2013 Pedroncelli ‘Bench Vineyards’ Merlot, Dry Creek Valley

This wine has an inviting nose of dark flower perfume, vanilla, clove, fleshy black and red fruits, and a sense of volcanic minerality. More one-dimensional in the mouth, a black licorice impression emerges and carries through to the finish, joined by a hint of smoky oak. All in all, a very pleasant wine, and a good value.

MSRP: $17 (January 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 89

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2013 Pedroncelli ‘Mother Clone’ Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

This has been a consistently good wine through the years, garnering a rating of 88 for the 2011 vintage and 89 for the 2012. For 2013, it moves up to Featured Wine status, as its briary raspberry, melted vanilla bean ice cream and cranberry notes are easy to love. There’s also a dash of pepper that you’ll appreciate once barbecue season rolls around. Drink it now to warm your heart on a cold winter night, or save it until summer and enjoy it in the great outdoors with your favorite grilled dishes.

MSRP: $18 (January 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 90

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2012 Pedroncelli ‘Wisdom’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley

For as long as we’ve been drinking Pedroncelli wines — which is a lot longer than our archived reviews indicate, the wines have been crafted for immediate accessibility: Buy them today, drink them tonight. So it was a surprise to encounter this blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec, which is a cuvee that’s clearly built to age. It’s a tightly wound wine with youthful, firm, drying tannins that suggest five or more years of cellaring or, if you don’t care to wait that long, splash decanting. Clove, cedar, eucalyptus, black plum and a hint of bittersweet chocolate are in evidence upon opening. After about an hour of aeration, aromas of dark flowers and black fruits come forth, demonstrating that while this is a good wine now, it could become an exceptional wine with sufficient time in the bottle.

MSRP: $36 (January 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 88+

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2006 Godwin Merlot, Sonoma Valley

One of the best things about the beginning of a new year is searching the local wine retailers for quality wines bought on closeout deals. I have had good luck here in my home town of Las Vegas. Often, these wines have a bit of age on them –perfect for those who like a mature wine.
Wine writer Gil Lempert-Schwarz featured this wine in his column on 1/13/16. Since this red originally sold in the $40 range, a blowout price of $6.99 would be a steal. If… well, if the wine was still sound.
There is only one way to find out…
From first pop of the pristine, long cork, aromas of crushed berries waft from the glass and fill the room. The color is that of a mature claret – a nearly opaque, crimson hue, lightening towards the rim. The opulent fruit scents are joined by secondary bottle aromas of freshly turned earth, cellar/mushroom, light oak and cedar impressions, and a hint of minerality.
Now for the real test – the first sip. Wow! Ultra smooth with no tannic bite, the wine shows great refinement. The fruit is still going strong, but all other aromas and flavors are blended together to create a pleasurable mouthful of red. The fruit and earthy wood finish lingers for 15 to 20 seconds.
The bottle states that the winery was trying to produce a Merlot that would “rival the very best Pomerol chateaus.” While not Petrus, this is a very enjoyable Merlot that is in full maturity. The original retail price of $40 was reasonable – at this special price of $6.99 it is an absolute steal.
Sale price: $6.99 (Lee’s Discount Liquors in Las Vegas)
Wine Lines rating: 89

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2013 Kendall-Jackson ‘Vintner’s Reserve’ Syrah, California

Although the AVA on the label reads “California,” this cuvee comes entirely from Santa Barbara County. Mild smoke and spice notes frame fruit impressions of blackberry and plum, joined by a hint of sweet root beer. Serve with rich stews, or as a Chianti alternative with lasagna.

MSRP: $17 (December 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 88

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2013 Kendall-Jackson ‘Vintner’s Reserve’ Zinfandel, Mendocino County

Raspberry is one of the flavors normally associated with Zinfandel, and there’s an abundance of that fruit flavor in this wine. Other red and dark berry impressions also are in evidence, joined by just a hint of black pepper. Serve it with a thick, juicy steak, or hold it until barbecue season rolls around again.

MSRP: $17

Wine Lines rating: 88

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2014 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

Light, bright and refreshing, this wine exhibits notes of lemongrass, grapefruit, gooseberry and a hint of lime. If you’re a fan of shellfish, this should be your house wine.

MSRP: $21 (December 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 89

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Avant: Tasty Alternatives While ‘Big’ Wines Age

Not every wine requires pontification on the part of those who consume it. In fact, we’re of the opinion that far too many people take wine far too seriously. While there’s certainly a place for big, rich, expressive wines, there also is a place for smooth, easy-drinking wines — such as those that comprise the Avant line from Kendall-Jackson.

Here are capsule reviews of three Avant wines we recently had an opportunity to sample, each carrying a California appellation on the label because of multiple-region grape sourcing…

  • 2014 Sauvignon Blanc — Notes of lime and lemongrass define this refreshing wine, which would pair nicely with sushi or seared scallops. MSRP (December 2015): $13. Wine Lines rating: 85.
  • 2014 Chardonnay — This is far from a big oaky monster. Rather, it’s a fruitful wine that offers notes of pineapple, citrus and green apple. The next time you bring home Original Recipe KFC, open up this wine. MSRP (December 2015): $17. Wine Lines rating: 86.
  • 2013 Red Blend — Merlot comprises half of the cuvee, joined by a healthy dose of Syrah. Other varieties utilized include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Carignan. Ripe plum and raspberry are the primary flavors, joined by a hint of mocha. Perfect with pizza or burgers. MSRP (December 2015): $17. Wine Lines rating: 86.

While you’re waiting for other, more tannic (and more expensive) wines to develop in your cellar or on your wine rack, Avant wines offer plenty of pure drinking pleasure.

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2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

More than 20 vineyards. Five varietals. A mix of French and American oak barrels. Those were the components that contributed to this wine, a full-bodied beauty that seamlessly melds fruit and spice notes. Among the aromas and flavors we experienced were blackberry, boysenberry (think: fresh pie from Knott’s Berry Farm), dark chocolate, cinnamon and cedar. Another in a long line of blending success stories from Freemark Abbey.

MSRP: $50

Wine Lines rating: 91

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2012 Matanzas Creek Merlot, Sonoma County

Matanzas Creek has been making one of Sonoma County’s most reliable Merlot bottlings for four decades, and we’ve had the pleasure of sampling most of them. Although the 2012 growing season was cool in comparison to the nearly perfect 2013 vintage, Matanzas Creek still assembled an enjoyable wine. The tightly packed black fruits reveal themselves after some aeration. And once the wine opens up, the black currant and raspberry impressions are joined by notes of earth, minerals, dill weed, vanilla and baker’s chocolate.

MSRP: $28 (December 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 89

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