© 2005 by Randy Buckner
I love this time of the year. Crackling fireplaces fending off the evening chill, roaring crowds cheering on their favorite team, and storefronts dressed in their best holiday attire all combine to put you in quite a festive mood.
Festivities call for the ritual cork popping, so in that spirit, we have 16 sparklers reviewed this month. They range from New World offerings to Spanish Cava, to the "real" thing - French Champagne.
Enjoy the holiday season to the fullest! If you are out on the town, please take a taxi or use a designated driver for your safety and the safety of others.
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 manufacturers suggested retail price. Vendor prices are often less expensive. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.
2003 Windy Point, Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, Washington, $18, 155 cases. Red cherry, currant and pomegranate aromas spring from this ruby-colored Franc. Easy on the palate, balanced and fruity. The oak is obvious but not over the top. Pair with grilled meats; 86/88.
2003 Windy Point, Red Wine, Exclamation Point, Yakima Valley, Washington, $15, 209 cases. The cherry, berry and oak aromas repeat in the mouth. Easy to drink now, this fruity quaffer makes a great burger wine; 85/87.
2003 Barrelstone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 1,000 cases. Light, with modest tannins and serviceable fruit, the wine is defined by cherries, cola, caramels and oak; 80/80.
2003 Barrelstone, Barrelmaster Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 1,000 cases. Light to medium bodied, with slightly bitter tannins, you'll find straightforward cherry fruit, cola and oak flavors; 81/81.
2002 Canoe Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 2,526 cases. Deeply hued. The aromas are a pleasant mix of black fruit, chocolate and cedar. The wine is medium to full in the mouth, with generous but rounded tannins and flavors mirroring the nose. The lengthy berry finish is delightful; 88/89.
2003 Chalone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monterey County, California, $15. Blackberries, currants and chocolate are evident on the nose, with just a splash of oak. Flavors mirror the nose of this straightforward but tasty wine; 84/86.
2002 Chateau Julien, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barrel Aged, Monterey County, California, $10. Cassis, vanilla and oak spice underscore the nose, while the luscious fruit flavors are dominated by oak at this point; 83/83.
2002 Chateau Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $22, 53,000 cases. Black cherries, vanilla, coffee and barrel notes carry from the nose to the palate, in this full-bodied, moderately-tannic wine; 86/86.
2002 Cosentino, M. Coz, Napa Valley, California, $125, 622 cases. Almost black in the glass, the wine is unfined and unfiltered. The nose is a pleasant mix of black fruit, tobacco, oak and chocolate. Very elegant in its presentation, the tannins tend to firm up on the finish. Rich black fruit and mint flavors win out over the generous oak. It needs time to come around. 88/85.
2003 Dallas Conte, Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile, $10. Mixed fruit, eucalyptus and olives highlight the nose. Medium bodied, with rounded tannins, the wine is fruity and ready to drink now. Good value; 85/88.
2002 Husch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, California, $21, 3,925 cases. The nose is a lovely mix of cassis, menthol, chocolate and tobacco. With its easy-drinking tannins, you can enjoy this one right now for the bright, intense fruit; 89/91.
2002 Kendall-Jackson, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintner's Reserve, California, $16. This is a well-structured wine, smooth in its presentation, and defined by black fruit, vanilla and cedar shavings. Lots going on for sixteen bucks; 86/88.
2002 L'Ecole No 41, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $37, 1,592 cases. The wine displays a variety of aromas and flavors, ranging from cassis and chocolate to generous oak and herbs. It needs time to see if the oak will integrate; 88/88.
2002 Premius, Merlot Cabernet, Bordeaux, France, $10. Light ruby in color, with aromas of cherries, tomato leaf and toast. Crisp, with inviting tannins, this straightforward blend offers quaffable fruit flavors; 83/83.
2001 Preston, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Black cherries and dill spice dominate throughout, with tart acidity and rustic tannins. Pair with a hearty beef stew; 83/83.
2004 Ridgefield, Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Defined by ripe red cherries, vanilla, cedar, menthol and herbs, this light-bodied wine is smooth and made for simple grilled fare; 85/87.
2002 Sagelands, Cabernet Sauvignon, Four Corners, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 20,800 cases. Lots of chocolate, vanilla and black cherry scents underscore the nose and palate. Well balanced, with smooth tannins, the wine displays a lot of character for the price point; 85/88.
2001 Sandhill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington, $25. A rich, inviting nose of cassis, sweet vanilla and light oak carries over to the palate. Generous tannins and zippy acidity gives backbone to the black fruit; 87/87.
2004 Barossa Valley Estate, Spires Chardonnay, Barossa Valley, Australia, $11. Straw, with a green sheen, the wine gives off citrus and floral notes. Crisp and stony, with straightforward but tasty citrus fruit; 85/87.
2004 Chalone, Chardonnay, Monterey County, California, $12. This wine is soft, creamy and balanced, highlighted by pears, pineapples, citrus zest and vanilla. Good value; 85/87.
2003 Fogarty, Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, $25, 2,998 cases. Made in the classic California fashion, the wine is buttery and oaky, with a creamy feel and baked apple fruit. Nice for the style; 88/88.
2005 Four Emus, Chardonnay, Western Australia, $10. With all of the cutesy animals on the labels lately, I wasn't expecting much here; I was wrong. The nose is full of peach and delicate oak aromas. Very well balanced, light and fruity, the oak is held in check. A delightful Chardonnay for the dollar; 86/89.
2004 Husch, Chardonnay, Mendocino, California, $14, 16,815 cases. Nicely balanced in the mouth, this crisp Chard keeps the fruit and wood in proper perspective. Baked apples, pears, vanilla and barrel notes linger on the finish; 86/88.
2004 Husch, Chardonnay, Vine One, Anderson Valley, California, $18, 549 cases. Grafted from the bud wood of a vine considered unique by the vineyard manager, there are now more than 5,000 vines used in the production of this wine. Orange peel, apples and a splash of peach form a lovely bouquet. The wine is soft and creamy, with very ripe flavors echoing the nose; 84/84.
2004 L'Ecole No 41, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 3,170 cases. This light-gold Chard gives off lemon and melon scents, with a splash of sweet oak. Brisk and balanced, the flavors echo the nose; 86/87.
2004 Madroña, Chardonnay, El Dorado, California, $14. Very soft and creamy, the wine is profiled by butter, pears, pineapples and oak nuances; 82/82.
2004 Monkey Bay, Chardonnay, New Zealand, $10. Light peach and citrus aromas arise from this straw-colored Chardonnay. Tangy and creamy, with modest stone fruit; 83/83.
2004 Valley of the Moon, Chardonnay, Sonoma, California, $16, 8,100 cases. Smoky oak, apples, butterscotch and orange blossom aromas continue over to the palate. Creamy on the entry, the oak and allspice flavors beat up on the apple and citrus fruit; 84/84.
2003 William Hill, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $20, 3,684 cases. Oak is not a major player here. Crisp and creamy, you'll find a host of aromas and flavors ranging from pears and honey, to pineapples and lemons; 87/88.
2004 Graffigna, Malbec, Tulum Valley, Argentina, $10. Aromas speak of plums, cherries, cola and oak. Crisp, with soft tannins, the straightforward flavors mirror the nose; 83/83.
2003 Graffigna, Malbec, G, Pedernal Valley, Argentina, $17. Smooth as a baby's backside, with plenty of food-friendly acidity. Juicy plums, chocolate and barrel notes meld into a tasty wine perfect for BBQ; 86/87.
2003 Chalone, Merlot, Monterey County, California, $15. While the nose is packed with plums, berries, cigar box, licorice and oak, the palate is dominated by the wood. Give it a year or two to see if the oak calms down; 84/85.
2002 Cosentino, Merlot, Oakville, Napa Valley, California, $75, 392 cases. Full and rich, the aromas and flavors reveal black fruit, dark chocolate and French oak. Chewy tannins dictate a few years in the cellar; 88/86.
2002 Deakin Estate, Merlot, North West Victoria, Australia, $8. The crisp acidity in this wine demands a pasta or pizza dish. Cherry cola, plums, American oak and spice run the length of the wine; 83/83.
2002 Dry Creek, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $19, 3,060 cases. Ripe plum and currant aromas are interlaced with spicy notes. Medium to full on the palate, the flavors echo the nose; 85/85.
2004 Four Emus, Merlot, Western Australia, $10. An unusual nose of currants, plums, bay leaves and smoke is pleasant nevertheless. Drink this middleweight early on for the delightful fruit; 85/87.
2003 L'Ecole No 41, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30, 5,887 cases. This purple-red Merlot is brisk and well rounded. Rich blue and black fruits are augmented by toasty oak and chocolate nuances; 88/88.
2003 L'Ecole No 41, Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington, $37, 1,772 cases. Full on the palate and sporting lovely balance, the oak is obvious in the wine, but not obtrusive. The taste profile reveals blueberries, plums, vanilla beans and a hint of currants; 88/88.
2002 Sandhill, Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington, $22. Impeccably balanced, the wine is quite harmonious, from the blackberries, vanilla and cedary oak, to the rounded tannins that will benefit from cellar aging; 88/89.
2003 Simi, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $23, 28,221 cases. This is a pretty nice Merlot if you don't mind generous oak. The wine is smooth, with jammy berry fruit, chocolate and oak spice upfront, with underlying cherry cola notes; 86/86.
2003 Barton & Guestier, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France, $18. This quaffer displays very ripe, jammy raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors, with a hint of raisins on the finish; 82/82.
2003 Barton & Guestier, Côtes-du-Rhône, France, $9. Light bodied but pretty impressive for nine bucks. Ripe black fruit and herbes de Provence are enhanced by a peppery streak. Good value; 84/86.
2004 Edna Valley, Pinot Gris, Edna Valley, California, $18, 2,530 cases. Medium bodied and crisp, with modest fruit flavors that echo the melon and peach aromas; 84/84.
2004 L'Ecole No 41, Semillon, Barrel Fermented, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15, 4,065 cases. Think lobster bisque here. Toasty, nutty and figgy, the wine is both crisp and creamy, with a dab of lemon curd on the finish; 86/88.
2003 Montevina, Barbera, Terra d'Oro, Amador County, California, $18, 1,225 cases. Purple-red in color, with loads of jammy berries, chocolate and oak carrying from the nose to mouth. A hint of pepper adds character. The tannins are well managed, allowing early consumption, or you can hold it for a few years; 86/87.
2002 Madroña, Nebbiolo, El Dorado, California, $18. Garnet/brick in color, with berries, leather and a touch of smoke on the nose. Light bodied and peppery, this is a nice quaffer to pair with a plate of spaghetti, 85/85.
2004 Madroña, Riesling, El Dorado, California, $10. Citrus and melons unfold on the nose of this balanced, off-dry Riesling. Apricots and melons highlight the palate; 83/83.
2003 Madroña, Shiraz/Cabernet, El Dorado, California, $16. Ripe red and black fruits, cola and sweet vanilla notes define this wine. Balanced, approachable and easy to like; 85/87.
2004 Valley of the Moon, Pinot Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $16, 6,100 cases. Limes and pears make for a pleasant mix on the nose. Melon and citrus fruit more than stands up to the modest oak (which it could do without); 85/85.
2002 Fogarty, Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, $30, 573 cases. Ripe red fruit, cedar and warm spices intermingle on the nose and palate. Well balanced and crisp, with supple tannins; 87/87.
2003 Rodney Strong, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $19. Full and agile, this wine gives offers up nuances of red cherries, roses, mushrooms, vanilla and integrated oak. Drink over the next three years; 87/88.
Dow, Trademark Ruby Port, Portugal, $18. Aged in wood for 3-4 years, this one is smooth and easy to drink right now. Rich berry fruit, warm spices and brown sugar underscore the wine's profile; 86/87.
2000 Dow, Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal, $20. Don't confuse this with bottle-aged Vintage Port. LBV spends 4-5 years in casks before bottling. Almost black in the glass, the wine is elegant, very well balanced, rich and ever so easy to enjoy; 88/88.
Dow, Tawny Port, 10 Year, Portugal, $29. Brown sugar and nutty aromas morph into rich fruit and hazelnuts on the palate. This is a nice example of the genre that is pretty consistent with their house style; 89/89.
2003 Madroña, New-World Port, Sierra Foothills, California, $24 (500 ml). Crushed berries and floral notes highlight the nose. Quite sweet, balanced, with lots of red and black fruit and a hint of raisins; 85/84.
Osborne, Tawny Port, 10 Year, Portugal, $28. Dark tawny in color. Warm and rich on the nose, the wine exhibits nice balance, moderate fruit, caramels and hazelnuts; 87/87.
2000 Osborne, Vintage Port, Portugal, $45. This is one deeply-hued Port. Sporting black fruit, cherry liqueur and raisins on the nose, the wine is full, tannic and spirity. Flavors mirror the nose, with a touch of black pepper adding character; 88/88.
2004 Deakin Estate, Sauvignon Blanc, North West Victoria, Australia, $8. Herbaceous and citrusy on the nose and palate, with a modest finish; 83/83.
2004 Dynamite, Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California, $11, 4,500 cases. Light on its feet, with a fine overall sense of balance, this wine is a very good value. Lemongrass, lime, tropical fruit and almonds profile the wine; 86/88.
2004 Edna Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley, California, $14, 2,730 cases. Medium to full bodied, the generous flavors exhibit grapefruit zest, pineapples and lemongrass; 86/87.
2005 Four Emus, Sauvignon/ Semillon, Western Australia, $10. This grassy blend offers up gooseberry and tropical fruit scents. Bright and crisp, the long finish reveals tropical fruit and grassy flavors; 85/87.
2004 Husch, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California, $12.50, 8,269 cases. Well balanced and fruity, you'll find loads of limes, honeydew melons and lemongrass. A delightful match for steamed shellfish; 87/88.
2004 Husch, Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade, Mendocino, California, $18, 502 cases. They allowed native (renegade) yeasts to do their thing here. The result is a reasonable enough drink, with cut grass, lemon curd, vanilla and toasty notes; 85/85.
2004 Kendall-Jackson, Sauvignon Blanc, Vintner's Reserve, California, $10. This value quaffer is lime predominant, with a splash of melons, figs and tangy acidity riding on a medium framework; 85/86.
2005 Monkey Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $10. This is a step up from last year's offering and a good value. Weighing in as a middleweight, the wine is very refreshing, with gooseberries, citrus and tropical fruit fanning out across the senses; 88/90.
2004 Premius, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, France, $8. A nice streak of grassiness adds to the citrus and yellow apple fruit. You'll find a hint of nuttiness on the crisp, lengthy finish; 85/86.
2004 Preston, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Cut hay, tropical fruit and American oak carry the length of the wine, augmented by tangy acidity and threshold sweetness; 84/85.
2004 Simi, Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $15, 33,196 cases. Tart, yet with a sense of roundness. The wine reveals lemons, tangerines and melon notes throughout; 85/85.
2002 Campo Viejo, Crianza, Rioja, Spain, $10. Tart, rustic and quaffable, with mixed berries, vanilla and leather highlights; 83/83.
2000 Campo Viejo, Reserva, Rioja, Spain, $13. Smooth, with modest berry jam, vanilla and oak. The bright acidity makes this food-friendly - think game with wild mushrooms; 83/83.
1998 Campo Viejo, Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain, $20. Aromas are ripe and spicy, with barrel nuances. Silky smooth on the entry, the flavors lend themselves well to meat casseroles. Drink now; 85/85.
2002 Fra Guerau, Red Wine, Montsant, Spain, $15. A blend of seven grape varieties, that delivers black fruit, vanilla and oak, backed up by soft tannins and a nice sense of balance; 84/85.
2004 Segura Viudas, Creu de Lavit, Penedès, Spain, $15. The wine is made exclusively from Xarel-lo, a grape native to the Penedès. Melons, limes and light oak aromas shine. Very crisp and spicy in the mouth, with melons, pears and allspice being standouts out on the palate; 86/86.
2002 Valdubón, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain, $20. The full aromas are a mix of cherry liqueur, chocolate and oak. Straightforward fruit is backed by crisp acids and a tannic bite. Pair with a lamb stew; 84/84.
2004 Vionta, Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain, $15, 1,700 imported. Loads of green apple, citrus peel and lime scents emanate from this honey-colored wine. Crisp and bold in its presentation, the wine screams for shellfish or tomato bisque; 88/89.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut, Brut de Noirs, Spain, $10. Burnt orange in color with a fine bead. Cherries and strawberries are presented in a soft, off-dry package; 83/83.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut, Carta Nevada, Spain, $9. Peach and citrus zest tones carry from the nose to the palate. Straightforward, off-dry, soft and approachable; 83/83.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut, Cordon Negro, Spain, $10. Citrus and doughy aromas highlight this medium-bodied Brut. Straightforward melon, lemon and roasted nut flavors linger on the palate; 84/85.
2000 Freixenet, Cava, Brut Nature, Spain, $14. I find a little slate in the wine, which melds well with the baked apples and spice. Tangy, with a medium bead; 85/86.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Extra Dry, Cordon Negro, Spain, $10. Off-dry and crisp, with nuances of pears, citrus peel and brioche; 84/85.
NV Krug, Brut, Grande Cuvée, Champagne, France, $170. Call me crazy, but I'm a fool for Krug Champagne at almost any price. The nose is incredibly complex, with toasty notes, lemon zest and raw honey. Very elegant and displaying impressive intensity, the layers of pears, apples and toast cascade across the palate with laser precision; 94/94.
NV Martini & Rossi, Asti, Italy, $12. The wine is produced from Moscato Bianco, which as expected is very floral. Sweet, fruity and fizzy, this is a perfect sparkler to serve to those who do not like dry wine. Easy on the pocketbook as well; 83/83.
NV Martini & Rossi, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, $15. Citrus zest aromas arise from this straw gold wine. A light, clean, refreshing frizzante, frameworked by citrus fruit and almond paste; 84/85.
NV G.H. Mumm, Cordon Rouge, Champagne, France, $43, 35,000 cases imported. Light gold with a medium mousse, the wine's bouquet is filled with peach, pear, green apple and toasty notes. These aromas morph into generous lemon, vanilla and brioche flavors. Delightful; 90/90.
NV Mumm Napa, Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley, California, $18, 25,000 cases. You'll appreciate a beautiful copper/salmon color. Full and crisp in the mouth, the wine is defined by bread, Fuji apples and melons; 87/88.
NV Mumm Napa, Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, California, $18, 180,000 cases. Melon and citrus aromas are carried by the medium mousse. Very crisp and dry, with refreshing peach, lemon and hazelnut characteristics; 86/86.
NV Mumm Napa, Reserve Brut, Napa Valley, California, $25, 8,000 cases. Aromas of melons, figs, citrus fruit and vanilla beans unfold on the nose. Creamy, lush and brisk, the complex flavors have a nice, nutty finish; 88/88.
NV Perrier Jouët, Grand Brut, Champagne, France, $49. Displaying light-gold coloration and a medium mousse, this Champagne has delightful citrus, bread dough and honeysuckle scents. Baked apples, lemons and almonds delineate this smooth, elegant wine; 90/90.
NV Segura Viudas, Aria, Pinot Noir Brut, Spain, $12. This middleweight is crisp, with medium bubbles shimmering in the deep rosé backdrop. Red cherries, berries and bread dough expand on the palate; 84/85.
NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut Reserva, Spain, $10. Citrus fruit, brioche and spice carry throughout the wine. Crisp, with a nice creaminess, you'll find a nice lemony finish; 84/86.
NV Segura Viudas, Reserva Heredad, Penedès, Spain, $20. This straw-colored sparkler is nicely balanced, underscored by bread dough, pears and floral notes. Easy to like; 85/85.
2003 Barossa Valley Estate, Spires Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia, $11. Plums and spicy oak sing on the nose. Very lean and tart, this Shiraz will pair better with pasta and red sauce than it will with grilled meats; 84/86.
2002 Deakin Estate, Shiraz, North West Victoria, Australia, $10. This wine is not for everyone. The very tangy acidity will drive a few away, and it will definitely benefit from a tomato-based dish. Plums, anise, toasty oak and cocoa characterize the flavor profile; 84/85.
2004 Four Emus, Shiraz, Western Australia, $10. Smoky herbs dominate the nose and palate of this ruby/purple wine. Underlying berry fruit struggles for attention; 82/82.
2004 Graffigna, Shiraz, Tulum Valley, Argentina, $10. Aromas speak of mixed red fruits, chocolate and oak. The wine is soft and smooth, with straightforward but tasty fruit - put the burgers on the grill; 83/83.
2003 Graffigna, Shiraz, G, Pedernal Valley, Argentina, $17. Mixed red and black fruits, cigar leaf, vanilla and oak underscore the wine. Sporting tangy acidity, this one should pair well with Cannelloni Provençal; 86/87.
2003 Husch, Syrah, Mendocino, California, $28, 296 cases. Smoke, game, blackberries and vanilla greet the nose. Silky tannins and crisp acids fail to offset the overbearing oak that buries the juicy fruit; 82/82.
2003 L'Ecole No 41, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 2,016 cases. A bowl full of plums and a whiff of smoke radiate from this deeply hued wine. Full and fruity in the mouth, this is a good match for grilled meats; 86/87.
2002 Preston Vineyard, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23. Smoked meat, blue plums and sweet oak carries over to the palate. The wine will benefit from 2-3 years in bottle to see if the tannins and oak mellow out; 84/84.
2002 Madroña, Zinfandel, Reserve, El Dorado, California, $22. Brambly berry fruit and barrel notes carry from the nose to the palate. Soft, straightforward, with just a touch of black pepper - put the burgers on the grill; 85/85.