Monday, April 8, 2024

Domaine Bousquet's Ameri wines: a window into Mendoza's Gualtallary

Mountains and Bousquet Vineyards. Credit: Creative Palate
Domaine Bousquet has a long streak of putting out wines that provide value and speak to their unique Mendoza terroir.

The spark that this project dates back to 1990, when a Frenchman and third-generation winemaker Jean Bousquet visited Argentina and fell in love with it. Specifically with Uco Valley’s Alto Gualtallary zone at an altitude of about 4,125 feet. This is a high, arid, remote, scrappy area where winemakers struggle but achieve some amazing results. He took a gamble on some land in this desolate area, and it paid off.

Domaine Bousquet now farms more than 600 acres of vines and has a wide range of options available in terms of grapes, blends, styles, and price points. But across the board, we’re dealing with serious quality and value. The estate is now owned and operated by husband/wife duo Labid al Ameri and Anne Bousquet, and recently kicked off a full transition to fully biodynamic farming. Mendoza native Rodrigo Serrano crafts the wines here, joining in 2018 after stints at a lot of players in the broader region.

Their entry-level wines deliver so much personality and Mendoza mystique for very little cash ($13 a bottle). On the top tier of their lineup are the Ameri wines, which debuted in 2011 but are only made in certain vintages. 
These wines are sourced from single vineyards in Gualtallary and have a deep, stony minerality and an electric verve. They’re deep, tangy, expressions of their terroir, aged 12 months in French oak. They’re age-worthy, but still pack a ton of value.

If I had a burger bistro or a steak frites place, I would insist one of these wines be on that bottle list – and maybe another Bousquet Malbec red for my by-the-glass list. I’m pretty darn sure if people tasted these, they’d agree.

And if you haven’t tried Bousquet’s wines, they are widely available in the U.S. We
’re their top market. And for $37, the Ameri wines are so reasonable, so you can always start there.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2020 Domaine Bousquet Malbec Single Vineyard “Ameri”
- Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, 
Tupungato, Gualtallary
SRP: $ 37
Deep purple. A warm, inviting, deep nose of cassis, juicy black cherries, tangy blueberries, laced with complexities of sage, tilled soil, dried rose and violet petals, anise cookie – lovely. The palate is plush and juicy with that crisp, high-elevation acidity that keeps things so focused, and moderate tannins provide support. I love the crunchy plums, tangy blueberries, and deep, plush black cherry fruit. Suave and fun but complex and built very well, with nuances of graphite, coffee grounds, chewing tobacco, some pine tar, and hints of oak. Ready to drink now but will cellar well for five years or so, too. (91 points)

2020 Domaine Bousquet Red Blend Single Vineyard “Ameri” - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato, 
SRP: $37
Dark purple color. Lovely aromatic display of plums, black cherries, and cranberry relish, along with a savory-spicy host of tobacco, eucalyptus, dried violets, clove, some leather, and coffee grounds too. The palate sports crisp acidity which keeps this wine refreshing and moving forward, while smooth tannins provide moderate structure. Crunchy dark plums, juicy black cherries, and tangy cassis, the fruit is matched well with complex tones of tobacco, mint, violets, coffee, with some graphite and minerals. I love the tangy, spicy, herbal vibes, this is fresh and fun but complex as well and a great value. 60% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Syrah. (91 points)

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Oh, my stars! Merry Edwards’ Cuvee Eclipse shines

Have you ever known one of those humans with absurd musical abilities? Someone who succeeds easily in one discipline or instrument but can pick up another and master it in no time?

My father is just that type of person. He excelled early at the piano and from there picked up guitar, bass, accordion, harmonica, drums, and a few more I’m sure I missed. When living in Ukraine, he even taught himself how to play the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian folk instrument with dozens of strings. Meanwhile, I spent years attempting to be a mediocre guitarist, and failed. Some folks just have a knack for it.

Credit: Merry Edwards Winery
I was thinking of this concept as I tasted Merry Edwards’ new sparkling wine, the 2017 Cuvée Eclipse. It’s a Pinot Noir Champagne-method sparkling wine -- which aren’t easy to make. The process is complicated, the fruit needs to be just right, the execution just so. These wines speak so clearly that faults, should there be any, are laid bare.

See, Merry Edwards Winery is a Sonoma Pinot Noir legend. One of the pioneers of Pinot in Sonoma in the 1970s, Merry and her eponymous winery have been crafting elegant, exciting wines from different sites, expressing the diversity and purity of this grape.

But it was another project of excellence that drew me to this winery. It was sometime in the late 2000s when I discovered their Sauvignon Blanc. I had seen some rave reviews and had to try a bottle for myself. Not expecting all that much (Sauv Blanc just isn’t my thing), the wine blew me away, and I’ve returned to it many times over the years.

Since then, I’ve visited the winery several time, tasted dozens and dozens of new releases, and kept up with the winery’s changes and new vineyard sources. Merry retired in 2020, but the transition to winemaker Heidi von der Mehden has been seamless. The Sonoma County native worked side-by-side with Merry for several vintages before taking over, and the last four years have seen an excellent run of releases and stoke-inducing wines, and keeping the same signature and artistic expression alive.

Like my dad picking up a new instrument, the winery has a new player in its orchestra, and it works perfectly.

The new wine dates back to August 21, 2017 – the last total solar eclipse visible from North America. As this amazing event unfolded, the first grapes from the Richaven Vineyard, at Merry’s home, were harvested. After years of work, aging, and refinement, the wine is out and ready – just in time for the April 8 total solar eclipse.

A few very good friends of mine are driving to see the path of totality (in Ohio), but I will sadly not be able to join them. However, when tasting this wine, I get a deep impression of a singular event that, like the coming eclipse, will create lasting memories.

If you’re making plans to view the upcoming total solar eclipse, and you like sparkling wine, this is a no-brainer. But if you’re also just generally a Pinot fan and you want a killer sparkling wine to blind-taste your Champagne nerd friends on, this is a great choice. I really think it’ll excel in the cellar for a decade-plus.

This wine was received as a sample and tasted sighted.

2017 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Cuvée Eclipse - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $100
Pale copper color. The aromas are popping with all sorts of red apples, papaya, orange peel, and strawberry, with nuances of chalk dust and limestone. Add in some honeysuckle, whipped cream, bread crumbs, and almond skin and this is just a pleasure to sniff. On the palate, this wine is vibrant and with precise acidity but a rich textural depth, precise bubbles, and the balance is on point. Beautiful fruit expression, a mix of lemon, white peach, yellow apples, crunchy green pears, mixed with elegant tones of almond skin, lemon crème, honeyed white tea, chalk dust, bread crumbs, hints of shaved ginger. Beautiful richness/raciness combination, and the flavors are exciting and dynamic. I’m so glad they tried this wine, and it exceeded my high expectations. 100% Pinot Noir, 8.5 g/l of sugar, and aged six years on the lees. (95 points)

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The value and adventure in Portuguese blends

Here’s a scenario…

You have nothing but $20 in your pocket. You’re on the way to a friend’s party, empty-handed. There’s a wine shop on the way with a great selection, divided up by country, and you need to pick up a bottle.

Where are you looking? I’m headed to the Portugal aisle first. 

Herdade de Espora's vineyards in Aletenjo, Portugal.

Portuguese wines have been at the top of my list when it comes to saving money while scoring wines that offer depth, personality, authenticity, and uniqueness. Twenty bucks doesn’t go very far these days. And so much has changed since I took my first wine trip to Portugal a decade ago. But I find it quite comforting to know that Portuguese bargain-priced bangers are still alive and thriving.

Blends rule to roost in Portugal, with a focus on the plethora of indigenous grapes. They can be hard to pronounce or remember at times (Viosinho, Gouveio, etc.) but the varietal differences allow conscientious winemakers to stitch together a patchwork that expresses the best of all worlds.

This week I have four wines from two respected producers. From the Douro in the north, comes Vale do Bomfim, which was kicked off by the renowned Symington family in 2004.Their red blend has been a staple of inexpensive but expressive Douro juicy goodness for years, and last year they added in a white blend. I’m happy to report that wine also rocks. Both the branco and tinto are of sourced from Quinta do Bomfim in the Douro Valley, the same site that produces Dow’s long-lived and beautiful Vintage Port.

Esporão is a legend of the Alentejo region in southern Portugal. I visited this area for a week five years ago and was blown away. It’s an expansive, diverse, historic, and important region, with

They now have all 1,300+ acres of vineyards certified organic. I visited their sprawling property near Alqueva Lake in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Test vineyards with dozens of varieties of grapes allow them to test out what works, and they have a fascinating blend of indigenous and international varieties to work with.

They’re something of a spokesperson for Alentejo, or a gateway producer, as they make more wine than anyone in the region, their wines are exported to dozens of international markets, and they’re on more shelves in wine stores than any other producer in Alentejo. And I think that’s a great thing, because these wines are attractive from entry level to the most expensive. But even the term expensive is relative here, because Esporão screams value.

The new vintages of the reserve red and white come in at $23 bucks and overdeliver for the price. If you’re not familiar with the Alentejo region of Portugal, this is a great place to start, and they’re so crowd-friendly, you can’t go wrong bringing a bottle over to a friend’s house.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2022 Herdade do Esporão Reserva Branco - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
SRP: $23
Bright yellow colored. The nose boasts rich pears, yellow apples, limes, with complex tones of shaved ginger, white tea, almond skin, breadcrumbs, and honey. The palate shows pleasantly plump texture with tangy acidity, a balanced appeal, with flavors of honeydew, pears, orange slices, and guava. There’s a nice salty mineral kick that accents the fruit, and I get tones of white pepper, honeycomb, almond, and some floral potpourri elements. Flinty, salty, vibrant, this is an easy six-pack buy for Spring and Summer cooking and warm weather. A blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto, and Roupeiro, fermented and aged in stainless steel and 25% new American and French oak. (91 points)

2021 Herdade do Esporão Reserva Tinto - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
SRP: $23
Medium purple color. An aromatically inviting display of violets, pepper, coffee, cedar, and clove, over top of deep black cherries and currants, with hints of tar and earth. The palate is fresh, showing dusty tannins, with a bright but complex vibe. Tart currants, roasted figs, and plum jam blend really well with elements of black pepper, lavender, mint, charcoal, some chewing tobacco. Balanced and juicy, but complex and versatile as well. A fascinating and delicious blend of Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, and Cab Sauv. (91 points)

2021 Dow Douro Vale do Bomfim Branco - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $15
Vibrant purple. Lovely deep aromas of black cherries, red and black currants, with spiced black tea, notes of leather, clove, anise, and coffee grounds. The palate has lively acidity and fine-edged but structured tannins – I love the balance. Juicy black cherries, saucy dark plums, tangy black currants, the fruit is blended with elements of coffee grounds, graphite, dark chocolate, anise, and black pepper, with a hint of nuanced oak. An exciting and crowd-pleasing value that packs a lot of depth and personality. A blend of 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 20% Touriga Franca, and 10% Tinta Barroca. Crazy value alert! (90 points)

2022 Dow Douro Branco Vale do Bomfim Tinto - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $15
Pale lemon color. Bright and inviting with lemons, kiwi, and green apples, with all sorts of cool salty, chalky, limestone, and floral perfume tones. Racy and vibrant on the palate but a rich depth of texture, balanced nicely, with juicy pear fruit, some pineapple, and lime zest. Notes of almond skin, honey, chalk dust, and rocky stream vibes. Balanced, fresh, an insane value. Would make a great six-pack buy for seafood and Spring gatherings. A mix of 30% Viosinho 30% Rabigato 20% Gouveio 20% Arinto. (89 points)

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Pinot Noir highlights: Santa Cruz Mountains

This the first in a series where I’m focusing on two of my favorite places in California when it comes to Pinot Noir.

While it was Sonoma that gave me the California Pinot itch many years ago, I’ve found my palate aligns perfectly with the Pinots of the Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area. Defined by higher altitude vineyards, grapevines here are coaxed to ripeness in the cool coastal mountains, and affected by the Pacific and nearby San Francisco Bay. Large diurnal temperature swings in the growing season, and warmer air getting trapped above the fog in winter, it all combines to give winegrowers a unique and exciting playing field.

Thomas Fogarty vines. Credit: Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains
With a history going back to the late 1800s, this area has been recognized as its own AVA for more than 40 years. The region has expanded, with some 1,600 acres planted to wine grapes and some 300 growers today. This is a land of smaller wineries, lots, and total production. But the gems are not hard to find – they’re all over. 

These distinct conditions allow different sites in the AVA to express very different tones and flavors. But, overall, to describe Pinot from the Santa Cruz Mountains I’d use words like: airy, bright, tangy, spicy, herbal, high-toned, etc.

It is always a pleasure to return to historic producers like Mount Eden and Ridge, and I love me some spicy Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets and creamy but zesty Chardonnays. But the Pinot just hits differently here. 

I’ve been floored by single-vineyard or blended wines from producers like Rhys, Beauregard, Kutch, and others. But to prove my point about the exception nature of these Pinot Noirs, I have three wines this week from producers that are new to me. From Thomas Fogarty, Lester Estate, and Sante Arcangeli Family, these wines offer a great window into what makes this region special. If you are yet to dig deep here, and you’re for of Pinot, there’s plenty to explore in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

These wines were received as samples and tasted single-blind.

2019 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir Windy Hill Vineyard - USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains

SRP: $85
Bright ruby color. The nose sports a mix of cool black and red cherries along with spiced cranberry relish and tones of rose petals, sage, herbal tea, black pepper, some leather – really complex and the aromas make me salivate. The palate shows moderate tannins and an airy but punchy feel. Tart black cherries, tangy raspberries, crunchy cranberries, the fruit is beautiful and laced with elements of minerals, warm clay, potting soil, fallen leaves, dried rose petals. Crisp, deep, complex, lasting. (93 points)

2019 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir Will's Cabin Vineyard USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $85
Medium ruby color. The aromas are gorgeous, with airy raspberries and strawberries along with juicy black cherries. Notes of sage, earth, forest floor, rhubarb, rose petals, and pine resin add a lot of complexity. The palate is so crisp and effortless, with dusty tannins and brisk acidity – structured but super fresh. Tangy cranberries, fresh raspberries, and crunchy red cherries offer a lot to enjoy, and the fruit is backed up by tones of dusty earth, savory herbs, mushrooms, dried rose petals, black tea. A lot going on but it’s seamlessly integrated, and it should age wonderfully. (93 points)

2021 Lester Estate Wines Pinot Noir Traviso - USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $57

Deep ruby. Gorgeous aromatics on display, with the freshest raspberries and strawberries, tangy pomegranate, all backed up by complex notes of violets, rhubarb, white pepper, and all sorts of clay and tilled soil. The palate is juicy, spicy, and tangy, with structured but refined tannins on a bed of brisk acidity. The cherry, cranberry, and raspberry fruit is juicy but tart, and interwoven with complex vibes of rhubarb, clove, leather, clay, and rich soil. I get some mineral and rocky elements that last long onto the finish. So lovely right out of the gate, but this will get even more refined, complex, and integrated over the next five years. (94 points)

2019 Lester Estate Wines Pinot Noir Mercurio - USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $57
Dark ruby color. Deep but inviting aromatics of cranberry and raspberry compote, with all sorts of spicy-herbal complexities: sage, pepper, tobacco, rhubarb, these breezy-floral tones, it’s all quite lovely. The palate sports lovely balance between the smooth tannins and crisp acidity, with gushing, tangy fruit (raspberries, red cherries, cranberries). The non-fruit elements really shine and define this wine’s flavor profile, with these stony minerals and earth, rhubarb and white pepper, and all sorts of floral nuances. Focused and refined already but this has a long life ahead of it. (93 points)

2021 Sante Arcangeli Family Wines Pinot Noir Split Rail Vineyard - USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $60
Light ruby color. Smells so juicy and alive, with tangy red cherries, wild raspberries, and a well-blended host of rhubarb, spiced tea, tobacco, earth. Lots of floral and potpourri tones to parse through as well – basically, aromatically awesome. Ripe but nuanced on the palate with brisk acidity and suave tannins. Pretty, tangy red fruits (red currants, cherries, strawberries), with nuances of light roast coffee, dusty earth, dried roses, rhubarb, all sorts of cool stuff going on. A crystalline focus, bright and expressive in its youth, but I’d love to see this in five years. (94 points) 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Revisiting the exciting wines of Southern Arizona

Sunrise on a Superstitions Mountains ridgeline (Dec. 2023)
I’ve been visiting Arizona once or twice a year since 2010, and I’m barely scratching the surface. As an avid outdoors lover, there’s just so much to do. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the diverse and rather vast winemaking culture. Since I started paying attention, things have gotten even more dynamic and exciting.

I’m a huge fan of producers like Page Springs Cellars, which was the first vineyard I visited, located in the Verde Valley south of Sedona. But time and again, I’ve found some of the most delicious and interesting wines come from the high elevation desert vineyards of Southeastern Arizona. Here, in the Willcox and Cochise County regions, things just seem to click.

This is where Aridus calls home. I’ve been hip to this producer since 2016 or so. Since their beginnings in 2012, Scott and Joan Dahmer of Aridus have been developing estate vineyards and their winery outside the town of Pierce. And as of the 2023 vintage, all grapes will be sourced from estate sites. The winery now tends to 40 acres of vines in the Chiricahua Foothills, most of which grow at an elevation of about 5,200 feet. Where I’m from in the Mid-Atlantic, that’s higher than most of our mountains. The dry climate, diverse soils, and large variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures means Arizona regions have more in common with, say, Mendoza, than they do California.

Aridus, and a good amount of other producers, are currently based in the Willcox American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was established in 2016. The land is above 4,000 feet and wrapped by the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas Mountains to the east, the Dragoon Mountains to the west, and the Pinaleño Mountains to the northeast. Recently, Aridus and neighboring winegrowers have proposed a new AVA called the Chiricahua Foothills, which would take its name from the nearby Chiricahua National Monument. I, for one, am curious to see where this process goes, as the potential for further exploring and establishing regional boundaries should be a help to the state’s wine business.

While a trip to the area is highly recommended, you don’t have to go that far to taste AZ wines. If you ever find yourself in Scottsdale with some time on your hands, the Aridus tasting room on Old Town is a nice spot to relax and get in the Arizona state of mind with some local vino.

While in Arizona in December – in addition to plenty of hiking, rock-climbing, and wildlife photography – I picked up some wines from two reliable producers who also make wine from Cochise County fruit – Page Springs and Dos Cabezas. I include those wines in this report as well.

Mountains outside of Sonoita, Arizona.
The Aridus wines were received as samples, while the others I purchased. They were all tasted sighted.

2019 Aridus Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, Arizona
SRP: $59
Dark purple color. The nose has a pleasantly smoky and jammy mix of aromas, with black cherries, roasted figs, and plum cake, along with barbecue sauce, black pepper, roasted red pepper, and some oregano and anise tones. The palate is rich and suave with smooth tannins and moderating acidity. Flavors of cherry and currant compote, mixed with scorched earth, warm rocks, graphite, some bell pepper, and mineral dust. A spicy, balanced, delicious Cab that offers a great intro into what AZ is capable of with Cab. (90 points)

2020 Aridus Petite Sirah - USA, Arizona
SRP: $65
Dark purple. The nose shows a dense but warm and friendly mix of fig paste, boysenberry, wild blueberries, and the fruit is tossed with a lovely mix of anise, black pepper, coffee grounds, charcoal, and even some cinnamon and ginger nuances. The palate is rich a bold but the acidity is vibrant, balancing things nicely, while the dark fruit sings (black currants, plum sauce, roasted figs). The non-fruit tones offer a lot to love, with tar, coffee grounds, mocha, toffee, some mineral and graphite vibes. Long finish with smoky earth and herbs. A dark but delightful PS that holds itself well and should age nicely, too. Arizona has a knack for this variety for sure. (91 points)

2020 Aridus Cabernet Franc - USA, Arizona
SRP: $65
Bright purple color. I like the mix of deep but tangy fruit (black cherries, dark plums, currants) with savory vibes and tones (pepper, black licorice, roasted red pepper, some dried violet, clay). The palate is saucy but vibrant with chewy tannins and medium acidity, and plenty of tangy, juicy fruit in terms of plum, blackberry, and figs. The tones of pine resin, black pepper, sliced bell pepper, violets, clove, and all sorts of earth add complexity. Finishes with violets and spice rack dust. Pleasant, complex, balanced, I’d also like to see this in a few years. (90 points)

2020 Dos Cabezas Wine Works Cimarron Vineyard - USA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $28
Deep ruby. Jammy and ripe and fun on the nose with spicy red fruits and a mix of tar, mint, black pepper, and warm red clay. The palate sports dusty tannins and fresh acidity for a pleasantly balanced wine with flavors of jammy red cherries and juicy raspberries. The fruit is blended well with elements of clove, mint, white pepper, leather, some rhubarb, and hints of oak and spiced tea. Yummy, pleasant, balanced, crushable, fan-friendly red blend. (88 points)

2022 Dos Cabezas Wine Works Pink - USA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $25
Bright pink color. Spritely nose of white cherry, watermelon, raspberry, with tones of floral perfume, nettle, and creosote. The palate is racy and brisk with a pleasantly creamy texture and flavors of watermelons upon watermelons. Crunchy minerals, chalk dust, and plenty of dried white flowers and white tea make for a complex and delicious pink. Dos Cabezas, per usual, making the good stuff. (89 points)

2022 Page Springs Cellars Mule's Mistake - USA, Arizona, Cochise County
SRP: $23

Pale ruby color, almost like a dark rosé. Love the aromatic flourishes of tangy red apples, white cherries, wild strawberries, along with rose hops and white pepper. The palate is light, bright, and super crunchy, with brisk acidity and the softest little tannins. Tangy white cherries and wild raspberry fruit blends well with spicy-floral vibes (rhubarb, rose hips, rooibos tea, some green herbs). Every year, this is a wild kitchen sink blend of sometimes a dozen varieties (red and white), and it is always fun, exciting, and a great value. (88 points)

Friday, February 9, 2024

Selections for Valentine’s Day and beyond

Congrats to anyone who did a dry January! February is in full swing, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. We’ve also got the Super Bowl coming up, and Spring will be knocking on the door before we know it.

A heart of locks on an Appalachian Trail overpass
So, if you’re looking to stock up on some wines for the coming festivities, branch out and try something new, or purchase a bottle or two for your special someone, this week I have a delightful mix of wines that will fit the bill.

Amour and French wines go together, so a few are needed on this list. Champagne (of course), but I also included some intriguing pink wines and a wine I don’t see too often but thoroughly enjoy – Faugères Blanc.

From Marlborough, New Zealand comes a Sauvignon Blanc worthy of love and affection – Loveblock. It’s one of the better iterations of the style that I’ve come across in recent years, and the value is great.

Portugal is one of my favorite places on Earth, and I loved taking my partner and daughter there last year to show them the country. The food, landscape, and (of course) wine are endlessly fascinating and interesting, so I had to include some cool new Portuguese wines in this report. I have a handful of wines that represent just a drop in the bucket in terms of Portugal’s wine diversity.

Italy also needs a spot on this lovely list of wine, and the wines of Valpolicella is such a great cold weather wine to enjoy and share with those you love. From Pasqua, I have two warm, hearty reds that are seriously worth checking out. They’re great for the cellar, a meat dish you’ve been braising all day, or a gift to someone you love.

I also have a stunner of a dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes’ Ravines. Riesling is perhaps the world’s greatest grape (arguments welcomed, but I won’t hold my breath). And this FLX wine is so vibrant and versatile. I also have a value-driven and delicious Pinot Noir from Oregon that I think would please most any palate.

Whatever you’re sipping and whoever you’re sipping it with, all the best for Valentine’s Day and the rest of Winter.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2020 Château des Estanilles Faugères Vallongue Blanc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Faugères
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. The aromas show a delightfully rich mix of pears and yellow apples, honey, graham cracker, almond, shaved ginger, along with some crushed limestone and flinty vibes. The palate has racy acidity and a precise sense of salinity, along with a lovely creamy texture. Flavors of white peach, yellow apples, pear butter, along with notes of almond and ginger cake, and crushed chalk and limestone tones. Minerals and talc on the long, pithy finish. Really delightful stuff, diverse, balanced, delicious, will age as well. 45% Marsanne, 35% Roussanne, 20% Vermentino, aged six months on the lees in stainless steel. (91 points)

2022 Domaine de l'Abbaye Côtes de Provence Clos Beylesse - France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $26
Pale copper color. The nose is a bright infusion of raspberries and white cherries, with lots of crushed stones, minerals, sea salt, with some nettle and white pepper tones. The palate is racy and pithy, contrasted and balanced by a honeyed depth. Peaches and raspberries, mixed with orange blossom, floral perfume, some chalk dust and minerals, and honeysuckle. Pleasant texture, bright, delicious, complex – a Provence pink to put some summer in your February. (90 points)

2022 Château d'Astros Côtes de Provence Cuvée Amour - France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $18
Rich salmon color. A juicy mix of watermelon, white cherry, and strawberries, with flinty, chalky, crushed stone vibes, along with celery seed, perfume, and lily elements. The palate is crisp but taut with red apples and white cherry fruits, balanced and vibrant. The fruit is laced with notes of sea salt, limestone, chalk dust, along with all sorts of white tea, mint, white flowers, and some celery seed tones. Zesty, springy, floral, versatile, this is great for Valentine’s Day, spring, or really any time of year. (90 points)

N.V. Perrier-Jouët Champagne Grand Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $65
Light gold color. A classic and inviting aromatic blend of biscuits, gingerbread, almond cake, with lemon bars, lime zest, green pears and white peaches, with lots of floral tones. The palate has a crunchy, flinty, fresh appeal with a nice creamy depth, pleasantly balanced. Yellow apples, lemons and limes, and juicy peach fruit mixes well with elements of nougat, fresh biscuits, honey butter, and honeyed ginger tea. Complex, refined, classic. (90 points)

2015 Pasqua Valpolicella Superiore Mai Dire Mai - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore
SRP: $45
Deep purple color. An exciting aromatic display of deep red currants, saucy plums, and black cherry jam, along with a host of non-fruit complexities: loamy earth, roasted red pepper, chewing tobacco, eucalyptus, with notes of cedar. Ripe bright on the palate with a moderate tannic backbone and fresh acidity, supporting saucy mulled fruits (currants, plums, black cherries). Balanced and refined with flourishes of dried violets, earth, soy sauce, sage, leather Fresh and bright personality throughout but offers a lot to parse through. (91 points)

2013 Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella Mai Dire Mai - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
SRP: $85
Dark ruby color. Aromas invite contemplation with these nuanced savory, floral, and spice-laden tones, accenting the blackberry, cranberry relish, and mulled cherry fruit. I also get some coffee and dark chocolate. When sipping, this wine is both bold and elegant, with structured but sanded tannins and crisp acidity. Beautiful red cherry and currant fruit with cranberry relish, accented by leather, dusty earth, warm clay, chewing tobacco, cigar box, sandalwood, and coffee. A concentrated but expressive Amarone, and one that will have love to show for many years. Bury a bottle or enjoy now! (93 points)

2022 Loveblock Vintners Ltd Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $31
Medium yellow color. So bright and inviting on the nose with ruby red grapefruit, green melon, limes, and the fruit is mixed with a complex blend of honey, tropical flowers, with nuanced green herbs and wild leeks. The palate sports gorgeous, pleasantly creamy texture, matched by brisk acidity, with pristine balance. Flavors of white peach, lemons and limes, cantaloupe, and honeydew. The fruit is tossed with complex notes of stones and chalk dust, minerals, white pepper, wild green herbs. It has this stony, mountain stream clarity, lots of precision, and a long finish. A NZ Sauv Blanc to win over any skeptics. (92 points)

2022 Quinta da Raza Trajadura Raza Pet-Nat - Portugal
SRP: $20
Bold yellow color with fine fizz. Lively and floral on the nose, with scents of white peaches and limes, along with dandelion, chalk, crushed sweet tarts – really floral and vibrant. The palate is pithy and tart, crunchy and dry, a bit bracing but delicious. Fruit-wise, this shows orange peel, tart pear, green apple, and to that the wine adds saline, quinine, minerals, dried white flowers, and some spicy nettle or mint. Focused, lively, great stuff to stock up on for Spring. Made from the Trajadura grape. (89 points)

2020 Companhia Agricola do Sanguinhal Óbidos Grande Reserva Branco Quinta das Cerejeiras - Portugal, Lisboa, Óbidos
SRP: $27
Bright yellow color. The nose shows yellow and green pears, lemon curd, and green apples, matched with crushed limestone, slate, along with honey and yellow flowers. The palate shows a rich textural weight but zesty acidity, combining for a clear and focused white. Flavors of lemon, quince, and green apples blend with tones of cut flower stems, basil, some crushed stone, sea salt. Delicious and harmonious. I travelled to Obidos last year and, my goodness, it is an incredible place and home to some delightful wines. Chardonnay, Arinto, and Vital grapes aged eight months in French oak and four months in steel. (90 points)

2021 Aveleda Alvarinho Solos de Granito - Portugal, Minho, Vinho Regional Minho
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Aromatically cranking with floral and citrus goodness – I get lemon, quince, limes, with mountain stream, stony minerals, saline, grapefruit rind, some honeysuckle. Racy acidity skates over the palate but there’s a nice textural complexity and depth, too. Flavors of ruby red grapefruit and oranges mix well with all sorts of white and yellow flowers, mountain stream, sea salt, and a level of mineral infusion that is so invigorating. Bring on all sorts of seafood and shellfish, or just sip as an apéritif. Well done! Fermented and aged in stainless steel for nine months with lees stirring. (91 points)

2021 Prats and Symington Douro Prazo de Roriz - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. The nose shows tangy red and black currants and cherries and a whole lot of savory/spicy tones like: warm rocks, potting soil, sage and anise, oregano, black pepper. Fresh and ripe on the palate with chewy but structured tannins and moderating acidity. The plum, red and black cherry, and roasted fig fruit is deep and tangy. Notes of chewing tobacco, scorched earth, graphite, and dark chocolate shavings add complexity. For me, this is a perennial winner both for its quality and value. A classic Portuguese blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, and Touriga Franca. (90 points)

2021 Prats and Symington Douro Post Scriptum de Chryseia - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $28
Deep purple color. The nose exudes a warm, wintry, but inviting host of currant jam, plum cake, fig paste, along with savory broth and pepper, dried violets, a cool leathery kick, and some graphite and minerals. The palate is grippy but suave with zippy acidity and a concentrated but fresh appeal. Flavors of plums, currant and fig paste, and tart blueberry. Add in some smoky earth, tar, leather, black pepper, anise, along with black tea and nuanced oak. This is juicy, tangy, and complex, and should also age well. Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca with small amounts of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Sousão, and Tinta Cão. (91 points)

2020 Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling - USA, New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $21 
Lovely gold color. Beautiful depth of aromas packed in here – papaya, lime, white peach, yellow flowers, honey, ocean spray, smashed rocks. The palate has precise balance and a dry, zesty appeal with a pure mouthfeel. Flavors of yellow pears, white peach, and papaya taste ripe and alive. Then the waves of non-fruit complexities rush in: slate, minerals, ocean jetty, flinty tones, with perfume, and honeysuckle. Tingling minerals last long onto the finish. Great stuff, classic Finger Lakes Riesling goodness, and an exceptional value. (91 points)

2021 Rare North Pinot Noir - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. The aromas are bright and red with cranberry, raspberry, tangy strawberry, along with notes of dusty earth, rhubarb, and some richer notes of light roast coffee grounds and roasted chestnut. On the palate, medium acidity with smooth, lightly dusty tannins, and a cool mix of fruit – from black cherry and plum to raspberry and strawberry rhubarb pie. The non-fruit elements are a lot of fun – there’s some spicy herbal tea, with roasted chestnut and cinnamon elements, and some rose petals and rhubarb. Lovely, fresh, will-please-all-palates kind of Willamette Pinot at a steal of a price. (89 points)