$20 Above: Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2009

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2009

Date Tasted: 5-11-13

Price: Suggested Retail is around $37.00 (purchased for $25.00)

From The Winery: 12.7% alcohol. 100% Chardonnay. Brut. North Coast AVA (69% Napa Valley grapes, 27% Sonoma County, 4% Marin County). 25,881 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: Schramsberg has been producing the Blanc de Blancs since 1965. A couple of interesting tidbits picked up from Schramsberg’s website – their Blanc de Blancs was America’s first commercially produced Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine and was the wine of choice for Nixon’s 1972 “Toast to Peace” in China. The 2009 Blanc de Blancs is a real aromatic treat, with Grands biscuits, sliced green apple, refreshing sea air notes, and a whiff of ginger. Acidity was moderately strong, but did not approach the laser-sharp level found in some brut Blanc de Blancs. $37 is a reasonable price for this sparkler and I would certainly recommend a purchase if spotted at a lower price.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90), 3/5 Value

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Sparkling Wines 2 Comments

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

$20 Above: J Vintage Brut 2005

J Vintage Brut 2005

Date Tasted: 12/29/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $48.00

From The Winery: 12.5% Alcohol. 54% Chardonnay, 43% Pinot Noir, 3% Pinot Meunier. Russian River Valley AVA. 700 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: J’s 2005 Vintage Brut presents with a medium-straw color and bubbles that are both elegant and fine. The nose is dominated by an interesting blend of lemon cream and toasted sesame seeds. There’s a nice weight and mouthfeel, where a zap of acidity compliments the green apple and lime flavors and left me salivating. The finish is super clean and leaves a light aftertaste comparable to a sesame breadstick. This sparkler should really impress at any special occasion.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90-94), 3/5 Value 

Disclaimer: This wine was received as a sample from the winery. 

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Sparkling Wines Leave a comment

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