Richard Brandes


Rating System

***** Five Stars (92-100)
A top-flight wine. Superior
in taste and character and
providing an outstanding
price/value relationship.

**** Four Stars (86-91)
A very good wine and an
excellent value. A wine for
which customers will keep
coming back.

*** Three Stars (80-85)
An above- average wine,
at a reasonable price
point, which many
customers will enjoy.

** Two Stars (70-79)
An average wine.

* One Star (50-69)
A below-average wine.

This year, we’ve asked our national retailer panel to select wines based on price parameters, not by varietal or region. Last issue, the panel recommended a lineup of white wines priced $15 and under. This issue, the panel considers reds with a retail price of $15 to $30. As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a numerical rating and the wine’s suggested retail price (which varies from market to market). — Richard Brandes

FIVE STARS

***** (96) Domaine de la Jasse 2001 (France). Aromas of black fruit and lavender; rich, yet refined with flavors of ripe, red fruit and spices; 60% cabernet, 35% merlot and 5% cabernet franc; great balance and a real value. ($16)


***** (95) Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2001 (Italy). Dark ruby purple with a great spicy nose full of ripe fruit and toasty overtones; the black fruits give in to a robust licorice center with black cherry notes, soft tannins and a long, spicy finish and excellent texture. ($27)


***** (95) Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi 1995 (Italy). Highly developed bouquet of dried plums, cherries and anise foretell rich, harmonious fruit flavors, long-lasting on the palate. ($30)


***** (94) Sonoma Ridge Merlot 2001 (California). Plums, cherries and blackberries with a fresh and clean mouth feel; medium tannins and a delightful, velvety finish; great with lamb, veal and grilled chicken dishes. ($17)


***** (94) Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (California). A real gem with a blackberry nose and hints of vanilla and spices; on the palate, powerful blackberry and currant fruit with a dark chocolate undertone; mid-palate is deep and finish is long. ($30)


***** (94) Chante Cigale Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 (France). Wonderful layers of Asian spice, plum, anise and crushed blackberry flow seamlessly into a velvet finish; delightful example of some of the best this prestigious cru has to offer. ($27)


***** (94) Finca Sandoval 2002 (Spain). Flavors of chocolate, cassis and black currants intertwined with sweet tannins; 91% syrah and 9% mourvedre; drinks like a fine Bordeaux. ($30)


***** (94) Beckman Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (California). Enticing red currant and sweet oak aromas lead to highly extracted flavors of ripe black cherries, blueberries and plums packed in a dense, chewy core of silky tannins. ($23)


***** (93) Louis Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (California). This handsomely crafted red wine is deep and dark in color with a rather complex bouquet; in the mouth the wine displays great depth and balance with well-integrated tannins and a finish that is quite long and supple; superb wine and value. ($18)


***** (93) Michel Gassier ‘Les Piliers’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, (France). This intense cabernet is produced in the Costieres de Nimes, where the warm summer sun and rocky soil help to develop the dark cherry, raspberry and earthy notes, balanced with cedar, spice and notes of vanilla, ending with a long, elegant finish; full-bodied, ripe fruit and rich, structured tannins combine to make this a great value and a match for rich beef dishes. ($17)


***** (92) Susana Balbo Malbec 2002 (Argentina). Inviting fruit aromas lead to delicious blackberry and cassis flavors with a round, supple, smoky finish; great steak wine. ($30)


***** (92) Donnafugata, Tancredi, Nero d’Avola, Sicily 2002 (Italy). Hints of mint and licorice with structured fruit flavors of cherry and bilberry. ($30)


***** (92) Ch. L’Ermitage Via Compostelle Syrah 2003 (France). Rich, elegant fruit and intense spice make this 100% estate-bottled syrah an impressive offering; tobacco and berry notes on the nose give way to cherry, grilled blackberry and white pepper on the palate; moderate tannins give balance and weight to this intensely flavored wine, and support the long finish. ($15)


***** (92) Domaine Des Entrefaux Crozes-Hermitage 2001 (France). True Old World syrah at its best; aromas and flavors of black fruit, pepper and terroir; firm tannins; toasty oak rounds it out; best in 3-5 years, or decant for 2-3 hours. ($17)


***** (92) Justin Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (California). An elegant wine with juicy cherry-berry flavors, wonderful complexity and a smooth, lingering finish; it should improve over the next 3-5 years. ($23)


****** (92) Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2001 Santa Maria Valley, “La Bauge au-Dessus” (California). Dark ruby red with a full bouquet that shows a floral edge of violets to the stewed cherry and raspberry aromas; ripe and subtly rich on the palate, it possesses delicious red fruit flavors on a well-balanced frame; the complexity becomes more evident in the aftertaste, with cherry, licorice, blueberry and blackberry all echoed beautifully. ($30)


***** (92) Domaine André Brunel Cotes du Rhone Cuvée Sommelongue 2003 (France). From 35-year-old vines, real Old World wine with aromas of roses, blackberry and the “stones” of the Rhone; 95% grenache and 5% syrah; rich and mouth filling with flavors of cherry, blackberry and spice. ($16)

FOUR STARS

**** (91) Qupe Syrah 2002 Central Coast (California). Deep, rich purple in color; it has a full bouquet, with delightful truffle, black cherry and oak aromas; full-bodied and ripe, with ample acidity keeping things balanced; mild fruit flavors of blackberry and anise, with truffle notes; the finish is medium long and quite tasty. ($16)


**** (91) Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red 2003 Columbia Valley (Washington State). A blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 23% syrah, 15% merlot, 9% cabernet franc, 2% sangiovese and 2% carmenere; a soft bouquet of red and black fruit aromas; medium to full-bodied on the palate; a subtle richness on the edge of bursting with flavor; cherry, blackberry, cassis and vanillin are all peaking, but seem likely to stand tall within the year. ($17)


**** (91) Tyrus Evan Walla Walla Claret 2002 (Washington State). Dark, extracted, light maroon color; the nose has a hint of mocha café, balanced with toffee and cassis; once tasted, you feel its lavish, straightforward fruit followed by a finish of tannins and spice; one of those wines that defines value because it tastes twice its price; will improve with 6-8 years in the cellar. ($30)


**** (91) Tait “The Ball Buster” Proprietary Red (Australia). Drink it up; generous black cherry, dark plum and a touch of spice; 60% shiraz, 19% merlot and 21% cabernet sauvignon. ($20)


**** (91) Masi Campofiorin Ripasso 2001 (Italy). Hints of plums and raisins in the nose with plush and lush flavors that suggest Amarone minus the higher alcohol and heavy price tag; this wine represents how wonderful corvina and rondinella can be in the hands of a master like Sandro Boscainini. ($15)


**** (91) Chateau Carignan “Prima” Cotes de Bordeaux 2000 (France). Nose that doesn’t quit; mouth feel of ripe black cherry fruit and a hint of tannin; 90% merlot and 10% cabernet sauvignon; good to drink now and will age well for a few years. ($25)


**** (91) Domaine Leroy Bourgogne Rouge 1998 (France). Candied bing cherries, wild mushrooms and lavender flavors linger on your tongue; who says all Burgundies are too expensive and ’98 was a terrible vintage? ($30)


**** (90) Torres Gran Coronas 2000 (Spain). A blend of 85% cabernet and 15% tempranillo; ripe yet elegant; aromas of blackberry, cherry and currant; silky and dense with well-integrated tannins. ($19)


**** (90) Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2001 (California). A brilliant garnet color with the enticing scents of purple charms candy; silky and satiny in the mouth and bursting with freshness and a finish that lingers on. ($24)


**** (90) Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (California). An affordable cabernet for drinking now; should also age well for 5-8 years; bold but balanced cherry fruit, tannin and a hint of cinnamon. ($22)


**** (90) Arcadian Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2001 (California). Sheer elegance; floral aromas of boysenberry and black cherry with a hint of cloves; ripe and smooth with a long black raspberry finish. ($25)


**** (90) Van Duzer Estate Pinot Noir 2003 (Oregon). These wines just keep getting better; beautiful deep garnet color; mouth-filling wine of ripe plum and Asian spices; serve with hearty dishes; air for at least 30 minutes before quaffing. ($20)


**** (90) Steele Clear Lake Cabernet Franc 2001 (California). Soft but structured; balanced black fruits and tannins; a well made wine that would go really well with venison. ($18)


**** (90) Domaine Vin Du Diable Pinot Noir 2002 (Switzerland). Aged nine months in small oak barrels, it’s soft and ripe with hints of bing cherries and light toasty oak; for Burgundy lovers. ($27)


**** (90) Beckmen “Cuvee Le Bec” 2003 (California). A change in the Rhone-style blend this year, adding counoise to the syrah-grenache-mouvedre blend; real value as this wine is big on the palate with deep raspberry, ripe strawberry, currant with a slight spice, and ever slight black pepper on the finish; truly enjoyable by itself or with grilled foods and game. ($17)


**** (90) Caves Cidis Gamaret La Cote 2003 (Switzerland). Gamaret is a hybrid grape of gamay and reichensteiner grown near Lake Geneva in southwest Switzerland; deep blue-purple with aromas of baked cherry, toasted oak and earth; black fruit, tobacco and earth meld with firm tannins. ($19)


**** (90) Rosemount Hill of Gold Shiraz 2002 (Australia). Black core, with purple rim variation; double berry up front, black and red with a dark wood undertone; smooth delivery of dark berries coated with dark chocolate; polished, squeaky clean finish. ($17)


**** (90) Ciacci Piccolomini D’Aragona Montecucco Sangiovese, 2003 (Italy). The new appellation debuts in a very ripe year with dark ruby color and loads of cherry and mineral on the nose; deep in red fruits with overtones of vanilla and anise seed, a fine structure, and a sense of fresh-crushed red fruits on the finish; 85% sangiovese with 10% syrah and 5% merlot. ($26)


**** (89) Ring-Bolt Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Australia). Really good cabernet; very varietal with hints of blackberry, mulberry, bittersweet chocolate; a touch of sweet oak and the “dust” of western Australia shows in the finish; drink now; will cellar 3-5 years. ($18)


**** (89) Chateau Malmaison Medoc 2001 (France). Soft, lush and full; jammy with ripe black fruits; a solid, polished finish. ($30)


**** (89) Newton Napa Valley Claret 2001 (California). This Bordeaux-style blend is made up mostly of merlot, giving it a delightfully soft and round texture; classic flavors of vanilla, blackberry and cherry complete this impressive offering. ($22)


**** (89) Hartford Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2003 (California). Fruity nose; raspberry, plum, cherry flavors; pleasant, medium finish. ($23)


**** (89) Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Argentina). Nuances of tar, mocha, spice, mint and herbs with a nutty, oak finish; matches well with red meats and grilled fish. ($22)


**** (89) Rosenblum Paso Robles Richard Sauret Vineyards Zinfandel 2003 (California). Peppery nose; black cherries, spice pepper taste; nice lingering finish. ($20)


**** (89) Sebastiani Merlot 2001 (California). Flavors of cocoa, cherry and chocolate are balanced with vanillan oak; dripping with blueberry on a long finished with hints of bacon fat. ($15)


**** (89) Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage 2001 (South Africa). This unknown beauty tastes like a classified growth Pessac-Leognan; dark, extracted currants, freshly ground espresso beans and cedar are showcased. ($30)


**** (88) Falesco Merlot, Umbria 2003 (Italy). Spicy, rich aromas with flavors of blackberry, tobacco and vanilla. ($18)


**** (88) Taz Syrah, Santa Barbara 2002 (California). Dark fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry with white pepper and spice aromas. ($25)


**** (88) Kaesler Avignon 2002 (Australia). Blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre from the Barossa Valley; full-bodied, rustic and chewable; a strong finish. ($20)


**** (88) Chateau Foucas Hosten Medoc-Listrac 2000 (France). Medium mouth feel with aromas of cedar and cassis; delicious fruit and supple tannins with a lingering finish. ($20)


**** (88) Beresford Shiraz 2002 McLaren Vale (Australia). Opaque purple; the bouquet is initially restrained, but slowly opens to reveal some delicious black fruit aromas tinged with eucalyptus; medium-bodied and quite supple, with a smooth texture and soft flavors of black cherry, raspberry and a light hint of oak; long and easygoing finish. ($17)


**** (88) Killibinbin Langhorne Creek Blend 2003 (Australia). Fruity nose; cherry and currants on the palate; medium-long finish. ($20)


**** (88) Benziger Merlot 2002 (California). Freshly shaved cedar, bing cherries and milk chocolate; sturdy, with layers of black plum, cherry and shaved pine, accented by a subtle, smoky note. ($18)


**** (88) La Sacristie de la Vieille Cure Fronsac 2000 (France). Very dark, almost opaque; medium bodied with black currant, mineral, a hint of anise, very smooth with good balance and fine tannins, hints of clove, cherry and raspberry in the finish with a touch of pepper. ($16)


**** (86) Francis Coppola Diamond Series Claret 2002 (California). Spicy aroma; flavors of cherry, spice and currant; medium tannins and a medium finish. ($17)


**** (86) Erik’s The Red (California). A blend of 15 grape varieties from Paso Robles; big, robust and powerful; full of chewy blackberry and ripe purple plum. ($16)


**** (86) Feudi di San Gregorio Irpinia Aglianico IGT “Rubrato” 2002 (Italy). Deep plum fruit with black currants, anise seed, and minerals kept vibrant by lively acid, light tannins, and a sweet prune and fig finish. ($18)


**** (86) Palacios Remondo Rioja Crianza “La Montesa” 2001 (Spain). Dark ruby color; blackberry, plum, pepper, bitter almond in the nose; juicy dark fruits with hints of leather and mineral, good acid and moderate tannin, pretty anise notes on the mid-palate with a spicy finish in blackberry. ($17)


**** (86) Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2003 (Italy). Dark in color, dark in fruit, the plum, prune and peppery nuances lead to plush fruit with ripe, smooth blackberries, soft tannins, bitter almond notes in the long finish of black fruits. ($17)

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