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Paul Hobbs is highly regarded for his exemplary, minimally-invasive winemaking techniques. He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 and Vina Cobos in 1999. Courtesy photo/ Mitch Tobias
ColumnsTaste of Wine

The Top 10 Wine Tastes for 2018

It’s been quite a year covering the wine world in 2018. Foremost in our celebratory tone this year for the column is the leap from fine wine to fine wine and fine food, with the appointment of Rico Cassoni to lead the cross-over with his consulting skills. He’s a professor of technology at MiraCosta College in Carlsbad. He wasted no time in bringing our operation to world-class contemporary communication in social media.

Close to 3,000 wines were tasted with the resultant exciting list of Top 10 Tastes including five from Napa Valley, and one each from Sonoma, San Diego, Italy, Monterey and Paso Robles.

This seemed like the year of wine transparency. Doors were opened, top winemakers and owners came to town and websites told us more about wines than ever before. Wine lists on our favorite restaurants got more revealing, and even suggested pairings with your favorite menu items. Higher quality, farm to table and alternative diets were encouraged.  The 10 are not intended to rank wines. All are excellent wines with flavor, balance, top dollar value and that “wow” factor.

Castello Volpaia Chianti Classico Tuscany Italy, 2015, $35. If you read my last column you know that 2015 in Italy was heaven-sent, and Volpaia was the messenger with its Sangiovese vineyard in Radda, Tuscany. It’s a beautifully balanced red from the Mascheroni family with young winemakers Federica and Nicolo. This wine caused a big stir in Wine Spectator magazine, when it was awarded the No. 3 wine in the world with 96 points out of 100. It was aged in both Slavonian oak casks (80 percent) and French oak barriques (20 percent) for two years. More at

Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2014, $180. This wine is the “Grand Marshall” of the Wagner Family parade of fine wines in Napa Valley, with layers of flavor rolled into one big wine. Aromas of boysenberry, cherry, fig and spicy notes. Share the love with your friends on this one. It’s been named the No. 1 wine in the world by Wine Spectator, twice! See

The top value wine from Italy was the 2015 Castello Di Volpaia, a Chianti Classico from Tuscany. Courtesy photo

DAOU Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles 2016, $51. A repeat of our list of last year when the 2014 was reviewed, the Reserve is made with premium grapes at the top of DAOU Mountain in Paso Robles, where a fresh effort is being made to wrest the Cabernet crown from Napa Valley. This is a high-quality signature Bordeaux-style offering which speaks volumes about the beauty of the region’s wines.  Check it out at

Fritz Pinot Noir, Russian River Sonoma 2014, $20. This one caught my attention when I watched several Costco wine customers filling their carts with Fritz Pinots. Bursting with spicy fruit and complexity, Fritz is a prime example of great Pinot Russian River wines. This is a disciplined bottle with a flavor profile that is consistently premium Pinot Noir. Pairs beautifully with a wealth of food flavors.

Gianni California Charbono, San Diego 2015, $55. About 20 years ago, Keith Rolle had it with the cold and snow of Minnesota and came to San Diego to start the Gianni Buonomo wines of San Diego, sourcing grapes from Washington state. The Sierra Foothills of California provide grapes for a division called Gianni California and a favorite, Charbono 2015. This one was a surprise national gold medal winner. To historians, Charbono was a well-known French grape and a Napa Valley darling that fell out of favor. Rolle is restoring its grandeur with this classic from El Dorado County and made in his winery in the San Diego coastal community of Ocean Beach. Visit

Mer Soleil Reserve Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands Monterey 2016, $32. In reviewing this wine, I noticed immediately the strong flavor profile, named after “sea and sun.” It is well-balanced for its 14.9 percent alcohol content which is unusually high for a two-year-old Pinot Noir. Those hot sunny summers blended with cool Pacific winds place the hillside vineyard in preciously ideal conditions for producing memorable Pinot.  Charlie Wagner is the winemaker. More at

V. Sattui Paradiso Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley 2014, $90. Bold and vibrant like its owner, Dario Sattui, the 2014 Paradiso is a blend of 63 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 percent Merlot, 6 percent Malbec, 4 percent Cab Franc and 3 percent Petite Verdot. The creation is dark, ruby red and inky. Aromas abound of cassis, black cherry and hints of violets.  The oak is well-integrated, providing a bouquet of cocoa, black licorice and tobacco notes. The polished tannins guarantee a long finish. Winemaker Brooks Painter prepared this magnificent wine with 19 months in 80 percent new French Oak and 20 percent seasoned oak. Details at

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2014, $120. Depth and complexity come from diverse Napa Valley vineyards, including Hobb’s Nathan Coombs Estate.  This highly rated Cab is accented with subtle quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, aged for 21 months in 61 percent new French Oak, creating a deep crimson color with red currant, boysenberry and cedar box on the nose. The finish is long with flavors of cassis, blueberries and sage with soft, velvety tannins. Visit

Rombauer Merlot Napa Valley 2015, $35. A big Merlot brimming with accented flavors of plum, blueberry and fig. This Merlot, unlike others, has a long cellaring potential for even more depth and structure. An added surprise is the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot to the Merlot for color and complexity. Barreled for 17 months in French Oak barrels. The grapes come from the Napa side of Carneros, where the soils are similar to Bordeaux’s Right Bank, home of the original Merlot grape of France. As they phrase it at Rombauer, “Merlot is no longer on life support.” Recently the 2015 sold out. See more at

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007, $155. On Feb. 2, 2019, Silver Oak winery in Napa Valley will unveil their new release 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like always, it will attract a huge audience and world-renowned celebrities from all over. I would suppose it was that way with their 2007 vintage as well. This blackish ruby red Cab is Silver Oak’s library wine, available now, with its complex nose of cassis, blueberries, violets, cedar and dark chocolate. It has a vibrant nose, full mid-palate and extremely long finish. Tannins are just now starting to soften. With proper cellaring it could continue to flourish to 2034. “Life is a Cabernet,” … has been for 40 years at Silver Oak. Visit at

Wine Bytes

  • Castello Banfi from Tuscany opens its wine dinner dates in North County with wine dinners at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 and Jan. 11. On the 10th, Banfi is at Seasalt Seafood Bistro in Del Mar for a six-course dinner by Chef Hilario with five Banfi wines. Cost is $75 per person. Call (858) 755-7100.
  • Banfi brings its wines to Vigilucci’s Seafood and Steakhouse in Carlsbad by the Sea Jan. 11 for a fine dining and wine experience. Call for details at (760) 434-2580.
  • Duckhorn Vineyards of Napa Valley brings a Taste of the Winery to The Barrel Room in Rancho Bernardo at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Four of the winery’s best-known wines will be served with a variety of cheeses and cured meats to pair. Cost is $35 each guest. Taste a Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Plnot Noir and Red Blend.
  • Contact for an RSVP at