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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
Thursday
Aug032006

I Love # Two …

I would like to start with Ch. Léoville-Poyferre, St.-Julien, which was created from the division of the largest property (Lord Léovilles) in the Médoc at the time, early 1800s. You might know its more famous siblings: Léoville-Las-Cases and Léoville-Barton. They might be more famous but Léoville-Poyferre definitely has the quality that goes with its second growth title. 1993 Ch. Léoville-Poyferre, St-Julien 1.5L ($89.99) is one of the best steals we have in the store. The nose offers bright cherry as well as tobacco. There is certain dustiness to this wine, but what you remember is the elegance and length, and the acidity just carries this wine for ever. Speaking of Léovilles, let’s move to Léoville-Barton’s second wine: The 1998 Reserve de Léoville-Barton, St-Julien 1.5L ($64.99) is just perfect to pair with a nice fillet mignon, no sauce please. With no hard tannins, elegant red fruit, notes of pencil lead and still very youthful, it is waiting for you to grill that piece of beef with just salt and pepper. Voila! Perfect match. The 1996 Benjamin de Pontet, Pauillac ($21.99) is another fine example of a beautiful second wine (Pontet Canet’s). Opened for one hour, it reveals sweet berries and a nice mineral finish. This is a smart buy for consumption over the next five years. If you still don’t know what to get from the outstanding 2003 vintage, may I suggest the 2003 Duhart-Milon, Pauillac ($36.99). This estate has stepped up to the plate and delivered. Sweet dark berries, smoke, oak, One of their best ever. Cellar for 5-20 years. —Alexandre Brisoux

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Thursday
Aug032006

Spotlight on Wines with Class

Finesse, elegance, subtlety, refinement. You hear that about cars, but never burger joints. We say that about clothing, but not about monster trucks. Lemonade can’t have class, but wine can. Wine achieves class when it manages to balance contrasts; strength with grace, purity with complexity, richness with focus, as found in the following: Oregon wine country would not be what it is today without the influence of David Lett, owner and founder of Eyrie vineyard. Nicknamed Papa Pinot because of his trailblazing decision to plant pinot varietals in the mid 1960s, David’s wines are all superlative examples of refinement and elegance. The 2004 Eyrie Oregon Pinot Blanc ($15.99) shows freshness and purity, with stone fruit and a finely polished finish that reminds me why it’s good to taste wine for a living. I want to remind you of the 2002 Mount Eden “Cuvee Saratoga” Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.99). I know Shaun wrote it up last month, but I just wanted to tickle your procrastination muscle for a minute. From a super-fine, local producer who has old-world spirit running through its veins, this is sure to please the refined soul in all of us. Try it soon! It’s not often that while tasting a new Napa Cab we nod vehemently and say, “Sixty dollars?? Wow, now that is a knockout bottle, and well worth every penny. Sold!” Yet that is indeed what the entire staff said when they tried the 2003 Meander Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.99). Wonderfully created by soon-to-not-be-obscure Amy Aiken, whose passion for winemaking is clear. Without its chemistry-set quest for fancy slabs of oak and points, this Cabernet is a rare, stunning breed. It shows just how powerful, graceful and complex the pure expression of fermented grape juice can be. Go ahead and splurge, you’ve spent more for lesser wine. Enjoy! —Martin Reyes

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Thursday
Aug032006

Killer Wines from Blason for under $10

Giovanni Blason and his consulting enologist Andrea Rossi have turned this 37-acre property into a juggernaut of affordable quality wines. Giovanni and his wife Valentina own this winery in Gradisca d’Inzonzo, 3.75 miles from the Slovenian border and about 20 miles north of Trieste. Isonzo is where Silvio Jermann, one of Italy’s greatest white winemakers, hails from. This is the fourth vintage that we’ve been importing wines from Blason, wines that are getting 1 and 2 glasses from Gambero Rosso, Italy’s leading wine critic, for their quality and the fact that they cost one half of the price of many others that don’t get the same quality reviews. Let’s not even begin to talk about Santa Margherita. Mike Parres (who has not taken over the controls of the Redwood City Italian operations, as I have moved south to work on opening our new Hollywood location) and I visited Gradisca d’Isonzo last February. We were stunned to find out that all this time Blason has been winning awards, making wine that was absolutely delicious, always balanced and fresh. They did it without temperature controlled fermentation! All of the wines in the 2005 vintage benefited from temperature-controlled fermentation, the whites sur lie (that’s French… I’m sorry, you should learn the Italian sui leviti). It means on the lees with the dead yeast cells, which gives the possibility of more complexity. Enough of a preamble, let’s get to the wines! The 2005 Blason Pinot Grigio ($8.99) is the best Pinot Grigio Giovanni and Andrea have made to this day. The vines are maturing, and the addition of the temperature-controlled fermentation has added a level of spice to the already wonderful fruit, with body, freshness, balance, and well... it’s just damned refreshing. Last vintage we sold our 200-case allotment in 10 weeks. This year we’ve ordered 400 cases, but with the addition of our new Hollywood location this wine won’t be around by Christmas. Buy now! Generally I write about the easier-to-sell wines before the more difficult-to-figure-out. This time, I have to write about the 2005 Blason Cabernet Franc ($8.99). This one is so good you won’t believe it! The flavor just bursts out of the glass, spice laden, black pepper, red fruits, vivacious, fresh and curvy all at the same time, and at an unbelievable price. Please try this wine if you haven’t or even if you have had Italian Cabernet Franc. This is really wonderful to drink. Why the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio has become synonymous with white wine for Italy I don’t know. Maybe it sould have been Tocai Friulano instead. The 2005 Blason Tocai Friulano ($8.99) is rich, complex, spicy with hints of tarragon, body and balance. Just a really extraordinary balance of fruit, spice and drinkability. Perfect for your favorite fish dish, I like it with linguine and clams. In this vintage the 2005 Blason Sauvignon ($9.99) showed very well, complex, rich, spicy with wonderful Sauvignon character without going totally gooseberries. Fresh and lively, this shows incredible balance. The 2005 Blason Chardonnay ($9.99) is extremely fresh. Partial barrel fermentation gives it a slightly richer yet not woody character at all, still a delight to drink! —Greg St. Clair

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