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Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Sonoma County’s Rodney Strong Vineyards is well known for a strong portfolio of wines that check a lot of important boxes. The wines they offer have a strong sense of their Sonoma County origins; sometimes as wide as the county, others as specific as a small parcel. If your budget is $10 of $75 they have something of quality for you. More often than not these wines deliver more in quality than the price tag would suggest. Every once in a while; seemingly more often in the last few years, they add something new to their lineup. I’m always eager to taste anything they’ve produced because the wines in their lineup tend to be not just good, but also a boon for wine consumers. So when their latest entry, Upshot, showed up on my doorstep I was excited to twist the cap off and get it into my glass. Considering that Symmetry, their Red Bordeaux inspired blend, is one of the best wines (and values) in their portfolio, one vintage after another, I was immediately intrigued to learn that they added another red blend.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Sonoma County Red Blend ($28)

This new offering from producer Rodney Strong is an unconventional blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Riesling.  Looking at the blend and the modern packaging it’s clear that Upshot is a completely different wine, with a likely different audience than the venerable Symmetry. Things open up here with a lifted nose showing off dark berries and a hint of white flowers. The flavors are equally dark with blackberry, plum, and raspberry joining oodles of spice, and bits of cocoa. Savory herbs, black olive, chicory and dried black fruits are all evident on the solid finish.

There are so many red blends from California on shelves these days. The vast majority of them though are in the more casual supermarket wine category. They're also often sourced from all over the state, not just Sonoma County. Don’t let the screw-cap, contemporary label and name fool you, Upshot is several classes above those. It’s both a serious and very drinkable wine that combines a bit of curb appeal with substantial structure. Whether you’re pouring it for casual wine drinkers or more discerning winos, they’ll all find something to like here. The suggested retail price is $28 but you’re likely to find it on the shelf for right around $20. At that price you might want to grab a case and up your house wine game. The real Upshot is that Rodney Strong Vineyards have added yet another terrific wine to their portfolio.

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

One of the things I'm always on the hunt for are wines suitable for everyday drinking that over deliver quality and drink ability based on their price point. While there are certainly quite a few American standbys in this category but there are simply more wines at $20 and under made outside the U.S. that fit the bill. It's also not as often that a new offering of substance in that category with U.S. origins is released. But Nine Hats from Columbia Valley in Washington has crafted such a wine. The brand was started in 2007 and the name refers to the fact that nine internationally regarded winemakers are involved with producing the Nine Hats wines. 

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine ($20)

This offering is a blend of Syrah (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (7%), and Malbec (2%). The fruit was sourced from 4 sub AVA’s within greater Columbia Valley. A bit more than 5,000 cases were produced. From the first whiff to the last sip it’s obvious this is a wine of substance and structure. Red fruit, spices and gentle wisps of toast emerge from the nose. Cherry and red raspberry flavors dominate the palate along with hints of cinnamon and allspice. Earth, chicory and dark chocolate nibs are evident on the above average finish. Firm acid and gripping tannins provide structure. There’s sophistication to this wine that belies its modest price point. Most important is the fact that it’s delicious, food friendly and well-priced for everyday consumption.

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

The myriad of wines hitting store shelves on a daily basis can be dizzying. Among them are wines at nearly every possible level of quality and intent. Most important of course is whether the wine is any good. Assuming it is good, does it fit your budget and needs.  I just tasted through just more than 4 dozen wines looking for a few good bottles to stand out.

Villa Maria Winery Exemplifies the Diversity of New Zealand

Villa Maria Winery Exemplifies the Diversity of New Zealand

One of the key factors that distinguish New Zealand as a major player in the wine world is diversity. If you travel through the numerous regions, as I did earlier this year, you’ll find myriad examples of unique soil types, elevations, and climactic conditions. Thus each of these regions helps a different collection of grapes thrive. And in the cases where there is overlap in grape types the distinct conditions still lead to diverse results. Villa Maria is a microcosm of that; by growing and sourcing fruit throughout New Zealand, their portfolio showcases the assortment of grapes and wine styles that New Zealand is absolutely nailing, often at bargain prices too. I recently participated in a virtual tasting with Villa Maria and Snooth; here are my thoughts on the handful of wines we sampled.

Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc ($13)       

Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most famous export, and for good reason, several regions are perfect for growing it. This offering from Villa Maria is a classic example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It has a big nose, good fruit, racy acid, and lots of mineral notes on the finish. At the price it’s a steal of a deal.

Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Bay Rosé ($14)    

The Villa Maria Rosé has a darker hue than average. It’s filled with cheery red fruit, bits of orange rind, white pepper and hints of vanilla. This Rosé is juicy, tasty and it’ll pair with an astounding array of foods.  In short it’s an excellent warm weather wine.              

Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc ($15)           

The Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc is light, refreshing and a perfect summer welcome wine. It’s a wine you don’t have to think much about, yet it has reasonable depth. For the price you could even use it as a cocktail or Sangria base. This is a fun and tasty wine that will make crowds of people happy.

Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet ($20)

This cohesive blend is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Each variety (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec) come together to form a well woven wine. Red berry fruit and bits of thyme are evident on the nose. Black raspberry and cherry dominate the palate along with spice notes. The long finish shows off dried blackberry and bits of chicory.

Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir ($26)  

Pinot Noir is Mew Zealand’s second most famous export. While it grows in other regions, the two most famous are Central Otago and Marlborough.  Cellar Selection Pinot has a proportionate richness with black cherry, plum and tons of spice.          

Villa Maria 2015 Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay ($45) 

This Chardonnay is a real knockout from the first whiff to the last sip. Apricot, peach, and golden delicious apple aromas burst from the nose. Green apple, roasted nuts and a drove of minerals are evident on the palate. The long finish shows off crème fraiche and bits of toasty oak. This Chardonnay will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age.                 

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

It’s been roughly 20 years’ time since South Africa became part of the Global Wine Community once again. In those two decades the quality of wines has increased and there have been great strides in the South African Wine Industry. Among the many other things that have changed, the number of Women winemakers has increased. And while the increase in diversity alone is cause for celebration that’s just a sliver of what’s happening.

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

It’s the time of year when we’re all shopping for Holiday Gifts. I’m a big believer that for most people Wine makes a great gift. If you have someone on your list that’s really into one category or another get them something slightly outside their normal drinking zone and help them expand their palate. Here are a dozen delicious ideas. If you need spirits, head over to my gift Guide for The Daily Meal to read about my spirits suggestions.

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq

Château La Lauzette is one of a growing number of wineries in the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc that is owned or run by women. This in a region who the average wine lover tends to believe the Château’s are passed down from Father to son from one generation to the next. This particular winery is run by Liz Roskam and her husband Franz. She’s originally from Illinois and relocated to Bordeaux in 2002. They took over the vineyard in 2005.

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq, Haut- Médoc, Cru Bourgeois ($30)

This Bordeaux blend combines Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (28%), and Cabernet Franc (2%). Aging took place over 12 months in French oak; 33% of the barrels utilized were new. 3,500 cases of this offering were produced. Bits of toast and black raspberry aromas are present on the welcoming nose. The palate is stuffed with a bevy of fruit flavors including cherry, black currant, and dried black fruits. In addition savory herbs such as sage and thyme are also in play. Bits of red fruit, black tea, earth, minerals and chicory are all present on the above average finish. Approachable tannins and firm acid help provide fine structure upon which all of that fruit is built. This is a restrained, elegant and lovely wine that is counterbalanced by plenty of eager fruit flavors. In short it should satisfy wine lovers with a variety of different palates. While this offering was great sipped alone it really stood out with food. I paired it with a burger topped with Smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes, which was a fantastic match.

Benziger Family Winery - 2012 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc / 2012 Sonoma County Merlot / 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

Benziger Family Winery located in the heart of Sonoma County has been at the forefront of sustainable farming for years. They’re certified as such; they also employ Biodynamic practices. They make a wide range of wines in varying quantities and styles. One common denominator is their quest to allow the grapes to shine. Here’s a look at three current releases. Benziger Family Winery 2012 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc – Suggested Retail Price $15. The fruit for this wine came from several vineyards within the North Coast appellation. It was aged completely in stainless steel drums on its lees. Big lemon zest aromas light up the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. Tropical fruit underlies tons of citrus, green apple and a hint of grass on the substantially flavorful palate along with wisps of sage and thyme. The clean, crisp and refreshing finish is studded with racy acidity, spices such as cardamom and a gentle hint of salinity. Benziger’s North Coast Sauvignon Blanc is a killer value for the money. This is a wine loaded with varietal typicity which will complement light foods or work well as an aperitif. Increasingly the North Coast appellation is a great source for appealing Sauvignon Blanc. This example is certainly proof of that.

Benziger Family Winery 2012 Sonoma County Merlot – Suggested Retail Price $19. The fruit for this wine was sourced from several areas within Sonoma County. After cold soaking, various fermentation lengths and temperatures, barrel aging took place over 16 months in a combination of French and American oak. Red cherry blossoms and Mexican Vanilla Bean aromas are both heavily in evidence on the agreeable nose of this Merlot. A ton of round, juicy, red fruit flavors fill the palate here. Bits of kirsch are present as well. The finish is velvety with black cherry, dark chocolate and earth in droves.  The problem with a lot of Merlot under $20 is that it’s hard to peg as Merlot. Too much if it simply tastes like generic red wine. That’s far from an issue here. This is very much a Merlot, one that Cabernet lovers will appreciate too. It’s going to be hard to beat at this price point.

Benziger Family Winery 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon – Suggested Retail Price $20. The Cabernet was sourced from both mountain and benchland vineyards throughout Sonoma County. After fermentation it was aged in barrel for 16 months. A bevy of spices, earth and toast aromas present on the nose of this Cabernet. Blackberry and cherry flavors dominate the full bodied palate. Espresso, black tea, and earth are all present on the finish which has solid length. Medium tannins and firm acid provide a nice backbone. For $20 this Cabernet Sauvignon is perfectly suited, and fairly priced for everyday consumption.

This trio of wines from Benziger Family Winery is well priced. More importantly though these wines reflect both a sense of place respective to their appellations and lots of typical varietal character. Whether in this price range or if you’re looking for premium offerings, wines with the Benziger name provide genuine character and relative value. Trust them with your wine dollars.

A Trio of California Reds Gets it Done For Under $20

It occurs to me that $20 might be the ultimate sweet spot in the wine world. There are all sorts of benchmarks and barometers, but for most people taking a leap over the $20 barrier is done cautiously and with consideration. So when I find wines under that threshold that provide significant value and taste way more expensive than the price the cash register will ring up, I make a note of it. Here are three wines made from fruit sourced in various parts of California that offers tons of drinking pleasure and tremendous bang for the buck. One of them even has the necessary elements to lay down for a couple of years, should you so choose. That’s not something often in play in this price range. Whether you’re looking for a wine to bring to a dinner party or something to keep you warm all winter long, these selections will get it done for a minimal price. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Delivers Quality and Value

tasting-room-01-300dpiIf you’re a regular wine drinker and, like most of us, operating on some sort of budget, Rodney Strong Vineyards is a name you should know. They are one of Sonoma County’s most important wineries, if you ask me; perhaps that seems like a bold statement, but the evidence backs it up. Year after year they provide consistent quality and often over-deliver on value for the price in question for a specific bottle of wine. Add the fact that they do this in numerous price tiers from the $10 range all the way up to wines in the $75 range. And as importantly as any of that, they dependably turn out wines that are emblematic of their home in Sonoma County. Here’s a look at a number of their current releases from several tiers in their portfolio. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Hall Makes Tasty Napa Valley Wines

HALL Napa Valley Sauvignon BottleshotHall Napa Valley currently produces about 120,000 cases of wine per year. They have been making wine in Napa since they opened their winery in 2005. Just this spring, the Halls launched a new facility in St. Helena. This new winery and tasting room was built on a site that has a 150-year history in Napa Valley wine making. The Halls still maintain their original, intimate location in Rutherford and continue to make some wines there, but the new facility allows them to host a variety of events as well as have more people visit and taste wine on a daily basis. On a recent trip to Napa Valley I stopped at Hall St. Helena, toured their new facility and grounds, and of course tasted through their current portfolio. Here are some wines from their Napa Valley collection that I enjoyed. These selections are widely available all over the country. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.

Trione Vineyards & Winery - 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah / 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine / 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21”

One of my favorite things about covering wine is the opportunity to hang out with winemakers. It’s a lot of fun and also a relief when there’s someone in the room who’s more of a geek about fermented grape juice than I am. The last few years I’ve been really impressed with the offerings being put out by Trione Vineyards & Winery. And while I’ve loved the wines, it was only recently that I visited their tasting room and met their winemaker Scot Covington. I spent most of an afternoon with him and we tasted wines in barrel, tank and of course out of bottle. Trione has vineyards in Alexander Valley and the Russian River; hundreds of acres in fact. Most of the grapes are sold; Scot gets to make wine with the best of the best that their property offers. It’s clear that he loves what he does and the opportunity to select fruit from such a large playground is an inspiration to him.  I tasted lots of wine with Scot and I eagerly anticipate re-tasting some of the offerings that aren’t even in bottle yes once they’re released, there’s a ton of promise and upside there. For the moment though here’s a look at three current Trione Wines you can get your hands on. Trione 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah – The fruit for this wine came from a single block in Russian River Valley that’s planted to clone 470 and 877. The methodology Scot used to make this Syrah is similar to the one he employs with Pinot Noir. 809 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $32. Black and red plum aromas fill the heady nose of this Syrah. Dried black fruit flavors are in strong evidence throughout the palate; blackberry and blueberry characteristics are joined by plum pudding spices.  Bits of espresso and smoked meat emerge on the lengthy finish. Firm gripping tannins yield with some air. This Syrah is two-faced in nature, the fruit says new world, the style and methodology say old world. Bottom line, it makes for a delicious and food friendly wine.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine - This wine is a blend of all 5 classic Bordeaux grapes. The majority is Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), with Merlot (12%), Petit Verdot 7%), Cabernet Franc (6%), and Malbec (6%) making contributions too. The wine was aged in French oak for 18 months; 45% of the barrels utilized were new. 2,292 6 bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $48. Sweet, dark berry fruit aromas fill the nose of this Red blend. Plum and blueberry flavors dominate the palate which brings to mind a bowl of fresh berry fruits. Black fruit flavors lead the charge, but bits of red slip in and out making their presence known. Tobacco, leather and chocolate notes are all in evidence on the finish which has solid length. Tannins are firm and gripping, they yield with some air. Along those lines, if you’re going to drink this now, decant it for an hour or so, otherwise lay it down for 5 or 6 years and enjoy it in the 5 or so years after that.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21” – The single block this Cabernet was sourced from is planted to clone 337. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), bits of merlot (9%), Cabernet Franc (2%), Malbec (2%), and Petit Verdot (2%) were also blended in. Each lot was barrel aged separately for 12 months and then blended, an additional 12 months in barrel followed blending. French oak barrels were uses, 45% of them were new. 981 6 packs were bottled and this wine has a suggested retail price of $64. A potpourri of spice leads the nose of this Cabernet. They’re joined by violets and blueberry aromas. Plum, black raspberry and blackberry flavors are present on the full-bodied but easy-going palate. The finish shows off chocolate covered blueberry and a wisp of chicory. This is an exceptionally smooth and engaging Cabernet Sauvignon that’s as easy to drink all by itself as it is to pair with a wide array of food. Alexander Valley is one of the best areas in California for growing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering from Trione proves how good Cabernet from Alexander Valley can be. It’s wonderful now, but don’t hesitate to lay it down for 8-12 years.

Trione Vineyards & Winery is releasing some terrific wines that speak to their origins in two distinct Sonoma County Appellations. Winemaker Scot Covington is pushing the envelope one vintage after another. He does this not only by enhancing the portfolio with occasional new releases but more importantly by constantly tinkering and striving to make the best wines he can with the bounty that Trione’s Vineyards offer. If you’re in Alexander Valley, stop off at their tasting room and sample the wonderful Sonoma County Wines they’re offering. And if you’re not going to be in Sonoma County soon, go to your favorite local wine shop and look for some Trione wines; I guarantee a delicious experience.

Gabe’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Christmas is just around the corner and if you’re like most Americans you still have plenty of shopping to do. Most of us have Wine & Spirits lovers on our list. So here are some killer Wine & Spirits selections in a variety of price points to make those on your list happy and keep them warm. And if by some chance all your shopping is done pick some of these up for your Holiday table, your taste buds will thank you!

Wines:

Agricole Vallone – 2007 Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Riserva. This Italian wine was made from Negroamaro (80%) and Montepulciano (20%). The fruit for this wine was sourced on the winery’s own estate. Aging started in stainless steel tanks followed by large Slavonian oak casks for about 7 months. 12 months in concrete tanks followed and finally 6 months in bottle prior to release. 1,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Red plum and strawberry aromas fill the nose of this wine along with pepper spice. The palate has warming red fruit flavors such as cherry and red raspberry as well as continued plum. A hint of cinnamon, cardamom and pepper are all part of the above average finish along with a bit of espresso. Firm acidity and gentle tannins provide nice structure. This wine screams out to be paired with a nice meal. Thankfully it’ll work with a wide array of foods such as classic roast chicken, pot roast, pasta with red sauce, a cheese and charcuterie plate or more. At under $20 this wine is an outstanding value. It’s priced for everyday drinking but tastes like a special occasion wine.

Dry Creek Vineyard – 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine was made using fruit sourced in Dry Creek Valley. In addition to Zinfandel (83%), there is some Petite Sirah (17%) blended in. The fruit comes from vines that are between 90 and 110 years old. Fermentation took place over 22 days in a temperature controlled environment. Barrel aging followed over the next 20 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak. 28% of the barrels utilized were new. Just more than 3,200 cases were produced and this Zin has a suggested retail price of $30. The Petite Sirah in this wine makes its presence known from the first whiff where black plum and violet aromas are in evidence along with raspberry and a bit of vanilla. The palate is a horn-o-plenty of fresh berry fruit flavors. They’re abundant, succulent and incredibly varied. A core of spices is present as well and it dances merrily alongside all the fruit. Bits of blackberry and pepper emerge on the finish as well as a touch of rhubarb. This is a proportionate Zinfandel that is loaded with fruit without ever straying over the top, or even close to it. Fleshy fruits, medium tannins and a fine backbone of acidity all come together to make a fresh and desirable wine that will pair well with food. Year after year this wine is one of the best values in Zinfandel. It also happens to be continually made in the style that encourages pairing it with food. It will also drink well longer than the average Zin. It’s outstanding now but don’t hesitate to hold on to it over the next 7 or 8 years. Under proper storage conditions it’ll flourish. If you want to buy someone the most American of wines you aren’t going to do much better than this benchmark example of Zinfandel which comes from Dry Creek Valley, the effective home office of the varietal.

Swanson Vineyards – 2010 Oakville Merlot. This wine blends together Merlot (83%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), and Petit Verdot (2%). After Fermentation this wine was aged in an even split of French and American oak for 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. The Swanson Merlot is widely available nationwide and has a suggested retail price of $38. Black fruit aromas are joined by interspersing bits of red fruit on the nose of this Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate with raspberry and plum playing a role here as well. The finish is substantial and memorable with loads of spice, chicory, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. It shows off firm tannins and rock solid acidity. This wine is delicious now, particularly after being decanted for about an hour but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age under proper conditions. I’ve been drinking the Swanson Merlots for over a decade now and I believe they really improve over the first 5 or 6 years in the bottle and drink well for another 6 or so after that. It’s always been a Cabernet lover’s Merlot with depth structure and the ability to age. This is as far away from stereotypical insipid Merlot as you’re going to get. Year after year the Swanson Merlot represents one of the best wines values in Napa Valley. If you want to drink killer Napa Merlot, or gift it to your friends, this is the one.

Rodney Strong - 2010 Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit for this wine comes exclusively from the Brothers Ridge Vineyard which sits in the northern half of Alexander Valley near Cloverdale. This single vineyard wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 4 select blocks. After fermentation this wine spent 21 months in French oak; 43% of the barrels were new. This small production wine has a suggested retail price of $75. Blueberry, black raspberry and green peppercorn aromas emerge from the nose of this Cabernet. The palate is loaded with ripe and ready fruit flavors such as blackberry and raspberry. Bits of vanilla bean are present as well. Espresso, earth, chocolate and wisps of minerals are present on the substantial finish. Firm, gripping tannins and solid acidity mark this Cabernet’s structure. It’s been about had a dozen years that Rodney Strong has been making a trio of super premium single vineyard Cabernets. These wines upped their game into a space that they didn’t previously inhibit with the rest of their portfolio. At $75 this wine is a very good value. Alexander Valley is a region with excellent Cabernet potential, which the folks at Rodney Strong fulfill with this wine. Since not as many consumers realize how awesome Alexander Valley Cab can be you can be the beneficiary. A Cabernet of the same quality from Napa would likely cost closer to $125. So if your gift giving list includes a Napa Cab lover, buy them this wine and you’ll be giving them two gifts, the wine itself and the eye opener into Alexander Valley Cabs. They will thank you profusely.

Spirits:

Auchentoshan – Classic Single Malt Scotch. This Scotch was triple distilled, which is their house methodology and aged entirely in Bourbon Casks. This offering is the entry level selection in the Auchentoshan portfolio and it has a suggested retail price of $30. There are hints of charred wood on the nose. Peach, apricot, Granny Smith Apple and spice are prevalent on the palate which is mid-range in terms of overall weight in the mouth. Continued spices are in evidence on the finish along with lemon zest and a gentle salinity. At less than $30 if you shop around this is an excellent value in Scotch. It’s an easy going Whisky which calls you back to the glass for sip after sip. Perfectly suited, style and price wise for everyday drinking. That said it has more than enough complexity to keep you interested.

Laphroaig - Triple Wood Scotch. This Scotch was created using a triple maturation process. It was aged in ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks and Oloroso Sherry Casks. This is a seasonal expression available in limited quantities that won’t be on the shelf too long. It’s available in select shops around the United States and has a suggested retail price of $59.99. This Scotch has a beautiful light copper hue that stands out when poured. Aromas of toasted macadamia nut, Lychee fruit and apricot are all present in the effusive nose. The palate here is loaded with fruitcake spices, dried yellow peach and interspersed bits of char. Oatmeal characteristics lead the finish which also shows off a lovely bit of brine that interlocks with caramel and molasses. This is a gorgeous Scotch that shows off the trademark peat that Laphroaig is known for in a gentle and even handed manner. Other expressions in their portfolio lean heavier on the peat. So if you like a dollop of it but don’t want to go all in on Smoky and Peaty Scotch yet, this could be the Laphroaig for you. It’s a distinct expression in their range that is well worth exploring or gifting.

The Irishman - 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky. The Irishman was founded in 1999 by the Walsh family. Their family has been involved in Whisky production for well over 100 years. This Whisky was aged over 12 years in entirely first time used Bourbon barrels. This Whisky is non chill filtered and limited to only 6,000 numbered bottles per year. It has suggested retail price of $65. The toasty char from the Bourbon casks is prominent on the nose along with some spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, as well as a gentle wisp of allspice. Apple, rye , and oat characteristics are in strong evidence throughout the robust and full flavored palate which has bracing depth and complexity. The toasty notes circle back in on the finish along with a bit of dusty dark chocolate and continuing reverberations of spice. This is a beautiful Irish Whisky with  lovely and notable complexity.

Gosling’s Family Reserve - Old Rum. This rum is aged for an extended period in barrels. Every bottle is hand numbered and wax sealed. Unlike several of their other releases which are made in large quantities, the Old Rum is made in limited amounts. It sells at select shops for around $80. The hue of this rum is dark and it is opaque. Bits of cinnamon and anise emerge from the deep, dark nose of this rum. From the very first sip a cornucopia of flavors emerge. Plum pudding spices, molasses and hints of mesquite honey are all in evidence. As you sip it, layer after layer of gorgeous flavors emerge and envelop your senses. Bits of burnt sugar and chocolate sauce are part of the finish which has tremendous depth, length and persistence. It’s thick, dense and meant to be contemplated. Gosling’s Old Rum is a gorgeous offering that should be savored. If you want to make a rum cocktail, pull something else off the shelf, this one is meant to be enjoyed straight. If you have a Rum lover on your gift list this one will knock them out. The Rum itself is certainly enough, but it’s also beautifully packaged and comes in a wooden box with a sliding cover, making it a lovely presentation as well.

Flora Springs - 2011 Napa Valley Merlot / 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Flora Springs Winery was founded in Napa Valley in 1978. Over their 35 years as a winery they have remained a family owned and run operation. They have more than 650 acres of vineyards which are organically farmed. 90% of the fruit for their wines comes from those vineyards; the balance is sourced from others. Here’s a look at two current releases which are part of their Napa Valley tier of offerings. prod_image1_732 The Flora Springs 2011 Napa Valley Merlot was produced using fruit sourced at two vineyards in Rutherford; The Komes Ranch and Bella Oaks. This offering is 100% Merlot. Barrel aging took place over 16 months in a combination of French and American oak. 4,500 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Violets as well as red and back cherry aromas are prevalent on the nose of this 2011 Merlot. Cherry characteristics continue through the palate where they are prominently on display, carrying the day. Elements of tobacco and leather are present as well. Bits of sweet chocolate in addition to mineral notes emerge on the finish which has good length. A final flourish of sweet cherry fruit makes its presence known too. The tannins here are soft and appealing with a sufficient amount of structure. This is a varietally correct Merlot which is loaded with character and fruit. It’s delicious today and will drink well for the next 4-6 years.

The Flora Springs 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced within three Napa Valley appellations; Oakville, Rutherford and Saint Helena. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in a combination of French (60%) and American (40%) oak. 5,500 cases of this Cabernet Sauvignon were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $40. Deep, dark fruit aromas emerge from the nose of this Nape Valley Cabernet. A bit of pleasing green herb and black cherry flavors are apparent through the deep and layered palate. Bramble, black tea and a hint of blackberry are all present as well. Chocolate covered cherry characteristics lead the finish along with chicory and black pepper. This quintessential Napa Cabernet is lush and generous with medium tannins and a lengthy finish. It’s drinks well today, particularly after an hour or so of air. However it will improve over the next couple of years and drink well for the next 8 or 9.

Each of these wines is a solid example of the respective varietal and how it prospers in Napa Valley. They each offer tons of character and terrific value for their price points. Merlot that looks, smells and tastes like Merlot isn’t as easy as it should be to come by. This example from Flora Springs gets the job done, at a good price to boot. When it comes to Cabernet in Napa you can spend just about any dollar figure you want. At a retail of $40 this one over delivers. Flora Springs continues to make real Napa Valley wines from organically grown fruit in the heart of the valley, check them out; your taste buds will thank you.

Stickybeak - 2011 Toscana

Stickybeak is a California based winery that sources grapes in a host of regions such as Napa, Sonoma and Monterey. They have now widened their reach by making a wine with fruit sourced in Italy. These particular grapes come from the 40 year old Cerreto Guidi vineyards located in Tuscany. Here’s a look at this Italian blend. The Stickybeak 2011 Toscana was produced from a blend of Sangiovese (85%), Merlot (10%) and Syrah (5%). The Sangiovese and Merlot were both sourced in Tuscany with the Syrah coming from Maremma which is close by. Wild yeasts were used for fermentation which took place over roughly 15 days. Each varietal was aged separately over 18 months in entirely French oak. Blending occurred prior to bottling. This wine is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $20. Violet and red cherry aromas light up the nose of this Tuscan blend. Strawberry, cherry, spice, and vanilla bean are all in play throughout the palate which has nice depth. Leather, cherry, raspberry and black peppercorn flavors all show up in the finish which has above average length. This wine really shines when paired with food. Anything with red sauce on it will work well. I drank it with homemade pizza and it was memorable and delicious combo.

A lot of wines are looking for your attention and your wine dollars in the $20 or under category. Here’s an example that shines with food. It has excellent Sangiovese character at the forefront with the Merlot providing a bit of structure and the Syrah some pronounced wisps of sweet berry fruit. It’s terrific now and will drink well over the next 5 years. This is a very solid value.

Murphy-Goode - 2011 Homefront Red

In general people love Red Blends. Well when they’re tasty of course. There are all sorts of styles out there but the ones I’m specifically talking about today are the kind that are well priced, made for a wide audience and generally available. These have a found a big following with different kinds of wine lovers. To the novice Red wine drinker they can be easy to drink and appealing. To the seasoned wine drinker they offer something tasty and easy on the budget that will satisfy a lot of different taste buds. Murphy-Goode has a new blend called Homefront Red. For every bottle of this wine sold Murphy-Goode will doncate 50 cents to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that provides emergency and financial assiustance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. With that in mind here’s a look at the wine. The Murphy-Goode 2011 Homefront Red was produced from fruit sourced throughout California. This offering blends together Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. This wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak. It was recently released and is available nationally. 50,000 Cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $15. Blackberry and raspberry aromas light up the nose of this wine along with a little hint of anise. The palate is loaded with berry fruit flavors such as black raspberry and spices galore. Red Cherry is present as well and leads to the finish which has wisps of sweet chocolate and black pepper. Homefront Red will pair well with a pretty wide array of foods. It will be particularly good with casual grilled foods.

Good cause, good wine, good price, a win all around. Pick up a bottle or two for your next BBQ or casual get together with friends. Homefront Red is sure to please a broad array of palates. And by doing so you’ll also be helping a good cause.

Frisk - 2012 Prickly Rosso

Holiday weekends, parties and festive gatherings of every shape and size always get my mind thinking about what kind of wine to serve. These events offer a particular challenge. What will make the casual drinker happy and still keep the wine lovers interested? And certainly it wouldn't hurt if it’s a wine that pairs well with a broad array of foods. Of course one answer would be to serve multiple wines but that has various complicating factors. So when possible I strive to find one main wine to serve at large gatherings. Here’s a look at what I plan to pour this upcoming Labor Day. The Frisk 2012 Prickly Rosso was produced from fruit sourced in the Victoria region of Australia. This offering blends together Merlot (51%) and Docletto (49%). Fermentation took place in stainless steel with a selection of yeasts. This wine features a bit of fizz brought on by the yeast. It has a suggested retail price of $11.

This wine leads with a boisterous nose that’s loaded with red plum and blueberry aromas. The palate is refreshing and filled with sumptuous red and black fruits. These flavors are lively and juicy. They’re joined by a host of spices and as mentioned a bit of fizz. The finish shows off sour fruit flavors that lean towards darker plum and black cherry. Zippy acidity keeps things in check here.

This wine works best with a nice solid chill on it. The alcohol content is fairly low and it goes down easy with all kinds of food. In addition to being delicious and versatile Frisk Prickly Rosso is a fun wine that will delight crowds. At $11 or less it’s hard to resist; drink it up this Labor Day Weekend!

Achaval-Ferrer - 2010 Quimera

Many wine making regions produce Bordeaux inspired blends and the results vary greatly. In my mind the downfall often comes when trying to mimic the great wines of Bordeaux to the point of not focusing on what does best in the region in question. Argentina of course is best known for Malbec which thrives there in a variety of styles. The latest release from Bodega Achaval-Ferrer is a Bordeaux inspired blend and it’s also a wine with a relatively large percentage of Malbec in it. So here’s a release where Bordeaux inspiration and local rock-star grape meet. Here are my thoughts on the results. The Achaval-Ferrer 2010 Quimera was produced from fruit sourced in three appellations: Lujan de Cuyo, Medrano, and Tupungato. This offering is a blend of Malbec (31%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%), Cabernet Franc (18%) and Petit Verdot (4%). Each varietal underwent primary fermentation separately in small tanks; Malolactic fermentation followed after the wine was blended. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in entirely French oak; 40% of the barrels utilized were new and the balance had been used once prior. Just more than 3,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $56.

Ripe, red and black fruit aromas fill the heady nose of this 2010 blend from Argentina. The palate is studded with tons of fresh and exuberant fruit flavors; plum, blueberry and blackberry are of particular note. There is depth to spare here, all of the ripe and ready fruit flavors are joined by a notable spice component. The finish is velvety and lingering with pepper, bits of chicory and a dusting of sweet dark chocolate to close things out. The tannins are smooth and lush, pulling you in for sip after mouthwatering sip. There is a load of engaging and eager fruit here that is ready to please now, but there is also structure in place that will allow the 2010 Quimera to age well for a dozen years or more under proper storage conditions.

The goal of great blended wine is to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The 2010 Quimera is a seamless mélange of varietals that comes together deliciously to achieve that very goal. And yes while this wine draws some inspiration from Bordeaux it gains as much from the fact that it focuses on what does well in Argentina both in terms of specific grapes and stylistically. This is a wonderful wine that should be on the short list of anyone who loves excellent red blends.

Ravenswood Winery - 2008 Pickberry Red

ravenswood_logoRavenswood Winery under the direction of Joel Peterson became known for Zinfandel. Whether it’s cuvee style offerings from different appellations or single vineyard wines, to this day Ravenswood has a Zinfandel for just about every budget and palate. And in addition to Zinfandel they make some other wines of note too. Most of these are small production offerings that are found in better wine shops and some restaurant wine lists. One of these is Pickberry Red; I’ll look at the current release today. The Ravenswood 2008 Pickberry Red is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit was sourced at the namesake vineyard which is located on Sonoma Mountain. This offering is a blend of Merlot (59%), Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Malbec (1%) and Petit Verdot (1%). This wine was aged over 22 months in entirely French oak; 22% of the barrels utilized were new. 600 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50.

Dark fruits such as black cherry and plum fill the nose of Pickberry Red. The palate is also loaded with deep, inky fruit flavors which are simultaneously intense, layered and proportionate. Black cherry characteristics lead the way along with black raspberry and blueberry playing roles as well. Minerals and spice offer a nice counterpoint. Earth, violets and black pepper are all part of the finish which has terrific persistence. This wine has chewy tannins that soften with some air and firm acidity at its backbone. While the 2008 Pickberry Red is delicious today it’s built for the long haul. If you have the patience to lay this down for 8-12 years you’ll be justly rewarded. This is a new world wine that brings to mind old world flavors and style. Pair it with a delicious meal for best results.

California Meritage and Franciscan's Magnificat Turn Twenty Five

Last week Franciscan Estate threw what amounted to a birthday party, for Magnificat their flagship wine, in Manhattan at Calliope Restaurant. I was glad to be in attendance at this event which showcased the Franciscan Bordeaux blend. Bordeaux blends have been made all over the world for many years, including in Napa. However, it has now been 25 years since the term Meritage was introduced and along with it Franciscan’s first vintage of Magnificat. As such it was a noteworthy milestone to mark, and an excellent reason to take a look at Magnificat alongside some of its peers. Franciscan Winemaker Jay Turnipseed was on hand to speak about his wines as well as to offer some insight in a general sense about all of the Bordeaux inspired wines. Those peers helped make the event particularly interesting. They were part of a blind tasting of six wines composed of Bordeaux varietals from around the world; Magnificat was of course amongst their number. Tasting them blind was a fine exercise in testing each of our abilities to nail regional characteristics and styles. The sense I got was that most of us gathered had about 2/3 of the regions picked out correctly. All of the blends tasted were from the 2009 vintage. The regions in play were New Zealend, Bordeaux (Left and Right Banks), Walla Walla Washington, South Africa and of course Napa Valley. I was pretty happy getting 4 out of 6 regions correct. The Magnificat stood out to me immediately probably for a few reasons, not the least of which being I’ve been drinking it consistently since the 90’s.

After the blind tasting we sat down to dinner where we were poured several Franciscan wines. This included the current vintage of Magnificat again, side by side with the 2003. The older vintage was actually darker in color that the 2009. Often at about 10 years old the color starts to morph a bit, but this wine was vibrant in color and flavors. While it certainly has a number of years of enjoyable drinking to come, The 2003 Magnificat is in a really lovely place right now. Secondary characteristics have started to kick in and the fruit flavors are ever so slightly tamed. Earth and espresso bean were prominent on the finish.

The current release is the Franciscan Estate 2009 Magnificat. This vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignn (64%), Merlot (26%), Petit Verdot (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Malbec (2%).It was fermented and macerated over a 22 day period. Barrel aging followed over 20 months in French oak; 70% of the barrels were new. Just over 6,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Booming, black fruit aromas emerge from the nose of this wine. The flavors are ripe and eager. Blackberry, raspberry and cherry flavors are all in evidence. There’s dark chocolate and chicory on the lengthy finish along with black pepper and a hint of nutmeg and vanilla bean. The 2009 Magnificat does an excellent job of threading the needle. It’s powerful and elegant at the same time. The flavors are big but never over the top and the tannins firm but not overpowering. In short this is an excellent vintage of Magnificat a wine that is one of the standard bearers of Meritage. It’s delicious today but there’s no need to rush, it will certainly drink well for the next 15 years if stored properly.

Tasting the current vintage of Magnificat alongside counterpart wines from around the world, another vintage of Magnificat and several other Franciscan wines throughout the night really helped showcase its beauty. Happy Birthday Magnificat!