Spring is finally arriving, and although the gentler temperatures are urging me towards lighter fare, I am having trouble letting go of bold, flavorful reds. The following wines all pack a flavor wallop, work beautifully year round, and will complement a wide variety of foods.
1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel, Batch #041, 2016 ($17)
Okay, full disclosure: I was a bit nervous when this bottle hit my desk. I love wine. I love good bourbon. But never in my wildest dreams did I envision the two partnering at the dance, so to speak. My fear was that the new bourbon barrels into which this vintage was poured (after having been more conventionally aged in traditional American and French oak) would contribute syrupy and treacly elements to the wine. That didn’t happen. The secondary aging did add notes of caramel and a bit of char and smoke, but the rich berry fruit and sassy spice elements of a good zinfandel still shine through, and create a surprisingly complex, intriguing blend with a long, savory finish. At 15.7 percent alcohol, this red packs a punch. The obvious pairing is Southern barbecue — ribs or pulled pork — as you’ll need a little fat to offset the high proof.
Mulderbosch Faithful Hound Red 2014 ($22.50)
This pleasing wine from the Western Cape region of South Africa is a real bargain. Unlike most Bordeaux blends, which lead with cabernet sauvignon, this one showcases cabernet franc at 32 percent, with 26 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent merlot, 16 percent malbec, and 7 percent petit verdot added to the mix. Red fruit and vanilla show in the nose and initially on the palate, with layers of spice, anise, and espresso notes. The mouthfeel is round and silky, with gentle, well-integrated tannins evident in the medium-long finish.
Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2010 ($23)
If your tastes run more to lighter, spicier wines, fresh with plum and berry fruits and hinting of pure vanilla, you will enjoy this well-priced offering from Caroso. A deep garnet red in the glass, with a slightly iridescent rim, the wine offers fruit nicely succeeded by a pleasantly acidic, notable tannin finish. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region, located midway down Italy’s boot towards the east, produces a lot of food-friendly, easy-drinking wines, but this 2010 proves that the varietal can handle a bit of age as well. One caveat: This vintage needs to breathe. Open it at least an hour before serving or, better yet, decant it.
J. Cage Cellars Craftsman’s Blend 2016 ($35)
This wine just won several gold medals, including one from the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s not hard to understand why. Bright with cherry and red currant fruit, it's both food-friendly and an excellent stand-alone sipper. The wine is a 50/40 sangiovese/zinfandel blend, composed of grapes from the upper and lower slopes of Dry Creek Valley, respectively, with 10 percent petite sirah added to reinforce its structure and contribute dark fruit and a hit of black tea. The color heralds the ripe cherry flavor, with some darker fruit, and a hint of vanilla, pink peppercorn, and light herb notes emerging in the finish. It's silky and round on the palate, with enough body to give it some heft.
Leviathan 2013 ($48)
Although blessedly not as monstrous as its namesake, this exuberant blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, and cabernet franc, sourced from a variety of vineyards throughout Northern California, is still plenty big and complex. Packed with dark fruit, (notably black cherry), it's full-bodied, layered with tobacco and anise, and boasts a long, soft, cocoa-dusted oaky finish. There’s a reason grilled red meat works well with intense wines, and this one needs a thick rib-eye steak, charred and rare.
Sutro Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($50)
This medium-bodied, dark, fruit-forward wine is almost jammy with ripe plum, blackberry, and blueberry flavors. There’s a hint of violet in the nose, with moderately soft, integrated tannins. Persimmon-like acidity and leather notes moderate the fruit, and there’s a hint of smoke and cigar box in the finish. This wine is expressive of the big-fruit California cabs that have enjoyed a run in popularity and will not disappoint fans of same.
Hawk and Horse Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($70)
This is a beautifully crafted, impressively structured wine. First impressions include black currants and blackberries in the nose and on the palate, with cocoa nibs emerging, along with a hint of smoke and French oak in the moderately long, dry finish. The mouthfeel is round and velvety, with smooth, fully integrated tannins. Terroir is a term much bandied about in the wine industry, but this wine truly reflects its origins. The certified organic grapes are grown in the rocky, volcanic, silica-rich red soil characteristic of the Red Hills AVA. The vineyard was established in 1999 by the Boies and Hawkins families, who are passionate advocates of biodynamic vineyard practices, and as winemakers, they hew to a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar. This wine would be a delicious complement to any red meat preparation. You really can’t go wrong here.
S&G Estate Aleksander Red Wine 2010 ($75)
This lush wine, the first produced by this boutique vineyard, hits the sweet spot between big and assertive and beautifully nuanced. Named for former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Aleksander “Sasha” Vujačić (who, with his family, owns and operates the property), it's a Bordeaux blend of 74 percent merlot and 26 percent cabernet sauvignon, juicy with blackberries tempered by earthy and spicy notes, with a touch of cigar box in the smooth-tannin finish. Well-structured and really well made, it is a stellar precursor to the vineyard’s multi-award-winning 2011 blend, and would be a gorgeous partner for everything from grilled or roasted lamb and beef to roast chicken or deep-fried turkey.
Wines for review were provided by their producers or importers at no cost to the writer.