Wine Picks July 22, 2006

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French Red Wine

MERCUREY 1ER CRU 2003 AC (Cave des Vignerons de Buxy) VC: This excellent value Pinot has classic aromas of raspberry, cherry, spice, mushroom and beetroot. It is dry, quite intense, but well-balanced. Enjoy this long finishing wine with grilled tuna or gourmet sausages. My note: A pretty pinot with bright raspberries and a mouth-watering acidity that demands food such as pate or salmon. Old World style. 688812 (XD) 750 mL $21.95 Score: 88/100.

CHÂTEAU BEAUMONT 2003 AC Haut-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur VC: An early-drinking, approachable '03 Bordeaux to enjoy while you're waiting for the long-agers to do their thing in your cellar. Expect aromas of red berries and sweet herbs. There should be good acid and a touch of tannin for balance. Lively sweet finish makes this a good choice for steak night. My note: Lovely dark chocolate aromas, round tannins and black fruit. Decants two hours. Old World style. 580548 (D) 750 mL $21.95 Score: 89/100.

CHÂTEAU NOAILLAC 2000 AC Médoc, Cru Bourgeois (Xaviera Marc Pagés): Dark toasty aromas from a great vintage. Classic Bordeaux. Pair with steak and toast to success. Drink 2006-2009. 687061 (XD) 750 mL $26.95 Score: 88/100.

New Zealand Red Wine

MT. DIFFICULTY PINOT NOIR 2004 Central Otago, South Island: Vibrant cherries with a good grip on the palate. Lots of acidity but that's just fine with the right dishes: pork, salmon, chicken, pate, tuna. 994251 (XD) 750 mL $37.95 Score: 90/100.

SILENI 'CELLAR SELECTION' PINOT NOIR 2005 Hawkes Bay, North Island VC: Pinot Noir from Hawkes Bay is relatively rare, so an opportunity like this, especially from such a quality producer, is a rare treat indeed. Sileni Estates' 'Cellar Selection' is designed for early enjoyment. Expect to find bright cherry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavors. On the palate you will find all the fruit is nicely balanced by a streak of acidity. Enjoy with grilled rack of lamb. My note: Round and smooth with deep, seductive aromas of ripe cherries. Great price. I've recommended this wine for several vintages; consistently good producer. 694901 (D) 750 mL $17.95 Score: 90/100.

THE CROSSINGS PINOT NOIR 2004 Marlborough, South Island VC: Food matches: veal tenderloin and grilled vegetables. My note: Saucy and sprightly with dancing cherries in a Radio City Hall kick line. Zippy acidity. 694471 (XD) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 89/100.

New Zealand White Wine

QUARRY ROAD SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 Te Kauwhata, Waikato, North Island VC: It seems appropriate that this young wine is an idealist at heart. Proceeds from the sale of this Sauvignon Blanc go to the National Wetland Trust of New Zealand in their efforts to protect fragile ecosystems on the island. Expect to find crisp, lemony freshness on this terrific palate refreshing savvy. My note: Lovely herbal refreshment. 694844 (XD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 90/100. Favorite White Wine

THE CROSSINGS SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 Marlborough, South Island VC: Food match: grilled prawns. My note: Assertive, mouth-watering acidity that will dance with dishes such as salads, seafood and chicken. Herbal. 694489 (XD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 88/100.

Australian Red Wine

PFEIFFER PINOT NOIR 2003 Rutherglen, Victoria VC: Jen Pfeiffer was a mere sprout when her wine education began. Exposed to wine and vineyards all her life, the fates had decided her career before she hit her teens. At the tender age of 26, she is perhaps the youngest female winemaker in Australia. Unlike her father, her co-winemaker, she likes a touch more oak with her ripe fruit. As this Pinot Noir shows, it can easily stand-up to the increased oak exposure. Expect ripe cherry, strawberry, toast and earth aromas and flavors. Perfect with planked salmon. My note: Loaded with sweet cherry aromas. Simply lovely like a summer's day. 961219 (D) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 90/100.

YARRA RIDGE PINOT NOIR 2004 Yarra Valley, Victoria VC: Made in a style designed for current consumption, expect to find berry and spice aromas and flavors on this Pinot Noir. The producer recommends enjoying it with Peking duck, spicy salt and pepper quail or grilled herbed chicken. My note: Gorgeous smoky sherries and plums with a spicy undertone. 988568 (D) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 90/100.

Australian Rosé

MARGAN SHIRAZ SAIGNÉE ROSÉ 2006 Hunter Valley, New South Wales VC: A stylish rosé with character to spare. Its fresh, lively palate of berries will charm. A wine made purely for enjoyment. Drink it young and serve chilled with salads or pasta. My note: Gorgeous and rich with fresh raspberries. Serve chilled on a summer's day. 675447 (D) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 90/100.

California Red Wine

R.H. PHILLIPS 'TOASTED HEAD' PINOT NOIR 2004 Sonoma Coast VC: This is the first vintage of Pinot Noir from R.H. Phillips 'Toasted Head' line. Sourced from vineyards located in the cool and foggy Russian River and Sonoma Coast regions, expect to find aromas of strawberry, ripe raspberry, smoke/spice and earth tones. Enjoy this soft and silky wine with veal chops. My note: Silky smooth and seductive. A wine that sneaks up on you and overcomes your senses. (Bring it on!) Cherries and cedar. Round and ripe. 686832 (D) 750 mL $25.95 Score: 90/100.

SILVER STONE PINOT NOIR 2001 Chualar Canyon Vineyard, Monterey VC: Silver Stone's Chualar Vineyard is located at the foot of the Gabilan Mountains. A daily morning fog rolls in off the Pacific Ocean, which is followed by a cleansing warm, dry afternoon breeze, creating conditions that are ideal for growing Pinot Noir. Expect intense aromas of cherry, floral and vanilla tones nicely framed by cedar. It is ready to drink and will complement a pork tenderloin dish. My note: Sweet ripe red fruit. Generous and gentle. 592923 (D) 750 mL $29.95 Score: 90/100.

California Rosé

PEDRONCELLI ZINFANDEL ROSÉ 2005 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County VC: Pedroncelli is a practiced hand at producing Zinfandel rosé that is fairly dry and quite flavorful. Expect aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry. Enjoy with grilled salmon or other rich seafood dishes. My note: A pleasant sipper at a super price. 655191 (D) 750 mL $11.95 Score: 87/100.

Canadian Red Wine

TINHORN CREEK PINOT NOIR 2003 VQA Okanagan Valley: This is Tinhorn's best Pinot Noir. Earthy aromas, with bitter but thoroughly pleasant cherry and beetroot. 530709 (XD) 750 mL $16.95 Score: 89/100.

German Red Wine

KÖNIGSCHAFFHAUSEN PINOT NOIR 2003 QBA Baden, Konigschaffhauser Steingruble VC: The hot growing season of 2003 facilitated a level of ripeness in the vineyards of many regions, including Baden, that was almost unprecedented. Expect ripe strawberry, cherry and plum aromas and flavors. This Pinot would complement grilled salmon or veal chops. My note: A perfumed pinot I've loved year after year, redolent of ripe red fruit and happiness. 460410 (D) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 90/100.

German White Wine

G.H. VON MUMM RIESLING 2004 QbA Johannisberger Mittehölle, Estate Btld. VC: Pale straw color. Gentle aromas of orange blossom and peach with mineral notes. Charmingly light, creamy palate with a pleasant slight sweetness and a good long finish. My note: Lovely off-dry wine with fragrant peach aromas. 685453 (MD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 89/100. Best Value White Wine

Chilean Red Wine

PASO HONDO 'ALTA SELECCION' PINOT NOIR 2004 Single Vineyard, Estate Bottled, Bío Bío Valley (Viñedos de Canata) VC: Pinot Noir is not about intensity or in-your-face fruit, it is about nuance of flavor, finesse and elegant tannins. For this reason, Pinot Noir is great with food. Chilean producers, such as Viñedos de Canata, have found the perfect cool climate area in the south's Bío Bío Valley. Here, they can get bright cherry, blueberry and raspberry aromas and flavors that are beautifully balanced by crisp acids and ripe tannins. Enjoy this example with calf's liver, roasted vegetables, gnocchi with mushroom sauce or seafood risotto. My note: Generous red fruit and juicy mouth-watering goodness. 685925 (D) 750 mL $16.95 Score: 90/100. Best Value Red Wine

VIÑA SEÑA 'ARBOLEDA' CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2002 Maipo Valley VC: Medium deep burgundy red color with aromas of cassis, berries and chocolate. On the palate it is quite dry with a nice balance between crisp acids, medium tannins and fruit. It is medium-bodied with an elegant finish. Enjoy with veal medallions in red wine sauce. My note: Lovely, juicy and balanced. Big black fruit. Great price. 606764 (XD) 750 mL $17.95 Score: 90/100.

Spanish Red Wine

MIGUEL TORRES 'MAS BORRAS' PINOT NOIR 2004 DO Penedès VC: Fifty percent of this vintage of 'Mas Borras' was matured for 12 months in new French oak barrels. It should show pretty cherry, smoke and spice aromas and flavors. On the palate, expect it to be silky and balanced. This is a wine that can be enjoyed tonight with medium-flavored beef dishes or cellared for 3+ years. My note: This is a cross-dressing pinot trying to pretend it's a cabernet but I love it. Who's to judge really, how we express ourselves when the pleasure is abundant? Full-bodied, deep, rich and oaky, this is drop-dead gorgeous. Black heart. 673483 (XD) 750 mL $25.95 Score: 91/100. Favorite Red Wine

Spanish Rosé

SEGURA VIUDAS VIÑA HEREDAD ROSADO 2005 DO Penedès VC: A blend of 45% Garnacha, 35% Tempranillo and 20% Cariñena, this rosé is elegant, soft and very fresh with the bright fruit tones balanced by crisp acidity. Enjoy it as an aperitif or with summer salads, simply prepared fish or seafood dishes. My note: Lovely, dry with raspberries on the nose. 680918 (D) 750 mL $11.95 Score: 87/100.

South African Red Wine

DELHEIM SHIRAZ 2003 WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch: Purply and fun, with good-natured tannins and an oaky down-home attitude. Juicy beauty beside the barbecue. 959080 750 mL $19.95 Score: 89/100.

Italian Red Wine

'MEMORIA' PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA 2003 DOC (Consorzio Prod. Vini e Mosti Rossi Soc. Coop.) VC: Primitivo is the name of a grape grown in the Puglia region in southern Italy. This wine is perfect for a lasagna or pizza dinner with friends. Impress your friends by telling them that through DNA 'fingerprinting' it has been determined that Primitivo is essentially the same grape as California's Zinfandel. My note: Simple and delicious. You won't remember it the next day but boy will you have fun drinking it the night before. 687210 (D) 750 mL $12.95 Score: 86/100.

RUBINO MARMORELLE 2004 IGT Salento VC: The Marmorelle is a blend of indigenous grapes Negroamaro (85%) and Malvasia Nera (15%). Expect aromas of plum and blueberry with just a hint of spice in this ripe, softly tannic wine. My note: Simple and rustic, with swash-bucking deep red fruit. Your wallet laughs in the face of escalating wine prices. 730077 (D) 750 mL $13.95 Score: 86/100.

BAGLIO DEI MONACI 'DUCCARA' NERO D'AVOLA 2004 IGT Sicilia VC: 100% pure Nero d'Avola. Mid ruby color. A pleasing bouquet of plum/cherry compote with a note of tar. This dry, medium-bodied wine is supple, round and creamy on the palate. Enjoy with sausages and pork chops off the grill. My note: Round with vivacious full-bodied fun. 687905 (D) 750 mL $20.95 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.)

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Copyright © 2006 by Natalie MacLean. All rights reserved. Please ask permission of the author before copying or using this material.