$20 Above

Trione Vineyards & Winery

The Trione family has been farming and selling grapes in Sonoma County for over forty years. They now own and farm over 650 vineyard acres in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Coast. In 2005, the family built Trione Vineyards & Winery near Geyserville, California. Winemaker Scot Covington uses three percent of Trione’s Estate grapes to produce their wines. Production is currently around 6,000 cases.

After tasting six of Trione’s current releases, the overarching themes that I continuously noted were consistently good quality and balance. I did not detect a trace of heat in any of these wines.


Trione Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $23.00

From The Winery: 14% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: This lively and zestful wine presents with a very pale straw color. The nose is chock-full of wild grasses and sliced jalapeños, but the flavors lean more towards fresh citrus fruits, specifically lemon and tangerine. Refreshing, balanced, and overall a nice expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

Rating: Recommended (88), 3/5 Value 

Trione Chardonnay 2008

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $30.00

From The Winery: 14.3% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: Light gold in color, this Chardonnay features expressive aromas of honey melon, oak, spice, and lemon candy. A shade low on acidity, with a clinging aftertaste of toasted oak.

Rating: Recommended (87), 2.5/5 Value 

Trione Pinot Noir 2008

Date Tasted: 2/7/13

Price: $35.00

From The Winery: 14.2% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: This garnet colored Pinot Noir is aromatic and has an airy, elegant presence. Fragrant red cherry, mulch, and dark chocolate aromas and flavors really pop, while the light and silky mouthfeel and impeccable balance take this wine to the next level. My favorite wine of the group and priced well at $35.00.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90), 3.5/5 Value 

Trione Syrah 2008

Date Tasted: 2/7/13

Price: $32.00

From The Winery: 14.8% Alcohol. River Road Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: A very clean, balanced Syrah that provides an excellent expression of herbs and spices–particularly oregano, bay leaf, and mint. Black raspberry and menthol are also readily apparent on the nose and mouth. The fruit is a bit on the tart side (I’m ok with that), and there is a slight bitterness on the palate, followed by very fine tannins.

Rating: Recommended (88), 3/5 Value 

Trione Cabernet Sauvignon Block Twenty One 2007

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $64.00

From The Winery: 14.5% Alcohol. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot, 2.5% Malbec. Cloverdale Ranch Vineyard, Alexander Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: Dark in color, this Zinfandel like-Cab presents with one of the loudest noses that I’ve come across. It’s absolutely loaded with raisiny fruit, cassis, and chocolate. There’s some sweetness on the palate, huge fruit, and sweet spices. Given the “huge fruit” and sweetness, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s enough acid to balance it out.

Rating: Recommended (88), 2/5 Value 

Trione Red Wine 2007

Date Tasted: 3/9/13

Price: $48.00

From The Winery: 14.5% Alcohol. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (blend breakdown unknown). Alexander Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: The “Red Wine” blend may be more subdued that the Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s still a big wine. I found the aroma/flavor profile to be a bit more complex, with blackberry, molasses, pencil shavings, red bell pepper, and damp earth. Black fruits, spice, and supple tannins fill the palate.

Rating: Recommended (89), 2.5/5 Value 

Disclaimer–These wines were provided as samples by the winery.

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Wine Column Leave a comment

WineSpeak USA Fab 50 of 2012

From the kick off of this blog on January 17, 2012 through tonight, I have reviewed approximately 250 wines. I would like to give special recognition to 50 of those wines, along with one winery that has really stood out this year.

WINE OF THE YEAR/RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Napa Valley’s Groth Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is an unforgettable, regal wine that electrifies the senses and does the highly lauded Oakville AVA proud.

WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010
aMaurice Cellars features a flat-out impressive lineup of both white and red wines. Their Columbia Valley Viognier is a delicate, beautiful, and exciting wine that is quite obviously made with care.

$20 BELOW RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009
With their 2009 Stateline Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, Gifford-Hirlinger proves that there are age and cellar-worthy Cabs available for under $20.00. Retailing at a mind-boggling $16.00, I have purchased more individual bottles of this wine than any other this year.

$20 BELOW WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011
Of all of the high quality, low-priced Rieslings that I tasted this year, the Evergreen Vineyard Riesling from Walla Walla up-and-comer Tempus Cellars led the pack. Wine consumers everywhere should rejoice that wines like this one are available for $16.00!

Winemaker/owner Sean Boyd is doing some amazing things with Rhone varietals at Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla. I had the opportunity to sample six of Rotie’s current releases, highlighted by the 2010 Southern Blend, and I simply can’t recommend their wines enough (if you can find them).

FAB 50 OF 2012

  1. Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($125.00)
  2. Woodward Canyon “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($54.00)
  3. Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette 2007 ($50.00)
  4. Rotie Cellars Southern Blend 2010 ($40.00)
  5. Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 2008 ($85.00)
  6. Ridge Geyserville 2009 ($35.00)
  7. Carlisle Montafi Ranch Zinfandel 2009 ($45.00)
  8. Rotie Cellars “Little G” 2010 ($45.00)
  9. Long Shadows Wineries Sequel Syrah 2007 ($50.00)
  10. Buty Columbia Rediviva Phinny Hill Vineyard 2008 ($48.00)
  11. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010 ($25.00)
  12. Maison Bleue Graviere Upland Vineyard 2010 ($45.00)
  13. Gramercy Cellars Third Man GSM 2009 ($45.00)
  14. Rasa Doctrina Perpetua Syrah Block 5 Bacchus Vineyard 2009 ($60.00)
  15. Betz La Cote Rousse Syrah 2007 ($55.00)
  16. Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2010 ($65.00)
  17. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  18. Buty Connor Lee Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($32.00)
  19. Proper Syrah 2010 ($36.00)
  20. Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  21. J “Barrel 16″ Pinot Noir 2010 ($75.00)
  22. Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2008 ($60.00)
  23. L’Ecole 41 Estate Merlot 2008 ($36.00)
  24. L’Ecole 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2008 ($49.00)
  25. Saviah Cellars Une Valee Walla Walla Valley 2009 ($32.00)
  26. Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  27. Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 ($35.00)
  28. Girard Artistry 2008 ($40.00)
  29. MacPhail Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010 ($39.00)
  30. Trio Vintners Plaisir 2009 ($26.00)
  31. Stolpman Estate Syrah 2009 ($34.00)
  32. Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009 ($16.00)
  33. Erath Pinot Noir Estate Collection 2009 ($34.00)
  34. Trefethen Dry Riesling 2010 ($22.00)
  35. Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2009 ($36.75)
  36. Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2010 ($28.00)
  37. Aberrant Cellars Confero Pinot Noir 2009 ($35.00)
  38. Reininger Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008 ($42.00)
  39. Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2010 ($38.00)
  40. Mackey Vineyards Concordia 2009 ($38.00)
  41. Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($16.00)
  42. Syncline Mourvedre 2010 ($30.00)
  43. Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2009 ($38.00)
  44. K Syrah “Pheasant Vineyard” Wahluke Slope 2010 ($35.00)
  45. Mackey Vineyards Merlot 2009 ($36.00)
  46. Tamarack Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 ($28.00)
  47. Kontos Cellars Merlot 2009 ($32.00)
  48. Sequoia Grove Carneros Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  49. Amavi Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010 ($29.00)
  50. Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011 ($12.00)
**Please note that detailed reviews and tasting notes for these wines can be located via the “Search” feature in the right column.
Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, $20 Below, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Riesling, Syrah, Viognier, Washington, Wine Column, Zinfandel 4 Comments

J Vineyards & Winery

J Vineyards & Winery, situated between Healdsburg and Windsor, California, was founded by Judy Jordan in 1986. J initially focused on sparkling wines, but would eventually expand into varietal wines such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. I had not tried any of J’s wines until earlier this year, when I purchased and reviewed the 2010 Pinot Gris. After now tasting both the 2010 and 2011 vintages of the Pinot Gris, which each retail for around $15.00, it’s safe to say that J’s Pinot Gris is one of the better valued white wines out there right now.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to sample two of J’s Pinot Noirs (the 2010 Barrel 16 and the 2009 Nicole’s Vineyard) and two of their Chardonnays (the 2010 Strata and 2009 Russian River Valley bottling). J’s 2010 Barrel 16 was definitely the standout of the group and ranks among the top Pinot Noirs that I’ve tried this year.


J “Barrel 16″ Pinot Noir 2010

Date Tasted: 10/19/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $75.00

From The Winery: 14.5% alcohol. Russian River Valley AVA. 400 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: J’s Barrel 16 gets its name from the selection process that goes into making this wine, as sixteen barrels are specially selected by J’s winemaking team to honor founder Judy Jordan’s Estate Vineyards. The 2010 vintage certainly did those Vineyards proud. It’s a beautiful wine, with aromas and flavors of cinnamon, cotton candy, red and blue berries, and light smoke. There’s great balance, an almost perfect weight and mouthfeel, and a very clean finish. The Barrel 16 is one ridiculously good Pinot.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 2.5/5 Value


J “Strata” Chardonnay 2009

Date Tasted: 11/2/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $45.00

From The Winery: 14.3% alcohol. Russian River Valley AVA–70% Jewell Ranch Vineyard and 30% Mill Station Vineyard. 500 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: J’s 2009 Strata is one expressive Chardonnay. Apple aromas practically leapt out of the bottle after uncorking, and blended well with buttery crust, key lime, tropical fruits, and smoke. The wine’s creamy mouthfeel is one of it’s defining characteristics. There’s a noticeable acid presence and a medium-long finish.

Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-91), 2.5/5 Value


J “Nicole’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2009

Date Tasted: 10/5/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $60.00

From The Winery: 14.4% alcohol. Russian River Valley AVA–Nicole’s Vineyard. 550 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: Focused and balanced, J’s Nicole Vineyard’s Pinot Noir is loaded with aromas/flavors of chocolate-covered strawberries, mint, and cedar. In comparison to the Barrel 16, the Nicole’s Vineyard definitely has more meat on its bones and has a heavier oak influence.

Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-91), 2/5 Value


J Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009

Date Tasted: 9/16/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $28.00

From The Winery: 14.3% alcohol. Russian River Valley AVA. 8,000 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: J’s Russian River Valley bottling is one of the more unique Chardonnays that I’ve had this year. I detected a degree of sweetness that I haven’t come across in most Chardonnays (the winery notes that the residual sugar is .45%). Golden straw in color, this friendly wine had elements of cantaloupe, bacon fat, Fuji apple, banana bread, and featured a very generous oak presence. There was plenty of acid to balance out the aforementioned sweetness.

Rating: Recommended (86-89), 2.5/5 Value

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples from the winery.


Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir 2 Comments

Darcie Kent Vineyards

Darcie Kent Vineyards, located in California’s Livermore Valley, specializes in a variety of single vineyard wines, ranging from Gruner Veltliner to Petite Sirah. Darcie Kent is a fourth generation vintner and an accomplished artist. Kent pays homage to the various vineyards that produce the grapes for her wines by featuring her artistic interpretation of these vineyards on the bottle labels. As you can see, these labels are quite impressive.

The vineyards from which Kent sources her grapes are located primarily in the Livermore County and Monterrey County AVAs. There is some great information on the winery’s website which speaks to the location and the owners of each vineyard. As a big sports fan, one story that particularly appealed to me involved the Madden Ranch Vineyard. It’s owned by–you guessed it–John Madden, of Oakland Raiders and EA Sports video game fame. The grapes grown for the Crown Block Merlot hail from the Crane Ridge estate vineyard, which is owned by David and Darcie Kent.

The Livermore Valley is not a region that I am overly familiar with. The Livermore Valley Wine Winegrowers Association, which touts on their website that “we’re closer than you think”, points out that the Livermore Valley is only 35 miles southeast of San Francisco. Concannon Vineyard is the largest winery in the area.

Given my unfamiliarity with the region and it’s wines, I was extra excited to give Darcie Kent’s wines a try.


Darcie Kent Vineyards “Crown Block” Merlot, 2008

Date Tasted: 10/14/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $36.00

From The Winery: 13.9% alcohol. Livermore Valley AVA. Crane Ridge Vineyard (Estate Vineyard). Less than 250 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: The Crown Block Merlot is Darcie Kent’s flagship wine, and rightfully so. It was my favorite wine of the lineup. Dimensions of fruit, earth, and oak congeal beautifully. It features cherry, brambly blackberry, damp earth, tar, and nutmeg aromas and flavors, with light smoke that lingers in the background. The wine’s balance and concentration really shine through in the mouth. It’s medium-bodied with a complimentative oak presence. The Crown Block Merlot offers a diverse array of flavors and aromas that should appeal to many, many palates.

Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-91), 3/5 Value


Darcie Kent Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Madden Ranch, 2008

Date Tasted: 10/19/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $24.00

From The Winery: 13.9% alcohol. Livermore Valley AVA. Madden Ranch Vineyard. 10,000 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: I noticed some strong similarities between Darcie Kent’s Cabernet Sauvignon and the Crown Block Merlot. Like the Merlot, the Cab had a distinct earthy quality to it. After examining each bottle, I realized that the alcohol content is exactly the same, at 13.9%. This Cab has a wide range of aromas and flavors, with rich blackberry, cassis, Asian spices, floral notes, black licorice, glycerin, light cedar, and pickle barrel. Generous acidity greets the palate, as well a moderate to strong oak. The “Madden Cab” drinks well for the price point and is the most readily available of the wines reviewed, with 10,000 cases produced.

Rating: Recommended (86-89), 3/5 Value


Darcie Kent Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rava BlackJack Vineyard, 2010

Date Tasted: 9/6/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $24.00

From The Winery: 15.0% alcohol. Monterey County AVA. Rava BlackJack Vineyard

Impressions/Notes: I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of Darcie Kent’s Pinot when I read that the alcohol content was 15%, a level more typically approached by robust Zinfandels.  Damned previously conceived notions! I was pleasantly surprised with the lively aromatics and flavors that this wine has to offer. This Pinot is very much a fruit-driven wine, led by cherry and raspberry, that is complimented nicely by pine resin and a pleasant smokiness. It displays a light to medium weight, with moderate heat on the back palate. A nice, fruity Pinot that’s well-priced at $24.00.

Rating: Recommended (86-89), 3/5 Value


Darcie Kent Vineyards Chardonnay, DeMayo Vineyard, 2010

Date Tasted: 10/13/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $30.00

From The Winery: 14.5% alcohol. Livermore Valley AVA. DeMayo Vineyard. 2200 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: The DeMayo Vineyard Chardonnay leads off with coconut cream pie, lime, and pineapple. Light bacon fat and buttery aromas emerge from the background. In the mouth, this Chardonnay seemed particularly dry. Unlike the nose, the flavors seemed a bit muted, with a tart lemony taste making the most impact. This wine was probably my least favorite of the lineup, although it should be noted that it has received some very positive press.

Rating: Recommended (86-89), 2/5 Value


Note, a review for Darcie Kent’s Gruner Veltliner, which I wrote a little over a month ago, can be found here.


Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples from a PR firm.

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Wine Column 2 Comments

Wines of Sonoma County Tasting

Sonoma County will always hold a special place in my heart. My first visit to the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys cemented my love for wine. 2012 will be the first year in the last three that we have not made a trip to the region. Alas, the closest that I will get to Sonoma this year was at a recent Denver-area tasting put on by Argonaut Liquors. To my delight, the Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, and Chardonnays were flowing.

Of the 25+ wines that I sampled, three wines made the strongest impression. Kistler Vineyards has long been a powerhouse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producer. I tasted my first Kistler Chardonnay–the 2010 Sonoma Mountain–and I was not disappointed in the least bit. Creamy and seductive, it’s easy to see what the fuss is all about with this producer. I should also note that the Sonoma Mountain bottling is only their entry level bottling–wow. On the Pinot Noir front, MacPhail’s 2010 Sonoma Coast really stood out. Wonderful flavors of fruit and earth really popped in this beautifully bottled wine. Last but certainly not least was Ravenswood’s 2008 Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel. Big and bold, this flavorful zin exploded in the mouth.

Tasting notes

  • Kistler Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain 2010- Balanced, creamy, and seductive, I kept swirling and swirling this wine around in my mouth, not wanting to spit it out. Retail Price: Around $65.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 2.5/5 Value
  • Patz and Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2010- Smoky, citrusy, and bright. Retail Price: $35.00. Rating: Highly Recommended, 3/5 Value
  • Sonoma Cutrer Les Pierres Chardonnay 2009- Plenty of acid to balance the ripe melon and a nice oak presence. Retail Price: $32.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3.5/5 Value
  • Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2010- Hazelnut, minerality, and a zing of acidity. Retail Price: $21.00. Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-92), 4/5 Value
  • MacPhail Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2010- Superb nose of forest floor and cherry, nice weight and texture, beautifully balanced. Retail Price: Around $39.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3.5/5 Value
  • Sequana Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2009- Very interesting minerality mixed nicely with cranberry. Retail Price: $38.00. Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-92), 3/5 Value
  • Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2008- The nose was a bit closed up, but this big, chewy, mouth-filling wine really exploded in the mouth. Aromas/flavors of cherry, blackberry, and tar. Retail Price: $35.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3.5/5
  • Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel 2008- Spicy, with currant and blue fruits. Retail Price: $35.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3/5 Value
  • Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2010- Concentrated and mouth-watering, with red fruits and a playful spiciness. Retail Price: $38.00. Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3/5 Value
  • Moshin Zinfandel Carreras Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley 2008- A pretty zin, with notes of cranberry and cherry amongst a floral background. Retail Price: $35.00. Rating: Recommended (86-89), 2/5 Value


Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel 2 Comments