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“Vigneto Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva 2016

SELVAPIANA

“Vigneto Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva 2016

(Tuscany, Italy) $29

Selvapiana makes a terrific basic Chianti, but the estate’s flagship wine from its top vineyard (Bucerchiale) is a  wine you definitely should not miss. A really good sangiovese has the inexplicable ability to seem both taut and muscular, lean and rich, at the same time. That’s certainly true here; this wine is 100% sangiovese. But what makes Selvapiania’s “Bucerchiale” extra fascinating is its hint of delicious saltiness and noble bitterness. The merest hint of salty and bitter flavors amplify the flavors around them, so when you have this wine with a great pasta, it’s heavenly. Plus there are also waves of rose, red fruit, and mineraly/chalky notes. Selvapiana has been making wine for almost 200 years in Chianti Rufina (Rufina is the smallest subzone in the Chianti area).

94 points KM

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CARBONE

Chardonnay 2019

(Coombsville, Napa Valley, CA) $48

Ironically, a man known for making some of Napa Valley’s best red wines—Andy Erickson, who at various times has made Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Staglin, Ovid, and others—also makes one of the valley’s most exquisite chardonnays. It’s called Carbone, the surname of the Italian immigrant brothers who founded the tiny property that Erickson now farms with his wife Annie Favia, a viticulturist. The chardonnay is explosively delicious with rushes of guava, yellow plum, and vanilla bean flavors, pinpoints of minerals, a vibrating core of crisp acidity and a texture that’s both creamy and silky. And yet for all this exuberance, the wine is both graceful and elegant. (It would be a stupendous treat during the holidays.) For its part, Coombsville, in the cool southeastern corner of Napa Valley, is an ancient crescent-shaped caldera that was formed 5 to 8 million years ago, the result of volcanic explosions.

97 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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NEIL ELLIS Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

NEIL ELLIS

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

(Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa) $48

Neil Ellis founded his winery in 1984 and is considered one of the pioneers of high-quality wines in South Africa. Today he and his three children make the wines. This small-production cabernet, from mountain slopes bordering the Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, exemplifies the qualities that make South African cabernet so compelling (and reminiscent of fine Bordeaux). The wine is sleek yet muscular with fine tannins that give it magnificent structure. The powerful aromas and flavors of pipe tobacco, black licorice, graphite, and cedar are woven through with subtle hints of cabernet’s “sauvignon” side—a pine-foresty green quality. Although it’s delicious when young, this is a cabernet to age. (14.5% abv)

94 points KM

Available at WineWorks

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TORNATORE

Etna Bianco 2019

(Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy) $20

If you could be on a rocky island in the Mediterranean, breathing in the warm sun and smelling the salty ocean air mixed with the wild fragrance of resiny herbs—if you could actually be there—then you would not need this wine. But for $20? Just surrender yourself. Tornatore is made from indigenous carricante grapes grown at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Etna, Sicily’s still-active volcano. The wine’s freshness, savoriness, and stony minerality are fantastic. (12.5 Abv)

92 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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AALTO

2018

(Ribera del Duero, Spain) $53

Is double velvet a possibility? Because velvet alone doesn’t quite describe the texture of Aalto, a wine that swallows you in its suppleness and waves of thick black fruit flavor. What’s especially profound about this wine is its tannin. You know it must be there because the wine is monolithic. But there’s not a whit of dryness. Just the opposite. Aalto has an elegance and grenadine juiciness that’s irresistible. And the wine, like all great wines, is irrepressibly long. When Aalto was founded in 1999 by Mariano Garcia Fernández and partners, the stunning news reverberated around Spain, for Garcia Fernández had been the head winemaker and technical director of Spain’s famous winery Vega Sicilia for 30 years before going out on his own. (15% abv)

96 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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QUERCIABELLA

"Querciabella" Chianti Classico 2016

(Chianti, Tuscany, Italy) $32

If you weren’t already eating, a good Chianti Classico should make you hungry. One sip of Querciabella and I’m there, craving some rich meat-sauced pasta dish or even just a few hunks of dry, crumbly, well-aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Querciabella’s delicious savoriness, its underlying fresh acidity, its juicy red-berry notes, refined subtle tannin, and the classic impression of saltiness all put one in the mood for FOOD. This is not the kind of shy Chianti Classico that takes a minute or two to reveal itself. With the very first sip, Querciabella Chianti Classico erupts on the palate with beautifully integrated flavors of dried cherries, pie berries, dried leaves, earth, and vanilla beans. Querciabella means “beautiful oak,” and the estate, founded in 1974, was one of the first in Italy to farm its vineyards organically and biodynamically. (13.5% abv)

95 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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SCRIBE

Estate Chardonnay 2018

(Sonoma, CA) $45

Lots of wineries talk about making fresh-tasting chardonnay that speaks of its place. But very few actually do it. Scribe walks the talk with this fantastic, minerally, sleek, vivacious chardonnay made in a “riesling state of mind.” The wine is stylistically unique, and every chardonnay lover should try it. Loads of wineries will tell you that a wine like this isn’t possible in California. They’ll say that chardonnay has to be super ripe to have flavor and that oak makes the flavor more complex. Frankly, that’s bs. Good for Scribe for proving them wrong. (12.5% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Scribe Winery

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GRACI

Etna Rosso 2017

(Etna, Sicily) $29

From nerello mascalese grapes grown on the northern slopes of the active volcano Mt. Etna (which has been steadily erupting since last week, belching smoke, ash, and fountains of red-hot lava!), comes this beautiful red from Graci, a small estate founded in 2004. You have to be a bit braced for wines from nerello mascalese. For all their pale colors and their lovely cranberry, sour cherry, and earth flavors, they slam down on the palate with steel doors of tannin. The answer is so very Italian: EAT!!! Nerello mascalese shows what it was made for when there’s some spaghetti al siciliana on the table. With fond memories of his grandfather’s humble Sicilian wines in his head, Alberto Graci gave up his career as an investment banker in Milan and embarked on a different kind of risky speculation: he bought land at 1800 feet (600 meters) on the slopes of the active volcano Mt. Etna, and started making stellar wines. (14% abv)

94 points KM

Available at K&L Wine Merchants

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DOWNES FAMILY VINEYARDS

“Sanctuary Peak” Sauvignon Blanc 2020

(Elgin Valley, Western Cape, South Africa) $26

The first grape variety that woke me up to the quality and appeal of South African wine was sauvignon blanc. Pure, minerally, racy, and sage-like, it was a bit like Sancerre but with more body. Add some stone fruitiness and smokiness and you’ve got Downes Family’s “Sanctuary Peak” a wine that’s as precise as a top riesling and not one bit green or vegetal. Close by the Atlantic Ocean, the Elgin Valley of the Western Cape is one of the coolest climate regions in South Africa and renowned for its apple and pear orchards, rose and flower farms, and most recently, its thriving wine industry. The Downes and Shannon families came to South Africa in 1899 from County Cork in Ireland. Sanctuary Peak is named for the peak of the mountain range just above the vineyards. (13% abv)

92 points KM

Available at Solano Cellars

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RUSACK VINEYARDS

“Ballard Canyon” Syrah 2016

(Santa Barbara County, CA) $36

Tasting this terrific syrah, I found myself wondering why I love wines that are woven through with spicy, salty, minerally notes. Is it because these flavors are like excitable electrons that whirl around on the orbit of one’s palate? Yes, there’s that. But I think it’s also because wines with spice/salt/minerals taste so good with food. No need to spice up that roast chicken; the wine did it for you. Of all red varieties, syrah can be depended on in this department. And this syrah from Rusack is delicious, complex, and beautifully structured. Just begging for a roast pork or a juicy cut of grilled meat. Family-owned Rusack Vineyards is in Ballard Canyon in the rolling “horse country” of Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles. (14.2% abv)

91 points KM

Available at Rusack Vineyards

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EL COTO

“Coto de Imaz” Reserva 2015

(Rioja, Spain) $23

Some “Old World” wines have what I think of as a “sense of corruption”—a wonderful primordial earthiness evocative of damp forests, old leather, pipe tobacco, coffee, worn leather, and braised meats. These aromas and flavors comingle in the most enticing way in El Coto’s reserva, made entirely from tempranillo. This wine is simply to die for with roast lamb or pork. El Coto means “the Preserve,” and featured on the wine’s label is the Monastery of Imaz (located on the estate) whose monks cultivated the vineyards in the area in the 16th century. (14.5% abv)

92 points KM

Available at Wine Anthology

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ROAR

“Soberanes Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2018

(Santa Lucia Highlands, CA) $60

Starting in the early 2000s, and perhaps more than any other winery except Kosta Browne, ROAR redefined what California pinot noir could taste like and feel like, and still be pinot noir. Some wine drinkers, of course, would argue that ROAR’s uber hedonistic, super-full-bodied style pushes the envelope too far. Not me. I think the ROAR wines at their best possess the amazing ability to be complex and multifaceted in flavor (cranberries, sarsaparilla, pomegranate, damp earth, hibiscus, tea, exotic spices) while at the same time, they are big cashmere blankets of feel-good texture. Of the four top ROAR vineyard-designates (Sierra Mar, Rosella’s, Pisoni, and Soberanes), my favorite is often the Soberanes for its length and wonderful kaleidoscope of flavors. (14.9% abv)

95 points KM

Available at Gary’s Wine and Marketplace