Category Archives: Reviews

Steele, Santa Barbara County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Blanc 2016

($19):  Consumers often avoid Pinot Blanc because they are disappointed by the light weight, often innocuous wine made from that grape.  Well, if you’ve been one of those, you’ll want to grab this one to know what real Pinot Blanc tastes like.  It has remarkable depth and length, with a touch of stone fruit, and superb acidity to keep it fresh.  A hint of creaminess just enhances its appeal.  There’s not a trace of heaviness or heat.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Murrieta’s Well, Livermore Valley (California) “The Whip” 2015

($24):  The unusual blend here, roughly 30 percent each of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay, with Viognier and Muscat Canelli contributing the rest, works well.  Subtle aromatics are intriguing and lead you into a wine with hints of stone fruits and a glossy texture.  Roundness in the finish completes the picture and makes it an excellent choice as a before dinner beverage or on the table with spiced Asian fare or sushi.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Steele, Lake County (North Coast, California) Viognier 2016

($19):  Viognier is a tough grape to turn into wine.  It needs adequate ripeness to express its floral character, which often is accompanied by high alcohol from higher sugar levels.  Its traditional home is in Condrieu in the Rhône Valley.  Jed Steele has mastered it in Lake County.  Delicately floral, it expands on the palate without being heavy or hot.  Enlivening acidity amplifies the finish and keeps it refreshing throughout the meal.  It’s a great choice as a stand-alone aperitif or to accompany sushi or spicy Asian fare.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Cuvaison, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay “Adda” 2015

($50):  Cuvaison was one of the early wineries to discover the virtues of Carneros, one of the coolest areas of Napa Valley.  They planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir there 40 years ago and have enormous experience with how those varieties fare there.  This Adda Chardonnay shows the fruits — no pun intended — of their labors.  Winemaker Steve Rogstad indicates that it is a barrel selection of their lowest yielding vines.  If I had to guess, I would say the impeccable balance and complexity comes from old vines.  It delivers a wonderful mixture of subtle creaminess buttressed by citrus verve.  It reveals itself slowly.  Nothing is in your face.  It’s a masterful expression of Chardonnay.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Lyndenhurst” 2014

($85):  I suppose you could call Spottswoode’s Lyndenhurst their second wine.  The grapes used to make it come from their vineyards, presumably those that don’t make the cut for their flagship Spottswoode Cabernet, along with purchased fruit.  The incredible quality of this wine shows just how fabulous a producer Spottswoode is.  It also reminds us that, in the right hands, Napa Valley is THE place for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This Cabernet (the blend, for those interested, is Cabernet Sauvignon 90%, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, 3% each, Malbec and Merlot 2% each) is simply stunning.  Layered, long and with a luxurious texture, it delivers a magical combination of herbal and dark fruit flavors that are in perfect harmony.  This is not an overblown or flamboyant wine.  It’s graceful and polished.  Delightful now, I predict it will evolve and develop beautifully with bottle age because of its impeccable balance.  I also predict that if you buy more than a single bottle and taste it, you’ll likely drink your entire stash before you ever discover how it ages.
96 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

($28):  This Cabernet shows the diversity of wines coming from Dry Creek Vineyard.  Compared to their 2013 Meritage (also reviewed this week), this Cabernet Sauvignon has more of everything — more alcohol (14.5% stated), more power, more concentration and more fruit dominant flavors.  In short, it’s a more muscular wine with less finesse, at least at this stage. If that’s your style — and it is for many people — then this is your kind of wine.  It’s right at home in a noisy steakhouse.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage 2013

($30):  This is classic example of how less is often more.  Weighing in at a modest 13.5% stated alcohol, this blend of Bordeaux grapes displays a panoply of black fruit and savory flavors.  There’s a hint of cassis-like notes and an olive-like nuance among others.  But what’s captivating is its glossy, but not soft, texture and enlivening acidity that keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  A subtle bitterness in the finish reminds us that it’s perfect for offsetting the richness of beef.  Not a “powerhouse” or overdone kind of wine, it still packs plenty of punch.  It’s perfect for current consumption and a bargain to boot.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Archery Summit, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris “Vireton” 2015

($22):  Archery Summit, a top Oregon Pinot Noir producer, also makes distinctive Pinot Gris, judging from this one.  It strikes the balance of subtle stone fruit flavors buttressed by vibrant acidity.  They have captured the essence of Pinot Gris without falling into the trap of over ripeness.  An excellent example of less is more approach in winemaking.  Although I’m a fan of Pinot Noir-based wines with salmon, here’s another option for those who insist on a white.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Folded Hills, Santa Ynez Valley (Central Coast, California) Grenache “Grant” 2015

($34):  This mid-weight wine is a delight, delivering charming red berry fruit-like flavors intermingled with earthy herbal notes.  A blend of Grenache (95%) and Syrah, it positively dances on the palate.  Tannins are mild, but provide plenty of structure and the bright acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  The label indicates the alcohol precisely — 13.03 percent — so I suspect they’re not taking advantage of the 1 to 1.5 percent wiggle room the law allows.  Plus, it tastes it.  This is, thankfully, not a powerhouse filled with over ripe and sweet flavors so common among current California Rhone type wines.  Other winemakers should take note — you can get plenty of flavor at reasonable levels of alcohol.
95 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Raventós I Blanc, Vino Espumoso de Calidad (Penedes, Spain) “de Nit” Brut 2015

($23, Skurnik):  Raventós I Blanc, one of the shining stars of Spanish sparkling wine, left the Cava DO in 2013 and is spearheading a project to create a new one, Conca del Riu Anoia, based on the Anoia River Valley.  They felt the regulations governing Cava were weak and wanted stricter ones for producing higher quality sparkling wines.  With the barest hint of a light copper hue, you’d be excused if you thought this was a white wine.  It takes its “color” from the 5 percent of Monastrell in the blend with Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo.  So don’t buy it expecting a pinkish hue to wow your lover on Valentine’s Day.  Rather buy it because it is outstanding and a bargain for what it delivers.  Impeccably balanced between a delicate fruitiness and an elegant structure, it has a caressing texture that allows you to enjoy it on its own, but enough substance and structure to hold up nicely against full-flavored Vietnamese cuisine.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Raventós I Blanc, Vino Espumoso de Calidad (Penedes, Spain) “Textures de Pedra” 2012

($41, Skurnik):  A blend of three red grapes — so technically a Blanc de Noirs — this white wine is an outstanding sparkler and shows that the Champagne region does not hold a monopoly on high-quality bubbly.  Creamy and persistent, it demonstrates power and elegance.  Drink it as an aperitif, and then take it to the table.  It’s perfect for the multi-flavors of tapas, because it’s spine of acidity allows it to cut through the plethora of flavors on the table and reinvigorate the palate.
95 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Domaine de la Grenaudière, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) 2016

($10, North Berkeley Wine):  Recommending a wine for summertime consumption with the thermometer in single digits and a foot of snow of the ground may be a new definition of optimism.  But the quality/price ratio here makes me want to buy this wine before it disappears. Muscadet is overlooked, often for good reason because of the vapid ones, as a wonderful source of bright zesty light white wine.  This one should be on everyone’s radar because it has good concentration and depth along with verve and energy.  To be sure, there are not layers of flavors and opulence, but look at the price!  Its lively cutting profile makes it perfect for shellfish, such as oysters or steamed mussels, and simply grilled fish.
88 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Macon-Villages (Burgundy, France) 2016

($14):  One of Drouhin’s talents is that, along with their top-notch prestigious Burgundies, they make high-quality wines from appellations with lesser pedigrees, such as Macon-Villages.  This Chardonnay-based wine, while ripe for Drouhin’s style, still does not approach the opulence seen in many New World Chardonnay.  Although this is an excellent choice as a stand-alone aperitif, its charms do not fade during a meal.
88 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) Proprietary White Wine 2016

($32):  Long known for their non-traditional blends of red grapes, Paraduxx has released a white wine made from a non-traditional blend of white grapes:  Rhône varieties, Viognier (65%), Roussanne and Marsanne (7%), with Chardonnay (28%).  Floral and fruity, this mid-weight wine would be a pleasing stand-alone aperitif.  Nicely balanced, a hint of sweetness in the finish would make it a good choice for spiced Asian fare. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Yountville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch 2015

($100):  Nickel & Nickel’s State Ranch Cabernet, from a vineyard just down the road from Oakville in Yountville, is similarly ripe and intense as their Sullenger.  But it’s rounder and more supple than the its brother from Oakville.   A combination of dark black fruit and mineral-like nuances makes for an appealing ying and yang of sweet and savory flavors.  At just under 15 percent stated alcohol, this full-bodied Cabernet would be a good choice for a hearty beef or lamb dish. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) “Upshot” Red Wine Blend 2015

($28):  The winery’s press release describes this wine as “a non-traditional blend.”  That’s an understatement.  With Zinfandel (44%), Merlot (29%), Malbec (15%), Petit Verdot (7%), rounded out with Riesling, it is like no blend I’ve encountered.  But that’s one of the things that great about New World wine — people are not afraid to experiment.  And this blend works.  Floral and fruity, with mild tannins, this mid-weight is not overdone or over-worked. Bright and lively (is that the Riesling speaking?), it would be ideal with BBQ. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sullenger Vineyard 2015

($100):  What I love about the Nickel & Nickel Cabernets is how they are all different.  Despite the same winemaking team using the same grape variety, the wines offer different flavor profiles, which supports the concept of terroir — that somehow the soil, climate, and exposure in the vineyard determines the character of the wine.  Weighing in at a stated 14.5 percent alcohol, the Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet tastes even riper than the alcohol suggests, perhaps reflecting the vintage. Still, savory notes and elusive “not just fruit” elements keep it is balance.  This sturdy wine opens and is far more expressive as it sits in the glass for an hour or so.  Fine tannins allow you to enjoy this powerful Cabernet now, especially with a robust well-charred steak. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Paraduxx, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Proprietary Red Wine 2014

($80):  Paraduxx is Duckhorn’s winery and label best known for non-traditional blends of California grapes, such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  With the 2014 vintage, they have introduced some “foreign” grapes into the mix.  For this one, they borrow a South Australian concept of blending Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Syrah.  (There may be a small amount of Zinfandel in the mix, according to information sent to me by the winery.)  Regardless of the specifics of the blend, it’s a powerful wine that combines tarry elements with deep ripe black fruit and spice.  The blend works, keeping the 14.9 percent stated alcohol, in check.  Robust, but not hot or particularly sweet, it would be a good choice for a hearty slow cooked lamb dish when the temperatures drop into single digits. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Diebolt-Vallois, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Prestige NV

($46, Petit Pois):  Diebolt-Vallois, a family domaine, is located in Cramant, a village in the heart of the Côte de Blancs, the part of the Champagne region that is best suited for Chardonnay.  Indeed, the grapes for this wine come from three villages in the Côte de Blancs that are rated Grand Cru:  Cramant, Chouilly and Le Mesnil sur Oger.  The wine, austere and elegant, is very edgy and long, showing the finesse of Chardonnay.  A lovely way to start an evening, it is also perfect with oysters. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Maison Louis Latour, Viré-Clessé (Burgundy, France) 2014

($20, Louis Latour USA):  Viré-Clessé is an under-the-radar appellation in the Mâconnais that was created in the late 1990s from combining two villages, Viré and Clessé, that made distinctive wines that were previously included under the umbrella of Mâcon-Villages.  It joins St. Véran, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché, and Pouilly-Fuissé as names to remember for high quality Chardonnay-based wines from southern Burgundy.  Maison Louis Latour, the well-regarded Beaune-based négociant, produces a terrific Viré-Clessé. Latour’s 2014 Viré-Clessé, from an outstanding vintage for white wines, over delivers for the price.  This mid-weight, well-balanced wine combines Chardonnay’s floral and fruity elements with a firm stoniness characteristic of the region.  Bright acidity in the finish keeps you coming back for more.  Delightful now, I predict it will give enjoyment for years, based on the pleasure I still get from drinking their 2010 Viré-Clessé. Hence, I’d buy it by the case. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) Preuses 2014

($75, Louis Latour USA):  Simonnet-Febvre, a top-notch Chablis producer, makes classically structured Chablis — tightly wound and linear.  Their Preuses, from their own vineyards, is always one of their best wines. Preuses has the reputation of being one of the least elegant of the Chablis Grand Cru.  Not in Simonnet-Febvre’s hands and certainly not their 2014.  Their 2014 Preuses is very tight and youthful at this stage.  It actually took three days to open.  But when it did it was captivating with its paradoxical austerity and power.  This is a wine to lay down for years.  Since there’s some in my cellar, I’m betting you’ll be rewarded. 94 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Château de Fleurie, Fleurie (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2015

($21, David Bowler Wine):  Sensational is the word that comes to mind when describing the 2015 vintage in Beaujolais.  Of course, we are talking about the cru of Beaujolais, the ten villages within that region whose wines stand apart from the remainder of the region, which explains why the name of the cru alone — without the word Beaujolais — appears on the label.  Fleurie is one of the top cru of Beaujolais.  The 2015 from Château de Fleurie is pure charm.  It conveys a wonderful mixture of red fruit flavors and minerality.  Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, fruitiness or sweetness is not the focus.  It’s a perfect choice now with a roast chicken, hamburgers, or even pasta. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Georges Duboeuf, Fleurie (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Domaine des Quatre Vents 2015

($18, Quintessential):  The reputation of Beaujolais is that of an easy-drinking fruity wine to be consumed soon after release.  That description may be accurate for most Beaujolais, but not those from ten villages, known as the cru of Beaujolais, whose wines are far more distinctive.  There is even variability with wines from a cru.  Take, for example, this Fleurie from Duboeuf.  (To be fair, the wine comes from the Domaine des Quatre Vents and is commercialized by Duboeuf.) It’s a substantial wine, exhibiting a marvelous stony character and amazing depth.  A pleasant tannic structure imparts a welcome firmness.  It needs time — a year or two, at least — unlike the Fleurie from Château de Fleurie, which is delectable to drink now.  Indeed, the Domaine des Quatre Vents was better the second night after I opened the bottle.  This is a bargain price for a serious wine from a super vintage. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Spottswoode, California (United States) Sauvignon Blanc 2016

($36):  It’s no secret that Spottswoode makes sensational Cabernet Sauvignon.  This excellent and stylish Sauvignon Blanc shows they are not a one-horse show.  The wine also reminds us to trust the producer rather than relying solely on the AVA (appellation).  Since 85 percent of the grapes did not come from one area (Sonoma County 60 percent with the remainder from Napa County), they were obligated to use the broader — and less prestigious — appellation, California.  Using estate (their own) and purchased fruit, they have fashioned a racy and full-bodied Bordeaux-like sophisticated white wine. Beautifully balanced, it has good density and a pleasing pungency.  You could savor its complexity by drinking it as an aperitif, but frankly its stature shows best with chicken breasts in a light cream sauce. Don’t miss this sensational wine.  It redefines California Sauvignon Blanc. 96 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

($158):  Consumers can count on Far Niente, a leader in Napa Valley Cabernet, to produce a bold, yet refined, Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2015, fruitier than usual while still combining savory and dark earthy flavors, fits that mold.  Fine tannins impart a supple texture that allows for immediate enjoyment.  Long and complex, it’s a wonderful combination of sweet fruit and savory notes.  It’s ideal now with a steak. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Miljenko’s Selection” 2013

($90):  This generous Cabernet Sauvignon is more evidence — not that it was needed — that Grgich Hills is a fabulously talented producer and that Napa Valley is a great place for Cabernet.  The 2013 Grgich Hills’ Cabernet is muscular, but more impressively, it has finesse.  Like a well-honed gymnast, it dazzles with power and grace.  Fine, youthful tannins support dark fruit and tar-like minerality.  Despite all of that, it’s the elegance and its length that you remember.  Enjoyable now, especially with a hearty steak, it should develop beautifully with a decade of bottle age, judging from its balance and my experience with Grgich Hills’ previous vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon. 95 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Spottswoode, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

($185):  Spottswoode, one of the oldest producers of the “modern” Napa Valley era, was founded in 1972.  They started bottling and selling under their own label a decade later.  Far ahead of their time, they have been farming organically since 1985 and was certified organic in 1992, according to their website.  Best known for their consistently sensational Cabernet Sauvignon, they also make outstanding Sauvignon Blanc (also reviewed this week).  The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, a typical left-bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (86%), Cabernet Franc (10%) and Petit Verdot, is an outstanding wine.  The first impression, after the impressively floral nose, is a velvety texture.  It’s glossy, yet still structured.  Flavors — black fruits, olives, herbs — are restrained, almost needing to be coaxed out of the glass.  Then, with time and seemingly out of nowhere, they caress the palate.  This is not a flamboyant or bombastic wine, yet it is packed with flavor.  The finish is long and graceful, without a trace of heaviness.  This is a great, youthful Cabernet that will blossom even more over the next few years.
97 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Jordan, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

($55):  I have always admired the wines from Jordan — and still do.  They never succumbed to fad of boisterous “big” California Cabernets.  They have held to their original philosophy of making restrained and elegant wines that deliver incredible flavor and finesse.  Weighing in at just 13.8 percent stated alcohol, Jordan’s 2013 Cabernet fits that mold perfectly.  Perfectly balanced between fruity and savory notes, it has plush tannins and a suave texture, which makes it easy to enjoy now.  Fresh and vibrant, it invigorates the palate throughout the meal.  You don’t want just a sip, you want to drink it over an hour or two and enjoy how it expands in the glass.  Having had many older Cabernets from Jordan, I can attest to their wonderful evolution with a decade or two of bottle age.  Though $55 is a lot for most people to spend on a bottle of wine, Jordan’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a bargain compared to many other upper-end California Cabs.
94 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Luca Bosio Vineyards, Gavi DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) 2016

($19, Quintessential):  Although Piedmont is best known for its stellar red wines, it is home to excellent whites, such as this one.  The Cortese grape, from which Gavi is made, is naturally high in acidity, so the wines need enough body to balance it or they come across and tart and thin.  Luca Bosio’s checks that box. With good density, even a hint of creaminess, it has ample weight on the palate despite its modest 12.4 percent stated alcohol.  It would be a good choice for linguine and clam sauce, prosciutto or other antipasti or even tomato-based seafood dishes.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Villa Huesgen, Mosel (Germany) Riesling “1735” 2016

($20, Quintessential):  The problem with Riesling is the “S” word — sweet.  I can’t remember the times people have told me they’d never order a Riesling because it’s sweet.  Well, some are and some aren’t.  Sadly, it’s hard to tell just from looking at the label because even some labeled “dry” aren’t.  This one is dry, with attractive simultaneous fruity and stony components.  Fresh and clean, it mineral-like austerity is not enamel-cleansing, which makes it a fine choice as an aperitif or with smoked salmon, for example, as a first course. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Gustave Lorentz, Alsace (France) Gewurztraminer 2016

($25, Quintessential):  Gewurztraminer is an idiosyncratic wine — people seem either to love or hate it. Complicating its popularity is an undisclosed level of sweetness, not unlike an impediment to enjoying Riesling.  Gustave Lorentz, a classic name in Alsace, makes impeccable wines.  This Gewurztraminer is one of them.  Dry, aromatic, and spicy, its slightly bitter finish makes it a great companion to Asian or any full-flavored food.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Frankland Estate, Western Australia (Australia) Riesling Poison Hill Vineyard 2015

($40, Quintessential):   I still remember my low expectations were the first time I tasted an Australian Riesling decades ago.  How could a hot climate produce a racy Riesling?  Well, it most certainly can.  Firstly, the whole continent is not hot, especially if the vineyards are planted in the hills or near ocean influences.  Now, my expectations are that Australian Riesling, like this one, should be racy.  Dry, cutting and long, there’s an alluring floral aspect to the wine.  This edgy wine has good weight, despite only a 12% stated alcohol, and is perfect for flavorful Asian fare, sushi, or coq au Riesling.
91 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard 2014

($60):  Although Merry Edwards is known best for her sensational Pinot Noir, she also produces exceptional Chardonnay.  That should come as no surprise given her history.  In the mid 1980s one of her ventures, Merry Vintners, was dedicated solely to Chardonnay production, according to her website. Similar to her Pinot Noir, she is not trying to recreate Burgundy with her Chardonnay.  The opulence of her 2014 is testimony to the warmth of the Russian River Valley.  Though rich, this Chardonnay is paradoxically restrained and vibrant. Not overdone, the lemony elements are refreshing and prevent the wine from tiring throughout the meal.  It’s the ying and yang — rich, yet racy — that is captivating and memorable.
94 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Tongue Dancer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard 2015

($50):  Here is a full-bodied, “roasty-toasty” California Chardonnay that will appeal to those who love that style.  Plenty ripe, weighing in at a stated 14.5 percent alcohol, this big bold wine has bracing, palate-awakening acidity.  Oak influences and a seductive creaminess amplify its richness.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Simonsig Wine Estate, Western Cape (South Africa) “Kaapse Vonkel” Brut Rosé 2015

($25, Quintessential):  Winemakers can have difficulty taming Pinotage, a grape created by a genetic crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, when transforming it into red wine.  Simonsig has done a fabulous job using the grape in this rosé sparkling wine.  A blend Pinot Noir (63%), Pinotage (35%) and Pinot Meunier, this bubbly delivers subtle red fruit notes with exotic accents — which seem attributable to Pinotage’s contributions.  Its light pink color makes it easy on the eyes and its stiff spine keeps it all in balance.  It’s a good choice for a holiday sparkler and sturdy enough to match a first course of smoked salmon.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Brancaia, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “TRE” 2014

($23):  The three-grape blend, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, give rise to the name, TRE.  This mid-weight wine (13.5% stated alcohol) delivers an array of red and black fruit notes surrounded by mild tannins. Bright and lively, it has good density and surprising complexity and polish for the price.  Its lively acidity makes it a good choice for hearty pasta dishes or a beef ragu this winter.
88 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Caiarossa, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Pergolaia” 2013

($23):  Though technically, the “third” wine from Caiarossa, the Pergolaia would finish first in a line-up of similarly priced Tuscan wines.  Of the seven red grape varieties planted at Caiarossa, the Pergolaia relies on the three most usually found in Super Tuscans: Sangiovese (88%), Cabernet Sauvignon (8%) and Merlot.  But it’s not really a “Super Tuscan” either in price or in character.  Caiarossa uses no new oak for this wine, which allows the engaging cherry-like fruitiness to shine.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot provide structure and fleshiness without dominating.  A subtle and attractive bitter finish adds stature not usually found at this price.  Clean and fresh, with suave tannins, it’s perfect for drinking now.  It over delivers for the price.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Brancaia, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Ilatraia” 2012

($70):  Brancaia has fashioned a “bigger” more modern style of Super Tuscan by blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Although these are grapes known as Bordeaux varieties, Brancaia’s Ilatraia has clear roots in Tuscany as manifested by its terrific enlivening and refreshing acidity.  In contrast to its TRE, Ilatraia conveys riper, more black fruit flavors seasoned with the luxuriousness of oak.  Remarkably approachable now, it’s not a sipping wine, rather one that would be at home at a Florentine steak house.  Its 14.5% stated alcohol is noticeable as a slightly hot finish, but is hardly an impediment if a rare strip steak is on your plate.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Caiarossa, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Aria di Caiarossa” 2013

($40):  With an unusual blend, this “second” wine from Caiarossa is an outstanding value.  The team uses five of the seven red varieties planted on the estate, Syrah (28%), Cabernet Franc (22%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), and Alicante, for this robust, yet balanced wine.  There’s a Margaux-like suaveness and Tuscan acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  So, despite its power, it doesn’t tire on the palate.  Though there’s spice and minerality, it’s a fruitier wine than the estate’s standard bearer.  It’s a treat to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Caiarossa, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2013

($51):  Caiarossa, a relatively new entry into the Super Tuscan world (2004 was their first vintage), is headed towards the top of that illustrious group.  In addition to four of the traditional Bordeaux varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot), they planted and use in this, their flagship wine, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Alicante.  Although it’s a concentrated wine with great depth and an exciting edginess, it displays finesse and sophistication.  Nothing is overdone, nor out of place.  Owned by the same family who owns Château Giscours and Château du Tertre in Margaux and with the same general manager, Alexander Van Beek, it is not surprising that Caiarossa has a velvety Margaux-like texture.  Indeed, it’s the cashmere-like texture of the wine as much as its layers of flavor that captures your attention.  This wine has more youthful, but still silky, tannins compared to Aria di Caiarossa and Pergolaia and is best left in the cellar for several years, while you drink their other ones.  But put some in your cellar — it’s a legend in the making and an extraordinary value.
96 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Donnafugata, Terre Siciliane Rosso IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Tancredi” 2012

($40, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine from Donnafugata, one of Sicily’s — and Italy’s — iconic producers.  With Tancredi, Donnafugata has married Nero d’Avola, an indigenous Sicilian grape, with Cabernet Sauvignon and a pinch of Tannat to produce a dense and concentrated, but balanced, wine.  Weighing in at about 14 percent stated alcohol, it has an alluring hint of bitterness in the finish.  That, along with the youthful tannins, make this muscular wine cry out for beef or lamb this winter. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Donnafugata, Terre Siciliane Rosso IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Mille e una Notte” 2012

($80, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Mille e una Notte, Donnafugata’s flagship wine, is a tribute to Sicilian grape growing and winemaking.  The 2012 is simply gorgeous.  A masterful blend of Old World (Nero d’Avola) and New (Petit Verdot and Syrah) it conveys power and sophistication.  It’s a collection of paradoxes: intense, without being heavy; plush, but not soft.  There are no sharp edges, but the wine is edgy and exciting to drink.  A hint of tarriness and minerality merges seamlessly with dark fruit notes.  Gloriously long, it’s a joy to savor now with robust, but simple fare, which allows the complexity of the wine to shine.  That said, I suspect consumers who cellar it for a few years will be amply rewarded.
96 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Canvasback, Red Mountain (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon “Grand Passage” 2014

($80):  Canvasback, Duckhorn’s outpost in Washington State, has turned out a masterful Cabernet from the 2014 vintage.  It’s a “big” Cabernet, to be sure, but not overblown, hot, or out of balance.  Indeed, it is precisely the combination of expressiveness and elegance with its density that is so awesome.  Plush tannins provide structure without being aggressive.  Fresh acidity amplifies the gorgeous black fruit qualities complemented by mineral notes and prevents palate fatigue.  You want to return for another sip.  Engaging now, especially with a holiday roast, its balance suggests cellaring for a decade or so will be rewarding. 95 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc “Fumé Blanc” 2016

($15):  The vision of David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard in the early 1970s, was to make world-class Sauvignon Blanc just as the French did in the Loire Valley.  Well, he and now his family, have continued that effort even after making headline with their other excellent varietal and blended wines.  Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, labeled Fumé Blanc to remind consumers of its kinship to the Loire’s Pouilly Fumé, is herbaceous and racy.  A perky wine with bright palate-cleansing acidity and an edgy character makes it perfect for sushi, highly flavored Asian food, or frankly, just steamed clams.  It’s a bargain. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017