Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wine Reivews: Grab Bag of California Reds

I taste a lot of California Cabernets and Pinot Noirs for the daily wine blog Terroirist. These popular varietal wines get a lot of attention, and rightly so. But today I’ve lumped together some "other" California reds, Zins, Merlots and a few red blends. Hearty, bold reds like these can make even the coldest winter day bearable. All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.
SRP: $18
Medium purple color. Aromas show red currants, wild raspberries as well as tobacco and some herbal-spicy notes. Dry tannins provide structure and medium acid keeps it together. I like the cranberry and tangy raspberry notes, as well as the pepper, dill pickle and tobacco flavors. It’s ripe, yet subtle at the same time. Actually, this wine could be called elegant, and I can’t remember the last time I used that word to describe California Zinfandel. 79% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and 1% Merlot, aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points)

If you like Zin, Grgich Hills is such a reliable bet.
2010 Grgich Hills Zinfandel Estate Grown - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $35
Bright medium ruby color. On the nose, I get a whole lot: smoke and charcoal, vanilla and earth, black currant jam, paved street and asphalt, some pepper. Full and glycerin-like on the palate, with black currants and prune fruit. Lots of secondary flavors: earth and iron and mineral, bell pepper and black pepper, asphalt and rocks. Delicious and complex stuff, but I bet this could benefit from a year or two in the cellar. (90 points)

2010 Vie Winery Zinfandel Beatty Ranch - California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
SRP: $39
Blueberry, strawberry rhubarb pie, smoke, red licorice, sweet flowers… what an aromatic display. Rich and plush on the palate, with chewy tannins and some acid for balance. A mix of blueberry and strawberry combines in this tart yet bold display of fruit. Notes of black pepper, sweet pipe tobacco, earth and clove linger onto the finish. Beautifully bold, this wine also delivers serious complexity and the capacity for improvement in the cellar. Wow, what a great example of old-vine Howell Mountain Zinfandel. (93 points)

A lineup of Ravenswood wines is a beautiful thing.
2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Dickerson - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $35
Clear light rub color. Black cherries in the nose, not as expressive as the Old Hill or Belloni. Nice tanginess to the acid, lighter tannins, but nicely drying. Red currants and plums, tangy, some clay-earth notes. A bit lacking compared to other Ravenswood Zins perhaps, but tasty. 100% Zin, 19 months in 25% new French oak. (85 points)

2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Ruby color. Creamy fruit on the nose, red raspberries, black cherries, violets and roses. I like the tangy acid on the palate and the silky tannins. Full of flavor, with plums and ripe raspberries and roses, all fresh and seamless, with earth and smoke and rose accents. Dare I say elegant? A lot of complexity, but it seems ready to drink now. 75% Zinfandel, 25% “mixed blacks” 19 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points)

2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Hill - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $60
Clear bright ruby color. Spice-toned nose with raspberries, red cherries and sweet red licorice. Fine tannins and medium acid on the palate. Raspberry and red plum fruit dominates, and there’s a lot of spice, earth, chestnut and eucalyptus. A nice brisk finish. Pure and lively. 75% Zinfandel and 25% “mixed blacks” aged 19 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

Ravenswood has been making bold, deep Sonoma reds since
the late '70s. This Carignan-based blend is a great example.
2011 Ravenswood “Icon Mixed Blacks - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $75
A purple-magenta color. Smells of blueberries and raspberries, charcoal smoke, sweet black licorice. I’m surprised by the tangy acid, which checks the juicy black cherry and wild blueberry fruit. Firm tannic power, lots of loam, red clay and granite flavors. Full and fleshy but quite easy to drink. I love the pepper and soy sauce notes on the finish. An old school Sonoma blend of 47% Carignan, 26% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah and 5% Alicante Bouschet. 19 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2010 Ravenswood “Pickberry - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $50
A darker ruby-purple color. Dark aromatics of caramel and brown sugar on top of plums, charcoal, violets, bell pepper and smoke. Grippy on the palate, with firm tannins and flreshy fruit. Mushroom and leather notes mix with the black cherry and blackberry fruit. A blend of 53% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cab Franc and 2% Malbec. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak. (87 points)

SRP: $18
Bright purple-ruby color. Smells like sweet plums, caramel and a coconut and bourbon note. Rich and jammy on the palate, with smooth tannins and medium-to-low acid. Sweet plums and blackberries mix with vanilla and smoke. More of a party red than a food-friendly wine. Not sure what’s in here, but I’m guessing Zin and Petite Sirah. (85 points)

2012 Magnolia Court Merlot - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
A bright purple color. Smells a bit hot, some roasted plum, coffee and a spicy-cedar note. Tannins are rounded out enough, and there’s a bit of acid as well. Nice mix of red plums with richer, blueberry fruit, all full and ripe. Some notes of earth and pepper. I get this flavor that reminds me of vanilla and fig cookies on the finish. I liked this better than their 2012 Cabernet. (86 points)

2010 Gundlach Bundschu Merlot Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $30
On the nose, dark currants and raspberries, also some blueberry tones, earth, roasted coffee. Firm, grippy tannins provide a lot of structure, but the acid shows some balance. The black cherry, currant and blueberry fruit is pure, delicious and full of flavor. Complex flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, vanilla and dried leaves. A young wine that would benefit from some unwinding, but this is a lovely Merlot. 8% Cab, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. (90 points)

Review: 2009 Grgich Hills Merlot Estate Grown - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $42
Love the aromas: I get fresh red currants, roses and violets, tobacco, even some peppermint? Surprisingly grippy on the palate, with firm tannins and moderate acid. Darker fruit (more like black currants and black cherries) along with some tobacco and graphite. A good amount of cedar and mocha, but overall I think it balances out. Long finish with notes of potting soil and vanilla. Very nice, but this is another one for the cellar. (90 points)

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc “Stepping Stone - California, Napa Valley
On the nose I get lots of deep black currants, black cherries, and some loamy, tobacco notes. Very rich, but this has firm tannins and some tangy acid. The blackberry and currant fruit is creamy and rich, laced with chewing tobacco, mint and toasted oak and charcoal. But it’s not overblown, as this maintains freshness and a bit of mineral. Long finish. Opulent now, but you could definitely hold onto this for a bit. (90 points)

2010 JL Giguiere Tempranillo “Matchbook” - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $15
On the nose, smoke and charcoal mix in with black and red currants and dark plums, after a bit of air it showed more rose and tobacco aromas. Fine tannins, medium acid. The plummy, currant and raspberry fruit is velvety and tangy, backed up by cherry wood, hazelnut and dark roasted coffee. Some tobacco leaf and smoke on the finish. A blend of 83% Tempranillo, 10% Tannat and 7% Graciano, aged in a mix of French, Hungarian and American oak, 20% new. Very good for the money. (89 points)

2011 Palmeri “Dark and Brooding - California, Sonoma County
Clear, medium ruby color. Aromas of cassis, black cherries, rose petals, cedar, some roasted coffee. Medium tannins, a little dusty, some moderate acid for freshness. Fleshy black cherries and dark plums are mixed in with chestnut, cedar and soil notes, a nice kick of sweet pipe tobacco and vanilla on the finish. Powerful and rich, but it maintains and silky feel. Drinking well right now. Despite the “dark and brooding” moniker, this is very lively. They don’t say what varieties are in here, but it sure drinks like a Cab-Merlot-Cab Franc-Malbec blend. (90 points)

SRP: $20
Smells like barbecue sauce, plums, blackberries, smoke and some coffee. Fine, silky tannins, low acid. The palate shows residual sugar-coated raspberries and blackberries, along with notes of coffee, toast and caramel, a hint of spice. Fun, but it drinks more like a cocktail. (81 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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