© 2006 by Randy Buckner
We travel the globe this month, from Washington and California to Australia and New Zealand, from Chile and South Africa to Italy and Portugal.
As usual, the cool fall weather brings out the big reds, which make up almost two-thirds of the reviews this month. Light the fireplace; put your feet up; pour yourself a hearty red to go with that steaming bowl of beef stew, and enjoy the moment.
Another 100 new and current releases are presented for your inspection. The dual rating system evaluates quality (the first number) and value (the second) on a 100-point scale. No wines scoring below 80 points are listed. All prices are the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Vendor prices are often less expensive. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.
2004 Bogle, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $11. Spicy oak, tobacco and black cherries unfold on the nose and palate. Tannins are modest; the acidity is bright; 83/85.
2003 Brassfield, Cabernet Sauvignon, High Valley, California, $40, 474 cases. You'll find a purple/red coloration, with a mélange of aromas - blackberries, herbs, leather and a hint of violets. The wine is full and rich in the mouth, but firm, drying tannins detract; 85/84.
2003 Chateau Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $22, 52,800 cases. This deeply-hued Cab radiates plums, black cherries and light oak nuances. It is well structured, with supple tannins and a modest finish; 85/85.
2003 Chimney Rock, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California, $52, 11,000 cases. This Cab is medium to full on the palate, with nice balance of components. Rich black cherry and tobacco leaf notes sing. Cellar for 3-5 years before opening a bottle; 87/86.
2003 Cosentino Winery, M. Coz, Napa Valley, California, $120, 524 cases. Sweet vanilla, tobacco and cedar augment the blackberry aromas and flavors. The wine is smooth and generous, with fine-grained tannins; 88/86.
2003 Franciscan, Magnificat, Napa Valley, California, $45, 14,563 cases. The nose and palate of this Bordeaux blend are almost obscured by the heavy oak. Black fruits and dark chocolate struggle for attention. Tannins are generous but supple; 84/82.
2003 Frei Brothers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Alexander Valley, California, $35, 4,391 cases. The wine is deeply hued, radiating black fruit and American oak on the nose, whereas the palate is dominated by lush berry fruit and violets. The tannins are firm but rounded; 88/88.
2003 Guenoc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, California, $14, 5,233 cases. Black currants, vanilla and smoke unfold on the nose and palate. Made in a medium-bodied style, the tannins are firm but supple; 83/84.
2005 King Fish, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $6, 15,000 cases. Delicato is behind this wine. It's a soft, simple, fruity quaffer that is easy on the wallet, with blackberries, violets and oak showcased; 81/81.
2003 Lake Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $22, 3,000 cases. Aromas and flavors reveal black cherries, chocolate and smoky cedar notes. The tannins are firm and drying which detracts from the overall impression; 84/84.
2005 Lindemans, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa, $8. A pleasant mix of sour cherries and aged wood highlights the nose. It's very fruity - cherries and berries prevail - with more of the aged wood notes. Good value; 84/88.
2003 Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $24, 57,364 cases. This deeply-colored wine radiates black cherries, plums and toasty oak throughout - tannins are firm and drying; 83/83.
2003 Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Alexander Valley, California, $35, 4,391 cases. Black fruit aromas are augmented by licorice, spice and aged cedar notes. Full on the palate, the flavors mirror the nose. You'll find a hint of violets on the finish; 86/86.
2005 McWilliam's, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $12, 115,000 cases. Bold blackberry fruit, mocha and vanilla assail the senses. This is a hard one to beat at 12 bucks - there's loads of berry fruit, bright acids and easy tannins; 85/88.
2003 Michael-David Winery, Earthquake Cab, Lodi, California, $28. Spicy oak battles the cherry fruit and chocolate nuances for dominance. It's easy to drink, but it is designed for oak lovers only; 82/82.
2003 Mount Veeder, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $40, 19,000 cases. Lots of smoky oak and very ripe black fruits intermingle on the nose. It's ripe and oaky in the mouth, with firm drying tannins; 84/82.
2002 Preston, Mom's Cab, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17. Sold only at the winery. Fruity and oaky on the nose, the wine speaks of plums and black cherries, finishing with chewy tannins; 81/81.
2003 Robert Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $125. The aromas and flavors display a heady mix of black fruits, chocolate, smoky oak and dried herbs. It's elegant on the entry, but then firm, drying tannins exert their presence; 86/84.
2003 St. Clement, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $36, 4,829 cases. Spicy oak overwhelms the cherry and rhubarb scents. Fortunately the oak is not as prevalent on the palate - you'll find plenty of cherries and berries to fend off the barrel spice; 85/85.
2002 Sandhill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington, $25. Almost black in the glass, this wine displays black cherries, licorice, herbs and toasty oak across the board. It is elegant on the entry, but the fine-grained tannins form up on the finish - age for three to five years minimum; 88/89.
2002 Trinchero, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewelling Vineyard, Napa Reserve, California, $50, 672 cases. The nose speaks of cassis, dried herbs and French oak. Elegant, with all parts singing in harmony. Tannins are approachable now. Think prime rib; 90/90.
2002 Trinchero, Cabernet Sauvignon, Main Street Vineyard, Napa Reserve, California, $45, 1,666 cases. This deeply-hued wine gives off aromas of blackberries, plums, toasty oak and dill spice. Tannins are well managed, with a nice acidic backbone. It is full and lush, with flavors echoing the nose; 88/88.
2002 Valley of the Moon, Cuvée de la Luna, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 2,700 cases. This Bordeaux blend displays blackberry, blueberry and cigar leaf aromas. Sporting lovely balance, the wine is fruity and juicy in the mouth - break out the porterhouses; 88/88.
2004 Veramonte, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserva, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $10, 10,000 cases imported. Smooth and easy to drink, this wine offers a lot of black cherry and blackberry fruit for ten bucks; 84/87.
2005 Chateau Souverain, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $17, 60,300 cases. Fresh-sliced melons, citrus and oak spice aromas repeat on the palate. This crisp middleweight is food friendly - pair with fried chicken and cream gravy; 87/89.
2004 Chateau Souverain, Chardonnay, Winemaker's Reserve, Russian River Valley, California, $30, 835 cases. Crème brulee and French oak highlight the nose. Full, rich and creamy in the mouth, the wine maintains its sense crispness. Complex flavors linger for some time on the finish; 89/89.
2004 Cuvaison, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $25. Butterscotch and stone fruit highlights the nose and palate. The wine is very soft, creamy and buttery for those who like this style; 84/84.
2005 Franciscan, Chardonnay, Oakville Estate, Napa Valley, California, $17, 75,000 cases. Toasty oak, coconut, lemon creams and green apple spice notes carry throughout this soft, creamy Chardonnay. There's a slightly bitter edge on the finish; 84/84.
2004 Frei Brothers, Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River Valley, California, $20, 80,000 cases. You'll find a crisp, fruity, buttery wine, with lemon curd, peach and barrel notes adding to the roasted cashews; 86/86.
2004 Grgich, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $38, 25,475 cases. French oak, hazelnuts and butter commingle on the nose. Full, rich and creamy in the mouth - this is a very well-made wine for the genre; 90/90.
2005 Guenoc, Chardonnay, Lake County, California, $12, 13,500 cases. Toasty oak, peaches, pears and buttery nuances run the length of this soft, straightforward Chardonnay; 84/85.
2006 Lindemans, Chardonnay, South Africa, $8. Straw colored, with a green tinge, this value wine is crisp, creamy and fruity, with tropical fruit, vanilla and a touch of oak; 84/87.
2005 Michael-David, 7 Heavenly Chards, Lodi, California, $17. Butterscotch, pears and spicy oak dominate the aromas, whereas oak wins out on the palate. Crisp and buttery on the finish; 81/81.
2004 Preston, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12. The wine is crisp and buttery, with oak spice and peaches vying for supremacy - the oak wins; 80/80.
2004 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay, Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $35. Generous toasty oak, apple and nectarine aromas abound. Made in a classic California style, the wine is well balanced, creamy and fruity; 88/88.
2005 St. Clement, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $17, 9,267 cases. Tropical fruit, pears and lemon drops are upfront, whereas toasty, leesy notes become more evident on the finish. Nicely balanced; 87/87.
2005 Stags' Leap, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $28. Very crisp and creamy in the mouth, the wine is fruit forward, with well-integrated oak. Peaches, spice and tropicals prevail; 88/88.
2005 Trinchero, Chardonnay, Vista Montone Vineyard, Napa Reserve, California, $25, 3,950 cases. This light-gold Chardonnay radiates aromas of lemons, pears, toasty oak and butter in the classic California style. Creamy, with nice balance, you'll find complexity of flavors on the moderate finish; 86/86.
2003 Avignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, $22, 7,000 cases. Medium bodied, with soft acids and silky tannins. Cherries, wormwood and violets carry the length of the wine; 88/88.
2004 Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico RS, Tuscany, Italy, $15, 16,000 cases. Black fruit aromas with a dash of pepper radiate from this garnet-colored wine. Light and airy, it is easy in the mouth, with well-harnessed tannins; 84/84.
2003 San Polo, Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, $25, 1,796 cases. The nose is a mélange of scents - new leather, cherries and white pepper. Elegant in the mouth, the wine is very ripe and fruity, with firm but forgiving tannins; 87/87.
2002 Alpha Domus, The Navigator, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, $20, 2,200 cases. A Merlot- predominant Bordeaux blend, with tart plums, berries and aged leather running the length of the wine - a little horse blanket to boot; 85/85.
2004 Kenwood, Merlot, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $25, 6,200 cases. Perfect foil for a grilled T-bone, the blue and black fruit is augmented by tobacco leaf nuances. The wine is full and tart, with well-managed tannins; 87/87.
2004 Kenwood, Merlot, Reserve, Sonoma Valley, California, $25, 2,100 cases. Plums, blueberries and vanilla underscore this full, fruity wine. Supple tannins make it easy to approach now; 87/87.
2004 Kenwood, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $17, 43,000 cases. This elegant middleweight is fruity, crisp and easy to drink right now for the plum, cranberry and sweet oak flavors; 86/87.
2003 King Fish, Merlot, California, $6, 14,000 cases. Black cherry and American oak aromas are followed by crisp, straightforward cherry and plum flavors. Quaff with a grilled burger; 80/80.
2005 Lindemans, Merlot, South Africa, $8. Cherries, Baker's chocolate and aged wood notes unfold on the nose. While fruity in the mouth, there are prominent wood notes not unlike the smell of an old chest of drawers; 83/83.
2004 Primus, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $17, 30,000 cases. Here's a dandy Merlot-predominant blend at a killer price. Plums, blueberries, tobacco and dried herbs highlight the nose. It is full in the mouth with nice structure and loads of juicy fruit; 88/91.
2003 Rutherford Hill, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $25, 64,000 cases. Medium bodied, with supple tannins, the wine seems hollow in mid-palate. Enjoy now for the baked plums, dark chocolate and cedar highlights; 84/84.
2003 Stags' Leap, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $31. This one is ruby red in color, with a healthy dose of French oak, black cherries and cocoa on the nose. Lush, crisp and fruity, the barrel notes are less obvious in the mouth, although you'll find a bit of heat; 86/86.
2004 Veramonte, Merlot Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $10, 15,000 cases imported. This deeply-hued wine displays black cherry and berry fruit, augmented by aged-wood nuances. These follow through on the palate, where you'll find generous but rounded tannins. You can do a whole lot worse for ten bucks; 85/87.
2005 Beauzeaux, Red Wine, California, $12, 50,000 cases. While not overly complex, this blend of eight grapes is a fun wine to drink with grilled foods. Juicy berries and cherries highlight the aromas and flavors. Reach for this one when the pizza arrives; 84/85.
2005 Brassfield, Serenity, High Valley, California, $15, 2,960 cases. Composed of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Semillon, this straightforward quaffer should pair well with everything from Thai dishes to seafood. It is crisp, with just a hint of sweetness; 84/84.
NV Gallo, Moscato, Twin Valley, California, $5. Typical of Muscat, the wine is very aromatic. Made in a soft and sweet style (8.63 percent residual sugar), it is straightforward, yet easy to drink with a fresh fruit plate, especially at the SRP of five bucks; 80/81.
2004 Golden Kaan, Pinotage, Western Cape, South Africa, $10, 15,000 cases. Aromas speak of plums, cherry cola and smoky nuances. It's very crisp and fruity in the mouth, with old wood notes I always associate with Pinotage. Good value; 84/86.
2004 Michael-David Winery, Incognito Rouge, Lodi, California, $19.50. This is a blend of eight red grapes, however the nose and palate is overwhelmed by spicy oak and cinnamon. Will it ever come around? 80/80.
2005 Michael-David Winery, Incognito Viognier, Lodi, California, $19.50. While the nose has lovely spiced pears and honeysuckle notes, the acidity is too low to make it work. It is quite fruity, but has a hot, spirity finish; 80/80.
2005 Mirassou, Riesling, Monterey County, California, $12, 39,000 cases. The wine displays intense aromas and flavors of apricots and spice, with a hint of wet stones. The acidity is marginal for the residual sugar level (2.06 percent). Pair with Chinese dishes; 84/84.
2004 Montevina, Terra d'Oro (Montevina Winery), Forte, California, $24, 527 cases. A 55/45 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Defined by aged leather, cedar, vanilla and red berries, the wine is lean, tart and moderately tannic; 84/84.
2005 Pink Truck, Pink Wine, California, $11, 10,000 cases. Despite the obvious marketing, this is actually a quaffable wine to pair with a wide variety of foods. Off-dry and simple, I'd drink it early on for the citrus and berry fruit; 80/80.
NV Preston, Long Tail Lizard, Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9. Simple, fruity and oaky, I'd pair the chewy tannins of this wine with a meat lover's pizza or a hearty spaghetti sauce; 81/81.
2003 Guenoc, Petite Sirah, Lake County, California, $16, 8,200 cases. Guenoc always seems to do a respectable job with this grape. Smoked meat, plums and berry jam unfold on the nose, with loads of fruit and supple tannins on the palate. Break out the brisket; 86/88.
2004 Michael-David Winery, Earthquake Petite Sirah, Lodi, California, $28. Almost black in the glass, this Petite is full and lush, with well-managed tannins. The black fruit is winning out over the generous oak spice and vanilla at this point; 83/83.
2005 Brassfield, Pinot Grigio, High Valley, California, $15, 5,031 cases. Aromas speak of grapefruit, lemons and kiwi, while the flavors reveal lemon and green apple notes. Very lean and crisp; 84/84.
2005 Gallo, Pinot Gris, Sonoma Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $15, 17,700 cases. Crisp and refreshing in the mouth, the fruity flavors display citrus, peach and pear notes. Tasty; 87/88.
2005 King Fish, Pinot Grigio, California, $6. Soft, light, simple and off dry, the wine is passable at six bucks. You'll find modest pear and orange blossom notes; 80/80.
2005 MacMurray, Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast, California, $20, 25,000 cases. The generous peach and melon aromas are more subdued in the mouth. The overall impression is a soft, creamy, fruity wine for sipping; 86/86.
2005 Woodbridge, Pinot Grigio, California, $8. Light, crisp and straightforward, with melon and white peach aromas and flavors; 82/82.
2004 Brassfield, Pinot Noir, High Valley, California, $23, 799 cases. Tart cherries, plums and toasty oak highlight the nose which follow through on the palate. Firm tannins and crisp acids give backbone to the wine; 85/85.
1996 Dow's, Quinta do Bomfim, Portugal, $42. Full and rich on the palate, this deeply-hued Port gives off dark fruit aromas, with nuances of marzipan, dried herbs and almond paste. It is elegant and lush. The finish seems endless; 88/88.
1996 Graham's, Quinta dos Malvedos, Portugal, $44. This deeply-hued Port is warm and rich, with juicy, grapey, berry fruit and cocoa nuances. A hint of peppery spice lingers on the protracted finish; 89/89.
1995 Smith Woodhouse, Madalena, Portugal, $38. Warm spices, cherry liqueur and dried apricots underscore the nose. There is no noticeable heat from this middleweight, which sports 20 percent alcohol. Full, rich flavors linger effortlessly; 88/88.
2005 Brassfield, Sauvignon Blanc, High Valley, California, $15, 2,917 cases. Balanced and straightforward, the wine is underscored by grapefruit, gooseberry and dried herbs. Pair with grilled seafood; 84/84.
2005 Dancing Bull, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $12, 75,000 cases. Soft and fruity, with no oak burden, the grassy, green apple and tropical fruit nuances shine; 85/86.
2005 Golden Kaan, Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, $10, 15,000 cases. Crisp, clean and easy to drink, the straightforward aromas and flavors speak of melons and citrus peel; 83/83.
2005 Guenoc, Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California, $11, 14,147 cases. This soft, straightforward wine displays tropical fruit and lemongrass notes across the board; 82/82.
2004 Markham, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $16, 28,000 cases. Somewhat muted on the nose, you can coax a little lemon zest out of it. The wine is soft and simple, with ripe fruit; 83/83.
2006 Monkey Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $11. Simple but very drinkable, this year's version is highlighted by lime, jalapeno and kiwi notes; 84/85.
2006 Sauvignon Republic Cellars, Stellenbosch, South Africa, $18, 2,250 cases. Well balanced, crisp and fruity, this one is a no-brainer for grilled seafood. Tropical fruit abounds, with grassiness and sage nuances; 90/90.
2005 Trinchero, Sauvignon Blanc, Mary's Vineyard, Napa Valley, California, $24, 1,500 cases. Tropical fruit and grassy notes radiate from this straw-colored wine. It is soft, with modest fruit that does not quite deliver what the nose promises; 84/83.
2006 Veramonte, Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $10, 65,000 cases. Melons, grapefruit zest and dried herbs underscore this very soft, simple wine; 81/81.
2005 Woodbridge, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $6. You can certainly do worse for six bucks. The wine is crisp, dry and straightforward, with citrusy/grassy notes. Enjoy with a bowl of mushroom soup; 82/84.
2003 Brassfield, Syrah, High Valley, California, $30, 543 cases. The nose is a tempting mix of black fruits, coconut and smoked cedar. It's smooth and fruity on the entry, but the firm tannins demand three to five years of aging; 86/86.
2003 Kenwood, Syrah, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 1,500 cases. This deeply-hued wine gives off aromas of black fruits, chocolate and warm spices. Mixed red and black fruits unfold in the mouth, presented in a soft and fruity format; 85/85.
2005 Lindemans, Shiraz, Western Cape, South Africa, $8. Here's another value wine with proper balance and some degree of interest. Smoked meat, black fruit and old wood notes carry throughout the length of the wine; 84/86.
2003 Michael-David Winery, 6th Sense Syrah, Lodi, California, $17. As with many of their other wines, the oak is quite intrusive, overwhelming the fruit. The acidity and tannins are in step - too bad the oak isn't in line; 81/81.
2005 Woodbridge, Shiraz, California, $8. Here's another value wine for the budget-minded. Defined by blueberries and a hint of smoke, the wine is simple, well balanced and made to quaff with a rotisserie chicken; 82/84.
2001 J, Brut, Russian River Valley, California, $32, 7,750 cases. Straw gold with a medium-fine bead, this sparkler reveals aromas of pears, citrus and cashew nuances. The wine is very well balanced, with loads of acidity and tangy fruit; 88/88.
NV J, Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, California, $32, 860 cases. Sporting a pale salmon color and fine bead, the wine gives off aromas of cherries and strawberry cream. The palate is crisp and creamy, with cherry and citrus flavors; 86/86.
Korbel, Brandy, VSOP, California, $14. Amber/gold in color, with honey and raisins unfolding on the nose. Sweet fruit abounds, as does the spirity impression; 83/83.
2004 Bogle, Zinfandel, Old Vine, California, $11. Aromas and flavors reveal blue and black fruits, American oak and chocolate. It's tart and fruity, with noticeable heat on the finish; 83/84.
2004 Dancing Bull, Zinfandel, California, $12, 170,000 cases. Here's an overachiever for the price class - it's balanced, fruity and easy to drink. Enjoy now for the raspberry and strawberry notes; 85/88.
2004 Grgich Hills, Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $30, 5,580 cases. This one is very dense in color, with strawberry preserves, berries and new leather opening on the nose. Full and elegant, the fruit flavors explode in the mouth. The finish is very persistent and laced with cracked black pepper; 91/91.
2004 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $23, 4,200 cases. Almost black in the glass, this Zin gives off aromas of berries, vanilla and spice. It is very ripe in the mouth, pushing towards the raisiny spectrum; 84/84.
2004 Michael-David Winery, Earthquake Zin, Lodi, California, $28. Cinnamon spice and oak take over the nose and palate, virtually obscuring the rich black cherry fruit; 81/81.
2004 Michael-David Winery, 7 Deadly Zins, Lodi, California, $17. Loads of cinnamon-spiced oak dictates the wine's profile. There are underlying raspberry preserve and rhubarb notes; 80/80.
2004 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, Amador County, California, $18, 11,000 cases. Blackberries, toasty oak and spice aromas unfold on this medium-bodied, moderately tannic Zin. Straightforward black fruit and spicy flavors linger on the finish; 84/84.
2004 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, Home Vineyard, Amador County, California, $30, 431 cases. This is a very ripe style of Zinfandel, with very mature cherry and raspberry fruit and a hint of raisins. Ripe, jammy and juicy on the palate, the flavors are augmented by vanilla and warm spices; 85/85.
2004 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, SHR Field Blend, Amador County, California, $30, 1,920 cases. This medium-bodied Zin hosts a mélange of aromas and flavors - red, black and blue fruits, vanilla and sandalwood. Tannins need a little time to settle down; 87/87.
2005 Woodbridge, Zinfandel, California, $6. An overachiever for the price class, this ruby red Zin has plenty of brambly fruit and raspberry flavors, augmented by black tea nuances. Case buy for those big parties; 84/87.