Tasting Notes


Annabella Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005

Fifteen-buck chuck. Decent, if unremarkable Cabernet delivers rich blackfruit and a bit of smoke. Somwhat grainy tannin seems to soften a bit after opening. I can take it or leave it.


Chateau Petit Vedrines Sauternes 2004

Solid Sauternes at a great price. Little bit of petrol nose gives way to moderately-sweet dessert wine full of apple, peach and honey.


Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose NV

Creamy strawberry mousse. A Cremant d’Alsace with only 12% alcohol from 100% Pinto Noir and a wonderful bargain. If you can find this stuff, buy a few at least!


Tahbilk Viognier 2006

This screw-cap wine from down under isn’t as intense as most American versions but it’s still rich with apricot and citrus and a little zest, too. Full-bodied to the point of being oily is its big downside. Still, if you like Viognier and can’t deal with the $60+ price of most good Condrieus, this is another value-priced wine to try.

Tablas Creek Rousanne 2004

Remarkable Rhone Ranger. Concentrated white with pear, spice and perhaps a little smoke, and a nutty flavor that makes this unmistakably Rousanne. About $24.

Soleira Albarino Rias Baixas 2006

Hidden in plain sight. This is a wine that’s not all that hard to find but most Americans seem never to have heard of or tasted it. Apple, fig and citrus in a deep yellow wrapper, and often compared to Chardonnay but I don’t get the comparison as I think these Spanish Albarinos are strikingly different. Has some heft to it without being too oaky. Give it a shot!

Laboure Roi Macon Villages 2006

Bargain Burgundy. A nice, middle-of-the road Chard with just enough acidity so the fruit still comes through, and with 12.5% alcohol it won’t get you hammered. One of my favorite value-priced Burgundies. NOTE: Just realized I tasted and reviewed a year ago. At least I’m consistent…I liked it then, too!

Chateau Graville Lacoste Graves Blanc 2007

Good Graves. Classic regional mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon…but the proportions here are flipped – it’s about 70% Semillon! Smooth, elegant and supple. Don’t serve too cold or you’ll miss the nuance. Pay $12-14.


Vignerons De Tavel Prestige Des Lauzeraies 2007

Righteous Rose. Deep ruby color, rich cherry and strawberry flavors. One of the heartiest rose wines I’ve ever tasted and a steal at about $13. Red Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Markedly different from, and astonishingly better than, the 2003 I tasted and reviewed last year.


Chinon Les Grezeaux 2004

Blackberry bomb. 100% Cabernet Franc and remarkably concentrated, and to my taste you don’t get the typical rough-and-rustic notes, although the tannin you’ll notice. Really nice.

Grant Burge “Filsell” Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

Dense and direct. This one comes at you from 100 year old vines (they say) and a really warm year, so as you might expect, this is over the top with kirsch and raspberry and lots of tannin. The Grant Burge site says to pair it with “rare kangaroo fillet with a garlic polenta mash.” Please do. For me it’s overpowering but I’m not you and you may like that.

Faiveley Bourgogne Rouge 2005

Modest, mid-priced ($25) French Pinot Noir that will disappoint nobody but you won’t rave, either. Tasted better after I decanted it although who knows…that may be my imagination.

Charbonniere Vacqueyras 2005

60% Red Grenache and 40% Syrah go into this rich, dense and very satisfying Rhone blend that gives you most of the pleasure of Chateauneuf du Pape at a fraction of the price. But at 15% alcohol it tastes a little hot. Still, I’d go for it.

Chateau Baury Margaux 2005

A Cabernet Sauvignon-based (about 70%) wine that is from a “phantom” Margaux Chateau – in this case, it’s produced by Chateau Brane Cantenac, a very well-regarded second growth. This is a great wine for the price, and from Margaux no less! It’s also got equal parts Cab Franc and Merlot and maybe a tiny bit of Petit Verdot.

Chateau Larose Trintaudon Medoc 2005

Left bank and left field. The label looks very prestigious. The wine…not so much. Skip.


Pedroncelli Zinfandel Rose Dry Creek Valley 2006

This is no white Zin! One of my favorites for summer drinking – ruby red with flavors of black cherry and a surprising bit of vanilla. Great with burgers.

Masciarelli Rose d’Abruzzo 2007 (Italy)

Strawberry fever…forever? One of the nicer Italian pinks I’ve tasted from 100% Montepulciano.

Rioja Aradon Rosado 2004 (Spain)

Not nine for nothing. I’m so into roses during the summer that I had to try this $9 one. Half Red Grenache and half Tempranillo, it’s a bit rough. Quaffable but hardly transcendent (Thank you, Miles Raymond). OK for a quick picnic.


Caoba Malbec 2006 (Argentina)

Toute sweet. Decent Malbec but a bit over the top with plumy fruit and to my palate, some residual sweetness which is probably just not enough acid to balance. Disappointment.

Merum Monastrell 2006 D.O. Jumilla (Spain)

Viva value! Should be called “Monstrous-ell” – 85% Monastrell with 10% Syrah and 5% Tempranillo tossed in for grace notes. Big and bold but not in that California Cab kinda way, and much more balanced.

Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico DOCG 2005 (Italy)

Cross this bridge and pay the toll (about $25). Just an outstanding Chianti, perfectly structured with fine tannins and great fruit and concentration – voluptuous. Could use a couple years in the bottle but don’t wait on my account.


Livio Fellugra Sauvignon 2005 (Italy)

Leave the Sauvignon to the French, New Zealanders and Americans. This is an ordinary, entirely unsatisfying bottle of wine. Lacks the zest of NZ and the finesse of France. So subtle I couldn’t find much to write about. Don’t you bother, either.


CastellRoig Cava Rose Brut Vinya 16 Propia NV (Sparkling wine, Spain)

Pink Bull. Maybe the best $15 sparkling rose you can find. Made with the Trepat grape, which I’d never heard of or tried until I tasted this sparkler which is nicely balanced, dry, and fruity. Nice long bubbles.

Piper Sonoma Brut NV

Solid Sparkler. Great value at $15 or so in this toasty, sightly yeasty perennial. Nicely dry if not truly “brutish” with a crisp finish. Among the best “ordinary” California Blanc de Blancs.

Legaris Crianza Ribera de Duero 2004 (Spain)

A deep purple, enticing 100% Tempranillo, known there as “Tinta Fina.” Chewy, slightly rough tannin on a base of plum/blackberry and licorice, with a hint of…Allspice? Long, slightly biting finish. Nice but needs some time laying on its side in a relaxed position. Crianza, by the way, means that the wine has at least a year’s aging in oak and another year in the bottle before release.

Lakewood Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006 (Finger Lakes, NY State)

A very pale ruby wine with lots of cherry. Bright and fresh with a little smoke. To my palate this is a “Pinot Light” wine and for that reason, you may like this even if you’re not a Pinot fan. Nice offering from my front yard in New York state!

Two Hands The Bull and the Bear Shiraz/Cabernet, Barossa Valley 2005

Exotic Aussie. Spicy Shiraz (65%) gets a backbone from Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and begs for food. In other words, it’s aromatic, rich and intense – drink with a hearty meal. At $45-50 you might need a reason, and as an occasional splurge it’s worth it.

Two Hands Brilliant Disguise (Moscato) 2007

Sweet sprite. Loads of pear and green apple flavors in a slightly sparking, mildly sweet wrapper with great mouth feel and only 7% alcohol. Lovely but innocuous, makes a great dessert wine, or before a meal instead of a cocktail. 100% White Frontignac.

Gagnard-Delagrange Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Morgeot” 2000 (Chardonnay)

Fresh and fruity. Round but not too soft, from one of the “Big 3” wine villages of the Cote de Beaune, along with Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Not bad, but not distinctive and nothing to crow about.

Cosentino Sangiovese Il Chiaretto 2004

That’s-a-spicy. Juicy, leathery, black-peppery Sangiovese from three vineyards – two in Lodi and one in Napa. Medium body, nice mix of red and black fruits, beautiful ruby color, and one of the best bottles of wine for $17 I’ve ever tasted.

Dinner at 11 Madison Park, NYC with Chefs Gaier and Frasier

Domaine Pierre Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2005

Peachy. A mix of 70% Grenache Blanc, 25% Clairette and 5% Bourboulenc. Soft and round but still refreshing, with a hint of almonds in a lovely golden color. Just full-bodied enough.

Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Cuvee Mourre de Perdrix 2004

Holiness Indeed. 70% Grenache and 15% each of Syrah and Mourvedre, this wine from a single vineyard brings forth raspberry, pepper and spice with a perfect balance. Gorgeous color. $38-45

Domaine Paul Pernot, Puligny Montrachet 2005

Mr. Clean. Crisp, fresh Chardonnay with aromas of peach and flowers, a citrus-y flavor with that hard-to-describe but recognizable minerality.

Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon, Family Estate 2004

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…? This wine of almost 15% alcohol is cleverly disguised and never gives you that hot sensation. I picked it off the list – and glad I did – based solely on what I know about Volker Eisele, a renowned Napa grapegrower who became a winemaker only in the early 1990s. A wonderful, dense but not overpowering Cab with plenty but measured doses of blackfruit, oak and tannin. About $40-48

Laboure-Roi St Armand Macon-Villages Blanc 2006

Ten buck Charlemagne. Pale yellow, 100% Chardonnay with crisp, honeyed apple in a medium body and a decent finish. A bargain.

Monte’s Cherub Rose of Syrah 2006

White Zins need not apply. Amazingly bright pink, almost glowing color, a dry, crisp medium body, a nose of rose and flavors of strawberry and orange. The Chileans have this one down!!

Wine Symphony, Inc. Portfolio Tasting – October 23, 2007


Dominic Frederic Lornet, Chardonnay Messagelins 2005

Creamy mouthfeel, with a slightly biting acidity and a little petrol nose, and a medium to long finish. The fruit comes from 30 year old vines and the wine spends six months relaxing on its lees. Good value for a quirky French chard from the Dura.

Dominic Frederic Lornet Nature 2004

100% Savagnin, a grape with a long and weird history, known for its nuttiness (like your aunt). Lemon butter aroma, with nice but not overpowering nutty flavor. Generally well-balanced with a long finish. Not my favorite but you might like it.

Dominic Frederic Lornet Vin de Paille 1999

Sherry, Sherry Baby…won’t you come out tonight? This blend of Ploussard and Savagnin is almost like a new sherry, with an over-the top nose. The grapes are dried on straw mats like Amarone to concentrate their flavor. A moderately but not cloyingly sweet dessert wine, maintains crispness and freshness. Nutty and spicy, also makes a great aperitif or serve with cheese and biscuits at the end of the meal.

Domaine Adama Cotes de Beaune Chardonnay 2004

Movie Matinee. Buttery smooth yet not too “caramel,” with a slightly sweet yet crisp tone.

Alain Gueneau Sancerre Loire Valley 2005

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc won’t bowl you over with greenness or grapefruit, but still has a slightly vegetal nose and a refreshing, lingering bite of acidity.

Viu Manent, Colchagua, Chile, Sauvignon Blanc 2006

This 100% SB is grown is harvested at night to keep the fruit cool, fermented in stainless steel, aged in steel on some (but not all) the lees and filtered. It’s interesting but hard to describe; has a nice green pepper nose and bright acidity but it’s neither as elegant and soft as Sancerre, nor as green and crisp as a New Zealand. Give it a shot if you can find it.

Kate’s Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay 2004

Buttery and oaky, with a slightly sweet aftertaste, this is a classic American chard that has spent a year hanging around with its lees in oak.

Peirano Estate, Lodi California, “The Other” White 2006

Mix it up. This is a fabulous blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, delivering apple and peach flavors tinged with a little spice. If your guests like a variety of whites, pull out a bottle of this and tell them there’s something there for everyone.

Peirano Estate, Lodi California, Viognier 2006

This example of my favorite white (on Tuesday) is more mellow and smooth than most American Viogniers, though not those of Condrieu in France. Very aromatic with the classic notes of peach and vanilla and a little quirky but very nice.

Valdrinal Ribera Del Duero (Spain) Rueda Verdejo 2005

100% Verdejo, another grape you may not know – yet – that makes well-structured white wines with a nutty flavor and slightly honeyed quality. This one is crisp, slightly sweet and a bit fleshy. Come off your Chardonnay kick and try it.


Dominic Frederic Lornet Pinot Noir 2005

Front porch swing. Pleasant but unremarkable; a bit flat, and a little too acidic. Nice cherry flavor, though.

Domaine Adamas Cotes de Beaune, Pinot Noir 2005

Knife point. Initially sharp and slightly biting, but gives way to a satisfying if not superb cherry flavor.

Alain Gueneau, Sancerre Red, Vieilles Vignes, 2006

100% Pinot from 50-60 year old vines. Nicely balanced with moderate fruit and an enduringly long finish. Great food wine, I think, although drinking a red with the name “Sancerre” makes you wonder a bit.

Viu Manent, Colchagua, Chile, Secreto Carmenere 2005

Who knows the secret? 85% is Carmenere but 15% is “undisclosed (secret) varietals.” This wine delivers a powerful nose with a slight earthiness, concentrated blackfruit, and a medium but sufficient finish. Just great stuff. I think the other grapes are Malbec and a dollop of Petit Verdot.

Viu Manent, Colchagua, Chile, Viu 1 2004

Front loader. Based on Malbec with a few percent of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in, this stuff is pretty tannic and slightly drying, with aromas of dark chocolate and maybe a little leather. Chew on this in three or four years and I think you’ll be very pleased.

Kate’s Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Napa light. This Cab from a tiny “garage” producer (1670 total cases) delivers nice fruit but is not overly bold like so many cabs. Look for some good things as this wine ages.

Peirano Estate, Lodi, California, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The un-Cab Cab. Don’t ask me why (I will find out and let you know) but they use three different methods of fermenting grapes from 30 year old vines. All you need to know, really, is that produces some interesting Cabernet that’s a bit more restrained than most from Lodi, drinkable now but still delivers a wallop of blackfruit on a dry and well-balanced base.

Peirano Estate, Lodi, California, 6 Clones Merlot 2005

United Nations. Truly a complex Merlot made from American, French and Italian clones. An easy drinking but not wimpy wine with red raspberry and red currant flavors. One of the few domestic Merlots I truly enjoy.

Arrayan, Mentrida, Spain, Premium (Red) 2002

A four-grape blend that’s simply over the top – powerful and concentrated with chewy tannin and solid blackfruit. 55% Syrah, 20% Merlot, 15% Cab and 10% Petit Verdot, fermented in stainless and aged in 100% French oak. These folks bottle and sell all the varietals that go into this by their grape names – smart marketing to Yanks if you ask me. The vines were planted only in 1999 on a 100-acre estate an hour south of Madrid, so look for even better things to come.


Dominic Frederic Lornet , Cremant du Jura Brut Rose NV

Spotlight. Dry and crisp with bright cherry fruit. The finish is too short and the wine’s fizziness is a bit startling but at this price point, why not?

Bruce Wayne Winery, Briana’s Blend 2007

Holy Cow, Batman! This blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Cab Franc is one of the best Meritage-style wines I’ve tasted this year. Aged in french oak for a year, the fruit comes from a high-elevation Napa vineyard. It’s named for two of the partners in Starry Night Winery, Wayne Hansen and Bruce Walker, and while those are Zinfandel guys through and through, they’ve done some marvelous, different work here. Deep ruby with a purplish tinge, the Cab Franc really livens and freshens the Cab Sauvignon base, and this very satisfying wine shows some of the nuance of right-bank Bordeaux through its blackberry and black cherry fruit. There were fewer than 800 cases produced so if you find some, buy as much as you can afford!

Dyer Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Disappointment city. Dyer says, in making this wine, that the “favor a restrained, balanced style that reflects pride of place rather than the latest winemaking fad.” Well, the fads I prefer are balance (it’s really not), enough tannin to hold up but not to chew on (reminds me of too-strong, freshly brewed tea that goes right to your gums), and subtlety without putting me to sleep. This has none of those qualities. The blend is interesting – 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot – but unfortunately the contributions I expect from the other varieties don’t come through here. The Dyer folks say the wine is approachable and ready to drink now, but I’d walk (not run) the other way. And at $15 I might say try a bottle and see if you agree, because some may find me far off base. But given that this retails for about $70, I’d experiment in another laboratory, so to speak .

Clos Julien Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Reserve 2005

The Cab version of “easy listening” jazz. Fresh, fruity and juicy cab…nicely balanced, and the deep, dark purple is misleading…this isn’t a concentrated Cab. It won’t get much, if any, better with age and it leaves you a little wanting; I got a very slight bubble-gum flavor. But it’s a good introduction to the varietal and the finish is remarkably long. And for $15 or so, it’s a value.

Chateau Lassegue St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2003

Classy lady of the evening, on the cheap. This fifty buck wine is as good as many others at more than twice the price. Dense but silky, ripe and rich blackcurrants and cherries with a tiny but perceptible bit o’ smoke. Drinks great now but I’d give it three years. Thank you Ann and John!

Far Niente Chardonnay 2005

Mr Clean. Crisp and elegant, this Chard from one of the priciest houses in Napa gets no malolactic fermentation and only one-third oak aging, and it shows. Yet it’s intense and satisfying without being overly sweet and cloying. More like a Burgundy than most California Chards I’ve tasted. Nice.

Clos Julien Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Paso Robles

Easy cab ride. A nice wine under 20 bucks that doesn’t overpower you with fruit and sweetness. More like a Merlot and a nice food wine to boot.

Morin Bourgogne Blanc Chitry 2005

Fine yet unfined (and unfiltered, too). Clean, crisp, flinty, and actually quite plain…and about as far from sweet and oaky American Chardonnay as you can get. From the village of Saint-Bris, near Chablis, made by a winemaker who was a DJ and radio announcer for 10 years. Interesting irony as this wine is not flashy and doesn’t “broadcast” anything but simple pleasure. About $12-14.
Healdsburg Vineyards, Jeanne Marie Chardonnay California 2005

Oak? Can’t touch this! Another restrained Chardonnay; only a fraction of this 100% Chard is fermented in oak; the rest is fermented in stainless steel and goes straight into the bottle. A steal at $13 if you can live without the smoke, sweetness and caramel. I sure can.

Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner “Gobelsburger” 2006

Wolfie (Mozart) would be so proud. The national wine of Austria is presented in a green apple and pear jacket, with nice refreshing crispness almost to the point of being “zesty”. You can taste the white pepper, too and the finish is refreshing. 14 bucks and worth more.

Chateau d’Oupia, Minervois Rose 2006

Cracklin’ rosey, get onboard! Tremendous stuff – Delicious fruit from a mixture of Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsaut, with a lovely color and a full body that delivers spicy pepper tones. Ideal late summer wine. $11 to $13 and a real bargain.

Shramsberg 2003 Rose (Sparkling Wine)

Open with this. Crisp yet creamy, built around fresh strawberries and grapefruit with nutty overtones. A luscious medium to long finish.

Chateau Beaulieu Coteaux D’Aix En Provence (Rose) 2006

Cheap charmer. About nine to ten bucks retail, and made from Syrah and Cinsault (and, I think, some Cab and Grenache for good measure), it’s pretty PHAT for a French Rose at this price. 12% alcohol.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1977

Spunky senior citizen. Lovely and aromatic, this delicate, almost fragile wine is slightly oxidized and showing that lovely red-brick color of wines on their way down. Plummy and leathery. Once it opens you’ve got about a half-hour and then it fades right in front of you.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Exceptionally well-balanced. Sweet and smooth tannins on a medium bodied, laid-back and earthy (but not dirty) Cab. Elegant but not memorable.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Subtle surprise. Very slight nose that takes a lot time to build after you’ve poured it. This is classic blackfruit of blackberry and plum with a hint of chocolate; full-bodied with fleshy tannins and a medium to long finish. Not the gem that Wine Enthusiast says but a lovely wine now, with a lot of potential.


NOTE ON BORDEAUX REDS: Left-bank wines are based on Merlot, and Right-bank wines on Cabernet. Good reasons for this: on the Left bank, it’s a little higher and cooler and the soil is clay, limestone and sand. On the other side, it’s a little warmer and the soils are gravelly. Both styles of wine use a bit, or a lot, of Cabernet Franc in the blend, which can lend a vegetal or green and occasionally “unripe” flavor.

Here are some really good, available, and value-priced wines from the premier wine region on earth.

Chateau Turcaud Entre Deux Mers 2006 (Sauvignon Blanc)

Fabulous Frenchy. Noticeable, bright green pepper aromas in a very pale straw color package. Crisp acidity, bright but not tart. Light-bodied but with a nice mouth feel and great balance. $11 and a value at twice as much!

Charmes Goddard Blanc 2005 (Sauvignon Blanc)

Horse of a different color. A richer, more acidic and slightly sweeter SB, with a round, creamy mouthfeel, vanilla aroma a hint of butter. About $31.

La Violette Cotes de Castillon 2003 (Right bank Bordeaux)

New world man in an old world body. This Merlot-based, medium-bodied wine is lean but not watery, with brisk acidity and plum flavors in a moderately aromatic package. $23.

Chateau Haut Maurac Medoc 2004 (Left bank Bordeaux)

Cedar chest. Medium to full-bodied, just reeks of cedar with underpinnings of blackfruit. A medium to long finish, this one is very appealing and at $21, a steal. Cedar should back off a bit by 2010 and then it will be superb.

Vieux Chateau Certan La Gravette de Certan Pomerol 2004 (Right bank Bordeaux)

Green machine. Made with perhaps 30% Cab Franc, this somewhat dense, classic Pomerol wine aged almost 2 years in oak will probably drink a lot better in three to five years.

Chateau Jean Faure St. Emillion 2004 (Right bank Bordeaux)

All grown up. This wine is ready to drink, with mature tannin, blueberry flavors and a slightly vegetal overtone. Jancis Robinson MW says it’s silky and I agree but it’s also a bit lean to me. At $35 a decent value but no steal.

Chateau Duhart Milon Pauillac 1996 (Left bank Bordeaux)

Chanel No 96. A burst of perfumes lays a dark purple carpet before this earthy, cedary treat laden with sweet blackfruit and polished tannin. About $65 and worth every “scent.”

Clos Dady Sauternes 2003 (Sauternes region dessert wine made from Semillon)

Sweet surrender. Honey and almond flavors, intense but not cloying with a wonderfully satisfying finish. $32 and a good deal.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Non-Vintage

Non-buttered toast. Round and creamy, with pear and melon flavors and that slightly doughy, yeasty nose. Great value at about $15.

Mt. St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc 2004

The first offering, just a bit inside. From the dynamic duo of Bill Davies of Schramsberg, and Tom Gamble of the Cincinnati consumer giant = Davies & Gamble. You may also know their stuff under the Source Napa label, which used to be Origin-Napa…it’s a longer story. Anyway, this SB is blended from cooler Yountville and warmer Rutherford fruit and it’s got your green apple and citrus with plenty of oomph. What is doesn’t have is that crisp, acidic edge that you know from New Zealand SBs. Not stellar but a nicely balanced wine that will appeal to most.

Mt. St. Helena Charbono Rose 2004

Tantalizing. This 100% Charbono rose is tart and very dry, with a pleasing rose petal aroma and flavors of strawberry, orange and cranberry. Nicely structured and crisp, an almost perfect wine for warm weather drinking. The Charbono grape, little known in the great USA, is related to Dolcetto and typically produces very tannic, high acid red wines. Davies & Gamble have done some really good work here!

Les Lauzeraies Tavel 2003 (Rose)

Popes from the middle ages may have liked this stuff – Tavel is a small village just a few miles from Chateauneuf du Pape in France – but I don’t. Very strong (and unpleasant) medicinal nose. The dried cherry and hint of watermelon flavors are negated a bit by a sherry-like and slightly bitter aftertaste. This just doesn’t fit with my idea of what a good rose should be. Only about ten bucks and tastes like…three. Skip.

But – see my review of the “prestige” 2007 version from August 6, 2008. It’s a completely different wine!

Burgess Cellars Lake County Zinfandel 2002

Lots to Like but Little to Love from Lake (County). This vintage was late harvested in the 3rd week of October, from old vines on gravelly soil. It is a medium-bodied but only slightly spicy Zin that dishes up sweet black cherry and plum flavors. A medium to long, slightly flat finish on a nice wine that, unfortunately, doesn’t stand out from a hundred other Zins I’ve had. Interestingly, I’ve seen prices ranging widely (wildly?) from $10 to $20.

Concannon “Assemblage” Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Assemble this! For centuries we’ve had Bordeaux blends and then from the left coast, we had Meritage. Well, now we have “Assemblage” and thankfully it doesn’t remind you of a Ford coming off the line at River Rouge. At 10,000 cases it’s not really limited so much but it is a very interesting example of the varietal – full-bodied, with blackfruit, spice and even a little smoke. A nice bargain.

Ballast Stone Petit Verdot 2003

When second best is good enough. This example of a little-known varietal can’t hold a candle (for decanting, naturally) to Murphy-Goode, but it’s outstanding nonetheless and at about $15, a huge value. Lush, with a nose of lavender and rich with plum, blackcurrant and a hint of chocolate. Way to go, downunder!

Cosme Palacio y Hermanos Cosecha (Rioja) 2004

All Tempranillo, all the time. Another bargain wine at around twelve bucks – cherry and blackberry flavors, a little bit of black pepper and very nicely balanced with a medium to long finish.

Montcigale Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (Rose) 2005

The Britney Spears of Rose. Looks attractive from a distance but there ain’t much there. Has a lovely rose-petal nose and lively color, but it’s ironically watery and rather harsh at the same time. Not France’s best showing…cheap and tastes like it. Good enough for Imus, though.

Chateau la Nerth, Chateauneuf du Pape, 2002

A bantamweightweight champion…light-bodied but powerful, opens with bright cherry flavors, pepper and spice, with a satisfying medium finish. Credits to Dr. Dan of Team Lebo.

KVW Pinotage 2003

Riot control: A pepper-filled smoke bomb. Medium-bodied and rich, plummy and juicy with a long finish and just enough tannin to make you notice.

Moondance 2004 Zinfandel

Zesty and plump like a Rubens, fleshed out with a little Petit Syrah. Enjoyed this immensely with some smoked Texas brisket at a decidedly different Passover Seder. Yee-Hava!

Dyer Diamond Mountain District Cabernet 2002

Like a fading Hollwood star — good but asking for way too much $$. I liked that it was understated and subtle, not at all a fruit bomb, but a bit thin on the finish and didn’t improve with decanting.

Vina Albali (Spain) Valdepenas Reserva 1999

Comforts like a fireplace on a brisk Autumn evening. 100% Tempranillo, vanilla, toast and smoke. Nice and easy.

Stags’ Leap Winery, Viognier, 2002

This little-known Rhone Valley varietal makes a superb aperitif wine, and Stags’ Leap* (which bills itself as the “original” so as not to be confused with “Stag’s Leap”) does it very well indeed.

Structured and full-bodied, the 2002 hints of pear and fragrances, and perhaps a bit of lemon. The winemaker uses malolactic fermentation to soften the wine and yet give it a mouth-pleasing acidity. For those of us who take no pleasure in overly oaked and buttered Chardonnays, Viognier offers a wonderful alternative as a way to start a meal, or in this case of a recent wine party that I hosted, a way to begin a bacchanalian orgy of imbibition.

*Carl Doumani, the original owner of Stags’ Leap Winery (he sold to Beringer in 1997), had a small war going for years with Warren Winniarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars over the use of the name. Lots of lawyers made money, and in the end, the area received its own AVA designation “Stags Leap District” along the Silverado Trail on the East side of the Napa Valley. So now several wineries use the AVA name and further confuse the issue for many consumers.

Puligny Montrachet, Les Folatieres, Gerard Chavy, 2001

This is one the finest white Burgundies I have ever tasted, last fall in North Jersey courtesy of the Meritage Wine Group. My host was the genial and enthusiastic proprietor of Township Liquor and Wine of Piscataway, NJ, Brian Hammill.

This wine has a bit more yellow color than most; firm and ample acidity without tartness; and massive fruit shining through, such that some folks might describe this wine as having a hint of sweetness. Nice long finish.

This is not a cheap wine, but I’ve found that the price can vary from as little as $42 to about $90. And it is a bargain compared to other ultra-premium white Burgundies. So treat yourself on occasion, and leave the Bin 65 in the bin.

Olivier Laflaive Bourgogne Les Setilles, 2005

This is just a tremendous white Burgundy, not merely an outstanding value. A crisp and refreshing Chardonnay, with all the best that the ’05 vintage offers in an “ordinary” Bourgogne Blanc. According to the producer, it comes from a blend of vineyards in the villages of Puligny-Montrachet (60%), fermented and aged in tank (en cuve) and Meursault (40%), aged and fermented in barrel (barrique). It has the flintiness that I love and a very long and satisfying finish.

About $15-19…a genuine standout at this price. Drink before 2009.

Trefethen Dry Riesling, Oak Knoll, 2004

The standard in domestic dry Riesling, as far as I am concerned. A little bit austere, since it does not undergo malolactic fermentation, but exuding the lovely citrus and floral aromas of this varietal. On the palate you get a bit of grapefruit and maybe a bit of pear but with that persistent undercurrent of lemon, and a crisp, tart finish influenced by a few percent of Chardonnay. Trefethen is located in the relatively cool Oak Knoll district, adjacent to my friends the Corleys of Monticello, and while I am not a huge fan of Trefethen reds, you won’t find better Viognier outside of Alsace, folks.

Bridlewood Viognier, Central Coast, Reserve 2004

This is a soft, perhaps even elegant Viognier that goes down nicely in cooler months during the miserable east coast winter. With a hint of residual sugar and a buttery character, the Bridlewood nonetheless expresses the characteristic melon and peach character of Viognier in a rich and lush package.

Lugana Tenuta Roveglia, DOC, 2003

This 100% Trebbiano came as a surprise; it ain’t the noblest of grapes, after all. And while I knew the grape, I wasn’t intimately familiar with the region, and had never tasted this particular wine until my sweetheart returned from a Shoe-la-la party and said her host had served it. So I went out and got her a few bottles; now I’m as much a fan as she!

This is what I would call a restrained, if lovely pale white wine. Aromas of peach and pear and a decidedly mineral quality deliver a subtle yet elegant finish. If you want an Italian white, put that sugary Pinot Grigio aside and try this one.

Chateau Gachon Montagne St. Emilion 2003 (Merlot)

An untamed thoroughbred. Smoky, fairly tannic, and full of blackberry fruit, you can also taste the greenness of the 15% Cab Franc. Medium-bodied with a moderately long finish. This one will improve over the next 3-5 years.

Benoni Merlot “Three Vineyards” Napa Valley 2002

Ready to drink. Just enough oak and tannin, and pretty lush for a Merlot. I don’t share the view of many reviewers that this is a true Bordeaux-style wine, but it’s not an overwhelming fruit bomb, either. Nice.

Domaine de Bel Air Pouilly Fume 2004

A New Zealand impostor. Very pale, almost clear. Strong grapefruit and green pepper on the nose, fresh crisp acidity and a medium to long finish.

Paige 23 Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc 2005

New world wine in a generously padded old-world suit. Pale yellow, with sweetish citrus aromas and perhaps a pineapple flavor, and no greenness at all. Soft and round, but perhaps a lit flabby. A kinder, gentler Sauvignon Blanc.

Jean Touzot Macon Villages Vieilles Vignes 2005

At $11 you can’t go wrong. Light yellow with a honey and lightly-buttered nose, and maybe some toasted almond, this is nicely-balanced, soft and clean.

Clos Julien Chardonnay San Luis Obispo 2005

A fence-straddler. A deeper yellow with a lot of butter and lemon, solidly medium-bodied. Noticeable but not overwhelming oak. Halfway between old and new world.

Las Rocas Garnacha 2004

This medium-body, deep plum purple wine offers up lush red fruit and nice acidity. A nice, medium-to-long finish may be a little rough but the overall balance is amazing in a wine costing $10-12 bottle.

Wine-Flair Rating: A Solid 7

Chateau Tour Prignac, Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2004

Most reviews of this wine are an example of the absurdity of reviewing a red Bordeaux shortly after bottling, or even in barrel. By nature these wines will be rough, tannic and green at that point, with their potential disguised or in doubt.

This one was said by Wine Spectator to be “best after 2004.” Duh. And as it’s well after 2004, this wine, having had a little time to age and soften, is already drinking very nicely. Of medium body, with aromas of plum and black fruits, and tannins that are soft and light. The finish is a little short for my palate, and this wine won’t hold up for more than a couple more years, but as an “everyday” red, it’s excellent.

About $14-17. Easy to find in NY and NJ.

Domaine Capmartin L’espirit de Couvent, Madiran, 2001

This is an amazing, wonderful blend but not for the faint of heart or palate. It’s approximately 40% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Fer Servadou. Until I drank this wine I’d never heard of Fer Servadou, which is more familiarly know as Braucol, or just Fer, and is used to soften the harsh tannin of the Tannat grape.

It is a deep purple, almost black grape and according to wine aficionados produces aromas of blackcurrant, raspberry and red pepper. This wine comes from the same region as the Chateau Montus Madiran, but is not as tannic as the Montus mainly because it’s a blend, while the Montus is either 90 or 100% Tannat. I cannot tell, and no one can tell me, it seems.

Make no mistake, though, this is a powerful and wonderful wine…and it goes great with Buffalo wings in my view.

Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella, 2000

This wine is made in the Valpolicelle district using the same varietals as in traditional Valpolicella-Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. But here they are harvested early and dried in boxes or on mats for weeks before being fermented. While drying, the grapes lose up to 1/3 of their weight, mostly water, which concentrates their flavor and results in a style of wine far different from traditional winemaking techniques.

The 2000 Cesari hits you with rich, dark fruit; the taste of prunes is clearly discernible, yet delicious. This wine has a wonderful, supple mouth-feel and the finish is very long and smooth. There’s tannin here but it’s not oppressive or even remarkable, it is subtle and balanced so that the fruit and spice come through. Maybe some notes of licorice and tobacco. I decanted the bottle, not really worrying about sediment but to aerate the wine, and over the course of a half-hour it became even more wonderful.

I suppose I should try some other vintages, but right now, I’m going to get a case of the 2000. You should, too. This retails for about $28-38 per bottle before case discounts.

The Poet, Cosentino Winery, Napa, 1999

This is a spicy, unusual, and thoroughly rich wine that I tasted at the winery in Yountville in January 2006.

This thing hits you with tons of black fruit, a hint of spice and supple tannins, and has a remarkably long finish. I don’t know the poet’s name (maybe its the winemaker, Jason Fisher), but the wine inside is poetry, for sure. If you can find it, it should run about $65 and it’s well worth the price. I decanted the bottle but only to aerate it.

PreVail, Alexander Valley Red Wine, West Face 2003

This rather unusual, deep purple blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with a smidgen of Cabernet France is one of the fruitiest reds I’ve tasted this year. In fact, it’s so fruity that one perceives a bit more residual sugar than is probably there, which is its minor flaw. But this wine is nicely structured, with aromas of red fruits, and lots of fairly polished tannin. Some fellow aficionados taste “road tar” but – thank God – the chocolate and spice flavors that I perceive are much preferred. Here the Syrah makes the difference and sets this wine far apart from most Cabernet and Meritage blends.

About $40 to $52, and hard to find. And it’s in one of the heaviest glass bottles – with the deepest punt – I’ve ever seen in a 750 ml still wine bottle.

Nederburg South Africa, Pinotage Western Cape, 2004

This wine, unknown to most Americans, comes to the palate with a more than a bit of earthiness reminiscent of good French red Burgundies, tannins that are a little rough but not unpleasant, strong cherry and raspberry flavors, and a medium to long finish.

This varietal is the result of an original grafting of Pinot Noir with Cinsault at Stellenbosch University’s Welgevallen Experimental farm in South Africa, at the hand of Abraham Izak Perold, in 1925. I think it’s ideal with game or Osso Bucco, and a moment ago I recommended it to a friend as an accompaniment to Cassoulet. We’ll see how it likes it, but I shared a bottle last night with three friends, and it was a hit entirely by itself once it opened up.

A nice bargain at about $12 to $14, and on sale for as little as $9.

Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Kosher)

A kosher wine that’s actually good…and not sweet? Yep. Of course, it’s also not cheap, at about $70-85 a bottle. But oy, wouldn’t you rather drink this at your Seder than choke down Manischewitz?

Covenant is a unique partnership in the Napa Valley: grapes from the Larkmead vineyard, a Kosher Crew from Baron Herzog, and the knowledge, skills and palates of Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd. Jeff, who was my instructor at the Professional World of Wine Course at the Culinary Institute, also makes a nice dry Rose called Solo Rosa, while Leslie owns one of the most elaborate wineries and vineyards around, in Oakville, in addition to being the Chairman of Dean & DeLuca.

Their wine, which is not mevushal – “boiled” – is a lovely deep purple, with solid underpinnings of blackcurrant and plum, soft but ample tannins and a long and satisfying finish.

Covenant has a second label, Red Sea, that sources from the same vineyard, but I’ve never tried it.

Lang & Reed, Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, 2002

I first tasted the 2001 L&R in 2004 at Suenos in New York; since then I’ve bought two cases and put another down (right now you can probably only get the ’02 or even ’03).

Like most Cab Francs it’s “green” by nature but ready to drink, and for those with a taste for this grape, it’s delicious. Now, this is a varietal that’s not very common in this country other than as blending wine and that’s unfortunate – but it does add wonderful aromatics to Bordeaux blends and so, but itself, it’s a wonderfully fragrant wine. Its herbaceous quality is more typically found in a Sauvignon Blanc than in a red, which brings us to an interesting fact: The bold and powerful cabernet Sauvignon grape is the result of a marriage of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc!

Anyway, if you are a red wine drinker and looking “for something completely different” (credits to Monty Python) try this wine. It’s a wonderful break from bold, fruity cabs and tannic Bordeaux.

Pedroncelli Vintage Port, Dry Creek Valley, 2001

Best Ruby-style Port I’ve ever tasted, hands down. Loads of black fruit and sweet but not too, this California wine is made from the four great Port Grapes – Tinta Cao, Tina Madeira, Souazo and Touriga – but in some ways tastes like a “Super Cabernet.” Enough tannin to give it backbone (it honestly could use a little bit more) this should drink well for years to come. But I keep pulling the bottles out of my cellar in the evening over the holidays…

Beaulieu Tapestry Reserve 2001

A blend of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc from Napa Valley vineyards. It’s got a fruity nose with a hint of petrol, black fruit flavors, and a medium to long finish. The tannins are just right in December 2006. You don’t miss the Malbec much in this Bordeaux knock-off, and it’s a very nice wine, if not a superb value.

L de Lyeth, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002 (Wine Bargain)

L de Lyeth (rhymes with “teeth”) is a medium- to full bodied Cab with polished tannins and lots of fruit, and a marvelous finish. It’s ready to drink now since it’s not overly tannic, but I suspect this stuff will be good for the next 3-5 years. A true Sonoma made from Sonoma fruit, this is a solid table wine that one can afford to drink every day, as opposed to spending $50 a bottle when someone gets married or, say, when a despotic dictator is placed in chains. Even the label and bottle presentation bespeak simple elegance.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild & Vina Concha y Toro, Almaviva, Maipo, Chile, 2001

This deep purple wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Lots of black cherry, black pepper and a hint of chocolate with excellent, soft tannins and a medium body…and a medium to long finish. Not super complex but balanced and with fine fruit. A very solid expression of the Rothschild style in a Chilean wine.

Bodegas Alberto y Benito, Gondomar Reserva 1999

This 100% Tempranillo from the Ribera Del Duero is a rich, concentrated wine that’s in it for the long haul. It opens with an earthy, almost gamey aroma and flavors of prune and blackberry, and I was almost taken aback by its tart, bracing acidity. My only complaint is that while the finish was moderately long, it was a bit thin. This is a wine that needs food to back it up, and in fact it improved markedly over the course of our meal, opening a lot and softening just a bit.

Macari Vineyards Bergen Road (Red Blend) 2001

A blend of 75% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. Aromas of tobacco and cedar, and flavors of blackberry and a bit of chocolate. Coming from Long Island, especially, this is an outstanding wine but at $40 it loses a bit of lustre. Labeled as a “Meritage,” an unfortunate choice given that Macari is not a member of the Meritage Society (though several New York wineries are.)

Corison Cabernet Napa, 1998

Wine-Flair Wine Rating: 8.5-9 points

I attended a wine dinner in New Brunswick, NJ last week at which Kathy Corison of Corison Winery served us a selection of her Cabs, including this absolute stunner, as an accompaniment to courses of wild mushroom and foie gras cannelloni, Berkshire pork belly and tuna, Espresso and chocolate braised short ribs, and dry-aged strip steak with marrow and bordelaise.

A remarkably elegant and subtle wine from a much-maligned vintage, the 98 Napa was dramatically different from typical rich and often overpowering California Cabs, and from all other Corison wines that Cathy poured. In fact, this medium-body wine could have been served without all this rich, high-protein food. Naturally, I’m glad it wasn’t!

The Corison 98 Napa offers up a hint of mint, flowers (violets, maybe?) and spice, just enough oak, and notes of black cherry. The symphony ends with a lovely, lingering and multi-layered finish. I walked out with two bottles (yes, I paid), and I had to lock myself out of my own wine cellar to keep from uncorking one that same night.

As my pal Jonny Baliff would say, “Well done, Cathy”!

Marquis Philips Sarah’s Blend 2004

This Aussie proprietary wine puts Shiraz (about 60%), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot in one bottle and does it very nicely. This medium to full-bodied, deep purple wine is rich and concentrated, with flavors of blackberry and black cherry, and a bit of pepper, licorice and maybe come chocolate. A touch too sweet for my taste, the long and spicy finish adds to a nonetheless outstanding wine and excellent value at about $15-17.

Wine-Flair Wine Rating: 7.5

Pinot Grigio Ramato (Italy), 2005

Ramato is the Italian word for copper, and this very light pink wine shines with a pale copper color while it delivers a strawberry flavor in a refreshing, dry style. This wine gives the lie to the notion that Pinot Grigio, a mutant of Pinot Noir (and also known as Pinot Gris), is produced only as a white. Just had a bottle with lobster bisque and prawns and it made a marvelous combination. Excellent value.

Oriel Femme Fatale Rose Bordeaux 2003

Dark…but not mysterious, this 100% Merlot Rose is perfect for summer but not light or frivolous. Thoroughly dry, ripe with strawberries and raspberries, and enough structure to stand up to the beef tenderloin I just enjoyed.

A medium-long and very satisfying finish. Imagine that…a rose from Bordeaux. Outstanding. About $20.

Wine-Flair Wine Rating: 7.5+

Brimstone Hill Vineyard Seyval Blanc 2005

Very little nose, strong citrus aroma, crisply acidic, medium finish. Worth a try; I bought a couple bottles to taste as home.

Brimstone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004

Young and green but promising. Lacks the earthy aroma that many Pinot aficionados enjoy. Black cherry fruit, nicely balanced and smooth.

Brimstone Hill Vineyard Merlot 2004

Presents typical varietal flavors and spice, a bit too acidic, may do ok after it ages and softens a bit.

Brimstone Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

This wine tastes nothing like my understanding of the varietal, with aromas of green pepper, prune flavors, moderately tannic, medium finish. Little body. Don’t bother.

Brimstone Hill Vineyard Semi-Dry Riesling 2005

Nice, not cloyingly sweet, perfectly balanced.

Other New York Wines

Rivendell Winery, SoHo Chardonnay 2005

This non-ML, unoaked Chardonnay opens with a slight petrol aroma, but delivers an intensely lemon flavor. Crisply acidic, with a medium to long finish, and a real bargain at nine bucks.

Rivendell 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Flavors of blackberry and a bit of smoke; light-to-medium bodied and a bit of spice. Interesting and enjoyable but not a good example of the varietal.

Vineyard 48 Sauvignon Blanc 2005

Reasonably well balanced and smooth, it lacked zest and did little for me. Not nearly as crisp as earlier vintages from this North Fork, Long Island winery.

Pellegrini Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2002

Light bodied, smoky, and crisp with a nice structure and black cherry fruit. Well done.

Baldwin Vineyards Mist diGreco

This blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Seyval Blanc (30%) offers an interesting earthy nose for a white. Lemon and butter flavors, a hint of sweetness, and a medium finish. Intriguing.

Baldwin Vineyards “Memories” Brut Sparkling Wine NV

Light, pleasant, 100% Chardonnay sparkler made in the methode champenoise fashion. Crisp and surprisingly “non-brutish” Brut.

Baldwin Vineyards Claret 2003

In Samuel Pepys’ day this might have been considered a great “Claret” but in 2007 it’s not. A blend of Landot Noir and Cabernet Franc, this wine is exceedingly vegetal and serves up a strong asparagus nose. Light and a bit flabby, this isn’t the worst red I’ve ever tasted but I can’t think of a food or occasion that it would fit.

Baldwin Vineyards “Joseph’s Vintage” Late Harvest Riesling

Pleasant, Kabinett-style Riesling. Floral aromas, pear flavors and a medium to long finish. Not sweet enough to be a dessert wine as advertised.

Benmarl Winery, Marlboro, New York

Benmarl Syrah 2005

A remarkably good wine example of the varietal. Deep purple; rich, dense and lush in the Aussie style, with crisp acidity, nicely structured, and a medium to long finish. So good I thought I was down under.

Benmarl Zinfandel 2005

Loads of spice, fruit-forward black cherry flavors, a bit of pepper, medium finish. Well worth a try.

Benmarl Baco Noir 2005

A very nice job on this varietal that most Americans have never heard of or tasted. Lots of smoke, black fruit and a medium to long finish. Reminds me of Charbono, another nearly-lost varietal.

Benmarl Chambourcin 2003

A hybrid whose parentage is in dispute, this vigorous grape offers vegetal aromas, dark cherry flavors, moderate tannins, and smoke. Mostly used as an “uncredited” blending wine but worth a try as a varietal.

Benmarl “Sweet Sarah” NV

After a taste, I couldn’t resist a bottle of this interesting dessert wine (using frozen grapes in the eiswein style) made from the Primitivo grape, which is the true name of Zinfandel. Rich and decadent, and a nice change from Port. Buy this one!

Benmarl Slate Hill White 2005

Nice blend of Chardonnay (50%), Sauvignon Blanc (25%), Viognier (15%) and Riesling (10%). Strong floral nose, peach and apricot flavors, lovely yellow color. Nice round texture and pleasant mouth-feel. Excellent.

Benmarl 2005 Chardonnay

Made with juice from Pennsylvania, classic lemon notes with a hint, and only just, of butter. Well-balanced, fresh, enough oak to please the typical American palate.

Benmarl Merlot 2005

An incredibly light Merlot, halfway between a red and rose. Cherry flavors, very slight tannin, short finish. Don’t bother.

Benmarl Pinot Noir 2004

Strong ethyl nose, almost no tannin, very light bodied, little character. Skip this one, too.

Covey Run Riesling, Columbia Valley, 2004

Mildly floral, this Kabinett-style Riesling is very well-balanced. Scintillating floral aromas and sopping with floral peach and pear flavors and hints of apple, butter and citrus. Easy drinking and at about $8, great value.

PreVail Back Forty 2003 (Cabernet-based blend)

This blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 3% Cabernet Franc is a rich, full-bodied wine that delivers up loads of spice, and hints of chocolate and mint. Moderately but not unpleasantly tannic for a young wine, it also has a long and subtle finish. I don’t think it’s worth the additional cost over PreVail’s (a Ferrari-Carano label) almost identical West Face blend, but a nice spurge nonetheless.

Equis Vinas Viejas, Sin Filtracion, 2004

The initial strong petrol aroma and tightness give way to a medium-bodied, lipsmacking number with bold cherry and blackberry flavors. The tannin is a little rough but overall this is a nicely structured wine that is drinkable now and will probably be much better in a year or two. Let this one breathe a bit or decant it.

Antihilia Donnafuguta Sicilia, 2004

This Sicilian gem is made from 50% Ansonica and 50% Catarratto. Almost unheard-of in the US, it presents aromas of citrus and melon, citrus and peach flavors and a nice finish. Reminiscent of Rousanne. Unusual and very nice.

Domaine La Prevote Sauvignon, Touraine, 2003

Decent Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. About halfway between the more mellow French and zesty New Zealand styles. Had last night with Sushi and was a nice accompaniment. Nothing special, but good value.

Pezzi King Chardonnay, Sonoma County, 2001

Overwhelming butter aroma, golden yellow from barrel aging. Not my bag, baby, but probably works for a lot of American palates.

Araucano Sauvignon Blanc, Chile, 2003

Pleasant. Fresh grassy aromas, strong grapefruit flavors and brisk acidity.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2005

Very pale straw color, strikingly little nose that dissipates almost immediately. Crisp, almost biting acid, tart lemon and pear flavors, and a medium to long finish. Interesting and different wine, but I’d only drink as a refresher in warm months.

PreVail Cabernet Sauvignon, West Face, 2003

This dense and powerful combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Ferrari-Carano helps round out that producer’s fine whites, alongside its sister PreVail Back Forty. I don’t taste the fraction of Cab Franc that’s supposedly in there, but I do taste the smoke and the fruit, with a nice balance and polished tannins. Drink now but perhaps put a few bottles down. Good on Don Carano for being wholly unsatisfied with his previous red wine offerings. Not sure, though, why he labels it as though he never heard of Ferrari-Carano.

Mulderbosch / Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (South Africa)

Pleasant grapefruit aroma, flavors of green pepper and asparagus, a bit too acidic for my taste (which is saying something), and a satisfying medium to long finish.

Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose, 2003

Mumm is NOT the word.

Instead, try this fabulous rose made almost entirely from Pinot Noir (with a tiny bit of Chardonnay), a cuvee of 13 base wines fermented in stainless steel, all the fruit from Carneros.

This wine almost glows with a deep salmon pink, as it exudes a pleasant strawberry aroma. On the palate it delivers more cherry fruit than toast, and while many taste an underlying citrus, I don’t. A slight initial perception of sweetness ends in a crisp finish. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points, but I recommend this one anyway! To truly enjoy it, sip it on the terrace at the Gloria Ferrer winery. For the view, just look to the top of this web page!

Sjoeblom Chauvignon Reserve, 2001

A Blanc de Noir sparkling wine, crafted in the methode champenoise…but made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon! Who knew?

Clean and crisp, with flavors of toast, cherry and a hint of raspberry, this is a truly unique beverage. I poured it at a recent tasting and had many positive and enthusiastic comments from people who rarely drink champagne or other sparkling wines. Available only from the winery,, as far as I know.

The downside? Try ordering from the website – I did most recently in December 2007 and it pretty much didn’t work, and blew up on me three times when I tried to complete my order and pay. They also tend not to answer the phone at the winery, and two of my emails went unanswered. For my initial order in 2005, Sjoeblom was eight months late in getting the vintage to market, keeping me and a lot of others waiting long after we’d paid. A second order in 2006 was also delayed and was blamed on some glitches in their shipping software (perhaps the dog ate their Internet connection, too). These would seem to be basics for a one-note winery that sells primarily direct-to-consumer, and they simply aren’t good at it.

But this is really unique stuff, so if you can get your order filled, more power to you!

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs Brut, 2002

Speaking of Schramsberg, this blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay from California’s “first family” of sparkling wine is a truly outstanding domestic sparkler. A nose of hazelnuts and almonds is followed by distinct cherry and noticeable vanilla flavors and a little bit of citrus. Very well-balanced with a tight, crisp finish. Superb. Try this one with cheeses, even a classic bleu or Stilton – it will stand up to the task.

In all my trips to Napa I haven’t managed to time a visit such that I could get an honest tour of Schramsberg’s caves, cut into the hills to the west of Calistoga by Chinese laborers in the 1880s…even when I pulled a few strings with Bill Davies, son of founders Jack and Jamie Davies and a winemaker in his own right. But it hasn’t diminished my appreciation of this wine.

Domaine Chandon Brut Classic NV (non-vintage)

This is great value in an “everyday” sparkling wine that can be had for as little as $10, up to about $18-19 (retail). Don’t pay more than that. Chandon Brut is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and delivers a markedly toasty, sherry-like aroma and a nutty flavor with hints of pear and malt. Solid but not bracing acidity and a nice, bone-dry finish. This ain’t Shramsberg, to be sure, but Chandon delivers consistent, high-quality sparkling wine from its caves alongside Route 29 in Yountville. One of the best tours in Napa, too, and lunch on the terrace there is one of my favorite things to do.