Review: 2016 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County

This Mendocino-born zin is a blend of 84% zinfandel, 14% petite sirah, and 2% carignan, making it one of the more heavily-blended zinfandels we’ve seen in quite a while. While the wine can’t escape the iconic dark purple color, it does succeed at loosening up some of the uber-sweet structure that Zin so typically exudes, cutting the still-rather-jammy core with some notes of tobacco, dark chocolate, and baking spice. The finish feels a bit tight, but it also offers a bit of acidity to brighten up the proceedings.

B+ / $18 / artezinwines.com

Review: 2015 Rocca di Montemassi Le Focaie Maremma Toscana DOC

Want all the power of great Chianti without the price tag? Check out this 100% sangiovese bottling from Rocca di Montemassi called Le Focaie (“flint” in Italian), which will barely set you back a ten-spot.

A nose of pencil lead and dried cherries leads to an effusive body. It starts of sweet but with a bit of air it settles into a groove where you find fresh cherry fruit, a dusting of baking spice, and a subtle but enduring earthiness that really adds to the soul of the wine. While it may not be overwhelming in its complexity, it is impressive in its drinkability, showcasing both a beautiful balance and a tart, sophisticated finish.

One of the best value wines of the year.

A- / $12 / zoninusa.com

Review: 2015 Bear Flag Zinfandel Sonoma County

Here’s proof that zinfandel needn’t be an over-jammed fruit bomb.

The possible secret is that Bear Flag, which draws its name from California’s iconic 1846 flag and is part of the Gallo group, uses Sonoma fruit instead of grapes from the more typical Lodi, giving them access to a territory that is slightly cooler and has more varied terroir. The results are a supple (and sure enough high-alcohol) zin with notes of blackberry, dark chocolate, and lingering notes of cloves. Altogether it’s a hearty, heady wine built for the holidays — right down to the old-timey, gold-etched labeling.

A- / $30 / bearflagwine.com

Review: 2015 Stave & Steel Cabernet Sauvignon Bourbon Barrel Aged

Hey kids, another bourbon barrel-aged red wine! This one carries a California designation but, per the company, is Paso Robles-sourced cabernet sauvignon that spends four months in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Let’s see how this one fares.

At first I was slightly optimistic: The nose evokes both black pepper and blackberry fruit — interesting and engaging — but the palate is sweet beyond all get-out. Loaded with notes of Concord grape jam, liquefied chocolate and caramel sauce, it quickly runs to a finish that evokes cinnamon-spiked applesauce. All told, this isn’t a wine but rather tonight’s dessert special blended into oblivion and poured into a glass.

C- / $18 / staveandsteel.com

Review: NV Dark Horse Double Down Red Blend

A ten-dollar, nonvintage red wine made from who-knows-what that’s called Double Down… Perhaps you can forgive my skepticism going into this one. Truth be told, Dark Horse’s lighter wines are not as terrible as their name, and this expression — technically a “limited release” — is far better than I was expecting.

According to the producer, this is a blend of “Tannat, Teroldego, Zinfindel [sic], and Petite Syrah [sic],” all of which is sourced from California. And try as I might to hate it based on poor copy editing alone, I simply can’t. It’s just a blend that works: Lightly sweet and certainly doctored, but done so by someone that knows what they’re doing. The palate is heavily spicy with nutmeg and cinnamon, with a raisiny note emerging in short order, eventually giving way to a slightly syrupy chocolate finish. It’s not cloying, but it certainly sticks to your ribs.

As a “big” red wine, Double Down is aptly named and built for either a bold meal or getting totally lit. I’m not going to judge you either way.

B / $10 / darkhorsewine.com

Tasting Report: 2015 St. Emilion Bordeaux Wines

In 2014 we covered the wines of Bordeaux’s St. Emilion region, diving into the 2009 and 2010 vintages in earnest. Recently, Grand Cru producers from the area visited San Francisco to pour their 2015 bottlings, and each was invited to offer an older bottling by way of comparison. These ranged from 2010 to 2014 (though a few did not bring an older vintage at all).

We tasted through 20-some wineries to evaluate the 2015s. As is typical of Bordeaux, quality was variable, with a few major standouts but also a number of lackluster wines that have some growing to do.

Let’s dig into the 2015s.

Tasting Report: 2015 (and Older) Emilion Bordeaux Wines

2015 Château Bellefont-Belcier Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tight, but similar in notes to the chocolate-themed 2011, more spice-forward / A-
2015 Château Bellefont-Belcier Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – heavy with cocoa, licorice, and mild spices; lovely balance, one to watch / A
2014 Château Chauvin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – burly, but with ample fruit / B+
2015 Château Chauvin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – lots of acidity, heavy with herbs / B
2015 Château Grand Corbin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – aromatic with lots of fruit, earthy hints, a standout / A
2012 Château Grand Corbin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – full-bodied, ample fruit, great balance / A
2015 Clos Des Jacobins Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – intensely herbal notes, almost grassy / B-
2011 Clos Des Jacobins Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – aging well, better balance / B+
2015 Château La Commanderie Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – heavy, with an herbal core / B+
2015 Couvent Des Jacobins Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – more restrained, lush fruit, an herbal edge / B+
2010 Couvent Des Jacobins Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – chewy, rounded with licorice and spice notes, some cocoa / A-
2015 Château Dassault Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – lighter in body, but still daunting with jammy fruit / B
2010 Château Dassault Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – very fruit forward for a wine of this age, almost gummy at times / B
2015 Château Faurie de Souchard Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – overly fruity, but similar to the 2014 / B
2014 Château Faurie de Souchard Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tons of dried fruit, jam-heavy / B+
2015 Château de Pressac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – nutty and lush, but a bit over-extracted / B+
2013 Château de Pressac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – very expressive, lots of fruit and a baking spice core / A
2015 Château Fombrauge Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tough and tannic / B-
2014 Château Fombrauge Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – austere; dark fruits and plenty of barrel influence; finish is off / B
2015 Château Fonplegade Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – astringent and muddy / B-
2014 Château Fonplegade Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – earthy and leathery, dark, dusty / B
2015 Château Fonroque Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – very meaty, heavy / B
2014 Château Fonroque Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – a touch musty, some candied fruit notes emerge / B+
2015 Château Franc Mayne Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tough, needs some time; strong herbal currents / B+
2012 Château Franc Mayne Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – some minor oxidation, showing lots of fruit and spice / A-
2015 Château Grand Pontet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – lush and fruity, light florals with hints of chocolate / A
2010 Château Grand Pontet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – showing its age, with ample raisin, spice, nutmeg, and some cocoa notes; drink now / A
2015 Château Le Prieure Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – much softer than 2014; more expressive fruit / A-
2014 Château Le Prieure Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tight graphite and tar notes, leathery; blackberry underneath / B+
2015 Château Jean Faure Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – fresh and vibrant, very fruit-forward but full of life ahead / B+
2014 Château Jean Faure Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – a little dark chocolate amidst the tannin here, pencil lead and lots of fruit at the core / A-
2015 Château La Marzelle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – youthful, extremely fruit heavy / B+
2012 Château La Marzelle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – some oxidation, otherwise showing a nice blend of fruit and spice / B+
2015 Château La Tour Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – bold and expressive, with dried fruits and spices; juicy / A-
2014 Château La Tour Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – mushrooms and earth, lively fruit; a touch astringent / A-
2015 Château Laroze Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – tight but extracted; lots of leather and dried currants / B
2012 Château Laroze Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – nose of pepper and spice, pretty violet florals; body is lacking / B
2015 Château Yon Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – more fruit, some leather notes; quite big / A-
2013 Château Yon Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – heavy earth, licorice, and dusty mushroom / B
2015 Château Ripeau Saint-Emilion Grand Cru –curiously juicy, with a raspberry/blackberry core; youthful / B

Review: 2016 Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

Flint & Steel is a sublabel of Graton-based Purple Wine Company, with an unusual claim to fame: It makes only one wine, a 100% sauvignon blanc sourced from Napa Valley. It’s a traditional offering from this region — heavy with pineapple and lemon notes, but rounded out with some almond character that gives body to the palate. At barely 10 bucks a bottle, one does not exactly expect complexity, but F&S fights against simplicity and ends up on a moderately bracing acidic — and palate-cleansing — note.

B+ / $12 / flintandsteelwines.com

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