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WENTE “Eric’s” Unoaked Chardonnay 2016

(Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, CA) $26

Finding a fresh, crisp chardonnay that doesn’t have a thump of oak or a twang of sweetness is, well, rare.  (We taste hundreds of chardonnays and too many taste like ground up St. Joseph’s Aspirin for Children). But Wente’s “Eric’s” is the real deal—a chardonnay with lovely apple and pear flavors, and an aliveness on the palate that’s refreshing. Wente is one of the oldest great names in California chardonnay (many of the original chardonnay plant material came from this winery in the 1800s). Fifth generation winemaker Karl Wente made this in honor of his father, Eric. (13.5% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Wine.com

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ALLEGRINI 

ALLEGRINI Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 

(Veneto, Italy) $60

Amarone, one of the great red wine classics of Italy, is very difficult to make. Much ends up tasting like dull raisin syrup.  But the greatest Amarones are exquisitely rich without being heavy. Their long sweeps of complex flavors are reminiscent of exotic spices, blackberry preserves and something a touch smoky. Seductively smooth, they are an oh-my-God moment when paired with mushroom risotto dusted with aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Allegrini makes one of the most ravishing Amarones around. This gorgeous 2009 year is still available on the market and at its peak right now.

 

96 points KM

Available at K & L Wines

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OAK FARM VINEYARDS 

Albariño 2017

(Lodi, CA) $25

Sometimes a grape resists exportation. (Has nebbiolo ever made great wine outside of Piedmont, or gewürztraminer outside of Alsace?) Until tasting this Oak Farm, I would have said that albariño too was in a monogamous relationship with its ancestral home (northwestern Spain). But this exciting albariño changed my mind. It’s richly flavored but sprightly and light. The refreshing lime notes are spiked with just a touch of white pepper. Minerals whirl around. All in all, it’s a fantastic white, and a sign of the deliciousness albariño can achieve in California. (12.9% abv)

91 points KM

Available at Wine.com 

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POGGIO AL TESORO

“Solosole”

(Bolgheri, Italy) $19

Bolgheri is on the Tuscan coast and there’s an aroma in the air there—a salty tang, wild Mediterranean herbs, the smell of warm sun on the parched earth (a version of garrigue). Solosole is 100% vermentino, and it will transport you to the Tuscan coast. I’ve written about this wine before, but now, on the cusp of spring, I find its intensely fresh, citrusy, bone-dry flavors irresistible. (And at $19, a real steal). Poggio Al Tesoro is owned by Marilisa Allegrini and her daughters. (The Allegrini family has long been famous for their Amarones).

90 points KM

Available at Wine.com

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BARNETT VINEYARDS

"Rattlesnake" Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

(Spring Mountain, Napa Valley) $190

Is it too early to be thinking about Father’s Day? Because if it isn’t, this would be a phenomenal gift. Hemingway would have liked this wine—a wine stripped bare to its muscle. It’s made at the 2000-foot top of Spring Mountain on a 35 degree slope of solid rock that had to be jack hammered into (a bit of) submission. “Masculine” only begins to describe it. And yet for all the magnificent structure here, there’s also a hint of juiciness and minerality which will emerge more fully as the wine ages. This part of Spring Mountain is notorious for its rattlesnakes. Who knew they had a fine sense of terroir?

Available at Barnett Vineyards

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PASCAL JOLIVET 

Sancerre 2015 

(Sancerre, Loire Valley, FR) $22

What I love about Sancerre is its unleashed wild side (as though some mad river creature whirled up out of the Loire River and drenched you in a minerally spray). Easy to find in stores nationally, Pascal Jolivet’s Sancerre is a delicious classic with a limey edge and terrific tension between fruit and acidity. Among all the sauvignon blancs in the world, Sancerre is not so much “green” as it is tangy and textural (which is one of the reasons it’s so versatile with food). I’m laying in a half case for the spring.  (13% abv)

91 points KM

Available at totalwine.com 

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CROCKER & STARR

Cabernet Franc 2015

(St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA) $90

Cabernet franc—rare and desirable—is now one of the most expensive and sought-after grape varieties in the Napa Valley. But some producers like Crocker & Starr have been working with franc for 19 years. The experience and fine-tuning shows in this dark, mysterious, spicy wine that has a flavor as primordial, bold and earthy as single malt scotch. Lest you think of cabernet franc as somehow “lesser” or “lighter” than cabernet sauvignon, this dramatic wine will cure you of the illusion. (14.4% abv)

92 points KM

Available at crockerstarr.com

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MEDEIROS FAMILY WINES “Saudade” Red Wine 2014

((Santa Clara Valley, CA) ) $30

When I think of affordable cabernet, I imagine something that costs about the same as a latte in Manhattan. Here’s that wine—it’s about $6 a glass. The cassis-like fruitiness and beautiful structure were cabernet sauvignon to the core—or so I thought when I first tasted it. Turns out, the wine is mostly cabernet franc followed by malbec. No matter; it’s spicy, minerally, floral, very alive, and surprisingly not hot despite the 14.9% abv. This is a small family-owned winery. Saudade (so-da-day) is Portuguese for “love that remains after a loved one is gone.” (14.9% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Medeiros Family Wines

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TAYLOR FLADGATE

“325th Anniversary” Limited Edition Reserve Tawny Port

(Oporto, Portugal) $35

Tasting wine in my office in Napa Valley, it’s nice to be reminded that some wineries were around way before California was. Taylor Fladgate, one of the most impressive Port shippers, made this lovely Tawny to commemorate their 325th Anniversary. Fresh, lively, (and wonderfully priced), it has all of Tawny’s compelling flavors—a swirl of toffee, figs, brown sugar, plums, vanilla, and crème brûlée yet (like a great dessert) it’s not at all sugary or saccharin. In fact, on these still cool nights, a small glass of this and a bit of hard cheese is just about the perfect way to end the night. (20% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Total Wine & More

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O:TU “Blend 102”

Sauvignon Blanc 2016

(Marlborough, New Zealand) $29

It’s hard to be carefully outrageous. Snappy but not sour. A touch green but not megagreen. Bold but not brash. Alas, a lot of New Zealand sauvignon blancs are like bulls in a china shop. In fact, I rarely put New Zealand sauvignon blanc and elegance in the same sentence. But O:TU has elegance and style. It’s as precise as a sushi knife and super zesty. A carefully outrageous shower of lime. Just waiting for seafood. (13% abv)

90 points KM

Available at NZ Wine Navigator