Bucko's New Releases

© 2003 by Randy Buckner
October, 2003

Autumn 2003 Releases

There has been a lot of talk about "typicity" on the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group of late. Salient points have been raised on both sides of the argument between those who believe that wine should reflect the grapes and the region wher they are grown and those who prefer to "push the envelope." The conversation gets a little stimulating at times. It is certainly worth your time to surf over and put in your two cents' worth, http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/.

While I am on the side of those who prefer a classical presentation of the grape, I can understand those who take the other side. As should be the case with all professional wine judges, I set aside personal biases when evaluating these wines. However, I believe it is my obligation to point out these stylistic wines so that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.

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 Sauvignon wine glass

2001 Castillo De Molina, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Molina, Chile, $9. Aromas of dark wood, ripe red cherries and berries flow from this deep ruby wine. Full-bodied, lush and silky, this is a great sub-$10 wine, loaded with blackberries, black cherries, and sweet vanilla; 87/89.

Dry Creek 2000 Dry Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $21, 22,000 cases. This dark ruby Cab gives off complex scents of cherries, blueberries, cigar leaf and vanilla. Medium to full-bodied, the flavors echo the nose. The tannins demand a few years of aging but the fruit is up to it; 87/89.

2001 Echelon, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $12, 11,682 cases. Deeply hued, the wine gives off aromas and flavors of black cherries, mint and oak barrel notes. Tannins are pretty astringent and needs a hardy dish to pair with; 83/83.

NV Forgeron, Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15, 746 cases. Predominantly a Cab/Merlot blend, they also added 6% Syrah. Aromas and flavors speak of black cherries, currants, cedar, violets and vanilla. Firm tannins demand a steaming bowl of hearty beef stew; 85/87.

2000 Hess Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $20. This wine is richly colored with a delightful mix of black cherries, cedar and vanilla on the nose. Elegant, balanced, with chewy tannins, the fruit here delivers adequate pleasure; 87/87.

2000 Kenwood, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $16, 51,000 cases. Always a good value, this one maintains the standard. The nose display currants, black cherries and cedar that continue on the palate, with added berry fruit. Rounded tannins carry through on the lengthy finish; 86/88.

1999 Lyeth, Red Meritage, Sonoma County, California, $13. Ruby red in color, the nose of this blend is filled with plums, berries, cedar and dried herbs. The wine is very polished on the entry, with the fruit mirroring the aromas. Zippy acidity ties it all together. Match with beef or game; 86/88.

2002 McWilliam's Cabernet Sauvignon, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $12. Medium-bodied, crisp, with bold tannins, this youthfully colored Cab has aromas of blackberries, herbs and cedar. Dark fruit, chocolate and cedary notes linger in the mouth; 83/84.

2000 Peachy Canyon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, $25, 1,478 cases. Aromas of cassis and cedar emanate from this deeply hued wine. Medium-bodied, with ripe tannins and integrated oak, the layers of black fruit should complex nicely with bottle age; 87/88.

2000 Peachy Canyon, Cabernet Sauvignon, DeVine, Paso Robles, California, $50, 477 cases. Dark ruby in the glass with aromas of black currants, dried cherries and mixed oak. Tannins are bold, but ripe, and should soften with time. Flavors mimic the nose; 87/86.

2000 Peachy Canyon, Bordeaux Blend, Para Siempre, Paso Robles, California, $38, 511 cases. This ruby red wine gives off a lovely perfume of mixed berries and cedar shakes. Full, lush and well-structured, the tannins definitely need cellar time. The lengthy aftertaste reveals red and black fruit, tobacco leaf, and cedar notes; 87/87.

Woodbridge 2001 Turning Leaf, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Reserve, Central Coast, California, $12. Purple-red in color, this value priced Cab has aromas of black cherries, currants, and wood, with threshold sweetness noted. Chalky mineral flavors adds to the fruit; 83/84.

1999 William Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $38, 3,948 cases. This is an elegant wine, with lovely aromas of cassis, cedar and vanilla. Rich fruit is highlighted by tobacco, leather, and mint. Tannins are obvious but rounded, making an ageworthy wine; 90/90.

2000 Woodbridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Dirt Ridge, California, $11. You'll find a pretty nice nose of blackberries, spice and cocoa. Blackberry and cola flavors prevail on the palate of this middleweight. Good value; 85/87.

Chardonnay wine glass

2000 Artesa, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $15. Sparkling gold in color, this is a full-bodied wine with nice acidity and a creamy texture. Aromas of pears, apples, sweet oak and toast give way to complex flavors unexpected at this price level. Very good value; 88/90.

2000 Black Swan, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $8. Gold in color, crisp, light, with straightforward tropical fruit and toasty oak aromas and flavors; 83/84.

2002 Bogle, Chardonnay, California, $9. Pears, apples and honeysuckle all intermix on the nose. Crisp and fruit forward, you'll pick up on American oak and spice in the background. Nice for the price; 85/87.

2002 Forgeron, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 594 cases. This sparkling gold beauty has a boatload of aromas ranging from pears and apples, to citrus and light barrel notes. Full in the mouth with lovely fruit and brisk acids, they also did a nice job with oak integration; 89/91.

2002 McWilliam's, Chardonnay, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $12. The nose is filled with a fragrance of pineapples, yellow peaches and toasted wood notes. Refreshing acidity supports the peach, melon, butterscotch and oak flavors; 84/85.

2001 Rutherford Ranch, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $12. Made in the standard California style, you'll discover aromas and flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel, with underlying tropical fruit and pears. Soft and creamy; 83/84.

2001 San Juan Vineyards, Chardonnay, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17. Juicy apple notes abound in this light gold Chardonnay, which is the best white of their line. There is a nice balance between the fruit, acids, and oak influence. This beauty has an elegant, lingering aftertaste; 88/90.

2001 Sterling, Chardonnay, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $40, 1,500 cases. This light gold Chard has a creamy presentation and shows slightly more complexity than their Winery Lake bottling. The palate displays a host of pineapple, honey, toasted cashew, and caramel apple flavors, with a long, toasty finish; 88/87.

Woodbridge 2001 Sterling, Chardonnay, Winery Lake, Carneros, California, $25, 4,500 cases. This light gold Chardonnay is made in a classic California style. Full of butterscotch, vanilla, almond, baked apple and pineapple aromas and flavors, the wine has a creamy mouth feel; 87/87.

2001 Turning Leaf, Chardonnay, Coastal Reserve, Central Coast, California, $12. Unfortunately corked, with no replacement bottle.

2002 Valley of the Moon, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $15, 11,900 cases. Scents of tangerine, vanilla and toasty oak stem from this light gold Chard. Soft and medium-bodied, you'll find straightforward flavors of apples, lemon zest and wood; 85/86.

2001, Woodbridge, Chardonnay, Ghost Oak California, $11. Pears, vanilla and toasty aromas dominate the nose, while caramel, oak, pear and hazelnut flavors round out the wine; 82/84.

Italian wine glasswine glass

1997 Antario, Barolo, D.O.C.G., Italy, $35. This Barolo has a ruby/brick hue, with lovely, rich aromas of black cherries, tar and aged leather. Medium-bodied with firm tannins, the flavors mirror the nose then linger on the finish; 88/88.

2002 Bella Sera, Chardonnay, delle Venezie, Italy, $7, 100,000 cases. You'll realize apples, tropical fruit and vanilla throughout the wine's spectrum. Soft on the palate, the wine seems dry in spite of 0.75% residual sugar. Straightforward but offering nice value; 83/85.

1996 Campo della Spinaia, Rosso di Montalcino, Italy, $25. Dried cherries and earth are immediately apparent on the nose, with a hint of anise. Very crisp on the entry, the tannins announce their presence as well. Ripe cherry fruit holds its own from start to finish; 87/87.

2002 Canaletto, Pinot Grigio, del Veneto, Italy, $10. Very fruity, with floral notes and peach fruit on the nose and palate. The wine has a crisp mouth feel and a long aftertaste. It matched well with Shrimp Louie; 88/90.

2001 Canaletto, Merlot/Nero d'Avola, Winemaker's Collection, Di Sicilia, $10. This 30/70% blend is a great red wine for grilled halibut. Made in a light style, this straightforward wine has aged cherry fruit and brisk acids. Nice value; 85/87.

2000 Canaletto, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy, $10. The bright red cherry nose is only a forerunner to the explosion of fruit in the mouth. Very expressive, with easy tannins and a brisk bite. This is an excellent value; 87/90.

2001 Canaletto, Primitivo di Puglia, Winemaker's Collection, Italy, $10. This wine is made in the fruity, jammy style common these days. A middleweight with modest tannins, drink this one over the couple of years; 85/87.

2001 Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti, DOCG, Italy, $14. Black cherry and spice notes radiate from this garnet colored Chianti. Very soft with easy tannins, this is an early drinker with straightforward fruit; 82/82.

Nivuro 2001 Nivuro, Nero d'Avola/Cabernet Sauvignon, Sicilia, $17. Here's a fun wine. You'll enjoy a pleasant peppery streak running through this 70/30 blend, along with sweet vanilla notes often ascribed to the wine. Fruity and satisfying overall, the tannins have been well managed; 87/90.

1997 Villalta, Amarone, Della Valpolicella, Single Vineyard 'I Comunali,' Italy, $32. The wine has an enchanting nose of black fruit and leather. Full in the mouth, fruity, and with nice complexity, there is a sense of things to come; 88/88.

2001 Virtuoso, Chardonnay, Trentino, Italy, $20. This is a clean, crisp wine with a subtle nose of apples, almonds and lemon peel. Flavors mirror the nose, with a touch of crème brulee on the finish. Nice change of pace; 88/88.

2000 Virtuoso, Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, $20. This is a big boy. Very focused and intense, the earthy, brambly fruit delivers quite a punch. The style is not for everyone, but it is true to variety; 91/91.

Merlot wine glass

2001 Bogle, Merlot, California, $9. Pleasant aromas of black cherries, vanilla and herbs are found in this well-balanced wine. Full in the mouth, the wine is very fruity, with plenty of herbal notes and a prolonged finish; 85/87.

1999 Chateau Julien, Merlot, Private Reserve, Monterey County, California, $30. Full aromas of black cherries, berries, and cedar repeat on the palate. Complex, fruity, and tannic, the wine needs a few years of cellar time; 87/87.

2001 Echelon, Merlot, Central Coast, California, $12, 47,500 cases. Floral notes and cherries intermingle on the nose. Crisp, with middleweight tannins, you'll find straightforward cherry and cola flavors; 83/83.

2001 Forgeron, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $26, 920 cases. Deeply colored, the nose is filled with blueberries, blackberries, smoky barrel influence and milk chocolate. The wine is well-balanced, with lively acidity and firm tannins that sneak up on you. This one needs time to integrate the oak and to let the tannins complex out, which is exactly what I believe this wine will do; 89+/89+.

2001 L de Lyeth, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $10. Bright red cherries and raspberries cascade across the senses. Medium to full-bodied, extremely fruity and complex for ten bucks, this is a stunning value that you should not miss out on; 87/91.

2002 McWilliam's, Merlot, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $12. Dark ruby in color with lots of wood, plums and herbs on the nose. Nicely structured with modest tannins, the flavors mirror the nose. Dark chocolate becomes apparent on the finish; 83/84.

2000 Preston, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14. Loads of black cherry, smoke and dark wood aromas emanate from this deeply hued wine. Full-bodied, with bold tannins, the wine is exceedingly fruity, with oak to match – which will ultimately win out? 87/88.

2000 Rutherford Ranch, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $12. Aromas are reminiscent of cherries, herbs and a bundle of cedar shakes, which carry over to the palate with a little cola thrown in the mix. Simple but tasty, made for early consumption; 83/84.

2001 Sagelands, Merlot, Four Corners, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 19,500 cases. A delightful bouquet filled with cherries, plums, vanilla and tobacco leaf delights the nose. Balanced, with soft tannins, this wine has a lot to offer for twelve bucks. It is fruity, tasty, and surprisingly complex; 87/90.

2001 San Juan Vineyards, Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington, $13. I actually prefer this to their reserve version. Very approachable now, this Merlot is packed with aromas of black cherries, herbs, chocolate and wood. Medium-bodied, balanced, with soft tannins, this dandy little wine should pair well with a host of foods. Good value; 86/88.

2000 Snoqualmie, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23, 1,000 cases. Somewhat reticent on the nose, blackberry scents were eventually coaxed out. Medium in weight with crisp acids, the tannins have been well-harnessed. Blackberry and currant fruit is augmented by spicy oak that is not overblown. There is a sense of more to come with a little bottle age; 88+/90+.

2000 William Hill, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $21, 15,000 cases. You'll find a complex nose of blackberries, blueberries, vanilla and old wood. Soft in the mouth, this middleweight unfolds in layers of blueberries, dewberries, cedar, vanilla and herbs. Elegant; 87/87.

2000 Woodbridge, Merlot, Clay Hollow, California, $11. Simple, yet appealing for short term consumption, the wine displays aromas and flavors of black cherries, mocha, herbs and Pekoe tea; 83/85.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

2001 Bogle, Petite Sirah, California, $10. Almost black in the glass, the aromas are reminiscent of blackberry fruit, vanilla and toasty wood notes. The tannins are well harnessed for a Petite. Ripe fruit and plenty of vanilla greet the palate, finishing on a crisp note; 84/86.

2002 Ca' del Solo, Malvasia Bianca, Monterey, California, $13. Smelling this wine will remind you of fresh cut Ruby grapefruit. Well-balanced and crisp, this one is loaded with juicy grapefruit flavors. A delightful change of pace; 88/90.

Dry Creek 2002 Dry Creek, Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California, $8.75, 10,000 cases. Consistently this is one of the better New World offerings available. Bone dry and only seeing stainless steel, the nose abounds in melon, mango and pineapple scents. Tropical fruit dominates the palate as well, finishing clean and crisp; 88/90.

1999 McWilliam's Cabernet Shiraz, 1877, South Eastern Australia, $75, 250 cases. Launched in April 2002 to commemorate the family-owned company's 125th anniversary, the wine takes its name from the year the company's first vines were planted in Corowa, New South Wales. Inky black in the glass, the wine is powerful yet subtle at the same time. Complex layers of fruit are enhanced by the bright acidity, polished tannins and French oak. It was fun just to enjoy the black fruit, cedar, licorice, and French oak aromas. Not cheap at $75, but certainly competes well with the wines in that price range. Delightful juice; 92/91.

2002 Meridian, Gewurztraminer, Santa Barbara County, California, $8. Typical aromas and flavors of lychee fruit and spice course through the wine. Lightly sweet and displaying nice acidity for this varietal wine, the flavors linger on the palate; 83/84.

2002 San Juan Vineyards, Madeleine Angevine, Estate Grown, San Juan Island, Washington, $12.50.This straw colored wine gives off oodles of ripe peach aromas. Crisp, with just a hint of sweetness, the wine has a pleasant 12% alcohol level. Built in a lean style with white peach and melon essence, this will be a nice match for oysters or white fish; 85/86.

2001 San Juan Vineyards, Semillon-Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9.75. Aromas of yellow delicious apples and delicate vanilla spice emanate from this light gold wine. Smooth and crisp, you'll find a host of buttery flavors to accompany the ripe apple fruit and fig spice. The Sem-Chard finishes with a slightly bitter bite; 84/85.

2002 Valley of the Moon, Pinot Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $15, 11,700 cases. Tropical fruit, peaches and Key limes make up a lovely bouquet. Wood detracts from the lovely peach and pear fruit of this crisp middleweight and is unnecessary; 84/83.

Pinot Gris wine glass

2002 Meridian, Pinot Grigio, California, $11. Here's a tasty, value-priced wine. Jasmine and citrus delight the nose. Refreshingly light, crisp, with a sense of roundness to the wine, you'll enjoy the lemon zest and light vanilla flavors; 87/88.

2002 Rancho Zabaco, Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast, California, $20, 9,980 cases. Scents of tropical fruit and flowers emanate from this straw colored Gris. Nicely balanced and light-bodied, there is a touch of heat on the finish. Mango, pear and grapefruit zest pleasure the palate; 86/85.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2001 Artesa, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $20. A breath of fresh air amongst all of the monster Pinots these days, the nose yields aromas of black cherries, raspberries, and toasty old wood notes. Medium-bodied and silky smooth, the wine is lovely to drink right now, with lingering cherry flavors; 88/90.

Barefoot 2002 Barefoot Cellars, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $15, 2,241 cases. This medium-bodied wine has a nice acid backbone and rounded tannins. Strawberry, cherry and vanilla aromas are mirrored on the palate, with cranberry flavors adding additional complexity; 85/87.

2002 Duck Pond, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $9, 17,000 cases. Displaying ripe red cherries and sweet oak on the nose and in the mouth, this is always a honest value in Pinot Noir. Lightly styled for near term consumption, the wine is a good match for fish such as grilled halibut; 85/90.

2000 Edmeades, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, California, $20, 4,444 cases. Very perfumed, with a host of strawberry, raspberry and tea aromas. The whopping 15.7% alcohol does not seem hot at the moment. Earthy, fruity, with a slightly bitter bite, the wine finishes on a spicy, toasty note; 84/84.

2001 Shea Wine Cellars, Pinot Noir, Block 23, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $48. The 200-acre Shea vineyard lies in the heart of Oregon's Willakenzie district and supplies grapes to many other vintners. This Pinot shows good concentration of earthy black cherry fruit. Deft use of oak is refreshing, as is the brisk acidity. Tannins will moderate with a little bottle age; 89/88.

2001 Sineann, Pinot Noir, Reed & Reynolds, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $42. Very dark in the glass, the nose sports black cherry fruit and hints of vanilla. Oak is used as a seasoning, not a main course. The wine is very fruity on the palate and the tannins tend to sneak up on you. They should soften with time; 88/87.

2001 Sterling, Pinot Noir, Winery Lake, Carneros, California, $25, 6,000 cases. Light ruby in color and displaying nice balance of tannins and acids, the wine has straightforward aromas and flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, and warm spices; 85/85.

Port wine glass

1996 Cockburn's, Anno, Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal, $20. Displaying an intense nose of plums, red fruit, brown sugar and nutmeg, this full-bodied Port is a little more refined than the Special Reserve. A nice example of an LBV; 89/91.

NV Cockburn's, Fine Ruby Port, Portugal, $12. Intense, ripe aromas of blackberries, cherries and coffee delight the nose. Sweet, with moderate tannins, you'll pick up a bit of heat from the 20% ETOH. Flavorful red fruit and cocoa makes this a nice match for a slice of Roquefort cheese after dinner. A nice Ruby; 87/89.

NV Cockburn's, Fine Tawny Port, Portugal, $12. Considerably more color than their 10 and 20-year-old Tawnies. Modest aromas of red fruit and toffee are followed by very sweet fruit flavors. Quite smooth, with cashew flavors on the finish; 83/83.

NV Cockburn's, Special Reserve Port, Portugal, $16. The Special Reserve is a "Vintage Character" Port, but is ready to drink when bottled. Richly colored, with aromas of brown sugar, spice and red fruit, this Port is full on the palate, with rich flavors and smooth flavors. The Special Reserve Port shows a bit more character than the Ruby Port; 88/90.

Cockburn's 10 Years Old Tawny Port, Portugal, $30. Founded in 1815, Cockburn's is the largest vineyard owner in the Port district. Their Tawny Port is ready to drink upon release. Very well-balanced and perhaps a bit drier than some of the competitors (11% residual sugar), the wine shows nice complexity and smoothness. The warm caramel and nutty flavors linger on the prolonged aftertaste; 88/88.

Cockburn's 20 Years Old Tawny Port, Portugal, $50. With even nuttier, more fruity aromatics than the 10 Years Old, this Port is also noticeably smoother and more complex. There is plenty of fruit to enjoy and a bit more sweetness than its younger cousin. While the 10 Years Old may offer the better value for everyday enjoyment, this is one to sip on with friends while reflecting on life; 90/89.

Rhone wine glasswine glass

2001 Louis Bernard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Red, France, $29. A blend of thirteen grapes, Grenache is the major player here. The nose displays black fruit, coffee, cedar and spice. Medium-bodied, crisp, with easy tannins, the wine is pretty tight right now. Flavors mirror the nose, with a long aftertaste; 87+/87+.

2000 Louis Bernard, Cotes-du-Rhone Red, France, $9. This is a Grenache predominant blend with a ruby red color and a nose of berries and cherries. Soft, fruity, with a peppery streak, this is a nice, simple quaffer for the BBQ; 84/86.

Riesling wine glass

2002 Bonny Doon, Heart has its Rieslings, American Riesling, $15. Grapes for this wine come from eastern Washington. At 7.9% residual sugar, the wine is quite sweet but has adequate balancing acidity. Aromas of peaches and flowers expand on the palate to reveal additional baked pears and caramel notes; 86/86.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

Barefoot 2002 Barefoot, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $15, 690 cases. Tangerine and lemon scents radiate from this light gold wine. Clean, crisp, with pear and lime fruit, the aftertaste also speaks of limes; 85/85.

2002 Chateau Julien, Sauvignon Blanc, Barrel Fermented, Monterey, California, $9. Pale straw, with melon aromas, this straightforward wine demonstrates citrus fruit, subtle oak notes and modest acidity; 81/81.

2002 Dry Creek, Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $12.75, 40,000 cases. David Stare started Dry Creek with the 1972 vintage. Thirty vintages later the Fumé Blanc is still a front runner. Crisp and vibrant, the aromas and flavors unfold in layers of citrus, lemongrass and grapefruit notes. Can you say fresh oysters? 86/88.

2002 Meridian, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast, California, $8. Half of this wine was barrel fermented, but the oak is not overt. Lemongrass and subtle toasty notes define the nose. The wine is easy to drink, with a rounded feel and ample Casaba melon and citrus fruit; 83/85.

2002 Rancho Zabaco, Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, California, $20, 10,476 cases. This light gold beauty has bold aromas and flavors of grapefruit and lemongrass, lovely balance, and a long, lively finish; 87/87.

2001 Rutherford Ranch, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $10, 4,480 cases. The shade of wheat straw, this wine sports a lovely grassy, citrusy nose. Full in the mouth with lively acidity, flavors range from lemon to gooseberry, finishing with a slightly bitter bite; 85/87.

Sherry wine glass

NV Domecq, Fino Sherry, La Ina, Spain, $15. I am not a fan of dry Sherry, but that is a personal preference and this Sherry is well made. Light gold in color with aromas of almond extract, roasted nuts and olive oil, this is a bone-dry Fino. The almond, yeast and toasty flavors should pair well with various cheeses and nuts; 85/85.

NV Domecq, Fino Sherry, Manzanilla, Spain, $15. Solera aged under a layer of flor yeast, this is a very light, dry Sherry, with a sense of sea salt and toasty flavors; 85/85.

NV Domecq, Amontillado Sherry, Spain, $15. This is a medium dry Sherry with a lovely burnt orange coloration. The nose is filled with aromas of hazelnuts. Seemingly less sweet than the 4.0% RS, the wine is loaded with cashew and toffee flavors; 87/87.

NV Harveys, Bristol Cream Sherry, Spain, $14. This is the most popular imported Sherry in the United States. It is easy to like with its nutty, raisiny, brown sugar aromas and flavors. The 14% RS comes from the addition of vino dolce wine created from the Pedro Ximénez grape; 87/87.

Sparkling Wine wine glass

NV Mumm Napa, Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley, California, $18, 25,000 cases. Displaying a pale salmon color with a medium bead, this Sparkler has aromas of Pinot Noir and toast. Refreshingly tart in the mouth with lovely fruit, this is a quality, value-priced wine for the upcoming holidays; 88/90.

NV Mumm Napa, Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, California, $18, 180,000 cases. Lovely floral aromas arise from this light gold wine. Very crisp and full, the wine has a lovely mix of melons, vanilla and bread dough. Dandy value; 89/91.

1997 Mumm Napa, DVX, Napa Valley, California, $45, 6,000 cases. Mumm chose only seven out of 91 lots for use in the DVX, which pays homage to the late Guy Devaux, Mumm Napa Valley's founding winemaker. A mix of light raspberries, pear and green apple delights the nose, while the medium-fine bead dances in the light. Very rich and complex, the bright fruit is enhanced by nutty nuances and bread dough. This is a stunning new world effort; 91/91.

NV Roederer Estate, Sparkling Wine, Brut, Anderson Valley, California, $22, 65,000 cases. You'll notice a medium-fine bead in this light straw sparkler. Pear, toast and apple notes are conveyed from the nose to the mouth, where laser beam acidity awakens the palate. Very refreshing, with a sense of elegance; 89/90.

NV Tosti, Pinot Grigio, Canelli, Italy, $10. Here's a lively little sparkler that should be the hit with the crowds without too much damage to the pocketbook. Light, refreshing, crisp, with a small bead, you'll appreciate pineapple and bread dough nuances. This will be fine as an aperitif or with shellfish; 86/88.

Syrah wine glass

2002 Black Swan, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, $8. Straightforward, with brisk acidity, you'll find berries, smoke and vanilla across the board; 82/83.

2001 Hess Select, Syrah, California, $13. Almost black in the glass, the wine emits lots of black fruit and sweet oak aromas. Very well-balanced, with silky tannins, the fruit delivers for the price class. Blueberries linger on the finish; 86/88.

2002 McWilliams, Shiraz, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $12. This deeply hued, straightforward Shiraz speaks of cherries and plums, supported by substantial tannins and tart acidity; 83/83.

2001 San Juan Vineyards, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22.50. This dark ruby Syrah has mouth-watering aromas of smoked meat and dark fruit. Nicely balanced with rounded tannins, the wine is full of black fruit and smoked game flavors with just a hint of white pepper. The finish is full and protracted. This will match wonderfully with grilled meats; 87/88.

Zinfandel wine glass

Dry Creek 2001 Dry Creek, Zinfandel, Heritage Clone, Sonoma County, California, $15, 17,000 cases. Medium ruby in color, the wine gives off jammy berry and vanilla notes. Berry fruit repeats on the palate, supplemented by flavors of coffee and warm spices; 86/86.

2000 Edmeades, Zinfandel, Mendocino, California, $19. A 15% blend of Petite Sirah gives the wine a deep, rich color. Made in a big, jammy, brambly, high alcohol style, you'll find plenty of blackberry fruit, brown sugar and warm spices to please the senses; 87/87.

2000 Woodbridge, Zinfandel, Fish Net Creek, California, $11. Straightforward, crisp and easy to drink now, you'll appreciate raspberries and warm spices. Jam and vanilla linger on the finish; 81/81.

2000 Zingaro, Zinfandel, Mendocino, California, $12. You'll find a very jammy nose of berries and cherries that repeats in the mouth. A middleweight with supple tannins, this one is ready to drink now; 87/89.

Wine jelly

For a change of pace I recently sampled three wine jellies. All are homemade by Katrina's Country Creations, http://www.katrinascountrycreations.com and will make a nice holiday gift for wine geeks and non-wine geeks alike:

Knapp Vineyards Jammin' Strawberry Rhubarb Wine Jelly – Sweet, tart, with obvious strawberry flavors and lingering mixed fruit tastes. Good.

Thirsty Owl Wine Company Peachy Riesling Jam – Loaded with big chunks of sweet peaches, the flavors are full and enjoyable. It is almost like eating peach pie. Very good.

Fox Run Blackberry Port Wine Jam – Very intense in flavor, with loads of blackberry and Port flavors, the jam is nevertheless very seedy and not for those who need to avoid small seeds. Very good, with noted reservations.

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