· Perfusion Vineyard San Francisco Bay Pinot Noir 2014 ($40). You don't often see a wine from this AVA, located along the western side of Contra Costa County, but this micro-batch producer has a winner. Ripe, forward cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of vanilla and spice.
· Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco 2014 ($30). This unique white wine from Portugual made from the native antao vaz grapes is a delicious mouthful. Round in the mouth with citrus aromas and pineapple flavors.
· Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($50). Who wouldn't want to drink wine from a place called Happy Canyon? Relatively new as a Santa Barbara wine region, Happy Canyon is the source of this delicious, medium-bodied cabernet. Plum and dark berry fruit with dried herbal aromas.
· Chateau Maucamps Haut Medoc 2009 ($28). This crus bourgeois from the Haut Medoc is pure pleasure. Honestly, it's been a long time since we have tasted something so delicious for a cru bourgeois. Made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot, it has effusive black currant aromas and extracted, juicy dark berry flavors. It's drinking well now.
· Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($23). Well priced for what you get, this rich and tannic Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon has broad dark berry notes with hints of mocha and vanilla. It is an inexpensive wine to cellar for a few years.
· Rodney Strong Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($40). Ripe and fruit forward flavors of blackberries and currants with oak-influenced hints of caramel, vanilla and spice.
· Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($26). Using grapes from Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, the winemaker has created a well-rounded pinot noir with black cherry and strawberry flavors with a hint of sweet vanillin oak.
· M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2016 ($15). This red version of Bila-Haut continues to impress us with each vintage. It's a great bargain for what you get: effusive black berry and plum notes with a dash of mineral and a lingering finish. The blend consists of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes. Awesome.
- Carmel Road Unoaked Chardonnay Monterey 2014 ($22). A very nice example of what cool climate and unoaked chardonnay is all about. Beautiful, pure pear and apple fruit with some citrus notes, and a whiff of minerality.
- Vinas Del Vero Secastilla Garnacha Somontano 2010 ($47). This grenache is a wonderful mélange of intense black cherry, licorice and chocolate. Grapes are from 100-year-old vines in Spain's Secastilla Valley. The readily apparent oak notes come from 10 months of aging in French oak. This is for lovers of big oaky wines.
- MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 ($38). Using grapes from the Russian River Valley, the winemaker has crafted a reasonably priced yet hearty pinot noir. Soft on the palate, it has cherry flavors with hints of vanilla and toast.
- Sonoma-Loeb Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2015 ($40). Wow, this a mouthful of fruit. Using grapes from one of the prized vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma-Loeb has a winner here – and in pinot noir terms, a bargain. Black cherry notes with hints of allspice and vanilla.
- Catalina Sounds Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($16). Bold in style, this New Zealand sauvignon blanc has herbal aromas and grapefruit, citrus and peach flavors.
- Nanny Goat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($24). From New Zealand, this wine as bright and juicy dark berry flavors and a dash of cocoa.
- Cobb Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 ($75). Ross Cobb is making the western Sonoma Coast a platform for world-class pinot noir. Although many will argue the relatively new region doesn't have the optimal climate for pinot noir, the Cobb wines prove differently. Not over-extracted, they show balance and finesse. We liked this aromatic single-vineyard pinot noir with its layered fruit character. Lots of cherries, cranberries, fine tannins and textured mushroom notes to give it a burgundian feel. We also enjoyed the 2014 Coastlands Vineyard 1906 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir ($80) for its concentration.
ONX Reckoning 2014 ($58). This is a big, impressive blend from a Paso Robles producer who is new to us. Syrah is combined with malbec, grenache and petite sirah to create a mouthful of blackberry and plum flavors with hints of chocolate and licorice. Great floral and lavender aromas.
Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2016 ($25). We can't write highly enough about this incredibly delicious rosé. Made from an exotic combination of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and counoise grapes, it has nectarine aromas with grapefruit, peach and melon flavors.
Greg Norman Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($15). Ripe plum, blackberry and black currant flavors dominate this great value from Australian golf legend Greg Norman, who has been making wines in California for more than a decade.
Love & Hope Rosé 2016. What's there not to like about this rose even when consumed in cooler weather? Certainly not the name or the label which includes, "real dialogue between Austin Hope and Tim Love." And, certainly not the effusive cherry and strawberry flavors from this blend of mourvedre, grenache and syrah.
Avalon Red Wine Blend2015 ($12). This is an interesting blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, tannat and petit sirah. Effusive and bold in style, it has ripe blackberry, plum and blueberry flavors.
Ruffino Modus 2014 ($25). We like to recommend this Italian super tuscan blend because it is such a pleasure to drink year after year. The local sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon combine to make a fruit-forward, softly textured with black fruit flavors.
Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2015 ($44). Good burgundy was once more costly than good Oregon pinot noir, but the pendulum has swung a few degrees. This classy French pinot noir costs less than most good Oregon pinot noir and it has that finesse and delicacy the region is known for. Dark cherry flavors with a splash of spice and earth.
Tom Gore California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($15). Sourcing grapes from the vast North Coast and Central Coast regions, this simple but delicious cabernet sauvignon blend has forward blackberry and plum flavors with a dash of spice and mocha. We can attest that the wine goes well with chocolate – in particular, chocolate-covered figs.
Line 39 Excursion Red Blend 2016 ($15). A motley collection of petit verdot, petite sirah, zinfandel and merlot make a rich and jammy quaff in this new wine. The variety of grapes offer a variety of flavors ranging from plums to chocolate.
Bootleg Prequel Red Blend 2014 ($35). Syrah and petite sirah combine to deliver a fist-load of blackberry and plum fruit flavors with good depth and hints of black pepper. Rich and long in the finish.
Henry's Drive "H" Chardonnay 2016 ($28). From the Padthaway region of Australia, this luscious chardonnay has a medium body with tropical fruit flavors and hints of nutmeg and sweet vanillin oak.
Bonterra "The Roost" Chardonnay Blue Heron Vineyard 2015 ($40). Bonterra is making some excellent wines in Mendocino County, but this single-vineyard chardonnay blew us away. Very burgundian in style, it has delicate lemon meringue and clove aromas, ripe melon and pear flavors, a dash of toasted oak and a long finish. It's a very balanced and seductive chardonnay.
Chateau des Cres Richards Stecia 2015 ($20). One of the wines in the fabulous Paul Mas profile, this blend of old-vine syrah, grenache and carignan is a great value. Expressive aromatics, forward dark berry flavors and a touch of mineral and licorice.
Cuvaison Adda Chardonnay 2015 ($50). Winemaker Steve Rogstad performs about 50 individual fermentations of chardonnay from seven different rootstocks. The result is a highly textured, layered and full-body chardonnay that stands out in the crowd. Balanced acidity, citrus aromas, apricot flavors with a dash of spice, toasted oak and vanilla. Excellent.
The Velvet Devil Merlot Washington State 2014 ($16). Know for the devilish pitchfork on the label Charles and Charles shows its mastery with this grape variety True to the label this merlot is bursting with cherry fruit flavors in a very soft and round package. Great by itself, or with beef dishes.
Raeburn Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015 ($22). This delightful cool-climate Russian River chardonnay exhibits classic pear and apple notes complemented by spicy nutmeg and cinnamon on the palate. A great price for this very well-made chardonnay.
Stokes’ Ghost Petite Sirah Monterey 2104 ($34). Oddly this spectacular petite sirah is named after a ship-jumping British sailor who impersonated a doctor in Monterey California in the 1830s. Unfortunately, the ersatz doctor managed to kill a number of his patients including the governor of California, which then culminated with the good doctor's suicide by poison. In any event this is a great example of what petite sirah can produce in the right hands. Deep very ripe cherry and berry notes with accents of black pepper. Although powerful, this wine is balanced and delicious.
Cambria Pinot Noir Clone 4 Santa Maria Valley 2014 ($35). Another winner from the Jackson Family Wines group. A very well-balanced pinot noir with lovely ripe cherry notes and nicely accenting cinnamon spice notes. It manages to avoid the overblown fruit notes of some contemporary pinot noirs. Try this elegant wine with salmon or chicken dishes.
Jackson Estate Chardonnay Camelot Highlands Santa Maria Valley 2015 ($35). Although this chardonnay presents abundant ripe tropical fruit notes especially pineapple, it does so in a elegant presentation that won’t overpower food. Vanilla and spice notes complement the fruit and make this a very enticing wine.
La Marca Prosecco ($19). This easy to find prosecco also comes in cute 187ml bottles, which are perfect for toting to a tailgate or just a party where they can be chilled in a bucket alongside beer. Citrus notes dominate the aromas and are followed by lush peach flavors with the classic dash of prosecco sweetness.
Adami Garbel Brut Prosecco Treviso ($15). Simple but generous in flavors, this sparkling wine offers a broad palate of ripe stone fruit and melon flavors.
Mionetto Prestige Extra Dry Prosecco ($14). Easy to find in most markets, this respectable version is "extra dry," which strangely means "off-dry," which means "slightly sweet," which no one wants to say. But, slightly sweet is what you get in most proseccos. Made from organically grown glera grapes, it has green apple notes.
Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages 2015 ($22). We look forward to tasting chardonnays from this underrated region of Burgundy. Always rightly priced, these wines are more about the grape than the barrel. Oak often masks the beautiful and clean flavors of chardonnay. This one has pineapple and citrus notes and balanced acidity.
Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse 2015 ($35). Also from the Maconnais and also made with chardonnay, this wine leans toward the stone fruit flavors. Like the Macon-Villages, it is fermented entirely in stainless steel to preserve the fruit character.
Tasca d'Almerita Buonora Etna Bianco DOC 2016 ($20). We loved the unique flavors of the carricante grape. It is the first wine from this Sicily estate to carry the Etna DOC. Balanced acidity, smooth texture, fragrant aromas and lush stone fruit flavors with a dash of mineral.
Noble Vines Collection 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($15). From Lodi, this good value wine has herbal aromas, medium body and ripe black fruit flavors with a dash of black pepper.
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Franc Mendoza 2015 ($25). Wow, this wine packs a punch. Extracted, rich and dense with dark berry fruit flavors, fine tannins and floral aromas with a hint of chocolate. Juicy.
Bodegas d'la Marques Valserrano Gran Reserva Rioja 2010 ($32). This is an extraordinary reserve tempranillo blend that can be enjoyed now or aged a good decade. Ripe blackberry fruit flavors with lead pencil aromas and serious oak and vanilla. Delicious.
Paolo Manzone Dolcetto d'Alba "Magna" 2015 ($18). We have had plenty of insipid dolcettos from Italy that gave us doubt. But this is not one of them. An extraordinary, intense and rich dolcetto, Manzone has knocked a homerun here. Bright red color, floral aromas and an intense palate of red berries. We're buying more.
Ruca Malen Malbec Reserva Mendoza 2014 ($19). With malbec all the rage today, we found this Argentinian example that really impressed us. Very pure blueberry and black raspberry nose and flavors wrapped in a spicy vanilla package. If your curious about Argentinian malbec, give this a try.
Fortress Knight's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2013 ($40). A pleasing blend of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, and a dash of petite verdot, malbec and merlot. A modestly intense and sophisticated red wine with a blackberry and cassis nose and flavors, some spice and a tad of sweet vanillin oak.
WindVane Carneros Chardonnay 2015 ($40). We loved this luscious chardonnay from a region that benefits from the cooling maritime breezes. Aromas of peach and pineapple give way to a flood of peach and orange flavors with a dash of cinnamon and toasty oak.
Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir 2015 ($60). We loved the silkiness of this luxurious Sonoma County pinot noir. Excellent, pure fruit character with earthy undertones, raspberry and cherry notes and a hint of vanilla and chocolate.
Rodney Strong Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($40). This is a good value for reserve cabernet sauvignon. From Alexander Valley fruit, the wine has a rich mouthfeel, floral and dried herb aromas, blackberry flavors and hints of vanilla and cocoa.
Alamos Malbec 2016 ($13). A reliable malbec producer whose wines are relatively easy to find, Alamos makes a classic Argentine malbec with sweet, ripe plum flavors and hints of spice and vanilla.
- Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016 ($24). This Oregon white wine expresses luscious cherry and ripe pear flavors in the nose and mouth. A perennial favorite of ours, this unique wine continues to please.Concha Y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec Marchigue 2013 ($17). This Chilean value has expressive berry and plum notes and a bare hint of oak. Drink with red meat dishes.
- Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT 2013 ($30). A slight change in the grape portions hasn’t changed the appeal of this gem from a reliable producer. An equal blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot still retains its Italian feel. Ripe cherry and leather notes dominate this fruity table wine whose style straddles the old and new worlds.
Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($15). This is an enjoyable, medium-body chardonnay that won’t set you back. It has tropical fruit and apple flavors with nice spice and a creamy texture.
Penfolds Max's Shiraz Cabernet 2015 ($25). Penfolds has introduced a new Max series named after its legendary winemaker Max Shubert who once had the guts to defy his bosses and make a bold red wine called Grange Hermitage. These wines – a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet sauvignon blend – are no equals to Grand Hermitage, but they are offer good quality with balanced acidity and copious fruit flavors. The bottles come wrapped in a striking red plastic that is sure to make them stand out on the shelf.
Rodney Strong Estate Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc Northern Sonoma County 2016 ($19). This is for those readers who don’t want an acidic, grapefruit-flavored sauvignon blanc. A crisp blend of citrus and peach elements that doesn’t assault the palate. Good acidity but not overdone.
Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2015 ($17). Very expressive chardonnay with a brush of oak and vibrant tropical fruit flavors. Delicious and balanced.
Matanzas Creek Winery Sonoma County Chardonnay 2015 ($26). Lush with apple and peach notes and a hint of lemon. The wine is treated to full malolatic fermentation and nine months of French oak aging, which adds a bit of vanilla and butterscotch and caramel.
Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay 2015 ($22). The estates vineyards for this Jackson Family Wines gem are certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. It is a beautiful, oaky chardonnay with grapefruit, peach and apple flavors with a hint of mineral and spice.
St. Supery Rutherford Hill Estate Ranch Merlot 2013 ($50). We loved the texture of this smooth yet complex merlot from the Napa Valley. Loads of ripe plum and blackberry flavors with a big dose of vanilla and mocha. Long finish makes it a merlot to savor.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay2015 ($25). Now in its 25th year, the Overlook chardonnay is reliable from year to year. Using grapes from Russian River Valley and throughout Sonoma County, this chardonnay has ripe apple fruit flavors, a dollop of lemon cream and a lot of toasty oak.
Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60). Using grapes high up Howell and Diamond mountains, winemaker Jade Barrett has crafted an impressive, rich cabernet sauvignon. Loads of forward black cherry and cassis fruit with hints of cocoa. Lush mouthfeel makes it so enjoyable.
Bouchaine Estate Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). Using grapes from Carneros, this medium-bodied pinot noir has juicy cherry and strawberry fruit with a hint of cola and baking spice.
Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir Marlborough 2015 ($27). This delicious pinot noir stakes a claim for Marlborough New Zealand pinot noir. Medium bodied with expressive wild cherry flavors and a spicy nose, the overall style is somewhere between a more expressive, cool-climate California pinot noir and a more reticent Oregon pinot noir. A very nice drink for pinot noir lovers.