Category Archives: Wine Review Online

Résonance, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2017

($37):  Résonace is just another example of how the Burgundians believe in the potential of the Willamette Valley, especially for Pinot Noir.  Drouhin started what is now a trend with establishment of Domaine Drouhin Oregon three decades ago.  Maison Louis Jadot, another stellar Burgundy producer, purchased the 20-acre Resonance Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in 2013 and expanded by buying the Découverte Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA.  Though they are making Pinot Noirs from those two vineyards, this one is a blend of fruit from their vineyards and from others from throughout the Willamette Valley.  Initially reticent, its charms appear after 30 minutes in the glass.  A restrained red-cherry-like fruitiness blossoms with air.  A welcome savory character — a cherry pit-like bitterness — balances the fruitiness.  The overall impression is one of restraint and delicacy, reflecting their Burgundian roots.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Résonance, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2018

($37):  The 2018 Résonance Pinot Noir is Jadot’s eighth vintage.  Unsurprisingly, the wines just get better and better.  Their 2018 is riper and slightly more robust — black cherries rather than red ones — than their 2017, yet conveys the same lovely freshness and vivacity.  There’s also a engaging hint of tarry minerality and subtle bitterness in the finish that adds to its appeal.  Still, it’s very much in a Burgundian style of Pinot Noir.  This is a real success especially considering the grapes are not entirely from their vineyards.  It’s impossible to know whether the added oomph is a result of a riper year, older wines, or just a different proportion of estate versus purchased fruit.  This wine has blossomed and filled out substantially since I lasted tasted last year.
94 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Ravines Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling 2018

($17):  Despite its northern location and frigid winters, the Finger Lakes region of New York State is well suited for Riesling and other European grape varieties.  The lakes are remarkably deep, so the water moderates the temperature of the surrounding shores, allowing Vitus Vinifera planted close by the waters’ edge to survive the winter.  Ravines Wine Cellars, founded in 2001 on the eastern slopes of Keuka Lake, makes only dry wines from Vinifera grapes.  Morton Hallgren, winemaker and owner with his wife, Lisa, has a long experience with viticulture and winemaking having grown up on his family’s property, Domaine de Castel Roubine, a well-regarded Côtes de Provence estate.  This dry Riesling, their “entry level” wine, meaning it’s not a single-vineyard bottling, is a great introduction to the talents of this property.  Dry, mineraly and cutting, this Riesling delivers everything you would want from that grape at this price.  Not for pre-dinner sipping, try it with spiced seafood or pork chops.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Dr. Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling 2018

($17):  The story of the founding of the Dr. Konstantin Frank winery is nothing short of phenomenal.  He went from arriving in the U.S. in 1951 as an emigrant from the Ukraine, speaking no English and with virtually no money, to making one of America’s finest Rieslings from a place where no one had thought of planting that grape.  Frank, born in 1899, earned a PhD in viticulture in the Ukraine in 1930.  He survived the Russian Revolution and two World Wars before emigrating to the United States.  In 1958 he planted the first European grape varieties in the Eastern U.S.  on the shores of Keuka Lake.  Today, four generations later, Dr.  Konstantin Frank is one the leading Riesling producers in the United States.  Their 2018 Dry Riesling delivers a mineraly edge coupled with an invigorating zestiness.  Weighing in at a modest 12% stated alcohol, it displays good depth and concentration.  It’s a great choice when a plethora of flavors are on the table because its acidity will cut through anything.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Ravines Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2017

($32):  Ravines may not have the storied history of Dr. Konstantin Frank, but they are making sensational Rieslings as well, as demonstrated by this single vineyard bottling and their “regular” one.  Morton Hallgren, winemaker and owner with his wife, Lisa, identified the Argetsinger Vineyard as a top spot for Riesling shortly after establishing their winery in 2001 and have produced a single-vineyard bottling every year. This beautifully framed dry Riesling has uncommon depth with a cutting mineral component.  Its refinement is evident in its graceful texture. Bright and bracing acidity in the finish and an extraordinary length amplifies its charms. This vibrant wine will make any skeptic take notice of the potential of Finger Lakes Riesling.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Bodegas Muriel, Rioja DOC Reserva (Spain) Fincas de la Villa 2016

($18, Quintessential Wines):  One of the many charms of Rioja is the ability to find wines with aged character at a reasonable, dare I say, bargain, price.  This one displays the balanced combination of fresh and dried fruits, the latter of which comes from bottle age.  The overall effect is ying/yang of freshness with a delightful almost leathery, aged quality.  This mid-weight beauty has mild tannins, which provide structure during the meal, and great acidity, which keeps it fresh.  Whereas you could sip the Viña Eguia Rioja before a meal, this Rioja Riserva requires a sit-down meal.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Viña Eguia, Rioja DOC (Spain) Tempranillo 2018

($13, Quintessential Wines):  Bargain alert.  Light, bright and zesty, this Rioja would fit into my category of “pizza wine” if it came from Italy.  So, call it a tapas wine instead.  But you get the point.  Though it’s a lightweight red, its lively red fruitiness allows you to serve it with barbecued chicken.  Mild tannins even allow you to chill it.  Its balance is what will thrill you, especially at the price.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Vivera, Nero d’Avola DOP (Sicily, Italy) 2020

($23, Montcalm Wine Importers):  I was unfamiliar with this producer until samples arrived on my doorstep.  Now, with this Nero d’Avola and their equally impressive Etna Rosso, Vivera is a name I will remember.  The fleshy character of this Nero d’Avola presents a great counterpoint to the sleek austerity of their 2019 Etna Rosso.  Smokey nuances poke out and balance the dark cherry-like flavors.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you that this is no fruit bomb, but rather, a sophisticated example of the varietal.  Suave tannins in this mid-weight wine allow for current consumption with a robust tomato-based pasta.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Vivera, Etna Rosso DOC (Sicily, Italy) 2019

($34, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Wines made from grape grown on the lava-rich slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna transmit their origins beautifully and precisely.  The cherry-like fruitiness of this Etna Rosso takes a back seat to its angular lava-tinged character.  Wonderfully austere, this sleek wine delivers a saline-like freshness.  Its austerity notwithstanding, it packs persistence.  This chiseled wine is perfect to offset the fleshiness of rich meaty dishes.  It is not one to sip before dinner, but rather to drink with slow-cooked short ribs.  I suspect it will develop with bottle age, but it’s fine to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Canavere di Giacosa Fratelli, Barbera d’Alba DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Bussia 2019

($24, Montcalm Wine Importers):  The versatility of Barbera helps explain its popularity.  Typically bright and fresh, like this one, they are a “go-to” choice for many tomato-based pasta dishes.  This one’s raspberry-like fruitiness and mild tannins means that it could take a chill nicely in the waning days of summer.  Or pop the cork with your next take-out pizza.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Single Vineyard versus Multi-Vineyard Blends

Dr.  Laura Catena, the managing director of Bodegas Catena Zapata, Argentina’s most famous winery, quips that her father, Nicolás Catena, must have known about fighting climate change before anyone else.  In 1992, his neighbors considered him foolish when he started planting vines at high-altitude.  He was looking for the highest possible site where there was water, according to his daughter.  Mind you, Bodegas Catena Zapata already had one of the highest vineyards in the world, the Angélica Sur Vineyard, named after Nicolás’ mother, planted at about 3,000 feet above sea level 60 years earlier.  Nicolás Catena knew that as you went up, temperature went down, even more so at night, amplifying the difference between the daytime and nighttime temperatures.  This greater diurnal temperature variation allowed grapes to retain acidity, which translated into fresher and more lively wines.  Today, some three decades later, winegrowers try to combat climate change by either planting vineyards further north or south, depending on the hemisphere, or by “going up,” and planting at higher elevations.  Stephen Brook, writing in Decanter, the world’s leading wine magazine, highlighted the importance of Catena’s philosophy for Argentina when he wrote, “Nicolás Catena thrust Argentinian wine into the modern era”…because he realized “the key was to plant the right varieties in the right location, specifically cooler, higher sites where jamminess would not be an issue.”

Although one might think that the enhanced light that results from thinner air at higher altitudes might burn grapes—we sunburn much more easily at higher altitudes—the more intense light aids photosynthesis, the vines’ energy source, without harming the grapes.

All of which brings us to Adrianna Vineyard.  Nicolás Catena planted the 30-acre vineyard at about 5,000 feet above sea level.  Located in Mendoza, specifically in the Gualtallary District of Tupungato, Adrianna Vineyard is home to strange bedfellows.  Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc made sense, since these Bordeaux varieties are often planted together, but then there’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Viognier, which I suppose is the first indication that this single vineyard, unsurprisingly, is not homogenous.  More about that later.

Laura Catena, MD and Larry Stone, MS recently led a Zoom® tasting to discuss the concept of Grand Cru by tasting several of Catena Zapata’s wine and other great wines from Burgundy, Bolgheri, and the Willamette Valley.  Though that discussion was informative, what I found most fascinating about the tasting was the diversity of wines, even made from the same grape, that came from within a single vineyard.  It forced me to reconsider the idea of “single-vineyard” wines.

The San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey County with its 8,500 acres of vines is reported to be the largest vineyard in the world.  Compare that with Guigal’s famed La Mouline, which is roughly 2.5 acres.  In between, in Burgundy, as Larry Stone pointed out, is the 45-acre Les Folatières vineyard, one of Puligny-Montrachet’s top premier crus.  In reality, four distinct sites, what the French call lieux-dits (literally, place names), Peux Bois, Au Chaniot, Ex Folatières, and En la Richarde, comprise the Les Folatières vineyard.  Producers can make and label their wine “Les Folatières” if the grapes came from one or more of the lieux-dits.  Theoretically, there could be four distinct wines all labeled Les Folatières, made from grapes grown in the four lieux-dits.  But, in reality, they are all labeled, Les Folatières.  The same is true, on a larger scale, in the grand cru vineyard, Echezeaux.  Eleven lieux-dits comprise this almost 100-acre-vineyard.  There is no doubt that some sites produce better grapes than others.  Indeed, producers know this and sometimes put the name of the lieu-dit on the label along with vineyard name, Echezeaux.

That certain portions of a vineyard produce better grapes is well-known by winegrowers around the world.  Sections with older vines are treated with reverence.  But vine age aside, certain plots, even a few rows of vines, within a vineyard are prized over adjacent ones.  Winemakers might use these grapes for their “reserve” wines or special bottlings.  The point is—a vineyard, regardless of size—is not homogenous.

All of which brings me back to Catena Zapata’s Adrianna Vineyard.  We tasted three wines from Adrianna, a stunning 2017 Malbec and two incredibly different 2018 Chardonnays, labeled White Bones and White Stones.

The 2017 Malbec labelled “Fortuna Terrae” reminded me that this grape planted in the right spot and vinified by the right people can make wonderful wine.  In my experience Malbec is all too often a big, heavy, one-dimension fruity wine displaying little or no complexity.  Catena Zapata’s Fortuna Terrae does not fit that description.  Yes, it’s a bold wine—it is Malbec, after all—but it’s not heavy.  As it sits in the glass, complexity and minerality come out.  The tannins are suave, and, as expected from the vineyard’s altitude, the wine is fresh and lively.  Indeed, it’s a surprisingly floral and elegant Malbec.

The White Stones Chardonnay comes from a 6.2-acre parcel of the Adrianna Vineyard rich in rounded rocks covered in calcium carbonate, according to Catena.  Weighing in at a modest 12.5 percent stated alcohol, it is restrained, yet paradoxically explosive.  Tightly wound initially, with air it blossoms, showing a hint of spice that complements its front and center flintiness.  Its mineral-y aspect stands out and grows with air.  Lip-smacking acidity—there’s the effect of altitude again—amplifies its charms.  You’d be forgiven if you identified it as a Grand Cru Chablis in a blind tasting.

The White Bones Chardonnay comes from a 5.4-acre parcel on a dried riverbed filled with crumbled limestone.  Drawing on her specialty in Emergency Medicine, Catena said the area reminded her of broken bones.  Despite its close proximity to the White Stones parcel, the White Bones was vastly different—far more floral and flamboyant, displaying herbal, almost minty, qualities that overshadowed any mineral aspects.  It did, unsurprisingly, have the same mouth-watering freshness and a similarly modest, 12.6 percent, stated alcohol.

The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata, the winery’s flagship—Catena calls it a “Super Argentinian”—provided an ironic counterpoint because it showed that a great wine need not be a single-vineyard wine.  The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata is typically a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grown in a variety of their high-altitude vineyards.  The Malbec came from Adrianna and Nicasia Vineyards, while the Cabernet Franc came from Adrianna, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from both Adrianna and La Pirámide vineyards.  Similar to the Fortuna Terrae Malbec, Nicolás Catena Zapata is bold, but not heavy.  Its complexity is riveting.  Each taste reminds you you’re in for a treat.  Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which invites another sip.  A youthful wine, to be sure, its texture and balance predicts a beautiful evolution.  This gem is one for the cellar.

Yes, the vineyard is important, but in my mind it’s still producer, producer, producer.  So, it’s fine to remember the name of the Adrianna Vineyard.  But, my advice is to remember the Catena Zapata name.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Argentinian wine in general or Catena Zapata in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

September 2, 2021

St. Innocent, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard 2018

($36):  The Freedom Hill Vineyard, located in the foothills of the Coast Range ten miles southwest of Salem, benefits from the warmth of the valley floor (which aids ripening) and night time ocean breezes (which lower temperatures and allows grapes to hold acidity).  The vines date from 2006.  The Freedom Hill Vineyard’s location, soil, and vine age are undoubtedly important in determining this wine’s quality.  Yet, having tasted St. Innocent’s wines over the years, I have a feeling that the talent of Mark Vlossak, owner and winemaker, is really the key.  This Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay displays a wonderful balance of ripeness and raciness.  You feel the mellowing effect of oak aging without tasting the oak.  This is a splendidly sleek Chardonnay.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

St. Innocent, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard “Cuvée La Liberté 2018

($53):   The Cuvée La Liberté is a cellar selection of the best barrels of St. Innocent’s Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  They consider it their top Chardonnay, making fewer than 100 cases of it compared to 1,100 cases of Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  As good as their Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay is, the Cuvée La Liberté is just, well, better.  Similarly sleek and racy, it is just more refined.  The difference is not in size or weight.  It delivers the same panoply of flavors, a kiss of spice, and the exquisite balance as the Freedom Hill bottling.  Its satiny silky texture makes it stand out.  Do not miss it.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

Jordan, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2019

($36):  Jordan continues to do what they have always done and do best.  They make two wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and this one, a Chardonnay.  There are no reserve wines, no special bottlings, no block selections.  All their talents and energy go into those two wines.  And it shows.  Despite the obvious variation caused by the vintage, Jordan has a steady consistency and style.  This 2019 Chardonnay, like previous vintages, speaks to you without shouting.  Everything is in place.  The balance between fruitiness, creaminess, and freshness makes it a delight to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

Ornellaia, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Volte” dell’Ornellaia 2019

($26, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  No one needs an introduction to Ornellaia, a Bordeaux-blend and one of Italy’s greatest wines.  But some explanation about Le Volte is important since even Ornellaia’s website reveals few details of this wine.  Ornellaia took a giant leap in quality in 1997 when they introduced Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, a second wine, also a Bordeaux-blend.  At the same time, they introduced Le Volte, often misinterpreted as a third wine, which it is not.  Le Volte, unlike Ornellaia’s other two wines, blends Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but like its stablemates has the same glossy texture, which is one of signatures of Alex Heinz, the winemaker.  The 2019 is a bright and lively mid-weight wine, displaying a lovely combination of fresh cherry-like notes and a hint of earthiness.  A touch of bitterness in the finish emphasizes that Heinz has taken care that it can stand on its own and that it’s not an overdone fruit bomb.  Unlike Serre Nuove and Ornellaia itself, the 2019 Le Volte is ready for the dinner table now.  I’ve seen it widely available in the New York City area for $20, which makes it a fabulous deal.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2016

($75, Massanois):  Located in Gaiole in Chianti in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, Bertinga is a new venture.  The 2016s are their first release.  After tasting their wines, I have a feeling their success is not beginner’s luck.  Their 50 or so acres of vineyards are planted exclusively with Sangiovese and Merlot.  All their wines carry the IGT Toscana designation.  This one, a roughly 50/50 blend of Merlot and Sangiovese, is their standard bearer and carries the name of the estate.  It’s a broad-shouldered, muscular wine.  Yet for all its size, it is by no means overdone nor heavy.  It’s just youthful and dense.  An attractive subtle bitterness in the finish reinforces the mineral, rather than fruity, aspect of the wine.  The tannins are fine and well-polished.  Plenty of acidity keeps it lively.  At this stage it’s rather unyielding in contrast to Bertinga’s Punta di Adine and Volta di Bertinga.  The expressiveness of the other two coupled with the balance of this one indicates to me that the Bertinga just needs time in the cellar.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Volta di Bertinga” 2016

($169, Massanois):  This 100 percent Merlot is equally expressive and explosive as Bertinga’s Punta di Adine, just in an entirely different way.  While Punta displays red fruit qualities, Volta di Bertinga is all about black fruit complemented by tar-like minerality.  It’s a wonderful red-black contrast.  Though powerful and dense, Volta is not overwrought or overdone.  It has an engaging suave texture and enlivening acidity that keeps it fresh and balanced.  Its black fruit succulence and minerality was a delight even the next day after sitting opened on the counter.  Bertinga is clearly a producer to watch.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Punta di Adine” 2016

($119, Massanois):  This gorgeous wine comes exclusively from Sangiovese planted in a six-acre vineyard in Gaiole in Chianti that sits at an altitude of about 1,800 feet.  The elevation moderates the temperature, especially at night, which allows the grapes to retain more acidity.  I suspect that helps explain the great vitality and vibrancy in this wine.  Despite its youthfulness, Bertinga’s Punta di Adine is very expressive, even at this stage, displaying gorgeous aromatics, bright red fruit notes and an alluring touch of spice.  Suave tannins allow you to savor the flavors that burst from the glass.  This energetic and explosive wine retains balance as evidenced by a subtle bitterness in the finish.  It shows the heights that Sangiovese planted in the right place can achieve.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Villa Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Monna Lisa” 2017

($55, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Gran Selezione is a relatively new quality category, aiming to represent the pinnacle of a producer’s Chianti Classico production.  This gorgeous wine certainly achieves that distinction.  It’s all the more impressive considering Villa Vignamaggio managed to produce such a stellar wine in 2017, a difficult year for Chianti Classico.  It reveals its charms over time with each sip — a hint of dark, almost bitter, cherry-like fruit, subtle smoky nuances, discreet mineral qualities.  Its freshness and verve, often lacking in many 2017s because of the hot dry growing season, is testimony to the winemaking.  The refined tannins help create a silky texture, so much so that you could enjoy this impressive wine now, though its balance and grace suggest a fine evolution over the next decade, so I’d put some away in the cellar.  Most wines with this refinement and quality cost substantially more.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Villa Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Terre di Prenzano” 2018

($25, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Villa Vignamaggio’s 2018 Chianti Classico is textbook Chianti Classico and reminds us why that category is so popular.  Made entirely from Sangiovese, this mid-weight wine delivers the ideal combination of dark fruit and savory nuances, all wrapped in a suave texture.  Classic Tuscan acidity keeps the wine lively.  A hint of bitterness in the finish offers a fine foil for food.  It’s a great choice for current drinking over the next year or two.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Lunae Bosoni, Liguria di Levante IGT (Liguria, Italy) Ciliegiolo 2019

($35, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Ciliegiolo, named supposedly because of cherry-like flavor, is a grape variety common in Tuscany where it is sometimes blended with Sangiovese in Chianti or its subzones, such as Chianti Classico.  Bosoni has done a marvelous job with it as a varietal wine in Liguria, not surprisingly since this is such a talented producer.  This 2019 is light red, almost a dark rosé, bursting with red fruit, dare I say cherry-like, flavors that dance on the palate.  A hint of bitterness in the finish adds complexity and nicely balances its bright fruitiness.  It’s delightful chilled because the tannins are mild and hence are not accentuated dropping the temperature.  For those looking for rosé, try this light red slightly chilled instead.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Castellare di Castellina (IGT Toscana) “I Sodi di S. Niccolò” 2017 (Imported by Winebow, $85) 97 Points

The 2017 vintage represents the 40th anniversary of I Sodi di S. Niccolò, a truly iconic Italian wine.  It was likely the first Super Tuscans from Chianti Classico area using autochthonous grapes.  It showed—and continues to show—the extraordinary heights the wines from the Chianti Classico region can reach.  When it debuted in 1977, it did not conform to the regulations for Chianti Classico, which required roughly 10 percent of the blend to come from white grapes.  It was, and still is, a blend of only Sangiovese (~85%) and Malvasia Nera.  Hence the IGT Toscana official designation then instead of the DOC.  Although now, with the change in regulations for Chianti Classico, it could be labeled under that DOCG, Castellare in Castellina has opted to continue to label it as IGT Toscana.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò represents an enormous achievement of the winemaking team at Castellare di Castellina because the weather during the growing season was, as they say, “difficult.”  That’s an understatement.  One prominent Chianti Classico producer told me that you could forget about the 2017s.  Well, that’s clearly not the case as evidenced by this wine.  The I Sodi di S. Niccolò vineyard, located in the Castellina subzone of Chianti Classico, has a great advantage in hot, dry years, such as 2017.  Its 400-plus meters above sea level elevation and its south eastern facing location in an amphitheater that catches the winds coming from the Val d’Elsa mitigate the heat.

The soil of the vineyard is a classic mix of galestro and alberese, ideal for Sangiovese and other autochthonous varieties, according to Daniele Cernilli, one of Italy’s top wine authorities.

The wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in barrels, half of which are new, for anywhere from between 24 and 30 months, depending on the vintage.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò is gorgeous.  It’s explosive, yet not flamboyant.  It has power and persistence, yet retains incredible elegance.  It delivers the panoply of flavors you’d expect from a great wine—succulent cherry-like fruitiness, earthy and spicy savory notes—without any of them dominating.  You feel the effect of oak aging without tasting it.  The tannins, which could be accentuated in a hot vintage, are fine and supple.  The acidity, which could be diminished in a hot vintage, is not, and provides uplifting energy.  The alluring hint of bitterness in the finish demonstrates that the grapes were not over ripe, despite the reputation of the vintage.  I would echo what Cernilli remarked during a tasting of this wine, “It’s a wine that reflects its site more so than the vintage.”  It’s remarkably enjoyable now, which, as the late Louis Latour from Burgundy, reminded me, “great wines always taste great.”  Its impeccable balance and grace indicate decades of development ahead of it.  I hate to call an $85 wine a bargain, but compared to what’s in the marketplace today, it is.

Michael Apstein

Guicciardini Strozzi, Maremma Toscana DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “MoMi” 2018

($35, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Unsurprisingly, given the stature of the producer, this wine manages a presence without being powerful or in your face.  Its unusual blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Montepulciano, speaks to the experimentation going on in the Maremma.  Balanced and graceful, MoMi delivers enlivens flavors reminiscent of slightly bitter dark cherries. Intriguing savory spicy notes just add to its appeal.  Its silky suave texture allows immediately enjoyment.  A successful experiment, indeed.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 17, 2021

Paolo Manzone, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Meriame 2016

($50, Romano Brands):  Paolo Manzone is a top producer of Barolo who happens to fly under most peoples’ radar.  This Barolo, from the Meriame cru in Serralunga, is his top wine.  Though Serralunga is known for tannic, structured wines, Manzone’s Meriame is immediately engaging.  The prominent tannins appear in the finish, yet they don’t overwhelm or intrude.  The wonderful ying/yang of floral notes and tar-like minerality are enchanting.  Long and fresh, there’s lots to like about this wine — power, elegance, emphasis on the savory rather than the fruity side.  Given the price and the difficulty finding wines from the deserved highly rated 2016 vintage, buying this one is a no-brainer.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 17, 2021

Cantina di Tortona, Colli Tortonesi Bianco DOC (Piedmont, Italy) “Piccolo Derthona” 2020 

($24, Matchvino):  Jan Novak, the knowledgeable sommelier at Il Capriccio, one of Boston top Italian restaurants, recommended this wine to me.  Jan has not only forgotten more about Italian wine than most people know, she has an incredible palate for discovery lesser-known wines.  First, a bit about the label of this obscure wine. The Colli Tortonesi DOC, located in eastern Piedmont bordering Lombardy, has been known for Barbera, and more, recently, Timarosso, an alluring white grape.  Although the DOC regulations permit blending other grapes with Timarosso, this one is 100 percent Timarosso, according to the importer’s website.  Derthona is an area within the DOC considered by the locals to be a superior area for Timarosso.  This mid-weight zesty white combines just the right amount of minerality and creaminess.  Some people dismiss wines made by co-ops.  That’s a mistake.  Judging from this wine, the Cantina di Tortona, a co-op founded in 1931, knows what it’s doing.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Malgrà, Nizza Riserva DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Mora di Sassi 2017

($37, Erie Beverage Solutions):  This is the big brother to Malgrà’s Giaina.  Far weightier, with more apparent tannins at this stage, it weighs in at 15 percent stated alcohol.  It still conveys an attractive dark mineral component and has an alluring hint of bitterness in the finish.  Still balanced, at this stage it’s more about power than elegance, though I’m sure it will come together with a few years of bottle age.  This is a wine for cellar while you drink Malgrà’s Giaina.  Malgrà uses a heavy bottle, presumably to emphasize the wine’s stature.  They need not.  The wine can speak for itself.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Malgrà, Nizza DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Gaiana 2017

($19, Erie Beverage Solutions):   Italian wine authorities promoted Nizza, formerly a part of Barbera d’Asti DOC, to DOCG status in 2014 because it was clear the wines had the capability of being unique.  Malgrà’s Gaiana shows the wisdom of that decision.  In a word, it’s delicious, displaying both power and elegance without a trace of being overdone.  The acidity and freshness imparted by Barbera — regulations require exclusive use of that grape — keep the wine lively and balance its intensity.  Long and succulent, this black-fruited, mineraly wine is a delight to drink now.  Its balance suggests it will evolve nicely.  Its price means you should stock-up.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Tenuta Carretta, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Podio 2018

($19, Consortium Wine and Spirits Imports):  The regulations for Langhe Nebbiolo do not require exclusive use of Nebbiolo.  Growers are permitted to include a small amount, up to 15 percent, of some other varieties.  Indeed, the famed Angelo Gaja felt that adding a bit of Barbera to Nebbiolo improved the wine and when he did so was forced to re-classify what he formerly labeled Barbaresco and Barolo to Langhe Nebbiolo.  Tenuta Carretta, a top Piedmont producer, opts to include Barbera with Nebbiolo in their Podio.  It’s a wonderful blend that delivers both subtle floral hints and tarry ones.  One could easily mistake it for a mini-Barolo.  Attractive firmness and restraint high lights its minerality.  Lovely to drink now, it’s a fabulous bargain.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Caposaldo, Prosecco Rosé DOC (Veneto, Italy) Brut 2020

($14, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  It may sound like a brilliant marketing ploy, but Prosecco Rosé is a new recognized category with its own DOC.  As with all Prosecco — and wine in general, for that matter — there will be an enormous range of quality and style.  The regulations for this DOC require the wine to be vintage-dated and to contain Pinot Noir, two requirements that likely will push the price.  Which makes this bottling all the more attractive. This crowd-pleasing, pale pink bubbly leads with delightful floral aromatics and finishes with a pleasing freshness.  Though labeled Brut, it had a roundness to it.  This light and lively Prosecco is ideal for summer entertaining.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Viña Tarapaca, Valle del Maipo (Chile) Gran Reserva, Organic Wine 2018

($18, Vinecrest Co):  Made with organically grown grapes, this is a hearty and well-balanced blend of Cabernet Franc (31%), Syrah (26%) and Carmenere (22%), with the balance filled out by equal amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s a powerhouse, to be sure, but thankfully it is not over the top.  A healthy dose of earthy savory notes balances its bold black fruitiness.  The lasting impression is not one of overt fruitiness, but rather earthy spice. It’s another good choice for hearty fare from the grill this summer.  Sadly, this broad-shouldered wine is another example of good wine, bad — unnecessarily heavy — bottle.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Emiliana, Valle de Colchagua (Chile) “Coyam” 2018

($39):  This robust blend of mostly Syrah (42%) and Carmenere (39%) works beautifully.  For those who are interested in things like this, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Malbec, Carignan, Tempranillo, and Mourvèdre fill out the blend.  There’s red and black fruit flavors, spice, and herbal notes, all wrapped in silky tannins.  An organic wine, it displays solid substance without being heavy or overdone.  I wish I could say the same for the bottle.  The back-label states “Because we care,” and lists a variety of well-deserved certifications: organic wine, environmental care, social responsibility — you get the idea.  Then why the environmentally harmful heavy bottle?  Nice wine, bad bottle.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Rosé-Nothing but Rosé

Readers may find it odd that I, who am generally unenthusiastic about rosé, should be writing about that category.  And enthusiastically at that.  However surprising that may be (even to me), I stumbled across a category of rosé, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, that is stunning.  I recently tasted a dozen examples from the 2020 vintage and found an appealing consistency among the wines from that appellation.  There was not a loser in the bunch.  And the most expensive of the group was $17!

My introduction to Bardolino Chiaretto (key-ar-et-toe) was serendipitous.  Last month I attended a webinar called Rosauctoctono, which is an association of Italian producers making pink wine.  They prefer the moniker Vino Rosa over rosé or even rosato to indicate high-quality pink Italian wine.  All the wines tasted during the webinar were made from autochthonous or indigenous grapes.  I’m a big fan of wines made from autochthonous grapes because they each have a unique profile and display unique flavors.  Rarely do you find a cookie-cutter wine made from autochthonous grapes.  So, I figured that rosés from those kinds of grapes just might ignite an interest in me.  While many of these Vino Rosa were noteworthy, the two that leaped to the top were both Bardolino Chiaretto, a wine that I was unfamiliar with.  (Chiaretto means “little pale one.”)  So, I asked Irene Graziotto from Studio Cru, the Italian PR firm who organized the Rosa tasting, if I could sample more of them, and within a few weeks a dozen more Bardolino Chiaretto from the 2020 vintage arrived at my door.

DOC regulations may explain why Bardolino Chiaretto is so engaging.  Rosé is all the DOC allows producers to make.  No red, no white.  All production must be rosé.  Bardolino Chiaretto is one of only two appellations in Europe whose wines are restricted to rosé.  (The other is Tavel in the southern Rhône. In distinction to Tavel, there is a separate, but geographically overlapping, DOC for Bardolino’s red wines, so producers can make either Bardolino Chiaretto or Bardolino as long as they conform to the regulations for the respective DOCs.)

This sharp focus on rosé is distinctly different from how many rosés were, and still are, made.  In the past, and to a certain extent today, much rosé was a by-product of beefing up red wine.  Producers wanting to enhance the power of their reds would remove some juice after a day or so of maceration to concentrate what remained.  Known as saignée (literally, bleeding, in French), this practice resulted in lightly pink colored juice being bled off and darker, more robust red juice that was still macerating with the skins that eventually would become a heftier red wine.  Winegrowers, like other farmers, are naturally parsimonious and would not want to discard the drawn-off pink colored juice, so they let it, too, ferment, which usually resulted in an undistinguished, but easy-to-drink, rosé.

To be fair, with the increasing popularity of rosé, many producers are focusing on it today, doing precisely what the DOC regulations for Bardolino Chiaretto demand.  They enhance quality by picking grapes earlier to capture their acidity, which translates into liveliness in the wine.  In the cellar, they let the skins and juice macerate for just hours and then, like white winemaking, separate the now-pink juice from the skins and complete the fermentation.  The remaining pomace (leftover skins after fermentation) is either distilled or used for fertilizer.  In short, producers are not relegating rosé to a by-product of enhancing red wine.  Hence, the possibility of finding higher quality rosé is better now than it was a decade ago.  That said, there’s still an ocean-full of insipid pink wine on the market, which makes Bardolino Chiaretto all the more welcome.

Bardolino Chiaretto comes primarily from a trio of red grapes used for Valpolicella and Amarone, Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, grown around Bardolino, a town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.  Though located in northern Italy, the climate is remarkably mild, allowing cultivation of olive trees that produce a very fine olive oil in addition to grapes.

Unlike many appellations that try to use a standard recognizable bottle, producers of Bardolino Chiaretto use a variety of shapes; these range from tall slender Alsace-like ones, to slope-y shouldered Burgundy ones, to square-shouldered Bordeaux bottles.  The one thing in common is clear glass so that the gorgeous pink hues are apparent.  You’ll find them bottled under screwcap as well as cork and labeled as Chiaretto Bardolino or Chiaretto di Bardolino and, sometimes, simply Chiaretto.  Regardless, they all conform to the same DOC regulations.  Starting with the 2021 vintage, the official labeling will be Chiaretto di Bardolino to emphasize the origin of the grapes, much like Barbera d’Alba or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Some of the Chiaretto Bardolino sport the additional moniker, Classico, indicating that the grapes grew in the center or best area of the DOC.  Among the dozen examples I tasted, the ones from the Classico area stood out from most of the others with more depth and elegance.  However, several non-Classico bottlings, such as the organic Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) and Giovanna Tantini’s, were equally impressive, so I would not be wedded to that designation.  As usual, it’s producer, producer, producer.

The wines vary in color from the very trendy pale pink to more intense salmon color.  These dry wines display a richness despite stated alcohols of less than 13%.  (Only two of the 12 weighed in at more, 13 and 13.5% stated-alcohol.)  They all had riveting acidity and character, something often lacking in many rosés, making them singularly bright and refreshing.

For what it’s worth, here are my five favorites, but frankly, I’d be thrilled to drink any of these, which is something I don’t believe I’ve ever said about a group of rosé wines.  The points I’ve assigned reflect my enthusiasm for the wine within this category and should not be equated with wines in other categories.

Guerrieri Rizzardi, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico “Keya:” Gorgeous aromatics; slightly deeper pink which carries through on the palate as a fuller wine; still with bracing and refreshing acidity; persistent; lovely hint of bitterness in the finish.  ($14, 95 pts).

Giovanna Tantini, Bardolino Chiaretto: Pale pink; juicy, yet delicate red fruits; crisp, refreshing and long; attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  (N/A, 94).

Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) Bardolino Chiaretto: Savory nuances add complexity to the delicate red fruit component; fresh and lively; long and persistent; a real presence.  ($14, 94).

Marchesini Marcello, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: Based on my experience with two vintages of this wine, Marchesini Marcello is a name to remember.  Cutting and crisp, the 2020 delivers intensity and freshness.  ($17, 94).

Valetti, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: gorgeous salmon color; juicy red fruits; alluring spice; great acidity; elegant and persistent.  (N/A, 94).

The others:

Il Pignetto, Chiaretto (92, $N/A)
Vigneti Villabella, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico (92, $N/A)
Zeni, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, “Vignealte” (92, $N/A)
Cavalchina, Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Le Fraghe, “Rodon,” Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Monte del Frá, Bardolino Chiaretto (89, $N/A)
Poggio delle Grazie, Bardolino Chiaretto (87 $N/A)

Have I been converted to rosé?  No.  In most situations that call for rosé, I still prefer to drink a slightly chilled low-tannin light red, such as Beaujolais, because they are usually more interesting.  Have I been converted to Bardolino Chiaretto—most definitely.

*          *          *

E-mail me your thoughts about rosé in general or Bardolino Chiaretto in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.        July 28, 2021

Quinta dos Roques, Dão (Portugal) Reserva, Tinto 2011

($35):  The Dão region, located in north central Portugal, is among the first to receive official delineation, in 1908.  The quality of the wines suffered under the Salazar dictatorship, but quality and distinctiveness has improved notably over the last three decades.  Wine producers there often release the wines later than usual, opting to give them substantial bottle age to soften what could be otherwise ferocious tannins.  Take this beauty for example, ten years old and the current release.  The back label informs us that the Reserva always hails from a single site, the Pessegueiro (Peach Tree) vineyard.  It’s a blend of primarily Touriga Nacional with other autochthonous varieties, Jaen (also known as Mencía), Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  The wine delivers graceful power with a balanced mixture of dark fruitiness and smoky savory notes.  The tannins are fine, providing a suave texture.  Great acidity keeps it perky and lively.  It’s an excellent choice to match with whatever is coming off the grill this summer.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Herdade do Rocim, Alentejo DOC (Portugal) “Amphora” 2019

($18, Shiverick Imports):  Portugal remains the source of beautifully priced reds and whites, as this mid-weight red shows.  It’s a blend of autochthonous grapes whose names are unfamiliar to most, Moreto, Tinta Grossa, Triccadeira and Aragonez, so unsurprisingly, the flavors that emerge from the glass are unique.  Fermentation and aged in terracotta amphorae with native yeast suggests that Herdade do Rocim is one of those producers that has embraced traditional winemaking techniques.  This mid-weight wine delivers a lovely combination of juicy black fruit and spicy notes wrapped in suave tannins.  The fresh and lively red could easily be chilled slightly for enjoyment this summer with, say, grilled bluefish.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Herdade de São Miguel, Alentejo DOC (Portugal) Alicante Bouschet 2014

($20):  Unlike almost all other red grapes whose juice is clear and whose color comes exclusively from the skins, the juice from Alicante Bouschet is red.  That likely explains why that grape makes deeply colored wines, which predicts its flavor profile, as it does here.  This is a broad-shouldered, flamboyant wine that manages to hold it all together.  I suspect its seven years of age has helped settle it down.  It’s still a bit rough around the edges befitting its style.  Great acidity keeps it fresh and prevents heaviness.  Still, this is not a wine to sip while grilling, but rather to drink after the leg of lamb comes off the grill.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Clàsic” 2020

($20):  Those looking for bold fruitiness should go elsewhere.  Here, the focus is on an alluring Middle Eastern spice box of aromas and flavors — cinnamon and cloves — and dried flowers.  Light on the palate, the flavors in this lively wine nonetheless persist.  You’d never realize it weighs in at 15% stated alcohol.  The potentially severe tannins of Ruché are nowhere to be found.  Ferraris has transformed them instead into fine ones that lend support, which makes it ideal for current consumption.  Try it even slightly chilled this summer.  Balanced and harmonious, this wine is for those who embrace the savory side of life.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Opera Prima” Riserva 2017

($40):  Luca Ferraris bottled this wine in honor of his nonno, (grandfather) Martino, the founder of the winery. Altogether different from Ferraris’ other two renditions of Ruché, Opera Prima, with its chocolatey nuances, has an Amarone-like sensibility to it.  The fine tannins that are a hallmark of Ferraris’ wines together with a suave texture hold it all together.  You feel the 16% stated alcohol, yet it’s not hot or burning, just warm and enveloping.  In short, it’s balanced.  A subtle and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  The Opera Prima has a black fruit component, but once again, the overall impression is not that of a “fruity” wine.  Unlike their Clàsic or even the Vigna del Parroco, both of which you could chill briefly and drink in the summer, the Opera Prima is clearly a wintertime wine for hearty fare.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Vigna del Parroco” 2019

($23):  Ferraris acquired priest Don Giacomo Cauda’s Ruchè del Parroco in 2016 and renamed it “Vigna del Parroco.”  It remains the only officially recognized cru in the entire DOCG.  A gorgeous wine that still retains the savory focus, it is also more refined and complex than the Clàsic.  The spice box character is present, but toned down and, as a result, the wine is even more enchanting.  Its subtlety is captivating and makes you pay attention as the flavors change with each sip.  It has a “flavor without weight” sensibility that I find in Burgundy, or, for that matter, aged Barolo.  Though the tannins are fine, they provide plenty of support without astringency.  A zippy finish amplifies its charms.  Ferraris’ Vigna del Parroco, like their Clàsic, is not for those looking for a fruity wine.   Similar to the Clàsic, it’s beautifully balanced and carries the 15% stated alcohol effortlessly.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato: An Overlooked Gem in Piedmont

Granted, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato is not the first wine people think of when they think of Piedmont.  Well, Agricola Ferraris shows us why it’s time to broaden our horizons.

First, let’s untangle the nomenclature.  Ruché (spelled Ruchè in Italian and pronounced roo-kay) is an aromatic red grape with excellent levels of malic acid that accounts for the wines’ freshness and vivacity.  Though pale colored, the grapes have the capability to impart considerable tannic structure, similar to Nebbiolo.  Castagnole Monferrato, a picturesque Italian hill village from which the Alps are easily visible on clear days, is located about six miles northeast of Asti and gives its name to the DOCG.  The soils vary from white (rich in calcium carbonate) to brown (with more clay), which means there is potential for great variability in a particular wine’s style, from tightly structured examples to ones that are more approachable when young.

When I visited the area a few years ago, a representative of the consortium than represents Barbera, Asti and Monferrato explained that in 1964, Don Giacomo Cauda, a parish priest in Castagnole, discovered a couple of rows of Ruchè in the church’s vineyards and decided to make wine from them, which he labeled Ruchè del Parroco.  From these few rows, the vineyard area expanded to about 125 acres by 2000 and currently to 375 acres spread over seven municipalities.

The Italian wine authorities recognized the wine’s quality and distinctiveness, awarding the area DOC status in 1987 and elevating it to Italy’s highest level, DOCG, in 2010.  The grape’s popularity may be spreading to California, where Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm told me that he has planted three acres of it in San Juan Bautista and admits, “I went slightly Ruché mad.”  However, he is very happy with the 40 gallons (roughly 200 bottles) of it that he made.

Luca Ferraris, whose family-run firm is the largest vineyard owner in the DOCG, is the self-appointed ambassador for Ruché.  (Grahm refers to him as the “King of Ruché.”) Ferraris makes a range of excellent Ruché, including this trio that shows the extraordinary range of the DOCG:

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG “Clàsic” 2020 ($20): Those looking for bold fruitiness should go elsewhere.  Here, the focus is on an alluring Middle Eastern spice box of aromas and flavors—cinnamon and cloves—and dried flowers.  Light on the palate, the flavors in this lively wine nonetheless persist.  You’d never realize it weighs in at 15% stated alcohol.  The potentially severe tannins of Ruché are nowhere to be found.  Ferraris has transformed them instead into fine ones that lend support, which makes it ideal for current consumption.  Try it even slightly chilled this summer.  Balanced and harmonious, this wine is for those who embrace the savory side of life.   91 Points

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG “Vigna del Parroco” 2019 ($23):  Ferraris acquired priest Don Giacomo Cauda’s Ruchè del Parroco in 2016 and renamed it “Vigna del Parroco.”  It remains the only officially recognized cru in the entire DOCG.  A gorgeous wine that still retains the savory focus, it is also more refined and complex than the Clàsic.  The spice box character is present, but toned down and, as a result, the wine is even more enchanting.  Its subtlety is captivating and makes you pay attention as the flavors change with each sip.  It has a “flavor without weight” sensibility that I find in Burgundy, or, for that matter, aged Barolo.  Though the tannins are fine, they provide plenty of support without astringency.  A zippy finish amplifies its charms.  Ferraris’ Vigna del Parroco, like their Clàsic, is not for those looking for a fruity wine.   Similar to the Clàsic, it’s beautifully balanced and carries the 15% stated alcohol effortlessly.   94 Points

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Riserva “Opera Prima,” 2017 ($40):  Luca Ferraris bottled this wine in honor of his nonno, (grandfather) Martino, the founder of the winery. Altogether different from Ferraris’ other two renditions of Ruché, Opera Prima, with its chocolate-y nuances, has an Amarone-like sensibility to it.  The fine tannins that are a hallmark of Ferraris’ wines together with a suave texture hold it all together.  You feel the 16% stated alcohol, yet it’s not hot or burning, just warm and enveloping.  In short, it’s balanced.  A subtle and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  The Opera Prima has a black fruit component, but once again, the overall impression is not that of a “fruity” wine.  Unlike their Clàsic or even the Vigna del Parroco, both of which you could chill briefly and drink in the summer, the Opera Prima is clearly a wintertime wine for hearty fare.   92 Points

 
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Sosie, Sonoma Valley (Sonoma County, California) Rossi Ranch Red Blend 2019

($43):  This mid-weight blend of Grenache (51%), Mourvèdre (34%) and Syrah brings together strawberry-like fruitiness, some spice and earthy notes.  Its angular acidity, likely secondary to a touch of added tartaric acid (gleaned from ingredient labeling) prevents it from being jammy or coming across as sweet.  The tannins are mild and refined, which means it’s fine for current consumption and for slight chilling this summer.  It would work well with grilled salmon.
89 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2021

Bodegas Muriel, Rioja DOC Reserva (Spain) “Fincas de la Villa” 2016

($17, Quintessential Wines):  This mid-weight wine demonstrates clearly why Rioja is so popular.  This red brings a bit of everything, a bright savory combination of red fruits and spice, to the table.  Pleasantly drying tannins lend support without being intrusive.  Despite its mid-weight body, this energetic wine commands a serious presence and calls for red meats or hearty tapas.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2021

Bodegas Muriel, Rioja DOC Gran Reserva (Spain) Viñas Viejas 2011

($26, Quintessential Wines):  Rioja is one of the very few regions of the world where consumers can find well-aged wines at reasonable prices, and sometimes, like this one, ridiculously low ones.  Where else could you find a decade old red at this price?  So, if you’re curious about, or just adore the flavors of, aged wines, here’s the place to start.  Dried rather than fresh fruit flavors are predominant, accented by leathery and subtle earthy accents.  The savory side of wine is singing here.  Warm and enveloping, this mid-weight red cries for autumnal fare or even a winter stew.  Its freshness and lively character will cut through virtually anything on the table, so don’t get hung up on specific pairings.  Just try it with dinner.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2021

Viu Manent, Valle de Colchagua (Chile) Malbec “Secreto de Viu Manent” 2019

($14, Baystate Imports):  Though considered Argentina’s signature red, Malbec is grown all over the world.  This rendition, from neighboring Chile, is a lighter style of Malbec, weighing in at a modest 13.5 % stated-alcohol.  A hint of earthy nuances balances its fruitiness.  They’ve turned down the volume, which, to my mind, frequently increases the enjoyment from this variety that has a proclivity for producing robust reds.  The texture is suave, the tannins fine, so it can take a brief chill.  Think of this simple and satisfying Malbec with barbecued chicken this summer.
87 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2021

Tablas Creek Vineyard, Adelaida District, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Vermentino 2020

($27):  Tablas Creek Vineyard needs no introduction to wine lovers.  This property, founded in 1989 by the Perrin family of Château Beaucastel (an iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer) in partnership with wine importer Robert Hass of Vineyard Brands, was a pioneer and leading force in what is now California’s success with Rhone-type varieties.  Vermentino, typically thought of as an Italian grape, is, in fact, the most commonly planted white grape in the southern Rhône Valley, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine.  Tablas Creek has done a wonderful job with it.  No surprise there, given their track record.  A delightfully floral aromas merge with a saline-tinged minerality to produce a vibrant and brilliantly refreshing wine.  It would be a great choice for any heat wave.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Vila Nova, Douro DOC (Portugal) Red Blend 2018

($12, Quintessential Wines):  Portugal has always been the place to find value-packed reds and whites.  Here is another example of one that over delivers for the price.  This big red, made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (40 percent each) and Touriga Franca, is a good choice for food coming off the grill this summer.  Mild, suave tannins envelope this juicy fresh wine, which makes it a good candidate for chilling.  A touch of spice adds complexity and prevents it from being a fruit bomb.  The price means it is especially useful when you are expecting a crowd.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Quinta do Crasto, Douro DOC (Portugal) “Superior” 2016

($25, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Lenor and Jorge Roquette represent the fourth generation of family ownership of Quinta do Crasto after assuming majority ownership in 1981.  They expanded from making Port to making dry red wine, which is more and more common now along the steep banks of the Douro River.  This dry robust red comes from the same grapes used for making Port, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Sousão.  A hefty red, displaying biting spice and angularity, this burly wine would be a good choice for hearty barbeque this summer or a braised lamb shank in the winter.
89 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Quinta do Crasto, Douro DOC (Portugal) Vinhas Velhas 2016

($42, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Grapes from a mix of 25 to 30 varieties grown on vines averaging 70 years of age were the source for this hefty, well-structured wine.  There’s more complexity here than this producer’s refined Touriga Nacional, which I suspect comes from the blend and the age of the vines, but less elegance at this stage of its development.  The tannins need time to integrate, while the whole wine needs to come together, so I suggest putting this one in the cellar for years while you drink the Touriga Nacional.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Quinta do Crasto, Douro DOC (Portugal) Touriga Nacional 2016

($78, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Quinta do Crasto has produced this wine made exclusively from Touriga Nacional, the Douro’s most prestigious grape, only a dozen times this century.  Though bigger and bolder than their Douro Superior, it is far more elegant with suave, silky tannins.  Its array of dark fruit and spice changes as it sits in the glass, so every sip brings new delight.  It is weighty, but not heavy, tipping the scales at only 13.5 percent stated-alcohol.  This muscular wine is amazingly fresh and uplifting considering its power.  Think LeBron James.  Its refined texture and vivacity allow you to enjoy it now, but I suspect it will develop beautifully with bottle age because of its balance.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Casa da Tapada, Vinho Verde DOC (Portugal) Loureiro “Grande Escolha” 2018

($25):   In the past, Vinho Verde, literally “green wine,” frequently delivered little more than enamel clearing acidity.  That has changed, as Casa da Tapada’s rendition shows.  It maintains the fresh and crisp signature for which the area is known, but adds an engaging floral and fruity component.  There’s a touch or salinity or even a touch of bitterness in the finish, which enhances its appeal.  A great choice for this summer’s sipping — or drinking.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021

Firriato, Etna Bianco DOC (Sicily, Italy) “Le Sabbie Dell’Etna” 2019

($21):  The regulations for Etna Bianco require at least 60 percent Carricante in the blend.  Firriato opts to blend another autochthonous grape, Catarratto, with Carricante for this Etna Bianco.  The result is a fruitier, somewhat richer, Etna Bianco with less of the cutting saline-minerality for which Carricante is known.  It’s a softer, gentler style of Etna Bianco that will appeal to those who are put off by the edginess of an Etna Bianco made entirely from Carricante.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2021