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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Tuesday
Jan242006

Two Perfect Sparklers for Valentine’s Day

While you are looking for the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day, consider the following two Champagnes for enjoying a romantic dinner or for presenting as a memorable gift. For those of you on a budget (hey, you’re giving diamonds as well), the Launois “Cuvee Reserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs ($25.99) is a perfect choice. This bubbly comes from Mesnil, the home of Krug’s Clos de Mesnil and the world-renowned house of Salon. So, obviously, quality is the trademark of this southernmost Grand Cru village. The Launois is made entirely of chardonnay with 90% of the juice from the 2000 vintage and 10% from the 1998 reserve. Stainless steel vinification makes for clean fruit with a hint of minerality. A nose of pastry dough and wet stones. Rich pear fruit with a touch of key lime are the principal flavors with a finish of crème brulee and toasted almonds. Four years ageing on the lees brings richness and length. The Franck Bonville Cuvee Les Belles Voyes ($59.99) is a top of the line bubbly from Olivier Bonville. The Belles Voyes vineyard is in Oger and is miniscule, at 1 3/4 acres. Like the Launois, this wine is all chardonnay (in this case, from the 1997 harvest). All fermentation and ageing is done in old oak casks. A wonderful nose of vanilla and subtle yeast. Flavors of golden pears, cream, brioche and pine nuts. Creamy and full-bodied with a slight, elegant hint of toasted oak on the finish. One of the most lush and rich Champagnes that we currently have in stock A great effort of winemaking, and tough competition for wines selling at three times the price! —Scott Beckerley

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