Wine Picks for October 28

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California Red Wine

DUCKHORN VINEYARDS MERLOT 2003 Napa Valley: A spectacular merlot, though pricey. Rich, luxurious aromas of black fruit. Full-bodied. 992529 (XD) 750 mL $74.95 Score: 90/100.

MACROSTIE PINOT NOIR 2003 Carneros, Sonoma County: Redolent of ripe cherries and berry fruit. A whiff of chocolate on the nose for extra richness. Oh happy day: it comes in the half bottle size so you can take good care of yourself when you're on your own: 674903 (D) 375 mL $17.95. The full-bottle size: 674911 (D) 750 mL $33.95 Score: 90/100

RODNEY STRONG 'ESTATE VINEYARDS' PINOT NOIR (V) Russian River Valley, Sonoma County VC: This silky smooth wine shows why the Russian River Valley is one of the 'go to' regions for quality Pinot Noir in California. Seductive aromas of cherry, plum, cinnamon, and oak spice replay on the medium full-bodied palate. Dry and well-balanced, it's soft and smooth with a peppery finish. If you're not a Pinot lover, you're about to become one. My note: Great value from this consistently good producer. Medium-bodied and silky with ripe red fruit. 954834 (D) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 89/100.

SEBASTIANI PINOT NOIR 2004 Sonoma Coast VC: The Sonoma Coast is the largest and coolest portion of Sonoma county. With its morning fog and cool ocean breezes and warm afternoons make it perfectly suited for properly ripening Pinot Noir. Look for cherry, floral and a hint of beetroot in this balanced, structured effort. Match it with baked pasta dishes or ratatouille. My note: Medium-bodied, velvet texture. Ripe red fruit with aromas of chocolate. 014233 (D) 750 mL $24.95 Score: 90/100. Favorite Red Wine

BERINGER ZINFANDEL 2004 'Premier Vineyard Selection', California VC: This crowd-pleasing Zin sports aromas of plum, sweet cherry and milk chocolate. Dry and medium-bodied, its round ripe fruity flavors are balanced by a seam of acidity and soft tannins, leading to a medium finish. A terrific value that would be perfect with some smoky grilled pork chops. My note: Terrific value. Delicious, lip-smacking goodness. Bursting with berries. Drink with hamburgers, chicken and pork. 567453 (XD) 750 mL $15.95 Score: 88/100.

JOSEPH PHELPS 'PASTICHE' RED 2004 California VC: Inspired by the multi-variety red wines of the Southern Rhône winemaker Craig Williams concocted this potpourri blend using 51% Grenache, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Syrah, 4% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Pinot Noir. The result of this mélange of varieties is a well-balanced wine with forward aromas and concentrated fruit flavors and spicy notes wrapped in velvety tannins. My note: Full-bodied, round and fascinatingly different from most Californian reds. Drink with hearty meat dishes. 970863 (XD) 750 mL $22.95 Score: 90/100.

Argentinean Red Wine

ALTA VISTA GRANDE RESERVE MALBEC 2003 'Terroir Selection', Estate Btld, Mendoza: Fantastic value! Loaded with blackberries and other red-black fruit. Touch tannic so decants for two hours or cellar until 2008. Drink with hearty meat dishes. 686626 (XD) 750 mL $18.95 Score: 90/100.

French Red Wine

CHÂTEAU DE FONBEL 2004 AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru (Famille Vauthier, Prop.): Terrific value for this region. Black fruit, smoke and a touch tannic. Full-bodied. Pair with steak, stew or lamb. Drink 2006-2010. 015800 (XD) 750 mL $26.95 Score: 90/100.

CHÂTEAU DE SAINTE-GEMME 2000 AC Haut-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois: Lovely balance and elegance. Medium- to full-bodied. Perfect companion to many dishes such as steak, lamb, venison and game meats. 994343 (XD) 750 mL $32.95 Score: 90/100.

Italian Red Wine

ZENATO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2001 DOC: One of my favorite amarones for a long time. Aromas of cherry liqueur, tar, smoke, coffee and leather. Dense and opulent. Full-bodied doesn't begin to describe it. Drink with big meat dishes. 413179 (XD) 750 mL $42.95 Score: 91/100.

Spanish Red Wine

JULIAN CHIVITE 'GRAN FEUDO' RESERVA 2001 DO Navarra VC: A crowd-pleasing blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is now here in a new vintage. Expect cherry and plum aromas and a lively creaminess on the palate. An excellent match for that late-season barbecue of ribs, gourmet sausages and hamburgers. My note: Enticing aromas of leather and dried cherries. Great value. 479014 (XD) 750 mL $14.95 Score: 89/100. Best Value Red Wine

VIÑA ALBALI GRAN RESERVA 1998 DO Valdepeñas VC: A great choice for roast leg of lamb, the lively aromas of strawberry jam, caramel, leather and new oak lead to a palate that is dry and velvety at the outset, but with a nice hint of tannin grip coming on to balance the finish. Medium-bodied, the finish is long. My note: Rich and full-bodied with aromas of chocolate and dark red fruit. 009621 (D) 750 mL $16.95 Score: 90/100.

German White Wine

DR. LOOSEN RIESLING KABINETT 2004 Moselle-Saar-Ruwer VC: Musky-spice notes layered over ripe pear and apple fruit and smoky, slate driven aromas. Its intensely focused with a mouthwatering long finish. My note: Soft and floral with aromas of ripe peaches. Drink with salads, seafood, chicken, pork and light curries. 927756 MD $23.95 Score: 89/100. Favorite White

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.

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