Tag Archives: wine under $30

Robert Parker 97 pt Rated – Louis M Martini Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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IMG_3252Closing in on 4 years later I finally took Michael Martini’s whispered advice and sampled “the Alexander Valley”. Yes, albeit a different vintage, but yet once again a wine renowned for its quality. With many recent 90pt plus ratings, Louis M Martini wines, from Sonoma to Napa Valley, have been flying off the shelves at our Whole Foods Market. For my 2013 background story click here.  I wonder what  Michael Martini The Wine Whisperer would have to say about his 2014 vintages….

My notes:

Dark ruby-red in color. Luscious and rich fruit on the nose upon decanting with notes of; spice, resinous woods, smoky cedar, leather and a earthy/dusty quality. On the palate; deliciously red and dark fruit forward with strawberry, black currant and blackberry noted.

I have to agree with Robert Parker’s comment: “This is a beauty”.  If this Alexander Valley beauty is available to you, it is well worth the just under $30 price tag. As per The Wine Advocate review will it age well for 20 years? Probably so. But why wait. Don’t think twice. It will not disappoint.   ¡SALUD!

Winemaker notes:

The 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has received high critical praise for its decadent black cherry, black current and blackberry aromas and flavors that weave together with earthy notes of truffle, tobacco and smoky cedar. This expansive wine is dense, rich and well-structured, held together beautifully by assertive tannins that lead into a long, full finish. Its depth and structure give the wine potential to easily age a decade or more.

The Wine Advocate/Robert Parker 97pts.“The bigger, richer 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petite Sirah aged 16 months in 50% new French and American casks. This is a bigger wine and close to 2% higher in alcohol at 15.5%. There are 11,000 cases of this big, full-bodied, boisterous Cabernet Sauvignon that has a dense ruby/purple color, notes of underbrush, forest floor, tobacco leaf and oodles of blackcurrants and black cherries, with a touch of woodsmoke. The full-bodied wine hits the palate with a cascade of glycerin, fruit and purity. This is a beauty – dense, rich, and structured, but capable of lasting 20 or more years.”

 

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Wine Spectator Top 100 – #45 tikal Patriota 2012 Malbec Bonarda Blend

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TIKALtikal Patriota 2012 Malbec Bonarda

Once again I was excited to discover a recent 2014 WINE SPECTATOR Top 100 selection among our shelves at Whole Foods Market North Miami. This Ernesto Catena (the eldest son of Nicolás Catena of Catena Zapata) wine had been selling briskly ever since I brought it in a few months ago but now that the word is out I am constantly refilling our shelves. Here’s hoping it continues to be available and does not sell out quickly as vinos tend to do once praised with this kind of attention. Luckily for us earlier vintages have also been rated in the 90+ range and deservedly so.

Ernesto Catena Vineyards info: Tikal is owned by Ernesto Catena and is named after his son. Ernesto spent his childhood in the vineyards of Mendoza among wine-growers and local pundits. Since then, he has experienced a kaleidoscope of cultures, living in New York, Buenos Aires, Berkeley, Cambridge (MA), Milan and London. But his heart remains in his homeland of Argentina (where he now lives), with its natural beauty of mountains, streams and vineyards, its wines, and its people who hold a special passion for living.

Luis Reginato is the winemaker at Tikal behind the 2012 vintage. He has been with TIKAL and the Catena family since 2002 overseeing various wine lines.  In the 10 plus years he has developed a reputation of having a Midas-touch producing wines consistently rated in the 90+ range.  Usually coming in under $25.00, I like the fact that these wines are not exaggeratedly priced. The Tikal Patriota can currently be found for $18-$23.00.

I have long been a fan of the Malbec and Bonarda varietals and am excited to see such blends increasing in the marketplace. Some even including Syrah. This one in particular comes in at 60% Malbec and 40% Bonarda from Vista Flores and La Vendimia Mendoza. Aged 12 months in 70% French and 30% American oak.

My notes included red fruit [strawberry, raspberry] on the nose along with vanilla spiciness. On the palate the fruit flavors turned darker [plum, blackberry], chocolate, with the oak spiciness and earthiness at mid-palate and beyond. For me I think this wine needed to age a bit in the bottle or decant for longer. Although I started to imbibe as soon as the cork was popped, I did not note a varied difference at the 1 hour mark. Unfortunately I was not able to give the wine more time to develop which I feel it would have. Did I enjoy it? Wholeheartedly yes.  Will I continue to recommend this wine and praise its accolades? Yes again. But, the next time I serve this wine you can bet it will be decanted for over an hour or if patience allows I’ll be drinking it 1-2 years from now when I believe it will be at its true peak. ¡SALUD!

 

Winemaker’s Notes

Deep reddish purple with aromas of bright berry/cherry fruit. Like swallowing a whole bowl of mixed ripe berries at once. Big body yet very balanced, with luscious layers of raspberry, cherry, and cocoa flavors. Just a hint of baking spice at the end brings it all together. Pairs well with grilled meats such as beef and pork, smoked ham, and even pizza with meat toppings. Incredibly fun to drink!

WS Tasting Note

Tikal Patriota 2012 is a blend of 60% Bonarda and 40% Malbec hand harvested with no fining and no filtering and aged 70% in French oak (40% new) and 30% in 2nd use American oak. This Argentine red offers intense layered flavors of raspberry, cherry, cocoa, with a hint of spice, full body and excellent balance with a long finish. “A rich red, packed with concentrated flavors of blackberry, dark plum and mocha, featuring plenty of dark chocolate notes. Offers a ripe texture, with creamy accents and hints of savory herb on the long finish.” -Wine Spectator (91 Points)

SALDO – The Prisoner Wine Company

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whineandcheersforwine.com

This wine has been a house favorite for quite a few years. I do not remember exactly how I came to discover it but most likely the introduction was made by a certain Zinfandel loving pair we call neighbors and great friends. Gotta love it when friends and wine come together.

Originally from Dave Phinney the winemaker/founder for The Prisoner / Orin Swift wines. SALDO is now produced by The Prisoner Wine Company since the sale of the company in 2009. From TPWC:

When we took ownership of The Prisoner and Saldo in 2009 from Orin Swift, we knew assembling the right team would be essential. With more than a decade of winemaking experience at Ravenswood crafting Zinfandel, Jen Beloz was the ideal person to take the lead. In order to remain true to the wine’s original style and vision, Jen worked alongside Dave Phinney, founder of The Prisoner, for the first two vintages.

Interestingly many wine lovers and fans of these wines think that Orin Swift is a real person. In fact the name was created by Dave Phinney himself. Orin is his father’s middle name and Swift his mother’s maiden name.

saldoBefore SALDO the wine gets you hooked, the bottle label or lack thereof grabs your attention. I love the minimalism of the old-fashioned, retro for most, hand embossed label. Customers enjoy not only looking at it but touching and reliving their memories of making their own labels.

From TPWC: The word “saldo” has various meanings throughout the romance languages of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. In Spanish, it mainly refers to “balance on hand,” and sometimes it can also be interpreted “from here and there.”

Most recently vino and friendship crossed paths again and I got to enjoy the 2011 vintage SALDO at a local Miami Beach restaurant with an out-of-town friend. Once I saw it on the wine menu, and well priced at that, the decision was made. This rich, velvety, medium bodied, fruit forward blend of 83% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah paired beautifully with dishes such as; Ropa Vieja [Cuban shredded beef], Oxtail, Beef Tenderloin, grilled brussels sprouts, cheese grits, macaroni and cheese and even tostones [fried plantains]. Heck, it drank deliciously by itself.

whineandcheersforwine.com

Winemaker Notes:

The 2011 Saldo has an intense ruby color and bold aromas of dark berry fruit, blueberry pie, cardamom and baking spice. The entry is rich and full, and leads into a broad mid palate with concentration and density, backed by lively acidity. The texture is soft and velvety, with polished tannins. The finish is long with persistent notes of chocolate, roasted coffee bean and vanilla spice.

I like the consistency SALDO has shown along the way since first produced in 2007. I recommend it regularly at our store and it has become a customer favorite.  This wine is perfect for not only the Zin lovers and grill-masters out there but also for fans of big bold medium bodied, full flavored red blends. ¡SALUD!

Organic Wine – Heller Estate Organic Vineyards: Chenin Blanc

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Heller Estate @WCW2014

The Heller Estate Organic Vineyards are located in the Cachagua (Hidden Springs) region of Carmel Valley, Monterey California.

Officially certified 100% organic by the state of California I appreciate the fact that they offer a copy of the actual certificate on their web-site.  I had never seen one before.

For certification the winemakers and property have to follow methods such as; no use of pesticides. Interestingly no herbicides are employed, and the desired results are accomplished by using the organic matter left following the crushing and pressing of grapes, which is then spread in the middle of the vineyard rows in order to build the matter content of the vineyard soil. Weeds are controlled by the use of cover crops providing a habitat for insects and spiders which are beneficial.  These grapes are also dry-farmed, little to no irrigation is used.

I originally became a fan of Chenin Blanc when I discovered one of France’s earliest official A.O.C. [Appellation d’origine controlee] Vouvray: a white wine region of France’s Loire Valley Touraine district where Chenin Blanc is known as Pineau de la Loire. I later also came to enjoy the Chenin Blanc of South Africa where I was surprised to learn it is the most widely planted varietal and also known as Steen.

This all brings us to California where according to on-line sources:

-During the 1980’s California had more acreage of Chenin Blanc planted than France.

-For most of its history in California the grape was considered a “workhorse variety” that could be used anonymously in bulk and jug blends, ideally partnered with Colombard and Chardonnay.

Luckily for us this changed in the early 2000’s when plantings declined and quality increased.  Heller’s original plantings were done in 1968 with production starting in 1976. The organic certification was granted in 1996 after three vintages of clean farming. The vineyard encompasses 120 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir at an altitude of 1,200-1,500 feet.

As one would come to expect the wines from France are old-world in style, leaning towards soft and delicate.  South Africa and California come across as new-world, filled with boldness and intensity.

My tasting notes included:

On the nose; floral [honeysuckle] with melon [green melon and cantaloupe], pineapple, stone fruit with aromas getting stronger in minutes most likely caused by the warming room temperature.  Medium bodied. On the palate; honeysuckle, melon, tropical fruits such as lychee and soursop with some of the 13.7 % alcohol detectable along with mouth-watering acidity.

Winemaker notes:

Aroma; Honeydew melon, guava and mineral notes with lime and nectarine highlights.  Also look for nice touches of floral components (honeysuckle/narcissus). Palate; Immediate, luscious mouth feel that envelopes followed by perfectly balanced acid components. Flavors of green apple, quince and citrus abound. Lingering mid-palate that extends nicely into a flavor packed finish with just the right touch of bright acidity.

I was very pleased with this wine which is priced in the $18-$25.00 range.   So much so that I would happily serve it again and recommend it to our customers.  We paired ours with ginger grilled swordfish, roasted potatoes and spinach. I especially like the fact that it comes from organic grapes. A fact that automatically garners some wine buyers yet seems to turn others off.  A sort of generalized stigma is applied by some to “organic” wines.  A fact I do not understand and a fact that should not be applied in this case.

¡SALUD!  To fighting the good fight.

My Zin-ful Weekend – Old Vine Zinfandel that is..

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My weekend of Zin….

I must confess. It wasn’t planned and I had no control over it. Well, almost no control,  I guess I could have said no but since it was mostly my idea and I was hosting; I must enter my plea as; guilty.

My weekend was Zin-ful, full of Zin everywhere I turned. Zin Zin Zin. It was innocent enough when it started Friday after work over pizza. Ending Sunday night surrounded by friends over artesian cheeses [thank you Winn Dixie Cheese Steward!] and my lamb chili in what now has become known as BYO-Zin night.

As most of these unplanned social get togethers go the fourth or so wine is always a little difficult to recall but I did my best at keeping notes on as many of the wines as possible.

Starting the weekend off was the Project Paso 2009 Paso Robles Old Vine Zinfandel a new discovery for me and one I enjoyed so much I have shared it with friends and customers ever since. This wine is produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons who are known for producing accessibly priced quality wines:

The search for the class grapes led our grandfather to Sam Balakian in Paso Robles 30 years ago. Since then, we have been quietly blending Paso Robles juice to add depth, spice and complexity to our California appellation wines. What started out as a small project has now come to fruition. To pay homage to all the work our families have done over the past three decades, we felt it only proper to keep the name “Project Paso.”

Winemaker NotesThere is a vast complexity of flavors and aromas in this wine, driven by the unique Paso Robles soils and the blend of three Zinfandel vineyards. The nose opens up with dried fruit and concentrated blueberry aromas, with white pepper, warm Indian spices, and a touch of gaminess rounding out the background. This wine is similarly complex on the palate, with chocolate-covered cherry flavors balanced by old vine spice and a hint of sweet cigar. Earthy, medium-bodied, with a touch of minerality, this varietally correct Zinfandel gets its depth from Paso’s red soils.

My notes for Project Paso 2009 Paso Robles Old Vine Zinfandel:

Lingering full legs on the glass, dark fruit forward even jammy on the nose with prune, raisin and black cherry. Medium body with medium to light tannins. Very berry on the palate with a dark drier finish softening nicely as it opens.  Comments from guests; Classic Zin, vanilla taste, sugared plum scent, tasted dried fruits and a bit of chocolate, very earthy, lovely red color,  not too strong, not too weak..just right.

I usually see the Project Paso priced in the $14.99 range but recently as low as $11.99. Even lower on-line where it is attainable in the $10.00 range. At the lower price points [$10-$12] this is a BUY selection for me.

ST. Amant Mohr Fry Ranch 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi Appellation.

Next up: A discovery at one of our Total Wine & More classes last year that I was somehow able to cellar this long.  We were blown away by this powerful and intense Zinfandel at that time and I can see why.  In comparison to the other Zinfandels we sampled it is the NEW WORLD style of wine winner; very flavorful as all the others were but bolder. This one made the others seem as light as a Pinot Noir. Priced at $19.99 here is information provided by Total Wine & More:

Lodi, CA- In the heart of the Lodi Appellation. A classic Old Vine Zin – big, ripe, and chewy with rich raspberry and spicy blackberry flavors finishing with soft supple tannins. From the Mohr-Fry Ranch vineyard with 66+ year old vines. Certified green sustainable winegrowing vineyard.

My notes for the ST. Amant Mohr Fry Ranch 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel:

Dark and rich in color. Raisin, plum and prune on the nose with some wood [oak, cedar?].  Also, tobacco, violet/licorice and sweet fruit smell noted. In addition; blackberry and cocoa were detected on the palate.

This wine would be a worthy repeat offender for when I am again feeling Zin-ful and a good example of how different same varietal wines can be. This is a strong, bold, powerful, chewy wine.  In a good way of course 🙂

Predator 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi Appellation

I was first introduced to this consistently good wine, also from Lodi, a couple of years ago by close friends.  In fact, friends in attendance at the BYO-Zinfandel social mentioned earlier.  Same friends who had me buy them three cases recently when I came across Predator at our local Fresh Market store.  As per the manager; I made his day! as I loaded my shopping cart with 36+ bottles.

Produced by Rutherford Wine Company the 2011 vintage was recently awarded the Silver Medals in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and I love the fact that they use lady bugs as a natural method of removing insects harmful to the vines.

Winemaker notes:

Predator Zinfandel is sourced from 50+year old vines that produce rich and intensely flavored fruit. The resulting wine is big and bold with hallmark “old vine” velvety texture, spice and vibrant varietal flavors.  The lady bug is a natural predator that feeds on insects harmful to plants.  “Natural predation” is just one of the many sustainable vineyard practices that eliminates the need for synthetic pesticides.

My notes:

Medium garnet in color, Pinot Noir like in body. No legs to speak of at first, surprising because of the +14% alcohol level, but developing somehow soon afterwards.  Sugar cured ham on the nose! I am not crazy or alone. Others report it to be bacon. Also noted was a spicy orange peel that may also have to do with the ham, leather, cocoa, casis, and a moist aroma I would describe as wet earth or possibly mushrooms. Light tannins with an acidic finish that was balanced out nicely by food and time as wine was decanted.

Quite the night was had by all and quite the Zin-filled weekend for me. Officially five Old Vine Zinfandels were recorded [I still have the bottles!] and I have written about three here. The other two were;

Adventurous Macchia 2009 Amador County Zinfandel Linsteadt Vineyard available at Total Wine and the 2009 Bogle Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel

Although quite varied all were representative of the Zinfandel varietal and are very worthy of a repeat performance at the next POP UP BYO-Zin party but with better note taking practices required!!  That said I am already wondering what the next BYO varietal theme should be…..

¡SALUD!

From Wine-Searcher:

Zinfandel (or ‘Zin’as it is affectionately known in its American homelands) is a dark-skinned red wine grape variety widely cultivated in California. It arrived in the Americas from Europe in the early years of the 19th century, and was an immediate success in its Napa and Sonoma strongholds. It wasn’t until DNA research was carried out in California in the 1990s that the variety was confirmed (as had long been suspected) to be Italy’s Primitivo under a different name, or Crljenak Kastelanski, originally from Croatia’s Adriatic coast.

Battle of Sonoma Cab’s: Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve vs. Rodney Strong

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Battle of Sonoma County Cab’s: 2008 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve  vs.  2009 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon

Somehow this Cab “event” just happened over the last week. Originally I was going to write about these in separate posts but realized, as the empty bottles kept staring at me on my desk, that not only had we drank two Cabernet Sauvignon’s back to back [not on same day] but they were both from California’s Sonoma County.

Although I did buy both at a grocery store [Winn-Dixie] and because I realize many if not most grocers do not sell $20.00-$30.00 bottles of wine I have decided not to classify them as such for this post.  As usually happens lately I was attracted to both wines because of their pricing. Not their retail price which runs from close to $20.00 for the Rodney Strong and $28.00 for the Kendall Jackson but their SALE prices.  When I have the opportunity to drink $30.00 bottles of wine @ close to 50% off you bet they get my attention. Heck it actually makes my mouth water if I am being honest. Now if only I could find some $70.00+ wines on sale 75% off… I can dream can’t I?

Notes from the tastings:

2008 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve  Dark purple almost black in color. On the nose; a very rich overall aroma, very appealing. Noted; vanilla, cedar, tobacco, spices as it opened with berry [casis] coming through. Minerality [clay soil?], leather and mocha were also detected as the wine opened. Tasting added dark fruit [plum, fig] along with black pepper.

2009 Rodney Strong  Purple dark garnet in color. Aroma; abundant.  Interestingly this wine was thought to be a Zinfandel upon decanting by a fellow drinker. On the nose we detected; caramel/molasses, wood [cedar], vanilla, tobacco, pepper, dark fruit [currant], and raisins [dried fruit]. Tasting added an earthy minerality, mushrooms, anise, chocolate with a lingering finish and the wine becoming more tannic as it opened instead of the usual reverse. I would better describe it as a long tannic finish.

Rating tidbits found: Wine Enthusiast rates the Rodney Strong at 87 and the KJ at 90 points. Wine Spectator and their vintage chart rates the 2008 Sonoma vintage at 86 with a Hold suggestion for drinkability and the 2009 vintage although not finalized is estimated to be in the 83-86 range. I found this information after drinking the wines,  I do enjoy researching my wines but prefer to not look too deeply into the ratings until I have my say 🙂 The WS vintage chart ratings seem a bit low to me but that could just be due to the saturation of the market with marketing campaigns quoting 90 POINTS! or higher from all types of sources out there. That said, if any organization out there wants to quote my rating on a wine you know how to reach me LOL.

My opinion on these two wines is close to the Wine Enthusiast rating.  The Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve was bold and consistent throughout the evening, delicious. Something interesting happened with the Rodney Strong. It was incredible out of the bottle and by itself but as soon as we paired it with food [camembert & goat cheese to start with mushroom pesto pizza later] the flavor of the wine deadened. At first I blamed the pairing but interestingly enough about 1-1.5 hours after decanting the flavor of the wine came back close to its original intensity. I had never experienced flavors fading and then returning as the wine breathed.  I should also point out that the KJ being a 2008 may have a maturity advantage over the Rodney Strong.

I have to say I enjoyed both wines. In a blind tasting I probably would have picked the Kendall Jackson but who knows; the Rodney Strong was delicious straight out of the bottle too.  Would I buy these again? Yes! But hopefully at great SALE prices.  ¡SALUD!

Kendall Jackson winemaker notes:

This Cabernet has distinct flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black currant and cassis with enticing fragrances of mocha and nutmeg. Subtle notes of smoke, cedar and tobacco leaf round out the lingering finish.

Grand Reserve is a winemaker’s blend of our mountain, ridge, hillside and benchland grapes grown along California’s cool coastal appellations. We hand select grapes from our best estate vineyards and then monitor, taste and hand-hold each individual lot throughout the winemaking process. Each lot is kept separate, barrel-aged and handcrafted – boutique winery style. Our winemakers have an unmatched palate of flavors, toast levels and terroir nuances from which they masterfully blend these exemplary rich, deep and complex wines.

Blend: 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec

alcohol by volume:14.5%

Rodney Strong winemaker notes:

Aromas of blackberry, cocoa, and currant lead to a rich, layered mouthfeel, replete with black cherry, cedar, and cassis, and structured with lush, mature tannins. Enjoy this seductive Cabernet Sauvignon now and over the next several years.

alcohol by volume:13.5%