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The Castello Banfi estate in Montalcino, Italy. It’s globally recognized as the quintessential leader of Italian style wines. Photo courtesy Castello Banfi
The Castello Banfi estate in Montalcino, Italy. It’s globally recognized as the quintessential leader of Italian style wines. Photo courtesy Castello Banfi
Taste of Wine

Top 10 Tastes: The first three months of 2015


This year my wine journey began like most, significant discoveries at venues both new and familiar.  There was the memorable meeting with Napa wine pioneer, now in his 90s, Mike Grgich; and a road show get-together with the wineries in the Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands wine country.

But dominating my time were the doctors and surgeons of Scripps Hospital, who reconstructed my left shoulder and arm, promising that I would again be able to hold a full glass of wine with that arm soon.

Thank heavens we have two arms and I haven’t missed much of my daily wine tasting.  One thing I did discover though, doctors enjoy their wine, lots of aged premium wine, perhaps that only they can afford. We’re still in recovery, so it will be awhile before resuming my wine travels.

Our top 10 wines feature many from the highest quality wineries known.  The wines chosen are not their most expensive, but are from their value brands, similar in taste and structure but much less in cost.  All 10 selections are equal in excellence and value.  The list is alphabetical and does not indicate any ranking.

• Castello Banfi Bel Nero Tuscany, Italy, 2011. $24.  A significant member of the royal wine family of Banfi, created in the Montalcino Hills of Tuscany. Mostly Sangiovese grape whose homeland is Tuscany, flavored with a cuvee of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Bel Nero is an intensely flavored cherry/plum palate-pleaser with hints of coffee and vanilla.  The rich, red wine then is barreled 14 months in French oak.

• Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, Contra Costa Calif., 2013. $17.

Mourvedre should be a wider produced grape varietal:  smooth, mild, very pleasant.  Origin is the Rhone Valley of France.  This Cline Mourvedre hangs on some of the oldest vines in California. A sublime expression of a lustrous grape from the south of France.

• Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany, 2013. $15.  Ungrafted vines averaging 60 years old in some of Germany’s best-rated vineyards.  Crop size is minimal for most intense flavor.  TheMosel River has steep south facing slopes for the perfect climate for Riesling.  The grapes ripen slowly with these cool conditions, while retaining bright acidity.

• Ferrari-Carano Siena, Sonoma County, 2012. $24.  Siena is one of those mid-range wines at a great price, that is produced by a winery whose premium wines are respected around the globe.  This one is strawberry jam, plum and blackberry, from a blend of mostly Tuscan Sangiovese, with small amounts of Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Goes perfectly with Italian cuisine, pork & lamb.

• Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2011. $35.  Mike Grgich knows Zin, almost as much as he knows Chardonnay.  As a kid, he was in the Croatian vineyards, growing their version of Zin.  This varietal is grown at Mike’s residence in Calistoga.  Everything is farmed naturally without artificial pesticides.  A concerted effort is being made to keep the alcohol content down.  This Zin is made with 14.5 percent alcohol.

• Holman Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Carmel Valley Monterey Calif., 2011.  $25.  Holman Ranch is gaining critical acclaim. It is completely underground in The Caves.  All storage is underground, assuring a constant temperature of 57 to 60 degrees for the 100 French oak barrels.  Holman Ranch is all about distinctive wines from handpicked estate grown grapes.

• J Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma, 2013. $28.  This chardonnay scraps the modern notions of Grape. Expert blending skills and a reflection of the land promise vibrant fruit flavors of ripe pear, kiwi and peaches, with bright acidity.

• Ponzi Pinot Noir Tavola, Willamette Valley Oregon, 2012.  $19.  Last month’s wine of the month with aromas of ripe plum, tobacco, and cayenne. Cherry and raspberry at the core, the flavors float easily into the long, expressive finish.  2012 was a welcome sight with its dry summer and cool nights.

• Sojourn Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, Sonoma, 2012.  $48.  From the Wohler vineyard.  Another pinot from the 2012 bonanza year for west coast wines.  Classic cherry cola and earthy flavors show great depth and a lingering finish.

• Vaza Crianza Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain, 2011.  $15.  Rich, natural red grape flavor.  Carefully aged in American and French oak barrels for 12 months.  Deep intense color.  Persistent notes of black licorice and vanilla.

Wine Bytes

Winesellar & Brasserie in San Diego has an Easter eve dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m. April 4  $50 for a dinner and special wine offerings.  Details at (858) 450-9557.

The Charthouse, an ocean-view restaurant in Cardiff has a nice bar and lounge special for Wednesday nights.  It’s a new charcuterie meat and cheese plate easily shared, with your choice of a bottle of Pinot Noir or a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for $40.  Special is only for Wednesdays in the bar.  Details at (760) 436-4044.

The Westgate Hotel, downtown San Diego invites you south of the border for a foodie and wine feast, April 10.  Tickets are $129 and include a six-course wine pairing dinner with premium wines from the Guadalupe Valley, Calif. (619) 238-1818.

Marina Kitchen restaurant has invited 20 Sta. Rita Hills wineries for a culinary and wine adventure, April 11 and April 2. Grand premium tickets for both days $275; other single day tickets available.  See for details.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Facebook.