recommendations

Tasting notes are my own unless otherwise stated.  Have a recommendation? Share with others by leaving a comment!

Over $100:

Peju – 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Bottled, Rutherford. Oh my…Plum and currant, deep and concentrated. This wine will make you wish it was not over 15% alcohol. It is well structured, so the alcohol is not overbearing, but you’ll wonder if your state of mind makes it taste better than it does. I assure you, it’s real. I’ve had several Peju offerings, and they’ve always been solid. This Cabernet Sauvignon is worth its price and then some.

Quintessa – 2007 Red Wine, Rutherford. Rich and complex, this is a traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmeneré aged for 19 months in French oak.  Black currant, blackberry, and licorice on top of tobacco, vanilla, and spice. We tasted this at the winery a couple of months after release; while hugely satisfying now, the heavy tannic backbone encourages cellaring for 5-10 years.

Rubicon Estate – 2006 Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  Aged entirely in French oak, this has an understated power; the ability to wrap around you like a blanket, yet still stop you in your tracks.  Depth and complexity in waves, this wine should be decanted for several hours before a special dinner.  A beautiful wine from one of the most beautiful properties in the Valley.

$75-ish:

Caymus 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. 2008 did not produce the blockbuster fruit of 2007, but the Wagner family are farmers first, and they handled the longer growing season and intermittent showers beautifully. I was impressed with the wine’s openness from the start, which is nice from such a young cabernet. The rich blackberry and currant are what you would expect, but the lingering finish makes you hold off a bit before taking another sip. Tannins are not overwhelming, which means this is well-suited for a lean cut – maybe pan-seared/oven roasted filets.

Rubicon – 2006 Cask Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  This lower-priced sister of the estate’s flagship red (see above rec’s over $100) is not lacking in depth or quality.  It is aged entirely in American oak, which offers layers of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla.  Decant before serving, and keep the guest list to a minimum – the less you have to share the better.

$50-ish:

Chateau Chauvin – 2005 Bordeaux, Saint Emilion. Characteristically complex, with red fruit, fresh soil, and a smoky scent that will have you pondering its layers with every sip. Its acid and earthy tones will be perfect with a seasoned and roasted rack of lamb.

Paraduxx – 2007 Red Blend. Zinfandel (72%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%), Merlot (9%), and Cabernet Franc (1%). This is rich and jammy, with up-front fig, cherry, and raspberry and a long, pleasing finish. This is a perfect pick for pizza, pasta with hearty sauce, and roasted chicken. If you pair with beef, make it a lean, grass-fed cut.

Rodney Strong – 2007 Symmetry Meritage, Alexander Valley. Beautifully balanced, with a core of dark fruit riding on an undercurrent of earthy cedar and oak. Tightly-wound now, this softens up nicely in the decanter and will rest well for several years. Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) is the American term for a traditional Bordeaux blend; this has Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Silver Oak – 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley.  Well-balanced, layered; fruit up front followed by a hint of mocha and a spicy finish.  Tannic structure shows this is meant to age.

$30-ish:

new! – Ridge – 2009 Zinfandel, Geyserville, California. Balanced, ripe – this takes the red fruit that I love about zinfandel and throws in some dark cherry and plum for good measure. Balanced and complex, this makes you wish grilling season never had to come to an end.

new! – Mazzocco – 2008 Zinfandel, Briar Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California. This is what zinfandel should taste like – raspberries, cherries, and an earthy quality that makes you feel like you’re standing in the middle of a garden of spices and vegetables. Reach for this when you’re making a pizza. This maker is hard to find, but they are very easy to get via their website – www.mazzocco.com.

K Vintners – 2008 Syrah, Pheasant Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Washington. I’ve heard several K Syrahs described as “liquid smoke,” and this offering fits that description perfectly. The fruit is big and ripe, but the earthy spice really defines this complex, structured Syrah. Perfect with a hearty stew on a cold night. Only 193 cases produced, so grab it if your local shop gets an allocation or if you see it on a restaurant wine list.

Tablas Creek – 2007 Syrah, Paso Robles. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache. Full-bodied, with a smoky, floral nose and earthy flavors of blackberries and currant. Tablas Creek is a partnership that includes the Perrin family of France’s famed Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhone region. The Paso Robles venture clearly benefits from the Perrins’ experience and passion.

Freemark Abbey – 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. A blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (83%), with Petit Verdot (9%), Merlot (6%), and Cabernet Franc (2%). A fantastic find; blackberry, raspberry, and currant; medium to full-bodied; rounded tannins that leave a dry but lingering finish. This is a versatile Cabernet that can pair with just about any meat that comes out of the kitchen.

d’Arenberg – 2007 Shiraz/Viognier The Laughing Magpie, McLaren Vale, Australia.  A ripe, full-bodied delight, with a floral nose and blueberries on the palate.  A long finish that will keep you reaching for the glass.

$20-ish:

Tikal – 2007 Patriota, Mendoza, Argentina. Amazing what this wine presents just on the nose. Spend some time there before sipping – you’ll pick up blackberry, plum, tobacco, and cigar box. In the mouth, you’ll almost want to chew it. The intense flavors will stick with you through the lingering finish. This is a 60%/40% blend of Bonarda (grown by other names, notably Charbono in California) and Malbec. This will pair nicely with any meat dish you cook up, but it would also go great with a dinner of heavy roasted vegetables.

Joseph Drouhin – 2007 Pouilly Fuissé, Burgundy. Perfect golden color; bright and acidic; it is light on the palate, with a touch of creaminess due to part of the juice being aged in used barrels (thus no striking oaky component). Paired this with an ahi tuna tartare mixed with asian pear, ancho chile, mint, and toasted sesame oil – very refreshing!

Beringer – 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley.  Blackberry and boysenberry followed by toasty oak.  Easy to drink tonight with a rib roast.

$10-ish:

Columbia Crest – 2009 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills.  The label’s large “H3” makes this one easy to spot. Horse Heaven Hills is a growing area in Washington state’s Columbia Valley. This wine has all of the cherry and plum you could want, and its relatively high alcohol (14.5%) is balanced by nice acidity. Very versatile – mac and cheese with roasted chicken and onions would make for a quick, inexpensive dinner.

Grupo Baron de Ley Corte Mayor 2006 Rioja Crianza. Just wonderful acidity…I love a wine that makes my mouth water while I’m actually drinking it. The fruit is there in waves, but its medium body and moderate alcohol (13%) make it so easy to sip outside in the evening. Look for the distinct red/pink/white label with Corte Mayor written across the middle. Well-worth the look in your store’s Spanish section.

Bodegas Montecillo 2007 Rioja Crianza. I love the complex, and often subtle notes exhibited by wines from Spain’s Rioja growing region. This one offers smoky licorice and coffee; the fruit, primarily dark cherry, is only one component in this excellent wine.

Tilia – 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza. This sustainably-farmed selection was clearly made to be enjoyed today. What this wine lacks in complexity it makes up for with concentrated cherry and red currant and a lasting finish. Its up-front fruit and round tannins make this quite a versatile choice. Plenty was imported, so at less than $10, pick up a couple so you have one on hand for unexpected company.

Mark West – 2008 Pinot Noir, California.  An approachable Pinot Noir in a straightforward, California style.  A fruit-forward nose of cherries, plums, and raspberries.  Well-balanced and soft, the strawberry and light oak finish will encourage you to keep sipping.

J. Lohr Estates – 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Oaks, Paso Robles.  A reliable value from Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2010 Winery of the Year.  The price can vary quite a bit from store to store ($9-$16), but it is always approachable and easy to keep on hand for an unexpected night with friends.


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