© 2007 by Randy Buckner
The holiday season is in full swing now. Just like the Thanksgiving table, our Christmas table is filled with a variety of food, which lends itself well to several wines.
We usually serve a standing prime rib roast. Bordeaux or an upscale New World red is the perfect match for a medium-rare cut of beef. A spiral-cut ham always finds a place on the table as well. Riesling is a natural with ham, but if you want to stick with reds, do not forget about Beaujolais. Its soft tannins and inherent fruitiness match a variety of foods. Don't forget to have a few sparklers on hand to toast the season, as well as a few white wines for those prized appetizers.
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. All wines are tasted from Riedel Vinum glasses after breathing for one hour. 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.
2006 Banrock Station, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, $6. Berries, currants and smoke carry from the nose to the palate of this simple, fruity, value wine; 83/86.
2005 Beringer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Knight's Valley, California, $27. You'll find a mélange of aromas - black cherries, berries, chocolate and toasty oak. Elegant on the entry, the aromas do an encore on the palate. This one is structured for food; 86/86.
2005 Bogle, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $11. Defined by cherries, plums and tobacco, the wine is straightforward and fruity, with easy-going tannins; 83/84.
2004 Dry Creek, The Mariner, Meritage Red Wine, Dry Creek Valley, California, $40. A deeply-hued wine, with aromas and flavors of mixed black fruits, chocolate and French oak. While very harmonious, it needs three to five years of cellar time to round out the firm tannins; 88/88.
2004 Flora Springs, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $35, 8,800 cases. Black cherry, chocolate and smoky aromas expand in the mouth, with the addition of currant nuances. Medium bodied and nicely balanced; 86/86.
2004 Flora Springs, Trilogy, Napa Valley, California, $65, 4,900 cases. This Bordeaux blend reveals aromas and flavors of black cherries, coffee, plums and cherry liqueur. Initially elegant on the entry, the drying tannins come on strong and need significant bottle aging; 86/84.
2005 Gallo Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $15, 79,000 cases. While simple, the wine is very approachable, with a nice mix of cherries, berries, plums and barrel notes; 84/86.
2004 Hanna, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $30. Mixed black fruits, violets and a hint of oak present on the nose and palate, riding on a crisp, tannic backbone. Give this one a few years of quiet aging; 87/87.
2005 Hayman & Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $15. Simple but well balanced, with honest black fruit flavors and well-managed tannins - drink now; 83/84.
2005 Hayman & Hill, Meritage, Monterey County, California, $15. Nuances of red cherries and violets carry from the nose to the mouth of this value sipper; 85/88.
2004 Madroña, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Dorado County, California, $18, 937 cases. Aromas speak of blackberries, cherry liqueur and dark chocolate. Very polished on the entry, with juicy fruit and silky tannins; 85/86.
2004 Madroña, Reserve Quintet, El Dorado County, California, $28, 347 cases. This Bordeaux blend is defined by black cherries, new leather and oak. Well structured, with firm but rounded tannins; 84/84.
2005 Meridian, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $10. Crisp, balanced and straightforward, I'd enjoy this one early on for the juicy red and black fruit; 82/83.
2005 Night Harvest (R.H. Phillips), Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $8, 60,000 cases. Cherry fruit highlights the nose and palate of this simple quaffer; 80/80.
2004 Penfolds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. While somewhat one-dimensional, the wine does deliver black cherries, currants, cedar and mint - think BBQ; 84/86.
2004 Penfolds, Cabernet Merlot, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Lean and crisp, with easy tannins, the wine delivers aromas and flavors of currants, plums, chocolate and cedar, perfect for that grilled burger; 83/85.
2005 Robert Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $28. Very elegant on the entry, the wine has firm but rounded tannins. Flavors mirror the berry, cocoa and black olive aromas. Very harmonious and food friendly; 89/90.
2004 Robert Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $125. This purple-red Cabernet gives off aromas of blackberries, French oak, chocolate and licorice. Full, rich and tannic, the wine carries the 75 percent new oak well. The lush finish is endless; 91/89.
2005 Summers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Adriana's Cuvée, Napa Valley, California, $25. Aromas of black fruits and barrel notes arise from this purple-red Cabernet. Juicy blackberries rule the palate, with a hint of violets for interest. Firm ripe tannins will benefit from aging; 87/88.
2004 Valley of the Moon, Cuvée de la Luna, Sonoma County, California, $30, 2,400 cases. The nose of this deeply-hued wine reveals mixed black fruits and toasty oak which follows through on the palate. The lively acidity will tackle most any food dish; 86/86.
2006 Banrock Station, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $6. You'll get a lot of bang for the buck here. Peach and tropical fruit nuances are presented in a clean, refreshing, fruity package; 83/86.
2005 Blackstone, Chardonnay, Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $17, 10,500 cases. This crisp, fruity and creamy wine is underscored by tropical fruit, lemon zest and toasty oak; 85/86.
2006 Bogle, Chardonnay, California, $9. Butterscotch and toasty oak defines the aroma and flavor profile, backed by zippy acidity; 83/84.
2006 Hayman & Hill, Chardonnay, Russian River, California, $15. This value wine is not burdened down with oak. Highlighted by melons, peaches and butterscotch, the wine is well balanced and fruity; 85/88.
2006 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. Soft and creamy, the wine is defined by toasty oak, apples, pears and butter; 83/85.
2006 Kenwood, Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River Valley, California, $25, 1,170 cases. This light gold wine is defined by green apples, lemons, butter and toasty oak, with a smooth, creamy mouth feel; 87/87.
2006 McWilliam's, Chardonnay, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $12, 62,000 cases. I'd enjoy this medium-bodied wine over the next year for the peach and melon highlights; 84/86.
2006 Meridian, Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California, $10. Smoky, buttery aromas overlie pineapple and lime accents, whereas fruit dominates the palate, backed by tangy acidity; 84/86.
2006 Monkey Bay, Chardonnay, New Zealand, $11. Backed by citrus and melon highlights, this light, balanced, straightforward quaffer is a nice match for white fish; 83/84.
2006 Night Harvest (R.H. Phillips), Chardonnay, California, $8, 32,000 cases. Here's a soft, simple quaffer at a fair price, with pear, citrus and apple nuances; 81/81.
2006 Oak Knoll, Chardonnay, Oregon, $10, 3,657 cases. Straightforward, crisp and food-friendly, this unoaked Chardonnay gives up yellow apples and a hint of citrus; 83/85.
2006 Pedroncelli, Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, California, $12, 5,000 cases. Highlighted by pears, vanilla and butterscotch, this creamy, polished wine has a lot of stuffing for twelve bucks; 85/88.
2006 Penfolds, Chardonnay, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $11. Here's a crisp, fruit forward, food-friendly wine that delivers honest melon and stone fruit flavors. Excellent value; 86/90.
2005 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $40. You'll enjoy a complex nose of citrus zest, apples and French vanilla. Elegant and balanced, the long aftertaste echoes the aromas; 90/90.
2006 Rodney Strong, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $15. Straw gold in color, this nicely balanced wine displays lemon, apple and toasty oak nuances across the board; 84/85.
2005 Boroli, "Quattro Fratelli", Barbera d' Alba, DOC, Italy, $16. Black cherries, leather and aged wood highlight the aromas and flavors. Medium bodied and balanced, this wine will pair with a host of foods; 86/88.
2006 Inama, Soave Classico, Italy, $14. Aromas of pears, lemons and floral notes radiate from this light gold wine. Medium bodied and fruity, with a full aftertaste mirroring the nose, it is a value to boot; 89/90.
2005 Marchesi di Grésy, Monte Aribaldo Dolcetto d'Alba, DOC, Italy, $17. This wine is lean and tart, with nuances of plums, cherries, leather and wormwood. Pair with pasta and meat sauce; 86/88.
2006 Banrock Station, Merlot, South East Australia, $6. Red cherry, plum and toasty oak aromas and flavors are presented in a straightforward package; 82/84.
2004 Beringer, Alluvium, Knights Valley, California, $30. Three-quarters Merlot and 23 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine shows a nice sense of balance, highlighted by cherries, blackberries, cocoa and herbal notes; 85/85.
2005 Blackstone, Merlot, Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $17, 11,000 cases. Defined by berries, warm spices and toasty oak, the wine is smooth and fruity, with a lengthy aftertaste; 85/86.
2004 Franciscan, Magnificat, Napa Valley, California, $50. A Merlot-predominant Bordeaux blend. Lovely black cherry and plum fruit strives to be noticed over the heavy oak burden. Chewy tannins demand bottle aging; 82/80.
2005 Gallo Family Vineyards, Merlot, Sonoma Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $15, 36,000 cases. Soft, simple and fruity, with nuances of plums, berries, vanilla and cedar; 83/85.
2004 Grgich Hills, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $40, 4,587 cases. Blackberry, cherry liqueur and cedar aromas repeat on the palate. Elegant, with firm but fine-grained tannins, this wine needs cellar time to come together; 88/88.
2005 Hayman & Hill, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $15. Balanced and fruity, with straightforward aromas and flavors of plums, berries and toast; 83/84.
2005 Kenwood, Merlot, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $25, 6,300 cases. This deeply-hued Merlot is highlighted by black fruit, spice and cedary notes. Tannins need bottle time; 86/86.
2004 Kenwood, Merlot, Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $25, 816 cases. Red fruit, coffee and cedar underscore this wine. Elegant and lush on the palate, the welcoming tannins say, "Drink me now." Long, complex finish; 88/88.
2005 Kenwood, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $17, 42,800 cases. The nose is highlighted by tart red cherry, spice and barrel notes. Smooth, crisp and easy to drink, the flavors mirror the nose; 85/86.
2004 Madroña, Merlot, El Dorado, California, $15, 889 cases. Defined by plums, tart cherries, tobacco and oak, the tannins are pretty chewy, with a heavy hand on the oak. Give it time to come together and tame down a bit; 84/85.
2006 McWilliam's, Merlot, Hanwood Estate, Australia, $12, 100,000 cases. Straightforward, balanced and fruity, I'd drink this one over the next couple of years for the blackberry, currant and warm spice nuances; 83/85.
2005 Meridian, Merlot, California, $10. American oak, cola and berries highlight the aroma and flavor profile of this straightforward quaffer; 81/81.
2005 Night Harvest (R.H. Phillips), Merlot, California, $8, 25,000 cases. This wine is simple, tart and ready to drink right now for the cherry fruit; 82/83.
2005 Penfolds, Merlot, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Light bodied, straightforward, fruity and very drinkable for the plum, berry and cedar nuances; 84/86.
2006 Banrock Station, Semillon Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $6. Lemon and fig aromas repeat on the palate. Crisp, simple and quaffable - the price is hard to beat; 82/84.
2006 Banrock Station, Shiraz Cabernet, South Eastern Australia, $6. Drink this soft, simple blend early on before the cherry and plum fruit fades; 83/85.
2006 Beringer, Alluvium Blanc, Knights Valley, California, $16. Predominantly Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is balanced and fruity, with citrus, melon and toasty oak overtones; 86/87.
2002 Domaine de Nizas, Le Mas, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $13, 800 cases imported. A 50/25/25 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Plums, berries and toasty oak run the length of the wine. Tannins are soft; and the bright acidity is very food friendly; 85/88.
2005 Domaine du Vissoux, Beaujolais, Cuvee Traditionnelle, Vieilles Vignes, Burgundy, France, $14. This is serious Beaujolais that is a stunning value to boot. Highlighted by boysenberries and cherries on the nose and palate, the wine displays excellent balance. The prolonged boysenberry finish is just the ticket for that Christmas ham; 90/92.
NV Foppiano, Lot 96, Bin 001, Sonoma County, California, $10. This 40/40/20 blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah is made for BBQ. Red cherries, strawberries, blackberries and light oak nuances carry from nose to mouth. Tannins are a bit coarse; 84/86.
2006 Gundlach Bundschu, Gewurztraminer, Rhinefarm Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $25, 2,549 cases. The wine is extremely aromatic, with lychee fruit and roses that carry over to the palate as well. While the flavors come up short of the nose, the wine is very harmonious; 86/86.
2004 Madroña, Malbec, El Dorado, California, $27, 161 cases. Blackberries, blueberries, spice and generous cedary oak carries from the nose to the mouth in this well-balanced wine; 85/85.
NV Oak Knoll, Niagara, American, $7. Straw gold in color, with a very foxy smell characteristic of Labrusca grapes. The wine is fruity/grapey, off-dry and showing nice balance. Pretty nice if you are a Labrusca fan; 84/87.
2005 Penfolds, Shiraz Cabernet, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. This wine is simple and crisp, with black fruit, smoked meat and mint nuances; 83/85.
2006 Ponzi, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $17, 6,845 cases. Stone fruit and floral notes emanate from this straw-colored sipper. It is very well balanced and fruity, with threshold sweetness adding a sense of richness; 90/90.
2006 WillaKenzie, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $18, 4,830 cases. You'll enjoy an enticing nose of pears, limes and stone fruit. Smooth and balanced, the wine has a hint of sweetness and generous fruit that really delivers; 91/91.
2005 Blackstone, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Sonoma County, California, $19, 15,500 cases. This value wine will pair well with holiday foods. It is medium bodied and very crisp, with black cherry, dark tea and cedar aromas and flavors; 87/89.
2005 Gundlach Bundschu, Pinot Noir, Rhinefarm Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California, $38, 4,900 cases. A vivid nose of mixed red and black cherries, mushrooms, roses and cedar repeats on the palate. Medium bodied, with silky tannins, the finish is long and satisfying; 88/88.
2006 Meridian, Pinot Noir, California, $11. Aromas of black cherries, dark tea and rose petals unfold on the nose. Medium bodied, crisp and balanced, with flavors echoing the aromas; 83/85.
2006 Veramonte, Pinot Noir, Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $15. Aromas and flavors reveal a pleasant mix of cherries, berries, vanilla and wormwood. Zippy acidity gives the wine a nice kick, lending itself well to food; 85/87.
2005 Fritz Haag, Riesling Spätlese, Brauneberger Juffer, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, $32. Medium to full and lush in the mouth, you'll find a creamy wine with a subtle mix of vanilla, yellow apples and peaches. This is backed by a hint of slate and nice minerality. Drink over the next decade; 91/91.
2006 Mirassou, Riesling, Monterey County, California, $11. You'll find apricots and a hint of slate here, however the acidity barely covers the residual sugar; 83/84.
2004 Pedroncelli, Sangiovese, Alto Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, California, $12, 1,040 cases. Plums, berries, menthol and cedar underscore the aromas and flavors. Food-friendly acidity and well-managed tannins round out the wine; 84/86.
2005 Valley of the Moon, Sangiovese, Sonoma County, California, $16, 2,500 cases. Characterized by black cherries, leather and barrel notes, the wine is straightforward and tannic; 83/84.
2006 Beringer, Sauvignon Blanc, Third Century, North Coast, California, $14. This is a crisp, simple quaffer, underscored by lemon and tropical fruit notes; 82/82.
2006 Domaine de Nizas, Le Mas Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $13, 1,000 cases imported. The nose is a delightful mix of grapefruit and wet stones. Lemons and nice minerality unfold on the palate, backed by lively acidity; 86/87.
2006 Flora Springs, Soliloquy, Oakville, California, $25. This is a well-balanced wine, with a creamy mouth feel. Aromas of citrus and melon evolve to figs and melons on the palate; 87/87.
2006 Kenwood, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, California, $20, 1,200 cases. Very polished and crisp, this SB is defined by aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and herbaceous notes; 88/88.
2006 Meridian, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast, California, $10. Here's a straightforward, pleasant quaff, with citrus and honeydew melon highlights; 83/84.
2006 Night Harvest (R.H. Phillips), Sauvignon Blanc, California, $8, 60,000 cases. This simple quaff offers modest citrus and melon flavors; 80/80.
2007 Sebeka, Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, $9. Packing a big punch for a nine buck wine, you'll find a crisp, fruity wine with melon and lemongrass highlights; 85/88.
2007 Veramonte, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $12. Crisp, balanced and fruity, this wine is underscored by gooseberries and stone fruit. Good value; 86/87.
1996 Krug, Brut Champagne, France, $300. This is perfection in a bottle. If price is no object over the holidays, don't miss out on this experience. You'll find an enchanting bouquet of honeycomb, ginger, leesy/doughy notes, hazelnuts, smoke and spice. Perfectly balanced, with nice minerality, the wine is powerful while maintaining a sense of grace. Still in its youth, this will be drinking well for the next quarter of a century; 100/100.
NV Pol Roger, Brut Champagne, France, $35. This is the perfect Champagne for your holiday openers. It is light on its feet, with racy acidity and plenty of apple nuances. Toasty overtones add character. Terrific value; 89/91.
NV Wolf Blass, Yellow Label Brut, South Australia, $10. Straw gold with a medium bead, this sparkler gives off green apple, citrus and biscuit scents. In the mouth the wine is crisp and fruity. While simple, it offers good value for ten bucks; 83/85.
2006 Banrock Station, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, $6. Soft and simple, with modest blackberry and smoky oak nuances; 81/82.
2005 Beringer, Syrah, Third Century, Central Coast, California, $14. Here's an honest value drink that is smooth and intensely fruity. Enjoy now for the mouthful of blueberries, black fruit and white pepper nuances; 85/87.
2005 Night Harvest (R.H. Phillips), Shiraz, California, $8. A pretty decent effort for an eight-buck wine. While soft and simple, the wine is fruity, with light tannins; 83/85.
2005 Penfolds, Shiraz, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Straightforward, well structured, with aromas and flavors of plums and cherries; 83/85.
2003 Taltarni, Shiraz, Pyrenees Estate, Victoria, Australia, $20, 2,000 cases imported. Medium bodied and crisp, with supple tannins, this wine is underscored by very ripe blue and black fruits with a touch of oak; 84/84.
2005 Grgich Hills, Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $33, 5,682 cases. On the nose you'll find mixed red fruits, light toast and a hint of tomato leaf, while on the palate the wine displays generous brambly fruit and a streak of pepper; 88/88.
2004 Hayman & Hill, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, $15. Straightforward aromas and flavors speak of cherries, raspberries and toasty oak; 83/84.
2005 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Jack London Vineyard, Sonoma, California, $25, 6,200 cases. This purple-red Zin is full and elegant, with generous raspberry and blackberry flavors; 88/88.
2005 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Reserve, Sonoma, California, $20, 1,300 cases. This is a nice wine, but not too Zin-like. Plums, berries, licorice and cedar underscore the aroma and flavor profiles; 85/85.
2005 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, $14, 23,400 cases. Somewhat generic in nature, the wine is smooth and easy to drink. Tart berries, cherries, vanilla and barrel notes define the wine; 84/84.
2005 Lake Sonoma, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, $17, 6,450 cases. The nose hints at raspberries, vanilla and subtle barrel notes, whereas the palate shows generous brambly fruit which is backed by food-friendly acidity and friendly tannins; 85/87.
2005 Madroña, Zinfandel, El Dorado, California, $16, 1,672 cases. Cherries, berries and spice define the aroma and flavor profile here. The wine is a middleweight, with plenty of fruit to please; 85/86.
2005 Mazzocco, Zinfandel, Stone, Alexander Valley, California, $27, 570 cases. Defined by black fruit and toasty oak, this Zin is very fruity, with a hint of cherry jam and smoke. Generous tannins are ripe. Alcohol is 15.5 percent, but I did not perceive a lot of heat; 86/86.
2005 Mazzocco, Zinfandel, West Dry Creek, Dry Creek Valley, California, $27, 600 cases. For those of you who like a big Zin, here it is. Sporting 16.3 percent alcohol, the wine does exhibit nice balance and a long finish of black cherries and blackberry jam, without obvious heat; 86/86.
2005 Pedroncelli, Zinfandel, Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley, California, $14, 8,000 cases. Plums and berries highlight this well-balanced, fruity wine. Chewy tannins demand grilled or BBQ beef; 84/85.
2005 Rodney Strong, Zinfandel, Knotty Vines, Sonoma County, California, $20. Aromas of raspberries, sand plums and a hint of oak repeats on the palate. Crisp, balanced and tasty; 88/89.