Wine Picks January 6, 2007

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Spanish White Wine

MIGUEL TORRES VIÑA ESMERALDA 2005 Moscatel/Gewürztraminer, DO Catalunya VC: Viña Esmeralda has a very seductive floral/perfumed nose. Aromas such as honeysuckle, ripe pear, custard apples, vanilla and spun sugar can all be found here. Its off-dry style makes it an exceptional match for spicy Spanish dishes, Thai noodles or Indian curries. My note: A favorite of mine year after year. Amazing price. Perfect for a wide range of dishes including chicken and pork. 113696 (MD) 750 mL $11.95 Score: 89/100. Favorite White Wine

French Red Wine

CHÂTEAU DUCLA 2003 AC Bordeaux Supérieur (Yvon Mau et Fils S.A.) VC: Hidden away within Bordeaux are many little gems. While the Latours and the Margaux of the world get all the hype, wineries such as Château Ducla will, vintage after vintage, create fine wines that can satisfy on so many levels: cost, drinkability and a great match with food. My note: A simple bordeaux with Old World finesse and balance. 162461 (XD) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 88/100.

CHÂTEAU DU TAILLAN 2003 AC Haut-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur (Héritiers H-F Cruse, Prop.) VC: In 2003, Château du Taillan was elevated from Cru Bourgeois to the next highest level, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur due to the overall superiority of the property and the accomplishments of winemaker Armelle Cruse. This bright, fruity, concentrated wine is already drinking beautifully. Enjoy it with pot roast or pulled pork dishes. My note: Big black fruit and oaky aromas. Tannic. Decants for 2-3 hours. 984427 (XD) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 89/100.

CHÂTEAU DE GOURGAZAUD CUVÉE MATHILDE 2004 AC Minervois VC: This blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre exhibits fine aromas of blueberry, plum, pomegranate and clove. Dry and mellow, it has supple fruit surrounding a pleasant cedary intensity. Medium-bodied with a lingering finish, it is a fine choice for roast beef and stews. My note: Peppery notes and black fruit. This wine would be perfect with a pepper steak. 958629 (XD) 750 mL $12.95 Score: 86/100.

DOMAINE DES COCCINELLES 2005 AC Côtes-du-Rhône, Estate Btld. VC: This organic wine contains 14 mg/l of free sulfur. A perfect wine for pasta or pizza night. The aromas suggest macerated cherry, strawberry and a hint of black pepper. Dry with good cherry replays on the palate. My note: Cedar and black cherry notes in this medium-bodied, simple but satisfying wine. 608786 (D) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 88/100.

DOMAINE DES SENECHAUX CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2004 AC, Estate Btld. VC: An intensely-scented wine with aromas that recall raspberry, cherry, spice, lavender and coffee. Dry with a nice forward fruitiness. It is approachable, but well-balanced by silky tannins. Medium full-bodied with a long finish. Try it tonight with spare ribs or leg of lamb, or cellar it 1-3 years. My note: A rich, warm and layered wine with aromas of berries, cedar and spice. Balanced and complex. 677922 (D) 750 mL $35.95 Score: 91/100.

RASTEAU PRESTIGE 2003 AC Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Cave de Rasteau): Black plums and berries in this chewy, full-bodied wine. A touch tannic so decant for an hour. 985929 (XD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 88/100.

California Red Wine

RAVENSWOOD DICKERSON ZINFANDEL 2004 Napa Valley VC: Ravenswood built their reputation by specializing in distinctive old-vine zinfandels from top vineyards around the state such as the Dickerson Vineyard in Napa Valley. My note: Perfectly balanced and delicious. The apotheosis of zinfandel. 599183 (XD) 750 mL $45.95 Score: 90/100.

Argentina Red Wine

FINCA FLICHMAN MALBEC RESERVA 2005 Mendoza VC: This inky-black, award-winning Malbec offers great value. Very fruit forward, it has ripe blackberry, cherry flavors along with notes of chocolate and smoke. It would match nicely with smoked sausages or a rack of lamb with rosemary. My note: Argentina malbecs are the next hot thing after the craze for Australian shiraz subsides (if it ever does). This one is black and brooding as the night of an eclipse. Amazing quality and taste for the price. 746727 (XD) 750 mL $12.95 Score: 86/100.

Chilean Red Wine

CONCHA Y TORO TERRUNYO CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004 Las Terrazas, Old Pirque Vineyard, DO Pirque VC: This muscular and stylish premium Cab is packed with concentrated ripe black fruit, mineral, toast and cedar characteristics. Enjoy with beef or roasted game over the next five years. MY note: One of Chile's finest and most consistent producers. Beautiful Bordeaux styling with New World fruit. 562918 (XD) 750 mL $29.95 Score: 90/100.

PUNTA NOGAL CARMENÈRE RESERVA 2004 Colchagua Valley VC: This intensely flavored Carmenère offers terrific value. Punta Nogal hand picks and sorts the grapes for this reserva, ensuring only the best quality fruit is used. An extended maceration period as well as a year aging in French and American oak also help define this wine's distinctive character. This medium-full bodied elegant red boasts aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry, chocolate, vanilla oak and smoke. My note: A purply, plummy, juicy wine that's perfect for hamburgers. 000752 (XD) 750 mL $14.95 Score: 88/100.

Australian Red Wine

D'ARENBERG THE STUMP JUMP GRENACHE/SHIRAZ/MOURVÈDRE 2005 South Australia: A robust and simple wine with dark red fruit aromas. Great value. Bottled with a screw cap (yay). 606236 (D) 750 mL $13.95 Score: 86/100.

KILIKANOON BLOCKS ROAD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2003 Clare Valley, South Australia: A gorgeous red with layers of fruit and complexity. A long finish and a lingering memory. 926790 (XD) 750 mL $29.95 Score: 91/100.

MARQUIS PHILIPS SHIRAZ 2004 South Eastern Australia: A big, honkin' shiraz with juicy red fruit. Perfect for hamburgers, steaks and hearty meat dishes. 017475 (XD) 750 mL $17.95 Score: 89/100.

PENNY'S HILL SPECIALIZED SHIRAZ/CABERNET/MERLOT 2004 McLaren Vale, South Australia VC: This well-balanced, juicy wine features equal parts Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (36% each) from the Penny's Hill vineyard rounded out with 28% Merlot from their Gross Corner property. Aged for 18 months in both French and American oak, it's packed with ripe plum, red berries, spice and floral notes with toasty vanilla oak characteristics. This is a real-crowd pleaser with some notable complexity. My note: Another big shiraz with ripe black fruit. 015420 (D) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 90/100.

South African White Wine

MORGENHOF SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch VC: South Africa has shown outstanding results in recent years with Sauvignon Blanc. Savvy from the Cape tends to find a style that is a happy middle ground between Loire Valley and New Zealand. This one exhibits the crisp elegance of the former and the racy, grassy, gooseberry nature of the latter. Enjoy it tonight with grilled chicken and asparagus. My note: Refreshing herbal goodness. Perfect for vegetarian dishes and seafood. 018507 (XD) 750 mL $12.95 Score: 87/100. Best Value White Wine

South African Red Wine

THE RUINS SYRAH/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005 WO Elandia, Robertson (Bon Cap Organic) VC: Now in its second vintage, this wine exhibits baked plum, blackberry and cassis aromas and flavors. It is dry and ripe with a lively acid streak for balance. It is an excellent choice for pot roast or braised meats. This organic wine contains 15 mg/l of free sulfur. My note: A lovely, juicy, generous wine with dark red fruit aromas. 018739 (D) 750 mL $14.95 Score: 89/100.

CAPAIA RED 2005 WO Philidelphia VC: This is a no-holds-barred, 'go for it' wine that not only impresses now, but will also reward serious cellar time (5+ years). Originally a joint project between Mark Van Buuren and Tibor Gál, Buuren faced the 2005 vintage alone when Gál was tragically killed in a car crash. St-Émilion château owner Count Stephan von Neipperg stepped in to assist. This bold proprietary red uses four of the five Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc). The resulting wine makes a huge impact and a major statement about super premium wines in South Africa. It is a blockbuster in the making. My note: Classic Bordeaux elegance. Dark plums and cassis. Long finish. Drink 2007-2015. 000265 (XD) 750 mL $34.95 Score: 90/100. Favorite Red Wine

THE WINERY OF GOOD HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON/MERLOT 2005 WO Stellenbosch VC: The Winery of Good Hope is a stylish, quality-driven range that is part of a larger group project known as 'The Winery'. Led by 'marketer, locomotive and creator' Alex Dale and 'Barossa Valley-based soil scientist, modern viticulturist and winemaker' Ben Radfords, this unpretentious band of passionate wine pros represents the modern face of South Africa. This 60/40 blend shows remarkable complexity and elegance with ripe dark fruit, hints of minerals and cedar notes. Terrific value! My note: Terrific full-bodied wine with dark red fruit notes. A touch tannic so decant one hour. 008748 (XD) 750 mL $11.95 Score: 88/100. Best Value Red Wine

Tunisian Red Wine

REINE DIDON PINOT NOIR GRAND CRU 2003 AOC Mornag VC: Winemaking has been ongoing in this North African country since the times of the Phoenicians. After the French occupation ended in 1956, the wine regions went into decline. With the influx of European investment beginning in the 1990s, wine production is on the upswing again. Their AOC is modeled on the French system. This bright, smoky, berry-fruity wine is round and soft. It is an excellent companion for lamb kebabs or chops. My note: A simple, bright wine with ripe red cherries. 008946 (D) 750 mL $12.95 Score: 87/100.

Nat Decants 100-Point Scale

95-100 Brilliant, Exceptional
90-94 Excellent, Superb
89.5 Hovering on the doorstep of excellence, better than very good
85-89 Very Good
80-84 Good (still worth buying and drinking)
79 and below Average to poor (I don't include these in the newsletter due to space constraints)

Favorite Wines: This isn't necessarily the wine with the highest score, as high scores go to the wines that best typify their region and style. Rather my favorite wines are just that: the ones that appeal to me most personally and to my own taste.

Best Value Wines: Not necessarily the cheapest wine, but the one that maximizes the price-quality ratio. (Although I don't always go by strict mathematical ratios on this either, but rather what seems to me to represent tremendous value.)

For more details on how I do my wine reviews and tips on how to find these wines click here. To find dishes to match these wines, click here.

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Copyright © 2007 by Natalie MacLean. All rights reserved. Please ask permission of the author before copying or using this material.