© 2006 by Randy Buckner
February 2006

Midwinter 2006 Releases

Old Man Winter has thrown quite an array of pitches this season, from record-setting rains and snowfalls in the Pacific Northwest, to unprecedented droughts in the South. The Northeast and Canada have seen temperatures 20 degrees warmer than the norm. To top it all off, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl - an omen if there ever was one.

Fortunately, we have a little more sanity in our wine reviews this month. Seven countries are represented from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. There are several value wines sure to please a wide variety of palates, as well as a few heavy hitters. Enjoy.

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.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine glass

2002 Cellar No. 8, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $10, 12,000 cases. Plums, cherries and barrel notes are presented in a somewhat disjointed, coarse, straightforward wine; 80/80.

2001 Frank Family, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $40. This ruby red Cab is defined by plums, black cherries, wormwood and a pinch of anise. Full, crisp and rounded, you'll find a touch of heat on the finish; 88/88.

2001 Frank Family, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $65. Deep ruby with a purple edge. The aromas are a nice mix of cassis, mint, and orange slice candy. Blueberry and cocoa powder flavors prevail, supported by elegant tannins that firm up on the finish; 87/85.

2002 Greg Norman, Cabernet Sauvignon, California Estates, North Coast, California, $15. Blueberries, currants and cedar waft from the glass. While smooth on the entry, the oak overwhelms all else. Will it ever integrate? 81/81.

Greg Norman 2002 Greg Norman, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Limestone Coast, Australia, $15. The nose and palate are filled with berries, cherries, generous oak spice, and anise. Tart acidity carries throughout, with berries lingering on the finish; 83/83.

2003 Hoodsport, Cabernet Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. While very fruity, the drying tannins detract from the tart plum, red cherry, oak and herbal notes; 82/82.

2003 Hoodsport, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. Berries, plums, and cola notes ride on a medium framework - a simple quaffer for grilled fare; 81/81.

2001 McWilliam's, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia, $25, 1,000 cases. Deeply hued, with loads of black fruit and American oak aromas. The wine is full and juicy in the mouth, with berries, plums, currants and generous oak unfolding; 85/85.

2004 McWilliam's, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $11. Straightforward and fruity, with modest drying tannins. The wine is defined by plums dried herbs and American oak; 82/82.

2002 Pirouette (Long Shadows), Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $55, 500 cases. This Cabernet-predominant blend gives off aromas of plums, berries, and a double-shot mocha. Full and round on the palate, this elegant wine delivers juicy, concentrated fruit flavors, which are enhanced by coffee nuances; 88/87.

2002 Sterling, SVR Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $50, 6,579 cases. This Bordeaux blend has complex aromas of black cherries, berries, oak, anise, and vanilla spice, but they do not follow up on the palate. Tannins are firm but rounded. This one definitely needs time to develop; 85+/84+.

2004 Talus, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, California, $8, 100,000 cases. Cherry cola, oak, and floral notes define the wine. Crisp and supple, this is easy to like at the price point; 83/84.

2003 Veramonte, Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile, $9, 40,000 cases. Here's another quaffer for those grilled burgers. Blackberries, oak, and earthy/herbal notes are delivered in a balanced, fruity package; 83/84.

Chardonnay wine glass

2004 Acacia, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $20. You'll find lots of butter, oak, and baked apples on the nose. The wine is creamy and balanced, with plenty of fruit and plenty of oak. Nice for the style; 87/87.

2004 Beringer, Chardonnay, Founders' Estate, California, $11. Melon, peach, butterscotch, and oak aromas follow through on the palate as well. Straightforward, crisp, and delicately sweet (0.65 percent residual sugar); 80/80.

Chateau Souverain 2004 Chateau Souverain, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $17, 9,868 cases. This is a spicy, creamy, oaky wine, with nice body and length. Aromas and flavors speak of pears, almonds, citrus zest and toast; 85/86.

2003 Cuvaison, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $24. Smoky oak reigns, with peach and melon undertones. Impeccably balanced, this creamy wine delivers a boat load of fruit, spice and oak in a classic California style; 86/86.

2004 Desert Wind, Chardonnay, Bare Naked, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Deft use of oak is a pleasure here. Green apples, citrus, and vanilla aromas expand on the palate, presented on a crisp, medium-bodied framework; 85/87.

2004 Dynamite, Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California, $15. This is a soft, rounded, creamy wine, with apples, butterscotch, and generous oak aromas and flavors; 83/83.

2004 Frank Family, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $32. You'll find a tree load of apples on the nose, with a splash of French oak. The wine is elegant and spicy in the mouth, with a touch of heat (14.4 percent alcohol). Apple and almond flavors prevail; 86/86.

2004 Greg Norman, Chardonnay, California Estates, Santa Barbara County, California, $13. Smoky and buttery, with figs, pears and kiwi fruit, all supported by balancing acidity; 83/84.

2004 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. The wine is creamy in the mouth, with ample acidity to carry the tropical fruit, butterscotch, and toasty aromas and flavors; 84/86.

2004 McWilliam's, Chardonnay, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $11. Nicely balanced, this light-gold wine is fruity, with aromas and flavors of peaches, lemon drops, butterscotch, and oak; 83/84.

2004 Rodney Strong, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $15. This light-gold Chardonnay delivers pears, lemons, and generous oak aromas. Balanced and creamy, the flavors echo the nose; 84/86.

2004 Silver Lake, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 3,130 cases. Medium bodied, straightforward, and quaffable - drink now for the pear, yellow apple and citrus fruit; 83/85.

2004 Sterling, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $17, 80,000 cases. Pears, apples, and toasty oak highlight the nose. The wine is soft and rounded, with flavors mirroring the aromas; 85/86.

Merlot wine glass

Cellar No. 8 2003 Cellar No. 8, Merlot, California, $10, 9,200 cases. The nose is highlighted by plum, cherry, smoke and oak aromas. Structured well, this one is easy to drink for the straightforward fruit and brown spices; 84/86.

2002 Chester-Kidder (Long Shadows), Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $50, 300 cases. This is a Merlot-predominant blend. A distinct herb (or coffee?) aroma is in the forefront, followed by berries and vanilla. Full and elegant on the entry, the tannins are generous but rounded. Give this one time to come around; 86/85.

2003 Cosentino, Merlot, California, $18, 1,972 cases. Oak, licorice, black fruit and mint highlight the nose. The wine is nicely structured, with rich fruit. Oak dominates at this point, but I think it will integrate; 85/85.

1999 Desert Wind, Ruah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 476 cases. Firm but ripe tannins support the black fruit in this Merlot-predominant blend. Plums and blackberries linger on the finish; 83/83.

2001 Duck Pond Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 25,016 cases. This straightforward wine is defined by cherry cola, vanilla, and herbal notes, supported by modest tannins; 80/80.

2003 GraEagle, RedWing, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22, 1,120 cases. The nose is a pleasant mix of black fruit, coconut, cedary oak and floral notes. Berry fruit and generous oak dominate the palate; 85/85.

2003 Hoodsport, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. This deep ruby wine is defined by plums, cherries, chocolate, and barrel notes. There's lots of fruit, but the chewy tannins detract; 83/84.

2003 Kenwood, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $17, 46,900 cases. Ruby red in color, the wine is characterized by blackberry, cedar, warm spice and vanilla nuances, with just a hint of tomato leaf on the finish; 84/84.

2003 Kenwood, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $25, 6,400 cases. Black cherries, blueberries, vanilla, and white pepper run the length of the wine, riding on a medium framework. Balanced and tasty; 88/88.

2004 Mc William's, Merlot, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $11. This straightforward, fruity quaffer is defined by currants and American oak, presented in a reasonably-balanced package; 81/81.

2004 Nobilo, Merlot, Regional Collection, East Coast, New Zealand, $22. Cherries and currants prevail on the nose. Very tart and crisp, with rounded tannins. Flavors mirror the aromas, with a slightly bitter bite on the finish; 84/84.

2004 Talus, Merlot, Lodi, California, $8, 126,000 cases. Straightforward but fruity, you'll find plum, vanilla, and oak aromas and flavors; 82/82.

2003 Veramonte, Merlot, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $9, 40,000 cases. This simple quaffer offers cherry and berry fruit, with earthy/herbal nuances and chewy tannins; 81/81.

2003 Veramonte, Primus, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $16, 28,000 cases. This Merlot-predominant blend is a real overachiever. Berries, tobacco, vanilla and eucalyptus notes predominate. Very polished on the entry, the wine has nice harmony of components and a lovely aftertaste. Pair with stuffed bell peppers; 88/91.

2004 Trinchero, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $15. Blue and black fruit, cedar and barrel char are evident on the nose. Light, fruity, and oaky in the mouth, the easy tannins make the wine accessible now; 83/83.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

2003 Greg Norman, Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, California, $15. Purple/red in color, this wine is characterized by cherry liqueur, raspberries, cola and barrel notes. They did a good job of managing the tannins, making it an easy choice for BBQ tonight; 85/87.

2003 Hoodsport, Madeleine Angevine, Puget Sound, Washington, $13. The hybrid grapes used to make this wine are very aromatic, with menthol and Muscat-like scents that carry over to the palate. Very unusual - it may work with a cheese plate; 83/83.

NV Hoodsport, Raspberry (Fruit Wine), Washington State, $13. What can you say other than raspberries! Intense on the nose and palate, this fruit wine is very well balanced, with just a hint of sweetness. Raspberries! Chocolate! 88/88.

NV Hoodsport, Rhubarb Wine, Washington State, $13. A very lovely copper/pink in color, the wine has pretty classic rhubarb aromas and flavors, with nice balance and delicate sweetness; 84/84.

2002 Montevina, Sangiovese, Terra d'Oro, Amador County, California, $18. The wine is highlighted by aromas and flavors of cinnamon, new leather, pomegranates and plums. Generous oak and soft acidity rounds out the wine; 84/84.

2003 Trinchero, Petit Verdot, Napa Valley, California, $15. Deep ruby/purple in color. Blue fruit, leather, vanilla and oak carry from the nose to the palate, all dressed up in a silky package; 85/86.

2003 WAWA, Red Wine, Washington State, $8, 2,500 cases. Cherry cola aromas and flavors are presented in a light, straightforward package designed to quaff with deck fare; 80/80.

Pinot Gris wine glass

2004 Ciao Bella, Pinot Grigio, Venezie, Italy, $10, 3,500 cases. Aromas and flavors speak of pears, almonds, citrus peel, and green peas. Snappy acidity gives structure; 83/83.

2004 Meridian, Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara, California, $10. Lean, crisp, and clean, you'll find aromas and flavors of lemon drops, tangerines, and green apples; 82/82.

2005 Nobilo, Pinot Gris, Icon, Marlborough, New Zealand, $22. A lovely copper tinge to the wine leads to delightful aromas of pears, roses, and a twist of citrus. Full and balanced, the slight residual sugar adds rather that detracts from the pear and honeysuckle flavors; 88/88.

2004 Sockeye, Pinot Gris, California, $12, 6,300 cases. Here's another overachiever. Very floral on the nose, with hints of citrus zest. Apricot and citrus fruit is backed by snappy acidity, making it a perfect match for seafood; 86/88.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2004 Beringer, Pinot Noir, Founders' Estate, California, $12. Soft, simple, and quaffable, the wine offers up cherry, cola, and vanilla notes; 82/82.

2004 Greg Norman, Pinot Noir, California Estates, Santa Barbara County, California, $15. This wine has nice structure, and it is not overdone in the least. Lively acidity gives lift to the black cherry fruit and strawberry jelly flavors. Delightful; 87/90.

2004 Kenwood, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $18, 35,900 cases. Soft and fruity, with just a hint of peppery spice. The blueberries, earth and spicy aromas do an encore on the palate; 85/86.

2004 Nobilo, Pinot Noir, Icon, Marlborough, New Zealand, $22. Sporting nice balance, the wine delivers black cherry fruit, herbs, cocoa and French oak across the board. Spiciness lingers on the finish; 84/84.

2004 Trinchero, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, California, $15. Cherries, smoke and vanilla highlight the wine, with easy-going tannins. Sweet cherry fruit lingers on the finish; 84/85.

Riesling wine glass

2004 Poet's Leap, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22, 1,200 cases. You'll find lovely aromas of peaches, honey and wet stones. In the mouth, the wine displays floral notes, apricots and pears. The acidity is very soft given the 1.93 percent residual sugar; 84/83.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

2005 Dashwood, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $12. This is a dandy example of NZ SB. The wine is straw gold, with a bouquet loaded with gooseberry, jalapeno, melon and passionfruit aromas. Brisk acidity supports flavors that echo the nose. The finish is an endless unfolding of ripe passionfruit; 91/93.

2005 Dog Point, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $16. The wine is straw gold in color, lean, and lemony, with racy acidity and just a hint of pineapple and green pea underscoring the wine. Herbs become more evident with airing. Very delightful for the style; 90/90.

2004 Hippolyte Reverdy, Sancerre, France, $20. It's nice to see the traditional style has returned, after the round of fat 2003s. This wine is very balanced, with a firm acidic backbone. Lemony aromas and flavors are augmented with just a dash of herbs and nice minerality. Break out a shellfish platter; 91/91.

2004 Hoodsport, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. This straw-colored wine delivers lemon and melon notes in a straightforward package; 80/80.

2004 Meridian, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast, California, $10. Placing 18 percent of the wine in new oak did it no favors. Besides the obvious barrel notes, grapefruit zest and lemons shine through; 82/82.

2005 Nobilo, Sauvignon Blanc, Icon, Marlborough, New Zealand, $22. Loads of gooseberries and dried herbs highlight the nose of this pale gold SB. Crisp and generous on the palate, you'll appreciate the grapefruit and herbs which linger on the tangy finish; 91/91.

2005 Nobilo, Sauvignon Blanc, Regional Collections, Marlborough, New Zealand, $12. This zesty wine is packed with gooseberry and tropical fruit aromas, while the palate displays nuances of peaches, lemons, and passionfruit; 89/90.

2004 Rodney Strong, Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte's Home, Sonoma County, California, $14. This straw-gold wine gives off lemongrass, melon and citrus aromas which carry over to the palate. There is a nice sense of balance here. Tasty; 86/86.

2005 Veramonte, Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $9, 80,000 cases. Citrusy, grassy, and herbal, the wine is straightforward but quite drinkable, with a crisp, clean finish; 84/84.

Spain wine glasswine glass

2004 Montecillo, Blanco (White Wine), Rioja Alta, Spain, $8. Pleasing aromas of pears, green apples, caramels and hazelnuts underscore the nose. Lean and crisp, this straightforward wine is made for quaffing with grilled white fish or shellfish; 83/84.

2004 Montecillo, Crianza, Rioja Alta, Spain, $8. Produced from 100 percent Tempranillo, you'll find cherries, vanilla, and new leather on the nose. The wine is lean, very crisp and supple, with cherries, ripe cranberries, and aged wood nuances. This begs for a tomato-based dish; 85/88.

2002 Osborne, Dominio de Malpica, Tierra de Castilla, Spain, $15. Straightforward, crisp, and moderately tannic, the wine displays a nice combination of roasted black fruit, leather, spice, vanilla and anise; 84/85.

2004 Osborne, Solaz, Tierra de Castilla, Spain, $8. A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Tempranillo. Smoke, leather, berries and oak are presented in a soft, simple, but very drinkable package; 82/82.

Syrah wine glass

2003 Frei Brothers, Syrah, Russian River Valley, California, $24, 6,300 cases. Almost purple in the glass, the wine has a nice mix of smoke, berries, and oak on the nose. Gobs of blueberry and blackberry fruit highlight the flavor profile, with a splash of coffee for good measure. Very well balanced; 85/85.

2003 Gallo of Sonoma, Syrah, Sonoma County, California, $13, 15,600 cases. The almost overripe nose does not carry through on the palate. There's lots of easy-to-drink berry fruit presented in a balanced package; 84/85.

2003 Glen Fiona, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14, 951 cases. Berries, chocolate and violets unfold on the nose, then repeat on the palate, with a tart, tannic feel to the wine; 83/84.

2001 Glen Fiona, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $17, 1,150 cases. Very tangy and lean, the wine delivers up berries, spice and vanilla across the board. Berry fruit lingers on the finish; 84/85.

2002 Hoodsport, Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington, $27. Deep ruby in color, the wine displays cassis, black cherries, menthol, aged wood, and violets on the nose and palate; 84/84.

2001 McWilliam's, Shiraz, Coonawarra, Australia, $25, 500 cases. The bouquet is an interesting mix of plums, vanilla, American oak and chocolate notes. Tart and moderately tannic, the aromas do an encore on the palate; 85/85.

2004 McWilliam's, Shiraz, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $11. Black cherry, plum and smoke aromas continue on the palate. A soft, fruity wine for grilled fare; 83/83.

2003 Sequel, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $55, 700 cases. Almost black in color, this big boy reveals blackberry, black cherry, smoked game and vanilla notes on the nose. Full, rich, and juicy on the palate, with the flavors echoing the aromas; 91/91.

2004 Talus, Syrah, Lodi, California, $8, 18,300 cases. This is a wine to drink with burgers - not to ponder over. Smoke, berries, plums and oak delineates the sensory profile; 82/82.

Syrah 2002 Valley of the Moon, Syrah, Sonoma County, California, $16. You'll find complex aromas and flavors of smoky black fruit, vanilla, fennel, and barrel notes. Medium bodied, fruity, and balanced; 87/90.

2003 Walter Dacon, C'est Syrah Belle, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 370 cases. All of the Syrahs use 100 percent free-run juice - there is no pressing. This ruby-red wine gives off aromas of dark red fruit, cedary French oak and minerals. The plum and berry fruit rides on a firm backbone of acidity and rounded tannins. Oak is in perfect harmony with the wine; 90/91.

2003 Walter Dacon, C'est Syrah Beaux, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35, 170 cases. Aromas speak of red and black fruit, dill spice and American oak. The wine is very spicy on the entry, with a harmonious feel. You'll find loads of fruit and generous oak on the palate, finishing with berry nuances that linger endlessly; 87/87.

2003 Walter Dacon, C'est Syrah Magnifique, Columbia Valley, Washington, $38, 160 cases. This wine is sold out at the winery, but I saw a few bottles at the local wine shop. Weighing in as a middleweight, the wine is all about balance. Blackberries, European plums, cocoa, and French oak create quite a flavor sensation; 90/90.

Zinfandel wine glass

2003 Dancing Bull, Zinfandel, California, $12, 207,000 cases. Pretty good bang for the buck here. Strawberries and brambly notes present on the nose, while full, generous fruit unfolds in the mouth. Modest finish; 84/86.

2003 Frank Family, Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $35. Blackberries, cherry liqueur, and white pepper spice prevail in this well-structured, fruity, jammy wine; 87/86.

2003 Greg Norman, Zinfandel, California Estates, Lake County, California, $15. Blackberry jam and barrel notes highlight the nose of the wine. Clunky tannins mingle with the modest fruit and spice; 83/83.

2003 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, $16, 23,300 cases. You'll find very ripe plum fruit, cranberry notes, and cedar shavings on the nose. The wine is balanced, fruity, with typical Zin flavors; 85/86.

2003 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d'Oro, Amador County, California, $18, 11,000 cases. Initial bottle stink blew off to reveal dark fruit, spice and wood notes. The palate seems disconnected to the nose, displaying brambly fruit and cracked black pepper; 86/87.

2003 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d'Oro, Deaver Vineyard, Amador County, California, $30, 2,760 cases. Berries, rhubarb, and wood aromas do an encore on the palate. Tangy, with forgiving tannins, the wine expresses power without being overdone; 87/87.

2003 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d'Oro, Home Vineyard, Amador County, California, $30, 550 cases. The wine is deep garnet in color, with aromas of spiced cherries, rhubarb, and cedar. Generous on the palate, with sweet fruit flavors, strawberry jam, spice and vanilla; 86/86.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Barricia, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 1,025 cases. Blackberry, oak and chocolate nuances highlight the nose. The wine has good balance, with typical Zin fruit, but there is no sense of depth; 84/83.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Belloni, Russian River Valley, California, $30, 738 cases. Aromas of berries, currants, spice, and French oak radiate from this deep ruby Zin. The wine is well-integrated, with modest fruit flavors; 86/86.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Big River, Alexander Valley, California, $30, 1,525 cases. In contrast to the black fruit, smoke, spice, and dark chocolate aromas, the palate displays more plums, currants, and vanilla, but less Zin character; 84/83.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Cooke, Sonoma Valley, California, $50, 220 cases. Generous aromas of berries, white peppercorns, dark chocolate and bay leaves highlight the nose. A black pepper streak courses the length of the wine. Concentrated and tannic, this one needs serious cellar time; 88/86.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Dickerson, Napa Valley, California, $30, 1,975 cases. The bouquet is a complex mix of floral notes (lilacs?), eucalyptus, raspberries, chocolate and French oak. Medium to full in the mouth, with nice balance and length - the best of their '03 lineup; 90/90.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Old Hill, Sonoma Valley, California, $60, 1,095 cases. The complex nose reveals berries, vanilla, wood smoke, coffee, and a hint of sun-dried tomatoes. Full on the palate, with silky tannins that firm up on the lengthy finish; 87/85.

2003 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Teldeschi, Dry Creek Valley, California, $30, 2,375 cases. Defined by black fruit, smoky oak, and a touch of coffee, the wine is full and balanced, with a moderate finish; 85/85.

2004 Talus, Zinfandel, Lodi, California, $8, 34,500 cases. Very drinkable right now for the cherries, cola, and brambly fruit - a value to boot; 84/86.

2003 Valley of the Moon, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, $16, 5,900 cases. Sweet brambly fruit and warm spice aromas follow through on the palate as well. The long, jammy finish displays a bit of heat; 84/85.

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