Top 10 wine tastings for first half ’09

What a wonderful last six months it has been for the wine experience. Of course the recession has hurt wine sales a bit and on the retail level, the discount coupons and price incentives were in evidence. But if you’re like me and saw the glass as half full, it’s been a breakthrough six months, with biodynamic style vineyards growing, alcohol content moderating and the rise of winning Temecula wineries. Then there is the huge growth in Paso Robles, and yes, the Napa Valley renaissance of young brilliant winemakers. Put it all together and you have to be happy with where we are with wine.
I reported on some 400 wine bars, resorts, restaurants, special tasting events and wineries, tasting many hundreds of bottles in the past six months. Price to value and availability were important. I favor a less complicated 1 to 5, “bad to excellent” rating and choose not to rank my top 10 wines. All of the following are listed alphabetically, and were brilliantly crafted. Prices are suggested retail.
— Chateau St. Michelle Col Solare, Red Mt.Washington, 2005, for $75. Accented aromas of black cherry, dark chocolate and rich spices. A partnership of St. Michelle and Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori blending 71 percent Cabernet, 25 percent Merlot and 4 percent Cab Franc. Visit for more information.
— Denner Viognier, Paso Robles, Calif., 2008, for $30. Splashes of peach, yellow apple and tropical scents lead the way for this complex, pleasing white, sure to challenge Chardonnay for domination. West side winery, growing in stature and popularity. Visit for more information.
— Ferrari-Carano Siena, Sonoma, Calif., 2007, for $23. If you enjoy a blend, you will love this low-priced Italian style red, with 78 percent Sangiovese and 22 percent Malbec. Great care in handling and barreling. There is no better with Italian dishes. A staple in my collection.Visit for details.
— Justin Isosceles, Paso Robles, Calif., 2006, for $62. Intense flavors of 86 percent Cabernet, 9 percent Cab Franc and 5 percent Merlot that adjusts with each vintage based on Justin’s experts from around the world. A work of art that only gets better with age. Twenty-four months in French oak barrels. Amazing retention of superior taste once opened. Visit for details.
— La Cereza Viognier, Temecula, Calif., 2008, for $24.95. Surprise grand best-of-show white at the recent Critics Challenge International in San Diego, this off-dry Viognier is rich, complex and perfumed with tropical accents of apricot and orange. Continues on the palate with fresh peach. Perfect time of the year to enjoy! Visit for details.
— Marilyn Remarke Grenache, Monterey, Calif., 2006, for $45. France’s Rhone Valley grapes work very well here and this noble presentation achieves excellence with its sixth vintage of lovable Grenache. Limited to just 400 cases but worth the search. Power and finesse in a bottle. Visit for details.
— Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy, 2005, for $24.99. Ancestors were the fathers of chianti wines. Twenty-four generations later, exciting earth and minerality in bouquet and taste with 100 percent Sangiovese grapes from Castellina in Chianti. Visit for details.
— Pedroncelli Dry Creek Zinfandel, Sonoma, Calif., 2006, for $18. Cheers to this winery for its economy pricing with quality in its bottles. Jammy and concentrated fruit from one of the pioneer Zin families in Sonoma. Their “Mother Clone” Zin adds another dimension to the lineup. Visit for details.
— Thornton Nebbiolo, Temecula, 2006, for $32. Northern Italian varietal, California style. Winemaker Don Reha achieves singular success with this luscious, wide-body grape. Rich, black fruit with bursts of cherry, plum and leather. Direct sales only. Visit for details.
— ZD Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, Calif., 2007, for $40. Making great wine on the Silverado Trail of Napa is nothing new for ZD. Dark, ruby red in color and character, this example of the “Queen of Wines” is exotic and demands attention with its silky, well-integrated tannins. Visit for details.
Wine Bytes (SUBHEAD)
— La Cereza Winery in Temecula returns the great Spanish Flamenco guitarist Benise in concert with his supporting cast July 18 with doors open at 5:30 p.m. and Benise appearing at 8:30 p.m. This Vegas-style show is filled with visual and musical surprises, including the master electric cellist Marston Smith. Auction item money raised will benefit California Family Life Center. Items include an African safari! Dinner prices include individual and VIP tables plus a Benise meet and greet in La Cereza’s Barrel Room. Admission starts at $55 with tickets available at (951) 699-6952 or
— A Bastille Day celebration is planned for 4 to 8 p.m. July 11 at the Fairbanks Ranch clubhouse in Rancho Santa Fe. Enjoy wine tasting, food, live entertainment and auction items. Donation of $125 per person goes to the Southern Caregiver Resource Center. Call (858) 268-4432 for details.
— Free jazz on Sundays is back at Falkner Winery starting July 12 and through September from noon to 3 p.m. Jazz saxman Jason Weber plays. Concert-style seating. Details are available by calling (951) 676-8231.
— The Summer Legacy dinner featuring owners Gerry and Rosie Wilson is the evening of July 18 at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula. For complete details and menu, call (951) 699-WINE.


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