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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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On Montepulciano

You might have remembered me waxing poetically (or otherwise) about Montepulciano. No not the town in Tuscany but the grape variety. I really think that this is the greatest “undiscovered” grape variety in all of Italy. It has everything, Sangiovese’s focus and structure, Cabernet’s ease of growing, Pinot Noir’s subtlety and complexity, Grenache’s fleshy nature, Syrah’s spice and yes just about anything good you can imagine. However for “ever” most of the grapes efforts went into Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from co-ops, gigantic, socialistic, low quality driven, and high quantity asking varieties. So if you have ever had one of those Supermarket versions please forget about it! I’m talking about the real Montepulciano, great wines, with terroir, focus, intrigue, body and they are sensational!! Here are two that I think are superb for both price points. I’ll tell you a little story to introduce this wine. My Girlfriend, who is in the wine business, never gives me a fraction of an inch in regards to any wine I propose we try, let alone an Italian wine! She started drinking some sparkling wine but I felt I needed a red wine; it was one of those days. She eyed me carefully as I opened this wine (only after pouring her sparkling wine before, of course) the 2004 Pasetti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo $13.99 was just unbelievably focused, aromatic, full of bright spicy flavors, with a great finish… it tasted like a 1999 Brunello. She (my Girlfriend) asked to taste from my glass and as she did her eyes opened very wide and said “WOW, that is really good… is it Sangiovese”? I said almost, it feels like that, she said, “don’t tell me it is….what $30 or $35”? And I said, no my dearest (I call her Carina) only $13.99 @ K&L! (I suffered greatly for that my friends) Anyway I was instructed to buy 6 bottles because it was such a tremendous bargain. The moral of this story is, even for those who are not inherently Italian wine fans like me this wine is truly stunning. It will continue to improve for a couple of years and be on its drinking plateau through 2014. Have it with rotisserie chicken, rich pasta or just in a glass with your significant looking over your shoulder. Frequently I get surprised by wines from producers I have never heard of before! It is one of the great pleasures of the Italian wine business that one doesn’t get to experience in Bordeaux, where every estate is already known and predictable. Italy is anything but predictable! I tasted the 2000 Bucciacatino Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Stilla Rubra" $34.99 with two very attractive young sales ladies (a continual problem in the wine business) and was really impressed. Lot’s of “expensive” wine these days has fancy winemakers ladling the wine from small French oak barrels into the bottle, with luscious, sweet fruit and residual toasty vanillin flavors, the Wine Spectator profile. This wine however is down home rustic! It reminds me of the Great Valentini Montepulciano which if you aren’t familiar with you should be and are generally $80+. This wine is really great, it has body, depth, power, complexity and shows its best when it has been open in a decanter for about 6+ hours! This wine feels like a Rhone wine, that fullness in the mouth, breadth, richness, cheek stretching but at the same time it has Brunello like length, focus, complexity and a finish that is endless. Can this wine be this good? Am I pulling your leg? No! this is really dynamite wine capable of aging for another decade + easily but you need to try it now so you can experience the real flavors of a real wine. Trust me on this, it is great. Greg St.Clair P.S. A summertime tip, don’t be afraid to put your red wine in your refrigerator to get it to “cellar temperature”. Red wine that is too warm just will lose the fruit focus!

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