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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.

Viña von Siebenthal 2007 Toknar Showcases Petit Verdot

toknarPetit verdot is one of those grapes the average wine drinker doesn’t think of too often. Usually it shows up in Bordeaux-style blends as a complementary player to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and the like. When I talk to winemakers, they often mention that in those blends a little petit verdot goes a long way. So in the rare instance when one is bottled as a single varietal offering it could well be worth paying attention. That was the case with one from Chile that I recently drank. Head over to The Daily Meal 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.

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!

Franciscan Estate Winery - 2011 Chardonnay / 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2008 Magnificat

I’ve personally been drinking wines from Napa Valley’s Franciscan Estate Winery since the early 1990’s. In that time they’ve remained a solid player that offers appealing wines sold at consumer friendly prices. Their portfolio has occasionally expanded a bit but they have mostly remained focused on their core offerings. Here’s a look at three current releases that make up a large portion of the backbone of their operation. The Franciscan Estate 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. All of the fruit comes from the winery’s home appellation of Napa Valley. Barrel aging occurred over 7 months in a combination of French and American oak; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. 74,000 cases of this widely available offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. Golden Delicious apple and vanilla bean aromas emerge from the nose of this Chardonnay Orchard fruit and apple pie spice are in abundance throughout the even keeled palate. A bit of crème fraiche leads the crisp finish along with cloves, white pepper and an undercurrent of lemon zest. This is an easy to find Chardonnay that is well made vintage after vintage. If you’re looking for a New World Chardonnay that showcases its appealing fruit flavors this is one to consider.

The Franciscan Estate 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from Napa Valley Fruit. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), small amounts of Merlot (11%), Syrah (3%), and Malbec (1%) were also blended in. Barrel aging took place over a period of 20 months; 25% of the barrels utilized were new. 117,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $28. Blackberry and blueberry aromas star on the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Loads of dark berry flavors dominate the palate, interspersed with bits of red fruit throughout. Copious spices are present as well and add to the depth and complexity of this eager and appealing Cabernet. Minerals and earth are prominent components of the finish which shows good length for its category. Medium tannins yield with some air. This is a textbook example of a Napa Valley Cabernet that is meant for relatively short term consumption. It’ll hold up over the next 5 or 6 years, but it’s appealing, well priced and perfect to drink now, no reason to wait.

The Franciscan Estate 2008 Magnificat is a Napa Valley Meritage wine. This Bordeaux inspired blend has been produced since the 1985 vintage. The 2008 version blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (23%), Petit Verdot (6%), and Malbec (2%). This wine spent 20 months aging in oak; 70% of the barrels utilized were new. Just over 7,000 cases of the 2008 Magnificat were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Bramble, red and black raspberry, as well as bits of vanilla bean are present on the nose of this 2008 Meritage. The palate here is studded with sumptuous black fruit flavors, lead by blackberry as well plum and accompanied by a vigorous spice component. Dark chocolate, espresso, earth and black pepper are all in strong evidence on the lengthy and persistent finish of the 2008 Magnificat. This is one of the longest standing and also most consistently excellent Meritage wines coming out of Napa Valley. At $50 a bottle it offers a combination of quality level and relative bang for the buck that is hard to beat. There are similar style blends selling for more than twice the price that can’t touch Magnificat. Whether you purchase it to drink today, or you want to lay it down for a special occasion a decade or so from now, you’re going to get a terrific bottle of wine at a very good price.

The Franciscan wines are standard bearers in Napa Valley. This is producer that makes fairly large quantities of wine that are easy to find all over the country. Their wines also represent a consistent level of quality and offerings that are fairly priced. These wines are well worth your time and money.

Dinner with Winemaker Bernard Portet

Last week I was lucky enough to sit and taste wine over dinner with Bernard Portet at Union Square Cafe. He was one of the founders of Napa Valley stalwart Clos du Val. Bernard was with them in a variety of capacities until just a couple of years ago, when he retired. That retirement didn’t last very long and now he’s involved with a smaller, personal project called Heritance. It’s been my good fortune over the years to sit across numerous tables, tasting counters and barrels from a wide array of winemakers. These opportunities are always a pleasure and it is also quite educational to learn about and taste wines with the person responsible for their existence. The experience is all the better when what the winemaker describes and what I taste in the glass true up; somewhat remarkably this isn’t always the case. I’m happy to report that the wines that I tasted with Bernard were exactly what he was describing, well balanced, food friendly offerings that will age appropriately for their intended styles. What follows are my thoughts on a few of my favorites from the evening. Heritance 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This offering is made utilizing mostly Sauvignon Blanc (91%), with a small amount of Semillon (9%) blended in. Aging of this wine took place in stainless steel. 2,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24. This is a fresh and lively Sauvignon Blanc with a mid-weight palate. The Semillon adds to that weight as well as to the complexity and roundness. The acidity here is firm but not aggressive. Citrus and orchard fruit characteristics are in evidence throughout and they’re buoyed by subtle wisps of grass. This is an absolutely awesome Sauvignon Blanc that can be described as pure elegance. If the only wine I tasted that evening was this Sauvignon Blanc I would have been happy to drink it all night. We also sampled the 2011 vintage and instead of Semillon it has a dollop of Roussanne blended in. It’s a nice wine as well that needs a few months before it really comes into its own.

Heritance 2011 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Carneros. Fermentation took place in open top, stainless steel tanks with twice daily punch downs. Barrel aging took place in previously used French oak 300 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $45. This wine opens with an enormously fragrant nose loaded with Bing cherry, spices and bits of leather. Cherry, strawberry and spice are in abundance through the palate which is even keeled and loaded with depth. Pomegranate and sour cherry are in evidence on the finish along with black pepper and mineral elements. This wine is loaded with varietal character and does a great job of showcasing what excellent Pinot Noir from Carneros is all about.

Heritance 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), Merlot (4%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The fruit for this wine was hand harvested and fermentation took place over 10 days at high temperatures. Barrel aging occurred over 20 months in a combination of new and previously used French oak. 5,796 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Black fruit aromas lead the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is rich and velvety with plum and black raspberry flavors leading the charge. Chocolate and espresso notes are in evidence on the finish which has good length. Firm tannins yield with some air. This is a nicely structured Cabernet that works well today with richly flavored foods. Over time it will soften and become more elegant. The 2008 which I also had the opportunity to sample is a delicious, ready to drink now Cabernet. Its style and graceful elegance speak volumes to where the 2010 is likely to be in a year or so. $36 for Napa Cabernet of this quality is, to say the least, a terrific value.

In addition to these wines we tasted several others; one particular standout was a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon that Bernard made at Clos du Val. It was delicious and loaded with lively fruit and excellent character. It still has several years, perhaps a decade of life ahead of it. I asked Bernard why he picked the 1979 in particular and he indicated that while the 1978 had been hailed critically, he had personally always been a bigger fan of the 1979 which he felt even back then showed great promise. Bernard has a long track record of producing well made, approachable, food friendly wines that will age gracefully. The bottom line is that all the wines I sampled at dinner, which fall under his new label, continue that tradition. In addition to being well crafted and taking advantage of his 40 + years of experience they are also excellent values in their respective categories.

Viña Ventisquero - 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc / 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir / 2010 Grey Carmenère / 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon

When I was in Chile last month I participated in a virtual Blogger tasting. I’d taken part in previous tastings of that kind from home before. But on this occasion I was onsite in an adjacent room while the winemakers discussed their varied offerings a few feet away. Getting to mingle with a roomful of winemakers before and after the tasting was one of many highlights that dotted a wonderful week in Chile. There were several standouts for me that day; one of them came from producer Viña Ventisquero. The Cabernet Sauvignon from their Grey tier of wines really made an impression, so once I was back home I decided to take a closer look at a few of their current releases. Here are my thoughts on four of them including the Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted while in Chile and had the opportunity to revisit for this story. The Ventisquero 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees for a period of four months. This offering has a suggested retail price of $12.99. The nose here is fresh and lively with citrus and orchard fruits in abundance; hints of spice play a supporting role. A grassy undercurrent underlies the palate which is framed by lemon zest, orange and grapefruit characteristics. Limestone, white pepper, and a touch of vanilla bean lead the finish which is light, fruity, zesty and crisp. This Sauvignon Blanc will pair wonderfully with entrée salads, soft cheeses and roasted veggies to name a few choices. It’s also quite delicious all by itself. There are quite a few excellent Sauvignon Blanc’s coming out f Chile at a host of different price points with a variety of intents. In the roughly $10 range this selection from Ventisquero is a terrific value that is indicative of the great things being accomplished with this grape in Chile. Drink this wine over the next year or so when it’s young, vibrant flavors are at their most exuberant.

The Ventisquero 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir was made utilizing fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. This offering is 100% Pinot. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled open tanks. The wine was aged in a combination of French oak (70%) and stainless steel (30%) over a period of 10 months. This Pinot has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Bing cherry, wild strawberry and vanilla bean characteristics are in full evidence on the nose of this wine. Hints of mushroom and gentle red fruit flavors make up the even keeled palate. Cranberry, pomegranate leather and spices are part of the finish which has solid length and persistence. This is a perfectly dry wine with tons of varietal character, two things often not in evidence in Pinot Noir at this price level. The bottom line is this wine is an extraordinary Pinot Noir for the price. This would be an excellent wine to buy a case or more of. If you’re searching for a wine to have around the house to give out as stocking stuffers or last minute gifts look no further. Your Pinot loving friends and family will thank you for turning them on to this tremendous little value.

The Ventisquero 2010 Grey Carmenère was produced from fruit sourced at Trinidad Vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley. This is a 100% varietal offering. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in French oak over 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. An additional 8 months of bottle aging occurred prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Boysenberry, vanilla and violet aromas burst out from the nose of this Carmenère. The palate is juicy and pleasing with plums, blackberry and berry fruit flavors galore. Green herb notes underscore things here and play a supporting role. Black tea, plum pudding spices, minerals and black pepper all emerge on the finish. There is a lovely balance in this wine with loads of eager fruit buoyed by lots of spice and a lovely collection of herbaceous characteristics. The Ventisquero Carmenère works equally well paired with full flavored foods as it does on its own.

The Ventisquero 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon was made using fruit sourced from within Block 38 which is a hillside section of the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), this wine also has some Petit Verdot (6%) blended in. This wine was entirely aged in French oak over 18 months; 33% of the barrels were new. No less than 8 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. The Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Cherry and raspberry aromas dominate the nose of this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. White pepper and hints of anise support the plate which is loaded with red fruits in the form of wild strawberry and cherry. Hints of black fruits are present as well and they dart through from time to time. Clove, cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg emerge on the finish along with cocoa, minerals and continued cherry and other warming red fruit flavors. This is an elegant, well structured and beautifully proportioned wine for the money. A Cabernet at this level of quality from some other regions would easily retail for $35-$40. This wine is delicious now and will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’ll be at its best over the next 5.

It’s fair to say I was highly impressed with this quartet of wines. The Reserva line offerings are excellent buys in their price range. If you drink wines for around $10 you’re going to be really happy with what you get for your money here. The Pinot Noir in particular is brilliant. There are very, very few Pinot Noirs under $15 that are worth spending much time talking about. This example from Ventisquero is amongst their tiny number. The Grey tier wines are quite lovely as well. It was nice to see that the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally notable when I re-tasted it at home roughly a month after sampling it in Chile. Their portfolio, like that of many Chilean producers is vast, with the quality of these 4 selections I look forward to exploring it further and reporting on my findings; I suspect their will be some other gems to be had.

Exploring Terroir: A Peek into Chile’s Top Shelf, Site Driven Wines

Terroir is one of those ideas that is thrown around a lot as a buzz word in the wine industry. Depending on who it is bringing it up there can be a bit of controversy surrounding it. And while it may seem a little out there to some folks to think that Cabernet Sauvignon for example planted in a specific spot can be imbued with very different characteristics than a Cabernet Sauvignon planted a few hundred feet away, the truth is in the bottle. All one really needs to better understand the concept of Terroir is a taste, once you’ve experienced it first hand it’s easier to believe. Of course it’s a sliding scale and not every wine or more specifically every place will impart that. Furthermore some wines are made in such a style that their Terroir ends up being masked. That’s a different part of the subject for another day. This is about wines that do show their sense of place. I attended Vinos De Terroir hosted by Wines of Chile. The concept was a focused look at 10 great examples of Terroir driven wines from Chile. The event took place at Colicchio & Sons, hosted by Pedro Parra PhD and Terroir expert, author Mark Oldman and Sandy Block Master of Wine. Over the course of a couple of hours we took a long hard look at 10 wines in a classroom style format. After that we sat down for lunch and the same 10 wines were available to taste with our meal. These wines were uniformly excellent examples of Terroir. What follows are some reflections on the ones that were my personal favorites. The one white wine from this particular tasting was the Casa Marín 2011 Cipress Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. This is a 100% Varietal wine sourced from a vineyard at the very top of a hillside. The fruit came from 6 blocks within this specific vineyard. It sits 4 km from the ocean and is one of the most extreme plantings in all of Chile. The conditions are very windy and result in low yields. This wine has a suggested retail price of $28. There’s a huge burst of lemon characteristics that explode from this Sauvignon Blanc. They’re joined by bits of green herb to form a pleasing nose. Citrus, tropical fruits and lots of mineral notes are all part of the complex and layered palate which has excellent weight. Lemon curd, bits of candied tropical fruits and a bevy of spice notes are part of the persistent finish. This Sauvignon Blanc is a real knockout, impressive in every way. It’s well worth making a special effort to locate. I can't overstate how phenomenal this Sauvignon Blanc is, grab some and taste its excellence for yourself.

Concha y Toro’s 2008 Carmín de Peumo is a blend of primarily Carménère (90%), with Cabernet Sauvignon (7.5%) and Cabernet Franc (2.5%) blended in. The vineyard this fruit was sourced from has river bench soils with alluvial clay loams. It’s a cool area that promotes a long growing season. The wine was aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak. This offering has a suggested retail price of $150. Bits of green herb emerge from the nose of this wine along with red and black fruit aromas. Blackberry and cherry flavors are in strong evidence on the palate along with spices to spare, and minerals aplenty. The finish is tremendously pleasing and impressive in length and perseverance; sour black fruits, hints of smoked meat and continued spice and mineral notes all play a role. This is an impeccably balanced example of Carménère that shows off oodles of eager fruit as well as the wisps of green herb that are part of this varietal when it’s well made. When Carménère isn’t properly grown or handled it goes too far in one direction or the other. This wine sits perfectly in the middle. Carmín de Peumo is a stunning and world class example of a varietal that’s on the rise.

Lapostolle’s 2009 Clos Apalta is a blend of Carménère (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (19%), and Petit Verdot (3%). The fruit for this selection came from hillside vineyards in Apalta that feature diverse soils. Aging occurred in entirely new French oak over a period of 24 months. This wine has a suggested retail price of $90. The 2009 Clos Apalta has a nose loaded with mission figs and plums with bits of red fruit interspersed as well. The juicy and willing palate is absolutely studded with velvety, dark fruit flavors, savory spices and bits of graphite. There is tremendous depth here from the first sip to the last impression this wine leaves. Fruit, spice, minerals and bits of earth reverberate for a long while after the last bit has been swallowed. This has been one of the benchmark wines of Chile for a number of years now. The 2009 vintage simply continues that reputation forward and proves again that it’s a well deserved one. If you have never tasted Clos Apalta before you owe it to yourself to do so; the 2009 vintage is as good a jumping off point as any.

Finally we have the Montes 2009 Folly. This is a 100% Syrah wine. The fruit for this wine came from the highest slopes of the La Finca de Apalta vineyard. Aging of this wine occurred over 18 months in New French oak. The suggested retail price is $90. Dark fruit aromas gush from the nose of this Syrah with stunning conviction. Blackberry and plum flavors dominate the palate along with minerals, spice, coffee, chocolate sauce and more. The finish shows off dusty cocoa as well as continued spice and dark fruit flavors. This is a wonderful example of Syrah that is delicious today but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age. It will work particularly well paired with full flavored foods.

There are two things exhibited by this quartet of wines as well as the others tasted alongside them. First is the fact that terroir does matter and it is being utilized in Chile to make wonderful site specific wines. Second, these wines underscore the notion that Chile is producing wines at a wide array of levels, including offerings that can compete with the best in the world. The bottom line is whatever sort of wine you’re looking to drink and regardless of how much money you want to spend, Chile should be on your radar.

Franciscan Estate - 2007 Magnificat

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the wines I first became familiar with in the Franciscan Estate portfolio back in the 90’s. Soon after enjoying those I looked towards their other releases to see what else they were up to. Eventually that led me to their red blend Magnificat, which is their flagship offering. When I’ve gone back to it from time to time over the years I’ve found it to be a consistently well made wine that represents the best of what the folks at Franciscan are up to. Today I’ll look at the 2007 vintage of this wine. The Franciscan Estate 2007 Magnificat is a Bordeaux inspired blend. This wine was produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Napa Valley. The blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (26%), Petit Verdot (2%) and Malbec (1%). Fermentation and maceration took place over 22 days. Magnificat was aged over 20 months in oak; 89% of the barrels utilized were new and 82% were French. Just fewer than 22,000 cases of this wine were produced in the 2007 vintage. It has a suggested retail price of $50.

Cherry, and Black Raspberry aromas are the most prominent components on the nose of this 2007 Blend. Hints of Eucalyptus chip in as well. Black cherry characteristics carry through the palate along with bits of blackberry, dusty cocoa and copious quantities of spice as well as a gentle kiss of anise. Dark, dusty chocolate notes emerge on the finish along with minerals and continued spice. This is a well structured wine marked by firm acidity and chewy tannins. It’s a bit on the younger side now so I recommend decanting for drinking over the next couple of years. Otherwise hold it for the next decade or so and be prepared to be rewarded for your patience. The bottom line for me is that the 2007 Magnificat is a particularly fine vintage of a wine that is almost always a winner to begin with. It’s well priced for its category and a very solid choice for a special occasion meal.

Newton Vineyard - 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay / 2008 The Puzzle

Recently, I had the opportunity to taste a number of Newton Vineyard’s current releases alongside Chris Millard their winemaker. It was one of the more interesting tastings in recent memory; in addition to the wines themselves there was a special focus on filtration. Newton makes both filtered and unfiltered wines. All of the releases we sampled are well made and eminently drinkable. I for one however leaned towards the unfiltered wines as my preference. There is an inherent weightiness to their palate and a deeper concentration of flavors and aromas that stood out to me as particularly special. To conclude the tasting we also sampled filtered coffee versus unfiltered French Press. This was also a revelation and it’s a somewhat simple experiment that anyone with a French Press as well as a filtered coffee maker can replicate at home. I encourage you to do just that as I believe you might well be amazed. I decided to revisit a couple of my favorites from the Newton Vineyard portfolio and here’s a look at them. First up is the Newton Vineyard 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay. This wine was produced utilizing fruit sourced from several locations within Napa County including Newton’s 30 year old Carneros vineyard. Newton’s unfiltered Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. Fermentation took place with wild yeasts. Barrel aging occurred over 16 months in French oak; 30% of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $60.

This Chardonnay has a deeply perfumed nose loaded with appealing aromatics. Apple, guava and subtle hints of vanilla bean each play a role. Pineapples, oodles of apple, hints of apricot and spices galore are all prominent throughout the palate. An undercurrent of tropical fruit flavors is present as well. There is an amazing depth of palate here and it is simply loaded with controlled intensity and complexity. The finish on the Unfiltered Newton Chardonnay is long, lusty, fruity and engaging. It goes on and on persistently with fruit and spice notes reverberating. A touch of creaminess provides the final, pleasing note. The bottom line for me is that this is one of the small handful of very best and most honest Chardonnays coming out of Napa Valley at any price point.

The second wine is Newton Vineyard’s 2008 The Puzzle. This is a Bordeaux inspired blend that was made from fruit sourced at their home vineyard on Spring Mountain. Their property is broken up into small blocks and each vintage the finest lots are selected to assemble The Puzzle. As such the varietal composition can vary greatly from one year to the next. The current release is a blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Cabernet Franc (14%), Petit Verdot (6%) and Malbec (2%). Aging occurred over 20 months in entirely French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $80.

Cabernet Franc lovers will recognize it’s presence in this wine from the first whiff they take. It lifts the nose and provides a lovely gateway with black cherry, dark chocolate and hints of leather leading the way. Plums and blackberry flavors show up on the palate along with continued cherry (both red and black) characteristics. Nutmeg, black pepper and clove spices are present as well. Earth, hints of smoked meats, cardamom and minerals all emerge on the finish which is persistent and impressive in its length. Impeccable structure and acidity are also present, helping to make this an absolutely phenomenal blend. This is classic Napa Valley mountain fruit in all it’s glory with finesse, depth and a rugged backbone. I sampled The Puzzle after it had been open for a full 24 hours and it was drinking even more beautifully.

There’s no two ways about it, these are both stunningly terrific wines. I’m particularly finicky about California Chardonnays in the premium price range. I find way too many of them are over priced wood and butter bombs that taste like almost anything but Chardonnay. The Newton Vineyard Chardonnay flies in the face of that and is loaded with pure Chardonnay fruit that is enhanced by the oak treatment it received. At $60 it’s not a wine aimed at everyday consumption, but it is an impeccable example of how well Chardonnay can do in California when treated appropriately through the entire process. If you love Chardonnay you owe it to yourself to try this wine when you can. The Puzzle is an excellent blended wine that you’ll have fun drinking with a great meal or sitting with some friends and picking apart all the varietal components that shine in their own way as they come together to make a most excellent and well balanced blend. Both of these wines will drink well for a number of years, The Puzzle in particular while delicious now will improve over the next 10-15 years. If you haven’t tried the wines from Newton Vineyard, they are well worth both your time and your money. Their more readily available and lower priced, filtered offerings are also wines you should consider.

Michael David Winery - 2010 Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Petite Petit

Michael David Winery has been turning out appealing, budget friendly wines for a number of years. Their 7 Deadly Zins is the first one that hit my radar. In subsequent years I’ve tasted many of their offerings and there has been a consistency of overall style and value to be found with their wines. Today I’ll look at a current release white and red in their portfolio. The Michael David Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in Lake County. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, small amounts of Semillon and Muscat Canelli were blended in. This wine saw no time in oak. Just over 1,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $14.

Aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest and vanilla bean are prominent on the nose of this 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. Melon, tropical fruit and a continuing parade of citrus notes emerge on the palate; lemon ice and hints of tangerine are of particular note. White peach, apricot, pepper and a touch of nutmeg are part of the finish which has reasonable length. This wine is light crisp and very refreshing. Increasingly Lake County has become a haven for very tasty Sauvignon Blanc at extremely reasonable price points. This example from Michael David Winery certainly falls into that category.

The Michael David Winery 2009 Petite Petit was produced from fruit sourced in the Lodi Appelation. This offering blends Petite Sirah (85%) with Petit Verdot (15%). After fermentation, Petite Petit was barrel aged for 18 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $18.

Violets, toast, dark berries and vanilla punctuate the nose which features intense aromas of brooding dark fruits. Plums, blueberries, blackberries and a host of plum pudding and fruitcake spices fill the palate whish is dense, layered and fairly intense. Dark chocolate and hints of earth mark the velvety finish of this wine. Petite Petit has firm tannins that yield with some air. This is a big, bold wine that will work best paired with similar styled foods. At 85% Petite Sirah this wine could legally be labeled as such; however the Petit Verdot plays a pivotal role here at 15% adding such depth and dimension that the Petite Petit name is wholly appropriate and actually quite perfect.

Both of these wines from Michael David Winery offer lots of pleasurable drinking for their price-points. As is their overall house style these wines offer lots of friendly upfront fruit that will appeal to large groups with varying palates. Unlike a lot of wines in these categories the Michael David wines also offer depth and length of palate that belie their price points. If you like bold California wines, the Michael David Portfolio is one you should explore.

Cinnabar Winery - 2008 Mercury Rising

The Cinnabar Winery 2008 Mercury Rising was produced from fruit sourced in four California appellations; Paso Robles, Lodi, Lake County, and Monterey County. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. All of the fruit for this selection was hand harvested during cool morning hours. Fermentation took place in open top bins and stainless steel tanks. Barrel aging occurred over 25 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 40% of the barrels were new. A light filtering took place just prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $21. Vanilla, cherry, pepper and cigar box aromas are all prominent on the nose of this 2008 blend. The palate is loaded with additional cherry as well as blueberry flavors. A solid core of spices plays a significant role here as well; nutmeg, clove and a hint of cinnamon are of particular note. Sour cherry, pomegranate and rhubarb characteristics are all part of a smooth finish that has a velvety feel. This wine has soft, approachable tannins and solid acidity.

There’s a lot to like about this 2008 Blend from Cinnabar. First and foremost it’s delicious and perfectly suited for a wide array of cuisine. Whether you pair it with a dish of pasta or something off of your grill the results will be a terrific pairing. In addition to that this wine also represents a nice value. If you shop around you’ll find it for around $18, at that price it’ll be a good everyday choice for a lot of folks.

Oveja Negra - 2008 Lost Barrel

While I’ve been drinking Chilean wine for many years I feel reinvigorated to taste more and more of them lately. For several decades now we’ve been able to find lots of value in Chilean Wine on US shelves. But now we’re also seeing greater and greater numbers of wines in all price categories. Prices, styles and quality vary; but the bang for the buck is pretty constant across all tiers. Of course not every wine is great, but there are a lot out there to love. Today I’ll look at a Chilean blend from the Maule Valley. The Oveja Negra 2008 Lost Barrel was produced using fruit sourced in the Maule Valley of Chile; more specifically from the winery’s San Rafael Vineyard. This blend is a combination of Syrah (40%), Carignan (40%), Carménère (18%), and Petit Verdot (2%). The Carignan vines have 40 years of age on them. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. It has a suggested retail price of $25.

Aromas of dark plum are joined by hints of eucalyptus and a touch of thyme to form a lovely nose. Cherry flavors with a just a touch of kirsch liqueur to them emerge in the palate. Additional characteristics take the form of dried fruits which show up in spades. Black tea also plays a role and leads towards the finish which shows off hints of smoked meat, dark chocolate and a touch of earth. This wine has yielding tannins and firm acidity.

What I love most about this red blend is how well it pairs with food. Quite frankly it’s a food lovers dream. The dried fruit characteristics and firm acidity, which form the backbone of its pairing ability, also put me slightly in the mind of good Chianti stylistically. The finish which is above average is another noteworthy aspect of this wine. Bottom line for me is that for $25 or a bit less if you shop around you’re getting an excellent value.

Rodney Strong - 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Whether it’s a $10 bottle or a $75 bottle I’ve found that the wines Rodney Strong puts their name on represent solid or better values in just about every case. If you enjoy wines from Sonoma County they’re a producer you should be familiar with as they offer many go to options, for everyday drinking, as well as plenty of wines appropriate for special occasions or cellaring. Today I’ll look at their latest Meritage. The Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry is a red Meritage wine. Fruit for this wine was sourced in Alexander Valley. This offering is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Malbec (10%), Merlot (3%), Cabernet Franc (1%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Aging occurred over 26 months in exclusively French oak barrels. This wine has a suggested retail price of $55.

Aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, toasty oak and a hint of pine are all present in the nose of this 2007 Meritage. Cassis and continued blackberry characteristics are apparent through the palate. The story these flavors tell is quite dark and brooding with impressive depth and layer after layer of juicy flavor. Plum pudding spice notes are in evidence midway through and carry to the finish which also shows off lots of dark sweet chocolate, espresso and hints of emerging earth. This wine has firm tannins and fine acidity. I tasted this wine over 3 consecutive days. Each time I went back to the open bottle it had undergone a continuing positive evolution. If you’re drinking it now, pair it with something substantial for best results.

Symmetry is delicious today, particularly if you decant it for a couple of hours, but time will only help this wine. I would recommend this 2007 release from Rodney Strong as something you might like to tuck a couple of bottles of away in your cellar. Then come back to them down the road apiece, perhaps 5 or 10 years and you’ll find you have an even more harmonious wine on your hands. In either case Symmetry is an excellent example of what can be achieved in Alexander Valley with Bordeaux varietals.

Hess Collection - 2006 19 Block Cuvée

hess 19 blockI’ve been fond of wines form Mount Veeder for many years now. But over the last year I’ve made a more concerted effort to try more of them. While I think a wide array of varietals shine up on Mt. Veeder the classic Bordeaux grapes are amongst those I feel stand out most often. Today I’m going to take a look at a selection from Hess Collection. They’re the largest winery on Mt Veeder by case production. Within their size though they do a wide variety of things; both small and large production wines are part of their portfolio. Their estate boasts 310 acres of vineyards which are sustainably farmed. Today I’ll look at one of their blends. The Hess Collection 2006 19 Block Cuvée is produced from estate fruit. The vineyard site the fruit was sourced from ranges in altitude from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. Fruit was selected from 19 blocks within the vineyard, thus the name of the wine. This selection is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Malbec (11%), Syrah (10%), Merlot (5%), Petit Verdot (3%) and Cabernet Franc (2%). Oak aging was accomplished over 18 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels were new. Just over 14,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $35.

Leather and cherry notes are prominent on the nose of this Mt. Veeder blend. A host of berry fruit, (particularly blackberry) along with spice, and cigar box are part of the palate. Somewhere around mind-palate, dark, rich unsweetened chocolate notes kick in. The finish is nice and lengthy with black pepper, mineral notes and cherry that keeps echoing. This wine has a firm tannic structure that softens with some air, as well as firm acidity.

This is a very well rounded wine. While this selction is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, the other varietals shine through and create a very cohesive blend that makes this offering a clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Though this wine also includes Syrah, stylistically it drinks like a Napa Valley Bordeaux or Meritage style blend. For a suggested retail price of $35 this wine over delivers in spades. With over 14,000 cases made it should be easy to locate too.

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Martin & Weyrich - 2006 Petit Verdot

mw_crest_colorMartin & Weyrich's history in Paso Robles dates back almost 30 years, to 1981. When they bought their first parcel of land only a handful of other wineries existed in the area. Today Paso Robles is a hot region recognized by more and more folks everyday as an area with distinct wines, often at excellent prices. The array of offerings in the Martin & Weyrich portfolio is impressive. Initially focusing mostly on Italian varietals they have expanded to include Bordeaux and Rhone offerings as well. In fact they have one of the widest selections in Paso Robles. None of that would matter if they weren't making excellent wines, which they are. Today I'll look at their current release Petit Verdot. The 2006 Martin & Weyrich Petit Verdot is one of their smaller case productions. This selection is primarily produced for their Avanti Wine Club; however it does show up in a very limited number of Central Coast wine shops and a handful of restaurants as well. The suggested retail price for this wine is $30.

I really wish more wineries would produce a stand alone, varietal Petit Verdot. While it's often part of Bordeaux style blends, this grape is too rarely given the chance to star on its own. This example from Martin & Weyrich is evidence that it should be given that opportunity more often. Dark plum, cedar and black pepper are all part of a heady and intoxicating nose. The palate of this Petit Verdot is rich and velvety with a luxurious mouth-feel. An abundance of dark fruits such as blackberry, dark cherry and raspberry as well as plum fill the middle of this wine with appealing berry pie flavors. Spice notes in the form of continued pepper, allspice, star anise, cloves and hints of cardamon underpin the palate and continue through a lovely and lingering finish. Touches of vanilla emerge as well and add a hint of lighter flavor to what is a mostly dark (gloriously so) flavor profile. This wine has sufficient acidity and nice structure. I found Lamb to be an excellent match for this beauty. Full flavored foods in general will do well.

This wine is one of the exceptions that proves the rule for me. Martin & Weyrich is one of the larger producers in Paso Robles. Many of their wines are widely available. They do a nice job with those. A wine like this, made in limited quantities and not widely available helps set them apart. This Petit Verdot is both delicious and unique. It's clear they put as much care and effort into this exclusive bottling as they do into their larger productions. Another reason to look towards Martin & Weyrich for well made, interesting wines at a fair price.

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Michael David - 2007 Petite Petit

As I mentioned yesterday I've had several of the Micahel David wines over the years. There are a handful of them that I keep in my cellar ppregularly. All that said there are a few that I've never had. The wine I'm looking at today, Petite Petit is one of them. I'm a huge fan of Petite Sirah which makes it surprising to me that I hadn't gotten to this one before now. But that's been corrected. The 2007  Michael David Petite Petit is produced from Lodi fruit. This wine is a blend of Petite Sirah (85%) and Petit Verdot (15%). This offering was aged in French oak for 15 months. The suggested retail price for this selection is $18.

Violets, plum, blueberry and nutmeg are all part of this wine's nose. The palate is rich, jammy, velvety and loaded with decadent and inviting berry fruit flavors. Blackberry is the standout characteristic. It's not quite blackberry pie though. There are some vanilla elements and fresh pastry notes that put me in the mind of blackberry and currant scones. Dusty cocoa, white pepper and continued nutmeg are all part of a nice finish. Sufficient acidity keeps things in check.

As I mentioned I'm a sucker for good Petite Sirah. and while Petit Verdot is most often used in Bordeaux style blends I think it really adds a lot to this selection. The lush and velvety mid-palate is most likely a result of the healthy percentage of Petit Verdot in the blend. There are a handful of solid Petite Sirah's in the budget category that have been consistent year after year. Concannon and Bogle are two that come to mind. This release from Michael David is a bit more than those, but for the extra money you get an additional wallop of flavor. I'll be very curious to see if this wine is as consistent from vintage to vintage as the other Michael David wines. As it stands this wine is a nice value and a good example of both Petite Sirah and what adding Petit Verdot in can bring to the party.

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Robert Mondavi - 2006 Private Selection Meritage

There are few names as synonymous with California wine as that of Robert Mondavi. Over the years, in addition to his namesake Napa Valley rmps_meritage_beauty_shotWinery, numerous subsidiaries became part of the Mondavi empire. The Private Selection wines are one of those off shoots. These wines tend to have a suggested retail just above $10 and can provide a gateway for people at the beginning of their wine exploration, as well as everyday value for more seasoned wine drinkers. Today I'll look at their current release Meritage and see what it offers. The 2006 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (72%), Merlot (10%), Petit Verdot (10%), and Malbec (8%). The majority of the fruit was sourced in Monterey County (66%), with the balance coming from Santa Barbara (25%), and San Benito (9%). This wine was aged in oak for 15 months, with 30% of it being new. The suggested retail price for this offering is $11.

The nose of this Meritage is comprised of dark berry fruit notes. Black cherry and plum dominate. Throughout the palate, those dark fruit tones continue, along with vanilla, black pepper, and some hints of cedar. This wine has firm, chewy tannins and good acidity. Some earth emerges on the finish along with more dark fruit and spice notes. This wine will be an excellent match for grilled chops, a burger, or strong cheeses.

The question when I taste a wine of this nature, what am I expecting for $11? I hope for a wine that is well made, true to it's varietal compostion and hopefully somewhat interesting. This low priced Meritage from Robert Mondavi Private Selection, fits the bill. It has sufficient structure to drink well for a couple of years, tastes true to being mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and has enough length and interesting elements to make it worth it's price-tag. Truth be told it's often available for under $1o. For that amount of money, you won't mind opening it any night of the week.

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