Penfolds’ Voluptuous Secret: 2008 St. Henri Scores 95 Points

Buy 2008 Penfolds Shiraz St. Henri, South AustraliaSt. Henri is Penfolds’ other icon, a Bordeaux-styled shiraz that is friendlier than Grange and just as old. Darn impressive at one tenth the price. It has always had its own cult: Penfolds lovers seeking elegance saw beautifully good value in a rich shiraz with a lot less waiting. The secret is that Penfolds adds a punch of cabernet to the shiraz and raises it in old wood vats. Naked flavor of grapes, not oak. No better example than the 2008 vintage: WA called the ’08 Grange a 100-point wine, but and you’ll spend 15 to 20 years and $700 to enjoy it. Yet Neal Martin assesses St. Henri as a gorgeous and gregarious 95-pointer. So it’s five points shy of perfection, at 95 still a rare jewel and at my price you can buy enough to get through years of waiting on Grange.

2008 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz
…copious layers of black cherry, cassis, cedar and just a hint of fresh beetroot. The palate is full-bodied with a dense carapace of primal blackberry and cassis fruit. …well balanced and offers great delineation… Drink 2024-2045.
95 points,

King of Garnacha: 2010 Veraton 95pt Champion

Buy 2010 Bodegas Alto Moncayo Veraton, Campo de BorjaYou and I have been loving old-vine garnacha from Alto Moncayo for years. I thought the 2009 Veraton was through the roof when I tried it on the road with Jorge Ordonez, the wild Spanish explorer (and our travelin’ buddy)… but the 2010 beats it silly. 95 points silly!

Perfect expression of this hot dry windy corner of old Spain… all red clay and red slate. Garnacha has never been more luscious and lusty. This 2010 is one of the best Spanish wines I’ve had in the last year. Exciting intensity, remarkable depth and length attributed to the soil. Impressive drive. Credit ideal terroir plus Jorge, his local partners and Oz wizardry of Chris Ringland, the Mr. Grenache of Australia. There’s no better buy from Spain than this 2010 Veraton.

2010 Alto Moncayo Veraton
Intensity is remarkable, great precision on the nose and palate. The intensity of the finish is attributed to 40-60 year old vines in slate/red clay soils. The length is sustained. …an extraordinary rendition of Garnacha….

95 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

Elegance on Etna: My Smoothest Passopisciaro, 94WA

Andrea Franchetti, Passopisciaro's proprietor.

Andrea Franchetti, Passopisciaro’s proprietor.

The subtlety and silkiness that Andrea Franchetti’s genius gets from the slopes of Sicily’s rugged volcano take take me straight to the Cote de Nuits and Piemonte (at half the cost). Berries and flowers in the nose, bright flavor, sleek body and electric nerve. Yet the grape is local nerello mascalese, not pinot or nebbiolo and nothing like the Bordeaux varieties he brought to Tuscany so famously. Funny thing, this is not what Andrea intended in 2000. He thought Etna would make very big reds he said in a great interview I saw in Vinography. Instead the old mountain taught him (can’t argue with a Sicilian lava flow, I’ve seen it). The nerello vines are 70, 80 years old, and vineyards follow contradas, lines laid out in the flows long ago. So Franchetti cleaned up the vines, picked late and treated the wine gently. The nerello paid back his respect with gorgeous single-vineyard “Contrada” wines and this beautiful blend. Franchetti also gave Etna a superb chardonnay. Together, they thrill Italian wine lovers like me every year. To make sure you get in on the adventure and the elegance, join us and climb the volcano. It’s breathtaking.

Buy 2010 Passopisciaro Passopisciaro Rosso, Etna
Passopisciaro Lineup:

2010 Passopisciaro Passopisciaro Rosso
…scents of black truffles, incense, smoked game, creosote, spring flowers and black fruits. Full-bodied with mouth-staining tannin as well as mouth-saturating extract and richness… 94 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

  • 2009 Passopisciaro Guardiola (Chardonnay) Pale straw. Pungent apple, buttercup and mineral aromas along with a hint of resin on the complex nose. Juicy, concentrated flavors of thyme, lime, banana, honey and stone coat the palate….
    90 points, S. Tanzer’s Int’l Wine Cellar
  • 2010 Passopisciaro Guardiola (Chardonnay) …impresses for a rich, textured fabric of peaches, apricots and flowers. Clean mineral notes emerge over time, adding focus and drive. A long, multi-dimensional finish rounds things out nicely….
    92 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
  • 2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Chiappemacine …similar to the straight Passopisciaro. It possesses attractive density and expressive fruit, all supported by firm yet well-balanced tannins. A bright, articulate finish adds proportion and balance….
    93 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
  • 2010 Passopisciaro Contrada Chiappemacine …reveals a more immediate expression of fruit. Dark red berries, tobacco and mint flesh out on the radiant mid-palate. …an energetic style because of the vintage… impeccably refined and harmonious….
    94 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
  • 2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Sciaranuova ….Bright red fruit, flowers, anise and minerals wrap around the palate in this wiry, energetic Nerello Mascalese. This shows substantial vibrancy and cut, along with intense mineral notes…
    94 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
  • 2010 Passopisciaro Contrada Sciaranuova A totally striking wine… a deep, intriguing bouquet redolent of orange peel, tar, licorice and exotic spices. Dark berries, minerals and rose petals add further complexity on the generous, silky finish….
    94+ points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
  • 2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Porcaria …exquisite wine layered with dark, sensual fruit. …muscular yet weightless… The wine takes shape beautifully in the glass as it gains notable intensity all the way through to the palate staining finish….
    94 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Issue #207 is Out!

Shop Wines Rated by Robert Parker's Wine AdvocateThe latest issue of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate is out: Issue 207 released June 28, 2013! This issue is jam-packed with 2,685 wines! To make things easy, we’ve listed wines here that were reviewed and are currently in stock. We’ll be adding wines to this list as they arrive so check back to this feature again.

New Release: Latest Paul Hobbs Stars Score Big

Paul Hobbs of Paul Hobbs Winery

Paul Hobbs of Paul Hobbs Winery

Again, again and yet again. So many beautiful bottles from Paul Hobbs, 2010, 2011, cabernet, pinot noir and chardonnay, Ratings of 92 and up from almost everyone. Hobbs is so consistent I’m happy to join his cult, at least make him my BFF. Paul’s secret whether he’s in California or Argentina is that he’s so careful and fussy about the vineyards all year long, but once they’re in the winery he’s a hands-off, non-interventionist. Wish I knew which I liked best. The ’10 Napa cab is deep with dark berries and wild lavender and as smooth as chocolate. The new pinot from the Larry Hyde vines in Carneros is a candy box of spiced plums and berries wrapped in silk. The Sonoma Mountain chard is rich, elegant and packed with golden fruit and custard. Take your pick. Or try all three and you tell me your favorite. Great prices on so much Paul Hobbs is a rare treat. Indulge yourself.

2010 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon …mocha, chocolate, violets and new leather. Despite its explosive personality, the straight Napa Valley bottling is pretty approachable for the vintage. I especially like the focus of the finish…. 92 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2011 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Richard Dinner Vineyard …Botrytis gives the wine much of its intriguing personality. …volume, texture and viscosity. Passion fruit, sage, crushed rocks, exotic white flowers, nuts and a hint of nutmeg all flow through to the finish….
92-94+ points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2011 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard …beautifully articulated. Pretty and fruit driven, the 2010 is laced with sweet tobacco, cedar, sage and smoke. …Hobbs has drawn out the density of the fruit but without any excess heaviness…. 91-93 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Sexy Beast: Love New Portugal In Old-Vine Crasto, 94RAS!

Quinta do Crasto Estate in PortugalWay past time for you to enjoy the great table wine from the legendary Port vineyards of the Douro. No better time or place to catch up than with the juicy ’09 Reserva I have from Quinta do Crasto’s 70-year-old vines. The 2008 edition went sky high when Wine Spectator tapped it No. 3 in the Top 100. The 2009 is a winner in my book too, and at a terrific price. It has Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional and two dozen other old grapes from the steep schist hillsides of the valley, all handpicked and basket pressed. A big, well-built wine, brick red and purple; sumptuous texture, whiffs of cinnamon and wild herbs, fresh berries and plums with a very long finish. A truly fine wine that would sell for a lot more if it were from any other country. …Which makes visiting Portugal in a bottle as smart as it is delicious.

Buy 2009 Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines, Douro


2009 Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines
…A big drink of deep purple, sumptuous fruit flavors, whiffs of cinnamon, rich texture, and long easy finish. There’s a simpler red, long on Tinta Roriz (that’s Tempranillo on this side of the border), more flowery in the nose…

94 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor


Almost Salon And No Waiting: Guy Charlemagne’s Luscious ’04, 94RAS

Buy 2004 Guy Charlemagne Mesnillesime Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru, Mesnil-Sur-OgerGuy Charlemagne is one of my most delicious discoveries, great grower Champagne in the grand cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (yes, that Mesnil!) and this is his beautiful “Mesnillesime” cuvee from the best vintage since 1998. Easy to find since Charlemagne is right across the street from the great house of Salon which may be why so many people overlook it. Not me. Charlemagne’s ’04 is a gorgeous wine, their very best. All the elegance and unctuous palate, 100% chardonnay and low dosage. When I was visiting Salon last week, the ’02, ’04, ’06 and ’08 bottles were stack high in the cellar but you won’t taste the ’04 Salon for another 4 or 5 years. Yet the ’04 Guy Charlemagne is yours now. Why wait? This is an exceptional Champagne you should pop now!

2004 Guy Charlemagne Mesnillesime Grand Cru
…one of my most delicious discoveries… a gorgeous wine… All the elegance and unctuous palate, 100% chardonnay and low dosage…. an exceptional Champagne you should pop now!

94 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

Fantastic Fronsac: 2009 Fontenil

Dany and Michel Rolland produce one of the top wines of Fronsac at their home estate of Fontenil.

Dany and Michel Rolland produce one of the top wines of Fronsac at their home estate of Fontenil.

Michel and Dany Rolland produce one of the top wines of Fronsac at their home estate of Fontenil. Note that it is both of them that we mention here and not just Michel, Fontenil being about their love of winemaking and the estate they came to own and live and make wine together at in the mid 1980s. Yes Michel jets around consulting the rich and famous but at Fontenil it is a family affair and truly a labor of love. In 2010 I tasted all the wines of the family with Dany and she really lit up when we tasted and talked about Fontenil. It is the slopes of the village of Saillans as well as the talents and hearts of the Rollands that the wine comes from. Yes, and from 2009 also, a vintage of Fontenil Michel calls “grandiose with power and harmony.” Enough said. (14.5%) 92/100.

Buy 2009 Chateau Fontenil, Fronsac
2009 Chateau Fontenil
…relatively hefty alcohol at 14.5%, but it is not noticeable in this full-bodied, layered, opulent wine, with lots of black raspberry fruit intermixed with some blueberries and crushed rock….
92 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Corton Charlemagne in California: Ramey’s Platt Vineyard Chard, 95WA

Buy 2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyard, Sonoma CoastFew New World vintners make chardonnay to age 10 years, or worth 95 points. David Ramey (photoed below) does because he’s a Burgundian at heart with an American eye for innovation and precision in terroir. Of his three vineyard-designated chards, the Platt is the one closest to the Cote d’Or for me – and Wine Advocate, too. Best chard in America from 2010 at this price. It’s from Ramey’s coolest site in the Sonoma Coast just a few miles from the Pacific, and the grapes age sur lie for almost two years. So the wine has grand cru breadth, mineral drive and tart salty whiffs of citrus and the sea. And like fine white Burgundy, a keeper. If you know David’s fab cabs and syrahs, you’ve got to taste his brilliance with chardonnay. You’ll want several to cellar. Thank me later.

David Ramey, proprietor of Ramey Vineyards in California.

David Ramey, proprietor of Ramey Vineyards in California.

2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyard
The 2010 Chardonnay Platt Vineyard stands out in this range. A big, broad-shouldered wine, the Platt is actually reminiscent of a red wine in its structure. Lemon, oyster shells, salt and all sorts of citrus notes are woven throughout in this intense, saline finish. Think of the Platt as a California version of Corton-Charlemagne. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2020. 95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

No More Waiting: 1994 Lopez de Heredia From Rioja Now 96WA!

Lopez de HerediaI love how the Spanish savor time. Great wineries like Lopez de Heredia have already cellared it for you. This Tondonia Gran Reserva was just released and it’s already 18 years old. A fabulous wine that’s ready to drink or to cellar. The color’s now a touch amber, the wine is smooth, plush and still fresh with cherry and berry, smelling of smoke and leather. Everything about Lopez de Heredia has a rich patina, one reason W&S ranked it a Top 100 winery. Patriarch Rafael founded it in 1877 and bought the Tondonia vineyard in Rioja Alta 100 years ago. Gotta see the place when you’re in Haro: century old buildings plus a swooping modern Zaha Hadid pavillion as cool and modern as the Guggenheim in Bilbao (photo below). Perfect setting to treasure historic wines like this. When a vintage like ’94 is deemed great enough for a gran reserva, the best of it spends eight years in barrel, and if approved even more time. It’s an old style blend, three quarters tempranillo plus graciano and mazuela. Seems like you oughta pay more for so much history in a bottle, but it’s well under $100. Rioja lovers have to have this wine. There will be others… but you’ll have to wait.

Buy 1994 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva, Rioja

1994 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
The 1994 Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva has an elegant bouquet with light red cherries, orange blossom, mahogany bureau and burnt buttered toast. The palate has a meaty, savory entry with crisp tannins and racy acidity. It displays superb structure towards the finish where one finds notes of bitter lemon, orange peel and sage. Delicious! Drink now-2030+.

96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Todd Terrific: Conn Valley Vineyards Shines in 2010 (93-96WA)

Todd Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.

Todd Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.

Only in America could a first growth like the fabulous Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards be on a first name basis with its devotees: it’s plain Todd to any of you who have met the long tall Anderson on his trips here. I’m especially partial to his rock smarts; Todd was a geologist before he started grapes near Howell Mountain 30 years back. Friendly giant of a guy. Same goes for his Bordeaux reds: Big, powerful, and worth taking time to get to know. The 2010 estate reserve cabernet is another exceptional wine, of great purity with all those adult flavors of dark fruits, anise and tobacco. Give it five years and the black magic in this bottle will thrill. Lay down a couple for a long-term relationship that will last decades.

Buy 2010 Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa


2010 Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
…serious power and depth. Layers of blue and black fruit, smoke, tobacco and licorice are woven together beautifully. Vivid yet rich and resonant… creamy, layered finish laced with expressive blue and black fruits…
93-96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate


Pegau Alert: Order 2011 CDP Now! Smart Buy of The Vintage (93RAS)

Laurence Feraud, proprietor of Domaine Pegau.

Laurence Feraud, proprietor of Domaine Pegau.

Laurence Feraud’s top cuvee at Pegau, da Capo, was the 100-point star of 2010, but she never quits and squeezed something darn good out of 2011 too. An iffy vintage for some, but not Laurence. When I stopped by her cellar in Chateauneuf earlier this month, I found the ’11 Cuvee Reservee a beautiful wine with a detailed texture and more mourvedre in the nose, Grenache and the rest filling out the voluptuous body with dark cherries and plums. Sweet if not as expansive as 2010. How could it be? It’s not the 2010, Laurence knows that and priced it so that it’s a solid buy. You should have a few bottles of the 2011. They’ll get you through your wait for the once-in-a-lifetime 2010s (got a few of those available too!).

Buy 2011 Domaine Pegau Reservee, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

2011 Pegau CdP Cuvee Reservee
…a seductive, open-knit, precocious, sexy example with decent acidity, sumptuous fruit and delicious, mature flavors of roasted herbs, kirsch, black currants, raspberries, licorice and incense…. 90-93 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate


Stars Of The Brasserie: Billecart-Salmon Beauties, 91-95 Points

A spectrum of elegant Billecart fits perfectly with the fin-de-siecle magnificence of La Cigale in Nantes.

A spectrum of elegant Billecart fits perfectly with the fin-de-siecle magnificence of La Cigale in Nantes.

I’m bowled over by a place like La Cigale, the gilded 1900 brasserie on Place Graslin the heart of Nantes. Outside the guy on the street is shucking shiny Gillardeau No. 4 oysters; inside is a Sistine Chapel for gourmets where every ceiling and wall is ornately painted and tiled. And in pride of place, a full line-up of Billecart-Salmon. But, of course. For me, Billecart-Salmon, from NV to vintage rose, may be the best food wine in Champagne: blanc de blancs with shellfish or sushi and tete de cuvee with a French steak. Critics love it as much as diners. Parker, Tanzer et al. rave on structure, the big pinot flavor, and finesse. So do I. Which explains why B-21 may have more cuvees than La Cigale’s winelist. The 1999 and 2000 you have to have. Now’s the time to learn Champagne’s perfect for summer; this is more than a once-a-year pleasure.

Buy Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, Mareuil Sur Ay

Buy Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, Mareuil Sur Ay

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
…offers appealing flavors of ripe black cherry, raspberry and orange peel that show hints of toasted raisin bread, anise and sweet smoke. Offers a beautiful texture, with a long, mouthwatering finish….
92 points, Wine Spectator

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve
Made with a high proportion of Pinot Meunier, this is elegant, fruity, with plenty of good acidity and a wonderful floral character. It is so fruity, fresh, a wine for real enjoyment.
91 points, Wine Enthusiast

Other Champagnes by Billecart-Salmon:

  • Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut …complex bouquet displays scents of green apple, pear, lemon zest, toasty lees and honeysuckle. Packs a solid punch but conveys a weightless quality, offering sappy orchard fruit and citrus flavors…
    93 points, S. Tanzer’s Int’l Wine Cellar
  • Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut Just returning from Champagne where I tasted the Extra Brut among other sparklers. This was impressive, yet not for everyone. Lots of nerve and without standard dosage shows off the underlying material…
    94 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor
  • 2000 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut A wine that strikes a great balance between its intense fruitiness and a pure steely character. It makes it a dry Champagne, with the richness of a great wine. It has weight, intensity and several years more aging.
    95 points, Wine Enthusiast
  • 1999 Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Brut A beautifully crisp wine, very mineral, with its citrus and green apple flavors given a fine texture of bright acidity. It is still so young, with just a hint of toast to show some maturity. The finish is shockingly fresh.
    94 points, Wine Enthusiast
  • 2002 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rose This is a beautifully balanced, elegant and mature sparkler. There is fruit—ripe strawberry—but the main character is its fine balance and richness. It can age, though it is at its best now.
    94 points, Wine Enthusiast

Alejandro The Great’s Vino Excelente

Buy 2005 Bodegas y Vinedos Fernandez Rivera Dehesa la Granja, Castilla LeonAlejandro Fernandez has become a leading producer in the Ribera del Duero. You loved his 2004 Dehesa La Granja, which was more forward and rich than this model. The strength of the 2005 is structure. More intensity and power here, this is big, full-throttled tempranillo. If Alejandro’s Pesquera is Burgundian in style, Dehesa is more Bordeaux. We bumped into the director of Dehesa in Rioja during the wild Festival of San Mateo, and she gave the nod to the 2005, as well. Here’s all my iPhone photos from that trip.

2005 Dehesa la Granja
…displays an inviting perfume of cedar, Asian spices, a hint of balsamic, licorice, and assorted black fruits. This is followed by a sweetly-fruited, well-proportioned wine with a friendly personality…. 91 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate