Review: 2015 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc

You’ll have to check the back label for the details, but Illumination is a white wine made at Quintessa, which is best known as a cult producer of red wine. Here, however, is a white from the property, blended from 39% Sauvignon Blanc Musqué (a particularly aromatic clone of Sauvignon Blanc), 48% Sauvignon Blanc, and 13% Semillon. The fruit is sourced 58% from Napa County and 42% from Sonoma County. Aging is done in French oak barrels (8% new), Acacia barrels (5% new), egg-shaped concrete fermenters, and stainless steel barrels.

It’s altogether a fine expression of Sauvignon Blanc, loaded with intensely floral aromatics and notes of apricots underneath. Some light ammonia notes emerge as the wine opens up (and warms up), revealing a body that offers notes of dried fruit, dried flowers, and some nutmeg notes. The finish hints at green tea while concluding on honeysuckle. A very expressive and worthwhile wine.

A- / $55 / illuminationwine.com

Review: 2014 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma Valley Reserve

Don’t let them tell you that merlot is dead. St. Francis’s 2014 Sonoma Valley bottling is loaded with character, starting with floral aromatics and, on the palate, gentle leather and tobacco notes. After a slug of modest tannin the wine bursts forth with blackberry and rhubarb character before revealing some lingering coffee notes on the finish.

A- / $40 / stfranciswinery.com

Review: A Trio of 2013 Italian Value Wines – Masi, Montessu, and Salviano

Italy has its share of cult wines, but it’s also loaded with bargains, like these three wines (all imported by Kobrand), which showcase a tour of different Italian wine regions, all coming in at less than $20 a bottle. Let’s take a look!

2013 Masi Campofiorin – A “Superveronese” blended from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes (the same used for Amarone). A beautiful and balanced wine. Lush berry fruit notes pave the way toward light hints of vinegar, fresh herbs, and a finish that nods at nutmeg and ginger. A beautiful wine that drinks with more complexity than its price tag would indicate, the 2013 expression is one of the best examples of this wine in recent years. A- / $16

2013 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – A Sardinian blend of mainly carignane plus other grapes. This wine is a bit flat, its berry fruit filtered through a bit of applesauce and, emerging on the nose with time, some tar and leather elements. The body is muted, heavy on cherry fruit and meatier notes, with a fairly short finish. Tastes like a lot like the “house wine” at your favorite Italian restaurant. B- / $15

2013 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo Lago di Corbara DOC – A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. This Umbrian blend is one of the best values I’ve ever found out of Italy. Beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit is deftly balanced with notes of fresh herbs, a touch of tobacco, a hint of vanilla, and a few green notes around the edges. Even the greenery doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly lush and balanced experienced, perfectly quaffable on its own but an excellent companion to pasta dishes, as well. A / $13

Review: Warre’s Otima Tawny Port 10 Years Old (2017)

warre-otima-10-year-port

I’ve reviewed Warre’s 10 year old Tawny Port twice before, in 2009 and 2012. Now it’s 2017 and time to give this venerable bottling a fresh look.

I’ve commented on the relative simplicity of this bottling in the past, and little has changed here, except perhaps for my palate (and level of experience with these wines). Today, Otima 10 feels awfully thin compared to other tawnies on the market, lightly sweet and bursting with strawberries to the point where it really feels more like a ruby than a tawny port. There’s plenty of simple sugar sweetness, juiced strawberries, and a light backbone of raisins and spice, but the overall impression is one of jelly left to ferment. A good jelly, mind you.

B / $26 (500ml) / warre.com

Review: NV Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Brut

Sparkling gruner from an Austrian winery called Szigeti — officially Sektkellerei Szigeti? What could be more fun to drink!?

This fruit-forward, nonvintage bottling offers lots of juiciness, but keeps things quite dry on the finish. There’s ample green apple, some light peach notes, and a bit of baking spice to mix things up, all filtered through a moderate to heavy level of fizz, approaching that of Champagne, but without so much yeastiness. (The wine does use traditional Champagne yeasts, however.) The tart finish makes the wine feel appropriately festive, and after a few glasses it makes saying “Szigeti” (ZIG-it-ee) all the more fun.

B+ / $22 / thewinebowgroup.com

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri Italian Wines 2017

It’s hard to believe but it’s been a long four years since I’ve attended Tre Bicchieri, a celebration of the best Italian wines as judged by Gambero Rosso, a massive trade group that is pretty much the final word in fine Italian wine.

Tre Bicchieri, or “three glasses,” is the highest rating the group offers in its annual judging, after which the winners hit the road and us lucky Americans get to try the wines — some of which are not even imported here. Thoughts from the San Francisco tasting follow, along with some mini reviews of wines tasted at Henry Wine Group’s pre-Tre Bicchieri event, which included both winners and non-winners, as well as some Italian spirits, which are not part of the Tre Bicchieri program.

Quick thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri 2017

2012 Vite Colte Barolo del Comune di Barolo Essenze / A- / approachable, with clear vanilla notes
2013 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Sup. Bricco Paradiso / A- / well-rounded, strawberry and spice notes
2015 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Pian Scorrone / B / very fruity, heavily extracted berry notes
2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli / B+ / more fruit than a typical Amarone; fades to notes of vanilla and ginger
2012 Brandini Barolo Resa 56 / A- / classic structure, dense fruit and spice
2011 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Liste / A / a powerhouse of dense tannin, licorice and spice; dark chocolate; very long finish
2012 Casa E. di Mirafiore Barolo Paiagallo Casa E. di Mirafiore / B+ / earthier, with tannic grip; approachable but at the expense of longevity
2012 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Sup. Roggio del Filare / A- / heavy barnyard nose; dense fruit beneath
2012 Velenosi Offida Rosso Ludi / B+ / very fresh fruit; some light vegetal notes on the finish
2013 Colle Massari Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Grattamacco   / B / somewhat astringent
2011 Colle Massari Brunello di Montalcino  / B+ / similar to the above; meaty and extracted
2013 Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Sup. Sondraia / A- / hugely tannic, dense and powerful; a slow emergence of fruit
2012 Poggio al Tesoro Dedicato a Walter / B+ / cabernet franc; traditional and chewy, with lingering tannin
2012 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. / A- / bold and heavy with cherry; chewy with lightly dried fruit
2013 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre / B+ / bold fruit, raisin, and cherry notes
2013 Allegrini La Grola / B+ / heavy corvina here; workaday bottling that works well
2011 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina Milleunanotte / A- / punchy, with lots of earthy tannins
2013 Ornellaia Bolgheri Sup. Ornellaia / A- / lush and unctuous, loaded with layers of depth
2014 Ornellaia Bolgheri Rosso Le Serre Nuove / A / this second label is drinking better than its big brother today, balancing fruit and tannin with a focus on fresh berries
2013 Giulio Accornero e Figli Barbera del M.to Sup. Bricco Battista / A- / very bright, nice acidity and fruit
2013 Donna Olimpia 1898 Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Millepassi / A / outstanding – chocolate and spice in a lush body that’s ready to go but will drink well for years
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri / A- / aged in cherry wood casks, and you can taste it along with vanilla, spices, and baked fruits
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Costasera Riserva / A / a beauty – layers of fruit and dark spices abound
2012 Masi Fojaneghe Rosso Bossi Fedrigotti / A- / a new wine from Masi; bold and spicy, with cinnamon notes
2013 Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Rosso Sup. / A- / menthol and mint up front, then tannins; chocolate and vanilla on the finish; lots of longevity here
2014 Settesoli Sicilia Mandrarossa Cartagho / B+ / very concentrated; black and blueberry notes meet chocolate and vanilla
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Bricco delle Viole / A- / huge fruit, some bacon notes, finish of drying spices
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Baudana / A- / similar notes, light on its feet; dustier finish
2015 G. D. Varja Langhe Riesling / B+ / quite refreshing, honey and lemon notes are heavy
2013 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello / A- / earthy nose, bold fruit underneath
2013 Marchesi Antinori Chianti Cl. Marchese Antinori Ris. / B+ / drinking tight today; some astringency
2014 Rocca di Frassinello Maremma Toscana Baffo Nero / A- / pretty florals, lush fruit
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano / B+ / bold and chewy with heavy licorice notes
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B / overwhelming tannin, core of cocoa and prune
2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B- / similar, with a funkier edge to it
2015 Pala I Flori Verminton di Sardegna DOC / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2015 Cantina Terlano Classico DOC / A- / fresh, with lots of fruit and herbs
2015 San Salvatore Falanghina Campania IGP / A- / nice acidity, fresh citrus notes
2006 Movia Puro Rose / B+ / 100% sparkling rose of pinot noir; made completely naturally and bottled on the lees; disgorged underwater, upside down, to remove the cap; a wild ride of sour fruit with a touch of mushroom [see photo at right]
2008 Movia Lunar 8 Ribolla / A- / slightly sour, some funkiness
2014 Movia Ribolla / A- / fresh and tropical
2013 Movia Pinot Grigio / B / light on its feet, lots of honey notes
2015 Cos Pithos Bianco / B+ / new world in style, green apple is strong
2014 Movia Sauvignon Blanc / A- / a real eye-opener, with notes of gunpowder, mint, and grapefruit peel
2014 Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico / A / super fresh tropical notes; mango, slightly sweet
2010 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A / fresh and floral, lots of berries with immense depth
2011 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A+ / gorgeous with its supple fruit, layers of earthiness lending beautiful balance
2011 Il Marroneto Brunello di Mont Selezione Madonna / A / soft and pretty, velvety tannins
2013 Orma / B+ / more fruit focused, a bit jammy
2012 Monchiero Carbone Roero Riserva Printi / B / a bruiser, quite tart and overpowering
2009 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche / B+ / softer than I expected, with fading tannin
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Chianti Colli Sensei / B / very simple
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Rosso di Montepulciano / B / notes of tea leaf and coffee
2013 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano / B / classically structured
2012 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva / A- / a solid upgrade to the standard bottling; powerful
2011 Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco / C /
2010 Colpetrone Sagrantino Montefalco / B /
2014 La Poderina Rosso di Montefalco / A- / clear earthy notes, bold and powerful
2011 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino  / A- / licorice, cloves, dark fruits galore
2010 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio Abate” / A / mint, intense cocoa, gunpowder, and leather; long finish
2013 Tenuta San Leonardo Terre di San Leonardo / B+ / soft, easygoing, nice grip with some leather notes
2009 Tenuta San Leonardo “Vila Gresti” Merlot / A- / fresh violets, raspberry notes
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo Carmenere / A- / expressive, loaded with tart fruit
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / bold and subtly earthy, with tobacco notes; epic length
2008 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / barely softening up; on point

Spirits/Vermouth

Sibona Barolo Grappa / B+ / 2 years in barrel; lots of grip, quite spicy, with black pepper notes
Sibona Port Aged Grappa / B / a letdown, quite flowery
Santa Maria Amaro / B+ / unctuous and bittersweet with cocoa and caramel notes
Poli Cleopatra / B+ / grappa of moscato, aged one year; perfumed with peaches and lingering florals
Del Professore Vermouth / A- / great citrus tones, spicy with cola and wonderful depth
Varnelli Amaro Dell Erborista / A- / unfiltered; all estate-made, sweetened with honey; unique and worthwhile
Varnelli Amaro Sibilla / A- / very fruity; bit bitter finish with lingering chocolate

Review: Wines of Stags’ Leap Winery, 2013 Vintage

Note first that Stags’ Leap Winery (cursive label) is not the same thing as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (block text label). It’s the apostrophe that’s important. Stags’ vs. Stag’s.

Both are of course found in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa, and both are excellent wineries. Today we look at the wines of the plural possessive — Stags’ Leap — all 2013 vintage bottlings released in early 2017.

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Silky Napa cab, overstuffed with red fruit and currants, but with an acidic edge that’s often lacking in blown-out Napa cabernet. The finish runs toward raspberry and blackberry, with some lightly sour plum shrub notes lingering on the finish. This wine is balanced with a bit of tannic grip, saving it from being a fruit bomb, though it’s still got plenty of that sweetness to go around. A- / $35

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah Napa Valley – Black-red in color and loaded with notes of tar, bitter roots, and (very) dark chocolate. The tannins find some relief in the form of notes of currants and dried blueberries, both lingering on the finish with more of those chocolate notes, here bordering on mocha coffee. Intense, you say? B+ / $37

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery The Leap. – With a period. A cabernet sauvignon bottling with no mention of any blending grapes, this austere wine offers lots of ripe fruit, cassis and blackberry all the way, backed up by an incredible amount of tannin, cola, and dry spices. The cola, plus cloves and some smoky bacon notes, linger on the finish. A wine to save for that iconic “steak night.” A  / $100

stagsleap.com

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