Wine Picks for March 17, 2007

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Chilean Red Wine

CONCHA Y TORO MARQUES DE CASA CONCHA MERLOT 2004 DO Peumo, Rapel Valley: Powerful wine with bold black fruit aromas and chocolate. Big on every count: fruit, alcohol and taste. 939827 (XD) 750 mL $19.95 Score: 90/100.

California Red Wine

AU BON CLIMAT PINOT NOIR 2005 Santa Barbara County (Jim Clendenen): Perfectly calibrated wine with spicy red fruit, medium-bodied texture and a lovely long finish. 027417 (XD) 750 mL $28.95

Australian Red Wine

BALGOWNIE ESTATE SHIRAZ 2003 Bendigo, Victoria: Overtures of cabernet in this shiraz, not only from the classic cab aromas of blackcurrant and cassis, but also from the elegant structure. Full-bodied. 024646 (D) 750 mL $27.95 Score: 91/100.

BENWARIN SHIRAZ 2003 Hunter Valley, New South Wales VC: Benwarin is a relative newcomer in the Hunter Valley, but they have wasted no time in establishing themselves as a quality-driven producer. My note: A terrific full-bodied red with exotic aromas mulberry and blackberry. There's a lifted flavor in the mid-palate that's delicious. 022103 (D) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 90/100.

SKILLOGALEE BASKET PRESSED SHIRAZ 2003 Clare Valley, South Australia: A fun, juicy wine with mouth-watering flavors plums and berries. 022376 (XD) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 89/100.

TWO HANDS GNARLY DUDES SHIRAZ 2005 Barossa Valley, South Australia VC: This finely crafted Shiraz is from Two Hands Picture Series. The gnarly dudes in question are the rather fierce and twisted looking old vines from which the wine's fruit is sourced. Winemaker Matt Wenk has a well-deserved reputation for creating a tightly focused Shiraz that emphasizes the fruit while perfectly integrating the oak and tannins. This dude is ready to be enjoyed anytime over the next five years. My note: Lip-smacking delicious. This full-bodied wine has aromas of dark red fruit. I love the name ... makes me envision the winemakers as two laid back guys who are having too much fun with their wine. 660043 (XD) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 90/100.

Australian Rosé Wine

YERING STATION E.D. PINOT NOIR ROSÉ 2005 Extra Dry, Yarra Valley, Victoria: A lovely, balanced, dry rosé. Complex aromas of raspberries and strawberries. Drink with salmon, pâté and cold chicken. Sealed with a screwcap (yay!). 015545 (XD) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 90/100.

New Zealand White Wine

ASTROLABE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 Beacon Hill, Marlborough, South Island VC: The winery takes its name from what many consider to be the very first astronomical computer (its principles were first determined more than 2000 years ago). It was used to solve problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky. For example, in medieval times, an astrolabe could be used to determine the time of sunrise and sunset. My note: Good and grassy with zesty aromas of grapefruit and limes. 010421 (XD) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 89/100.

GRAVITAS SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 Marlborough, South Island: Refreshing lime notes. A bright and delicious wine. 020727 (XD) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 89/100.

New Zealand Red Wine

GRAVITAS PINOT NOIR 2005 Marlborough, South Island: The grapes for this wine are estate-grown and hand-picked. That care shows in the wine. It's full-bodied but not heavy. Lots of ripe plums and cherries in the aromas. 020719 (D) 750 mL $31.95 Score: 89/100.

South Africa White Wine

BELLINGHAM THE MAVERICK CHENIN BLANC 2005 WO Coastal Region: I don't find many chenin blancs to recommend, but this one is spectacular. It's creamy and round like a chardonnay (assisted no doubt by the 14.5 percent alcohol). Aromas of baked pie, smoke and vanilla. Balanced and lovely. 012724 (D) 750 mL $20.95 Score: 90/100.

French Red Wine

GÉRARD BERTRAND TERROIR SYRAH/CARIGNAN 2004 AC Minervois VC: A spectacular blend of Syrah and Carignan, the aromas suggest black cherry, garrigue, strawberry and new leather. The fruit is very well-supported by a seam of acid and fine-grained tannins. This medium full-bodied wine is a good match for lamb chops with rosemary and garlic. My note: Juicy dark red fruit aromas, full-bodied and smoky oak notes. This southern France produces wines of terrific value. 952804 (XD) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 88/100 Best Value Red Wine

MAS AMIEL NOTRE TERRE 2004 AC Côtes du Roussillon Villages VC: This blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah is aged for 12 months in oak, a small part of which is new. The resulting wine exhibits aromas of black cherry and cassis. It is a dry, full-flavored, lush wine that will match many flavorful meat dishes. My note: Aromas of chocolate and black fruit. Full-bodied and lusciously layered. 017418 (XD) 750 mL $21.95 Score: 89/100.

PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ SAINT-JOSEPH LE GRAND POMPÉE 2004 AC Rhone: Racy notes of lovely sour cherries, cedar and spice. Full-bodied and delicious. Get out of your rut of the same old wine with this one. 989277 (XD) 750 mL $28.95 Score: 90/100.

PERRIN & FILS VINSOBRES LES CORNUDS 2004 AC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages VC: The village of Vinsobres takes its name from a 17th century bishop from the area who said, "sober wine or wine of sobriety, take it soberly." The Perrins have 100 acres of vineyards here. My note: A fantastic wine for the money. Rich and full-bodied with wonderful aromas of dark red fruit and medium oak. 566844 (XD) 750 mL $17.95 Score: 89/100.

German White Wine

DOMDECHANT WERNER'SCHES RIESLING KABINETT 2004 Qmp, Hochheimer Hölle, Estate Btld. Rheingau: An intense wine with ripe aromas of peaches and pears. Voluptuous. 722413 (MD = medium dry) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 90/100. Favorite White Wine

Italian White Wine

LA VIS RITRATTI PINOT GRIGIO 2005 DOC Trentino VC: A crisp and well balanced crowd-pleaser, La Vis Ritratti Pinot Grigio is an excellent starter wine, or serve it with herb chicken or vegetarian stir-fries. The label is a reproduction of the 1891 painting by G. Segantini called Mezzogiorno Sulle Alpi. My note: I still don't get why pinot grisgio is one of the fastest growing white wines in North America ... maybe because it's generally so innocuous. This one however, is lovely. It's an elegant wine with pleasing aromas of white peaches. A mouth-watering acidity makes it a terrific partner to many dishes, such as seafood, salad, vegetarian, chicken and pasta. 020958 (XD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 89/100. Best Value White Wine

Italian Red Wine

GIACOMO ASCHERI BAROLO VIGNA DEI POLA 2001 DOCG Piedmont VC: Ascheri has found a beautiful compromise between the traditional school of long ageing in mature, large vats and the more modern techniques of using new oak barrels. They age the wines in a combination of both. After spending 4 months in stainless steel, the wines are then matured for 20 months in a 50/50 combination of seasoned and new Slavonian barrels. The final blend is allowed to meld for a further 10 months in steel and then 10 months in bottle. The resulting wine shows dried cherry, leather and plum aromas. On the palate it is dry with firm tannins surrounding the fruit. My note: A dry, mature tasting wine with aromas of dried fruit and leather. Drink now. 739920 (XD) 750 mL $39.95 Score: 90/100.

LA MASSA ROSSO 2004 IGT Tuscany (Giampaolo Motta) VC: La Massa is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese and Colorino. The result is a plum-, cherry-, spice- and vanilla-scented wine with a smooth mouthfeel and very good balance on the lingering finish. Enjoy with roast beef with all the trimmings. My note: Juicy and generous wine with complex layers. Decants for two hours. Drink 2007-2011. 021402 (XD) 750 mL $29.95 Score: 90/100.

VALPENTENA AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA FALASCO 2001 DOC Veneto: A gorgeous, full-bodied wine with deep and rich aromas of dark red fruit. Yet it's not too heavy or extracted. 922161 (XD) 750 mL $49.95 Score: 91/100. Favorite Red Wine

Spanish Red Wine

BAJOZ TINTO CRIANZA 2003 DO Toro VC: Made with Tinta de Toro, the regional name for Tempranillo, this wine offers aromas of blackberry, spice, vanilla and coffee beans. It is well-structured and fleshy, making it a great match for braised meat dishes. My note: Lovely! Full-bodied with aromas of dark red fruit and chocolate. Decant for at least an hour. 930438 (XD) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 89/100.

MARQUÉS DE CÁCERES TINTO RESERVA 2000 DOC Rioja: A classic rioja with aromas of dark red fruit. Full-bodied and oaky. Decant for two to three hours.
702761 (XD) 750 mL $29.95 Score: 89/100.

Canadian Red Wine

MIKE WEIR ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2005 VQA Niagara Peninsula VC: Last year, wine lovers and golf fanatics alike were duly impressed with the debut wines of Canadian golf superstar Mike Weir. Now in its second vintage, this Pinot Noir from Weir and his winemaking partners at Creekside Estates is poised to build on the buzz of the first round. My note: I love the sour cherry aromas and the complexity of this medium-bodied wine. It has spectacular potential to improve with successive vintages given the care that's been taken in its making this year. The bonus is that the proceeds go the Mike Weir Foundation, which supports children's charities. 000075 (XD) 750 mL $21.95 Score: 90/100.

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.