Pop open these wines

Traveling the length and breadth of California for the past three months of 2011 has brought me to more than 60 venues, tasting more than 1,500 wines. I evaluate all tastes on a 1 to 5 rating, from bad to excellent. Flavor, place and price are chief factors in the selections. Prices shown are suggested retail. These are my recommended Excellent 10:
— Artesa Cabernet, 2005, Napa Valley 63 percent/ Sonoma 37 percent for $15. A Cab blend of two world-class growing grounds aged two years in French Oak.
— Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah, 2007, Livermore Valley, Calif. for  $8. Incredible buy. America’s first Petite Sirah winery. Full-bodied cherry flavor, rich to the finish.
— Le Machiole Bolgheri Rosso, 2008, Italy for $32.99. A blend of 50 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet, 15 percent Syrah and 5 percent Sangiovese. Dark, rich fruit with that Italian minerality that showcases this mama earth vino.
— Markham Merlot, 2006, Napa Valley for $16. Merlot is very much alive and Markham deserves credit  for this exceptional quality red.
— Niner Twisted Spur Syrah/Merlot/Cab Franc/Petite Sirah, 2007, Paso Robles for $25. The artistry of leading California winemaker Amanda Cramer is perfectly balanced fruit. Lovely complexity.
— Ravenswood Zinfandel, 2008, Lodi, Calif. for $16. Winemaker/owner Joel Peterson produces wines from many vineyards and makes more than 800,000 cases of red wine. His major skill is presenting each wine as handcrafted with flavorful artistry.
— Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, Napa Valley, Calif., for $11. Our only white wine entry, Fume Blanc was coined by the master himself. It has a slightly citrus quality to tweek the palate; same as Sauvignon Blanc. Racy and refreshing.
— Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel, 2008, Sonoma, Calif. for $35. The north end of Sonoma holds lots of gravely loam soil that the Seghesio Family added to their estate wines in 1957. Dry Creek is a timeless appellation where most of the Old Vine Zin vineyards live. 
— Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, 2008, Dundee Hills, Ore. for $38. A marvelous example of an old world style of Pinot, in the best Burgundian tradition. This mystical growing ground is the stuff that the queen of red wines thrives in. Place it into a 16-month hibernation in old oak and you have pure Pinot, Sokol Blosser style.
Thornton Winery Syrah, 2007, Temecula Valley, Calif., for $24. The aroma and taste of the Rhone Valley, Thornton has captured what the Temecula Valley does best. Velvety tannins enhance big-bodied fruit with layers of berry and a touch of mocha.
Enjoy these latest release wines. My picks for the first quarter of 2011.
Getting caught up in the wine world
Wine sales are recorded for last year and once again Chardonnay is the leading varietal with $2 billion in sales and 22 percent of total sales.
Cabernet Sauvignon comes in second at 1.35 billion and 15 percent of sales, according to the International Wine Guild. Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is next, with Merlot  holding on in fourth place and Pinot Noir fifth.
The fastest growing sales increases are coming from Riesling and Pinot Noir, with Italy’s Sangiovese coming in third. Italy is the top importer, selling 30 percent of all imported wines.
Veteran San Diego Chef Jeff Rossman and his long-time restaurant in Hillcrest, Terra, have relocated to a sleek bistro style dining establishment on El Cajon Boulevard in La Mesa called Terra American Bistro which should be ready next month. Jeff will emphasize even more, his farm-to-table format. The décor will feature a “living wall” garden. He recently published “From Terra’s Table: New American Food Fresh From Southern California’s Organic Farms.”
China is the next hot market for wine. The monied crowd consider wine drinking to be Western, modern and cool. The sales in Hong Kong are double that of New York and London combined.
Check out wineanddinedeals.com, chock full of wine and dine news. It’s run by Ron James, who used to do it for Sign On San Diego.  You’ll find what you need for that next happy hour and more.
Wine Bytes
— Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula Wine Country has an intimate evening of Jazz at 6 p.m. March 18. The evening includes food, wine and jazz. The cost is $25 per person. For more information, call (951) 699-9463.
— A Tuscan Night with Banfi Wines and dinner at Vigilucci’s in Encinitas is planned starting at 6:30 p.m. March 23. Banfi will have a presentation by Educational Director Sharron McCarthy. Wines range from Pinot Grigio to Brunello di Montalcino.  The cost is $65. RSVP at (760) 942-7332.
— A Stags Leap Wine Dinner is planned from 6 to 9 p.m. March 24 at the Marriott Laguna Cliffs in Dana Point. Chef Erasmo has a seven-course feast accompanied by six different varietals of Stags Leap. Cost is $100 each. Call (949) 661-5000 for details.
—   Mistral at Loews Coronado is presenting a 3,000-bottle wine cellar seminar event with an hors d’oeuvres reception followed by a four-course dinner with paired wines from 6 to 9 p.m. March 24. The cost is $75 per person. Call (619) 424-4000 for details.


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