Showing posts with label Central Coast wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Central Coast wine. Show all posts

Monday, July 15, 2019

CA Négociant Delivers Great Rosé At A Bargain

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He buys already produced wine from established makers on the down low, with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club, which he calls a wineocracy, bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman, the distributor and retailer through which store-bought wines must pass.

The sustainably farmed grapes for the 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 639 Rosé were grown in California's Central Coast region, specifically the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  Hughes says the pink wine was made by "perhaps the most famous producer on the entire Central Coast," without giving up the identity.  Hughes claims he's selling the wine for nearly half its original price.  The grape is Valdiguié, which not commonly found outside of the south of France.  Alcohol tips in at a reasonable 12.8% abv and the wine sells for $13.

This rosé is a rich salmon pink, a really beautiful hue.  The nose shows ripe cherry and melon aromas, while the palate brings strawberries and apricots to the table.  It's a very complex pink wine.  The acidity is gentle, so it's a great sipper.  However, you can pair it with a salad, light appetizers or white meat with no problem. 


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Friday, November 16, 2018

Three Wineries For The Price Of One

There's a three-way wine tasting room in San Luis Obispo.  Baileyana, Tangent and True Myth all show off their wines in a little yellow school house.  There's a great view of the vineyards to one side of the old structure, and a field of sunflowers off the other side.  The Niven family planted their Paragon vineyard three decades ago, from which the lion's share of their wines are still produced.

Natalie poured for Guido and me.  It was another great trip up the 101 into California’s beautiful Central Coast.  Tasters once had the option here of doing a flight of Baileyana, a flight of the all-white wine Tangent or a mix.  Now, only the mix is offered.  True Myth was not represented on the tasting menu the day I went.  The tasting cost $15, a charge which is waived with a two-bottle purchase.

On the menu:

Tangent "Clone 530" Sauvignon Blanc 2017 smells and tastes a bit more New Zealand than Cali SauvBlanc usually tastes.  There's grass, tropical and a clean zippiness, although the acidity was not extreme.  $32

Baileyana "La Pristina" Chardonnay 2016 doesn’t come off as wildly oaky, until you sip it.  One-third of the wood is new French oak and it was in there for nine months.  There's a nice acidity.  $30

Baileyana "La Entrada" Pinot Noir 2016 is light and gorgeous.  It's an elegant Pinot, a rarity in California, where ripeness generally takes them into the heavyweight category.  Cherries, strawberries, roses, violets, all for $35.

Trenza "Mosaico" 2013 is a 60/40 blend of Grenache and Syrah.  It's made from Paso Robles grapes, while all the other wines on the list are estate bottlings.  Big and juicy, this wine shows off the best of warm-climate grapes, ripe and fresh with a great grip.

Zocker Late Harvest Grüner Veltliner 2012 is a very drinkable dessert wine which can pair with great versatility.  It's not a huge sugar rush, rather a delight with a shade of tartness that balances the wine beautifully.  $20


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Monday, September 24, 2018

Central Coast Pinot Noir; Weighty, Wonderful

The Claiborne and Churchill label is 35 years old this year.  The winery is located in the heart of the beautiful Edna Valley, just outside California's Central Coast town of San Luis Obispo.  They say they are inspired by the wines of Alsace, specializing in premium Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Syrah.  For the sake of variety, they also produce a Pinot Blanc, a Chardonnay, a dry Rosé, and a Port-style wine.

Established by wayward Michiganians (Michiganders?) Clay Thompson and Fredericka Churchill Thompson, they say their winery structure was the first straw-bale building built in California.  Its 16-inch-thick walls mean they don't have to air condition or heat the place - it maintains the right temperature naturally.  In it, they make 8,000 cases of wine a year.

The 2015 Claiborne and Churchill Pinot Noir is made using grapes grown in their estate vineyards in Edna Valley.  It was aged ten months in French oak barrels, only a quarter of which were new.  Alcohol is restrained at 13.7% abv and it retails for $32.

The medium-dark wine has a concentrated nose of cranberry, cola and black tea. A note of tar also pokes its head into the scene.  The palate is lovely, a bit on the weighty side as California Pinot is wont to be, but dark, delicious and a dandy match for a grilled pork chop, lamb or holiday ham.  The expected cranberry flavor is riper, more like cherry, and the full mouthfeel is satisfying.  Its acidity is perfectly refreshing while the tannins are purposeful, yet manageable.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pink Wine In A Moose Can

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard is a serious wine company.  He's a serious winemaker who makes serious wines.  His sense of humor, though, is not that of a dour, soulless number cruncher.  I get the feeling he's had to do a lot more of that kind of work in his career than he'd like, but he doesn’t let it bring him doon.

Grahm is now making a pink, fizzy wine that comes in a can, La Bulle-Moose de Cigare.  He describes the Bulle-Moose as "pretty darn similar to our Vin Gris de Cigare, apart from the fact that it has been carbonated and put up in cans with a slightly goofy label."  It does look goofy, but the wine inside is seriously good.

The press material for this wine includes a reworked version of the "UFOs in the vineyards" tale that was embraced by Grahm years ago for his line of Cigare wines.  It's also on the can.  Grahm admits that his canned, fizzy pink wine is a bit of a stretch for him -- he’s used to much more serious "vins de terroir."  He says it's his tip of the hat to the realized fact that he's going to need some millennials hoisting his creations if the lights are to stay on at "chez doon."

Six Central Coast grape varieties made their way into these stylish cans, 57% Grenache, 18% Grenache Blanc, 9% Mourvèdre, 6% Roussanne, 5% Carignane and 5% Cinsault.  That’s quite a Rhônish roundup.  It was fermented in stainless steel, on the lees, stirred quite a bit and carbonated before bottling, er - canning.  Alcohol is light enough for a picnic or outdoor festival at 13% abv and the wine retails for $8 a can, which contains a half bottle.

The wine -- from a can -- pours up frothy, retreating quickly to a nice frizzante status.  The nose is beautiful and worthy of a picnic.  Bright, fresh strawberry and cherry aromas dominate, with a touch of sage and earth.  The flavors are ripe and sweet, with an earthy touch befitting a good rosé.  Acidity is perfect, great for food pairing as well as sipping.  The winemaker suggests you serve it very cold, and that will make it a great summertime wine. 

Grahm puts tongue in cheek to recommend La Bulle-Moose de Cigare be paired with moossaka, moozarella crostini, moosseline de poisson, tarte au pamplemoose and chocolate moose. 


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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two Wonderful White Wines

It’s always nice to discover a casual place with a carefully curated wine list. With a few minutes to kill in downtown Los Angeles, I looked around and spied "Pitchoun!" It is described on the signage as a bakery with a French flair, so I stepped in for lunch.

It’s run by Frédéric and Fabienne Souliès, who hail from Provence and Monaco, respectively. The name of the place is a term of endearment used by French grandparents, say, in referring to their grandkids. It’s like "kiddo," or something similar. A little pinch on the cheek.

My Niçoise salad was the usual mix of tuna, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, olives, radicchio, delicate greens, bell pepper, celery, cucumber, green onions, anchovies and vinaigrette. It was tasty, but it’s the wine I was attracted to. Oh, by the way, they also serve Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant at Pitchoun, so they got high marks from me before I even saw a wine list.

Sean and Nicole Minor started their own winery 12 years ago, after years of experience with some fairly big-name outfits. Minor's wine consultant, Will Bucklin, is similarly well-traveled. Minor's Four Bears Chardonnay has a golden tint and offers apples and apricots on the earthy nose. Minerals define the palate, with bright peach and pear forming a taut and focused flavor profile. It’s lean, but not mean. The acidity is quite nice, almost bracing. It always stuns me to find such nice freshness in a wine with so round a mouthfeel. Alcohol sits at 13% and some of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation, to soften the feel a bit. It finishes clean and snappy.

In the extreme southwest of France, in the Bas Armagnac AOC, is the Domaine de Menard. It has been a source of grapes since the 1920s, but not until a decade ago or so did the family begin wine production under their own name. They grow Petit and Gros Manseng and harvest the grapes late to produce a sweeter style of wine. The Gros Manseng is not a full-blown dessert wine, but does have a pleasant taste I think of as semi-sweet, or off-dry.

The Domaine Menard Gros Manseng also shows golden in the glass, offering a pungent slate of earthiness and wet rocks. The semi-sweet palate has apricots, honey and plenty of minerality. This wine, too, has a full, creamy mouthfeel as well as generous acidity and a clean finish.


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Friday, October 14, 2016

Pushing The Syrah Envelope

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one's own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that lost in it, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent.

That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." Connecting only with the Steppenwolf song, I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That's some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it's well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur  uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black. It's savory on the nose. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It's a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Monday, May 2, 2016

Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2011

The Réserve version of Randall Grahm’s flagship wine is aged en bonbonnes, which means it is aged not in oak but in glass carboys, or, less elegantly, jugs. It is also aged sur lie, or in contact with the used-up yeast cells that gave their lives making alcohol. We salute them. The former insures that you are tasting all fruit, the latter that it’s got a creamier mouthfeel than the normale Cigare.

As Grahm explains, "The Réserve has a slightly different texture than the 'normale,' tannins not quite as firm, rather softer, plusher and more velvety, with enhanced mouth feel and a slightly more savory aspect."

The varieties are 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault picked from eight Central Coast vineyards, Ventana, Del Barba, Rancho Solo, Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves. At 14.5% abv, the alcohol is noticeable, but not an intrusion. 966 cases were made, and it retails normally at $79 per bottle. There was a pretty big sale going on, last I checked.

Le Cigare Volant Réserve is as fresh as a just-picked daisy. The nose full of ripe red fruit shows a touch of spice, while the palate seems even more youthful and exuberant. That’s something I might expect in a wine produced just last fall, but this one was made five years ago. Cherries, raspberry and blueberry cover the fruity side, while leather, spice and earth handle the savory lifting. It is an amazing wine, one of my favorites for the four vintages it has been produced.


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Friday, February 26, 2016

Bonny Doon Pushes Syrah Value

Bonny Doon’s chief, Randall Grahm, sums up his career in one paragraph, quite a feat for a guy who seemingly has never summed up anything in one paragraph. "Like Columbus who sought a trade route to Asia, Randall Grahm set sail in 1979 for the Great American Pinot Noir," it says, continuing in more Grahmesque prose, "foundered on the shoals of astringency and finesselessness and ended up running aground in the utterly unexpected New World of Rhône and Italian grape varieties." He left finesselessness behind long ago, and who needed a new trade route to China anyway.

Grapes for the '13 Le Pousseur pushes together grapes from some great sites - 63% Bien Nacido, 34% Alamo Creek and 3% Ventana vineyards. This represents a lot more Bien Nacido than the 2012 edition, which is always good with me. Grahm says the vineyard "imparts a distinctive smoked meat/ bacon fat aspect, characteristic of the Syrah from that cool climate vineyard, even in a slightly warmer vintage." The wine clocks a reasonable 13.5% abv and retails for an even more reasonable $26.

Le Pousseur is made in Grahm's custom, a minimal-intervention, hands-off style. What you taste here are the grapes and the dirt. Plenty of dirt.

As is usual with Grahm’s wines, savory hits first, and hardest. With almost two-thirds of the grapes from the great Bien Nacido Vineyard, one might expect a dark and savory nature in this wine. Grahm, however, seems to wring more of those qualities from that great soil than other winemakers. The nose is Rhônishly funky. Meat? Don't be a jerky. Forest floor? Scrape some off your shoe. Santa Maria Valley dirt? In spades. The palate allows for more black and blue berries to show, but that darkness permeates the flavors, too. Meat, spice and cigars all come to mind. The minerality of this wine is apparent in every whiff and sip.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare

Summer is generally considered rosé time, although I have noted - many times before - that it will serve us well any time of year. I always say the best day of the year for a nice, dry, pink wine is the day after Thanksgiving. It's a perfect pairing with those leftover turkey sandwiches after hitting the Black Friday sales or watching a few of the dozen or so college football games with a salami and a cheese ball.

The Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare is a perennial favorite, always delightful and elegant, always a Randall Grahm-sized slice of Rhônicity that's pretty in pink.

The '14 Vin Gris de Cigare is made from eight different Rhône grape varieties of the Central Coast - 35% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache Blanc, 12.5% Roussanne, 8% Carignane, 8% Cinsaut, 1.5% Marsanne - whew - and 1% Counoise. This rosé has a 13% abv number and sells for $18. The iconic label art by Chuck House recalls the red and white relatives of this pink Cigare.

This wine is a very pale pink, like the inside of a sea shell. There is a fair amount of salinity to go along with that shoreline appearance, too. A nose of strawberries and cherries has just a slight green quality to it, while the acidity-fresh palate shows red fruit in a salty, earthy setting. A perfect match for anything from the sea - it's elegant, it's complex, it's refreshing and I'm doon with it.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pair Of Cigares

It is sometimes remarkable to taste the same wine from different vintages back to back. In the case of Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Le Cigare Volant red Rhône blend, the differences are striking. Not only does the growing season show itself, but the actual blend varies from year to year, making for a wine that is not only a delight, but also a surprise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2010 Unfiltered

This flagship wine from the land of Bonny Doon is a Rhônish blend: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre and 16% Carignane. The grapes were picked from a wide assortment of great Central Coast sites: Bien Nacido Vineyard (27%), Evangelho Vineyard (23%), Alta Loma Vineyard (17%), Bechtold Vineyard (16%), Gonsalves Vineyard (9%), Ca’ del Solo Vineyard (5%), Alamo Creek Vineyard (2%) and Enea Vineyard (1%).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying Le Cigare Volant right now - it’s hard to resist - but it is billed as a wine that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years from release, which was in February, 2014. Alcohol is a very reasonable 13.3% abv, 1,344 cases were produced and it sells for $45 per bottle.

 A beautiful purple tint looks great in the glass. It is wonderfully fragrant with cherry tart and a touch of spice, a little light clove. A hint of earth peeks through, but in an elegant way - not rustic. On the palate, black pepper meets blackberry. The mouthfeel is quite full and juicy, and earth notes last well into the lengthy finish. There is a sense of dirt, but it's elegant dirt. Cigare’s acidity is refreshing and its tannins are brawny enough for beef,but its flavors are pretty enough for pork.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2011 Normale

The 2011 Cigare is a different mix of grapes: 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault. The Carignane did not make it into this bottle. The vineyard selections are a bit different, too. Again, eight vineyards contribute fruit, with the addition of Ventana, Del Barba and Rancho Solo vineyards joining Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves.

"This is a wine from an extremely cool and elegant vintage,” winemaker Randall Grahm notes, and he figures this 2011 Cigare will age gracefully for ten to 15 years from right now. Alcohol is almost a full point higher, 14.2% abv, and the bottle retails for $45.

The nose is full of red berries, with a dark flair. Raspberry, cherry, and red currant are met with Grahm’s signature savoriness of roasted meat, beef jerky and black olive tapenade. The sip reveals that the ‘11 Cigare is a festival of darkness. The savory aspects come forward in a rush. The forest floor, the olive, the spice - all are cloaked in a dark fruit setting. Black plums, currant and berries work hard to mesh with the wine's earthy character. The acidity is remarkable and the tannic structure is firm.


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Who Do You Have To Know To Get A Proper Claret Around Here?

Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite is billed as the alter ego of the beloved, quixotic, notorious Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. His flowery prose graces the back label of the 2013 A Proper Claret, and his missive to me, accompanying a sample of the wine, is similarly evocative and properly footnoted. It may well be the only wine label in existence with footnotes.

On the label, ffrench-Postalthwaite wonders aloud - albeit in print - what one has to do to "be served a glass of Proper Claret around here?" Claret is the generic British term used for wines of Bordeaux. There may have been a jab directed at France by the word, which formerly meant something of light color. The wines of Bordeaux once actually were of light color, but that was quite a while before they stormed the Bastille.

The pejorative stuck, as did the use of the phrase "the French disease" to describe syphilis. It may or may not be true that the French fought back on that one, calling syphilis "the English disease." They also got in a shot of their own by recognizing the American colonies as independent of Great Britain, while not recognizing the wine of England as anything at all.

But, as ffrench-Postalthwaite might annotate in his footnotes, I digress. He writes me that A Proper Claret "nominally purports to represent an old-fangled style of' 'Claret,' it frankly strikes me as perhaps more of a version of the Cabernets I remember of the '60s and '70s. Slightly riper and richer than the '12 version, it is still quite elegant and restrained." Which is more than we can say for ffrench-Postalthwaite. Nearly 16,000 cases of A Proper Claret were made.

This wine is composed of a blend of red grapes, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah and and .8% Petite Sirah. Did he say "point-eight-percent?" Did he say "Tannat?"

The interesting reading on the back label should not - could not - distract you from the wonderful illustration on the front, by New York City artist Bascove. The wine clocks in at a restrained 13.5% abv, no faint feat considering the high-octane grapes used in the mix. It retails for $16 and comes bottled under a proper screwcap.

The wine is as dark as night. Black fruit on the nose is adorned in customary Grahm-savory fashion by notes of sage, rosemary and a delicious black olive scent. The palate shows blackberry and cassis, but the wine is not dominated by fruit. Notes of cedar, cinnamon and cardamom play a huge role on the palate. The tannins are are firm, but elegant, and it should pair as as well with British bangers as they do with a good old American beef brisket.


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Friday, March 6, 2015

Sparkling Syrah Shows Magnified Flavors And Aromas

Bonny Doon Vineyards' owner and winemaker Randall Grahm has made sparkling wine from Riesling, Albariño and Moscato grapes - not to mention his bubbly pear wine and sparkling cider crafted from apples, pears and quince.  This sparkling Syrah mines that adventurous vein further, while adding a page to his illustrious history with the Rhône grape.

The Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011 was released a little over a year ago to Bonny Doon's DEWN club members.  It is now available for $36 retail.  Grahm has high praise for it, if he does say so himself.  “It's my favorite Bonny Doon wine," notes the iconic Rhônemaster.

For the record, it is 83% Syrah from Jespersen Vineyard and 17% Grenache from Alta Loma Vineyard.   This Central Coast sparkler - effervescent, really - shows large bubbles that don't last long and carries an extremely modest alcohol content of 11.9% abv.

It is quite dark in the glass, with an expressive nose and an aggressive palate.  From the Bonny Doon website: "You love the aromas of Syrah, right? Now, get ready to smell them REAL BIG."  That's not a disclaimer, it's a billboard.   Intense aromas of the blackest berries are intertwined with the smell of Kalamata olives and roasted meat.

The palate is so heavily laced with the olive element that I am nearly convinced that I am drinking from the olive jar.  Earth comes through in abundance, as it does in Grahm's still wine Syrah efforts.  There is a note I labored over unsuccessfully, until I saw in Grahm's tasting notes that it is "spearmint Necco wafers."  Really?  This just gets better and better.

In a Twitter conversation with Grahm, he wrote that his sparkling Syrah is "similar to sparkling Shiraz but very elegant."  Grahm adds that the Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah is "lower in alcohol, higher in acid than sparkling Shiraz; cool climate fruit, mintier than get-out."

Sparkling red wine may put one in mind of Lambrusco, but this operates on an entirely different level.  This is the sparkling red for those who feel Lambrusco just isn't enough fun.  As Grahm writes, it is "clearly a Syrah, but rendered in a way that is startlingly unexpected and just totally fun."  Expect some startling fun when you break out the church key to pop the crown cap on this bottle.




Monday, June 2, 2014

Cimarone Wines' 3CV Bank 2012 Red Blend

Cimarone Wines and Three Creek Vineyard were the 2001 “retirement project” of Roger and Priscilla Higgins.  Those who know how difficult it is to grow grapes and make great wine may pause here for a little chortling and snickering.  If there’s a rocking chair on the premises, it’s just for photo opportunities.

The vineyard is in the recently named AVA called Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, located in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Both the vineyard and the winery facility were sold in 2012, but Mr. and Mrs. Higgins kept the right to use the fruit in their Cimarone and 3CV wines.  The wines are now produced by renowned winemaker Andrew Murray at his Los Olivos winery.

Murray’s Twitter handle used to be “@gotrhones” but he has since broadened his scope with the more official sounding name of @AMVwine.

The 3CV Bank 2012 is basically a blend of Bordeaux grapes which are giving a buddy from the Rhône a ride to the Valley.  It’s a party, and all grapes are invited - 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Merlot and 6% Syrah is the varietal makeup.  The wine retails for $20 and has an alcohol content of 14.3% abv.

Bank opens the tiller with a great, dark fruit nose that is rich and dark.  Cassis and hints of leather, pepper and anise create the olfactory fireworks, while the palate is also extremely dark and fruity.  More savory notes peek through here - spices and tobacco notably - but the blackberry and currant fruit flavors are fully in charge.  The wine has a great mouthfeel, with enough tannins to tame a bite of steak, but not enough to pick your teeth with afterward.


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