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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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Champagne Friday: Champagne Emergency!

Good news is often unexpected, and Champagne fans are often caught without a cold bottle of the good stuff on hand. This week for Champagne Friday I talk about chilling bottles of Champagne quickly, and some of the pitfalls to avoid when doing so. If you have ice, or live near by a place that sells some, properly chilled Champagne is never more than 15 minutes away.

Here are a few of my favorites for chilling down in a hurry:

Franck Bonville "Prestige" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne $44.99: The bottle that we chilled and enjoyed in the video above is a great one for any spontaneous Champagne moment. The package has changed since we took the picture for the website in the link above- but the wine is still the same. This is stunningly rich Blanc de Blancs, with lots of rich fresh cream, yet it still has the minerality and zing that one would expect from an all-Chardonnay Champagne. The Bonville family were grape growers in the Côte de Blancs until after World War II, when they began making Champagne themselves from the fruit grown in the Grand Cru villages of Avize and Oger. The domaine, a true family enterprise, is now in the third generation. It’s run by Olivier Bonville, who grew up in the business working side-by-side with his parents, Ingrid and Gilles. Today the estate covers 20 hectares (45 acres) in the Grand Cru villages of Cramant, Avize and Oger. These exclusive Grand Cru vineyards guarantee the highest quality fruit. The vines are cultivated with respect for the environment and the vinification is done with the greatest possible care, with long aging before bottling. We have been importing Champagne Franck Bonville directly for many years now and have thus earned an allocation of this small-production cuvée to share with you. The current batch is a blend of the fantastic 2006, 2005 & 2004 vintages, all sourced from old, mid-slope vines in the Grand Cru villages of Oger and Cramant. The vine age averages over 50, with no vines under 40 years in the blend.

Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99: This fantastic Champagne comes from the villages of Pierry and Moussy in the sud-Epernay sub region of Champagne. Bruno Michel has been organic since 1999 and five of his 37.5 acres are farmed biodynamically. This Champagne is composed of 53% Meunier and 47% Chardonnay, 70% from the 2006 harvest, 14% from the 2005 harvest and 16% from 2004. It is one of the most balanced Champagnes in our stock, with an effortless quality that is almost impossible to describe or resist. It has great toast and spiced apple aromas and flavors and a crisp dry finish. It is dosed at a very light nine grams per liter.

-Gary Westby

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