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LA RIOJA ALTA

“Viña Ardanza” Reserva 2015

(Rioja, Spain) $40

Traditional Rioja Reservas are among the world’s most ethereal red wines, silkier than silk, aged for long periods in used American oak barrels until the Tempranillo and Garnacha (from which this wine is made) is threaded with gentle wisps of vanilla.  By comparison, modern style Riojas are “bigger” and more likely to be stamped with new oak. La Rioja Alta, founded in 1890, is one of Rioja’s most renowned traditional wineries. And this, their Viña Ardanza, is earthy, spicy, and laced with notes of cocoa, mocha, dark cherry, and fine leather.  The 2015, a terrific vintage, is on the market now. Don’t miss it.  (14.5% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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CHÂTEAU MARIS

“La Touge” 2019

(Minervois La Livinière, Languedoc-Roussillon, France) $23

I remember walking into a wine shop in Paris one day when I was a very young journalist. There were shelves and shelves of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, a place I’d barely heard of. The wines were not expensive so I bought a few bottles. All these years later I can still taste that seductive “south of France” flavor—a dark savory co-mingling of blackberries, black olives, licorice, roasted meats, herbs de Provence and tons of black pepper. Tasting Château Maris’ “La Touge”  the other day, I was right back in France. “La Touge”—70% Syrah and 30% Grenache—is  a wine built for a fall night and a roast in the oven. The winery is extremely environmentally conscious, energy self-sufficient, and carbon negative. In fact, the winery itself, made of hemp blocks, is biodegradable! (14.5% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Calvert Woodley

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Clos Apalta

Clos Apalta Vineyard 2017

(Colchagua Valley, Chile) $149

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle (of France’s Grand Marnier family) and her husband, Cyril de Bournet, founded Lapostolle winery in 1994 and, with the help of famous French enologist Michel Rolland, set about making sophisticated, complex wines at a time when most Chilean wine was straightforward and simply serviceable. They have been hugely successful. What Harlan is to the US, Clos Apalta is to Chile—in short, renowned globally. (Although it costs a fraction of Harlan or top-growth Bordeaux.) The vineyards lie in a horseshoe-shaped valley of decomposing granite slopes, considered one of the best terroirs in the country. The wine (Carmenere with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot) is pure hedonism in a bottle, with delicious flavors of wild berries, vanilla bean, sweet pipe tobacco, black olive, espresso, and roasted green chiles. Clos Apalta has soft, silky tannins. But what really gets to you is the finish…the long, slow waves that don’t stop.

97 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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DIATOM

Chardonnay 2021

(Santa Barbara County, CA) $25

There’s a difficult-to-describe phenomenon that some great wines are capable of. I’ve heard it characterized as being like a “peacock opening its tail,” or like a “flower blooming in fast motion.” It’s the idea that the wine starts small and then seems to inflate on your palate, engulfing your taste buds with flavor. It’s a fantastic sensation. And Diatom Chardonnay does it. The wine is reminiscent of lime zest, vanilla beans, and crunchy sea salt. It’s very very creamy but not oaky. And while it has weight, it’s also wonderfully aerial and alive with freshness. This wine deserves a warm early autumn evening and an al fresco dinner. (14.5% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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BODEGAS BERONIA

Rioja Gran Reserva 2011

(Rioja, Spain) $32

Spain continues to be the global source of older wines at fantastic prices. This Beronia Gran Reserva, for example. With its dark earthy aromas, it reminds me of the intoxicatingly good smell of rich potting soil. There are wonderful notes of sour cherries and a texture that’s utterly mellow—classic for old Riojas made from Tempranillo grapes. I also love the animali, slightly sweaty character here (the appealing smell of a man who’s just run a mile).  Some on my tasting team thought there might be a tiny bit of Brettanomyces in the wine. If so, it came across in an attractive way. Sensational with something meaty and umami-rich like roast lamb or pork. (14.5% abv)

92 points KM

Available at Wollaston Wine & Spirits

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MARABINO

“Rosso di Contrada Parrino” 2016

(Sicily, Italy) $30

Marabino, in the hot, sunny Noto Valley of southeast of Sicily (more southern in latitude than Tunisia’s capital city Tunis) is a biodynamic estate that includes orchards and olive groves as well as vineyards. The estate’s Rosso di Contrada Parrino vineyard is spread over a hill called cozzo del parroco (“head of the priest”) and is planted with old clones of Nero d’Avola. This plush dry red tastes of sweetly ripe red berries, kirsch, red licorice, and Moroccan spices. Layered and long with fine tannin, it is absolutely stellar with salty cheeses and fantastic with pasta or roast chicken. (13.5% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages

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DOMAINE PAPAGIANNAKOS

Old Vines Savatiano 2020

(Markopoulo, Greece) $18

No longer. A new generation of dynamic Greek winemakers are crafting fantastically delicious wines from Savatiano, an indigenous white Greek variety. Domaine Papagiannakos, founded in 1919,  has been at the forefront with their very expressive Savatiano from 50-year-old vines. Streaks of wild herbal flavor—thyme, rosemary, fennel, and sage—dart around in the wine with dizzying vibrancy. The lemony/salty tang immediately sets up a craving for some good plump Greek olives, hummus, and feta cheese. The north-facing vineyards of Domaine Papagiannakos lie over undulating limestone hills on the outskirts of Athens. (12.5% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Gary's Wine & Marketplace

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DOMAINE DE LA COMBE

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2019

(Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire Valley, France) $18

A good Muscadet makes you want to throw some shrimp or vegetables on the grill. A good Muscadet can rival limeade in its refreshing-ness. A good Muscadet is so bright and pure it tastes like cold sunlight. All of these come to play in Domaine de la Combe’s Muscadet which spends eight months on the lees before being bottled, giving the wine a slight creaminess (a perfect juxtaposition to its crispness). The wine—100% from the grape variety Melon de Bourgogne—comes from vines planted in the 1950s on a south-facing cliff above the Sèvre River. In contrast to the many large commercial producers of Muscadet, Pierre-Henri Gadais, the fifth-generation owner/winemaker, makes wines that are artisanal and his vineyards are organic. A hot summer night and you need this. (12% abv)

91 points KM

Available at The Wine House

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SEVEN HILLS

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

(Walla Walla Valley, WA) $30

One of the best things a wine can do is taste like it costs twice as much as it does. That’s the case with this steal of a Cabernet from Seven Hills, with its rich aromas and flavors of cigar box, blackberries, dark chocolate, vanilla bean, espresso, cinnamon, and that wonderful rocky character often evident in Walla Walla wines. The sleek structure and long finish are a testament to Washington’s reputation as the “Bordeaux” of the American West. A bottle of this and a grilled steak, and you are all set. (As an aside, Walla Walla, one of the best regions in Washington for Cabernet and Syrah, is often said to be like the Napa Valley was forty years ago). (14.6% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Wine.com

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PINTIA

2017

(Toro, Spain) $80

Pintia, a small winery in Toro on the vast high plain of Spain, is owned by Vega Sicilia, the most famous winery in Spain. As such, Pintia is showered with Vega Sicilia-level care and attention (but it costs a fraction of the price). The wine—from Spain’s great grape variety Tempranillo—is rich and uber velvety, with supple long swaths of dense red fruit. Toro wines can be blockbuster powerhouses, but Pintia holds onto its elegance even as it delivers a massive amount of flavor. The delicious 2017 is on the market now, but also watch for the 2018 (a cooler vintage) with its violety bounce of freshness. (15% abv)

95 points KM

Available at B-21

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TORRES

"Salmos" 2017

(Priorat, Spain) $40

If you could drink a steak, this would be it. Salmos is savory, rich and dense, but not one bit heavy. Every molecule is infused with flavor—and what layers of flavor! I found my mind whirling around blue violets, deep cigar box, thyme, wild lavender, dark espresso, black olive, and a sumptuous cherry-ness that was like kirsch. Wines from Spain’s Priorat region south of Barcelona (in their stunning “licorella”—black slate— soils) can be massive—way thicker than Port. But “Salmos” is neither syrupy nor overripe. It is, like its own flavors and texture suggest, a wine that’s perfect for steak. You be the judge and let me know! A blend of Cariñena (Carignan), Garnacha (Grenache), and Syrah. (14% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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PIERRE GIMONNET & FILS

Brut Extra Premier Cru Champagne Nonvintage

(Champagne, France) $48

There is nothing like a cold glass of very very very dry Champagne on a hot night. The wine’s raciness races right through you with cool energy. Take the Pierre Gimonnet Brut Extra, a Champagne that drenches you in bursts of mandarin orange, lime zest, and star fruit—flavors that are encased in chalky crispness from the Premier Cru vineyards where the Chardonnay grapes for this wine are grown. Brut Extra (or Extra Brut as they are sometimes known) Champagnes are less than 0.6 percent sugar. That’s about as bone dry as any wine can get. (To give you a comparison, most cola clocks in at about 11 percent). Gimonnet is a small “Grower Champagne” and the family’s wines have wave after wave of delicious freshness. (12.5% abv)

96 points KM

Available at Kingston Wine Co.