Justin’s Isosceles has been setting the standard for red blends on the Central Coast for almost thirty years. A Bordeaux style blend, Isosceles is a big boy–weighing in at 16% ABV. The fruit is Paso Robles: 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 9% merlot.
Twenty one months in new French oak mellows the robust black fruit and spice, making Isosceles surprisingly approachable early on–though this beauty has excellent cellaring potential. SRP 72.00
Sanford’s Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir is such a gem–no surprise then that their rose of Pinot Noir should also rock. Cranberry and and blood orange emerge on the palate–along with clean, crisp acidity–thanks to Santa Rita’s cool climate. Serve with chicken or salmon. SRP 23.00
Chimney Rock is justly famous for it’s big reds so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have created a big white–in the form of Elevage Blanc–a blend of 46% Sauvignon Blanc and 54% of the rarely planted Sauvingnon Gris.
Elevage Blanc calls to mind the great Bordeaux whites with its rich texture, aromas, and flavors–thanks to resting six months on the lees, This is a white worth cellaring. SRP 48.00
“Acumen”: the ability to think clearly and make good decisions–especially in practical matters”. Employing that word to name your wine implies a sense of confidence and pride.As it happens, the sense of confidence in their product and their sense of pride are both well-founded.
Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the winery’s hundred-plus acres of volcanic soil in the Atlas Peak AVA of Napa Valley. Organically grown, with full-time hands-on farming, the 2013 vintage saw excellent weather conditions–a long growing season, and ripening to maturity.
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petite Verdot, 4%Malbec, and 1%Merlot with 18 months in 100% French oak. 14% ABV Only 2,500 cases produced.
Acumen lives up to its name. Expect aromas and flavors of black fruit, coffee, and dark chocolate wrapped in lush tannins. Excellent cellaring potential–if you can keep your hands off it.
Let me take you wine shopping today. We’ll splurge on some special bottles and put together what is known in the trade as a mixed case—a kind of crazy quilt of wines starting with some light whites, moving on to rich reds:
Luna Nuda pinot grigio is as clean and crisp as the mountain air in northeastern Italy’s Alto Adige region–ground zero for some of the world’s best pinot grigio. Dry, smooth, and elegant. $15.00
Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry, from Venezia, in northwestern Italy sounds really dry, but don’t let the term “Extra Dry” fool you. Counter intuitively, “Extra Dry” in the wine world is actually less dry than sparkling wines labeled “Dry.” Light and refreshing. $16.00
Scott Chardonnay comes from cool climate Estate vineyards inland from Big Sur. Extended ripening time there translates into grapes with intensely concentrated flavor and clean acidity. Lush mouthfeel, lingering finish. $25.00
Bouchaine Pinot Noir announces its presence with heady aromas of cherry and strawberry, following through on the palate with rich dark cherry and spice. All the fruit is Estate grown in Napa’s prestigious Carneros district. $35.00
Back in Italy: Tuscan Sassoregale Sangiovese perks up the senses with its ruby color, rich fruit aromas, dark flavors, and smooth body. A nice backbone of tannins makes it a good match for flavorful dishes. $18.00
Fuedo Zirtari Sicilian Red combines Sicily’s Nero d’Avola with Syrah to produce a full-bodied blend with a nicely balanced core and smooth dry finish. $14.00
Full disclosure: Franciscan Merlot and I have history. I remember being impressed by it years ago—and it still impresses. Think velvet plum. A reminder of how good a merlot can be. $23.00
Two Range is a collage of merlot, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah out of Napa. A rich and complex work of art by the winemaker. $25.00
Hahn Family Wines’ Smith & Hook Proprietary Red Blend is new their lineup, but wine maker Paul Clifford and his crew nailed it. The plush blend of merlot, malbec, petite sirah, and cabernet sauvignon is proof that the whole can sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts. $25.00
Predator Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi brings on tons of red and dark fruit, a little spice, and wraps it all in smooth tannins for easy drinking. $15.00
Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon captures the deep flavors of first class Napa fruit. A mellow product of twelve months in French and American oak. $35.00
LeviathanRed Blend—and yes, it’s huge. A concoction of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah, pretty much everything about this wine is outsize: aroma, texture, body, and flavor. $48.00
Casillero del Diablo means “Devil’s Cellar” in Spanish, and legend has it that a wealthy man with a large wine cellar frightened the staff away from his best bottles by telling them that the devil lived in that part of the cellar.
Quaint as that story may be, there is no doubt that Concha Y Toro has a devilish good line with the Casillero del Diablo label. In fact, the “label” has a new look this year–in the form of a graphic design painted on the bottle. And for the autumn season they have taken the devil theme a little further by offering a “Devilish Release”–in the form of bottles painted with specially designed lucifer flames.(Only about $11.00 retail)
A great trick for a Halloween party–but the treat is the wine inside. While the bottles look different, the familiar quality and value are still there.
The Casillero del Diablo sauvignon blanc I sampled recently was a mouth-watering delight. Loaded with citrus and gooseberry, the devil himself would have a tough time prying a glass of this from my hand. Aromatic and intensely flavorful–long finish.
Casillero del Diablo’s Cabernet Sauvignon is such a deal. Plum and cherry come together and play nicely right along side the American oak. This one screams, “party wine”.
Rutherford is a sub-appellation of Napa Valley and home to some of California’s leading producers. Family owned and operated for three generations, Rutherford Wine Company labels include: Rutherford Ranch, Scott Family Estate, Predator Wines, Rhiannon Red Wine, Lander-Jenkins, and Round Hill California wines. There is something for just about every taste in this line-up:
Rutherford Ranch Cabernet, 2014 is full-bodied cab showing dark cherry/chocolate notes and a long finish with smooth tannins. Lush Napa fruit. $35.00
Lander-Jenkins Cabernet, 2014 displays aromas and flavors of blackberry, cranberry, and dark cherry. Medium-body–easy drinking. $15.00
Predator Zinfandel, 2014. Intense and full-bodied, Predator is loaded with red berries, blackberry, and smokey spice. Mouthwatering. $15.00
Rhiannon Red, 2014. A marriage of petite syrah, syrah, and barbera, Rhiannon brings Bing cherry and raspberry with a solid backbone of dark fruit thanks to the barbera component. Made for BBQ. $12.00
Two Range Red, 2014 combines merlot, petite syrah, cabernet, and syrah, producing rich tannins on a full body. Black cherry, raspberry, chocolate, and spice all come together in a lingering finish. $25.00
Scott Family Arroyo Secco (Dry Creek) Chardonnay, 2014. Barrel fermented on the lees, Scott chardonnay is a rich mouthful of citrus, apricot, and nutty cream. Lush. $25.00
South African wines can be harder to find than a white rhino–at least that’s what it seems like when you look at the local wine scene. There is a reason for that. South African wines currently account for less than two percent of American wine imports. That is a puny number for a country ranking eighth in global wine production, just behind Australia.
So who is drinking South African wine? The Brits, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Asian world. Fortunately, some excellent labels still make their way to our shores and more arrive every year.
Let’s take a little wine-safari to some vineyards within South Africa’s vast landscape and sample a few drops along the way. While vineyards range across hundreds of miles from east to west, most of them are in the southern tier of the country—putting many of them under the cooling maritime influence of the Atlantic or Indian oceans.
One of the best known wine regions is Stellenbosch, just outside Cape Town. Cooling breezes temper the hot sun over Stellenbosch’s rolling, vine-covered slopes and valleys. One of the top wine producers in the area is Warwick Estate, maker of Three Cape Ladies—a complex, layered blend of pinotage (a signature South African varietal), cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot. About $28
A little further inland from Stellenbosch is the Paarl wine region–where the climate is generally more varied–allowing for a wider range of varietals. Paarl is home to Glen Carlou vineyards. My wife is a big fan of Glen Carlou’s creamy, lemon-drop-rich chardonnay, while their Grand Classique was what caught my attention. A hearty Bordeaux blend, Classique is an exotic marriage of Old World and New World styles. About $16
You’d expect something exotic to come out of Africa, but Cederberg’s Bukettraube is still a surprise. Bukettraube is a little-known white grape that originated in Europe but flourishes in the cool, high altitude vineyards of the Western Cape. Bukettraube is rich, aromatic, floral, and yet mouthwateringly tangy. It reminds me of a first-class gewurztraminer. Delicious. About $15
Named for owner and SA professional golfer, Retief Goosen, The Goose wines are new to the US market. Check out The Goose Cabernet or some of the other wines in their line-up and discover just how sophisticated South African wines can be. About $24
2013 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound is a Bordeaux-blend from the Western Cape. Barrel-aged in French oak, the Hound shows richness and earthy character. Nicely balanced, this blend finishes with solid, but well-behaved tannins. Made for grilled meats. About $25
Bila-Haut wines, created by French wine legend Michel Chapoutier, come from Roussillon, in the south of France. Occultum Lapidem (“hidden gem”) is one of Chapoutier’s famous blends. A combination of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignane, Occultum is loaded with flavor and texture, thanks to Chapoutier’s understanding of the Terroir he occupies. If you ever wondered what all the fuss is about surrounding French wines, check out this highly rated red. About $29
Also from Chapoutier: Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé combines Grenache and Syrah in almost equal portions to produce crisp, well-defined flavors of cherry and raspberry on a lingering citrusy finish. About $15
South America Search
Trivento winery lies in the heart of Argentina’s famed Mendoza wine region. It’s fair to say that Mendoza is the Napa Valley of Argentina—with a couple of big differences.
Land in Mendoza does not cost a kings’ ransom like it does in California–so production costs are lower right from the start. And Mendoza grape growers have an abundant supply of pristine water from the snowmelt of the Andes. The vineyards of the region are also blessed with almost constant sunshine and because of their high elevation, very few pests.
Trivento, (named for the so-called Three Winds of the Andes foothills) production includes a line of popular labels, including a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend. Both wines are “reserves”–indicating select grapes and extra love at the production end.
Malbec is considered a noble wine in Europe (one of only six varietals allowed in robust fruit, and well integrated tannins. And Trivento’s Cabernet/Malbec 2013 blend? A marriage made in Heaven. Trivento reserve wines, about $11.
Trade up to Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec, 2013. Plenty of good malbecs come out of Argentina’s Mendoza wine region; still, the 2013 Bodega TriventoGolden Reserve malbec is a stand out. Sourced from pristine high-altitude vineyards, the grapes are hand-picked and vinified in a specially designed winery. The juice spends twelve months in French oak barrels and another twelve months in the bottle before release. The result is a wonderfully aromatic premium wine loaded with fruit, and beautifully balanced.
Casillero del Diablo—File Under Amazing Value
A product of Chile, Casillero del Diablo takes its name from the quaint legend of a wealthy man who kept his wine safe from light-fingered servants by telling them that the devil lived in his wine cellar.
No devils here. Cassillero del Diablo has always been a great wine at a great price, but their newly released 2015 Sauvigon Blanc and Rosé are attention-getters.
The current vintage of Sauvignon Blanc virtually explodes with mouth-watering gooseberry and tropical fruit character. About $11
Casillero del Diablo’s Rosé is based on 100% Shiraz, bringing forth crisp, clean flavors of raspberry grounded in on a solid base of acidity. About $11
Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 is 92% Cab, a bit of Cab Franc, and just a touch of Merlot and Syrah. Aged in French oak for 16 months, this fine drop from Chile’s Maipo Valley gets consistently high ratings—and it deserves them. Tons of concentrated black fruit and cherry flavors, solid core of tannins, and a long, smooth finish. About $26
Justin Vineyards’ newly-released 2015 sauvignon blanc from Paso Robles proves that they do more than produce killer Bordeaux-style blends. 2015 was a tough year for growing grapes in California, but the smaller yields actually produced fruit with more concentrated flavor. Justin’s sauvignon blanc is loaded with flavors and aromas of citrus, pineapple, peach and herbs. About $14
Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay. A sample of their 2014 Overlook chardonnay will tell you why Landmark wines have been on the menu of White House dinners for decades (finally, something both parties can support.) Ten months in French oak imparts creamy texture and notes of vanilla wrapped around a zippy core of bright acidity. About $25 If you want to gild the lily, indulge yourself with Landmark’s Damaris Reserve chardonnay. About $35