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DAOU Bell Tower
DAOU Bell Tower, with bell made in 1740, has breathtaking views of DAOU Mountain. Courtesy photo
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Top 10 tastes in the first half of 2020

Back in the first week of January of this catastrophic year, I signaled that “2020 would be the year of the visionaries” with a major publication choosing “52 places to go this year.” One of them was NOT “shelter at home” and no one could have imagined what was ahead. So much for visionaries.

Rico and I have 10 fantastic wines we want to share with you in our Ten Best Wines, lined up on Taste of Wine and Food’s top shelf, each one selected for superior bouquet, flavor, body and value. And let’s not forget that “wow” factor that makes you want to shout, “One more time!”

My picks include two Cabs and a Petite Sirah from Napa Valley, a Malbec from Mendoza and a legendary original “Super Tuscan” from Italy.

Let’s get to them!

Antinori Tignanello, Tuscany Italy, 2016. $134.99. A product of disgruntled winemakers in the 1970s led by the brilliant Piero Antinori. They revolted against Italian government authorities who demanded purity in the Sangiovese-made Chianti Classico, with aging not less than four years in barrel. Antinori and others produced “Super Tuscans,” blends of Sangiovese with Italian Cabernet and Cab Franc, with two years aging. It was a revolution in high-end winemaking. (

Fifty Row Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, 2017. $65. Petite Sirah is basically Syrah, but with smaller grapes that deliver a high-octane concentration of flavor. It was created in France. Winemaker Paul Johnson presents a dense, massive, rich and rustic wine.

Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2017. $40. Flora Springs should need no introduction. It won the “Best Hidden Gem” winery in Napa Valley. Located in St. Helena, a visit reveals hillside caves, a historic tasting room and the region’s premier natural hot springs. Flora Springs has vineyards in Rutherford, St. Helena and Oakville. Bold aromas of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry are sustainably farmed.

Piero Antinori
Italy’s mastermind of “Super Tuscan” Tignanello wines in the 70s is Piero Antinori, shown just outside his hometown of Florence. Courtesy photo

Goldschmidt Vineyards Yoeman Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 2016. $75. This is a Sonoma Cab at its best, made in the most acclaimed harvest year in a long while, 2016. Flavor development comes from east-facing morning sun. Barrel aging was 30 months for this 100% Cab. Goldschmidt is a world-class winemaker, supervising some 16 vineyards over three continents.

Septima Malbec, Mendoza Argentina, 2018. $14. Septima is located at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Mendoza’s climate allows Septima to blossom into a lush, spicy, velvety wine. It’s easy to love with its soft, lush tannins. It’s hot here, but its altitude with vines at 3,300 feet above sea level captures more acidity. Check out Septima’s long and persistent finish.

Rico’s Picks
Taking the handoff from Frank, my five picks include a Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon blend, a Paso Robles Cab Franc blend, a Shiraz from down under and two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. All but one of these we had at wine dinners, which are great opportunities to take in several courses of top -helf food and wine pairings. Giddy up!

Nicolas Catena Zapata, Mendoza Argentina, 2016. $99. Like Septima, Zapata wines benefit from Andes Mountains altitude as high as 4,757 feet. This Cabernet Sauvignon (61%) dominant blend with Malbec (31%) and a splash of Cabernet Franc (8%) has intense aromas with soft gentle flavors and tannins. The Catena Zapata brand uses plant by plant selection from the best estate vineyards lots with 210 micro vinifications for perfect blends.

DAOU Seventeen Forty, Paso Robles, 2017. $75. This is a Cabernet Franc (60%) and Merlot (40%) blend that is decadent and rich along with spices typically found in Cab Franc wines. However, winemaker Daniel Daou softens and perfects the tannins that can get hot with a Cab Franc. The varietal is named after the DAOU bell made in 1740 that sits prominently in the bell tower on the property with breathtaking views. It’s rung three times per year, at the start and end of harvest and on the anniversary of Daniel and Georges’ parents (Joseph and Marie).

Mollydooker, The Boxer, McLaren Vale, Australia, 2017. $30. This is a great value Shiraz from down under. The Boxer sports maraschino cherry, fresh plum and rich dark chocolate on the palate. Those with a bit more budget can also try their Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz ($55), one of my faves, that incorporates blueberry, caramel and vanilla bean with ink color.

Orin Swift Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2017. $130.  Dave Phinney, the originator of The Prisoner, is at the helm of Orin Swift, which he sold to E.&J. Gallo and for whom he became winemaker again after the sale. He is a true wine innovator and visionary. Mercury Head is one of those top-shelf wines that one savors. One experiences a nose of raspberry, black currant and spices with a lingering deep and layered palate of berry, raspberry and a finish of baking chocolate. Put one in a cellar and open on a special event.

Stag’s Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2016. $75. Frank and I enjoyed this wine at a Morton’s The Steakhouse Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Dinner in March. This Napa Valley vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon won a blind wine tasting at the 1976 Judgment of Paris and recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. These chops carry into Artemis. Raspberry, boysenberry and chocolate aromas and plum, dried fruit and a hint of toasted oak perfectly complemented our Morton’s Filet Mignon.

Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]