Cambria Estate Winery Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($25). It’s hard to find a decent pinot noir at this price, but every year Cambria manages to do make one. Simple, ripe blackberry and cherry fruit flavors with a dash of spice.
· The Prisoner Napa Valley Red Wine 2017 ($47). Even though production of this wine has ramped up under the ownership of (Const ellaton), it continues to sell well. A blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono, it has very ripe and juicy black fruit flavors with evident oak-infused hints of chocolate and vanilla.
· Kim Crawford New Zealand Chardonnay 2017 ($17). New Zealand isn’t known for its chrdonnay, but we occasionally come across one that stands out. The climate and soil here create a unique flavor profile that includes stone fruit and butterscotch with a hint of herbs and lemon.
· Cuvaison Brut Rose Methode Champenoise 2015 ($50). We loved the vibrant, bold fruit flavors of this blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. It is aged for two years on the lees. Strawberry and cherry notes.
· Domaine Bousquet Ameri 2015 ($36). This is a delicious, well-structured blend of malbec, cabenet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. Floral, plum aromas with ripe, raisiny dark fruit flavors and a hint of black pepper. Only 500 cases made of this wine.
· Gehricke Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 ($32). A good value for a pinot noir, this wine has ripe and luscious cherry flavors a dash of plum and cloves.
Paranga Red Kir Yianni Macedonia 2016 ($18). Macedonia is located in Northern Greece where this blend of syrah and merlot meets the indigenous xinomavro. Plum and cherry elements with cinnamon and pepper notes dominate this very good medium bodied red wine.
· Beronia Crianza 2015 ($15). This Rioja blend of tempranillo, garnacha and mazuelo is a great value. Herbal aromas with cherry and blueberry notes with a hint of vanilla and chocolate from the American oak.
· Flora Springs Merlot 2016 ($35). Few wineries like Flora Springs have stuck with merlot because of waning sales. Thank heavens, it did. A perennial success, this merlot offers up generous floral aromas, ripe black cherry and blueberry flavors and oak-inspired hints of spice and chocolate.
· Skouras Megas Oenos PGI Peloponnese 2013 ($30). This is a big full-throttle, ripe-fruit, and oak-driven red wine. The blend is 80 percent aghiorghitiko (also known as St. George) and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Blackberries and cedar notes propel this wine into a mouth filling drinking experience. Pair with a prime barbecued steak to maximize pleasure.
· Brancott Estate Letter Series T Pinot Noir 2016 ($35). This Marlborough pinot noir has classic New Zealand character with youthful cherry flavor, medium body and a hint of spice. In the pinot noir category, it’s a good price.
· FEL Ferrington Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($65). Vintner Cliff Lede founded FEL Wines in 2014 and his pinot noirs have had his magic dust ever since. This single-vineyard stunner has generous floral aromas and black cherry and spice flavors. Smooth and delicious, it is sold direct-to-consumer from its web site.
· Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir 2016 ($30). Blending grapes from several Central Coast regions, Calera has created a decently priced pinot noir with good length and simplicity. Pure cherry and strawberry flavors with a hint of pepper.
· Raeburn Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2016 ($25). We are already fans of Raeburn’s chardonnay, so we were pleased to see that their pinot noir matches if not exceeds the chardonnay in quality. Raspberry and cherry notes are pleasantly matched with spice and vanilla notes. Very easy to drink.
· MacPhail Wines The Flier Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016 ($50). This is a big style pinot noir that is jumping out of the glass with berry, cherry tastes and smells. Some smoke notes add an element of intrigue to this impressive mouthful of pinot noir.
· Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 2014 ($35). This is a well-priced high quality cabernet sauvignon. Plenty of very expressive cherry/plum notes with a hint of mocha. A great package for the price.
· Eberle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Selection 2016 ($25). We tasted this Paso Robles cab in a flight of considerably more expensive wines and it held its own. A great value, it has a medium body with forward blackberry and black cherry flavors, herbal aromatics, a dash of chocolate and smooth tannins.
· Prophecy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($11). This sauvignon blanc is true to its New Zealand profile with grassy, grapefruit flavors, but they are not as aggressive as many sauvignon blancs from this region. Crisp acidity.
· Klinker Brick 1850 Degrees Red Wine 2015 ($20). From a legendary Lodi producer known for its old-vine zinfandel, this splendid blend of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and zinfandel is delicious. Forward, ripe fruit character redolent of raspberry jam and plums, it is dark in color (thanks to petite sirah) and dense. Hints of licorice and cinnamon make it a special quaff.
· Lük Gamay Noir 2016 ($30). Known more for its light wines of France’s Beaujolais region, gamay noir (aka gamay) makes for a delicious wine. It’s a lighter version of pinot noir but silkier. This version from the Willamette Valley has incredible purity. Black cherries, long in the finish and impossible to stop at one glass.
· Sidecar Off the Wagon Claret 2016 ($25). Carmenere, a common grape in Chile, comprises 35 percent of this blend and provides a unique profile to this Oregon wine. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec make up the rest of the blend. Mouth-filling wine with dark fruit flavors and quaffability.
· Bonterra Organic Vineyards The McNab 2014 ($50). Bonterra is one of the vineyards featured in the now-showig Amazon Prime docu-series, “It Starts with Wine.” Noted for its long-standing commitment to organic farming, Bonterra’s wines are excellent across the board. This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite sirah, cabernet franc and malbec is loaded with beguiling aromas and mouth-filling raspberry and cassis flavors. It’s cousin, “The Butler” ($50) is a generous and tasty blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache and viognier. Two great wines that can be enjoyed now.
· Vietti Roero Arneis 2017 ($23). We were impressed with the delicious qualities of this top-drawer arneis from Italy’s Piedmont region. This is a grape variety worth exploring from a family producer that is five generations deep. Its producer, Alfredo Currado is credited for bringing back this local varietal in the Roero region. General floral aromas with stainless-steel purity and loads of melon and citrus flavors.
· Steele Santa Barbara Pinot Blanc 2017 ($20). Peach and melon flavors dominate this delicious pinot blanc that is worthy of a search. It is a good sipper or a wine that can be paired with seafood.
· Aslina Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch South Africa 2015 ($20). Aslina is founded by Ntsiki Biyela, the first black female winemaker from South Africa. A very different take on sauvignon blanc, it is citrus-driven instead of herbal- and grapefruit-driven with some interesting smoke notes.
· Ryder Estate Syrah Central Coast 2016 ($15). A terrific syrah at a great price. This very complete wine exhibits ripe blueberry, blackberry and spice notes in an enticing example of the potential of Central Coast syrah.
· Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2015 ($30). We were impressed with this New Zealand syrah right out of the glass. Effusive blueberry and licorice aromas with complex and layered fruit flavors of dark berries. Long in the finish and firm tannins. Well worth the price.
· Dutcher Crossing Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($46). Black cherry notes with a bit of forest floor and spice. Silky tannins and long in the finish.
· Torbeck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2017 ($25). We loved the bright and fresh raspberry and black cherry fruit in this impossible-to-put-down shiraz from Down Under. Soft mouthfeel and medium body make it a versatile match to burgers, ribs, pizza, pasta, chili and other winter fare.
Cooper & Thief Rye Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($60). It is hard to justify serving expensive wine to a football crowd grazing on junk food, but buy this for the cool factor. This Napa Valley wine spends six months in rye whiskey barrels and it comes in a spirit-shaped bottle. Rich and complex, it is best served alongside grilled and savory meat.
· Casadei Sogno Toscana IGT 2016 ($20). Imported by Cline Sisters Imports, this blend of syrah, mourvedre and grenache is more like French than Italian. But a winning recipe in one country can be a winning recipe in another country. It has red berry aromas and flavors with hints of dark chocolate and spice.
· Ramey Wine Cellars Claret 2016 ($42). Syrah – even in small amounts -- seems to be the common trick to give an otherwise Bordeaux blend some softness. We loved this serious, rich blend from David Ramey. Loads of extracted dark berry flavors with hints of vanilla and chocolate.
· Thacher Winery Working Holiday Cass Vineyard Paso Robles Genesco District 2016 ($28). A delicious blend of Southern Rhone varietals, it is 47 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 23 percent mourvedre. Dominant nose and flavors of ripe opulent strawberry and blackberry create a very pleasing package.
· Cambria Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Katherine’s Vineyard 2015 ($22). A textbook ripe chardonnay from a terrific producer, this wine has pineapple and citrus notes with an unctuous round texture in the mouth. Toasty oak is barely discernable. Fantastic!
· Grandes Vinos y Vinedos 3 C Carinena Carinena 2016 ($10-12). The 3 Cs refer to the carinena grape, Carinena region and Carinena village where this lovely red wine hails from. Carinena is otherwise known as carignan in California and France where it is often seen. Carinena is the oldest established appellation in Spain beginning in 1932. This carinena features delicious appealing strawberry and cherry flavors and scents and is somewhat reminiscent of a well-made grenache.
· Jason Stephens Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($28). This was a stunning surprise in a flight of prestigious cabernet sauvignons we recently tasted. Stunning because we never heard of the producer – shame on us. The cabernet was dense with youthful dark fruit flavors and a dash of licorice.
· Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2015 ($44). This estate, founded by Brice Cutrer Jones of Sonoma-Cutrer fame, concentrates solely on pinot noir, so it’s not surprising that the wines are excellent. There is nothing like pinot noir when it is made in the right hands and in good vintages. This single-vineyard, dry-farmed pinot noir from the Russian River Valley has layers upon layers of aromas and fruit – cinnamon, black pepper and cranberry aromas followed by black cherry, tea, dampened earth, and truffle flavors. Well balanced and correctly priced. The 2015 Emeritus Pinot Hill Pinot Noir ($67) is also a complex, richly textured wine with good depth and concentration. This is a producer to keep an eye on.
· Ponzi Vineyards Classico Pinot Noir 2015 ($42). Using cuvees from 11 vineyard (7 to 8 estate vineyards), winemaker Luisa Ponzi continues to knock out a wonderful Willamette Valley pinot noir with ripe, forward raspberry and cherry fruit with a hint of coffee.
· Meyer-Fonne Altenbourg Pinot Noir 2015 ($45). We’ve tasted enough pinot noirs from Alsace to essentially say the region’s producers should give up making red wine. Ninety percent of this French region’s production is delicious white wine. But we’ll make an exception for this decent, albeit medium body, pinot noir imported by Kermit Lynch. Strawberry and mineral notes are packaged in a seamless, silky package.
· Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Block A 2016 ($33). From the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, this delightful wine has good length and viscosity. Floral aromas and mango, melon flavors.
· Lasorda Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($24). Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda is the latest luminary to put his family’s name on a wine label. The oldest living Hall of Famer, Lasorda probably is not involved in making wine but his family has come up with a decent, medium-body wine for the price. The beautiful label includes a baseball diamond where Lasorda spent most of his career as a pitcher and manager of the LA Dodgers.
· Chateau de Saint Cosme “Les Deux Albion” Cotes du Rhone 2016 ($22). This is one of the best wines we’ve tasted in the last several months. It is a blend of syrah, grenache, carignan, mourvedre and clairette – the usual suspects in most wines from southern Rhone Valley. The producer makes excellent gigondas, but this blend from three communes just blew us away. Dense, dark in color, it sports generous garrigue and floral aromas. The flavors range from black cherry to plum. For the price, you can sock this away for several years – a good wine to start a cellar.
· Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($39). Blended with a bit of malbec and merlot, this luscious and extracted cabernet is pure pleasure. Blackberry and blueberry notes with dashes of cocoa and vanilla. A decently priced cabernet that over delivers and would make a good match to a holiday rib roast or lamb.
· Torbeck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2017 ($25). Made entirely from shiraz grown in Australia’s rich Barossa Valley, this wine is simply delicious. Medium body with loads of youthful blackberries and raspberries and hints of spice and vanilla.
· McManis Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2017 ($11). A great value, this simple, medium-body chardonnay is made from estate-grown grapes in River Junction. A little muscat canelli and chenin blanc is added to perk up the aromatics. Peach and vanilla flavors.
· Sea Smoke Chardonnay 2016 ($60). This Santa Rita Hills producer continues to knock out homeruns with its chardonnay and pinot noir program. Dedicated to making wines as balanced and as perfect as possible, winemaker Don Schroeder manages to make them even better year after year. This chardonnay holds back on the new oak and filtering to let the fruit shine. Complex yet elegant with citrus aromas, tropical fruit and apple flavors and a bit of spice.
· Bootleg Red Blend 2014 ($38). If the beautiful label doesn’t grab your attention, the flavors will. Using grapes from Kendall-Jackson vineyards in Napa Valley, this red blend is patterned after The Prisoner that grabbed everyone’s attention years ago. It includes cabernet sauvignon (hardly dominant at 27 percent), petite sirah, zinfandel, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. Inky in color, it has that luscious, hedonistic appeal with garrigue, lavender aromas and blackberry, cherry and blueberry flavors. Despite the fruit-forward style, it has more complexity than we expected.
Cooper & Thief Red Blend 2016 ($25). Packaged in a spirit-like bottle, this California red blend is aged for three months in former bourbon barrels. Soft in texture, it has ripe and sweet dark berry fruit.
· Cashmere Red 2016 ($15). The Cline family has a pair of winners with their Cashmere Red – a blend of mourvedre, grenache and syrah – and Cashmere Black – a blend of petit sirah, zinfandel, mourvedre and carignane. The red has a lighter style and is a great sipper or a wine that would do well with pasta, burgers and other light fare. The Black is dark in color, more tannic and full of dark berry fruit. These are excellent values sure to please.
· Thorn Napa Valley Merlot 2015 ($45). From The Prisoner Wine Co., this bold merlot --blended with syrah, petite sirah and malbec – is forward and rich with earthy, blackberry aromas and cherry flavors spiked with oak-induced chocolate and vanilla. This would be a nice gift for your friends who love The Prisoner.
· Mascota Vineyards La Mascota Cabernet Franc 2016 ($16). This unique wine from Argentina offers a floral, cassis bouquet and smooth, medium-body flavors of strawberries and cherries with a hint of black pepper.
· Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2015 ($20). Now, here’s a surprise. This Bordeaux-like blend of cabernet franc (32 percent), cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and malbec is complex. Generous aromas of tobacco, earth and cassis is chased by plum flavors and long finish. Dark in color and rich on the palate, it is a beautiful wine from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.
Steele Bien Nacido Block N Pinot Noir 2015 ($36). This was a favorite in a flight of California pinot noirs we recently tasted. Well balanced and richly textured, it has generous strawberry and clove aromas with cherry, spice, tobacco and earthy flavors.
· The Butler Butler Ranch Vineyards 2013 ($50). Made by Bontara Organic Vineyards, this rich and harmonious gem blends syrah, mourvedre, grenache and zinfandel. Generous blackberry and plum aromas with a dash of espresso. Black fruit, licorice and spice flavors with dense tannins.
· Left Coast “The Orchard” Pinot Gris Estate 2017 ($18). This is one of the better pinot gris from Oregon that we have tasted recently. It has a bold style with delicious green apple and citrus nose and flavors with a slight hint of floral notes. Try this beauty with bold fish and poultry recipes.
· Feudi Di Sa Gregorio Rubrato Aglianico Campania 2015 ($20). From the Irpina region in Campania hard hit by Mt. Vesuvius, this delicious red wine is made from the widely planted aglianico grape. Berries, licorice and strawberries dominate this wine that is aged in only stainless steel. Good by itself but really comes alive with southern Italian tomato sauce dishes, and cheese.
· Sarah’s Vineyard Santa Clara Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($25). This entry level wine from Sarah’s Vineyard exceeds its price in quality. Medium body, balanced and chock full of red berry fruit.
· Gehricke Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($35). A good value, this cab has intense black cherry and nutmeg aromas with dark berry flavors and a hint of cocoa powder. Malbec and petite verdot are part of the blend.
· Gaja Sito Moresco Langhe 2015 ($50). From one of the most respected winemakers in Piedmont, this is largely a blend of nebbiolo and barbera with a dash of merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Very round in the mouth with sweet dark fruit and herbal notes. Very approachable, it is the latest in Gaja’s super blends.
· Freelance Wines Coup de Grace Red Blend 2015 ($30). From the Lodi region, this wine is a blend of old vine zinfandel, petite sirah, petit verdot and cabernet franc. Forward, soft mouthfeel with oodles of ripe black berry and plum flavors.
· Department 66 “Others” Red Wine 2015 ($25). David Phinney, the genius behind The Prisoner, has done it again. After falling in love with the sheer beauty of Maury in the Roussillon region (France’s Department 66), he bought a lot of old vine grenache, syrah, mourvedre and carignan to launch Department 66. These wines are BIG with silky tannins and complexity. We liked this red blend for its lavender and spicy nose and blueberry, plum, cocoa flavors. The Department 66 D66 2014 ($38) is also a stunner. Nice spice notes to complement the blueberry flavors and earthy character.
Tapiz Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($20). Made from grapes grown on high vineyards in Argentina's Uco Valley, this fruit-forward cabernet has a medium body and loads of luscious black berry flavors. It is made by Jean Claude Berrouet, former winemaker of Bordeaux's esteemed Petrus estate. Very good price for a wine that is not meant for aging.
Educated Guess Red Blend 2016 ($20). Using cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and merlot grapes from the North Coast, this simple but tasty blend is reasonably priced for a backyard barbecue. Black berry and dark cherry fruit.
Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2016 ($22). This exquisite wine from Chile shows off rich texture and mouth-filling pear and fig flavors.
Ryder Estate Syrah 2016 ($18). Using grapes from California's Central Coast, this effusive and fruit-forward syrah unveils ripe blackberry fruit with a hint of mocha.
Boutari Legacy 1879 2007 ($66). This premier wine honors the year this premier Greek wine producer was established. The grape variety xinomavro may not be familiar, but it shows you what can be done with local grapes in this region of the world. Complex and full bodied with red berry aromas and flavors with hints of vanilla and plum. Boutari is one of the best producers of Greek wines.
Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino County 2014 ($20). Edmeades is not your plump, jammy hedonistic, old-school zinfandel. Instead winemaker Dave Ready Jr. has stuck to Edmeades conservative style that is reminiscent of a well-made, food-friendl-. Berries and plum elements dominate in this very well-balanced table wine.