bright acidity.  Weighing in under 14 percent stated alcohol, it’s not a heavy wine, rather a terrific choice for summer BBQ.  A hint of sweetness in the finish allows you to use it as a before dinner aperitif, even chilled, while heating the grill.
88 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2023

Tenuta Carretta, Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Bric Quercia 2019

($19):  Tenuta Carretta’s Barbera d’Alba is a well-price robust red that’s perfect for hearty grilled meat this summer.  Supple tannins allow the immediate enjoyment of its juicy and ripe (15 percent stated alcohol) black fruit.  Barbera’s inherent acidity keeps this racy red lively and in balance.  A hint of toastiness adds complexity.
88 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2023

Marchesi Alfieri, Barbara d’Asti Superiore DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Alfiera” 2020

($32):  Wines made from Barbera are all over the map regarding character and quality.  Alfieri’s complex Barbera d’Asti shows the potential of that grape and DOCG.  A dark minerality and a “not just fruit” character is a marvelous counterpoint to the lush and juicy black fruit flavors.  Great acidity — the grape speaking — imparts liveliness that amplifies the wine’s charms.  This vivacious beauty is a good choice for hearty beef coming off the grill.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2023

Domaine Pélaquié, Laudun Côtes du Rhône Villages Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2021

($15, Bowler):  I am reviewing this bargain-priced beauty again for emphasis since I just tasted it again.  This seductive white shows the potential of white wines from the southern Rhône.  A subtle peach-like character merges with a firm minerality.  The combination delights the palate and invigorating acidity in the finish magnifies it charms.  There is not a trace of heaviness or over ripeness in this delectable white.  Domaine Pélaquié has fashioned a sophisticated white that will enhance summertime dining.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2023

A Greek White Instead of Rosé

Memorial Day means summer, which, of course to some people means rosé.  But for me it means light to mid-weight white wines with energy, verve, and most of all, character.  There are lots of French whites that fit that category, from zippy Muscadet to flinty village Chablis, to simple Bourgogne Blanc, to racy Sancerre.  German and Australian Riesling with their bracing acidity are all good choices for summer sipping.  From Gavi in Piedmont to Carricante in Sicily, Italy has too many refreshing whites to name.  I was just introduced to another one, previously unknown to me.  It’s embarrassing since its home is less than an hour from a major metropolis where I’ve vacationed twice with my family recently.  I overlooked Savatiano because I was focused on other major Greek wines when we were in Athens.  In a sense, that’s a great problem for Greece to have—too many intriguing wines to explore.  I was recently introduced to the grape and its wines at an illuminating seminar held in New York City that was organized by the Wine of Attica (a.k.a. Attiki) and led by Levi Dalton, former sommelier and now host and producer of the outstanding podcast, I’ll Drink to That, and Sofia Perpera, an enologist and chemist with the Greek Wine Federation.

Since I was unfamiliar with Attica or Attiki, as the Greeks know it, I suspect many of you readers are too, so let me start with some background.  Attica, with its roughly 15,000 acres of vines, is one of Greece’s PGIs (Protected Geographical Indication, akin to an appellation) that is literally a stone’s throw from Athens.  Indeed, the construction of the Athens airport in the late 1990s resulted in the loss of many acres of vineyards.  A small sliver of the appellation crosses the water and lies on the coast of the Peloponnese.  The white Savatiano grape is the star in Attica, comprising 90 percent of the plantings.  In reality, the wines of Attica, analogous to Frascati from the Castelli Romani surrounding Rome, are the wines of Athens.  And like Frascati, top growers are now transforming Savatiano into high-quality wines.

Vines have been planted in Attica and wine made from them for millennia.  The traditional wine from this region was, and in large measure, still is Retsina, a wine to which pine resin is added during fermentation.  Restoration of vineyards after phylloxera, which arrived in Greece later than in France, started only in the 1960s with bush vine plantings, which allowed the vines to retain more moisture in this very hot and dry region.  Attica’s modern wine history starts only in the 1990s.  Retsina still plays a major role in the industry and young producers are fine-tuning it, trying to make the wine more appealing to the general public.

Savatiano is well suited to Attica, the hottest and driest part of Greece, because it is resistant to drought and fungal diseases.  Mountains protect the vineyards against cold north winds during months when they pose potential problems.  There’s plenty of sunshine.  The poor fertility of the clay limestone soil is ideal for grapes.  Organic viticulture is easier here—and producers are embracing it—because of the dry climate and breezes from the sea.  Though as Dalton points out, growers sometimes feel like it’s “easier to do organic farming than the organic paperwork.”  The grape is prolific and, according to Perpera, growers need to limit yields to produce high-quality wines.

With upwards of 7,000 growers and with the average holding just over 2-acres, Attica has a family-oriented production philosophy rather than a large-scale corporate imprint.  Since the vineyards tend to stay within families for generation, it is easy to understand why 80 percent of the vines are more than 30 years old.

As with the resurrection of an any area by younger growers, experimentation is bound to occur.  Some growers use stainless steel for fermentation and aging, while others are experimenting with barrels of oak or acacia for those tasks.  Some growers are making orange-like wine by fermenting the juice with the skins.  Whether to stir lees is another individual choice.  Then, of course, comes the question of when to drink the wines—when they are young and vibrant, or with a little bottle age which typically smooths the edges.

For consumers the stylistic diversity is a double-edged sword.  The variety means there’s something for everybody.  No cookie-cutter wines here!  The downside, of course, is the inability to know exactly what’s in the bottle from reading the label.  Varietal labeling, that is, the grape name, Savatiano, clearly on the label as opposed to yet another geographic name, makes things easier.  That’s not to say that geography is irrelevant.  Indeed, it is important because there are subzones within Attica with their own PGI that tend to produce more distinctive wines.  Thankfully, even wines labeled with just a subzone PGI, such as Slopes of Kitherona or Markopoulo, will still carry Savatiano on the label.  A careful search will usually reveal the word Attica or Wine of Athens somewhere on either the front or back label.

Retsina, which is another PGI, will always carry that name on the label.  A traditional wine of Attica, Retsina got its name from a pine resin covering of the amphora in which the wine was stored.  The resin flavored the wine leading to the name Retsina.  Perpera explains that there are two kinds of Retsina, “good and not so good.  The flabby, oxidized style gave it a bad image.”  Now, producers make Retsina by judiciously adding tea bag-like packets of pine resin to the fermenting wine.

You may read that Savatiano is a low acid grape.  That may be.  The wines, however, are by no means low-acid.  Quite the opposite, which is what makes me so enthusiastic about them.  (I’ll let others explain how a winemaker makes a verve-filled wine from a low-acid grape.)

Savatiano remains a niche category.  The wines certainly have not made it into the mainstream.  Some of my recommendations below are not yet imported (indicated by NYI) and even those that are do not have widespread distribution, so expect to search for them.  Even Flatiron Wines & Spirits, a top retail shop in New York, had none on its racks.  So why write about them?  Because it’s a distinctive category that is likely to enter the mainstream soon.

These three fresh and lively examples below show the pleasure of drinking Savatiano young.  They were all fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve their freshness.  As a group, they combine bracing acidity with the stone fruit character of the white wines from the southern Rhône.

Weighing in at a mere 12.8 percent alcohol, Anastasia Fragou’s zesty 2022 Savatiano (PGI Attiki) delivers a hint of stone fruitiness buttressed by invigorating saline acidity.  At the price, it’s a steal (90 pts; $11, imported by Fantis Foods).  Lively freshness balances Markou Vineyards’ rounder and peachy 2021 Savatiano (PGI Attiki).  Despite a 12.5 percent stated alcohol this organic delight has excellent concentration (90 pts, $17, imported by Athenee Importers).  Gikas Winery’s edgy 2021 Savatiano, labeled San Tovato, (PGI Slopes of Kitharona) combines subtle peach-like nuances with distinct mineral notes.  Great length and bracing acidity amplify its charms.  Its stature is likely due, in part, to the location of the vineyards, roughly 2,000 feet above sea level (92 pts, NYI).

Both the 2019 single vineyard bottling, Vientzi, from Domaine Papagiannakos (PGI Markopoulo), and Mylonas Winery’s 2017 Cuvee Vouno (PGI Attiki) show the virtue of aging Savatiano for a few years.  Papagiannakos’ mineral infused and lively Vientzi packs plenty of character into its 12.5 percent stated alcohol frame without losing any of its energy (93 pts; $33).  Mylonas’ Cuvee Vouno has developed a captivating richness to accompany its peach-like nuances and uplifting saline acidity (91 pts; $18; imported by Diamond Wine Importers).

You trade freshness and verve for a subtle creaminess in Savatiano renditions that are fermented or aged in oak or acacia barrels instead of stainless-steel tanks.  The risk, of course, is winding up with overly woody wines.  That is clearly not a problem with the balanced 2018 Kokotos Savatiano (PGI Attiki), which is more evidence that Savatiano can evolve with bottle age.  Kokotos has managed to capture a peach cream quality that retains plenty of energy (92 pts, NYI).

I have never been charmed by Retsina as a category finding the wines too flamboyant with a Bengay® or Tiger Balm® character.  A knowledgeable waiter at a Greek restaurant in New York City recently described Retsina to me as, “drinking a Christmas tree.”  The same waiter suggested I try Anastasia Fragou’s Old Vines Retsina (PGI Retsina, 88 pts, $13, imported by Fantis Foods).  Both it and Papagiannis’s Retsina of Attiki (89 pts., NYI) made me reassess my opinion because the resin-y character in these two wines acted as a subtle accent to the stone fruit nuances, not the main player.  Although I’m not sure I’d want to drink it throughout a meal, I can see it as an enticing aperitif.

Not surprisingly, the depth and vibrancy of these Savatiano wines make them perfect matches for whatever comes from the sea, and yes, even roast lamb.  See my article on white wine with meat:  So, instead of rosé, I suggest you give Savatiano a try this summer.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Greek wines in general or the wine of Attica in specific at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

June 14, 2023

Bordeaux’s Domaine de Chevalier and Its Outstanding White Wine

Bordeaux‘s image and reputation comes from its red wines, which, after all, account for about ninety percent of its production. Rating the overall quality of the vintage is always based on how the red wines fared, without regard to the whites. The famed 1855 Classification stratified only the reds and, except for Haut-Brion, only those from the Médoc where white wine was, and is still, rare. It took another 100 hundred years, in 1959, for the authorities to classify dry whites. But I’m here to tell you that Bordeaux, specifically Pessac-Léognan and more specifically, Domaine de Chevalier, produces spectacularly complex and age-worthy white wines. And sells them at reasonable prices considering their quality.

A recent tasting spanning four decades of both colors of Domaine de Chevalier reminded me of just how special and consistent the wines from the Domaine have been since it was acquired by the Bernard family, headed up by the ever-smiling Olivier and his son Hugo. Panos Kakaviatos, a Bordeaux expert, organized a tasting and dinner in May of this year at the 1789 Restaurant in Washington D.C. At that tasting, the oldest wine was a 1983 white, not a red, from the year the Bernard family purchased the property. Kakaviatos had arranged a similar tasting dinner at the French Embassy in Washington in 2020, just before Covid descended, presided over by Olivier Bernard. All the wines at both tastings came from the Domaine. Those two tastings confirm my enthusiasm for the Domaine’s wines. This report will focus on their exceptional whites. I’ll report on Domaine de Chevalier’s reds at a future time.

Domaine de Chevalier lies just south of the city of Bordeaux itself, in Pessac-Léognan, which was a part of the Graves appellation until 1987 when it received its own AOC.  The soils of Pessac-Léognan are diverse, which accounts for both the stellar red and white wines coming from the appellation. The Cru Classé de Graves classification of 1959 ranked fourteen estates, all located in Pessac-Léognan, for white, red or both. Domaine de Chevalier is one of only six estates that is classified as Crus Classé for both red and white wine. (For completeness, the other five are Carbonnieux, Malartic-Lagravière, Latour-Martillac, Bouscaut, and Olivier).

Of the Domaine’s roughly fifty hectares of vines, six are devoted to whites, up from three ha when the family purchased the property. Sauvignon Blanc comprises seventy percent of the plantings with Semillon accounting for the remainder. Bernard dedicates the cooler soils and sites to the white plantings to capture acidity, which will enhance freshness in the wines. He explains that heat and dryness during the summer will harm the white varieties more than the red ones, so it’s important to keep the white varieties cool. The planting is dense, 10,000 vines/ha, which many believe increases the complexity of the wine, is unusual in Pessac-Léognan. Farming is done organically or biodynamically. Olivier explains that unlike red wine, he can make excellent white wine from younger, that is, 15-year-old vines.  The composition of the blend of Domaine de Chevalier’s white typically follows the plantings, that is two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Semillon.

The Domaine occupies a cooler site in Pessac-Léognan, abutting a forest, which Olivier says has been a Godsend with climate change and keeps the wines fresh. And, as the tasting notes will show, the whites display extraordinary development while maintaining freshness with extended bottle age.

Domaine de Chevalier produces only about 18,000 bottles of white annually, compared to about 100,000 bottles of red. A second wine, L’Espirit de Chevalier, made from young vines, comprises anywhere from 40 to 60% of the production depending on the vintage and the age of replanted vines. It represents a superb value.

“We are looking for freshness in the whites,” explains Bernard, which is why the blend is weighted towards Sauvignon Blanc with its acidity and structure. Bernard points that Sauvignon Blanc has 20 percent more acidity than Semillon at harvest. The Semillon adds body and creaminess. He continues that with climate change and riper Sauvignon Blanc, they need and are using less Semillon.

Bernard’s passion for white wine is evident, proclaiming with a broad smile and enthusiasm, “I like whites. They are another world. The world of red is in the soil. The world of white is in the heaven.  There is something ethereal in the whites. They are airy.”

Though they use optical sorting at the winery for the reds, Bernard says they can easily spot defective white grapes visually. The key, according to Bernard and perhaps drawing on his experience with Sauternes—he is a part-owner of the famous classified Sauternes estate, Château Guiraud—is making successive passes though the vineyard, harvesting only the perfectly ripe grapes. He estimates that the maturation of their 50,000 bunches, though planted together, can vary by two weeks, so they will go through the vineyard up to five times over the two to three weeks of harvest.  Bernard estimates they spend two to four times as long harvesting whites as compared to reds—2000 to 4000 hours per ha versus 1000 hours per ha. Bernard adds that the subtleties are more apparent in whites, which means they must be more compulsive about the harvest of the white grapes. He continues by emphasizing that the focus of the whites should be on the delicacy of the fruit flavors, not the structured tannins, which again mandates a more selective harvesting. There is no skin contact during fermentation for the whites. They are vinified with only the juice and pulp using natural yeast and undergo no malolactic transformation. Fermentation takes place in small oak barrels, roughly one-third of which are new, followed by aging on the lees for up to eighteen months. Though the 1980 white, made before the Bernard family owned the Domaine, was chaptalized, there is no need for chaptalization today, with the average potential alcohol going from 12 to 14 percent over the last thirty years thanks to climate change.

Let me make some generalizations about the white wines before diving into the individual tasting notes. Closed when young, they need bottle age, and then even some air to let them unfold. They have an almost unbelievable ability to develop enormous complexity with decades of bottle age. The 1983 and 1989 tasted this year and the 1980 and 1990 tasted in 2020 were both otherworldly. Apart from the great white Burgundies, it’s hard to find dry white wines that have developed this kind of complexity and captivating allure while remaining fresh and lively at thirty or forty years of age.

photo by Michael Apstein

The wines in this tasting

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2017 Pessac-Léognan     95

Still youthful even at six years of age, this racy wine initially displays the bite of Sauvignon Blanc and oak influence. But, after 30 minutes in the glass all the elements coalesce in a beautiful harmony of citrus-infused creaminess. The lesson is don’t rush these white wines. Give them time. The 2017 growing season presented problem after problem to winemakers.  The earlier harvest for the whites, compared to the reds, occurring in the first half of September, minimized the chance for crop-destroying autumn rains and perhaps explains, in part, why Domaine de Chevalier’s whites excel in what the French euphemistically call “difficult” vintages. This one certainly does. Drinking window: 2023-2047.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2010 Pessac-Léognan     97

There’s no need to give this spectacular wine time in the glass. Its glories are immediately apparent with captivating aromatics. Displaying a great presence, it seduces you with elegance and charm, not power. A firm steeliness offsets a hint of round, nutty richness. Even the empty glass smells great! Drinking window: 2023 – 2035.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2001 Pessac-Léognan     95

Clearly mature, but not old, it maintains a wonderful freshness that balances a subtle nutty character. Apricot undertones are reminiscent of a botrytis-infected Sauternes, but the wine is not sweet at all. An engaging tension between a citrus finish and dry apricots keeps your attention throughout the meal. Very lively, it also grows in the glass. Drinking window: 2023 – 2030.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2000 Pessac-Léognan     92

(tasted in 2020): Though the 2000 vintage for reds was widely acclaimed, the whites did not fare so well, which makes the stature of this wine even more astounding. Still with a subtle and surprising youthful edginess, it combines a delicate peachiness with an invigorating citrus finish. Balanced and long, it’s more evidence that Domaine de Chevalier makes excellent white wines in “difficult” years. Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1993 Pessac-Léognan     90

(from magnum): Despite the larger format, the 1993 seemed more tired and less elegant than even older vintages. The same appealing combination of citrus freshness and dry apricots expanded in the glass. Still, it lacked the expressiveness of the 2001. That said, if consumed by itself and not next to grander vintages, it would garner applause. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1990 Pessac-Léognan     95

(tasted in 2020): With its riper peach-like and nutty nuances, the still charming 1990 reflects the heat of that vintage. Nonetheless, this generous wine retains enlivening citrus freshness and a firming minerality. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1989 Pessac-Léognan     97

Another spectacular example of how these white wines develop, the gorgeous 1989 exhibits a captivating array of herbal notes intertwined with a hint of tropical and stone fruit ones. Despite the plethora of sensations emanating from the glass, the wine is not flamboyant, but rather suave and seductive. A lemon cream acidity keeps it fresh and lively even at 30+ years of age. It also passes the empty glass test with flying colors. Drinking window: 2023-2040, and possibly longer.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1983 Pessac-Léognan     96

Olivier Bernard’s first wine, the gorgeous 1983 at 40 years of age is still fresh, balanced and a joy to drink. Great aromatics draw you into a panoply of flavors: creamy citrus, hints of dried apricots, and a touch of nuttiness. This sublime wine also passes the empty glass test! Note the Graves appellation on the label because Pessac-Léognan had yet to be established. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1980 Pessac-Léognan     94

(tasted in 2020): Bernard described 1980 as a really cold year, which explains why the previous owner, the famous Claude Ricard, chaptalized the wine. You wouldn’t know it from tasting it. The lively 1980 conveys a marvelous and balanced combination of white peach-like nuances, subtle almond-like nuttiness all supported by enlivening citrus acidity. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Baron de Ley, Rioja Blanco Reserva (Spain) “Tres Viñas” 2019

($16, Carolina Wine Brands):  Baron de Ley’s white Rioja Reserva has an entirely different — and weightier — profile compared to their regular bottling.  The effects of oak-aging is apparent, but not intrusive.  It adds weight and gravitas without dominating.  Though there is more “oomph” here, it’s not a fruity wine, but paradoxically conveys an attractive austerity and an engaging hint of bitterness in the finish.  Not a stand-alone aperitif type of wine, the power in this fresh and clean white Rioja calls for white meats, such as pork, chicken, or hearty seafood.  What a bargain!
92 Michael Apstein May 30, 2023

Ramõn Bilbao, Rioja Crianza (Spain) 2019

($15):  Wines from Rioja, arguably Spain’s most famous wine area, can provide terrific value.  Just take this one for example.  Crianza, an official designation of aging, means that the red wine has been aged for two years, at least one of which was in oak barrels, before release.  Think of Crianza as the first tier of a “premium” or high-quality category.  This mid-weight one still displays a hint of spicy oak nicely offset by juicy black cherry notes.  Mild tannins and lively acidity in the balanced beauty allow for immediate enjoyment this summer with things like BBQ’ed chicken.  It has remarkable length and complexity for the price.
90 Michael Apstein May 30, 2023

Podere Sapaio, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Sapaio” 2019

($94, Soilair Selection):  Podere Sapaio, founded in 1999, is making itself known among the Super Tuscan with their flagship wine, Sapaio.  A blend of organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Petit Verdot (20%) and Cabernet Franc, the stylish Sapaio impresses with a plush, velvety texture that shouts, “I’m important.”  And it is.  A hint of smoke and tar brilliantly offset its balanced array of red and dark fruit.  But it’s the glossy texture that’s impressive at this stage since the flavors need time to blossom.  The tannins remain suave regardless of how long they remain on the palate.  Bright Tuscan acidity in the finish — recalling sour red cherries — amplify its appeal.  Even considering its 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it is not dense, heavy nor over ripe.  Fine to drink now because of that glossiness, I suspect this wine will evolve beautifully with a decade or so of bottle age because of its elegance and balance.
93 Michael Apstein May 30, 2023

Di Giovanna, Sicilia DOC (Sicily, Italy) Grillo “Vurría” 2021

($21, Regal Wine Imports):  This zippy Grillo, made from an indigenous Sicilian grape, is a great accompaniment to seafood, even in a hearty tomato sauce, because of austere style and lively saline acidity.  Not an opulent or fruit-driven wine, it is light weight, with a modest 12.5 percent stated alcohol.  But it is not light in enjoyment.  That racy acidity and hint of bitterness in the finish enhance its appeal.
89 Michael Apstein May 30, 2023

Firriato, Sicilia DOC (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola “Harmonium” 2014

($41):  Made from one of Sicily’s native grapes, this robust red holds its 14.5 percent stated alcohol effortlessly, without a trace of heaviness.  Smoke and other savory accents complement its dark plum-like fresh and dried fruit notes.  Good balancing acidity keeps this mature beauty bright and fresh while fine tannins lend support without astringency.  It’s another excellent choice when putting meat on the grill.
92 Michael Apstein May 30, 2023