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If you’re not an experienced wine drinker there are three varietals you should be familiar with: Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With that in mind, our followers can begin their initiation into winedom with Lloyd Davis’s sublime 2017 Corner 103 Zin. Lloyd sources his grapes from around Sonoma County and his wines are Peninsula Underground's baseline for drinkability. From the time you pull the cork Corner 103 is ready to drink. After opening his tasting room on the Sonoma Square in 2015 Lloyd has produced three Zin vintages: 2012, 2015, and 2017. We highlight the latest vintage as it has just been released yet is easy to enjoy immediately. As you are training your wine palette you may notice a little spice on the tongue. This wine earns the highest Peninsula Underground honor: 5 Corks. If you get a chance stop by Corner 103 for a tasting and tell him Peninsula Underground sent you.
Chardonnay is the most popular wine varietal in the United States by volume. It is often described as “buttery,” meaning it was aged in an oak barrel, or “fruit forward,” which means it was not. This wine also tends to elicit more polarizing responses from wine drinkers than any other varietal. It can be THE go-to for some or be a non-starter for others. With this in mind, Peninsula Underground sought to find a Chardonnay that all of our readers would enjoy. We tasted 20 different California Chardonnays and only one earned our prestigious 5 Corks rating...
Congratulations to the 2015 Le Cuvier (Paso Robles) Chardonnay!
Le Cuvier is perfectly set atop winding Vine Hill Lane off of Adelaida Road. Co-Owner John Munch and Head Winemaker Clay Selkirk produce consistently outstanding wine and have a devoted following. Their Elliptical Club members enjoy the fruits of their labor and the quirky prose that comes with each shipment. Upon our visit we found very knowledgeable staff and pourers who took pride in their product. And what’s better than wine? How about plentiful gourmet food pairings? Le Cuvier has an on-site kitchen and the food their chef prepares is to die for. We then bought a few bottles and relaxed at some outside tables under a large tree with some appetizers.
The 2015 Chardonnay is a bit more golden in color than you would expect from a typical Chardonnay. That’s because they left the fruit in contact with the skin a bit longer than normal. It produces a wine that has a red wine feel to it and is ready to be enjoyed right out of the bottle. In fact, this bottle comes with a “door tag” that reads, “Do Not Refrigerate.” It should be treated like a red wine. We think this Chardonnay comes as close as any we tasted of earning universal approval and for that we give it our highest rating: 5 Corks!
In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is king and its top producers are legendary. One of these, Joseph Phelps, produces the highly regarded Insignia Red Wine, which is 84% Cab but retails at $300. While this is an outstanding wine, at Peninsula Underground we are always impressed with finding great value. Joseph Phelps delivers there as well with its 2017 Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon, our March featured wine.
Some friends brought this bottle over on a night we were serving Korean beef and Asian nachos. Given how young this wine is for a Cab we decided we should decant it, which exposes more of the wine to air and therefore softens the tannins. A typical review for a 2017 Cab might advise that it not be opened for years, or at least decanted for two hours, but we were pouring our Innisfree within minutes. If it’s true that we first taste a wine with our eyes then the rich, medium-dark burgundy color foretold a great experience. And that’s we got. After just a few minutes in the decanter this wine had no trace of tannins. It drank like a triple-digit Napa Cab that had been cellared for years. The best news? You can pick up this bottle at your local store for less than $40! Bring this to dinner the next time you gather with friends and family and tell them it earned 5 Corks on Peninsula Underground.
The 2017 Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon by Joseph Phelps proves you can find world-class wine without paying exorbitant prices and for that reason it is Peninsula Underground’s March wine-of-the-month.
Widely heralded as the “Queen of Zin,“ Sonoma County’s Carol Shelton consistently produces highly regarded, fruit-forward wines at extremely reasonable prices. We have featured her on Instagram and have made several visits to her Santa Rosa tasting room. On our last visit in January our executive board was treated to a private room tasting. We enjoyed many of her flagship Zinfandels but our favorite was her Black Magic Late Harvest Zinfandel, whether it be the 2011 pictured here or a more recent varietal that carries the Wild Thing label, it is our April featured wine.
A late harvest wine is one in which the grapes are left on the vine long after the normal harvest, perhaps a couple of months. This causes the grapes to dehydrate and the sugars to become more concentrated. It may also typically produce a higher alcohol content. It is a wine you would enjoy with a dessert or cheese plate. Some love late harvest wines as a dessert unto themselves while others find them to be too sweet for their palate.
The 2011 Black Magic we tasted at Carol Shelton was exquisite and luscious, made of 87% late harvest Zinfandel and 13% Tinta Madeira Port. It was satisfyingly sweet with a smooth finish. It’s described by Carol Shelton as follows: “Inky blue-purple in color, yummy deep razz-blackberry jam and luscious dark chocolate of oak spices, sweet but not clumsy, pleasingly balanced with a bit a tartness, not at all hotly alcoholic, bit of warm vanilla at finish.”
We enjoyed our 2011 Black Magic with dark chocolate while playing The Great Dalmuti after dinner. It received wide praise.
Of course, at Peninsula Underground our mission is to find great value in wines for our followers and the Black Magic delivers. You can find a current Wild Thing Black Magic on wine.com for $18.99 a bottle. For those interested in comparing varietals through the years, you can go to the Carol Shelton website and order “library” Black Magic at $20 a bottle.
In short, the Queen of Zin won us over with all the wines we tried but the sublime Black Magic Late Harvest Zinfandel earned our top score of 5 Corks for its taste and value and for that reason is our April wine-of-the-month.
You may have noticed that every featured wine so far this year has been from California. Well, our office is in the Golden State so we admit it, we are biased. Still, we recognize that the proliferation of wineries throughout the U.S. (Oregon, Washington, Virginia, New York, Texas...) makes it a great time to be an oenophile no matter where you live. And best of all, you can find great wines, at reasonable prices, that are ready to drink right now. That’s our mantra at Peninsula Underground. We love helping you find those wines. For May, we take you to the state of Washington.
Let’s say you’re going to meet your significant other’s parents for the first time. They’ve invited you over for dinner. Of course, you’d like to bring a nice bottle of wine but you want to be thoughtful, savvy. Not one of those cliche’ grocery store bottles but something different, interesting. A conversation starter. Hello Mercer Family Vineyards Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve!
Located in south-central Washington, Mercer Family Vineyards is in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which was established in 2005. Don’t let that fairly recent designation fool you. Nearly 50 years ago Don and Linda Mercer planted the first wine grapes in Horse Heaven Hills. Now, this AVA accounts for more than 1/4 of Washington’s total grape production.
We first tried Mercer’s 2016 HHH Cab Reserve in December and were immediately impressed by its sleek, softening tannins. It’s what you might expect from a wine that has laid down for several years. Winemaker Will Mercer describes the wine: “Aromas of ripe blackberries, bright red currants, savory herbs, and sweet pipe tobacco are highlighted by vanilla and sweet spice...a light touch of acidity.”
Whether you can discern all those aromas and flavors or not you will know from the first sip that it’s an exceptional, delicious wine. We then tasted this wine against other notable Washington and California Cabs and it was superior to all of them. The best part of all? You can pick up the 2016, or the current release 2017, for about $25 a bottle at Total Wine or wine.com.
For producing an amazing Cab reserve at a very reasonable price the Mercer Family Vineyards’ Horse Heaven Hills earns a 5-Cork rating and is our May wine-of-the-month. We recommend it to all our followers.
Selecting just one wine to feature each month is a difficult task. And choosing one from a single winery where everything is consistently outstanding is even harder. Soda Rock of Healdsburg in Sonoma County provided us that challenge for June. Long considered by many on our executive board as their favorite stop during January’s Winter Wineland, Soda Rock is now facing the daunting task of rebuilding their historic structure after last fall’s fires. We can all do our part to help Ken and Diane Wilson, and their team, by buying their wine.
The obvious key to making great wine is to start with great grapes. Soda Rock’s winemaker, Antoine Favero, nurtures these in abundance. His signature Zinfandels are each uniquely crafted to their respective vineyards. While every Soda Rock Zin (or Sauv Blanc or Cab or...) we have tried has been exceptional, for June we focus on their Primitivos.
A black-skinned Italian grape that is genetically identical to California Zinfandel, Primitivo was long ago used for blending. Today it stands firmly on its own. Whether it be their 2016 Los Amigos or their current releases—Lytton Station Alexander Valley ($34) or Rockpike Ranch Reserve ($55)—these wines exhibit the wonderful combination of berries and pepper that provide a jammy flavor and long finish. Go to sodarockwinery.com and pick some of these Primitivos. Then drop us a line and thank us for the recommendation! Better yet, the next time you are in Sonoma County make sure you visit Soda Rock and tell them Peninsula Underground sent you. Savor their wines and give the resilient Lord Snort a push!
For providing a drinking experience way above its price point, Soda Rock Primitivo is our June wine-of-the-month.
After first tasting our July featured wine I was inspired to see if its very name reveals insight into how to best describe it. According to various internet sources the name Peju means “love” and inspires commitment, willpower, and exuberance. “Province” is defined as an area of special knowledge, interest, or responsibility. The Peju Province Red & White Blend is aptly titled and our July wine-of-the-month.
The love and exuberance of this wine by the members of our executive board who tasted it was universal. Chris, our VP of Linguistics: “It’s like a summer Rose’ but with body!” Sara, our VP of Marketing and PR, was excited to detect a slight effervescence. Our CEO, Dina, spoke of the crispness of a Sauv Blanc with the complexity of a red blend.
To be clear the Peju Province, their signature cuvee, is not a Rose’, which is what you get when you leave red grapes in contact with their skin for a short time. It is a red-white blend. They take stainless-steel fermented white varietals and combine them with barrel-aged red varietals. As the first red-white blend we have seen, the name Province is apropos. The result is a uniquely-hued wine, akin to the shade of watermelon juice. The color alone generated conversation among our board.
Another part of the fun of this wine is attempting to detect the varietals used. We suggest a double-blind tasting the first time you have it. Not the type of double-blind tasting typical of our industry. Rather, place the bottle in a bag and provide your guests with blindfolds. It will be really interesting to see what type of wine (red, white, rose’) and what varietals they think they are tasting. I bet the results will be a broad spectrum, especially since this wine is best served chilled.
As our subscribers know, we are always looking for interesting wines, that are delicious, at great prices. Clearly, Peju Province is interesting...and it’s only $30 per bottle! We recommend a case of it for summer - www.peju.com. For providing our most unique tasting experience of the year at a very reasonable price the Peju Province Red & White Blend is our July wine-of-the-month.
We were so excited to be back in Napa last month. Temperatures were in the low 80s and we enjoyed numerous outdoor, sit-down tastings. At every winery we visited we received outstanding service from people genuinely happy to be back at work. We tasted a lot of great wine, many deserving to be our August wine-of-the-month, but one stood out as a great summer sipper: 2019 ZD Wines Rosa Lee Pinot Noir Rosé, Napa Valley.
ZD Wines was founded over 50 years ago by Norman and Rosa Lee deLeuze. As they state on their website: “The letters ZD allude to ‘Zero Defects,’ a quality control term that applies just as well to our wines as to the rocket propulsion programs our founders worked on before starting a wine business.”
Located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, ZD’s outdoor tasting was on their elevated outdoor patio overlooking the valley; a stunning view to put you in a great mood to taste. Scott was our pourer and educator (ask for him when you go). He knows his wines and is passionate about sharing them.
The wine is light pink—they left the skins on for just two hours—and was aged in stainless steel. It’s more floral on the nose than their Sauvignon Blanc. It is pleasantly sweet (we detect strawberries) with a spritz on the end. A perfect wine for an early summer evening for your socially distanced backyard entertaining. At $35 per bottle this wine provides great value, which our followers particularly appreciate.
If you are able to get back up to Napa soon make it a point to taste at ZD, pick up their 2019 Rosa Lee Pinot Noir Rosé (and their approachable 2017 Cab and Tempranillo and...), and tell them you came because it was Peninsula Underground’s August wine-of-the-month.
We are blessed in California to have the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and Paso Robles wine regions. But less than a three-hour drive from our Orange County office lies the vastly underrated Santa Ynez Valley. This is where we found ourselves last week after having to cancel our Napa trip due to the devastating fires. Once we decided on visiting Santa Ynez we knew our first stop had to be Tensley.
We were first introduced to Tensley last fall when its 2017 Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Syrah checked in at #14 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines. The very day the issue appeared we had a bottle delivered from Total Wine. We were most struck by the deep purple color and the nose of smoked meat.
With that as a backdrop, four of us from Peninsula Underground arrived at Tensley and enjoyed our tasting on their lovely patio in Los Olivos. Nelida guided us through their lineup of 2019 Syrahs: Santa Barbara County, Turner, and Colson Canyon. They are our September wines-of-the-month.
As our followers know, we normally pick one particular bottle as our wine-of-the-month. This month is the exception as Tensley’s 2019 Syrahs were all equally but distinctively exceptional. You might wonder why we are already tasting and reviewing 2019 Syrahs. Well, we had the pleasure of meeting owner and winemaker Joey Tensley, who was very generous with his time. He explained to us that they had already sold out of the 2018s so they had to push the 2019s out quickly. It is amazing how good they are already.
The Santa Barbara County Syrah was surprisingly silky with red fruit and berries. It is young with a slight bite at the end but wonderfully drinkable now and will be outstanding for 8-10 years. The Turner Syrah is a shade lighter than the Santa Barbara. We detect less oak and more black pepper. On the whole this was more complex than the Santa Barbara and can also be cellared for 10 years. They only made 70 cases so grab yours soon! Finally, the Colson Canyon was lighter still than the Turner with a nose of violets. On the palette is smoked meat with a notably fruity finish. This wine has wonderful flavor now and is surprisingly approachable for its complexity. It was distinct from the others.
On the whole, Tensley makes the best Syrahs we have ever reviewed. Followers of PU know that we always have an eye toward wine that is ready to drink at a great value. Tensley Syrahs are the template for that approach to wine. When you taste the wines you won’t believe the prices:
Santa Barbara County: $30
Colson Canyon: $46
Do yourself a favor. Take a weekend away to the Santa Ynez Valley. Enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and the delicious wines of the region. Just make sure that visiting Tensley is at the top of your list. Tell them you visited because they were Peninsula Underground’s September wine-of-the-month.
One of the great joys of being in the wine industry is experiencing something new, and it happens more often than you might think. Look no further than our 2020 monthly featured wines and you can read about a Chardonnay that should not be refrigerated but served at a red wine temperature (Le Cuvier) and a wine where red and white are fermented separately then blended (Peju). Our October wine-of-the-month continues the theme of the unexpected.
After visiting Napa in July shortly after the reopen and Santa Ynez Valley in August, we headed back to Napa near the end of September. When our plane landed we learned about the new, devastating fires that had started just hours earlier. The visits we had scheduled in the northern part of the valley were understandably canceled as many brave individuals fought to save their property and livelihood. During the pandemic we have often heard that the best way to support our friends in the industry is to keep buying their wine. So, rather than getting back on a plane, we improvised our trip. It turns out our Rioja Bureau Chief has personal connections with Reynolds Family Winery and arranged for us to visit. They are in the southern end of the valley and were far enough from the fires to not be in danger.
Started in 1995 by Steve Reynolds, a former dentist, and his wife Suzie, Reynolds Family Winery is one of the few truly family-owned and operated wineries that still exists in Napa Valley. We were hosted by the articulate, 22-year-old Cameron Reynolds who could not have been more impressive. You would be hard-pressed to find a more self-assured, knowledgeable, service oriented young man in the industry. He navigated us through nearly a dozen wines, many that, for one reason or another, were not your typical Napa offering.
But one stood out and is Peninsula Underground’s October wine-of-the-month: The Reynolds Family Winery Clear Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, CLEAR.
Imagine being poured a chilled Cab that by appearance could nearly be mistaken for a glass of water. That’s Reynolds’ Clear. We believe it is the only such wine in Napa Valley—maybe anywhere. As you might guess, a great many questions and a thorough education followed. Cameron explained to us that they pick 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and take it straight to the bladder press to squeeze out the fruit. There is basically no contact with the skin to give it the deep violet hue of a typical Cab. It is lighter than the lightest Sauvignon Blanc you might find. It is then fermented in 100% stainless steel for 8 months. We detected the aromas of tropical fruit and the taste of fresh melon and raspberries. A very interesting, tasty wine. I wish we had first tried it blind but will include it in our future blind tastings.
Consider the discussions that will take place when you take this out to serve the next time you host friends or family. As our readers and followers know, we love to highlight great wines of great value that are drinkable right away. This outstanding Reynolds Family Winery Clear Cabernet Sauvignon is $45 per bottle ($36 for club members) and does not need to be cellared. Buy it. Talk about it. Enjoy it. It is a lot of fun.
Hopefully you can make your way to Napa Valley soon. When you go, make an appointment to taste at Reynolds Family Winery and ask for Cameron. Tell the family you visited because it was Peninsula Underground’s October wine-of-the-month.
If you cannot make it in person, visit their website: https://www.reynoldsfamilywinery.com/ and follow on social media @reynoldsfamilywinery!
P.S. Make sure you ask Steve about his tequila!
Humor us here at Peninsula Underground as we take our November “wine” of the month and actually choose a bourbon. With four of our executive team members involved with our November “bourbon” of the month, we’d be remiss if we didn’t choose it, not to toot our own horn, but to share with you something so unique that we knew you’d want to know about it.
What do you get when a Nike designer, Facebook’s first director-level employee, a hospitality executive, a political advisor, and a philanthropist walk into a bar? Well, maybe not a bar, but the same room with the same ideas about making a bourbon – you get Blue Run.
Blue Run Spirits’ inaugural expression – a 13 year Kentucky Straight Bourbon bottled at 113 proof – is our November “bourbon” of the month.
Understanding that evolving the bourbon industry and creating fine products for the modern bourbon fan could never happen without an exceptional whiskey to start with, these guys teamed with Jim Rutledge, a 50+ year whiskey veteran and former master distiller at Four Roses, who serves as the brand’s liquid advisor.
And, the bourbon… it’s at a higher proof to preserve every bit of flavor. The long aging process allows for a bold flavor profile while maintaining a smooth finish. Its glossy amber with bronze highlights finish smells like candied dates and fig, mixed with molasses, butterscotch, and dark chocolate. It tastes like caramel and brown sugar mixed with oak and has dense concentrated flavors of baking spices and chocolate covered cherries. And the finish, long, sweet, and dry with crisp textures of warm stone fruits and candied apple. Honestly, it’s everything we ever wanted in a bourbon. Some of us said after tasting it that, “It danced on our palates in a smooth jazz kind of way and we loved it!”
Oh, and the bottle! Blue Run sourced only the highest quality plate glass from France for the bottles. The Viceroy Butterfly is a common sight on the banks of many Kentucky waterways and it symbolizes change and new beginnings. The butterfly symbolizes the evolution of what a bourbon can be. And, we believe Blue Run is the new beginning of bourbon.
We recommend adding no more than one small ice cube to enjoy the full deliciousness of this inaugural 13 year bourbon, that is if you can find a bottle! We hear that the 13 year fall release is now sold out but should be available online again in mid-November at www.bluerunspirits.com. Let us know what you think!
I know, I know. You love California wine, Italian wine, French wine, blah blah blah. At Peninsula Underground we love them too! But how many of you have ever professed your loyalty to Arizona wine? You should!
We recently had the privilege to do a sit-down tasting at the Aridus Wine Company tasting room in the Scottsdale Arts District. We were humbled that Aridus team member Alex came in on a Sunday specifically because he knew we were visiting. He led us through an array of wines grown in the Willcox AVA of Southeastern Arizona. We are not ashamed to admit that we had never tasted Arizona wine before. Those who follow our reviews and IG know that one of the themes of our 2020 featured wines has been “the unexpected.” That theme continues in December as we discovered so many interesting, unique, and delicious wines from Aridus. We will be reporting on our blog and Instagram about many of them in the near future but one of them stood out as our December wine-of-the-month:
2018 Aridus Wine Company Graciano
First of all, many of you have probably never even heard of the Graciano grape, which is a Spanish red wine varietal grown mainly in the Rioja Baja region, known for its dry climate. As it turns out, the Willcox AVA has a similarly arid climate and Aridus is the Latin word for dry or arid. So you can see how winemaker Lisa Strid is able to extract the bold aromas and taste of fresh berries from her grapes. Aficionados of Paso Robles might describe this wine as jammy or fruit-forward with a peppery finish. Those adjectives are much too cliché to give to this single-varietal wine. We prefer to say that the grape is truly the star of this wine and that its mouth feel and finish are perfect representations of the region from which it hails. This wine is ready to savor now and over the next 5 to 6 years. It can be purchased for less than $40!
At Peninsula Underground we strive to report on great wines of great value that are ready to drink right now. This 2018 Aridus Graciano delivers on all fronts and that is why it is our December wine-of-the-month.
Bravo Lisa, Alex, and the entire Aridus team!
If you are planning to be in Scottsdale contact Patrick and make an appointment for a tasting. Request that either he or Alex pour for you. Tell them that Peninsula Underground sent you. If you are not going to be in Arizona then Aridus will ship to you.