Alexander Valley


Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
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Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
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Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
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Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
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Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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This post started as the Weekend Wines Notes on Friday, but if you follow me on Facebook, you know that this was a weekend of dog rescuing and transporting, so I was not able to finish until this morning. So be it.

First, allow me to mention that zinfandel is not “the all-American grape” that some writers still inexplicably assert, mainly in popular magazines. It’s a European vinifera grape just like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and so on. Second, while capable of being made into fine wine indeed, zinfandel has the problem of being too versatile, that is, it can be made into a confusing array of styles so that consumers don’t know what they’re getting when they choose a bottle at their favorite retail store, but that’s why knowledgeable sales clerks exist, n’est-ce pas? In today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I look at products from three producers that focus on zinfandel; in the case of two of these, McCay Cellars and Wine Guerrilla, the wines are designated single-vineyard. One style of zinfandel is full-throttle, super-ripe, dense and alcoholic; that’s the style favored by Wine Guerrilla winemaker Bruce Patch. It’s not my favorite manner — I think it distorts the grape’s character and results in undrinkable wines — and that stance is reflected in the reviews that follow. I liked three of Patch’s 2009s better, and I admire him for working with these historic old vine field blend vineyards; here are the more positive reviews. These wines were review samples. Unfortunately, label images for McCay’s recent releases don’t exist; at least I couldn’t find any.
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McCay Cellars Equity Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 288 cases. Dark ruby color, tinge of mulberry; intense and concentrated, graphite and briers, black currants, blackberries and plums, licorice and lavender; sleek and polished but dry; vibrant acidity plows through the center; loads of dusty tannins and oak; notes of cloves, sandalwood, fruitcake, hint of pomegranate; dense and chewy, a real mouthful of wine that flows beautifully on the palate. Try from 2015 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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McCay Cellars TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.4% alc. 278 cases. Slightly darker and more intense ruby color than the previous example; iodine, iron and graphite; fruit and floral elements both fresh and dried; black currants, blackberry and blueberry; potpourri, bitter chocolate, heaps of briers, brambles and underbrush; very intense and concentrated, even brooding, but quite vibrant and resonant; finish is packed with granitic minerality, dusty tannins and dried spices. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.6% alc. 449 cases. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta; intense minerality yet warm and spicy; very dry dusty grainy tannins and oak sanding the circumference, but zinging acidity adds liveliness; a dense, deeply spicy and dusty graphite propelled zinfandel that needs a year or two; presently a bit inexpressive. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’21. Very Good+. About $28.
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McCay Cellars Contention Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Lodi. 14.9% alc. 223 cases. Dense dark ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black raspberries and plums, rather fleshy and meaty; iron and iodine; a very intense and savory core of potpourri, lavender, fruitcake, bitter chocolate and graphite; a huge mouthful of wine with austere tannin-oak-and-mineral-infused finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $64.
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Renwood Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. 86% zinfandel, 10% primitivo, 2% roussanne, 1% each mourvedre and souzao. Bright medium ruby color; black currants, plums and blueberries with a touch of red raspberry; briers and brambles, intriguing hints of mocha and cherry cola; shapely and moderate tannins. A tasty zinfandel. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, Amador County. 15.5% alc. 92.5% zinfandel, 5.8% syrah, 1.7% souzao. Medium ruby color; spiced , macerated, roasted and fleshy; bristly black and red currants, a rasp of raspberries and rose hips; fresh and clean but with the dried spice, espresso bean and fruitcake note of old vines; finish is fairly austere and somewhat unbalanced with a touch of alcoholic heat and sweetness. Drink through 2015. Very Good. About $20.
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Renwood Fiddletown Zinfandel 2011, Amador County. 14.8% alc. 99% zinfandel, 1% mission grapes. Lovely medium ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; red and black currants, red and black cherries, notes of blueberries; briers and underbrush elements, violets and tobacco leaf, cloves, mocha and a beguiling hint of pomegranate; very satisfying balance and integration; dusty graphite and tannins, a dry but not austere or forbidding red wine, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Wine Guerrilla McClain Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 80% zinfandel, 20% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; very ripe boysenberry, blueberry, blackberry, with iodine, mint and graphite, smoke, lavender, violets; juicy blue and black fruit flavors permeated by dusty granitic minerality and tart acidity, all set in a structure of powerful tannins; a not pleasing sensation of a dry red wine that feels sweet; will a few years tone down the effect? Good. About $35.
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Wine Guerrilla Clopton Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, palomino and alicante bouschet. Dark ruby-purple color; blackberry, blueberry tart, super-ripe sweet fruit packed with cloves, allspice, sandalwood and hints of rhubarb and beetroot and loam; big, dense and powerful, relentlessly dry yet almost cloying with sweet ripeness so the balance feels off; will a few years bring coherence? Good. About $40.
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Wine Guerrilla Carreras Ranch Block 2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. A field blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, Napa gamay, alicante bouschet, chasselas dore. Dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; deep, rooty, loamy and earthy; smoke, leather, briers and brambles; intense and concentrated, very dry, dusty and minerally; dense, almost viscous, has the dignity and power of old vines — these planted in 1916 — as well as the intensity and concentration. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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WG Sonoma Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma Valley. 15% alc. 200 cases. Very dark ruby-purple color; smoke, plums and blueberry tart; heady notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender; deeply earthy and mineral-laden in the graphite and granite range; stout, dusty leathery tannins; feel some heat on the finish; next morning, quite dense, austere, almost astringent oak and tannin influence; will the fruit survive? Not recommended except for those who want to take a chance. About $35.
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Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. 120 cases. 85% zinfandel, 10% petite sirah, the rest grenache and carignane. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim shading to garnet; very ripe, stridently spicy; boysenberry and blackberry tart; sweetish alcohol; both super-ripe and austere; uncoordinated and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $30.
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… and if anything really bad happens today, don’t blame it on me or this post. Nine from California, two each from Chile and Argentina.
These brief notices encompass a couple of pleasant, interesting and inexpensive cabernets that you can enjoy tonight as well as a diverse range of more serious and complex efforts intended for consuming anywhere from now or 2014 through the early 2020s. As usual with these Weekend Wine Sips, the only technical information I include is information about the varietal composition of the wines; anything else in the nature of history, geography and personnel is omitted for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ruby-purple color with a magenta cast; seductive bouquet of ripe black currants and raspberries, lavender and lilac, leather and loam, shale and graphite; gritty, slightly bitter tannins, vibrant acidity, firm yet supple body and structure, very tasty, dusty, almost succulent black fruit flavors but with a serious edge of tannin and foresty elements in the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 5% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. A polished cabernet that radiates individuality, authenticity and character. Deep ruby-purple color; beguiling aromas of blueberry and mulberry, pomegranate and mint, with touches of toasted cumin and ancho chili and a host of underlying mineral elements like graphite and flint; give it a few moments and traces of lavender, violets and licorice emerge; then a powerful expression of dusty tannins, granitic minerality, hefty tone and presence on the palate, yet sleek, lithe, panther-like, permeated by slightly spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; a long spice- and mineral-packed finish. Perhaps Chile’s best cabernet. Exceptional. About $60.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage 2008, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 33%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 17%, malbec 14%, petit verdot 6%. Dark ruby color; ripe, warm and spicy; mint and mocha, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry tart; bright acidity, very dry, swingeing tannins and a finish piled with forest floor, briers and brambles for a trace of austerity. Try 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Endeavor 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 91% cabernet sauvigon, 7% petit verdot, 2% merlot. 490 cases. Dark ruby color; dense, intense and concentrated yet ravishing, like graphite-lined velvet and ripe port-infused black currant jam; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins, toasty oak and vanilla, quite spicy, and the oak feels a little crunchy around the circumference; dry and austere; needs a few years to come together. Try 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent (potential). About $65.
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Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. From Huneeus Vintners, the makers of Quintessa. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 3% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. Dark but radiant ruby-purple; pure bitter chocolate, mocha, lavender and graphite sifted with fervent, close to vehement notes of black currants, raspberries and plums; dense, chewy, almost powdery texture, grainy tannins plow furrows and acid cuts a swath, adding to a powerful structure, yet nothing here is overdone, and the ultimate impression is of innate poise, a sense of deliberation and dignity. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’24 — or tonight with a steak. Excellent. About $55.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 550 cases. Dark ruby color; very dry yet vibrant, resonant; you feel the new oak unfurling to a spine of warm spice; graphite, iodine and mint; scintillating purity and intensity of black fruit and vivid minerality; tremendous heft and bearing and imperturbability; cloves, white pepper, leather; incredibly dense and chewy with plush and dusty tannins; nothing of Bordeaux-like elegance here but asserts its own Californian character of immediate ripe fledgling appeal balanced with monumental dimension. Try from now or 2014 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $100.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 77% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; one of the most structured and concentrated Jordan Cabs I have tasted; nose of leather, walnut shell and wheatmeal notched with hints of cedar, tobacco and black olive, black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of violets and potpourri; dense and chewy but sleek, lithe, supple, a little chiseled in its clean, faceted fashion; plenty of dusty, charcoal-laced tannins but while the finish is spare and reticent, it’s not austere. Begs for a medium rare ribeye steak or, no, even better, rack of lamb. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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The Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fewer than 125 cases. Dark ruby color, opaque center; a high wild note of black cherry and blueberry draws you in, and you stay for the mint and iodine, the penetrating granitic, slate-like minerality, the intimate hints of black licorice and violets, black currants and raspberries and intriguing touch of blueberry preserves; all presented in a remarkably spare, dusty, elegant yet statuesque structure that does not overemphasize any element; a highly individual and thoughtful interpretation of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.
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Lawer Family Wines Three Coins Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 89 cases. Dark ruby color; leather and violets, black licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, black currants and blueberries, very ripe and spicy, touch of fruitcake, really tending toward an over-ripe zinfandel character; sweet alcohol dominates; very dry, dense and chewy, increasingly austere and awkward from mid-palate back through the finish; increasingly unbalanced by the alcohol, strident spice and over-sweet ripeness; ultimately incoherent. Not recommended. About $42.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; a darkly fruity spicy cabernet, dense, chewy, dusty; typical ripe and slightly fleshy black currant and raspberry fruit; good acidity and fairly stalwart but functional tannins; solid, well-made, unexciting. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good. About $18.
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Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color, almost opaque; graphite-and-shale-like mineral qualities dominate but lovely, pinpoint balance from start to finish; furled yet vigorous black currant, cherry and plum scents and flavors slathered with lavender and licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-flecked tannins increase in scale as the moments pass, leading to a dense, vibrant finish; a polished, sleek and personality-packed cabernet. Try from 2014 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $28.
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Peñalolén Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and merlot. Deep, rich ruby color; very dark and evocative cabernet, tobacco, cedar, black olive; dark chocolate-covered black currants and raspberries, touch of plum; dense and dusty graphite-tinged tannins; rustic, exuberant, spicy, an engaging personality. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $19.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Blend N/A. Dark ruby color; fleshy, beefy, beetroot and graphite, mint and iodine, cedar, smoky black currants and plums; firm velvety tannins that coat the mouth, dense, dusty and chewy; bright ripe black fruit flavors; loads of personality. Fire up the grill and throw on some beef, lamb, pork and goat, as they do in Argentina. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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