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October 2008

October 27, 2008

Rancho Zabaco 2007 Sauvignon Blanc

Rancho Zabaco
2007 Sauvignon Blanc

Russian River Valley, CA

Rancho Zabaco is one of California’s most prolific wine producers in the “value” category. Best known for its Zinfandel, the winery is based in the Dry Creek Valley, also referred to as the “Zin Zone.” In spite of this, Rancho Zabaco produces a Sauvignon Blanc, which happens to be winemaker Eric Cinnamon’s favorite white grape. Rancho’s Sauvignon Blanc is not made from Dry Creek fruit, but from a small plot that the winery owns in the nearby, but decidedly cooler, Russian River Valley. It is made from 97 percent Sauvignon Blanc with just a touch of Semillon added for complexity. Since the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, it maintains its bright, acidic tropical notes and a slightly steely character (unlike Sauvignon Blancs treated to oak, a Californian trend which gives the wine a Chardonnay-like character). On the nose, its juicy pineapple, lemongrass and ripe melon aromas almost jump from the glass. Grapefruit and pineapple flavors, a lingering minerality and lively acidity make this Sauvignon Blanc a refreshing drink. Try it with something equally biting like a grilled vegetable salad tossed in light vinaigrette or cut the fat of a country pâté with the delicious shock of the Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity.

Rating: 13/20
Price: $18

Other Sauvignon Blancs we have tasted
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October 20, 2008

Duckhorn Vineyards 2005 Merlot

Duckhorn Vineyards
2005 Merlot

Napa Valley, CA

Duckhorn Vineyards was founded by Dan Duckhorn, a Wine Country native who has had a passion for Merlot ever since he visited the Pomerol region in France. The winery has received its share of media buzz since the release of its first wines, Napa Valley Cabernet and Merlot from the 1978 vintage. A perennial media darling, yes, but the vineyard’s notoriety soared to new heights last year when its controlling share was sold to GI Partners, a private equity firm. (Rumor has it that the investors handed over approximately $250 million for their share of the Napa Valley dream.) Amidst the media flurry, in July of 2007, Duckhorn managed to bottle yet another exemplary Merlot from the 2005 vintage. Unlike most American interpretations of this grape with a bad reputation, Duckhorn’s 2005 Merlot combines the immaculate techniques of Bordeaux with the flavors of distinctly American terroir to produce a wine even Sideways’s Miles Raymond would appreciate. The nose is stunning, with woodsy, brambly notes intermingling with blackberry, black currant fruit and just a hint of baking spice. The flavors, although not quite as compelling as the wine’s aromas, echo the blackberry and black currant along with an oddly mocha-like note toward the end. The finish is attractively delicate with currant and cocoa lingering quietly. The wine’s structure is its finest feature—a master class in American Merlot in the bottle. Although it falls on the expensive side of dinner party wines, it is well priced for its level of craftsmanship. The 2005 Merlot is a Napa Valley classic and will be an elegant addition to an evening of fine food and fascinating conversation. Serve it with seared duck and a medley of roasted fall vegetables or save it to accompany your Thanksgiving feast.

Rating: 16.5/20
Price: $85

Other Merlots we have tasted
Check out our guide to California
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October 13, 2008

Dutton-Goldfield's 2005 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah

2005 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah

Green Valley of Russian River Valley, CA

Before you put the barbecue away for next year, pour yourself a glass of this grilled-meat-friendly Syrah and treat the family to one last taste of summer. Made with grapes from one of California’s newest appellations, Green Valley, Dutton-Goldfield’s is a cool-climate Syrah, and far more restrained than the famous Shiraz from Australia. The wine is produced by a partnership between two of the most recognizable men in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield. Dutton is a fifth-generation farmer whose family has played a significant role in shaping the wine landscape of western Sonoma County. Goldfield, a newcomer compared to Dutton, migrated to California after college and made his mark first at La Crema and Hartford Court before partnering with Dutton on their own boutique winery. Together the pair produce some of the most highly regarded, cool-climate wines in Northern California. Hints of curry spices on the nose and restrained berry flavors make it a sophisticated choice for dining by the barbecue. But it is also a good transitional wine and tastes equally delightful being sipped by the fire. Bright acidity helps it cut through the heaviness of steak, and the blackberry and raspberry overtones on the palate are welcome partners to the char of the grill. The wine would also work well as an after-dinner drink, served with dried blueberries and an aged sheep’s-milk cheese.

Rating: 14/20
Price: $35

Other Syrahs we have tasted
Check out our guide to California
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October 6, 2008

Patz & Hall 2006 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay

Patz & Hall
2006 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay

Carneros, CA

Founded in 1988, Patz & Hall is a boutique, Napa-based winery built by four partners and their families. Noted for producing some of the most consistent Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in California, Patz & Hall makes a number of single-origin wines from Russian River, Carneros, Santa Lucia and Mendocino fruit. The Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay, a typical example of the winery’s fine craftsmanship, is made from cool-climate Carneros fruit. Aromas of orange blossom layered with smoke and French oak tease the nose. On the palate, it is distinctly American, yet clearly made with Burgundian inspiration. Well-balanced, it offers apple, citrus flower and toasted hazelnut flavors with an underlying layer of minerality. The Chardonnay is complex and palate-filling, but perhaps just a touch too high in alcohol, or "hot" as it is commonly called, at 14.2 percent. On the finish, however, the heat evolves into a ginger-like flavor and textural quality with a hint of that delightful tingle that comes from chewing candied ginger. The sort of Chardonnay that is a welcome partner to Indian summer, it is lively enough in acidity to make a delightfully cool, end-of-the-day drink. However, it is also substantial enough to serve with a fall dinner of roast pork and apples or garlic chicken with baked pumpkin and fennel. Or, try it with an elegant luncheon of charcuterie meats and local cheeses.

Rating: 15/20
Price: $55

Other Chardonnays we have tasted
Check out our guide to California
For more information, visit



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