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Rural Wine Company, Eagle Peak (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir 2019

($17):  The focus of this mid-weight and well-priced Pinot Noir is clearly on the fruity, cherry-juice aspect of that grape.  Suave tannins allow for immediate enjoyment.  It carries the 14 percent stated alcohol without difficulty.  A touch of sweetness in the finish allows consumers to enjoy it as a stand-alone aperitivo-type of wine or with spicy Latin America fare.
87 Michael Apstein May 17, 2022

Masút Vineyard and Winery, Eagle Peak (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir “Big Barrel” 2019

($65):  Ben and Jake Fetzer, grandsons of Barney Fetzer who founded the very popular and successful Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino County in 1968, have followed the family tradition.  Working together, they are in charge of both the viticulture and winemaking at Masút, a 1,200-acre property their parents founded in 1994.  The brothers were instrumental in establishing the Eagle Peak AVA at the headwaters of the Russian River Valley in Mendocino.  Masút focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which seem to be very well suited to the cooler climate of this elevated area.  The 2019 Big Barrel Pinot Noir has an entirely different focus from their Rural Wine Company.  Here, alluring savory influences appear, add complexity, and balance the dark tightly contained black fruit elements.  The suave texture of this mid-weight wine adds to its charm.  It grows in the glass, so don’t rush it.  Or, better yet, find a place in your cellar and revisit it in a couple of years.
92 Michael Apstein May 17, 2022

Masút Vineyard and Winery, Eagle Peak (Mendocino County, California) Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard 2019

($45):  Masút’s 2019 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is simply stunning at this stage.  It shows the enormous complexity for which Pinot Noir is known, combining savory earthy notes with delicate fruity ones.  There’s spice and excellent energy in this wine that leaves you wanting another sip.  It’s balanced.  The elements come together seamlessly.  It has the flavor-without-weight I associate with top Pinot Noir.  In addition, a delicate hint of bitterness in the finish enhances its appeal with food.  It will be fascinating to compare their two bottlings, Big Barrel and this one, in a few years to watch their development, but for now, pull the cork and savor this one with grilled salmon.
95 Michael Apstein May 17, 2022

Luretta, Colli Piacentini DOC (Emilia Romagna, Italy) Malvasia Aromatica di Candia “Boccadirosa” 2020

($30, USA Wine Imports):  In addition to the innumerable DOCs, the Italians use a mind-boggling number of grapes for their wines, which is another reason the wines from that country are so exciting to explore.  Malvasia Aromatica di Candia had me running to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, which informed me that although Candia is an old name for Crete, there is no genetic evidence that is originated on that Greek Island.  No matter.  This is an alluring white wine, very aromatic, with the typical almost flamboyant Muscat tropical fruit aromas that carry through on the palate.  Though its aroma suggests sweetness, and yes there is a hint of that in this bold white, it’s not really a sweet wine.  There’s a melon-like richness balance by great energy and vivacity.  This is a wine to sip by itself or bring to the table when spicy Asian or Latin cuisine is on the plate.  Or when you succumb to a cheese course.
90 Michael Apstein May 17, 2022

Luretta, Gutturnio Superiore DOC (Emilia Romagna, Italy) 2018

($25, USA Wine Imports):  One of the exciting and bewildering things about Italian wines is the ever-increasing number of DOCs that sprout like mushrooms after a rain. Gutturnio Superiore is a new one to me.  Formerly a part of the Colli Piacentini, another DOC I’ve heard of but could not find on a map, Gutturnio is the northwest part of Emilia Romagna, bordering both Piedmont and Lombardy, which may explain the grapes, Barbera and Croatina, used in this wine.  Barbera, after all, is a workhorse of Piedmont wines and Croatina, confusingly sometimes called Bonarda, serves a similar function in Lombardy.  It turns out, at least in Luretta’s hands, these grapes do well outside of their “traditional” regions.  Luretta’s 2018 is a large sized, 14.5 percent stated alcohol, plummy wine, with wonderful acidity that imbues it with life and energy.  Not hot or over blown, this weighty wine is balanced.  Fine tannins support the umph in the glass without interfering.  It has a rustic charm that makes it an ideal choice for robust grilled meats.
90 Michael Apstein May 17, 2022

Pisoni Family Vineyards, Monterey County (California) “Lucy Pico Blanco” 2021

($22):  Filled with lots of tropical fruit-like flavors, this charming blend of Pinot Gris (70%) and Pinot Blanc displays good weight— that’s its 13.9 percent stated alcohol speaking — buttressed by sufficient balancing acidity.  The tropical fruit profile conveys the barest hint of sweetness, but the energy imparted by the acidity holds it together nicely.  It would be a good aperitif but has enough oomph and verve to stand up to spicy Asian or Latin fare.
89 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) Picpoul 2021

($16):  Picpoul, literally translated as “lip stinger,” is widely planted in southern France where it’s prized for its impressive acidity.  Growers also love it for its propensity towards high yields.  Though I’ve had plenty of experience with Picpoul de Pinet, a southern French wine made from the same grape, this is the first one I’ve tasted from California, even though Randall Grahm tells me he’s been making this wine for six or seven years.  He and his team at Bonny Doon have likely reigned in its yield, which might explain why their 2021 Picpoul has such good depth despite a meager 11.9 percent stated alcohol.  It’s bracing acidity is front and center, but not aggressive.  There’s an intriguing saline-like component that makes it perfect for anything that lives in the sea.  Stock up on this edgy and well-priced wine for summer.
92 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Petilia, Greco di Tufo DOCG (Campania, Italy) 2019

($22, Dark Star Imports):  Greco di Tufo is one of Italy’s great white wines and justifiability deserves its DOCG designation.  The volcanic Campanian soil and the region’s climate allow the grape to shine.  The emphasis of Petilia’s 2019 is on a lava-like minerality rather than fruitiness.  It has good weight and a saline-like acidity that amplifies its charms. It grows in the glass, so it’s a wine to savor with a meal.  And any kind of seafood should be a part of that meal when drinking it.
91 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume (Loire Valley, France) 2017

($87, Vintus):  Quarts de Chaume, a tiny appellation of barely 75 acres, is the only Grand Cru in the Loire Valley.  It is arguably the “Montrachet of the Loire,” only it produces spectacular sweet wines from the Chenin Blanc grape.  What makes these wines so special is their elegance and lightness juxtaposed to their presence and persistence.  Like Sauternes, the wines are made from grapes that have been attacked by botrytis cinera, or the noble rot.   Unlike Sauternes, Quarts de Chaume are racy and riveting thanks to the inherent acidity of Chenin Blanc.  Baumard, certainly one of the appellation’s top producers, eschews any oak fermentation or aging, preferring to focus on the terroir by using only stainless steel.  Their delicate and vibrant 2017 wows with its gracefulness and purity.  Apricot skin nuances add to its luxuriousness. At this stage there’s lots of minerality showing and less botrytis character, which reinforces its racy character.  The ying/yang of sweetness and electricity is captivating. In my experience, Baumard’s Quarts de Chaume develop magnificent complexity with decades of bottle age without losing any vibrancy, so there’s no rush to drink this one now.  Indeed, I would cellar it for a few years, while searching for older ones that are still on the retail market.  A standard 750-ml bottle will serve 8 to 12 people easily.  If you have fewer, there’s no problem because the wine is practically bullet proof and remains in fine condition if kept in the fridge, opened, for at least a week.  Quarts de Chaume is an ideal choice for a cheese course, rich patés, or by itself, as dessert.  Although frequently called a dessert wine, I find that it, as with all sweet wines, lose their allure when matched with dessert because the sweetness of the two fights with one another.
96 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Bouvet-Ladubay, Saumur (Loire Valley, France) “Tresor” 2018

($20):  The Loire Valley produces a lot of sparkling wines under Crémant de la Loire appellation.  Often overlooked are sparkling ones from other Loire appellations, such as this one from Saumur, an appellation that predates that of Crémant de la Loire and mandates that the grape come a smaller area just around the town of Saumur.  For Bouvet’s Tresor, a blend of Chenin Blanc (80%) and Chardonnay, the still wines spent 9 to 12 months aging in oak barrels before blending and the secondary bottle-fermentation.  The oak nuances add a richness that nicely balances the firmness imparted by Chenin Blanc.  Tresor makes a fine aperitif but has sufficient umph and interest to happily accompany seafood offerings or a roast chicken with a mushroom sauce.  And for only twenty bucks, it would certainly transform an evening when a take-out rotisserie chicken is on the menu.
90 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

De Chanceny, Crémant de la Loire (Loire Valley, France) Brut Nature 2015

($20):  Crémant de la Loire is a category of sparkling wines that consumers should embrace.  Many of these traditionally made (secondary fermentation in the bottle as with Champagne) bubblies provide great enjoyment at an affordable price. Take De Chanceny’s Brut Nature, for example.  The traditional grapes used for Crémant de la Loire, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and a little Cabernet Franc, comprise the blend of this beauty.  The “Nature” designation means that very little or no sugar in the dosage, which means that the wines chosen for Champagne, or this kind of sparkling wine, must be the highest quality.  That explains why De Chanceny uses only hand-harvested grapes for this cuvée.  Their 2015 Brut Nature displays creaminess intermingled with subtle toasty notes, all supported by a balancing spine of acidity that keeps it fresh. Its silky texture means you just want to keep drinking it, which is find because it’s a good pairing for anything from fish in a beurre blanc sauce to sushi.
91 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Château de Villeneuve, Saumur-Champigny (Loire Valley, France) Cabernet Franc 2020

($20):  The Loire Valley’s Saumur-Champigny appellation is a treasure trove for mid-weight Cabernet Franc-based red wines.  Cabernet Franc, a grape that doesn’t tolerate drought well, is perfectly suited to the sponge-like water retaining capacity of the tuffeau stone (local name for chalk, which is omnipresent in this appellation that surrounds the picturesque town of Saumur) and explains why that grape accounts for well over 90 percent of the plantings in the appellation.  Château de Villeneuve makes several wines from Saumur-Champigny.  This release, their “entry-level” one, comes from a blend of parcels around the château that have been aged in both stainless-steel tanks, to preserve fruitiness, and oak barrels to add texture and complexity.  With great aromatics, it is delightfully fresh and fruity with sufficient balancing spiciness to add complexity.  The suave texture and supple tannins make it ideal for current consumption with everything from roast chicken in a mushroom sauce to burgers from the grill.
90 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Gosset, Champagne (France) Excellence Brut NV

($48):  Claiming to be “the oldest wine house in Champagne (Aÿ 1584),” Gosset makes a stylish line-up of wines.  Their creamy and refined “Excellence,” their entry-level, non-vintage offering, delivers great enjoyment for the price. A good spine of acidity balances its pleasing roundness.  Not a powerhouse, it impresses with its elegance and grace.
92 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Château Rollan de By, Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2015

($48):  Château Rollan de By is a perpetual overachiever, and one of the several properties that now comprise Jean Guyon led Domaine Rollan de By and includes Château Greysac.  The French wine authorities have awarded it Cru Bourgeois status, a category that sits just below the more prestigious Cru Classé.  Cru Bourgeois wines in general are reliable and offer a superb price quality ratio.  The blend of the Château Rollan de By in slanted towards Merlot, which is a bit unusual for wines from the Médoc and may help explain the silky tannins of the 2015.  The wine, beautiful to drink now, conveys a harmonious balance of fruity flavors coupled with savory notes of maturity that add complexity and interest.  It would be a perfect choice for steak on the grill.
92 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Trapiche, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Oak Cask” 2021

($10):  Malbec, originally from Bordeaux and Cahors in southwest France, has become Argentina’s signature red grape.  This bargain-priced one packs plenty of punch and hints of vanilla — the oak cask designation speaking. Its suave texture and intensity make it a fine choice for a summertime BBQ party.  Big and bold, yet it is not a bombastic wine.
85 Michael Apstein May 3, 2022

Wölffer Estate, Long Isand (New York) Malbec 2019

($32):  Wölffer Estate, though best known for their Rosés (they list seven on their website) make a bevy of other top-notch wines, including this Malbec.  I am not a Malbec enthusiastic because all too often the wines are heavy, monotonic reds.  Not this one.  Roman Roth, their very talented longtime winemaker, has incorporated a little Merlot and even a pinch of Petit Verdot into the blend.  It’s either the blend or his talent — perhaps both — that imparts elegance to this Malbec.  Unlike many Malbecs, this one is multidimensional.  Roth has turned down the volume — it weighs in at a modest 13 percent started alcohol — so you can hear the notes.  The suave texture means it is ideal for meat from the grill this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 26, 2022

Don’t Overlook Village Burgundies

I’m just back from a week in Burgundy where I attended a spectacular week-long series of tastings, Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, which turned out to be one of my best tasting experiences ever.  Held biannually, visitors move from Chablis in the north to Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, tasting wines from a group of villages each day.  For example, a hundred-plus producers from Chablis and the surrounding Auxerrois arrange themselves under giant tents in Chablis on Monday showing samples of their recent vintages.  The next day, Tuesday, visitors hop from Gevrey-Chambertin to the Clos de Vougeot to the nearby Château de Gilly-lès-Cîteaux, tasting wines from the villages of the Côte de Nuits.  Wednesday, hundreds of Crémant de Bourgogne producers and those from the Mâconnais and Hautes Côtes gather in Beaune, allowing visitors to explore those appellations.  Unsurprisingly, I learned an enormous amount about the wines from the 2020 vintage during those tastings that I will report about in this and future columns.

Spoiler alert—the 2020 whites are consistently excellent across all appellations.  Some of 2020 reds, such as those from Marsannay’s Domaine Bart, are superb as well, but there is far more variability among them as compared to the whites.

What surprised me, but shouldn’t have, was how good and enjoyable the village wines are.  And how well they develop with bottle age.  I’m not referring just to the wines from exalted villages of the Côte d’Or, such as Gevrey-Chambertin.  I found myself raving about wines from Irancy, an obscure village near Chablis that is unknown to even many Burgundians and extolling the virtues of the often-under-priced village Chablis, not its famed Premier or Grand Crus, that have developed marvelously with a decade of age.

Village wines frequently get lost in the clamor for Premier and Grand Cru bottlings.  But those latter two categories account for only about 10 and one percent, respectively, of all Burgundy, which helps explain why their prices have gone through the roof and are unattainable for everyone except the one-percenters.  And even some of them are having trouble affording Grand Crus from top producers.  Accounting for only about 35 percent of Burgundy’s production, village wines are still in rarefied territory in terms of world-wine pricing context, but are at least more affordable.  Regional appellations, such as Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Coteaux Bourguignons, or Mâcon-Villages, to name four of the eight, complete the Burgundy hierarchical pyramid, and account for just over half of Burgundy’s total production.

When choosing village wines, remember the first rule of Burgundy—producer, producer, producer.  It’s no coincidence that the village wines that I found so striking this trip all came from top producers.  From René et Vincent Dauvissat, certainly one of the top producers in Chablis, came a 2015 Irancy and a 2010 Chablis, both of which had developed beautifully and were mesmerizing throughout a meal.  A 2010 Gevrey-Chambertin from Trapet, with its perfect combination of brambly fruit and savory qualities, was equally beguiling.  And a 1992 Pouilly-Fuissé from Château Beauregard, again one of that appellation’s top producers, displayed nutty nuances and was splendidly mature without being tired in the least at 30 years of age — quite a feat considering the abysmal nature of the 1992 vintage in general.

Don’t forget the village bottling of négociants, either.  Many of them are forced to buy small amounts of premier cru wines they don’t really want to secure other wines from growers that they do really want.  Those barrels of unwanted premier crus are often declassified and included in the village bottlings.  For example, for years up to one-third of Jadot’s village Chassagne-Montrachet actually came from premier cru vineyards.  Similarly, Drouhin’s Gevrey-Chambertin bottling typically includes a substantial amount of wine from that village’s Premier Cru vineyards.

Another secret to selecting well-priced village wines is to find villages, such as Marsannay and the aforementioned Irancy, whose prices have not kept up with their leap in quality.  Marsannay, just south of Dijon, is the northern-most village of the Côte de Nuits.  It achieved village appellation status just over three decades ago, in 1987.  Prior to that, its wines were sold under the regional appellation of Bourgogne.  Over the last two decades, the wines of Marsannay have sky-rocketed in quality as young producers have revitalized the appellation.  The market has taken note of the stepped-up quality, and prices for some producers’ wines have already taken off, but bargains remain, at least for now.  I say “for now” because Marsannay producers have applied to French wine regulators to classify some vineyards as Premier Cru.  That classification, which will likely take at least another five years to become official, is appropriate in my mind because certain vineyards, such as Champ Salomon, St. Jacques and Langeroies, to name just three of the 14 candidates, have the potential for making distinctive and very high-quality wine.

You can be sure that once regulators officially identify Premier Cru vineyards in Marsannay, the prices of even the village wines will rise, like what’s happening in Pouilly-Fuissé.  There, and after decades of study, the French wine authorities finally approved the growers’ request to award Premier Cru status to 22 of their vineyards, starting with the 2020 vintage.  The rising tide of higher prices for the Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé has already increased the prices of the village wine.  So, explore the wines of Marsannay while you can.

One of my favorite Marsannay producers is Domaine Bart, who makes an extensive range of wines from lieux-dits across the village, many of which are candidates for Premier Cru status.  Bart’s impeccably balanced 2020s are terrific across the board.  They avoided the potential pitfall of the hot vintage—over ripe grapes resulting in overblown wines.  Bart’s Marsannay will give consumers an insight to the character of the wines from the Côte de Nuits and sell for between $30 and $50 depending on the lieu-dit.

Irancy, which lies just outside of Chablis and is Burgundy’s northern-most village appellation, is set to follow Marsannay’s pathway.  The wines, initially sold only under the Bourgogne application, were promoted in 1977 to Bourgogne-Irancy, still a regional designation, and finally to a village appellation in 1998.  Growers are already discussing which of Irancy’s lieux-dits might qualify for Premier Cru status, though that designation is likely to be at least a decade away.  In the meantime, look out for the notable lieux-dits of Palotte, Les Mazelots, and Veaupessiot.  But also, do remember the rule—producer, producer, producer—so look for Irancy wines from Stephanie Colinot, Christopher Ferrari’s Domaine St.  Germain, Clothilde Davenne, and Domaine Richoux, to name just a few.

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April 20, 2022

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

Bells Up: A Tiny New Oregon Estate

With only a 600-case annual total production, Bells Up is tiny, but their wines tell me their imprint will be huge.  Bells Up is a musical term, and since I know little about music, I will quote from their website: “‘Bells Up’ refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of the instruments up and project sound with maximum intensity.  Bells Up’s winemaker and owner Dave Specter—a former French horn player—says the winery is his ‘Bells Up’ moment.”

The wines of Bells Up, all of which carry musical references on the label, project enormously, but they are not loud.  They sing in a delicate yet persistent fashion.

Again, their website tells us that Specter, a burned-out corporate tax attorney, left that profession in 2009 and moved to the Willamette Valley from Cincinnati with his wife in 2012.  They purchased an abandoned Christmas tree farm, started planting its nine acres, and established the winery a year later.  Specter’s path from tax attorney to winemaker was untraditional, demonstrating the saying that, “where there’s a will there’s a way.”  He was a “cellar rat” at a Cincinnati winery (who knew there was a winery in Cincinnati?), took an online enology course at Washington State University, worked a harvest at a winery in Dundee, and studied viticulture at Chemeketa Community College.

Bells Up’s mid-weight 2019 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, named “Titan” for Mahler’s Symphony #1, (93 pts; $44), is a delight, combining bright cherry notes and balancing savory elements.  Weighing in at a modest 13.2 percent stated alcohol, it is not overdone or over extracted.  Rather, it dances on the palate, displaying the charm and elegance Pinot Noir can deliver.  It seems to expand in the glass.  Each sip reveals new nuances, so don’t rush it.  For now, Specter buys grapes to supplement the enterprise’s own plantings, which explains why roughly two-thirds of the blend for Titan comes from Yamhill-Carlton AVA and remainder from their vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.

Since Bells Up is in Newberg in the Willamette, you’d expect Pinot Noir.  What was unexpected was the stature and poise of their Syrah, the grapes for which come from the Summit View Vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley.  Another graceful wine, the 2019 Syrah, dubbed “Firebird” as in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (93 pts, $52) balances plumy dark red fruit with an invigorating saline-like minerality.  Like Titan, the focus here is on elegance, not over-wrought power.  Yet, its power is evident in the enjoyment it delivers.

Returning to the Willamette, we find a delightfully refreshing, but serious 2021 Pinot Blanc called “Rhapsody,” for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (91 pts, $32).  Pinot Blanc can be disappointing because so many are vapid.  Bells Up has avoided that pitfall with good weight, despite a 12.9 percent stated alcohol, riveting acidity, and a pleasing hint of bitterness in the finish.

Contrary to the composer’s instructions, Bells Up has turned down the volume of their wines so you can really appreciate the complexity of the music.

Currently, the wines are available only by calling (503-537-1328) or emailing the winery, info@bellsupwinery.com

Palmer Vineyards, North Fork of Long Island (New York) Albariño 2021

($33):  The Massoud family, who own Paumanok Vineyards on Long Island’s North Fork, recently acquired neighboring Palmer Vineyards, which means that the very talented Kareem Massoud made this wine.  Albariño, best known for Spain’s wonderfully fresh and lively wines from Rías Baixas region, has been planted on Long Island since at least 2007 when Miguel Martin, former general manager and winemaker at Palmer who had lived in Spain, planted it.  Massoud has blended a bit of Chardonnay with the 2021 Albariño, which adds a touch of body without obliterating the wine’s energy and verve.  It displays an engaging floral character offset nicely by a hint of spice. It’s a great wine for summer.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Channing Daughters, North Fork of Long Island (New York) Cabernet Franc 2019

($30):  New York is the country’s third leading state (behind California and Washington) in terms of wine production.  The North Fork of Long Island is one of the state’s leading regions.  Cabernet Franc does especially well there.  Thankfully, over the last decade winemakers have transformed the character of their Cabernet Franc from a Cabernet Sauvignon-styled powerhouse to a lighter, Loire-style version.  Channing Daughter’s 2019 Cabernet Franc is a terrific example of that style.  Weighing in at 11.8 percent stated alcohol, it is a light to medium weight red with persistence than belies its low alcohol.  Redolent of bright red fruits, it also conveys herbal leafy notes that make Cabernet Franc such a thrilling wine.  Suave mild tannins provide adequate structure without astringency.  This fresh, clean red is ideal for summertime fare, or as their website aptly puts it, “most anything coming from a pig.”
93 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Maison Louis Latour, Mâcon-Lugny (Burgundy, France) “Les Genièvres” 2020

($18, Louis Latour, USA):  I’ve been buying and drinking this Mâcon-Lugny from Latour regularly since the 1979 vintage.  It never disappoints and surprisingly, for a rather down-market appellation, actually develops beautifully with several years of bottle age.  With the price of Côte d’Or white Burgundy through the roof, wines, such as this one, from the Mâconnais are the way to go for Burgundy lovers.  The 2020 vintage is fabulous for whites, which makes this one even more attractive.  It delivers just the right combination of green apple-like fruitiness, a touch of minerality and a citrusy finish.  Stock up for summer.
89 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Domaine Eleni et Edouard Vocoret, Chablis (Burgundy, France) “Les Pargues” 2019

($43):  This is another stunning example of Eleni and Edouard Vocoret’s talents.  Like their Chablis Le Bas de Chapelot, their Les Pargues hits above its weight class, though with a slightly different profile.  Flinty and stony, there’s a saline-like character in the finish.  It also is incredible fresh and lively, especially considering the warmth of the 2019 vintage.  Though that vintage produced riper Chablis in general with less energy than usual, Eleni and Edouard Vocoret have avoided that potential pitfall with their wines.  Invite friends, taste these two wines side-by-side and see for yourself that all Chablis is not the same.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Domaine Eleni et Edouard Vocoret, Chablis (Burgundy, France) “Le Bas de Chapelot” 2019

($43):  Eleni and Edouard Vocoret are new kids on the Chablis block.  Chablis-lovers would be wise to remember their names.  Their domaine, not even a decade old, is spread over about a dozen acres in Chablis.  Traditionally, producers in Chablis have not focused on its lieux-dits (named sites) that are under the village umbrella compared to say, Meursault, for example.  That’s one thing that distinguishes Eleni and Edouard Vocoret from the pack.  They bottle several Chablis from specific plots spread across the appellation.  Eleni explains that they wanted to show the differences among the plots since they were working them all the same way and vinifying the wines similarly.  The other thing that distinguishes them from the pack is the high quality of their wines.  This Le Bas de Chapelot has strikingly good minerality and verve.  It outperforms many producers’ premier cru Chablis.  Don’t miss it.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Maison Louis Latour, Volnay 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) En Chevret 2019

($100, Louis Latour, USA):  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s leading négociants, hit a home run with their 2019 reds.  From the array I’ve tasted, you could almost pick with your eyes closed and get a terrific wine.  This Volnay 1er is especially attractive because of its seductive perfume, silky texture, and refinement.  It displays good depth and concentration without a trace of heaviness.  Its energy and an attractive hint of bitterness in the finish is a reminder that Latour avoided the potential over ripe pitfall of the vintage.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

Domaine Louis Latour, Corton Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) “Corton Grancey” 2019

($190, Louis Latour, USA):  Louis Latour is King of the Hill of Corton because of the quality of the wines that emanate from their extensive holdings there.  Corton Grancey, a blend from five distinct Grand Cru climats of Corton — Bressandes, Perrières, Clos du Roi, Grèves, and Chaumes — is their top red wine from the Côte de Beaune.  The blend varies depending on the vintage, but it’s always terrific.  The 2019 is exceptionally noteworthy, delivering a bit of everything and not too much of anything.  It’s explosive, yet firm and iron tinged. It has both power and finesse.  Louis Fabrice Latour remarked that they were “obsessed with freshness” with their 2019s after the torrid weather of the 2018 vintage.  The wonderful energy of this Corton Grancey is testimony to that obsession.  Corton-lovers, put this one in the cellar for a decade.
97 Michael Apstein Apr 19, 2022

10,000 Hours, Red Mountain (Washington) Red Blend 2019

($35):  It is fascinating to taste this Red Blend and its Cabernet Sauvignon brother side-by-side.  They carry the same fine and up-scale Red Mountain appellation, and the same winemaking philosophy, presumably, but the result is refreshingly different.  The bold power and fine texture are similar, but the focus is different.  This Red Blend contains more Merlot and less Cabernet Sauvignon — the Petit Verdot and Malbec same about the same — which changes the focus to a fruitier sweeter expression with far less savory influence.  As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

10,000 Hours, Red Mountain (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 

($35):  This big and bold Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy (84%) Bordeaux blend displays suave tannins and a luxurious texture, which makes it fine for current consumption.  It is clearly fruity, yet balancing savory, olive-like, flavors emerge.  There is even a trace of bitterness in the finish.  This is a powerhouse wine with some elegance — what I call “a steakhouse wine.”
91 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains (Texas) “The Circle” Field Blend 2017

($35):  Though founded in 1997, Reddy Vineyards’ first wine under their label in was a 2015.  Before then, Reddy sold grapes to other producers, who made medal-winning wines using those grapes.  The story really started in 1971 when Vijay Reddy, a farmer from south India, immigrated to the U.S.  He obtained a doctorate in soil and plant science, all the while continuing to farm.  In 1997, he planted grapes and now has over 300 acres of vineyards growing a bit of everything.  His son, Akhil, has taken the reins at Reddy Vineyards.  The Circle, a field blend of a bit of everything — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Cinsault — manages to work despite the divergent ripening cycle of the different varieties.  The elevation of the vineyard, 3300 feet, mitigates the Texas heat and helps preserve acidity in the grapes and energy in the wine.  It all comes together nicely with juicy red fruit flavors, fine tannins, and a subtle and alluring briary aspect.  Not entirely suave or refined, it is nonetheless delicious and charming.  It would be a good choice for things slathered with BBQ sauce on the grill this summer.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Caballus Cellars, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2016

($129):  Caballus, a cooperative effort of Veronique Drouhin and Isabell Dutartre, two horse lovers, mothers, and winemakers, is a stunning wine that shows the heights Oregon Pinot Noir can achieve.  Caballus starts with wonderful aromatics and them combines bright but subtle red fruit flavors with minerals.  It’s alluring revealing a hint of this and smidgen of that.  A stylish wine, its suave texture and delicacy makes it a joy to drink.  A welcome hint of bitterness, more minerality speaking, in the finish reminds us that its emphasis is not on fruitiness.  The wine expresses far more.  It demonstrates my definition of Burgundian sensibility — flavor without weight.  It’s a bit incongruous than Drouhin Oregon’s property, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, focuses on, and makes exemplary wines from, single appellations (the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity AVAs), whereas Caballus is a blend from AVAs within the Willamette.  Just goes to show there’s more than one way to make superb wine.
96 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Anselmet, Vallée d’Aoste DOC (Italy) Petite Arvine 2020

($40):  Petite Arvine, commonly known just as Arvine, is native and almost exclusive to the Valais in Switzerland, but there are a few acres of it planted in the Aosta Valley.  This one has a Viognier-like character, fruity and floral, yet not sweet.  Indeed, there is a welcome balancing hint of bitterness in the finish.  An exuberant wine, in the nicest way, it would be an excellent choice for spicy Asian or Latin American fare.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Anselmet, Vallée d’Aoste DOC (Italy) Chardonnay “Mains et Coeur” 2019

($64):  The team at Anselmet clearly thinks this is an important wine — heavy bottle, heavy wax seal that makes uncorking difficult.  But this Chardonnay is worth the effort.  It is a remarkably well-balanced of delicate fruitiness and minerality.  There is an uplifting saline-like savoriness in the finish.  It has stature.  By that I mean when you take another sip, you pause, take note, and are amazed by it all over again.  It is graceful, persistent, and penetrating.  The bottle may be heavy.  The wine is not.
94 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Cecchi, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Riserva di Famiglia” 2015

($32, Terlato Wines International):  Cecchi’s Chianti Classico Riserva, unsurprisingly, is bigger and more powerful than their 2019 regular (annata) bottling.  Weighing in at 14 percent stated alcohol, it has more power, yet retains elegance.  The wood is still showing at this stage, but from my experience with their wines, it will become better integrated after another year or so in the bottle.  The balance of dark cherries and savory bitterness is still enthralling.  The energy provided by its acidity is amazing, especially considering the warmth of the vintage.  My advice is to drink their 2019 Chianti Classico now and over the next year or two, while this one rests in the cellar.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Cecchi, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Storia di Famiglia” 2019

($27, Terlato Wines International):  This Chianti Classico shows why Cecchi is one of Tuscany’s top producers.  Based in Castellina in Chianti, the heart of Chianti Classico region, Cecchi has fashioned a lovely, mid-weight wine that combines savory elements — earthy notes — with cherry-scented flavors.  Suave tannins provide structure and allow for current enjoyment.  This a balanced Chianti Classico, filled with energy and a welcome, subtly bitter finish.  It is clearly not an overdone fruit bomb.  Penne with sausage and broccoli rabe, anyone?
93 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Donnachiara, Taurasi Riserva DOCG (Campania, Italy) 2017

($50):  Taurasi remains an underappreciated DOCG.  Those unfamiliar with the wines from the volcanic soil in this part of Campania need to discover them.  Donnachiara’s is a good place to start.  Made entirely from the Aglianico grape, it has a tarry power that belies its modest, 13.5 percent stated, alcohol.  Rich and dense, it’s not particularly fruity.  Rather it emphasizes minerals and earth and finishes with an alluring hint of bitterness, a trait I always find appealing because of how it balances the richness of meat.  This bold wine is not the least bit overdone or “in-your-face.”  Indeed, its alluring texture and suaveness makes it all the more enticing.  It will certainly benefit from a few years in the cellar.  If you pull the cork now, save it for a cold rainy (or snowy) evening.
94 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

Bollinger, Champagne (France) “La Grande Année” 2014

($139, Vintus):  Bollinger’s 2014 is an outstanding wine, filled with paradoxes.  Which, of course, is one reason it’s so wonderful.  Its power and simultaneous restraint is perplexing.  Tightly wound at this stage, its power is still apparent, like a tiger ready to leap.  Its seeming austerity is unusual for Bollinger, but it just speaks to its youthfulness.  This will not remain austere!  Its elegance is beguiling.  Its creamy texture is magical.  It is one of things that makes this Champagne so alluring.  A fine vein of acidity buttresses without a hint of aggressiveness and amplifies the wine’s charm in the finish.  This is a Champagne to cellar and then savor.
97 Michael Apstein Apr 12, 2022

San Felice, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Poggio Rosso” 2016

($70, Vision Wine and Spirits):  Gran Selezione is a relatively new, not even a decade old, category of Chianti Classico.  It sits at the pinnacle of the region’s quality pyramid, which now has the three levels: annata or regular bottling, Riserva, and finally Gran Selezione.  To qualify for Gran Selezione, the grapes must all come from the estate, that is, not purchased, and the wine must be aged for 30 months before release, rather than the 24 months required for a Riserva.  In short, Gran Selezione is meant to be an estate’s top Chianti Classico.  San Felice, one of Chianti Classico’s top producers, is located in Castelnuovo Berardenga, a southern subzone near Siena.  The wines from that subzone tend to be riper and denser because of the warmer climate.  San Felice, however, manages to balance the power, imbuing this Chianti Classico Gran Selezione with a suave elegance and a long and uplifting finish.  Made entirely from Sangiovese and weighing in at a modest 13.5 percent stated alcohol, it is a marvelous expression of Chianti Classico and shows the heights that wines from that DOCG can reach.  Frankly, I would cellar it for a few more years to let even more earthy and savory components emerge.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 22, 2022

Campogiovanni, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2016

($63, Vision Wine and Spirits):  San Felice, a top Chianti Classico producer, also owns the Campogiovanni estate in Montalcino.  They produced a stunning Brunello in 2016.  The San Felice’s wines always express power, but they manage to modulate it so that the terroir is not overwhelmed.  This Brunello is a fine example of that balance.  Intense, with dark cherry fruitiness at the fore, it’s not overblown, so that a dark core of minerals is readily apparent.  Savory and suavely textured, this wine is a great example of how everything can come together seamlessly.  Find a place in your cellar and revisit it in a decade.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 22, 2022

Zorutti, Collio DOP (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2020

($15):  Italy produces roughly 40 percent of all Pinot Grigio even though that grape is not native variety to that country, according to Daniele Cernilli, one of the world’s experts on Italian wines.  As it has become an extremely popular wine in the U.S., the quality has become increasingly variable.  Many are innocuous.  Others, such as this one, are excellent, and explain the original enthusiasm for the category.  Zorutti’s Pinot Grigio displays a whiff of white flowers followed by good weight and cutting vibrancy.  The floral element combines with an enlivening salinity in the extended finish.  The wine’s substance is a welcome contrast to the vapid nature of most mass-marketed Pinot Grigio.
92 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Cobue, Lugana DOC (Lombardy, Italy) “Monte Lupo” 2020

($12):  Lugana, a DOC on the southern shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy, is a name to remember for white wines.  The primary grape is Turbiana, also known as Trebbiano di Lugana.  Locals prefer Turbiana, the historical name, to dissociate it from the mostly down-market family of varieties and grape strains associated with the Trebbiano name.  And indeed, DNA analysis shows Turbiana to be identical to the very upscale Verdicchio grape.  Lugana is a piece of the Mediterranean in northern Italy, replete with lemon and olive trees.  So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the wines can be reminiscent of Rhône Valley whites with stone fruit character, but with far better, and bracing, acidity.  Cobue buttresses depth with freshness and alluring spice, imbuing the wine with a real presence.  An appealing salinity appears in the finish.  This is not some innocuous Trebbiano, but rather a white with character.  Drink it this summer.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Antico Monastero, Moscato d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) 2021

($15):  This wine is bottled summertime.  Spritz balances the healthy amount of residual sugar so it’s not cloying, just refreshing.  And all of 5.5 percent stated alcohol means you can drink it all afternoon by the pool this summer.  Or use it as a zippy and sweet aperitivo.  It would be a good match to offset the fire in spicy dishes as well.
90 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Marchesi di Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Sbirolo” 2020

($26, Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd.):  The name of this wine, Sbirolo, which means someone with an extroverted personality in the local dialect, describes the wine perfectly.  A more succinct translation is “rascal.”  This Sbirolo is expressive and in-your-face in a very nice way.  By law, Langhe Nebbiolo must be made entirely from that grape and so at first glance you’d think the notorious Nebbiolo tannins would make it astringent.  Not so.  The tannins are hardly noticeably — just enough to provide needed balance — amidst the lively succulent fruitiness.  Brilliant acidity keeps it fresh.  This is a great introduction to the charm of Nebbiolo — a Nebbiolo on training wheels — and would be ideal for any hearty tomato-based pasta or grilled meats.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Mauro Veglio, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) 2018

($45):  This family-owned firm makes a range of Barolo from four of the important vineyards or cru in the DOCG and this one, made from grapes grown in La Morra and Monforte d’Alba where they also have vineyards.  It’s a masterful blend that shows the value of the tradition of blending from throughout the Barolo DOCG versus the more recent trend towards single vineyard bottling.  The wine combines the elegance expected from wines from La Morra with the power and sturdier structure characteristic of those from Monforte d’Alba.  Displaying a beguiling combination of floral and mineral, almost tarry, notes, this Barolo is surprisingly approachable because of the finely honed tannins.  Its stature becomes even more apparent with its long and graceful finish.  Sure, it needs more time — it is Barolo, after all — but it will give great pleasure with a few more years of bottle age, rather than the usual decade.  It’s an excellent choice to drink while waiting for the 2016s to come around.  And it’s well-priced for what it delivers.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Marchesi di Barolo, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Barolo del Comune di Barolo” 2016

($63, Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd.):  The combination of an outstanding vintage (2016) and an outstanding producer (Marchesi di Barolo) equals an outstanding wine.  The wine is a blend from their vineyards within in the municipality of Barolo, one of the 11 villages that comprise the DOCG and the one from which the DOCG takes its name.  The first whiff — floral and minerally — tells you it’s a grand wine.  The palate confirms it.  Dark fruit is apparent and then lovely firm tarriness appears.  There are the famous Nebbiolo tannins, but they are finely polished and not aggressive.  Plus, there is plenty of stuffing in this balanced wine.  A long finish with hints of bitterness just adds to its appeal.  Overall, however, its poise and finesse are what makes this Barolo shine.  Rather than displaying a blockbuster impenetrable style, it wows you with elegance and gracefulness that is a fitting complement to its power.  This Barolo is the quintessential iron fist in a velvet glove.  I suggest finding a place in your cellar so you can appreciate additional complexity in five or 10 years when you pull the cork.  Although I hesitate to call a $63 wine a bargain, it is for what it delivers.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

La Casaccia, Barbera del Monferrato DOC (Piedmont, Italy) “Giuanin” 2019

($25):  La Casaccia, a family-run winery with 20 acres of vines, has always been ahead of the curve.  They started farming organically two decades ago, well before it became popular.  For those unfamiliar with Barbera, and even for those who know that grape well, this is a beautiful example.  It delivers a balance package of spice, little red fruits, enlivening acidity and mild tannins.  Daniele Cernilli, a world’s authority on Italian wines, points out that the hallmark of Barbera is that acidity is more important and takes precedence over tannins.  Indeed, the acidity is mouth-watering and a perfect foil for current drinking with a hearty pasta dish.  The name of the wine, by the wine, means “little Giovanni” in Piedmontese dialect.  But this is no little wine.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Peiragal” 2018

($27, Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd.):  In 1980, Ernesto, the patriarch of the family, either foolishly or prophetically planted Barbera in the Paiagallo vineyard, one of Barolo’s top vineyards for Nebbiolo.  Valentina, his daughter, recounted that her father replaced the more valuable Nebbiolo vines with Barbera, even though he realized it was not in his economic interest.  Ernesto wanted to return to the Piedmont tradition of having even “humble” varieties planted in the best terroir, according to her.  She explained that her father felt that Barbera could shine, displaying the elegance and power of a great terroir and, simultaneously, be more accessible at a young age.  This 2018 certainly shines.  Plush and succulent, it displays a suave texture that makes it a delight to drink now.  Barbera’s naturally high acidity is less obvious, but nonetheless provides good counterweight to the wine’s fruitiness.  Rich, not jammy or heavy, it would be a good match for a hearty pasta dish or a warming beef stew.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2022

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc Virginia’s Block, Jane’s Vineyard 2020

($25):  This mid-weight Sauvignon Blanc delivers plenty of concentration along with balancing energy.  Its 14.5 percent stated alcohol announces itself with a touch of heat in the finish, but the overall effect is not one of heaviness, just intensity.  It is a Sauvignon Blanc with power, which makes it a fine choice with tomato-based seafood dishes.
86 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2022

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc “Fumé Blanc” 2020

($20):  Dry Creek Vineyard has always excelled with Sauvignon Blanc.  And the 2020 is no exception.  A trio of Sauvignon species, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musqué, and Sauvignon Gris, comprise the blend of this winsome wine.  Dry Creek names it Fume Blanc to remind the consumer it’s a Loire style of Sauvignon Blanc  — zippy and mineraly — in contrast to those coming from Bordeaux.  Suave texture offsets and balances its attractive buzz.
90 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2022

Dry Creek Vineyard, Clarksburg (California) Dry Chenin Blanc 2020

($16):  If there is a California Chenin Blanc that’s more enjoyable than Dry Creek Vineyard’s, I would like someone to tell me.  Crisp and clean, it conveys a delicate fruitiness.  Light and airy — only 12 percent stated alcohol — its verve and floral fruitiness are in perfect harmony.  It is a versatile wine, great as an aperitif, but with enough oomph to stand up to antipasti.  It’s also a fine choice for spicy Asian or Latin American fare.  My advice is to stock up for summer.
91 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2022

Roger Goulart, Cava Gran Reserva (Penedès, Spain) Brut 2012

($20, Arano LLC):  The Cava category, Spain’s unique sparkling wine, has several levels.  One level below the pinnacle is Gran Reserva, a wine that must see at least 30 months of aging on the lees.  Goulart doubles that and then adds another 12 months for good measure.  A blend of Chardonnay (38%), Xarel-lo (25%), Macabeo (20%) and Parellada, it displays uncommon gracefulness plus alluring minerality.  This very sophisticated wine is complete and balanced, with a fabulous spine of acidity that keeps it fresh.  A great bargain!
94 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2022

Bodegas Valdesil, Valdeorras (Galicia, Spain) Godello “Montenovo” 2020

($16, Polaner Selections):  Valdesil, a winery synonymous with top-notch Godello, makes a lovely array of wines from that under-appreciated grape.  This fresh and clean one is their “entry-level” wine.  And what an entry it is!  It’s a splendid introduction to Valdesil’s talents and the beauty of the wines made from this grape.  Refreshing and bracing, it displays enough stuffing to stand up to full-flavor food such as garlic bathed sautéed shrimp.  Yet, it’s neither heavy nor flamboyant, weighing in at a modest 13.5 percent stated-alcohol. Though it will be ideal this summer, it great now for those hearty seafood dishes this winter.  Another bargain!
93 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2022