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Nero d’Avola is the most important red-wine grape in Sicily and has more recently popped up in Valle de Guadalupe and Mendocino County. This expression from St. Avalo in the Los Olivos District is deep purple in color and has a pronounced intensity of aroma and flavor. There are a plethora of identifiable characteristics that are impressively balanced. Primary descriptors: blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry, black currant, violet, black currant leaf, and wet wool. Secondary: toast, butterscotch, and chocolate. Tertiary: savory and vegetal. This wine has fruit on the midpalate that adds layers of complexity on the velvety finish. A high acid, high tannin, full-bodied treat that can be enjoyed now or over the next 7-10 years. Scores on this wine will only go up from here. Outstanding.
St. Avalo’s Sangiovese exhibits impressive winemaking, as this medium ruby wine is mature for its age. Pronounced intensity of aroma, highlighted by deep red fruits, plum jam, and hazelnut on the midpalate, followed by eucalyptus, oak, toast, anise, black pepper, forest floor, leather, and amaretto. There is solid fruit development for a 2021, already showing cooked red plum, prune, and tar. It has the high acid and tannin you’d expect, with a long, long finish. It is ready to drink now but has outstanding potential for aging. Not as “grungy” as a Brunello di Montalcino, as it is a bit brighter and fresher, but not less enjoyable. A California spin on Sangiovese, and it is pitch perfect.
Unless you are a true oenophile, you probably have never heard of the Dornfelder grape. Its main popularity is in Germany and it is a teinturier grape, which means the flesh and juice are red. No surprise, then, that the 2022 Dornfelder from St. Avalo is a hypnotically inky-dark, deep purple. You taste this wine with your eyes every bit as much as with your nose and palate. However, while the color is expected, the rest of it is a complete surprise. We love the myriad of identifiable characteristics and its complexity. The nose highlights the numerous secondary and tertiary (atypical for such a young vintage) traits of resin, game, smoke, barnyard, wet leaves, fig, and tar. On the palate, however, the stars are the primary descriptors: blackberry, black cherry, red currant, tart cherry, rhubarb, plum, bramble, tomato leaf, eucalyptus, and black pepper. There is also a hint of quince, which is more typical of a white wine. Medium plus acid and medium tannin, with a long, satisfying finish. And these are mainly just initial impressions. This wine continues to evolve in the glass and delivers a wonderful drinking experience. If you’ve never tried Dornfelder, start now with this one!
Gamay Noir is the grape made famous in Beaujolais, particularly for its Beaujolais Nouveau style, a wine released the third Thursday of every November and made from that year’s vintage. It is a bright, fresh, red-fruit driven wine meant to be consumed young. This offering from St. Avalo is an excellent expression of the varietal. In the glass, it is the classic medium ruby color Gamay Noir fans expect. Floral aromas of freshly cut violets and potpourri with a sweet, red-fruit essence. Strawberry jam and Morello cherry on the midpalate, followed by cranberry, red currant, and red plum. The alluvial soil in Los Olivos District creates the ideal environment for the high acidity in this wine, which is pure Gamay Noir. It is fresh and clean on the palate with low tannin. The fruit builds toward an earthy finish that also features hints of white pepper and vanilla. This wine is young, fun, and easy to like. Perfect to serve with your holiday meals, and at 12.1% ABV, it is also, ahem, user-friendly.
A California Cab lover’s dream wine that checks all the boxes. Dried blackberry, stewed black plum, black cherry, fig jam, black pepper, violet, asparagus, and sweet raisin, with tobacco, dark chocolate-covered berries, and baking spices on the finish. Firm, well-integrated tannins with high acid that give this wine backbone—and a long life. Full-bodied. Nicely balanced, as the 15.9% alcohol plays much lower. Outstanding.
What a fantastic wine. Medium ruby color, trending toward garnet. So many descriptors: red cherry, violet, white pepper (on the nose…turning to black pepper on the palate), bell pepper, tar, butterscotch, cloves, maple, milk chocolate, a hint of vanilla, stone, cedar, and turned earth. Such great complexity. Linger over this wine; each time it hits your palate, new flavors are identified. Medium acid, medium plus tannin, and medium body. A wine that is a joy to drink and that makes you think at the same time. Outstanding.
This Bordeaux blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot shows deep purple in the glass. A big, bold wine that leads with intense aromas of spice, molasses, and licorice, opening up to lovely dark berries with hints of raisin, brown sugar, graphite, and earth. Layers of complexity as the black fruit turns jammy and builds to a long finish. This well-balanced, full-bodied wine has medium plus acid and tannin and is easy to savor to the last sip. Best in class at our 2023 Under the Radar California Competition.
A deep purple blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc. Medium plus intensity of aroma and a myriad of pronounced flavors that include blackberry, black currant, black cherry, violet, a hint of roasted red pepper, graphite, dark chocolate, leather, roasted meat, and tobacco. The finish is long and dry with wet earth, dried black fruit, and coffee undertones. Great complexity with wonderfully integrated acid and tannin. The alcohol level is 15.5% but, as with the 2012 Cab, the balance is such that it doesn’t seem that high, which is a testament to skilled winemaking. Enjoy this wine now or over the next 8-10 years.
An homage to Côte Rotie in the Northern Rhone Valley, where Syrah is co-fermented with Viognier. This Côte Blonde contains 5% Viognier, which adds floral and spice components to the wine and gives it a viscous mouthfeel. A great touch. In the glass the wine has that wonderful deep purple color that makes you swoon. Boysenberry, black pepper, bacon, licorice, dark chocolate, wool, and petrol lead the wine toward a finish of dried black fruit and olive tapenade. Fine-grained tannins and medium plus acid. The mouthfeel and finish are the stars.
Impressive nose on this wine. Can enjoy it without even tasting it. Primary aromas and flavors of blackberry, black plum, black currant, pyrazines, violet, and a hint of red fruit. This wine is mature for its age as the palate quickly acknowledges dried blackberry, baked cherry pie, leather, black pepper, licorice, cola, coffee, and game. Medium plus acid, high tannin, medium plus body, and a long finish. Solid wine.
Pronounced aroma of cherry cola, black plum, red currant, game, charred wood, wet leaves, oak, chocolate, and herbs. The wine has a savory quality on the palate. Primary fruit flavors turn stewed and dried as the wine opens up. The finish is long and features tobacco, dried plum, coffee, and forest floor. High acid, medium plus tannins, and full body. The Napa Cab experience without the elevated price point.
Although this wine features citrus (lemon) and stone fruit (peach and apricot), the main primary flavors and aromas are the riper tropical fruits of pineapple and melon. Not simply fruit driven, there are floral components of elder flower and honeysuckle. Solid acid holds it together and carries the wine through to a long finish of wet stone and minerality.
Barolo, from Piedmont in Northern Italy, is often described as the king of wines and the wine of kings, and is made from Nebbiolo. While the latitude of the Santa Cruz Mountains is much further south than Piedmont, the high-elevation (2,600 feet) Lago Lomita Vineyard, and its ocean breezes, provides a moderating influence and makes it one of the very best areas in California to grow Nebbiolo. This offering from Soquel Vineyards is a great representation. We love the pale garnet color, reminiscent of Barolo. As fans of this varietal know, it can be misleading, as the aromas and flavors are pronounced and the acid and tannin is high. This wine has a big, chewy mouthfeel and offers a ton of descriptors: dried maraschino cherry, crushed rose petals, anise, root beer, leather, coffee, tobacco, tar, truffle, and licorice. It is rustic and herbaceous and well balanced. Bravo!
With grapes from the Lester Family Vineyard, which sits at around 500 feet above, and slightly inland, from Monterey Bay, this Reserve Pinot Noir is a hit. The medium garnet color is a precursor to a potpourri of primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas and flavors. The nose is floral, then gives way to juicy red plum and black pepper. The midpalate reveals intense dried red cherries, a hint of strawberry, vanilla, and dried violet. As the wine opens up it leads to a finish of mushroom, smoke, sweet tobacco, and turned earth. This wine is enjoyable now but the medium plus acid also gives it tremendous potential for aging. Would love to have at least a half case of this to open over the years. The scores will only go up from here.
Bright and youthful from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, this wine reflects the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean breezes. It is medium ruby in the glass, fresh on the nose, and offers cranberry, red cherry, and ripe raspberry. The floral component is hibiscus and there is slight vanilla, toast, and flint on the back end. The lingering finish is the star and foretells that this wine will evolve. Easy to enjoy and hard to put down.
An exceptionally well-made wine, representative of the best Napa Valley has to offer. Swirl the deep purple and experience the pronounced intensity of the aroma. Blackberry jam, black currant, mint, violet, licorice, leather, forest floor, farmyard, cedar, smoke, and chocolate. It is a tertiary carnival! This wine is in its prime and the tannic structure is evident but well integrated. Solid acid shows it still has years to offer. A standout among incredibly impressive peers.