In this article, we review several wines that offer better than expected quality for modest prices, mostly under $20 retail. They come from Arroyo Seco, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey, Clarksburg, Lodi, and New Zealand’s Marlborough region.
Testarossa. Located in Los Gatos, Testarossa was founded by Rob and Diana Jensen in 1993. They source fruit from some of California’s best vineyards in the Central Coast and elsewhere. The two Cuvée 107 wines we review here are highly drinkable, reasonably priced wines.
Testarossa 2013 Cuvee 107 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ($20) 88 The Cuvee 107 Pinot Noir offers fragrant aromas of cherry fruit and toasted oak. It is soft on the attack with nicely concentrated fruit flavors on the palate, medium acidity, silky tannins and a pleasant finish. Testarossa 2011 Chardonnay Cuvee 107 Santa Lucia Highlands ($20) 90 The Cuvee 107 Chardonnay offers aromas of tropical fruit and toast. It exhibits complete malolactic fermentation with a soft and creamy mouth feel combined with good intensity of flavor. It is nicely balanced with good acidity and finishes fresh and flavorful.
GEN 5. The GEN 5 wines are produced under a joint venture between Lange Twins Winery in Lodi and the import company, Vino del Sol. They are made by winemaker Karen Birmingham, former winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery and Woodbridge, and David Akoyoshi, formerly director of winemaking at Woodbridge. These wines from the 2012 and 2013 vintages are a notable improvement over the previous releases from 2011; they show more ripeness, flavor, mouth feel and balance. Vino del Sol also brings in the Wild South label from Marlborough, which we taste here for the first time.
GEN 5 2013 Chardonnay Lodi ($11) 87 The Chardonnay exhibits a pale straw color and is blended with tiny amounts of Viognier and Muscat. It has light fruit aromas and offers orchard fruit flavors. It is light with a tart mid-palate and a dry crisp finish. GEN 5 2012 Merlot Clarksburg ($11) 87 This Merlot reveals plum fruit and spice with bright acidity and a crisp, slightly dry palate. It shows good Merlot character on the palate with firm tannic grip and a a rather dry finish. GEN 5 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi ($11) 88 This Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 13% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot, offers black currant fruit and licorice with hints of toasted oak. Aged eight months in French (80%) and American (20%) oak it has a full mouth feel, good balance, round tannins, and a persistent finish. GEN 5 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi ($11) 88 This Old Vine Zinfandel is quite tasty and fruit forward with good freshness and mouth feel, balance and acidity on the finish. Well done.
Wild South Vineyard 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($15) 87 The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc shows light herbal and citrus fruit on the palate with moderate to light intensity of flavor. It has good freshness and acidity and a crisp finish. Wild South Vineyard 2013 Pinot Noir Marlborough ($17) 90 The Wild South Pinot Noir offers aromas of fresh red berry fruit. It is a beautifully focused wine with delicious light fruit flavors and excellent acidity on the palate. Aged in French oak and stainless steel tanks, it has wonderful mouth feel and persistence on the finish. Sourced from the Hell’s Gate estate and neighboring vineyards, this wine confirms Marlborough’s reputation as one of New Zealand’s finest regions for Pinot Noir. Great value.
Blair Estate. This is a relatively new micro estate established in the Arroyo Seco by the successful cattle rancher Jeffrey Blair. His estate produces excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris fruit. We are big fans of his Chardonnay, which showed exceptionally well in 2013.
Blair Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco ($30) 91 The 2013 Blair Chardonnay displays a bright yellow gold color and aromas of melon, stone fruit and toasted oak. Fermented in French oak and stainless steel, it is soft on the attack with ripe fruit flavor on the palate, excellent balance and acidity, and a long finish. Well done.