7 Moons Red Blend

7 Moons Red Blend  (2016) is a rich blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Grenache sourced from California’s Central Coast and Lodi. The thing about this crazy quilt of grapes is that they play together very nicely–fruit forward and loaded with flavor. Easy drinking for about twelve bucks.  12.00

7 Moons Red Blend, 2016

Noble Vines–Three Great Wines

“Noble Vines” references the classic root stock of the past which gave rise to the great wines we drink today. Without getting into all the technical details, let’s just say that Noble Vines uses root stock clone numbers and vineyard block numbers to identify its wines.

Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay (2016) comes from Monterey fruit and shows. The long growing season produces rich fruit layered with flavor and texture. 13.00

Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir (2015) takes about half its fruit from the Pinot-friendly slopes of Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Plum and cherry notes with silky tannins. 15.00

Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon (2015) is a product of Lodi grapes. Rich aromas lead on to dark fruit flavors mingled with chocolate. Smooth finish.  15.00

Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay, 667 Pinot Noir, and 337 Cabernet Sauvignon

Gnarly Head’s 1924 Double Black Reds Impress

Gnarly Head’s 1924 Double Black Reds include Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend. 1924 refers to the year the first Gnarly Head family vines were planted. And the Double Black part of the label is a play on the fact that those early vines were part of a thriving black market for wine during Prohibition AND that the Double Black wines are so dark and dense, they might as well be black.

Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Cabernet Sauvignon (2016) is made with Lodi fruit, displaying tons of dark aromas and flavors, and weighs in at a hefty 15% ABV.  15.00

Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Red Blend is a big-old-juicy combination of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah. Loaded with jam, cocoa, and spice–packed with 15% ABV.  15.00

Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Cabernet Sauvignon and Double Black Red Blend

Champs: Gnarly Head Zinfandel and Chardonnay

The 2015 vintage of Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel is a winner. Lodi’s hot weather has always made it sweet spot for Zinfandel but the 2015 season was exceptional–not in the quantity of fruit, but in the quality of the fruit. Weather conditions led to fewer, and smaller grapes–but grapes with more concentrated flavor. The result? A rich, jammy Zin with lots of black fruit and pepper. Perfect for anything from the grill. 15.00

Gnarly Head 2015 Chardonnay scored 90pts from Wine Enthusiast–and a Best Buy rating. Pretty amazing for a very cool California Chardonnay under twelve bucks. Yes, please.

2015 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel and Gnarly Head Chardonnay

The Prisoner Delivers Lush Reds

Thorn 2014 Napa Valley Merlot
Cuttings 2015 California Cabernet Sauvignon

The Prisoner Wine Company is known for big, lush reds–and eccentric labels. But while the labels tend to be the stuff that nightmares are made of, the wines inside the weighty, serious bottles are more like a red-lovers dream. Two prime examples:

Thorn 2014 Napa Valley Merlot is the product premium fruit from small vineyard lots in Napa Valley. Premium fruit and strategic blending–in this case with 23% Malbec/Syrah–delivers spicy, dark cherry/chocolate aromas and plum/chocolate flavors. At 15.2 ABV, this is not your mother’s merlot.  45.00

Cuttings 2015 California Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from premier mountainside vineyards in Napa and Sonoma where grapes develop full flavor and richness. Forty percent new oak and the addition of Petite Syrah, Syrah, and a bit of Zinfandel, produces a wine with dark fruit, vanilla, cocoa, and spice. Not surprisingly, Cuttings’ texture is big, dense, and velvety on the palate. Hold onto your horses with this beauty–she comes in at 15.4 ABV.  55.00

Cuttings 2015 California Cabernet Sauvignon

New Releases from South Australia’s Wolf Blass

Wolf Blass made a big splash years ago when he first started making wine in South Australia’s famous Barossa Valley. He changed the way wine was made and how it was promoted. Today, his wines–under the Blass label–still show his passion for wine. I recently tasted three wines from Blass‘s latest, the Reserve Release label: 2016 Reserve Release Chardonnay, 2016 Reserve Release Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2016 Reserve Release Red Blend. Great varietal character on both the Chardonnay and Cabernet, and the Shiraz-dominated Red Blend shows off classic Barossa Valley fruit. Beaut Aussie wines–great price:  15.00 

Crazy Quilt of Wines from 2017

January 2018 Wine Column

The start of the New Year seems like a good time to recall some memorable bottles tasted in 2017. Here is a crazy-quilt of wines in my rear view mirror:

Last year, great sparkling wines were never more available or affordable–with Italian Proseccos leading the way. Tommasi Prosecco Tenuta Filodora ($15), White Knight Prosecco ($15), Martini & Rossi Prosecco Brut (Extra Dry) and Martini & Rossi Sparkling Rosé (Extra Dry), ($15.00) were just plain fun to drink. Gerard Bertrand 2014 Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Cremant de Limoux ($16) and Albert Bichot Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé ($26)–both out of France–drank like Champagne without breaking the bank. Just remember, “Brut” is drier than “Extra Dry,” (I know….).

On the tangy side of things there was New Zealand’s highly rated Matua Sauvigon Blanc ($12) Montes 2016 Spring Harvest Sauvigon Blanc, ($16) from Chile, and California’s lush 2016 Rutherford Ranch Sauvigon Blanc ($22.)

My wife—who likes her chardonnay oaky and creamy—was impressed by Geyser Peak’s 2016 Water Bend Chardonnay ($26), Marques de Casa Concha 2015 Chardonnay ($22), and Hahn SLH 2015 Chardonnay ($25.)

The only thing hotter than the weather last summer was Rosé; it was front-and-center at tastings, parties, and restaurants, and the queen of summer-sippers, showed up from every corner of the world: 2016 Casillero del Diablo Rosé from Chile ($11), 2016 Matua Rosé from New Zealand ($12), 2016 Bila-Haut Rosé from France ($15), and 2016 Justin Rosé from California ($22.)

Among lighter reds, New Zealand’s 2015 Mudhouse Pinot Noir ($18), Landmark Vineyards Overlook 2015 Pinot Noir ($20), Hahn 2015 SLH Pinot Noir ($25), and 2013 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rouge ($15) made my short list for quality and value.

Many robust reds stood out last year: Robert Mondavi’s highly rated 2014 Napa Valley Merlot ($25), 2014 Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), Australia’s 2015 Jacobs Creek Double Barrel Shiraz ($20). Trivento’s 2015 Reserve Malbec ($11) was a cheap way to sample Argentina’s most famous grape and Italy’s 2016 Dark Knight ($17), from Castello di Gabbiano, made for a memorable Tuscan blend—without the Super Tuscan price.

Red blends from California included some dandys last year: 2014 Smith & Hook Proprietary Red ($25), 2015 Predator Six Spot Red, ($17), 2015 Leese-Fitch Fire House Red, ($12) and 2016 Moobuzz Cabernet (20% Petite Verdot,) ($22). All of them left lasting impressions–and high hopes for new vintages to be released later this year.

P.S. I Love You Inc.

Petite Sirah (sometimes spelled “Petite Syrah”) is a separate grape variety and distinct from the better-known Syrah varietal. Petite Sirah makes a big impression in the glass with its intense deep purple color—a visual hint of what’s to come: rich, full body with aromas and flavors of blue berry, chocolate, plum, and pepper. All wrapped in robust but velvety tannins. Wine geeks would call Petite Sirah a “big” wine—but it is a gentle giant.

Crazy Quilt of 2017 Wines

Long one of California’s leading producers of Petite Sirah, Concannon Winery in Livermore, California, led the way in developing Petite Sirah and establishing it as a single varietal. Fourth generation wine-maker Jim Concannon will proudly confess to being a founding member of a Petite Sirah booster group: P.S. I Love You Inc. After a taste of 2016 Concannon Petite Sirah CV ($20), you might want to join the organization.

Meet Winemaker, Tom Gore

I had the pleasure of having lunch at Husk, in Nashville, yesterday with winemaker, Tom Gore. The lunch menu offered some great food pairings for Tom Gore Sauvigon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom laughs easily and obviously finds great satisfaction in the role of grape grower and wine maker–in fact, Tom Gore wines grew out of his passion for working in the vineyard. Like all good winemakers, Tom understands that great wine begins in the vineyard–and Tom’s degree in Fruit Science makes him a master steward of the vines.

One of my first questions for Tom was how he can produce quality wines for under fifteen dollars. His answer was simple: he wants to keep his wines affordable. Check out Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 made with Central and North Coast fruit–grassy, citrus, and melon notes with lingering finish. And Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvigon, 2015–a fruit-foward cab with cherry, currant, and chocolate notes and smooth tannins (15.00.)

Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc and Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon

Bousquet Bubblies Sparkle

Long a fan of Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet label, I was especially pleased to get my hands on their latest sparkling wines. Both Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Brut and Domaine Bousquet Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut Rose are made from organic grapes in the Charmat Method. Charmat sparkling wines are made using pressurized stainless tanks for secondary fermentation (instead of secondary in the bottle–the Champagne method.)

Charmat sparkling wines tend to exhibit lots of primary fruit aromas and yeasty flavors. The Chardonnay/Pinot Bousquet bubbly gets fresh citrus and apple aromas from the dominant Chardonnay in the mix, while the Pinot/Chardonnay Rose highlights red fruit up front with citrus in the background. Crazy value on both these beautiful Bousquet bubblies: 13.00

Crazy Value: Domaine Bousquet Bubblies, Brut and Brut Rose