It was a much more intimate group than The Independent‘s volunteer wine sipping crew is used to, but the most recent office tasting — held outdoors on October 12 atop a folding table in our parking lot — revealed a number of truly winning wines. Our challenge was all red this time around, from merlots to syrahs to zinfandels.
And, since it took more than a month for this article to come out, the tasting was rewarded with a bit of exciting news this week, when Wine Spectator named one of these wines as #12 on their annual Top 100 list. That would be the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel 2009, one of 26 California wines being given that exalted honor. (Read about the four Santa Barbara County-related wines on the list here.)
As to our October 12 tasting, The Independent‘s food editor George Yatchisin neatly summed up his highlight of the night, explaining, “A fine night for the many moods of merlot — a not surprisingly more rustic big, big fruit version from Sagebrush Annie’s, a more perfumy and heavier-on-the-candy one from Gainey, and then the out-and-out sophisticated Star Lane, full of deep berry flavors and finishing with a tingly tongue-coat of tannins.” Add to that some highly different syrahs and a series of serious Sonoma County zinfandels, and we had the makings of an intriguing evening.
Here’s what we all thought.
Sagebrush Annie’s Stone Pine Vineyard 2009: This wine landed Larry Hogan’s Cuyama Valley winery its 38th gold medal in six years. We too were pleased with the product, with tasters commenting: “deep prunes,” “tart and velvet,” “exciting mountain sage aftertaste.” ($32; 15.3%; sagebrushannies.com)
Gainey Merlot 2008: Blended with a touch of cabernet franc (3%) and even lighter brush of petit verdot (1%), this was an immensely drinkable merlot, reminding everyone that the once scorned grape can do quite well in the Santa Ynez Valley. One taster even remarked, “Candy!” ($42; 14.1%; gaineyvineyard.com)
Star Lane Merlot 2007: Unfortunately this wine made from grapes grown deep in Happy Canyon is already sold out, and we quickly understood why, being such an elegant, luscious, and noble expression of the grape. “Deep, with a little more cherry,” wrote one taster, and another opining, “Very pleasing.” ($32; 15.1%; dierbergvineyard.com )
E11even Wines Purple Haze 2006: This is Andrew Murray’s new side project, a musically inspired series of wines that’s inspired by the Spinal Tap line of “turning it up to 11.” This one, a Cote Rotie-style blend with 10 percent viognier, doubles up with a Jimi Hendrix connection, as Murray believes the viognier “put a spell on” the syrah. We enjoyed it, writing, “Dark with a little chocolate,” “lean on the mouth but spicy,” and “more flavorful than Old World, more vibrant.” ($25; 15.9%; andrewmurrayvineyards.com
Dehlinger Estate Russian River Valley Syrah 2004: Though this bottle wasn’t the awarded wine, Dehlinger Winery did place in the top 10 of the Wine Spectator Top 100 this year, with an astounding #5 slot for its Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008. This seven-year-old syrah that we tasted, meanwhile, was also extraordinary. “It’s just pretty,” said one of our panelists, and others thought it was “toastier” than the Purple Haze, and that “its edges had been polished with age.” ($35; 15%; dehlingerwinery.com)
Seghesio Sonoma County 2009: Seghesio Family Vineyards have been growing wine grapes in Sonoma County for more than a century, and their experience shows in both of the offerings here. This wine came from vineyards in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, and proved to be a softer, more of a mass market bottling, according to our tasters. ($24; 15%; seghesio.com/)
Seghesio Home Ranch Alexander Valley 2009: Hailing from the winery’s “Home Ranch” that was first planted in 1895, this was the wine that Wine Spectator honored with a #12 placement on the Top 100 list. Did we think it was that awesome? Well, we certainly liked it — “nice berry structure,” wrote one of us, “delicious, classic flavor,” wrote another — but none of us realized we were tasting liquid gold. Consider us blindly lucky. ($38; 15%; seghesio.com/)
Cardinal Zin Beastly Old Vines 2009: By far the most affordable wine on display during this tasting, the always reliable table blend Cardinal Zin this year features zinfandel (80%), mourvedre (10%), carignan (8%), and petite sirah (2%). After a slate of superb offerings, though, it was overshadowed by elegance, though many of us enjoyed this more “grapey” expression of zinfandel as a nice change of pace. And, for those of us on a budget, we’d be more inclined to buy a couple of these than just one of the others. ($10; 13%; bighousewines.com)