Splendor in the Glass

Arturo Ciompi's blog on wine

A Tale of 2 Whites +….

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Clock icon August 22, 2013

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Dry Creek Vineyard has been in the Sauvignon Blanc business since its inception in 1972. David Stare’s Fumé Blanc has been a model of Sonoma County viticulture, in the mold of the great whites from the Loire valley of France. The winery now makes another Sauvignon Blanc (and names it such) that uses 100% grapes from the Dry Creek Valley. (10% Sauvignon Musqué – a “musky” clone – is added for depth and character.) Both wines are delicious. The Fumé Blanc is the sippable crowd pleaser. The Sauvignon Blanc demands more attention and pairs magically with fresh fish.

  • 2012 Fumé Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County $14 srp

A riot of orange, banana and tropical overtones that are explosive, soft and fun to inhale. The wine is eminently drinkable but has good structure and lift in the mouth. This will serve wonderfully as an all-purpose picnic wine or for lighter grilled fare. Drink now-2014

87/100 points

  • 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley $16 srp

A nose of citrus, lemon peel, the curious whiff of what some call “cat pee,” and a windswept, fresh herbal feel. The palate is dry with peach sensations followed by crisp acids that feel flinty and provide a most refreshing “cut” on the finish. A wine that relishes food, pair it with mahi-mahi, oysters or veal scaloppine. Drink now-2015

90/100 points

wineofweek-1The ancient Frescobaldi Estate in Tuscany has produced wine since the 15th century. Their Brunello Di Montalcino is one of my favorite wines. (I buy it when the budget allows!) But Frescobaldi’s everyday red is consistently tasty and overachieves for its modest price. A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this accessible red pleases greatly and whisks you away, if only fleetingly, to the Italian countryside.

  • 2011 Rèmole, IGT Toscana, Marchesi de´Frescobaldi $10 srp

Pale garnet color. Ripe wild cherry nose with leafy violets, sweet earth and slightly jammy impressions. A general “fat” sensation sticks in your sinuses. A smooth, edgeless mouth texture with soft, dried fruit sensations and just enough acidity to clear the taste buds. “Si lascia bere” as the Italians say – it invites you to drink it. Good everyday choice from this venerable producer.

87/100 points


Three for All

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Clock icon August 12, 2013

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images-1Vermentino is perhaps my favorite Italian white grape. Especially well known as grown in Sardinia and along the western Italian coastline, this very fragrant grape entices the senses, particularly when fresh seafood is in on the mix. A new venture between the Franceschi family of Montalcino, Italy, and the Terlato family of the United States, (which has imported Franceschi’s Brunello Di Montalcino wines for decades) is now a reality. 75% Vermentino plus 25% Chardonnay makes for a fascinating Tuscan blend.

  • 2011 Bianco Di Toscana I.G.T., Mazzoni $20 srp

Vibrant yellow color with amber tints. Intense nose of lemon grass, green apple and fresh herbs. There’s a mineral aspect, along with icy, steely notes that make the mouth water. Bracing flavors are racy, with apple and melon suggestions that initially feel smooth, followed by a crisp yet polished bite on the long finish that guarantees refreshment. Drink now-2014.

88/100 pointssequoia-grove-cabernet-sauvignon-napa-valley-usa-10122975Napa Valley’s Sequoia Grove Vineyards, whose evocative name has adorned its spare wine labels since 1978, has always featured Cabernet Sauvignon. Estate-owned fruit now constitutes 80% of its production. This includes, for the first time in 2010, parcels from their 50-acre Tonella Vineyard located on the Rutherford Bench. Whether or not this is key, their current release – from the long and tricky 2010 vintage – has produced a supple wine with delectable fruit.

  • 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sequoia Grove Vineyards, Napa Valley $38 srp

Beautiful, saturated Italian plum color. A richly textured nose of pure grape essences with sustained depth and “sweet” overall impressions. The spicy berry and pomegranate elements are attractive and calm, with lilting suggestions of Marjoram and Sage. In the mouth the wine is generous yet gentle, where blackberry, currant and velvety chocolate notes dominate. Fine tannins promise short-term development. Drink now-2018.

90/100 points

imagesDuckhorn Vineyards makes special wines. For years, their Three Palms Merlot was the ultimate collectible with wine connoisseurs . I remember a couple fighting over ownership during a divorce proceeding! But like many shining stars, some critics began to question the overall quality in the first years of the new millennium, perhaps taking into account the not insubstantial prices? I remember visiting the estate in 2005 and being bowled over by all of their current releases – and said so in my subsequent reviews – from 90-94 points. But here is a case in point about critics in general: we’re not always right, and sometimes not even close! Both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave a decent score of 87 points to Duckhorn Vineyards 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (25th Anniversary bottling). So, for a $65 suggested retail price, many customers unsurprisingly shied away. But if you know a winery, if you love what they do with a certain bottling year after year, that is the best advice you can possess. Trust your instincts! Most Duckhorn reds need some time in a cellar to be at their best. But, in the case of the aforementioned wine, it tasted like nobody’s business at my dinner table the night before last!

  • 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley $65 srp

A dark but evolved garnet color. Brooding, smoothly muscular nose of raspberry, black cherry, smoke, chocolate, leather, truffles and spice. The mouth texture is dense but silky with currant, blackberry and lush chocolate notes, plus a dusty yet rich, fleshy finish. Balance is perfect as is the lengthy aftertaste. Could not be better 11 years after the vintage date. Can still be found at auction and at some retailers for about its release price. Drink now.

94/100 points

Reviews first published in Durham Magazine July/August 2013




Ageable Rioja

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Clock icon July 22, 2013

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ValserranoThe Basque region of Spain is fascinating in its geography, political independence and rich culture of food and wine. Located at its southernmost point, Valserrano is a 133-year-old winery, located in Villabuena de Alava, part of the Rioja Alavesa region. Today’s wine is a single vineyard bottling, whose vines average 60 years of age. The fermented juice spends 18 months in 100% new French oak barriques. The result is a fascinating amalgam of old and new technologies, producing a powerful wine of impact.

2007 Valserrano Finca Monteviejo, Bodegas De La Marques, Rioja Alavesa $42 srp

Lovely garnet color with a beautiful corona and an already lightening outer rim. An overt, roasted nose of cherry and fig, with coffee, tar, beef and vanilla accents. Flavors are direct and power-packed, with lively fruit sensations and chewy, mouth-cleansing tannins. Flavorful but restrained, it needs more bottle time to open and unlock – but well worth the wait. Drink 2016-22.

91/100 points

How Quickly We Forget

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Clock icon July 7, 2013

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87979d In writing about wine and tasting samples, certain “old favorites” sometimes go by the wayside. Such was the case with a 2000 Marques De Riscal Rioja Reserva that I bought some years ago. I “discovered” it recently in my cellar, and a waterfall of memories emerged as I re-tasted this fragrant, old squire of Spain. Established in 1858, and a source of Bordeaux-style reds–especially when Bordeaux itself was devastated by the Phylloxera louse–Riscal has been a mainstay of elegance and balance over the decades. The bouquet of the 2000 Riserva at 13 years of age was fabulous, with perfumed, deep oak-engulfed fruit and overtones of violets and fine herbs. Balanced, Medoc-like and medium-bodied, it is the epitome of enhancing, rather than dominating, your meal. And the sausage, peppers and polenta we ate alongside it was divine in its company. Gentle, succulent flavors, mellow with the tannins resolved, it was springtime in a bottle. Get to know this marvelous wine (the current vintage is 2007) at about $20 the bottle–and sometimes less.


Cline Cellars makes terrific wines at totally attractive price points. This philosophy has been with Fred Cline since the winery opened in 1982. Today’s offering is their everyday red, Oakley 82, and a better red for your picnics, cookouts and slacker afternoons would be hard to find. Give this a slight chill, or plunge it into your ice tub for a no-holds-barred mouthful.

  • 2011 Oakley Eighty-Two, Cline Cellars $10 srp

Beautiful deep ruby color.  A blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera and Cabernet Franc, it’s a briary, sassy nose of earth-encrusted berry, with rustic elements of sage, minerals, coffee and charcoal. Flavors are sappy, with spice and pepper on the aftertaste. The wine is very accessible, but it’s structured nicely with a clean bite on the finish.  Drink now-2015.

87/100 points

Best Buy

(this review first appeared in Durham Magazine on 7/3/13)       OR822-1

New Chianti Classico from a venerable source

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Clock icon June 30, 2013

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image_2512626_full-1Nothing is static in the Antinori family. New enterprises throughout Italy, plus ventures in California, Washington State, Chile and Hungary exemplify the breathless pace of Piero Antinori’s dreams. But a brand new venture on his home turf of Chianti Classico? Yes indeed, as this new label now adds up to four distinct Antinori Chianti Classico bottlings. The newest estate is dubbed “Villa Antinori,” not to be confused with the landmark, white-labeled “Marchese Antinori” brand. Confusingly, although there was a Villa Antinori bottling in the past, this is a brand new venture with a new brick and mortar physical estate. The wine itself consists of 90% Sangiovese grapes with 10% Merlot added to a wine aged in small oak barriques. So, please welcome a very impressive new member of the clan.


  • 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva, Villa Antinori $35 srp*

Surprisingly deep, dusky ruby color with glints of brown. Overt, fresh-picked fruit sensations with nose of dark cherry, saddle leather, beef tallow and wet earth elements. The ripe, heady bouquet leads to powerful, dense flavors with considerable tannins on its grainy mouth texture. Taste elements include plum compote, espresso and unsweetened chocolate notes. A statement wine, and not your father’s Chianti Classico! Drink now-2020.

91/100 points

*Can sometimes be found for less.

P.S. This review first appeared 6/26/13 on Durham Magazine’s blog (entry entitled “Wine Wednesdays.”) Please look for it every late Wednesday afternoon @ DurhamMag.com

Potpourri Trio

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Clock icon June 23, 2013

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Tormaresca is an Italian estate located in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. Begun in 1998 by the Antinori family, this property showcases wines made from indigenous grape varieties. The resultant products taste not merely good, but special – different and wildly intriguing. Today’s wine features the Fiano grape, originally named Vitis Apiana, because bees were so very attracted to the vine’s sweet grapes.

  • 2011 Roycello, Fiano Salento, Tormaresca $22 srp

Deep yellow hue. Gracefully perfumed with apple and pear elements that seem positively windswept. Background notes of creamy honey surround the sinuses. This drinks dry and smoothly with a medium body and alert acids on the finish. Flavors include crisp apple and a crackling, bitter almond element. Begs for calamari, pork or even a full-blown Cacciucco. Drink now-2015.

88/100 points

Bordeaux winemaker Lionel Latorse was recently showing off wines from his own estate, as well as others, for which he serves as wine making consultant. One of these consulting jobs features Chateau De La Ligne, a right bank Bordeaux Supérieur located in the region called Entre Deux Mers (meaning “between two rivers” – not oceans).

In what was considered a miserable summer by most accounts (in 2007, mildew was rampant), the grape selection process must have been extreme here, because the wine shows little sign of the inherent difficulties. This ancient property has been reborn under the ownership of Irishman Terry Cross and, although the vines are young, the final blend smells and tastes lush and ripely sweet.

  • 2007 Chateau De La Ligne, Bordeaux Supérieur, Cuvée Prestige $15.25 srp

Good depth and a penetrating nose of subtle berry, black currant and deft oak underpinning suggesting cedar forest. Smells like right bank Merlot – a good and special thing! Mouth feel is fairly plush and long with the berry flavors both prominent and balanced. A hint of tartness is the only suggestion of vintage issues, but it disturbs the overall pleasurability not at all. Fifty percent new oak barrels with 60 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc (the wine’s “recipe.”) Fine with potato gnocchi, lamb or a mushroom-based pilaf. Drink now.

88/100 points


I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Napa Valley’s Frank Family Vineyards a few years back. They are known for their hospitality and the property teems with many young (and not so young), excitable, “wanting to learn” patrons. While sitting on the veranda, walking the grounds and sipping the bounty, the winery encourages a decidedly unstuffy atmosphere. Standards are high here, with an exciting book of whites, reds and small-production reserves that aim for the stars. Although many people think of them as Chardonnay/Cabernet-centric, one of their most exciting wines in my book is their regular bottling of Carneros Pinot Noir. This is a crowd pleaser that seems to gain finesse with each ensuing vintage. It can easily compare to many boutique offerings at twice the price.

  • 2011 Pinot Noir, Frank Family Vineyards, Carneros $35 srp

Vibrant, deep burgundy color – what else! Bright, crisp strawberry, cherry and rhubarb notes, with piquant elements of fresh fine herbs, forest scents, toast and leather. Flavors are generous with a sappy, mouth-filling texture, a cherry laden medium body and a luscious finish with refreshing acids and fine tannins. Perhaps a “bigger” wine stylistically than other Carneros favorites, but a lovely mouthful for poultry, standing rib roast or even a pasta carbonara. Drink now-2017.

90/100 pointsfrank-family-napa-carneros-pinot-noir__90219.1336996027.1280.1280



Fish or Lamb?

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Clock icon June 9, 2013

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The popularity of Albariño has grown exponentially in the U.S. in the past decade. Located in northwestern Spain, not far from the northern border of Portugal, the Rias Baixas appelation combines vineyard grace with visual splendor. This wind-swept seaside region makes wines that seem to reflect its locale. Airy and enticing, Albariño is a heaven-sent match for all manner of seafood. Terras Gauda makes numerous wines in this region, their Albariño is always a sure bet.


Colorful Wines

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Clock icon June 2, 2013

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A rosé that looks like a Pinot Noir and a Pinot that looks very similar but, oh, what a difference!

Today’s rosé comes in a squat bottle with the wine itself a very dark cranberry shade – the color of many Pinot Noirs! ( I understand that the dark skin of these indigenous Portuguese grapes creates such a deep color.) I can’t say that I thought it looked promising. But the beauty is IN the bottle and this low-alcohol (11.5 %), Portuguese pleaser will enliven many a picnic this summer.

  •  2012 Vera, Vinho Verde Rosé Wine, Cabeceiras De Basto, Portugal $11 srp

A deep cranberry, red coral color with light bubbles hugging the walls of the glass. Nose of Morello cherry, with orange zest overtones; seemingly an easy-going, frothy delight. But the flavors are more penetratingly direct, light on their feet with good acids on a rather dry finish. Cherry and strawberry flavors dominate with nary a hint of heaviness or mouth-tiring sugars. ( 60% Vinhao, [Souzao] 40%Rabo de Anho) Begs for grilled cod, scallops or a light chicken salad. Drink now.

86/100 points

P.S. Anyone remember Paul Masson’s “Rare Souzao Port?” That’s the last time I ever saw the Souzao (Sousao) grape used.

Nota Bene: The photo is of the 2011 vintage.


wine 1757At a recent Pinot Noir blind tasting, this Oregon wine stood out among its brethren from California, Burgundy and New Zealand. Although this may be a bit hard to find at retail, it’s worth the search. Tasted two years ago, the oak seemed a bit prominent. But what a supple, round package it is today.


  • 2008 Antica Terra Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills $48 srp

Beautiful deep crimson and cranberry color. Pretty yet powerful impression on the nose with floral spices and flower garden sensations. A wild berry, dark cherry bouquet with earth and forest elements. Juicy berry flavors enhanced by leather, minerality and a tallow-like richness. Yet, it’s overall subtle with a balance that belies its richness.  I thought it was a Gevrey-Chambertain! Drink now-2016.

93/100 points

Out of Commission

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Clock icon May 27, 2013

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I’m afraid my “Weekly Tastings” post has taken a hit in the jaw this week. More specifically, my upper right jaw, which underwent root canal surgery on Friday. Four days later, I’m still useless.

Stay tuned for a bigger and better posting next weekend. In the interim, stay away from any dentist who says RC’s are now pain-free. RUN, don’t walk………..

Italian Duo

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Clock icon May 19, 2013

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Pinot Grigio? Its popularity continues to assist the bottom line of restaurants and retailers alike. But cheap Pinot Grigio does no consumer any good. The venerable Attems estate produces a number of Pinot Grigios, and today’s wine, grown in the region of Venezia Giulia, (in northeastern Italy bordering Slovenia, Austria and the Adriatic) is a superb example with character and presence. Try this wine and it will seduce you as it has others for generations.

  • 2011 Pinot Grigio, Attems, Venezia Giulia $19 srp

It’s straw-colored yellow with gray highlights. A ripe nose of subtle lemon, verbena, melon and wind-swept grassy summer breezes. Flavors are medium-bodied, yet with a surprisingly rich texture. (15% is aged in new French barrels with the rest in stainless steel.) Persistent flavors of zesty citrus without the tart or lean qualities of lesser Pinot Grigios. Long dry aftertaste that’s ideal for flounder, cod or a quinoa salad. Drink now-2014.

89/100 points


Le Marche, east of Tuscany and hugging the Adriatic coast, is not a highly traveled region, nor overly well known for its wines. The intimacy of this area is reflected in their wines–not showy or glamorous, but often the equal of many of its neighbors. (Think Chianti or Abruzzi) Two reds are foremost in the Le Marche hierarchy: Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. Today’s wine, a Rosso Piceno, is a great introduction to these loveable reds.

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  • 2009 Rosso Bello Le Caniette, Rosso Piceno, Le Marche $12 srp

Aromas of roses and violets pour out on a base of dried cherry fruit. The nose is somewhat “stewed”, suggesting a rustic, country-styled red–just the kind of wine you’d fall in love with while visiting the region! Medium-bodied , with flavors of black fruit on a lightly tannic frame. Drinks well now with your pasta, pizza or simple grilled fare. (45% Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, 45% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) Drink now-2015

86/100 Points


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