God bless the lunatic who dreamed up this insane blend of six grapes that shouldn’t go together. Markham’s Cellar 1879 blend is composed of Napa grapes in this proportion: 36% Merlot, 21% Petite Sirah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel, and 8% Petit Verdot. Named in honor of Markham’s founding, it’s an insanely drinkable bottling that won’t break the bank.
There’s lots going on here: Intense violets, chocolate sauce, and a core of blackberry jam. Big currant notes build up, but it’s vanilla and chocolate — almost confectionery in quality — that dominate the juicy finish. Fortunately this is all just short of hitting that rampant jamminess that mars so many wines, and the floral elements are present throughout — though fleeting. A fantastic food wine, it’s a bit sweet (and a bit dangerous) on its own.
A- / $25 / markhamvineyards.com
This well-pedigreed Cabernet offers a ripe, blackberry-laden nose with touches of black pepper and dried herbs. The body is rich and lush with chocolate notes, some coffee bean, and vanilla. The finish is big and fruity, its tannins mellowing with ample time in the glass, leaving behind some notes of tea leaf, charcoal, and cocoa powder. Excellent quality at this price.
A- / $30 / charleskrug.com
For the 2010 vintage, Chile’s (arguably) biggest cult wine Don Melchor (a splinter of Concha y Toro) is composed of 97% cabernet sauvignon and 3% cabernet franc. Grown in the Alto Maipo Valley, the wine is aged 15 months in French oak (3/4 new, 1/4 second use).
Appropriately huge, the nose is thick with notes of dark chocolate, anise, and rich, juicy currants. The body is densely aromatic, starting off with violets and fresh fig, then taking a leap off the cliff, right into the vines. Big blackberry notes, lashings of root beer, licorice, reduced vanilla syrup, and well-integrated wood follow along in short order. The finish is lengthy, moderately tannic, and just as dense as everything that’s come before.
An amazing wine now, but in 2018 it’ll be a knockout. Patience!
A / $125 / donmelchor.com
Jackson’s New Zealand-born Sauvignon Blanc, named in recognition of John Stichbury, the founder of Jackson Estate, is a restrained expression of how this grape typically fares down south. Loaded with peach and pineapple notes, it manages to keep the sweetness at bay by offering some nice herbal notes, a bit of baking spice, and a finish that offers a touch of tart apple.
A- / $22 / jacksonestate.co.nz
When I first tasted Faust’s 2012 Cabernet I thought it might be off — densely tannic with vegetal flavors that were massively overwhelming at first attack. I corked the wine up and put it away for a day, hoping things would settle down. Fortunately, they did, revealing a wine that’s a burly as all get-out, but which has a charm of its own deep down. Even with air and time, you’ll need to push past a significant amount of dense leather and tar to reach some fruit — juicy currants and some blueberries — plus hints of fresh rosemary, spearmint, and cocoa powder. This is a challenging but ultimately rewarding wine — provided you have a couple of days to crack its code.
B+ / $40 / faustwine.com
Sagrantino is grown mainly in the Umbrian region of Italy, where the village of Montefalco is the hub. Sagrantino is a dense, tough grape. Its wines are believed to be some of the most tannic made anywhere in the world.
This 2007 sagrantino from Castelbuono is an intense but delightful wine. Licorice notes complement dried thyme and rosemary up front, laced into a core of heavily extracted and juicy black cherry, plum, and currant notes. The finish is powerful with dense notes of wood, tannin, and forest floor. Decant this wine, or open it at least an hour before drinking in a large glass.
A- / $32 / palmbay.com
To say that sake is a poorly understood beverage in the U.S. is an understatement. Never mind understanding the various grades and styles of sake, how to drink it (hot or cold?), and what kind of food to drink it with, there’s the not-so-little matter that most imported sakes don’t have anything written in English on the label.
John Gauntner’s Sake Confidential can’t teach you Japanese, but it can give you everything you really need to know about sake in one slim tome. Just 175 spare pages in length, the book breaks sake down by topic; each chapter is a myth about sake that Gantner is prepared to debunk. Is cheap sake supposed to be drank warm and good sake cold? (Not necessarily.) Is non-junmai sake garbage? (Not necessarily.) Should you only drink sake out of one of those little ceramic cups? (Not necessarily.)
Gauntner’s world of sake is a complex and decidedly confusing place, and even in the end the writer confesses that there are no clear answers to anything in this industry. At the same time, the book works well as a primer for both novices and intermediate sake drinkers who want to know more about this unique rice product. While the book’s design — slim and tall like a pocket travel guide — makes little sense for a topic like this (and, in fact, makes it unfortunately difficult to comfortably read), Gauntner nonetheless does us all a much-needed service by digesting all of this material into one place — and inexpensively, too.
B+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]
This fresh Rosso di Montipulciano offers a gentle approach, offering perfumy floral notes atop simple red berries on the nose. The body dips from there into more simple cherry and raspberry character, melding acid with tannin in a balanced body, with some subtle notes of tea leaf and dried herbs. The finish is short, but pleasant and savory, fading out with some lightly jammy notes and a modest slug of wood. Nicely done at this price.
See also our review of the 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile.
B+ / $19 / avignonesi.it
This Napa Chardonnay is classically styled, with a bit of a twist. The buttery vanilla notes are relatively restrained. In their place you’ll find notes of lemon curd, clover honey, whipped cream, and light lavender that bubble up to the surface, particularly evident as the wine warms up a bit. Refreshing on the finish, but loaded with character that’s worth exploring.
A- / $26 / rutherfordhill.com
Fragrant on the nose with peach and apricot notes lead to a buttery body more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Pinot Grigio. The palate is long, lush, and loaded with vanilla and caramel flan, before exiting on a crisper, baked-apple finish. This isn’t a complicated wine, but guests at your next dinner party aren’t likely to mind it one bit as an aperitif.
B / $19 / terlatowines.com