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Steven Kent 2013 Lineage (Livermore Valley); $155. I’ve long had a fondness for Steven Kent’s Bordeaux-style wines, of which Lineage is the best. (He also makes the Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.) Lineage is a meritage-style wine; this ’13 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. It is, in a word, superb. The mélange of flavors fascinates me; there’s fresh fruit (cherries, blackberries, blueberries), dried fruit (currants), liqueur (cassis), sweet dried leather, milk chocolate, smoky oak (cedar, vanilla, toast) and licorice (anise). The texture is mind-blowing: so smooth and velvety, so seamless. For all the richness, there’s a structural control, courtesy of the acid-tannin balance. I don’t know if it will age; it’s pretty soft now, but it’s so balanced, it might. You never know, but then again, it’s so good, so complete and wholesome and delicious, there’s no reason not to drink it now or over the next year or two. The alcohol is 14.4%. Only 275 cases were produced. The wine spent two years in French oak, most of it new. I can’t praise this wine enough. It’s really expensive, but compared to the price of many Napa Cabs, it’s a bargain. Score: 97 points.


Chateau Smith 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State): $20.This is a succulent, juicy Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s rich in black currants, with firm, rich tannins and the most lively acidity that really gets your mouth watering. It’s from Charles Smith, and I’m not sure if they mean for the “Chateau Smith” to be a different brand, or a proprietary name under Charles Smith. The technical notes state it’s from the Columbia Valley; the label simply says “Washington State.” Why, oh why can’t these wineries get their story straight? Whatever, it’s quite a fine red wine, robust, bone dry and moderate in alcohol, clocking in at 13.5%. It strongly suggests a grilled steak. Score: 91 points.


Steven Kent 2016 LOLA White Wine, Ghielmetti Vineyard (Livermore Valley): $24. A classic blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillion, this wine demonstrates why Livermore Valley was famous long ago for white Bordeaux-style blends. It’s really lovely, with citrus, tropical fruit, apricot and fig flavors cut through with a trace of pyrazine-inspired green grass. The finish is dry, although there may be a little residual sugar to give it a round, mellow mouthfeel. Meanwhile, the acidity is racy, and the alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.4%. The wine is entirely unoaked. I might have given it a touch of wood to bring that fancy edge of vanilla smoke, but nonetheless it’s a super-nice wine, at a good price. Score: 91 points.


Charles Smith 2014 The Velvet Devil Merlot (Washington State): $13. This is so good for the price, I’m almost shocked. It’s translucent ruby in color, suggesting a light- or medium-bodied wine, which it is, with only 13.5% alcohol. The aroma is red cherries, red currants and espresso, with a sprinkling of cocoa dust, a suggestion of beet root, and just a whiff of violets and dusty earth. So pretty. In the mouth, it’s entirely dry, but rich and complex. The spicy finish is longer than you’re think in a thirteen dollar wine. And, yes, it does feel velvety in the mouth. This is not an ageable wine, but it is a beauty for drinking now. Although the label doesn’t say so, the grapes are from the Columbia Valley. Buy this one by the case. Score: 91 points.


Trentadue 2015 Estate Bottled La Storia Petite Sirah (Alexander Valley): $TK. Alc. 14.8%. I’ll give this wine kudos for its sheer mass. It’s just what you expect a modern, warm-climate Petite Sirah to be. Dark in color, full-throttle in body, and humungous in flavor. Waves of chocolate, black cherry jam, mocha, anise, white pepper and smoke, wrapped into thick but ultra-soft tannins, and brightened by just-in-time acidity. This is the kind of wine I always call a barbecue wine, meaning its practical usage is limited because of the size. But if you’re grilling up those old babybacks, go ahead and slurp away. Score: 91 points.


Charles Smith 2015 Kung Fu Girl Riesling (Washington State): $13. Such a deal! This is a super price for a Riesling of this purity. I love the apple, orange marmalade, petrol, nectarine and white flower flavors, and the way the acidity makes it all so lively. There’s also a tangy minerality, like cold metal. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 12%, and yet the wine tastes just off-dry (I’m sure it has a little residual sugar to round it out). Really a delight to drink. I would buy this by the case. Score: 91 points.


Steven Kent 2014 BDX Collection Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Livermore Valley); $48. The first duty of Cabernet Franc is to be different from Cabernet Sauvignon. Otherwise, what’s the point? This small production (249 cases) bottling certainly is. While it has weight, it’s lighter in color and silkier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also redder in fruits: not black currants and cassis, but cherries and kirsch. Thoroughly dry, it exhibits quite a lot of complexity, showing earthy tea notes, dried mushrooms and smoky new oak. User alert: it’s very tannic. We’re talking palate lockdown, although a great steak might prove a worthy opponent. Will it age? I don’t think it will beyond five years. My advice to Steven Kent is to figure out a way to manage those tannins in future vintages. Score: 90 points.


Charles Smith 2015 Boom Boom Syrah (Washington State): $18. Boom Boom is the right terminology. This is a big, rich, dense, robust Syrah. It’s jam-packed with flavor: blackberries, mulberries, shaved dark chocolate, coffee and teriyaki beef, with black pepper accents and a smoky oakiness. The color is inky black, the tannins dense but fine, and there’s a welcoming bite of acidity. With a totally dry finish and an alcohol level of just 13.5%, it’s quite food-friendly. Drink now. Score: 90 points.


Geyser Peak 2015 River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley): $22. Aromatically, heaps of lemongrass and freshly-mown hay characterize this bone dry, crisp 100% Sauvignon Blanc. If there’s any oak at all (the tech notes don’t say, unfortunately), it’s not evident. In the mouth, juicier notes of figs and spearmint emerge, but it’s still a rather severe wine, and quite a good one in that style. I think of Chinese food, or shellfish, or feta cheese, or drinking it as a stylish appetizer. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.5%, and 1,590 cases were produced. Score: 91 points.


Geyser Peak 2013 Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley): $30. This is a very nice Cabernet, rich and delicious. It has a ripe Cab’s classic flavors of crushed blackberries and mocha, while the addition of 7% Petite Sirah seems to add a peppery mushu plum sauce taste. The tannins are ultra-smooth and the wine is a little on the soft side, suggesting immediate drinkability. Thirty bucks is the suggested retail price, but I’ve seen this wine for $20 or less. If you can get it for that price, it’s a lovely sipper for summer steaks. Score: 90 points.


Miro 2014 Coyote Ridge Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley): $TK. This delivers just what you’d expect from a Dry Creek Petite Sirah. It’s dry, heady and incredibly rich in blackberry jam, brown sugar and coffee flavors. The tannins are thick and hard, and there’s a nice burst of acidity. A big, big wine, dark and voluptuous, ideal for barbecue. The official alcohol level is 14.5%. Score: 88 points.


Geyser Peak 2015 Water Bend Chardonnay (Sonoma County): $26. Oaky and superripe, with vanilla, sweet cream and honey-infused tropical fruit and apricot jam flavors. It’s the kind of Chardonnay you either like or don’t. I do. It’s rich, soft, a little sweet and eminently drinkable. The alcohol is 14.5%, and 632 cases were produced. Score: 87 points.


Stanton Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah (St. Helena); $45. This is textbook Petite Sirah, in the black color, the massive extract and the solid tannins. The flavors are blackberries, ripe and sweet and rather liqueur-like, due to 15.3% alcohol. There’s a milk-chocolate richness, too, but the wine actually is dry. The tannins are evident, but they’re in the modern style: soft and finely-ground. The oak overlay shows up in the form of smoky vanilla. I am bothered by something “off” in the aroma. It could by pyrazine, indicating a celery unripeness; it could be a bit of mold. Score: 87 points.


Parducci 2013 Small Lot Petite Sirah (Mendocino County): $?. This is a decent sipper for stews, barbecue and such. It’s dry, smooth and easy to drink, with blackberry, tea, tobacco, cocoa dust, anise and pepper flavors. The acid-tannin balance is gentle. Try it as an alternative to Zinfandel or Merlot. Score: 87 points.


Zin-Phomaniac 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi): $15. The price is the main attraction on this Zinfandel. The connoisseur crowd will object that it’s too ripe and plummy, too chocolatey, too hot, and has some unevenly ripened fruit. That’s all true, but it is a savory mouthful of wine, with a flood of raspberry jam, caramel, vanilla and spicy flavors. I call it a barbecue wine, and for fifteen bucks or less, there’s nothing wrong with that. Score: 86 points.


Steven Kent 2014 Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley); $65. I find this 100% Cabernet too brawny for my tastes. If you’re a fan of fruit, you’ll like the blackberry jam, chocolate macaroon, spice and toasty oak flavors. The tannins are very fine and smoothly-ground, and there’s a nice bite of acidity. The year 2014 was of course a drought year, and while the official alcohol here is a modest 13.9%, I also detect overripe prune notes. Don’t bother aging it. Score: 86 points.


Charles Smith 2014 Eve Chardonnay (Washington State): $13. The winery says this Chard has no new oak and was aged in barrel for only five months, but it tastes oaky to me. Either that, or it’s tired, with the fruit dropping out and the oak sticking out. The tropical fruits are turning apricotty. It’s okay, but I can’t really say I like it, even at this price. Score: 84 points.


Tie Dye 2014 Red Wine (North Coast); $15. This is a pretty bland wine. Comprised of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache, it’s soft, dry and dull, with vegetal overtones. You’ll find enough flavor to make it acceptable for drinking with simple fare. Score: 82 points.

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Steve.

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