Top 10 tastes for the first half of 2010

My approach to wine is always enjoy the best … one sip at a time.
This year to date has been fascinating in the sense that wineries up and down the price spectrum have made themselves accessible to the consumer.  Wines that have been resting on their past laurels can no longer count on the past to keep themselves on top.  Leaner, quality operations want their share of the market so they outreach every opportunity they get.
My coverage of wine events sharply increased the last six months, in step with a sharp increase in the excellent end of the tasting scale. In a recent column, I concluded that wines that sell for more do so because their wines truly taste like premium wines. You do get what you pay for, and sales in the higher end of the wine world are beginning to get their customer base back.
I rate wines on a one to five “bad to excellent” scale. Best price to value and availability are favored. The Top 10 Tastes are listed alphabetically. I rated all 10 an excellent. Prices are suggested retail based on prices I have paid or website cart prices.
— Catena Bodega Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina, 2006. Cost is $18.99. A high-altitude European style wine from the superior Mendoza District. One-hundred-year-old vineyards define Argentinian wines. Visit www.catenawines.com for more information.
— Erath Prince Hill Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2006. Cost is $45. Low production, 2,000-case single vineyard wine in the Dundee region. Ideal flavor and tannin development for this vintage. Fourteen months in French Oak. Visit www.erath.com for more information.
— Grgich Hills Estate Merlot, Napa Valley, 2006. Cost is $42. A complex, beautifully crafted Merlot from 4 Grgich Napa Valley vineyards. Biodynamic growing using the earth’s cycles gives this wine a balanced elegant character. Visit www.grgich. com for more information.
— Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Mendocino, 2007. Cost is $55. Part of the Duckhorn group, Goldeneye, in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, makes quality, cool-climate Pinot Noir. Winemaker Zach Rasmusson is very selective in choosing his crop for the small-lot production in each Pinot bottle. You have to be gentle with this grape.  www.duckhorn.com.
— Hess Collection Allomi Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2007. Cost is $28. A special Mt. Veeder Napa Valley high-altitude setting is the foundation for this grand home of a renowned family of wines. Hess presents a superior Allomi single Vineyard Cabernet with a regal berry-cherry taste, and grown for its warmer climate on 200 acres in a remote side of Howell Mountain. Visit www.hesscollection.com for more information.
— Louis Latour Grand Cru Burgundy Beaunne France, 2005. Cost is $40. Burgundian wines fathered the popular Pinot Noirs of the West Coast. Mellow cherry with a smoky licorice taste. Balanced tannins at the open. 2005 was a legendary harvest for France. Visit www.louislatour.com for more information.
— O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mt Napa Valley, 2006. Cost is $75. Mountainside vineyard patterned for great Cabernet. Wines in harmony with the environment.
 — Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel, Dry Creek Sonoma, 2008. Cost is $15. A champion value wine, familiar to “Taste of Wine” readers. The 2008 has a 5 percent touch of Petite Sirah to add to the old vine Zin. Handpicked with ultimate timing for maximum balance and acidity. Barrel aged 12 months. Jammy California style flavor.  www.pedroncelli.com.
— Tamber Bey Estate Deaux Chevaux Vineyard Rabicano Blend, Napa Valley, 2007. Cost is $110. Elegant core of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with Petit Verdot and Cab Franc accents. Deep, rich, black fruit with an endless finish. Winery name derived from Arabian stallions raised on-site. Visit www.tamberbey.com for more information.
— Zaca Mesa Estate Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, 2006. Cost is $23. Sixteen months aged in Oak adding to perfect expression of this Santa Barbara County terrior.  2006 should provide momentum to the triple in sales over the previous year. Visit www.zacamesa.com for more information.
Wine Bytes
— Temecula Valley has its 27th annual Balloon and Wine Festival from June 4 through June 6.  More than 50 hot air balloons ascend at sunrise  each day. Top music stars play Saturday night at Lake Skinner. Wine and food pairings over the weekend.  Full details at temeculacvb.com or call (951) 491-6085.
— San Diego’s Balboa Park Spanish Village is the setting for the third annual Cheese, Chocolate and Wine Festival from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 4. The event benefits Women’s History Museum. Dancing to Sue Palmer’s Band. Cost is $25. Call (619) 955-8884 for more information.
— Tesoro Winery Barrel Room Tasting Event happens from 4 to 6 p.m. June 5.  Four cheeses compliment the blind tasting conducted by a known sommelier. Cost is $35 per person at the winery. Call (951) 308-0000 for details.
— 3rd Corner Encinitas presents a Nicket & Nickel/Far Niente wine dinner at 6 p.m. June 18. Cost is $79. For menu and wines, call (760) 942-2147.
— PAON Restaurant, downtown Carlsbad, “Best New Restaurant” from San Diego Magazine, hosts a L’Aventure wine dinner on June 8. Stephan Asseo, L’Avenure’s owner, will talk about this premiere Paso Robles Winery and its award-winning blends.  For menu and pricing, call PAON at (760) 729-7377.

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