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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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Archives
Sunday
Sep032006

Montalcino's Ferrero

I’m proud to introduce the latest addition to our portfolio of Montalcino producers, Ferrero. Claudia Ferrero’s small property is situated between Argiano and Banfi’s Poggio all’Oro vineyard in Montalcino’s southwestern corner. Claudia married Pablo Hari onetime Banfi winemaker and now for many years the head winemaker at Col d’Orcia. Pablo has his hands full with Col d’Orcia, yet when he gets home on the weekend there’s a “honey do” list for him to attend to. I met Pablo Hari while visiting Col d’Orcia in 2005 and liked him immediately. He is calm, confident with a hidden wry wit. He suggested that the next time I came to Montalcino I taste his wife’s wine; she was looking for an importer. Mike Parres and I visited Montalcino last February. We had so many wines to taste and estates to visit that we convinced each other beforehand that the last thing we needed was to import another Brunello producer no matter how good the deal. We would try to back out gracefully from any offers, stating we just had too many wineries from Montalcino. Pablo spied me from across the hall, sauntered over and asked me if we had tasted his wife’s wines yet. Not yet we told him, next on our agenda. Mike and I looked at each other once again, preparing to say “No” but gently. We met Claudia and tasted the 2004 Ferrero Rosso di Montalcino ($15.99). Mike and I were both initially stunned by the richness, texture and forward fruit in the wine. We both liked it immensely. We then tasted the Brunello. It was truly a stunning crowd-pleasing wine we were sure most anyone in California would like. Carefully preparing questions so that we could issue our no’s even though we both liked the wines, the thought of another inventory meeting with Clyde loomed larger. I asked how much the wines were, and had to ask again, the noise in this hall was considerable, and I couldn’t quite believe what I had heard. I asked Claudia once again, “Quanto?” I turned and looked at Mike and translated the figure. The stunned Mr. Parres looked me in the eyes and gave me the famous “Two Thumbs Up,” meaning you’d better buy this stuff. Well, he knew he wouldn’t have to meet with Clyde! The 2001 Ferrero Brunello di Montalcino ($29.99) comes from a tiny 500-case production. The wine is full of lush, broad strokes of chocolate and black cherry that gently layer your palate with a velvety texture that coaxes warmth and roundness out of the wine and into your mouth. This gorgeous sangiovese is full-bodied, ripe and with structure that shows underneath but in a smooth, sensual way, no pressure or force. Strong, soft shoulders hold up the prodigious weight effortlessly. This wine is sultry. I feel like I’m in a harem when I drink it. It pours across your palate as if you’re sliding around on a bed of satin cushions. Although certainly capable of an extended life, it is remarkably drinkable now and will continue to improve for years to come. Trust me, you’ll love it. —Greg St. Clair

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Sunday
Sep032006

Bearden’s Bordeaux Picks

We start off this month with three wines from the remarkable portfolio of Bordeaux properties owned and operated by Stephan Neipperg. 2000 Château d’Aiguilhe, Cotes d’Castillon ($38.99) The owner of the luxury cuvee La Mondotte has spared no expense in producing one of the finest wines from the Cotes d’Castillon. This beauty starts out with aromas of char, ripe plums, smoke and vanilla oak. The middle is packed with rich boysenberry and blackberry fruit which completely smothers the tannin lying underneath. There is even a hint of tar on the long, deep finish. This is flashy but serious wine. 2003 Canon-La-Gaffeliere, St-Emilion ($52.99) This ultra-rich wine is surprisingly approachable. A creamy, plush attack of dark, ripe fruits turns soft and velvety in the sweet, silky middle, which displays no hard edges whatsoever. The ripe tannins are hardly noticeable. 2003 Clos de L’Ortatoire, St-Emilion ($35.99) This is always the most elegant of Stephan Neipperg’s properties and one of my favorites. Beautiful perfume here with aromas of crushed flowers and soft spice. Both red and black fruits are present in the smooth, seamless body of this classy and proportioned wine. With air the long, complex finish picks up added nuances and seems to go on and on. This is fantastic Juice! 2001 Larrivet Haut Brion, Pessac-Leognan ($29.99) This restored property adjacent to Haut-Bailly has been on a roll for the last decade. This is lively with lots of ripe, dark cherry fruit and complex hints of tobacco, smoke and spicy herds. The crisp, seamless middle is packed with sweet currants and leads to an elegant finish of earth and mineral. Above all, the excellent acidity lends a sense of freshness and purity to this fantastic bargain. 2000 Grand Enclos du Cerons Blanc (375ml $12.99) Ceron is an area just to the north of Sauternes and Barsac. Not overly rich or sweet, this 100% semillon is aged in oak for 18 months to add to the lively, tropical botrytised fruit. This bargain is zesty and complex with citrus, honey and orange flavors that match well with cheese or fruit-based desserts. —Steve Bearden

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Sunday
Sep032006

2003 Bordeaux: An Eccentric Vintage

The definition of eccentric is unconventional, especially in a whimsical way, and I can think of nothing better to describe the 2003 vintage. The wines are different yes, but endearing to all but the staunchest of Bordeaux devotees. In fact, I would say that 2003 is actually a great vintage for the uninitiated, the perfect place to start the love affair that so many of us have developed. The 2003 Château Léonie, Graves ($23.99) is the perfect wine for those fans of California wines looking for something different to whet their palate. Juicy raspberry ripeness dominates the nose while the supple, creamy texture accents ample red berry fruit found on the palate. This is an unabashed 2003 fruit bomb that will surely turn heads, and it is easy on the wallet. While nowhere near as jammy, the 2003 Château Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux ($32.99) will be an easy transition for those used to drinking big California Cabernets. Coffee and vanilla ooze out of the glass and straight into your olfactories. This wine is packed full of the black cherry fruit and coconut spice so often found in the big names of California wine fame. Another stylish red from the same commune is the 2003 du Tertre, Margaux ($29.99). Most Margaux’s are about texture recently, and this wine is no exception. This will coat your mouth with a glycerin-like creaminess and all the milk chocolate covered cherry fruit you could ever want. A perfect cocktail Bordeaux. The 2003 Château Meyney, St-Estèphe ($24.99) is a bit more traditional, showing wet stone and rare steak qualities throughout. Bolstered by black currant and tobacco, this has a more tannic grip that will give it some longevity in the cellar. Finally, there is the 2003 Reserve de la Comtesse, Pauillac ($31.99), the stunner of the vintage. Layered black cherry puree and black tea leaves fight for dominance. Hard edged now, this will be fantastic with some aeration or age. A wine that is a perfect combination of vintage and house style. —Bryan Brick

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