The following is a compilation of old reviews I have done on the wines of California.
2000 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, Sonoma County: This wine was not as good as the Hunter's Pinot Noir. It had a bit more berry, less spice and less complexity. It costs $16 so should have possessed more complexity than it did. It was a pleasant wine but did not excel. The pinot noir grape can be difficult and this wine is merely ordinary. I would Drink this wine but probably would not Buy it again.
2001 Buttonwood, Hawk Red: A blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. This was a very interesting red, rich, dark and smoky. It would excel with BBQ. And was a good price at around $12 or so. A definite Drink and Buy.
2001 Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon: I began my evening at the Eleven restaurant with a glass of this wine. It is made by Michael Mondavi, one of the wine-makers of the famous Opus One. It was a dark, full bodied wine with lots of cherry flavors and a lush smoothness. It had a nice, medium length finish and the tannins were not too harsh. It was a fine example of cabernet. The glass cost $12 and later research showed that a bottle sells for around $17. For that bottle price, I would Drink and Buy this wine. It is better than most of the usual $10 cabernets with added complexity and smoothness, though it does not rise to being exceptional.
2002 Limerick Lane Zinfandel, Collins Vineyard, Russian River Valley: Last evening, with some cheese and crackers, I tried this wine ($25-30). This was not your usual California zinfandel. It was more subtle, smoother with a more refined spice. Most California zins seem much bolder, more in your face. The Limerick had nice fruit on the nose, and a taste of plums and dark berry. It was well balanced, with few tannins and a lengthy finish. It is an unfiltered wine so it can use decanting to filter out any sediment. You might also want to let it breath for a time before drinking. A definite Drink and Buy.
2003 Blackjack Ranch Double Down Syrah: This winery is in the Santa Barbara area of California. The bottle sells for about $30 and is available at the Wine Shop in Reading. This wine came highly recommended from Robyn at the Wine Shop so I took a shot on it. On Friday evening I opened a bottle of this wine and was extremely pleased. This is a full bodied, smooth, spicy, superb wine. There is a very long, pleasant finish. Like liquid velvet. Mild tannins and no bite. Lots of complexity on the tongue. This is a wine I will definitely buy again, and it is well worth its price.
2003 Cline Old Vines Mourvedre: Last evening for dinner (venison loins) I drank this wine. Mourvedre (also known as mataro or monastrell) is a lesser used grape except in certain small areas such as Bandol, France and Jumilla, Spain. In California, they only plant about 600 acres, and Cline Cellars owns about 100 of them. T his is a unique tasting wine, with hints of lush plum and yes, eucalyptus. It is a full bodied-red and with a satisfying smoothness and nice finish. It went very well with the venison. It does not taste like many other wines people are used to. I would definitely recommend this as a Drink & Buy.
2003 Paraiso Pinot Noir, Monterey County, Santa Lucia Highlands: This is a superb pinot! You get a mouthful of cherry and some other berries, some spice and smoke, a bit of vanilla even. It is more Burgundian in style than the usual fruit bombs of California. The wine is a light wine, nicely balanced with a lingering finish. It is one of the best pinots in this price range, $20, I have tasted in a long time. Highly recommended!
2003 Oriel Midnight Rambler, Rutherford: This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose of this wine really enticed me, a lush fruity scent w/ a bit of vanilla. It was a very smooth wine with a long finish. It had some smoke and spice on the palate and definitely showed complexity. It does cost $35 so it is more a special occasion wine but it should satisfy.
2004 Frontier Red, Fess Park Winery: This is an inexpensive red wine ($11) that is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignane. Thus, it is a Rhone style blend. It is also a screwtop. This is just a nice drinking wine, with good fruit, spice, a smooth feel and a bit of the exotic. It has some complexity without being overly complicated. This is one of the better wines in this price range I have tried in some time. By its label, you might think it is a gimmick wine. It has a picture of Davy Crockett on it. It is also called their anniversary edition as it is the 50th anniversary of the Davy Crockett show, the 40th anniversary of the Daniel Boone Show and the 15th anniversary of the Fess Parker winery. Despite all that, it is an excellent value wine. A definite Drink & Buy!
2004 Joel Gott, Sauvignon Blanc: At 13.5% alcohol, this $13 wine was the highest of the alcohols of the three whites, and it did show in the taste. There were clear citrus flavors but the heat of the alcohol was a bit overpowering. No Drink/No Buy.
2004 Moshin Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Valley: This has a richer flavor, more cherry and other fruit, but more alcohol as well. At $23, it is not inexpensive and I don't think it is worth that much. It is a typical California pinot, without anything to make it standout. Drink, not buy.
2004 Earth, Zin & Fire, Zinfandel: This was an intriguing wine. It begins with a lot of fruit upfront and then surprises you with spice and smoke in a long, lingering finish. This is the epitome of a good BBQ wine as well as a fine Zinfandel. A definite Drink and Buy.
2005 Pine Ridge, Chenin Blanc/Viognier: This was a white wine that impressed me with its crispness, fine citrus flavors with a touch of more exotic fruits as well. I even detected a little spice on the finish. A fine summer wine that should appeal to most. A Drink and Buy
2004 Cotturi Carignane: This is an organic wine, all natural from start to finish. It also uses a grape that is more often seen as a blending grape than on its own. This was a superb wine ($18), very smooth, good fruit taste and with a well-balanced mix of tastes. Definite Drink and Buy.
Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir: One of my favorite pinot noirs remains the Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir and I opened a bottle yesterday with friends and family. The Saintsbury is a lush, fruit wine with a nice satisfying finish. It has complexity on the palate and many tantalizing flavors. The Saintsbury was one of the first pinot noirs that ever really thrilled me and I have continued to enjoy it over the years. The Carneros usually runs from $25-30. There is a Saintsbury Garnet version which is around $17, though it is not as good as the Carneros.
2004 David Coffaro, Escuro: Escuro means "dark" in Portuguese. This wine is a blend, consisting of 30% Alvarelhao (a Portuguese varietal), 12% Touriga Nacional (another Portuguese varietal), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Syrah and 7% Zinfandel. Only 220 cases were produced of this wine. Interestingly enough, only 90% of the varietals are from the 2004 vintage, the rest being from the 2003. The varietals in the blend intrigued me, especially having Portuguese varietals in a California wine. The wine lives up to its name as it is a very dark wine. It also has a spicy nose. It is a very smooth wine with a spicy finish and soft tannins. It also has a long finish, leaving a lingering spicy aftertaste. It has a lot of complexity, yet all the different parts make a harmonious whole. At only $25, I think it makes for quite an interesting and delicious wine, a definite Drink & Buy for me.
2005 Beauzeaux, Beaulieu Vineyards: This evening, I tried the Beauzeaux (pronounced Bo-Zo as in the clown) Red blend ($9). It is a blend of 8 grapes, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Lagrein, Valdiguie, Grenache, and Tempranillo. This was a very interesting wine, with complex flavors, a lot of fruit and a decently long smoky finish. For the price, this is an excellent value. Despite the gimmicky name and label, with a bunch of jugglers, this is a serious wine. The different varietals combine well into a harmonious whole that would go well with many foods. A definite Drink and Buy.
2004 Tobin James, Chateau Le Cacheflo, Paso Robles: A red blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Refosco ($14) that was a very intriguing wine, with diverse flavors of the palate, good fruit flavors and a nice finish.
2004 Peirano Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: A very nice California Cabernet that is a great bargain at the price of $13. It is more complex than most Cabernets at this price range. They use old vines and they make a smooth and fruity wine.
2004 Ten Mile Road Red Blend: This blend ($12) of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbara, Malbec and Carignane is a superb wine. It is dark, full-bodied and complex. The varietals make a very intriguing and tasty blend, especially at this price.
2004 Leal Vineyards, Rhone style blend, San Benito: Smooth, spicy and a very tasty wine ($28).
2003 Ridge, Geyserville Zinfandel: You get what you pay for here, a top notch Zinfandel ($40) that is more subtle, and definitely not a fruit bomb. An excellent wine.
2004 Coturri Charbono: I had ordered some of this wine ($22) from the Grapevine Travelers in Medford. I was familiar with other Coturri wines, which are all organic and low production, and was very impressed with them. So, I wanted to try their Charbono, a rare varietal that I had never tasted before. Generally Charbono only grows in California, and may be related to Bonarda or Dolcetto. Coturri only made about 200 cases of the 2004 Charbono. I drank some of the Charbono last night, eager to taste it, and was very pleased with the vine. It is a dark wine, but not as full bodied as you might expect. There were alot of nice fruit flavors, like cherry and strawberry, but also flavors of almost chocolate. There was a nice long and satisfying finish. I could see this wine going well with many different foods. It did remind me a bit of some of the Bonardas from Argentina that I have recently been drinking. This was an exceptional wine and a definite Drink and Buy.
NV Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red, Lot No.41: Like Sean Thackrey's Pleaides, this wine is nonvintage and numbers its wines each year. The Old Vine Red (about $12) is a red blend, with mainly Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane though there are minor portions of other varietals, including Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big bold wine, with a lot of fruit and spice on the palate and a good finish. It is an easy drinking wine without strong tannins. It has a very interesting taste. I thought this was an excellent wine, especially at this price. A recommended Drink and Buy.
2003 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tete-a-Tete Sierra Foothills: This is a Rhone style wine, ($16)composed of 70% Mourvedre and 19% Syrah with a dash of Grenache. This is definitely a more Old World wine, a bit more subtle and with strong spicy undertones. It is pleasant to drink, and has an intriguing combination of flavors including a bit of earthiness. It would be a good food wine. I should note as well that I bought this at a recent wine tasting as I enjoyed it then. And I enjoyed it now as well. A Drink and Buy.
2005 Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir: I have liked their prior vintages, a nice low priced pinot. The 2005 vintage is a more subtle and milder wine. It is not as fruity as prior vintages. It is a wine that would pair well with most any food, and should appeal to most anyone. To me, it seems to have lost some of its prior appeal though. It might have gotten a little too innocuous for me.