Quality plus value--The way to a wine drinker's glass

The Editor's Vineyard

Truly the American wine consumer is well served these days. We are continually amazed at the number of quality wines that are currently priced in the $10 range. From the Central Coast Echelon has released a 2002 Pinot Noir and a 2002 Central Coast Chardonnay, both in this price range. Winemaker Tom Westberg used grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands, a newly established wine region, for the pinot noir. Dark in color, complex in aromas and unmistakably pinot noir this wine is a bargain. This Writer in an earlier era would never have believed that California could produce such good pinot noir in such a low price range.

For the Echelon 2002 Chardonnay Westberg spread his wings some and gathered in grapes from Salinas, Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. We thought this bottling right for either cocktail time or with seafood dishes and salads. It offers clean refreshing flavors and with a hint of oak that delights on the palate.

Still in the $10 range is 2001 Rutherford Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Larry Rocha used grapes from Stanislaus County for this bottling. Wines in this price range offer many opportunities for the home chef, this writer included. We used part of a bottle of 2002 ForestVille Vineyard Merlot to prepare some lamb shanks from a recipe we got off the internet that called for marinating the shanks overnight in a red wine. The rest of the bottle we used with the braised and baked shanks the next evening. All most satisfying dish for an amateur chef and a wine that sells for $6.

Winemaker Ed Moody has won some awards with his wines including the 2001 Forest Glen Shiraz. Shiraz can be quite robust, sometimes almost overwhelming but we found this vintage mellow in both aroma and on the palate, yet with true varietal flavors.

We have never made a secret of our partiality for Zinfandel since it was the varietal of choice when my family was making wine during the dark years of Prohibition. So it is always something of a special event when we get to taste the new releases of Montevina Zins. Montevina is located in Amador County and Winemaker Jeff Meyers and assistant winemaker Chris Leamy have enjoyed dramatic success with their bottlings of this varietal. Perhaps the Sierra Foothills where the grapes are grown as well as access to older vineyards is what makes these Montevina Zins so special as well as the skill of the winemaker team.

Among the new Montevina Zins there is a wine for everyone. The Sierra Foothills 200l Zin has been designed for those who prefer a softer wine with lots of fruit flavors and gentle on the palate. The winemakers call it a 'kinder, gentler zin' and we agree. And at $11 a bottle a nice way to be introduced to this varietal that California calls it own.

But we next reached for the 2001 Terra d'Oro Deaver Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine is from old vines some dating back over 100 years. If you enjoy a hearty full bodied wine that explodes with robust aroma and flavor this is the Zin for you as it was for us. The wine enjoyed 15 months of oak aging and if it is so good now what will a few more years of bottle aging produce. Well worth the $21 price tag.

Also thank Winemaker Meyers for introducing what must be a new varietal to California. It is Freisa another varietal from Piedmont in Italy's hill country. We couldn't wait to taste this wine which was new to us. The grapes are from an estate vineyard next to the Montevina winery in Amador's Shenandoah Valley. We found it an exciting wine intense in color and very bold with very robust flavors. Unusual, exciting and the only bad part is that there is not very much of it available and so is sold only at the winery.

Barbera is an Italian immigrant from the Piedmont region that does particularly well in California but in recent years has been ignored by many winemakers. Not so at Montevina which has been producing this varietal from Sierra Foothill vineyards for several decades. Winemaker Jeff Meyers says that this grape can often be troublesome for the vintner but not so with the 200l Montevina Amador County Barbera. This is a delightful bottling for those who want to move on to something different. Low in tannins, soft on the palate it will go with almost any food but you might just want to show it off to friends with cheese and crackers. At $11 a bottle a lot of enjoyment for the money.

Another winery producing good varietals priced most reasonably is Canyon Road of Geyserville. The Canyon Road 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon shows surprising complexity with mellow tannins and a soft palate

In California the Shiraz grape seems to like the Delta region terrior which is where the grapes for Canyon Road 2001 Shiraz originated. The wine shows true Shiraz character with distinct flavors and a satisfying long finish. This varietal and this bottling in particular will go best with hearty foods.

For those who enjoy a chardonnay with much fruit and almost no oak the Canyon Road 2002 Chardonnay is a good buy. With all the true varietal flavors of this varietal present it is very right as a cocktail wine and keep it in mind for picnics as well. All three of the Canyon Road new releases are priced at $10. right terrior for chardonnay and pinot noir. Acacia is ideally located in Carneros for using grapes from local vineyards for its Chardonnay bottlings. The varietal seems to show extra intensity in both aroma and flavors from this appellation. Michael Terrien, winemaker for Acacia, shows all of these favorable attributes in his Acacia 2002 chardonnay bottling.

Equally friendly for pinot noir the Carneros appellation produces that mix of fruit and earthy flavors so desired in this varietal. The Acacia 2002 Pinot Noir is 100 per cent of the varietal and enjoyed nine months of French and Hungarian oak aging. Both the chardonnay and the pinot noir are quality vintages most reasonably priced at $20, especially coming from such a prestigious Napa Valley region.

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Last Update:3/10/04

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