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Hark Vineyards, Monticello (Virginia) “Spark” 2019

($48):  This Cabernet Franc-dominate Bordeaux blend confirms what Thomas Jefferson knew centuries ago: Virginia’s Monticello AVA, located in the middle of state, is good place to grow grapes and make wine.  Hark’s mid-weight Spark does actually light up the palate.  A “just right” amount of structure provides a backbone to this plummy red without being intrusive. Read more

Argentiera, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Poggio al Ginepri” 2022 

($25, Volio Imports):  This ripe, 14.5 percent stated alcohol, Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend delivers up-front fruitiness wrapped in plush tannins and supported by a touch of firmness that prevents it from being flabby.  Good acidity and a hint of bitterness in the finish keep it in balance though the overt fruitiness still predominates at this stage. Read more

Afton Mountain Vineyards, Monticello (Virginia) “T” 2019

($55):  This Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend was one of the top 12 wines in the recently completed Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition.  Firm, yet mild and unobtrusive tannins, presumably from the Cabernet Sauvignon, provide needed structure for the plummy fruit notes.  The suave texture speaks to talented winemaking and what must have come from selecting only the best fruit. Read more

Chianti Classico: A Perennial Favorite

Tasting through hundreds of Chianti Classico wines from the 2020, 2021, and 2022 vintages over two days reminded me why Chianti Classico is, justifiably, so popular around the world.  The setting for the tastings was the venerable — and quite enormous — train station in Florence where every year the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (the organization that represents producers) presents some 700-plus samples of Chianti Classico spanning several recent vintages and all quality levels. 
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Maison Auvigue, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) “Chênes” 2022

($35):  Saint-Véran, which lies adjacent to Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais, lies between single village Mâcon wines, like Mâcon-Azé, and Pouilly-Fuissé in the appellation hierarchy.  That is not to say you can’t find a Mâcon-Azé that is more stylish and enjoyable than a Saint-Véran, nor does it mean that every Pouilly-Fuissé is superior to every Saint-Véran. Read more

Domaine Merlin, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) Le Grand Bussière 2022

($33):  Despite the location of the vineyard, Le Grand Bussière, in the village of Fuissé, the appellation is Saint-Véran because Fuissé (the village) spans two appellations, Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran.  (Who ever said that Burgundy was simple to understand?)  This edgy Saint-Véran, with its cutting stone-y quality, shows why that appellation ranks above Mâcon in prestige. Read more

Domaine Merlin, Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Chevrières 2022

($72):  The French wine authorities have finally identified and codified Premier Cru vineyards for Pouilly-Fuissé so that moniker along with the vineyard name is now appearing on the label, just as in the rest of Burgundy.  Unsurprisingly, the elevation of some vineyards to Premier Cru classification has brought with it an elevation of price. Read more

Maison Louis Latour, Viré-Clessé (Burgundy, France) 2022

($38, Louis Latour, USA):  Appellations within the Mâconnais, like Viré-Clessé, are the place to go to find affordable, or at least more affordable, white Burgundy.  Viré and Clessé, two adjacent villages whose wines previously were labeled as Mâcon-Viré and Mâcon-Clessé, convinced French wine regulators that their wines were distinctive enough to merit their own appellations. Read more

Le Rocher des Violettes, Mountlouis-sur-Loire (Loire Valley, France) “Touche-Mitaine” 2021

($28):  Mountlouis-sur-Loire lies across the Loire River from Vouvray and uses the same Chenin Blanc grape for its captivatingly delicious wines.  Similar in style to Vouvray, they vary from dry, like this one, to sweet.  A waiter at GrandCoeur, an exceptional new-wave bistro in the Marais section of Paris, recommended this one to me. Read more

Capezzana, Toscana Rosso (Tuscany, Italy) “Ugo Contini Bonacossi” 2019

($60):  The Contini Bonacossi family owns Capezzana, Carmignano’s best producer.  Ugo Contini Bonacossi, who transformed the property from the typical sharecropping agricultural endeavor of the era, into the current modern wine and olive oil producing estate, adored a particular small Sangiovese vineyard that he thought consistently produced exceptional grapes. Read more

Girolamo Russo, Etna Rosso (Sicily, Italy) “‘a Rina” 2020

($34):  This looks like a Rosé in the glass, but fortunately it displays enormous character and complexity, so you know it’s not a rosé.  Girolamo Russo, one of Etna’s top producers, makes a range of terrific wines from that mountain.  This one, ‘a Rina, is a blend, and could be considered his “basic” — though there’s nothing basic about it — wine. Read more