2013 La Crema Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

There is no question that this is a New World Pinot Noir, as the assertive, almost sweet fruit flavors dominate the nose and the palate. Think: purple plum, blackberry and cherry pie. There are some subtle chocolate, root beer and mocha notes in the background, but this wine is all about the fruit. We’d suggest setting it aside and opening it up on Thanksgiving Day in 2016.

MSRP: $40 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 89

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The ‘Middle Sisters’ Line: It’s All About Fun

Selecting a wine from a supermarket shelf can be a daunting task — especially if the wine department is fairly large. One way to make things easier is to find a brand you like and then stick with it.

The first thing you need to know about wines sold in supermarkets is that they are, by definition, mass produced. Rare is the market that stocks limited production, ultra-premium wines, mainly because there aren’t enough bottles for all of the markets around the country. Those releases typically are reserved for high-end grocers and wine shops.

The Charles Shaw brand — a.k.a. “Two-Buck Chuck” — is perhaps the best known example of a mass-produced wine today. But there are many others, and the companies producing them need to find ways to make them stand out — to differentiate them from the crowd. This is where branding and marketing come in.

We recently had the opportunity to taste through the full line of Middle Sister wines, each of which is accompanied by a “nickname” and a “story.” These aren’t about vintages or appellations; they’re about fun. Each carries a suggested retail price of $12, and here’s what we thought of them…

• “Surfer Chick” Sauvignon Blanc — This is a juicy wine with aromas of sweet peas and white flowers, leading to a sweet fruit flavor and finish. Wine Lines rating: 83.

• “Rebel Red” Winemakers Blend — Bordeaux varietals make up the majority of the cuvee, yet the 10 percent Zinfandel component seems to dominate the aroma and flavor spectrum, which includes chocolate, sweet red fruits, volcanic ash and pepper. Medium bodied and easy drinking. Wine Lines rating: 84.

• “Drama Queen” Pinot Grigio — There’s a 15 percent Moscato component in this wine, and it defines the nose, which will remind you of honeysuckle and sweet lychee. In the mouth, a ruby red grapefruit flavor emerges. A real crowd pleaser during the warmer months, so drink it while it’s hot! Wine Lines rating: 85.

• “Mischief Maker” Cabernet Sauvignon — Translucent light crimson in hue, this wine has a spicy nose with ample red fruits that carry through on the palate, and dusty tannins in the finish. Wine Lines rating: 85.

• “Sweet and Sassy” Moscato — The nose shows honeysuckle, lychee, rose geranium and fruit cocktail, and the juice is sweet and pleasant in the mouth. Serve it with ambrosia salad or a slice of pound cake. Wine Lines rating: 85.

• “Wild One” Malbec — Sweet, almost candied, red fruit flavors are joined by a touch of dark chocolate and sweet red cherries, all leading to a smooth finish. Wine Lines rating: 86.

• “Sweetie Pie” Red Wine — The most enjoyable of the Middle Sister wines we sampled, this blend reminded us of a Rhone red melded with California Zinfandel. Perfect for accompanying summertime fare — from burgers to barbecue — it offers notes of cinnamon, clove, candied plum and red berries. The sugar is nicely balanced with the fruit, and the ample acid helps make it all work. We suggest serving this wine slightly chilled. Wine Lines rating: 87.

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2014 Girl & Dragon Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina

When you feel like having a quality glass of Malbec, look for “Mendoza” on the label. Just as Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is dependably good, Malbec from Argentina’s Mendoza region offers plenty of drinking pleasure. Girl & Dragon’s 2014 vintage shows off black berries and a hint of cedar in the nose, joined by a black pepper impression in the mouth, which lingers in the finish. It’s also priced right, making it a Wine Lines Value Vino.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 88

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2014 Girl & Dragon Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy

Light straw in hue, this wine shows flowers and honey in the nose, along with impressions of banana essence and marshmallow. Chill it down for a nice summer sipper.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 83

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2014 Girl & Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast

Dusty. That’s the word that keeps coming up when smelling, tasting and ultimately swallowing this wine. It’s dusty in the nose, before revealing some black berry fruit in the mouth. And in the finish, some spicy and… yes… dusty tannins are revealed. Its maker suggests drinking it with carne asada tacos, and we concur.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 85

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2013 Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir, North Coast

Quite smoky in the nose, this medium-bodied, sleek wine shows hints of cinnamon and red fruits. Not a sipping wine; needs food for maximum enjoyment.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 84

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2013 Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay, North Coast

Medium straw in color, this is a simple, inoffensive rendition of Chardonnay, with Gage plum, a slathering of butter and some oak-tinged flavors in the background. Impressions of buttered fruit and baking spice linger on the finish.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 85

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2013 Cartlidge & Browne Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast

This wine is medium-full in the mouth, with impressions of blackberry syrup and roast coffee. Not as complex as a typical North Coast Cab, but with enough stuffing to make it enjoyable to drink. And its youthful, fine-grained tannins could make it worth cellaring for a few years to see if it opens up and expands.

MSRP: $14 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 86

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2014 Sonoma Collection District 3 ‘Growers Reserve’ Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

When a winery or vintner makes the decision to eschew oak barrel aging, they’re taking a calculated risk: Without the aromas and flavors imparted by oak, the aromas and flavors of the grapes must stand on their own. Well, that “risk” turned out to be a sure thing with this wine, as it’s brimming with engaging fruit flavors — from citrus to peach to banana to lemon. The wine is aromatic like Viognier, bright and fresh like Sauvignon Blanc, and complex in flavor — yes, like Chardonnay.

MSRP: $18.99

Wine Lines rating: 90

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2013 Sonoma Collection District 3 ‘Growers Reserve’ Pinot Noir, Sonoma County

If you like your Pinot Noir made in a feminine style, this bottling is not for you. However, if you prefer boldness in your reds, you’ll want to give it a try. The aroma is reminiscent of a fresh-baked berry pie, and the flavors are all about dark fruit: black cherry and purple plum. The wine finishes a bit warm, which suggests that it would benefit from another few years in the bottle.

MSRP: $19.99 (July 2015)

Wine Lines rating: 89

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