Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/6/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included more whites and reds, so lets dive right into some crisp fruity goodness. We can start with the Sauvignon Blanc from Acumen in Napa. I tasted through their reds the other week and sort of forgot this bottle in the pile, but having tasted those wines, I'm not surprised to find another competent wine, crisp with green flavors that won't disappoint fans of the grape.

Perhaps the most distinctive of the whites this week was the latest rendition of Vermentino from Troon Vineyards, an ascendant producer in Southern Oregon. This is quite a distinctive and characterful interpretation of the grape and one that I found myself returning to multiple times to watch it evolve. I highly recommend it as an outstanding domestic example of the grape.

Also on the slightly less common front, I've got the Pinot Blanc from Dutton Goldfield, which is one of my favorite of their less well-known wines. Some people see the slender, tapered Alsatian-shaped bottle and assume the wine will be sweet, but that would be a grave mistake. This wine is crisp and bright and worthy of any meal at which you'd consider a Chardonnay.

I've got a couple of very crisp Riesling's this week as well, first from one of the top historical producers in Michigan, Chateau Grand Traverse. Their wine is zippy and chalky with mineral overtones. You could say the same thing about Trefethen's Dry Riesling from Napa Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/6/19as well, which has a lovely delicacy to it.

Moving into the two reds this week, both are worthy. The first, a Malbec from the aforementioned Troon has all the blue fruit goodness you'd want from that variety, plus some nice stoniness that keeps it far from being a fruit bomb. The second red is another Pinot from Dutton Goldfield, this time their Fox Den Vineyard bottling, which is taut and lean and juicy and just what you want from modern California Pinot grown in a cool climate.

Notes on all these and more below.

2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells beautifully of pear and butterscotch and yellow flowers. In the mouth, notes of bee pollen and yellow flowers waft over a core of pear and asian pear flavors have a nice citrus snap to them, thanks to excellent acidity. Distinctive and compelling. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2017 Acumen "Mountainside" Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemon and apples. In the mouth, golden apples and a bit of lemon pith mix with lemon juice and a hint of honeysuckle. Green apple and lime juice notes linger in the finish. Good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30 . click to buy.

2017 Chateau Grand Traverse "Dry" Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of poached pears and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, citrus pith and Asian pear flavors mix with orange oil as the mineral-driven wine finishes crisp and dry. Excellent acidity. Lean and racy. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2017 Trefethen Family Vineyards "Dry" Riesling, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange oil and citrus pith. In the mouth, flavors of mandarin orange, wet chalkboard and unripe apples have a crisp, rainwater clarity to them with some very nice mineral undertones. Bone dry with very good acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2017 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Shop Block" Pinot Blanc, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, pear and lemon pith. In the mouth, beautiful pear and pomelo pith flavors have a crisp snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. A faint chalky quality lingers in the mouth with hints of quince paste. Very mineral-driven and tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Walker Hill Vineyard" Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, pineapple, and mixed tropical fruit cocktail. In the mouth, lemon curd, pineapple and papaya flavors are bright on the palate thanks to excellent acidity, and they are shot through with a whiff of vanilla and oak. Silky and quite smooth. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2016 Troon Vineyard "Cuvee Cot" Malbec, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet with purple highlights, this wine smells of blueberries and boysenberries. In the mouth, that blue fruit character continues with boysenberry and cassis notes set against a wet chalkboard minerality that is pretty striking. Faint powdery tannins show themselves in the blueberry scented finish. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2016 Dutton Goldfield "Fox Den Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit with a hint of citrus oil. In the mouth, the wine is juicy with sour cherry and raspberry and redcurrant fruit, plus a touch of green herbs. Faint but leathery tannins buff the edges of the mouth while citrus notes linger in the finish. Excellent. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.



Wine Reviews: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco

For the past five to ten years, I’ve read countless articles on the rise of Prosecco. It’s a less expensive alternative to Champagne, it’s gaining in popularity with millenial drinkers, sales keep growing, etc. And, today, Prosecco is indeed the world’s best-selling sparkling wine by volume — while Champagne brings in a whole lot more revenue.

Here in the States, I’ve seen a lot of Proseccos geared toward a younger American market arrive in my samples pile, and at my local grocery and wine shops. Especially around the holidays in the DC market, Prosecco was everywhere.

I’ll admit my personal bias up front: if someone gave me $100 to spend on Champagne or $200 to spend on Prosecco, I would not hesitate to snag that single Benjamin. And while Champagne-method sparkling wines are far more intriguing to me, sparkling wine isn’t a zero-sum game. And there are some good Proseccos out there.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene vineyards (Source: Prosecco.it)

A good place to start would be wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore appellation. This appellation earned its DOCG status in 2009. These grapes are sourced from the rolling hills of 15 different municipalities around the centers of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The soils here are composed of clay, loam, sandstone and other elements, and the wines show more depth and complexity than your typical Prosecco. Some Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines carry the special designation “Rive,” which indicates wine grown from specific hilly municipalities, from a specific vintage, manual harvesting required, etc.

If you want to find the cream of the crop, check out wines from the DOCG Superiore di Cartizze. Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation, these wines are sourced exclusivley from about 100 hectares on the steep hill of Cartizze, and I’ve found these wines show interesting minerality and a lot of depth.

I recently tasted through six Proseccos from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and gained some more appreciation for these wines, many of which show serious value. I received these bottles as trade samples and tasted them single-blind.

N.V. Sanfeletto Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
$12
Pale lemon color. Aromas of lemons, green apples and melon, chalk dusty, lots of sugar cane and dandelions. Zippy, light, fine bubbles, medium acidity, some nice creaminess to the texture with sugar cane elements. Lemon meringue, green melons, lots and lots of flowers (orange blossom, baby’s breath, perfume and clean laundry). Fun, fresh, nice and crisp and pleasant. 100% Glera from the Feletto area, 13 g/l sugar. (87 points IJB)

N.V. Le Rughe Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry “Rivaj” - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
$15
Light yellow color. Nose shows lemons, green apples, topped in honeysuckle, dandelions, sea salt, floral perfume. Light-bodied and brisk on the palate with yellow and green apples, lemons. Lots of floral perfume, baby’s breath, dandelions, some chalky notes. I get elements of apple cider and cinnamon as well. Lean but some fun elements here, and nicely balanced. 15 g/l sugar. (88 points IJB)

2017 Bartolomiol Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Prior Brut - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
$13
Light yellow color. Nose boasts white peaches, green melon, apricot, with honey and orange blossoms. Fresh and bright and light on the palate with a salty, mineral appeal that is more evident than in most other wines in the tasting. White peaches, green melons, nectarine, along with baby’s breath, orange blossom. Very crisp and easy-drinking but significant complexity. 8 g/l sugar. (87 points IJB)

N.V. Valdo Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore “Cuvée 1926” - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
$14
Bright lemon color. Bright aromatics with peaches, green melon, lemon curd, along with sea salt and white flowers. On the palate this is dry and bright with a salty, lemony approach, along with peaches and green melon. Perfumed, bright, with salted almond, chalky minerals, yet there’s a depth to this wine that is really attractive. (89 points IJB)

2017 Mongarda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene SuperioreWine Reviews: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco
$17
Bright yellow color. Aromas of peach nectar and limes, with crushed chalk, hay, baby’s breath and sea salt. Crisp and light on the palate, with a zesty, tart, mineral-driven appeal. Limes, peaches, guava, topped in saline, honeysuckle and sea salt. Light but complex, lean but lively, this has a lot of mineral and some oyster shell notes that really pop on the finish. Impressive complexity. 4 g/l of residual sugar. (90 points IJB)

2016 BiancaVigna Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Brut Rive Di Soligo - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
$13
Light yellow color. Lots of depth, with yellow apples, apricot, lemon curd, with chalky, bread dough and seashell notes. Brisk acidity, a bracing appeal on a light-bodied frame, with candied lemon peel, orange peel, green apples, with lots of crushed chalk, meringue, sea salt. Lots of mineral depth here, a nice salty, briny element, too on a dry, bright frame. I really like this stuff. Only 2 g/l residual sugar. (90 points IJB)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/30/18

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included A bunch of Chardonnays from up and down California. Perhaps the most striking of these was from Talley Vineyards, whose Rosemary's Vineyard Chardonnay from the Arroyo Grande Valley was lean and pithy and pretty racy for a wine that could have easily been made in a different style amidst that generous climate.

While we're in the middle of the state, let's also talk about the Chamisal Vineyards "Califa" Chardonnay, which is more of what you'd expect from that region of California, but it, too preserved some raciness with which to recommend itself.

Finally up closer to home, the predictably tasty Rued Vineyard bottling from Dutton Goldfield was pretty much what most people are expecting from California Chardonnay these days (provided they're not looking for the butter bombs of yore).

Before we move on to red wines, let's talk about two other whites. The first was a pretty Riesling from one of Michigan's best producers, Chateau Grand Traverse. It will satisfy fans of very dry Riesling and at a price that is eye-poppingly low.

If you'd prefer just eye-popping acidity, you'll enjoy the Albariño from Verdad, which is what might appear in the textbook next to "crisp white."

Moving on to reds, let's get the sole Grenache out of the way this week, but not off to the side. Stephen Ross' "Bee Sweet Vineyard" Grenache lives up to its name with charm and finesse. If you like strawberry, Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/30/18then look no further.

Several Pinots round out the list this week, with a few from stalwart Dutton Goldfield, the best of which was their Freestone Hill bottling, hitting all the right notes.

In addition, the Sinor-La Vallee Bassi Vineyard Pinot had a lot to recommend itself as well, with wonderfully bright fruit and ample verve.

Notes on all these and more below.

2017 Chateau Grand Traverse "Dry" Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of poached pears and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, citrus pith and Asian pear flavors mix with orange oil as the mineral-driven wine finishes crisp and dry. Excellent acidity. Lean and racy. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2016 Verdad "Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard" Albariño, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, lemon and candied grapefruit. In the mouth, lemon and grapefruit and honey flavors are electric with acidity and zingy across the palate. Crisp and bright and delicious. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.    

2016 Talley Vineyards "Rosemary's Vineyard" Chardonnay, Arroyo Grande Valley, Central Coast, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and grapefruit juice. In the mouth, tart grapefruit juice, lemonade, and citrus pith flavors have a bright, chalky quality to them. Gorgeous acidity keeps the wine vibrating and electric. Excellent. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.    

2016 Chamisal Vineyards "Califa" Chardonnay, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of preserved pineapple and lemon curd. In the mouth, strong pineapple flavors are tinged with vanilla and a bitter note of citrus peel. Excellent acidity, but the bitterness persists in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.  

2016 Dutton Goldfield "Rued Vineyard" Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and popcorn. In the mouth, buttered popcorn, lemon curd, and grapefruit juice flavors have a nice snap to them even as notes of vanilla and toasted oak waft by. The wood is well integrated, and the fruit quite crisp and delicious. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.    

2015 Sinor-La Vallee "White Label Bassi Vineyard" Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry flavors mix with green and dried herbs which linger with a faint bitterness in the finish like the tartness of plum skin. Faint tannins are barely perceptible as the acidity keeps the fruit fresh and bouncy across the palate. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $47. click to buy.    

2016 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Freestone Hill Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, exceedingly bright cherry and cranberry flavors have the faintest touch of cedar and vanilla to them with faint powdery tannins that edge the palate while the fruit vibrates with excellent acidity. Fresh, juicy and delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $72. click to buy.    

2016 Dutton Goldfield "McDougall Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit with a light note of green herbs. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit has a wonderful purity to it, with the faintest notes of pomegranate sneaking into the finish, along with the faint bitterness of pomegranate seeds and citrus peel. Excellent acidity and balance. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.    

2016 Stephen Ross "Bee Sweet Vineyard" Grenache, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and fresh herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully bright strawberry flavors are tinged with herbs and licorice notes. Excellent acidity and length. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.  



Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/23/18

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a couple of excellent Chardonnays. The first comes from Chile's Casablanca Valley, where the Kingston Family has been making wine since 2003. Now in their 15th vintage, the family has been improving their winegrowing and their wines steadily for years, and this Chardonnay is a great example of just how competent they've gotten over the years. It hits all the right notes.

The second Chardonnay demonstrates the heights to which Chardonnay is capable of rising in competent hands in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Robert Brittan is one of my favorite winemakers in Oregon, and this wine shows just how good he really is. I don't consider the apotheosis of New World Chardonnay to be something that tastes just like a White Burgundy, but it is so rare for West Coast Chardonnays to resemble their often sappy, saline qualities that I am always impressed when they can match those charms.

Before we move onto the reds, let's not skip over a textbook Sauvignon Blanc from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula, which does everything you want a Sav Blanc to do, but from somewhere that many people don't associate with great wine.

Sticking with Michigan for a moment, I was very impressed with a Gamay from Mari Vineyards this week, which smelled and tasted just a touch like patchouli. That's a scent that most people find overpowering, and for many, not pleasant, but it was a really surprising grace note in this wine that made for a distinctive and compelling personality. Mari Vineyards has been around since 1999, and its founder has made a name for himself planting grape varieties that are lesser-known and, in some cases, untested in Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula. This Gamay certainly would seem to reward that kind of experimentation.

I've also got two Pinot Noirs from Kingston, both of which are excellent but one of which, their "Tobiano" bottling, is quite likely the best they've ever made. In their first vintages, the Pinots at Kingston were dark and more weighty, but they have been picking their grapes earlier, experimenting with stem inclusion, and have ended up with some really elegant wines that I'm loving.

Finally, I've got a few Pinots and a Syrah from Robert Brittan that were good, but surprising for me in two ways in this vintage. First, they were on the riper side than I normally expect from this producer, though it should be noted that the 2015 vintage was warm in the valley, and generally made more concentrated wines, all things being equal. Secondly, these wines showed much more oak than I would have expected, and frankly a bit more than I wanted. Nonetheless, the wines are all very tasty.

Notes on all these and more below.

2016 Black Star Farms "Arcturos - Cappella Vineyards" Sauvignon Blanc, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet passionfruit and candied lemon and apple. In the mouth, passionfruit and candied green apple flavors are lively with excellent acidity. A textbook rendition of Sav Blanc that can hold its own against most international interpretations. Juicy and delicious. Alcohol unknown. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2015 Brittan Vineyards Chardonnay, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon blossoms, grapefruit pith and a touch of butterscotch. In the mouth, beautifully textured flavors of lemon curd, vanilla, butterscotch and grapefruit positively sizzle across the palate thanks to excellent acidity. Gorgeous wet stone minerality and resinous notes lingering in the finish mean this would be hard to pick out in a lineup of Premier Cru Meursaults. Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/23/1813.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Kingston Family Vineyards "Sabino" Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and grapefruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, juicy lemon curd and grapefruit flavors have a brisk brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. A chalky minerality surfaces in the finish, with notes of lemon pith and grapefruit. Excellent. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $27.

2016 Nicolas Jay Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
A cloudy medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and cranberry notes mix with raspberry leaf and a faint earthy undertone. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit bright, and fleecy tannins gain strength through the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2017 Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of faintly of patchouli and red berries. In the mouth, that exotic spice character continues, with red berry and lightly dried herbal notes lingering with sour cherry in the finish. Excellent acidity and really distinctive character. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.

2017 Kingston Family Vineyards "Alazan" Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of a bit of struck match and berries. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit mixes with briary green herbs and a nice earthy undertone. Faint, gauzy tannins increase their grip as the wine finishes bright and juicy. Excellent acidity and length. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2017 Kingston Family Vineyards "Tobiano" Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of redcurrant and briary green herbs. In the mouth, gorgeously lithe flavors of forest berries, dried flowers and green herbs are draped in gauzy tannins. Stunning acidity and purity, representing the logical conclusion of a stylistic evolution that Kingston has been on for the past 5 or so years. This is perhaps the best Pinot Noir they've made yet. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2015 Brittan Vineyards "Cygnus Block" Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and raspberry pastilles. In the mouth, the wine offers raspberry and cherry flavors that are surprisingly oak-inflected and somewhat riper than expected for this producer, though the warmer vintages may have played a role. Bright and pure in its fruit, with good acidity. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2015 Brittan Vineyards "Basalt Block" Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black raspberry and cherry and oak. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of raspberry and cherry are positively mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. This wine, though oak influenced, is holding its wood more than the Cygnus bottling. Lovely citrus notes linger in the finish with dried herbs. Faint, grippy tannins. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2015 Brittan Vineyards "Gestalt Block" Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and cherry and raspberries. In the mouth, flavors of oak and raspberry are held in a fairly muscular fist of tannins, while earth and wet stone flavors linger in the finish along with notes of wood. Excellent acidity, but I wish the wood was more subtle. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2015 Brittan Vineyards Syrah, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and oak. In the mouth, rich blackberry and black pepper flavors are tinged with oak and show the wood's drying tannins as the mouth feels parched and sucked dry of moisture. Very pretty flavors and excellent acidity, but there's just too much flavor of oak. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.



Wine Reviews: California New Releases

As the year wraps up and 2019 begins, I have one last round-up of new releases from California.

This week includes another batch from Lake County stalwart producer Jed Steele. I’ve said it before (a bunch of times), and I’ll say it again: some of these wines are so damned good for the money.

I also tasted two vintages of Calla Lily’s Audax Napa Cabernet. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard, first planted in 1995, on the eastern side of Howell Mountain. The vineyard is planted to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They’re big and bold, but I found them vibrant and quite balanced as well.

In this report, I cover the newest vintages of Chalk Hill’s Chardonnay, Louis Martini’s Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet, and some new (to me) red wines from Joseph Stephens, a winery in the Santa Clara Valley owned by the Silicon Valley Wine Company.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Eberle Chardonnay Estate - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $24
Medium yellow color. Nose shows bruised apples, glazed pear, topped in cinnamon, honey, almond and sea salt. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely, while plump texture holds up the rich apple and apricot fruit. Notes of salted almond, graham cracker, sea salt and honeycomb. Rich but still lively. Half stainless steel, half of the wine spends time in 25% new French oak. (87 points)

2016 Chalk Hill Chardonnay - California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $42
Light gold color. On the nose, I get a combination of rich honey, cinnamon, pecans, along with lemon, white flowers and sea salt. Full texture but medium acidity, creamy but crisp, with all sorts of apples, apricots, lemons. Complex notes of sea shells, salted almond, white flowers, and the deeper notes of honeycomb and toasted marshmallow are woven in well. Rich mouthfeel, lots of textural depth, but also maintains an inviting freshness. Full maloactic fermentation and 11 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Steele Wines Pinot Blanc - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Pale straw color. On the nose: peachy! Lots of juicy green melons, lemon curd as well, some orange blossom and clover. On the palate, precise acidity, this is juicy and fun with some nice textural depth, and flavors of green melon, key lime and lemon curd. Notes of orange blossom, perfume, new tennis ball, honeysuckle. This is sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard, spends six months in old French oak, and is a fascinating and delicious wine, especially for the price. (89 points)

2016 Steele Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Shooting Star - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Nose shows tart red and black currants and cherries with a smoky, minty, earthy element. Full but velvety on the palate, medium acidity, a bright and crunchy core of currants and plums. Notes of herbs, spiced coffee mix in nicely. Tangy and earthy finish. It’s hard to find California Cabernet of this quality at this price point. (87 points)

2016 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard SelectionCalifornia, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Rich purple color. Dark and juicy on the nose with sweet plums, currant jam, smoky charcoal and root beer notes. Medium/full-bodied with soft tannins, moderate acidity, and a chewy texture. Plums and currants and black cherries, ripe and jammy fruit, this is a forward, fun, fan-friendly wine with notes of cola, chocolate and vanilla. 100% Cabernet. (85 points)

2014 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Nose show juicy black cherries, plums, kirsch, along with sweet coffee, roasted herbs, vanilla and anise. Full-bodied with a plummy, ripe, juicy feel and velvety tannins, medium-low acidity. Plums and candied black cherries mix with coconut, anise, sweet vanilla coffee and some roasted earth notes. Forward, ripe, fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. Includes 16% Merlot and 4% Malbec aged 24 months in French and American oak. (88 points)

2014 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $85
Lively purple color. Beautiful nose of tangy red and black currants, sweet plums, lots of roses, violets, dusty earth, sweet cocoa, cedar – really gorgeous and complex on the nose. This wine is full and juicy but the acidity is lively and crisp, my mouth waters but the tannins provide serious grip. Tangy red and black currants and plums, really pretty, deep fruit, laced with complex elements of eucalyptus, dusty earth, clay, violets, with cocoa and espresso. Lovely now but shows lots of complexity and aging potential. All Cabernet Sauvignon aged 26 months in French and American oak. (91 points)

2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $70
Deep purple color. Rich purple color, with dark, concentrated blueberry, black cherry, along with anise, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, cocoa and earth. Full-bodied, significant tannins but it maintains a velvety feel, medium-low acidity. A dark, saucy style with blueberries, cassis, blackberries, along with notes of mint, eucalyptus, sweet cocoa, cedar. Rich and delicious but the balance lines up nicely here. Hedonistic now, but this could do some fun things over the next five years. Includes Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged 28 months in 67% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon AudaxCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $120
Deep purple color. Nose shows tart black currant, juicy blackberries (gorgeous depth of fruit), with complex notes of mint, scorched earth, cocoa nibs, violets, deep but vibrant scents in here. Full but not heavy (14.5% alcohol), held together with sturdy tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Deep, concentrated but tangy black currants and dark plums, the fruit is juicy but really vibrant, and laced with a nice mix of earth, mint, dark chocolate and cedar. Fresh enough to be enjoyed now, but strength for the cellar, surely. (93 points)

2014 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon AudaxCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $120Wine Reviews: California New Releases
Deep purple color. Concentrated fruit on the nose (black currant, blackberries and blueberries), with deep violets, spiced black tea, earth, cocoa and mint. Full-bodied, a bit more powerful in its presence than the 2013, but still vibrant acidity, and the tannins are sturdy but show rounded edges. Pretty depth of fruit (currants, blackberries, plums), but it’s still nice and fresh. Notes of anise, cocoa, earth, mint and cedar. Plush and forward but lively. This could use five to eight years in the cellar, but it’s a lovely wine. 14.7% alcohol. (93 points)

2014 Bootleg Wine Works RedCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Medium purple color. Heck of a lot of plums and blackberries on the nose, with roasted fig, smoky charcoal, vanilla and mint. Full-bodied on the palate, this wine is all about the velvety mouthfeel, medium-low acidity, along with juicy plums, black cherries, blueberries, juicy and plump. Notes of mocha, scorched earth, vanilla, roasted chestnut. Big and hedonistic but well-made and undeniably yummy. A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery Cabernet SauvignonCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $34
Light purple color. Aromas of spice tea, anise and cocoa underneath currant jam, cherry compote, with tobacco and magic marker notes. Full but plush, chewy yet moderating acidity. Plums and currant compote laced with chai, clove, sweet coffee, anise and cedar. Bold but vibrant, cool stuff from Santa Clara! Includes 10% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 30 months in 25% new American oak. (88 points)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery MeritageCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $34
Rich purple color. Aromas of saucy black cherries, dark plums, with a mix of floral potpourri, sweet cocoa, roasted and candied nuts. Full but suave on the palate with rich, plush tannins and medium/low acidity. Plummy, saucy black fruit mixed with cocoa, coffee, sweet pipe tobacco and herbs. Lovely, juicy, rich but accessible. 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 10% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Franc, aged 36 months in oak. (88 points)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery Merlot - California, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Gushing nose of plums, black and red cherries, along with cinnamon, sweet herbs and vanilla. Full but smooth on the palate, velvety tannins, moderate acidity, and plenty of currants, plums, raspberry jam, backed up with anise, violets, vanilla. Juicy and suave fruit but a liveliness pervades the wine, too. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, aged 36 month in 25% new oak. (88 points)

2016 French Bar Petite Sirah - California
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Nose shows sweet cherries, boysenberry, with cola and black pepper glaze. Full and juicy on the palate with fleshy tannins and medium acidity. Flavors of baked figs, plum cake, tart currants, mixed with coffee and cola. Fun, approachable style. Includes 5% Teroldego and 2% Petite Verdot, aged eight months in French oak. (85 points)

2016 Steele Wines Zinfandel Shooting Star - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $14
Dark ruby color. Aromas of plump plums, raspberries, juicy cherries, with roses, rhubarb and tobacco notes. Full-bodied but really vibrant, the acidity sings, and the tannins and smooth and velvety tannins. Lots of juicy, ripe but vibrant red berry fruit mixed in with tobacco, cocoa, mint and rose petals. Loving this ripe but crisp feel. Aged eight months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak. (87 points)

2016 Steele Wines Zinfandel Writer’s Block - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. Juicy and plummy on the nose with raspberries and black cherries, topped in spicy tobacco, black pepper, roses, rhubarb. Juicy and approachable on the palate with light tannins and fresh acidity, and a nice mix of tangy raspberries, plums and black cherries. Smoky, tar, tobacco and floral tones mixed in nicely. Vibrant and fresh but fruity and fun. Aged 12 months in 15% new oak. (87 points)

2015 Markus Wine Co. Domo - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $39
Bright ruby color. Lovely aromas of spiced black tea, anise, violets and earth over tart red currants and raspberries. On the palate, this is crisp and vibrant, medium-bodied, with velvety tannins, but packed with flavor. Plummy with raspberries and black cherries, topped in complex notes of anise, cocoa, violets, pepper, earth. Deep mineral notes. complex yet deep and bright. This is gorgeous. Carignan with some Petite Sirah and Syrah. (92 points)

Wine Reviews: Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula

This week, I’m digging into some wines from Michigan. The state has lots of vineyards, most of which are planted to juice grapes like Concord and Niagara. But, wine grape acreage has been increasing and now tops 3,000 acres, putting it in the top 10 states. Some 50 different wine grape varieties are grown here, with Riesling the main one, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown close to Lake Michigan, like these ones from the Old Mission Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The lake affects the winegrowing by extending the growing season, and it moderates the climate in the coldest months, which can protect against frost. The Old Mission Peninsula juts out from Traverse City, and its rolling hills are surrounded on both sides by the East and West Traverse Bays of Lake Michigan.

The nine wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula account for nearly 30% of the state’s wine grapes (and each winery is represented in this report).

I’ve tasted a decent amount of Michigan wines in the past, but this lot was the most impressive I’ve come across yet. The white wines have a brisk, vibrant, aspect to them. Just smelling a few of these wines made me salivate. I’m glad this lot focused less on reds. I love Loire Valley reds even in wet vintages, for example, but I’ve felt some Michigan reds can struggle with body and depth.

That said, I am stoked about the Michigan Gamay in this report. I kept revisiting it because it fascinated me, as a Beaujolais devotee and fan of Gamay from other regions. I was also excited to learn that, according to Michigan Wines, Gamay Noir acreage jumped from almost nothing in 2014, to 29 acres in 2016. I can only hope to find more Michigan Gamay of this quality.

You may be skeptical (and for good reason), and surely there are some uninspired wines from Michigan. But there are some seriously good wines out here. I would drink the Bowers Chardonnay in this report over pretty much any California Chardonnay at a $16 price point, for example. And, seriously, the Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling may be my favorite Riesling in America for its price. And even though this is a small sample size, I’m excited to follow how the rest of American opens up to Michigan’s wine culture.

The wines below were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Black Star Farms Sauvignon Blanc Arcturos - USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $18
Pale straw color. Zesty on the nose, with limes, lemons, guava, topped with nettle, white pepper and cucumber slices. Pleasantly light and fresh on the palate with crisp, zesty acidity and flavors of lemons and limes drizzled over guava. Notes of chalk and white flowers mix with nettle, mint and white pepper. A crisp, bright, vibrant, easy-drinking style of Sauv Blanc. (86 points IJB)

2017 Bowers Harbor Vineyards Chardonnay Unwooded - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $16
Light yellow color. Juicy aromas of green and yellow apples, kiwi, topped in yellow flowers and chalk dust. Plush texture, nice depth, but this is a bright and zesty Chardonnay with a salty, chalky streak to match the green apples and lemon curd. A cool mix of breezy floral and deeper honey and raw almond notes, with an underlying mineral streak. A pure, zesty, impressive Chardonnay from Michigan. (88 points IJB)

2017 Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $13
Medium yellow color. Aromas of juicy peaches, green melon, with a lovely flinty, mineral, chalky, mountain stream aesthetic, and plenty of flowers. Crisp and nervy on the palate, lots of texture and depth but so tangy, brisk and dry, too. White peaches, limes, lemons, mixed with complex floral and honey notes. Lovely stony, mineral, crushed shell aspect. I’ve enjoyed this producer before but this is an eye-opening Old Mission Peninsula Riesling. Crazy value. 10.5% alcohol. (90 points IJB)

2016 Hawthorne Vineyards Rosé - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $12
Light raspberry color. Smells of subtle red fruits and floral tones, raspberries, sour red apple, roses and some white pepper. Crisp acidity on the palate, this shows high-toned red fruit (crunchy red apple, tangy cherry), along with rose petals and white pepper. Fun, straightforward, tangy, stuff, not too complex, but well made. A saignée method blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Meunier, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gamay. (85 points IJB)

2016 2 Lads Cabernet Franc - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $35
Deep ruby color. Intense aromatics with tons of spice (black pepper, tobacco, clove) along with roses and tangy red currants. Dusty, light tannins on the palate with crisp, crunchy acidity. A leaner style with tangy red currants, red and black cherries. Lots of roses, pepper, sage, tobacco, over a constantly zippy aesthetic. Fresh, vibrant, interesting stuff! Includes 15% Merlot, aged nine months in a mix of French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $26
Bright purple color. Love the nose: tart cherries, red currants, pomegranate, with elements of earth, pepper and rose petals. Crisp acidity frames this wine so well, and light tannins provide enough structure, but this goes down easily, with juicy but tart cherries, cranberries and red currants. Notes of roses, violets, black pepper, black tea and mushroom add significant complexity. A spicy, tart, vibrant, fruity, eye-opening Gamay for me. This was the first vintage of Gamay from this winery’s Jamieson Vineyard, and if this is any sign, this is a wine to pay attention to in the future. (90 points IJB)

2016 Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $32
Pale ruby color. Bright and vibrant on the nose, rose petals, rhubarb, clove, white pepper, along with red cherries, cranberries, red apples, love the spicy edge to it. Medium-bodied on the palate with brisk, refreshing acidity and light, fine-grained tannins. Bright and crunchy with herbal tones that pop (rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper, clove). A bright style but shows some smoothness and velvety appeal, too. (87 points IJB)

2016 Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $27
Light purple color. Aromas of tart cherries and red plums, along with rose hips, spicy pepper, sliced bell pepper and smoky tar. Medium-bodied on the palate with zippy acidity and lean tannins, a brisk approach here. Tart plums and cherries topped in spicy pepper, anise, rhubarb and soy. Lighter, fresher, veggie-friendly style. A blend of 61% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc and 1% Pinot Noir. (85 points IJB)

2016 Peninsula Cellars Riesling Late Harvest - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $19
Light straw color. Aromas of sugar cane, white flowers, clean laundry, on top of white peaches, honey and spiced tea. Plump and rich on the palate, sweet and honeyed but crisp, vibrant acidity throughout, and the depth is impressive. Oranges, white peaches, apricots, honeyed and juicy but vibrant and crisp with mineral, chalky, floral elements. This is lovely, balanced stuff. 8.5% alcohol, 8.75% residual sugar. (87 points IJB)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/16/18

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week I've got the sparkling edition of my weekly samples review, just in time for your holiday celebrations (not that you shouldn't be drinking sparkling wine every OTHER week of the year, mind you). But I inevitably get e-mails from readers asking for sparkling wine recommendations this time of year, so what better excuse to open up all those sparkling samples for a taste?

Let's start with wines that aren't Champagne, as I've got a lot of Champagne to cover this week.

I've got two very interesting domestic sparklers to share. The first is a picture perfect rosé from Gran Moraine in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Gran Moraine is owned by Jackson Family Estates, and is a relatively newer brand in the Willamette Valley having replaced the Solená Estate Winery, which the Jackson Family purchased in 2013. This non-vintage sparkler shows just how serious they are about making good wine, and will satisfy anyone looking for a bright berry-filled glass of pink bubbly.

A bit farther outside the mainstream, let's look at the pettillant naturel from the Faith Armstrong Foster's Onward Wines brand. For those unfamiliar with this kind of wine, it is essentially a still wine whose fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is gone, and then sealed with a crown cap. The completion of the fermentation in the sealed bottle produces bubbles and results in a lightly sparkling wine. This one happens to be made, unusually, from Malvasia Bianca, which results in a distinctive "green" tasting wine that is quite tasty.

Let's move on to Champagne, shall we?

First, I received two very unusual bottles from a producer I've never heard of. That's because Arteis is a recently manufactured brand in the truest sense of the word. But that doesn't mean the wines are manufactured. Indeed, they are made by Jean Diot, a small producer who has been making Champagne since 1960 or so. The Arteis wines are made from older vintages and have a nice patina as a result. The rosÉ in particular is worth seeking out in its aged beauty.

I've also got two bottles from Jean Diot as well, both of which are classic in form and have a much lower tariff than the Arteis bottlings.

Do you like Pinot Meunier? Then you need to know about Champagne Michel Loriot, one of the best producers whose wines feature a lot of this lesser known grape variety that plays an important role in Champagne. I've got two wines from the Loriot family this week: their Theodorine rosé and their brut nature.

If we're talking about pink Champagne, we can't complete the conversation without a taste of Jean Vesselle's Oeil de Perdrix (literally "eye of the partridge") Champagne, whose faintly pink, citrusy bright juiciness makes it one of my favorites.

And finally, before we move off pink, let's savor the gloriously fruity and distinctive rosé from biodynamic producer Fleury.

I've also got some really nice bottles from Remy Massin, Pol Roger and the tiny organically farmed Pascal Doquet, whose Arpege Blanc de Blancs is a stunning example of the form.

All these and more this week. Enjoy your holiday celebrations!

NV Jean Diot "Brut Selection" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light bronze in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of freshly cut apples and sea air. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, butterscotch, and candied citrus peel. Good acidity, but the fruit is a little dried and bitter in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost $45. click to buy.

NV Jean Diot "Brut Rosé" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
A bight baby pink in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and a touch of watermelon rind. In the mouth, a thick mousse delivers flavors of berry and watermelon rind mixed with pink grapefruit and notes of citrus pith. Bright and clean with a nice snap. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost $54. click to buy.

2007 Arteis & Co "Brut Rosé" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
A light coppery pink in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and dried citrus rind. In the mouth citrus peel and a touch of autumn leaves are buoyed up on a silky cloud of mousse which leaves flavors of citrus pith, wet chalkboard and sea air lingering in the finish. Delicate and delicious with excellent balance. 3100 bottles produced. Disgorged April 2015. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $92. click to buy.

2004 Arteis & Co "Brut" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of crushed shells and parchment. In the mouth, a silky voluminous mousse delivers flavors of wet chalkboard, dried orange peel, pomelo pith and a touch of honey. Excellent acidity and brightness, with a nice balance. A chalky note lingers in the finish. 6000 bottles produced. Vinography Unboxed: Week of 12/16/18Disgorged April 2016. 4 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost $80. click to buy.

NV Gran Moraine "Brut Rosé" Champagne Blend, Willamette Valley, Oregon
The palest baby pink in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of bright berries and citrus peel. In the mouth, wet stone flavors mix with forest berries and a hint of watermelon amidst a silky mousse. Nicely balanced with a faint sweetness, this is exceedingly easy to drink. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost $50. click to buy.

2017 Onward "Petillant Naturel" Malvasia Bianca, Suisun Valley, California
Palest greenish gold in color with faint, fine bubbles, this wine smells of green melon and white flowers. In the mouth, a coarse mousse delivers flavors of green melon, candied green apple and white flowers with a hint of daikon radish in the finish. Unusual and distinctive and worth checking out. 12.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost $26. click to buy.

NV Michel Loriot "Theodorine Rosé" Champagne Blend, Vallee de Marne, Champagne, France
Light salmon oink in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of alpine strawberries and candied orange peel. Juicy bright and mouthwatering, it delivers flavors of berries washed in clear mountain spring water buoyed on a silky mousse. The finish tastes of cherry. 50% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir, and 15% still red Pinot Noir. 12% Alcohol.. 9 g/l dosage. Score: around 9. Cost $45. click to buy.

NV Michel Loriot "Palmyre Brut Nature" Champagne Blend, Vallee de Marne, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of honey and marzipan. In the mouth toasted sesame, dried honey, and candied citrus peel flavors have a remarkable and unique character. Bright acidity. Wonderful minerality. A blend of 70% Meunier and 30% Chardonnay. No dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost $65.

NV Jean Vesselle "Oeil de Perdrix" Pinot Noir, Bouzy Grand Cru, Champagne, France
Pale salmon in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of wet stones, rosehips, and orange peel. In the mouth juicy orange peel, rosehip, and hibiscus flavors are layered over snappy pink grapefruit that floats up on a coarse mousse. Long tangy aftertaste. 100% Pinot Noir. 6 g/l dosage. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $48. click to buy.

NV Jean Vesselle "Brut Prestige" Champagne Blend Bouzy Grand Cru, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stones, yellow flowers, and sea air. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful balance and crispness and a soft mousse. Deeply mineral with bright apple and pear flavors and a hint of white flowers that linger in the finish. 2011 base wine and a little less than 10% reserve wine. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay from Bouzy Grand Cru. 12% Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $85. click to buy.

NV Fleury et fils "Notes Blanches" Pinot Blanc, Champagne, France
Bright yellow gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and crushed shells. In the mouth bright lemony and pink grapefruit seem to burst on the palate amidst a cloud of fine froth. Incredibly juicy, phenomenally mouthwatering. Fantastically bright. Fermented and aged for about 8 months in barriques, with no dosage. Fruit form the 2010 vintage. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $80.

NV Fleury et fils "Rosé de Saignee" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light ruby in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of rosehips, hibiscus, and raspberries. In the mouth, gorgeously bright sour cherry and raspberry fruit have a lively bounce thanks to fantastic acidity and a cloud-like mousse. Delicious and mouthwatering. 100% Pinot Noir. 8 g/l dosage. Fruit from the 2009 harvest. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $50. click to buy.

NV Remy Massin "Arstide" Champagne Blend Aube, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with a slight bronze cast and medium bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, wet stones and white flowers with a crisp green apple brightness underneath. In the mouth green apple, pink grapefruit, white flowers and crisp pear flavors have a nice creaminess and a soft mousse. Crisp minerality leaves a lightly chalky dry finish. Nicely balanced. A solera blend of 1995 through 2007. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $50.

NV Pol Roger "Pur Extra Brut" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Pale gold in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of bright apple and honeysuckle. In the mouth, bright and crisp apple, lemon and grapefruit flavors are layered over a gorgeous minerality. Soft velvety mousse. Long lemon pith finish. One third each of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. The base vintage for this wine is 2011 with about 20% reserve wine from the prior three years, 2010, 2009, and 2008. Ages for 3 years in the bottle. No dosage. Score: around 9. Cost $50. click to buy.

NV Pol Roger "Brut Reserve" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Pale greenish gold in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of bright apples and pears with a hint of white peaches. In the mouth, flavors of white peaches, apples, and pears take on a citrus peel brightness in the finish mixed with green apples. Soft mousse. Contains one third each of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. Ages for 4 years in bottle before release. 2010 base wine, with 25-30% reserve wine from the prior three vintages.. Score: around 9. Cost $45. click to buy.

NV Pascal Doquet "Anthocyanes Premier Cru Rosé" Champagne Blend, Cotes de Blancs, Champagne, France
Pale pink in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of bright forest berries and a hint of wet leaves. In the mouth, grapefruit, redcurrant, raspberries and wet stone blend together with a beautiful earthy complexion. A soft, velvety mousse floats across the palate and finishes with a lovely aromatic sweetness. A blend of 2010 and 2011. 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay. Score: around 9. Cost $70. click to buy.

NV Pascal Doquet "Arpege Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs" Chardonnay, Champagne, France
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of bright wet chalkboard, pink grapefruit, and white flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous bright lemony and pink grapefruit juice mix with wet chalkboard and wonderful crushed stones. A blend of 2011 and 2010 base wines. 23% is aged in wood. 4 g/l dosage. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $60. click to buy.



Wine Reviews: Year-End Round-Up

Happy holidays, wine-lovers! I sure hope your holidays are filled with friends, family, fun, and plenty of good wine. As the year wraps up, I have a bunch of wines that didn’t fit neatly into a particular category, so I wanted to include them in my final grab bag report of 2018. And this one has some goodies.

Starting with Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet: Their vineyards, in the Andes foothills appellation of Tupungato, sit in gravelly, sandy soils at about 4,000 feet in elevation. The wines have lots of juicy fruit but the freshness is really attractive, and the balance and depth for their prices is quite impressive.

Ferraton Père & Fils deliver yet again with a pair of sub-$20 Rhone blends, a white and a red, which offer up a lot of class and style in this price point. At $30, M. Chapoutier’s new vintage of the Occultum Lapidem red blend is insanely good, deep, and cellar-worthy.

Italy’s Abruzzi region has a few value-friendly wines in this report, as well as an Amarone that would pair perfectly with a snowstorm and a campfire. Portugal’s Douro provides a few tasty red blends in this report, while I’ve included three American reds from Inconceivable. Lastly, Troon, from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, comes through again with an excellent pair of Tannat-based reds. They excel with all sorts of grapes and wines, and I loved these reds for their uniquely fresh, crunchy, lip-smacking appeal.

All of these wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Reserve- Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP $18
Medium yellow color. Nose shows honey, peanut brittle, almond and ginger on top of yellow apples and apricots. Plump and rich texturally, but zesty acidity, and the balance is quite nice. Juicy apples and apricot mixed with graham cracker, almond, honeyed white tea, with salty, floral tones, too. Rich but fresh, a nice combination of elements here, this is delicious and good for the price. (88 points)

2017 Domaine Bousquet Malbec Reserve- Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $18
Rich purple color. Deep and saucy but bright with spiced cranberry sauce, fig paste, smoky blackberries, with pipe tobacco, charcoal pit, and sweet, spiced black tea – lots going on here. Rich texture, velvety tannins, the acidity is vibrant. Tangy black cherries, plum, cranberry jam, with lots of herbal, earthy, spicy elements, an underlying mineral, floral aesthetic. Toffee and cocoa notes woven in nicely. Lots on offer here, but it’s still fresh, fun, and easy-drinking style for consumption over the next few years. Includes 5% apiece of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, aged 10 months in French oak. (90 points)

2017 Ferraton Père & Fils Côtes du Rhône Blanc Samorëns- France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
SRP: $16
Light yellow color. Juicy peaches and guava, some lemon crème pie, sea salt and honey. Juicy, plump, waxy texture but fresh acidity. Yellow apples, peaches, guava, the fruit is topped in flowers, honey, hay, sea salt. All elements woven in quite nicely, and there’s a delicious mineral kick on the zesty finish. A blend of Clairette and Grenache Blanc. Solid value, loving the freshness. (88 points)

2017 Ferraton Père & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge Plan de Dieu- France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Super spicy on the nose, with sage, menthol, black pepper, bay leaf, scorched earth, over top of raspberries and black cherries. Suave and velvety on the palate, medium/full-bodied with moderating acidity. Raspberries, black cherries, plum sauce, the fruit is mixed with anise, pepper, earth and leather. Lots of interesting flavors here, this is really nicely done for the price. 65 % Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre. (88 points)

2016 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Nose of concentrated black currants and dark plums, mixed with lots of violets, menthol, anise, grilled herbs, some leather and pepper, too. Serious grip from the tannins but the acidity is lovely and balancing, and the black fruit is dark and deep but crunchy. Lots of black pepper, sage, mint, coffee anise, this is packed with depth and flavor but stays fresh. This has the stuffing to age and improve for at least a decade. 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Carignan from vines averaging 60 years old. (92 points)

2017 Fattoria La Valentina Pecorino- Italy, Abruzzi, Colline Pescaresi IGT
SRP: $16
Deep yellow color. Aromas of pineapple, lemon, papaya, with some flowers and honey. Juicy and plump on the palate with crisp acidity, and flavors of pineapple, apricot and lemon cake. Notes of sea salt, minerals, whipped honey and almond, this is rich and deep but stays lively and crisp, too. Complexity is impressive. All stainless steel. (89 points)

2015 Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo- Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
SRP: $14
Rich purple color. Plump and juicy on the palate with plump black cherries, cassis, coffee, vanilla. Chewy texture on the palate with medium/light tannins and moderating acidity. Juicy black cherries, plums, topped in smoke, earth, coffee and vanilla. Juicy, accessible, fun stuff. Mostly stainless steel with some Slavonian oak. (86 points)

2015 Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva Spelt- Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
SRP: $21
Light purple color. Aromas of dark cherries, plums, blackberry, along with earthy, dark flower petals, clove, some leathery notes. Smooth texture on the palate, dusty tannins with moderating acidity, fresh black cherries and plums abound. I get notes of smoky charcoal, leather, mint, clove and earth. Some floral and savory elements on the finish. This is in a good place now but could do well with a few more years. Aged 16 months in Slavonian oak. (90 points)

2013 Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella- Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. The nose shows lots of roasted plums and figs, cassis, violets, and some cool incense, coffee, earth and peppery notes. Full and rich, grippy but not too heavy or harsh, with some medium acidity for balance. Suave but tart black cherries, raisings and roasted figs, backed up with black licorice, coffee, cedar and dark chocolate. Impressive depth, but not heavy, this shows some interesting earthy, savory elements on the finish as well. Cellar-worthy but surprisingly accessible in its youth. 65% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Corvinone and 5% Negrara. (90 points)

2016 Dow Douro Reserva Vale do Bomfim- Portugal, Douro
SRP: $13
Deep purple color. Nose is deep and dark with roasted plums, blackberries, violets, earth, warm black tea. Juicy on the palate, a medium/full-bodied frame with velvety tannins and lively acidity. Dark, saucy fruit (plums and black cherries) mixed with dark chocolate, violets, loamy earth, charcoal. Warm, lovely, dark and earthy but vibrant, this is so good at this price point. (88 points)

2015 Quinta do Vesuvio Douro Pombal do Vesuvio- Portugal, Douro
SRP: $28
Rich purple color. Nose shows lots of plums, black cherries and blackberries, topped in vanilla, cocoa, but also soy and spicy herbs. The palate shows structured tannins (not harsh), moderating acidity, and lots of tangy black cherries and cassis. Quite complex in terms of the pepper, earth, sage, smoky charcoal and mineral tones. Showing well now but will improve over the next few years. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Naciona and Tinta Amarela, aged 10 months in French oak. (89 points)

2015 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir- California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Medium ruby color. Bright red and juicy black cherries, along with sweet raspberry, cola, with cocoa, mint and sweet tobacco. Juicy but really fresh on the palate, with vibrant acidity and smooth, light tannins. Red cherries and juicy plums, tangy but plump fruit, mixed in with notes of roasted chestnut, mint, eucalyptus, cola and roses. A lot going on here for the price. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (88 points)

2016 Troon Vineyard Tannat- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $40Wine Reviews: Year-End Round-Up
Deep purple color. Tart but deep on the nose, with tangy black cherries, dark plums, and loaded with lavender, violets, roses, inky and coffee and clove. Full-bodied with some serious grip to the tannins, but moderated by lovely acidity. Tart black cherries, cassis, lovely fruit mixed with complex notes of flowers, potpourri, clove, anise, rocky earth. Long, full, complex, I’m stoked to see what this does with five years or so in the cellar. Aged 18 months in mature oak. (90 points)

2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Pyrénées- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP: $60
Bright purple color. Aromas of tart blackberries, sour cherries, black currant, raspberry, such bright and lively fruit mixed in with sage, violets, clove, warm leather and herbs. Crisp and lively acidity from start to finish on the palate, with velvety tannins and vibrant red and black fruit (currants, plums, raspberries), laced with savory herbs, lots of violets and floral potpourri. Deep earthy, mineral element here, too. Vibrant and delicious now but I’d be interested in what this does over the next few years. Tannat and Malbec, co-fermented, aged 18 months in old oak. (91 points)

2014 Inconceivable Wines Cabernet Sauvignon- Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose shows tangy black cherries and juicy plums, I get a nice mix of earth, cocoa, cedar and eucalyptus. Full-bodied (14.5%) with slightly chewy tannins and medium acidity. Tangy black currants and cherries, nice zip to the fruit. Mixed in with tobacco, earth, charcoal and some moderate cocoa and cedar. Fun stuff, accessible but nice complexity as well. Includes some Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, this wine spends 23 months in a mix of used and new French oak. (88 points) 

2014 Inconceivable Wines Red- Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose boasts juicy plums and sweet black cherries, along with a nice mix of tobacco, smoky charcoal, pepper and earth. Full-bodied and smooth, light grip to the tannins, not harsh but nice structure, medium acidity, all balanced quite well. Plums, blackberries and tart black cherries mix with tobacco, pepper, leather, soy, some cocoa and vanilla. Complexity and balance is really impressive at this price point. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier. (90 points)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/9/18

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included big reds from here, there, and everywhere.

Let's start farthest from home in the rolling hills of Australia's McLaren Vale, where Hickenbotham Clarendon vineyard has a couple of their flagship wines to offer. Their first, a Shiraz, is in classic McLaren Vale form, and other than a bit too much oak, offers a juicy, tasty mouthful of fruit. Their second wine leans a little more savory, but the plummy flavors of Merlot are quite pleasing, albeit with that same surfeit of oak to contend with.

While many may know that Virginia grows grapes, few are aware that it's been growing the vitis vinifera grape vine since 1619. In celebration of the upcoming 400th anniversary of the planting of French grapes on American soil, 16 different wineries in Virginia have collaborated to make a wine they're calling Virginia's Heritage, a blend of mostly 2016 wines in a quantity of no more or less than 10,000 bottles, one for each of the grapevines initially planted by colonists in their attempts to make a home in the New World so long ago. It's a cool little project, and a fun little wine to try, especially if you've not had wines from Virginia.

Closer to home I've got two more wines from Bill Easton, one of the original Rhone Rangers, who plies his craft in the Sierra Foothills with consistently pleasing results. Here we've got a well-aged example of his Barbera and a very nice Zinfandel as well.

Finally, from Napa, I've got the remaining two wines in the Acumen portfolio that I've been tasting over the past few weeks, and they, like the rest of that producer's wines, are worth seeking out, especially as these are somewhere around half the price of their single-vineyard cousins.

All these and more this week. Enjoy!

2015 Hickenbotham Clarendon Vineyard "Brooks Road" Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry pie and a touch of earth. In the mouth, rich and deep blackberry and boysenberry flavors have a touch of woody vanilla that accompanies the muscular tannins that grip the palate. Significant wood. Decent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $81. click to buy.

2015 Hickenbotham Clarendon Vineyard "The Revivalist" Merlot, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/9/18plummy, minty chocolate. In the mouth, plum and cherry flavors mix with a touch of black olive and oak, whose stiff tannins firmly grip the edges of the palate. Good acidity but somewhat woody for my taste. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $81. click to buy.

2011 Easton "Cooper Ranch" Barbera, Shenandoah Valley, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in color but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of leather and raisins and a touch of candied citrus. In the mouth, brown sugar, candied orange peel and dried berries mix with a velvety smooth texture. Tastes a bit ripe and raisined. But decent acidity makes it easy to drink. A hint of herbs emerges on the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ 28. click to buy.

2012 Easton "Rinaldi Vineyard Old Vine" Zinfandel, Fiddletown, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium to dark ruby in color with a hint of garnet still left in it, this wine smells of blackberries and black pepper. In the mouth, beautiful black pepper and licorice and blackberry fruit mix with a hint of cedar and camphor wood. Faint, tacky tannins still flex their muscles as notes of brown sugar linger in the finish. Delicious and perfectly aged. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2016 Troon Vineyard "Cuvee Pyrenees" Red Blend, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather and violets and blueberries. In the mouth, bright blueberry and cassis fruit mix with floral notes and are lifted by excellent, juicy acidity. Barely perceptible tannins strengthen through the finish, and a wonderful rocky aspect lingers on the palate. A blend of 62% Tannat and 28% Malbec. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

NV Virginia's Heritage Red Blend, Virginia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and a touch of lamb's wool. In the mouth, that lanolin quality continues with cherry and cedar notes. Bits of licorice and oak linger in the finish. Fine tannins. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. 10,000 bottles made from a blend of wines donated by 16 Virginia wineries, in commemoration of the first vitis vinifera vines planted in Virginia, 400 years ago in 1619. Mostly from the 2016 vintage. Alcohol not stated. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2016 Ramey Wine Cellars "Claret" Red Blend, Napa Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf and cola. In the mouth, cherry cola and cocoa powder mix with boysenberry and a faint hint of citrus peel. Muscular tannins emerge on the finish. Good acidity and length. A blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 8% Syrah, and 2% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2014 Acumen "Mountainside" Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cherry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cola nut flavors mix with a touch of hazelnut spread as fine grained tannins coat the mouth. Excellent acidity and incredibly well-integrated wood. The tannins gain strength as the finish lingers with hints of roasted coffee. A blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2014 Acumen "Mountainside" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet, pure cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is juicy with acidity and mixes with notes of plum skin and a touch of cedar. Lovely balance and very aromatic. Contains 7% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2015 Gratus Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and toffee. In the mouth, sweet cherry fruit mixes with cola and licorice notes. Decent acidity keeps the fruit bright, and a gauzy wrap of tannins surrounds the bright core. Well integrated wood doesn't poke out from the seamless whole. High-toned, but pleasant. Big heavy bottle, etched label, and back label written (pretentiously and entirely) in latin round out the package. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75.



Wine Reviews: Sparkling Wines for the Holidays

So, the holiday season is in full swing, and, like every year, the bubbles abound.

I drink Champagne (and, to a lesser extent, Champagne-method bubbles from other regions) year-round, but the average occurrence of bubbly-popping definitely spikes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

In this report, Champagne gets its due, with some wines from the houses of Bruno Paillard and Laurent Perrier. Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma bubbly powerhouse, offers up three budget-friendly offerings, and a Santa Barbara sparkler from Lucas & Lewellen impresses. Lastly, a few sparklers from Alsace deliver — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favorite sources of inexpensive but delicious sparkling wines, and this duo is a great example.

All of the wines in this report were received as samples and tasted sighted. Happy holidays to you all, and I hope the last few days of your 2018 include some lovely Champagne-method wines.

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Light copper color. Nose shows lemons, grapefruit, sea salt, white flowers, some musk notes. Crisp and bright on the palate with fresh acidity, fine bubbles, and very light biscuit notes. Green apples, apricots, wild strawberries, backed up with chalk dust and floral perfume notes. Fresh, bright, these are fun, accessible bubbles for the price. Mostly Pinot Noir with about 14% Chardonnay. (87 points)

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Pale copper color. Smells fresh and bright with red apples, raspberries, rose hips and some salted biscuits. Fresh and crisp with a salty, zippy, light appeal. Raspberries, red apple and lemon mix with white flowers, white pepper and sea salt notes. Some sugar adds to the texture and flavor, but it stays fresh and fun for the price. Includes a bit of Chardonnay, this spends 18 months on the lees. (87 points)

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. Aromas are tart and tangy with limes and green apples, light biscuits, sea salt, with some nettle and honeysuckle. Light and zesty on the palate with fine bubbles, this is fun and fresh with lines and green apples. Saline, chalk, lots of white flowers. Fresh and fun but significant complexity, this is a solid bubbly for holiday parties for sure. Aged two years on the lees, 100% Chardonnay. (88 points)

2016 Lucas & Lewellen Brut - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $36
Deep yellow color. Nose shows a bunch of honey and graham cracker on top of yellow apples, apricots, and floral perfume. Ooh, this is nice on the palate, some rich texture with honeyed, baked apple elements nice hint of sweetness to the fruit but a brisk appeal. Flowers, graham crackers, honey, chalk, sea salt and toasted bread. A lot of flavor, depth and appeal here. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay. (90 points)

N.V. Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Réserve - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $19
Deep yellow color. On the nose, lots of chalk, sea salt, crushed shells, with lemons, green apples, ginger and baguette notes. Super bright and zesty but some plumpness as well. Crunchy green apples, lemons, limes, doused in chalk, limestone and mountain stream. Ginger, musk, mineral, toasted baguette notes, all of this combines in a bracing but richly textured Crémant that is surprisingly good for the money. 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Pinot Auxerrois. (89 points)

N.V. Keuntz-Bas Crémant d’Alsace Brut Tradition - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $18
Deep yellow color. The aromas show lots of honey, salted almond, biscuits, spiced white tea, with apricot and yellow apples. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely but there’s a nice honeyed, biscuity richness as well. Bruised apple and apricot topped in honeyed tea, ginger, sea salt, minerals. Rich but zesty, lovely balance and complexity here, especially when you consider the price point. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc aged 18 months on the lees. (89 points)

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Brut Nature “Ultra Brut” France, Champagne
SRP: $80
Medium yellow color. Lots of yellow apples, apricots, lemon curd, with rich honey, toasted biscuits and salted butter, but also bright chalk and sea salt notes. Precise and brisk on the palate with focused acidity but plenty of texture and depth. Apricots, yellow apples, lemons, laced with sea salt, crushed shells, with rich, deep notes of honey, ginger snap, toasted biscuits. The focus, precision and minerality is really impressive, this wine is lip-smackingly tasty with significant complexity. 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, no dosage, aged six years on the lees. (91 points)

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Harmony Demi-Sec - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Medium yellow color. Nose shows rich honey, apricot marmalade, candied ginger and apple peel, some sea salt biscuit notes. Plump and sweet on the palate but shows vibrancy throughout, sugar cane and candied apple notes mix with chalk, dried flowers and limestone. This is rich and sweet but shows liveliness as well, and would pair nicely with pastries or after-dinner cheeses. 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier, 45 g/l dosage. (89 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Rich yellow color. Nice mix of chalk, limestone, flowers, with lemons, apricots, and notes of biscuits and toasted almond. Brisk and vibrant on the palate with clean, crisp acidity and lots of minerals and chalk and crushed shells. Flavors of lemons, orange, apricot mix with biscuits, flowers, ginger, and minerals. Lovely, as usual, from Bruno Paillard. From 32 different villages, vinified separately, this wine consists of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, with at least 25% reserve wine. Disgorged Sept. 2017. (90 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Deep yellow color. Brisk nose of sea salt, crushed chalk, white flowers and fresh biscuits on top of lemon curd, green apple, apricot. Pretty, clean and crisp on the palate with salty minerals and high acidity, but some nice depth and texture throughout. Lemon, crunchy apricot and green apples mixed with honey, chalk, mountain streams and minerals. Dry, crunchy, vibrant. Aged four years on the lees, with a 5 g/l dosage. Disgorged October 2016. (91 points)