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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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Thursday
Feb162006

March into Spring with Champagne!

Now that the winter thaw has started, it is time to celebrate. So, pop a bottle or two of Champagne. Heck! At these prices, buy a case! To start with, we have the ultra low-priced Ariston Carte Blanche Brut ($22.99). The grapes that make up this lovely wine are from the steep, sunny slopes of Brouillet. This results in riper fruit. A rich soil of shellfish fossils provides minerality and depth in the final blend, which consists of 40% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier. In the nose, you will find pistachios, brioche, red fruits and just the faintest hint of coconut. On the palate, lemon curd and custard come out in the forefront. These flavors are followed by red plum and currant fruit. Roasted nuts round out the finish. This newest incarnation of Carte Blanche has smaller bubbles and less yeast than the previous blend. A perfect match for brie and other creamy cheeses as well as a pan-seared whitefish crusted with almonds. Second on this month’s list, is the Tarlant Brut Zero ($26.99). The current trend of Ultra-Brut, no dosage (no sugar added) Champagne is at its apex with this wine. A blend of 1/3 each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier with fruit from hillsides in Oeuilly in the Valley of the Marne. Soils in the area are a mix of chalk, sand, limestone and sparnacien (chalk and clay). The final blend is from the 1998, 1999 and 2000 vintage, which was bottled in July, 2003. A fantastic nose of tangerines, stone fruits and minerals. In the mouth, citrus fruit, nectarine, lime and hazelnuts. This wine absolutely begs to be served with oysters! Another bonus is that the Tarlant family does not advertise, is that their Champagnes are organic! —Scott Beckerley

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