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October 2006

October 2, 2006

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2002

John Riddoch established Wynns Coonawarra Estate in Australia in 1896 on the now-famous Terra Rossa plot, where the soil is known to produce quality grapes with intensity. Always proponents of blends, we applaud this judicious mix of classic Bordeaux varietals and the now-classic Australian varietal Shiraz from the first winery established in Coonawarra. Winemaker Sue Hodder created this wine to be enjoyed now or for short-term cellaring, so don’t be afraid to open a bottle sooner rather than later to discover a wine with an attractive dark fruit nose complemented by floral scents and notes of mint. You won’t be disappointed later by its soft tannins and complex flavors like chocolate and smoke. This dark beverage is lighter than you might expect, but it has good balance, backbone structure and controlled alcohol (13 percent). We recommend it with venison.

Rating: 14/20

Other red blends we've tasted

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October 9, 2006

Joseph Phelps 2004 Sonoma-Napa Chardonnay

Joseph Phelps is a man with a passion for quality, especially when it comes to wine. His name is synonymous with top-quality Bordeaux-style wine from the Napa Valley. “I am very fortunate,” Phelps says. “I have been able to combine the relaxed and less demanding lifestyle of farming with a fulfilling commitment to quality and a life-long affection for fine wines.” Phelps grew up on a farm and built a construction company after serving in the Korean War. He now lives on a ranch overlooking his picturesque winery, while the business activities are left in the expert hands of his son Bill Phelps, winery President Tom Shelton and Winemaker Craig Williams.

Phelps’ Insignia that debuted in 1974 is today one of the most cherished treasures from Napa’s chest. A quite decent Rhône-style blend, Le Mistral is a favorite as well. But if you can’t find or afford the $165 needed to acquire the most recent 30th Anniversary Insignia, check out this week’s offering. The 2004 Joseph Phelps Chardonnay is a blend of Napa and Sonoma fruit that will make a robust addition to your Thanksgiving table—you’ll want to pair it with turkey and gravy. With an intense gold color, this beverage greets you with a punch of traditional Chardonnay scents, and although a bit high in alcohol, it is not too oaky. It has the legs of a speed skater; it will linger in your mouth and take you to a long finish.

Rating: 14/20

Other Chardonnays we've tasted

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October 16, 2006

Hacienda Araucano 2002 Alka Carménère

It’s all about Carménère this week. The quasi-unheard-of grape varietal makes a comeback in a bottling of an ultra-premium wine crafted by the famous brother team of Jacques and François Lurton. Their Chilean project at Hacienda Araucano in the Colchaqua Valley helps revive a long-lost French grape. Carménère was once sought after as a king of winemaking grapes along with Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, but it was entirely destroyed by phylloxera during the late 1800s. In the 1990s, though, it was discovered that much of Chile’s Merlot grapes were in fact Carménère—left over from original vines brought over from France before the phylloxera plague. Hence, Bordeaux’s lost grape has become a national “heirloom” in Chilean winemaking. There is no doubt that this wine is well made, full of life and terroir characteristics. However, like most wines, you’ll want to age it. Having said that, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous deep blood red color, as well as aromas of vanilla and black cherry. You are sure to appreciate its elegance and superb balance on the palate. There is red fruit concentration, supple tannins and an even finish with dark berry flavors and dried cranberries. We would consider pairing it with fish, poultry and white meats, and perhaps duck.

Rating: 15/20

Other reds we've tasted

October 23, 2006

Fetzer Vineyards 2005 Valley Oaks German Riesling

Fetzer Vineyards is based in Mendocino, Calif., but this bottle actually comes from Germany. It’s a simple and enjoyable wine, good for sipping at parties during the holidays, goes well with an array of foods and, best of all, at just $8, you'll have plenty of cash left over to buy gifts. Winemaker Dennis Martin figured that it could not be a bad thing to produce a wine varietal from its original terroir, and decided to produce his new offering with a 2005 release. Originating from the Mosel-Saar and the Rheinhessen wine regions, this bottle brings back aromas of peach, citrus and jasmine. The light gold beverage is well-balanced with a medium body showing flavors of apricots and quince. It’s a dry Riesling with little residual sugar and only 10.5% alcohol by volume, so even the lightest of wine drinkers will greatly appreciate it. Still, we’d recommend pairing it with Asian cuisine, fish and white meats such as pork served with fruit.

Rating: 14/20

Other Rieslings we've tasted
Check out our guide to Germany
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Read about an old vintage: "Fetzer of Yesteryear"

October 30, 2006

Jorian Hill 2004 Syrah - Santa Ynez Valley

A search for Jorian Hill on Google Earth will prove fruitless. The name is actually a combination of Jordan, Reed and Hillary, the offspring of Gary Newman, President of 20th Century Fox Television, and his wife Jeanne, a top entertainment lawyer. The couple bought a sustainably farmed winery in Santa Barbara County's Ballard Canyon to get away from “the industry” where the kids can get in touch with nature. From their southwesterly facing 7.5-acre plot in the Santa Ynez Valley where they planted mostly Syrah, Viognier and some Grenache come the grapes for this exclusive bottling. The ’04 is indeed their inaugural release (650 cases) and the wine is available at a handful of shops in Southern California and via their website. Bruno D’Alfonso has been recruited to make the wine using traditional Northern Rhône methods, and everything is handcrafted in small batches. The result is a terroir oriented wine, which lets the grapes express themselves. The wine is dark and concentrated, releasing earthy scents of blackberries and cassis. You’ll discover soft tannins, hints of plums and plenty of spices along the lines of thyme and bay leaf on the palate. Two more years in the bottle will allow the wine a chance to show some of its real potential. Pair it with barbecued tri-tip and assorted grilled vegetables.

Rating: 13/20

Other Syrahs we've tasted
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Read about the wine world's most influential critic: Robert Parker, Jr.

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