Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enjoying the Wines of Two Shepherds (Again)

Restrained California Rhone wines. More and more frequently, they are popping up and gaining attention. One of my favorite examples is Sonoma-based Two Shepherds, which focuses on cooler climate sites, lower alcohol and minimalist winemaking. The one-man army behind this outfit, William Allen, crafts a range of white and red wines from Rhone grapes that aim for elegance and subtletly over bombast.

I enjoyed sipping Two Shepherds wines during an online event earlier this year and at a Rhone Rangers tasting in Washington, DC this summer. So I was excited when I learned William would be visiting my favorite wine shop in the nation’s capital, Weygandt Wines. Weygandt, which focuses mainly on old world producers, picked up Two Shepherds a few months ago and now sells some of Williams wines. 

Most of them come from the Russian River Valley, where Rhone varieties are less common than the staples Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But Two Shepherds has also released a 100% Cinsault from Lodi, a delicious anomaly from 130-year-old vines, and William dabbles in fruit from Santa Ynez and El Dorado. 

Some notes from the wines I tasted...

2013 Two Shepherds Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
So bright and clean on the nose. Fresh and lively palate with beautiful acid and lots of stony minerality. Elegant, long finish. Another great showing from this wine. 33 cases made. (91 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Bursts with peaches, flowers, minerals, some chalky saline elements. Palate is clean and salty with apricot, orange peel and white tea. Very pleasant and fresh and inviting, as always. William’s largest production white, which means a whopping 105 cases. 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc.  (90 points)

2013 Two Shepherds Cinsault Ancient Vines Bechthold Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Nose is bright and peppery, with roses, minerals, a light yet deep and complicated blend of smells. Silky soft on the palate with fine tannins. White cherries and strawberries, mixed with roses. Complex yet crisp, a real treat with lots of depth and gravel, rocky notes. This wine is something else. Morgon meets Northern Rhone meets Lodi rose? I don’t know what to compare this wine to, but I love it. 100% whole cluster fermented from what William said is believed to be the oldest Cinsault vines anywhere. Glad I was able to snag a bottle for the cellar. 35 cases made. (92 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Syrah | Mourvedre - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Bright cherries and plums, a hint of blueberry on the nose along with bright flowers and a hint of green olive. So bright and clean on the palate, a tangy wine but medium tannin for support. I love the combination of red fruit with these pepper, mineral and graphite notes. 50 cases made. 12.3% alcohol. (90 points)

2012 Two Shepherds Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Vibrant aromatics of bright cherries and blueberries, along with some floral and earthy tones. Tangy, bright and fresh on the palate, but fine tannins, combining for a smooth mouthfeel. Love the red roses, pepper and mineral elements to this wine. Complex, elegant, another stunning wine from Two Shepherds. (91 points)

Some of these wines are available at Weygandt’s shop in DC’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. Otherwise, check out www.TwoShepherds.com for more information on how to get your hands on some. 
If you’re a fan of California Rhones, stay tuned to the Rhone Rangers’ event page. I’ve heard the Rhone Rangers are headed back to DC’s Longview Gallery for another tasting in mid-2015.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Crémant d’Alsace: More Bubbles for Your Buck

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If I could afford it, I’d drink Champagne always. But Crémant d’Alsace tends to be my go-to bubbly when I’m trying not to break the bank. I served a Crémant d’Alsace at my wedding last year, and it was a huge hit — and not very expensive.

I recently tasted through four Crémants d’Alsace and enjoyed all of them. These wines were received as trade samples and, because there were only four of them, tasted sighted.

N.V. René Muré Crémant d’Alsace Brut - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $18
Salty on the nose with some hazelnut, biscuits, quinine and crushed rocks. Fine bubbles, medium acid, some creaminess to the mouthfeel, stays lean and zippy though. Ruby red grapefruit and green apple mix with elements of cucumber water, minerals and limestone. Notes of graham cracker, vanilla and almond. Decent depth and length of finish, with elements of oyster shell. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. (87 points)

N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $20
Nose of white and red flowers, watermelon and strawberries. Very fizzy on the palate, this is a fun wine, but it's neither deep nor complex. Tangy with flavors of watermelons, strawberries, lemons and some minerals. Seems like a crowd-pleasing pink bubbly. 100% Pinot Noir. (85 points)

SRP: $29
Crisp and clean aromas of oyster shell, flowers, white peach and white cherries. Creamy but tangy on the palate, the white cherry and apricot fruit is laced with oceanic elements of sea salt and oyster shell. Finishes with minerals and slight toast. 100% Pinot Noir From 40-year-old vines in Orschwihr. (87 points)

N.V. Domaine Agape Crémant d’Alsace “Emotion” - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $23
Smells like white flowers, green apple, toasted and salted nuts and. Big and creamy on the palate, but also fine and tangy. Green apple, white peach and some lime, the wine is also laced with minerals and toasted bread. Solid complexity and depth. (88 points)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Two 2009 Syrahs from California

Copain has consistently been one of my favorite purveyors of Cali Syrah.
California Syrah has seen its ups and downs. Many of my wine friends unloaded their Cali Syrah years ago as their palates and interests changed. But I find there are so many producers and such variety that I’ve never grown mildly bored or tired with the stuff. I still buy it, I still drink it, I still love it.

I’ve been cooking a lot at home lately, even more than usual, and I recently grilled up some steaks and sipped on some Cali Syrah from the cellar. I was reminded yet again why I keep coming back to Cali Syrah, year after year.

2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins 
California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands 
Huge magenta color. Tons of tart, rich black and red currant fruit on the nose, blackberries, some loam and graphite. Dusty tannins, the red and black currants and cherries taste tart and crunchy, but some nice freshness from the acid. Lots of deep rocky, granite, loam and mineral elements. Some lovely mushroom and nutshell elements on the long finish. Showing a lot of flavor but some class as well. With time some cola and root beer elements come out with some sage and sweet basil. I managed to cellar my only bottle for 2.5 years, but I’d love to try it again in three or four. 13.9% alcohol. Copain produces some of my favorite Cali Syrahs, especially from Mendocino regions like the Yorkville Highlands. I picked this up for $35 while visiting Copain in 2012. 
(91 points)  

2009 Arger-Martucci Syrah
California, Napa Valley
A magenta color. Fresh black and red fruits on the nose, some deep violets and roses. With time I pick up some earthy tones, maybe some charcoal, some peppered steak. Juicy red and black currant fruit on the palate, medium acid, some grippy tannins, adding a dusty feel. I love the olive tapenade and roasted red pepper elements, in addition to pepper and smoke. Some black licorice candies, fallen leaves and slight toast on the finish. Big but complex and showing a nice velvety mouthfeel with time in the decanter. You’ll be fine cellaring this for a few years. From estate vineyards in Atlas Peak. I picked this up at auction for $12, and what a steal it was! 

(89 points) 

Which Cali Syrahs have you been drinking lately?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lodi Native: a Master Class in Old Vine Zinfandel

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

When I heard about Lodi Native, I was instantly intrigued. Old vines, historic vineyards, minimalist winemaking, indigenous yeasts, no new oak, no fining or filtration. What’s not to love?

Through this collaborative effort, a group of winegrowers in the Mokelumne River AVA seeks to reclaim Lodi’s heritage by crafting complex, terroir-driven Zinfandels. The fruit comes from very old vines, some dating back to the late 1800s.

All six of the wines come from the 2012 vintage, all from Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. Tasting all six together, I was stunned by the tremendous variation in flavors and textures, and found it fascinating to dissect my perceptions of each wine. They’re all very high quality, and picking a favorite comes down to personal preference.

Collectively, these are some of the most thought-provoking Zinfandels I’ve tasted in a very long time. They’re deep, complex, lingering, surprisingly elegant and quite food-friendly. They comprise a master class in old vine Lodi Zinfandel.

The wines are only sold as a group; a six-bottle case goes for $180. They were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.
Winemaker, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
Grower, Leland Noma
Black cherry colored. On the nose, a mix of dark fruit (blackberries and black cherries) with cranberry and strawberries, some roses, sweet barbecue sauce and black pepper. On the palate, this wine is juicy and freshly textured with fine acid. Charcoal and pepper accent the ripe black cherries, Bordeaux cherries and strawberries. Notes of black tea and crushed rocks mix with sweet spice and barbecue sauce. Fresh, juicy, but complex, dare I say elegant? You can just taste the old vines in this juice. So easy to drink, not overdone at all. Quite gorgeous. A Zinfandel for the open-minded, the nerd, the adventurous. (92 points)

A Century Block vine, doing its old, gnarly thing.
Winemaker, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
Light ruby-cherry colored. Lovely nose of crunchy red berries (cranberries, strawberries and sour cherries), some notes of sweet roses and rhubarb mixed in with some cracked pepper. On the palate, this is fruit-forward but bright with silky tannins and medium acid. The raspberry and strawberry fruit is fresh and tangy. Notes of white pepper and soy blend with roses and rhubarb. There’s a lovely silkiness to this wine; it has such a very restrained and approachable style. Long, gorgeous finish with notes of meat and pickles. Honestly, while tasting, the thought crossed my mind: maybe — just maybe! — someone slipped some Pinot into this Zin. 14% alcohol. From a 3-acre vineyard planted in 1905. (91 points)

Winemaker Michael McCay, checking up on the Trulux vines.
Winemaker, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
Grower, Keith Watts
Dark ruby colored. Black cherries, some smoke, bright red plums, dusty earth, pencil shavings and chestnuts. Juicy plum and black cherry fruit, I’m surprised and pleased by the pleasant acid and fine tannins. One of the earthier wines in the mix, with campfire soot, loam, tree bark and fallen leaves. Bold but showing restraint. Deep iron, rocks, and charcoal notes, some sweet lavender and violets. A bit heavier in body (14.6%) than some of the other wines, but still very pretty. Long, fresh finish of white pepper and floral perfume. (89 points)

Winemaker, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)
Growers, Jerry & Bruce Fry (Mohr-Fry Ranches)
Dark ruby colored. A burst of black cherries and blackberries on the nose, along with loamy soil, fallen leaves and rose potpourri. On the palate, this wine is rich and creamy, with medium tannins and acid. Nice mix of blackberry, black cherry and strawberries on the palate, the fruit is velvety, perhaps a bit chewy, almost like those fruit leather snacks. Notes of roses, black tea, light roast coffee, mossy rocks and nutshells add complexity. Lots of different flavors going on here, this is a very complex wine, and with air all these different dried fruit and spice elements come out to play well together. A bold wine, but so fresh and silky, especially on the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Made from an 8-acre vineyard originally planted in 1901. (90 points)

Winemaker, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Grower, Todd Maley
Medium ruby colored. A long, complex nose of fresh and dried berry fruit (strawberries, red currants, some dried cranberry) underlying violet, coffee bean, some cinnamon and red licorice. This wine announces itself on the palate with bold dark currant, some plum skins, blackberry-blueberry, darker fruit on the palate than I was expecting from the nose. I like the mix of sweet tea and candied nut flavors mixed in with elements of graphite, iron and loam. Chewy tannins complement the medium acid, and the finish is long, allowing you to pull out various sweet, savory and spicy tones. A big but beautiful Zinfandel at 14.9% alcohol. Made from a vineyard planted in 1958. (91 points)

Soucie Vineyard. These old vines produce seriously complex wine.
Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)
Grower, Kevin Soucie
Cherry-ruby colored. Ripe but fresh on the nose with strawberries, raspberries, roses, tea leaves and tar. Silky and creamy on the palate, with medium acid and fine tannins for structure. The strawberry and raspberry fruit is tangy but ripe, offering a silky mouthfeel. Accents of chestnut, cracked pepper, roses and chestnut. Refined, long with notes of savory spices on the finish. Made from a vineyard planted in 1916. (90 points)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Decent Rioja for $10? deAlto Amo Delivers

Friends frequently ask me for wine recommendations in the $10 range. It’s not hard to find drinkable wines in this price range, but it is hard to find wines that offer something memorable.

Every once in a while, I stumble across some cheap wines that I find delicious and also telling of their region’s story. I recently tasted two Riojas (a white and a red) that fit this bill.

A project from Goelet Wine Estates (which owns Napa’s Clos du Val), deAlto Amo makes some solid, entry-level versions of this classic Spanish wine. The white is a blend of Vuira and Chardonnay, the red a mix of Tempranillo and Garnacha.

Here are my notes on the wines...

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja Blanco - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Smells of oyster shell and white flowers on top of green apple and kiwi, a hint of vanilla and honey. Focused acid, the white peach and green apple fruit is crisp and crunchy but the wine also shows creamy honey, almond and white tea accents. A good amount of complexity, with a medium finish. 75% Viura and 25% Chardonnay. (86 points)

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Nose of black cherries, raspberry jam, some vanilla and toasted oak. Ripe red and black berry fruit on the palate, a silky frame, medium acid. Cherry cola, sweet pecans and mocha coat the fruit. A fun, easygoing blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha. Not very complex or cellar-worthy, but this wine delivers juicy, Rioja goodness. (85 points)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wine Reviews: Celebrating California Cabernet

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It seems Napa Valley will need a long time to recover from the recent earthquake. My heart goes out to everyone who was injured or sustained property damage. I’m saddened by all the social media images of broken library bottles, fallen wine barrels and spilled wine. But every year Napa vintners give us something to look forward to. Cabernet is Napa’s gift to the world, and I for one am thankful that so many people work so hard to make this great juice.

Many Napa Cabs appear in this report, but they come from all across California. They were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Overall, I found this to be a high-quality crew, with some really beautiful standouts.

2009 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Montana Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
A deep bold purple color. Smells of plum cake, currants, all lush and deep with cedar, graphite, sweet vanilla, mocha, so complex and evolving. Rich but structured on the palate, with sweet and chewy tannins, medium acid, a velvety feel. Flavors of roasted fig, currant jam, blackberry mix with graphite, cedar and a hint of sweet spice that reminds me of menthol and pepper jam. Still very young, but lovely, and so deep and mineral-driven on the finish. Wasn’t surprised to see this was a single mountain vineyard Cab. 100% Cabernet. (92 points)

2009 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
A brooding dark purple color. Takes a bit to open up aromatically, then shows black cherries, currant jam, mocha, deep violets and rich loamy soil. So much structure on the palate; the tannins show tons of grip, a bit of acid to keep it fresh. The black cherry and cassis tastes ripe, deep, but also tart. Lots of loam, tobacco leaf, loam and granite notes, accented by mocha, dark roast coffee and spiced cranberry sauce. Some black licorice and molasses on the finish. Big, such concentration, young, but beautiful and complex. Deserves to be buried for at least three-to-five before it probably comes out to show its best, but it will hold up for so long. (92 points)

2009 Cenyth Sonoma County Red Wine - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Deep purple colored. Aromas of currants and blackberries, along with loam, cedar, tobacco and bell pepper. Generous texture, with dusty tannins and medium acid. The flavors are really woven together well: fresh currants and black cherries, some tanginess to the fruit, and the secondary flavors come in waves: loam, bell pepper, tobacco and bay leaf. Notes of dried herbs, black olive and roses linger with cedar on the finish. Dusty, very pretty, could use a few years to unwind and will last for quite a while. A full Bordeaux squadron of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec. (91 points)

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $70
Deep ruby-purple colored. Aromas of currant jam, fig paste, roasted plums, along with black olives, charcoal and some sweet herbs. The palate shows plush tannins and tangy acid, supporting the waves of silky-smooth fruit (currant, blackberry, tangy blueberries). I love the mushroom, cigar box and sweet olive notes, which are rounded out with cedar and kirsch. So velvety and pure, complex and long. Drinking surprisingly well now, but I could easily bury this for five years to see what happens. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, aged in 60% new French oak for 21 months. (92 points)

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon “Moondance Dream” - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Violet-magenta color. The fruit aromas dark and deep, currant jam, dark plum skins, blackberries, but there’s also a lot of cedar, forest floor, roasted coffee and some bell pepper. Lots of grippy tannins on the palate, but balance comes from the acid, and the wine shows a velvety feel. I could write an essay on the textural elements of this wine. The black currant and black cherry fruit is pure, deep but also tangy. Integrated notes of cedar and vanilla, matched by sweet oregano and pepper. Very complex, deserving a long sleep, but a very special wine. Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot. (93 points)

2011 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Nose shows black and red currants and cherry fruit, but there’s a whole lot of tobacco, bell pepper, tar and smoke on the nose as well, which is really intoxicating and complex. Juicy red and black fruit on the palate, the firm tannins and medium acid cooperate to form a rich and fleshy mouthfeel. The tart berry fruit is mixed in with pencil shavings, chewing tobacco, spearmint, and I get these great tar and olive notes. Complex, earthy, worthy of sipping over a few days or burying in the cellar for four to six years. Includes 8% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and a 2% splash of Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah, aged 19 months in 25% new French oak, 13.5% alcohol. (90 points)

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $80
Deep and complex on the nose, with rich cherries, black and red currants, dusted with cedar, pencil shavings, mossy rocks and tobacco. Juicy and fleshy on the palate, with fine tannins and tangy acid. Crunchy red currants, some black cherries and strawberries. Lots of tobacco, bell pepper, graphite and charcoal notes. The sweet vanilla and cedar is well-integrated. Bold but also quite elegant, with tons of length on the finish. Could develop complexity with age, but I’m impressed at how well it’s showing now. Includes 10% Merlot and 6% Cab Franc, this wine is aged 24 months in 50% new French oak. (91 points)

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Joie Du Vin - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $400/Magnum
Rich and saucy on the nose, with black cherries, some coffee, pencil shavings and loamy soil. Tart red and black currants on the palate, grippy tannins, medium+ bodied, but an almost crunchy feeling from the tangy fruit and fresh acid. Notes of coffee, pepper and cedar shavings add complexity. Some mushroom, fallen leaves and cherry wood come out with time. Finishes long with notes of loam, granite and toasted oak, but it stays tangy. 100% Cabernet, aged 26 months in 50% new French oak, this wine is made from several select barrels at the estate vineyard in Stags Leap. A very good wine, but not cheap. (91 points)

2012 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $35
Vibrant purple color. Smells of red and black currants, some smoke and graphite notes, a bit of sweet cocoa and cinnamon. Juicy red and black fruit on a firm tannic backbone with a fresh acidic frame. Earth, tobacco and clove accent the juicy currant fruit. Long, tangy, open, showing well now. Some olive and bell pepper accents the finish. Aged in 30% new French oak and 10% new American oak, includes 9% Merlot in the blend. (89 points)

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $15
Bright purple color. Cool red and black berry fruit on the nose, some spicy cedar and oak, a bit tight and hesitant, requiring time to open up to show some underlying earth and pine forest notes. Medium to light tannins, very fine, with a moderate dose of acid. The black cherry and dark plum is ripe but also showing some tartness. Notes of pine resin, menthol and cedar accent the fruit, some mocha lingering on the finish. Bright and lively. (86 points)

SRP: $35
Medium purple color. Saucy and rich on the nose, with dark plums, currant jam, some vanilla, clove and sweet mocha. On the palate, medium tannins, not too drying, medium acid. Darker berry fruit (black currants, dark plum skins) notes of cola, toast, spearmint, chewing tobacco, a hint of bell pepper. With time, some underlying mushroom and black olive notes come out. Full and long, I think it needs a few years to show its best. Aged 15 months in 2/3 new French oak, this Cab contains some Syrah, Petite Sirah Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Merlot. (88 points)

SRP: $60
A medium purple color. Beautiful nose of currant jam, fleshy black cherries, sweet lavender and cedar, some dark roast coffee and forest floor. Very complex and evocative on the nose. Full on the palate but some tanginess and grippy tannins. Tart black currants and blueberries, mixed in with notes of peppered steak, mushroom, some sweet and savory spices, spearmint, tobacco. A bit tightly wound, a good decant could help, but perhaps four or five years in the cellar would yield an even more harmonious wine. Includes 13% Petite Verdot, this wine is aged 20 months in 77% new oak, 13.8% alcohol. (91 points)

SRP: $28
Medium purple colored. Lots of tart cranberries, red currants, dried roses and cedar shavings on the nose. Fresh and tangy on the palate with tart berries, fine tannins, crisp acid and only 13.5% alcohol. I usually associate Franciscan with a rich and bold style, but this shows a lot of freshness, graphite aspects and tangy red fruit. I also get notes of black pepper, leather and mushroom notes. Includes 10% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot and a 1% dash of both Syrah and Cab Franc. Drinking well now. Solid buy at $28. (87 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Aromas of sweet black cherries and raspberries, also very floral, with notes of sweet caramel, cedar and mushroom. The palate shows fleshy texture, fine but structured tannins and a good amount of tanginess from the acid. The berry fruit is pulpy and fleshy, backed up by a delicious blend of mushroom, cedar, root beer, menthol, loam. Complex, surely this will evolve for quite a while, but I’m surprised by how well it’s drinking right away. Loving these lingering non-fruit flavors. (91 points)

2010 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $53
Deep ruby color. Lots of bright red fruit on the nose (cherries, red currants) some tobacco leaf, mocha, loam and white pepper, all of it intertwined well. The palate shows fine tannins and juicy fruit (black cherry, red currant, some plum) along with moderate+ acid. I like the dusty, forest floor aspects of this wine, and there are some cedar and tobacco notes as well. Good structure, but showing openness and vibrancy now. 76% Cab, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, aged 12 months in 39% new French and American oak. (89 points)

Vibrant purple color. Nose of sweet violets, fountain cola, and raspberry, plum and blackberry jam mixed together, underlying mushroom and sweet balsamic notes need time to fully come out. On the palate, the berry fruit is tart is juicy, coated in soot, graphite and mushroom, which add interesting elements to contemplate. Notes of coconut shavings and mocha on the finish. Very fine tannins and medium acid, the fresh fruit combines in a silky mouthfeel that offers immediate pleasure. A skilled but a fan-friendly effort. (88 points)

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Bright purple color. Lovely currants and black cherry sauce on the nose, some cedar, pencil shavings and roasted coffee. On the palate this wine is juicy and approachable with fine tannins and some fresh acid. Juicy and fleshy, with black cherry and currant fruit, some underlying cola, vanilla and root beer. An undeniably fun and tasty wine that delivers droves of happiness but also shows some complexity. Some dust, tobacco and bell pepper note slinger on the finish. Some decent structure, but seems ready for business. (88 points)

SRP: $20
Bright magenta-purple color. Nose of dark berries (blackberries and black currants), some roasted nut qualities, along with some mocha, menthol and cedar. Bold on the palate with waves of currant and black cherry fruit. A great mixture of non-fruit elements, which remind me of menthol, cedar, roasted nuts, black olive and coffee. Includes a bit of Petite Sirah and Merlot. Solid value. (87 points)

SRP: $60
Dark purple colored. On the nose, wild, dark berry fruit with a lot of intensity, some tobacco and spice undertones, cigar smoke. The palate shows a lot of density, with firm tannins lining up with the fresh acid. The fruit is pure, dark and deep, almost brooding but not quite, there’s still a real sense of freshness and silkiness to this wine. The fruit is equally matched with notes of tobacco leaf, dusty soil and graphite, a slight herbal aspect. Very complex and inviting, with a finish of cedar and sweet vanilla. Basically, this is beautiful stuff. So nuanced already, but it has time ahead. 100% Cab, spends 18 months in French oak. (92 points)

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
Aromas of plum cake, fig paste, also violets and roses, eucalyptus, tobacco and soil. Fresh acid, but grippy structure, the plums, currants and mulberries combine to form a rich but an almost crunchy mouthfeel. Lots of spice, clove, rose hips and tobacco. Needs cellaring or a very long decant. Includes 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot, aged 23 months in 50% new French oak barrels. (92 points)

2010 Mira Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $52
Nose of tangy red fruit (cranberries, red currants) some darker fruit underneath, also some tobacco, sweet roses, cedar shavings, pencil lead. Firm, grippy tannic structure. Tart cranberry mixes with rich black cherries and currant jam. Mouthfilling but tart, with rose hips, cigar smoke, lots of eucalyptus and incense notes. Big but precise, the flavors glide across the palate with ease. Still, it could use time to smooth out. Includes 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah aged 20 months in 60% new French oak. (89 points)

2011 Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Red and black currants and plums on the nose, some cola, vanilla, cedar and something that reminds me of mossy rocks, which is actually very nice. On the palate I get juicy red currants, dark plums, the fruit is clean and fresh. Medium tannins, they’re fined down and the acid provides freshness. I get some good tobacco, sweet baking spices and menthol, some soy. Very pretty and open, seems more of a near-term drinker but a high-quality one. A bit of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc blended in. (88 points)

2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $60
Dark purple-black color. On the nose, sweet cassis and plums, cedar and dark chocolate. Bold but showing freshness on the palate, with rich plummy-blackberry themes. Some loam, graphite and cola aspects add complexity. Tanginess helps keep it balanced with the creamy tannins. Olive and tobacco notes came out with time, along with a mineral note on the finish. A lovely young Cabernet that could show a lot more as it unwinds in the cellar. Aged 22 months in 85% new French oak, a dash of Merlot and Cab Franc in here. (92 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
SRP: $85
Dark purple color. On the nose, this is deep, complex and exotic, with black currant and blueberry mixed in with black tea, violets, cedar elements, clove and roses. On the palate, the tannins are bold but fine and pleasant, balanced out by superb acid. Black cherry, tart blueberry and currant fruit, fresh but just a bit jammy. Wonderful Howell Mountain mix of charcoal, iron and graphite with these delicious cola, anise cookie and ginger snap elements. Big but so elegant. Lovely and long, cellar-worthy or give it a serious decant. (93 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $85
Deep purple-magenta color. Nose shows black cherries and blueberries, and I get this pervading scent of fresh mulch, also some mocha and mulling spices. Firm tannic punch, a full-bodied wine with medium- acid. Very grippy and toasty, the blackberry and blueberry fruit is coated with espresso, loamy soil, old library books, soy and roasted red pepper elements. Long finish with pencil shavings and Brazil nuts. Very good stuff, but it needs time to unravel. (90 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $85
Ruby purple color. Dark and earthy on the nose, like charcoal soot, forest floor and portobello mushroom on top of deep, extracted berry fruit. Dense nose, takes time to open up. Full and velvety on the palate but the tannins are quite fine, balanced a bit by medium acid. Waves of blackberry, blueberry and pomegranate fruit roll in, backed up by notes of cedar, cherry wood and cigar smoke. Some chewing tobacco and roasted chestnut linger onto the finish. Rich and creamy but well-structured. Complex, long, needs time to open up but this will be beautiful in four or five years. (91 points)

2011 Scotto Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon “50 Harvests” - California, Napa Valley
Deep and dark on the nose, requiring some coaxing before the aromas come out: boysenberry, blackberries, sweet cocoa powder and coffee, some violets and sarsaparilla. Smooth and silky on the palate, with velvety tannins and medium acid. Fleshy black cherries and plums are backed up by notes of cola, sweet mocha, black olive, granite and pencil lead. Time pulls out notes of sarsaparilla, clove and vanilla. Long, pure, elegant and delicious. Very open and attractive, but could be tucked away for a few years. 13.9% alcohol, includes 6% Petite Verdot. (91 points)