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Jenny, Chuck and Charlie Wagner of Caymus Vineyards and the Wagner Family of Wine in Napa Valley. Courtesy photo
Columns Taste of Wine

Top 10 wines of 2018, so far

The bounty of fine wine is never more evident than in our top 10 wines. Up and down the price ladder it’s all about flavor, value, quality, cost and availability.

The first six months of 2018 came in with a blowout birthday for me in front of 26 friends and family members at Vigilucci’s in Carlsbad and wound up on the shelf with a blown vertebrae disc. That’s how fortunes change in life, and in wine.

This time around we have: three red blends, one Pinot Noir, one Zinfandel, one Cabernet Sauvignon, one Chardonnay, one Malbec, one Shiraz and one Gewurztraminer.

All wines are rated equally excellent and ranked alphabetically. Pricing is the best I could find.

  • Banfi ASKA Red Blend Tuscany Italy, 2014, $34. Banfi sets the standard for Tuscan wine greatness and this newest entry, from the Bolgheri coast, is a small production blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Compares favorably with some legendary Tuscan collectors wines from Gaja and Antinori, but at a price that is way less. Don’t miss this “Super Tuscan” wine. Visit
  • Boen Pinot Noir Russian River Sonoma, 2016, $19.

Boen is a Norwegian word meaning “the Farm” and Joe Wagner, the 36-year-old winemaker and owner, chose it to remind himself that he is a farmer first, a tiller of the land and contributor to his family’s legacy with this expression of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. He learned well from his respected father, who still operates Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards (see below), famous for their Cabernet. Joe’s heart and passion was with Pinot Noir and after extraordinary success, he’s now building a cadre of Pinots with rich, ripe fruit flavored wines, led by Boen. See

  • Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla, Washington, 2015, $85.
Boen Pinot Noir Russian River Sonoma. Courtesy photo

In recent months there has been a wake-up call on just how good Washington wines are, especially Cabernets. Deeply intense flavor and stunningly delicious I believe are appropriate descriptors when the focus is on Leonetti. It was the first winery in the Walla Walla Valley and a treasure for the premium wine consumer. Visit

  • Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz, Australia, 2016, $50.

Dense in color with vibrant dark purple hues … “like drinking fruit pie.” Full-bodied, well-defined tannins. Surprising but smart to see a twist cap in this price point. It lengthens time in the bottle once opened. Packs a 16 percent alcohol punch but balanced flavors make it a plus. Visit

  • Opolo Mountain Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2015, $22.

Often called “America’s most decadent red,” Zinfandel’s birthplace is Croatia and the southern Italian countryside. Opolo does a masterful job with its mountainside style.  Plenty of black cherry, plum and spice. Forget fish and chicken with this one, go for BBQ beef and spicy food. Could be the best value wine in the group. Lean more at

  • Prisoner Red Blend, Napa Valley, 2016, $38.

Most in-demand of the wines in the group. Traditional French Bordeaux blend with a healthy injection of Zinfandel to make it pop. Luscious taste, powerful from start to finish. Recent wine dinner at Seasalt in Del Mar sold out three consecutive nights with the Prisoner. See

  • Red Schooner, Wagner Family Napa Valley, 2014, $50.

The latest creation coming out of the vineyard that gave us the venerable Caymus Cabernets. This Malbec ships in a special technique from grapes grown in the high Andes mountains of Argentina. Scents of ripe plum and cherry, with a powerful yet supple flavor. Tradition and innovation have served many generations of Wagners helping to bring fame to Napa Valley. Visit

  • Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2015, $24.

Welcome back to the summit of wines Robert Mondavi. I like its winemaker quote on this wine: “For our Napa Valley Chardonnay, it is the unified voices of both fruit and oak, that allow the terroir to speak,” Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking. Lots of fresh acidity and toasty flavor with a rich finish. Visit

  • Robert Renzoni Sonata Blend, Temecula California, 2014, $50.

A return wine to our select group, this “Super Tuscan” style wine is a blend of 50 percent estate Cabernet and 50 percent estate Brunello di Sangiovese. A dominant flavor that floods the palate with cherry, cranberry and spice and a hint of coffee at the finish. Aged 20 months to perfection. The signature brand for this traditional family name in wine, since 1886. Details at

  • Stolo Vineyards Gewurztraminer, Cambria, California, 2017, $25.

The winery is located on California’s Central Coast. This is a cool climate wine producer just 2.5 miles from the rugged coastline with moderate 60 to 70 degree temperatures. This is perfect for the thinner skinned grapes like Gewurztraminer, a white wine from the German district of northern Italy. Bouquet includes mango, apricot and orange blossom.  Flavors are rose petal, tangerine and honeysuckle. It’s the perfect warm-weather summer wine. Other new release wines produced include Pinot Noir and Syrah. Visit

Wine Bytes will return next week.