Amanda Schuster

Wine and spirits writer/consultant/marketer. Spirits expert w in depth knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese and Loire/Languedoc wines (you might say "bi-spiritual.") NYC born and bred food lover. Sometime jewelry designer. Overall broad about town.


Rank Wine Rating Price
1 Acorn Winery Russian River Valley Axiom Syrah (2007)
Comments: Jammy, but nicely rounded out with some earth and spice. A pine needle-like taste in the finish. Maybe the acorn in the name was influencing my taste buds, thinking of woodland scenes. But still, very enjoyable and not too fruity.
Previously available for $29.00
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2 Pride Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley (2009)
Comments: Pride is always a fantastic value and this is no exception. Beautifully rounded and rich, but not too buttery or oaky. Tart tartin (caramel apples and yeasty crust) flavors with balanced acidity. I've had older vintages that have cellared a bit and dare I say they stack up to some great Burgundys.
Previously available for $37.00
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3 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir Paso Robles (2008)
Comments: Very deep, concentrated (my tasting note says, "deep ass berry") flavors, with some bright acidity and cocoa. Think chocolate covered sour cherries. A bit of vanilla also. Very fun. Can see this being a terrific BBQ or burger wine.
Previously available for $27.00
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4 Predator Old Vine Zinfandel (2009)
Comments: Very minty and slightly rubbery on the nose. The flavors were so concentrated and thick, I couldn't take more than one sip. Maybe cook this down into a sauce instead?
Average price: $18.99 from 1 store
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5 Decoy Zinfandel Napa Valley (2009)
Comments: A lighter side to Zinfandel. I feel as though its effort for fresher flavors battles a bit with the intensity of the fruit. There is a great acid balance, but also a candy-like (berry Lifesavers, or those hard candies your grandma had in the bowl on the coffee table) finish I couldn't get past. Might be better with food.
Previously available for $22.99
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6 Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards Petite Sirah Old Vines Solono County (2006)
Comments: Tasted the 2008 vintage. Perfectly balanced between fruit, spice and earth. Luscious dark berry flavors with hints of cedar, cloves and dark chocolate. Flavors are deep, but the medium bodied weight makes it very food friendly.
Previously available for $34.00
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7 Freeman Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch (2009)
Comments: The aromatics are lovely - purple flowers, spicebox, black fruits. Great spice to balance out the fruit on the palate, with bitter earth notes to round it out. Flavors have a lot of room to develop.
Average price: $41.00 from 1 store
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8 Casa Nuestra Meritage (2007)
Comments: Really glad I opened this now. Shows elegant restraint. Definitely fruity, but not concentrated. The herbaceousness of the Cabs in the blend give it some balance. Very nicely done!
Previously available for $14.05
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9 Casa Nuestra Napa Valley Estate Rosado
Comments: I have now tried 4 vintages of this winery's Rosados and they never fail to disappoint. It's a field blend made in the Spanish style, with lots of skin contact for color and zing. It's darker than a lot of other CA roses, and has that Spanish strawberry rosado flavor as well as notes of raspberry and spice. It's the perfect wine for red wine lovers who need something lighter for warmer weather, or lovers of rose in general. Really unique in the US market. Highly recommend.
Previously available for $24.00
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10 Château Carignan Red Bordeaux Blend Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (2009)
Comments: Casa Nuestra continues to produce well made, small production, experimental releases of French and Spanish varietals. This is one of my favorites. Opened up to wonderful nose of blackberries with a slight whiff of bacon (which is never a bad thing). On the palate it came alive with boysenberry, blueberry, spice box, rosemary, dark chocolate and smoke. Went beautifully with grilled lamb chops. Flavors are elegant and restrained. Not too alcoholic. Could probably age nicely for a few years, but is good to go now.
Average price: $21.89 from 1 store
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11 Casa Nuestra Meritage (2009)
Comments: I just want to start out by saying I don't normally go for this style of wine. At. All. But this winery changes all of my perceptions about Napa wines and New World Bordeaux blends. The oak influences are perfectly calibrated, elegant and subtle. The fruit is forward without being overpowering. Complexities keep opening up in the glass. This wine is pure joy and a wonderful surprise. I have another bottle that I'm cellaring, curious to how it will evolve, but anxious to open it!
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12 Praxis Viognier Russian River Valley (2011)
Comments: I like this because it's not too big. The flavors are softened, but still well structured. Good acidity with lemon mingling with the peachy fruit, lilac aromas, pleasing bitter bite in the finish.
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13 Saddleback Cellars Viognier Clarksburg (2009)
Comments: Not too agressive for a New World style. Integrated floral aromas with some vanilla and apricot. Medium-bodied, slightly viscous. Rounds off with citrus zest in the finish.
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14 Eberle Viognier Paso Robles Mill Road Vineyard (2010)
Comments: Happy to taste an American Viognier that doesn't strive too hard with the cheap floral elements. Integrated flavors, yellow and white peaches with a zippy, slightly sugary finish.
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15 Sean Thackery Lyra Viogner (2010)
Comments: Smells like a spring garden, very sweet, floral and clean. Instead of the usual stone fruits, this is more pear and golden apple with a honeyed finish. Not overpowering with the floral aromatics.
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16 Sean Thackrey Red Blend California Pleiades XXI Old Vines (NV)
Comments: Perfect example of how to break the rules in style. This is a non-vintage blend of Sangiovese, Viognier and Pinot Noir. Turns out these tastes taste great together, and you don't need to declare a vintage! Stewy spices - dill, mint, bay leaf - toasty vanilla, sweet cherries, a little chutney-like. Sounds crazy, but it totally works!
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17 Sean Thackrey Pinot Noir Marin County Andromeda Devil's Gulch Ranch (2009)
Comments: Cally Pinot Noir with a real point of view. Bright, ripe cherries on the nose, but instead of the usual, heavy Cally vanilla oak, this is rounded out with herbal notes of pine needle and eucalyptus, with some earth and sweet pipe tobacco. Kept coming back to it. This might age wonderfully too.
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18 Sean Thackrey Petite Sirah Mendocino County Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch (2009)
Comments: Herbal and a bit medicinal on the nose, but fruit emerges on the palate - blueberry, black cherry - dark chocolate, eucalyptus and sage. All perfectly balanced. This can be consumed now, or even in 20 years!
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19 Thackrey Sean Orion Old Vine Rossi Vineyard (2005)
Comments: Ok, I'm convinced! A Cally cult wine actually worth the hype. Flowery, sweet smells on the nose giving way to blueberry and white chocolate, earth, licorice and mint. Nothing too glaring or pointy, all frolicking on the palate nicely. Great one for the cellar as this will last a long while, but how can you stand to wait?
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20 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville (2009)
Comments: Fruit forward and concentrated, but just enough hit of earth to stop it from being too syrupy sweet and overly big. Dark cherries, cassis, a bit of dark chocolate, mossy notes. A great sipper on its own and lots of pairing potential.
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