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Burrell School Vineyards & Winery

If you take a 19th century schoolhouse and convert the property to a winery and tasting room, you have to stick with the theme, and Burrell School does just that. Their slogan "I promise to sip my wine," is written in many dozens (hundreds?) of different languages on their chalkboards, and they name many of their wines to coincide with the school theme. It is also a great place to get a good education on a wide variety of wines, and the people are patient and friendly enough to help you along. The winemaker and owner, David Moulton, is almost always around pouring or putting together customer orders, and after about 35 years since he and his wife first started developing the vineyard, he has a lot to tell about wines in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once you get past the pink hats, shirts, and handtruck, you'll enjoy his company.

Burrell School wines are priced from $30 to $58 with most closer to the bottom of that range. They also have special "Alumni" tastings and sell library wines a decade or more aged for $35-$60.

"Honor Roll", Estate Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2006 ($30.00). Quite fresh and fruity for a Merlot. It is not a heavy one and might be confused with a very tasty Mourvedre.

"Principal's Choice", Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2006 ($44.00). The Santa Cruz Mountains provide an excellent climate for growing this gentle grape. This Pinot Noir is bright and nice with a ripe cherry-berry fruit taste.  

"Detention", Zinfandel, Ryan Oaks Vineyard, 2006 ($34.00). Still fruity, but with a clomplex depth. This Zin has a little pepper and spice. It's a food lover.

"High School Sweethearts", Zin-Syrah Blend, 2005 ($32.00). This blend takes the edge off the Zin to make a nice evening sipper, or as Mac (the wife again) says, it will go great with a heavy red sauce pasta.

"Class Reunion", 2005 ($44.00). This is a Zinfandel, Mataro, and Carignane Blend . It is very nice with big fruit and great mouthfeel. It has some spice and is almost tangy but has not bite.

"Schoolyard", Petite Sirah, 2005 ($39.00). Find a prime rib. This is a moderately fruity, not heavy Petite Sirah with good berry flavors and an underlying complexity including some blackberry.

"Chaperone", Late Harvest Chardonnay, 2007. He was only selling this in combination with their "Wine Chicks" Pinot Noir Rose, so I didn't get the price, but I knew I had to buy it. My notes say "Apricot Goddess, not syrupy but nicely sweet." Somewhere around $20 for a split.

"Wine Chicks", Pinot Noir Rose, 2006 ($16.00). Fresh and pretty dry for a dessert style wine. It has a little tang on the tip of the tongue that almost seems like effervescence but isn't fizzy. I get a little citrus/strawberry and a lot of just darned pleasant.

"Probation", Late Harvest Zinfandel, 2006 ($30.00). I kept waiting to find some syrupy flavor (which I don't like) because this is sweet and smooth but not over the top. Tasting it back to back with the port really showed the sugars here.

"Detention" Zinfandel Port, 2006 ($30.00). Getting its alcohol fortifide with brandy gives this a dryer and stronger flavor. I'd call it much more a tawny than a ruby, and all yummy.

MAY WINE CLUB PICKUP TASTING, MAY, 2009....

"Teacher's Pet", Estate Chardonnay, 2006 ($30.00) Burrell School's Chardonnays never lack character and this one stays true to type. I got a vanilla melon nose. The fruit is buttery smooth with a flavor of grapefruit and melon. You won't be disappointed.

"Principal's Choice", Estate Pinot Noir, 2005 ($44.00).  Why did they have to have that stupid movie "Sideways".  I actually enjoyed the movie, but I can't stand what it did to the popularity and price of Pinot Noir. This Pinot Noir is right on target as a classic of the varietal. It has moderate fruit, a lot of complexity for a Pinot Noir, is still young enough to be bright and has a wonderfully long finish.

"Old School" Cabernet Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 ($30.00). With a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this Cabernet Sauvignon has nice berry flavor and good structure with moderate tannins and fruit that is full but not overbearing. This one can be enjoyed now or put down for another couple of years to smooth even more into a prize.

"Honor Roll" Estate Merlot, 2005 ($30.00).  Okay, so the movie "Sideways" turned us all away from Merlot.  Take a taste of this one and see if you might want to turn back again. It is a big, dark, rich, gorgeous dark ruby Merlot that is young and already showing itself to be one that will make you want to eat grilled pork more often.

"Detention" Ryan Oaks Zinfandel, 2005 ($30.00). Dry, spicy, fruity, punchy...I have a lot of descriptors on this Zinfandel. It is just on the mid-heavyweight side and is amazingly full for its basically dry character. It has a nice dry finish that lingers.

NOTE: At this point, I moved by the homemade salsa that Dave was putting out, and although it didn't seem too hot, it snuck up on me a few minutes later, so you might want to add about 25% of whatever I say to the following wines because I sort of fried my face.

"Extra Credit" Estate Cabernet Franc, 2005 ($44.00).  This Cabernet Franc is a  pleasure to taste any time. It has a pepper-spicy nose but is very smooth with pronounced fruit.

"Dean's List" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 ($44.00) Almost too smooth to be a Cabernet Sauvignon, especially one so young. It is not too dry and has a nice lighter tasty fruit to it.

"Spring Break" Estate Syrah, 2005 ($30.00) A nice rich Syrah that is also wonderfully smooth and ready to drink any time.

"Valedictorian-The Head of the Class" Red Blend, 2005 ($58.00). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Even after the hot sauce, I found it to have a nice raspberry/cherry taste. It is fresh and complex with a deep rich flavor. You can enjoy it now or put it down (very carefully) and enjoy it later.

"Class Reunion" Zinfandel, Mataro (Mourvedre to me), and Carignane, 2007 ($33.00). Is there such a thing as a musky strawberry? It has a lighter color, a medium-light weight, and spicy fruit with nice berries on the palate.

"Dean's List" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 ($33.00). About 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Merlot and a little less Cabernet Franc for balance, this is a very well structured wine with a moderate to big berry flavors and light tannins. I got a little pepper on the nose (hope it wasn't the salsa still). It spent two years in French oak for the structure and spice.

"Old School" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 ($22.50) This one starts with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% of the Cabernet Franc I love so much. It spent a year in American oak and has a bright cherry flavor with a finish that I describe as slightly smoky with light tannins. For a 2007, it's already come a long way.

Burrell School Vineyards & Winery is located at 24060 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA 95033, Phone 408-353-6290. www.burrellschool.com

 

 Clos LaChance Winery

This is a beautiful facility and I don't know why I don't get down here more often, as it is only about 25 minutes south of San Jose and has a lot to offer. Bill and Brenda Murphy planted their first grapes in 1987 and had their first wines for sale from the 1992 vintage. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill very early on when he hosted a wine tasting for the Holy Name Society at St. Christopher. Mac (the wife) has still never been here and was unable to join me in a special tasting of wines from the vineyard of a guy I have a ton of respect for, Ted Biagini. Ted is one of those rare gentlemen who is friendly, intelligent, and indefatigable. He is always a pleasure to see and talk with. When he invited me, I had to go, and I'm glad I did.

Chardonnay, Biagini Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2007 ($35.00). Bottom line; one of the best chardonnays I've ever had. It is big and rich with a wonderful caramel/butterscotch taste. If you like a nice big buttery chardonnay, this one takes it a step further. It spent 13 months in 40% new French oak barrels after primary and malolactic fermentation. It is unfined, unfiltered, and superb.

Pinot Noir, Biagini Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2006 ($50.00). This Pinot Noir has a big cherry nose and I was surprised to find it to be pretty dry. It has good fruit and is fairly rich with a full, long and dry finish. I wrote down on my notes that it will benefit from 3-5 years in the bottle, and when I just checked the website, they say it's fine for 10 years. I wouldn't argue; it's big.

Pinot Noir, Nancy's Block, Biagini Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2007 ($50.00). Compared with the 2006 Pinot Noir supra, I get more raspberry. While still pretty fruity, it is a little lighter but still a very solid Pinot Noir. The tip of the tongue taste is really marvelous and then settles in to its youth and finishes a little earlier than I think it will in three years or so that I'll keep it before drinking.

Clos LaChance is located at 1 Hummingbird Lane, San Martin, CA 95046. (408) 686-1050 or (800) ITS-WINE. www.closlachance.com.

 

Eckert Estate Winery

Eckert Estate Winery is another one that markets wines that are ready to drink now and don't need to be cellared until you're too old to remember why you bought them. Our host was Michael, the winemaker, who apologized for not having more varietals to taste and sell.  We've had some wonderful wines here before that he will have again, but the cupboard now is currently sparcely, yet still very nicely stocked. We've had such unique wines as Portuguese Verdelho here before and look forward to having it there again soon. There are still five very nice wines on the list plus one that they just put together after a members' event. Prices range from $8-$27.50 with all but one under $20.

Viognier, Ripkin Vineyard, Lodi, 2007 ($16.50). Melon and citrus flavors abound in a mellow cacophony of flavors. (oops, almost snobbish but true). It has very nice spice with a little sweetness on the tip of the tongue but semi-dry to the finish.

Mistura della Campagna 2004 ($18.00-Sale at $13.50). The name means "Countryside Blend", an Italian field blend of Dolcetta, Barbera, Sangiovese, Refosco, Aglianico, Schioppettino, Montepulciano, Corvina, and Fresia. Because it is a true field blend, the grapes are mixed in the field. Even if you counted vines, some varietals and some particular vines yield more or less than others, so percentages of each varietal is indeterminable; thus a field blend. It has a big nose, nice fruit up front, and is very complex. Michael, our host and the winemaker said it is the Schioppettino that dominates the taste, but I don't have a clue which is which. Schioppettino is an Italian red that was almost wiped out in Italy by phylloxera. It is a deep dark red with violet, raspberry and pepper flavors.  That's all here and more.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore, 2001 ($18.00). Smooth and elegant describes this one well. It is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Malbec. It has nice classic Cabernet Sauvignon fruit and is ready to drink any time .

Petite Sirah, Lodi, 2000 ($27.50). There isn't enough of this left in the world. It is the second release and in 2002 won Gold Medal and Best of Region awards the State Fair. This is the last 20 cases. It is darned near inky with a moderate to heavy weight and quite a chewy mouthfeel. Rich cherry flavors will ensure that our favorite Petite Sirah lover will smile. We'll join her.

Dessert Sangiovese, 2003 ($15.00 split). It spent five years in a barrel with a breathing bung to turn into a very nice wine similar to a tawny port. It is Sangiovese with a little late harvest Viognier to sweeten it and just a touch of brandy. The nutty taste is worth every nickel.

Bottle Your Own "Malbernet", 2002 ($8.00) Big spicy nose with bright fruit forward and more than a little spice. It is fun and will be great with a steak. This was the leftover 15 cases that got bottled up after a members' Bottle Your Own event, and it is really nice.  Almost eclectic computer printed labeling makes it look even more special. My notes say, "Buy at $8 and lie to your friends."  It has enough character to pass for a much more expensive wine.

Eckert Estate Winery is located at 2400 Arroyo Road, Livermore, CA 94550 925-371-8606. www.eckertestate.com

 

Elliston Vineyards

We have always found that we can look to Elliston for wines that are well crafted and ready to drink now. I don't know how they can produce, bottle, hold, and sell wines so well aged at this price point, but they do. Elliston is in a beautiful old (1890) building with a very nice tasting room and grounds. They host a good number of weddings and other special events. We were hosted by the proprietess, Donna, who was friendly and knowledgeable. Wines range from $12-$22.

Chardonnay, 2002 ($16.00). A nice taste of apple, but not tart; more of Red Delicious than a Macintosh. It strikes a nice balance between smooth and bright with a little butter and just a touch of grass.  

California Sparkling Wine, NV ($12.00). A California Champagne (Charmat Bulk Process) of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is nice and light with a little apple. It has a little more fruit than I'd expect from a Prosecco, but not as heavy as an Asti. It has just a touch of sweetness but is still semi-dry.  All that being difficult to quantify, it is very pleasant and we liked it a lot.

Cabernet Franc, 1999 ($22.00). I had to underline the word "structure" in their description because the fruit/tannin balance is beautifully crafted. It has a nice cherry flavor with just a little tannin. It's already settled in and is ready to drink now, which as a 1999 it should be. It is hard to find an excellent Cabernet Franc at this price.

Captain's Claret, 1999 ($22.00). One of our perennial favorites, this is a blend of 70% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. Still pleasant after all these years.  This wine has a very nicely balanced structure with moderate fruit. I find it to be similar to a Beaujolais style, but I'm a hack.

Elliston Vineyards is located at 463 Kilkare Road, Sunol, CA 94546, Phone 925-862-2377. www.elliston.com

 

J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines

This is obviously one of the supermega producers that puts out millions of cases, so I expected a real mainstream, rather generic tasting experience. I went with the committee planning Vintage Santa Clara, and found some really nice wines that they do in small lots that were very nice indeed. They have two labels on their list, Cypress, which ranges from $6 to $10, and J. Lohr, priced from $8.50-$40. Since I was only tasting a few, I stuck to the J. Lohr label.

Sauvignon Blanc, Carol's Vineyard, 2007 ($24.00). They only have 11 acres to deal with, and they produced a very nice grassy, crisp Sauvignon Blanc that has some nice fruit and a fairly full flavor.  

Riverstone Chardonnay, J. Lohre Estates, 2006 ($14.00). This is a fresh Chardonnay with a mild creamy taste from 60% malolactic fermentation. A very nice and pleasant Chardonnay with good quality for the price.

Wildflower Valdiguie, J. Lohr Estates, 2007 ($8.50). You could sneak this into a lot of parties and hide the price tag. It starts off with a very nice fruit taste, similar to a Gamay or Pinot Noir and progresses to an amazingly fruity and soft finish.

Los Osos Merlot, J. Lohr Estates, 2006 ($15.00). We've known about this one for years and just finished the last of our 2001. It is a big Merlot that has a very full flavor. This young one is still a little tight (secret wine-snob language for a little too much tannins hiding the fruit), but I'm sure it will follow its older sibling and smooth out nicely.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Hilltop Vineyard, 2005 ($35.00).  Very dry with good structure and balance. It has only moderate tannins, so it will be drinkable now but should still improve for a year or two.

Pinot Noir, Fog's Reach Vineyard, 2006 ($35.00). This is a very big Pinot Noir with a full richness and heavy structure. It is fairly dry but still lets the fruit through. I bought some.

J. Lohr is located at 1000 Lenzen Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, Phone 408-288-5057. www.jlohr.com

Little Valley Winery

This is another winery that we originally found when they donated their wine and efforts to Vintage Santa Clara.  They are a small winery and I've only tasted a few things, but they were all good and the owners and staff are friendly and fun. It is another winery that we first found through Vintage Santa Clara, an annual event at my alma mater. There is some association with Little Valley Winery and a white rabbit, but since I haven't asked what it is, I have no clue.  I will have to find out soon, and now that they've just moved into a new tasting room in downtown Pleasanton, I have an excuse other than the just the nice wine.

California Champagne, NV, ($15.00). A nice crisp and dry sparkling wine. Very pleasant for that toast with friends before dinner.

White Zinfandel ($9.50). Here we go again; either I can't read my note or I wrote something I can't figure out.  "No gummy?" Anyway, the parts that I can read say that this is a nice fruity White Zinfandel with a raisin taste to it.  

Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay went through 100% malolactic fermentation (that converts tannic acids to much milder malolactic acids), but remains pretty fruity and is neither heavy nor buttery as I'd expect from that process.  A nice refreshing Chardonnay.

Tempranillo, 2004 ($18.00). They've been doing this for eight years and this one won Best of Class at the California State Fair. It is a big fruity, not jammy Tempranillo with great depth.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Clark Vineyard, 2002 ($22.00). This Cabernet Sauvignon is still young, but it is obviously big with good structure, but is not what I'd call heavy. Consider it rich and fruity without too much richness to it.

Raspberry Sparkling Wine, NV. ($14.00) This wine hooked our future daughter-in-law and we've also taken a fancy to it.  She likes it enough for me to drive up there to get it for her for Christmas. She must have very good taste in wines because it took a Gold Medal.  It is light and refreshing with the essence of bright fresh raspberries. If you are looking for something tasty without the sweetness of a wine cooler, this should do the trick.

Almond Sparkling Wine, NV. ($14.00) This wine has a nice nutty almond taste that compliments a nice dry sparkler. This one hits me as more of an Asti style, light and fruity. I enjoy it a lot.  

Tempranillo Port, "Pure Decadence". ($24.00). This Portuguese style port boasts a 19.3% alcohol and is a medium to light bodied port. It is not very sweet and thus very drinkable, perhaps in quantities sufficient to render me silly. It is very pleasant.

Cabernet Franc, ??. When I went up there to pick up the sparklers, Sandi was kind enough to give me a barrel tasting of their upcoming Cabernet Franc. It will be spending some more time in the barrel but is already a nicely oaked mouthful of Cabernet Franc.. It should be a winner.

Little Valley is moving 5/23/2009 to 739 Main Street, Pleasanton, CA, Phone 925-862-9006. http://www.littlevalleywinery-lavender.com

LVC (Livermore Valley Cellars)

The following review is dated, and it breaks my heart to know that it will probably be the last for this wonderful family winery. After the death of the patriarch, issues arose which caused the doors to close. Opening again would require a number of unlikely events, so I think we have lost LVC as we knew it. Hopefully we'll see the family back in business making great wine again. At home we are still drinking the 2004's, and we have a pretty good stock that should last a while, so for at least a couple more years, there will be a glass available for friends at our house.

I will state right up front that this is my favorite winery in the world.  I could base that fairly on the quality of their wines, the value in their pricing, or the character of the wines that so well target what my wife and I like, and remain totally honest. In truth, however, the wines are wonderful and very affordable for their quality, but the characters who make and peddle the wine are what takes LVC to the next level. They are simply wonderful people; never pretentious, always friendly, and very knowledgeable.  I consider them good friends. They lost their patriarch, Chris Lagiss, in 2008. He was a pioneer in many fields, including wine, and a wonderfully interesting character.  He will be missed.

We got to know these folks and their wine several years ago when we met them at Santa Clara University's Vintage Santa Clara event. They had a zinfandel called "Big Ass" that was huge, with a lot of fruit and a rich lingering flavor.  Our friend, Jim, found it and soon we were all hanging around giving it a try.

Thus started LVC's derriere series.  After "Big Ass", they came out with "Triple Cheek", then "Full Moon" and its purer form "Full Moon Exposed", then Asino Grande (never refer to an Italian woman as such), followed by "Crack of Dawn", "Left Behind, "Right Behind", and the current 2005 vintage "Weigh Behind."  Somewhere in there was "Sweet Cheeks", a sweeter dessert or sipping wine.  

They also make other zinfandels from different vineyards, including Sblendorio, Kestrel Ridge, which are typically still flavorful without the monster richness of the derriere series. For a small winery run by a group that calls themselves the "Cellar Rats", an amazing group of family and volunteers who work very hard for wine, they have quite a variety. Although supplies are often limited, they usually produce some chardonnay, semillon, a blend of chardonnay and semillon, sauvignon blanc, "Livermore", a sauvignon blanc and semillon blend, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite syrah, cabernet franc, mourvedre, a Rhone blend called "Rhonivore", Grenache, Syrahnade (syrah rose), and Arcanum, a cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend.  I've probably forgotten some, but you get the idea.

Their motto as such is "Wine with Character...Made by Characters", and they live up to it well.  These are really fun people and visiting their place always makes for a wonderful afternoon.  Their facility is not fancy at all right now, but there is one on the drawing board.  The people and wines they produce can, in my humble opinion, compare well with any of the fancy boutique or big wineries. They host a number of fun events that you can look up on their website below.

Priced from $10 to $25, and with discounts on cases (even mixed), they are a little known gem that represent a super value. So here we go...

Chardonnay, Sblendorio Vineyard, 2007 ($15.00).  This is a Dijon clone that combines a fresh and crisp apple taste with a little bit of butter that lingers to the finish. Wines like this make me wonder why people spend so much more for some others.  It is a great Chardonnay.

5/8 Chardonnay-3/8 Semillon, 2006 ($16.00). If you want to add a little smoothness and round off the edges on a Chardonnay, the way to do it might be to add 3/8 Semillon to it. This wine is also very crisp and clean, but has more underlying rich oakiness (is that a word?)

Livermore, Livermore Valley, 2007 ($16.00). This is a White Bordeaux blend of 50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc that has been called "The miracle on Wetmore Rd.". It is a dry, but fruity blend that goes great with turkey or chicken breasts.

Sauvignon Blanc, Mihalka Vineyard, 2006 ($16.00). Quite a lot of depth in this otherwise traditional Sauvignon Blanc. It is fruity, rich, and well oaked.

Semillon, Livermore, 2006 ($14.00). After 100 years of history in Livermore, they've gotten the Semillon pretty well figured out. This one is moderately dry and very complex for being a single varietal. It was paired with Chrysanne's pumpkin soup when we went tasting and I wanted to figure out how to get a lot more of both.

Syrahnade, 2007 ($10.00). This is a really surprising Syrah Rose that is crisp and fruity with what I'd call a strawberry taste. It has been referred to as "Rocket Fuel" in previous vintages when the alcohol spiked at (I think I remember) 17.6%. This year is a mild whopper at 16.1%, which I challenge anyone to taste in this wine. It is very pleasant and light, with no hint that it may knock you on that previously discussed derriere.

Arcanum, 2005 ($25.00). When a winery's most expensive wine is $25.00, you might not be expecting much. At LVC, you'll be mistaken. This red Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is full and rich with great balance of these two kings. I am drinking their 2002 Arcanum at home now, and look forward to putting a few years on this one.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Clark Vineyards, 2005 ($17.50). This is their first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Clark Vineyard, and it is very nice and drinkable now. This Clark is less fruity than their Thatcher (next), but one of the better Cab S's you can pick up today and enjoy tonight.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Thatcher Bay Vineyard, 2005 ($19.00). I try not to use vague terms, but this wine has a great mouth feel. It is full and fruity and, although fairly smooth and drinkable now, a year or two should smooth it out even more so that you can really appreciate the nuances of this mouthwatering wine.

Merlot, Thatcher Bay Vineyards, 2006 ($17.75). They say it is bolder than their previous Merlot and they are right (pompous of me, since they are the experts). I didn't take a ton of notes on this, saying simply, "Nice, full rich Merlot. Classic Style. Flawless."  That says enough.

Petite Sirah, Clark Vineyards, 2005 ($16.95). A good solid Petite Sirah that is full flavored, but not huge. It is dark, but not inky. I'm getting old and finding some Petite Sirahs to be actually pleasant, and this fits the bill.  I used to think they all had to be mudballs.

Rhonivore, 2005 ($19.00). A Rhone Blend of 50% Petite Sirah, 40% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre, this big red is wonderful with a steak and can hold its own with almost any seasoning you want to put on it.  There is a lot going on in the taste of this, and the depth and richness makes it a great beef or lamb wine.

Syrah, Clark Vineyards, 2005 ($20.00).  I'll hide this wine down here so that the winemaker may overlook my comments. This is a GREAT Syrah. I found it to be bigger, with more depth and richness than their Petite Sirah. It has some wonderful peppery spice and a very full flavor.

Vino Rimanente, NV ($15.00). The Cellar Rats seem to find a way to put together all of the remnants from whatever vintages didn't fit into the production lines and mix them togther into a very pleasant wine that I find most resembles some of the wines that more pretentious winemakers sell as an expensive cuvee. This one is eminently drinkable and you can sit around and guess what it is all day and never figure it out (at least I can't). Before you give up, it will be gone.

Weigh Behind Zinfandel, Livermore, 2005 ($18.50).  This one took a Gold Medal at the Alameda County Fair. It is a blend Zinfandel from three different vineyards; DeMayo 60%, Sblendorio 10%, and Kestrel Ridge 20%, combined with 20% of Petite Sirah from Clark Vineyard. They hit the mark with this one, and I'll be enjoying this one for at least six years as it develops increasing complexity and balance. It is great now and will only get better.

Caboose Zinfandel, Livermore, 2006 ($20.00). Saying that it may be their best reenactment of the original "Big Ass" Zinfandel is probably enough to say. It is big, chewy, and fruity.

Zinfandel, Kestrel Ridge Vineyard, 2006 ($14.95). This is a brighter and sweeter Zinfandel than their others. It isn't over the edge with sweetness, but is sweet enough that I enjoy it served a little cooler than normal. They recommend decanting it for 1/2 hour, but I doubt if I'd really wait that long.

Zinfandel, Hansen Ranch Vineyard, 2006 ($16.00).  This Zinfandel is not a big fruity up front, but has a nice depth that comes out in the middle of the sip. It is more astringent than their others, and I find it more complex. I'd be inclined to put it down for 2-3 years to smooth out the tannins and open it up a bit.

Zinfandel, DeMayo Vineyard, 2005 ($15.00). This is the last of a long run of DeMayo Vineyard grapes for the Zinfandel, and it poses a quandary. The grapes from this vineyard usually yield a very robust and rich wine, sometimes needing care to stuff them all in the bottle. This one is not as big, but it still spicy and to me it tastes very young. I derived a currant nose ad taste, but others say raspberry or even cranberry. I think it will benefit from 3 or so years in the bottle, and others tasting with me looked at me like I was goofy. So, I'm goofy but I think it will benefit from some time in the bottle to balance out the flavors and give it more tasteable depth. Our wonderful hostess, Eileen, put it through a Vinturi (air-infusion device) and it seemed to pick up a nose that was similar to a tawny port with a plum/currant flavor.  Time will tell if this is a big hit or just a pretty decent Zinfandel.

Coming soon, Derriere #10, Zinfandel 2007 (Priceless). We don't know the name yet, but we do know that it's 4% Petit Verdot mixed in with Zinfandels from Hansen, Sblendorio, and Kestrel Vineyards. It's still in the barrel, but so far it is a big, semi-sweet, fruity and yummy wine.  Futures available.

You can find LVC at 2838 Cellars Road (off Wetmore), Livermore, CA 94550, Phone 925-454-9463. www.lvcwines.com

 

Loma Prieta Winery

So, I'm in the convertible on what started as a nice day, but turned drizzly and cold up on Summit Road. Thankfully it's a British convertible, and nobody knows more about cold, rainy and foggy weather than they do, so when I saw a sign that said Loma Prieta Winery four miles, the chase was on.  It seemed like a lot further than four miles, and I'm sure the drive would have been absolutely beautiful in decent weather, but the weather was miserable.  It all turned around when I arrived.  At the sign of a little flying magician named Bodo, I turned into the property to find a new and really nice wine room.  They just opened in August of 2008. Jack, who was pouring, has a fun sense of humor and set the stage for a very nice tasting He introduced me to the owner, Paul Kemp, who started this venture in 2003 with two barrels in his garage. He went from the garage to having a room under his house and finally to this new and very nice winery and tasting room. Paul is a full-time trial lawyer who very obviously loves wine and has developed a hobby into quite an operation. How he maintains his active practice, a family, and the winery is a tribute to his indefatigability.  I'm really sorry I haven't made it up there in better weather since the views are reportedly sensational. Still, after spending a long time with Paul Kemp, I walked out saying "Wow!" I wrote down a whole bunch of notes about the medals that have been won since the beginning, and they are so numerous in silver, gold, and best of area or show that it seems safe to assume that the wines are at least very well received by those who judge formally.  The wines are priced from $22 to $55 with most $30 to $50. I had the opportunity to taste current offerings as well as some future releases; some bottled and some still in the barrels. The facility is gorgeous with a large outside deck area with tables, chairs and umbrellas. There are picnic tables, bbq's and a bocce court that I hope to try out soon.

2008 Viognier, Lodi $22. Made with fruit from Lodi, this Viognier is a fairly fruit forward wine with a nice citrus/peach nose and taste. It is a lighter Viognier than most with more of a fresh fruit flavor to it.  Very nice and reasonably priced.

2006 Merlot. Santa Cruz, Reagan Vineyard, $30.  A dark plum/berry Merlot that is fairly full flavored and bright for it's size, which is pretty big. It has a little astringency, and I'd guess it will only get better in the next couple of years.

2006 Pinot Noir, $50 Still young with long legs; probably very long legs. I get a currant/raspberry taste that is well balanced into a smooth and creamy finish.

2008 Pinotage, From the Barrel, No Price Yet. I've never had this varietal before, and it is unlike anything else I've ever had.  It has just a little bit of a bite to it, but is super clean and crisp. It has a great fruit taste of dry berry that is amazingly full for as dry as it is.  I'll want to get my hands on some of this one.

2008 Pinot Noir, Saveria Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, From the Barrel, No Price Yet. This will be bottled in late August, so it still had four months left in the barrel when I tried it. It has great fruit to it and is fairly rich already. It will probably enrichen some more while it picks up a little more oak and complexity.

2008 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Estate, From the Barrel, No Price Yet. This is a classic Pinot Noir with a great Pinot nose. It is full-sized already and still has about four months left in the barrel. It is smoky with nice fruit. This one will be, in my humble opinion, a great Pinot Noir.

2007 Pinot Noir, Saveria Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, Released the week after I arrived, No Price Yet. Very drinkable now with plenty of storage capability. It tastes older than it is with super balance. It is complex with berries on the tip of the tongue and a long finish. After it sat opened for a while, it showed more oak and was even better.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Will Release Fall 2009, No Price Yet. This Cabernet has a big fruit component but absolutely no bite. It has light tannins, light astringency for a great mouth feel and is smooth with a rich finish that lingers on the breath.

I am glad that I missed a couple of their current offerings, so I'll just have to make a trip back up there. This time I'll be taking my wife and hoping for better weather.

Loma Prieta Winery is located at 26985 Loma Prieta Way (Summit to Highland to Mt. Bache to Loma Prieta), Los Gatos, CA 95033. 408-353-2950. www.LomaPrietaWinery.com

Poetic Cellars

We were greeted by Joe and Joe Jr., who actually sang some of their poetic compositions for us accompanied by Joe's guitar. It became very obvious why they are are lawyers first, vintners second, and singers last.  They weren't bad actually, but while they sing, no wine gets poured so we encouraged them to keep it short. Ask them to sing a label for you. It's kind of a nice touch.  Then I was introduced to Katy, without anyone telling me who she is. She asked me about one of the wines, the Viognier, and I told her that I found it to be a dry and crisp with somenice vanilla and citrus to it, but that I thought it needed to sit down for a while to lose part of the edge because it seemed just a tad rough. That's when my good friend, who knows who is who, informed me that Katy is the winemaker. Thankfully, she said I was right on. These are very nice people doing a very good job with local varietals.

2008 Chardonnay, Chestnut Hill Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, $26. A nice vanilla nose which surprised me because they didn't use any malolactic fermentation. It spent two years in neutral French oak and was just bottled. It keeps the edge and nice acidity but is amazingly smooth with the soft vanilla oak. I wrote that it is one of the best Chardonnays I've had without full malolactic fermentation. It is soft but solid.

2008 Viognier, Verse Vineyard in Livermore Valley, $22.00. I got a nice vanilla and citrus nose that was consistent with the taste. This is a nice fruity viognier that still has a little bit of an edge to it that should soften nicely within a year. It will be very nice with a variety of richer fish dishes.

2006 Mourvedre, Muse Vineyard in Livermore Valley, $28.00. I love a good Mourvedre and this one stays true to form. Nice fruit; dry but complex. You could not go wrong serving this earthy wine with a nice pork or pot roast.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Livermore Vineyard (missed price). This is still young with medium tannins. It has a nice cherry fruit to it and it settled down very nicely over about 20 minutes that we talked after it was poured. Give it a couple of years or decant it for a while and it should be very nice.

2007 Serenade, Red Blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is another big fruity wine with lots of fruit. The finish is still pretty astringent and could use 2-4 years in the bottle before it matures. It is already pretty complex and should become markedly richer tasting as it gets a little time on it.

2007 Mantra, Red Blend of 45% Syrah, 45% Mourvedre, 10% Sangiovese, (missed the prce). There is a ton going on with this wine. It has a big burst of berry up front and then the complexity and richness settles it to a very long finish. It is very complex and I found myself craving barbecued ribs. This is a boomer.

2006 Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley (missed price again). The nose is super dry; almost not there. That is not at all congruous with the big fruit; more than any Petite Sirah that I can recall lately with big dark cherry and berry flavor. This is one of those wonderful lush, almost ink-grade Petite Sirahs that you can't see through at all. It has a lingering depth that is enough to stand up to a monster pepper steak or other spicy beef. This is about as rich as you'll fine; marvelous!

The singing was fun, the poetry is nice, and the family that owns and runs Poetic were very pleasant to spend time with. They are doing a great job and I expect very good things from them in the future.

Poetic Cellars, 5000 N. Rodeo Gulch Rd., Soquel, CA (831) 462-3478 www.poeticcellars.com

 

Regale Winery and Vineyards

We have noticed the construction and apparent signs of opening for a while here and finally had time to stop in and see this new winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The new facility is very nicely done and reminded us of the property at Ferrari Carano up in Sonoma County. In so many words, that means that it is more like what you'd expect to find in Tuscany than in the Bay Area. With the beautiful weather we had on the day we visited, July 24, 2010, they had their tasting bar set up outside so we were able to enjoy the weather, the wine, and the staff who treated us well. Since I flew right by it, I should probably mention that it is just before Burrell School Winery, so slow down and watch for it or you will join me in becoming an expert at U-Turns.

Chardonnay, San Felipe Vineyard, Central Coast, 2006 ($35.00).  When I gave it a sniff (I know, it's supposed to be "experienced the bouquet"), I got a vanilla-custard nose. On tasting, I found a nice rich and spicy Chardonnay with subtle fruit and a nice mellow finish. The spice is solid, but not at all overwhelming. This will be a great food Chardonnay and would hold up well with a lot of rich fish dishes.

Pinot Noir, O'Neel Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2007 ($55.00). This is a lighter color Pinot Noir with a little sheen of copper to it. It is still young but is already showing off the traits of a classic Pinot Noir with a nice leather base supporting a good but lighter structure of fruit. Think Thanksgiving turkey or roasted chicken and I think you'll find a match.

Sangiovese, Napa Valley, 2007 ($42.00). From just south of the Stags Leap District on the Silverado trail, Regale found some pretty good Sangiovese grapes. This is a study in smooth spice, and Mac the wife says it would be perfect with Giorgio's awesome sausage bread. I am becoming an Italian varietal junkie, so now I'll need to get some of that sausage bread to support Mac's thesis. I think I'll have some nice pasta made with fresh roma tomatoes handy for backup.

Barbera, El Dorado County, 2007 ($40.00). Since I'll have that pasta handy, I'll have to see how the pasta holds up to this bigger and bolder representation of Italian varietals. This Barbera is strongly fruity, full and rich. It is a dark berry wine that they are getting from El Dorado, where I usually expect big and wild Zinfandels and rock-pile style reds. This wine is so big and solid that you might expect it to bite back, but it finishes off very smoothly. It came home with us along with the Sangiovese.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2006 ($60.00).  Although it is already four years off the vines, 18 months of which it spent in 75% new French Oak, this Cabernet Sauvignon is still young and developing. That it seems to be developing quite nicely portends to a bright future for this wine. It has a good balance of fruit and acid with a long and lingering finish that is both a little astringent and very clean. They say that it will age 10-15 years. I'll be in my late 60's or early 70's by then, so I think I'd enjoy it in another 3-5 years, but it will improve with age and it should be worth the wait.

REVISITED DECEMBER 18, 2011

Being in the neighborhood, we thought we'd try it again, so we popped in to see how they were doing. We were impressed. The wines that we tasted before seemed to settle down nicely with another year and a half in the bottles and we found some new ones too.

Chardonnay, Mendocino County, 2009 ($35.00). This is a less fruity style with muted flavors of apples and pears. It has a little butter in the middle and I think it will be better in a year when it should lose a little bit of a rough edge.

Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2008 ($39.00). This Pinot Noir is a lighter style but remains very solid with nice fruit. There is just a little bit of the classic Pinot Noir leather that is cradled in a very nice cherry base. The richness of the fruit was quite a surprise given the lighter style. This should be very nice with baked or smoked turkey or chicken dinners.

Pinot Noir, O'Neel Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2008 ($50.00). Unlike its older brother from 2007 that we tried last year (see above), this Pinot Noir is a much richer style with a lot of fruit up front. Mac said, "That's really nice." Even if I wanted to risk disagreeing with her, I couldn't on this wine. From the beautiful garnet color through the the cherry nose and long rich finish, this Pinot Noir is a rich and elegant winner. It is still young and should only get better over the next couple of years. Now in our cellar, we'll try it again in about 2014.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2007 ($48.00). This Cabernet Sauvignon is solid, but still pretty young. It needs at least a couple of years to sort out its acids and astringency that comes with them. I got a lot of raspberry fruit and this wine should settle down nicely and round out well. They say it will age nicely for 10-15 years. It seems big enough to grow in the bottle and will probably work out well after being cellared for a few years.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 2007 ($60.00). Reading my notes from last week seems to be an exercise in superlatives. This Cabernet Sauvignon is very solid with great structure and wonderful fruit. It is very well crafted and finely balanced. It is a big black cherry Cabernet Sauvignon with a little plum or currant mixed in. I could drink it now, but I think another year or two will take off the very slight edge that is still there and yield even better balance. As much as I am trying to restrict purchases of Cabernet Sauvignon, this one still had to come home with us. I look forward to opening this with friends.

Sangiovese, Napa Valley, 2007 ($42.00). One thing that is always fun is tasting and writing up a wine, only to find out that I wrote it up the last time I was here. In July of 2010, I called this Sangiovese a "study in smooth spice." This time I wrote that it is nice with moderate spice and medium fruit that is not the big bright fruity hit that you get with most California Sangiovese. It remains very smooth and the fruit is enough to support a lot of nice bright Italian dishes without overwhelming a nice Roma tomato or marinara sauce. This is more of what I'd expect from Italy than from California and could probably be passed off as a capable Brunello di Montalcino if decanted. This Sangiovese can be enjoyed now (we brought it home). I don't think it will lose anything in the next couple of years, but it seems ready to me now.

Barbera, El Dorado County, 2007 ($39.00). This is another repeat tasting a year and a half later. Last time I called it "strongly fruity, full and rich." I can't disagree this time when I siad that it has nicely spiced dry fruit with very solid depth. It is rich, but not heavy, and it has that flinty taste that you get from El Dorado County. The color is a gorgeous rich red and the big fruit nose is not betrayed by the rich and full fruit of the wine. Like last year, this wine followed us home.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit to Regale. The facility is beautiful and the staff were very friendly. They do charge $10 for a tasting flight, but they will credit that toward wine purchases. They also sell wine by the glass and have a good selection of luncheon and other snacks to picnic with there if you are so inclined.

Regale Winery and Vineyards is located at 24040 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA 95030 (408) 353-2500. www.regalewinery.com

Testarossa Winery

We went a long time without going ot Testarossa and then we went up with some friends who are members. Then we went back again with them again, and then back on our own, and most recently in March 2012, we took a stranger from a strange land (Minnesota) up there to show him this magnificent facility. While there we (of course) tasted some very nice wine and enjoyed one of the finest facilities in Northern California. Testarossa is located in Los Gatos, only about 20 minutes from our home in San Jose. It is owned by Rob and Diana Jensen, who left the whirlwind world of high-tech and entered the wonderful world of wine. Like some others, they started out with a home-based operation that produced 25 cases. From that, they've evolved to a current annual production of around 15,000 cases. They bought the old Novitiate Winery which was built in 1888 and is a magnificent property. When you drive onto the grounds, you realize you truly have left Silicon Valley behind; literally below. The winery building is well-aged and beautifully appointed with pictures from its early history adorning the walls of the entry tunnel and all of the modern amentities in the tasting room, including a big flat-screen that runs movies of the harvest and production process. Outside is a large patio area with bunches of tables and umbrellas. We've enjoyed a couple of bottles outside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Oh, and did I mention they make wine?

March, 2012

Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2010 ($32.00). This is a small lot of only 200 cases and we'll be wishing for more when it's gone. I got a big mouthful of apricot and vanilla that was full and rich with just a little bit of an edge to it. They say it will continue to age and improve for at least five years and I think a couple of years will smooth it out so you will really be able to appreciate how rich and elegant this big Chardonnay is.

Chardonnay, Rosella's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2010 ($41.00). Named after the wife of Gary Franscioni, Rosella's Vineyard yields a very full-bodied Chardonnay with a wonderful depth and long finish. This is still young and opens up with bigger and brighter fruit than the Santa Cruz Chardonnay above. A little apple taste underlies the bright pear and a little citrus that hits right up front. This is really very nice and not your grandfather's Chardonnay. It's big, bright, and beautiful.

Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2010 ($39.00). On the nose I got a little leather, cedar and pepper. The balance is great with good cherry fruit and an oaky richness. It is still very young but picked up a 91 point rating. I'd give it about two years to relax and let the fruit come more to the front of the taste.

Pinot Noir, Rosella's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2010 ($59.00). Ok those who know me have to understand that I am...well, whatever the politically correct term is for "cheap." Still, there are some wines that are worth every nickel and at $59.00 this is one of them. It has a very dry nose of dark fruit that leads into a taste of cherry, strawberry, and a little citrus. Although a new vintage this wine is already pretty smooth. On the second sip, I got the leather taste that I associate with a good Pinot Noir. There is a lot going on in this wine and the complexity will improve even more as it matures over the next several years. This Pinot Noir will be a monster and I can't wait to taste it from my cellar in 2017 or so.

Pinot Noir, Rosella's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2004 (not for sale). One thing that Testarossa does is to feature a special wine from their library. It's there to taste so you can appreciate how time affects the wine, but you can't buy it. This trip we had this special treat. The color was a little faded but the wine held up very well. The fragrance was strawberry and leather and the wine still had a nice red berry-strawberry taste with good fruit and a full finish. It probably won't get any better with age, but time has been good to it so far.

Syrah Blend, Br. Korte Cuvee, California, 2009, ($24.00). I got a nice cherry-cocoa nose. After the first taste, I started looking around for some nice prime rib or toast beef. This is a medium weight Syrah that is drinkable all by itself but should pair very well with roasted beef. The finish was a lot bigger and lingered more than I expected.  You can drink (and enjoy) this now or it should hold up well for at least another five years. This wine is labeled with the Novitiate Historical Label which pays respect to the history of this establishment.

Prior Trip

Chardonnay, Novitiate, California, 2009 ($19.00) This Chardonnay is more on the buttery side than crisp and has a very nice banana and butter flavor to it. It is very smooth and pretty substantial without being heavy at all. Very pleasant for a sipper all by itself or sit in the back yard with some nice cheese and a couple of friends.

Chardonnay, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2010 ($39.00). This is a very nice Chardonnay that with a smooth and rich apricot taste that settles right in with nice balance and a long toasty fruit finish.

Pinot Noir, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2010 ($59.00). A gorgeous dark color doesn't even hint at the bright fruit up front. I get boysenberry and blueberry; two of my favorites. This is a bigger fruit wine than most Pinot Noir and I think it will get even bigger as it develops its fruit over then next 3-5 years. My notes say, "I think it will be superb."

Pinot Noir, Cuvee Niclaire, California, 2005 (not for sale). Another of those wonderful wines pulled from the library, this is very close to what I expect the Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir to become in a few years. It retained its big fruit and achieved a really nice and well balanced dark berry finish.

Syrah, Garys' Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2009 ($54.00). This Syrah has a big and bright fruity nose. I get a raspberry and current fruit flavor with just enough astringency to let me know that it's going to balance out and become richer and fruitier in the next 2-3 years. This wine is fine now but should settle in and gain more depth with some more time in the bottle.

And even before that trip...

Chardonnay, Novitiate, 2008 ($19.00). This is their classic name label and is priced reasonably enough to enjoy it without hurting the budget. It is a grassy, light citrus chardonnay with moderate fruit that I taste as a citrus/pear blend. It is very pleasant and fresh and a good choice for a warm summer afternoon.

Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2008 ($39.00). Wine Enthusiast pretends to know a lot about wines, and they gave this one 94 points, which is something between stellar and wow! The staff at the winery said it will get even better over the next five years or so, and I believe them. It already has great balance of fruit and oak with a mild pear and just a touch of butter. This isn't an overwhelming oaky boomer, but is a great example of balancing the freshness of the fruit against the weight of the oak.

Pinot Noir, Niclaire, 2007 ($75.00). Named after the founders' children Nicholas and Claire, this is one that they are proud of. It also grabbed 94 points from the WE people (they use bigger words than I do), and grabbed a couple of 92's from other experts. I found it to be a little less weighty than a lot of the bigger Pinot Noirs I've been finding lately, but it still has good depth with a nice cherry plum flavor. The winemakers at Testarossa have a great knack for developing a balance that is very impressive. The color is a gorgeous cherry red.

Pinot Noir, Palazzio, Central Coast, 2008 ($37.00). This Pinot Noir is very pleasant with very little acid. It has a soft plum taste that we liked a great deal. Again, there's that balance thing.

Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2008 ($59.00). I'm still trying to figure out how they got a 2008 that is this rich with dark plum on the nose and the palate to be so smooth and drinkable. Mac the wife likes it a lot. That's a secret code for "Yes dear, I'll buy some."

Syrah, Thompson Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, 2007 ($54.00). If I was a rich man, I'd be drinking this Syrah a lot. It has a rich, ripe blueberry nose, a magnificently deep, dark ruby color, and then even more rich, ripe blueberry on the nose. I may have an above-average sized proboscus, but I don't usually let it influence me. I was tempted to smuggle my glass out and take it home just so I could sniff it every now and then. Sooner or later, though, the people at the tasting room will start pointing if you stand there just inhaling the bouquet, so I had to take a taste. It has a wonderful deep, rich blueberry/dark berry taste with superb sturcture. It is rich, dark, and smooth with moderate acid. In my notes, I wrote "3-5 years to Nirvanha." Everyone in our party bought this one.

While we were there, I thought I might ask one of the tasting crew about a bottle given to me by Dan O. a while back. It is a 2002 Testarossa Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard. They recommended that we drink it, so we came home, put some Saratoga Lamb Chops on the grill and opened it up. Wow! It was magnificently smooth and hadn't lost any of its fruit. It probably wasn't going to get any better, and it was a pleasure enjoying that one with good friends.

Testarossa Winery is located just south and above San Jose at 300-A College Avenue, Los Gatos, CA 95030, (408) 354-6150, www.testarossa.com

Thomas Kruse Winery

Visited 1/26/13. Nestled around 31 miles south of our Willow Glen home in San Jose is Thomas Kruse Winery in Gilroy. We were invited by Mary, a friend of the Thomas Kruse gang and I ended up making the trip alone while Mac the Wife sniffled and coughed her way through a bout with this year's version of the flu. She missed a real treat at this down-to-earth and back-to-basics winery. I had the opportunity to meet Thomas Kruse, a true gentleman who is an advocate of wine as part of our daily lives. His philosophy is that there should be a bottle of wine on every table, every night. Obviously most people can't afford that, but the price point at Thomas Kruse Winery goes a long way toward being able to afford wine as often as you like. We were at the winery during their club event during which they bottle their "Gilroy Red." Club members and others had fun filling and then corking their own bottles. The atmosphere was rustic among the barrels and I had a good time.

Chardonnay, Claire's Field, Santa Clara Valley Estate, $12.00. This chardonnay was very fruity and bright but remained fairly dry and crisp. It was the first of what proved to be a really nice group of wines at very low prices. This chardonnay will work well as a spring-summer sipper or with a nice piece of fish. This chardonnay had to follow me home.

Merlot, Claire's Field, Santa Clara Valley Estate, 2008, $14.00. This may be my first "ink grade" merlow. Even Miles would have to admire the deep rich color. This merlot was stone dry and had  a nice cherry-currant flavor. It is very solid and has a long finish. This one went home with me too. My biggest question is how they can produce a merlot of this quality and sell it at this age for $14.00. At least I understand that the "why" is to put a bottle on every table.

Gilroy Red, $8.00. Bottled that very day, this is  a blend of 66% 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% 2011 Merlot. It's a solid and fruity red with a little nice pepper spice. At the price, you can't go wrong and this is a fun little wine at any price.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Claire's Field, Santa Clara Valley Estate, 2009, $16.00. Ruby color with just a touch of bronze. Nice oaky nose. With its light tannins, it tastes older than its age would indicate. It is a dry cherry flavor with just a touch of astringency. This is a 2009 that you can take home right away and enjoy with a nice chunk of beef.

Zinfandel-Late Harvest, Claire's Field, Santa Clara Valley Estate, 2008, $16.00. Although a late harvest, there is only a little jammy mouthfeel and absolutely no heavy or syrupy taste. This Zinfandel is a big fruit bomb and could possibly be a replacement for Mac the Wife's old favorite from DeMayo vineyard.

Red Table Wine, $8.00. I always wonder if a red table wine must be consumed on a red table (Italian restaurants). This one seems to work well with wood tables too. It's still a little rough but has a big and strong raspberry flavor. This is a big beef red.

Apricot Wine, $8 (375ml). Fun, fruity and drinks way too easy. This is made from apricots and is super pleasant. It drinks like grown-up fruit juice.

Thomas Kruse Winery is located at 3200 Dryden Avenue, Gilroy, California 95020. (408) 842-7016. www.thomaskrusewiner.com.

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