© 2004 by Randy Buckner
July 2004

Early Summer 2004 Releases

We have beverages spanning the globe this issue, from a delightful Australian Riesling to a delectable French liqueur. There are several very good-value wines listed this month, all ready for that summer deck party. I added wine No. 101 at the last moment, the winner of the Washington State Fair "Best of Show." Enjoy your summer and please pray for our troops in the field, whatever your political convictions may be.

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. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.

Cabernet Franc wine glass

2001 Preston, Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. This crimson colored wine gives off aromas of ripe plums (bordering on the overripe), cherries, and generous American oak. Bold acidity and firm but rounded tannins greet the taster. Flavors echo the nose; 84/84.

2001 Windy Point, Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, Washington, $16. I reviewed this a few months ago with consistent notes. Black cherry fruit, cedar, and vanilla aromas carry over to the palate. This is an interesting wine that is light, silky, and made for food; 85/86.

Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux Blends wine glass

2001 Black Opal, Cabernet Merlot, Barossa Valley, Australia, $15. While not real complex, the wine is fruity and easy to drink. Black cherries, berries, menthol, vanilla, and American oak are supported by crisp acids and well-rounded tannins; 84/85.

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16, 175,000 cases. Plums dominate the nose of this ruby red wine, with nuances of blueberry and cedar lurking in the background. Medium-bodied with easy drinking tannins, you'll discover plums, wild berries, and barrel notes on the palate; 83/83.

Chateau Ste Michelle 2001 Chateau Ste Michelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cold Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 10,000 cases. This deeply hued wine gives off delightful aromas of black fruit, licorice, vanilla, and cedar. Rich and inviting on the palate, you are suddenly slammed with heavy, drying tannins which draw your attention away from the lovely fruit. Will the tannins ever resolve? Rating reserved.

2001 Columbia Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11, 195,000 cases. American oak, black cherries, and chocolate notes take the forefront of the nose. Easy in the mouth, the vanilla, oak, and spice flavors dominate the straightforward fruit; 82/82.

1999 Desert Wind, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24. The color has blue highlights deepening the ruby hue. Layers of black fruit and toasty barrel notes carry from the nose to the palate. The wine is full-bodied, with firm, rounded tannins; 85/86.

2001 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Five Rivers Ranch, Central Coast, California, $12. Dried cherries, cherry jam, and vanilla underscore the nose. Medium-bodied with modest tannins, the wine displays straightforward black cherry fruit and barrel notes; 83/84.

2001 Gallo of Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $13, 74,000 cases. Gallo got it right with this value wine. Displaying berry and cherry fruit across the spectrum, this middleweight is balanced and easy to drink right now; 85/88.

2001 GraEagle, RedWing, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $20, 456 cases. A second label of Nicholas Cole, I like this wine as well as their Claret at half the price. Blackberry, black cherry, French oak, smoke, and perfumed notes that I can't put a finger on make quite a statement. Well-balanced, delightful; 88/90.

2001 Nicholas Cole, Claret, Columbia Valley, Washington, $45, 376 cases. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Cabernet Franc. This ruby red wine is made in a fully-extracted style. A host of black cherry, vanilla, cedar, and chocolate aromas greet the taster. Full in the mouth, the palate is a repeat of the nose, with a dash of cinnamon for interest; 88/87.

2002 Pepi, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $8. Crisp, with balanced tannins, the aromas and flavors speak of black cherries, plums, licorice, and vanilla. Packaged with a Stelvin screw cap; 82/83.

2001 Robert Karl, Claret, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 800 cases. This is the wine that won Best of Show at the 2004 Washington State Fair. A terrific value, the wine is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 20% of the other four Bordeaux varieties blended in. Nicely balanced, the Claret is full of lush black fruit and sweet oak flavors; 90/92.

2000 Sutter Home, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $5. Garnet in color, the wine gives off aromas of black fruit and herbal notes. Soft and silky, the fruit is certainly acceptable for the price class; 80/80.

2000 Valley of the Moon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $20, 5,300 cases. Aromas and flavors abound in cassis, cedar, and smoky oak, along with a floral, violet component. Medium-full bodied, the wine has nice balance and structure. Tasty; 87/89.

2001 Windy Point, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Washington, $25. Mixed blue and black fruit unfold on the nose, with a dab of cedar thrown into the mix. Medium-bodied, with nice black cherry fruit and violet undertones; 86/86.

Chardonnay wine glass

2002 Chateau Ste Michelle, Chardonnay, Indian Wells, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18, 15,000 cases. The bouquet is a pleasant mix of pineapples, lemon, roasted nuts, and toasty oak. Full, creamy, and soft, the wine is fruit forward. You'll also find plenty of barrel influence from the new and one-year-old French oak; 87/88.

2002 Columbia Crest, Chardonnay, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11, 285,000 cases. Apple, caramel, and American oak notes are obvious on the nose and palate. Very soft and creamy, the barrel notes linger on the finish; 83/83.

2002 Fetzer, Chardonnay, Five Rivers Ranch, Monterey County, California, $12. This is a very soft Chardonnay, with aromas of ripe apples, toffee, and vanilla. Straightforward apple and vanilla flavors linger on the finish; 83/83.

Hogue 2002 Hogue, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 74,959 cases. Butter, oak, and spice baked apples lead off on the nose, and then carry over to the palate as pear fruit and lots of vanilla and barrel notes. Soft and creamy, this will please fans of this style of wine; 84/86.

2003 Matua, Chardonnay, Gisborne, New Zealand, $11. Subtle oak barrel aging in seasoned Barriques allows the wine to display lovely aromas of nectarine and pineapple. Full on the palate with a creamy texture, the wine is fruit driven with little if any oak influence; 88/90.

2002 Meridian, Chardonnay, Reserve, Santa Barbara County, California, $16. This will be a hit for those who like a crisp, creamy, toasty wine. Aromas and flavors speak of toasted oak with underlying tropical fruit and vanilla cream; 85/85.

2003 Sterling, Chardonnay, Vintner's Collection, Central Coast, California, $11. Sterling did it right here – they didn't bury the wine with oak. The nose is fruit forward with lots of green apples, floral notes, and a touch of citrus. Modest acidity and a creamy viscosity makes it easy to drink right now; 85/88.

2002 Sutter Home, Chardonnay, California, $5. You'll find a clean nose of lemon and white peach fruit. Off-dry and soft on the plate, the flavors extend peach and vanilla notes; 80/80.

Dry Creek Chenin Blanc wine glass

2003 Beringer, Chenin Blanc, California, $6. The wine is off-dry and soft, with aromas of pear, citrus, and casaba melon. Straightforward flavors echo the nose; 80/80.

2003 Dry Creek, Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California, $8.75, 11,500 cases. The name is just a bit of a misnomer since it does have threshold sweetness (0.5%). This is pretty tasty for a New World offering. Aromas and flavors reveal green apples, lemons, and grapefruit zest supported by brisk acidity; 85/87.

Gewurztraminer wine glass

2003 Beringer, Gewurztraminer, California, $8. Typical lychee and orange blossom aromas carry over to the palate as well. Straightforward, light, soft, and off-dry; 80/80.

2003 Chateau St Jean, Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, California, $15, 3,490 cases. You'll find a pretty classic Gewurzt nose of lychee fruit, roses, and orange peel. Off-dry, soft, and viscous, flavors of jasmine, orange peel, and Casaba melon unfold on the palate; 84/84.

2003 Ste Chapelle, Gewurztraminer, Winemaker's Series, Idaho, $8, 3,000 cases. Peach and light floral notes greet the nose. Medium bodied and tart, this is pretty much a "generic white" without any classic Gewurztraminer properties; 82/82.

2001 Windy Point, Gewurztraminer, Yakima Valley, Washington, $10. Aromas speak of lychee fruit, citrus, and a bit of wood from the barrel fermentation. Light and crisp, the wine is tasty but not real varietal in nature; 84/85.

Liqueur wine glass

NV Cointreau, Angers, France, $34. "I wanted to combine crystal clear purity with the subtlety of tastes obtained from the perfect harmony of sweet and bitter orange peels." – Edouard Cointreau. They succeeded from my viewpoint. I always reach for Cointreau to make my Margaritas. Having lived in San Antonio for two years and traveled to Mexico on many occasions, I am very particular about my Margaritas. I was skeptical at Cointreau's recipe for The Sexy Margarita. I was wrong. This is the best "mix" Margarita that I have tried. The recipe: 1 part Cointreau, 2 parts Tequila, 2 parts ice, and three parts Dr. Toro's Sexy Margarita Mix. I feel a party coming on!

Merlot wine glass

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16, 178,000 cases. The wine is medium-bodied, with supple tannins and bright acids. Blackberries, chocolate, cedar, and herbs define this Merlot; 84/85.

2001 Fetzer, Merlot, Five Rivers Ranch, Central Coast, California, $12. Medium-bodied, with slightly bitter, drying tannins, the wine shows black cherries, herbs, and a lot of oak influence throughout; 81/81.

2002 Frei Brothers, Reserve Merlot, Dry Creek Valley, California, $20, 39,000 cases. A rustic Merlot with a ruby/blue hue. Plums, black cherries, cloves, and cedar aromas arise from this full, crisp wine. Flavors mirror the nose, with jammy fruit and toasty oak; 86/87.

2001 Kenwood, Merlot, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $24, 4,900 cases. Lots of barrel notes blend with aromas of black cherries and dried herbs. Lush and fruity with silky tannins, the wood influence finally wins out on the palate; 84/84.

2002 Pepi, Merlot, California, $8. Sporting a Stelvin screw cap, this straightforward Merlot offers up blackberry, chocolate, spice, and cedar notes in a nicely balanced package; 81/81.

2002 Sterling, Merlot, Vintner's Collection, Central Coast, California, $13. The nose is a mix of red and black fruit, vanilla, brown sugar, and oak. Bright acids and smooth tannins lead to lean, straightforward fruit flavors; 81/81.

2001 Windy Point, Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington, $15. Built as a middle-weight, this straightforward Merlot displays black fruit supported by very nice acidity. Quaff down with grilled burgers; 84/85.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

2002 Ca'del Solo, Barbera, Monterey, California, $15. Deeply hued, the wine has a complex array of black fruit, cedar, smoke, and Baker's chocolate. Firm acids and supple tannins give the wine backbone. Long berry aftertaste; 86/87.

2003 Ca'del Solo, Malvasia Bianca, Monterey, California, $13. Grapefruit dances on the nose, accompanied by jasmine on the drums. Medium-bodied with nice acidity, the flavors mirror the nose, with a dash of herbs for added interest. This is a no-brainer for lemongrass chicken; 88/90.

2001 Duckhorn, Paraduxx, Napa Valley Red Wine, California, $43, 11,775 cases. This is a 70/30 blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. A delightful, complex bouquet reveals black fruit, cherry jam, and cedar aromas. Full on the palate with impeccable balance. The sweet fruit marries well with the oak, supported by a moderately tannic backbone. Give this one 3-4 years in bottle; 89/88.

Pinot Gris wine glass

Gabbiano 2003 Castello di Gabbiano, Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie I.G.T., Italy, $10. This is a medium-bodied, balanced wine with melon, pear, and citrus dominating the nose. Melon flavors are most apparent on the palate, with a soft mouth feel; 84/85.

2003 Chateau Ste Michelle, Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 25,000 cases. Delightful melon, peach, and orange zest aromas arise from this light gold offering. Light and harmonious, you'll find friendly green apple fruit flavors and a touch of spice; 85/86.

2003 Duck Pond, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $12, 10,500 cases. Creamy in the mouth, with lemon, ripe peach, and fig aromas and flavors, I'd drink this one early on; 83/83.

2003 Estancia, Pinot Grigio, California, $15, 38,000 cases. Aromas of green apples, orange peel, grapefruit, and canned pineapple morph into flavors of peach, apple and lime fruit. Brisk acids give energy to the wine; 86/86.

2003 Gallo of Sonoma, Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast, California, $13, 13,000 cases. Light, balanced, with a straw gold color. Aromas of peaches, figs, and pears morph into flavors of citrus and melon, with a smoky character; 83/84.

2003 Maso Canali, Pinot Gris, Trentino, Italy, $18, 12,000 cases. The nose is a mix of tropical fruit and cotton candy. Very soft and creamy, the flavors remind you canned mixed fruit; 84/84.

2003 Pepi, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $11. 100% fermented and aged in stainless steel. Lemons, pears, and green apples highlight the nose and carry over to the palate. Simple but tasty, this should pair well with shellfish; 84/85.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2003 Duck Pond, Pinot Noir, Oregon, $12. Duck Pond always seems to do a nice job with this tasty, inexpensive quaffer. Medium-garnet in color, the aromas and flavors speak of ripe black cherries and earthy notes. We need more of these everyday drinkers form Oregon; 85/88.

2002 Fetzer, Pinot Noir, Five Rivers Ranch, Santa Barbara County, California, $12. This garnet colored Pinot gives off aromas of fresh cherries and modest barrel notes. Lightly styled with easy tannins, the wine is simple but tasty. It should pair well with heavier fish dishes; 84/86.

Pedroncelli 2002 Gallo of Sonoma, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California, $15, 30,000 cases. Here's a value Pinot that won't break the bank but will deliver the goods. Made in a light to medium style, the wine is well rounded and speaks of plums, black cherries, and well-integrated oak. Pair with a pork roast; 85/88.

2002 Meridian, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Santa Barbara County, California, $16. Lovely black cherry, pepper, and vanilla scents radiate from this garnet-colored Pinot. Brisk acidity, smooth tannins, and jammy fruit finish on a long note; 86/88.

2002 Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California, $14.50, 4,050 cases. Garnet colored with cherry, cedar, and vanilla notes, designed in a crisp, light to medium style. Tart red cherry and strawberry flavors are presented in a straightforward style; 84/85.

Portugal wine glasswine glass

2003 Casa de Vila Verde, Vinho Verde White Wine, Vinho Verde DO, Portugal, $9. Loureiro and Trajadura comprise the grapes fermented for this wine. Malolactic fermentation was blocked, leaving a very refreshing wine with tart acidity. Green apple, peach, pineapple, and grapefruit aromas and flavors make this a perfect match for shellfish: 86/88.

2003 Joao Portugal Ramos, Marques de Borba White, Alentejo DOC, Portugal, $11. Fermented and aged without any wood allows the apricot, almond, and citrus aromas to express themselves. The wine is very soft and creamy, with straightforward citrus flavors; 82/82.

2003 Quinta da Romeira, Quinta de Romeira, Bucelas DOC, Portugal, $9. 100% Arinto grapes with no wood aging. Aromas of citrus peel, peach, and canned pineapple carry over to the palate. The wine has nice balance with a tangy mouth feel; 85/87.

Riesling wine glass

2003 Annie's Lane, Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia, $14. This straw gold wine offers Old World aromas of petrol and flint. Built in a lean, crisp style, Key limes dance on the palate, with nice minerality giving added character; 90/91.

2003 Beringer, Johannisberg Riesling, California, $8. Aromas are reminiscent of peaches, flowers, and orange slice candy. Off-dry, with modest acidity, the wine is easy to drink now for the peach and floral flavors; 83/84.

Chateau St Jean 2003 Chateau St Jean, Johannisberg Riesling, Sonoma County, California, $15, 2,490 cases. Semi-sweet at 2.47% residual sugar, the wine is soft and creamy. Aromas speak of peaches, pears, and floral notes, while the flavors lean towards ripe nectarine and citrus fruit. More acidity would make this sing; 83/83.

2003 Chateau Ste Michelle, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 375,000 cases. Made in a soft, off-dry style, the aromas speak of white peaches, pears, and citrus. Straightforward, pleasant, with flavors echoing the nose; 83/84.

2003 Eroica, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 18,000 cases. The nose has a lovely mix of tangerines and pears. Off-dry at 1.65% residual sugar, the acidity barely carries the load. Flavors repeat the nose with some modicum of complexity; 86/86.

2003 Ste Chapelle, Riesling, Ice Wine Reserve Series, Idaho, $21/375ml, 2,400 cases. Intensely aromatic, with peaches, apricots, and honey abounding. There is just enough acidity in the wine to prevent that cloying feel and the wine delivers concentrated fruit flavors. Enjoy as a dessert or pair with a chocolate torte; 88/88.

2003 Ste Chapelle, Riesling, Special Harvest Winemaker's Series, Idaho, $11, 8,991 cases. There is not enough acidity to match the 7.35% residual sugar unless you prefer a soft wine. Aromas and flavors deliver peach and apricot fruit; 82/82.

2003 Ste Chapelle, Riesling, Winemaker's Series, Idaho, $8, 53,099 cases. Simple but quaffable, the wine is balanced, light, off-dry, with peach and apricot aromas and flavors; 82/82.

2001 Windy Point, Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington, $13. Peach and pear fruit highlight the nose and palate. Light and crisp, this is a nice food wine. Pair with a grilled ling cod filet; 86/87.

Sangiovese wine glass

2002 Ca'del Solo, Sangiovese, "Il Fiasco," Monterey, California, $15. Black cherry liqueur and Kir start swinging in the first round. Tart acidity and rounded tannins take it to you in the second round, while blackberries, currants, and mixed herbs deliver a knockout punch to the palate. Delightful; 87/90.

2001 Hogue, Sangiovese, Terroir, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 137 cases. Here's a well-balanced wine with excellent tannin management. Brimming with aromas of dried cherries, coffee, dark chocolate, and French oak, the wine is intensely fruity, with oak well in the background. The endless aftertaste is punctuated by chocolate and mint nuances; 89/90.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

2003 Hogue, Fumé Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 48,500 cases. Stainless steel fermentation and aging allows clean aromas and flavors of Ruby Red grapefruit, peaches, and citrus peel. The 17% blend of Semillon adds a touch of spice to this crisp, fruity wine; 87/89.

2003 Matua, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $11. Lots of gooseberry, lime, and herbs unfold on the nose. Medium-bodied and tart, the citrus, jalapeno, and tropical flavors linger for some time on the palate; 89/91.

Pedroncelli 2003 Pedroncelli, Sauvignon Blanc, East Side Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, California, $10, 4,920 cases. No oak or MLF was used in the wine's production. Lemongrass aromas dominate. Lean and crisp, you'll appreciate grapefruit, lemongrass, and subtle white peach notes in the mouth; 86/88.

2003 Pepi, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $8. This wine only saw stainless steel. Lively aromas of gooseberries and tarragon are found in a fresh presentation. Flavors lean towards the grapefruit and guava spectrum; 85/87.

2003 Preston, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. The wine was aged in new American oak, which unfortunately dominates the nose and palate, with citrus notes struggling to be recognized; 82/82.

2003 Rancho Zabaco, Sauvignon Blanc, Dancing Bull, California, $10, 80,000 cases. This straw-colored wine is packed with charming aromas of gooseberries, limes, and tropical fruit. Medium-bodied, crisp, and balanced, the flavors mirror the nose. This will give the New Zealand wines a run for their money; 89/91.

2003 Sterling, Sauvignon Blanc, Vintner's Collection, Central Coast, California, $10. Sporting a lovely wheat straw color, the nose reveals obvious lemongrass notes upfront, with citrus and stone fruit coming in later. The wine is soft and creamy, with more peach and grapefruit in the mouth; 84/85.

Semillon wine glass

2002 Desert Wind, Semillon, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Straw gold in color, the wine gives off aromas of smoky figs and citrus zest. Spicy oak flavors are upfront followed by figs, smoke, and lemon oil; 85/86.

2002 Duck Pond, Semillon Desert Wine, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35. Gold in color with a burnt orange tinge. Thick, viscous, and quite soft, the wine has intense honey, peach, and fig aromas and flavors that would dance with more acidity, 84/83.

Spain wine glasswine glass

2003 Comercial Oula, Albariño, Vionta Estate, Rías Baixas, Spain, $17. Albariño is my favorite Spanish white. This light gold offering gives off aromas of green apples, lemons, and pears. Tart and creamy, the ripe fruit makes a bold statement. This is the perfect shellfish companion; 87/89.

2001 Fra Guerau, Montsant Red Wine, Spain, $15. Lots of cherry and raspberry fruit, earthy notes, and oak spice delight the nose. On the palate you'll realize tart cherry fruit, game, floral notes, and easy tannins. Pair with heavier fish or fish stew; 87/89.

2001 Morlanda, Criança, Priorat, Spain, $45. Light ruby in color, the aromas reflect bright red cherries, cranberries, cinnamon, and American oak. Flavors are a repeat of the nose, however the oak influence is pretty heavy handed; 86/85.

Prior Terra 1998 Morlanda, Prior Terrae, Priorat, Spain, $200. Multifaceted and aromatic, with layers of plums, leather, anise, chocolate, and coffee unfolding, this big boy is full-bodied, with firm, rounded tannins. Layers of complexity unfold in the mouth and linger endlessly on the palate. Only twenty 3-packs were imported to the US; 91/88.

2002 Segura Viudas, Creu de Lavit, Penedès, Spain, $14. This straw colored wine gives off aromas of apples, citrus, and butter. Relative crisp and spicy on the entry, the palate displays tart apple, citrus, and spice, with oak in the background. Interesting; 85/87.

2000 Segura Viudas, Tempranillo, Mas d'Aranyó Reserva, Penedès, Spain, $14. Deeply hued with blueberry, anise, black plum, and American oak aromas, this is a big wine with bold tannins. Bright fruit unfolds, with the 25% Cabernet Sauvignon exerting its influence. Intense, tasty; 88/91.

2002 Valdubón, Cosecha, Ribera del Duero, Spain, $12. Aromas of dried cherries with blueberry undertones highlight this tart, medium-bodied wine. The fruit evolves into black cherries and plums in the mouth. It was tasty with blackened fish; 85/88.

1999 Valdubón, Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain, $28. You'll find an enchanting nose of black cherries, plums, and wood spice. Full in the mouth, the wine is crisp, with manageable tannins. Flavors mirror the nose. Drink now or over the next decade with grilled lamb chops; 88/88.

Sparkling Wine wine glass

2003 Ca'del Solo, Freisa (Frizzante), Monterey County, California, $20. Here's a great aperitif wine to beat the heat this summer. Replicating a Piemonte tradition, this sweet sparkler is loaded with strawberries, jam, and black currant aromas and flavors. You can also enjoy this with a seasonal fruit plate; 86/86.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Noirs, Washington, $10. While this will never be confused with premium Champagne, it is a pleasant enough quaff in its own right. This sparkler is apricot in color with light strawberry notes; 82/83.

NV Mumm Napa, Sparkling Wine, Cuvée M, Napa Valley, California, $18, 20,000 cases. Pale apricot in color and displaying a medium bead, this sparkler gives off aromas of stone fruit, honey, and baked bread. Crisp and sweet at 3.1% residual sugar, this is the equivalent to Sec Champagne. Pear and strawberry linger on the finish; 83/83.

1998 Mumm Napa, Sparkling Wine, DVX, Napa Valley, California, $45, 4,500 cases. The nose is full of apricot, apple, strawberry, and toasted nut notes, which follow through on the palate. Crisp and creamy, the finish speaks of cashews and baked bread; 88/88.

NV Mumm Napa, Sparkling Wine, 25th Anniversary Reserve Brut, Napa Valley, California, $25, 8,000 cases. Light gold with a medium-fine bead and a crisp feel. Green apple, cherry, vanilla, and toasty aromas present on the palate as cherry, fig, vanilla, and cashew notes, 86/86.

Syrah wine glass

2001 Black Opal, Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia, $15. This purple/red Shiraz gives off aromas of blackberries, sun-dried tomatoes, and cedar. Full, well-balanced, with fine tannins. Flavors speak of plums, berries, and barrel notes, with nuances of licorice and coffee; 85/87.

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle, Syrah, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 3,000 cases. You won't read print through this deeply hued wine. The nose is full of black fruit, chocolate, and smoked game. Full on the palate, with very well-managed tannins, the wine shows excellent balance. Black cherry and raspberry fruit, chocolate, and cinnamon spice highlight the palate, with the fruit managing the generous oak at this point; 90/90.

2001 Duck Pond, Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 1,055 cases. Almost black in the glass, the black fruit aromas have a meaty edge. Full-bodied with firm but rounded tannins. You'll find plenty of black fruit, violet overtones, and a bit of cinnamon from the oak; 88/88.

2001 Fetzer, Syrah, Five Rivers Ranch, Central Coast, California, $12. Plums and blueberries highlight this deeply hued wine. Straightforward with coarse tannins, I'd pair this with a hearty beef stew; 83/84.

2001 Hogue, Syrah, Terroir, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 238 cases. Deeply hued. Obvious aromas of cherries and violets are right up front, with nuances of new leather and barrel notes. Very lush on the palate with bright acidity and ripe tannins. French oak is quite apparent but is absorbed by the intense fruit at this stage of development; 88/88.

2002 Meridian, Syrah, Reserve, Santa Barbara County, California, $16. Aromas of plums, black cherries, blueberries and French oak stem from this intensely colored Syrah. It is easy to drink right now with its bright acidity and silky tannins. You'll find lots of berry and vanilla notes on the palate; 85/87.

2003 Santa Barbara Winery, Rosé of Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, California, $14, 195 cases. The wine has a dark rosé hue. The aromas and flavors are difficult to delineate, with some kind of wild berry fruit and smoke. The mix seems to be a perfect match for an olive tapenade; 85/86.

2001 Windy Point, Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington, $17. Made in a light style that is food friendly, you'll find black fruit and smoke across the spectrum; 85/87.

Zinfandel wine glass

Pedroncelli 2001 Pedroncelli, Zinfandel, Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 10,240 cases. Medium-bodied, with rustic, drying tannins. Plums, raspberries, and American oak pretty well profile the wine; 83/84.

2002 Rancho Zabaco, Zinfandel, Chiotti Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $28, 2,086 cases. The wine is full on the palate, with firm tannins and tangy acidity. Aromas of black cherries, warm spices, and light barrel notes evolve on the palate into black cherry jam, ginger, and vanilla; 87/87.

2002 Rancho Zabaco, Zinfandel, Stefani Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $28, 2,146 cases. Ruby in color, the wine does not exhibit varietal characteristics to me. While having nice balance and ripe tannins, the aromas and flavors speak of cassis, dried cherries, wormwood, and leather; 85/85.

Batch 01 Windy Point, Zinfandel, American, $13. The grapes came from the Lodi region of California, all 2001 vintage. The wine is very light and spicy, with cherry and earthy notes. This is a red wine lovers wine for fish; 84/85.

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