© 2006 by Randy Buckner
With the holiday season looming on the horizon, it is time to start thinking about one of the most festive of wines - Champagne. More than one-third of this article is devoted to sparklers. They range from Cava, Prosecco and Asti to sparklers from Australia, Tasmania and America, not to mention Champagne itself.
Madam Lilly Bollinger, of the Bollinger Champagne house, summed up Champagne admirably: "I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
Another 100 new and current releases are presented for your inspection. The dual rating system evaluates quality (the first number) and value (the second) on a 100-point scale. No wines scoring below 80 points are listed. All prices are the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Vendor prices are often less expensive. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.
2004 Black Opal, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $8. Here's another one of those burger wines - simple, fruity and balanced. Drink now for the berry, mint and herb notes; 82/83.
2003 Columbia Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11, 150,000 cases. The wine is deeply hued, with aromas of black cherries, milk chocolate and cedar. It is very ripe in the mouth, bordering on pruniness; 80/80.
2003 Cosentino Winery, The Poet, Napa Valley, California, $65, 1,200 cases. Generous oak, mint and black fruit caress the nose. Full, elegant and fruity, the wine shows a good degree of complexity; however the oak is heavy handed; 86/84.
2003 Cuvaison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, California, $38, 1,742 cases. Deep purple/red coloration, with blackberry, cherry, sweet vanilla and anise notes on the nose. The wine is very fruity, with firm but ripe tannins. Aromas repeat on the palate; 88/88.
2004 Snoqualmie Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosebud Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15, 3,000 cases. There's a mélange of aromas on the nose - mixed red and black fruits, dark chocolate and smoky oak. These repeat on the palate, making a juicy, flavorful wine just right for grilled meats; 85/87.
2004 Trinchero Family, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, California, $12, 38,590 cases. This crimson-colored Cab is highlighted by red cherries, spice, plums and herbs, all wrapped up in a straightforward package just designed for grilled meats; 84/84.
2004 Wild Horse, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, $20, 26,169 cases. The wine is highlighted by black cherries, blackberries and cedary oak. Tannins are firm and drying; 83/83.
2003 William Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $26, 23,747 cases. Cassis, red berries and toasty oak flavors are upfront, with a medium finish. Tannins are quite firm and need extended aging; 85/85.
2005 Beringer, Chardonnay, Founders' Estate, California, $11. Toasty oak, vanilla, pear and lemon aromas and flavors underscore this straightforward wine. Threshold sugar gives a slightly sweet impression; 80/80.
2005 Black Opal, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $8. Crisp, sweet and simple, the wine is underscored by lemons, pears and toasty oak; 80/80.
2004 Chateau St. Jean, Chardonnay, Robert Young Vineyard, Alexander Valley, California, $25, 7,000 cases. Aromas and flavors reveal citrus, peach, pineapple and French oak nuances. The long, buttery finish persists for some time; 85/85.
2004 Cuvaison, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $24, 33,000 cases. Butterscotch, toasty oak and peaches underscore this wine. It is full in the mouth, with tangy acidity. Very nice for the style; 88/88.
2004 Cuvaison, Chardonnay, Estate Selection, Napa Valley, California, $36, 1,500 cases. Full and lively in the mouth, the aromas and flavors speak of peaches, pineapple, butter and vanilla; 88/87.
2004 Hogue, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 46,296 cases. The wine is straw gold in color, with aromas and flavors of butter, vanilla, toast and pears. Round, with modest acidity, I'd pair this one with a creamy chicken dish; 83/84.
2004 Irony, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $14, 5,000 cases. Toasty oak, tropicals and green apples dominate the nose, while the palate shows butterscotch and oak flavors; 83/83.
2005 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. Made in a lean, crisp, food-friendly style, I'd enjoy this one now for the tropical fruit aromas and flavors which are augmented by a dollop of toasty oak; 84/85.
2005 Lake Sonoma, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $16, 5,500 cases. Smoky oak and buttery notes overwhelm the underlying pear and apple aromas. Creamy on the palate, with nice balance, the oak is less apparent in the mouth - apple and floral notes shine through; 85/86.
2005 Legends, Chardonnay, California, $25, 2,600 cases. No malolactic fermentation was used in the wine's production. Apples, toast and caramels carry throughout this crisp, straightforward wine; 83/83.
2005 Sagelands, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 8,182 cases. The wine is fruit forward, simple, but tasty, with apple, pear and honeysuckle nuances; 83/84.
2005 Campanile, Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie, Italy, $10. Aromas of pears, melon rind and almonds radiate from this wheat-colored wine. It is soft, straightforward, with a persistent finish; 83/83.
2004 Ruffino, Chianti DOCG, Italy, $9. Tart, simple, but very quaffable with a plate of spaghetti. Drink now for the black fruit and peppery spice nuances; 82/82.
2004 Ruffino, Il Leo Chianti Superiore, Italy, $12. Aromas of plums, cherries, Baker's chocolate and rosemary unfold on the nose. The wine is very crisp and fruity, with tannins well harnessed. A hint of leather lingers on the finish. Good value; 85/87.
2005 Ruffino, Lumina, Italy, $13. This straw gold Pinot Grigio reveals pear, green apple and white flower aromas. The wine is crisp and refreshing, with fruity, nutty flavors and a persistent finish; 84/84.
2005 Ruffino, Orvieto, Italy, $7. Crisp, round and simple - drink now before the green apple and floral notes fade; 80/80.
2003 Beringer, Merlot, Founders' Estate, California, $11. The wine is very oaky on the nose, with underlying blackberry fruit. You'll find generous oak on the palate as well, with blackberry and violet nuances; 80/80.
2003 Buena Vista, Merlot, Carneros, California, $21, 3,682 cases. Black cherries, American oak and heavy dill spice carry throughout the wine, with slightly bitter tannins on the finish; 82/82.
2003 Columbia Crest, Merlot, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11, 150,000 cases. Generous American oak and black fruits carry from nose to mouth. The liberal oak flavors obscure any fruit trying to peer through; 80/80.
2002 Columbia Crest, Merlot Cabernet, Two Vines, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 250,000 cases. You'll find a balanced, ready-to-drink wine here, packed with aromas of ripe blackberries, black cherries and smoky cedar. Oak is not the dominant player. Juicy berries and cherries rule the roost. Terrific value; 85/88.
2002 Irony, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $16, 6,000 cases. Plums, sour cherries and toasty oak highlight the aromas and flavors. Tannins are modest, the acidity bright; 84/85.
2004 Legends, Merlot, Napa County, California, $28, 3,000 cases. This middleweight displays black cherries, smoky oak, vanilla and dried herbs. Drying tannins need time to drop out; 84/83.
2003 Sagelands, Merlot, Four Corners, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 17,120 cases. Tart cherries, plums, vanilla and American oak intermingle on the nose. The wine is very fruit forward, with easy-to-drink tannins - grill those burgers; 84/86.
2004 Trinchero Family, Merlot, Monterey County, California, $12, 58,000 cases. Aromas of cherries, currants and American oak radiate from this plum-red Merlot. It is straightforward, but very quaffable for the jammy fruit flavors and soft tannins; 84/84.
2004 Wild Horse, Merlot, Paso Robles, California, $20, 41,944 cases. Black fruits, dried herbs and toasty oak highlight the aroma profile. It is fruity and jammy, with modest drying tannins; 84/84.
2003 William Hill, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $23, 15,300 cases. You'll find loads of black cherries and berries on the nose, with a whiff of smoky oak. This is a well-balanced middleweight that is fruit forward, with minimal oak influence; 84/84.
2005 Black Opal, Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $8. This purple/red middleweight displays cherry and plum fruit, augmented by eucalyptus nuances. Slightly green tannins are noted on the finish; 82/82.
2005 Bloom, Petals (Muller Thurgau), Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, $8, 5,000 cases. This straw-colored wine gives off tart peach aromas. Crisp, simple and sweet - quaff with a cheese and fruit plate; 81/81.
2005 Columbia Crest, Gewurztraminer, Two Vines, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 30,000 cases. This soft, sweet, simple quaffer should be consumed now for the apricot, spice and honeysuckle notes; 80/80.
2005 Beringer, Pinot Grigio, Founders' Estate, California, $11. Soft, simple and quaffable, you should drink this one now for the tropical fruit and citrus oil flavors; 81/81.
2005 Hogue, Pinot Grigio, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 24,100 cases. Pear, peach and red cherry aromas and flavors are supported by bright acids. This is a decent quaff with seafood; 84/85.
2005 King Estate, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $16, 64,000 cases. Pears, spice and floral notes greet the nose. The wine is very crisp on the palate, with subtle nuances of limes, pears and spice prevailing; 85/85.
2005 King Estate, Pinot Gris, Vin Glacé, Oregon, $18 (375 ml), 2,176 cases. Honeysuckle, apricot and pear notes abound here. The crisp acidity easily carries the 16.3 percent residual sugar. Laden with rich fruit, this is a dessert unto itself; 88/88.
2005 Beringer, Pinot Noir, Founders' Estate, California, $12. Aromas reveal plum, black cherry and dark tea notes. Sporting pretty decent fruit for the price class, I'd drink this one early on paired with salmon or pork tenderloin; 83/84.
2004 Cuvaison, Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $25, 2,682 cases. Cherries, mushrooms, tea and vanilla define the aromas and flavors. It is full bodied and crisp, with easy-to-drink tannins; 87/87.
2004 Cuvaison, Pinot Noir, Estate Selection, Napa Valley, California, $45, 250 cases. Black cherries, vanilla and a sprinkle of black tea intermingle on the nose and palate. Full and generous in the mouth, with good balance; 88/88.
2005 King Estate, Pinot Noir, Oregon, $26, 15,100 cases. Aromas of tart cherries, cocoa, and French oak radiate from this ruby-colored Pinot. Balanced in the mouth, the flavors mirror the nose; 85/85.
2004 Villa Mt. Eden, Pinot Noir, Grand Reserve, Santa Maria Valley, California, $24. The nose is a mix of black cherries, earth, smoky oak and leather. Balanced, with an elegant mouth feel, the wine is packed with fruit, but also has a lot of funky oak flavors which are difficult to describe; 84/84.
2005 Covey Run, Dry Riesling, Quail Series, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 10,147 cases. The name is a bit of a misnomer since the residual sugar is actually 0.95 percent. Peach and honeysuckle aromas are followed by modest fruit flavors which are propped up by the lively acidity; 84/86.
2005 Covey Run, Riesling, Quail Series, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 90,700 cases. There's enough acidity here to balance the three percent residual sugar. It's a little more intense than their "Dry" version, with peach and honeysuckle notes; 85/87.
2005 Hogue, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 98,500 cases. Orange blossoms and apricots are upfront. It is off-dry at 1.6 percent residual sugar, with balancing acidity. Pretty nice for the less-than-ten-buck category; 84/86.
2004 Dry Creek Vineyard, Fumé Blanc DCV3, Estate, Dry Creek Valley, California, $25, 1,070 cases. Grassy notes and jalapenos abound on the nose. Bright acidity allows the citrus and jalapeno flavors to sing. Think shellfish; 88/87.
2004 Dry Creek Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, Taylor's Vineyard Musqué, Dry Creek Valley, California, $25, 653 cases. Aromas of honeydew melons, pears and grass underscore the nose. These aromas do an encore on the palate. Nicely balanced, clean and crisp; 86/85.
2005 Dynamite, Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California, $13, 5,884 cases. Intense aromas of grapefruit, herbs and grassy notes do not deliver on the palate. The wine is soft, round and straightforward; 83/83.
2005 Trinchero Family, Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, California, $10, 15,000 cases. This wine saw only stainless steel, which allows the clean, straightforward flavors of cut grass and melon rind to shine through; 83/83.
NV Adami, Prosecco Brut, Bosco di Gica, Italy, $15. Pears, toast and pineapple unfold on the nose. Very crisp, with a fine bead, the lengthy flavors mirror the aromas; 87/90.
NV Barefoot Bubbly, Chardonnay Champagne, Brut Cuvée, California, $8. Produced by the Charmat method, this serviceable sparkler is crisp, simple and off-dry, with ripe apple and melon notes; 80/80.
2001 Clover Hill, Pipers River, Tasmania, $30, 200 cases imported. An interesting mélange of aromas greet the nose - pears, apricots, almonds and toast. It is quite crisp, with citrus, brioche and roasted nut flavors; 86/86.
NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12. A medium bead carries aromas of green apples, pears and toast. Crisp yet creamy in the mouth, the fresh fruit flavors and leesy notes are upfront; 84/85.
NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Sparkling Wine, Cuvée Brut, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12. This straw gold sparkler has aromas of pineapples, pears and toast. It is straightforward, refreshingly crisp and delicately sweet (0.81 percent residual sugar); 83/83.
NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Sparkling Wine, Extra Dry, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12. Pears and tropical notes underscore this sparkler. It is quite sweet at 2.3 percent residual sugar, however the acidity balances it out to some degree; 82/82.
NV Ferrari, Brut, Trento D.O.C., Italy, $24. The wine is highlighted by citrus, pineapple and leesy notes. It is full and crisp in the mouth, with lush fruit and a lengthy finish; 88/88.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut, Carta Nevada, Spain, $9. This straw-gold, straightforward sparkler is highlighted by citrus and brioche notes; 81/81.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut, Cordon Negro, Spain, $10. You'll find pineapple, lemon and toasty notes throughout this light-gold bubbly; 82/82.
NV Freixenet, Cava, Brut de Noirs, Spain, $10. The color is copper on rose. Red cherry/berry fruit and dried herb nuances carry from nose to mouth. Good value; 84/86.
2003 Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, California, $24. Straw gold with a medium bead, this wine is underscored by green apple and pear fruit, with nuances of toast, cashews and lees; 86/87.
NV Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County, California, $20. Straw gold with a copper tinge, this straightforward sparkler has a medium mousse and pear, peach and red berry nuances; 84/84.
1996 Gloria Ferrer, Brut, Carneros Cuvée, Late Disgorged, Carneros, California, $50. The green apple, pear and brioche aromas morph into flavors of ripe apples, melons and toasted cashews. Elegant; 89/88.
1997 Gloria Ferrer, Brut, Royal Cuvée, Carneros, California, $28. Green apple, toast and melon rind aromas and flavors are enhanced by roasted nuts and leesy notes. Very refreshing; 88/88.
NV Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma Brut, Sonoma County, California, $20. Green apple and melon aromas radiate from this straw-colored sparkler. Moderately complex, it is crisp and fruity, with hints of toasted cashews; 85/85.
NV Korbel, Brut, California Champagne, $11, 750,000 cases. Crisp, simple and serviceable, this sparkler is underscored by pear, citrus and toasty notes; 81/81.
NV Korbel, Brut Rosé, California Champagne, $11, 35,000 cases. Cherry/berry aromas prevail, with a hint of lemon peel. Crisp and off-dry, this straightforward sparkler has cherry flavors upfront, with just a touch of peachiness; 82/82.
2004 Korbel, California Champagne, Natural, Russian River Valley, California, $14, 40,000 cases. The aromas of Meyer lemons, green apples, cotton candy and leesy nuances carry over to the palate as well. Crisp, clean and refreshing; 84/85.
1995 Krug, Brut, Champagne, France, $220. This wine can often be found for $30-40 less than the suggested retail price. Yes, it is expensive, but it is almost perfection in a bottle. This was the first universally declared vintage in Champagne since 1990. You'll find concentrated aromas of lemony fruit, brioche, a hint of smoke and spice. Flavors speak of roasted nuts, honeycomb and minerals. It is full, crisp and vibrant and should easily age for two decades; 97/95.
NV Mondoro, Asti DOCG, Italy, $12. Made from Moscato Bianco, the wine is effusively fruity and sweet (7.9 percent residual sugar). Sporting a medium-fine bead, this sparkler is underscored by orange blossoms, honey and citrus notes; 84/85.
2001 Mumm Napa, Blanc de Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $26. Light gold in the glass, with a medium-fine bead, the aromas reveal lemon curd and pear notes. The wine is very tangy on the palate, with bright green apple and pear fruit, augmented by nuances of roasted nuts and vanilla; 88/88.
NV Mumm Napa, Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, California, $19. This sparkler is underscored by stone fruit, floral notes and citrus oil. It is round and creamy, with moderate acidity; 87/87.
NV Mumm Napa, Brut Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $26. Lemon, cherry and floral notes radiate from this light gold sparkler. Crisp and creamy in the mouth, you'll find lingering flavors of honeydew melon, peaches, lemons and brioche. Tasty; 88/88.
NV Mumm Napa, Cuvée M, Napa Valley, California, $19. This Sec is pretty sweet at 3.1 percent residual sugar. You'll find aromas of cherries, strawberries and brioche, which morph into full, creamy peach, pear and toasty flavors; 85/85.
NV Pink (by Yellowglen), Sparkling Wine, South Eastern Australia, $12. Straightforward and lively in the mouth, with strawberry and citrus notes; 80/80.
1998 Piper-Heidsieck, Brut, Champagne, France, $55. Elegant, creamy and crisp are the first adjectives that come to mind. Aromas speak of lemon zest, toast, nuts and chalky minerals. Full bodied, the wine delivers a host of citrus, berry and mineral flavors in a well-structured package. A relative value in today's market, I'd drink this one over the next decade; 92/92.
NV Segura Viudas, Aria, Cava, Estate Brut, Spain, $12. Loads of tropical fruits and melons delineate this wine. It is well balanced, with brioche and roasted cashews adding to the fruit; 84/85.
NV Segura Viudas, Aria, Cava, Pinot Noir Brut, Spain, $10. Red berries and dried herbs carry from the nose to the palate. You'll find the wine crisp and refreshing, with a lingering fruit finish; 84/85.
NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut Reserva, Spain, $10. Brisk and refreshing, this straightforward sparkler delivers citrus and melon notes across the spectrum; 83/84.
NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut Reserva Heredad, Spain, $20. Crisp, clean and refreshing - the citrus and slate notes make quite an interesting combination; 86/87.
NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut Rosé, Spain, $10. Reddish/copper in color, with berries, dried herbs and caramel notes. Simple but tasty, with lots of zippy acidity; 82/82.
NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Extra Dry, Spain, $10. For those looking for a delicately sweet and inexpensive wine, this may be your ticket. Aromas of melons and pineapples radiate from this straw-gold bubbly. It is well balanced and has a long aftertaste; 84/85.
NV Taltarni, Brut Taché, Victoria, Australia, $20, 2,000 cases imported. The wine is copper/salmon in color, with aromas of ripe strawberries, cherries and toast. Flavors speak of very ripe red fruit and roasted nuts; 84/84.
NV Yellow (by Yellowglen), Sparkling Wine, South Eastern Australia, $12. Crisp, simple and bubbly, this straw-colored wine displays lemon drop aromas and flavors; 81/81.
2005 Black Opal, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, $8. Here's another straightforward burger wine. This deeply-hued Shiraz is made in a ripe, jammy style, with plum preserves and barrel notes; 81/81.
2003 Valley of the Moon, Syrah, Sonoma County, California, $16, 4,500 cases. Sporting a crimson/purple color, the wine is underscored by juicy black fruits, smoke and blueberries. It is nicely balanced, with good oak integration. Tannins are generous but ripe; 85/87.
2004 Beringer, Founders' Estate, Old Vine Zinfandel, California, $11. Brambly fruit, smoky oak, cocoa and vanilla carries from nose to mouth in this value package. Drink now for the juicy fruit flavors; 83/84.
2004 Blackstone, Zinfandel, California, $12. Berry, spice and smoky oak aromas repeat on the palate. Tangy acidity gives oomph to the jammy, straightforward cherry/berry flavors; 84/85.
2003 Dry Creek Vineyard, Zinfandel, Beeson Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, California, $30, 513 cases. This one is quite expressive on the nose, with loads of blackberries, ground peppercorns, mint and cedar. It is peppery in the mouth as well, with rich fruit. Drying tannins detract; 86/86.
2003 Dry Creek Vineyard, Zinfandel, Somers Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, California, $30, 564 cases. Wild plums, ripe cherries and integrated oak delineate this wine. You'll find a long, fruity aftertaste. Drying tannins lessen the experience; 85/85.
2004 Dynamite, Zinfandel, Mendocino, California, $17, 7,787 cases. Straightforward, with firm, drying tannins, this Zin is underscored by raspberry, plum and red currant notes; 83/83.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Barricia, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 1,025 cases. Black fruit and cedar aromas dominate the nose, and then repeat on the palate. The wine is tart in the mouth, with round, youthful tannins exerting their presence; 86/85.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Belloni, Russian River Valley, California, $30, 1,475 six-pack cases. The fruit screams Zinfandel here - loads of brambly wild plums and berries unfold on the senses. This Zin is balanced, with lively acidity and approachable tannins; 90/90.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Big River, Alexander Valley, California, $30, 1,525 cases. The aromas are a complex mix of black cherries, cedar, vanilla and sand plums. Well-rounded and tart in the mouth, this is a beefy wine with plenty of stuffing; 88/88.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Dickerson, Napa Valley, California, $30, 1,975 cases. This wine always reveals the elegant side of Zinfandel, the tamed side if you will. It is complex and fruity, with supple tannins and perfect balance. Black raspberries, cedar, violets and smoke linger on the finish; 91/91.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Old Hill, Sonoma Valley, California, $60, 1,095 cases. Blackberries, vanilla, mocha and cedar notes intermingle on the nose. On the palate you'll find complex black fruits interlaced with subtle floral nuances. The tannins are smooth and round, but then they firm up on the finish, demanding patient aging, 88/86.
2004 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Teldeschi, Dry Creek Valley, California, $30, 2,375 cases. This crimson-colored Zin gives off aromas of black fruits, smoky caramels and coffee creams. It is elegant on the entry, but the tannins firm up quickly. The fruit is lush and complex - it only needs cellar time; 90/90.