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RUSACK VINEYARDS

"Estate" Sauvignon Blanc 2018

(Ballard Canyon, CA) $26

Back in New York City in the old days, I lived in what was called the “Dance Belt” of the Upper West Side. It was full of ballet dancers, modern dancers, Broadway dancers. Walking down the street, you knew who was a dancer and who was everybody else, for the dancers had a tautness to their bodies. A dancer’s every step would crackle with energy. Dancers were spring-loaded; poised to leap. Good sauvignon blanc is that way. You can’t help but love the vitality of the best ones. (At least I can’t). It’s International Sauvignon Blanc Day today. And this simple, minerally, botanical Rusack is a terrific affordable sauvignon to celebrate with—now and throughout the spring and summer. (13.8% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Rusack Vineyards

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BODEGAS VALDESPINO

“Inocente” Single Vineyard Fino

(Jerez, Spain) $26

Of all Jerez’s finos, Inocente (ee-no-CENT-ay) is the most elegant and refined.  The wine’s mossy, almondy, oceanic aroma draws you in; then the flavors emerge—waves of sea spray, minerals, crisp apples, and a powerful vivid nuttiness. The finish is unreal–cooling and ultra long. While most other finos are fermented in tank, Inocente—like the great finos of the past—is fermented in barrel with indigenous yeast. At bottling, the wine is around 10 years old—doubling or tripling the aging in solera of most other finos. Valdespino’s origins are thought to date to 1264, when the conquering knight Alonso Valdespino was rewarded with thirty hectares of land, including almost half of Macharnudo, one of Jerez’s greatest vineyard terroirs. Valdespino also makes one of the most phenomenally delicious, rich palo cortados in Jerez—a wine called Viejo C.P. with an average age in solera of 25 years. (15% abv)

98 points KM

Available at The Rare Wine Company

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VIETTI

“Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti 2017

(Piedmont, Italy) $17

There’s a perfect time for this wine—and it’s the minute the pasta hits the boiling water. For barbera was made for food. I guess you could say this about most Italian wines, but there’s something about barbera’s chemistry—the combination of refreshing acidity and just the right amount of firm tannin—that sets it up as a great foil for lots of dishes, especially rustic pastas. Indeed, in the Piedmont region of Italy, barbera is what lots of winemakers regularly drink with dinner. For decades, Vietti has been known for their terrific, super affordable barberas, wines with spice, tar, rock, espresso and black fruit notes. Put this to the pasta test. (14.5% abv)

89 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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LUCIEN ALBRECHT

Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Balthazar” 2018

(Alsace, France) $17

I happen to know you need a good white “house wine” right now. Don’t argue. You really do need one. It can sit in the fridge; chilled and waiting for nothing at all, except for you to join your latest zoom happy hour. And wouldn’t it be great if it cost about $3 a glass? Here you go. A delightful wine with mouthfuls of citrus and pear flavors. So fresh you can drink it with anything (or nothing) and be happy. Alsace excels with eminently drinkable and delicious whites like this. Cuvée Balthazar is named for the Albrecht patriarch who first settled in the Orschwihr vineyards of Alsace in 1698. (12.7% abv)

89 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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SCRIBE

“Baker Lane Vineyard” Syrah 2017

(Sonoma Coast, CA) $62

Many of the greatest syrahs in the world now cost well over $100 a bottle. This one from the small Sonoma winery Scribe joins them in every way–except price. Tasting this wine, I could not write fast enough as the flavors exploded in every direction—black raspberries, black pepper, orange peel, tea, meat juices, a whole kitchen cabinet full of exotic spices, and something deliciously umami. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the wine is its aliveness. That lit-from-within quality. That energy, the kind that’s in the air before a thunderstorm. Maybe, it’s the wine’s surprisingly low alcohol that kept its vitality in place. Or maybe the Baker Lane Vineyard is a superlative terroir. It’s hard to know. But I do know one thing: this is one of a handful of the very best syrahs in California. It’s a little less than $13 a glass. Is it time you tried it? (12.5% abv)

98 points KM

Available at Solano Cellars

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ROGER GOULART

Gran Reserva Brut Cava 2011

(Penedès, Spain) $20

Cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made by the Champagne method of second fermentation in bottles) are not all alike. Not even close. There are the huge commercial producers whose sparklers are a bit bland and rubbery. Then, from small estates, there are top quality cavas that are fresh and lively and have a deep yeastiness from long aging on the lees. Roger Goulart’s Gran Reserva is one of those. The wine spent 36 months on the lees (and yet it costs a mere $20!). Lovely, floral, and citrusy, it’s also wonderfully creamy. While this is delicious on its own, I’ll look the other way if you make a mimosa or a kir with it. (12% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Stirling Fine Wine

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DOMAINE DUPEUBLE PÈRE et FILS

Beaujolais 2018

(Beaujolais, France) $15

Wonder what lots of cabernet winemakers drink when they aren’t drinking cabernet (or beer)? They drink great gamay like this minerally rich Beaujolais from Dupeuble. The sheer deliciousness of this wine is exciting. It’s important to know that Dupeuble does not make a candylike, confected, tutti-frutti, commercial style of Beaujolais. Instead, the family’s gamays are serious wines made the old-fashioned way. If you’ve never had exquisite gamay and think of it only as a grape that makes simple quaffs, you must try this beauty. And at $15, there’s no reason not to! (13.5% abv)

93 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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ROBERT WEIL

“Kiedricher” Trocken Riesling 2018

(Rheingau, Germany) $38

At its best, German riesling doesn’t just have minerality; it has minerality that screams with excitement. Not to mention acidity so kinetic, you fear the glass might shatter. This bone dry (trocken) riesling from Robert Weil is a great example. The freshness and citrusy crispness are off-the-charts. If ever there was a terrific wine for drinking right this minute, this is it. Kiedrich is one of the top wine towns in the Rheingau, and Weil (pronounce “vile”) is a man passionate about riesling. (12.5% abv)

90 points KM

Available at K&L Wine Merchants

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SANDHI

“Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir 2015

(Sta. Rita Hills, CA) $54

Sandhi is a Sanskrit word meaning “alliance” or “collaboration.” I’m sure the owners/winemakers meant an alliance with Nature, but the gods must have gotten in on the act too, for it’s hard to imagine a more luscious, mesmerizing, achingly supple, mindblowingly delicious pinot noir. OMG, indeed. Then again, everything about this wine was poised for greatness. It’s from a very famous vineyard; it’s from the oldest pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County (planted in 1971); and it’s made by two of the most talented pinot noir fanatics in California—Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr. (13.5% abv)

97 points KM

Available at Wine.com

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BROADBENT

Malvasia Single Cask #M235 Madeira

(Madeira, Portugal) $95

Great Madeira is one of the world’s most exquisite wines. Try this with a bit of Stilton or dry-aged cheese and you’ll see (or remember). Cask #M235 is one of four special 22-year old casks being bottled by Broadbent Selections, and the wine is screaming with tangy intensity. Who knew a wine could seem like Morocco in a glass? The waves of exotic flavors from preserved lemons and Mandarin oranges to crème brûlée, curry, black pepper, and cardamom are fantastic. About 970 bottles of wine from this cask exist, but if you can’t find #M235, get one of its sisters: #M204, #M217 or #M233. (And keep in mind, an opened bottle of Madeira lasts for many months.) (19% abv)

95 points KM

Available at K & L Wine Merchants

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BODEGAS DE LA MARQUESA

“Valserrano” Reserva 2015

(Rioja, Spain) $22

No wine tastes more “Old World” than tempranillo from Rioja, especially the reservas and gran reservas (aged three years and five years respectively). There’s a svelteness and suppleness to these wines as the Valserrano demonstrates. But what I love most of all is the Valserrano’s mellowness. It isn’t loud, isn’t bold, isn’t powerful. Instead, it’s earthy and sublime in the way that old Burgundy can be. Happily, this costs a lot less than old Burgundy. 14.5% abv

91 points KM

Available at West Side Wines & Spirits

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Charles Heidsieck

CHARLES HEIDSIECK

Brut Réserve NV

(Champagne, France) $69

An exquisite classic Champagne. Elegant waves of brioche and apple tart flavors, lit up by sparks of minerality. Rich, yeasty aroma but as alive as lightning on the palate. Exuberantly fresh and fine, with miniscule bubbles that are crystalline. All in all, a Champagne you won’t want to put down (and perfect for tonight, Valentine’s night). Charles Heidsieck is one of the great traditional Houses, but it isn’t showy and doesn’t do a lot of flashy PR. It’s an “insider” Champagne. And insiders know that this Reserve over delivers. (12% Abv)

96 points KM

Available at Vivino.com