Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Two vintages Belle Glos Las Alturas Santa Lucia AVA Pinot Noir

Two spectacular restaurants - two vintages Belle Glos Las Alturas, Santa Lucia Highlands, Pinot Noir

For two important client dinners, we dined at two spectacular restaurants - each with award winning wine lists. On consecutive nights, one wine label emerged as the choice for value, distinction and sophistication. Two recent vintages of Belle Glos, Las Alturas Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, Pinot Noir were selected for premium steaks at Capital Grill, as well as duck breast and ahi tuna entrees at Charlie Palmer's Aureole. What is this wine that has this versatility, range and cache'?

Belle Glos (pronounced BELL GLOS) is the eponymous product of Winemaker and Viticulturist Joseph Wagner to honor his grandmother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner who was co-founder of Napa Valley's well known classic Caymus Vineyards.

The noted Caymus Napa Valley producer Chuck Wagner's grandfather acquired the land following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. A winery was built in 1915 where he produced bulk wine until prohibition. 

In 1972, Chuck and his parents, Charlie and Loma, established Caymus Vineyards named for the original Mexican land grant, Rancho Caymus, which encompassed the area now known as Rutherford. The Wagners began making wine at Caymus which has become a one of the classic benchmark Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa Valley.

Over the following decades, the Wagner family expanded into other California wine regions with their varietals suited to their distinctive climates, soil, and all the other characteristics known as terroir, that define a wine growing area's appellation. In addition to Caymus, the Wagner family produces wines under the Mer Soleil, Condundrum and Belle Glos brands. 

Since its founding in 2001, Chuck Wagner’s son, Joseph, handles the viticulture and winemaking for Belle Glos which produces three vineyard-designated labels from Taylor Lane Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, the Clark and Telephone Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, and this Las Alturas Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The most widely available label is Meiomi, the fourth Belle Glos Pinot Noir, an entry level value-priced wine from declassified juice. The wines are known for their distinctive long necks dipped in garnet colored wax rather than sealed with foil. 

Readers of this blog know we're not big Pinot fans and I'm not a fan of Meiomi, but then I'm on record of writing about how difficult it is to find a good sub $25 Pinot Noir. We hold a couple vintages of the Clark & Telephone Vineyard Pinot but have found it to be somewhat lackluster. What a pleasant surprise to discover this blockbuster Las Alturas! I will definitely seek it out and look forward to having it again, especially from other vintages.

Belle Glos Pinot Noirs are known for big-styled wines with generous extraction, alcohol and oak, and plenty of tannins when young. These recent vintages of Las Alturas are even more voluptuous than the earlier bottlings. This is perhaps the most vibrant, expressive extracted Pinot Noir I have ever tasted, resembling a full forward concentrated Shiraz more than the delicate lighter style of a California Pinot. 

The label takes it name from the Spanish term “Las Alturas” means “the heights”,  fitting since this vineyard is located on one of the highest grape-growing benches within the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation (AVA). 

The vineyard sits high in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range on the western side of Salinas Valley. The Las Alturas vineyard is subjected to the cooling effect of the early morning fog that rolls in most days from Monterey Bay, only to burn off within a few hours from the heat of late morning sun. Gusty winds flow in from the bay throughout the day moderating the overall temperature and contributing to one of the longest growing seasons in the state. The high winds also result in smaller berries with very thick skins, which contribute to color and concentration. The 15-acre vineyard is planted to match various Pinot Noir clones suitable and best fitting to the individual slopes and soil attributes of the land. 

At Capital Grill on the Las Vegas Strip, we dined on prime fine filet steaks and the 2011 Vintage Belle Glos Las Alturas was up to the pairing. Resembling a Shiraz more than a Pinot, it was dark ruby colored, full bodied, rich, dense and concentrated with tones of black raspberry and blackberry fruits with tones of earthiness, spices, ripe plum, currant and black cherry flavors. The ripe tannins are nicely balanced with acidity, and the finish is long and fulfilling.

RM 92 points.

The next night we dined at the fabulous Charlie Palmer restaurant Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino with its spectacular wine tower (left) and wine angels in the four story glass enclosed wine cellar, avante garde menu and chic setting.

To complement the ahi tuna and roasted breast of duck with confit orange coulis we chose the 2012 Belle Glos Las Alturas, which once proved to be a perfect choice. Dark garnet colored, only slightly lighter than the 2011, still full bodied, dense rich and concentrated with dark berry fruit flavors turning to layers of vanilla and cocoa. Once again more like a Shiraz than a Pinot with its chewy palate, structure and depth with a nicely balanced acidity on a silky supple finish."

RM 90 points.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Deep Sea White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara Syrah 2008

Deep Sea White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara Syrah 2008

Like another Syrah that I hold in my cellar that I discovered under the same circumstances, I found this downstate at Friar Tuck's, a wine merchant with stores across Central Illinois cities and suburban St Louis, Missouri. A few years ago I discovered Flinders Run Flinders Ranges Shiraz there and went back and bought out all that they had. Downstate for a client meeting, I picked this up last evening to enjoy with a carry out rib dinner back at my hotel. I went back today and bought out their complete inventory.

Deep Sea is a producer in Santa Barbara that speaks of their quest to feature wines that represent "maritime influenced vineyards of merit and singularity .... their origins and the impact of California's coastal climate. California's appellations are ideally influenced throughout the growing season by the unique climes created by the Pacific Ocean. The ethereal 'fog-like wave' on the label references the focus of Deep Sea wines showcasing the impact of this natural cooling on some of California's most recognized maritime appellations."

This Syrah is made with grapes from the White Hawk vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  It is aged for eighteen months in French Oak barrels. 

Dark inky purple, full bodied, thick, concentrated, chewy black and blue berry fruits with a layer of alcohol, tones of caramel and vanilla, turning to hints of black pepper and mint on a moderate tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gruaud Larose v Chateau Palmer

Gruaud Larose vs Chateau Palmer - contrasting styles vintage Bordeaux

For a gala birthday dinner celebrating wife Linda's birthday with kids Ryan & Michelle, I pulled from the cellar two vintage twenty-five year old Bordeaux, Chateau Palmer and Chateau Gruaud Larose. For my bride's birthday, I know of no label that defines elegance more than the distinctive gold on black of the super second Margaux, Chateau Palmer with its smooth refined floral perfume laced fruit. And Gruaud Larose has emerged as a signature Bordeaux wine of Ryan and me as we've tasted several vintages together including our encounters with winemaker David Launay at the UGC events. What a contrast in styles with the muscular firm bold Gruaud aside the diminutive refined Palmer.

We still hold each of these wines in magnum and other large formats from each of the kids' birthyears as well as several other vintages in standard format.

At twenty-five years old from an average vintage, I was hopeful that the wines were still holding and up to the occasion. I opened and decanted them about 1:00 pm and returned them to the cellar before rebottling and recorking them for dinner. On initial opening they were both closed and withdrawn and both appeared to have lost some of the luster of their color. Even then, upon re-opening at the restaurant around 7:00 pm, over the course of the evening, it was still two hours before they really opened and started to reveal their full fruit and nuances of their breadth and depth.

Our celebration dinner took place at Cafe Absinthe in Wicker Park, Chicago, a French influenced American bistro. The picturesque trendy eatery is part Paris part Chicago with rustic brick walls revealing a faded painted billboard, high ceilings, wood floors and white tablecloths. While it sits at the high energy bustling corner of Damen, North and Milwaukee Avenues, the unconventional entrance is around the corner in the alley.

The menu is basic selection of four starters, chowder, four salads and less than a dozen entrees of beef, lamb, chicken, scallops, a risotto, salmon and breast of duck. The wine list is minimalist but they cater to BYOB interests. All the selections were imaginative, nicely presented, delicious and fairly priced.

The Palmer was a perfect complement to the Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the roasted beet salad with nuts and white pepper, and the chocolate lava cake. The Gruaud Larose was the perfect complement to my New York strip steak with red wine reduction and au gratin potatoes, the beef tenderloin and the lamb chops.

Chateau Palmer Margaux 1988

I purchased a case of this wine upon release back in the early nineties and this is the second to last bottle remaining.

Medium bodied, ruby/garnet colored, moderate acidity, the boysenberry and black raspberry fruits were accented by tones of cigar box, a whisper of eucalyptus and earthy leather, before giving way to a mouthful of bright floral perfume that lingered on the long finish of sinewy silky tannins.

RM 91 points.

Chateau Gruaud Larose St Julien 1988

We hold this wine in a dozen vintages dating back to early 80's including magnums from several vintages. We asked David Launay, winemaker about this vintage when we met him at the UGC Chicago tasting event and he advised we should start drinking it over the next few years.

Full bodied, dark garnet colored, lively acidity with firm core of black berry fruits accented by tobacco, leather and hints of cassis with moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 89 points.

More to come ....

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cameron Hughes Lot 500 Napa Cab

Cameron Hughes Lot 500 Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Ironically, someone asked me just the other day if I knew of Cameron Hughes and I replied I did not. Then, just a few days later I discovered this wine and his brand. Cameron Hughes is another California based negociant, a broker who buys product from producers to remarket under its own private label. The wine may be excess inventory or may not meet the standards set by the producer to market under their own label, hence they'll release it for others to market under a different label so as not to diminish their brand. Naturally such agreements are done under confidentiality. In those circumstances the negociant will hint or tease about the source of such wines.

In this case the tag-line is, "An exceptional Cabernet from one of Napa's first 100-point producers," leaving one to conjecture whom the source might be. Of course the benefit to the marketplace is 'liquidity', no pun intended - the producer can monetize his otherwise un-marketable product (under their own label), although they could also release it in bulk for blending with other wines to be sold as a non-specified wine in another brand or label, or as part of a blend. Most larger producers have multiple labels to classify and sell product at the appropriate applicable price point, but boutique producer's don't have that capability, hence this market. The broker is able to fill a need in the marketplace and can build a meaningful business, and the consumer can get a quality, otherwise expensive label at a fraction of the price, if they're willing to forego the cache of the label brand. Often these releases offer extraordinary value. The challenge is that such releases are one-time opportunities that are short-lived and in limited quantity. And of course caveat emptor, buyer beware.

I wrote more extensively recently in this blog about this practice and another negociant broker, Ninety-Plus Cellars who has come on the scene in a big way with wide distribution of a large number of offers. Our discovery of their recent release of Lot 101 of their Columbia Valley Syrah was an extraordinary find.

Hence I took notice upon reading about this release. Their promotion says, "Lot 500 is our most important Cabernet release of 2013. It's our Centennial Lot that represents what we do best - source amazing wines and sell them at fantastic prices. Lot 500 was born in Oakville from the same vineyard that was one of the first Napa estates to receive a 100-point score from Robert Parker."

SavWay Fine Wine & Spirits in tony Hinsdale (near west suburb of Chicago) were promoting this as Groth product, extrapolating the teaser hint about the 100 point Parker producer. Indeed, the Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet was the first California wine to be so annointed. Whether this is Groth or not, history shows there have been about forty such wines from but about a dozen and a half producers, a fraternity of the most exclusive producers of the most extraordinary wines. In any case, none of their releases would be found at or even near this pricepoint. Hence, even though this might be a shadow of the flagship or namesake label if released under its own brand, its a quality and distinctive wine at a good value offering a high QPR (quality price ratio). 

I almost don't want to release this before I go back and buy more before it is gone.

The negotiant's notes say "Dark black core with kiss of magenta at the rim. The youthful aromatics open up with dusty loam and blackberry fruit that give way to a very compelling and very pure blueberry essence. Hints of plum and rose petal shimmer in the background. The purity of expression at this stage is very exciting (the wine was bottled in late August 2013, so it’s just now emerging from bottle shock). Silky smooth, delivering highly polished textures across the palate, with bands of black currant and plum swirling about a densely packed mid-palate. Excellent length and depth, but the ultimate expression here is one of silky complexity, beautiful proportion, and balanced elegance. Classy juice."

I found this wine extremely vibrant and expressive, initially hot from alcohol - it needs to be decanted and left for an hour to open and settle to reveal its true nature and potential. Lively forward boysenberry and currant give way to a layer of caramel and hints of vanilla mocha on the long sinewy silky smooth gripping tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

WCC Family Dinner Features Cellar Select Birthyear Wines

WCC Family Dinner Features Cellar Select Birthyear Wines

For an impromptu family dinner celebrating two of three of Bill and Beth C's son's being home for a weekend/evening, we were honored to join in the special festive occasion. Beth was preparing lasagna so Bill and I chose some hearty wines that also happened to represent the boy's birthyears. Bill pulled out a magnum of 1989 Silver Oak Alexander Valley. I had contributed earlier a 1984 vintage Barolo picked up on a trip to Europe, waiting for a suitable occasion to feature that vintage. Ironically, I also brought another 1989 vintage wine, this from Benziger Family winery in Sonoma, ironic since Bill had already opened a bottle of Benziger for predinner tasting. 

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

Served from a magnum, this was medium bodied with dark blackish purple color. Bill's notes from Cellartracker, "Plenty of fruit left in this but not much backbone. Was pleasantly surprised that this was still in OK shape. Medium purple color showed no signs of age. Took about an hour after decanting for the nose to reveal perfume and floral notes. Reminiscent of cherry and raspberry on the palate with a touch of oak but the tannins are gone, making this a bit thin."

WCC 86 points.

Benziger Family Winery Imagery Series Cabernet Franc 1989
There are several wines producers that offer artist label series, wines with a different label each vintage featuring original artwork from an artist, or more typically, each vintage featuring a different artist's work of art adorning the label. The most famous of these of course is Chateau Mouton Rothshild, one of the world's most noted wines. Their labels feature original artwork by world class artists produced specifically to adorn their signature vintage of Mouton Rothschild first growth Bordeaux. They are so distinctive that even empty or past drinking window bottles become collector's items in their own right. I've had fun over the years collecting or seeking out each vintage of Mouton's and have an image library of their famous line of labels in my wine Mouton wine label library on

This is not an attempt to compare Benziger wine to Mouton Rothschild in any sense other than the concept of an artist series of wine labels.

In the case of Benziger, their Imagery Series is an artist series of wines that feature artwork by a named artist adorning the label. Benziger then feature a special bottling of wine from a named grower and featured winemaker (s) with each bottle of the limited bottling is individually numbered. This bottling features 1989 Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc from Blue Rock Vineyards, and was crafted by Benziger winemakers and friends Bob Goyette and Bruce Rector.

The Imagery Series was created to offset Benziger's wines produced from their Glen Ellen estate with lot of specially crafted wines from boutique or varied producers who might otherwise sell their wines to be private labeled or blended into other larger production wines.

At twenty-five years of age, it was time to open this wine, on this occasion, it was serendipitously a birthyear tribute to Matt and Molly who were with home for the weekend and joining us for dinner for a gala family dinner.

Medium bodied with garnet rust color, this opened initially a bit lean and astringent but over the course of the evening revealed more and more black cherry fruit accented by spice, cigar box and hint of  earthy leather on the finish.

RM 87 points.

How ironic that I pulled this Benziger Family bottle from the cellar for Beth's lasagna dinner to find Bill had opened and was serving a Benziger Family selection for before dinner.

We visited the Benziger Family estate in Sonoma Valley Bill and Beth C during our Sonoma Valley Wine Experience back in 2008.  I had this 1989 vintage bottle in the cellar having purchased it at auction over the years. So it was fitting to bring a Benziger 89 for a family dinner with 89 birthyear son Matt visiting from out of state.

Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Appellation Series Syrah 2009

Bill had already opened this and was serving it when we arrived so it was serendipitous that I brought another Benziger, notable in that we visited the estate together during our Benziger Family Winery - Sonoma Valley Visit in the Autumn '09

Bill's notes - "Popped and poured. Found this to be a bit flat and one dimensional with a focus on light fruit flavors...blueberry, blackberry. Expected more spi

This really opened with time and in many ways was the surprise of the evening by virtue of its improvement and value. Some white pepper became evident on the palate. The nose became highly floral and the fruit blossomed. Nice bottle of wine.
ce but it was lacking. Will see if this opens with another hour or so.

WCC 85 points.

I found it dark purple colored, medium bodied, a bit lean with a moderate black berry fruit accented by tones of white pepper with hints of spice.

RM 87 points.

Abbazia Barolo 1984

I purchased this bottle in a little neighborhood wine shop in London near Oxford Street and Ware Road back in the late 1980's. It had been lying down in our cellar for over two decades. With my penchant for having wines for special occasions and having kids born in three different years in the first half of the 80's decade, I presumed we'd have one of their friends from this vintage year to toast at some point.

With our wine collecting and tasting with dear friends the Connolly's becoming increasingly commonplace over the ensuing years, it was only fitting to bequeath this bottle to them as its the birthyear of their middle son, Drew. It was only a matter of time we'd likley end up drinking it for some occasion. With the bottle aging it was due and Bill pulled it when tonight's family dinner came together with Drew and Matt being in town from Tennessee. 

While this was lean and a bit austere, it had more life in it than I expected. Garnet colored, medium bodied, the nose was muted but after an hour or so the black cherry and cherry flavors emerged and predominated over a layer of leather, dry earth and hints of minty anise on a rather tight finish.

RM 85 points.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mollydooker 'Carnival of Love' Shiraz 2011

Mollydooker 'Carnival of Love' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011

You gotta love our Aussie friends and their sense of humour. 'Mollydooker' is the Aussie term afforded what in America we would call a 'southpaw' or a left handed person. Mollydooker are Sara and Sparky Marquis, the husband and wife winemaking team who happen to both be 'lefties'. They emerged on the American wine scene with Marquis Phillips and their whimsical 'Roogle' or half kangaroo half eagle character for the Australia - American joint venture with their US distribution partnership back around the turn of the century.

We still hold and savor several cases of a vertical collection of their early releases of 'S2' Cabernet and '9' Shiraz, as well as a few coveted bottle of their 'Integrity' flagship that Robert Parker awarded 99 points that put them on the map.

After several successful releases, they set off on their own and never looked back and have developed an extensive brand and line-up of labels, all with whimsical names and colorful cartoon characters (see select library below - a more complete library is on our winesite Aussie 'M' Mollydooker label library). Aside their flagship 'Velvet Glove' Shiraz which nears $200, their two premium labels in the $80 range are this one, and 'Enchanted Path', a Shiraz and Cabernet blend. Their line includes an extensive collection from an entry level Shiraz to Cabernet, Cabernet-Shiraz blends, Merlot - even a sparkling Shiraz.

The story of these wines according to the winemaker is: "Our whole family is involved in making our wines, and all the wonderful people who drink them become our friends, so we named this wine Carnival of Love, because the wines bring us together. If you look closely you will notice that the Lefty characters are all included in the label and when you join the Carnival of Love and the Enchanted Path together, the two labels form one beautiful continuous love story."

At these price points, these are not every day wines for us ordinary folks, but wines for special occasions. 'Carnival of Love' has become one of our family tradition wines which we serve at wife Linda's and family birthday parties, since Linda is a Lefty, and we happen to have three family birthdays in the span of several weeks. Hence, its that time of year so we picked up and opened the 2011 vintage of Carnival, as Linda loves these big opulent forward Shiraz' as much or even more than I do.

They continually win high acclaim with Carnival receiving 95-ish ratings consistently over the last five years; 2010, RP95, WS94, 2009; WS94, RP93, 2008; WS94, 2007; RP96, WS95, 2006; RP97, WS95.

This 2011 continues with a big powerful concentrated, dense, deep and complex wine, black inky purple in color, with super ripe blackberry and raspberry and layer of blueberry flavors that are a bit over the top for my preference, almost being raisiny and hint of herbs in their concentration, with tones of spicy cinnamon and clove, and hints of creme de cassis, mocha and black pepper on the smooth lingering sinewy tannin finish.  This is not for the faint hearted and needs a big steak, bold cheeses or dark chocolate to offset its in-your-face power.
RM 92 points.

Some of the other Mollydooker labels ....

Mollydooker 'Scooter' Merlot

Mollydooker 'The Violinist' Verdehlo

Mollydooker Maitre'd
Cabernet Sauvignon

Mollydooker Two Left Feet

.... and one of our favorites, Blue Eye'd Boy, which we typically serve at blue-eye'd son Alec's home visits or birthdays, (when we're not serving Lewis Cellars 'Alec's Blend').

See more Mollydooker labels on unwindwine blogspot.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

We met Scott Snowden during one of our first Napa Valley excursions back in the mid-nineties. It was shortly after Snowden was featured in the Wine Spectator "A Dozen to Watch" chronicling twelve emerging hot producers of Napa Valley wines. He was a lawyer and former judge before taking over the family wine business with his brother Randy and their wives. Their father had acquired the Napa Valley property to move his family out of the congestion of city life in Oakland where he was a professor at U Cal at the time.

Over the ensuring years we met with and featured each one of the twelve in our Napa Wine Experience dinners and tastings. On this day, we met Randy at Brix Restaurant and tasted his wines over lunch. Over the following years we collected Snowden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon including this 2000 vintage offering. We still hold in our cellar a vertical of vintages of Snowden dating back to their early 1993 vintage.

I recall hearing him recounting his story of the design of their unique label design by his wife Joanne Ortega Snowden, whom if I recall correctly, also designed the labels for Marilyn Merlot at that time.

Tonight we enjoyed Snowden at home over a perfectly matched dinner of T-bone steak, rice pilaf, and asparagus spears.

Eric Snowden and all the recent press about his betrayal of our government aside, there is no connection between him and Scott or his brother Randy of Napa Valley wine fame.

The Snowden was dark ruby colored, starting to show a tinge of brownish rust color, however it didn't reveal any diminution of its bright vibrant cherry, currant and berry fruits, accented by a layer of eucalyptus before giving way to leather and earth with tones of anise on the tangy tight tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

Cellartracker listed the drinking window of this vintage through 2012 and based on tonight's tasting I revised it to 2016. My records show we still have two more bottles and I'm not feeling rushed to consume them. In fact, we still hold four older vintages and I chose this one tonight based on it having the 'expired' drinking window.

Ghost Pines Red Blend 2011 - the 'un-terroir' wine

Ghost Pines Red Blend 2011 - the 'un-terroir' wine

This is an eclectic blend from a variety of grapes from a diversity of locations across California. By design, the philosophy for Ghost Pine's wines is to allow the winemaker to "enjoy (s) the freedom to choose the best grapes he can find, regardless of AVA. Inspired by the free-form character of its namesake tree, Ghost Pines embodies the progressive spirit of California winemaking – “excellence has no boundaries.”'

This is the opposite of the concept of terroir, that sense of place associated with the grapes from a particular vineyard and its distinctive combination of climate, micro-climate, soil, terrain, sun, drainage - all the elements that contribute to the character of grapes from specific place. In fact it takes that sense of place and multiplies it times three, four, five or more. And then take all of that times four or five different grape varietals that are in the composition for this wine. The result is a big complex flavorful wine.

Ghost Pines is named for a historic vineyard purchased in 1964 by Napa’s historic Louis M. Martini Winery. Ironically, they then go against all the heritage or sense of that vineyard and emphasize their approach to produces unique wines by giving Winemaker Michael Eddy 'the freedom to choose the best grapes he can find, regardless of AVA (appellation of designated place where grapes are grown with common characteristics).

Wine folks refer to 'old world' and 'new world' wines - the old world being wine regions that have been producing wines for centuries; France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, as compared to new world where wines have been produced for years ... or perhaps decades; Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Austrailia, New Zealand, .... America. Ghost Pines would be the epitomy of new world thinking.

While old world wines may be 'narrow' and perhaps uninspiring, those producers have become masters at getting the absolute most out of their particular 'patch' of ground that is their vineyard. This includes learning over time precisely which grapes (varietals) grow best in that place, and best reflect through their output that sense of place - terroir. As such, they'll also select grapes that compliment each other and go best together as in combination to provide the best results in the blend. One grape for depth, one for breadth, one for increased structure, and complementary flavors.

At the end of the day, lets never forget, its all grape juice!

Those with discriminating palates that have the experience and discernment to parse all the elements and characteristics of a wine so as to even detect that sense of terroir, or the nuances of the different grapes in the blend, let alone the effects of the particular vintage, appreciate comparing one vintage of an Estate wine to the next. Indeed, Estate bottled means that the grapes in that bottle were grown on the property of the producer as identifed on the label.

The French famously put on their labels (left) "Mis En Bouteille au Château", roughly translated as bottled at the Chateau or Estate or property. Adding the words "Appellation Original Controllee", (AOC) go further to certify that that wine conforms to rigorous controls over the grapes, their origin within the Appellation, and how the wine was produced. In Italy, the similarly equivalent references are DOC and DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata - "Controlled designation of origin") that are the controls that enforce the quality of the wine in a particular area or appellation.

All this said, Ghost Pines is the result of free-form selection of grapes from many locales, from many varietals, blended together into their wines. This is the case in bulk wine, oft called 'jug wines', but in this case, they're striving for 'contemporary' quality wine from the same approach.

The result is not necessarily sophisticated, polished, harmonious or 'integrated', all words that might describe how well the different components of the blend complement each other, it is complex, perhaps to a fault. But then again, its a $15 wine, that no man's land between 'jug' wine and a Meritage (trademarked branding for a Bordeaux blend composition in a non-Bordeaux sourced wine - the Bordeaux varietals being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) or Bordeaux or other AOC wine.

By their own pronouncements they profess, "When our winemakers think about how to make a great wine, they start in the vineyard. And that vineyard has no boundaries. It may begin in northern Napa and end on the hillsides of Sonoma. It might stretch across mountains and valleys to Lodi in San Joaquin or meander down the Pacific Coast to Monterey. When the barriers of traditional appellations are lifted, a progressive group of winemakers sees no limit to the kind of wine they can make. Those winemakers, led by Ghost  Pines Vintner Michael Eddy, are turning out remarkable wines that blend the best of California's diverse appellations." 

In addition to this Red Blend, Ghost Pines also produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and a Chardonnay.

You be the judge. Its all in the eye of the beholder. I think in the end, they produce a wine that provides high QPR - Quality Price Ratio, and perhaps that is what is most important to the consumer anyway. While not true to appellation conventions, look for Ghost Pines for imaginative, bold and interesting wines.

Even the producer speaks to a Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde combination in the blend of grapes used for this wine. "The Ghost Pines 2011 Red Blend showcases the complexity and balance that the right combination of the right grapes can achieve. The Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in this blend act as the stoic Dr. Jekyll, while the Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese are a classic Hyde: assertive, aggressive and maybe even a little disturbed."

The winemakers' notes for this wine describe, "Aromas of blueberry and blackberry pie are framed nicely by salted caramel, spice and truffle notes. Rich and full-bodied, this blend offers chewy tannins and a long, luscious finish."

I found this wine dark purple colored, full bodied, complex aromas and flavors of black and blue berry fruits, tones of cherry, graphite, spice and tea with a tight edge on the firm tannins lingering on the finish.

RM 87 points.

The blend is 48% Petite Sirah, 21% Zinfandel, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 9% Other.
The grapes are sourced from 56% Sonoma County, 23% San Joaquin County, and 21% from Napa County.