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Ten tasty wine picks to enjoy the first half of ’22

Wine picks: Rico and I scrambled to keep up with the rush of new wines and wine events that sprang to life in the last six months. It was music to our ears to hear the give and take from wine lovers who packed the restaurants and wineries, sipping fine wine with bold culinary menus.

My five wine picks came from California’s central and north coast: syrah, pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Booker Fracture Syrah, Paso Robles, 2019. $98: The wine produces a rich, velvety mouthfeel on the palate, at once intense yet smooth with traces of sweet beets, dark plums and chocolate. Pair it best with slow-braised meat dishes. Booker Syrah is 100% estate fruit and a true reflection of the calcareous shale hillsides from their Westside Paso Robles vineyard.

Chamisal Pinot Noir, Edna Valley San Luis Obispo, 2017. $45:  This pinot meets every checklist for a classic wine of character, with its cool climate, soil composition and what’s known as signature “Chamisal Spice.” This first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley has long produced wines of great character and expression.

Grgich Hills Zinfandel, Rutherford Napa Valley, 2016. $38: Zinfandel pioneer Mike Grgich has long been the source of lifetime achievements since he outscored the best French Chardonnays in the 1976 Paris Tasting. Grich’s zinfandels, grown on his 30-acre personal property, has classic notes of strawberries, raspberries, black pepper and spiced plums. Grgich’s roots are from Croatia, proven to be the source for zinfandel.

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2019.  $26: Climate and soil are the riches that make Justin wines great. This entry-level Justin cab could be the highest level varietal in other wineries, but at Justin, it’s the highest level value of their group. The secret here is that Justin employs artisanal techniques typically reserved for its most revered labels like hand harvesting, sorting and small barrel aging. At this price point, this Justin is the “best bang for the buck.”

Mike Grgich, Napa Valley wine pioneer. Photo by Frank Mangio
Mike Grgich, Napa Valley wine pioneer. Photo by Frank Mangio

Daou Family Estates Sequentis Merlot, Paso Robles, 2019. $52: This New Generation Reserve Merlot from winemaker Daniel Daou creates a new direction for this venerable and up-to-now misdirected varietal. Daou has produced a bold and assertive Merlot with focused flavors of plum and cherry that conclude with firm tannins that drive a clean finish of exceptional length. The 50% new French oak promises outstanding age-worthiness.

Rico’s Top 5 Picks

Great list of wines, Frank!  As usual, it was a tough call picking out five from the great ones that we enjoyed many times together over the first half of 2022. My picks are four Napa Valley wines, one white and three reds, and an Amarone from Valpolicella. However, I have two Paso Robles wines earmarked for the end-of-year grand list based on our recent central coast travels.

Acre Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2017. $60: I am leading off with a Cab Sauv from Acre’s top portfolio tier.  All wines in the Acre Tier are single varietals. One Acre and Old Lodge are the other two tiers.  The 2017 comes from Yountville, specifically from an organically farmed, choice block of Mill Race Vineyard. I loved the reddish-brown brick color with black fruit and plum on the nose followed by black cherry, blueberry and spice on the palate with a nice long-lasting, smooth finish. Perfect with meat.

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2020. $50: Our soul white wine comes from Beringer’s Private Reserve Collection. The brand was initially created in 1977 to make Napa Valley’s finest Cab Sauv and was expanded in 1978 for chardonnay. This James Suckling 93pt awardee has floral notes of jasmine and pineapple. The pineapple extends to the palate along with peach and nectarine with a creamy texture.

Campagnola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto Italia, 2017. $22: The Corvina/Corvinone Veronese (75%) and Rondinella (25%) fruit is picked in September and dried like raisins for about 100 days losing about 35% of its weight.  The semi-dried fruit is soft pressed in the Jan/Feb timeframe for a 30-day maceration. Then, 60% is aged in casks and 40% in new French oak for 18 months, followed by six months in the bottle. The result is deep ruby color with intense cherry, plum, and vanilla aromas flowing into the full-bodied palate. This wine pairs well with any rich marinara sauce dish!

Howell Mountain Vineyards, Reserve Cab Sauv, Napa County, 2017. $100: At 1800 feet elevation on volcanic soil, Howell Mountain Vineyards is home to some of the oldest Zin and Cab Sauv vines in the Howell Mountain AVA started in the 1870s. Current owner Mike Beatty purchased the property in 1977 after two years of drought, leaving others doubting the vineyard’s potential. The 2017 vintage had smaller berries, intense color, blackberry and cherry on the palate with an earthy finish and firm tannins. This special 92pt Wine Enthusiast awardee will be in its prime in 5+ years.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2020. $82: As always, one of Napa Valley’s influential winemakers, Chuck Wagner, hit another home run with 2020, as he has done so since 1972. While the exact percentages are never published, 2020 is farmed from eight of Napa’s 16 sub-appellations providing a diverse makeup and possibly one of his best to date. Any Caymus enophile will recognize the dark color with ripe fruit, cocoa and a hint of cassis on the nose and palate.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web. Reach them at [email protected].