· 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.
· Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($55). This is a terrific wine designed to represent the best Napa Valley can offer in the vintage. Fortunately, 2015 was a good vintage and the wine reflects that. Complex with firm tannins and excellent balance, it will last years in the cellar. The fruit is not too forward, reminding us of some of the great cabernet sauvignons of yore.
· Geyser Peak Winery Devil’s Inkstand 2013 ($55). Many years ago we dubbed Geyser Peak a comeback winery. Aussie Nick Goldschmidt had brought a lot of spirit and innovation to this historic property founded in 1880. Goldschmidt left in 2008 amid one of many ownership changes. During this turnover, the wines slipped back into those pedestrian grocery-store wines. Lately, however, we have regained our confidence that Geyser Peak is capable of making extraordinary wines. This reserve cabernet sauvignon, made from mountain-grown grapes in Alexander Valley, is concentrated and layered. It is a gorgeous wine with dark color, dark fruit flavors and fine tannins. Although not declared, we suspect petite sirah has been blended into the wine.
· Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury 2016 ($30). This is another notable pinot noir from New Zealand where their pinot noirs are deservedly becoming better known. Deep dark and rich black cherry flavors are dominant in this bold pinot noir. It would do well with beef dishes.
· Steele Pacini Zinfandel 2015 ($20). Using grapes from Mendocino County, this reasonably priced zinfandel has assertive aromas of cherries and blueberries while the palate exudes cola, chocolate and oak-inspired vanilla.
Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Merlot 2014 ($25). We loved the plush and generous black cherry and plum flavors in this delicious merlot. Hints of licorice and vanilla.
· Concannon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($40). Generous aromas with plum and cassis notes, firm tannins, sweet vanillin oak and long finish make this powerful, age-worthy cab a treat. This iconic producer is celebrating its 135th anniversary.
· Dutton Estate Kyndall’s Reserve-Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2016 ($42). We liked the balance in this delicious chardonnay. It has lots of lush and ripe tropical fruit and apple flavors, thanks in part to whole-cluster pressing and malolatic fermentation. Hints of butterscotch and toasted oak.
· Fort Ross Mother of Pearl Chardonnay 2015 ($60). The fact that this chardonnay isn’t fined or filtered provides a pure fruit quality. Balanced, full-bodied and loaded with layers of fruit, including white peach and pear. The minerality in the background gives the wine a nice finish.
· J. McClelland Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($45). Wow, what a mouthful. This great wine – a cross between elegance and power – is loaded with forward red berry flavors, a dash of tobacco and spice.
· Chehalem Three Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($30). A great value from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, this gem has violet aromas with ripe black cherry flavors and a hint of spice.
· Renato Ratti Battaglione Barbera 2016 ($20). Barbera in general is a grape that creates a medium-body, juicy wine that is simple enough to enjoy on its own or paired with equally simple foods, such as pasta. We like this DOCG version for its juicy cherry flavors and spice.
· DuBoeuf Chateau De Saint-Amour Saint Amour 2015 ($24). St. Amour is one of Beaujolais 10 crus or villages that produce from the gamay grape the best and longest lasting wines from Beaujolais. Bright berry/cherry fruit with readily apparent tannins that should smooth out with time. Be patient.
· Thokozani SMV Wellington South Africa 2016 ($19.75). This is a very big expressive red wine produced from 85 percent shiraz grapes, 14 percent mourvedre and 1 percent viognier. The wine offers rich ripe complex elements of coffee, chocolate, ripe plum, berries and bacon in a wonderful pleasing wine mélange. A very good wine at an amazing price!
· Concha y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenere D.O. Cachapoal Valley Peumo Vineyard Chile 2016 ($20). A real engaging and delightful carmenere from Chile. An amazing value for the quality, this wine displays a cherry, chocolate nose and flavors with an intriguing note of herbs and black pepper.
· San Pedro 9 Lives Malbec Reserve Mendoza Argentina 2017 ($12-14). This is a very bold wine for bold foods. Very intense fruit flavors of berries and cassis with bold tannins that are appropriate for this wine. A great value!
· 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.
Cote Mas Rouge Intense Sud De France 2016 ($13/1liter). A delightfully well-priced, uncomplicated blend of grenache, carignan, cinsault, merlot and syrah, aged only in stainless steel for 4 months and then bottled. Cherries and plums dominate with a wee touch of licorice.
La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey 2016 ($23). La Crema consistently crafts good and reasonably priced pinot noirs from cool climate appellations. This offering from Monterey showcases a very refreshing pinot noir that delivers a tart, bright-acid style with a mélange of cherry, cranberry and a hint of rhubarb. Very easy to drink but comes alive with fish and chicken dishes.
· Pacherhof Sylvaner Vigne Vecchie Alto Adige Valle Isarco DOC 2015 ($25). This old-vine sylvaner from Northern Italy is a delicious tropical fruit driven white wine with mild acidity is delicious by itself but would do best with fish dishes.
· Niro Pecorino Abruzzo Terre di Chieti IGT 2016 ($17). No, this is not the ubiquitous pecorino cheese that pasta lovers sprinkle on their pizza and pasta, but the name of a white grape grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Although little known, this grape can make delicious white wines and this example is no exception. Beautiful bright tropical nose and flavors with ample acidity to accompany food. A nice long satisfying finish.
· Olema Cotes de Provence Rosé 2017 ($16). Instead of making rosé from local grapes, the Amici team behind Olema travel regularly to Provence to produce this incredibly delicious wine – one the best of the year, in our opinion. The recipe is classic Provence: grenache, mourvedre, carignan fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. Pale in color and dry, it boasts vibrant raspberry and melon aromas followed by strawberry and black cherry flavors. Perfect balance with the right amount of acidity to keep it fresh yet fruity.
Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($32). Well balanced, this lush chardonnay has apple, melon and lime flavors with good acidity and oak-infused vanilla and toast notes.
Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir 2016 ($55). This lively Santa Maria Valley pinot noir has forward black cherry, strawberry jam flavors with a dash of caramel and vanilla. Very delicious.
· Amici Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($50). A 13 percent blend of cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and merlot rounds off this delicious, plump cabernet. We loved the ripe black cherry and coffee flavors with generous aromas of cassis, mocha and spice. Very long finish.
· Olema Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($25). We have a friend who is loyally bound to this sister wine of Amici. Made by John Harris and Bob Shepard as reasonably priced, approached wines, Olema wines are good across the board. The cabernet sauvignon has cassis and cedar aromas with forward plum and toffee flavors and a hint of oak-infused vanilla and mocha.
· Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2014 ($28). Murphy-Goode has a reputation for tasty wines at value prices and this beauty from Alexander Valley is no exception. Presenting an enticing nose and flavors of plum and cassis with a spicy edge and chocolate notes. Blended with 2 percent petite verdot, this wine is a pleasure to drink and would pair beautifully with grilled beef.
· Frescobaldi Alie Rosé Toscana IGT 2017 ($20). Crafted from mostly syrah with a touch of vermentino this delicious rosé really delivers. Enticing light pink color with mouth-watering cherry and strawberry notes, this wine finishes with lively acidity.
· Willakenzie Estate Rosé Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2107 ($23). This is a big bold rosé. Strawberry and watermelon with a bit of strawberry dominate the nose and taste of this very well-crafted rosé.