Splendor in the Glass

Arturo Ciompi's blog on wine

This and that

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Clock icon May 30, 2014

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imagesRegular readers know of my love for Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley – a special place where old vines (planted before prohibition!) produce wines of enormous character. The Dry Creek Vineyard estate itself leads the way in this field. Year in, year out their Old Vine Zinfandel is a special creation. Often ready to enjoy upon release, the 2011 iteration is particularly vibrant and satisfying.

  • 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Vineyard $30 srp

Beautiful garnet color with well defined lightening corona. Deeply satisfying nose of fresh berry compote and tanned leather. Lithe and airy although persistently penetrating. The palate is saturated yet silky smooth, almost as if “ironed” to remove any offending wrinkles. (That’s one of the beauties of old vine generosity.) Berry flavors linger with lip-smacking acidity and caressing structure. Overall, this wine seems even more food-friendly and light on its feet than some vintages. I particularly like it with grilled fare of any kind. (83% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah) Drink now-2017

91/100 points

UnknownI get a special pleasure whenever I talk about Sonoma County’s Chateau St. Jean. Their wines have always represented terrific value for your dollar, and the consistency of all their wines is a hallmark not easily surpassed. I can remember recommending their single-vineyard Chardonnays in the ’80s and ’90s barely concealing my overall excitement level. (Consequently, they always sold out quickly!) Nothing has changed, and their latest offering from the Belle Terre vineyard needs your attention quickly as well.

  • 2012 Chardonnay, Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre Vineyard $25 srp

Yellow peaking to gold color. Juicily ripe nose of Red Bartlett pear with honeyed vanilla element and a nice spicy kick that keeps it vibrant. Flavors are reminiscent of Gala apples with texture leaning towards a silky, cream-filled style. Nutty on the finish with a touch of butterscotch that lingers. If you love a richly styled wine that’s not afraid of opulence, you’ll love this. The kind of domestic Chardonnay that turned heads back in day. Delicious. Drink now-2019.

91/100 points

Ch. CoufranThe best thing about having a cellar, or any storage area that stays at a consistent temperature, is saving up a bottle for that special occasion. This past Sunday, four of us who attended The North Carolina School of the Arts way back when found ourselves at my home in Durham. I had not seen one of the attendees for 40 years! I had a magnum of Bordeaux that I was itching to serve and this group, with significant spouses, made for the perfect occasion. There’s something about a magnum that generates more excitement than a regular 750ml bottle. It’s only twice the size, but somehow seems larger. It was a 2003 Chateau Coufran from the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux. 2003 was the year of the devastating heat wave in France. (You may remember reading about many older people dying in Paris due to the astronomical temperatures.) The grapes were certainly stressed, yet many wines turned out more than fine.

  • 2003 Chateau Coufran, Haut Medoc Magnum $35*-$70

Translucent ruby color with slight lightening at the rim. A broad nose of roses, wet earth, ripe almost jammy berries, walnuts and leather. The flavors are dark and direct with a roasted fruit sensation. Plum and black cherry notes dominate the medium-full bodied mouth texture with a touch of espresso bean on the gripping finish. The wine is a bit blunt and rustic. This is probably due to the vintage conditions, especially as it is predominantly Merlot. A very traditionally styled left-bank Bordeaux that, although opened three hours before the meal, was not at its peak. I still must remind myself that magnums age considerably more slowly than the 750ml size. This was a tasty brut with some years to go. Drink now-2020.

90/100 points
SABORERTE_CVNE_MONOPOLEViura is a workhorse grape in Spain – it is the base of many Spanish Cavas, Spain’s answer to Champagne. It also figures in old-fashioned Rioja whites, aged long in oak barrels, that can be most impressive. (Especially the splendid R. Lopez de Heredia Blanco.) This grape is an anomaly – it is not fruity, nor explosively fragrant. Its flavor is rich, which again is not the “style” seemingly preferred in today’s whites. Still, Viura soldiers on, and aren’t you tired of always ordering a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc out of habit? Try today’s offering from CVNE, a wine made since 1915, with salty appetizers, rich fish dishes or a Mediterranean poultry offering.

  • 2013 Monopole, Compañia Vinicola Del Norte de España (CVNE), $15 srp

Deep yellow color with green hints. If you like the smell of lemongrass and Verbena, then the Viura grape is for you. This is a delicate white, but neither floral nor fruit-laden on the nose. It smells of fresh springtime fields and greenery – those that pop up without intention. Its a drink with high acidity, but with a broad body that sticks to the palate and throat. It’s mouth-filling rather than mouth-cleansing. But it grows on you, so to speak, as it has to generations of Spanish wine drinkers. Beautifully rendered and memorable. Drink now-2016.

89/100 points


Italians and a touch of the Brits

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Clock icon March 26, 2014

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The Sagrantino grape has been making wine headlines in recent years. Many people think that this grape will bring the kind of fame to the province of Umbria that Nebbiolo has brought to Piedmont and Sangiovese to Tuscany. And they may be right! The Lunelli family, producers of Ferrari Método Champenoise in Trentino, have now invested in the village of Montefalco, where Sagrantino is king. Still a very small production wine, it was given the Italian government’s highest rating, the DOCG – sort of a quality assurance – in 1992.

  • 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino, Tenuta Castelbuono $36 srp

Dark, purple color with slightly lightening rim. Impressive red fruit impressions on the nose with overriding roasted sensations mingled with tar and smoke. Enormously attractive with great purity of expression. The flavors are forceful and strong, reminiscent of a brilliant young Cabernet in its raw power. But at almost seven years of age, the tannins are still formidable and one has to wonder how soon, or if, they might subside. Still, for a steak, boar or truffled risotto, this packs a wallop and will please tonight. Fans of Petite Sirah might seriously want to give this a try. Drink now-2024 (?)

90/100 points

zardettowine-e1356376125192-225x300Prosecco (and Moscato) are big buzz words in wine these days. It wasn’t always so. Even 20 years ago, Prosecco was still pretty much a hand sell. Today, it flies off shelves and there is plenty of mediocre product to go around.

One brand that has been consistently good is Zardetto. Their bread and butter Prosecco bottling has been made since 1969 and continues to bear the qualities that have pleased customers for decades.

  • Zardetto Prosecco DOC Treviso $16 srp

Pretty straw-yellow color. Very fragrant and clean with apricot, floral and banana impressions. Although overt, the bouquet remains vibrant and pinpoint, neither heavy nor dull. Flavors are soft and sweet but remain agile and relatively refreshing. When in doubt, Zardetto is always a good choice for casual sipping.

86/100 points

7269Madeira usually brings thoughts of sweetness, the founding fathers imbibing after a meal and the unfortunate Duke of Clarence who was supposedly drowned in a vat of Madeira by his younger brother – the future Richard III! (“Death, where is thy sting,” as W.C. Fields once said of a similar idea …) But most people don’t give Madeira a thought at all and that is a true shame. Today’s wine is a Malmsey, the richest and sweetest version of Madeira, made with the Malmsey, aka Malvasia, grape. This is a wine that, once inhaled, will thrill most anyone with its unmistakable richness of bouquet.

  • 10-Year-Old Malmsey Madeira, Blandy’s $30 srp (500 ml.)

A burnt sugar, caramel and molasses bouquet that is like no other. Intoxicating in a non-drunken sense, this wine is a joy to smell. Elements of fig-laden nuts emerge as well upon aeration. Although sweet to drink, the wine has a complexity and flavor interest that reaches far beyond the underlying sweet nature. I love drinking this wine with nuts – walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts that I crack myself. (Shelled nuts will do.) It may be a bit pricey to put over vanilla ice cream, but you’ll have a memorable and, perhaps, never greater treat than this! Will last for weeks after the stopper is removed. Drink now-forever!

92/100 points

img_4598People often ask me, “What’s your favorite wine?” It’s sort of like asking, “What’s your favorite country?”! But within a country’s regions, I often have a favorite choice – especially where real value is concerned. In Tuscany, home of spectacular Chiantis and Brunellos, one wine stands out to me for quality and price. That wine is Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano. Sometimes, I think I should keep this a bit of a secret. But because of its rather complex name, and the fact that many people confuse it with another wine called Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, there may still be time to allay my fears! Seriously though, this wine, made predominantly from a special clone of the Sangiovese grape (called Prugnolo Gentile [Prune-YO-lo Gen-TEE-leh]; how pretty a name is that?), makes a very special red with so much character and flavor that you might want to give it a try. Today’s version is made by a venerable estate which, under new ownership, now uses only the Prugnolo Gentile grape in its wines. (The DOCG law permits up to 30% of other varieties.) Usually, other indigenous grapes are used, but occasionally “foreigners” such as Cabernet and Merlot pop up. Regardless, I have yet to taste a Vino Nobile that did not strike me as a wonderfully individualistic wine. This is God’s little acre for magical reds.

  • 2011 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Avignonesi $29 srp

A nose that is more reminiscent of perfume, rather than just an inviting smell. The heady fragrance has elements of cherry compote, spicy-minerally elements, licorice and leather. One comes back again and again to its haunting bouquet. Juicy, chewy fruit on the palate. Nicely extracted and dry with cherry, wild herbs and dark tea-like flavors. There is an elegance and decidedly “European” fruit that satisfies but doesn’t shout. Delicious already, but will improve through 2019.

92/100 points

Three to start February

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Clock icon February 2, 2014

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1994-vina-pomal-reserva-bodegas-bilbainasOld-fashioned Rioja warms the stomach, heart and soul. Aging in American oak gives a wonderful vanilla sheen to these traditionally made wines – especially true with Reserva bottlings. Today’s wine spends 18 months cuddling up to its American neighbor, and the results are totally loveable. The price for this level of quality is refreshing as well.

  • 2009 Rioja Reserva, Viña Pomal, Bodegas Bilbainas $21 srp

Translucent raspberry color. The bouquet suggests dried flowers and vanilla-scented fig, with light tobacco notes. (Quite overt for such a young wine.) Flavors resemble sour cherry in the best possible way. The wine is not sour, but rather transmits a piquant freshness that complements its cocoa and leather elements. Simply delicious in a medium-bodied style, with a longish finish and already joyful to quaff. Drink now-2017.

90/100 points

SaintJustSaumurRochesNV-LThe Loire is famous for grand chateaus (Biltmore Estate drew inspiration from them). It’s famous for white wines like Vouvray and Sancerre, and less famous perhaps for reds led by Chinon, Bourgueil (a tongue and spelling twister), and Saumur. These wines have a special cachet, and the grape in question, Cabernet Franc, finds some of its greatest expression here. Today’s wine, an exclusive in our parts of Wine Authorities of Durham, is a single-vineyard, special treat indeed. According to their website, only 21 bottles remain.

  • 2010 Saumur-Champigny, “Montée des Roches”, Domaine de Saint Juste $34.99 srp

A beautiful, deep, scarlet-red color. Nose is pure harmony of expressive fruit, dense and in full bloom. Notes of violets, blackberry compote, chocolate and a full range of herbal/spicy splendor fills the sinuses – fleshy and earthy at the same time. Mouth texture is richly generous and supple, but firmly structured and a bit monolithic now. Still, this velvety, mouth-filler would accompany game, red meat or a mushroom/truffle risotto beautifully tonight. This impressive offering will continue to improve and open for at least 4 to 5 years more.

92/100 points

UnknownThe Concha y Toro Winery has made millions of people happy over the years, with wines that cover the gamut of price structure, yet never serve up a generic tasting product. This publicly traded phenomenon simply never rests on its laurels. I’ve praised their Terrunyo line for many years and, in the $20 to $30 price range, you owe it to yourselves to get a glimpse of what they do. (The Carmenère is particularly splendid.) Once convinced, today’s offering will seal the deal. An icon of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (with 4% Cabernet Franc), this wine conjures superlatives the moment the cork is pulled.

  • 2009 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $125 srp

Dark, saturated garnet color. A classic Cabernet nose of profound berry essences with loamy earth, tar, tobacco, smoke and tanned leather elements. The sophistication of this bouquet is such that anyone, novice or connoisseur, is taken aback by its purity and class. The flavors are mouth-filling and remarkably mellow, with a slight undercurrent of black tea, Asian spices and chalk. The structure is firm and the flavors redolent with fruit. If drunk tonight, open in the morning! Drink now-2021.

94/100 points

3 for the Holidays

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Clock icon December 20, 2013

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10319479tAsk any Pinot Noir aficionado what’s hot in today’s market and the “Sonoma Coast” appellation of California is that signpost up ahead. Names such as Kosta Browne and Sea Smoke have been riling up Pinot junkies, and the addition of Guarachi Family Wines stirs the pot further. Since its explosive debut in the 2008 vintage, their fascinating releases, grown along the windswept, maritime hillsides, are thrilling to taste and contemplate. A memorable gift awaits the discerning wine lover.

  • 2011 Pinot Noir, Guarachi Family Wines, Sonoma Coast $65 srp

Deep cranberry-red color. Fruit and spice intensity explodes from the glass, with a springtime floral element suggestive of the finest Côte d’Or bottlings. Wild strawberry, raspberry and tea notes emerge on a slightly loamy nose. Pinot Noir does this – gets you crazy with its beguiling, seamless, endlessly fascinating elements. Flavors are layered and silky, full-bodied with tons of persistent fruit and intensity. The excellent balance and framework suggests aging potential, but it is already a heady treat. Drink now-2016

93/100 points

UnknownFrescobaldi has made Tuscan reds for centuries, but one of the newest horses in its stable is also one of the most exciting. Since 2006, Frescobaldi has been making a reserve red from the Scansano region, located south of Florence towards the Tyrrhenian maritime (the unfortunate area of the Costa Concordia tragedy). The wine, Morellino Di Scansano, is not new, but Frescobaldi’s attention to grape selection along with 24-month aging in French oak barrels is producing a truly striking product. A super wine and value to drink or gift this holiday season.

  • 2010 Pietraregia Dell’Ammiraglia, Morellino Di Scansano Riserva, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi $25 srp

A dark, crimson red color. With one hour aeration the vanilla-clad nose is ripe with dried cherry, leather and cigar box notes, with coffee, black olive and a slight balsamic note in the mix. Very seductive indeed. Flavors are already velvety with a plummy mouthfeel, Kirsch element and mocha on the long and beautifully balanced finish. (85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and 5% Syrah.) Drink now-2017.

91/100 points

NouveauThe Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon was hot in the 1980s, cooled some in the ’90s and has settled down to earth in the new millennium. People sometimes forget, if they ever knew, that Nouveau is a wine made practically instantaneously to help celebrate the end of the harvest season. Originally, the wine was not bottled, but consumed straight out of the fermentation casks in its native region of Burgundy. Nouveau is fermented for only about five days, filtered prodigiously to stabilize it and then shipped to the U.S. and other world markets. At its best, this “quick fix” beverage can really only produce a fruity quaffer – perfect to celebrate a sort of November/December-fest of wine.

  • 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau, Georges DuBoeuf $10 srp

Overtly spicy, with suggestions of blackberry and cinnamon on the open, grapey nose. (Thank goodness Gamay is such a joyful grape to smell in its youth.) In some ways, the overall impression is reminiscent of a room temperature mulled wine and, to me, that is a compliment. Flavors are fun, rather plum-like, fresh and direct. The finish is slightly bitter and stemmy. Enjoy now through next spring.

86/100 points

A World-Wide Trio

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Clock icon November 24, 2013

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2007-rodney-strong-single-vineyard-cabernet-sauvignon-brothers-ridge-beautyshot-72ppiRodney Strong Vineyards and I have a love affair going back to the 1970s. I remember buying 1975 Sonoma Vineyards’ (the former name of Rodney Strong’s winery) Petite Sirah by the case from Dick Lavender – he of the old Fowler’s off West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. This ridiculously affordable red – I think it was $4 before case discount – was so satisfying, round and chewy, it fit the bill for a relatively poor musician still living in New York City. I stocked up on trips home for Christmas!

Petite Sirah is still made by the eponymous winery, but these days their most sought after and featured wines are three single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds; these are named Alexander’s Crown, Rockaway and today’s offering, Brother’s Ridge. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this vineyard is located at the very northern end of the Alexander Valley. Although very warm weather predominates here, the Brother’s Ridge vines are situated from 400 to 1,000 feet above sea level, allowing the famous Sonoma nighttime breezes to keep ripeness in check. This would be a superb gift for the wine collector in your life.

  • 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Brother’s Ridge, Rodney Strong Vineyards $75 srp

Inky black saturated color. A firm, profound and concentrated nose with explosive blackberry, licorice, cigar box and sage elements. Just shy of over-ripeness, it presents considerable fruit in a dried, quasi-reduced sense. Dry flavors suggest black cherry, cola and loamy earth with an herbal and minerally finish. Strong (no pun intended) flavored with firm tannins, the wine is a beauty, but only beginning to show its considerable stuff. Needs three to four hours aeration now, or hold for up to 12 years from the vintage date.

94/100 points

Rose WineFerrari is Italy’s oldest producer of dry sparkling wines (established in 1902) made by the true Champagne process that includes a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces a tight, intense bubble and deftly balanced flavors. Grown on the Alpine slopes of the northern Italian region of Trento (with vines up to 1,900 feet above sea level), the Lunelli family crafts these sophisticated wines, now into their fourth generation of committed wine stewards. This non-vintage rosé spends several years aging on its lees (sediment) before final filtration and dosage occurs. Sets the bar very high indeed.

  • Ferrari Brut Rosé, Metodo Classico, Trento $37 srp

A clear salmon color. A bouquet of rose petals, ripe raspberry and red currant, with notes of bready yeasts, licorice and a suggestion of eucalyptus. Medium-bodied with strawberry and grapefruit flavors converging on the focused yet frisky palate. Crisp finish, excellent length and delightful energy. (A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay) Drink now-2015.

90/100 points

UnknownNow that the Douro region of Portugal, once only famous for Port wines, produces delicious table wines from the same grapes, it’s hard to believe that it didn’t happen sooner! With the exception of Barca Velha, a delicious and expensive table red, my first dry wine experience from the Douro region was called Duas Quintas. Made by Port house Ramos Pinto, I remember that its initial vintage (1990) did not sell well in our market. Being offered from our local distributor on close-out, I bought all of it for my retail shop! I was fascinated by the richness and lush quality of this red and, even at full retail price (then about $10), it was a bargain.

Today, Portuguese table wines abound in all price ranges, and one of the medium-priced stars is Prats & Symington’s Post Scriptum. This is a very cute name for the second label (hence the P.S.) of their superstar wine Chryseia. From a partnership between Bordeaux wine consultant Bruno Prats (He the former owner of Chateau Cos d’Estournel) and Charles Symington’s extensive Portuguese holdings, this P+S offering seems to get more distinctive with each passing vintage.

  • 2011 Post Scriptum, Prats & Symington, Douro $25 srp

Deep plum color with brick-red highlights. Saturated fruit impressions on the nose, with ripeness tempered by structure. Notes of blackberry, mulberry, cola and currant fill this sinuses. Has a mouth feel of crushed berry compote, with coffee and chocolate elements and a lightly chalky finish. Tannins supply “cut” and ageability. Open a few hours ahead if serving tonight. Drink now-2019.

89/100 points


New Zealand Splendor

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Clock icon November 3, 2013

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2009-Villa-Maria-Single-Vineyard-Taylors-Pass-ChardonnayWhen you live in wine country, the release of special bottlings – a “Reserve” this or a “Single-Vineyard” that – is always cause for excitement. These are usually the best that an estate can create in a given calendar year. But when you get away from the fray, the cost of these specialties comes under more exacting scrutiny. Am I really prepared to spend twice as much, or more, for a particular wine among hundreds of options? When the wine is beautiful, all things do fall into place.

New Zealand’s Villa Maria, headed up by Sir George Fistonich, is over 50 years of age now, crafting singular wines in the Marlborough region of its south island. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are always delicious here, and tasting their Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay shows what excitement also resides in the Chardonnay vines.

  • 2011 Chardonnay, Villa Maria, Taylor’s Pass Vineyard $44 srp

Color of egg white with golden highlights. A fresh, breezy nose of caramel apple, pear and citrus. It’s bracing and inviting with spice-laced liveliness. Flavors are creamy and persistent, including lemon peel and green apple notes inside a “buttery” mix. Acids are vibrant and the finish is savory and balanced. Drink now-2015.

92/100 points

Italia and Australia

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Clock icon October 30, 2013

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Umbria is best known for the ancient towns of Perugia and Assisi – one a corporate powerhouse (think Perugina Chocolates and leather shoes), the other the titular home of St. Francis and his newest disciple, Pope Francis I. But Umbria also includes the tiny hill town of Montefalco, and in its environs wine is made; good wine, and the Sagrantino grape may be its most celebrated and “hottest” varietal today. Arnaldo Caprai is a leader among winemakers, and a 100% Sagrantino grape wine is in the forefront of change. His “regular” Montefalco bottling is a fascinating blend, being 70% Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti), 15% Sagrantino and 15% Merlot. And make no mistake – this wine will not remind you of its Tuscan neighbor. It is special in its own right and the somewhat untranslatable word “squisito” fits it to a capital T.

  • 2010 Montefalco Rosso, Arnaldo Caprai $23 srp

A ruby-colored wine, reminiscent of a Côte de Nuits Pinot Noir. Overt freshness and concentration on the nose with velvety crushed berries, cherry and violets dominant. Just begs to be drunk. Grabs you by the throat and coats it with seductive fruit elements. Never heavy or ponderous, there is a sweet sensation of ripeness and a touch of licorice that makes you smile. Juicy, buoyant and full of energy, this will accompany roasts, Soppressata or a Bolognese pasta dish beautifully. Drink now-2016.

90/100 points

715574_0_9999_med_v1_m56577569845486772The Margaret River region, at the far southwestern shore of Australia, is still somewhat of an international secret. Incredible coastal beaches, surf paradise, whale-watching excursions and spectacular stalactite-bearing caves make this a distinctive destination to fashion at your own pace. Wines have been made here for decades, and Franklin Tate Estates have been active since the mid-’70s. For a fresh take on Australia’s most famous red, (Shiraz, aka Syrah) try their fairly priced most recent release.

  • 2012 Shiraz, Franklin Tate Estates, Margaret River $13.60 srp

Warm reddish-brown color. A loamy, distinctive terroir emerges on the nose with elements of wild berry, plum, Marjoram and a touch of beetroot. A spicy kick makes your mouth water. Juicy and smooth on mouth entry, it’s fruit-forward and sumptuous on the palate. Neither tight nor aggressive, the flavors are round and rewarding now. Lightly tannic structure will help this last and improve for two to three years. Pair with grilled meats or any mushroom-based dish.

88/100 points

Spain/South Africa

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Clock icon October 14, 2013

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201208NumanthiaOKFrom the northwestern Spanish region of Castilla Y Leon comes the Toro wine denomination. Only 40 miles from the Portuguese border, this rural, hot and dry landscape makes remarkable wines, of which the Numanthia name is paramount. Numanthia is the ancient name of the city that once resisted Roman invasion. Today, it stands for superior winemaking at three levels. The Termes bottling is their everyday release, although far from everyday in quality. The Numanthia label, which is reviewed today, is an old vine, highly extracted wine of vigor. Their ultimate bottling is Termanthia, a true first-growth of extraction and flavor, with a price to match! Do get to know these wines, fashioned from the Tempranillo grape and, in my experience, never disappointing.

  • 2009 Numanthia, Bodega Numanthia, Valdefinjas $59 srp

Deeply colored blue-black appearance. The nose shouts reduced raspberry, black cherry and dark chocolate. Included in its complex bouquet are woody richness, saturated chunky yet velvety impression, Asian spice, mint and a decided minerally edge. The mouthfeel is sappy – almost a carpet bomb of luxurious dense fruit. Vegetarians may be put off (or excited) by its meaty, beef-like flavor component! Sweet fruit lingers long on its finish and increasing suppleness emerges with three hours of aeration. Carries its 15% alcohol in perfect, yet heady, balance. Can be enjoyed now, but better from 2016-25.

93/100 points

UnknownMulderbosch Vineyard wines, from the western cape of South Africa, have been imported by the U.S. for more than two decades. Sauvignon Blanc has, from the get-go, been one of their signature and “raciest” wines. New American investment, including consultation with Andy Erickson, winemaker at Napa’s Screaming Eagle Winery, promises even further excitement beginning with the 2011 vintage. Today’s wine, from that year, bristles with energy.

  • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Mulderbosch Vineyard, Western Cape $18 srp

Bright, greenish-tinged color. Fresh lime and grapefruit fill the sinuses with minerally, mouthwatering acids and spunk. Grapefruit flavors persist on the palate, with an unexpectedly smooth, melon-tinged finish that makes it fun to drink all by itself. A slight sense of sweetness persists on the aftertaste. This calls out for scallops, grilled poultry or a fashionable quinoa salad. Drink now-2015.

89/100 points

Two Special Treats

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Clock icon September 22, 2013

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140142Does anyone order Champagne anymore without asking for a Brut? Well, yes, they do, and the more one knows, the more one’s enjoyment of Champagne becomes. So-called “Extra-Dry” Champagne is a bit of a misnomer because it really means “a little sweet.” (It has more residual sugar than a Brut.) But a truly balanced Champagne is, when properly made, a wine where its sweetness will just be a taste element, and the wine will still provide refreshment. Pol Roger makes an excellent Demi-Sec, which they call “Rich.” I was reminded just how good this can be at the lovely brunch that Vin Rouge serves on Sundays. The Champagne pleased us all and, perhaps most importantly, its style was perfect to accompany cheesy omelettes, salmon-infused scrambled eggs and French onion Soup. A new discovery for this just delectable stuff.

  • Champagne, Pol Roger Rich, Demi-Sec $70 srp

Beautiful golden hue. A generous doughy, honeyed nose with soft lemon impressions. The palate is effortless with stone fruit flavors and underlying acidity that keeps it not only lively, but mouth-cleansing – even after salty pommes frites! Delightful in every respect and with a long, clear finish. (An equal blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinor Meunier) Drink now-2015.

91/100 points


Quimera is a higher-end red wine blend from the prestigious Achaval-Ferrer Estate in Lujan de Cujo, Argentina. Grown at 3,600 feet, this blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties presents a beautifully rendered wine that seduces your palate rather than leading an all out assault. As its name implies, this is a multifaceted creation with imagination writ large on its banner.

  • 2010 Quimera, Achaval-Ferrer, Mendoza $56 srp

Alluring nose radiates warmth, splendid ripeness and an overarching “sheen” of dark cherry, raspberry, earth and cedar elements. Flavors are still firm and gripping with its persistent fruit gliding towards a long finish. Medium-bodied with a refreshing lift harmonizing its darker edges. This is a tenor, hitting high notes brilliantly but perhaps wanting in the deeper tones. (A blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.) Open two hours before drinking tonight. Will improve through 2018.

91/100 Points

Lion’s Lair

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Clock icon September 5, 2013

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It’s no secret that I love a good Vouvray, or any winemaker that knows how to vinify the Chenin Blanc grape beautifully. South Africa has a long history of making “Steen,” the Dutch word that was once universally used to identify its favorite white wine – Chenin Blanc. Lion’s Lair is produced by the Leeuwenkuit Family Vineyards and it shines through brilliantly.

Nose of intense, freshly picked grapes with elements of melon and grapefruit tickling the sinuses. A minerally, slightly chalky mouth feel adds cut and refreshment to the off-dry finish. Distinctive and complex with a hankering for fresh fish, pork or a bowl of heady Gazpacho.

88/100 points

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