Brazil’s Medal Worthy Wines

20151201_174556amphitheatre of vines at Casa Valduga in Vale dos Vinhedos

I’m thrilled the Olympic Games in Rio went so well, exceeding expectations. I am happy to report that another potential source of pride for Brazilians is the fact that some excellent wines—yes, even medal worthy—are now being made there. Surprised? So was I.

I was fortunate to travel to the center of Brazil’s fine wine production last December, on a trip sponsored by Wines of Brazil. The trip was led by Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier and author of the terrific Wines of South America. I’m a huge fan of Evan and have really enjoyed traveling with him in the past. I therefore took it on faith when he told me Brazilian wine country was worth a trip. I had tasted some okay Brazilian reds and fairly good sparkling wines prior to this trip that in no way prepared me for how excellent some of Brazil’s top wines actually are.

Brazil’s fine wine country—based in the more temperate southern end of the country–is also stunningly lush and beautiful, blessed with a few of the most gorgeous vineyards I have ever visited. The best of the wines have excellent fruit quality, relatively low alcohol and good balancing acidity. The food is also delicious there and the people warm and delightful, of course.

Unfortunately, few of Brazil’s finest wines are imported to this country, and those that are are currently available primarily in only a few states on the East Coast. Hopefully this will change in the coming years. I have indicated below, with my tasting notes, which ones are available in the U.S.

Background

Wine production in Brazil, spurred in large part by the many Italian immigrants in the south, who brought knowledge and grape cuttings with them, dates back to the mid-1800s. The production of fine wine, however, based on vitis vinifera grapes, really only got going in the 1970s, picking up steam with a growing number of boutique producers since the 1990s. A concerted effort to improve quality has been underway since 2000.

That said, the vast majority of the country’s wine production—over 80%–is still very ordinary “vinho de mesa.” That translates as “table wine,” which makes it sound higher quality than it really is. Much of it is made with North American grapes, vitis labrusca, and hybrids, which have been widely planted in Brazil’s humid climate because they fared much better than vitis vinifera, the type of grapes from which fine wine is made.

Nonetheless, vitis vinifera varieties like Merlot, and the grapes most commonly used for sparkling wine–Chardonnay and Pinot Noir–have been planted in increasing amounts in the southernmost Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Sul.

The center of fine wine production in that state is the region of Serra Gaúcha, particularly in the area extending south and west of the city of Bento Gonçalves. This area, called Vale dos Vinhedos–Brazil’s only denominação de origen (DO)–is essentially the Napa of Brazil, home to the vast majority of the most notable fine wine producers.

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fog over the Perini vineyard in Farroupilha, an area that specializes in Muscat

This was where our trip was focused, with side trips to a couple of other important areas in Serra Gaúcha–Pinto Bandeira, source of grapes for Brazil’s best sparkling wines and an indicação de procedência (IP); and Farroupilha, which was recently approved as an IP for moscato. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for us to visit another up and coming region for fine wine production lying further south, along Uruguay’s border. The two wine growing areas there are Capanha Gaucha and Serro do Sudeste. We did, however, get to try a number of very good wines made from grapes grown in those areas.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the sparkling wines from the top three sparkling producers. I was also delighted by the large variety of grapes planted–which is surprising given the relatively small amount of fine wine produced here relative to the dominant South American producers, Chile and Argentina. This includes the standard French varieties, as well as more unusual varieties, like Egiodola and Arinaroa. One also finds Iberian varieties, like Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional, and Italian, including Glera, Moscato and Teroldego.

Medal Winners

So after a week of sampling Brazilian wines from our base in Bento Gonçalves, which producers do I think are the very best–deserving of gold and silver medals?

No one wants a bronze medal any more, except in the Olympics, so I won’t bother nominating a producer for that–I’ll only indicate a few other wineries that I think are among the top five or so of Brazil’s best.

Gold: Don Giovanni

20151203_162620vineyards at Don Giovanni in Pinto Bandeira

My gold medalist makes a small amount of dry wine–most notably a wonderful Chardonnay–but its production is largely devoted to what I think is some of the very best methode traditionelle sparkling wine I’ve tasted outside of Champagne.

Don Giovanni is based in Pinto Bandeira. Their sparkling wines are so profoundly good that I would buy them every year if only they were available here in the U.S.

Don Giovanni was founded in 1982 but started making sparkling wine in 1997. The owners are Ayrton and Beatriz Giovannini, and the winemaker and viticulturalist is Luciano Vian. They produce about 10,000 cases of wine per year–under up to 14 different labels–of which about 80% is sparkling.

The winery sits on one of the most strikingly beautiful vineyards I’ve ever seen, which includes tall trees, carved stone markers and lots of thriving hydrangeas. The property includes an artistically appointed, family-run guest house and restaurant, which I would strongly recommend as a place to stay on a visit to Brazilian wine country.

You can see all of my tasting notes and ratings for their wines below. My single favorite of their sparkling bottlings is the Ouro, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that is aged 36 months on the lees. I rated it 94 points and it is savory, autolytic, hazelnut heaven. I also very much love the Stravaganzza Brut, which is aged one year on lees, and the Nature, with less than one gram of dosage and aged two years sur lie. Both of these I rated 93+ points.

Silver: Lidio Carraro

My silver medalist is Lidio Carraro, named after its owner, an influential and pioneering viticulturalist. While his two sons, Giovanni and Juliano, are involved in making the wine, they benefit a lot from the active involvement of consulting winemaker, Monica Rossetti, who still makes wine in Italy as well. The animated and very articulate Rossetti has worked with Carraro since 1998.

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Lidio Carraro consulting winemaker Monica Rossetti

One of the distinctive features of winemaking here is the absence of any oak whatsoever. Longer macerations and bottle aging are used to supply the texture and firm tannins that oak might otherwise help provide. The focus is on the wines’ fruit quality, which is very appealing and complex.

Lidio Carraro has seven hectares in production in Vale dos Vinhedos, and another 38 hectares in Serro do Sudeste’s Encruzilhada do Sul region, where Lidio pioneered plantings in 2000. Lidio was also the first producer of Merlot in Vale dos Vinhedos, and his winery was the first in Brazil to use gravity flow winemaking.

Lidio Carraro was chosen, via a competition, to produce a line of wines for the World Cup Games that Brazil hosted in 2014. This line is called Faces, and it is basically the winery’s entry level offering. They were also chosen to make wine for the Olympics and did so again using the Faces label, producing not only a red, white and rosé, but also three different sparkling wines.

For me, the most impressive wines in the portfolio are the Elos Cabernet/Malbec blend, another red blend called Quorum, a varietal bottling of Teroldego, and a terrific Tannat. I scored the latter 94+ points, and it compares favorably to the very best Tannats I tasted in nearby Uruguay that I reported on here and here.

Other Top Producers

The other leading producers for me based on what we tasted are Cave Geisse, Pizzato, Perini and Peterlongo. Cave Geisse and Peterlongo make superlative sparkling wines, while Pizzato and Perini produce not only good sparkling wines but also some excellent dry reds. Please see below for brief profiles of these wineries and tasting notes.

I have also profiled below Brazil’s three largest producers–the giant cooperative Aurora, Miolo and Salton. Each of these make some very good wines, along with a large quantity of average and mediocre wines.

In the tasting notes below, I have only included producers responsible for at least some wines I scored in the high 80s and above. During our trip, we did taste wine from others, including producers based in the equatorial wine region of São Francisco, where the vines never go dormant unless artificially induced, and two harvests can easily be pulled annually from each plot. I found virtually all of these wines to be pretty mediocre.

Aurora

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    Aurora wines made for export

    Aurora is a giant cooperative–Brazil’s biggest wine producer, commanding over 30% of the domestic market for still wine. It was originally founded in 1931 by 16 Italian immigrant families. At one time it had as many as 1300 members, but there are now 1100 with an average of 2.6 hectares of vineyards per member. Members get paid 8% more than government established minimums, and must follow an extensive rule book regarding everything from safety and pesticide use to harvest dates and yields. They have their own grape nursery for members, which propagates 30 varieties and three different rootstocks. The co-op also owns 16 hectares of prime vineyards in Pinto Bandeira, the source for some of their top wines.

    A team of 15 winemakers oversees the production of 45 million liters of wine per year. Less than 2% is exported, but that makes up 30% of Brazil’s wine exports. Marcus James was perhaps their best known brand name, before the name was sold to Constellation. It was briefly exported to the U.S. as “white Zinfandel” back in the early 1990s. They are now exporting to the U.S. under the Carnaval label wines that are known in Brazil as Procedencia, and producing some special bottlings for the U.S. market under the label Brazilian Soul. A higher end line under the label Pequenos Partilhas was designed for on-premise sales, and includes wines from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as well as Brazil. The top wines I tasted were the 2014 Chardonnay Pinto Bandeira (92 points), an excellent NV Moscatel Espumante (92 points) and a Bordeaux-blend cuvee made in honor of the co-op’s 85th anniversary, that is allocated mainly to co-op members (92+ points).

    I see several Aurora wines listed on wine-searcher.com as being available in the U.S. That includes a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat Reserva. Most widely available are red and white versions of the Carnaval Moscato. I rated the white version 88 points and it can be found for an average of $12. A place in Massachusetts carries the Brazilian Soul Chardonnay, which I rated 85+ points, for $6.

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  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora 85th Anniversary Cuvee Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, appealing, black currant, boysenberry, vanilla nose; medium bodied, delicious, black currant, cedar, black cherry palate with good balancing acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; 13% alcohol; 10 months in French & American oak; barrel selection in honor of the Aurora Co-op’s 85th anniversary–bottles will be given to the co-op families) 92+ points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; pear cream nose; light-medium bodied, tart pear cream, tart grapefruit, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium finish (100% Chardonnay, 20-30 days in tank, 10 grams dosage) 84 points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Extra Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, almond cream, light hazelnut nose; tasty, tart pear cream, almond cream, mineral palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 10% Riesling Italico; 12.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2011 Vinícola Aurora Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium orange pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; toast, beets nose; toast, roasted beets palate with medium acidity; medium finish (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Riesling Italico; 11.5% alcohol; 10.62 grams dosage; 6-7 months in tank) 84 points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Cabernet Franc Pequenas Partilhas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, ripe black currant, blackberry, dried berry, light toast nose; medium bodied, tight, tart berry, tart black currant, toast palate with some balancing acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2011 Vinícola Aurora Cabernet Sauvignon Millésimé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Very dark purple red violet color; tart berry, toast, ripe black currant nose; medium bodied, tart berry, toast, ripe black currant palate; could use 1-plus year; medium finish (100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% alcohol; 1 year in French & American oak) 87+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light yellow color; aromatic, almond tart pear nose; medium bodied, tart pear, almond palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; 3 months in new French oak) 92 points
  • 2015 Vinícola Aurora Chardonnay Brazilian Soul Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color; light lemon cream nose; light-medium bodied, tart pear cream, lemon cream palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol; 6.15 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, black fruit, berry, light cedar nose; tart plum, tart berry, cedar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12.5% alcohol; 6 months in French & American oak) 85+ points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange blossom, ripe honeydew melon, ripe pear nose; tasty, creamy textured, tart pear, light orange cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (7.5% alcohol; 80 grams residual sugar; great value at about $10) 92 points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Moscato Carnavál Brazil
    Very light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange blossom, ripe green melon nose; creamy textured, tasty, orange cream, lime cream, ripe green melon palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (7.5% alcohol; 80 grams residual sugar) 88 points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Pinot Noir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira Medium dark cherry red color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry, berry nose; medium bodied, black cherry, black raspberry, toast palate with near medium acidity; could use 1-plus year; medium-plus finish ((13% alcohol; 6 months in French oak) 88+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Tannat Brazilian Soul Premium Selection Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Very dark ruby color; black currant, tart blackberry nose; black currant, tart blackberry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 10 months in 3d use French & American oak, 50/50) 86+ points

Cave Geisse

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    Mario Geisse came from Chile in 1976 to start up Moet & Chandon’s sparkling wine operation in Brazil, Chandon Brazil. He left and started his own winery in 1979. Mario and son Daniel grow the grapes for their label in Pinto Bandeira, the IP for sparkling wine that Geisse helped pioneer. We unfortunately weren’t able to visit Cave Geisse, as Mario was away, but I made a point of sampling two of their bottlings while I was there, including their signature Nature Terroir, which I bought at a wine shop in the farmers’ market in Porto Allegre on the last night of our trip.

  • 2011 Cave Geisse Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, almond cream, pear nose; medium bodied, poised, delicate, pear, mineral, tart apple palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (disgorged 2014) 92 points
  • NV Cave Geisse Nature Terroir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light golden yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, pear gelee, almond cream nose; poised, delicate, almond, tart pear gelee, mineral palate with a sense of salinity and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; 50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 36 months on lees; disgorged 2015) 93 points

Dal Pizzol

  • 2013 Dal Pizzol Cabernet Franc Do Lugar Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart red currant, dried red currant, dried herb, light oregano nose; elegant, roast red currant, dried red currant, oregano, dried herb, raspberry, pepper palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 92+ points

Don Giovanni

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  • NV Don Giovanni Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, lifted, cream, almond cream, vanilla nose; elegant, cream, almond cream, hazelnut palate with minerality, salinity and medium acidity; long finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6% alcohol; 5.54 TA, pH 3.36, 6 grams dosage; 24 months sur lees) 93 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light salmon color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; tart dried orange, almond nose; tasty, roses, dried roses, dried tart plum, tart cherry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay; 12 months en tirage) 91+ points
  • 2014 Don Giovanni Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Slightly hazy light lemon yellow color; light almond, pear, light pineapple nose; medium bodied, poised, fresh, lemon gelee, almond, lightly saline palate with medium acidity, showing pineapple and lemon zest on finish; medium-plus finish (12.6% alcohol) 93 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Nature Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, almond cream nose; delicate, fresh, very tart lemon, almond, mineral, saline palate with scintillating medium acidity; long finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6%; TA 5.08, pH 3.30; 24 months sur lees) 93+ points
  • NV Don Giovanni Ouro Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; very aromatic, savory, autolytic, hazelnut, salt rising bread, light lemon oil nose; savory, very autolytic, hazelnut, mineral, almond, saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; 12.8% alcohol; pH 3.42, TA 6.05; 8 grams dosage; 36 months en tirage) 94 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Stravaganzza Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, pear cream, almond cream nose; delicate, creamy textured, almond cream, tart pear cream, lemon cream palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6% alcohol; pH 3.6, 6.06 TA, 11 grams dosage; 12 months sur lees) 93+ points

Don Laurindo

  • 2009 Don Laurindo Merlot Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Bricking very dark ruby color; savory, tart black fruit, black cherry nose; medium bodied, maturing, black plum, black cherry palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 88 points

Lidio Carraro

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    A few Lidio Carraro wines are available in the U.S. A few vintages of the Dádivas Chardonnay, including the 2013 (RJ91+ points) can be found for an average of $18.The 2013 Agnus Merlot is available for $17, and the 2006 Quorum is available several places for an average of $42.

  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Chardonnay Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Light yellow color; fresh, lemon gelee, pear cream nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, lemon, candied lemon peel palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; 8-10 months sur lees) 91+ points
  • NV Lidio Carraro Dádivas Espumante Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; autolytic, light almond, green apple nose; creamy textured, green apple, mineral, citrus palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, 5% Riesling Italico; charmat method) 88+ points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Elos Cabernet/Malbec Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, red currant, subtle herbs, tart cherry, red plum nose; medium bodied, fresh, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 2-plus years and should go 15+; medium-plus finish (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec; 12.5% alcohol) 93 points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Elos Touriga Nacional/Tannat Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, clove, cinnamon, roasted berry, licorice nose; tasty, fresh, velvety textured, licorice, roasted cherry, tart berry, tart red currant, spice, lightly saline palate with vibrant medium acidity; medium-plus finish (77% Touriga Nacional, 23% Tannat; 13% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; appealing, pear, peach, orange blossom nose; fresh, tart pear, citrus, orange blossom palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (50% Chardonnay, 30% Riesling Italico, 20% Moscato; 11.5% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces Rose – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light salmon pink color; tart golden raspberry, golden currant nose; tart citrus, tart white grapefruit palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Pinot Noir, 35% merlot, 15% Touriga Nacional; 12.5% alcohol) 87+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces Red – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red currant, tart cherry, light cinnamon nose; tart red currant, reduction palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat) 86 points
  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Merlot Agnvs Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium dark red violet color; appealing, red currant, tart red berry nose; medium bodied, tart red currant, mineral, light herb palate with medium acidity; reminiscent of an Italian Merlot; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2008 Lidio Carraro Merlot Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, tart red currant, oregano, dried herbs nose; medium bodied, poised, savory, fresh, tart red currant, oregano, dried herbs palate with medium acidity; long finish (13.5% alcohol) 93 points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Pinot Noir Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium cherry red color; reduction, tart cherry, strawberry, roses nose; silky textured, tart cherry, tart strawberry, rosehips, mineral palate with medium-plus acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2008 Lidio Carraro Quorum Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, smoky, tart red currant, dried provencal herbs, light smoke nose; medium bodied, fresh poised, complex, savory, tart red currant, dried provencal herbs, light smoke palate with lively medium-plus acidity; could use 2-3 years and should go 15-20; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Tannat Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque red violet color; aromatic, light coffee, roasted red plum, subtle spice nose; fresh, tasty, tight, complex, cherry, roasted red plum, light coffee, light white pepper, dried herb palate with lively medium acidity; could use 3-4 years and will go 20+; long finish (15.5% alcohol) 94+ points
  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Tempranillo Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Dark ruby color; reduction, coffee, tart red currant nose; silky textured, tart red currant, tart red berry, potpourri palate with medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Teroldego Singular Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Opaque red violet color; tart cherry, tart roasted plum, reduction, light pepper, cayenne nose; fresh, complex, tart red currant dried red berry, light cayenne palate with firm tannins and medium acidity; needs 4-plus years and should go 15-20; long finish (14% alcohol) 93 points

Miolo

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    Miolo Winery in Vale dos Vinhedos

    Miolo is another one of Brazil’s three biggest producers. It’s a partnership of three families. They also have wine projects in Europe, Chile and Argentina. They own over 2800 acres of vinifera vines in Brazil, and are the biggest landowner in Campanha. They control 40% of the domestic market in fine still wines and 15% of the sparkling wine market. The Miolo family dates their involvement in wine to the arrival of their ancestor in Bento Gonçalves in 1897, and his purchase of a 24-hectare vineyard plot known as Lote 43. For many years the family sold their grapes to co-ops. They started their own brand in 1991, with Merlot. They expanded rapidly, developing and executing on a tremendously successful business plan that has involved strategic partnerships.

    The wines produced from the Vale dos Vinhedos are sold under the Miolo label. The Miolo Winery is in a beautiful setting in the Vale dos Vinhedos, including a small lake. They were pioneers in the Campanha region, along the Uruguayan border, but wines from that region are sold under the name Seival. There are some very good wines here, at a variety of price points. My favorites were the Cuvée Giuseppe Merlot/Cabernet (92+ points), and a Cabernet with some age on it, 2006 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon Quinta do Seival (92 points).

    I count seven different Miolo bottlings available in the U.S., including Lote 43 for $30. The 2015 Chardonnay is available for an average of $16. The Pinot and Pinot Reserva are available, along with both white and rosé versions of the Cuvée Tradition Brut. A Merlot is also available for $14.
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  • 2011 Miolo Brut Millésimé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; fresh, tart pear, apple nose; poised, tasty, creamy textured, tart pear, lime cream, green apple, mineral palate with medium acidity; long finish (50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 22 months on lees) 91+ points
  • 2006 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon Quinta do Seival Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Dark ruby color; black currant, cedar nose; tasty, youthful, black currant, tart berry, cedar palate balanced with lively acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Miolo Chardonnay Cuvée Giuseppe Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; lemon curd, mango nose; medium bodied, rich, lemon gelee, mango palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (10 months in oak) 90+ points
  • 2015 Miolo Chardonnay Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; fresh, lemon, light passion fruit, pear cream nose; tasty, fresh, ripe lemon, light vanilla palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; TA 5.6, pH 3.18; 20% in new American oak for 3 months) 91+ points
  • 2013 Miolo Cuvée Giuseppe Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Opaque black red violet color; aromatic, black currant, red currant, cedar nose; tasty, tart black currant, cedar palate with sweet, fine tannins; could use 2 years and should go 15-20; long finish (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1 year in new French oak) 92+ points
  • NV Miolo Cuvée Tradition Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, apple, pear nose; medium bodied, rounded, creamy textured, pear palate; medium-plus finish (50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir; 2013 tirage) 90 points
  • NV Miolo Cuvée Tradition Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light salmon pink color; almond, raspberry, chalk nose; medium bodied, golden raspberry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir) 88 points
  • NV Miolo Grenache Bossa Nova Sparkling Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; fruity, ripe red currant nose; creamy textured, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Miolo Merlot Terroir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; blackberry, black currant, berry syrup nose; blackberry, black currant, berry syrup palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
  • NV Miolo Moscato Brazilian Legends Girl of Ipanema Brazil, Vale do São Francisco
    Pale green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, lime, chalk, quinine nose; sweet, lime cream, fruit salad syrup palate with some acidity; medium finish 83 points
  • 2014 Miolo Pinot Noir Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Medium dark cherry red color; black cherry, beets, tart berry nose; black cherry, beets palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish 88 points
  • 2011 Miolo Quinta do Seival Castas Portuguesas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Opaque red violet color; fresh, black raspberry, black cherry nose; medium bodied, tart red fruit, dried red berry, light cinnamon palate with good balancing acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (50/50 Tinto Roriz/Touriga Nacional) 89 points
  • 2011 Miolo Reserva Lote 43 Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque dark red violet color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, sweet green herb nose; medium bodied, ripe black currant, blackberry, black cherry palate with sweet tannins; should go 7 years; medium-plus finish (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90+ points
  • 2015 Miolo Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Light green-tinged yellow color; kiwi, light gooseberry nose; medium bodied, tart gooseberry, kiwi palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points
  • 2011 Miolo Seival Sesmarias Fronteira Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha, Fronteira
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, violets, clove nose; tasty, creamy textured, flavorful, black currant, blackberry palate with sweet, fine tannins; long finish 91+ points
  • NV Miolo Syrah Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink color with abundant, steady, small bubbles; reticent, savory, tart cranberry, red berry nose; medium bodied, tart berry, roasted berry, beets, tar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 81 points
  • NV Miolo Terranova Brut Brazil, Vale do São Francisco
    Light yellow color with some steady, tiny bubbles; apple pie filling, orange blossom, ripe pear nose; medium-plus bodied, lush, creamy textured, baked pear, orange blossom palate with some balancing acidity; long finish (Moscatel; 7.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Miolo Viognier RAR Collezione Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color; poached pear, vanilla, white jasmine nose; tasty, poised, creamy textured, white jasmine, light vanilla, pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (1 year in French oak) 91 points

Perini

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    Benildo Perini, center, flanked by sons Pablo (left) and Franco

    The Perini family came from the Veneto in 1876. They were a founding family of the Forqueta Co-op in Farroupilha in the 1920s. In 1970, they finally started making their own wines. They began focusing on fine wines in the 1990s. In 2006, Mario Geisse came on board as a consultant. Their production was then 70% vinho de mesa and 30% fine wine, but now the ratio is 60% fine wine and 40% vinho de mesa. Like Aurora and Miolo, they also produce some of the most delicious unfermented grape juice I have ever tasted–a popular treat in Brazil. They have a total of 96 hectares under vine but buy most of their grapes from local families. They have several levels of wine, including a new low end Macaw label, designed for U.S. export; Casa Perini, which they started in 1996; and Perini, launched in 2012 for special projects, like the Quatro they introduced as an icon wine.

    I fail to understand why they are aiming to enter the U.S. market with a low end wine, albeit the Macaw has a colorful label. I very much liked a couple of their sparkling wines, but best of all were the unusual muscat based Licoroso Doce called Eden (93 points), the 2013 Perini Chardonnay Fração Única (92+ points) and 2012 Perini Merlot Fração Única (92 points).
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  • NV Perini Casa Perini Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; fresh, tart currant, cranberry, dried berry nose; tart cranberry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Gamay; 11.8% alcohol; good pairing with pizza and pasta) 85+ points
  • NV Perini Casa Perini Edicao Especial Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    From magnum – very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, savory, almond, chalk nose; autolytic, poised, almond cream, light hazelnut, tart pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (18 months in magnum) 91+ points
  • 2013 Perini Chardonnay Fração Única Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light lemon yellow color; aromatic, appealing, lemon cream, almond nose; delicious, poised, tart lemon cream, mineral, saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 3 months in French oak) 92+ points
  • 2012 Perini Marselan Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Dark ruby color; savory, tobacco, reduction, tar nose; savory, tart red currant, tobacco, cedar palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; no oak) 87+ points
  • NV Perini Marselan Arbo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, barbecue sauce, smoke nose; tart roasted plum, barbecue sauce palate with tangy, near medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2012 Perini Merlot Fração Única Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, cherry, cedar, red plum, ripe red currant nose; tasty, savory, tart red plum, ripe red currant, cedar palate with lively medium acidity; medium-plus finish (6 months in french oak) 92 points
  • 2013 Perini Merlot Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark ruby color; plum, vanilla, blackberry nose; simple, fruity, berry, plum palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (11.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • NV Perini Perini Eden Vinho Branco Licoroso Doce Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    From 500 ml – light medium yellow color; very aromatic, orange blossom, floral, pear cream nose; rich, creamy textured, pear cream, orange blossom, orange honey palate with some balancing acidity; long finish (16.5% alcohol; unusual blend of aged still muscat and muscat must) 93 points
  • NV Casa Perini Prosecco Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, clean, pear, apple cream nose; tasty, clean, poised, tart pear, tart apple, orange blossom palate with medium acidity; long finish 91+ points
  • 2009 Perini Quatro Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, vanilla, blackberry syrup nose; tart black currant, dried berry, tart berry, tart apricot palate with near medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Tannat, 5% Ancellata; 12% alcohol; 9 months in new French oak) 88 points
  • 2012 Perini Tannat Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark red violet color; tar, reduction, roasted black fruit nose; near medium bodied, tart plum, tar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (11.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2014 Casa Perini Solidário Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Dark ruby color; savory, tart red currant, tart plum nose; savory, tart red currant, tart plum palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol; 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) 85+ points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Casa Perini Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Pale green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; orange blossom, floral, lime cream nose; tasty, orange cream, lime cream, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (8% alcohol) 88+ points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Moscato Arbo Valle Trentino Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with few, tiny bubbles; aromatic, tart orange cream, peach nose; tart peach, tart lemon palate with medium acidity; medium finish 86 points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Moscato Casa Perini Aquarela Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; ripe raspberry, strawberry, ripe cranberry nose; sweet, creamy textured, strawberry, cream, strawberry yogurt palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (blend of Moscato Branco, Giallo and Muscat de Hamburg; 7.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Vinicula Perini Moscato Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color; clean, ripe pear, orange blossom, orange cream, pink grapefruit nose; clean, simple, ripe pear, pear syrup, peach palate with balancing acidity; short finish (11% alcohol) 85+ points

Peterlongo

    20151202_174448riddling room in vast cellar at Peterlongo

    Manuel Peterlongo, an engineer who came to Rio Grande do Sul from Trentino in 1887, developed an obsessive devotion to the goal of creating something to equal Champagne in Brazil. He was introduced to Champagne by a priest who had been brought from France to make sparkling wine locally. Eventually Manuel visited Champagne. His first effort was a methode traditionelle sparkler made from Muscat, in 1913. In 1915, he founded the winery, and by 1924, the year he died, he’d finished supervising the building of a massive production and cellaring facility out of basalt bricks in the city of Garibaldi. He designed it to have a wind tunnel that not only helped keep the bottles cold but allowed them to disgorge bottles without special equipment. His son Armando took over from his father and continued the singular mission of producing both what they labeled as “Champagne” and “Prosecco” until 1965, when the winery was sold shortly before Armando’s death. The quality of production then declined until the current owners, Luiz Carlos Sella and Adilson Luiz Bohatczuk, took over in 2002.

    The new winemaker is Daisy Tempass, who previously worked with Monica Rossetti. The winery owns 23 hectares of grapes, but they buy most of what they need to produce two lines of sparkling wine–one that is aged 18 months en tirage and the other 36 months. They also produce 100,000 liters of charmat methode sparkling, mainly moscatel. I was impressed by both lines of methode traditionelle wines–which they are allowed by treaty to sell in Brazil only, due to long historical use, as “Champagne.” Best of all were the Elegance Brut and Prosecco Brut, both 91+ points. (Separately, by treaty with Italy, producers who have long made “Prosecco” from the Glera grape in Brazil and Australia are allowed to sell it in their domestic markets only as “Prosecco.” For export, it has to be called “Glera.”)

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  • NV Peterlongo Elegance Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; very autolytic, hazelnut, tart pear, brioche nose; delicious, autolytic, brioche, almond, tart pear palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 36 months en tirage; 9 grams dosage inc’d 20-year-old brandy) 91+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Presence Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, pear, light brioche nose; tasty, tart apple, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 8.5 grams dosage; 18 months tirage) 89 points
  • NV Peterlongo Presence Extra Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light golden color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; lightly autolytic, pear, apple nose; tasty, poised, tart apple, white pear, mineral palate with steely medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 4 grams dosage, 18 months en tirage) 90+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Privilege Rosé Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium pink orange color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; blood orange, pink grapefruit nose; tart pink grapefruit, lemon, tart golden raspberry palate with intense medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir; charmat method, 3-4 months on lees; bottled in March) 88+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Prosecco Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; chalk, tart apple nose; tasty, bright, characterful, tart pear, ripe apple, mineral palate with vibrant medium acidity; medium-plus finish (reminiscent of Prosecco; 9 grams dosage) 91+ points

Pizzato

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    Flavio Pizzato in the vineyard top, Plinio Pizzato’s home in the vineyards below

    The Pizzato family were grape growers until 1999, when they started the winery. Father Plinio Pizzato was the biggest grower of vitis vinifera in Vale dos Vinhedos, selling to Chandon Brazil and other labels. From 1985 to 1986, he was also the first to install VSP trellising. Son Flavio is the charming and philosophical winemaker. The Pizzatos are most famous for their well reviewed Merlots, but they make an astonishing variety of wines–from sparkling to Chardonnay to plush reds, using unusual varieties like Egiodola and Alicante Bouschet. Their 2000 Merlot was named the best Brazilian wine by a Brazilian magazine, quickly turning it into Brazil’s first cult wine.

    They produce about 250,000 bottles a year, 40% of which is sparkling. They own 26 hectares of vines in Vale dos Vinhedos, and have a second label, Fausto, based on grapes from the Fausto vineyard that lies 50 kilometers north. That label, launched in 2005, is primarily aimed at supermarkets. Flavio says he was inspired by Miolo, which he credits for having moved Brazil from very pedestrian wines to more internationally styled wines. He is an electrical engineer by education, but got practical experience making wine in Argentina.

    My favorite of the wines I tasted is the famous DNA 99 single vineyard Merlot (94 points). The Legno Chardonnay is also terrific, and the Brazil Wine Guide ranked it as the top white wine (93+ points). An Alicante Bouschet Reserva was also very good (92+ points).
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  • 2009 Pizzato Alicante Bouschet Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark ruby color; very aromatic, sweet berry, smoke, herbal, clove, dried blueberry nose; medium bodied, clove, dried blueberry, dried berry, blackberry, papaya palate; long finish (13% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 92+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Brut Champenoise Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; ripe pear, apricot, ripe quince nose; medium-plus bodied, creamy textured, pear sauce, apple cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (87% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Brut Champenoise Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light medium orange color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; fresh, tangerine, orange melon nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, tangerine, ripe orange plate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (82% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay; 9 months sur lees; 12% alcohol; 8.5 RS) 88 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; savory, smoke, roast black plum nose; savory, smoke, roast black plum palate with medium acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol; 8 months in used American oak) 86 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Pizzato Vineyards Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque black red violet color; aromatic, black currant, clove, milk chocolate nose; tight, creamy textured, tart black currant, mocha, bittersweet chocolate palate; needs 2 years and should go 10+; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 11 months in American oak, 1st & 2nd use) 91+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Slightly hazy light yellow color; aromatic, fresh, lemon cream, light vanilla nose; tasty, fresh, medium bodied, tart lemon cream, mineral, lightly saline palate with crisp medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2015 Pizzato Chardonnay Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light, hazy, green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, fresh, ripe pineapple, passion fruit nose; medium bodied, citrus palate with near medium acidity; medium finish 87+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Chardonnay Legno Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light medium lemon yellow color; aromatic, appealing, white jasmine, lemon cream, almond nose; medium bodied, luscious, almond, lemon cream, mineral, lightly saline palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2010 Pizzato Concentus Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Saturated very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, milk chocolate, black currant, blackberry nose; tight, blackberry, black currant, smoke palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (70% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.5% alcohol; 12 months in French and American oak, 1st & 2nd use) 90+ points
  • 2010 Pizzato Egiodola Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque black red violet color; tar, ash, black fig, roast black fruit nose; intriguing, reduction, tart roast black fruit, tar palate; medium acidity; long finish (13% alcohol) 89 points
  • NV Pizzato Fausto Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; pear cream, apple cream nose; flavorful, fresh, nectarine, orange cream soda palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 93% Chardonnay, 7% Pinot Noir; 8.5R RS) 88 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Fausto Verve Gran Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, chocolate, ripe black fruit nose; medium bodied, dark chocolate, black currant palate with some balancing acidity; could use 1-2 years and should go 8-10 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Tannat; 100% new oak) 90+ points
  • 2011 Pizzato Merlot DNA 99 Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Saturated very dark red violet color; savory, dried herb, tobacco, tart black currant, mocha nose; velvety textured, black currant, black fruit, mocha palate with acid lift; long finish (reminiscent of Masseto) 94 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Merlot Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, ripe plum, berry jam, ripe boysenberry nose; tight, black fruit, berry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2015 Pizzato Merlot Fausto Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium orange tinged pink color; aromatic, fresh, orange cream, raspberry, ripe papaya, strawberry yoghurt nose; tasty, fresh, juicy, papaya, tart orange cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; pH 3.32) 91 points
  • NV Pizzato Merlot Fausto Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium pink color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; savory, tart plum, cinnamon nose; creamy textured, apricot, raspberry palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Merlot; 12% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, roasted black fruit, smoke, charcoal, tarragon nose; medium bodied, tart roasted plum, tart black currant palate with medium acidity; could used 1-2 years and should go 8-10 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 91 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    From 375 ml – very dark red violet color; aromatic, black fruit, black currant, roast coffee, Valrhona chocolate nose; tasty, black fruit, black currant, roast coffee, Valrhona chocolate palate with a sense of salinity and good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Tannat Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; savory, smoke, roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal nose; tasty, fresh, savory, smoke, roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2010 Pizzato Tannat Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark ruby color; savory, roasted black fruit, smoke charcoal, chocolate nose; savory, roasted black fruit, smoke, charcoal, chocolate, reduction palate with near medium acidity; needs 2-3 years and should go 8-10; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 89 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Vertigo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Hazy, light lemon yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, mango nose; creamy textured, pear cream, almond palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol) 89 points

Salton

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    Salton is the third of Brazil’s big three wineries. The company was founded in 1910, and they started producing sparkling wines in 1933. In 2005, they became the leading producer of sparkling wine, with 38 to 40% of Brazil’s sparkling wine market. They make primarily charmat, but also a small percentage of methode traditionelle. They have almost 20 different labels. They launched their Classic line in 1990, and now virtually every store and restaurant in the country carries it. Half the wine purchased in Brazil is theirs. They launched the Talento line in 2004.

    Salton grows about 10% of the grapes they require, buying the rest from 500 families. They currently export to 20 countries. Their main markets in the U.S. are New York, Florida, Texas, Maryland and Illinois (i.e., states with large populations of Brazilians). My favorite of the wines we tried were a delicious 100 year old brandy created to commemorate the company’s 2010 centenary (93+ points), the Chardonnay Virtude bottling (91+ points) and a lovely Pinot-based sparkling wine, Lucia Canae (91 points).

    The 2011 Salton Reserva Especial Tannat and 2013 Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon are available at a few U.S. retailers, for an average of $16 and $14 respectively. The 2013 Salton Intenso Tannat (RJ88 points) is also available in the U.S. for an average of $16. The 2009 Salto Talento Tinto can be found at a couple retailers for an average of $30. And the NV Salton Flowers Demi-Sec White is the most widely available of their wines in the U.S., for an average of $12.
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  • NV Salton 100 anos Brandy Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Medium amber gold color with .5 millimeter clear meniscus; aromatic, orange cream, honey cream, vanilla nose; creamy textured, mellow, almond cream, butter cream palate; long finish (35% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2014 Salton Chardonnay Virtude Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Light yellow color; aromatic, lime, floral, pear nose; creamy textured, pear cream, white jasmine, lime palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (6 months with battonage in 100% new oak) 91+ points
  • 2011 Salton Gerações Paulo Salton Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; lifted, black cherry, roasted cherry, roasted beets nose; characterful, black cherry, roasted cherry, roasted beets palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) 90+ points
  • NV Salton Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with a storm of speedy, tiny bubbles; lime cream, green melon, orange blossom, white jasmine nose; tasty, creamy textured, lime cream, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (70% Chardonnay, 30% Riesling Italico) 89 points
  • 2012 Salton Marselan paradoxo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Nearly opaque red violet color; fresh, savory, smoked berry, roasted berry nose; light-medium bodied, savory, tart roasted berry, tart raspberry syrup palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (no oak) 88+ points
  • 2011 Salton Merlot Desejo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, roasted black fruit, black currant, smoke nose; tasty, savory, tart black currant, beet juice, light smoke palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12 months in 100% new oak, 50% American, 50% French) 90 points
  • NV Salton Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, green melon, light lime cream nose; creamy textured, rounded, orange cream, lime cream, almond palate; medium-plus finish (7.5% alcohol) 90 points
  • NV Salton Pinot Noir Lucia Canae Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light pink color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, fresh, strawberry, raspberry, strawberry jam nose; tasty, medium bodied, creamy textured, raspberry, tart strawberry, dried strawberry, white chocolate palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir; 8 grams dosage) 91 points
  • 2014 Salton Pinot Noir paradoxo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Medium dark cherry red color; black cherry, blackberry nose; black cherry, berry palate with balancing acidity needing oak integration; medium-plus finish (13..5% alcohol; 6-8 months in oak, 100% new) 87+ points
  • NV Salton Poética Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light orange pink color with abundant, speedy, small bubbles; golden raspberry, golden currant cream nose; juicy, orange cream, golden raspberry, golden currant cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay; 11.5% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2015 Salton Prosecco Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; appealing, fresh, lime nose; tasty, fresh, tart citrus, mineral, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Glera) 88+ points
  • NV Salton Reserva Ouro Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; lightly autolytic, almond, floral, green almond nose; fresh, creamy textured, almond cream, lime cream, mineral palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 10% Riesling Italico; 12 months lees contact, charmat method) 90 points
  • 2013 Salton Tannat Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha, Fronteira
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, blueberry, ripe berry nose; creamy textured, blueberry, ripe berry, blueberry cream palate; medium-plus finish 88 points
  • 2012 Salton Teroldego Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Nearly opaque red violet color; intriguing, savory, roasted beets, smoke, balsamic nose; tasty, roasted beets, balsamic, smoke palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (good pairing with a variety of veggie dishes and red meats) 90+ points

Valduga

  • NV Casa Valduga 130 Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, tart pear nose; poised, creamy textured, pear, almond, palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (11 months en tirage) 88+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Arinarnoa Identidade Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Very dark ruby color; tart red currant, dried cranberry, tar nose; tart red berry, tart red currant palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2014 Casa Valduga Arte Tradicional Brut Rose Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink orange color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange, tangerine, orange sherbet nose; creamy textured, fruit, orange sherbet, tangerine palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol; 12 months on lees) 86 points
  • 2010 Casa Valduga Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Villa-Lobos Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos Very dark ruby color; reduction, roasted beets, plum, spice, cranberry sauce nose; medium bodied, spice, cranberry, spice, ripe damask plum palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Casa Valduga Espumante Arte Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, small bubbles; autotlytic, apple cream, pear nose; medium bodied, pear, almond alate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (25 months on lees; 9 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Gran Raízes Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, smoke, red currant, tart beets nose; medium bodied, tight, tart red currant, red berry palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years and should go 5-7; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon & Tannat; 12 months in new French oak) 86+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Marselan Identidade Serra do Sudeste Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Medium dark ruby color; savory, roasted beets, salumi, smoky nose; smoky, savory, roasted beets, salumi palate with good, balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 8 months in French oak) 87 points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Reserva Blush Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light salmon color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, chalk, tangerine nose; medium bodied, orange, tangerine palate with near medium acidity and sweet tannins with noticeable dosage; medium-plus finish (25 months on lees; 10 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2015 Casa Valduga Sauvignon Blanc Premium Raízes Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Very light green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, ripe grapefruit, pear syrup, menthol nose; fresh, ripe grapefruit, pear nectar palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 86 points

Valmarino

  • 2013 Valmarino Tannat Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Opaque red violet color; savory, roast veggies, chocolate, light smoke nose; tasty, medium bodied, chocolate, roast ripe black fruit with good balancing acidity and fine, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91+ points

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Surprising Wine Values at Whole Foods

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A lot of people I know refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Wallet” because of its relatively high prices on produce and other food items. I shop there regularly for health supplements and specialty foods I can’t find elsewhere. I am finding, though, that their wine department, stocked with many relatively obscure organic and sustainably grown wines sourced by their buyers from around the world, does contain some relative bargains.

When Whole Foods–the 30th largest retailer in the U.S., with over 400 stores around the country, as well as in Canada and the U.K.–recently offered to send me their “Summer Top 10 Wines,” currently on sale and highlighted with large display posters at local stores, I said I would be happy to receive and evaluate them. What arrived was a diverse group of wines–four whites, five reds and one sparkler–from literally all over the globe. A few came from producers I am very familiar with, but most are from makers I’ve never heard of. The price range runs from $7 to $20.

After tasting through this collection, which I scored from 86 to 91 points, I decided to apply a new QPR algorithm I’ve been working on for awhile. I’m calling it the RJ Quadruple P Scale, which stands for Price Per Premium Point. I started developing it a couple of years ago to try to evaluate large numbers of Champagnes and Bordeaux I had rated, to help me make recommendations that took into account both the price tags and my scores. I used the latest iteration of this scale to help me identify the best relative values amongst the over 200 grocery store Chardonnays I reported on here recently. I was hoping to come up with a very elegant formula that others could easily use to plug in a price point, but that goal has so far eluded me.

The very simplest form of evaluating point scores by price is to divide the price by the point score. Such a simple ratio, however, fails to make vital distinctions between significantly better wines–e.g., between those scoring, say, 87 points and those at the 92 or 93 point level.

Instead, what I’ve found most useful to date is a spreadsheet of values for point scores from 70-100, using a sliding scale of values based on the fact that premium points–points above a score of 90, and again above scores of 93 and 95–are reflected by the market in the form of dramatically increasing prices.

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My current scale is still very much a working model, and I am open to suggestions for improving it. I’ve tried to base the values and increments between the values on a rough notion of the market value of wines at various point scores. I’ve aimed for a PPPP averaging $2 as representing a reasonable price for wine at different price points. For example, a price of $22 is not unreasonable for a wine rated 90 points, so I’ve assigned a value of 11 to a 90-point score, yielding a price per premium point of $2 for a wine priced at $22. For wines of much lower quality, where the incremental price difference between a wine scoring, say, 81 points and 83 points is not that significant, the steps per half rating point are only .2. For very highly rated wines, the increments between half rating points go up dramatically starting at the 92 point level, so that is reflected in the value per point.

Once I score a wine and then go to my spreadsheet for the value for that score, I then divide whatever the market price is for the wine by its value. That yields the Price Per Premium Point or PPPP score. As you’ll see from the spreadsheet below, a 93-point wine gets a value of 18, so a wine with that score priced at $36 ends up with a PPP of $2. A wine scoring 96 points has a value of 40, so a wine costing $80 would also have a PPPP of $2. At the low end of the scale, a wine rated 82+ points would have a value of 1.6, so to get a PPPP of $2, it would have to be priced no more than $3.20.

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In the case of the Whole Foods Summer Top 10, the #1 wine after I apply the PPPP scale is a tasty, varietally correct New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright balancing acidity and complex flavors. It would be a refreshing accompaniment to a variety of summer fare, especially seafood and white cheeses, and at a price of only $12, and therefore a PPPP of only $1.09, it represents a very significant value.

My #2 wine on this list is a $7 Tempranillo from Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region, which resembles a decent Rioja with some bottle age on it. Its 87-point score at that price point results in a PPPP of $1.27. This would be a very drinkable and affordable pairing for everything from grilled veggies to lighter meats.

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My third place wine on this list is a decent Vinho Verde from an importer I have gotten to know well over the years, from having been on panels and at tasting dinners with him. Bartholomew Broadbent knows how to source good quality, well priced wine. Vinho Verde is a perfect summer wine for its bright citrus flavors and vibrant acidity. This one is priced at $9–which is reasonable for a Vinho Verde, although there are many others that generally run under $15. It will serve well as an aperitif or with salads and light cheeses of all kinds, as well as lighter seafood dishes.

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Number four gets my highest rating–91 points–and also has an excellent PPPP of $1.31. It’s a flavorful old vine Zin with good balancing acidity–Valravn. This is a small project by the owners of Banshee Wines, based on dry-farmed bush vines ranging from 50 to over 100 years old. I’ve seen this wine priced elsewhere at $20, which is still a good price, but Whole Foods currently has it for only $17. This is a wine that should age well for at least five years, so would not only complement this summer’s barbecues and grilled meats, but could be lovely to open in cooler months over the coming years as well.

The Chardonnay on the list–Andover Estate Arroyo Seco–comes in fifth for me based on its 89-point rating and excellent price, for good California Chardonnay, of $13. Whole Foods claims to have bought the entire production of this wine, so you’re not going to find it elsewhere. It will be a crowd pleaser, and a versatile wine to pair with summer afternoons by the pool and a host of summer foods.

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The next two slots on my ranking go to wines that also have very good PPPP scores, well below $2: a very good Bandol Rosé from Bieler Père et Fils, and a varietally true Pinot Noir with good acidity from Macedonia. The former, at $20, is the highest priced wine of this list, but that’s still a great price for a Bandol Rosé, since dry pink wines from this popular region have climbed to an average of over $30, and as much as $50 to $60 for some sought after producers. Whole Foods claimed that it bought the entire production of this tasty Rosé, so you won’t find it elsewhere. The Pinot, on the other hand, is a bargain at $11, a very tough price point for a drinkable Pinot Noir, let alone one with good flavor and acidity like this one from Stobi Winery in Macedonia.

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There’s also a Cabernet on this Whole Foods list that represents a good value at a PPPP of exactly $2. Priced at only $8, this Chilean Cab from Autoritas has good varietal character and food friendly acidity. It compares favorably to low priced Cabernets that I have tasted for my Grocery Store Cabernet Project, the results of which will soon appear here.

The last two slots are weaker values based on my PPPP scale, both coming in at a PPPP of $3.25. But those who value convenience and portability in their sparkling wines might well find a lot of appeal in the 187 millimeter pop top can of bubbly from Prosecco producer Presto. Reportedly this is actually fizz that could have been bottled as Prosecco, but that, in a canned format, doesn’t meet the DOC regulations for Prosecco packaging. As a tasty and refreshing addition to a picnic, however, it’s hard to complain about the $13 price tag on this easy to carry and open sparkler.

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The wine I rank number 10 seems like less of a bargain at $13, given the quantity of similarly priced Italian Sangiovese based wines showing less oak and reduction than this red blend from Capezzana.

All in all, I applaud Whole Foods for this diverse summer line up and the relatively bargain prices overall. Here’s to a fun summer full of food friendly, balanced wines that don’t burn a hole in our wallets.

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet displaying my PPPP scale: RJ PPPP scale for blog And I appreciate the work done by Robert Dwyer, The Wellesley Wine Press, in working toward a useful QPR tool: http://www.wellesleywinepress.com/2009/05/modeling-value-introducing-wwpqpr.html

For my complete tasting notes, scoring and pricing on each of these wines, see below:


Whole Foods Summer Top 10

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  • #1 – 2015 Oya Pointe Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    Very light yellow color; pyrazine, cat pee, tart grapefruit nose; juicy, tart grapefruit, light smoke, light green herb palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 90 points $12.00 PPPP:$1.09
  • # 2 – 2011 Globerati Tempranillo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Spain, Castilla-La Mancha, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
    Black-tinged dark red violet color; coconut, vanilla, plum, berry syrup nose; plum, berry syrup, coconut palate with some balancing acidity and good varietal character; medium finish (13% alcohol) 87 points $7.00 PPPP:$1.27
  • # 3 – NV Broadbent Vinho Verde Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
    Light yellow color; lime, citrus, chalk nose; tart citrus, green apple, chalk, saline palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (9% alcohol; good summer sipper for $9) 88+ points $9.00 PPPP:$1.29
  • #4 – 2014 Valravn Zinfandel Old Vine California, Sonoma County
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, briary, raisin, tart berry, spice nose; juicy, briary, berry, cherry, red plum, spice palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.7% alcohol; good old vine Zin character for $17) 91 points $17.00 PPPP:$1.31
  • #5 – 2014 Andover Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Seco California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
    Light lemon yellow color; lemon curd, almond, pear nose; creamy textured, savory, almond, pear palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points $13.00 PPPP:$1.44
  • #6 – 2015 Bieler Père et Fils Bandol Réserve Rosé France, Provence, Bandol
    Light orange pink color; savory, tart cantaloupe, tart strawberry nose; tasty, tart strawberry, cranberry, tart cantaloupe palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Mourvedre, 40% Grenache, 6% Cinsault, 4% Syrah; 13.9% alcohol) 91 points $20.00 PPPP:$1.54
  • #7 – 2015 Stobi Winery Pinot Noir Macedon Macedonia, Povardarie, Tikves
    Medium dark ruby color; cherry, raspberry puree, black cherry nose; juicy, light-medium bodied, cherry, black cherry, berry syrup, raspberry puree palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 88 points $11.00 PPPP:$1.57
  • #8 – 2015 Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon Autoritas Chile, Central Valley
    Saturated, very dark black-tinged red violet color; savory, tart red currant, green olive, cedar nose; juicy, red currant, green olive, cedar palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points $8.00 PPPP:$2.00
  • #9 – NV Presto Sparkling Cuvée Vino Frizzante Italy
    From 167 ml can – Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, small bubbles; ripe pear, banana, apple nose tart pear, apple palate with balancing acidity; medium finish (11% alcohol; reportedly this is Prosecco, but Presto can’t market it as such because DOC rules require Prosecco to be bottled) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25
  • #10 – 2012 Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano Italy, Tuscany, Barco Reale di Carmignano
    Very dark black-tinged red violet color; reduction, red currant, cranberry, coconut oil nose; juicy, red currant, cranberry palate with medium acidity; medium finish (blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon & Canaiolo; 13.5% alcohol) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25
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    Chianti Classico: Characterful Wines at Value Prices

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    Tuscan olive grove surrounded by vines at Castello di Ama

    This post highlights characterful wines from a fabled part of the world long known for its natural beauty, fabulous food and great wines. I’m talking about Tuscany, in the heart of Central Italy.

    Brunello and so-called Super Tuscans from this part of Italy are world class but typically very pricey. There is, however, another appellation producing remarkable wines here that just don’t receive the same respect or command equivalent prices. In some cases, a producer whose well known Super Tuscans garner high scores makes other wines from the identical vineyards that are a much harder sell.

    I’m talking about Chianti Classico. In this hilly, heavily forested region you can find screaming good deals like:

    • 90 point 2012 Castello di Gabbiano for only $13
    • 91+ point 2012 Luano averaging $17 U.S. retail
    • 92+ point 2012 Badia a Coltibuono at $20

    What I love about Chianti, besides the value prices, are the reliably high acidities, tart red fruit, and savory elements, suggestive of herbs like tarragon, and aromas reminiscent of a forest hike. These characteristics, when combined with food typical of the region–rich pastas, tomato based sauces and braised meats–create unbeatable pairings.

    These are not wines for sipping on their own. In Italian culture, wine is for enjoying with and as a complement to food, and that’s where Chianti Classico really excels. For me, these wines truly represent the soul of Tuscany, reminding me of walks in its olive groves and memorable meals in which the wine and food combine to create sublime moments of true satisfaction.

    So having traveled to Chianti Classico as a guest of the Consorzio in the fall of 2014, visiting some of my favorite producers there, continuing to check in on new releases, and hosting meals featuring older examples since then, I’ve compiled a list of 150 wines from 51 producers below. With a few exceptions, most of these producers’ wines are currently available in the U.S., and many represent significant bargains.

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    modern version of a fiasco bottling

    But first, what the heck is “Chianti Classico”? We’ve all heard of Chianti, and many of us associate it with the iconic, straw covered, bulbous bottles called “fiascos” that so many people used as romantic looking candle holders throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Is the Classico suffix just an Italian marketing gimmick, à la “Classic Coke”?

    History

    Tuscany is blessed not only with stunning scenery, classic architecture and fabulous food, it also has a long winemaking tradition, based primarily on the Sangiovese grape. It is home to such important wine regions as Brunello di Montalcino in the south; Montepulciano in the southeast; and the very large Chianti appellation running from northwest of Florence and east toward Pisa, all the way down to just south of Siena.

    Chianti Classico claims to be the oldest officially demarcated wine growing zone in the world, its original boundaries having been set forth by Tuscany’s Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716, exactly 300 years ago this year. At that time it included the townships of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina and part of the township of Greve.

    A “recipe” for traditional Chianti is attributed to one-time Italian prime minister Baron Bettino Ricasoli. In an 1872 letter, he summarized years of experimentation with wines at his estate located at the southern end of Chianti Classico. His letter recommended that wines of Chianti be based on Sangiovese, for “bouquet and vigor,” with a portion of Canaiolo for softening.

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    view from Castello di Brolio, former home of Baron Bettino Ricasoli

    It took awhile for other producers in this region to switch over to finicky, thin-skinned Sangiovese as the base for their wines, as many had long used primarily Canaiolo, along with a mix of other grapes, including neutral white grapes like Trebbiano. It eventually became standard to blend 70% or more Sangiovese with other grapes, including white grapes. This “formula,” misattributed to Baron Ricasoli, became enshrined in the 1967 DOC regulations for Chianti.

    The wines resulting from inclusion of such a high proportion of neutral white grapes resulted in lighter bodied, thin, high acid wines that were okay with food but that did not age very well.

    Over time, producers throughout much of Tuscany began to create wines in the same style that they called Chianti. In 1924, the Consortium for the Protection of Chianti wine was created. It adopted the logo of the black rooster which continues to be used on Chianti Classico wines today.

    The original boundaries of Chianti were officially expanded in 1932, incorporating lots of areas, including low lying valleys, far from the original four townships. By ministerial decree, the word “Classico” was added to distinguish the original region, encompassing roughly the same area as that established by the decree of 1716.

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    neck of a bottle of Chianti Classico sporting the black rooster emblem

    The 1932 boundaries were incorporated in the denominacion of origin (DOC) regulations of 1966, which permit eight areas of Tuscany to call their wines Chianti. But only the heartland area that traces its roots back to 1716 can use the term Chianti Classico and the black rooster logo.

    Chianti Classico Today

    Through the 1970s and ‘80s, the regulations requiring inclusion of white grapes led many top producers not to use the DOC for their great wines made with 100% Sangiovese, or Sangiovese along with other red grapes. Fortunately, those regulations, after being amended several times, today no longer permit the inclusion of white grapes.

    Chianti Classico can now be 100% Sangiovese, but must contain a minimum of 80%, with other red varieties grown in the region allowed up to a maximum of 20%. Those red grapes include varieties native to the region, like Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as international varieties–e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot–authorized for the production zone.

    There are now 580 members of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, of which 376 produce and bottle their own wines. About 7,000 hectares are currently registered for the production of Chianti Classico.

    Up until 2014, there were two types of Chianti Classico–Normale, also known as Annata, and Riserva. Riserva wines–amounting to a little over 20% of production–are required to have been aged for at least 24 months before release.

    In 2014, the category of Gran Selezione was added to create a top tier for the appellation, and as an effort to attract the Sangiovese-based Super Tuscan wines from the region to start using the Chianti Classico DOCG.

    There is still some controversy about the new category. Fabrizio Bianchi, patrician proprietor of Castello di Monsanto, for example, told me he was “not sure what it means.” Nonetheless, it caught on quickly with a lot of producers, expanding from only 20 Gran Selezione wines at the beginning of 2014 to over 120 after three months, according to Consorzio Marketing Director Davide Gaeta.

    To be permitted to label a wine Gran Selezione, an application has to be made and the wine has to be assessed by a tasting committee. It also has to be produced from grapes from a single vineyard or estate, and must have been aged at least 30 months.

    I sampled a lot of Gran Selezione wines during my trip to Tuscany, as well as on my return. While there are some admirable wines in this category, there are also many internationally styled, heavily extracted wines with this labeling that are not particularly food friendly and that really don’t speak of the appellation to me. Hopefully Gran Selezione will develop a more identifiable style over time, so consumers have a better idea what they are getting, other than simply the priciest Chianti Classico.

    Recommended Wines

    My notes on 150 wines below include the average retail price for wines listed as being available in the U.S. according to Wine-Searcher.com, the most complete online database for that information. Often one can find these wines for considerably less than the Wine-Searcher average. For example, I recently spotted the 90+ point 2012 Nozzole Riserva selling for $15 at Costco and snagged the first wine on my top ten, Castello di Gabbiano, for slightly less than $13 at Lucky.

    I tasted many more Chianti Classicos in Tuscany that are not currently in the U.S., but have omitted notes on those except for the three I consider the best–Castello di Radda, Le Miccine, and Villa Barberino—in the hopes they soon find distributors here.

    My top 10 values among the wines listed below are:

    1. 2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico – 90 points $13
    2. 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico – 92+ points $20
    3. 2012 Luiano Chianti Classico – 91+ points $17
    4. 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Le Corti – 92+ points $21
    5. 2012 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico – 91 points $18
    6. 2012 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico – 90+ points $18
    7. 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico – 94 points $36
    8. 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico – 94 points $37
    9. 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico – 90 points $17
    10. 2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli – 89 points $14

    Brief thumbnail summaries of some of the major producers appear below. I also plan to post separately about significant wines made by many of these producers that are not DOCG Chianti Classico. But first, I must highlight two producers from this appellation I consider true artists, whose wines I not only admire greatly–and that are highly reviewed elsewhere too–but that I also personally collect.

    Star Producers

    The following two producers make not only highly regarded Chianti Classicos, but also an array of widely regarded wines that don’t fit the DOC rules. Since they have been so successful, for many years, these producers have a big following both in Italy and abroad. These wines are therefore not bargains like some of the others on the list, although I still consider their basic Chianti Classicos to be a relative value given their quality. These are also wines for fine wine collectors, because they age gloriously.

    Castello di Ama

    Ama is a small, historic “borgo,” essentially a hamlet, that was purchased by four Roman families in 1972. Castello di Ama now amounts to 90 hectares of vines. It won Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Winery of the Year award in 2005. Winemaker Marco Pallanti, who was Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Oenologist of the Year in 2003, and who served several years as President of the Consorzio, is truly an artist. And the estate where he lives with wife and Castello di Ama co-owner Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti, is a delightful showcase of art installations, created by artists from around the world who were invited to spend a residency at the estate,

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    Marco Pallanti

    Pallanti, a Tuscan native who received his degree from the University of Bordeaux and worked at Mouton Rothschild, is credited with bringing the open-lyre vine training system to Tuscany. He not only grafted over large amounts of white varieties and Canaiolo to Sangiovese and red varieties, but also greatly increased the density of the plantings, to over 5,000 per hectare. He produced a stunning 100% Merlot, L’Apparita, beginning with the 1985 vintage, a year before the all-Merlot Masseto, which ultimately became one of Tuscany’s highest scoring, and costliest, wines.

    As Pallanti explains it, depending on the vintage, there are up to four bottlings of Chianti Classico from the estate. The Ama comes from young vines, less than 10 years old, and is fruity and fresh, meant for easy drinking. The San Lorenzo is their best vineyard and source of their Gran Selezione. And in top years, they produce two single vineyard bottlings–Vigneto Bellavista and Vigneto La Casuccia. They have made no Riserva since 2009.

    For me, everything Pallanti creates–from his stylish Chianti Classico crus, to one of my favorite rosés in the world, to an unusual old vine Pinot/Sangiovese blend and a marvelous Vin Santo–are wines for contemplation and deep enjoyment. Partaking in a marvelous lunch with Pallanti and his wines, and spending an afternoon listening to him talk about the estate and how some of his wines came about was an unforgettable highlight of my trip.

    Fontodi

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    Giovanni Manetti

    Giovanni Manetti is the affable owner/winemaker here. His father, head of a longtime family tile manufacturing business, purchased 15 hectares of vines in 1968. These vines are located in the spectacular natural amphitheater near the town of Panzano known as the Concha d’Oro, “golden shell.” This acquisition was gradually expanded to comprise 130 hectares, of which 80 are planted to vines. Over 95% of the plantings are Sangiovese, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a small amount of Pinot Noir. The estate has been certified organic since 2008.

    Fontodi became famous for the 100% Sangiovese Super Tuscan wine called Flaccionello, first produced in 1981. This wonderful wine, which now qualifies for the Chianti Classico DOCG, but which is still labeled as IGT, was a single vineyard wine until 2000, but is now a selection of best barrels from throughout the estate.

    The Chianti Classico is also 100% Sangiovese that spends about 12 months in French oak. The former Riserva Vigna del Sorbo has now become their Gran Selezione. Although it formerly contained a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is now also 100% Sangiovese. It spends 24 months in French barrels of which 50% are new.

    Manetti makes some other stellar wines–Pinot Noir, Syrah, a Sauvignon Blanc and Vin Santo–in small amounts, but those are very difficult to find in the U.S. When I visited, he also showed us his experimentations with amphora fermentation, without sulfur. The results–which can only be made in small amounts–were spectacular and excitingly fresh. I don’t think those will ever be made in sufficient quantities, however, that we will see them in this country.

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    amphorae at work at Fontodi

    Spending time with Manetti, who has worked for decades with consulting enologist Franco Bernabei, one soon realizes that, although he seems very easygoing on the surface, he is truly a perfectionist, constantly striving to make the best wines possible. Having had a chance not only to taste mature examples of his famous wines, but also some of the very small production bottlings on which he lavishes the same effort and attention, I am a huge fan of Manetti and the Fontodi wines.

    Final Note: Origin of the Black Rooster

    The black rooster seal of the Consorzio Chianti Classico derives from a story dating back to the intermittent warfare between the city states of Florence and Siena in the Middle Ages. According to the story, which is likely apocryphal, the leaders of Florence and Siena decided to bring an end to endless battles over the territorial boundary between the states by establishing the final boundary in what must have sounded like a very equitable manner.

    One knight from each city was to depart at daybreak on a chosen day, when the rooster crowed, riding toward the other city along the one major road between them. Wherever the knights met on the road was to become the final boundary. The Sienese chose a white rooster while the Florentines picked a black one that they then kept confined in the dark without food for several days until it was desperate. As a result, as soon as the black rooster was released, well before dawn, it started crowing, giving the Florentine knight a substantial head start. According to the story, the Florentine ultimately met his Sienese counterpart at Fonterutoli, only 12 kilometers north of Siena. The black rooster therefore celebrates a blatant instance of cheating by which Florence gained most of the territory of Tuscany well before they ultimately defeated Siena itself.

    While the rooster has been a highly visible and effective symbol on DOCG wines for many years, the Consorzio learned a few years ago that the symbol does not necessarily work well in all advertising contexts. They produced a promotional t-shirt featuring the black rooster after the word “I” and a red heart symbol. Upon learning this symbol combination suggested an entirely different meaning in English speaking countries than they intended, the shirt was quickly taken out of circulation.

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    ill-fated promotional T found hidden away on a shelf at Consorzio headquarters

    Tasting Notes on 150 Chianti Classicos from 51 Producers

    Antinori
    I enjoy the great wines of Antinori–Tignanello and Solaia–with some age on them. The Tig was originally produced, starting in 1970, as a Chianti Classico Riserva. Their mass production Chianti Classicos, however, are more extracted and fruit forward than the more savory, traditional style Chianti Classicos I prefer.
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    • 2012 Antinori Chianti Classico Pèppoli $23
      Light medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; light-medium bodied, red berry, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot & Syrah) 89 points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Pèppoli $26
      Dark red violet color; intense, lifted, cinnamon stick, candied red berry nose; tight, simple, tart cherry, raspberry, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese w/Merlot & Syrah; 13.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Marchese Antinori Riserva Tenuta Tignanello $38
      Saturated, very dark ruby color; redolent, cherry syrup, black cherry nose; rich, extracted, black cherry syrup, berry syrup palate with lowish acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2009 Antinori Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Badia a Passignano $55
      Medium ruby color; lifted, cherry, cedar, dried cherry nose; maturing, cherry, cedar, dried cherry, black cherry puree palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol; best 20-25 hectares selected from 60 hectare vineyard) 90+ points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Villa Antinori Riserva $30
      Medium dark red violet color; tart raspberry, cherry nose; tasty, tart raspberry, cherry, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10-day maceration; 14% alcohol) 90+ points

    Badia a Coltibuono
    I didn’t get to visit here, but I’ve long enjoyed their excellent wines that are built for aging. Badia a Coltibuono has been a family affair since 1846, when it was purchased, along with Fattoria Selvapiana in Rufina, by banker Michele Giuntini. The current family member in command, Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, served as president of the Consorzio and led the estate through organic certification. These are wonderful, traditional style Chianti Classicos.

    • 2013 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico $20
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, cranberry nose; very tart red berry, tart red currant, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico $20
      Medium ruby color; dried red fruit, cherry nose; tasty, poised, tight, tart cherry, dried berry palate; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish 92+ points
    • 2009 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva $34
      Medium ruby color aromatic, floral, dried cherry, roses nose; tasty, tight, tart red berry, tar, juniper berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 1965 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Bricked light medium red violet color; aromatic, mature, mushroom, dried cherry, ferrous nose; tasty, mature, mushroom, dried cherry, ferrous, raspberry palate with surprisingly youthful fruit yet; medium-plus finish 93 points
    • 2000 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Bricking medium dark ruby color; appealing, licorice, dried cherry, dried mushroom nose; tasty, licorice, dried cherry, dried mushroom, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points

    Banfi

    • 2011 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva $18 Black-tinged dark red violet color; dried red berry, tart red currant, balsamic nose; silky textured, tart red berry, dried red berry, roasted berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% alcohol) 88 points

    Barone Ricasoli
    This is the largest wine estate in Chianti Classico, with nearly 240 hectares under vine. The Ricasoli family had retained ownership of the vineyards when Seagrams’s bought rights to the name and began leasing the vineyards in the 1970s. Baron Francesco Ricasoli bought back the commercial rights in 1993 and has been trying to re-establish the once mighty image of the estate ever since. Massive and careful replantings have been undertaken. For me, these are well made wines in a very modern, plush, fruit forward style. These are generally not the kind of food partnering Chianti Classicos I adore.
    DSC_0148
    Baron Francesco Ricasoli, whose great great grandfather pointed the way to Sangiovese-dominant Chianti Classico

    • 2012 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio $20
      Very dark ruby color; tart black fruit, talc, black raspberry nose; rich, tasty, tart berry, black cherry palate with grip and medium acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio Riserva $33
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry, reduction nose; juicy, ripe raspberry, raspberry puree, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio $55
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, cherry puree, cedar, vanilla nose; rich, cherry puree, cedar, vanilla, raspberry puree palate; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot) 90 points
    • 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio $62
      Saturated dark purple red violet color; mocha, ripe black fruit, blackberry, black currant nose; rich, plush, ripe black currant, ripe blackberry, black cherry palate; needs 3 years; long finish 92+ points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledila $61
      Medium dark ruby color; ripe red berry, raspberry puree nose; tasty, polished, ripe red berry, raspberry puree palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledila $74
      Very dark purple red violet color; aromatic, black raspberry, blackberry tea, ripe berry, mocha nose; rich, tasty, tart blackberry, black currant, blackberry tea palate; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 92 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva Rocca Guicciarda not available
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, tart black plum, black cherry, black raspberry, black currant syrup, toast nose; tasty, rich, black cherry, black raspberry, blackberry tea palate; approachable now; medium-plus finish (Sangiovese with Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon) 90 points

    Bibbiano

    • 2013 Bibbiano Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry nose; tart red berry palate with near medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (97% Sangiovese, 3% Colorino) 88 points
    • 2012 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva Montornello $20
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, red currant nose; tart red berry, red currant, reduction palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 88+ points
    • 2011 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Capannino $34
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, red berry nose; silky textured, tart cherry, red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese Grosso) 89+ points

    Brancaia

    • 2011 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva $33
      Dark red violet color; milk chocolate, baked black fruit nose; rich, medium bodied, milk chocolate, baked black fruit palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2012 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva $40
      Dark red violet color; savory, tart red berry, cranberry nose; tasty, poised, tart red berry, tart cherry, herbs palate with integrating oak and good balancing acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot; 16 months in French oak) 91+ points

    Canonica a Cerreto

    • 2010 Canonica a Cerreto Chianti Classico $19
      Dark red violet color; reduction, tart berry, black cherry nose; tasty, medium bodied, tart berry, balsamic, black cherry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot; 12 months in barrique; 14% alcohol) 88+ points

    Casa Emma

    • 2013 Casa Emma Chianti Classico $21
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry nose; tart red berry, cranberry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia Nera) 88 points
    • 2011 Casa Emma Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium dark ruby color; baked berry, blackberry nose; rich, baked berry, blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Malvasia Nera) 90 points
    • 2010 Casa Emma Chianti Classico Gran Selezione not available
      Medium dark ruby color; vanilla, ripe cherry, ripe berry nose; rich, vanilla, ripe cherry, ripe berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points

    Casaloste

    • 2010 Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, cherry puree, ripe red berry, floral nose; rich, ripe raspberry, cherry puree, saline palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2009 Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva Don Vincenzo $36
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, tart red berry nose; light-medium bodied, tart red berry, juniper berry palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard; 14.5% alcohol) 89 points

    Castellare di Castellina

    • 2012 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico $24
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, dried red berry, dried herb nose; tart cherry, cherry liqueur, raspberry puree palate with good acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Dark red violet color; appealing, aromatic, sandalwood, tart berry, black raspberry nose; silky textured, tart berry, mineral, blackberry, black plum palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2011 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna Il Poggiale $38
      Medium red violet color; dried red berry, dried herbs, balsamic nose; tight, ripe red berry, cherry syrup, raspberry syrup palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo, 5% Cillegiolo) 91+ points

    Castellinuzza

    • 2012 Castellinuzza Chianti Classico $28
      Dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart cranberry, tart stewed tomato nose; very tart cherry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; aged in concrete, no oak) 89+ points

    Castello d’Albola

    • 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico $17
      Medium cherry red color; aromatic, tart cherry, cherry puree nose; medium bodied, structured, tart cherry, light cedar, cherry puree palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo) 90 points
    • 2010 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico Riserva $26
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, raspberry puree, tart cherry nose; tasty, delicate, medium bodied, raspberry puree, tart cherry palate; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo; 24 months in Slavonian oak casks) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico Il Solatio Gran Selezione $62
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, black raspberry, reduction, black cherry, blackberry nose; rich, creamy textured, ripe black fruit, blackberry, blackberry puree palate with medium acidity; long finish (100% Sangiovese, 13% alcohol) 91 points

    Castello di Ama
    DSC_0097

    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico $37
      Medium dark red violet color; fresh, ripe red berry, ripe red currant, tart raspberry puree nose; tasty, focused, fresh, tart raspberry puree, mineral, saline palate with medium acidity; wonderful for early drinking; medium-plus finish 94 points
    • 2010 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione San Lorenzo $50
      Medium ruby color; appealing, tart red berry, tart cherry nose; tasty, fresh, complex, creamy textured, tart cherry, tart red currant, saline, tart raspberry puree, mineral, subtle herb infusion palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot & Malvasia Nera; 13% alcohol) 94 points
    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto Bellavista $189
      Medium ruby color; appealing, ripe plum, tart blackberry nose; tight, tasty, tart berry, tart blackberry palate with medium acidity; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Malvasia Nera) 93 points
    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto La Casuccia $185
      Medium dark ruby color; appealing, sandalwood, licorice nose; tight, tart berry, black cherry, licorice palate; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 94 points
    • 2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia not available
      Saturated dark red violet color; very aromatic, savory, green olive tapenade, sweet green herb nose; magnificent, silky textured, very tart red currant, tart raspberry puree, saline palate; delicious now and could benefit from 3-plus years and will go 30; long finish (15% alcohol) 98 points

    Castello di Bossi

    • 2011 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; smoke, resin, tart red berry nose; tight, tart red berry, juniper berry, menthol, balsamic palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90 points
    • 2009 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva Berardo $30
      Bricking medium red violet color; aromatic, balsamic, dried red berry, dried cherry nose; tasty, dried cherry, dried red berry, blackberry, licorice palate; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points

    Castello di Cacchiano

    • 2009 Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico $18
      Bricking medium red violet color; oak, ripe red berry, tart red currant nose; oak, ripe red berry, tart red currant palate; medium finish 87 points
    • 2009 Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Millennio Gran Selezione not available
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe berry, light reduction, black raspberry nose; tart black cherry, tart black raspberry palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91+ points

    Castello di Gabbiano

    • 2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico $13
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red plum, tart cherry nose; tasty, black fruit, tart black cherry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Colorino; 13% alcohol)
      89 points
    • 2010 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Bellezza Gran Selezione $28
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, red berry, tart cherry nose; rich, tasty, red berry, tart cherry, black cherry palate; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 16 months in French oak, 50% new) 91 points
    • 2011 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva NA
      Very dark red violet color; aromatic, raspberry puree, baked cherry, red hard candy nose; rich, tart cherry, raspberry puree, hard red candy palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 14.5% alcohol) 90 points

    Castello di Meleto

    • 2010 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $72
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, blackberry syrup, black plum nose; rich, tasty, tart black plum, ripe berry, blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol) 92 points

    Castello di Monsanto
    This is a truly beautiful estate, including one of the widely acknowledged “grand cru” vineyards of Chianti Classico–the 5 hectare, hilltop Il Poggio. The Bianchis who own this wonderful property are in the textile business in Lombardy. Fabrizio Bianchi received the property as a wedding gift from his father in the early 1960s. They removed the white grapes planted at Il Poggio in 1968. Daughter Laura now assist with running the wine side of the business. The Chianti Classicos are very good, traditional style wines for the price. Il Poggio is capable of long aging. The videographer who visited with our party happened to be celebrating his birthday that day. When Fabrizio learned the man’s birth year was 1977, he had an Il Poggio pulled from their extensive cellars to share with us. It was a wonderful, mature wine, with great length and structure.
    DSC_0005
    view from Il Poggio Vineyard at Castello di Monsanto

    • 2011 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva $26
      Medium ruby color; ripe currant, juniper berry, sour cherry nose; tasty, fresh, light-medium bodied, silky textured, ripe red berry, juniper berry, ripe red currant palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino; 14% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2010 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva $23
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, tart red berry, light balsamic, roasted fruit nose with a sense of underbrush; tasty, tart cherry, balsamic palate with medium acidity; ready now but will go 10-15 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 91+ points
      91 points
    • 2009 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico il Poggio $47
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, savory, tart roasted cherry, raspberry nose; tight, juicy, tart cherry, tart raspberry puree palate with medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (18 months in French tonneau, 1/3 new) 92 points
    • 1977 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio not available
      Bricked medium red color with orange meniscus; very aromatic, mushroom, dried porcini mushroom, roast beef jus nose; delicious, savory, beef jus, tobacco, dried porcini, dried red currant palate with good acidity; long finish (14% alcohol) 94 points

    Castello di Querceto

    • 2010 Castello di Querceto / Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva $24
      Dark red violet color; tart plum, oat cake, bran muffin nose; silky textured, tart cherry, red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89+ points

    Castello di Radda

    • 2012 Castello di Radda Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, dried berry, licorice nose; tasty, savory, dried berry, licorice, black raspberry, lavender palate; medium-plus finish 91 points

    Castello di Verrazzano

    • 2012 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico $24
      Dark red violet color; tart cherry, tart plum, roasted vegetable, tart red berry nose; silky textured, tart red berry, tart plum palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2010 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Riserva $38
      Dark ruby color; tart black cherry, blackberry, cherry puree nose; rich, silky textured, cherry puree, vanilla, blackberry palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90 points

    Castello di Volpaia

    • 2012 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; light cedar, red berry nose; tight, light cedar, red berry palate; medium finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 87 points
    • 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Puro Casanova not available
      Medium dark red violet color; sandalwood, red berry nose; tight, sandalwood, cedar, red berry palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva Coltassala $62
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, dried berry nose; tasty, tart red berry, dried berry, tart black cherry palate; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Mammolo) 89 points

    Castello la Leccia
    DSC_0002

    • 2012 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico $18
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, tart raspberry nose; tart cherry, tart raspberry palate with medium acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2011 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico not available
      Medium dark ruby color; appealing, lifted, roasted cherry, tart red berry, tart raspberry puree nose; very tart cherry, tart raspberry puree, mineral palate with medium acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2010 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico Bruciagna Gran Selezione $38
      Dark red violet color; appealing, aromatic, raspberry puree, ripe red berry, talc nose; juicy, tasty, very tart raspberry puree, tart red berry, cranberry, mineral, saline palate with vibrant, medium acidity; good now but should benefit from 2-plus years and will go 20 years; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico Bruciagna Gran Selezione not available
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, cedar, tart red currant nose; tasty, poised, dried red berry palate; could use 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points

    Cecchi

    • 2010 Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia $30
      Dark red violet color; tart plum, tart currant nose; tasty, tart plum, tart currant, charcoal palate with medium acidity; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 2012 Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva Villa Cerna not available
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart red currant, dried herb nose; tasty, savory, tart red currant, dried herb palate; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish 91+ points
    • 2013 Cecchi Chianti Classico Storia di Famiglia not available
      Medium dark red violet color; redolent, tart red currant nose; tart red currant, tar palate; medium-plus finish 90 points

    Cennatoio

    • 2012 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Avorio $15
      Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, tart red currant palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino) 87 points
    • 2013 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Oro $17
      Dark ruby color; tart red currant, reduction nose; tart berry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino) 86 points
    • 2011 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Riserva O’Leandro not available
      Very dark red violet color; aromatic, vanilla, berry compote, caramel nose; rich, silky textured, black cherry, black raspberry, black compote palate, not very characteristic of Chianti Classico due to the high proportion of noticeable new oak; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points

    Felsina

    • 2012 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $23
      Medium red violet color; tart red berry, tart red currant nose; tasty, poised, dried cherry, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points
    • 2011 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $26
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, dried berry, tart blackberry, light violet nose; rich, tasty, tart blackberry, black cherry, tart plum palate with lots of dry extract; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points
    • 2009 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia $44
      Dark red violet color; raspberry puree, black cherry, black currant nose; rich, ripe black currant, black raspberry puree palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia $44
      Medium dark red violet color; appealing, tart red berry, tart red currant nose; tasty, silky textured, tart red berry, tart red currant, sour cherry palate with medium acidity; could use 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points
    • 2010 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia $122
      Medium red violet color; appealing, aromatic, dried cherry, red berry, sandalwood nose; tight, tasty, dried cherry, red berry, dried berry, sandalwood palate; could use 4 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 94 points

    Fontodi
    DSC_0203

    • 2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico $34
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart cherry preserves, raspberry puree nose; delicious, lively, tart cherry, raspberry palate; good now and should go 30 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points
    • 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico $36
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black raspberry, raspberry puree nose; tight, delicious, tart black cherry, black raspberry, violets, tart black currant palate with firm, sweet tannins and near medium acidity; needs 4-5 years; long finish (14% alcohol) 94 points
    • 2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico $37
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry puree, tart blackberry nose; tasty, tight, tart black cherry, tart black raspberry, tart blackberry palate with great freshness and near medium acidity and fine tannins; remarkably good for a challenging vintage; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points
    • 2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico $38
      From magnum – bricking, dark ruby color; black cherry, beet jus, black raspberry nose; tasty, maturing, black cherry, black raspberry puree, beets palate with near medium acidity; long finish 93 points
    • 2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo $77
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, dried cherry, baked cherry nose; rich, tasty, dried cherry, baked cherry, tart raspberry, cherry puree palate; could use 2 years and will go 30+ plus; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 93+ points
    • 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo $89
      Very dark red violet color; very aromatic, tart black currant, balsamic vinegar, black raspberry, tar nose; tight, rich, tart black currant, tart black raspberry palate with sweet, fine tannins; needs 6-7 years and should go 30; long finish (95% Sangiovese from vines averaging 45 years old and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% alcohol) 94+ points
    • 2004 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo not available
      From magnum – dark ruby color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry puree, talc nose; rich, tasty, focused, silky textured, juicy, black raspberry puree, cherry puree, violets palate; could use 2 years; long finish 96 points

    Il Molino di Grace

    • 2012 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico $21
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, red berry, cedar, tart cherry nose; red berry, cedar, tart cherry palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 89 points
    • 2008 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva $37
      Bricking, medium dark cherry color; savory, tart red berry, dried cherry nose; savory, tart red berry, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2010 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Margone $40
      Bricking, light-medium ruby color; redolent, dried berry, licorice nose; tasty, dried berry, licorice palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points

    Isole e Olena

    • 2012 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico $24
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry, dried cherry nose; tart raspberry puree, tart cherry palate with near medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Syrah; 13.5% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2006 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $210
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, cedar, tart red currant, reduction nose; tight, cedar, tart red currant, reduction, light herbs palate with firm tannins; needs 5-6 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah) 91 points

    Lamole di Lamole

    • 2011 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; tart red berry, red currant nose; tasty, tart red berry, red currant palate; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo) 90 points
    • 2011 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Etichetta Blu $19
      Dark red violet color; reticent, tart red berry, tart currant nose; tart red berry, tart currant palate; with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points
    • 2012 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Etichetta Blu not yet available
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, floral, raspberry nose; tart red berry, floral, raspberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot) 91 points
    • 2010 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto di Campolungo $36
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, red currant, red berry nose; red currant, red berry palate with firm, sweet tannins; needs 5 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 91+ points

    Lanciola

    • 2012 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve $21
      Medium red violet color; brett, tart red currant nose; brett, tart red currant palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86 points
    • 2011 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve Riserva not available
      Medium dark red violet color; brett, cedar, tart red berry nose; brett, cedar, tart red berry palate; medium finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86+ points
    • 2011 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve Gran Selezione $49
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, cedar, tart red berry nose; cedar, tart red berry palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86+ points

    Le Miccine
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    Paula Cook welcoming us at Le Miccine

    This small estate is owned and run since 2010 by a Canadian woman, Paula Papini Cook, whose grandparents were from Tuscany. She visited when she was 15 and fell in love with the region. Inspired to learn Italian and study agriculture, she was fortunate to have a wine loving father who encouraged her to attend a viticulture program in Europe funded by the EU. This is a very small production operation, that has no problem selling much of what they produce in Canada. I was very impressed not only with the Chianti Classico wines but also a terrific Merlot called Carduus.

    • 2012 Le Miccine Chianti Classico not available
      Medium dark ruby color; tart roasted cherry, black raspberry, tart berry nose; tasty, tight, elegant, delicate, tart cherry puree, tart raspberry, saline, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years and should go 20+; medium-plus finish 92+ points
    • 2011 Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, lifted, floral, cherry puree, black raspberry puree, cherry pie filling nose; rich, tasty, cherry puree, black raspberry puree, saline palate; needs 3 years & will go 20+; long finish (14% alcohol) 93 points

    Lornano

    • 2011 Lornano Chianti Classico $21
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, pastille, black mushroom nose; tasty, cherry, pastille, iodine palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2009 Lornano Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium red violet color; maturing, tart red berry nose; maturing, tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2011 Lornano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $44 Medium red violet color; aromatic, red berry, dried berry nose; tasty, red berry, dried berry, cedar palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 91+ points

    Luiano

    • 2012 Luiano Chianti Classico $17
      Medium dark ruby color; tart strawberry, ripe red berry, tart red plum nose; juicy, tasty, balanced, tart cranberry, tart raspberry puree palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Luiano Chianti Classico $17
      Medium cherry red color; aromatic, tart red currant, red berry nose; tat red currant, red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 88+ points
    • 2011 Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, mature, tart red currant, dried berry nose; maturing, tart red currant, dried berry palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90 points
    • 2011 Luiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ottantuno $45
      Medium dark red violet color; iodine, cedar, dried red berry nose; iodine, cedar, dried red berry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 87+ points

    Marchesi Mazzei
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    Francesco Mazzei, VP & CEO

    This estate has belonged to the Mazzei family since 1435. The 24th generation is now in charge. In the late ’80s and ’90s, the family helped lead the effort to raise the quality of Chianti Classico. Lapo Mazzei served as Consorzio president for 20 years. Today they have 117 hectares under vine in five different areas, amounting to 100 different parcels, which they microvinify. They have engaged in extensive studies of clones, and 18 of the 36 biotypes of Sangiovese identified by the Chianti Classico 2000 project were found only at Castello di Fonterutoli. These are very good, and pricey, Chianti Classicos. I’m a bigger fan, though, of their Super Tuscan wines, especially the Mix 36 (a blend of all 36 Sangiovese biotypes), even more than the well known Siepi.

    • 2010 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli $27
      Dark red violet color; tart raspberry puree, roasted cherry nose; tasty, tart raspberry puree, roasted cherry, dried cherry palate with medium acidity; could use 3 years and will go 15-20; medium-plus finish (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera & Colarino; from best 50 parcels; 14% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli $28
      Dark ruby color; tart red berry, reduction, roasted berry, saline nose; tart red berry, sour cherry, tart raspberry puree palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, Malvasia Nera & Colarino; 13.5% alcohol; 12 months in barrique & tonneau, about 40% new) 89 points
    • 2013 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli not yet available
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart red berry, cranberry nose; tasty, light medium bodied, tart red berry, cranberry palate; could use 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese; 10% Colorino, Malvaisa Nera & Merlot) 90 points
    • 2011 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Riserva Castello di Fonterutoli Ser Lapo $23
      Light medium ruby color; dried red berry, light vanilla nose; tasty, light-medium bodied, tart cherry, tart red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 90 points
    • 2011 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione not available
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, oak, tart red berry nose; tasty, tart red berry, ripe red currant palate; almost ready; medium-plus finish (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino) 90+ points

    Nittardi

    • 2011 Fattoria Nittardi Chianti Classico Casanuova di Nittardi $36
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, tart red currant, green olive, anchovy paste, extra virgin olive oil nose; savory, tasty, tart red currant, extra virgin olive oil, tart tomato sauce palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (97% Sangiovese, 3% Cannaiolo; 12 months in tonneau; 14% alcohol; fabulous pairing with pasta and tomato sauce) 91 points

    Ormanni

    • 2011 Ormanni Chianti Classico $18
      Medium red violet color; redolent, tart red berry, dried berry nose; tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo) 89 points
    • 2010 Ormanni Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Etichetta Storica not available
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, tart red berry nose; tart cherry, tart red berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese)  90+ points
    • 2010 Ormanni Chianti Classico Riserva Borro del Diavolo $26
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, dried berry nose; tasty, dried berry, ripe cherry, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points

    Poggio al Sole

    • 2012 Poggio al Sole Chianti Classico $21
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart cherry, ripe red berry nose; tart cherry, ripe red berry palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Merlot) 90+ points
    • 2012 Poggio al Sole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Casasilia not available
      Medium dark ruby color; tart berry, cedar, raspberry puree nose; tasty, rich, tart berry, cedar, raspberry puree palate; needs 2-3 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points

    Poggio Bonelli

    • 2012 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico $18
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, tart red currant, red berry nose; tasty, savory, tart red currant, red berry palate; ready now; medium-plus finish 90+ points

    Poggio Torselli

    • 2012 Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico $23
      Medium ruby color; reduction tart berry nose; reduction, tart berry, tart raspberry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90+ points
    • 2011 Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico Riserva $30
      Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, raspberry puree palate; ready now; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points

    Principe Corsini

    • 2009 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Don Tommaso not available
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, maturing, dried berry, currant, mushroom nose; tasty, maturing, dried cherry, currant, mushroom palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 92 points
    • 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Don Tommaso not available
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, appealing, dried berry, sandalwood, spice nose; tasty, tight, dried berry, sandalwood, dried cherry palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 93 points
    • 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Le Corti $21
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, savory, tart red berry nose; intriguing, dried red berry, spice, dried cherry palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points

    Quercia Al Poggio

    • 2009 Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico $26
      Dark red violet color; tart red currant, dried red currant nose; tasty, juicy, ripe raspberry puree, ripe red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Ciligiolo, Canaiolo & Colorino; 14% alcohol) 91 points

    Rocca delle Macìe
    Sergio Zingarelli with daughter Giulia

    Italo Zingarelli, producer of Spaghetti Westerns, including the Trinity series, purchased this estate in 1973. His son Sergio, who is the current President of the Consorzio, entered the business in 1984. Subsequently the family purchased three more Chianti Classico estates. The basic Chianti Classico from the excellent 2013 vintage is a good value at $14.

    • 2012 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli $14
      Medium dark ruby color; tart raspberry syrup, ripe red berry nose; silky, light-medium bodied, tart raspberry, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli $14
      Medium ruby color; savory, tart red berry, tart red currant nose; savory, tart red berry, tart red currant palate; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot) 89 points
    • 2010 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva $23
      Dark ruby color; tart black plum, red berry nose; medium bodied, juicy, tart red berry, raspberry puree, red currant palate with near medium acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2011 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva $23
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, juniper berry nose; tart red berry, juniper berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2012 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Tenuta Sant’Alfonso $23
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, tart raspberry puree, red currant nose; tight, medium bodied, ripe raspberry puree, tart cherry palate with near medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard with high clay content; 14% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2011 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Riserva di Fizzano $27
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, bark, tart red currant nose; tart red berry, bark, tart red currant palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2010 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Sergio Zingarelli $95
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black raspberry puree, talc, cherry syrup nose; tight, black raspberry puree, talc, cherry syrup palate with good acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino; 13.5% alcohol; 18 months in French barrique and 1 year in bottle) 92+ points

    Ruffino

    • Ruffino Chianti Classico Aziano $14
      Dark ruby color; savory, tart red currant, iodine, balsamic, saline nose; tight, savory, dried herb, tarragon, tart red fruit, tart cranberry palate with medium acidity; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2012 Ruffino Chianti Classico Tenuta Santedame $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, reduction nose; soft, red berry, ripe currant palate; medium finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Colorino, 5% other varieties) 87 points
    • 2011 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale $23
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tar, tart red berry nose; tight, tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2010 Ruffino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ducale Oro $37
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry, light cedar nose; silky textured, tart red berry, cedar, tart red currant palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Colorino) 88+ points

    San Felice
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    Enologist Leonardo Bellacini at San Felice
    This is a very impressive operation, owned by Gruppo Allianz. It includes a picturesque borgo, a magnificent Relais & Chateaux hotel, and extensive vineyards and fine wines. Enzo Morganti produced one of the first of what became known as Super Tuscans here in 1968, a 100% Sangiovese called Vigorello. I was most impressed with the estate’s longtime enologist Leonardo Bellacini, who has worked with the University of Florence to study dozens of indigenous varieties in the estate’s experimental vineyard. One of the almost extinct varieties rescued as a result of this effort is Pugnitello, with which they are making a magnificent, characterful varietal wine that I have been collecting since my trip. The operation also produces the Campogiovanni Brunello Il Quercione. Of the Chianti Classicos, the Riserva Il Grigio and Gran Selezione Il Grigio are very strong, but I was even more impressed by some of the non-DOCG wines in their portfolio.

    • 2011 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio $24
      Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart red currant nose; refined, medium bodied, tart cranberry, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Grigio $40
      Saturated, very dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red plum, red currant nose; plush, poised, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 3-plus years and could go 20-25; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio Rosso $43
      Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, reduction, cranberry nose; tight, reduction, tart red berry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2011 San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Poggio Rosso not available
      Dark red violet color; reduction, tart red berry, red currant nose; tart red berry, red currant, roasted red fruit palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (15.5% alcohol) 89 points

    Tenuta di Arceno

    • 2012 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico $17
      Very dark ruby color; tart raspberry puree, tart red currant nose; focused, tart red currant, very tart raspberry puree, mineral palate with medium acidity and soft tannins; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol) 88+ points

    Tenuta di Nozzole

    • 2012 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva $20
      Saturated, very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart black fruit, tart black cherry nose with a sense of underbrush; tasty, tart black fruit, tart plum, balsamic palate with balancing acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva La Forra $38
      Black-tinged dark red violet color; savory, dried red currant, reduction, ferrous nose; tight, tart dried berry, tar palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 13.5% alcohol) 87 points

    Tenuta Villa Barberino

    • 2012 Tenuta Villa Barberino della Famiglia Nunzi Conti Chianti Classico Nunzi Conti not available
      Dark garnet red color; appealing, tart roasted cherry, cranberry, tart plum, sandalwood nose; tasty, velvety textured, tart plum, tart roasted cherry, cranberry palate with near medium acidity; good now but could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (83% Sangiovese, 7% Merlot, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino; 13.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2012 Tenuta Villa Barberino della Famiglia Nunzi Conti Chianti Classico Nunzi Conti Riserva not available
      Dark garnet red color; tart red berry, tart berry, berry syrup nose; velvety textured, tart berry, tart blackberry palate with medium acidity and fine, sweet tannins; could use 2 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol) 92 points

    Tolaini

    • 2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $40
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, tart red berry, red currant nose; tasty, tart red berry, red currant, dried cherry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 1/2 French oak, 1/2 stainless steel) 90+ points
    • 2011 Tolaini Chianti Classico Gran Selezione not yet available
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, baked cherry, raspberry puree, light pie crust nose; tasty, baked cherry, raspberry puree, pie crust palate; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva Montebello Vigneto No. 7 not available
      Very dark ruby color; appealing, ripe cherry, ripe red berry nose; tasty, ripe cherry, ripe red berry palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points

    Vignamaggio

    • 2013 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Terre di Prenzano $13
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry nose; fresh, tart red berry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 87+ points
    • 2012 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Gherardino $20 Medium ruby color; red berry, oak nose; red berry, oak, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 87+ points
    • 2010 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Monna Lisa $36
      Medium dark red violet color; raspberry, ripe red berry nose; raspberry, ripe red berry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 88+ points

    Vignavecchia

    • 2012 Fattoria Vignavecchia Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color with pale meniscus; aromatic, red berry, rooibos tea nose; tight, silky textured, red berry, rooibos tea, dried red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2010 Fattoria Vignavecchia Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto Odoardo Beccari $28
      Medium dark red violet color; cedar, tart red currant nose; tight, cedar, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 3 years; long finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cannaiolo) 89 points

    Posted in Italian Wine, Sangiovese, Tuscany | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Grocery Store Chardonnay Project

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    some of the more elaborate & colorful grocery store Chardonnay packaging

    This is a report on 230 domestic Chardonnays representative of what can be found on grocery store shelves in Northern California. Many of these Chardonnays can be found in grocery stores in the 35 states in the U.S. where wine sales at such stores are permitted.

    This report includes detailed tasting notes, ratings both by price range and alphabetically, an assessment of alcohol levels and styles of wine available, and a look at that fact that over 37% of the 230 wines rated are owned by only eight wine firms.

    I selected Chardonnay as the varietal to examine for this report since it’s both the most widely represented wine grape varietal in grocery stores (approximately 10% of varietal wines) and the most widely planted wine grape in California. It’s also one of the world’s premier grape varieties, capable under ideal conditions of producing sublime and long aging wines as well as vast quantities of perfectly adequate raw material that is highly manipulable through winemaking techniques. From everything I’ve reviewed in researching for this report, this is the first time such a comprehensive critical tasting and analysis has been done of widely distributed grocery store Chardonnays.

    Some of the insights I gained from this survey can be summarized briefly as follows:
    • My scores on these wines ranged widely, from 75 to 92 points
    • My average score was 85.8 points (i.e., slightly above average)
    • Prices ranged from $3 to $41 before sales tax
    • Very drinkable (86 to 87 point) wines can be obtained for as low as $7-9
    • While high QPR (quality price ratio) wines can be found at virtually all price points, the highest rated wines (92 and 91+ points) can be found at the $15-20, $20-25 and $30-and-above price ranges
    • The $26-30 range contains surprisingly few highly rated wines
    • Three U.S. wine firms are responsible for nearly 17% of these wines, and the top eight wine firms own over 37% of these labels
    • Nearly 16% of these grocery store Chardonnays exhibited relatively high residual sugar (sweetness)
    • Less than 14% of these wines were bottled under screwcap
    • 6% of the wines were affected by TCA and/or oxidation

    Background

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    Cupertino Safeway’s wine section

    For years people who know I rate and write about wines have asked me what to buy when they are at a grocery store or supermarket. I’ve always responded that supermarkets and grocery stores are not the place to buy wine.

    To be in distribution at such large volume outlets means the wine has been made in sufficiently large quantities to justify their place on the shelf. Top quality, artisanal wines are made in relatively small quantities, from very limited fruit sources, so simply can’t be produced in the quantities required by nationwide chain stores. Therefore, if you’re looking for highly rated, artisanal wines, you are not going to find them in a grocery aisle.

    Supermarkets also rarely have on hand someone knowledgeable about wine and what they carry to offer advice and counsel. The best place to purchase fine wine is a dedicated wine store, where they typically stock a hand selected inventory featuring a range of excellent wines and employ knowledgeable staff that can guide your selection.

    Moreover, such outlets often turn the stocking of their shelves over to one or more of the country’s major wine and spirits distributors, meaning that although there may be dozens of labels on the shelf, many of them are owned by or in the portfolio of Constellation, E&J Gallo, The Wine Group or one of the other major wine firms.

    Nonetheless, having received the same request from numerous friends and acquaintances over the years, and finding myself in the past year visiting smaller cities and towns that lacked easily accessible wine retailers, I decided to see if there were choices available at a typical grocery store that I might be able to recommend. I was also curious as to whether the increasing quality level we’ve seen in artisanal California Chardonnay in recent years might be having any influence on the quality level of mass market Chardonnay, or whether sweet and oaky styles of Chardonnay that have tended to be popular at the mass market level would continue to predominate.

    The Lucky Store in Sunnyvale I regularly visit had a wine sale last Fall—buy four and save 10%—so that motivated me to take the plunge and see what their wine shelves had to offer. It turned out Safeway had a similar sale going, offering 30% off if you bought four or more bottles. Since the Safeway in Cupertino has the widest selection of any in Silicon Valley, that gave me a lot of labels to sample. I filled out the range of what’s available at grocery stores locally by buying up the several domestic Chardonnay labels on hand at the Mountain View Costco I hadn’t seen at Lucky or Safeway.

    20160302_170324
    Chardonnay shelves at Lucky

    I was fortunate to have received samples of some of the Chardonnays I saw at grocery stores from producers over the past year, so I could rely on my notes and scores on those wines for a small percentage of my survey. For the most part, though, I bought a dozen or more bottles at a time from the stores listed above, and proceeded to taste through them several nights a week over a three month period. The project ended up costing me close to $4,000 in wine purchases, but I learned a lot from the survey and hope my findings will prove valuable to others.

    TCA, Oxidation and Bottle Closures

    TCA–short for 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole–is a chemical compound ubiquitous in nature and frequently found in natural cork that imparts a “moldy newspaper” or “wet dog” odor and off taste to affected wines. Wine connoisseurs refer to wines with evident TCA contamination as “corked.” Because TCA and premature oxidation, particularly of white wines, is still a major problem, despite natural cork producers’ best efforts to bring the percentage of tainted cork down, I inevitably ended up with a number of faulty bottles—either corked or severely oxidized current releases. This was true of 6% of what I tasted. These I returned to the store for a replacement so I could sample a clean bottle.

    I wish more consumers would return wines that are faulty due to contaminated or particularly porous natural corks. If so, wine producers and distributors might be motivated to switch all the more quickly to one of the many good alternative closures available that don’t run the risk of leaving consumers with a tainted or prematurely oxidized wine. Unfortunately, though, I knew I was in a tiny minority of grocery store wine buyers when I brought these bottles, with most of the wine still intact, back to the store and had to explain to the store manager or assistant manager why I was returning them. These personnel usually reacted as though I was the first person ever to return faulty wine. Nonetheless, they all agreed to let me have a replacement bottle, especially when I pointed out to them the volume of my recent wine purchases there.

    To be fair, many consumers just don’t know have enough experience with wine to realize that a bottle with a funky smell or attenuated taste on the palate has been tainted as a result of problems with its closure. So rather than return it to see if another bottle smells and tastes better, they typically just avoid that wine in the future.

    The bottom line is there is no reason why grocery store Chardonnay should be sealed under natural cork, except for the fact that many American consumers (unlike consumers in Australia, New Zealand, and increasing numbers of Europeans) continue to expect “fine wine” to have a cork closure. These are not wines meant for aging, and it is appalling that 6% of the bottles I tried had severe faults attributable to their cork closures. Only 14% of the wines in this survey were bottled under screw cap, which is an alternative closure that will not impart TCA to a wine and that will help prevent premature oxidation. We’d all be better off if wines like these were bottled under screw cap or other good, non-natural cork closures.

    Grocery Store Merchandising

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    expensive top shelf wines at Lucky

    From my visits to the grocery stores mentioned above, and to others—like Raley’s Nob Hill Foods—just to see there weren’t labels stocked there that I hadn’t tried from my primary sources, I got to learn something about retail wine merchandising.

    Firstly, at each store, the highest priced wines can be found on the very top shelf. At immediate eye level, these pricey offerings dominate a casual consumer’s view. The very cheapest bottlings are placed on the bottommost shelf—making them hard to view easily if you’re not hunting for wines priced at that level. The remaining shelves in between contain a mix of wines at different price points, and generally decreasing prices as you proceed from top shelf to bottom. Sometimes the wines in the middle are in alphabetical or appellation order, and sometimes in no real discernable order at all.

    I also found that, like shopping for dairy products and other perishable goods at grocery stores, it’s important to check the “sell by” dates by looking at all the containers available, including those toward the back of the shelf. In the case of white wine, that means paying attention to the vintage. Since premature oxidation is a real problem with wines sealed under cork, it is best to search to make sure you are getting the most recent vintage of the wine a store has available. I found that often there are two or more vintages of a particular wine on hand, with the more recent vintage placed in back of the older bottles.

    Wine Label Ownership/Distribution

    20151102_165744
    expansive Chardonnay selection at Safeway Cupertino

    According to a 2012 study of concentration in the U.S. wine industry published by Michigan State University, three firms account for more than half the wine sales in the U.S. In the study’s report on the inventory of 20 Michigan retailers, they also found that the top six firms accounted for 21.9% of the total inventory on wine shelves there. The study claimed that the top firms “each contribute to an illusion of diverse ownership by offering dozens of brands . . . many of which do not clearly indicate the parent company on their label.” They found this illusion of diverse ownership strongest at chain drug stores, like CVS and Rite Aid, that “offered more than one hundred unique varieties, but the majority were supplied by E. & J. Gallo or Constellation Brands.” This phenomenon is also increasingly apparent at some grocery store chains, such as Kroger, which announced in January this year that it planned to hire Southern Wine & Spirits to oversee how it distributes shelf space to alcohol brands.

    According to data for last year (i.e., before Treasury Wine Estate’s recent acquisition of the Diageo wine brands), the top three domestic wine producers, who split over half of U.S. total wine sales between them, were E. & J. Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands. The next five in order were Trinchero, Bronco, Treasury, Delicato and Kendall-Jackson.

    Of the 230 wines I found at local grocery stores, 16.96% were owned by one of the top three wine firms. Together, the top eight wine firms accounted for 37.39% of the wine labels available at local supermarkets. And these percentages are probably significantly lower than at an average supermarket, since the Cupertino Safeway where I found the greatest variety of labels stocks an unusually high number of bottlings from local and independent producers.

    In the listings at the end of this report, I identify the major ownership group, if there is one, in brackets following the name of the wine.

    Top Rated Wines by Price Point

    The dollar prices used below are based on the average sales price, before tax, reported for the wines nationwide on Wine-Searcher.com, the most comprehensive source for this info available online. In each grouping by price point, I’ve listed the wines from highest to lowest rating, and within each rating point, in order of lowest to highest price.

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    I was happy to find that very drinkable, good quality wines can be found for as low as $6 to $9 at supermarkets. I found 15 wines at this price level. My top recommendation at this price point is Ravenswood Vintners Blend (Constellation Wines) at 87 points. This wine has good varietal character and is balanced, meaning that it has good balancing acidity. I bought it for $7 at Safeway and Wine-searcher shows it averaging $9 throughout the country, where it is widely available. Also decent values are Bogle Vineyards and The Seeker, both at 86 points and averaging $9 a bottle.

    In the under $6 range, my highest rating was 85+ points for ForestVille from Bronco Wine Estates. The other nine Chards at this level, priced between $3 and $5.99, ranged in scores from 76 to 83 points. I’d be hard pressed to recommend any of those wines, nearly all of which are non-vintage bottlings sourced from grapes throughout California (i.e., with no appellation identified except “California”). This is also a fast shrinking category, as market reports the last few years have shown consumers have been trading up from this price point to wines priced at $10 and higher.

    In the $10 to $12 price range, the number of available labels jumped to 39. The highest rated for me, at 87 points, was Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington State, at an average price of $10. Also close behind, at 86+ points, were A by Acacia and the 2012 bottling of Lucinda & Millie from California’s Mendocino County. I rated another four wines at this price point 86 points.

    My scores start to climb at the $13 to $15 level—consisting of 42 wines–with two 89 point wines, Rodney Strong ($13) and Foxglove ($14). The Simi ($14) was close behind at 88+ points followed by the Jamieson Ranch Light Horse ($13) at 88 points. I rated another three wines at this level 87 to 87+ points and 10 wines from 86 to 86+ points.

    My scores climb again at the $16 to $19 range, with the Alma Rosa Santa Barbara County bottling ($19) meriting 91+ points and Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard ($17) from Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley scoring 91 points. For those looking for high quality wines at relatively affordable prices, these are strong showings, both offering complexity and good balance for under $20. I found a total of 42 wines at this price point and rated another three 90 to 90+ points, and two more each 89 and 88 points.

    The largest number of wines at any price point, a total of 43, were found at the $20-25 level, along with one of my highest scoring wines, at 92 points–the admirable, minerally Au Bon Climat ($21). Even though I was delighted to find that wine at Safeway Cupertino, I doubt it is available at many grocery stores throughout the country. More widely available and meriting 91+ points are the very satisfying Clos du Val Carneros appellation and Landmark Overlook from Sonoma County, both averaging $23. Another three wines at this level scored 91 points (Gundlach Bundschu, Beringer and Freemark Abbey) while seven more came in at 90 to 90+ points.

    As mentioned above, the showing of wines priced from $26-$29 was relatively disappointing, with only one (Stags’ Leap) meriting 90+ points, another two 89 points and four 88 points among 14 wines total at this level.

    The highest price range found at the grocery stores, $30 and up, actually ranged to $41 before tax. Of 24 wines at this price level, three merited 92 points: Qupe Bien Nacido Block 11 ($30), Jordan Russian River Valley ($31) and Frank Family Napa Valley ($34). Five more scored 91 to 91+ points, and another five merited 90 to 90+ points.

    The complete ratings (along with tasting notes) at each price point, as well as alphabetically by wine, can be found at the end of this report.

    Pure Chardonnay?

    At the low end of the market, one can be pretty sure producers are taking advantage of the fact that Federal and California law allow a wine to be labeled as being of a particular varietal, e.g., Chardonnay, as long as 75% of the grapes used were that variety. Since Chardonnay grapes tend to fetch higher prices than other white grapes, producers of wines at lower price points can keep production costs down by blending in less sought after varieties, such as French Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc.

    Producers are not required by law to state the other grapes that might make up as much as 25% of the blend, so that information generally does not appear on labels of low priced Chardonnays. It can also be hard to find even on the tech sheets on producer websites. For the non-vintage Chardonnays, it makes sense that a producer wouldn’t want to be limited in what other grapes they incorporate in a given bottling of “Chardonnay.” Nonetheless, I did find information on blends in a few cases, which give us an idea of what’s being used in Chardonnays at that price level.

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    The 2013 ForestVille, my top ranked wine at the $6 and under level, is identified on the Bronco Wine Co. website as a blend of Chardonnay, “French Colombard, Muscat and Mixed Varietals.” The Seeker (86 points, $9) is mainly Chardonnay with 5% Gewurztraminer. Beaulieu (85 points, $9) contains 5% Viognier. Fetzer Sundial (84 points, $7), a top seller, was a blend in 2013 of 89% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier, 3% Chenin Blanc, 2% Pinot Grigio and 1% Sauvignon Blanc. The 2014 Guenoc contains 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Finally Woodbridge, another huge seller (83+ points, $7), does not currently identify the blend, but the tech sheet for the 2011 on the Woodbridge website describes the cuvee as 76% Chardonnay, 18% French Colombard, 3% Viognier, and 3% “a proprietary blend of aromatic varietals.”

    One can be pretty sure that wines priced at $15 and higher are going to be 100% Chardonnay, and many clearly state that on their tech sheets. For the lower priced wines that are blends, the other grapes are likely to contribute to the aromas and flavors in ways that explain why many varietal bottlings at lower price levels tend to lack clear varietal character.

    Alcohol, Balance and Style

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    At the $6 and under level, one finds relatively low alcohol wines, ranging from 11.5% to 13.87 and averaging 12.95%. This is both because the juice for wines at this level tends to come from less ripe, less premium grapes, and because some of the wines are not fermented all the way to dry, so as to retain some of the grape sugar for sweetness. This residual grape sugar would otherwise have been converted to alcohol, raising the alcohol level more to the standard found in California—13.5 to 14.5%. This was the case, for example, with the Turning Leaf (11.5% alcohol) and the Safeway private label Quail Oak (12.5%).

    There was a time ten and 15 years ago when oaky and sweet Chardonnays were particularly popular. The Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, for example, which was one of California’s biggest selling Chardonnays for some years, was intentionally made with close to 1% residual sugar. Today the residual sugar level in Kendall-Jackson’s Chards has reportedly dropped to half that.

    One sees an increase in alcohol levels at the $6 to $9 price point, where the reported alcohol level averages 13.5%, and again at the $10 to $12 level (13.58% average) and $13 to $15 (13.73%). Alcohol levels generally continue to rise with price, except for a slight dip at the $26 to $29 range, as follows: 13.89% average from $16 to $19, 14.16% from $20-25, 14.06% at $26-29, and 14.14% for wines $30 and up.

    I think balanced wines can be made at a variety of alcohol levels. What’s important for balance in white wines in particular is the acidity level. The acidity—ranging from virtually nil to medium in the case of these grocery store Chardonnays—was a major factor in my rating. Wines with very little acidity are hard to pair with food and quickly get tiresome on the palate. Some sweetness, if that’s the style of wine one enjoys, can be fine as long as there is balancing acidity to keep the wine lively on the palate.

    Another important factor in my ratings is the complexity of the wine, both on the nose and in the mouth. A wine that shows only one flavor can, like a wine without acidity, get pretty boring after a few sips. Wines that have complexity of aromas and flavors keep one coming back to experience that variety of flavors and their nuances.

    Finally, as I’ve written before here, Chardonnay is a malleable grape that can be made in a variety of styles. Unoaked Chardonnays have become more popular in recent years, and the better examples of those tend to highlight the pure citrus and/or stone fruit, often showing admirable acidity. Different oak treatments can also have a marked effect on Chardonnay, adding everything from savory, toast, hazelnut and almond notes to heavier, butter and popcorn flavors.

    There’s definitely a market for buttery types of Chardonnay, and many of these grocery store Chardonnays exhibited that character. My best recommendations for balanced wines in that style are Rodney Strong (89 points, $13), Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard (91 points, $17), Nottingham Cellars (90+ points, $24) and Stags’ Leap (90+ points, $26).

    The wine that most reminded me of a crisp, minerally white Burgundy was the Jordan Russian River Valley. I scored it 92 points, but it is pretty pricey for a grocery store wine at $33.

    For wines in the unoaked, clean style emphasizing citrus, apple and/or pear fruit, I can recommend A by Acacia-Unoaked (86+ points, $11) and Foxglove (89 points, $14).

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    For a combination of complexity of flavors and bright balancing acidity, my top picks are, at increasing price levels: Ravenswood Vintners Blend (87 points, $9), Chateau Ste. Michelle (87 points, $10), Alma Rosa (91+ points, $19), Clos du Val Carneros (91+ points, $23), Landmark Overlook (91+ points, $23), and Freemark Abbey (91 points, $24).

    Final Notes

    As a result of this survey, I am happy to have a number of Chardonnays to recommend to people who have occasion to buy wine at a supermarket. I did not, however, find much influence of the increasing quality level of artisanal California Chardonnays on these more mass market offerings. Sweet and very oak driven styles continue to be dominant, often without the balance that would make such wines at least somewhat palatable. My scores overall, even on fairly high priced wines, were significantly lower than I hoped, with a number of notable exceptions at the 90 to 92 point level.

    I look forward to thoughts and comments on this report, and ideas on how future such reports could be made more useful for consumers. My intention is to continue the project, probably moving on next to the second most dominant wine variety found in grocery stores—Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve added a PayPal donation button to the right side of the website in case you are inclined to contribute toward continuing this project. Money raised through such contributions will be used to continue buying and rating wines that are widely available at grocery stores and similar outlets throughout the country.

    $6 and Under

    • 2013 ForestVille Chardonnay California [Bronco Wine Co.] $6.00
      Light yellow color; apple, baked apple, pear syrup nose; juicy, pear, apple, spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (blend of Chardonnay, French Colombard, Muscat and “Mixed Varietals”; 12.5% alcohol; 1st bottle had TCA, this was replacement bottle) 85+ points
    • 2014 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay California [Treasury Wine Estates] $6.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, pear nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.7% alcohol) 83 points
    • NV Rex Goliath Chardonnay Giant 47 Pound Rooster California, Central Coast [Constellation Brands] $6.00
      Light yellow color; baked apple, nutmeg nose; simple, baked apple, pear nectar palate with a touch of residual sugar; short medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
    • NV Turning Leaf Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
      Light yellow color; tart apple, apple turnover, vanilla nose; simple, ripe apple, baked apple palate with residual sugar and low acidity; short finish (11.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • NV Sutter Home Winery Chardonnay California [Trinchero Family Estates] $4.00
      Light yellow color; apple, baking spice nose; one-dimensional, apple, baking spice palate with slight balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 82 points
    • NV Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
      Very light yellow color; ripe green apple, lime aid nose; ripe green apple, lime aid palate with residual sugar and slight balancing acidity; short finish (13% alcohol) 80 points
    • NV Flipflop Wines Chardonnay California [The Wine Group]
      Light yellow color; ripe peach, light banana nose; ripe peach, confectioner sugar palate with little balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 79 points
    • NV The Naked Grape Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
      Light straw yellow color; honeysuckle, ripe pear, candy apple nose; juicy, candy apple, pear juice palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol; label says Naked Truth #6) $6.00 79 points
    • NV Quail Oak Vineyards Chardonnay California [Safeway private label] $3.00
      Light yellow color; pear nectar, baked apricot, mango nose; pear nectar, baked apricot palate with no acidity and residual sugar; short-medium finish (12.5% alcohol) 78 points
    • 2012 Spin The Bottle Cellars Chardonnay (Terravant) California $6.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked apple, butter, oak nose; flabby, one-note, baked apple palate with residual sugar and low acidity; short finish (13.8% alcohol) 76 points

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    $7 to $9

    • 2013 Ravenswood Chardonnay Vintners Blend California [Constellation Brands] $9.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, pear pastry filling, vanilla nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, pear pastry filling palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay California $9.00
      Light yellow color; pear, apple, oak nose; tart pear, vanilla, apple, oak palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5 alcohol; 9 months in American oak, 50% new) 86 points
    • 2011 The Seeker Chardonnay California [Kobrand] $9.00
      Light yellow color; tart citrus nose; tart citrus palate; medium finish (95% Chardonnay, 5% Gewurztraminer; 13.3% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Gnarly Head Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $7.00
      Light yellow color; vanilla, baked apple, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, simple, baked apple, vanilla, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Coastal Estates California [Treasury Wine Estates] $9.00
      Light yellow color; oak, sauteed pear, butter, baking spice nose; oak, toast, pear, spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier; 13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Dark Horse Wines Chardonnay The Original California [E&J Gallo] $9.00
      Light straw yellow color; applesauce, light vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, rich, baked pear, nutmeg palate with low acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Three Thieves Chardonnay California [Trinchero Family Estates] $9.00
      Light yellow color; apple, pear cream nose; apple, pear cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Fetzer Chardonnay Sundial California [Vina Concha y Toro S.A.] $7.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, pear, baked apple nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (89% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier, 3% Chenin Blanc, 2% Pinot Grigio, 1% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2014 Woodbridge Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $7.00
      Light yellow color; pineapple, apple nose; apple gelee, lemon, oak palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (on the Woodbridge website, the only vintage for which there is tech info is 2011, where the blend was 76% Chardonnay, 18% French Colombard, 3% Viognier and 3% “proprietary blend of aromatic varietals”; the RS that vintage was 0.3%; 13.5% alcohol) 83+ points
    • 2013 A Crisp Cellars Chardonnay (Luna) California $9.00
      Light straw yellow color; mango, tart apple, light reduction nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; short finish (14.6% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Founders’ Estate California [Treasury Wine Estates] $9.00
      Light yellow color; guava, green melon, lime cream nose; guava, green apple, lime cream palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Blackstone Winery Chardonnay Winemaker’s Select California, Central Coast, Monterey County [Constellation Brands] $9.00
      Light yellow color; mango, butter sauce nose; sweet butter, pineapple syrup palate with lots of residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Smoking Loon Chardonnay Steelbird California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $9.00
      Light yellow color; lemon, light vanilla, pear nose; medium bodied, pear, ripe apple palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2012 Smoking Loon Chardonnay California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $9.00
      Light yellow color; butter, apple nose; apple, butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2014 Guenoc Chardonnay California [Foley Food & Wine Society] $9.00
      Light yellow color; reduction, green apple, lime nose; medium bodied, single note, green apple palate with lowish acidity; short finish (90% Chardonnay, 10% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.5% alcohol) 81 points
    • 2012 Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $9.00
      Light yellow color; baked apple, tart peach nose; insipid, ripe peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 80 points

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    $10 to $12

    • 2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; vanilla, ripe pear, apple cream, butter nose; rich, creamy textured, ripe pear, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2014 A by Acacia–Unoaked Chardonnay California [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; appealing, tart apple, pear gelee nose; apple, ripe lemon, grapefruit palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2012 Lucinda & Millie Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino County [V2 Wine Group] $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, baked apple, vanilla nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, baked pear, light vanilla palate; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Magnolia Court Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Southern Wine & Spirits] $10.00
      Light medium yellow color; aromatic, ripe pear, baked apple nose; baked pear, mineral, apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2012 14 Hands Chardonnay – Unoaked Chardonnay Washington [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light yellow color; oak, apple juice, almond, toasted pecan nose; pear, baked apple palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2014 Avalon Chardonnay California [Purple Wine Co.] $11.00
      Light yellow color; apple, tart pear nose; juicy, tart pear, tart apple, spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (13.8% alcohol; a pretty honest $10 Chardonnay) 86 points
    • 2012 Four Vines Chardonnay Naked Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Purple Wine Co.] $11.00
      Light yellow color; pie crust, tart apple nose; juicy, tart apple, green pear palate; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked apple, vanilla, nutmeg nose; baked apple, vanilla, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Grand Estates Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; vanilla, apple pie filling, nutmeg, baking spice nose; vanilla, baked apple, apple pie filling, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Once Upon a Vine Chardonnay The Fairest California, Sonoma County [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; tart apple, tart pear, butter, light toast nose; juicy, apple, tart pear, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Toasted Head Chardonnay Barrel Aged (R.H. Phillips) California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
      Light yellow color; pear, pear cream, vanilla nose; vanilla, pear cream palate; medium finish (14% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay Central Coast California, Central Coast [The Wine Group] $10.00
      Light yellow color; pear, butter nose; pear, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Estancia Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [Constellation Brands] $10.00
      Light yellow color; apple, butter nose; apple, butter palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Clos du Bois Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
      Light yellow color; ripe peach, pear, sweet butter, vanilla nose; sweet butter, pear, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2014 Myka Cellars Chardonnay Mitzi California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains $11.00
      Light yellow color; apple, baked apple, apple butter nose; tart apple, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.3% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Hahn Chardonnay Monterey County California, Central Coast, Monterey County $12.00
      Light straw yellow color; savory, almond, lemon, sesame seed nose; medium bodied, green pear, almond, sesame seed palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2014 Hogue Cellars Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Constellation Brands] $10.00
      Light yellow color; pear, applesauce nose; pear, applesauce palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 84+ points
    • 2013 Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. Chardonnay Calling All Angels California, Napa Valley [The Wine Group] $10.00
      Light yellow color; baked apple, ripe peach, nutmeg nose; apple, peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2012 Seaglass Chardonnay Unoaked California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Trinchero Family Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; tart baked apple, applesauce nose; simple, one-note, tart baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Collection California, Central Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light yellow color; pineapple, papaya, vanilla nose; pineapple, papaya, mango palate with some acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Bijou California [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light yellow color; vanilla, vanilla cream, creme caramel nose; vanilla, vanilla cream, creme caramel palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Central Coast California, Central Coast [E&J Gallo] $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; mango, papaya, vanilla nose; dull, pear, mango palate with some balancing acid; medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2014 Kenwood Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Pernod Ricard] $11.00
      Light yellow color; pear, apple, vanilla, butterscotch nose; pear, apple, butter palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Parducci Chardonnay Small Lot Blend California, North Coast, Mendocino County $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; tart apple, nectarine nose; juicy, ripe apple, nectarine palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 The Hess Collection Chardonnay Hess Select California, Central Coast, Monterey $11.00
      Light medium yellow color; ripe pear, vanilla, spice nose; pear, apple pie, honey, orange cream palate with low acidity and apparent residual sugar; medium finish (13.3% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2014 De Loach Chardonnay Heritage Reserve California [Boisset Collection] $10.00
      Light yellow color; reduction, mango, lemon cream nose; lemon, reduction, mango palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2012 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Rosso & Bianco California $10.00
      Light yellow color; reduction, ripe lemon, butter nose; near medium bodied, reduction, ripe grapefruit, tart apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 HandCraft Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; ripe apple, apple juice nose; ripe apple, apple juice palate with low acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2014 Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay California California [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light yellow color; pineapple, ripe apple nose; ripe apple, pear, pineapple palate with some balancing acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Private Selection California [Constellation Brands] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, apple cream nose; apple, apple cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay California, North Coast [Vintage Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light yellow color; guava, apple nose; ripe apple, guava, lime cream palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Mark West Chardonnay California California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
      Light yellow color; apple, baked pear, vanilla nose; baked pear, vanilla palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Woodwork Wines Chardonnay Batch No. 12 California, Central Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
      Light straw yellow color; butter, oak, pie spice, vanilla nose; medium bodied, vanilla, baked pear, pie spice, oak palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 The Other Guys Chardonnay Leese-Fitch California $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, apple nose; baked pear, light reduction, apple palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 82+ points
    • 2012 Folie à Deux Chardonnay Ménage à Trois White California [Trinchero Family Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, baked apple, vanilla, lemon cream nose; butterscotch, vanilla, baked apple palate with virtually no acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2012 Mirassou Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [E&J Gallo] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple butter, baked apple, pie spice nose; blowsy, baked apple, apple butter palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2014 Firefly Ridge Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Safeway private label] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; candied apple, pear nectar nose; confected, apple gelee, pear nectar palate with low acidity and apparent residual sugar; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 79 points
    • 2014 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Selected Vineyards California [The Wine Group] $10.00
      Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple juice, applesauce nose; flabby, applesauce, pear juice palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 77 points
    • 2012 The Great American Wine Company by Rosenblum Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
      Light straw yellow color; oak, mango, green papaya, reduction nose; mango, ripe papaya palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 77 points

    $13 to $15

    • 2013 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $13.00
      Light yellow color; savory, butter, hazelnut cream, nutmeg nose; tasty, hazelnut cream, tart pear, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89
    • 2013 Foxglove Chardonnay Central Coast (Varner) California, Central Coast $14.00
      Light lemon yellow color; ripe kumquat, fresh lemon nose; rich, medium bodied, lemon, lemon cream, pear cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.7% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Simi Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Constellation Brands] $14.00
      Light yellow color; lifted, tart pear, tart apple, spice, light nutmeg nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, lemon gelee palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2013 Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Chardonnay Light Horse California $13.00
      Light yellow color; lemon gelee, pear gelee nose; light-medium bodied, tart lemon gelee, pear gelee palate; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2012 True Myth Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $14.00
      Light yellow color; ripe pear, baked apple, apple pie filling nose; tart pear, tart apple palate with good acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 87+
    • 2013 Kirkland Signature Chardonnay Signature Series Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Costco private label] $13.00
      Light yellow color; savory, lemon cream, vanilla nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, lemon cream, vanilla palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 St. Francis Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Kobrand] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; lemon cream, apple pie filling, vanilla nose; flamboyant, creamy textured, lemon gelee, butter poached pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2014 Clos LaChance Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, apple, pear nectar, pie spice nose; pear nectar, apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast $13.00
      Light yellow color; almond, hazelnut, honey butter nose; almond cream, light hazelnut, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2014 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Morning Fog Livermore Valley California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley $13.00
      Light yellow color; pear gelee, vanilla nose; pear gelee, vanilla, pear cream palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Joyce Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $14.00
      Light yellow color; tart apple, baked apple nose; tart apple, baked apple palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino County [Vina Concha y Toro S.A.] $13.00
      Light yellow color; savory, nutmeg, peach cobbler, apricot, baking spice nose; medium bodied, luscious, baked peach, lemon gelee, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay California, North Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $13.00
      Light yellow color; savory, toasted almond, oak, baking spice nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, apple butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Toad Hollow Chardonnay Francine’s Selection California, North Coast, Mendocino County [V2 Wine Group] $13.00
      Light yellow color; vanilla, poached pear, apple gelee nose; pear, apple gelee, light vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $14.00
      Light yellow color; savory, tart baked apple, butter nose; medium bodied, tart baked apple, lemon cream palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Hahn Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $14.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, ripe pear, floral, honeysuckle, vanilla nose; medium bodied, pear syrup, peach syrup, orange palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2012 William Hill Winery Chardonnay North Coast California, North Coast [E&J Gallo] $14.00
      Light medium yellow color; butterscotch, mature, pastry, sweet butter nose; rich, medium bodied, sweet butter, baked pear palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Diamond Collection Gold Label California, Central Coast, Monterey County $13.00
      Light yellow color; oak, apple, butter nose; rich, butter, oak, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 It’s a HeadSnapper Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [The Wine Group] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; savory, butter, nutmeg, vanilla nose; nutmeg, lemon, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2014 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, almond nose; apple, almond palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Murphy-Goode Chardonnay California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
      Light yellow color; butter, pear nose; butter, pear palate with medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Picket Fence Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Bronco Wine Co.] $13.00
      Light lemon yellow color; odd, reduction, peanut oil nose; near medium bodied, lemon, peanut oil, safflower oil palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2014 Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $14.00
      Light yellow color; lemon, apple, pear nose; tasty, vanilla, lemon, apple, pear palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Pure Love Wines Chardonnay Layer Cake One Hundred Percent Pure California, Central Coast [Pure Love Wines] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, pie spice nose; apple gelee, baked pear, oak palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84+ points
    • 2014 Joel Gott Chardonnay Unoaked California [Trinchero Family Estates] $14.00
      Light yellow color; apple, nutmeg nose; baked pear, baked apple, pie spice palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 84+ points
    • 2012 Chloe Wines Chardonnay Chloe California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $13.00
      Light yellow color; guava, reduction, oak, nutmeg nose; near medium bodied, guava, green apple, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [E&J Gallo] $13.00
      Light lemon yellow color; apple pie filling, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon custard nose; odd, apple pie filling, lemon custard palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (89% Chardonnay, 7% Semillon, 3% Chenin Blanc, 1% Other; 13.9% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Avant California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
      Light yellow color; pear, pear cream nose; pear cream, apple palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; creme caramel, baked apple, nutmeg, vanilla nose; rich, baked pear, creme caramel, vanilla palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head (Crew) California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; butter sauce, pie spice, apricot nose; medium bodied, sweet butter, apricot palate showing substantial residual sugar; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 McBride Sisters Chardonnay Truvee California, Central Coast $13.00
      Light yellow color; green apple, reduction, lime, green melon, cinnamon nose; ripe green apple, green melon palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Simple Life Winery Chardonnay California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, apple cream, lemon chiffon nose; apple cream, ripe pear, lemon cream palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (93% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier; 13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Cameron Hughes Chardonnay CAM Collection California, Central Coast, Monterey County [V2 Wine Group] $14.00
      Light yellow color; reduction, lemon gelee, guava nose; one-dimensional, lemon gelee, guava palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2014 Joseph Carr Chardonnay Josh Cellars California $13.00
      Light yellow color; apple, apple cream nose; apple, apple cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Seven Daughters Chardonnay California [Terlato Wines] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; applesauce, ripe apple, pie spice nose; light-medium bodied, applesauce, apple palate with some balancing acidity; tastes watered down though; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2013 Slow Press Wines Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [The Wine Group] $13.00
      Light yellow color; candied apple, caramel nose; medium bodied, apple, peach, caramel palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2014 Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay Essential California $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, peach, pie crust nose; juicy, baked pear, ripe peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82
    • 2013 Curious Beasts Wines Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley [Truett-Hurst, Inc.] $13.00
      Light medium yellow color; oxidized apple, peach nectar nose; sweet, peach syrup, baked apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2013 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Foley Food & Wine Society] $13.00
      Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, caramel, nutmeg nose; creamy textured, butterscotch, caramel, honey butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2013 True Myth Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $14.00
      Light yellow color; apple, reduction, green pea nose; odd, green apple, green pea, reduction palate with some balancing acidity but unattractive flavors, perhaps due to the reduction; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 81 points
    • 2014 Ca’ Momi Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $14.00
      Light yellow color; apple, vanilla, rum nose; odd, ripe apple, pear syrup, vanilla palate with low acidity and substantial residual sugar, tasting more like a confected drink than a natural grape expression; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 75 points

    $16 to $19

    • 2014 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $19.00
      Light yellow color; savory, lemon, lemon gelee, lemon verbena nose; tasty, juicy, tart lemon, lemon verbena, mineral palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
      Light lemon yellow color; savory, hazelnut, butter sauce, nutmeg nose; poised, savory, hazelnut, butter sauce, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2013 Black Stallion Estate Winery Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Delicato Family Vyds] $16.00
      Light yellow color; tart apple, green apple, lime cream, green almond nose; tart apple, subtle spice, ripe pear palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2014 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino $16.00
      Light lemon yellow color; vanilla, pear, light pie spice nose; poised, medium bodied, tart pear, lemon cream, vanilla palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2014 Carmel Road Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey [Jackson Family Wines] $16.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, pear, honeysuckle, floral nose; tasty, bright, ripe pear, honeysuckle, pear cream palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2012 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $16.00
      Light lemon yellow color; tart pineapple, lemon, white jasmine nose; tart lemon, white jasmine palate with integrating oak; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Indian Wells Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $17.00
      Light straw yellow color; aromatic, savory, gunpowder, butter nose; savory, butter, tart lemon, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley $16.00
      Light yellow color; savory, applesauce, tart pear, apple nose; tasty, lemon, tart pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (14% alcohol; 70% stainless steel, 30% French oak for 6-8 months) 88 points
    • 2013 Cherry Pie (Hundred Acre) Chardonnay Cherry Tart California $19.00
      Light straw yellow color; savory, toast, butter sauce, nutmeg, orange nose; medium bodied, butter sauce, tart apple, mango palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol; 40% Monterey Co., 30% Sonoma Co., 21% Napa Co.) 88 points
    • 2013 Taken Wine Co. Chardonnay Complicated California, Sonoma County [Trinchero Family Estates] $17.00
      Light straw yellow color; pear, light vanilla, apple, baked apple nose; juicy, honeysuckle, white jasmine, pear gelee palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 87+ points
    • 2014 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $19.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, butter poached pear nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 87+ points
    • 2013 Folie à Deux Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Trinchero Family Estates] $16.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg, vanilla nose; vanilla, baked apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill $16.00
      Light yellow color; apple pie filling, pie spice, nutmeg nose; pear nectar, vanilla, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2014 Byron Chardonnay Nielson by Byron California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
      Light straw yellow color; pear, apple, fig nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, ripe lemon, blond fig palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2012 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $17.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, baked apple, pear, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, baked apple, nutmeg, lemon cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2014 Fess Parker Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $16.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, baked apple, nutmeg nose; rich, tasty, baked apple, pear, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Ghost Pines Chardonnay Winemaker’s Blend California [E&J Gallo] $16.00
      Light yellow color; vanilla, apple cream, sweet butter, nutmeg, apple pie filling nose; apple, pear, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 38% Monterey County, 33% Sonoma County, 29% Napa County) 86+ points
    • 2014 Au Contraire Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Palm Bay International] $17.00
      Light straw yellow color; aromatic, tart pear, apple, applesauce nose; juicy, pear, apple palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey California, Central Coast, Monterey [Jackson Family Wines] $19.00
      Light straw yellow color; lemon cream, vanilla nose; medium bodied, lemon cream, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Constellation Brands] $16.00
      Light straw yellow color; oak, butter, nutmeg, pie spice nose; creamy textured, butter, oak, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol; one of the better examples in the buttery style at this price point) 86 points
    • 2013 Trefethen Chardonnay Double T California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll $16.00
      Light yellow color; apple, pie spice, baked apple nose; juicy, medium bodied, apple, pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2012 Valley of the Moon Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [V2 Wine Group] $16.00
      Light yellow color; honey butter, vanilla nose; medium bodied, peach, ripe pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Decoy Sonoma County California, Sonoma County $17.00
      Light yellow color; apple, tart pear, pie spice nose; juicy, ripe apple, pie spice palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Kali Hart Vineyard Chardonnay (Talbott) California, Monterey Co. $17.00
      Light medium yellow color; vanilla, baked pear, pineapple nose; pear, pineapple palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Lincourt Chardonnay Steel California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills [Foley Food & Wine Society] $17.00
      Light yellow color; pear, guava, papaya nose; juicy, tart pear, papaya palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $17.00
      Light yellow color; ripe pear, orange, hazelnut nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, pear, orange, sweet butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2012 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $19.00
      Light medium yellow color; mango, papaya, reduction, sweet butter nose; medium bodied, juicy, sweet, ripe pineapple, mango, sweet butter palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa Valley [Boisset Collection] $19.00
      Light yellow color; oak, lemon custard, condensed milk, apple sauce nose; pear, lemon custard palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2012 Reata Chardonnay (Jamieson Ranch) California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $19.00
      Light medium yellow color; odd, green pepper, reduction, cabbage water nose; less off putting on the palate of tart pear, green apple and vanilla with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2014 Kunde Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Valley California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley $16.00
      Light straw yellow color; butter, lemon cream, apple nose; creamy textured, butter, pear cream palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Wild Horse Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Constellation Brands] $16.00
      Light yellow color; butter, pear, green pea soup, vanilla nose; butter, pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2012 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Réserve California [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
      Light medium golden yellow color; butter, oak, brioche, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, buttery, lemon cream palate with noticeable residual sugar and lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 51% Monterey County, 49% Santa Barbara County) 85+ points
    • 2013 La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County [Jackson Family Wines] $19.00
      Light straw yellow color; vanilla, vanilla custard, creme caramel nose; creamy textured, vanilla, apple cream palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Napa Cellars Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Trinchero Family Estates] $19.00
      Light yellow color; pear, pie crust, nutmeg nose; near medium bodied, pear gelee, almond palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Sofia California, Central Coast, Monterey County $16.00
      Light yellow color; savory, pear, green apple, butter nose; ripe pear, apple palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (12.5% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Markham Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Terlato Wines] $16.00
      Light medium yellow color; aromatic, savory, butter sauce, lemon butter, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, baked pear, pie spice, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 85 points
    • NV Eye Chart Wines Chardonnay California $19.00
      Light medium yellow color; baked apple, candied apple, vanilla, honey butter nose; medium bodied, honey butter, vanilla cream palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 BNA Wine Group Chardonnay Butternut California $16.00
      Medium golden yellow color; oxidative, almond, lemon nose; medium bodied, somewhat oxidized, lemon palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Nine Points Chardonnay (Stags’ Leap) California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $18.50
      Light yellow color; butter sauce, apple gelee nose; medium bodied, apple cream, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Bennett Valley Cellars Chardonnay BIN 5757 California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley $19.00
      Light yellow color; papaya, guava, pineapple, vanilla nose; juicy, sweet, lemon gelee, papaya, pineapple syrup palate exhibiting residual sugar; medium finish (13% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Treana Chardonnay White (Hope Family) California, Central Coast $19.00
      Light medium yellow color; honey butter, vanilla, nougat nose; medium bodied, honey butter, nougat, pear cream palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Meiomi Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $19.00
      Light yellow color; lemon gelee, reduction, apple nose; odd, confected, lemon gelee, reduction, apple palate with very low acidity; short finish (13.8% alcohol) 78 points

    20151026_204636
    $20 to $24

    • 2013 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $21.00
      Light lemon yellow color; aromatic, almond, tart pear, apple gelee, pie spice nose; tasty, poised, almond, pear, lemon, mineral palate with good medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2013 Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $23.00
      Light yellow color; tart pear, lemon gelee, light toast nose; medium bodied, juicy, tart pear, lemon gelee, almond palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Landmark Chardonnay Overlook California, Sonoma County $23.00
      Light yellow color; savory, Meyer lemon, almond, pear, pie spice nose; tasty, Meyer lemon, mineral, tart pear, lime, pie spice palate with crisp medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol; 83% Sonoma Co., 11% Monterey Co., 6% Santa Barbara Co. fruit) 91+ points
    • 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $21.00
      Light yellow color; lemon, pear, almond, hazelnut nose; tasty, lemon, pear, mineral, almond palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2013 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Luminus California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll [Treasury Wine Estates] $23.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, pear cream, lemon cream, honey butter nose; medium bodied, luscious, lemon cream, tart pear, pear cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $24.00
      Light yellow color; pear, toast, almond nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, mineral, brioche palate with crisp, medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol; no malolactic) 91 points
    • 2012 Gainey Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills $21.00
      Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, poached pear, apple pie filling, light caramel nose; clean, rich, medium bodied, baked apple, tart pear, apple pie filling palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (60% barrel fermented, 60% malo, 10 months in oak; 13.9% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2013 Hanna Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Terlato Wines] $21.00
      Light yellow color; reduction, savory, hazelnut, butter, nutmeg, orange spice nose; medium bodied, savory, lemon gelee, pear, hazelnut, nutmeg, reduction palate with bright balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2013 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay California, Sonoma County $23.00
      Light yellow color; vanilla, almond, pear, nutmeg nose; poised, juicy, pear, almond, mineral, nutmeg palate; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2013 Nottingham Cellars Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $24.00
      Light straw yellow color; aromatic, savory, poached pear, Bearnaise sauce, lemon butter nose; tasty, poised, tart sauteed pear, mineral, tart baked apple palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol; good pairing with all kinds of chicken and seafood dishes with light sauces) 90+ points
    • 2011 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Belle Terre Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $24.00
      Light straw yellow color; green apple, toast, herb butter nose; tart pear, light nutmeg, herb butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.4% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2012 Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley $24.00
      Light straw yellow color; pecan pie, baked apple, nutmeg, baked peach nose; medium bodied, peach, tart pear, pecan palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2013 Tolosa Winery Chardonnay Edna Ranch California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $24.00
      Light yellow color; pear, nutmeg nose; tasty, baked pear, spice, tart apple palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2013 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [Foley Food & Wine Society] $20.00
      Light yellow color; ripe lemon, pear, vanilla, nutmeg nose; poised, juicy, tart pear, nutmeg, lemon cream palate; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Jackson Family Wines] $21.00
      Light yellow color; pear, butter, almond nose; medium bodied, savory, butter, pear, almond cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2012 Saintsbury Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $23.00
      Light straw yellow color; nutmeg, butter, tart apple nose; poised, tart apple cream, lemon, light butter palate with good balancing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2012 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver Unoaked California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands [Wagner Family] $21.00
      Light medium canary yellow color; golden mango, peach nose; juicy, ripe peach, tart pineapple palate; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2013 Luli Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
      Light yellow color; almond, tart pear nose; almond, tart pear palate; medium finish 88 points
    • 2013 MacRostie Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $21.00 [Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners]
      Light straw yellow color; ripe apple, pear, green apple nose; juicy, apple, ripe pear, light green herb, orange palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2013 Newton Chardonnay (Red Label) California, North Coast, Napa County [LVMH] $21.00
      Light medium yellow color; savory, oak, butter sauce, papaya nose; lemon, butter sauce, papaya palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [Brown-Forman] $24.00
      Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, honey butter, almond cream, Abba Zabba filling nose; medium bodied, baked pear, almond, butter sauce palate with integrating oak and some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2013 Morgan Chardonnay Highland Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $24.00
      Light yellow color; pear syrup, baked pear nose; pear syrup, baked pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 87+ points
    • 2012 Rancho Sisquoc Chardonnay Flood Family Vineyards California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Bronco Wine Co.] $20.00 Light yellow color; graham cracker, lemon pie, vanilla nose; medium bodied, luscious, graham cracker, lemon pie filling, pie crust, vanilla, almond palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Highland Bench California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
      Light medium yellow color; pear nectar nose; ripe pear, pear nectar palate; medium-plus finish 87 points
    • 2013 J. Wilkes Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley $21.00
      Light yellow color; tart pineapple, lemon gelee nose; medium bodied, lemon gelee, ripe citrus palate with some acidity and RS; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 The Hess Collection Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $21.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, lemon custard, pie spice, orange blossom nose; medium bodied, lemon gelee, pear cream, orange cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2012 Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Vintage Wine Estates] $23.00
      Light yellow color; savory, hazelnut, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, nutmeg, ripe pear, hazelnut palate with some balancing acidity and discernable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 Bernardus Winery Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County $21.00
      Light medium yellow color; savory, hazelnut, almond, nutmeg, sunflower seed nose; medium bodied, pear syrup palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2014 Acacia Barrel Select California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $22.00
      Light lemon yellow color; almond, papaya, lemon gelee nose; almond, lemon gelee, papaya palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2014 Talbott Chardonnay Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
      Light medium straw yellow color; apple, butter nose; ripe apple, pear palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 William Hill Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley [E&J Gallo] $21.00
      Light straw yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, vanilla, spice nose; apple, pear, vanilla palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2012 Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Vintage Wine Estates] $24.00
      Light straw yellow color; mango, butter, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, lemon butter, butter cream palate with some balancing acidity and residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Acacia Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Treasury Wine Estates] $20.00
      Light yellow color; apple, pear, vanilla nose; apple, pear, vanilla palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2011 Battaglini Estate Wines Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $21.00
      Light medium straw yellow color; savory, apple, oak nose; light-medium bodied, savory, apple, oak palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 JAQK Cellars Chardonnay High Roller California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $20.00
      Light yellow color; baked apple, pear compote, pineapple syrup nose; sweet, pear gelee, pineapple syrup palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.6% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2011 Ancient Oak Cellars Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $21.00
      Light medium yellow color; dried apricot, peach syrup, peach pie filling nose; peach syrup, dried apricot palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2012 Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $21.00
      Light straw yellow color; apple, pear, honey nose; one-note, pear, apple, honey cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Virginia Marie Lambrix Chardonnay Bewitched California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Truett-Hurst, Inc.] $21.00
      Light yellow color; pear syrup, peach syrup, canned pineapple nose; medium bodied, pear syrup, peach syrup palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2013 Judson Hale Chardonnay California $22.00
      Light medium yellow color; aromatic, honey, beeswax, sweet butter, nougat nose; medium bodied, oxidized, sweet butter, nougat palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol; second bottle, with similar notes) 84 points
    • 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Carneros California, Carneros, Napa [Treasury Wine Estates] $20.00
      Light medium golden yellow color; savory, oxidative, butter nose; medium bodied, somewhat oxidized, butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 83 points
    • 2012 Schug Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $20.00
      Light yellow color; apple, lemon drop, reduction nose; citrus, reduction palate with near medium acidity that tastes like an addition; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2014 Wild Horse Chardonnay Unbridled California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Constellation Brands] $20.00
      Light lemon yellow color; pineapple, guava, reduction nose; ripe peach, apple, guava palate with low acidity; short finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
    • 2014 St. Supéry Chardonnay Oak Free California, Napa Valley [Chanel, Inc.] $21.00
      Light straw yellow color; off putting reduction, gunpowder, guava nose; guava, papaya, reduction palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 78 points

    $26 to $29

    • 2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
      Light straw yellow color; appealing, pear brioche, baked apple, vanilla nose; medium bodied, tasty, tart pear, butter sauce, lemon butter palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
      Light medium straw yellow color; savory, almond, butter, butter croissant nose; medium bodied, buttery, almond, butter poached pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay DCV10 California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [V2 Wine Group] $26.00
      Light lemon yellow color; ripe lemon, lemon cream, almond nose; rich, creamy textured, lemon cream, almond, vanilla pudding, ripe pear palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 85% malolactic fermentation; label now says DCV Estate Block 10) 89 points
    • 2012 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay CrossBarn Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $26.00
      Light yellow color; apple, baked pear nose; apple, baked pear palate; medium finish (14% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2012 Groth Chardonnay Hillview California, Napa Valley $27.00
      Light yellow color; baked pear, vanilla, oak, almond, nutmeg nose; savory, pear, vanilla, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2013 Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $27.00
      Light yellow color; savory, lemon cream, pear, lemon verbena nose; tasty, savory, lemon cream, mineral, lemon butter palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2013 Trefethen Chardonnay California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll $29.00
      Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple pie filling, pie spice nose; medium bodied, rich, ripe pear, apple pie filling, pie spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2013 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands [Wagner Family] $29.00
      Light medium yellow color; tart apricot, melted butter nose; rich, medium bodied, ripe pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2013 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia California, Napa Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $29.00
      Light yellow color; tart apple, pie spice, pear, nutmeg, butter nose; pear, apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2011 Gallo Family Vineyards / Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay Signature Series California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $29.00
      Medium yellow color; butter, vanilla, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, butter, poached pear, baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol; 87% Laguna Ranch, 13% Del Rio Vyd) 86 points
    • 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $26.00
      Light straw yellow color; savory, oak, butter sauce, guava nose; medium bodied, baked pear, oak, sweet butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2013 Frog’s Leap Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $29.00
      Light yellow color; savory, butter sauce, sautéed onion, sauerkraut nose; very tart apple, lemon, sauerkraut palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.4% alcohol) 85 points
    • 2013 Orogeny Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
      Light yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, light cinnamon nose; medium bodied, baked apple, baked pear palate with some residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 84 points
    • 2012 The Calling Chardonnay Dutton Ranch California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $26.00
      Light yellow color; butter, apple, mango, almond nose; mango, tart apple, almond palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 84 points

    20151031_213245

    $30 and Up

    • 2012 Qupé Chardonnay Reserve Bien Nacido Block Eleven California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley $30.00
      Light straw yellow color; aromatic, appealing, pear cream, butter, lemon cream nose; medium bodied, pear, pear cream, lemon cream palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2013 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $33.00
      Light yellow color; appealing, almond, lemon, green almond nose; tasty, juicy, focused, tart lemon, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (precision and balance reminiscent of a good Puligny-Montrachet; 13.7% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley $34.00
      Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple nose; rich but balanced, tart lemon, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Ashley’s Vineyard California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills $30.00
      Light medium yellow color; tart pear, light cinnamon, ripe apple nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral, baking spice, apple pie filling palate; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley $31.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, pear, white jasmine, orange blossom nose; medium bodied, lemon cream, orange blossom, lemon palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $30.00
      Light straw yellow color; appealing, butter, brioche, pear pastry nose; medium bodied, poised, baked pear, almond, pear cream palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $31.00
      Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, ginger nose; juicy, ripe pear, ginger, mineral, ripe lemon palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill [Foley Food & Wine Society] $39.00
      Light yellow color; aromatic, savory, tart pear, buttery oak nose; tasty, tart pear, lemon cream, butter sauce palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Migration (Duckhorn Vineyards) Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $30.00
      Light lemon yellow color; lemon pie filling, apple pie filling nose; tasty, rich, medium bodied, apple pie filling, lemon cream, light vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay The Cutrer California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Brown-Forman] $33.00
      Light straw yellow color; lifted, savory, baked lemon, preserved lemon, melted butter, almond nose; medium bodied, almond, baked lemon, baking spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Grgich Hills Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $41.00
      Light straw yellow color; savory, almond, butter sauce, sauteed mushroom, nutmeg nose; savory, tasty, tart pear, almond, butter sauce, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Constellation Brands] $41.00
      Light lemon yellow color; almond, tart pear, light hazelnut nose; rich, tasty, almond, tart pear, light hazelnut palate; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2012 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District $30.00
      Light lemon yellow color; lemon gelee, vanilla, ripe pineapple, lemon cream, lemon honey nose; rich, creamy textured, lemon gelee, lemon honey, chamomile palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2011 Stonestreet Chardonnay Broken Road California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $33.00
      Light yellow color; lemon cream, pear cream, ripe apple nose; rich, creamy textured, apple, tart pear, tart pear cream palate with integrating oak; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $34.00
      Light yellow color; baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2013 Daou Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Paso Robles $31.00
      Light medium yellow color; appealing, aromatic, lemon chiffon, lemon cream, honey butter nose; medium bodied, lush, lemon custard, pear nectar, honey butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 88 points
    • 2014 Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $34.00
      Light yellow color; nutmeg, oak, mango nose; medium bodied, rich, sweet butter, lemon butter, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88
    • 2011 Bonneau Chardonnay Catherine’s California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $31.00
      Medium yellow color; butter rum, honey butter, almond cream nose; medium bodied, butter, almond cream palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol; 10 months in French oak) 87 points
    • 2013 Flora Springs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented California, Napa Valley $31.00
      Light straw yellow color; pineapple, ripe lemon, ripe pear, lime nose; rich, ripe lemon, juicy, pineapple, baking spice palate with some residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2012 Flying Horse Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $34.00
      Light medium yellow color; butterscotch, vanilla, baked pear, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, pear cream, vanilla, butterscotch palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (15.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2014 Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $36.00
      Light straw yellow color; butter, baked apple, pie spice nose; butter, baked apple, pie spice palate; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
    • 2013 Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley $33.00
      Light yellow color; pear cream, vanilla, creme caramel nose; pear cream, vanilla palate with polish but low acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
    • 2013 Vine Cliff Winery Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $36.00
      Light yellow color; mango, butter sauce nose; medium bodied, mango, apple, pear syrup palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2012 ZD Wines Chardonnay California $36.00
      Light yellow color; butter, baked apple nose; butter, baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
    • 2014 Sparrow Hawk Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa Valley $33.00
      Light medium yellow color; savory, baked lemon, reduction, oak, mango nose; medium bodied, mango, orange syrup, kumquat palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 84 points

    Grocery Store Chardonnay Alpha Listing

    20151031_212746
    14 Hands Chardonnay – Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86 points
    A by Acacia–Unoaked Chardonnay 2014 $11.00 86+ points
    A Crisp Cellars Chardonnay (Luna) 2013 $9.00 83 points
    Acacia Barrel Select 2014 $22.00 86+ points
    Acacia Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $20.00 85 points
    Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 88 points
    Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2014 $19.00 91+ points
    Ancient Oak Cellars Chardonnay 2011 $21.00 84 points
    Artesa Chardonnay Carneros 2012 $19.00 86 points
    Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2013 $21.00 92 points
    Au Contraire Chardonnay 2014 $17.00 86+ points
    Avalon Chardonnay 2014 $11.00 86 points
    Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay NV $6.00 80 points
    Battaglini Estate Wines Chardonnay 2011 $21.00 85 points
    Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Carneros 2012 $20.00 83 points
    Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Coastal Estates 2012 $9.00 85 points
    Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 $9.00 80 points
    Bennett Valley Cellars Chardonnay BIN 5757 2013 $19.00 84 points
    Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 86 points
    Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay 2014 $14.00 85+ points
    Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $6.00 83 points
    Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Founders’ Estate 2013 $9.00 83 points
    Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Luminus 2013 $23.00 91 points
    Bernardus Winery Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 86+ points
    Black Stallion Estate Winery Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 90+ points
    Blackstone Winery Chardonnay Winemaker’s Select 2013 $9.00 83 points
    BNA Wine Group Chardonnay Butternut 2013 $16.00 84 points
    Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay California 2013 $9.00 86 points
    Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay Essential 2014 $13.00 82 points
    Bonneau Chardonnay Catherine’s 2011 $31.00 87 points
    Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86 points
    Byron Chardonnay Nielson by Byron 2014 $17.00 87 points
    Ca’ Momi Chardonnay 2014 $14.00 75 points
    Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard 2013 $17.00 91 points
    Cameron Hughes Chardonnay CAM Collection 2013 $14.00 84 points
    Carmel Road Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 90 points
    Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 83 points
    Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate 2012 $39.00 91 points
    Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $20.00 89 points
    Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86 points
    Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Belle Terre Vineyard 2011 $24.00 90 points
    Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Bijou 2013 $11.00 84 points
    Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard 2011 $26.00 89 points
    Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 85+ points
    Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 87 points
    Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Indian Wells 2013 $17.00 89 points
    Cherry Pie (Hundred Acre) Chardonnay Cherry Tart 2013 $19.00 88 points
    Chloe Wines Chardonnay Chloe 2012 $13.00 84 points
    Clos du Bois Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 85 points
    Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $23.00 91+ points
    Clos LaChance Chardonnay 2014 $13.00 86+ points
    Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2012 $24.00 85+ points
    Columbia Crest Chardonnay Grand Estates 2013 $10.00 85+ points
    Columbia Winery Chardonnay 2012 $13.00 84 points
    Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Selected Vineyards 2014 $10.00 77 points
    Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 $10.00 85 points
    Curious Beasts Wines Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 82 points
    Daou Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $31.00 88 points
    Dark Horse Wines Chardonnay The Original Dark Horse 2013 $9.00 85 points
    De Loach Chardonnay Heritage Reserve 2014 $10.00 83 points
    Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay DCV10 2012 $26.00 89 points
    Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Decoy Sonoma County 2014 $17.00 86 points
    Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013 $33.00 86 points
    Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2013 $30.00 91 points
    Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 $11.00 84 points
    Estancia Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 85 points
    Eye Chart Wines Chardonnay NV $19.00 85 points
    Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2013 $23.00 90+ points
    Fess Parker Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 86+ points
    Fess Parker Chardonnay Ashley’s Vineyard 2012 $30.00 91+ points
    Fetzer Chardonnay Sundial 2013 $7.00 84 points
    Firefly Ridge Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 79 points
    Flipflop Wines Chardonnay NV $6.00 79 points
    Flora Springs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2013 $31.00 87 points
    Flying Horse Chardonnay 2012 $34.00 87 points
    Folie à Deux Chardonnay Ménage à Trois White 2012 $10.00 82 points
    Folie à Deux Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $16.00 87 points
    Forest Ville Chardonnay 2013 $6.00 85+ points
    Four Vines Chardonnay Naked Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86 points
    Foxglove Chardonnay Central Coast (Varner) 2013 $14.00 89 points
    Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Diamond Collection Gold Label 2013 $13.00 85+ points
    Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Rosso & Bianco 2012 $10.00 83 points
    Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Sofia 2013 $16.00 85 points
    Franciscan Estate Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 86 points
    Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2012 $34.00 92 points
    Freemark Abbey Chardonnay 2012 $24.00 91 points
    Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve 2012 $17.00 87 points
    Frog’s Leap Chardonnay 2013 $29.00 85 points
    Gainey Chardonnay 2012 $21.00 90+ points
    Gallo Family Vineyards / Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay Signature Series 2011 $29.00 86 points
    Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection 2012 $31.00 91 points
    Ghost Pines Chardonnay Winemaker’s Blend 2013 $16.00 86+ points
    Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2012 $23.00 87 points
    Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2012 $16.00 89 points
    Gnarly Head Chardonnay 2013 $7.00 85 points
    Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011 $41.00 90+ points
    Groth Chardonnay Hillview 2012 $27.00 88 points
    Guenoc Chardonnay 2014 $9.00 81 points
    Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2013 $21.00 91 points
    Hahn Chardonnay Monterey County 2013 $12.00 85 points
    Hahn Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $14.00 86 points
    HandCraft Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 83 points
    Hanna Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 90+ points
    Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella 2013 $31.00 91+ points
    Hogue Cellars Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 84+ points
    Husch Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 90+ points
    It’s a HeadSnapper Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
    J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate 2013 $26.00 85 points
    J. Lohr Chardonnay Highland Bench 2012 $21.00 87 points
    J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone 2014 $13.00 85+ points
    J. Wilkes Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 87 points
    Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Chardonnay Light Horse 2013 $13.00 88 points
    JAQK Cellars Chardonnay High Roller 2013 $20.00 84 points
    Joel Gott Chardonnay Unoaked 2014 $14.00 84+ points
    Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $33.00 92 points
    Joseph Carr Chardonnay Josh Cellars 2014 $13.00 83 points
    Joyce Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 86+ points
    Judson Hale Chardonnay 2013 $22.00 84 points
    Kali Hart Vineyard Chardonnay (Talbott) 2013 $17.00 86 points
    Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Avant 2013 $13.00 84 points
    Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Réserve 2012 $17.00 85+ points
    Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve 2013 $13.00 84 points
    Kenwood Chardonnay Sonoma County 2014 $11.00 84 points
    Kirkland Signature Chardonnay Signature Series Russian River Valley 2013 $13.00 87 points
    Kunde Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Valley 2014 $16.00 85+ points
    La Crema Chardonnay Monterey 2013 $19.00 86+ points
    La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $19.00 85+ points
    Landmark Chardonnay Overlook 2013 $23.00 91+ points
    Lincourt Chardonnay Steel 2013 $17.00 86 points
    Lucinda & Millie Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86+ points
    Luli Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 88 points
    MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $17.00 86 points
    MacRostie Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 88 points
    Magnolia Court Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 86 points
    Mark West Chardonnay California 2013 $11.00 83 points
    Markham Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 85 points
    Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013 $21.00 89 points
    Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head (Crew) 2013 $13.00 84 points
    McBride Sisters Chardonnay Truvee 2013 $13.00 84 points
    Meiomi Chardonnay 2013 $19.00 78 points
    Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $29.00 87 points
    Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver Unoaked 2012 $21.00 88+ points
    Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay California 2014 $10.00 83 points
    Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont 2012 $21.00 84 points
    Migration (Duckhorn Vineyards) Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2012 $30.00 90+ points
    Mirassou Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 $10.00 82 points
    Morgan Chardonnay Highland Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $24.00 87+ points
    Murphy-Goode Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
    Myka Cellars Chardonnay Mitzi 2014 $11.00 85 points
    Napa Cellars Chardonnay 2013 $19.00 85+ points
    Newton Chardonnay (Red Label) 2013 $21.00 88 points
    Nine Points Chardonnay (Stags’ Leap) 2013 $18.50 84 points
    Nottingham Cellars Chardonnay 2013 $24.00 90+ points
    Once Upon a Vine Chardonnay The Fairest Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 85+ points
    Orogeny Chardonnay 2013 $26.00 84 points
    Parducci Chardonnay Small Lot Blend 2013 $11.00 84 points
    Patz & Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $34.00 89 points
    Paul Hobbs Chardonnay CrossBarn Sonoma Coast 2012 $26.00 88 points
    Picket Fence Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
    Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones 2013 $27.00 88 points
    Pure Love Wines Chardonnay Layer Cake One Hundred Percent Pure 2013 $13.00 84+ points
    Quail Oak Vineyards Chardonnay NV $3.00 78 points
    Qupé Chardonnay Reserve Bien Nacido Block Eleven 2012 $30.00 92 points
    Rancho Sisquoc Chardonnay Flood Family Vineyards 2012 $20.00 87 points
    Ravenswood Chardonnay Vintners Blend 2013 $9.00 87 points
    Raymond Vineyard & Cellar Chardonnay Reserve 2013 $19.00 86 points
    Reata Chardonnay (Jamieson Ranch) 2012 $19.00 86 points
    Rex Goliath Chardonnay Giant 47 Pound Rooster NV $6.00 83 points
    Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Private Selection 2014 $10.00 83 points
    Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve 2012 $41.00 90+ points
    Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill 2013 $16.00 87 points
    Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $13.00 89 points
    Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $36.00 86+ points
    Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012 $23.00 89 points
    Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. Chardonnay Calling All Angels 2013 $10.00 84 points
    Schug Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012 $20.00 82 points
    Seaglass Chardonnay Unoaked 2012 $10.00 84 points
    Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013 $13.00 82 points
    Seven Daughters Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 83 points
    Simi Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 88+ points
    Simple Life Winery Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 84 points
    Slow Press Wines Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 83 points
    Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2012 $30.00 90 points
    Smoking Loon Chardonnay 2012 $9.00 82 points
    Smoking Loon Chardonnay Steelbird 2013 $9.00 83 points
    Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012 $24.00 88 points
    Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay The Cutrer 2012 $33.00 90+ points
    Sparrow Hawk Chardonnay Reserve 2014 $33.00 84 points
    Spin The Bottle Cellars Chardonnay (Terravant) 2012 $6.00 76 points
    St. Francis Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 87 points
    St. Supéry Chardonnay Oak Free 2014 $21.00 78 points
    Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia 2013 $29.00 87 points
    Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2013 $26.00 90+ points
    Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Collection 2013 $10.00 84 points
    Stonestreet Chardonnay Broken Road 2011 $33.00 89 points
    Sutter Home Winery Chardonnay NV $4.00 82 points
    Taken Wine Co. Chardonnay Complicated 2013 $17.00 87+ points
    Talbott Chardonnay Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard 2014 $21.00 86 points
    Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 $34.00 88 points
    Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley 2012 $24.00 90 points
    The Calling Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2012 $26.00 84 points
    The Great American Wine Company by Rosenblum Chardonnay 2012 $10.00 77 points
    The Hess Collection Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 87 points
    The Hess Collection Chardonnay Hess Select 2013 $11.00 84 points
    The Naked Grape (US) Chardonnay NV $6.00 79 points
    The Other Guys Chardonnay Leese-Fitch 2013 $10.00 82+ points
    The Seeker Chardonnay 2011 $9.00 86 points
    Three Thieves Chardonnay 2013 $9.00 85 points
    Toad Hollow Chardonnay Francine’s Selection 2013 $13.00 86 points
    Toasted Head Chardonnay Barrel Aged (R.H. Phillips) 2013 $11.00 85+ points
    Tolosa Winery Chardonnay Edna Ranch 2013 $24.00 90 points
    Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86+ points
    Treana Chardonnay White (Hope Family) 2013 $19.00 84 points
    Trefethen Chardonnay 2013 $29.00 88 points
    Trefethen Chardonnay Double T 2013 $16.00 86 points
    True Myth Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 81 points
    True Myth Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard 2012 $14.00 87+ points
    Turning Leaf Chardonnay NV $6.00 82 points
    Valley of the Moon Chardonnay 2012 $16.00 86 points
    Vine Cliff Winery Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $36.00 85+ points
    Virginia Marie Lambrix Chardonnay Bewitched 2013 $21.00 84 points
    Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Morning Fog Livermore Valley 2014 $13.00 86+ points
    Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch 2014 $19.00 87+ points
    Wild Horse Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 85+ points
    Wild Horse Chardonnay Unbridled 2014 $20.00 82 points
    William Hill Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013 $21.00 85+ points
    William Hill Winery Chardonnay North Coast 2012 $14.00 86 points
    Woodbridge Chardonnay 2014 $7.00 83+ points
    Woodwork Wines Chardonnay Batch No. 12 2013 $11.00 83 points
    ZD Wines Chardonnay 2012 $36.00 85+ points

    Posted in California Wine, Chardonnay, Legal Issues, Observations, Wine Values | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    The Personal Pursuit of Balance

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    This blog has been on a summer hiatus. After four years of devoting the bulk of my free time to this effort, I decided it was time to take stock of how much effort it requires, how little I am receiving monetarily from my writing and what else I could be profitably doing with that time.

    I was also realizing I’m significantly heavier than I was when I started the blog, in much worse shape physically, and that I’d been spending precious little time in recent months with friends, or potential new friends, because I was so focused on getting to tastings, wine-related travel and meeting deadlines.

    It’s also been clear to me for some time that I’m not really a blogger at heart. I don’t live to opine on the same things others in the wine blogging community are writing about. I like to write about things others aren’t exploring. I also like to take the time to be thoroughly conversant with my subject and get all my facts right.

    This site has evolved in the four year since it started into more of a collection of long, reference quality pieces about producers, regions or varieties. Those pieces on a weekly basis have run from 5-12,000 words, are thoroughly researched and, usually, supported by extensive tasting notes. There’s no other wine blog that has had that kind of content, on a regular basis. I’ve started to see there’s a very good reason for that.

    I’ve also been doing a condensed version of my weekly pieces here—less than 1,000 words—for the Huffington Post. That seemed like a great opportunity to reach a more general audience when it was first offered, and I am proud of the pieces I did for HuffPo.

    HuffPo pays virtually none of their bloggers, me included, and after briefly highlighting wine related columns in their own Wine section, and promoting many of the pieces I wrote in their daily emails to subscribers, columns like mine eventually got relegated to the Taste section, where the main emphasis is on food, dieting and recipes. So my pieces have received significantly less traffic there than they did in the first year and a half or so on the site. And yet they require a lot of effort to condense, punch up for a general audience and completely reformat for HuffPo. I expect to still do some on occasion when I think it’s a particularly newsworthy topic for HuffPo, but not with my prior frequency.

    Aside from the writing, tasting and research required as background for the writing, there’s been all the time required to set up and maintain a blog.

    Initially I had to learn WordPress to get the site going. WordPress and its thousands of plug ins keep changing and expanding—which is a good thing, but also requires one to keep up.

    When I was disappointed by my rankings on search engines after the first several months of writing for this site, I also had to learn about search engine optimization, which ultimately required weeks of re-doing my site, and its “metatags.”

    Pictures are also vital to a successful blog, so I have spent a lot of time editing and uploading photos over the past four years too. Unfortunately, the site that had hosted my thousands of pictures for 10 years decided to go out of that business, so I lost the hundreds of photo links on my site overnight and had to spend weeks of time I could ill afford uploading my photos to a new site and rebuilding my photo links on Flickr, which I hope will be around for awhile.

    In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed an unexpected opportunity that came to me as a result of my writing here: being invited on media press trips to wine regions in various parts of the world.

    The invites started to come pretty regularly after pieces I did on trips to places like Rioja and Uruguay, and I had begun to set aside all my vacation time from work for those trips—trying to do one of these trips nearly every other month.

    Two particularly arduous trips this year, however, made me rethink the wisdom of taking advantage of those opportunities.

    RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors

    RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors


    The organizers typically overschedule us media types, and on my last couple trips, not only were we going at a breakneck pace, from early in the morning to very late at night, but also nearly half the time was spent on activities the organizers insisted we attend, even over protests, that were not something of interest to me or my readers. Traveling for an entire day each way, as was required to get to Israel or Cahors, in Southwest France, is also pretty arduous in itself. Between that and the non-stop pace when one gets there, I was feeling completely exhausted when I got back (after taking a week of “vacation” time).

    Although I have particularly enjoyed and learned a lot on well organized trips to places like Rioja and Champagne, in the future I will mainly organize my own trips focused on the producers and topics that most interest me. I’m still open to a particularly interesting wine press trip, where I’m clear on the itinerary in advance (and said yes last week to an October trip to Tuscany that promises to be very well organized by the Chianti Consorzio), but will otherwise be turning down these opportunities in the future.

    So what else have I learned in my several weeks off from the weekly grind of banging out pieces for this blog and HuffPo?

    I am thrilled to have started to get in shape again. I’ve lost over 25 pounds so far, and am now working with a professional bodybuilder as my personal trainer to help me take off another 20 or so and to take advantage of all the new science of bodybuilding that seems to have developed since the last time I had a trainer.

    working out, photo by James Hurst

    working out, photo by James Hurst


    I am going to fewer tastings, and being much more selective and strategic about what I attend. I continue to receive a lot of samples for tasting, many of which are quite excellent, and I’m trying to keep up with that flow and my reviews on CellarTracker without it negatively impacting my weight and health.

    I’ve also begun to experiment with formats for reaching other and younger audiences with messages about wines of note. That means I’m now on Instagram and Tumblr, learning how to best take advantage of those apps. And I’m still trying to keep up a presence on Facebook and Twitter, which have helped drive traffic to my site and other writing efforts in the past.

    Ironically, in this hiatus period, I’ve been interviewed/profiled by a couple of online wine websites. The first to appear was my responses to Jameson Fink’s very thoughtful questions for Grape Collective, where I also did a Top 10 list of wine and food destinations in the greater San Francisco Bay area. The second was Snooth.com, for which I wrote on assignment on a paid basis for about a year and a half, before they lost their budget for those assignments.

    And I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family members, as well as making at least a couple nights a week “date night.” I’m thoroughly enjoying the time being social again.

    So what’s ahead for me as a wine writer and this site, now that I’ve taken some time to think about it and put some balance back in my life?

    I don’t plan to try to keep up with a weekly grind of pieces of the length and thoroughness that I was doing. It’s simply not sustainable, not if I want to continue to lead a balanced life, and I’m not sure there’s that much of an audience for them anyway.

    Instead, I will be revamping this site from a blog into a wine reference website, with sections that highlight quick recommendations for some amazing, characterful and reasonably priced wines. That revamping will take several months to finish, including making my full database of tasting notes finally available on the site. I’m looking forward to the changes and creative process though.

    I will also continue to work on longer pieces, but will do so with an eye to publishing them as eBooks on wine regions. I’ve got close to enough material on the wonderful Santa Barbara County wine region to make that my first eBook, to test out the format. I would probably follow that with an eBook on the terrific but still relatively low profile California wine region I happen to live in: the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

    RJ getting a pump on at Gold's Gym, photo by James Hurst

    RJ at Gold’s Gym in Santa Clara, photo by James Hurst

    Now that I’m feeling much healthier again, I also want to explore wine as a part of a fit lifestyle—how to get the health benefits of wine without the negative consequences of overindulgence. And I will pitch stories to print and online publications on some of the regions and producers I’ve become expert on—something I’ve had little time to properly do while I was churning out my lengthy “blog” pieces.

    I continue to be enthused about wine as a topic, and as one of the major delights of life. I also remain fascinated by the stories of artisanal winemakers and of wine regions and traditional types of wine. And I want to do a better job than I’ve done to date of highlighting excellent, reasonably priced wines that display exceptional character. By writing at such length here, I think I’ve buried the lead on occasion about some of those amazing wines. It’s time to shorten my coverage and punch it up, so those wines can hopefully benefit from greater attention.

    I am thankful to my readers, wine writing colleagues, and the many whose work in wine continues to inspire me. Now that I’m feeling more fit, more balanced and clearer about how I can help get out the word about worthy wines, I look forward to doing a better job of that in the coming months.

    Posted in Observations | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

    The Singular Greatness of Champagne Salon

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    Champagne is the hardest wine to make. To produce truly great Champagne requires top vineyard sources and the kind of ideal vintage conditions that used to occur only two or three times per decade. Of course you also need expertise and specialized equipment. And after you’ve made the wine, you must wait several years for it to age on the spent yeast cells from the secondary fermentation in the bottle before it’s ready to disgorge.

    Wouldn’t it be totally outlandish, then, if someone decided to create such a truly great wine for only their own personal consumption? One would, of course, have to have both exceeding wealth and the connections necessary to access vineyard sources that are virtually unavailable. Even then, you would also have to possess tremendous patience.

    Spending all that money and time to create the greatest anything in the world exclusively for one’s private enjoyment is virtually impossible to imagine. While it might serve as an unlikely premise for an elegant novel about the world’s most single minded epicure, it would hardly be believable as a true story.

    Strangely enough, though, a man with such resources and widely acknowledged taste did pursue such a quest in the early years of the 20th century. He ultimately succeeded in producing—initially for his own enjoyment, then as a gift for friends with similarly refined tastes–what eventually became acknowledged as possibly the single greatest Champagne of its time.

    Perhaps even more bizarrely, though, given modern demands of commerce and expectations for swift returns on capital, this rarefied bubbly continues to be made–in tiny amounts, in only excellent years–more than 100 years after this unlikely personal project began. What’s more, this unusual wine is still sourced from the identical vineyard sources originally selected by the legendary connoisseur who created it.

    I’m talking about Champagne Salon, which began as the private and obsessive project of one Eugène-Aimé Salon.

    Monsieur Salon was born in 1867 in the Champagne region village of Pocancy. As a boy, he assisted his brother-in-law, Marcel Guillaume, who was chef de caves for a small Champagne house that produced a single vineyard Champagne called Clos Tarin.

    Salon went on to make his fortune in the Parisian fur trade at a firm called Chapel, where he started out as a messenger boy but eventually became its very successful head. He also had a political career.

    In 1905, Salon acquired a one-hectare plot in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger—the great grand cru village in the Côtes des Blancs region where the best Chardonnay for Champagne is thought to be grown. His plan to make the greatest Champagne was to use only Chardonnay, only from this great grand cru village, and to produce the wine only in ideal vintages.


    vineyards in the Côtes des Blancs region near Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

    Up to that point, Champagnes were typically a blend of Chardonnay with Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay was thought to contribute acidity, minerality and elegance, but producers deemed Chardonnay too light on its own and felt Pinot was needed to round out the wine and enable them to produce the fruitier style of Champagne that was most popular through the first half of the last century. What is now called “Blanc de Blancs,” a white sparkling wine made exclusively from Chardonnay, was unheard of until Salon began to produce his ideal Champagne.

    The first vintage Salon created was a 1905. This was followed by a 1911. The latter, disgorged after lengthy aging on its lees, became so popular with Salon’s friends that they encouraged him to produce it commercially.

    The first commercial release was the 1921. The fruit came from Salon’s one-hectare plot and from 20 other smaller parcels in le Mesnil located above the church, where the ideal balance of ripeness and acidity was most likely to be achieved. One of those plots was Clos Tarin, sold by the Tarin family to Krug in the 1970s, now the source for Krug’s single vineyard Clos du Mesnil bottling. So the vineyard sources for Salon to this day remain the plot Salon purchased in 1905, known as Le Jardin de Salon (Salon’s “garden”), and 19 of the remaining 20 le Mesnil plots Salon originally selected.

    Eugène-Aimé presided over the House of Salon until his death in 1943. He lived to see the 1928 vintage released to wide acclaim. He arranged for Salon to become the house Champagne of Maxim’s of Paris, the celebrated restaurant of its time, which was the only customer of Salon until 1957.

    Today, Champagne Salon is owned by the Laurent Perrier Group, the holding company of the Nonancourt family, which also owns Delamotte and De Castellane. Only about 60,000 bottles of Salon are produced in vintages deemed worthy, of which 2008 was the last of the past several years. In other vintages, Delamotte gets right of first refusal on wines made from Salon’s vineyard sources.

    Salon is currently made by Laurent-Perrier cellar master Michel Faurconnet. The head of both Champagne Salon and Delamotte for the past 17 years has been Didier Depond.

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    Antonio Galloni and Didier Depond at Pebble Beach Food & Wine seminar

    I was fortunate to attend the seminar at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine featuring a vertical of Salon at which Monsieur Depond presided. The seminar included the U.S. debut of Salon’s latest release, the 2002. Both it and the 1983 Salon poured at the seminar from magnum are among the greatest Champagnes I have ever tasted.

    Depond explained that the decision whether wines from a particular year justify the production of a Salon vintage are made after tastings conducted the following February through April. He planned to decide whether there would be a 2013 vintage when he returned to France later in April. What they will be looking for—Salon’s guiding principles—are “freshness, cleanness, elegance and precision.”

    The wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks, with the temperature kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure freshness and the development of very fine, tiny bubbles—the “prix de mousse.” Prior to the mid-1990s, neutral oak demi muids were used, but Depond indicated he was not a fan of oak for fine Champagne. Malolactic fermentation is also typically avoided.

    The wines are kept on their lees for a minimum of 10 years. The 2002 was only disgorged in the Fall of 2013, in preparation for its Spring 2014 release. Depond also revealed that they disgorge in batches every six months for a two to three year period, holding back 10 to 15,000 bottles from the initial release.

    The dosage—sugar addition—for Salon is typically quite low, around extra brut level: from five to seven grams. For London’s Sketch Restaurant, Salon bottled a special zero dosage version of the 2002, being offered by the glass for a limited period starting this month in special Salon-branded Zalto flutes alongside the 5.5 grams dosage regular bottling.

    The 2002 is only the 38th vintage Salon has released since the house’s 1921 founding. The average price per bottle in the U.S. is $403—a staggering amount even for fine Champagne, but a relative bargain, I suppose, if you consider that top Bordeaux and Burgundies, made every year and not just in select vintages like Salon, now fetch upwards of $1,000 a bottle on release.

    Typically only a small percentage of Salon’s production is released in magnum. We were privileged to sample the 1999, 1995 and 1983 from this format at the seminar. The 2008 will only be released in magnum—the ideal format as far as most Champagne aficionados are concerned.

    For my tasting notes on the six vintages of Salon we sampled, see below. We also tasted three Champagnes from sister house Delamotte at the seminar, including the extraordinarily youthful 1970 from magnum.

    While the vintage expressions of each of the Salon bottlings was different, all six are elegant, exhibiting precision, vibrant acidity and lengthy finishes. The 2002 and 1983 displayed the greatest complexity of all. I am quite confident Eugène-Aimé would be very proud of these bottlings. I also suspect, however, that even he would be amazed that, more than 70 years after his passing, those responsible for guiding the house he founded continue to adhere so closely to his original, obsessive criteria.

    Tasting Notes from April 13, 2014, Pebble Beach Food & Wine Seminar

    Salon vertical

    2002 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; light lemon yellow color; very appealing, almond, autolytic, almond cream, light ginger, tart pear nose; rich, tasty, delicious, poised, pear cream, light ginger, tart pear, tart lemon very tart lemon drop, mineral, saline palate; long finish (one of the greatest Champagnes ever) 99 points

    1999 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    From magnum – light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, dried mushroom, hazelnut, ginger nose; delicious, rich but focused, tart lemon, lemon curd, mineral, lemon drop palate with medium-plus acidity; long finish 95 points

    1997 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    Light medium lemon yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, savory, autolytic, hazelnut, sauteed mushroom nose; rich, gorgeous, creamy textured, complex, autolytic, lemon peel, ginger, mineral, almond palate; long finish (disgorged in 2009) 98 points

    1995 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    From magnum – light lemon yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, mature, lifted, hazelnut, dried shitake mushroom, porcini mushroom, butter nose; rich, poised, autolytic, tart lemon, dried mushroom, porcini, mineral palate; long finish (disgorged in 2007) 97 points

    1988 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    Light medium golden yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; mature, autolytic, oxidative, sauteed mushroom nose; rich, mature, creamy textured, tasty, savory, coriander, preserved lemon palate; long finish 96 points

    1983 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    From magnum – light medium golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, savory, coriander, saffron, autolytic, almond sauteed mushroom nose; delicious, ethereal, weightless, lemon curd, mineral, light ginger, melted butter palate with medium acidity; very long finish 99 points

    NV Delamotte Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Côte des Blancs
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; tart lemon, light ginger, lightly yeasty nose; tasty, tart lemon, lemon drop, lemon curd, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (based on 2008 vintage) 93 points

    2004 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, ginger, lemon zest, lemon cream, autolytic nose; delicious, complex, tart lemon, mineral, lemon zest palate with medium acidity; long finish 94 points

    1970 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
    From magnum – medium golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; mature, savory, nut butter, dried mushroom, honey butter nose; rich, mature, tasty, lemon peel, preserved lemon, mineral, coriander, kumquat, tart kumquat marmalade palate; long finish (no dosage; disgorged June 2012) 95+ points

    Posted in Champagne | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

    Pebble Beach: Nation’s Premier Food & Wine Event When it Comes to Wine

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    Opening Night Reception at Pebble Beach Food & Wine (all photos courtesy PBFW)

    The country’s greatest annual food and wine event with an emphasis on wine—featuring some of the world’s finest and most exclusive wines–ended this past Sunday in Pebble Beach, California.

    This was the seventh edition of Pebble Beach Food & Wine (PBFW) based at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, but utilizing additional locations throughout the area.

    When this annual event began in 2008, it followed in many ways in the footsteps of the legendary Masters of Food & Wine extravaganza that was likewise very much focused on the world’s most elite wines. That event had taken place in nearby Big Sur for two decades until 2007.

    As far as other food events featuring the world’s top chefs, PBFW probably runs second only to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. That event, in late June, has been running for over 30 years. Its wine seminars, however, led mostly by celebrity somms, are easily outshown by those of PBFW.

    The event is well supported by local residents, but I met many attendees who had flown in from the East Coast and elsewhere. Conrad Kenley is a longtime food and wine event veteran and prominent wine collector based in Washington, D.C. He told me he previously attended the Masters of Food & Wine and now regularly attends PBFW because of the wine seminars and presence of representatives from some of the world’s great estates. He credits the latter with a lot of what he’s learned about wine.

    This year’s high end wine seminars included a vertical tasting back to 1990 of arguably the greatest, and certainly most innovative, of the Bordeaux First Growths: Château Latour, with Latour President Frédéric Engerer on hand.

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    Château Latour’s Frédéric Engerer

    Spain’s most famous wine was featured in a seminar on the wines of Vega Sicilia Unico with samples going back to 1983. Napa’s storied Mayacamas—which began in 1889 on Mt. Veeder–was the subject of another tasting seminar, with a panel that included internationally renowned wine critic Antonio Galloni and winemaker Andy Erickson. That tasting included wines representing five decades of Mayacamas.

    Galloni himself was featured at four different wine seminars, including one devoted to top Barolos from the excellent 2008 vintage where some of the bottles tasted were from Galloni’s own cellar. Other wine experts and leading sommeliers on hand for wine seminars included renowned somm turned winemaker Raj Parr, wine book author Jordan McKay, Food & Wine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle, Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Somm film stars Ian Cauble, Dlynn Proctor, Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback.

    For me, the single most memorable wine seminar this year was a vertical tasting of one of Champagne’s rarest and most sought after top cuvees, Salon. Champagne Salon head Didier Depond was on hand for this very unusual retrospective, which included magnums of this fabulous Champagne going back to 1983 and the first public showing of the soon-to-be-released and highly anticipated 2002 vintage.


    Antonio Galloni and Didier Depond at Champagne Salon seminar

    For a little perspective on the level of wines poured, I taste over 7,000 wines per year. Usually only one or two of those per month merit a rating of 96/97 points. At this event alone, I got to taste 13 wines I rated 96 points or higher–i.e., for me, essentially a year’s worth of very top wines–including two I rated 99 points (both of them Salon Champagnes).

    Like other major food and wine events across the country, PBFW also includes grand tastings featuring hundreds of wines. PBFW actually hosts three such tastings that go for three hours each: a welcome event Thursday evening, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon grand tastings. The latter two took place in the 66,000 square foot Lexus Grand Tasting tent erected on the grounds of the Equestrian Center.

    Big commercial brands are among the wines featured at these large scale tastings, but there were also many high quality, smaller production wineries represented. This year those included Archery Summit, Arietta, Blackbird Vineyards, Carlisle, Donelan, DuMol, Hestan, Jonata, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Pisoni, Ridge and Sandhi. I also enjoyed a very interesting lineup of Aussie wines thoughtfully selected by Wine Australia.

    For these grand tastings, top chefs from restaurants around the country create specialty dishes for attendees to nosh on between sips of wine, cocktails or spirits.

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    Guy Fieri cooking at Saturday Lexus Grand Tasting

    Among the dozens of chefs creating dishes this year, many of whom also offered cooking demonstrations during the event, were the following San Francisco Bay area luminaries: SPQR’s Matthew Accarrino, Plumed Horse’s Peter Armellino, Tracy Des Jardins, Hubert Keller and Charles Phan. They were joined by other prominent national chefs like José Garces, Masaharu Morimoto and Nancy Silverton, as well as by TV celebs Guy Fieri, Tyler Florence and Andrew Zimmern.

    The special lunches and dinners at this year’s PBFW included one in memory of Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter. Restaurant 1833, where I enjoyed a delicious meal on the Friday evening of the event, hosted a “4 Martini Lunch” featuring some of their signature cocktails alongside those of Las Vegas’s new club at The Cosmopolitan, Rose. Rabit. Lie. Stars of the Los Angeles food scene were featured at another dinner that included Ori Menashe of Bestia, Animal’s Jon Shook and Michael Voltaggio of ink.

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    setting for Grand Finale Dinner

    I attended the Grand Finale Dinner, which was held in the relatively intimate dining room of Pebble Beach’s The Beach & Tennis Club. The glassed walls there afford diners a glittering view of Carmel Bay. Chefs Masaharu Morimoto, Dean Fearing, José Garces, Ken Frank and Johnny Iuzzini each prepared a dish for this dinner, which included wines from Champagne Louis Roederer, Rochioli, Burgundy’s Domaine de Bellene and Napa’s Brand.

    The event’s co-founders are Robert Weakley and David Alan Bernahl, II, and it is currently owned and run by Coastal Luxury Management. Major sponsors include Food & Wine Magazine and Lexus. Although passes for the entire weekend run about $5,000, tickets to individual events are priced as low as $100. PBFW has also raised over 1.5 million dollars for local charities since its inception.

    Posted in Events, Wine Seminars | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment