Bucko's New Releases

© 2004 by Randy Buckner
December 2004

Late Autumn 2004 Releases

This is my favorite time of the year. People are filled with the holiday spirit. The smell of fireplace smoke drifts on the crisp evening air. Football stadiums vibrate with the cheers of fervid fans, and my home state Sooners are headed for the Orange Bowl. This is also the time of year for extravagant meals, favorite wines and Champagne toasts. Last-minute reviews of 14 sparkling wines from around the world are provided to aid in your holiday selections. Enjoy!

Another 100 new and current releases are presented for your inspection. The dual rating system evaluates quality (the first number) and value (the second) on a 100-point scale. No wines scoring below 80 points are listed. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine glass

2001 Arrowood, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Archer, Sonoma County, California, $15. Here’s an unpretentious wine that gives good bang for the buck. Plum and spice aromas give way to flavors of cherries and plums, all supported by easy-drinking tannins and bright acids. Enjoy now; 86/88.

Beringer 2001 Beringer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $35. Aromas of black cherries, French oak and sage unfold on the nose. The wine was aged in new French oak for 25 months, which unfortunately dominates the palate. Plums, chocolate and warm spices make an effort to be noticed; 85/85.

2003 Black Swan, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $8. Straightforward aromas and flavors of raspberries, chocolate and cedar are backed by soft tannins and bright acids. Drink early on; 82/83.

2002 Columbia Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Two Vines, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 85,000 cases. Blueberry, black cherry jam and cocoa notes define the nose. Sweet in the mouth with nice balance, I would drink this one now; 83/84.

2002 Gallo of Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $13, 69,000 cases. Cassis and humidor aromas transform into flavors of black cherries and herbs. Tannins are coarse with a green edge; 81/82.

2001 Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $24, 36,000 cases. Black cherries, tobacco and earthy wood notes grace the nose. Very rounded in the mouth, the wine shows a lot of wood influence but has bright cherry fruit and humidor notes that holds the interest; 85/86.

2003 McWilliams, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $11. Made in an early-drinking style, the wine is lean and tart. The nose reveals currants, chocolate, herbs and vanilla, whereas the flavor profile is dominated by American oak notes; 83/84.

Souverain 2002 San Juan Vineyards, Cabernet-Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11.75, 490 cases. Flavors speak of plums, cherries and dill from the American oak. Straightforward sweet cherry fruit and herbal notes linger on the palate; 84/85.

2001 Chateau Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $20, 53,200 cases. Aromas and flavors are a mix of ripe plums, black olives, Baker’s chocolate and coffee beans. The wine finishes on a crisp note; 83/83.

2002 Turner Road, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, $11, 13,500 cases. Aromas of blackberries, plums, cola and smoke follow through on the palate. Made in a light, straightforward package, this one is an early drinker; 82/83.

Champagne/Sparkling Wine wine glass

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Noirs, California, $17. This sparkler has a very lovely bronze coloration that shimmers with the escaping medium-fine bubbles. Cherry and strawberry aromas morph into flavors of berries and walnuts; 86/87.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Noirs Reserve, California, $24. This sparkler is rounded in the mouth with modest acidity. Apples, poached pears, spice and nuts define the wine; 86/86.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, Brut Classic, California, $17. Crisp on the palate with a fine bead. The aromas and flavors reveal pear, citrus, almond and bread crust notes; 84/85.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, Brut Reserve, California, $24. Lively acids and a medium-fine bead herald in the cherry, apple, citrus and hazelnut aromas and flavors; 85/85.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, étoile Brut, Napa and Sonoma Counties, California, $35. A complex nose of almonds, toast, honey butter and citrus peel is followed by flavors of same. Soft and creamy, brioche lingers on the finish; 88/88.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, étoile Rose, Napa and Sonoma Counties, California, $40. Fine bubbles course their way through this copper-colored beauty. Black cherries, nutmeg spice and toasty nuances highlight the nose, while raspberry and citrus notes define the palate; 88/88.

NV Chandon, Sparkling Wine, Extra-Dry Riche, California, $17. Straw gold with a touch of apricot, this off-dry sparkler is full in the mouth with modest acids. Nuances of peaches, honey and bread dough linger on the palate; 86/87.

2000 Freixenet, Cava, Brut Nature, Spain, $14. This is a very dry sparkler with a medium-fine bead and lively bubbles. Baked apples, bread dough and almond nuances linger; 83/85.

NV Krug, Brut Champagne, Grande Cuvée, France, $120. This wine delivers everything that I love about Champagne – subtleness, complexity and balance. Aromas and flavors speak of lemon creams, spice, caramels, hazelnuts, toast and mineral notes, all supported by brisk acidity. The finish is endless. Drink over the next five years; 95/93.

NV Lindauer, Sparkling Wine, Brut, New Zealand, $12. The straw color has a light apricot hue. Peach, pear and toasty aromas evolve into pear and strawberry flavors. Balanced, straightforward and refreshing; 83/85.

NV G.H. Mumm, Champagne, Cordon Rouge, Champagne, France, $41. This Brut Champagne sparkles with a fine bead. Bread dough, pear and green apple aromas give way to toasty, nutty, lemony flavors. The finish is very dry and crisp; 89/89.

NV G.H. Mumm, Champagne, Joyesse, Champagne, France, $41. Looking for sweet Champagne? This demi-sec may be the answer. Displaying a fine mousse, aromas of peaches, pears and honey unfurl on the nose then morph into flavors of pears, figs and hazelnuts. The acidity carries the sugar with ease; 88/88.

NV Pol Roger, Brut Champagne Réserve, France, $35. This is my house Champagne, a tasty wine that you can proudly serve guests without breaking the bank. Citrus, spice, cashews and bread dough highlight the nose, which expands on the palate to reveal lemon, apple and mineral notes. Lively acidity breathes life into the wine; 90/90.

NV Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut Reserva, Penedès, Spain, $20. Straw colored with a medium-fine bead, the wine is very perfumed. Peach and wet stone aromas carry through on the palate, with additional almond and brioche notes; 86/87.

Chardonnay wine glass

Beringer 2002 Beringer, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $16. Classic in style for Beringer, with lots of fruit and lots of oak. Pears, nutmeg, butter and barrel toast highlight the nose, while oak, yellow apples and lemons underscore the flavors; 85/86.

2003 Black Opal, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $8. Stone fruit and melon aromas radiate from this gold-colored Chardonnay. Rounded in the mouth, the wine delivers straightforward apple and citrus notes; 81/81.

2003 Black Swan, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $8. Simple but quaffable. Baked apples, melons and lemons delineate the nose while flavors lean toward the tart lemon and caramel spectrum; 80/80.

2002 Buena Vista, Chardonnay, Carneros Reserve, California, $18, 6,404 cases. This light gold formulaic wine is tasty nevertheless. Green apples, tropical fruit, butter and toasty oak carry across the entire sensory spectrum. Easy to drink and fruit driven, the oak plays a subordinate role here; 86/87.

2003 Canoe Ridge, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 1,200 cases. This is a nicely balanced, creamy style of Chardonnay. Aromas and flavors are a pleasant mix of apples, pears, coconut, smoke and vanilla; 84/84.

2002 Chateau Ste Michelle, Chardonnay, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30, 1,200 cases. Smoky oak dominates the nose, with underlying roasted nuts and pears. Very rounded and creamy, this one is for oak fans only. Loads of pear and hazelnut flavors are matched by a host of barrel notes; 86/86.

2002 Domaine Chandon, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $19, 8,800 cases. Pretty tasty for the formulaic California style. The wine delivers a host of butterscotch, toasted oak, green apple, pineapple and citrus oil flavor nuances, finishing on a creamy note; 86/86.

2003 Edna Valley, Chardonnay, Paragon, Edna Valley, California, $14, 163,000 cases. Balanced and very crisp in the mouth. Smoky vanilla, lemon and peach aromas carry over to the palate, finishing with buttery, flinty notes; 84/85.

2003 Gallo of Sonoma, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $13, 94,000 cases. Peach, pineapple and smoked butter aromas radiate from this light gold Chardonnay. Well balanced and fruit forward, the flavors speak of peachy, buttery notes; 85/87.

2002 Gold Digger, Chardonnay, Washington State, $15, 1,090 cases. Buttery, toasty aromas are upfront, with pear and apple nuances. Made in a creamy style, the wine delivers spicy, smoky, baked apple flavors; 84/85.

2003 McWilliam’s, Chardonnay, Southeastern Australia, $11. Casaba melons, lemon curd and oak notes intermingle on the nose. Clean and crisp, the straightforward flavors mirror the aromas; 83/84.

2003 Mirassou, Chardonnay, Central Coast, California, $11, 140,000 cases. Formulaic but offering enough juicy fruit to hold the interest, you’ll find aromas and flavors of green apples, peaches and buttered toast; 85/87.

Pedroncelli 2003 Pedroncelli, Chardonnay, F. Johnson Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 1,033 cases. This one is fruit forward without overbearing oak. Made in a creamy style, enjoy the wine now for its apples and hazelnuts; 83/84.

2003 Chateau Souverain, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $14, 78,000 cases. A wide range of adjectives apply to this wine – pears, pineapples, citrus peel, smoke, butterscotch and cinnamon. The finish is soft; 84/85.

2003 Talus, Chardonnay, California, $8, 141,000 cases. More than quaffable for the price point, this wine delivers crisp green apples, lemons and vanilla nuances; 82/83.

2003 Turner Road, Chardonnay, Central Coast, California, $11, 21,000 cases. Soft and sweet, this straightforward wine should be consumed early on for the apple and citrus flavors; 82/83.

2003 Wild Horse, Chardonnay, Central Coast, California, $16, 26,800 cases. The wine has a sparkling light gold color and gives off aromas of green apples, vanilla and smoky oak. Apples, pears and oak spice are appreciated in the mouth; 84/85.

Merlot wine glass

2003 Black Swan, Merlot, South Eastern Australia, $8. Soft, with straightforward cherry fruit, smoke, herbs and oak features, this one is meant for early consumption; 80/80.

2001 Buena Vista, Merlot, Carneros Reserve, California, $22, 5,027 cases. Aromas are reminiscent of blackberries, chocolate-covered cherries and American oak. The wine is medium bodied with easy-drinking tannins and hosts an array of flavors ranging from plums to light herbal notes; 86/86.

2002 Chateau Ste Michelle, Merlot, Indian Wells, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 36,500 cases. While the wine sports a nice marriage of dewberry fruit and crisp acidity, the spicy oak simply overwhelms the wine; 83/83.

2001 Columbia Crest, Merlot, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11, 310,000 cases. While a few critics have highly rated this wine, I cannot get past the overwhelming oak that obscures the generous blackberry fruit. Too bad this winemaking style persists; 82/83.

2001 Dallas Conté, Merlot, Rapel Valley, Chile, $10. This is a very herbaceous wine on the nose and the palate. Plums, crushed rosemary and black cherries struggle for attention; 81/81.

Pedroncelli 2001 Pedroncelli, Merlot, Bench Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 6,100 cases. Black cherry, wormwood and herbal aromas follow through on the palate. Easy-drinking tannins allow for early consumption; 82/83.

2002 Sagelands, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 27,600 cases. The nose is a pleasant mix of cherries, chocolate and floral notes. Soft in the mouth, the wine has simple but tasty cherry fruit and creamy vanilla; 83/84.

2001 San Juan Vineyards, Merlot, Reserve, Wells Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $19.75, 208 cases. Juicy fruit is equally matched by American oak notes. Raspberries, black cherries and herbs linger in the mouth; 84/84.

2002 Talus, Merlot, Lodi, California, $8, 122,500 cases. Blackberry jam, eucalyptus and oak are presented in a soft, light, straightforward package. Drink early on; 81/81.

2002 Wild Horse, Merlot, Paso Robles, California, $20, 26,895 cases. Aromas and flavors of raspberries, cherries and cedar shakes are backed up by bright acids and rounded tannins; 84/84.

Miscellaneous Reds wine glass

Beringer 2004 Beringer, Nouveau Red Table Wine, California, $8. Always a fun little wine, this one delivers just what it is supposed to – unpretentious fruity pleasure. Very grapey with black pepper nuances, the wine is soft with minimal tannin influence. Drink now; 84/85.

2002 Domaine Chandon, Pinot Meunier, Carneros, California, $29, 2,400 cases. Cranberry in color, you’ll find an inviting nose of black cherries, smoke, nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla. Crisp, with modest tannins, the bright cherry flavors are somewhat one-dimensional; 85/85.

2002 Folie à Deux, Ménage à Trois, Red Table Wine, California, $12. A blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a wine for White Zin drinkers to move up to – soft, slightly sweet, with berries, spice and caramel flavors; 82/82.

2002 Thurston Wolfe, Blue Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13.50, 240 cases. This is your classic burger wine – 100 percent Lemberger. Cherries, raspberries, vanilla and leather combines with modest oak and bright acidity to create a delightful deck wine; 85/87.

2002 Thurston Wolfe, Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14.50, 310 cases. This is a fun mix of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Lemberger and Merlot. Cherries, berries, integrated oak and zippy acidity makes this a perfect match for grilled foods; 84/86.

2002 Velocity, Red Wine, Rogue Valley, Oregon, $30, 311 cases. An interesting blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Nicely balanced, with silky tannins, the wine provides a host of adjectives – black cherries, currants, plums, cedar and herbs. Pair with a spicy Rhone chicken dish; 87/87.

Miscellaneous Whites wine glass

2003 Folie à Deux, Ménage à Trois, White Table Wine, California, $12. A blend of Moscato, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The complex aromas fail to carry through on the palate, where you’ll find very soft acidity, modest fruit and off-dry sweetness; 80/80.

2003 Gold Digger, Gewurztraminer, Washington State, $13, 340 cases. The wine has classic aromas and flavors of lychee and grapefruit, but it is very soft and would benefit from more acidity; 82/82.

2003 Gold Digger, Riesling, Late Harvest, Washington State, $20, 310 cases. Floral and peachy on the nose, with almonds and apricots expanding on the palate. Quite sweet and a little cloying; 85/85.

2003 San Juan Vineyards, Siegerrebe, Puget Sound, Washington, $13.75. A rather distinctive nose here – spiced grapefruit. Flavors of figs, honey, citrus and spice are augmented by tangy acids. Pair with steamed crab and drawn butter; 86/86.

2003 Thurston Wolfe, PGV, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13.50, 645 cases. A 70/30 blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier. Straw in color with an apricot tinge, the wine boasts of peaches and oranges. The crisp acidity and flavors will work well with steamed shellfish; 84/85.

2003 Thurston Wolfe, Sweet Rebecca, Yakima Valley, Washington, $15, 260 cases. Their first vintage of Sweet Rebecca since 1998, the wine is made from Orange Muscat. Sparkling gold in color, the wine is very perfumed, with orange and jasmine notes. There is just enough acidity to prevent the wine from being cloying – 10 percent residual sugar and 16 percent ETOH; 85/85.

2003 Wild Horse, Viognier, Central Coast, California, $18, 2,160 cases. This is a clean, crisp wine, with lovely honeysuckle, peach and vanilla aromas. Straightforward lemon and apricot notes linger on the palate; 84/84.

Pinot Gris wine glass

2003 Gold Digger, Pinot Grigio, Washington State, $13, 475 cases. The nose is a pleasing mix of peaches, pears and floral scents, whereas figs and apricots dominate the palate. The wine would be more interesting with increased acidity; 83/83.

2003 MacMurray, Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, California, $20, 14,000 cases. Straw colored with an apricot tinge, the wine gives of aromas of peaches, pears and melons. Full flavors are white peach predominant with almond nuances; 86/86.

2003 San Juan Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, Washington, $12.75. This is a crisp, light to medium-bodied wine with melon and citrus fruit featured; 82/83.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2002 Buena Vista, Pinot Noir, Carneros Reserve, California, $22, 12,508 cases. Garnet in color. Cranberries, red cherries, tea and vanilla aromas carry over to the palate, finishing on a spicy note; 85/85.

2002 Domaine Chandon, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $29, 2,100 cases. Well balanced and approachable now, the nose is defined by plum, cedar and cinnamon aromas. Cherries, strawberries and clove spice flavors become apparent in the mouth; 84/84.

2002 Domaine Chandon, Pinot Noir, Ramal Road Reserve, Carneros, California, $45, 180 cases. Enticing aromas of blackberries, coffee, French oak and anise lead to flavors of red cherries, blueberries and cinnamon spice. Full in the mouth, you’ll pick up a little heat from the 14.5 percent alcohol; 86/85.

2002 Gold Digger, Pinot Noir, Washington State, $18, 506 cases. This is not your Syrah wannabe. Light to medium bodied and nicely balanced, the wine is easy to drink now for the bright cherry fruit and spice; 86/88.

2003 Mirassou, Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California, $11, 70,000 cases. Here’s a value-packed Pinot – cherries, plums, smoke and cracked pepper nuances are carried well by the lively acidity; 86/90.

Port wine glass

2000 Osborne, Vintage Porto, Portugal, $45. Aromas of black cherries, cassis, chocolate, pepper and spirits emanate from this densely-colored wine. Very sweet in the mouth and weighing in as a middleweight, this Port has good intensity of fruit; 88/88.

2003 Thurston Wolfe, JTW Port, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 207 cases. A 67/33 mix of Touriga and Petite Sirah. Purple in the glass, the aromas and flavors convey plum, raisin and spice notes. You’ll find nice balance overall, even if a bit spirity; 85/85.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

2002 Columbia Crest, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 25,000 cases. Melons, pears and a touch of cut grass are presented in a soft, creamy package with threshold sweetness. Drink early on; 82/83.

2003 Snoqualmie, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7, 12,000 cases. This is a soft, creamy wine, with aromas and flavors of melons and tropical fruit; 83/84.

Semillon-Chardonnay wine glass

2002 San Juan Vineyards, Semillon-Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10.75, 542 cases. Round and creamy in the mouth, the wine displays tangerine, apple, fig and delicate toasted oak notes; 83/84.

2002 Snoqualmie, Semillon-Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7, 3,500 cases. Green apple and citrus oil aromas herald in flavors of figs and citrus fruit, riding on a soft framework; 82/83.

Syrah wine glass

2002 Black Opal, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, $8. The wine is lean and tart with aromas and flavors of blackberries, cola and smoke; 81/81.

2002 Echelon, Syrah, Esperanza Vineyard, Clarksburg, California, $10, 16,243 cases. Aromas of plums, strawberries and toasty oak radiate from this crimson-colored Syrah. Rounded in the mouth, you’ll find cherry and medium barrel toast flavors; 83/84.

2003 McWilliam’s, Shiraz, Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia, $11. Crimson in color. Berries, plums, mocha and oak nuances are backed by brisk acids and fine-grained tannins; 82/82.

2001 C.R. Sandidge, Syrah, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28. Aromas of blackberries, smoky cedar and licorice leap from the glass. Very crisp in the mouth, the wine unfolds in layers of plum preserves, black cherries, warm spices and obvious barrel notes; 85/85.

2002 San Juan Vineyards, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22.50, 440 cases. Black cherries, plums and barrel notes carry from the nose to the palate in an easy drinking package; 84/84.

2002 Talus, Shiraz, Lodi, California, $8, 23,000 cases. Black cherry, oak and vanilla aromas follow through on the palate, supported by bright acids and rounded tannins; 82/83.

2001 Zaca Mesa, Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $20, 8,162 cases. Almost purple in the glass, the wine radiates aromas of juicy red and black fruit and smoked game. Full-bodied with silky tannins, the fruit is quite intense with good meatiness; 88/89.

2001 Zaca Mesa, Syrah, Black Bear Block, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $50, 534 cases. Deep red and black fruit aromas are augmented by jammy notes and smoked meat. You’ll find liqueur-like fruit in the mouth, with rounded tannins and a lingering finish; 88/86.

2001 Zaca Mesa, Syrah, The Mesa O & N, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $40, 283 cases. Rich aromas of jammy black fruit abound. Fully concentrated in the mouth, jammy berries linger on the finish with just a touch of heat; 88/87.

Zinfandel wine glass

Souverain 2002 Chateau Souverain, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, $18, 8,300 cases. Here’s a nice Zin that is not overblown and has well-integrated oak. Mixed berries, French oak and warm spices are presented in an easy-drinking package; 86/87.

2002 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d’Oro, Amador County, California, $18, 8,200 cases. Blackberry jam, plums and toasty barrel notes mingle on the nose. Showing a bit of heat (15.5 percent alcohol), the crisp acids support the bold, jammy fruit; 85/86.

2002 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d’Oro, Deaver Vineyard, Amador County, California, $30, 2,700 cases. The nose is a delightful mix of plums, pomegranates, warm spices and barrel notes. Jammy fruit fills the mouth, with a touch of heat on the finish (15.7 percent alcohol); 87/87.

2002 Montevina, Zinfandel, Terra d’Oro, Home Vineyard, Amador County, California, $30, 700 cases. Spicy oak tends to dominate this wine. Aromas of raspberry liqueur morph into juicy fruit flavors, supported by silky tannins; 85/84.

2001 Pedroncelli, Zinfandel, Pedroni-Bushnell Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $16, 1,035 cases. Raspberry and American oak aromas and flavors are backed by tangy acids and chewy tannins; 81/81.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Barricia, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 1,876 cases. The wine is not very Zin-like, but it is very balanced and lush nevertheless. Blackberries, cherries, cedar, spice, vanilla and anise combine to make a tasty package; 86/86.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Belloni, Russian River Valley, California, $30, 1,298 cases. This is a fully-loaded Zinfandel, with lovely aromatics and loads of brambly fruit – currants, berries and pepper spice abound; 90/90.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Cooke, Sonoma Valley, California, $50, 401 cases. One-half ton per acre yields are the norm for the stunted vines in this vineyard. This is your big boy – intense aromas, bold tannins and concentrated fruit. The wood is integrated nicely. Give this one three to five years in bottle to come around; 91/90.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Monte Rosso, Sonoma Valley, California, $30, 3,044 cases. Aromas of cherries, raspberries, vanilla and toasty oak underscore the nose. Brambly in character, a black pepper streak weaves its way through the generous fruit; 90/90.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Old Hill, Sonoma Valley, California, $60, 283 cases. I find this Zin more elegant than the rest of their line and not quite as bold. Silky but forceful tannins support the blackberry, cola, smoke, vanilla and mint nuances. Lovely but expensive; 91/89.

2002 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Teldeschi, Dry Creek Valley, California, $30, 2,672 cases. This Zin has an intense nose of cherries, plums, road tar and smoky oak. Full bodied with robust tannins that need bottle age, the wine shows nice overall balance; 88/88.

2002 Talus, Zinfandel, Lodi, California, $8, 24,000 cases. Light bodied with soft tannins. Cherries, raspberries and vanilla define this early drinker; 80/80.

2002 Thurston Wolfe, Zinfandel, Washington State, $16, 450 cases. Ripe black fruit, leather and oak aromas and flavors are backed up by crisp acids and moderate tannins; 84/85.

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