On my first day of tasting, a 2015 French Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas Cuvée was sent to me. A Rhone red wine priced at $27.99 a bottle. Complex and elegant, this wine is at the top of my list for a favorite tasting.
On the second day of tasting, a delightful 2018 Vignoble Ducourt – Château Briot, priced at $13 a bottle was uncorked. What? A value-priced Bordeaux? Why, yes. This garnet blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot is a light-medium bodied drink-alone Bordeaux perfect when paired with a cheese plate and tapas. It’s not the boldest of Bordeaux’s but that’s a good thing for those who want to keep things light.
My third day of tasting was at the beautiful indoor/outdoor tasting room at Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma Valley, where a bold and structured 2012 Hamel Family Ranch stole the show. Priced at $200 a bottle, this cabernet sauvignon brought forth a bouquet of violets and deep, dark berries mixed with cedar and coffee – black, no cream. The on-site chef, Clinton Huntsman, served up a savory roll of pressed rabbit sausage with a wine-soaked prune in the middle, on a bed of potato puree. The pairing was as divine as this wine.
Day four surprised me with a semi-sweet Stella Rosa Golden Honey Peach wine made with Italian countryside grapes. Talk about shaking things up a bit. With a slice of pumpkin pie. You can Stellabrate this honey and peach forward wine for $12/bottle. And yes, it is not a red, but it’s a dark honey.
On the fifth day of tasting, my palate sang to me once I sipped a 2016 Muriel Fincas de la Villa Crianza of Rioja ($14). Of course, I paired this wine with tapas. Blueberry and toasted coconut mixed with oak… it works!
On my sixth day of wine tasting, a taste of 2016 BRION Cabernet Sauvignon spoke to me. And it was during an outdoor tasting at this new Napa winery on the border of Yountville and showcasing its Yountville AVA. I must share that upon arrival, I was greeted with a flute of Dom Perignon – telltale of the sophistication and hospitality of this winery. And the wines… wow. This particular 2016 BRION Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes grown on its Oakville Ranch Vineyard slopes with its red-orange volcanic soils that contribute to the vines’ low water retention, which makes the fruit denser and with deep berry notes. Its earthy bouquet is mingled with tobacco, leather, and mocha. At $225 a bottle, it had better be good, right? Well, it is. Seriously. Kudos to winemaker Mark Herold. This is an approachable wine with potential to gain in its complexity if cellared for another 5 years or so.
Day number seven was spent at home, as I tasted a 2010 Muriel Viñas Viejas Gran Reserva Rioja ($30). Ah, tempranillo. How do I love thee rustic berries of Spain… so much so my thoughts were dominated with visions of visiting and sipping my way through Spain. I’ll get there eventually, just not today. So I’ll travel through this taste and be happy in place.
On my eighth day of tasting, the wine that spoke to me was a 2017 San Simeon Pinot Noir of Monterey – Estate Reserve ($22). Noteworthy is that the Riboli Family was named American Winery of the Year in 2018, courtesy of Wine Enthusiast. I’ve heard good things grow in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and now I know this to be true. Raspberries dominate the palate, and that works for me.
My ninth day of tasting brought me Down Under to the Barossa Valley, a place I’ve actually visited – but not at this winery… yet. This 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon label belongs to 3-Rings and is priced at a reasonable $19.99 a bottle. It’s closure is a screwcap, typical of Australian wines – yes, even the reds. And this is the deepest of deep red, almost black! Twenty-five days of maceration will do this. All I wanted was a BBQ dinner with this wine.
Day number 10 showcased Paso Robles, one of my favorite California wine destinations, with a Maddalena 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) that rocked my palate! Berries, please meet mocha and toast with a drizzle of caramel. This is another label of the Riboli Family and it prompted me to dig out my crockpot to make beef stew.
On my 11th day of wine tasting, I headed to Argentina. Ok, I didn’t actually visit (but I want to!), but my palate traveled to Bodegas Bianchi for a taste of its 2019 Malbec, harvested in March 2019 and bottled in August that same year. This Oasis Sur Malbec is deeply violet in color, packing a bouquet of plums, figs and deep blackberries. It’s a fruity $15.99 bottle of Malbec magic.
My final day, the 12th day of tasting, surprised and delighted me with a… dare I say… Costco wine? Yes, Kirkland Signature Reserva 2015 Bodegas Muriel, L.L. Rioja was my most surprising find. At $6.99 a bottle, say what? Like a ruby slipper on your palate. Balanced velvet. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.
Charlene Peters is a wine writer who regularly visits wineries around the world and reviews wines from her home in the Napa Valley. She is author of “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes & indigenous recipes to share” available on Amazon and touted as the perfect holiday gift to give during a time when travel is safest when brought to the dining room table.