A grape grows in winter

All year, there is work to be done in the vineyard.

Right now, the vines one can see neatly arranged in rows supported by trellises or standing alone in their gnarly-head state are stripped of their leaves and fruit. This is the vines’ dormant period, when they catch some much-needed rest after a year of producing their bounty and withstanding the harvest.

In the winter, wine grape growers prune their vines to eliminate leftover skeletons of berry clusters and excess growth, and train the vines by leaving behind the buds that will bear fruit in the coming year and the leaf growing structures that will shade the berries.

Kyle Lerner, a wine grape grower and owner of Harney Lane in Lodi, recently demonstrated the pruning process and its importance.

“(Pruning) enables us to produce these amazing wines at Harney Lane,” Lerner said as he pruned a primitivo vine on his property. “So what I’m doing here is this is actually a cane that grew last year. Each one of these nodes had leaves on them and coming all the way back you can see what we call a skeleton. This is where the fruit actually was growing on these canes this past year.”

The grower must strike a balance between vegetative growth and fruiting. The goal is for the vine to focus all of its energy on growing the grape. If the grower allows too many leaves to be produced, the shade will prevent the grapes from ripening fully. And if he allows too many grapes to grow, the inputs of moisture, sunlight and nutrients would be spread too thinly, and the grapes wouldn’t achieve their optimal characteristics.

Lerner prunes each cane and leaves behind one or two buds. This structure is called a spur. The cordon, or arm of the vine, will have about seven spurs on either side of its trunk. The buds contain in miniature all of the structures the vine will produce in the coming year — the shoots, the leaves and the fruit clusters.

“What that gives us is just enough fruit that ripens fully with a canopy that grows at about five feet,” Lerner said. “You can see the canes as they stretch out there, about five feet of canes out there. And that’s what makes our delicious primitivo wine.”

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Lodi Native a winner

George Herron, owner of Fine Wines of Stockton and a former Record wine columnist, prepares to pour another wine from the Lodi Native project that tasters at his store recently enjoyed.

An idea proposed by Lodi sommelier Randy Caparoso and implemented by six brave winegrowers resulted in the Lodi Native project – a collection of six, single-vineyard, old-vine Zinfandels from the 2012 vintage and all from Lodi’s Mokelumne River American Viticultural Area.

The winegrowers involved in the project were Maley Brothers Vineyards, M2 Wines, McCay Cellars, St. Amant Winery, Fields Family Vineyards and Macchia Wines.

The winegrowers were brave, in that, they agreed to follow a strict protocol of minimal intervention in crafting this special set of wines, including no use of new oak, only native yeast in the fermentation process, no acidification or de-acidification, no water addition or de-alcoholizing measures, no tannin additions, no malolactic fermentation, no mega-purple or other concentrate products, no filtering or fining and no must concentration.

“These are naked wines,” said Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph, who crafted the Lodi Native wine from Maley Brothers Vineyards. “Everything you’re seeing coming out of this wine is coming from this vineyard.”

The focus of the Lodi Native project was to showcase the vineyards, not the varietal or the brand. The flavor and aroma profiles were strikingly different and truly represented where the grapes were grown – the type of soil and climatic conditions, factors the French call ”terroir.”

Joseph spoke to a group of 16 tasters recently about the Lodi Native project at Fine Wines of Stockton, owned by Gail and George Herron. The tasters sampled and rated five of the six Lodi Native wines. Joseph’s Maley Brothers Vineyards’ Lodi Native wine from the Wegat Vineyard on the west side of the Mokelumne River AVA was not included in the blind tasting, so as not to compromise the presentation. But it will be evaluated in a future blog.

Chad Joseph is a busy man as the winemaker for six Lodi wineries, yet he generously gave his time to speak about the Lodi Native project to a group of tasters recently at Fine Wines of Stockton.

As always, Joseph was generous with his time and knowledge, and answered all of our questions. He’s a fine ambassador of Lodi wine.

In general, the tasters found the Lodi Native project a rousing success. The wines were delicate, not jammy or overly high in alcohol, and the acids and tannin were in balance with the fruit  aromas and flavors.

Unfortunately, one of the wines, from the Noma Ranch on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA and made by Macchia, had been affected by a creased cork, which left an oxidized taste and aroma. By no means did it reflect the efforts of the winemaker or the quality of Macchia’s wines, which are a personal favorite. 

M2 Wine’s entrant was one of the group’s favorites. Sourced from the Soucie Vineyard on the west side, it was lighter in color and body, with red fruit and loamy accents on the nose, medium acidity and tannin, a bit of sweetness and a medium-long finish. A delicious, well-balanced wine.

Fields Family Winery’s Lodi Native Zinfandel from the Century Block vineyard on the east side of the AVA  had juicy blue and red fruit flavors and good structure from its firm tannins.

McCay Cellars’ wine from the Trulux Vineyard had the characteristics of the west side and was my favorite with its earthy, loamy, mushroomy nose and juicy red and dark plum flavors.

And St. Amant Winery’s Zinfandel from Marian’s Vineyard on the central/east side of the Mokelumne River AVA was a stunner with concentrated red and blue fruit flavors and a tart finish.

Lodi Native wines are sold out at the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center, though some of the individual wineries may have a few bottles remaining. But don’t despair. Joseph said the Lodi Native project will continue from the 2013 vintage. More winegrowers have accepted the challenge and will be involved.

“We have new winemakers coming on,” Joseph said. “We’re trying to keep it as pure a project as possible. It’s challenging making natural wines.”

But the results are so worth it.

 

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Day trip on the Delta

Recently, my wife and I had the day off and decided to take a drive.

 

The tiny town of Locke.

With no particular place to go, we ventured north out of Stockton on Interstate 5, took the Walnut Grove exit and headed west to the historic town of Locke for a late lunch at Al the Wops. The iconic watering hole and restaurant, a favorite among locals, bikers and tourists, is the definition of a dive and proud of it. Cold beer, stiff drinks, cheeseburgers, and grilled steaks with an optional smooth Jiff peanut butter slather, are presented sans frills but with plenty of personality: Kitchy signs, bras hanging from the antlers of a stuffed deer head overlooking the bar, dollar bills pinned to the ceiling, a blaring juke box, the continuous thud of dice cups being pounded onto the bar and plenty of laughter.

Locke pretty much looks the same now as it did when Chinese residents built it in 1915. Its narrow main street lined with wooden, two-story structures is a step back in time.

From Al’s, we headed north to Clarksburg to the Old Sugar Mill. This popular wedding and party destination is home to 11 winery tasting rooms.

We had just enough time for a quick visit inside the Due Vigne di Famiglia tasting room. The winery was started by two firefighters who share a passion for wine — Ken Musso and Ron Houle. The family-run operation produces small lots (100 cases or less) with fruit sourced from El Dorado County and Napa Valley. The $5 tasting fee is waived with the purchase of a bottle and they have a wine club. Jeremy, the tasting room manager, took good care of us and we especially enjoyed these wines:

2013 Sauvignon Blanc — Russian River ($22)

Partially barrell fermented, juicy and fun with stone fruit and tropical fruit flavors as well as hints of coconut and Meyer lemon with an undercurrent of minerality.  Best served cold.  The aroma and flavor profiles impart grassy notes and green bell pepper as the wine warms in the glass. Would be great to take to a Dungeness crab feed.

Rosso ($16)

In Italy, wine is a condiment. Due Vigne’s Rosso is similar in style to what you might find on a typical dinner table in Piemonte. Deliciously approachable blend dominated by Dolcetto from the 2011 and 2012 vintages, with 10 percent Sangiovese and a hint of Merlot sourced from El Dorado County. Pairs with red sauce, cacciatore and savory stews, or hang onto it and break it out at a barbecue this summer.

2012  Merlot – Stag’s Leap District – Napa Valley ($45)

Big in every way, this Merlot from the famed Stag’s Leap AVA just east of the Silverado Trail has a deep garnet color, intense aromas, and rich cherry, black plum and blackberry flavors with toasty caramel notes. Take the Nestea plunge with this monster now or perhaps better yet, tame this beast in the cellar for a decade.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Viscusi Vineyard – Napa Valley ($45)

This traditional Bordeaux blend (85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc) from the Viscusi Vineyard on the Silverado Trail just north of Napa is complex with flavors of blackberries and currants. Each varietal was co-fermented and aged in 50 percent new, tight-grained French Oak barrels, giving the wine a sophisticated, rounded mouthfeel.

We also sampled some soon-to-be-released wines, including Due Vigne’s 2014 Barbera and 2014 Dolcetto. Alas, they were out of Nebbiolo. All 70 cases were gobbled up by their wine club members.

The view of the setting sun from the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg.

We had a great time, and as the sun began to disappear on the horizon, we made our way out of the Old Sugar Mill. We got a late start on the day, so we only had time to visit Due Vigne, but we hope to return and try the other tasting rooms at the Old Sugar Mill: Todd Taylor, Clarksburg Wine Company, Carvalho Family Winery, Rendez-vous Winery, Three Wine Company, Heringer Estates, Elevation Ten, Perry Creek, Merlo Family Vineyards and Draconis.

 

Al the Wops

13936 Main St.

Locke, CA 95690

Phone: (916) 776-1800

Website: locketown.com

Due Vigne di Famiglia

At the Old Sugar Mill

Phone: 916-744-1498

Website: duevigne.com

Old Sugar Mill

35265 Willow Ave.

Clarksburg, CA 95612

Phone: (916) 744-1615

Website: oldsugarmill.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lodi Native tasting with Chad Joseph

Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph will discuss the Lodi Native wines and a tasting will be offered at 6 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 8) at Fine Wines of Stockton in the Lincoln Shopping Center (866 W. Benjamin Holt Dr.). Joseph was one of the six winemakers involved in the project, where minimal intervention was allowed in the crafting of single-vineyard Zinfandels meant to showcase the Lodi AVA.

The tasting is $10. Information: (209) 478-2589.

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Sparkling celebration

Toasting the start of the new year with a glass of sparkling wine is about as traditional as it gets.

You don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy some bubbly on New Year’s Eve. Several California-made sparkling wines will do the trick.

But first, a couple tips: serve your bubbly cold and make sure not to point the cork at anyone when opening the bottle. There are six atmospheres of pressure in that bottle you’re holding, so be careful!

2013 Sofia Blanc de Blanc ($22)

Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter is the namesake for this light-bodied sparkler made 100 percent from Chardonnay in Monterey County. Pale lemon color, dry, grapefruit flavors with medium intensity, high acid, light finish, light body. Refreshing and balanced.

N/V Brut Prestige Mumm Napa Valley ($29.15)

Toasty, yeasty, crisp and dry with medium flavor and aroma intensity.

J Cuvee ($30)

Made by Judy Jordan, this clear, pale-lemon sparkler has a lively nose with high acidity, citrus flavors and minerality on the palate.

Laetitia Brut Cuvee ($30)

From Arroyo Grande, the bubbles explode in the mouth leaving behind flavors of toast, grapefruit soda with bitterness on the mid palate.

Roederer Anderson Valley ($30.75)

Pronounced yeasty nose from 1 1/2 years aging on its lees. Dry, deliciously toasty and oaky with flavors of apples and nuts.

 

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Home on the Range

Casey Flat Ranch in the Capay Valley, a mostly rural valley northwest of Sacramento in Yolo County that  lies west of the Capay Hills, began vineyard planting in the spring of 2003 and has been crafting Bordeaux and Rhone varietals designed to stay true to the varietals and the Ranch’s terroir.

The property under vines covers 24 acres on moderately rocky soils on gentle hillside mountain slopes at 2000-foot altitude. The site provides for excellent growing conditions. The vineyards are sustainably cultivated, using materials and farming techniques that emphasize water and soil conservation. Weather data records indicate climate conditions at the vineyard are parallel in almost every respect to the Oakville/Rutherford appellations of the Napa Valley. Remarkably, average daily daytime temperatures are cooler than St. Helena, located 22 miles to the west.

Originally part of the Berryessa Spanish land grant, area settlement began in the 1850’s with the California Gold Rush. Valley locals at the time named the property Casey Flat for legendary frontiersman and early homesteader John Casey. Today, the expansive 6,000-acre ranch is home to the Casey Flat Ranch Vineyards and a modest Longhorn Cattle operation. The operation reflects the values of the Robert and Maura Morey family — owners for more a quarter century. Casey Flat Ranch exemplifies stewardship of the environment, preservation of natural resources, and is representative of a new and more contemporary Western sensibility towards the land and its use.

The 2011 Casey Flat Ranch Open Range red wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with plenty of ripe dark fruit, chocolate and vanilla on the nose and palate.

The 2011 Casey Flat Ranch Open Range (SRP $18) red wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Chocolate, plum, hints of vanilla spice, and cherry highlight this vintage, which is lighter than previous years. The wine opens with a blast of cherry, and firm tannins add weight to the mid palate. The wine has a long and velvety finish. The alcohol by volume is 14.8 percent.

2011 Growing Conditions

The spring of 2011 was cool with late rains.  The long, cold frost season lasted into late April. The summer was mild, with few days reaching 100 degrees.

As in 2010, it was an ideal growing season for Casey Flat Ranch. The temperates during the ripening season allowed for hanging the red varieties well into October. But midway through that month, the fruit weathered a rain storm, as more than an inch fell. Fortunately, the Ranch had no threat of rot in any of its blocks.

After the rain, a sunny second half of October led to the harvest of the Ranch’s last block on Oct. 31. Due to the cool, late season, Casey Flat Ranch was able to extend hang time and harvest at optimal flavor and tannin ripeness.

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Thanksgiving Wine Tips from Mile Wine Company

Paul Marsh, a certified sommelier and owner of Mile Wine Company on the Miracle Mile in Stockton, offered several interesting wines for Thanksgiving at his most recent “Sommelier Boot Camp.” The boot camps are held at 2 p.m. on Saturdays at his restaurant/wine shop at 2113 Pacific Avenue. Each week he offers several interesting wines in blind tastings for $20. They’re great and educational for any wine lover. Truly a fun way to spend the afternoon. Boot Camp gift certificates make great stocking stuffers.

Here are the wines we tasted and evaluated last week. Each would pair well with Thanksgiving dinner and all are available at Mile Wine Company:

2011 Watt’s Chardonnay

Delightfully crisp with minerality and citrus on the palate, slight creaminess on the back end from oak aging, medium alcohol (13.5% ABV) with medium-minus body and a medium finish. Grown from a Dijon clone on silty, limestone and marl soil.

2012 Reata Chardonnay

This Chardonnay from Carneros has medium-minus aroma intensity with hints of asparagus, lemon, cinnamon and citrus. It’s dry with medium-plus flavor intensity, medium-plus acid, medium alcohol, medium-minus body and medium finish. The winemaker used to work at Rombauer and true to that style, creamy flavors are present from malolactic fermentation; butterscotch, vanilla, mandarin orange, lemon chiffon, lime and cinnamon. There’s a pleasant underlying sweetness and a slight bitterness on the mid-palate.

2011 Row Eleven 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir

From Sonoma, this medium-ruby colored wine has medium aroma intensity with hints of black pepper, cloves, currants, dark fruit, pipe tobacco, wet concrete and black olives. It’s dry with medium flavor intensity, medium alcohol (13.9% ABV), medium tannin and medium-plus acidity. The flavors include tart cherries, black olives and dark fruit. The finish is medium.

2012 Frank Family Pinot Noir

Medium-ruby color with medium-plus aroma intensity of peat dirt, earth, steak, blue fruit, tobacco and cloves. The flavor intensity is medium-plus with high acid, medium-plus tannin, medium-plus body and medium-plus alcohol. There are blueberries, baking spices, tart fruit, mushrooms and tobacco in the flavor profile. The finish is medium-plus. Marsh described this wine as a “steak eater’s Pinot.” It’s heavy duty. The oak barrels, he said, underwent a medium toast, which pulls in the tobacco and cloves.

2012 Qupe Syrah

Medium-garnet color with high aroma intensity of earth floor, barnyard, dark fruit. The flavor intensity is high with high tannin, high alcohol and medium-plus acidity. Big flavors from medium toasted French oak barrels, lots of earth, dirt and blue fruit. From Santa Maria on California’s Central Coast. This had some of the aroma and flavor characteristics of a loamy Zinfandel, but in fact, it’s a Syrah.

Any of these outstanding wines would please you, your family and your guests this holiday season.

Cheers.

 

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Step outside the box this Thanksgiving

Picking the perfect wine to go with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner isn’t easy.

What goes with turkey — white and dark meat — stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the other assorted goodies that make up the holiday feast? With myriad flavors, it’s a wine buyer’s nightmare.

There is nothing wrong with serving the usual suspects with the Thanksgiving repast – Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They are popular and can pair well with Thanksgiving flavors. But if you’d like to consider stepping outside the box this year, there are many possibilities.

At Fine Wines of Stockton in Lincoln Center last week, owners Gail and George Herron examined the Thanksgiving-wine pairing dilemma and offered six wines (two whites, four reds) in a blind tasting. The wines tantalyzed the taste buds and spurred the imagination.

2013 Damilano Arneis ($18.75)

From Langhe in Piedmont, this Arneis is pale lemon in color. There is minerality, tropical fruit and grass on the nose. It’s dry with medium-plus acid, medium body and medium alcohol with citrus, green and red apple flavors and a medium finish. It’s tasty and youthful and should be consumed now to enjoy its fruity freshness. This would be good to sip while making dinner or with white meat and cranberry sauce.

2012 Rapitala Grillo ($13)

This wine had more complexity than the Arneis. The color is medium lemon with smoke, cooked asparagus and grapefruit pith on the nose. The acid is high, with medium body. The lemon, citrus and asparagus flavors gently smooth out, leaving a soft finish. There is a slight bitter sensation on the mid-palate. This would go with dark and white meat, sweet potatoes and veggies, like green beans.

2011 Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais Cru Classe George de Boeuf ($22)

This is a pretty nifty bottle of wine. The color is medium ruby, and the nose has medium intensity with spice, blue fruit, raspberries, earth, cherry, cola and some oak influence in the form of smokiness . It’s dry with medium flavor intensity, medium tannin, high acid and medium body. The finish is medium-plus, as the acid lingers. This should be consumed now but has enough tannin and acid to cellar for 3 to 5 years. Has enough balance to pair well with Thanksgiving flavors.

The 2012 Hetiz Grignolino would go well with mushroom stuffing and dark meat turkey.

2012 Heitz Grignolino ($19.75)

Pale ruby in color, this Grignolino bursts from the glass with the pronounced aroma of rose petals. It’s almost overwhelming. In time, the nose softens and changes to grape soda, nutmeg, ripe red cherries. The rose aroma still is there, but moves into the passenger-side seat. The flavor intensity is medium-plus and there is a slight hint of petillance, though bubbles are not present in the wine. It has earth notes, strawberries, cherry cough drops and again, rose petals on the palate. Might be even more intriguing several years from now. Would work similarly as a Pinot Noir with some of the umami flavors on the Thanksgiving table, like roasted mushrooms, stuffing and dark meat turkey. This might turn some off, but it really is an interesting wine to consider for Thanksgiving.

2011 Borra Heritage ($21)

The Borra Heritage was my favorite red and the second-most popular red among the group of tasters. This blend of 36 percent Barbera, 32 percent Carignan, 30 percent Petit Sirah and 2 percent Zinfandel is medium ruby in color with medium intensity on the nose with aromas of black pepper, blueberries and raspberries. The sweetness is dry and the flavor intensity is medium. Picked up some tart fruit, like cranberries, but also rich blueberries and black plums. The medium-plus tannin, medium-plus alcohol and medium-plus body are pleasant and play nicely together. This would go well with the Thanksgiving meal. There is a lot going on here.

2010 Rapitala Nero d’ Avalo ($27)

This Sicilian wine will make you an offer you can’t refuse. It was the group’s favorite and my second favorite among the reds we tried. Medium garnet color. Bacon fat, nutmeg, earth floor, black cherries, raspberries and blue fruit on the nose. Dry with medium-plus intensity, medium-plus tannin, medium acid and medium-plus body. Pine needles, earth floor, blue fruit and tart red cherry flavors led to a medium-long finish. Dark meat, gravy and stuffing would not scare this bad boy away, even if your father doesn’t like him.

These great suggestions are available at Fine Wines of Stockton. See if they add some flair to your Thanksgiving table.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s so noble about rot?

It’s a contradictory term if ever there was one — noble rot.

What possibly could be noble about rot? Isn’t rot something we all try to avoid?

Well, in the wine making world, noble rot can be a much sought-after condition.

Noble rot — or botrytis cinerea — is a fungus that can attack ripened grapes with microscopic filaments that pierce the grape skin, causing the water inside the grape to evaporate, thus concentrating its sugars and acids. Paraphrasing chef Emeril Lagasse in his cooking shows, evaporation leads to concentration and concentration leads to more flavor.

For producers of varietals like Tokaji in Hungary, Sauternes in France, and the German and Austrian Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, noble rot isn’t an enemy … it’s an ally. Noble rot’s development is encouraged where humid, misty mornings are followed by warm, sunny days. Grapes affected by botrytis must be hand-harvested and pickers go through the vineyards several times. Yields are low, it’s a labor-intensive process, and the wines, as a result, tend to be high-priced. But many find these wines with their luscious mouthfeel, and ripe fruit and honey aromas and flavors to be quite desirable on their own or with stinky cheeses and sweet desserts. They generally age well and are great to have on hand during the holidays.

During the WSET Level 3 award classes last month, we tasted an example of the wonders of noble rot:

An excellent example of the tasty benefits from noble rot are contained in this remarkable bottle of 2010 Tokaji.

2010 Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos (SRP $37)

This deep-gold wine is viscous with pronounced aromas of ginger, white tea, sweet peach nectar and ripe apricots. The alcohol plays nicely with the acidity. It’s full-bodied, in part, because of the residual sugar. Three Puttonyos means this wine has 60 grams of residual sugar per liter. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as some Tokaj wines. The flavors match the aromas – honey and rich, ripe stone fruit — and the finish is medium-plus. This wine could be consumed now or age for several years.

According to wine-searcher.com, many stores are carrying this wine, as its popularity has grown. It’s medium-priced for white wines from Tokaj.

 

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Rioja rocks

 

The Wine and Spirit Education Level 3 classes through the Napa Valley Wine Academy that I recently took included a study of Spain. And if you are a fan of robust red wines, give Spanish reds a try.

The 2009 Muga Rioja is a fine example of a complex red wine from Spain. The country’s best-known wine region, Rioja is a region on the river Ebro and has three distinct regions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.

The region is comprised of small growers who sell their grapes to co-operatives. Red wines make up 75 percent of the production and typically are blends using the most-widely planted grape in Spain — Granacha (Grenache), along with the ever-popular Tempranillo and the less-known Mazuelo and Graciano. Rioja also produces roses and whites.

The 2009 Muga Rioja Reserva is a fine example of what Spain has to offer any red wine lover.

The 2009 Muga Rioja (SRP $25.99) has a deep ruby core that leads to a tawny edge with long, sticky tears (legs). The nose has medium-plus intensity and is developing with aromas of earth floor, cedar, dark fruit and dark chocolate. The wine is dry and full-bodied with medium-plus flavor intensity, high alcohol, high acidity and medium-plus tannin. The flavors are complex: cranberries, tart cherries, cedar, tobacco, baking spices, tar, dill and an underlying sweetness. The finish is long. The conclusion is this is an outstanding, high-priced wine ready to drink now but with aging potential.

Wine and Spirits gave it 91 points.

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a thoroughly obsessed wine enthusiast and has earned Level I certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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