People are not going to like what I have to say here, but that is okay, this is not a popularity contest. I do not write about wine to gather as many friends or followers as possible. I write about wine because I love wine and while I know my palate sometimes strays outside of the mainstream, so be it. I know many other people share my tastes or at least a curiosity of what lurks beyond the familiar, so if I can help just those people, well I am fine with that.

Beyond disliking what I have to say about these Bordeaux-style blends, some might even say that I just don't get it. That is fine because if there is something here I'm missing, I'm happy to be missing it. I found enough wines to recommend quite highly, though some of the better-known wines tasted faired less well. I found them formulaic, indistinct, overly oaken and while generous, they just seemed to be over wrought.

Consider that these were buildings, I am simply expressing my preference to Tudor over the Baroque. I don’t mind solid wine as long as I can get a real feeling for all the elements of the wine. Dressing up a massive wine in excessive ornamental oak makes it very challenging to really understand that wine. Most of these Bordeaux-style blends have the potential for, if not the need of, some cellaring. While I do believe that can I forecast the future of many wines to a degree and I am happy to do so with my money, when it comes to spending your money, a higher standard is in order.

Photo courtesy Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr/CC

Top List: Bordeaux Blends: Top Values

That is where the trouble begins. Do I fall back on popular conventions that oak does integrate and that certain wines have a penchant for ageing well? Or do I stick by what I taste and admit to you that I am not all certainty and seeing? It is a tough call and goes back to the introduction of this article. I am not here for everyone and I am certainly not here as a definitive authority. So it is with some regret that I admit to you that some of these wines might be fooling me. They might be great wines, but I just can’t see it. I see too much extraction, too much oak and too much winemaking for these wines to be great in my book. Adding in the need for some age just makes the entire calculus even more challenging.

There is of course a difference between what I like and what is good, especially if we are out hunting for the mythical “universal good.” I have stuck to my own guns and scored these wines primarily on what they are showing today. Yes, many have potential and I’ve noted that potential both in the written reviews and built a list of Top Bordeaux Blends to Cellar. As far as the point scores go, that easy shorthand that lets you compare wines, I have tried to make it work for how the wines are showing as opposed to how the wines may show at some indeterminate day in the future.

While I am loathe to turn this introduction into yet another screed on the 100 point scoring system, it is with this group of wines that the inadequacies of the system become most glaring. Many of these wines were built for the 100 point system, quite literally. If we were going to simply mark a series of check boxes when evaluating wine, I’m sure they would score notably higher than they have, but that’s not really what wine is about. Wine is fundamentally about pleasure these days. For anyone spending the tens of dollars a bottle these wines cost, it is all about indulgence.

There are all forms of indulgence and thus all types of palates, but for me a wine should be delicious to be worth buying. You can add on bells and whistles if you want and to a certain extent that may improve your experience with a wine, but once the wine becomes just bells and whistle, what are you left with? Marked off check boxes.

Top List: Bordeaux Blends: Top Scoring Wines

Take this list for what it is worth. A small peak behind the curtain thanks to a group of wines that works with the same or similar palates. It is a fascination exercise that seems to reveal a touch of group-think in an industry more accustomed to buzzwords that stress the unique. Terroir, typicity, authenticity, these are also check boxes, more and more in use and in fact dominant in the anti-establishment wing of the wine party. I am naïve of course, because I want it all. I am not an ideologue when it comes to wine, I do not believe that large producers and authenticity are incompatible, I can’t assign quality simply on the basis of scale and technique. There is some middle ground.

I think many if not most of my favorite wines here find that middle ground. They do not give up popular appeal yet forge an identity for themselves that is distinct of that of their neighbors’. It’s quite a challenge, particularly when one enters a world of ubiquity. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and increasingly Cabernet Franc and Malbec are growing around the globe. At the root of their widespread success is the ease with which they grow and produce compelling wines in such a variety of sites. That success, that visceral ability to produce, is also what makes so many of these wines alike.

Grown in ideal spots, all of these grapes have something unique to say, but it doesn’t take much to turn what they’re saying into indistinct mush. A few degrees too warm, a bit too much or little water, and the grapes no longer speak with a local accent but rather revert to a universal language. There is nothing wrong with the international style, in fact it is very successful, but unless you are the very best of the international style, you are one among many.

Many of these wines are perfectly fine and particularly well done, but not much different from one another. Some trade on name recognition, others on appellation or marketing, to maintain or increase their market share. One thing they don’t do is excite me. When I taste these wines, I try to gauge their overall quality, but at the same time I can’t ignore the fact that I am also thinking about what the wine represents and what I think it should be. 

Top List: Bordeaux Blends: Top Wines for the Cellar

So there it is, I try to be objective but I can’t be. I also have to be subjective if I am to be interesting! It is my market compromise, akin to what many wineries feel they have to do to retain an audience. I think the solution for us both, wineries and myself, is to continue to take risks and move towards the subjective, even embrace it in fact. We can all work towards being technically correct, but then we risk being lost in a sea of conformity.

I will continue to try to offer you an unfiltered impression of the wines I taste with the requisite point score but a detailed tasting note as well, and using our new Top Lists functionality I will call out my favorite wines. Categories such as top scoring wines, top value wines and wines worth cellaring. The wines worth cellaring list is particularly appealing to me, offering a shorthand way of hedging my bets. Letting you know that the 87 I awarded any particular wine should not be seen as a definitive answer, but for many wines a simple a starting point.

I’ve been too serious for my own good here, and far too wordy. If you have read this to the end, I thank you. I would also like to remind you that I want to think wine is fun. It goes back, of course, to deliciousness. That fundamental aspect of the appeal of wine. So without further ado, here are my notes for recently tasted Bordeaux-style blends. I look forward to hearing your feedback on this list, your likes, quibbles, and downright disagreements!


2008 Winston Hill Red Wine Rutherford 14.5% $150
89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

Closed on the nose and a bit inky with slow to emerge black raspberry, currant and pomegranate aromas tinged with a hint of violet and some sweet gum tree notes. A bit thick in the mouth but not heavy, this is kind of silky with rich, lush fruit. There’s enough acid to keep this bright, lending the fruit a touch of a raspberry coulis cast. The tannins are very well managed, keeping this rich yet approachable and letting the toasty, raspberry rugelach  flavors ooze over the palate. The finish shows nice shavings of bitter chocolate and wood spice accenting the fruit. Fairly long and a touch sticky on the finale with cinnamon and blueberry grace notes. Culty kind of flavors and feel. 93pts

2009 Buty 14.2% $40
64% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc

Deep blueberry, raspberry, tobacco leaf and pencil lead notes greet the nose, along with some nice toasty cookie notes. A touch sweet up front, this is rich yet transparent with fine tannins and well-integrated acidity. The fruit is lovely, fresh and focused with red plum and wild raspberry notes. This is elegant and finely balanced with lovely mineral and very lightly herbal notes on the back end. That leads to a tight, focused finish which fades into a bit of an oaken wash on the finale. Give this a bit of time for the wood to integrate and this should be fabulous. Little bit of black cherry cough syrup on the finale. 93pts

2008 Trinitas Meritage Oak Knoll Napa Valley Ca 13.9% $55
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec

Tight on the nose and showing a leading edge of fine French oak without much to cover it at this stage, though some ivy and candied black plum notes do emerge with air. On the palate, this is classic California Cabernet: rich, round, with bright acid and some assertive wood tannins at this young age but a core of black cherry, currant and blueberry fruit. If this stays well balanced and loses some baby fat it could be great. Even now it delivers plenty of enjoyment with a particularly long, well-fruited and ever so tactile finish. A bigish wine but one that really has its stuff together. 93pts


2007 Urraca Familia Langley Reserva  13.5% $50
50% Merlot, 30% Malbec, 20% Cabernet

Dusty, lightly smoky oak topping fresh wild cherry and plum, with a fine green herb edge. Carob and lots of spice here. A bit sweet and richly jammy, this is packed with remarkably fresh raspberry fruit. Bright acids and polished tannins make this easy to drink. There’s light cigar box shading on the palate, which really is zesty, and a nice light dusting of grabby tannins on the moderately long, citrusy and wild raspberry-toned finish. Really lively and red-fruited. 92pts

2008 Donati DFV Paicines Ezio  14.5% $50

A nice loamy note greets the nose along with hints of graphite, mint and loads of cedar spice. This has a sweet/sour thing going on the palate with a bit of Tootsie Roll over the base of pomegranate and sour cherry fruit. There’s a touch of meatiness on the back end and a touch of wood tannin that emerges along with it. The fruit is red and fresh, if a little subdued, though the fruit does linger on the palate with a fine base of wood spice, which pops on the finale. Fairly lean if well integrated with a lovely Cabernet profile. 92pts

2007 Muratie Ansela Van de Caab Stellenbosch SA 14% $40
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz

This is nice and soil-driven with a noticeable bed of oak topped with lovely dried herb, red currant, mint, pepper and gentle toffee aromas. Rich and velvety, this has a lovely muscular yet wiry feel with earthy, slightly roasted red fruits and rich coffee bean and dried herb nuances. The tannins seem fairly resolved here and the acid is bright and well integrated lending this a fine, fresh feel. There’s a real base of earthy, perhaps slightly funky flavors here that sets off the fruit particularly on the cranberry, cherry-toned finish, which shows a top note of dusty minerality. This is old school and not fruit-driven, but is also complex, refreshing and wonderfully succulent. 92pts

2007 Seven Hills Winery Pentad Walla Walla Valley Wa 13.8% $50
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, Petit Verdot

Lovely, taut nose is a bit matte but surprisingly attractive with cocoa, caramel and vanilla grounded in lovely spicy black fruits. Full and broad in the mouth, with an open knit feel about it. There’s enough acid but it is covered by the rich fruit here, showing real restraint. The back end reveals deep cherry and black currant fruit with a touch of pluminess that transitions into a lightly spiced, oak-driven note on the long, toasty, raspberry jam finish. Elegant and refined while remaining rich and powerful. 92pts

2008 Terlato Angels’ Peak Napa Valley Ca 14.2% $50
95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Meaty and plummy on the nose with lots of crystallized sugar and toasty oak spice, topped with a hint of green fennel seed. Rich with good depth, yet this remains rather restrained. Not a soft style of Merlot but slightly structured and well balanced. The fruit is lovely, fresh and plummy with a hint of red cherry wrapped in bittersweet cocoa and topped with a gentle woodsy element. The finish drops off a touch, but then returns with fresh red fruits over taut, slightly austere wood tannins that remain integrated. A lovely effort. 92pts

2007 Ferrari-Carano Tresor Alexander Valley Ca 14.5% $40
Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot

Meaty and earthy on the nose with sweet molasses aromas and a real herbal edge. There’s even a little Bovril here adding complexity to the core of dark fruit. This is velvety, smooth, rich and polished with nary a seam showing. A bit weighty and rich, the fruit is low in the mouth with more meaty, herbal and chocolate nuances providing some relief from the pressure of the fruit. People are going to love this, though for me it is a bit thick and shows a lot of oak on the back end and through the long, spicy finish. Not my style but very well done. 92pts


2008 Treana Red 15% $35

Sandy soil tone with fine herbal elements. A bit of burnt rubber and some dried citrus peel notes. This does smell a bit alcoholic though it has a nice black cherry jam note on the nose. Lots of fruit up front with red cherry, red currant and dried strawberry fruit. Some nice mineral notes offer contrast and cut on the palate of this rather large scaled wine. This leans towards being a bit sweet and jammy though it has enough tannin and minerality to cut through the fruit particularly on the finish, which shows some dusty mineral notes, slightly drying tannins and a touch of heat 91pts

2008 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain Wa 14.3% $30
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot

This shows some faintly herbal notes on the nose and maybe even a touch of something vegetal accenting the light red fruits. Yes, there is something almost weedy here and even a little minty to boot, but at the same time there is a sweetness and freshness to the fruit. A little closed at first, this takes plenty of time to open. Though it never fully opens, it does shows a fine intensity of liquory red fruit, full of bitter cherry and red currant topped with a judicious use of oak. The herbal qualities are still here but they are deep in the fruit along with some pencil lead and a certain meatiness. The texture is youthful yet balanced, with dusty tannins embedded in the soft fruit. The finish is a touch short and is still showing the nice wild cherry note but not with the follow through one might hope for. Still, this is fairly elegant and delicious. 91pts

2009 Bernardus Marinus Carmel Valley Red Wine 14.1% $33
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec

This is intensely aromatic with notes of pencil shavings, dried rosemary and pressed flowers all swirling around a core of black currant, prune and juniper. Big and smooth in the mouth, it is packed with rosemary-tinged black currant, black plum skin and spicy berry fruit. This is smooth and approachable though it has an innate firmness. On the back end, some subtle but attractive herb notes emerge with air and drift off on the almost raspberry scented finish. This is a big wine, intense and assertive yet it manages to remain fairly fresh and certainly appealing.  Lacks a bit of length and shows a touch of heat but this should be a crowd-pleaser. 91pts

2008 Terlato Devil’s Peak  Napa Valley Ca 14.2% $50
50% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon

This is sweet and spicy on the nose with a low yet attractive fan of herbal, currant fruit topped with a lashing of vanilla. Crisp on entry, this snaps to attention in the mouth delivering some vanilla wafer and milk chocolate flavors early on then adding in some red currant, cranberry and even a hint of sun-dried tomato on the palate. Nothing overdone about this, though the oak may seem a touch aggressive to some. This does not knock you over the head, but it is the kind of wine I could drink all night long. 91pts

2010 Anemoi Zephyrus Grand Valley Co 13.8% $40
50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Petit Verdot

Reticent on the nose with pencil lead, wood spice and smoky accents over herb framed red berry fruit. This is tense and focused in the mouth, really well balanced with tannins that show an edge of youthful austerity but don’t drag down the rich, spicy, graphite and herb inflected fruit here. Elegant in the mouth right through to the wonderfully fruited finish which shows of bright notes of black raspberry and red currant before fading into a smoky, mineral finale. Give me more! Lacks a little depth on the palate but this is delicious. 91pts

2006 Brian Carter Cellars Solesce Columbia Valley Wa 14.4% $58
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec

A bit minty on first sniff, this remains a bit coy on the nose with wild cherry notes under a sweet, toasty oak top note. Smooth and bright with some slightly austere tannins lending this mouth grab and brightening acidity, giving it height. This really stands tall in the mouth with vanilla, cherry cream and spiced plum notes. This is really bright and juicy in the  mouth with a classically structured texture. The finish is a bit spicy and shows a hint of heat as well, along with licorice and faint toasted herb notes. 91pts


2004 Lang & Reed Right Bank Napa Valley Red Wine 14.5% $80

This is a little funky on the nose showing off some porcini and roasted herbs under black currant and fig fruit. Shows a hint of apricot and is topped with all sorts of licorice, mint and rosemary nuances. Not much there on entry, rather light weight if fresh with low, slow to emerge slightly dried red plum, red currant and dried cranberry flavors. There’s a nice if subtle core of fruit but nothing to match the aromatics. A tinge of orange oil that appears on the nose returns on the palate and the finish, which is soft and caressing with lingering red fruit notes. This is not a wine that is going to knock you out but it does have a lot going for it. Restraint, balance and an appealingly soft texture. 90pts

2007 Troon Vineyard Old Vine Meritage Applegate Valley, OR 13.5% $32
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot

This is intense and bright with lots of fine green herb notes, tarragon, and fennel seed all wrapped around orange washed red fruits all sitting on a freshly chopped pine tree stump in the rain. Rich and bright, this is youthfully vibrant with a lovely base of tannins and fine acidity lending the wine a firm yet fresh feel. The fruit is a touch behind the wood today, with red plum, sour cherry, and a hint of blueberry that extends over the finish with fine detail and clarity. This is a tense, vibrant wine new world in flavor old world in feel. It stumbles a touch on the finish but this might just need time to grow into itself. 90pts

2009 Mounts Assembly Red Wine Dry Creek Valley 14.5% $NA
45% Cabernet Franc, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah, 4% Malbec

This has some nice toasty notes on the nose but the Syrah seems to really be sticking out with huckleberry fruit, violets, juniper and a wiry herbal element dominating the attractive aromatics. A touch chewy on the palate, this is smooth and dark with early notes of licorice and bitter chocolate wrapping around a lovey wild berry core of fruit. There’s a touch of juniper here along with sour plum all supported by a nice soft tannin base and a little coffee on the moderately long finish, which ends with some floral highlights. A little plump and fresh this straddles the line between fun and interesting. 90pts

2008 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley 14.5% $30
52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc

Dark and deep with bitter cocoa notes adding detail to some orchard fruit and black fruit, all framed by slightly peppery oak. This is a touch thick and rich and yet it is quite firm. It is classic California with the fruit being round and almost opulent and revealing slightly jammy blackberry flavors, with gentle hints of mint, herbs, earth and mineral adding some complexity. The texture is quite fine, firm and a little tense, yet not really drying or oppressive. The fruit is youthful and tight but obvious with a fine persistence. A bit gangly today, this has obvious potential but is already enjoyable. 90pts

2009 Owen Roe Yakima Valley Red Wine 14.6% $40
59% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon,

This is very pretty on the nose with a little caramel accenting the fudgy undertones and bright red berry and apple-toned fruit. There’s a nice underlying spice here and some violet pastille notes all adding detail. Bright if a little small scaled on entry, this shows lovely freshness and a real brightness to the fruit. The oak pops a bit on the back end before receding to reveal wild raspberry and slightly jammy spiced plums that work well with the light dose of wood spice here. Everything is rather well balanced and fresh, with the dried prunes and spice really hanging on the back end. Not super complex but a wine with focus and energy on the palate. 90pts


2007 Magnificat Meritage Napa Valley 14.5% $45

Rather cedary on the nose with a bit of a beefy overlay to the gentle plum and currant fruit. There are nice floral and citrus accents here with a touch of almond dressed in bittersweet chocolate. Smooth on entry with a nice bitter chocolate note right up front over wild cherry and black currants. This is rather firm and upright, well balanced and fairly restrained with a lovely spine of acids lending some cut and detail to the mid-palate. The finish has a touch of thickness to it, with graphite, wood spice and toast accenting the plum skin fruit. It’s an oaky wine but one that has enough fruit to match its oak today. All the pieces in place, though a familiar puzzle. 89pts

NV Artiste Skyline bottled in 2012 14.5% $40
60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

Rather unusual smelling. Full of liquory red fruit accented with wild bitter herbs, a touch of sassafras, some oyster shell and some caramel and raw coffee bean. Bright and lively in the mouth, this shows off a nice exotic edge, maybe showing a hint of pomegranate along with red licorice fruit on the mid-palate. The back end turns blacker and shows some meaty spice before returning to a bright, red-fruited and spicy finish, which ends with some juicy red berry fruit and subtle oak shadings. Definitely an unusual wine that shows a fine transparency of texture and nice balance if in a slight candied vein. 89pts

2007 Brian Carter Cellars Le Coursier Columbia Valley 14.5%  $25
54% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 9 Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

This shows a nice restrained complexity on the nose with toasty oak, vanilla and roasted herbs laid out over a nice plummy base. Rather open knit, this is broad yet shows attractive inner mouth perfumes that help lift up the modest core of fruit. There’s a nice freshness to the fruit here, a bit of mulberry and drying plum tossed with cassis and a few strawberries even. The wood is obvious but integrated and really does play a supporting role, even on the finish, which shows off good length and depth. This is very smooth and mild mannered but not boring. 89pts

2008 Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red Columbia Valley WA Red Table Wine $20
37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 16% Merlot,  7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 3% Sangiovese, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere

Warm, spicy and a bit hot on the nose with chocolate shavings and cigar box notes accenting red raspberry and strawberry fruit. Soft on entry and nicely filled out with boisterous fruit and oak flavors in the big yet still transparent frame. This offers up nice, slightly jammy, slightly chewy fruit in a fun to drink style that finishes a touch coarsely but delivers a lot of flavor. 89pts

2007 Wilson Creek Family Meritage Temecula Valley Ca 13% $39
55% Merlot, 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petite Verdot, 1% Malbec

Tight on the nose, this shows a lot of chocolate and baked black fruit tones along with a candied raspberry and dried herb top note. This is really open and soft on the palate, though it has plenty of tannins and sufficient acidity. It is a wine that is built on velvetiness. The flavors are slight attenuated, showing a touch of a metallic edge and staying within a rather narrow band of red fruit. The finish shows more of the tannic structure of the wine along with a very fine cranberry edge to the red plum fruit. Interesting wine, turns more austere with time though if the tannins recede back into the fruit this could be excellent. 89pts


2007 Castiglion del Bosco Prima Pietra Toscana  14.5% $60
50% Merlot, 30 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petite Verdot

Dark and dense on the nose with an earthy core and leathery edges. This is fairly closed, showing off expensive French oak and pencil lead over black currant and brambly aromas. Big and powerful on entry, this is tight and filled with austere tannins. There’s bright if well integrated acidity here and a black hole of black currant and tea leaf fruit once you get past the wall of tannins. Woody and drying on the finish, the fruit does manage to squeeze out on the back end with lovely hints of black plum and blackberries. This will require significant patience. It’s a tough go right now and may prove to be too tannic for its own good. 88pts

NV Artiste Midtown bottled in 2012 CA $40
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc

This is almost beefy on the nose with big caramel aromas and warm chocolate notes over lightly spicy, herb inflected jammy rhubarb and black cherry fruit. Rather rich and decidedly smooth, this slides across the palate with soft tannins and decent acidity delivering black cherry fruit edged in fresh, young herbs and something vaguely citrussy. The finish is a bit short, though it continues the lightly candied black fruit theme layered over oaken spice and some more warm chocolate. A seductively textured wine that just lacks a touch of depth. 88pts

2007 Xavier Flouret uQamata Stellenbosch SA 14.5% $20
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot

Cedary and slightly vegetal on the nose with a nice black currant/blackberry base of fruit and some earthy eggplant and mushroom overlays, a hint of mint and fennel seed. Moderately full-bodied and with pronounced acidity, this is a touch lean and focused in the mouth delivering a minty core of currant fruit that recedes on the mid-palate, leaving a bit of oak on the back end. The fruit, candied and blackberry-toned, returns on the long, bright, high acid finish only to slowly fade with the wood, ending with a nice pop of cedary spice on the finale. Nicely proportioned in a lean, fresh style. 88pts

2008 Bergevin Lane Vineyard Intuition Stone Tree Vineyard Wahluke Slope Reserve Red Wine 14.4% $60
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot

A bit mute on the nose with nutty, smoky notes over some cranberry fruit with notes of pencil lead and ivy adding some detail. A bit closed on the palate as well, though this does have a nice feel to it with rather polished tannins and lively acidity lending this a lightness that belies its weight. The fruit at the core has some very interesting roasted meat and baked pastry notes, a little Bovril as well, all of which pretty much goes back in hiding on the moderately long blackberry seed finish. This has a lovely integration to it and while the oak is dominant today there seems to be a fine core of lithe fruit waiting for chance to show off. It does show some heat on the finish though, but this remains fairly interesting and attractive. 88pts


2009 Christiansen Cellars Anemoi Boreas Grande Valley Colorado 14% $40
43% Cabernet Sauvignon,  21% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot

Soft on the nose and still a bit buttery with candied red fruit tones topped with a touch of nutmeg. Christmas-like. This is fairly taut on the palate with a nice, medium weight feel. The fruit is a touch subdued, though showing nice cut red plum and black cherry fruit. There’s a little obvious oak, but it is well balanced adding some spice on the back end and a little extra tannin on the fresh, lightly spiced finish. Rather smooth and elegant. 87pts

2008 Maculan Brentino
55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% $17

This is a bit of a two-trick pony on the nose, though the two tricks (jammy black raspberry brownies and dried herbs) are both classic and in fine contrast. Smooth, very decidedly middle weight, bright and juicy in the mouth, this is a wine typical of another time. It’s decidedly clean with lovely strawberry, cherry and red plum fruits, framed with gentle, astringent tannins and supported by nervy acidity. On the finish this turns a touch earthy and shows a nice tactile weight with powder tannins. Not terribly long though it exhibits lovely purity, all wild berry fruit and gently faded wood spice. Thoroughly engaging wine. 87pts

2007 St. Supery Elu Napa Valley Red Wine 14.5% $55
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot,  2% Cabernet Franc

A touch stewy and oily on the nose this nonetheless shows plenty of black cherry fruit, light lashings of vanilla and oak and a hint of paprika. Medium- to full-bodied, this is  well polished in the mouth with big black currant and slightly stewy black plum flavors. The tannins are firm yet sparse and the acidity well integrated but supportive. It’s a very well mannered wine, nothing out of place with fruit that extends across the moderately long finish yet this lacks a bit of a spark of excitement. 87pts

2008 V Sattui Paradiso Napa Valley Ca 14.5% $65
89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot

Dark coffee and oak on the nose, tight with reticent berry fruit and lots of pencil shavings. This shows off a rather bright character on entry. It is mostly closed today, but the structure is very well balanced and even at this stage lends some finesse to the palate. The fruit is obviously lurking deep in the wine’s core and the flashes of fruit are relatively fresh with a candied black cherry and cassis element that drives the wine across the palate before relenting to the rather stiff wood tannins on the finish. Time should be kind here, but today it is a bit tough and quite reticent. 87pts 

2009 Duck Pond Red Blend Wahluke Slope Wa 14.5% $15
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Petit Verdot

Sweet and a touch candied on the nose with blackberry and violet top notes, along with a nicely integrated base of smoky oak. Rich on entry, this has a creamy edge leading to bright, rather crystalline red and blue fruits on the mid-palate. The oak is well integrated, adding a nice creamy chocolate edge but remaining balanced right through the modest finish. The finish really does drop off here, though the easy drinking appeal of this wine is undeniable. 87pts

2009 Coppola Black Label Claret 13.5% $20

While not terribly aromatic, this does show a nice balance of oak-derived spice notes, slightly herbal and earth-framed black raspberry and cassis notes, and an intriguing floral element. Nicely scaled, this has a rich edge but is still medium-bodied with lively acidity and soft, velvety tannins. There’s a nice core of fleshy blackberry fruit along with a little meaty edge that drives to a slightly drying, modest finish. This is a really finely textured wine, with a nice balance of flavor that doesn’t hit you over the head and ends with some refreshing structure. 87pts

2006 Cliff Creek Claret Southern Oregon 14.3% $25
43% Cabernet Franc, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot

Very fresh on the nose with red currant and cherry fruit underlain by mint and sage aromas along with some coffee cream and resinous wood notes. This is lean and fresh in the mouth with a minty, resinous streak that is offset by the fresh, crisp fruit. There’s a touch of caramel cream as well from the oak, but the core of this wine relies on red berry, currant, raspberry and cranberry fruit. Lively, easy and undeniably fresh. 87pts


2007 J. Lohr Cuvee PAU Paso Robles 15.2% $50

A fair amount of oak greets the nose but it is joined by a nice floral element, some lightly peppery blueberry fruit and some notes of crushed red currants. Really quite nice on entry, this quickly shows a bit of a tough side with rather aggressive wood tannins and a feeling of extraction. There’s a nice interplay in the mouth between perfumy red fruit and toasty oak, but the texture is fairly coarse. There’s plenty of tannin and some spice extending over the moderately long finish. A bit of a clumsy effort that shows some heat. 86pts

2009 Charles Krug Generations Family Reserve 15.4% $50
81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot

A little musky on the nose and a little earthy smelling with some heat that detracts. There’s nice spice here but it is awfully oaky today with jammy black fruit notes. Sweet blackberry and cassis flavors unfold on entry and then firms up with a touch of extracted, oaky fell. There’s plenty of richness here but the tannins are coarse and the wine lacks detail. A little chewy on the back end with some coffee bean notes before the tannins clamp down on the moderately long toasty finish. A lot of wine in a particular style, seems over-wrought to me. 86pts


2007 Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvee Mount Veeder Napa Valley 14.5% $32
Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot

A bit figgy on the nose with plenty of cocoa, coffee and vanilla accents. This does show a nice, low green herbal note as well. Smooth and opulent, this sits heavily on the palate with a chewy texture and deep purple fruit tones. This is a big, creamy wine but at the same time it is a bit of a black hole that takes from your palate rather than delivering flavors. Intense matter. 85pts

Less than 85pts

2006 Murphy-Goode All In Claret Alexander Valley 15.2% $24
61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot

Rather subdued on the nose with gentle aromas of red cherry, toast, vanilla eucalyptus and wood spice accented with a hint of lime oil. Fairly large scaled but low on the palate with soft black currant, plum and cherry flavors wrapped in a blanket of vanilla, wood spice and a touch of mushroom. The flavors perk up a bit on the back end, gaining a rather distinctive graphite note that brings out a plumminess that forms a bridge with the finish. A nice cocoa note follows only to be replaced by drying wood tannins. This also shows noticeable heat on the finish. 84pts

2007 Christiansen Cellars Canyon Wind IV Red Table Wine Grand Valley Co. 13.1% $100

A big candied cranberry note greets the nose followed by some assertive but crisp wood tones, some fine low herb notes, more candied fruit, wild cherries and a little milky, ashy wood. This smells lively. The entry is a little rough here, at first with the sweetness of new oak, but then is rather tough and disjointed with assertive American oak flavors over the modest fruit. Some jammy raspberry tones emerge from under the wood on the back end, then quickly recede on the woody finish. The texture is rather smooth and appealing. With air the wood does begin to integrate, but there’s a lot of vanilla and coffee cream going on here. 84pts

2009 Arrogant Frog Lily Pad Red Pezenas, Sud de France 13.5% $10
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45 % Merlot

This smells a bit stemmy, woodsy and raw with a bit of mulch and some dried leaves accenting the light red fruit tones. Oddly both light and heavy on entry with a lean structure and some early sweetness. The mid-palate is a touch muddled, with some over-steeped tea notes and a touch of earthy tobacco accenting a dry, mineral flecked black fruitiness. The back end shows a hint of blueberry and some spice, which dominates the modest finish. A bit rustic and coarse but not unappealing in this vein. 83pts

2009 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage California 13.5% $10
41% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc

Toasty wood on the nose with herbal hints and a bed of astringent camphor notes topped with light raspberry fruit. This is soft and round, medium bodied with bitter tannins and low acid making this easy enough to drink with some slightly pruny accents to the black cherry fruit on the mid-palate. The finish actually shows pretty well, decent length and more black cherry fruit making this perfectly serviceable if undistinguished. 83pts

2005 Emiliana Novus Limited Selection Valle Central Chile Organic 14.8% $20
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot

This is very aromatic, full of earthy, funky, forest floor and decay aromas. Smooth and soft, this is easy to drink with modest depth to the small ball of dark, carob laced dried plum fruit on the palate. It’s seamless, if a bit on the soft side with a streak of caramel running through the back end to an abrupt finish that leaves you with a bit of a metallic, moldy plum pit flavor in your mouth. 76pts