Robert Whitley's Creators Syndicate Columns

The Week In Reviews

Catena, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 'High Mountain Vines' 2013 ($24):  Catena malbec has long been a benchmark for other Argentine wine producers and the is a solid reason for that. The Catena wines, in particular the malbec, exhibit character and finesse across a broad spectrum of offerings. This particular malbec shows notes of anise, dried herbs and black pepper, with fleshy dark fruits and enough grip on the finish to suggest it just might continue to evolve and improve with additional cellar time.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Lamole di Lamole, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 'Vigneto di Campolungo' Gran Selezione 2011 ($45, Santa Margherita USA): A wine like this bears almost no familial relationship to Chianti made in the 1950s and 1960s. With the exception of Ruffino, few producers had the know-how or patience to produce Chianti that was built for the long-haul, with the weight and depth that would require. This Vigneto di Campolungo dances to the beat of a different drum, showing richness and length, beautiful black cherry and dark-fruited aroma, with a touch of balsamic and a hint of wood spice. It is long in the mouth, with an intense, persistent finish. A stunning wine.
96 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Poliziano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 'Asinone' 2012 ($60):  Poliziano's flagship Vino Nobile, Asinone, is renowned not only for its remarkable complexity and depth, but also for its consistency over the past 15-plus years. The 2012 is a muscular wine, massively structured yet beautifully balanced, with notes of black cherry and spice and the firmness of acidity necessary to carry it over time. Enjoyable now, but crying out for additional cellar age.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop 2013 ($35):  J. Lohr's Hilltop Cabernet is quintessential Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon, meaning it's rich and juicy, full-bodied and delicious to drink now, with supple tannins and the sort of sun-kissed ripe fruit for which Paso is renowned.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Dierberg, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County) Pinot Noir Dierberg Vineyard 2013 ($44):  Dierberg's estate vineyard has produced an earthy pinot in this vintage, with excellent palate weight and depth. Note of forest floor and cola float in the background while the scent of dark cherry and strawberry dominate. Nicely structured and well balanced, this pinot can be drunk now although it will certainly improve over the next few years if cellared properly.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Schramsberg, Napa Valley (California) Cremant 2012 ($40):  The Cremant is the sleeper in Schramsberg's impressive portfolio of sparkling wines. Sweeter than its brut bubblies to be sure, but hardly sweet in the scheme of things. The touch of sweetness makes the Cremant a perfect complement to cookies, cakes such as panetone, and most fruit tarts; all things that might be served throughout the upcoming holiday season. The cepages is heavy on the rare grape variety flora, with a dash of pinot noir and chardonnay for complexity and balance.
93 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Schramsberg, North Coast (California) Blanc de Blancs 2012 ($41):  On the nose Schramsberg's blanc de blancs shows seductive aromas of white flowers and brioche, with a hint of spice. The palate delivers crunchy green apple and pear fruits, a refreshing mousse and a finish that lingers as it returns to the floral essence that was the initial impression. Well made and delightful.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Trione, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Sauvignon Blanc River Road Ranch 2015 ($23):  This vintage of Trione's sauvignon from River Road Ranch is all about balance. Beautiful balance that allows the fruit to shine. With notes of melon, lemon grass and stone fruit, it delivers complexity of flavor that is subtle and inviting, with no one element overshadowing the other. An excellent food wine -- serve it with salads, grilled fish or sushi -- but terrific just to sip and savor.
94 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Matanzas Creek, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($22):  Matanzas Creek has a long and distinguished history with sauvignon, going back to a time when California's vintners showed this grape little respect and tolerated it because they could have it in the market shortly after the harvest. Matanzas always gave sauvignon its due and was there to cash in when sauvignon blanc caught the Kiwi wave and gained in popularity worldwide. This vintage is typical, showing complex notes of citrus, tropical fruit and melon, with a slightly more oily palate than what comes in from New Zealand, making it more versatile with food and easier to like for anyone not fond of the pungent Kiwi style.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

Nicolas Jay, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2014 ($65):  The inaugural release from Nicolas Jay, a collaboration between French winemaker Jean-Nicolas Meo and music industry impressario Jay Boberg, is a stunning reminder that Oregon continues to hold the upper hand in the world of domestic pinot noir. When they nail it, that is. This expression of Oregon pinot shows tremendous fruit purity, with aromas of raspberry and cherry, and such beautiful structure and balance that it hardly seems New World. And at only 13.5 percent alcohol, it is definitely Old World as well as Old School.
94 Robert Whitley Aug 30, 2016

What's In A Glass?

To the casual observer, what's in a wine glass is infinitely more important than the glass itself. To a large extent, that's true. Yet the glass ultimately plays a huge role in the level of enjoyment you get from the wine.

With apologies to Georg Riedel, the Austrian glassmaker who promotes the belief that virtually every different wine type requires a glass tailored in size and shape for very specific grape varieties, stemware requirements are a bit more pedestrian.

I don't need a $75 hand-blown Bordeaux goblet to fully experience the wonders of my favorite cabernet sauvignon. A simple wine glass that can withstand the rigors of a dishwasher does the job most of the time. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but the sensory aspect is more or less the same.

What I look for first in an everyday wine glass is a shape that is conducive to aromatic development. That means the mouth of the glass should be narrower than the bowl. This allows you to swirl and aerate the wine, which brings up the aromas and softens some more astringent wines.

The notion of drinking good wine from a Mason jar might be a romantic nod to fond memories from yesteryear, but you will lose some potential flavor development in the process, and you won't get as much from the tasting experience as you should.

I also prefer a wine glass that has volume. A 10-ounce glass is about the smallest I use, and generally for white wines only. I much prefer wine glasses that have a capacity of 20 ounces or more. The greater capacity allows for a greater surface-to-air ratio, enhancing the aromatic complexity of almost any wine. Pour 5 to 7 ounces into a 20-ounce glass, and see for yourself. It doesn't matter whether the wine is red or white.

It may surprise some wine enthusiasts, but white wines also benefit from the additional room to breathe. Even sparkling wines and Champagne taste better in this type of glass than they do in a traditional Champagne flute.

Bottom line, using a good wine glass may not be as important as what's in the glass, but it's certainly part of the pleasure equation.

The Week In Reviews

Palmer & Co., Champagne (France) Brut Reserve NV ($49): You will search a long time before you find a more exceptional non-vintage brut Champagne at this price. The Palmer brut reserve utilizes up to 35 percent reserve wines in the cuvee, with about 50 percent sourced from grand cru or premier cru vineyards. The combination of richness and complexity with freshness is stunning. Aged four years on the lees, the result is a Champagne that delivers notes of vanilla and brioche along with aromas of ripe pear and crunchy apple. The balance and length are exquisite.
94 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Poliziano, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) 2014 ($15):  Morellino is just another name for sangiovese, used exclusively in the Scansano district of Tuscany's Maremma region. This is a very good everyday Tuscan red, with a medium-weight palate and good balance. Serve it with olives, hard cheeses, pizza or tomato-based sauces.
86 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Poliziano, Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2014 ($15):  Count on Poliziano to deliver exceptional value on a wine at the entry level. This is one of the Montepulciano region's top five producers and it has stuffed this $15 Tuscan red with plenty of character. Notes of black cherry, with a floral note, and firm acidity that will round out in another year or so make this wine a virtual steal. The blend, for those who care about such, is 80 percent sangiovese with the rest merlot.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) Rector Creek Vineyard 'Block 5' 2013 ($80):  The massive Paraduxx 'Block 5' blend from the winery's Rector Creek Vineyard makes a powerful statement, with the emphasis on the word power. Dark and brooding, it shows layers of black fruits, a note of dried herbs and a touch of anise on the finish, with ample ripe tannin and a lingering finish that doesn't want to stop. The blend is an eclectic mix of cabernet franc, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon and it works.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Migration, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2013 ($68):  Fans of earthy pinot noir will no doubt love this vintage of Migration's Dutton Ranch. It shows notes of damp earth, cola and spice to complement a palate of raspberry and strawberry fruit, with a bit of woodsmoke on the finish.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Duckhorn Vineyards, Rutherford (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($95): This is an impressive effort from Duckhorn. It was a good vintage overall in the Napa Valley, and Rutherford is one of the sweetest of Napa's sweet spots. The nose shows hints of violets, spice and cassis. On the palate the wine is richly layered, showing complex notes of blackberry and black and red currant, with a touch of vanilla lurking in the background. The balance is exquisite. This is a wine for now, to be certain, but it will benefit from additional age and could be easily cellared for 20 years or more.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($48):  This is your basic Patz & Hall pinot, meaning it retails for less than $50 a bottle. That said, its stands up well against the more expensive vineyard-designate pinots offered by Patz & Hall. This vintage delivers notes of red cherry and cola, a whiff of lavender on the nose, and a hint of wood spice on the finish.
92 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Sauvignon Blanc Taylor's Vineyard 'Musque Clone' 2014 ($28): Dry Creek Vineyard's commitment to sauvignon blanc, a favorite grape variety of the founder, David Stare, is a wonder to behold. From its grassy Fume Blanc to the elegant Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc to this dynamic single-vineyard "musque clone" sauvignon, DCV delivers. The Musque Clone sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley's Taylor's Vineyard is one of the finest, if not the finest, sauvignons produced in America. Made without the use of oak, fermented in stainless steel tanks, it stands on its own as a dramatic example of the heights this sometimes maligned grape variety can reach. Notes of white peach and citrus are its signature, but the balance, complexity and length are astonishing for a domestic sauvignon. Outside of France's Loire Valley or the Graves district of Bordeaux, this is one of the finest sauvignons I've ever tasted.
97 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

Matanzas Creek, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2014 ($28):  Matanzas has always been identified with three grape varieties: merlot, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. That's no accident. They've long been among California's best at all three and this latest Sonoma County chardonnay makes the point. It allows the fruit to shine without undue influence from an oak barrel. With bright aromas of pear and apple and a touch of lemon, complemented by notes of nutmeg and vanilla, it is downright delicious and at $28 modestly priced given the winery's stature.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 23, 2016

A Labor of Love

The upcoming Labor Day weekend is the grillmeister's annual swan song. In most parts of the country, the grill goes undercover and the tools are stored for winter after one last hurrah on this holiday. I am determined to end the season on a bold note rather than a whimper.

Of course, I refer to the wines for the Labor Day finale. I have chosen five of my personal favorites from this summer's many outdoor feasts, one each from five broad categories.

Rose — Chateau d'Esclans 2015 Whispering Angel, France — The Whispering Angel never fails to impress. A dry rose from Provence, this wine is fresh and crisp with succulent red-fruit notes and exceptional length for a rose. The average retail price for this wine on the WineSearcher website is $24.

Sparkling — Bisol Cru Cartizze DOCG, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Italy — This is a truly stunning brut-style prosecco from the region's finest vineyard. Few other proseccos, if any, can stand up to this magnificent expression of the popular northern Italian bubbly. It's expensive for prosecco, but worth every penny. The average retail price on WineSearcher is $42.

White — Rodney Strong 2014 Chardonnay "Chalk Hill," Sonoma County — In my humble opinion, this is the most underrated chardonnay made in California — and the greatest value to boot! It is richly layered and well-balanced, offering notes of lemon oil and pear. This wine is the perfect complement for grilled swordfish, chicken or even savory bratwurst. The average retail price on WineSearcher is $18.

Red — E. Guigal 2013 Crozes-Hermitage, France — While it's overshadowed by more illustrious (and expensive) wines from the northern Rhone, this peppery vintage is packed with gorgeous black fruits and spice and is extremely well-balanced. This is your wine for barbecued ribs, rare steaks and any sort of game you might cook on the grill. On WineSearcher the average retail price is $24.

Dessert — Eberle 2015 Muscat Canelli, Paso Robles — This Eberle won the trophy for best dessert wine at the Central Coast Wine Competition, and it has long been one of my favorites when I'm looking to put a dessert wine on the table that isn't too sweet. With inviting floral notes, hints of spice and just a touch of sweetness, it pairs nicely with fruit-based desserts, simple cakes and Italian cookies. The average price on WineSearcher is $20.

The Week In Reviews

Lamole di Lamole, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($19):  Fresh and pure, this is a tremendous example of top-notch Chianti Classico for less than $20 a bottle. Beautifully balanced, showing notes of black cherry and spice, the 2012 delivers ripe flavors without sacrificing its acid backbone. Serve this beauty with grilled meats or savory pasta sauces.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Liberty School, Central Coast (California) Merlot 2014 ($16):  With a big dollop of plum and dark berry fruit on the front of the palate and a hint of wood smoke, this is a simple but yummy crowd-pleasing merlot that's a perfect foil for grilled meats or roast lamb.
87 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Louis M. Martini, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($38):  Martini was among the earliest benchmarks for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, and though these days you will find the majority fetch a much higher price, Martini continues to be a leading producer of Napa's money grape. The 2013 vintage is richly rewarding for the price, showing delicious layers of blackberry and black currant fruit, with a modest oak presence that delivers a hint of vanilla and fall spices. For the money, probably the best Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon you are likely to find.
93 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Malbec Red Cedar Vineyard 2013 ($14):  Domestic malbec often pales when compared to wines from Argentina made from the same grape. Not so with this vintage from Clayhouse, which is an impressive expression of malbec for the price. It shows wonderful complexity, with a floral touch on the nose and notes of anise and fennel on the palate. The layers of red and blue fruits are supple and inviting, with a seductive finish.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Patz & Hall, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard 2013 ($90): The beauty of the Pisoni vineyard is its unique ability to produce pinot noir that shows power and remarkable depth without losing the edginess that defines the world's finest pinots, whether they come from Burgundy or some  other part of the world. The 2013 Pisoni from winemaker James Hall is a classic example, exhibiting rich layers of cherry, plum and currant. Notes of vanilla and clove linger in the background. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and rich, with a long, sensual finish. You can certainly enjoy it now, but ideally it would be cellared another two to three years at a minimum.
98 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($25):  This is a solid effort for Duckhorn's second wine. It shows a complex palate of red and black fruits with enough bite on the back end to suggest it has life beyond this evening's dinner table. Show a hint of wood spice, too. Excellent choice with a rare steak.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Schramsberg, North Coast (California) Blanc de Blancs 2013 ($39):  This latest Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg shows its youth, with firm acidity that will slowly soften with a bit of cellar age. The cuvee is 100 percent chardonnay from vineyards in the Napa Valley and Mendocino's Anderson Valley. Notes of crunchy apple and citrus dominate, with a hint of spice in the background. Even at $38 it represents exceptional value in domestic sparkling wine.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

La Crema, Monterey County (California) Pinot Gris 2015 ($20):  La Crema's new pinot gris release is a charming wine that offers up juicy notes of melon and pear, with excellent balance and above average length on the finish. Serve it as a quaffer or with mild grilled fish dishes.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Fume Blanc 2015 ($14):  Dry Creek's fume shows a different side of sauvignon when compared to the winery's straight-up sauvignon blanc bottling. The style offers a Sonoma variation on the popular sauvignons being made in New Zealand, with a somewhat green, underripe nose and a strong note of mown grass. This pungent style has been a signature for Dry Creek through the years and is consistent from vintage to vintage.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 16, 2016

The $9 Solution

When the Dark Horse wines were in the planning stages a few short years ago, inside the brain trust at E. & J. Gallo Winery the concept was commonly called the "20-7 project."

Throughout its history, Gallo has been sensitive to the consumer need for quality value wine. Consider the cost, for example, of putting a modest $20 wine on the dinner table every night. The tab comes to more than $7,000 a year. For many couples raising children and saving for college, the price is simply too high, no matter their level of interest in wine.

The idea behind the 20-7 project was to meet the demand for value with a wine that tasted like a $20 bottle, but cost $7. Despite the very best of intentions, it didn't pencil out. Undaunted, Gallo upped the price rather than abandoning the project altogether.

The result is a new brand that is growing in popularity under senior winemaker Beth Liston, who oversees Gallo's massive production facility in Livingston, California. Most of the grapes for Dark Horse are sourced from the Lodi region in the Sacramento Delta, and the wines are line-priced at about $9 a bottle.

While the price is attractive, it would be meaningless if the wines didn't deliver. On that score, recent critical acclaim tells Liston she's on to something. At the San Diego International Wine Challenge earlier this year, for example, seven Dark Horse wines medaled, including a 90-point gold medal for the 2015 Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc. Even its pinot noir took an 88-point silver medal, something of a surprise because the region is generally thought to be too warm for top-notch pinot.

"Pinot noir at this price point is a challenge," Liston told me recently. "We're always striving to get those hints of lavender and violets and cherries."

The Dark Horse project might not have been possible at one time, but advances in viticulture and technical know-how at the winery have broadened the opportunities to make good wine outside of the more established coastal wine regions.

"The Lodi growers are doing great work with lower yields," said Liston, "and you do have some cool nights because of the Delta."

Her most unusual wine is the Big Red Blend, which changes every year. Drawing upon Gallo's connections in Spain, Italy and South America, it can include everything from cabernet sauvignon and merlot to tempranillo, sangiovese and malbec. The most recent Big Red Blend collected an 87-point silver medal at the San Diego competition.

I tasted the lineup recently and was most impressed with the merlot and chardonnay — grapes thought to be more suitable for a cooler climate like pinot noir. The Big Red Blend also showed very well.

The name Dark Horse was chosen, as it was explained to me, because the quality of the bottle "sneaks up" on you. It's so true.

The Week In Reviews

Robert Oatley, McLaren Vale (Australia) 'GSM' 2014 ($20):  Robert Oatley's 2014 GSM is a meaty red that shows both red and blue-fruit aromas with hints of woodsmoke. On the palate the wine is big and bold, with good density. The tannins are nicely integrated, making for easy near-term consumption.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Kettmeir, Alto Adige DOC (Italy) Pinot Bianco 2014 ($22):  This cool-climate pinot blanc from the foothills of the Alps combines firm backbone with lush richness, which is no small feat. Showing notes of melon, yellow citrus and spice, it's an aromatic summer white that certainly has enough character to stand up to rich sauces and smoky aromas from the grill.
92 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Donnafugata, Sicilia DOC (Italy) Nero d'Avola 'Sherazade' 2015 ($20): This plump, juicy Nero d'Avola comes from one of Sicily's most consistent producers, Donnafugata. It shows soft fruit notes of black cherry and plum, with supple tannins and a velvety mouthfeel. It finishes on a spicy note.
89 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Donnafugata, Sicilia DOC (Italy) Grillo 2015 ($20):  This is pure sunshine in a bottle. Donnafugata's 'Sur Sur' Grillo -- an indigenous white grape grown throughout Sicily -- is straightforward and simple on the one hand and positively brilliant on the other, showing bright fruit notes that are forward and juicy, with tremendous persistence through the finish.
93 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Tenuta Sassoregale, Maremma Toscana DOC (Italy) Sangiovese 2013 ($16):  The Maremma has been a growing force within Tuscany for quite some time and wines like this are the reason. With excellent weight and depth, good intensity of black cherry aroma, and firm acids, this is a sensational food wine at an attractive price.
89 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Fattoria Sardi, Toscana IGT (Italy) 'Le Cicale' Rosato 2015 ($28): Sardi's 2015 rosato is an unusual rose with floral notes and juicy citrus aromas that are the result no doubt of the presence of the white grapes trebbiano and vermentino in the blend, though the predominant grape is sangiovese. With a color of pale onion skin, and mouth-watering acidity, this is a rose with body and structure, a match for grilled fish and fowl as well as a refreshing summer sipper.
93 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Giesen, Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Noir 'The Brothers' 2013 ($30):  Shows impressive richness for a pinot from such a cool, even downright cold, climate. With a nose of dried cherries and wood spice, this is an inviting example of top-notch New Zealand pinot noir. Though Giesen's specialty is sauvignon, it has a deft hand with pinot as well.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Patz & Hall, Carneros (Napa Valley) Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard 2014 ($75):  Patz & Hall's 2014 Hyde Vineyard pinot exhibits impressive depth, with layered aromas of cherry and strawberry, notes of fall spice and forest floor, with firm tannins and a long, lingering finish. Outstanding now, but a wine that would benefit from additional age and reward anyone with the patience to give it another year or two in the cellar.
96 Robert Whitley Aug 9, 2016

Summer 'Value' Wine Refresher

 Thirsty wine enthusiasts need not worry about busting the budget to beat the heat this summer. Splendid wines at refreshing prices ($20 or less) abound.

I have selected 20 "value" wines that impressed me during the 2016 San Diego Wine Challenge earlier this year. All were recognized with medal awards that speak to their quality. The modest prices speak to their value. Enjoy!

Alamos 2014 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($13) — A juicy Malbec goes so well with smoky aromas from the grill.

Allegrini 2014 Valpolicella DOC, Italy ($17) — Perfect with tomato-based pastas and grilled sausages.

Astoria 2015 'Alisa' Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie IGT, Italy ($11) — Flavorful and lush, especially for a pinot grigio, this is one of the best from Delle Venezie.

Banfi 2013 Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($12) — Unusual concentration and depth for the price. Might be the best red on the planet for 12 bucks. Remarkably consistent vintage to vintage.

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee, Californnia ($10) — Winemaker Jen Wall strikes again. Structured and refreshing and better than any other bubbly you are likely to find at this price. Barefoot's Prosecco DOC isn't too shabby, either.

Benziger 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast ($16) — Beautiful balance, beautiful price. Benziger always delivers quality and value across its vast portfolio of wines.

Bolla 2012 Torr'Alta, Veronese IGT, Italy ($19.99) — This "super" veronese red from northern Italy is one of my personal favorites for summer. Serve it up with grilled or roasted chicken dishes, brats, or anything savory from the grill.

Columbia Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($16) — This wine is a reminder that Washington produces some very nice cabernet sauvignon at modest prices.

Cycles Gladiator 2014 Petite Sirah, Central Coast ($11) — Winemaker Adam LaZarre is brilliant when it comes to sourcing excellent grapes for his portfolio of inexpensive wines. This is the ultimate BBQ wine. Burnt steaks and spicy grilled sausages are right in its wheelhouse.

Dellatori 2013 Chianti DOCG Riserva, Italy ($15) — You can pay a lot of money to taste excellent red wines from Tuscany. Or you can pick up a bottle of Dellatori's Chianti Riserva for $15 bucks and smile all the way home.

Dry Creek Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley ($18) — Absolutely the finest California sauvignon blanc for the price, hands down, and a personal favorite at the moment.

Eberle Winery 2015 Syrah Rose, Paso Robles ($18) — Winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation to winery owner Gary Eberle) is out with his first wine and if it's a preview of things to come, look out. This rose is crisp and refreshing, with juicy red fruits and wonderful length on the palate.

Garnet Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay, Monterey County ($18) — When you find a beautifully crafted chardonnay from Burgundian specialist Alison Crowe and the price is under $20, it's your lucky day, so buy it.

Giesen 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealad ($14) — This is Giesen's basic entry level sauvignon and it's deliciously pungent, as a Kiwi sauvignon should be.

Handley 2014 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley ($20) — Might be the best dry gewurztraminer made in America. If not, it is very, very close.

J. Lohr 2015 Sauvignon Blanc 'Flume Crossing,' Arroyo Seco ($14) — Jerry Lohr made his reputation with red wines from Monterey County and Paso Robles. That said, his whites are often world class.

Kendall-Jakson 2014 'Avant' Chardonnay, California ($17) — K-J certainly knows a thing or two about chardonnay, an expertise that serves it well with the remarkably consistent Avant line of K-J wines. I love the balance in this one.

Navarro 2015 Pinot Grigio, Mendocino ($16) — This small family run winery in the Anderson Valley is a wonder with white wines. Its pinot grigio (it also makes a beautiful pinot gris) is one of the finest in America.

Pacific Rim 2014 Chenin Blanc, Hahn Hill Vineyard, Yakima Valley ($15) — Dry chenin is widely underrated, but when it's good it's very good.

Ramon Bilbao 2015 Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain ($15) — Crisply structured, but with a richness and length that provides a twist on the Albarino theme. If you're vacationing seaside this summer and enjoying steamed or raw shellfish, this is the ticket.

The Week In Reviews

Kettmeir, Alto Adige-Sudtirol (Italy) Muller Thurgau 2014 ($22):  This area of northern Italy, the Sudtirol, belonged to Austria prior to World War I. It has a long history of success with the aromatic whites that are native to Germany and Austria. Kettmeir's Muller Thurgau is a superb example of a white from this alpine climate, showing notes of spice and brioche, with hints of pear and citrus. A delicious and refreshing summer white that will transition easily to the robust cuisine of fall and winter.
91 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

Piccini, Chianti DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($21):  Piccini's 2015 Chianti is classic, showing tart black cherry fruit and dusty tannins with mouth-puckering acidity that will soften over time. It's a Chianti that cries out for food. Serve it with hard cheeses, olives and rustic tomato-based sauces.
88 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

Frei Brothers, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 ($27):  The Frei Brothers reserve from this vintage delivers a blast of ripe blackberry and black currant fruit accompanied by supple tannins and a note of wood spice. This Cab is drinking beautifully now but would benefit from additional cellar time.
89 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah 2013 ($23):  Clayhouse remains a relatively obscure California treasure, though it is well-known and respected in the Central Coast. This vintage of Petite Sirah from Clayhouse is a meaty gem that combines the fruit intensity of traditional petite with modern winemaking that produces supple tannins with a rounded mouthfeel. Bright blue fruits dominate, with a beautiful note of spice.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Grenache Rose 'Gesture' 2015 ($18):  J. Lohr's latest 'Gesture' grenache rose is one of the most elegant domestic rose wines I've tasted this year. This salmon-colored beauty offers succulent aromas of strawberry, cherry and watermelon, with mouth-watering acidity.
90 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

Schramsberg, North Coast (California) Brut Rose 2013 ($44):  Schramsberg continues to set the benchmarks for California sparkling wine. The 2013 brut rose is a superb example of the elegant Schramsberg style, showing a bit on the drier side of brut, and this crisp and refreshing. With notes of strawberry, cherry and pear (the cuvee is predominantly pinot noir with a touch of chardonnay) it is inviting but subtle, with a whiff of spice and a hint of brioche.
92 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

MacRostie, Carneros (Sonoma County) Chardonnay Sangiacomo 2014 ($44):  The Sangiacomo chardonnay has long been one of MacRostie's most powerful statement wines, so the stunning 2014 is hardly a surprise. This beauty exhibits inviting notes of lemon oil and baking spice, with fresh acidity that lifts the fruit and cleanses the palate. Among the finest California chardonnays I have sampled this year.
95 Robert Whitley Aug 2, 2016

Inside 'Whitley On Wine' Reviews

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Regular "Whitley On Wine" readers know that most weeks I offer a selection of wine recommendations. What may be less well-known is how I choose which wines to highlight.

Over the course of the year I taste thousands of wine samples for review consideration. A small percentage of those are flawed in some way and easily dismissed.

The vast majority are perfectly fine, which is a tribute to the strides made in viticulture and winemaking over the past three decades. Even large commercial wineries routinely produce splendid wines that are perfectly acceptable no matter the setting or occasion.

Culling through this abundance of riches to arrive at a recommendation is clearly a judgment call. I sometimes take a pass on perfectly fine wines that fail to move me because I can't get past the price. Other times I will recommend somewhat expensive wines because I believe they possess unique qualities that justify the price.

Whether a wine retails for $10 or $80, my instincts tilt in the direction of value. I'm constantly looking for wines that over deliver — a $10 wine that can hold its own against $20 wines, a $40 wine that can cut it in the $75 crowd and so on. Hence, you will typically find a broad range of prices in the "Wine Talk" reviews.

The Week in Reviews

Shafer, Carneros (Napa Valley) Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch 2014 ($52):  Red Shoulder Ranch is undoubtedly among the finest chardonnay vineyards in the United States. Shafer has an unbroken string of successful vintages with this wine, and in 2014 continued the chain with a remarkable chardonnay that allows this vineyard to shine. The beauty, of course, is its ability to have it both ways, with layered richness and complexity in combination with firm structure. The 2014 shows a delicious note of lemon oil, crunchy apple and spice.
96 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge 2013 ($56):  MacRostie's Goldrock Ridge pinot is one of the most suave and polished in the MacRostie portfolio, exhibiting exceptional fruit purity with notes of raspberry and strawberry and smooth, polished tannins. With a gentle note of wood spice, this is a top-notch effort from a very good vintage.
93 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Muscat Blanc 2015 ($19):  Muscat is a tricky wine to work with if the goal is to produce an elegant dry white, which is likely the reason more vintners don't try. Navarro has had tremendous success with the grape variety, however, and the 2015 is just another in a long line. This vintage delivers the distinct floral nose for which muscat is famous, and on the palate the wine shows notes of ripe melon and spice without the cloying sweetness of most muscats. The tricky part is fermenting to dryness without the wine turning bitter, but Navarro clearly has the knack and the know-how and the result is a beautiful summer white that's quite different and a welcome change of pace.
93 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

MacRostie, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir 2013 ($42):  Quite seductive and elegant, the MacRostie RRV pinot had me at the first whiff of violets and spice. On the palate the wine delivers ripe aromas of blueberry, raspberry and plum, with a generous bit of heft. The finish is long and satisfying.
92 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

Graffigna, San Juan (Argentina) Malbec Reserva 'Centenario' 2014 ($13):  Malbec's affinity for the climate and soils and elevation of Argentina expresses itself in this exceptional reserve from Graffigna. It shows dense black fruits on the palate with a thread of enticing minerality and hints of peppery spice. At the price, a genuine steal.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

Torresella, Prosecco DOC (Italy) Extra Dry NV ($16):  I generally find "extra dry" prosecco a bit sweet for my taste, though there are exceptions. Torresella is an exceptional exception, showing exquisite balance combined with freshness and purity of fruit. Notes of peach and citrus dominate, and the finish is long and clean. (Note: extra dry bubbly is actually sweeter by percentage than brut.)
90 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) Pinot Noir 'Twelve Clones' 2014 ($34):  A ripe pinot that exhibits layered richness, Morgan's Twelve Clones shows earthy forest floor notes with a touch of wood spice and nicely integrated tannins, though it finishes on a slightly stemmy note.
90 Robert Whitley Jul 5, 2016

Five Roses to Love This Summer

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It was a warm summer day in Grasse, late June in the south of France. I had celebrated a significant birthday the evening before at La Bastide Saint-Antoine, a Michelin-starred restaurant attached to the Relais & Chateau hotel by the same name.

Lunch was being served on the lawn behind the restaurant, the Mediterranean Sea barely visible in the distance. Every table was occupied. And every table, or so it seemed, had a bottle of rose chilling in a bucket of ice.

At the time, my impression of most rose wines was anything but favorable. Too fruity or too watery, but always too sweet. Nevertheless, I decided to do what the French do when the temperature rises. I ordered a bottle of rose recommended by the waiter.

The wine selected was Domaines Ott, perhaps the most famous and respected rose in the world. It was dry, crisp, complex, delicious. It was the turning point in my appreciation of rose, a wine usually made from red grapes with little or no skin contact during fermentation, which typically results in a pale pink or onion-skin color.

As a summer refreshment, rose is splendid, but dry rose wines also pair well with seafood, salads, grilled chicken and an assortment of savory tapas and cheeses.
My current favorites include three from France, one from Spain (where rose is called rosado) and one from California. The prices listed are the average retail price from

Chateau d’Esclans 2015 Whispering Angel, Cotes de Provence, France ($21) – Pale in color but robust in flavor, with crisp, refreshing acidity.

Domaines Ott 2015 ‘By Ott,’ Cotes de Provence, France ($21) – This is a second wine for Domaines Ott and considerably less expensive than its top wine. That said, this creamy rose is a beautiful match with smoked salmon or savory tapas.

Eberle Winery 2015 Syrah Rose, Paso Robles ($19): The first wine made by the new winemaker, Chris Eberle (no relation to winery owner Gary Eberle) is balanced, delicate and dry and is sweeping top awards at major California wine competitions.

Gerard Bertrand 2015 ‘Cote de Roses,’ Languedoc, France ($15) – From one of the Languedoc’s top wine producers, Cotes de Roses is beautifully structured, showing crisp acidity and enticing notes of strawberry and a pale pink color.

Muga 2015 Rioja Rosado, Spain ($13) – The bargain of the bunch, Muga is produced from grapes harvested in the Rioja Alta, at some elevation on the Atlantic side of the Rioja region, which gives the wine freshness and balance. Unlike the other four, which are made exclusively from Rhone grapes such as grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault, Muga is a blend of tempranillo, the white grape viura and garnacha (aka grenache.)

Age Before Beauty

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The ability to age is one of the accepted tenets of wine appreciation. That may seem oddly disconnected from reality given that the vast majority of wines are consumed within days, if not hours, of purchase. Yet it is a truth that yields spectacular results for those with the patience and wisdom to wait on a great wine.

That truth was driven home to me recently when I rummaged through the wine cellar and selected two very different wines from the 2003 vintage for the evening meal. Although both were from the same year, it was literally a tale of two vintages. The occasion was a birthday celebration that called for, in my humble opinion, classic red wines with at least 10 years of age.

The first was the 2003 St. Supery Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a cool year in the Napa Valley, and though the Dollarhide vineyard is in one of Napa’s warmer pockets, the result was still an elegant wine with firm tannins in its youth. Some critics more attuned to ultra-ripe red wines from Napa weren’t very high on the vintage, but I’ve always found it to be exceptional.

The 2003 Dollarhide had aged beautifully after 13 years. Brimming with primary fruit notes of blackberry and cassis, it was a deep purple color. The tannins were still firm, and secondary aromas that come with age were at a whisper rather than a roar. Delicious now, I judged it to be good to go for another ten years at least, but kinder and gentler now, and infinitely more interesting, than when it was first bottled.

The second wine was a 2003 Marcarini ‘La Serra’ Barolo, from the hottest vintage in memory in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. I was touring Sicily in southern Italy when the heat wave struck and remember being astonished that the temperature in Milan in July was higher than in Palermo.

In many of Europe’s wine regions the excessive heat ripened the grapes prematurely, achieving high sugar levels quickly, resulting in wines with higher alcohol. The ability of wines to age has a good deal with the balance between fruit, tannin, acid and alcohol, and for much of Europe the grapes were not in balance.

I held hope for the Barolo district, however, because Barolo has historically been among the most age-worthy of wines and Marcarini is among the top producers.
I held my breath as I poured the wine and noticed the brown color in the glass.

Nothing too unusual there. Red wines lose color with age and typically begin the browning stage around the rim of the glass. But the color was more advanced than I would have expected from a 13-year-old Barolo.

Nevertheless, the first sip revealed that its extended time in the cellar had worked the usual magic, albeit earlier than I would have liked. The primary fruit aromas of a young Barolo had given way to secondary aromas of secondary aromas of complexity, notably leather, balsamic and truffle notes with just a hint of black cherry in the background.

It was a glorious tasting experience.

While it is true that aging wines can be risky, and that not all wines age well or even improve with age, but the reward when you stumble across a truly age-worthy wine is great indeed.

Follow Robert on Twitter @wineguru.

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