Robert Renzoni, owner and winemaker, tastes new releases with assistant winemaker Olivia Bue, at Robert Renzoni Vineyards in Temecula. Photo by Frank Mangio
Community Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Best of breed wine tasting

Since the TASTE OF WINE release of its Top Ten Tastes of 2015, we have reviewed more than 400 wines the first few months of 2016 and found lots to cheer about. Many were from the outstanding 2012 and 2013 vintages, so the only thing I found difficult was limiting my picks to eight to fit into the space of this column.

Napa Valley again showed why it is the most prestigious wine country in the world.  Half the choices were from this blessed part of California. Although Napa Valley is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, this list shows diversity with Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Cabernet. Price quotes are the best I could find and the list is shown alphabetically with no regard for ranking.  They are all equally excellent.


Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley, 2012.  $26.99.  Dan Duckhorn’s focus for his winery has always been to make Merlot his signature wine varietal, after many trips to Bordeaux France.  “I like the softness, the seductiveness, the color and the fact it goes with many foods so well,”he said.  A slight blend of Cabernet gives it depth and structure.

Frank Family of Napa Valley displays some of their award winning wines, including the 2013 Pinot Noir. Photo by Frank Mangio
Frank Family of Napa Valley displays some of their award winning wines, including the 2013 Pinot Noir. Photo by Frank Mangio

Frank Family Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, 2013.  $26.99.  Pinot Noir is the current “Glamour Queen” of the reds.  Sometimes testy and not for all vineyards, but when done right it’s a sensual, lush and savory wine, with cherry/berry and complimentary fig notes.  This wine was awarded overall best wine at the most recent  “East Meets West” Wine Challenge with 1,300 wines in competition, in Santa Rosa.

Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2013.  $43.  This is a pre release and should be ready for purchase in May.  Mike Grgich is celebrating the 40th year of the “Paris Tasting” when, in 1976, his 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay bested all the Chardonnays that the French could offer.  Since then he has been called “the King of Chardonnay” and the accolade is never more true than in the 2013 vintage, with its natural acidity, tropical flavors and notes of minerality.

Maison Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France.  2013.  $20.  Who says fine French wines have to be expensive.  I increasingly look to the Rhone Valley.  This ruby red Syrah exudes intense fruit and racy herbs and spice.  Earthy finish.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Piedmont, Italy. 2012. $24.  This wine offers a great opportunity to enjoy a leading grape, Barbera, without a hefty price tag that you’ll see in the Barolo and Barberesco.  This Piedmont’s go-to red wine is for daily dinners, especially the pastas and risottos.

Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel, Dry Creek, Sonoma, 2013. $45.  One of the finest terroirs for Zinfandel, producing excellent balance for the sizeable alcohol, found in all great Zins.  A range of aromas and flavors due to various stages of harvest.  The Black Boar breed of Zin spent 17 months in customary 60 gallon French oak barrels, as well as 132 gallon barrels and 900 gallon foudres. A distinct swagger to this wine.

Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012. $27.  This is a reserve selection wine.  Look for this distinctive description when you go to buy, and make sure it’s a 2012. Nice balance of fruit forward qualities, with a hint of chocolate.

Robert Renzoni Sonata, Temecula Valley, 2013.  $45. Hard to choose a “best of” with the list of varietals from this foremost maker of Italian wines. From a true to form Tuscan Sangiovese, a delicious Montepulciano and several Brunello blends, we chose the Sonata, a Super Tuscan style wine with 50 percent estate Cabernet and 50 percent estate Brunello di Sangiovese.  Aged 20 months in French oak; lots of family tradition here.    


Wine Bytes

Sommelier Gino Campbell of PAON in Carlsbad has set his wine events to a new level of quality with his tasting for March 30 from 6 to 8 p.m., when he offers the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy.  $200 per person. Call (760) 729-7377.  He’s also created a new wine list of more than 900 labels with some of the most sought-after wines.

Vittorio’s of Carmel Valley has a five-course food and wine dinner with Taken wines, March 31 at 6 p.m.  The menu features braised short rib Tortellaci and roasted Prime Rib Au Jus.  $49.50. Call (858) 538-5884.

The fourth annual Vin Diego happens April 1 and April 2 with over 300 new wines with gourmet appetizers, featuring wines from California, Oregon and Washington.  All events take place at Liberty Station in Point Loma. See for prices and details.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View his columns at and reach him at  Follow him on Facebook.

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