Friday, August 16, 2019

Lodi, Sierra Red Blend Swings Both Fists

The town of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi , an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

Obsession is one of those brands, and the thrust of the label is a semi-sweet white wine made from Symphony grapes and a red blend.

Grapes for the 2016 vintage of Obsession Red came from estate vineyards in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi - grown in iron-rich volcanic soil in the former, sandy loam in the latter.  The wine is composed of 60% Merlot, 30% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah fruit.  Only three months of aging took place in new French oak barrels.  Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $15.  A sample was provided by distributor Quintessential Wines.

This wine's nose gives off a blast of smoke which layers over dark fruit, such as plums and blueberries, and spices.  Most of the spice apparently comes courtesy of the grapes, since minimal oak aging was employed.  The palate suggests more oak, with plentiful spice to join the bold fruit.  It's a bit of a belligerent wine, with the tannic structure to handle a juicy ribeye steak.  Not a bad drink for the price, especially for those who like a bolder style of wine.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chilean Pinot Noir Speaks Of The Ocean

Kalfu means blue in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile.  In the framework of wine, it's a reference to the Pacific Ocean to the west.  It is that body of water which establishes the cool climate, the breezes and the fog that allow the grapes to ripen steadily for the creation of a balanced wine.  The winery urges its friends to feel the ocean's strength and freshness in their wines.

The 2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir was produced by Ventisquero.  Winemaker Alejandro Galaz used sustainably grown grapes from the Las Terrazas Vineyard in the Leyda Valley, seven miles from the ocean and near the Maipo River.  The 2017 vintage was a little cooler than usual, which made for better aromatics and balance.  The wine aged for a year in French oak barrels, most of which were neutral.  Alcohol hits 14% abv and the wine retails for $19.

This Chilean Pinot Noir offers up a medium tint in the glass and a nose of earthy, smoky musk.  The palate shows black and red fruit with, cola spice and a bit of bramble.  It's more rustic than elegant, and that plays just fine.  Acidity works well and the finish is medium length.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Bordeaux Via Michigan

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where you find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point. 

They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, which produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

There's a thriving wine AVA on the strip of land, along with breweries and distilleries.  I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the Old Mission Peninsula reps sent some of the region's wines to me for sample.  I was not disappointed.

Robert and Nadine Begin, along with daughter Marie-Chantal, opened Chateau Chantal in 1993 as a winery and bed and breakfast inn.  Both Robert and Nadine worked in the Catholic religion before shifting gears into other careers, and eventually, into the winery.

The Chateau Chantal Proprietor's Reserve Trio 2016 is made from 61% Merlot grapes, 38% Cabernet Franc and a dash of Pinot Noir.  The wine holds alcohol at 13.5% abv and it retails for $27.

The two Bordeaux varieties and one from Burgundy give the wine its characteristics - smoke and spice from the Merlot, full fruit and herbs from the Cab Franc and a tart finish from the Pinot.  The Pinot shows much more than 1% might suggest.  Smoke, herbs and a coffee-cola note lead the way on the palate, with fresh acidity and smooth tannins accompanying them. 

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Elevating Zinfandel 2019

There's nothing like a good Zinfandel, except maybe a great Zinfandel.  There were plenty of the latter on display at Elevating Zinfandel, a tasting event put on recently in Beverly Hills by Los Angeles wine educator Ian Blackburn.

Beekeeper Cellars is the creation of our host, Mr. Blackburn.  I remember telling him two years ago that his Zin could knock an unsuspecting Cab off of any steakhouse wine list.  And it's just getting better.  Clay Mauritson is on the winemaking team at Beekeeper, in addition to making his own esteemed bottlings.

Beekeeper Zinfandel Montecillo Vineyard, Sonoma Valley 2015 - Awesome, mellow, ripe yet savory.  14% abv.  $65
Beekeeper Zinfandel Secret Stones, Rockpile, Sonoma County 2016 - Similarly elegant as Montecillo, a bit more savory.  $75

When I think of the Zinfandels I really like to drink, Turley Wine Cellars comes to mind quickly.  They draw grapes from a variety of California vineyards, a listing of which reads like a "Who's Who" of grapevines.
Turley Juvenile, California 2017 - 24 vineyards over 12 counties. A floral nose, sweet and smooth.
Turley Kirschenmann Vineyard, Lodi 2017 and Turley Buck Cobb Vineyard 2017 are both extremely elegant.
Turley Dusi Vineyard, Paso Robles 2017 - That trademark Paso limestone shows up here.

Elyse Winery
Elyse Morisoli 2013 - No heat, savory.  $40
Elyse Korte 2013 - 80 year-old vines, savory.  $40

Kreck Old Vine Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 2016 - Sweet, light and mellow, raspberry finesse.  $42
Kreck Old Vine Zinfandel Del Barba Vineyard Contra Costa County 2016 - 130 year-old vines from Oakley. Both 15% abv.

Portalupi Winery
Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch, Russian River Valley 2016 - 112 year-old vines, chambord aromatics, rich and bold.  $52
Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch Reserve 2016 - The top 2 rows of the hill, 16% alcohol on both.  neither shows heat.  $90

Seghesio Family Vineyards
Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard, Alexander Valley 2015 - Bold, with 7% Petite Sirah.  $60
Seghesio Cortina, Dry Creek Valley 2015 - 1972 plantings, east bench, lovely savory bottom, white pepper.  $33
Seghesio Old Vine Sonoma County 2015 -  Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley fruit.  Notes of chocolate.  $40

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Watch Out For This Duck, Hunters

The New Zealand winery Duck Hunter is a partnership between ex-restaurant man Mark Wilson and former bank manager Rosie Mulholland.  Their wines are made by their winemaking team in Marlborough at NZ Wineries and Zorro Wines.

The label bears an eye-catching image of a duck hunter - that is, a duck dressed camouflage with a rifle slung over his feathered shoulder.  The duck is the hunter, not the hunted.  The image was done by New Zealand artist Joanna Braithwaite.  Co-founder Wilson discovered the painting and instantly knew that it would be the ideal face for his wines.  Wilson describes the duck in the label art as "the keeper of the estate, protector of the vines and calm champion of the wines."  He also points out that no ducks were harmed in the making of the wines.

The 2018 Duck Hunter Pinot Noir was made from sustainably grown grapes grown in the Comely Bank Vineyard on Waihopai Valley Road, in Marlborough's Wairau Valley.  The wine checks in at 13.3% abv and online prices range from $20 to $30.

This Kiwi Pinot Noir shows a light tint and an earthy nose with a hint of black tea and herbs.  It does not smell bombastic, but there's more stuff there than the color might indicate.  On the palate, dark fruit runs in front, with earth and spice in tow.  Again, not a showoff, but heftier than Burgundy.  It's a real treat which should please Pinotphiles as well as those not so inclined.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Rioja Red

It was Spanish wine that started my own interest in the broad spectrum of vino.  It dragged a self-described "beer-only" guy into the wide world of wine after attending a tasting of Spanish wine on a lark.  I think about that tasting every time I have a glass of Rioja.

The 2015 Beronia Rioja Crianza is made up of 91% Tempranillo grapes, 8% Garnacha and a splash of Mazuelo.  The wine aged for 12 months in barrels with French oak tops and American oak staves, imparting vanilla notes from the American wood and spice from the French, and it's been in the bottle for a couple of years now.  It carries an alcohol content of 13.5% abv and retails for about $20.

This Spanish red is dark in the glass as well as on the nose.  Blackberry and plum aromas abound, with oak spice playing a supporting role.  The palate displays black fruit, sweet notes and powerful tannins.  Bring on the ribeye, hot off the grill.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bonny Doon Cigare Grape Shakeup

One of the California wine world's constant beacons is undergoing a major facelift after 34 vintages.  Bonny Doon Vineyards winemaker Randall Grahm (left) has made some significant changes to his flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant, and its white counterpart, Le Cigare Blanc.

Grahm says the way he made the Cigares previously kept the wines in the cellar for too long, at a time when people are saying that they want the world's finest wines, they want them here and they want them now - to paraphrase from "Withnail and I."

To make wines which are approachable earlier, Grahm dropped Mourvèdre from the red blend and increased the presence of Cinsault, a grape he considers to be greatly underappreciated.  He doesn't see "rock-stardom" in Cinsault's future, but he does feel the grape is "soon to achieve its moment."

Le Cigare Blanc has also undergone a shakeup, with Vermentino replacing Roussanne in the white blend.  Grahm calls that switch a "tectonic shift," saying that while Vermentino "might not have the gravitas of Roussanne ... I've found Roussanne to often be quite ponderous, and we are seeking elegance (and intelligence) above all." 

Grahm has given the new versions of his wines the subtitled name of Cuvée Oumuamua, after a cigar-shaped space object discovered by astronomers on Maui.  The changes are reflected in the label picture, which shows a UFO shining a beam of light upon an unsuspecting vineyard.  Colors have been added to the image, which Grahm says shines "a clarifying, and revivifying light on what had been a somewhat sepia-toned reality."

Both the 2018 Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc retail for $20 and carry alcohol at 13.5% abv. Grahm produced 20,000 cases of the red, but less than 300 of the white.  He feels, however, that the new Blanc is a "stylistic harbinger of LCBs of the future."

The 2018 vintage of Le Cigare Volant was made from 52% Grenache grapes, 35% Cinsault and 13% Syrah.  They were harvested from Monterey County vineyards including: Alta Loma, Loma Del Rio, Mesa Verde, Zayante, Rancho Solo and Lieff.

The medium ruby colored wine gives off a fruity nose, a bit of a departure for Bonny Doon bottlings. The savory is not forgotten, but a healthy dose of raspberry, blackberry and red currant comes forward in unbridled fashion.  On the palate, there's a tartness, but also a juicy acidity at play.  To me, it drinks somewhat like a cru Beaujolais, only from Monterey County.  The semi-lengthy finish carries the fruit well.

The 2018 Le Cigare Blanc was made from 54% Grenache Blanc grapes and 46% Vermentino from the Central Coast vineyards Cedar Lane, Paragon and Beeswax.

I'll admit, I miss the Roussanne, a favorite grape of mine.  Fortunately, I love Vermentino, too, and it delivers enough salinity to be a worthy replacement.  The nose threw me, because of its strong fruit'n'floral aromas.  After a few minutes, the salinity came through and even more savory notes appeared on the nose.  As with Le Cigare Volant, the Blanc is probably much more approachable in its new form.  That may be great for sales, but it doesn't make me like it better.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Sweet Italian Sparkling Wine

This Italian bottle of bubbles, imported by the Royal Wine Company, is Bartenura Demi Sec, which means it is semi-dry.  It's made from a blend of Prosecco grapes, including Glera.  The limited edition, non-vintage, kosher wine carries a low alcohol level of only 10% abv and retails for about $23. 

The Italian Bartenura winery was named for a 15th century rabbi near Forli who was known as The Bartenura for his commentary on Jewish law.  Their wines are kosher.

This Italian sparkler is basically an even sweeter Prosecco than Prosecco.  The nose offers pretty, white flowers and ripe, yellow peaches.  On the palate, stone fruit holds court in a low alcohol - 10% abv - context, with easy acidity and quickly dissipating bubbles.  It's a summer sipper, and a good one at that.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Viognier Tames Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

The little hamlet of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Sauvignon Blanc Lodi 2017

The grapes for this white blend were grown in the Mokelumne AVA in southwest Lodi.  The label shows a "sweetness meter" which points to "medium-dry."  That is less surprising when you know that the wine is only 88% Sauvignon Blanc, with a healthy 12% portion of Viognier mixed with it.  Alcohol is somewhat restrained at 13% abv, and the wine retails for $14.

This pale Lodi Sauvignon Blanc has a nose featuring earthy minerals and apricots.  The palate shows citrus - mainly lemon and grapefruit - with a sweet edge.  A great acidity goes along with the easy-sipping flavors.   Pair this wine with with seafood, pork, chicken and bean dishes, or have it as an aperitif.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Spain Rescues White Godello Grape

The Valdeorras region in Galicia was named by the Romans, who mined a lot of gold there.  After they had finished their mining days, they planted grapevines in the area.  The 2017 Pagos del Galir Godello is a full varietal wine made from a reclaimed grape.  Godello was figured to be native to Valdeorras before DNA testing showed its Portuguese roots.  The grape was re-introduced to the region during the 1970s.

The white Godello grape, writes Eric Asimov, has been "rescued" by Spain, particularly the area of Valdeorras, in Galicia.  Plantings of the grape have risen markedly in recent years, and its grapefruit-tinged flavor profile and wonderful acidity make it a great wine to pair with food, especially summer salads, seafood or even sweet corn tamales.

2017 was one of the DO's shortest vintages on record, and was affected by April frosts.  The wine rested on its lees - spent yeast cells - for five months before bottling.  Alcohol is moderate at 13.5% abv and it sells for $17.

This was my first experience with the Iberian Godello grape.  I expected something quite fruity from this wine, but was surprised to find a nose of lanolin, sage and a savory nuttiness.  The palate is just as intriguing, with savory herbs and a distant grapefruit flavor in the background.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Face Of Toro Tempranillo

"Strength, nerve and courage" is on the label of the Matsu wines from Spain's Toro region.  Matsu means "wait" in Japanese, says the winery.  It's a tribute to "all the viticulturists who have been working" - and waiting - "in the vineyards for generations."   The label also features images of real life viticulturists, to a somewhat startling effect.

D.O. Toro has a dry climate, extreme temperatures and 100-year-old vines which combine to make for some pretty bold juice.  Matsu's 2015 El Viejo is made from Tinta de Toro grapes.  That's what they call Tempranillo in Toro.  The wine was vinified in concrete tanks and aged in new French oak barrels for 16 months.  Alcohol tips 15% abv and the sticker price is $47. 

This wine's color is medium-dark ruby in the glass.  The nose displays huge black fruit - berries and plums - with savory leather, smoke and cigar box notes.  On the palate comes blackberries and sweet oak tones.  The tannins provide great structure, begging for a pairing with beef.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Cal-Italia Aglianico From Lake County

At first glance, the name Prima Materia doesn't look like an Oakland winery, but it is.  Winemaker and owner Pietro Buttitta grows his grapes two and a half hours to the north, in Lake County's Kelsey Bench AVA.  He focuses on Italian varieties - from Sangiovese to Barbera to Refosco to Negroamaro.  Buttitta says he planted most of those grapes himself and has worked the vineyard for the last eleven years.  He claims to find a clear Lake County voice for his minimally handled wines, one that maintains a "distinct Old World finish and feel."

Prima Materia Aglianico 2014

Buttitta says the Aglianico grapes were planted in 2003 and have evolved into his signature variety, along with Barbera and Sangiovese.  The grapes were grown in soil laced with deposits from Mt. Konocti's past volcanic eruptions.  Does that make the Kelsey Bench the Sicily of California? 

The 2014 Aglianico vineyard is interplanted with 7% Montepulciano grapes.  The wine was vinified and aged on its lees in Hungarian oak, 225-liter vats that are anywhere from two to ten years old.  Alcohol tips 14.3% abv, while the wine retails for $38.

This wine is quite dark in the glass.  A whiff of nail polish remover greeted me when I opened the bottle, but after sitting a bit, the more expected aromas of dark fruit, white pepper, spice and trampled leaves overtook the problematic initial whiff.  The alcohol came on strong in the sip, and the tannins need time to smooth out.  There is definitely an Old World feel to the wine, and I am reminded of other excellent Aglianicos I have had from Santa Barbara County, Texas and, oh yeah, southern Italy.  I'd love to try it in ten years, when aging will have softened its rustic edges.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Albariño, Please. Hold The Flowers

The folks from the Spanish wine region Rias Baixas have a great product to push.  Albariño is not only a delicious white wine on its own, but it’s one of the more food-friendly grapes you'll find.  In fact, Albariño seems to crave a food pairing so it can show its best.

The Pazo Pondal winery is in the Galicia area of northwest Spain, the Miño Valley, the Rias Baìxas wine region, the Condado do Tea subregion.

The 100% 2016 Albariño grapes were harvested from the lower altitude Leira Longa plot, carefully crushed and the juice fermented in both stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels.  These particular grapes are grown with less acidity and more body than those from higher elevations.  The vines are as young as 20 but as old as 60 years.  The wine stayed in wood, on the lees, for some ten months.  Alcohol is a restrained 13% abv, and the wine sells for $20.

This wine carries minerals and Meyer lemon on the nose, and plenty of both.  The palate shows citrus and a great salinity, with none of the floral notes Albariño is known for, the notes that generally push me away.  The savory aspect of this one is very different from most Alabariños, and it really sets the wine apart.  The mouthfeel is quite full, almost creamy.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Spanish Wine: Rioja To The Rescue

It was Spanish wine that started my own interest in the broad spectrum of vino.  It dragged a self-described "beer-only" guy into the wide world of wine after attending a tasting of Spanish wine on a lark.  I think about that tasting every time I have a glass of Rioja.

Under the umbrella of Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Beronia operates sustainably in La Rioja as well as Rueda.  The 2013 Beronia Rioja Reserva was made from 95% Tempranillo grapes, 4% Graciano and a 1% dash of Mazuelo.  The wine was aged for three years, in French and American oak barrels and in the bottle.  Alcohol is pretty reasonable for Rioja, at 14% abv and it sells for about $20, not bad for a wine of this quality.

The Beronia Rioja Reserva is a dark garnet in the glass, with a nose of black cherries and plums, abetted by leather, vanilla and a nice oak spice.  The palate is rustic and savory, its age showing already.  Black fruit tangles with tobacco and earth notes.  There’s a good tannic structure and a lengthy, savory finish.  Pair it with pork, sausages and Manchego cheese.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand was spotlighted in a recent online virtual tasting event, specifically Villa Maria winery.  Winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec guided us through a half dozen of her creations, including the Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough is located on the north end of New Zealand's South Island.  It's New Zealand’s sunniest spot.

For the 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Villa Maria took grapes from their estate vineyards in the cool-climate Awatere Valley as well as the warmer Wairau Valley.  Alcohol stays reasonable at 12.5% abv and the wine sells for less than $10.

The 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc shows the expected grassy, herbal nose with tropical fruit and minerals included.  The palate is also full of those mineral notes, as well as lemon, lime and guava flavors.  Acidity is brisk, and the lengthy finish is fresh and citrusy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Zinfandel For The Barbecue

Artezin winemaker Randle Johnson is billed by the Hess Family as a "champion of heirloom varietals," which makes him a likely guy to work with some ancient California vines.  His 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel was made from grapes pulled out of vineyards in Mendocino County, off of vines which were planted by Italian and Swiss immigrants - whose families still tend the crops today. 

The winery says the old growers would plant Zinfandel around the perimeter of the vineyard, to hide from sight the other grapes they were growing.  They apparently considered their field blends to be proprietary information.

The wine consists of 85% Zinfandel grapes and 15% Petite Sirah.  The folks at parent company Hess Family Wine Estates says this Zinfandel is as good at a summer barbecue as it is at Thanksgiving - just throw it in a cooler for a half hour or so before grilling.  The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels, hits 14.8% abv on the alcohol scale and sells for $16.

The 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino is medium-dark and sports a playful nose of strawberry and boysenberry with a cinnamon twist.  On the palate, raspberry and cherry play off of one another in front of a spicy backdrop.  The tannins are smooth.  The wine drinks young and breezy.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Great Cabernet From Atlas Peak

A seven-acre plot of Tokay grapes was the start of Stonum Vineyards in the late 1970s.  Sibling vintners Mike and Kathy Stonum started making wines in 2006.  Those ancient vines of Mediterranean origin, by the way, were ripped up to make way for Zinfandel.  Lodi Wines says Tokay was once very heavily planted in the region and was primarily used as a table grape, not a source for world-class dessert wine.  Zinfandel is now the hook on which Lodi hangs its ranch hat.

The 2014 Stonum Napa Valley Cabernet is made from grapes grown in the Atlas Peak appellation.  The wine hits a rich 16% abv in alcohol, but does not taste boozy.  It sells for $60.

This wine is dark purple around the rim and nearly black everywhere else.  The nose gives off smoke, blueberries, cassis and a faint graphite note.  The palate shows a delicious dark fruit profile, with a savory streak of leather, rosemary and spice running through it.  The acidity is lip-smacking and the tannins are firm without taking over.  You won't forget it - the finish won't let you.  Pair with a steak or roast, of course, but pork or roasted chicken will work as well.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Nice Cab From Nice - California

The little town of Nice, California sits on the northern shore of Clear Lake in Lake County, northwest of Sacramento.  Wikipedia cites a source saying that the town was originally named Clear Lake Villas, until Charles William Bayne renamed the spot after his former hometown in France, around 1930.

Dennis Kreps owns the Samuel Charles label there along with his father, Stephen.  The brand's name comes from the names of Dennis' sons.  Noted winemaker Bob Pepi creates the wines.  The brand is reportedly launching nationwide distribution for the first time this year, with a separate single-vineyard Cab and a Sauvignon Blanc, both sourced in Lake County.

The 2017 Samuel Charles Cabernet Sauvignon is all North Coast grapes - 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec - grown in volcanic soil about 2,100 feet up in the mountains.  The wine was aged for nine months in French and American oak barrels, about a third of them new, and alcohol sits at 14.2% abv.  The Cab retails for about $30.

This North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon blend has a dark and savory nose with a bit of a chemical smell poking through the black fruit and spice.  The palate is better, still dark and savory, with a rustic edge which reminds me more of Paso than Napa - but is actually somewhere metaphorically in between.