Category Archives: Between $30 and $49.99 | Reviewed

The Unusual Suspects | Beyond California Cabernet

The Unusual Suspects | Looking Beyond California Cabernet

Kobler Estate

I’m definitely guilty of writing a lot about California Cabernet. I freely admit that I have a real penchant for the sturdy varietal, particularly when it’s built to last. In California, Cabernet is king and sadly many of the best examples fetch a princely sum.

But if the myriad of interesting, lesser-known and even esoteric varietals I encountered on my recent trip to Napa and Sonoma are any indication, Cabernet isn’t all that’s thriving here in Northern California. Not only was I surprised to find Spanish and French stalwarts like Albariño, Tempranillo, Grenache and Malbec being produced at wineries I visited, but I was surprised by just how good they were. Oh, and did I mention I encountered an Aglianico?

The best part? These wines don’t command the regal prices of Cabernet. They lack the cachet, and are often the ‘pet’ projects of winemakers – who produce them because they are passionate about the varietal and love drinking them, while their bread and butter Cabernet and Pinot Noir offerings keep the lights on.

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Madrigal Family Winery | 2012 Madrigal Petite Sirah Review

Madrigal Family Winery | 2012 Madrigal Petite Sirah Review

Madrigal Petite Sirah

My friend Tara recently began an exciting new position as Hospitality and Tasting Room Manager at Madrigal Family Winery, introducing me to this boutique producer located in-between St. Helena and Calistoga in upper Napa Valley. Considering its location in the heart of Cabernet country, it’s no surprise that Madrigal Winery produces three different Cabernet Sauvignons, but it’s the Petite Sirah that vintner Chris Madrigal is especially proud of.

Chris Madrigal’s family history in the Napa Valley dates all the way back to the 1930s, when his Mexican grandparents moved to Napa Valley to seek better opportunities for their family. They soon began farming apples, pears, walnuts and grapes, unknowingly laying the groundwork for what would eventually become a successful vineyard management business in the hands of Chris Madrigals father Jess, currently overseeing some 800 acres.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet | Best Cabernet Under $50

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet | Best Cabernet Under $50

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit the historic Robert Mondavi Winery in January and tour the acclaimed To Kalon Vineyard adjacent to their Oakville estate. Widely regarded for its first-growth level quality, To Kalon has gained a near mythical status throughout the wine community in recent years.

Considering that it is arguably Napa’s most famous vineyard, with undeniably the most expensive fruit, it carries some serious cachet to have “To Kalon” on the label. Bottles regularly fetch $150 to $300+, with names like Schrader, Paul Hobbs and Carter Cellars paying record-level prices to Andy Beckstoffer for the rights to purchase fruit from his section of the To Kalon Vineyard.

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet

My view from Mondavi overlooking the To Kalon Vineyard in January. Click to check out more from my Instagram!

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Franciscan Estate Winery | An Under the Radar Overachiever

Franciscan Estate Winery | An Under the Radar Overachiever

Franciscan Estate

I have been buying and drinking Franciscan Estate wines for years now. In fact, shortly after tasting the 94 point 2007 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon I promptly added a few cases to my stores. Considering that I paid just under $20 at the time, these wines were amongst the most reliable, consistent values I had come across in Cabernet, especially Napa Cabernet, in some time.

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Galerie Wines | Winemaking Meets Artistic Expression

Galerie Wines | Winemaking Meets Artistic Expression

Galerie

As an artist, your first exhibition is your debut to the world. As exciting as it must be unnerving to gauge your reception, it is the invaluable opportunity to express your artistic talents in an uninhibited, open environment. But in this case, you needn’t visit a gallery to soak in this artists hard work, you need only to uncork a bottle of Galerie Wine.

Galerie Wines is an exciting and unique new project by Winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz which seeks to showcase the contrast in terroir between Knights Valley and Napa Valley. The road leading up to her inaugural Galerie Wines release has been a long and windy one.

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Frisson Wines | Checking in on New Releases!

Frisson Wines | Checking in on New Releases!

Frisson Chardonnay

Last spring I reviewed the 2011 Frisson Wines Cabernet Sauvignon and was really impressed. Despite the well publicized challenges of the 2011 vintage throughout Napa Valley, this boutique producer managed to produce a really distinctive, frisson-worthy Cabernet.

Just a few months after my post, Frisson Wines got some much deserved recognition when that same wine was awarded Double Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition! Not too shabby…

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Looking to Oregon for Quality Sub $30 Pinot Noir

Looking to Oregon for Quality Pinot Noir Under $30 | Finding The Best Oregon Pinot Noir

Best Oregon Pinot Noir

Perhaps no other varietal can be as rewarding and challenging at the same time as Pinot Noir. Fans of the fickle grape are intimately aware that when it’s bad, it can be thin, lifeless and devoid of character. But when it’s good, it can be downright transcendental.

But transcendental is expensive. For example, a bottle of recently-released Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru Burgundy will set you back nearly $2000, with prized vintages fetching considerably more. For that kind of money, shouldn’t it do more than just move you?!

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Anaba Wines Reviewed | Realizing a Dream in Sonoma

Anaba Wines Reviewed | Realizing a Dream in Sonoma

Anaba

Anaba Winery is rather conveniently located in Carneros at the ‘gateway’ to Sonoma Valley, so it is amongst the very first wineries you’ll spot as you make your getaway from San Francisco to wine country for the weekend.

Yet despite driving past Anaba’s charming, recently-restored 100 year old farmhouse building more than a handful of times I have surprisingly never stopped by to check them out – as I always seem to be on a mission to get to some producer that’s not so conveniently located.

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Bodegas Valdemar | A Legacy of Innovation in La Rioja

Bodegas Valdemar | A Legacy of Innovation in La Rioja

Bodegas Valdemar

My incredibly loyal readers know just how fond I am of Spanish wines. They often seriously over-deliver for the price and have an endearing ability to combine the best aspects of old-world wines (balanced, food-friendly and terroir-driven) with those of new world wines (more fruit-forward).

As a Sommelier friend was recently explaining to me, if he is looking to introduce a new world wine drinker to the old-world wine scene, he always starts in Spain. And if he were introducing them to the wines of Bodegas Valdemar, he would have both modern and old-world options to choose from within the same portfolio!

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Smith Madrone Vineyards | A Spring Mountain Must…

Smith Madrone Vineyards | A Spring Mountain Must

Smith Madrone

The views of Napa Valley below from Smith Madrone Vineyards

Something From Nothing | The Beginnings of Smith Madrone Vineyards

Tucked away at the very end of Spring Mountain Road lies Smith Madrone Vineyards. Situated at the highest point in the Spring Mountain District, its steeply sloped mountain vineyards reach grades of up to 34% at elevations between 1300 and 2000 feet.

Notable and familiar neighbors include Bothe Napa Valley State Park directly to the North, Barnett Vineyards immediately to the West and Keenan Winery lies due South.

The history of the property dates all the way back to the 1880 when a man by the name of George Cook secured a land grant authorized by then President Chester A. Arthur and planted vineyards and olive trees on the estate.

But when Stu Smith discovered this special parcel of land, with its expansive views of Napa Valley and rocky, well-drained volcanic soils, the existing vineyards were in disrepair and the property was still mostly just a forest!

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