© 2003 by Randy Buckner
November, 2003

Late Autumn 2003 Releases

Another World Series has been relegated to the history books and now our attention turns back to football. This is easy for me to do since my home state Oklahoma Sooners are riding the crest of the wave.

The maples are finishing their color show in Washington State as I type, displaying gorgeous shades of red and gold. The nights have started to demand a quilt be thrown on the bed and have me lugging firewood up the hill to our woodbin. There is something about a fireplace that pacifies the Neanderthal roots in all of us.

The cool weather once again has us reaching for our hearty reds and Ports. I have to admit that this is my favorite time of the year. The crisp nights, the roar of the stadium crowds, the children scurrying about on Halloween night, and the smell of wood smoke bring back many warm memories. I trust that you enjoy the season as much as I do.

With the holiday season just around the corner, a bonus of twenty-five sparkling wines has been added to the 100 new and current releases. 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 Sogno, Cabernet Franc, Reserve, El Dorado County, California, $22, 350 cases. This medium-weight wine is richly colored, with blueberries, cedar and mint on the nose. Lean and tart, the fruit speaks of cherries and mixed berries; 82/82.

2001 Windy Point, Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, Washington, $15. Black cherries, herbs and black olives characterize this brick red Franc. Medium-bodied, balanced and easy to drink; 84/85.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine glass

2000 Beaulieu, Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour Private Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $85, 16,000 cases. Beaulieu´s flagship wine has a dark ruby color with shades of blue. Mixed red and black fruit aromas are enhanced by nuances of vanilla, cedar and licorice. Tannins are well-managed. BV did a good job from a challenging vintage, but the wine is difficult to evaluate at this point due to the amount of French and American oak. Will it integrate? Judgment reserved.

2000 Beaulieu, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California, $25, 65,000 cases. Only 25% new oak was used on this wine, which is evidenced by the balanced aromas and flavors of black cherry, coffee, chocolate and vanilla. Modest tannins are not overdone; 86/86.

2000 Beaulieu, Red Wine, Tapestry Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $40, 22,000 cases. Sporting aromas of sweet black fruit, cedar, black olive and anise, this full-bodied wine has substantial but rounded tannins and nice balance. Blackberries, plums and generous barrel notes announce themselves on the palate, finishing long and lush; 90/90.

2001 Black Opal, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $10. Emitting aromas of chocolate covered cherries, spice and spearmint, this lean, tart wine has flavors similar to cherry pop tarts laced with cedar. A Beringer Blass import; 81/81.

2000 Chateau Julien, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monterey County, California, $22, 1,206 cases. Deeply hued, this wine is best described by cassis, blackberry, tobacco, and licorice. Quite crisp, the wine has generous drying tannins that need time in the bottle to hopefully resolve; 84/84.

Dallas Conte 2000 Dallas Conté, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel Valley, Chile, $10. Medium-bodied with easy drinking tannins, this is a nice burger wine. Berries, chocolate, mint and wood notes prevail; 84/86.

1999 Jodar, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Dorado, California, $18, 1,457 cases. A dose of chalky minerals adds a little pizzazz to the cherry/berry fruit. Nuances of olives, dill spice and vanilla linger on the finish. Easy to drink now; 86/88.

2000 Luis Felipe Edwards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gran Reserva, Colchagua, Chile, $13. Youthfully colored, the nose displays a mix of plums, berries, cinnamon spice and vanilla. The tannins and acids are very soft. This is a fair quaff for the buck, with modest fruit, leather, vanilla and chocolate. A William Grant & Sons import; 83/85.

2000 Pedroncelli, Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14.50, 10,800 cases. Pedroncelli is on a roll with their value-priced wines. This Cabernet has a nice balance of fruit, acids, and tannins. Flavors and aromas exude blackberries, black cherries, herbs and licorice; 86/88.

2001 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $28, 3,300 cases. Aged 14 months in new and one-year-old oak, you will notice the sweet vanilla aromas and flavors. Almost black in the glass, this wine is big and bold, with obvious but easy going tannins, sweet fruit and truffle notes; 88/88.

1999 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $20, 39,100 cases. This dark ruby Cab exudes lots of chocolate, mint, coffee, black cherry and dried herb aromas and flavors. Silky tannins caress the palate while acidity adds verve; 87/88.

2001 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cherryblock (Barrel Sample), Sonoma Valley, California, $100 (tentative). This wine will be released in 2004 in celebration of the winery´s 100th anniversary. If the final product is as tasty as the barrel sample, it will be right up there with the top California cults. Deeply hued with full fruit aromas, this is an intense, fruity wine. Blackberries linger on the finish. There is obvious oak at this stage but it should integrate fairly well with time; NR.

2000 Snoqualmie, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Black cherry, mint, sweet oak and coffee aromas course from this ruby red Cab. Modest acids and tannins help to support the sweet black cherry and currant fruit. Tasty and a value to boot; 85/88.

2000 Snoqualmie, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23. The reserve version is more layered and complex than their regular offering, but it is also laden with considerably more oak. Will it ever integrate? Aromas and flavors speak of black cherries, currants, sage, cocoa, cinnamon, and the ever-present barrel influence; 87?/88?

2001 Whitman Cellars, “Narcissa’ Red, Walla Walla, Washington, $24, 1,800 cases. Cassis, leather, tobacco, licorice, smoke and cedar all vie for attention on the nose. Impeccably balanced, the flavors mirror the aromas. Lush and lovely, the oak is pretty noticeable at this point, but not overwhelming; 88+/89+.

Cabernet/Syrah Blends wine glass

2000 Beaulieu, Red Wine, Dulcet Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $35, 5,000 cases. The color is ruby with a blue hue, while the nose exudes raspberry, mint and cedary notes. Tannins are generous at this point but seem ripe. Lush and full in the mouth, there´s intense berry fruit, a touch of licorice, and sweet vanilla from the 65% new oak. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Syrah; 88/88.

2001 Black Opal, Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $10. Ruby colored with blue hues, this is a blend of 53% Shiraz and 47% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is tart and lean, with notes of plums, flowers, spice and cedar; 81/81.

2001 BoonaRoo, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Australia/West Australia, $8. This is the latest addition to the Stimson Lane portfolio. Medium-bodied with soft tannins, the black cherry, cola, and dark chocolate aromas and flavors will make this a nice BBQ wine; 84/86.

Carmenere wine glass

2001 Luis Felipe Edwards, Carmenere, Colchagua, Chile, $8. The nose is highlighted by aromas of plums, vanilla, Baker´s chocolate and herbs. Medium-bodied, with soft tannins, the wine is fruity, structured, with cola notes; 84/86.

2001 Luis Felipe Edwards, Carmenere, Gran Reserva, Colchagua, Chile, $13. Easy to drink, this wine is filled with aromas and flavors of plums, tobacco leaf, chocolate, oak and dill spice. Soft acidity and easy tannins are noted on the finish; 85/85.

Chardonnay wine glass

2001 Barton & Guestier, Chardonnay, Vin de pays d´Oc, France, $6. Known as ‘Six Buck Jacques´ since winning a double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the wine does pack a lot of intensity for the price. It´s easy to drink but very soft on the palate; 85/88.

2001 Beaulieu, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $18, 10,000 cases. Aromas of pears, honey, and cashews are followed by flavors of same. Creamy, with subtle oak, this is a nice California Chard at a fair price; 86/87.

2001 Bennett Family, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $22, 3,150 cases. William Grant & Sons first California wine is worthy of the importer´s name. The Bennett family is a branch of the Grant family tree. Brilliant gold in color, the wine is full of peach and pineapple fruit aromas, with noted barrel influences. Fruit driven and displaying floral characteristics, sweet oak and wood notes round out the wine; 87/88.

2002 Black Opal, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $10. Aromas of peaches, melons and vanilla give way to apple, peach and caramel flavors. Full and crisp; 83/84.

2001 Cave B, Chardonnay, Janine´s Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30, 25 cases. Full-bodied, creamy and very soft, the wine is dominated by pears, vanilla, caramel and smoky oak; 84/83.

2001 Chateau Julien, Chardonnay, Monterey County, California, $22, 1,198 cases. Made in the classic California style, you´ll find pear, fig, oak, butterscotch and spice aromas and flavors, with a crisp yet creamy body; 85/85.

2002 Dallas Conté, Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $10. Gold in the glass, this straightforward, crisp wine has aromas and flavors of vanilla, oak, citrus and butterscotch; 83/84.

2001 Domaine Chandon, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $19, 10,400 cases. Layers of apple, peach, vanilla cream and oak aromas highlight this light gold Chardonnay. Creamy on the palate, the wine unveils nuances of citrus fruit, figs, honey, vanilla and sweet cream butter, finishing with a little heat from the 14.1% alcohol; 86/86.

2001 Duck Pond, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7, 30,000 cases. Smoky oak aromas are upfront, with underlying apple scents. Relatively soft and simple, the flavors are a mix of caramel, vanilla, American oak and pears; 81/82.

2002 Luis Felipe Edwards, Chardonnay, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $8. Floral and melon notes arise from this straw colored Chard, augmented by pineapple aromas. The wine is very soft, with flavors of peaches, almonds, vanilla, and toasty oak, finishing with a slightly bitter bite; 83/85.

2002 Pedroncelli, Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, California, $10.50, 6,300 cases. Not your typical California Chardonnay, this one is crisp, clean, and unburdened by layers of oak. Very nice green apple and lemon aromas expand on the palate, revealing pineapple and citrus flavors; 87/91.

2002 Pepi, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $14. 100% stainless steel fermentation and no malolactic fermentation give the wine a crisp, clean feel. Tropical fruit, green apple and lime aromas evolve on the palate to reveal peach and rose petal nuances; 84/85.

2002 Rothbury Estate, Chardonnay, South East Australia, $7. Green in color, with aromas of green apple and peach. Medium in weight with obvious sweetness, the flavors are highlighted by green apples, butterscotch and oak; 80/80.

2002 Sterling, Chardonnay, North Coast, California, $17, 95,000 cases. This light gold Chardonnay was barrel fermented in 33% new oak and 40% underwent MLF. A host of aromas from butterscotch and toasty oak to pears and spice unfold on the nose and carry over to the palate. Tasty for the style and fairly priced; 86/87.

Italian/Italian Varieties wine glasswine glass

2001 Boeger, Barbera, El Dorado, California, $15, 1,870 cases. Currants, cherries and American oak underscore the nose of this dark ruby Barbera. Straightforward, soft, and smooth, the flavors mirror the nose. A touch of minerality is noted on the finish; 83/84.

2001 Casa Girelli, Virtuoso Syrah, I.G.T. Sicilia, $20. The Virtuoso has a striking violet intensity. The smoky nose adds character to the blackberry fruit and vanilla tones. Built on a lean, food-friendly frame, the wine is polished, with easy tannins that intensify on the finish; 86/86.

Pedroncelli 2000 Pedroncelli, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 2,100 cases. This fruity little wine is a no-brainer for your favorite pasta with red sauce. Crisp, with tannins held well in check, the wine gives up a host of cherry, raspberry, leather and American oak notes. Tasty; 86/88.

2002 Pepi, Pinot Grigio, Oregon, $13. Straw in color and made in a light, moderately crisp style. Straightforward pear and apple fruit dominate; 83/83.

1999 Pepi, Sangiovese, California, $13. Straightforward aromas and flavors of cherries, berries, and tea, are backed by crisp acids and modest tannins. Well-balanced with a long, fruity finish; 85/87.

2001 Villa Cafaggio, Chianti Classico, D.O.C.G., Italy, $22. Slovenian oak is the aging vessel for this ruby red Chianti. Approachable now, it will only get better with aging. Cherries and dried cherries are upfront, with nuances of violets and black pepper coursing through the wine; 90/91.

Malbec wine glass

2002 Luis Felipe Edwards, Malbec, Colchagua, Chile, $8. Soft and fruity, you´ll appreciate aromas of ripe strawberries, blueberries, vanilla and mixed oak that accompany flavors of same; 83/85.

2001 Luis Felipe Edwards, Malbec, Gran Reserva, Colchagua, Chile, $13. Black fruit and obvious oak radiate from this deeply hued wine. Soft acids and tannins give way to loads of milk chocolate, oak and blackberry fruit; 82/83.

Merlot wine glass

Beringer 2000 Beringer, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $19. Aged in 50% new oak barrels, the wood is well-integrated with the wine. Very polished on the entry, the aromas and flavors speak of black cherries, coffee beans, chocolate and toasty oak, with a lengthy finish; 87/88.

1999 Beringer, Red Table Wine, Alluvium, Knights Valley, California, $30. This ruby red blend of 76% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied, with obvious tannins that need time. Blackberries, plums, black cherries and sweet oak make a statement, with the 14.1% alcohol showing a bit of heat; 85/84.

2001 Canoe Ridge, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 24,188 cases. The wine is very densely colored and emits lots of black and red cherry notes, with a touch of smoke and earthy nuances. Lush, full and well-balanced, the nose repeats on the palate with a long, satisfying finish; 87/87.

2000 Chateau Julien, Merlot, Estate Vineyard, Monterey County, California, $22, 1,244 cases. Built in a crisp, lean, food-friendly style, the wine delivers tart cherry and plum fruit, a touch of vanilla and cedary nuances. This will work well with grilled foods, as well as tomato based pasta dishes; 86/86.

2000 Dallas Conté, Merlot, Rapel Valley, Chile, $10. This is an easy going, straightforward wine, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, cola, chocolate, herbs and toasty oak; 83/84.

2000 Duck Pond, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7, 28,000 cases. The nose has a delightful blend of raspberries, cola, and cedar aromas. Moderate drying tannins detract from the black cherry fruit; 82/82.

2001 Gallo of Sonoma, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $11, 116,000 cases. Very fruity and complex for the price class, this is a terrific value. Red cherries, berries, and floral notes are supported by soft tannins. This is a hint of minerality on the finish; 86/90.

2001 Gold Digger, Merlot, Washington State, 12,190 cases, $16. Black fruit, cedar and herbal notes radiate from this densely colored Merlot. Tannins are well-managed, with nice balance overall. Berry fruit is presented in a straightforward manner. Pair with your favorite beef dish; 84/85.

2001 Luis Felipe Edwards, Merlot, Colchagua, Chile, $8. Aromas of plums, chocolate, red bell pepper, vanilla, and chocolate flow from the glass. This Merlot is very rich and complex for the price class, with a lengthy finish. 60% was aged in French oak and the other 40% was aged in stainless steel; 86/89.

2001 Luis Felipe Edwards, Merlot, Gran Reserva, Colchagua, Chile, $13. I actually prefer their non-reserve version. Plums, spice and red bell pepper define the nose. Very soft on the entry, the wine expands on the palate to reveal flavorful fruit with tobacco and chocolate nuances; 84/86.

2000 Northstar, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $52. Black fruit, licorice and cedar aromas radiate from this densely colored wine. Seemingly mellow on the palate, the tannins sneak up on you but have no harshness. Ripe and concentrated, the wine pulls an Emeril on the palate – Bam! A big boy, with lots of fruit and 14.8% alcohol, the wine delivers for the style; 91/89.

2000 Northstar, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $50. The wine is a blend of 76% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Grapes were primarily sourced from Windrow, Vanessa and Spring Valley Vineyards. Cherry jam dominates the nose and palate of the purple/red wine. Soft acids and supple tannins are evident, as is the deft use of French and American oak. Nuances of red fruit and cocoa linger on the palate; 90/88.

1999 Sebastiani, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $17, 53,100 cases. Nicely done, with all of the adjectives – black cherry jam, earth, mint, and briary notes in a concentrated package. Oak is evident but not overblown. Crisp acidity and smooth tannins wrap up the package; 87/89.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

2000 Bogle, Phantom, California, $16, 2,000 cases. A blend of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and old vine Mourvedre, the wine displays a youthful red/purple hue. The nose is highlighted by blackberry jam, old wood and vanilla notes. The wine is made in a robust style, with concentrated fruit, raisiny notes, and plenty of sweet oak. Serve with a robust beef dish; 86/87.

2002 Ca´ del Solo, Big House Red, California, $10, 132,000 cases. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into this blend of twelve grapes, Syrah predominant. It´s a fun quaff, with plums, black cherries, a hint of chocolate, and smoke, supported by easy tannins; 86/90.

2002 Ca´ del Solo, Big House White, California, $10, 34,000 cases. Bonny Doon should name this “kitchen sink part two.’ A vibrant blend of eight grapes, the Riesling and Viognier components shout the loudest. Flavors of peaches, melons, and figs finish on a spicy note; 87/90.

2001 Cave B, Semillon, Kimberly´s Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35, 173 cases. Gold and bold best describe this wine. There is a nice crispness yet a rounded feel to the wine. Upfront caramel, citrus, and vanilla flavors are followed by a long toasty oak finish; 86/84.

2001 Domaine Chandon, Pinot Meunier, Carneros, California, $29, 3,700 cases. The nose is a complex mix of red currants, cola, cardamom spice and earthy notes. The palate has a soft feel, with cranberry fruit, smoke and mushroom highlights; 86/85.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2000 Beaulieu, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $18, 17,000 cases. Here´s an easy drinking Pinot with silky smooth tannins. There is very good balance of fruit, acid and oak, and the wine is only carrying 13.7% alcohol. This will fare well on the Thanksgiving table; 87/89.

2001 Domaine Chandon, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $29, 7,300 cases. Full aromas of blueberries, raspberries, and Indian spices pleasure the nose. Crisp and lush, the wine has plenty of fruit laced with earthy tones. This is ideal foil for the Thanksgiving table; 86/86.

2000 Fetzer, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, California, $40, 1,200 cases. Very well-balanced, this Pinot is loaded with black cherry fruit, forest floor notes, and spice. Cedar, vanilla, and chocolate are noted on the lengthy finish. Silky tannins allow early consumption; 89/88.

Rhone/Rhone Varieties (Syrah listed separately) wine glass

2001 Barton & Guestier, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition, France, $18. Purple in color and displaying a classic bouquet that reveals kirsch and black cherries, this is an easy wine to drink. Fine-grained tannins and impeccable balance makes this a nice pairing with bistro foods. You´ll enjoy the lingering, fruity aftertaste; 87/88.

2001 Barton & Guestier, Cotes-du-Rhone Tradition, France, $9. Complex aromas of dried fruit, plums, leather, tobacco and spice emanate from this garnet red wine. Soft on the palate and weighing in as a middleweight, the wine is easy to drink right now for its light, easy, plumy presentation. A streak of pepper adds interest; 85/87.

2001 Coulson, Mataro, Koel Vineyard, El Dorado, California, $15. Aromas of cranberries and dried cherries waft from the glass. Light to medium-bodied, this straightforward wine is a sweet, fruity quaff for those grilled burgers; 82/83.

2001 Jade Mountain, La Provencale, California, $16, 1,413 cases. La Provencale is a southern Rhone blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. Rustic but manageable tannins and brisk acids give a kick to the wine. Raspberries and white pepper are the central theme here, providing a tasty, value-priced wine; 86/88.

2002 McCrea Cellars, Counoise, Red Mountain, Washington, $28, 110 cases. Spicy berries, cedar, smoke and licorice aromas delight the nose. Moderate tannins and very crisp acids usher in loads of berry fruit, with a touch of jam. Blackberries and a little heat are noticed on the finish; 87/87.

2002 McCrea Cellars, Mourvedre, Red Mountain, Washington, $28, 150 cases. This big boy is inky black in the glass, with aromas of red and black fruits, violets and smoky notes. Full-bodied, rich, and lush, the flavors are quite complex. This wine needs a hearty bistro dish; 88/88.

2002 McCrea Cellars, Rousanne, Red Mountain, Washington, $22, 150 cases. Light gold in color, this crisp, rounded wine has aromas and flavors of figs, dates, peaches and butter. The finish is full and complex; 88/88.

2002 McCrea Cellars, Sirocco, Washington State, $32, 550 cases. Named for the hot wind that blows from Africa across the Mediterranean, this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise. Big, complex and fruity, the wine displays aromas and flavors of blue and black fruits with a touch of smoked meat; 90/90.

2001 Sierra Vista, Red Table Wine, Fleur De´ Montagne, El Dorado, California, $21. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. Mixed cherries and berries on the nose carry over to the palate, with violet notes and crisp acids rounding out the wine; 84/84.

Riesling wine glass

2002 Bonny Doon, Pacific Rim Riesling, American, $10, 32,128 cases. Very floral and peachy on the nose and palate, this delicately sweet wine is softer than what I personally prefer, but it may be just your ticket. 75% of the fruit comes from Washington and 25% is obtained from the middle Mosel; 84/85.

2002 Gold Digger Cellars, Riesling, Winter Harvest, Washington State, $20 (375ml), 300 cases. Sweet aromas of canned pears dominate the nose. The residual sugar sits at 7%, with balancing acidity. Flavors are the very essence of Bartlett pears. For a late harvest, the wine is pretty light on its feet; 86/86.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

2002 Beringer, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $12. Forty percent of the juice was barrel fermented and aged in seasoned French oak barrels. While I´d personally like to see no oak, this one is not overdone. Crisp, with a rounded mouth feel, you´ll find lots of grapefruit, melons, figs and herbs across the spectrum; 86/87.

Gold Digger 2002 Gold Digger Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc, Late Harvest, Washington State, $13 (375ml), 425 cases. There is enough balancing acidity to prevent any flabbiness in this sweet rendition (9% RS). Honey, sweet peaches and apricots are presented in a fairly simple but tasty package; 85/85.

2002 Kenwood, Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $11, 78,000 cases. Grass and citrus characteristics are right upfront, with hints of tropical fruit. Light and crisp, but not as complex or interesting as prior offerings; 84/85.

2002 Lake Sonoma, Fumé Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 3,100 cases. This wine features forward aromas and flavors of pears, citrus and herbs. Light, crisp, and ready to drink; 84/84.

2002 Pepi, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $13. The wine is stainless steel fermented, allowing delicate aromas of melon and grapefruit to express themselves. Straightforward, lean, but pretty tasty overall; 85/85.

2002 Rancho Zabaco, Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, California, $10, 39,000 cases. This wine is well done and would be even better with a tad more acidity. Aromas are defined by the tropical fruit, limes and grassy nuances. Clean, soft, and fruity, with a lingering aftertaste; 87/88.

2002 Sterling, Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California, $14, 85,000 cases. Fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks, the wine has fresh aromas of peaches, tangerines, and lemongrass. Soft, squeaky clean, and fruity, this is a no-brainer for shellfish; 85/85.

Sparkling Wine wine glass

NV A.R. Lenoble, Brut Champagne Réserve, Champagne, France, $30. This Champagne shows that you don´t have to break the bank to get the real thing. Tasty, lively, and intense, the wine displays warm flavors of berries, apple pie, and subtle tangerine nuances, with a brisk mousse. Delicate mineral characters are noted on the lengthy finish. This was a controversial wine at a recent tasting and I was obviously on the proponents side; 90/91.

NV Barefoot Bubbly, Brut Cuvee, California, $7. Simple and sweet, this bubbly is very drinkable. Displaying a medium bead, peach and green apple overtones delight the senses. 2.42% residual sugar; 81/84.

NV Barefoot Bubbly, Extra Dry, California, $7. Citrus and floral notes lead off, followed by light tangerine flavors. Value-priced. 3.24% residual sugar; 82/85.

NV Chandon, Blanc de Noirs, California, $17. The apricot hue of this sparkler is pleasing to the eye. Cherries, strawberries, cassis and citrus dictate the aromas and flavors. The finish is long and soft; 85/85.

NV Chandon, Brut Classic, California, $17. Light gold with a medium bead, the wine maintains a brisk mouth feel. Pears, apples, cherries, citrus and almonds all combine to make a tasty package; 86/87.

NV Chandon, Extra-Dry Riche, California, $17. Gold with a peach tinge, soft, and slightly sweet, the aromas and flavors speak of peaches, honey and apricots; 83/83.

NV Chandon, Reserve, Sonoma County/Napa County, California, $24. Extended time on the lees gives a full, creamy texture with a hint of nuts. You´ll appreciate cherry, citrus, green apple and toasty nuances. Nicely done; 88/89.

NV Deutz, Brut Classic, Champagne, France, $37, 9,000 cases imported to the US. Apples, pears, toast and floral notes unfold on the nose. Full-bodied, crisp and lively, you´ll welcome the light red fruit flavors with marzipan nuances. Delightful; 89/90.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. This sparkler is rather simple, dry (0.47% RS), and crisp, but with a nice toastiness and yellow delicious apple nuances; 84/86.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Cuvee Brut, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. Straw gold and presenting a large bead, this value Brut sports aromas of apples and bread dough. Straightforward and crisp, you´ll appreciate fresh figs and melons on the finish; 83/85.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Extra Dry, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. Simple, but quaffable. Relatively crisp and sweet (1.95% RS). Pear and tropical fruit flavors prevail; 83/85.

NV étoile Brut, Sonoma County/Napa County, California, $35. The medium-fine bead elevates aromas of honey and citrus blossoms. Structured in a soft, creamy style, the wine displays complexity of hazelnuts, honey and apples; 88/87.

NV étoile Rosé, Sonoma County/Napa County, California, $40. Coral/peach best describes the lovely hue of this elegant, creamy sparkler. Berries, apricots and honey flavors are upfront, with a nice toastiness lingering on the finish; 88/87.

NV Freixenet, Brut de Noirs, Spain, $9. An equal mix of Garnacha and Monastrell went into this Spanish sparkler. Residual sugar of 1.5% is balanced by modest acidity. Tart cherry/berry flavors prevail across the taste spectrum; 83/85.

1999 Freixenet, Brut Nature, Sant Sadurni d´Anoia, Spain, $14. Here´s another value Cava for the holidays. I think that this is the first time that I have tasted pecans in a wine. Ripe apple fruit is the major player here, with bread dough noted on the finish; 84/86.

NV Freixenet, Cordon Negro Brut, Spain, $10. The #1 imported sparkling wine in the world, this cava is easy to like with its modest acidity and rounded feel. A straightforward mix of pear, peach, and citrus fruit is enhanced by toasty notes; 83/85.

NV Freixenet, Cordon Negro Extra Dry, Spain, $10. Sporting a medium bead, this cava has 2.3% residual sugar and a smooth, creamy feel to it. Ripe apple aromas morph into peach and pears flavors; 83/85.

NV Greg Norman, Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, South Australia, $16. Relatively crisp, this down under rendition gives off aromas of strawberries, citrus and cashews, followed by very ripe stone fruit flavors and caramel notes; 84/84.

NV Louis Roederer, Brut Premier, Champagne, France, $41, 42,000 cases imported to the US. Light gold in color with fine bubbles, the nose is quite delicate. Very smooth and elegant on the palate, you´ll appreciate a complex mix of pears, apples, red berries and almonds. A pretty wine at an attractive price; 91/92.

NV Roederer Estate, Brut, Anderson Valley, California, $22, 65,000 cases. Seemingly dry, you don´t notice the 1.2% residual sugar due to the tart acidity. A medium-fine bead works its way up the glass, carrying aromas of pears and vanilla. Pears, nuts and bread dough express themselves on the palate of this value sparkler; 87/88.

NV Roederer Estate, Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, California, $26, 3,000 cases. Very pale salmon in color, this energetic wine has a persistent fine bead and delicate Pinot Noir aromas with a measure of green apples. Flavors of strawberry, citrus and green apple delight the palate. Good value; 88/89.

1998 Roederer Estate, L´Ermitage, Anderson Valley, California, $39, 4,500 cases. A tad more complex and creamy than their non-vintage Brut, this sparkler offers up floral and honey aromas, followed by honeyed flavors with green apple overtones. The residual sugar is 1.2% but not noticeable; 88/87.

NV Segura Viudas, Aria, Estate Brut, Spain, $12. Aria is a méthode champenoise sparkling wine from the Segura Viudas Estate in Sant Sadurní d´Anoia, Spain. Nice acidity balances the delicate sweetness (1%). Honey and almonds underscore the nose and straightforward flavors mirror the aromas; 83/85.

NV Segura Viudas, Brut Reserva, Penedès, Spain, $10. A cuvée of Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, this sparkler has a medium bead, modest acidity and a dry mouth feel. Ripe apples and baked bread aromas carry over to the palate, with tangerine nuances lurking in the background; 84/86.

NV Segura Viudas, Reserva Heredad, Penedès, Spain, $20. Composed of Macabeo and Parellada, this sparkler displays aromas and flavors of baked pears and bread dough. Brisk, with a fine bead, there is a reasonable degree of complexity; 85/85.

Syrah wine glass

NV Barefoot Cellars, Syrah, California, $6. Surprisingly complex and tasty for a six-buck wine, this is case buy material for parties and for those nights when you desire a light red. Smooth tannins make this fruity little wine very drinkable right now; 85/90.

2001 Black Opal, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, $10. Blue fruit and a hint of smoke and wood define this lean, crisp, straightforward wine. Match with grilled burgers; 81/81.

2001 Chateau Julien, Syrah, Monterey County, California, $22, 636 cases. Almost black in the glass, this full-bodied wine is quite smooth, with layers of bacon, smoke, oak, and ripe plum fruit; 85/85.

1999 Coulson, Syrah, Johnson Vineyard, El Dorado, California, $15, 165 cases. The wine has a ruby red hue with blue overtones. Aromas and flavors of smoked meat and blackberries are augmented by slightly bitter, rustic tannins; 85/86.

2002 Delicato, Shiraz, California, $8. The small amount of Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet blended into the wine contributes to the dense purple hue. Balanced with friendly tannins, this is quite simply hard to beat for eight bucks. Lots of juicy plums and blueberries linger on the palate, with hints of cola and coffee coming in on the finish; 85/90.

2001 Holly´s Hill, Syrah, East Slope, El Dorado, California, $19, 222 cases. You´ll find a pretty classic California Syrah nose here, with black fruit, smoked meat and cracked pepper. Very polished, with floral notes adding to the blackberry and blueberry fruit. Nicely done; 86/87.

2002 Luis Felipe Edwards, Shiraz, Colchagua, Chile, $8. A lovely nose of ripe plums, spice, pepper and cigar leaf expands on the palate to reveal very nice fruit and varietal character for the price class. Soft on the finish; 84/86.

1999 Madrona, Syrah, Reserve, El Dorado, California, $20, 450 cases. You´ll find nice red and black fruits, but no classic Syrah characteristics. Firm tannins dictate aging; 84/84.

2002 McCrea Cellars, Syrah, Washington State, $25, 550 cases. Always nicely done, the new lower pricing makes this a terrific value. Full-bodied, crisp, with tannins held well in check, the wine has lovely aromas and flavors of black fruit, smoke and white pepper nuances; 91/92.

2000 Perry Creek, Syrah, El Dorado, California, $28, 350 cases. Displaying ruby red colors with blue accents, the aromas and flavors are a mélange of black cherries, blueberries, smoke and cinnamon spice. Full-bodied, the wine shows a bit of heat from the 15% alcohol it is packing; 85/85.

Zinfandel wine glass

2001 Amphora, Zinfandel, La Loma Block, Dry Creek Valley, California, $28, 550 cases. Purple/red in color, the nose displays aromas of ripe strawberries and herbs. This middleweight is crisp and balanced, with strawberry and coffee flavors; 85/84.

Barefoot 2001 Barefoot, Zinfandel, Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, California, $17, 1,515 cases. Aromas of raspberry jam and cocoa repeat on the palate, augmented by sweet vanilla and cherries. Light to medium-bodied, this is a nice quaffer for grilled foods; 85/85.

2002 Bonny Doon, Cardinal Zin, California, $20, 13,300 cases. As Bonny Doon says in reference to potential alcohol levels, Zinfandel needn´t be a weapon requiring fire suppression equipment. I couldn´t agree more; the 13.5% alcohol level is most welcome. Lots of cherries and chocolate highlight the nose. Packaged with crisp acids and easy tannins, the wine presents cherry jam and strawberries to the palate in a food-friendly style; 86/87.

2001 Lake Sonoma, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, $16, 8,000 cases. Sporting generous aromas of blueberries and cinnamon, this medium-bodied Zin has rich, ripe fruit, loads of sweet oak, and a streak of pepper; 84/84.

2001 Lake Sonoma, Zinfandel, Saini Farms, Dry Creek Valley, California, $20, 1,300 cases. Aromas speak of raspberries, blackberries and cinnamon. The wine is smooth on the palate but shows a lot of barrel influence, with creamy vanilla and spice upfront; 85/85.

2000 Oakstone, Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California, $12, 974 cases. Garnet in color, with a lot of brambly, jammy aromas and flavors. Finishing on a sweet note, you´ll feel a touch of heat from the 14.2% alcohol; 85/86.

NV Single Leaf, Red Table Wine, Pammie´s Cuvee, Lot #3, El Dorado, California, $10, 300 cases. The cuvee is 93% Zinfandel, with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blended in. Atypical for a Zin, but pretty tasty. Ripe aromas of strawberries and dewberries morph into flavors of cherries and cranberries, finishing crisp; 84/85.

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