Rose Champagne at the Wine Media Guild

This article was originally published on

By Christopher Matthews

Cross one of the bucket list…  

After years of work conflicts and scheduling bad luck, I finally made it to one of Ed McCarthy’s annual December Champagne tastings for the Wine Media Guild of New York (WMG)!

WMG Logo

And after whiffing so many times on this yearly event, things actually worked out in my favor, given Ed’s choice of theme this year: Rosé Champagnes, with a record number of Champagnes to sample (22 in all).


Ed McCarthy, Mr. Champagne, in his element

Ed happens to be one of America’s foremost authorities on Champagne, and the author of the James Beard Award-nominated Champagne for Dummies (as well as co-author with his wife, Master of Wine Mary Ewing Mulligan, of the gazillion-selling Wine for Dummies, and numerous other titles). Armed with a great palate and a thoughtful, articulate approach to wine evaluation, Ed has been a pleasure to work with at various professional tastings and events over the years. And true to form, his Rosé Champagne tasting at the WMG lunch earlier this week at Il Gattopardo was an embarrassment of riches,  and a great advertisement for the category in general, one which many only consider for special occasions — and not for the table (a big mistake!).     

Rosé Champagne, as the name suggests, is essentially a pink-hued version of the Methode Champenoise wine, running from the faintest pink to a deep salmon or watermelon, achieved by either adding some still red wine into the blend, or (less frequently) allowing more skin contact from the red wine grapes during fermentation (in both cases, with either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier – or both). Counter-intuitively, these rosé wines are often not made with a majority of the Pinots, but rather with the other allowed grape in Champagne, (the white) Chardonnay.


For the record, there were no dogs in this bunch, which included 15 non-vintage (NV) and seven vintage wines, including “prestige cuvées”. One could possibly quibble about the price/quality ratio for a few of the wines, like the $300 Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé 2006, which, despite the beautiful flower bottle, was disappointing in view of the hefty price tag. But otherwise, this was an amazing, can’t-miss line-up (all prices are approximate).  

On the least expensive end of the spectrum, I liked the A.R. Lenoble Brut Rosé NV ($43), a small production “grower” Champagne with a high dose of Chardonnay (89%), the lightest pink color of the bunch and a bright, lively palate with a clean, crisp finish, perfect as an aperitif. The Ayala Rose Brut Majeur NV($53), dry and minerally, with tart red berry fruit (51% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier), would also work beautifully with appetizers and light fare to kick off a soirée.

One wine that would easily hold up for the entire meal is the Duval-Leroy 1er Cru Brut Rosé NV ($60) – substantial body, with good grip and nice complexity, along with vibrant red fruit.  Speaking of the table – or, in fact, any occasion – the Henriot Brut Rosé NV ($60) is a pink Champagne for all seasons: a light salmon with a floral nose, a clean and elegant palate with herbal notes and a mile-long finish.


The vintage Champagnes were complex, impressive…and expensive. Among these leading lights, I was seduced by the Taittinger Comtes Brut Rosé 2006 ($230): a deep salmon hue, this wine is precise, clean and creamy, with red berries, spice and citrus notes (and great length). Sophisticated. Impressive.

At the lunch, WMG member John Foy and I marveled at the versatility and food friendliness of these wines. And while not inexpensive, Foy asserted that even the most expensive of the Rosé Champagnes are bargains compared with top end Bordeaux and Burgundy, and equally long-lived. Here, here!

So, a (Champagne) toast to Ed McCarthy and these serious rosés, festive choices for the holiday season…and beyond.



Red Wines of Verona II: Amarone “Red Wines of Verona, Postscript: the Amarone Families”

This article was originally published on “Tom’s Wine Line”

Some weeks after my return from Verona, the March meeting of the Wine Media Guild featured the wines of the Amarone Families, the breakaway group whose wines had not been shown at the Valpolicella Anteprima in Italy.

As Sabrina Tedeschi, the president of the Amarone Families, explained, these producers left the Consorzio because they felt that it has to represent the differing interests of all the sorts of growers and producers in the extended Valpolicella zone, all 8,000 hectares of it: small growers and big industrial producers, old-timers and newcomers, growers in the hills and growers in the plain. For the Amarone Families’ 12 members, all of them family firms with a history of Amarone production, this meant that the standards being set for Amarone were not sufficiently stringent, so in 2009 they formed their own association with stricter requirements for Amarone: longer aging, higher alcohol levels, higher extract, and – to my mind the most important requirement – that the wine must be dry, with high acidity.

As I said in my last post, many of the Consorzio’s producers are making fine Amarone – but many are not. The Amarone Families’ approach seems to have eliminated the negatives and provided a set of guidelines that – to judge by the dozen samples I tasted at the meeting – has turned out wines of uniformly high quality. Even more important, all 12 wines, though very, very young by Amarone standards, tasted exactly as this long-time fancier of the breed believes Amarone should: aromatic, velvety on the palate, big in the mouth, with rich but fully dry, sometimes even austere, fruit; hinting and promising the complexity that will come with age, and very long-finishing. This far-from-dirty-dozen all tasted like infant and incipient octogenarians.

Here are the wines, in the order tasted:

  • Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone DOCG Classico Riserva 2009
  • Venturini Campomasua Amarone DOCG Classico 2009
  • Guerrieri Rizzardi Villa Rizzardi Amarone DOCG Classico 2010
  • Musella Amarone DOCG Riserva 2010
  • Tommasi Amarone DOCG Classico 2010
  • Masi Costasera Amarone DOCG Classico 2011
  • Brigaldara Casa Vecie Amarone DOCG 2011
  • Allegrini Amarone DOCG Classico 2012
  • Begali Monte Ca’ Bianca Amarone DOCG Classico 2012
  • Speri Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano DOCG Classico 2012
  • Zenato Amarone DOCG Classico 2012
  • Tenuta Sant’Antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone DOCG 2013

All were surprisingly drinkable for extremely young Amarone. (Normally, I don’t drink Amarone before it is at least 10-15 years old.) The ones I most enjoyed (this particular day, with this particular lunch) were Tommasi, Masi, Speri, Zenato, and Sant’Antonio – the latter the youngest wine of the day, and consequently a real surprise to me.

Bordeaux Chateaux “Punching Above Their Weight”

This article was originally published in Upstate-Downtown : Healthy Living for Active Epicureans

By Christopher Matthews

Bordeaux Chateaux that “punch above their weight” was how Wine Media Guild (WMG) member Mark Golodetz framed the WMG’s recent, annual Bordeaux walk-around tasting and lunch, held at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan. As the traditional member-sponsor of the Bordeaux event, Mark arranged for the following chateaux to participate this year: Chateau Smith Haut Lafite (Pessac-Leognan); Chateau Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien); Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac).

WMG Logo

His theme implies the Chateaux in question are somehow underrated, presenting a source of Bordeaux value, something wine writers, collectors and consumers (!) are always hunting. Whether these houses are undervalued can be debated, and they are certainly well-known and highly regarded in their own right. But what the event really drove home, in spades: the compelling overall quality of the wines presented, from current releases, to older vintages pulled from private cellars. 

It’s true that these three chateaux are not included in the Liv-Ex 100 Index of fine wines (with a secondary market), and they are (as many others in Bordeaux) in the shadow of the iconic First Growths and “Super Seconds” that dominate the collectors’ market. This, I believe, informed Mark’s choice of theme.

The wines definitely spoke for themselves.

The vaunted 2005 vintage showed brilliantly yet again – all brought their 2005s, and all were outstanding, each in their own way: the Smith Haut Lafite (SHL) showed great depth and freshness; the Branaire-Ducru (BD), an earthy, developed nose with lush, harmonious black fruit; and the Grand Puy Lacoste (GPL), high-tone aromas of eucalyptus and cedar, with great structure, balance and length. Already nicely drinkable at this stage, they will all continue to age and develop beautifully for years to come. Truly the vintage of the century thus far – and naturally pricey – but the average prices for these three chateaux come in at less than a fifth of the average price of the First Growths from 2005 (which is approximately $830 a bottle). Pretty good punching, indeed!


Some other highlights:  

SHL is one of the few Bordeaux Grand Crus best known for its stellar, stylish and hedonistic whites (we had the 2012 and 2010 whites at the lunch as well), but its reds are rapidly gaining fans, too. I was particularly engaged by the 2012 at the walk around, with its aromatic, high-toned nose, pretty briar fruit and excellent balance and finish.

From B-D, its 2010 exhibited an elegant nose of underbrush and earth, with excellent structure, balance and pretty berry fruit – a good one for the cellar. And B-D really shone at the lunch, in the older vintages. The 2001 is still quite youthful, with a fresh, aromatic nose and lip-smacking black fruit. Courtesy of WMG member Ed McCarthy (author of “Champagne for Dummies”, and co-author of “Wine for Dummies”, among many others), we were able to sample B-D’s 1982 and 1975 vintages. The 1982 was like aromatherapy, full of coniferous and menthol notes, drinking beautifully. And the 1975 was a seamless stunner: all elements are fully integrated, with clear fruit and a gorgeous finish. Almost perfection. Many thanks, Ed!


Last, but not least, GPL also showed well. Its 2009 combined classic graphite and Cassis elements with excellent balance and fine tannins. 2006 had an attractive blackberry nose and a fresh, brambly palate, somewhat linear but delicious. And at the table, the classic 2000 was a great food companion, sporting heady aromatics, generous black fruit and excellent energy.


Clearly, these chateaux all “punch” well, regardless of weight, and illustrate Bordeaux at its best: age worthy wines that stimulate both the intellect and palate, yielding their estimable pleasures best at the table.


From L to R: Fabien Teitgen (SHL), Emeline Borie (GPL) & Patrick Maroteaux (B-D)



Valpolicella: One Gentle Wine from Verona

This article by Tracy Ellen Kamens was originally published on It's A Winederful Life
Living la vita del vino with Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE at Posted on 

2016-11-08-09-23-01Looking for a low tannin, high quality red wine? Look no further than Valpolicella!

This fruity, yet elegant, red wine hails from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.

We tasted a selection of these wines at a recent Wine Media Guild luncheon and, while I had my favorites, there wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. Even more impressive, most the wines were priced under $20.00.

While Verona is famous for its balcony, the valley (val), just north of the city, is known for its many (poli) cellars (cella). This amalgamated name has been attributed to the wine since the mid-12th century.

The region relies on indigenous grape varieties, with most wines produced as a blend of Corvina and Corvinone and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella (making up 5% to 30% of the total), supplemented with other authorized, red varieties. The resulting wines have aromas and flavors of berries, cherries and flowers, although I did find some herbaceous notes in a few of the wines we tasted.

Unlike its vinous siblings – Amarone and Ripaso – these wines are not aged nor are they influenced by dried grapes. Consequently, they are wines that are honest about their origins. Looking at the vineyards themselves, the focus has been on reducing chemicals through the Consorzio’s “Reduce Respect Retrench” Project. To date, low impact pest control measures have been implemented for 2,000 ha (approximately 25% of current plantings) and growing.

Wines produced from grapes grown within the most historic (aka classic) area are called Valpolicella Classico DOC, while those from the broader designation are simply, Valpolicella DOC.


All in all, we tasted 12 wines; these were my top selections:
* Buglioni “Il Valpo” Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $19.00
* Scriani Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* San Cassiano Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Fattori “Col de la Bastia” Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Massimago Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* Villa San Carlo Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A

The 2014 wines tended to be more acidic in style due to the cooler weather conditions of that vintage, while the 2015 wines were more generous. The Consorzio has very high hopes of the 2016 harvest being even better than 2015.

The wines paired quite well with pasta as well as with a pork dish and are a nice option for this transitional period of late autumn with its crisp, sunny days and cooler nights.

NB: Prices are listed when available on  All other wines are available in the U.S. somewhere, but not somewhere associated with Wine Searcher.


Valpolicella: Background and the Influence of Altitude

This blog by Charles Scicolone was originally published on his blog Charles Scicolone on Wine at:


with Olga Bussinello and  Alberto Brunelli

The Wine Media Guild’s November tasting and lunch featured 13 Valpolicella wines. These wines express their terroir and go well with food, qualities that I always look for in a wine. What’s more, they can be drunk young. Fresh and fruity, Valpolicella wines have hints of red fruit and good acidity. They are vinified in stainless steel and aged for a short period in stainless steel, and a few see a short period in wood. At under $20 they are a real bargain.

The speakers at the event were Olga Bussinello, director of Consorzio Valpolicella who spoke about the Consorzio and Alberto Brunelli Consorzio Valpolicella Oenologist, who spoke about the wines.

Tha Consorzio per la Tulta dei Vini Valpolicella is an association of grape growers, wine producers and bottlers in the production area, which includes 19 municipalities of the province of Verona. The Consorzio represents more than 80% of the producers that use the Valpolicella appellation.

The Valpolicella appellation is located north of Verona. It borders Lake Garda to the west and is protected by the Lessini Mountains to the east and north. It covers the Verona foothills area, which is part of the eastern Alps. The vines are traditionally pergola-trained according to the typical “pergola Veronese system.”

The main grapes are Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella and to a lesser extent Molinara. All of them are strictly indigenous and found only within the Verona province.

Valpolicella Superiore is made from select grapes grown in the best locations and is aged for a minimum of one year. It has a higher alcohol content and lower acidity then Valpolicella.

Alberto divided the wines into three groups. The first group was selected for the altitude of the vineyards.

Alberto said altitude plays an important part because it allows for grapes to develop complexity in terms of structure, acidity and flavors. It influences daily temperature range, the key factor for acidity, accumulation of anthocyanins and polyphenolic potential. Of course altitude is also responsible for retardation of ripening and consequently for the harvest.img_1770

He then said altitudes on the tasting sheet referred to a winery’s location and main vineyards, but wineries frequently have vineyards located at higher altitudes (as Monte Zovo). As you see on the map the Stefano Accordini wine, the wines did not make the tasting, has the highest vineyards at 520 meters, but Monte Zovo has the highest individual vineyard at 800 meters.

The Wines: img_1738

Monte Zovo Valpolicella DOC 2014 made from Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. Vineyards at 260 meters. The hillside vineyards located in Tregnago (eastern Valoplicella) are at 600 meters. The wine is fermented in steel to maintain the expression of the fruit. The wine has red fruit aromas and flavors with hints of sour cherry and good acidity. This is an everyday wine, which goes with a number of different foods. 

This is a family run winery in Verona. All the grapes come from their 140 hectares of vines located in Valpolicella, Bardolino and Lake Garda. One vineyard is at 850 meters making it the highest vineyard in the Verona area. The vineyards will be fully converted to organic by 2018.img_1736

Vigneti Villabella Valpolicella DOC Classico “I Roccoli” 2014. Made from 60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 15% Corvinone. Vineyards at 140 meters. Training system is traditional Veronese Pergola. The soil is limestone mixed with clay and harvest is in the beginning of October. Fermentation takes place in contact with the skins for 12 days at a controlled temperature. The wine remains for a time in stainless steel to preserve the fruitiness and freshness of the wine.

The winery is located at Calmasino in the province of Verona, in the heart of the Classico zone, on a hillside overlooking Lake Garda. They have 10 hectares of vineyards that are organically cultivated and another 13 which are being converted to organic cultivation.

The wine has a fruity bouquet with hints of cherries and raspberries and a touch of violets with good acidity and soft tannins.img_1737

Buglioni Valpolicella DOC Classico “Il Valpo” 2015. Vineyards at 80 meters. Made from 60% Corvina 25% Corvinone, 10% Rondinella and 5% Croatina. The soil is dark, clayey and fertile with a high content of gravel, deep and drought resistant. The training system is double pergola with 2,500 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand in early October.

There is a crushing and pressing of de-stemmed grapes. Fermentation takes place at a controlled temperature and maceration of the must for 10 days in contact with the skins, with daily pumping over. Malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine is in steel tanks for 6 months and 2 months in bottle before release. It has a fragrant and intense aroma of cherries and wild red berries with good acidity. It is a wine to be drunk young.

The winery is located in Corrubbio di San Pietro in Cariano in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone.

Next time microclimate variations: The influence of Lake Garda

Valpolicella: Of the People, By the People, For the People

This article by Tom Maresca was originally published on Tom's Wine Line at:

November 14, 2016

Valpolicella is a simple wine, a wine for pleasure, not for analysis. Grown over a wide zone by more than 2,000 farmers, vinified by who knows how many winemakers, bottled by more than 200 firms for commercial sale, and happily drunk in 85 countries by many thousands of people, of whom probably only a tiny fraction would consider themselves connoisseurs for doing so, Valpolicella is the most democratic of wines, a true wine of the people. It goes with everything, from hors d’oeuvres to meats to cheeses. It even partners decently with fish, because it has the brisk acidity necessary for the job.

What prompted this post was the Wine Media Guild’s November tasting luncheon, which consisted of a presentation by the Valpolicella consortium of a dozen representative examples of the breed – all charming, all thoroughly enjoyable by themselves or with food, and most retailing for under $20. For a reliably quaffable wine with everyday meals, that just can’t be beat.

Valpolicella originates in a fairly large zone – 7,600 hectares under cultivation – in the western part of the Veneto region, just north of the lovely city of Verona, and not far from Lake Garda.

Valpolicella vineyards

The lake has a great moderating effect on what would otherwise be a continental climate, since the vineyards lie along a series of sub-Alpine hills, with north-south running valleys. Even though the zone is large, it is relatively homogeneous, with vineyards planted on south-facing slopes and relatively uniform soils. The greatest variable is altitude: The best wines always come from the hills, which top out at about 700 meters above sea level.


Valpolicella is blended from three native grape varieties: Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella. The once ubiquitous Molinara has all but disappeared from the blend, and international varieties have never made much headway in this zone – simply because the indigenous varieties have so much character and charm and are naturally capable of elegance. The latter quality shows best in the more sophisticated wines made in the zone – Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone – but in good vintages even the simplest Valpolicella has its share of it.

And that is what I’m talking about here: the most basic wine of the region. Most of it is made at a very respectable level of quality. Sure, you can get a bad bottle now and again, from a producer more interested in quantity than quality – but as the Italian and international wine market has changed over the last 20 years, most producers have seen the handwriting on the wall and have opted for quality over quantity. Particularly with wines from Valpolicella’s two labeled sub-zones – Classico and Valpantena, the historic heartlands of the Valpolicella appellation – even the most naïve shopper can buy with confidence of getting an enjoyable bottle of wine.


Certainly there are variations from producer to producer and vintage to vintage – but to my palate, they are very slight. Valpolicella is a pretty uniform product. That may detract from a wine’s status for alberto-brunelliconnoisseurs, but it’s a distinct advantage for a wine that is quintessentially a companion for everyday meals. The WMG’s tasting included wines of the 2014 and 2015 vintages, which were very different from each other. As the consortium enologist Alberto Brunelli reported, 2014 was cold and rainy and yielded wines of low alcohol and high acidity, while 2015 was hot and dry and produced rounder, warmer, more balanced wines.

I tasted reasonably carefully, and I’ve got to report that yes, by concentrating I could discern differences, but they were very slight from producer to producer and vintage to vintage. All the wines were enjoyably drinkable, and part of their charm was that I could drink them without having to pay a lot of attention to them. If even an old wino like me can take pleasure in a wine like that, how much more so the large numbers of people who only want a nice glass of wine with their dinner and not a workout for their palate?

For your information, here are the wines the Valpolicella consortium showed us at the tasting that prompted this post.

  • Buglioni Valpolicella Classico 2015 Il Valpo
  • Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014
  • Gerardo Cesare Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015
  • Fattoria Valpolicella DOC 2015 Col de la Bastia
  • Massimago Valpolicella DOC 2014
  • Monte Zovo Valpolicella DOC 2014
  • San Cassiano Valpolicella DOC 2014
  • Santa Sofia Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014
  • Scriani Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015
  • Vigneti di Ettore Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015
  • Vigneti Villabella Valpolicella Classico DOC 2014
  • Villa San Carlo Valpolicella DOC 2015

The Wine Media Guild Sicily Tasting: The White Wines

This article was originally published in “Charles Scicolone on Wine.”

By Charles Scicolone

The Wine Media Guild asked me to host a program about the wines of Sicily. Together with Tom Maresca, another member, we lined up 30 wines for the tasting and lunch. The speakers would be Alessandro Dellascenza of Cru Artisan Wines, a division of Banfi, who would present 7 wines. Somehow, I became the second speaker and was more than happy to do so.

I am often asked where a wine can be bought at retail so in this post I have included the name of the importer/distributer of each wine.

At the tasting and lunch, which took place in April at Felidia Restaurant, we had 9 excellent whites ranging in price from $12 to $41.

The White Wines of SicilyIMG_0218

Grillo “Zirito” 2014 Grillo Terre Siciliane IGT 100% Grillo Feudo SartannaCru Artisian Wines-Banfi $12 The vineyards are in Western Sicily; the soil is volcanic of medium texture, chalk and clay. Traditional fermentation, temperature control with partial skin contact. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 months. This is a wine with citrus fruit aromas and flavors and a long, well-balanced finish. Grillo means cricket in Italian.IMG_0216

Grillo “Cavallo Delle Fate Sicilia” 2014 DOC 100% Grillo  Tasca d’ AlmeritaWinebow $20 From the Sant’Anna, Piana Casa Vecchie and San Pietro vineyards at 1,980 feet with a southwest exposure. There are 26 hectares of vineyards and the soil is sand and clay-loam. Training system is guyot, with 1,840 vines per hectare. The vineyards were planted in 2007 and the first vintage was in 2012. The harvest is in September. Fermentation is in stainless steel for 15 days, aging in stainless steel for 4 months.This is a wine with hints of white peach, apricot and pineapple with good acidity.IMG_0224

Grillo Terre Siciliane IGP 2013 100% Grillo, Principi di Spadafora Montcalm$26.99 From the Contrada Virzi Monreale and Palermo areas. The vineyard has a western exposure, at 350 meters with sandy-clay soil. Training system is simple guyot espalier. There are 5,000 plants /hectare and the vineyard is 20 years old. Harvest takes place in mid-September. Fermentation is with selected yeasts at a controlled temperature in cement vats. The wine spends 12 months in the vats and 4 months in bottle before release. This is a fruity aromatic wine with hints of citrus fruit with good acidity and a long finish.

Insolia Terre Siciliane IGT 2014, !00% Grillo Cusumano Tony di DioSelections $11.99 Zone of production Ficuzza, Piana degli Albanesi (Palermo) The vines are 15 years old, the exposure is southeast and there are 4,500 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand the first 10 days of September. There is a cold pressing with the skins for about 12 hours, followed by a second soft pressing. There is cold decanting and fermentation at a controlled temperature. The wines remain on the lees in stainless steel tanks for at least 4 months and for a time in the bottle before release. This is a great value!IMG_0229

Caselle Etna Bianco 2013 DOC 100% Carricante, Benanti Tradizione Imports$20 Production area on the eastern side of Mt. Etna and the southern side at 900/100 meters. The soil is sandy, volcanic and rich in minerals. Training system is alberello (free standing bush). There are 6,000/8,000 vines per hectare and the vines are 35 and 40 years old. Late ripening grapes picked during the 3rd week of October. Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. Wine ages in tanks for a period of time before being bottled.IMG_0227

Vigna Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC 2014 100% Catarratto Tenuta RapitalaWildman $17 Vigna Casalj is a 25 acre registered cru in the Alcamo Classico, a high-elevation DOC. It is at 2,000 meters, guyot trained vines in sandy soil. Harvest is at the end of September. Soft pressing and cold settling is followed by fermentation using selected yeasts at a controlled temperature and the fermentation lasts for two weeks. The wine remains on its fine lees until March and is then aged for three months in 50hl French oak barrels. This is a crisp full bodied wine that has aromas of sage and tomato leaf.IMG_0225

Nozza d’Oro Contea di Sclafani DOC 2012 Inzolia 72% & Sauvignon Tasca 28%Tasca d’Almarita Winebow $30 The Insolia is from the 8.4 hectare Barbabietole vineyard (clay and calcareous soil) and the Sauvignon Tasca from the 2.25 hectare Santa Tea, training method is espalier. Vineyard (Sandstone and fine sand) elevation 1,650 to 2,300 with a southwest exposure. Harvest is in August/ September. There is cold soak maceration for 18 hours and alcoholic fermentation is for 15 days. The wine is aged for 5 months in stainless steel and for 8 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of apple, peach, melon and jasmine. Nozza d’ Ora in Italian means golden wedding anniversary. It was created by Count Giuseppe Tasca in 1984 and dedicated to his wife Franca.IMG_0226

Cometa 2014 Planeta 100% Fiano Palm Bay $40.99. Production area Menfi from the Gurra vineyard planted in 1998 and the Dispensa vineyard planted in 1996. There are 4,500 vines/hectare. The grapes are destemmed and crushed; the juice clarified by cold setting overnight and then inoculated with selected yeast. It is fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks for 20 days. The wine is bottled in the second half of February following the year of harvest. This is an elegant, full-bodied wine with a wide range of aromas and flavors. It has hints of pineapple, mandarin, thyme and chamomile with a long finish and very pleasing aftertaste.IMG_0219

Piano Maltese DOC 2014 made from Grillo 45%,Cataratto 45% and Chardonnay10% Tenuta Rapitala Wildman $13. Selected parcels of vines located at 1200 ft., guyot trained on clay soil. The grapes are harvested and vinified separately, the Grillo at the end of August and the Catarratto in the middle of September. The grapes are crushed, destemmed and a cooling of the must and gentle pressing takes place. This is followed by division of the different qualities of the must. Cold settling occurs before a cold fermentation. The wines rest on their lees before being blended and bottled in February following the harvest. The wine has rich fruity aromas with hints of apple, pear and a touch of roasted nuts.

The Wine Media Guild Sicily Tasting: The Red Wines

This article was originally published on “Charles Scicolone on Wine.”

By Charles Scicolone

At the Wine Media Guild’s recent tasting and lunch at Felidia Restaurant, we tasted 12 red wines from Sicily ranging in price from $12.99 to $159.99 for the Santa.Ne from Palari, the only wine in the group not made from native grapes.

Alessandro Dellascenza

Alessandro Dellasenza from Cru Artisan Wines/Banfi spoke the wines of Palari as well as the other wines he presented. I spoke about the remaining wines.

The Red Wines of Sicily


Frappato 2013 DOC Paterno di Vittoria, 100% Frappato Golden Ram Imports NYC, David Rosengarten Selections, $18. Maceration is for four days with skin contact and temperature controlled fermentation. The wine spends one month in steel and one month in bottle before release. This is a well-balanced, aromatic wine with hints of cherry and pomegranate.IMG_0198

Frappato 2014 Planeta, 100% Frappato Palm Bay $21.99 De-stemming followed by 12 days maceration, after racking, malolactic in stainless steel. The wine should be drunk 3 years from the vintage. This is light bodied aromatic wine with hints of spice and red fruit.IMG_0199

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 DOCG Planeta, Nero d’ Avola 60% Frappato 40%Palm Bay $ 23.99. The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, extraction on the skins and 8 days of maceration. After racking, malolactic fermentation takes place in steel tanks. This is a fruity wine with hints of strawberries, cherries and figs with a long finish.IMG_0201

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012 DOCG Paterno di Vittoria 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, Golden Ram Imports NYC $25. Vinified in stainless steel for 15 days. The wine is aged for 6 months is stainless steel, 6 months in barriques and 6 months in bottle before release. This is a wine with good red berry flavors and aromas with a long finish and nice aftertaste.IMG_0206

Nero D’Avola 2014 Cusumano 100% Nero d’Avola Tony di Dio Selections$12.99. Production zone San Giacomo, Butera. The vines are 14 years old and the exposure south, southeast. Training system is espalier and there are 5,000 plants per hectare. This is a fruity easy drinking wine and a great value.IMG_0207

Nero d’Avola Riserva Sicilia “Don Antonio” 2011 Morgante 100% Nero d’AvolaWinebow $42. The vines grow in white calcareous soils with small amounts of clay at 500/550 meters. Harvest takes place at the end of September. Vinification is in stainless steel at a controlled temperature with 20 days skin contact. Malolacatic fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine is aged for 12 months in new French Allier and Troncais 225 liter barriques, followed by 12 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of cherry, raspberry and violets with a touch of leather and liquorice.IMG_0208

 Rosso del Conte Contea di Sclafani DOC 2010 Tasca d’ Almerita Nero d’Avola 63% and 37% other red grapes Winebow $70 Production area Palermo, Sicily. The soil is fine clay slightly calcareous and the vineyard was planted in 2002. It is at 650 meters with a south-west exposure. The training system is bush and espalier, with short spur pruning. There are 4,000 vines per hectare and the harvest is in the beginning of October. Traditional red wine fermentation in stainless steel and maceration for 20 days. The wine is aged for 18 months in new French oak, Allier and Troncais 225 liter barriques and ten 6 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of cherries and herbs with a touch of vanilla and tobacco.IMG_0209

Etna Rosso “Martinella” 2010 DOP Vivera (the winery is 100% certified organic) 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio Montcalm$39.99 Located in Linguaglossa, Contrada Matinell on the northern-eastern slope of Mont Etna. The vineyard was planted in 2003 at 600 meters, volcanic soil with abundant rounded stones. Vertical trellis, spur pruned cordon and there are 5,500 plants per hectare. The grapes are carefully selected and hand picked the first week of October. Cold maceration is followed by fermentation at controlled temperatures for 10 days. The wine is racked and aged in 225 French barriques for about one year. It is refined in bottle for another 12 months before release. The wine hints of sweet red fruit and a note of bitter chocolate.IMG_0210

  Etna Rosso “Rovittello” 2013 DOC 100% Nerello Mascalese BenantiTradizione Imports $20 The countryside of Rovittello, on the north side of Mt. Etna in the commune of Castiglione di Sicilia. It is a single vineyard grown as alberello (free standing bush) at 750 meters. The soil is sandy, volcanic and very rich in minerals. The vines are 80 years old and there are 9,000 vines per hectare. Harvest takes place the second week of October and the grapes are late ripening. Traditional vinification takes place, with long maceration of the must with the skins. After malolatic fermentation, the wine matures in small casks of 225 liters for more than one year and 8 to 10 months in the bottle before release. The wine has hints of red fruit and a touch of vanilla.IMG_0211

Rosso del Soprano (the red from the heights) 2011 Palari Cru Artisan Wines-Banfi $58.99 Made from the same grapes as the Faro below. The wine is aged in one-year barrels of Troncais and Allier oak. It is bottled unfiltered and rests for another year until release. The wine has hints of red berries and spice.IMG_0212

Faro (lighthouse) 2009 DOC PalarCru Artisan Wines- Banfi $99.99 made from 60% Nerello Mascalese, 1% Cor’e Palumba, 2% Jacche 15% Nocera, 20% Nerello Cappuccio and 2% Acitana. The grapes are grown in vineyards located in Santo Stefano Briga (Messina), in sandy soil. After a soft pressing and fermentation with native yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged in new barrels of Troncais and Allier oak for at least 12 months. The wine is bottled unfiltered and remains in bottle for 12 months before release. This is a complex wine with hints of ripe red fruit, spice, jasmine and a touch of vanilla.IMG_0213

Santa.Ne 2008 Palari Cru Artisan Wines-Banfi $159.99 Made from 100% “A Francisa.” Alessandro explained that over 150 years ago the farmers found a unusually clay-rich plot of land and decided to plant grapes from France. Over the years the vines adapted to the land and the farmers no loner remembered what was planted there. So in dialect they called it “A Francisa”–the grapes from France. It is a single vineyard in the heights of Santo Stefano Briga (Messina). Following the pressing of the grapes and fermentation with native yeasts at controlled temperature the wine rests for 24 months in barrels of Troncais oak and at least 2 years more in bottle unfiltered 2 years before release. The wine has hints of red fruit, tobacco, leather and spice with a touch of vanilla.


This article was originally published in “John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet.”


By Geoff Kalish


    Discovered in the United States by more than just the wine cognoscenti, a number of excellent, sensibly priced Sicilian reds, whites and rosés are now widely available across the country.  In fact, while just a few years ago many restaurant wine lists lumped bottles from Sicily into a “Southern Italian” grouping or as “other,” these same eateries now  provide far more than meager selections of vintages in a separate “Sicilian” category. And retail shops that once rarely carried more than a token bottle of Nero d’Avola, now offer shelves devoted to selections from the island. To gain insight into what the market has to offer, the  NYC-based Wine Media Guild recently held a tasting of more than two dozen of these wines with lunch. The following are which I thought were the six best.


In general, I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines, feeling that many of them are very bland, one-dimensional products made so as not to offend the palate of even the least discerning consumer. On the other hand, of the nine whites offered, I found the 2014 Tenuta Rapitala Vigina Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC ($17) extremely enjoyable.   Made from 100% Catarratto grapes (the most widely planted white varietal in Sicily), the wine showed a bouquet and taste of ripe peaches and pears with undertones of sage and a crisp finish, perfect to pair with grilled tuna and pasta with seafood.


    With so many too sweet, low-acid rosés (rosati in Italian) on the market, the 2015 Tasca d’Almerita  Le Rosé di Regaleali Terre Siciliane ($13) was a welcome find. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wine had a salmon pink color, a fragrant bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries, with a fruity taste that was crisp and dry on the finish. This wine makes an excellent aperitif, but it also mates well with salmon or pork.


    The four standout reds were from totally different Sicilian locales. The 2014 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($23), from vineyards outside the town of Vittoria, showed a bouquet and easy-drinking taste of ripe plums and apricots, with a long pleasant finish. This wine goes well with a wide variety of fare ranging from steak tartare to grilled veal chops to pasta with red sauce. 

    The 2011 Palari Rosso del Soprano ($59) hailed from the Messina area and is a blend of primarily Nerello Mascalese grapes (60%) and smaller amounts of five other indigenous varietals. Albeit pricy, the wine is amazingly Burgundian in style with a bouquet and taste of plums and spice and a bit more oomph than many reds from the Côte d’Or but not as overwhelmingly fruity as a number of California Pinot Noirs. Try it with grilled beef or lamb.
A well priced 2014 Cusumano Nero D’Avola ($13), from vineyards in San Giacomo, exhibited a very fruity bouquet and concentrated taste of ripe blackberries and raspberries with a long pleasant finish. Pair this wine with hamburgers or pizza as well as dark-veined cheeses.

    A 2010 Vivera Etna Rosso “Martinella” ($40), from the northest side of Mt. Etna —a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio–-shows the great aging potential for this category of wine. It has a bouquet and soft taste of plums and strawberries interlaced with exotic spices and a smooth finish with a touch of tannin. Mate this wine with grilled pork chops, ripe cheeses or rich pasta Norma.

And  those consumers who view Marsala as merely a cooking wine should try the Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco ($35 for a 500ml bottle) for a rich, sweet treat with flavors of dried figs and apricots and a vibrant acidity in the finish to enjoy with chocolate or mild cheeses.

Wine Review Online. Com


April 12, 2016 Issue



Trivento, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec Reserve 2014 ($11, Excelsior Wines and Spirits): Yet another example of why Malbec continues to be popular. There’s a lot to like for your eleven bucks, with blackberry, raspberry, cedar spice toasty oak and a savory note on the nose and in the mouth, with enough grip to stand up to myriad food pairings – anything from mixed tapas to a full parilla grill, you can’t go wrong.
89 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

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Robert Oatley, Margaret River (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Series 2014 ($20, Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits): A fresh, lively Cabernet that’s proud of its terroir, showing plush black fruit, dried herbs, mild earth and soft brown spice. Firm grip suggests a big roast or lamb chops as a food pairing.  It should be fairly easy to find, and it’s priced well below its quality level. Well done!
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

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Lucien Albrecht, Alsace (France) Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV ($21): A stunning expression of the sunny slopes in Alsace.  This sparkling rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir using whole clusters in the methode traditionale.  While aromas of strawberry rhubarb pie with a toasty butter crust greet the nose, the palate adds more tart characteristics of fresh raspberry and lemon zest.
92 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux (France) Rosé 2015 ($12): This Bordeaux showstopper is a blend of traditional varieties including 53% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. A rich hue of blush, this lovely wine offers notes of red currant, raspberry and ruby red grapefruit with a touch of faint sage at the end.  Supple fruit on the palate is followed with bright kiss of fleshy lemon and a lingering finish.  This vibrantly fruity rosé would pair well with lighter fare such as grilled salmon with pearl tomato, feta and pearl couscous salad.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Bieler Père et Fils, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence (France) Rosé “Sabine 2015 ($13): Everything about this quintessential Provencal Rosé says “springtime!”  A happy blend of rich wild strawberry, cherry, and pomegranate dance in the glass with savory sun-dried herbs.  This crisp, refreshing blend of 40% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cinsault and 3% Rolle offers a supple roundness of texture on the finish.  A definite palate pleaser for the months to come.
96 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



E. Guigal, Côtes du Rhône (France) Rosé 2014 ($12): Just beyond Provence, the Rhône Valley puts out some pretty powerful competition in the rosé category and famed winery E. Guigal consistently reveals a refreshing expression of the region.  The 2014 Rosé is delicious and delicate, with a mélange of fresh summer strawberries, raspberries and cherry that elegantly funnels into a lingering mineral-driven finish.  A blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, this pretty pale pink number is a perfect partner for outdoor picnics.
95 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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August Kesseler, Pfalz (Germany) Riesling Kabinett 2014 ($18, Vineyard Brands): Low in alcohol (just 10%), this peachy Riesling offers medium-sweet flavors with sufficient acidity for balance and structure. Coming from a relatively warm growing region (warm, that is, for Germany), it has a soft, almost lush texture, yet still provides plenty of refreshing flavor, with nothing remotely cloying about it. 90Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

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Domaine Sigalas, Santorini (Cyclades, Greece) Assyrtiko 2015($25, Diamond Wine Imports): Every year, springtime is heralded by the release of a new vintage of Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko. This is a consistently superb white that ages beautifully but provides a delicious tasting experience even in its youth. The 2015 vintage continues an admirable tradition. The Assyrtiko grapes grown in the volcanic soils and spare conditions of the island yield wines of considerable power and depth. The 2015 Sigalas bottling offers an exotic nose of peach, guava, Rainier cherry, honey, lemon zest and subtle herbs — all underscored by an equally complex palate. The succulent, pure peach, citrus and tropical fruit flavors are backed by hints of honey, coriander, and herbs. The robust and exotic aromas and flavors and enhanced by a rich and creamy texture that allows the finish to linger long and well. Delicious now, experience shows that you can enjoy it for another 5+ years. 95 Wayne BeldingApr 12, 2016

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Galil Mountain, Upper Galilee (Israel) Rosé 2014 ($14): This is historic region offers some beautiful rare finds and this unique blend is no exception.  Showing refreshing acidity and notes of red fruit and rose petals on the palate, this wine is sourced from vineyards in Israel’s Upper Galilee.  Hand-harvested Sangiovese is processed as a “white wine” and later blended with Pinot Noir and Grenache produced in the saignée method.  An exceptional conversation starter for any summer get together.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Tasca d’Almerita, Sicily (Italy) Nerello Mascalese “Le Rose di Regaleali Terre Siciliane” 2015 ($13, Winebow): Cool, moist and juicy, with chaste fruit flavors and a sprightly splash of acidity on the finish, this pretty pink wine is versatile and adaptable to a variety of occasions. Reasonably priced and easy on the palate, sip this rosato solo or pour it at a party, serve it at a picnic or cook-out, toast the recent graduate or raise a glass of it to your mom. Le Rose di Regaliali is definitely a multi-purpose, multi-occasion wine. 90Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016



Villa Gemma Masciarelli, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (Italy) Rosé 2014($14): This complex and cherry pink rosé is a heftier style than your average rosé, but a welcome addition to the mix.  Made from 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes and presents with an intense cherry pink color and a fragrant floral bouquet etched with rich pomegranate and fresh thyme.  A sublime accompaniment to a pizza al fresco.
95 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Le Monde, Friuli Grave (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy) Cabernet Franc 2014 ($17, The Sorting Table): Le Monde is a producer worth seeking out. While situated within the Friuli Grave DOC, their local conditions set them apart from most and yield distinctive wines. In an area mostly known for gravel, Le Monde’s vineyard have a greater proportion of calcareous clay, which seems to endow their 2014 Cabernet Franc bottling with added depth and richness. The wine offers a deliciously ripe and round style. The bouquet shows black cherry, red cherry and blackcurrant fruits with hints of green herbs, graphite and black pepper. The red and black cherry fruit flavors are underscored by savory herbal tones and black pepper spice. The herbal style of the Cabernet Franc is beautifully expressed and balanced nicely by the rich fruit. It’s a delicious Bordeaux-style red that will age gracefully for another 5 years and more. 92 Wayne Belding Apr 12, 2016



Luigi Einaudi, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo Cannubi 2011($73, Empson USA): Although this vintage has been in the market for several months, it is still available from several sources and only getting better as it ages. The Cannubi vineyard is one of the best sites in all of Barolo and Einaudi’s 2011 is a benchmark for the appellation. The ripeness of the 2011 harvest adds flesh to an already fine wine. The bouquet is forward and complex, with sweet cherry and raspberry fruits enhanced by the classic “forest floor” style of Barolo — tones of dried leaves, flowers, smoke, cocoa, herbs, anise, and baking spices. The flavors are multilayered and rich with the ripe red fruits interwoven with leafy, herbal elements as well as the smoke, vanilla and spice components. Although approachable and thoroughly enjoyable now for its generous fruit, the 2011 Einaudi Cannubi Barolo will develop and improve for another 20+ years in the cellar. 95 Wayne Belding Apr 12, 2016



Palari, Faro (Sicily, Italy) A Francisa “Santa Ne” 2008 ($160, Cru Artisan Wines / Banfi): There are so many things that set this wine above the crowded field. One is its unique personality, including flavors and aromas that seem vaguely familiar yet are hard to pin down. That furtive essence engaging my taste buds, that je-ne-sais-quoi tickling my olfactory nerve — it all seems vaguely herbal and slightly mineral-rich in a damp-earthy way, with a whisper of exotic fruit somewhere in there. And then, just when you might think it’s all over, the wine’s tender yet precise texture grips your senses in the gustatory equivalent of a hug. The word yummy seems too sophomoric for such a sophisticated wine, but on the other hand it may be just the right descriptor for this striking yet unintimidating wine. 96 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016

Palari, Faro (Sicily, Italy) 2009 ($100, Cru Artisan Wines / Banfi):This wine’s brick-red color and seductive floral and spicy aromas alert you from the get-go that this is going to be an unusual wine, and with the first sip you will be smitten. How could you not love this unusual very dry, very rich wine with its soft tannins and persistent finish? Located in an ancient wine producing area high above the Straights of Messina the 80-plus year old vines are hand harvested. The tiny Faro (“lighthouse”) denomination almost disappeared until Palari’s owner restored his grandfather’s estate in 1990. Made from a blend of native grapes dominated by Nerello Mascalese, plus small amounts of Nerello Cappuccio, Cor’e, Palumba, Jacche, Nocera, and Acitana. 95 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016

Alessandro di Compreale, Sicily (Italy) Syrah 2012 ($35, Panebianco): When it comes to Sicily, Syrah isn’t my favorite red grape variety — give me Nero d’Avola, Nerello or one of the other fine and distinctive Sicilian varieties any time. But with that said, from its attractive beet-red color all the way through its powerful yet also elegant dark mocha and dried berry flavors to its long lip-smacking aftertaste this is a very successful and satisfying wine. One of its charms is something it doesn’t have: An overly aggressive oak presence, which is a character flaw that brings too many Sicilian Syrahs down to a mundane level as far as I’m concerned. Nor am I alone in this sentiment: “Sicily is becoming the Napa of Italy,” seems a popular refrain these days, and I don’t think anyone means it as a compliment. Yes, I know, many wine drinkers love big oaky red wines, but luckily for those of us who prefer more authentic textures and flavors this is not one of them. 92 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016



Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) Brut Rosé NV ($30): The only thing more fun than pink wine is pink with with bubbles. Especially this elegant Brut Rosé from Ferrari.  Established over a century ago in Italy’s mountainous northern region of Trentino, Ferrari was recently named Wine Enthusiast’s “2015 Best European Winery.”  This wine is produced in the traditional method and undergoes more than two years of bottle aging on the lees.  Made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine is crisp and bright with notes of wild strawberry and raspberry cream and elegantly balances acidity and sweetness with a refreshing finish.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Bertani, Veneto (Italy) Bertarose Rosé 2014 ($20): It’s been referred to as the “Rosé of Kings.”  Perhaps because this particular bottling from Veneto is from one of the northern Italy’s most iconic and historic producers in the past 150 years, and bares the royal seal of the Savoia family.  Aromas of cherry and rose petal erupt from the glass with a faint whiff of spice.  The texture and feel is bone dry, racy, and with a little more spice coming through along with a toasted nut character.
94 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Vinha da Defesa, Alentejo (Portugal) Rosé 2014 ($10): For those who love a darker shade of pink, this opulent Portuguese blend of Aragonês (Tempranillo) and Syrah comes from the Alentejo region and offers a deeply structured alternative to the light and delicate vin gris styles of Southern France.  Macerated cherries dominate the nose and palate framed by fresh spring herbs of mint and basil.
94 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Hacienda de Arínzano, D.O. Pago di Arínzano (Spain) Rosé 2015($19): The deeply blush-colored wine is from the first winery in Northeast Spain to receive the prestigious Pago designation due to its unique landscape and climate.  This rosé is made from 100% Tempranillo and offers intense aromas of strawberry, pink grapefruit and white pepper laced with a hint of rose petal.  An excellent wine for a juicy grilled burger.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016


Anna de Codorníu, Catalonia (Spain) Cava Brut Rosé NV ($14):The only thing more fun than pink wine is pink with with bubbles. Especially this elegant Brut Rosé from Codorníu.  Notes of crushed red berries intermingle with underlying minerality and a delicate mid-palate with crisp, fresh powdery berry flavors on to the finish.  An excellent aperitif for the patio.
92 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

Castilla y León:


Finca Montepedroso, Rueda (Castilla y León, Spain) Verdejo 2014 ($15, Winebow): Fresh and bright, with the variety’s characteristically crisp flavors and a smooth, supple texture, this Verdejo offers delicious warm-weather drinking. Perhaps because the grapes come from Rueda’s highest elevation vineyards, it has plenty of acidity and shows no sign of fatigue. Still, this is a wine to drink in its youth, meaning this spring and summer.

90 Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

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Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards, Central Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($18): Here’s a solid food friendly Pinot Noir at a pleasing price.  Medium extraction and well-managed French oak give us a mouthful of cherry, strawberry, cranberry and spice, with crisp acidity that adds a citric note to the long finish.  Salmon or swordfish – get a nice cut with what you saved on the wine.
88 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Pedroncelli Winery, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyard “Wisdom” 2012($36): With experience comes wisdom, and Pedroncelli will celebrate 90 years of experience next year, likely with a few bottles of this wine.  Fine age-worthy structure, popping acidity, classic Sonoma Cabernet aroma and flavor profile, supple tannins and a lingering well integrated finish show the insight gained over many years.  And you get to enjoy the benefits.  Contains 10% Malbec.
92 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Niner Wine Estates, Edna Valley (California) Pinot Noir Jespersen Ranch 2013 ($35): There’s a lot going on in this cool climate Pinot Noir.  It opens with leaf and brown spice aromas that morph into deep spiced cherry, raspberry and a mix of damp and dry earth and a note of lemon zest with a slow draft on the glass.  On the palate it’s quite complex, delivering the promise of the nose over lively acidity and finishing long with a citrus note coming forward. A beautiful food wine.
93 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

River Myst Haven, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($52): A new player to me, and one worth keeping an eye on. This Pinot Noir bottling is a lovely low alcohol mix of earthy minerality, cherry and oak spice aromas and flavors that are are joined by touches of pepper and herbs.  The acidity is very lively and props up the flavors in a lingering finish.  It needs a bit of bottle age to show its full potential, but will come around with elegance and style.
90 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Freemark Abbey, Rutherford (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($70):Reflecting the general trend with California Cabernets, Freemark Abbey’s wines have become bigger and bolder, showing more extract, sweetness, and overall power than they did when the winery first became famous a generation ago. And for those enamored of this muscular, jammy style, the 2012 from Rutherford offers extremely satisfying drinking. It’s forceful but not overbearing, and has sufficient tannin to reward cellaring for a good five to ten years. Should you choose to drink it young, definitely decant it and let it sit for a good hour or so before serving it. 92 Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

Presqu’ile, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Steiner Creek Vineyard 2013 ($48): A very interesting wine.  Don’t be put off by an initial nose that shows cracked tomato leaf and dusty aromas.  Give it some swirling in the glass to release the dark cherry fruit and brown spice that soften the earthy elements and make for a Pinot Noir that certainly isn’t for everyone, but will please fans of a funky, dusty style.  This would pair beautifully with herb encrusted pork or beef dishes.
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Tuscandidio Winery, South Coast (California) Barbera Estate Grown 2013 ($2,290): I’m surprised that Barbera hasn’t caught on more quickly in California.  Almost all of the examples I taste are well made and quite food friendly thanks to the grape’s natural acidity.  Winemaker Jim Tondelli has a winner in this bottle, with a mix of lively black cherry, leaf and spice that ride the acid wave through a long fresh finish.  This is thoroughly enjoyable now and will have no problem aging another five years.
90 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016


Niner Wine Estates, Edna Valley (California) Chardonnay Jespersen Ranch 2013 ($25): Not many Chardonnays can handle an oak load like this one has and still provide full rich fruit, vibrant acidity and great complexity from start to finish like this one does.  It hits my markers for crisp and creamy, with rich lemon, apple, spice and stony mineral aromas and flavors.  I tasted this alongside a garlic soup with poached egg and croutons with smoked paprika and it really came to life.  Try THAT with any old Chardonnay.
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

J. Lohr, Monterey County (California) Riesling “Bay Mist” 2014($10): I always like this bottling from J. Lohr.  It’s fresh and clean, never too sweet for its acidity, and always flavorful, with this vintage showing sweet apple, pear and stonefruit over granite minerality. The finish is crisp and bright – try it with simple fresh roasted cauliflower. That’s what the Monterey Wine Competition judges recommend.
88 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Presqu’ile, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Presqu’ile Vineyard 2013 ($45): Hooray for age-worthy Chardonnay — something that only a few California producers are shooting at these days.  This wine shows a depth and richness that will only improve as the acidity softens with time, allowing the lemon, quince, mellow oak spice and mild herbs to really sing.  Winemaker Dieter Cronje let his Burgundian side show here.  Well done!
92 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016