At those lower price points it’s really a struggle to find top notch juice from the major Bordeaux varieties, but once you’re ponying up the big bucks it becomes fairly easy, so winemakers feel comfortable doing away with the Syrah they used to beef up their lower priced offerings. This ultimately is not a question of quality, I do believe that winemakers are always striving to maximize the quality of their wines, but rather a simple question of quality at what price.
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What to Know About Blends
A lot of those lower priced blends are fun wines, and some are quite good, but this set of wines is in many ways quite distinct from those wines priced under $20 or so. Those wines are fun, flush with fruit and designed for immediate enjoyment. Many of these more expensive wines are more serious, for lack of a better term. They offer complexity and fruit, structure for aging and the promise of turning into something special after a few years in the cellar, which is not to say that most aren’t already delicious today. Even the worst case scenario is nothing a thick steak couldn’t fix.
Keep that in mind as you run through this rather extensive list of great wines. I was actually surprised by how well so many of these wines showed. There’s a lot of value here, and if you pick through the wines carefully it’s likely that you’ll find a style that matches your palate.
2008 Penley Estate Chertsey Coonawarra Aus 14.5% $50
49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec
This comes in a gigantic bottle. Complex on the nose with layers of intense red and black currant fruit, mint, tobacco, prune, white pepper and stone aromas. This is a big wine but one that's packing some serious acidity that helps to offset the effects of tons of ripe fruit. The flavors are vivid and intense, combining hints of truffle, chocolate and mushroom with raspberry, wild cherry and plum fruits all topped with white pepper spice. The tannins are a touch angular but modest in the scheme of things. Turning a bit beefy on the back end, this really pops on the bright succulent finish with peppery wild currant and raspberry flavors. Quite a compelling example of its type. 94pts
2008 St. Supery Elu Napa Valley Red Wine 14.4% $55
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot
Light on the nose with hints of toasted nuts, cocoa, tobacco, mint and vanilla over red currant and plum fruit. This shows off a lovely herbal perfume on entry followed by a nice red currant, raspberry and plum skin mid-palate that’s nicely framed with well-judged oak notes. There's actually quite a bit of peppery spice here on the palate, with layered oak flavors that are well balanced by the fruit, fruit that remains fresh and transparent in the mouth. The oak turns a touch bitter for a moment on the finish, then the fruit returns with a hint of bacon fat and persistent earthy spice. Lean, fresh and elegant, this is balanced for the cellar but already very attractive with a fairly light-handed winemaking style. 93pts
2005 Urraca Familia Langley Reserva Mendoza Argentina 14% $50
36% Cabernet Franc, 36% Malbec, 17% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot
This comes in a giant bottle. Dense and brooding on the nose with clay soil tones, black fruit, braised herbs, and nutty oak. While eight years old, this is still tight and just a pup. The balance here is great, this is a large scale wine that manages to feel quite weightless in the mouth. There's tons of tannin here, but they are balanced by rich, ripe and yet fresh black fruits that are framed with leafy, nutty nuances. The moderately long finish is tight and the tannins are drying a bit even if mostly voluptuously ripe. With air, the aromatics here become more flamboyant and the fruit, blackberry and blueberry toned with hints of pomegranate and mulberry, becomes more pronounced. Minty finish. This is a bit of a monster that still needs 3-5 year in the cellar but will be terrific. 93pts
2008 Terra Blanca Estate Vineyard Onyx Red Mountain Washington 13.5% $52
56% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec
Mint, dried berry fruit and strawberries in cream greets the nose along with notes of toasted nuts and leather. Lots of red cherry fruit pops on the entry here along with some spicy earth, toasted nut, and sagey herb notes. This is broad and wide open today, expansive on the palate and transparent with fruit that is decidedly in the red end of the spectrum with subtle yet distinct accents of herbs, licorice and cardamom spice and finely integrated oak spice that all fans out on the rather long if slightly austere finish. This combines lovely intensity of flavor with a relatively lightweight style. Love it. 93pts
2008 Trione Geyserville Ranch Red Wine Alexander Valley 14.5% $48
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 11% Petite Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec
This comes in a gigantic bottle. An initial flood of quite clearly Cabernet driven aromas quickly tightens up revealing a rather restrained array of black currant, vanilla, mulberry, tobacco and allspice driven aromas. This is tight in the mouth with a pop of mistiness on entry. Powerful and dense, yet elegant and transparent, this is very tight today with fine balance between the oak influence and the reticent fruit which comes off as rather red fruited. The tannins are obvious but nicely polished and dusty with cinnamon and allspice flavors. This really is striking, still too young but it has excellent balance and is not plagued with excessive fruit or concentration that might throw things out of balance in the future. The finish is long if a touch light today, with an almost raspberry freshness on the finale. Very attractive showing the great balance and freshness. 93pts
2010 Gerard Bertrand Cigalus 14.5% $40
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Tight on the nose with aromas of black currants and black raspberries over a base of smoldering herbs, soft wood, chalk and clay. This is very tight on entry but at the same time very well-balanced and showing some juicy, oozing notes of black currant fruit framed with hints of fennel seed, toasted oak and plummy fruit. There's not much detail here at the moment as this is laden with super ripe tannins that forms a cage around the core of fruit. The finish is rich, powerful and long with graphite, mocha and coffee accents as well as a touch of heat. This needs time to integrate but looks to have excellent potential for improvement over the mid-term. 93pts
2009 Seven Hills Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain Washington 14.2% $35
Unspecified percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Rather subtle yet complex on the nose with layers of herbs, medicinal spices flecked with dollops of oak spice and vanilla all over a base of firm fresh black currant fruit. The fine balance here makes this feel a bit smaller and more open that it proves to be. There's plenty to like here with layers of currant and cherry fruit topped with savory herb notes, a sprinkle of mint and some coffee candy notes that lead to the firm, long, and fairly obviously tannic finish. The tannins prove to be less long-lived than the minty, wild cherry and currant fruit of the finale. This is long, layered and powerful. Let it rest for another year or two and then enjoy it over the following ten. 92pts