© 2006 by Randy Buckner
March 2006

Late winter 2006 Releases

Spring Mountain is not a mountain. Come again? It is right here on my wine label - Spring Mountain District! And look right here on my map; here it is … uh, wait, I know I saw it on the map. Where did it go?

Don't look too long. You will not find a peak by that name. Historically, Spring Mountain has been used in a regional context, referring to the numerous springs in the surrounding area.

The Spring Mountain Appellation spans the northern and eastern slopes of the Mayacamas mountain range. Elevations range from 400 to 2,100 feet, with diverse soils, topography, and macroclimates.

Winery personalities are as varied as the underlying soils. They are passionate. They are fiercely independent. They rise to the challenge of growing mountain grapes.

This month we feature 18 Spring Mountain wines from 17 wineries. You be the judge on whether these mountain grapes are worthy of their high reputation and lofty prices.

Another 100 new and current releases are presented for your inspection. The dual rating system evaluates quality (the first number) and value (the second) on a 100-point scale. No wines scoring below 80 points are listed. All prices are the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Vendor prices are often less expensive. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.

Spring Mountain Showcase wine glass

2003 Barnett Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $65, 1,606 cases. Ruby red in color, with black fruit, Baker's chocolate, and French oak unfolding on the nose. The wine is subdued at the moment, but it is well structured and built for the long haul. Berries and plums are evident on the lengthy finish; 90/89.

2004 Behrens & Hitchcock, Petite Sirah, Spring Mountain District, California, $??. This wine is black as night, with scents of ripe plums, cherries, and tomato leaf. Intensely fruity, jammy and oaky, the wine is tannic, with a whopping 15.9 percent alcohol; 85/??.

2002 Cain Five, Red Wine, Napa Valley, California, $100, 4,938 cases. Cassis, smoke, vanilla, and chocolate intermingle on the nose and spread out on the palate. The wine is full and rich in the mouth but with some noticeable heat; 86/84.

2002 Fantesca Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $65. This is a very polarizing wine based on reviews. I like it. Aromas and flavors speak of black cherries, vanilla, cigar leaf and cedar. The hefty tannins may be off-putting to some, but they are well rounded and should age out given enough time; 88/87.

2000 Fife, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $45. Aromas of currants, black cherries, cedar, dark chocolate, and tobacco radiate from this deep ruby beauty. The wine is full and rich, with all components singing in harmony, supported by graceful tannins; 91/91.

2002 Frias Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Spring Mountain District, California, $65, 500 cases. The wine is deep ruby/purple in color, with currants, plums, crushed mint and a whiff of flowers that build on the nose. Very fruit forward and lush, the tannins firm up on the lengthy finish; 89/88.

2001 Guilliams Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $37.50. Blackberries, violets, and cedary oak are highlighted on the nose. The wine is very generous on the palate, with layers of flavors mirroring the nose. Graceful tannins bode well for the future of the wine; 88/89.

2002 Juslyn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $85. The nose is an evolving mix of black fruit, smoke, leather, and barrel notes. Full and luxuriant in the mouth, you'll find generous fine-grained tannins. Black fruit lingers on the finish; 91/90.

2002 Marston Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $80. This wine is delineated by black fruit, rhubarb and vanilla notes. Full and rich, you'll find bold, ripe tannins that will be rewarded by several years in the cellar; 92/91.

2003 Paloma Vineyard, Merlot, Spring Mountain District, California, $51. This is a full-blown style of wine - very jammy, fruity, and oaky. Plums, chocolate-covered cherries, tobacco, and vanilla define the wine. Give it a few years in the cellar to help tame the bold tannins and let the oak integrate; 89/88.

2002 Peacock Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $65. Black fruits, warm spices, and barrel notes unfold on the nose. The wine is very supple in the mouth, with loads of fruit and polished tannins. This is just the ticket for those who prefer soft acidity; 88/87.

2003 Peacock Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $75. The tannins and oak are much more noticeable than their '02 version. I do not believe it is just a year's difference in age. You'll find a lot of black fruit vying for attention; 88/86.

2002 Robert Keenan Winery, Merlot, Reserve, Spring Mountain District, California, $56, 280 cases. The bouquet is a pleasant mix of black currants, cherries, smoke, toasty oak, and anise. All of the adjectives are here - full, rich, elegant, and harmonious. The endless finish reveals graceful tannins; 91/91.

2001 Schweiger Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $48, 3,189 cases. This is a very polished wine, with firm, ripe tannins and lovely balance. You'll find layered aromas and flavors of blackberries, plums, aged cigars and barrel notes, with a lengthy black fruit finish; 91/91.

2003 Sherwin Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Spring Mountain District, California, $85. Aromas of spicy oak, plums, currants, cedar, and violets radiate from this inky wine. Very rich and intense on the palate, with silky tannins that firm up on the finish. Give this one time in the cellar to integrate; 90/88.

2002 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Spring Mountain District, California, $50, 3,100 cases. Almost black in the glass, the wine gives off aromas of cassis, dark chocolate, berries, and sweet oak. The wine is full bodied, with firm but ripe tannins that should age out nicely. Berries and chocolate continue on the endless finish; 91/91.

2002 Terra Valentine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California, $50. Ruby/purple in color, with aromas of cassis, plums, and cedary oak. The wine is elegant and rich on the entry, with fine-grained tannins and food-friendly acidity. Not overblown; 89/89.

2002 Vineyard 7 & 8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard 7 Estate Reserve, Spring Mountain District, California, $85. In contrast to one review that panned this wine, I find it quite tasty. The nose has delightful blackberry, chocolate, cedar, and dusty notes. It is very polished on the entry, with good balance and lively acidity. Ripe fruit and sweet oak flavors are full and lengthy; 90/88.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine glass

2002 Altamura, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $65, 4,000 cases. This inky beast is an intense, extracted, jammy wine, delivering black fruit, new leather and cedary vanilla. Give it two to three years to calm down; 88/87.

2002 Atlas Peak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $38, 693 cases. Blue and black fruit aromas vie with the generous oak for recognition. The wine is full on the palate, with nice complexity. Tannins are firm but rounded, and they should smooth out with time. The oak is less noticeable on the palate and may integrate well; 86/86.

2002 Dry Creek Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, California, $21, 7,963 cases. This deep ruby release has a lot of American oak on the nose, with underlying plum and chocolate notes. Silky on the entry, you'll find much less oak in the mouth - black cherries and plums prevail; 85/85.

2003 Echelon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hames Valley, California, $13. Cherries and berries abound on the nose and carry over to the palate. Heavy-handed oak wins out over the fruit; 80/80.

2002 Estancia, Meritage, Paso Robles, California, $32, 18,400 cases. Black cherries, chocolate, licorice and oak intermingle on the nose. Moderately rich and sweet on the palate, the finish is long and tannic; 84/84.

2003 Geyser Peak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $18. There is a lot going on here for the price class. The wine weighs in as a middleweight, with balance throughout. Blackberries, black cherries, mint and coffee underscore the wine; 86/88.

2002 Geyser Peak Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Alexander Valley, California, $46, 4,470 cases. The nose is a mix of berries, cherries, chocolate, herbs, and vanilla spice. The wine is tart, with modest flavors that mirror the nose and then linger on the finish; 85/84.

2002 Geyser Peak Winery, Meritage, Reserve Alexandre, Alexander Valley, California, $49, 2,450 cases. Deep ruby in color and radiating aromas of black cherries, currants, and herbs, the wine is well rounded but quite tart. Flavors echo the nose; 86/85.

2004 Hahn Estates, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California, $14, 22,000 cases. Tart and chewy, this purple/red wine delivers oak and raspberry fruit in a quaffable package; 81/81.

2004 Hahn Estates, Meritage, Central Coast, California, $20, 18,500 cases. Oak, oak, oak on the nose. Oak, oak, oak on the palate. Where's the beef fruit? It's under there somewhere; 80/80.

2001 Kenwood, Cabernet Sauvignon, Artist Series, Sonoma County, California, $70, 2,338 cases. This deep ruby/purple Cab is underscored by black cherries, currants, warm spices and French oak. It is very elegant on the entry, with polished tannins and terrific acidity. The Art Deco styled label features "Femme Bleue a la Guitare." 88/87.

2003 Moon Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $16, 10,015 cases. Berries, cherry cola, cedar and vanilla notes are offered up in a straightforward package with drying tannins; 82/82.

2002 Moon Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Sonoma Valley, California, $35, 7,900 cases. This well-structured wine has generous but rounded tannins, and is defined by blackberries, dark chocolate, and oak notes; 84/84.

2002 Penfolds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Aromas and flavors of black fruits, mint, oak, and tomato leaf unfold on the senses. Medium bodied and tart, with easy drinking tannins, this is a food wine, not a sipper; 85/88.

2003 Penfolds, Cabernet Merlot, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Deep plum in color, with currants, plums, cedary oak, and mint lead unfolding on the nose. This straightforward wine offers modest flavors on a medium framework; 84/86.

2003 Provenance, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, California, $40, 19,642 cases. Defined by black fruit, cocoa, and cedar, the wine is balanced, with generous but rounded tannins. Oak is evident upfront, with underlying fruit elegance. This one needs time to integrate; 86/86.

2003 Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, Appellation Selection, Alexander Valley, California, $30, 4,000 cases. Purple-red in the glass, with aromas of black fruit, chocolate, and toasty oak. The palate shows nice fruit, but it is buried under a cord of wood; 82/82.

2003 Sebastiani, Secolo, Proprietary Wine Selection, Sonoma County, California, $30, 1,400 cases. This deeply-hued Bordeaux blend gives off aromas of black fruit and toasty oak. You'll find nice acidity and fruit, but like their Cabernet, it is overwhelmed by oak; 83/83.

2002 Silver Lake, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 1,222 cases. Lots of black fruit and spicy oak highlights the wine, with tart acidity and rounded tannins; 83/83.

2002 Solaris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $25, 12,500 cases. The wine is nicely balanced, with cassis, chocolate, and American oak throughout. Rich and tannic on the palate, this one will be rewarded with three to five years in the cellar; 85/86.

2002 Solaris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Release, Napa Valley, California, $15, 21,000 cases. This wine is simple, fruity, and moderately tannic, with blackberries, herbs, and generous American oak notes; 83/83.

2003 3 Blind Moose, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $10. This straightforward quaffer offers up berries, plums and oak spice; 81/81.

Chardonnay wine glass

2004 Barton & Guestier, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Languedoc Roussillon, France, $6. This simple little quaffer offers up peaches, almonds, and citrus notes; 80/80.

2004 Beaulieu Vineyard, Chardonnay, Carneros, California, $20, 17,000 cases. Aromas and flavors of green apples, pears and toasty oak intermingle on the senses. Very soft acidity barely carries the wine; 82/82.

2004 Beaulieu Vineyard, Chardonnay, Coastal Estates, California, $11. Melons, figs, and citrus zest are highlighted on the nose and palate. Medium bodied, crisp, with a modest finish; 83/84.

2004 Beaulieu Vineyard, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $18, 9,000 cases. You'll find a host of creamy oak and butterscotch, with just a twist of lemon. The wine is very soft and creamy on the palate; 83/83.

2004 Beringer, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $16. This wine is well balanced, creamy, and quite complex for the price point, offering up lemon, pineapple, butterscotch, and barrel notes in California style; 86/88.

2004 Beringer, Chardonnay, Private Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $35. Made in the classic house style, the wine is big, bold, and complex, with generous smoky oak. Butterscotch, crème Brule and leesy notes add to the mix; 88/88.

2004 Edna Valley Vineyard, Chardonnay, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley, California, $14. Made in the classic California style, you'll find lemon curd, butterscotch, and toasty oak notes, all supported by bright acidity. Tasty; 86/88.

2004 Hahn Estates, Chardonnay, Monterey, California, $14, 29,000 cases. Light gold in color, with citrus and oak notes. The wine is balanced and creamy, with butterscotch and peach accents; 83/83.

2004 Moon Mountain, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $13, 19,480 cases. The wine is underscored by apples, pears, spice, barrel notes, and laser acidity. Pair with white fish; 84/85.

2004 Penfolds, Chardonnay, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $11. This fruit-driven Chardonnay offers good value. Creamy, balanced, with good oak integration, you'll find melons and almond notes adding to the mix; 85/88.

2004 Sebastiani, Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, California, $25, 1,450 cases. Butterscotch, baked peaches and lemons present on the nose, and then carry through to the palate. Very creamy and rich, with oak lingering on the finish; 84/84.

2004 Sebastiani, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $13, 70,500 cases. Tropical fruit, spice, and generous oak aromas exude from this creamy, medium-bodied wine. Oak and spice dominate the flavor profile; 82/82.

2004 3 Blind Moose, Chardonnay, California, $10. Oak, butter, spice, and tropical fruit define the sensory profile of this wine. Bright acidity ties it all together. Simple but tasty; 82/82.

Merlot wine glass

2001 Godwin, Merlot, Alexander Valley, California, $35, 725 cases. Lots of cedary oak, plums, berries, and a dash of pepper are presented in a smooth, well-rounded package; 85/85.

2004 Hahn Estates, Merlot, Monterey, California, $14, 29,000 cases. Lots of wood, cherries, and herbs carry from the nose to the palate, with oak winning out; 81/81.

2003 Pedestal (Long Shadows), Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $55, 553 cases. Michel Rolland had his hand in the making of this wine, along with Allen Shoup. If you like the intense, full extract, blow-your-hair-back style of wine, this is for you. Very intense, rich flavors of blueberries, black cherries, dark chocolate, and cedary spice are augmented by generous but rounded tannins; 86/85.

2003 Provenance, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $35, 5,503 cases. This ruby-red wine radiates aromas of mixed berries, barrel notes, and herbs. Rich, ripe, with slightly bitter, drying tannins, the fruit and acidity complement each other well; 86/86.

2002 Silver Lake, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 2,240 cases. Ruby/brick in color. Tart and oaky, with plenty of plum and cherry fruit; 83/83.

2002 Solaris, Merlot, Special Release, Napa Valley, California, $15, 23,000 cases. Berries, herbs, and generous American oak carry throughout. Straightforward and fruity; 83/83.

2003 3 Blind Moose, Merlot, California, $10. The wine is very spicy and oaky, with simple cherry and chocolate notes; 80/80.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

2005 Alice White, Lexia, South Eastern Australia, $7. Floral, with a muscaty nose, the wine is quite sweet at 4.36 percent residual sugar. Acidity barely covers the R.S. Straightforward apricot flavors prevail; 80/80.

2004 Archetype Vineyards, Cabernet-Shiraz, Barossa, Australia, $15, 10,000 cases. Aromas of plums, ripe berries, warm spices and eucalyptus radiate from this purple/ruby wine. Flavors mirror the nose. This will make a dandy BBQ wine; 85/87.

2002 Beringer, Botrytised Nightingale, Private Reserve, Napa Valley, California, $35 (375 ml). The nose displays a lovely mix of botrytis, figs, dried apricots and hay. While very sweet on the palate, there is enough acidity to pull it off; 90/90.

2004 Bloom, Pinot Gris, Nahe, Germany, $7, 4,000 cases. While straightforward, the wine is very quaffable for seven bucks, with lemon drop aromas and flavors; 81/81.

2004 Bloom, Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, $7, 50,000 cases. Delicate peach aromas carry over to the palate. The acidity barely covers the 3.5 percent residual sugar; 80/80.

NV Bonny Doon Vineyard, Framboise, Washington State, $11 (375 ml). Pure crushed raspberry aromas waft from the glass. Super intense on the palate - it's just like packing your mouth full of ripe raspberries and savoring the effect. The acidity more than handles the 19 percent residual sugar; 92/93.

NV Bonny Doon Vineyard, Recioto of Barbera, Monterey, California, $25 (500 ml). This deeply hued wine is very intense on the nose and palate. You'll find dried berries, raisins, and a flavor best described as "Port with a pickle." Delightful balance; 85/85.

NV Cosentino, Ol' Red, California, $12, 2,594 cases. A multi-grape blend that delivers black fruit, oak, licorice and dark chocolate. You'll find pleasant fruitiness, but the wine is tart, tart, tart. Pair with a tomato-based red sauce to cut some of the apparent acidity; 81/81.

2004 Hahn Estates, Cabernet Franc, Santa Lucia Highlands, California, $14, 3,300 cases. This purple/red blend displays chocolate, herbs, oak and dark fruit across the spectrum, with oak and coarse tannins most prominent; 80/80.

2003 Mettler, Petite Sirah, Lodi, California, $25, 2,300 cases. The wine is almost black in the glass, and is delineated by blackberries, plums, coffee and oak. While the tannins are well harnessed, the oak is not - it overwhelms the black fruit; 83/83.

NV Oroya, White Wine, Tierra de Castilla, Spain, $8. Designed specifically as a companion for sushi, the wine is a 60/30/10 blend of Airén, Macabeo, and Muscat. Somewhat reserved peach and floral notes carry throughout the wine. Light bodied, with 11 percent alcohol; 84/84.

2004 Osborne, Solaz Shiraz-Tempranillo, Spain, $8. Plums, berries, and American oak characterize this wine, supported by chewy tannins - a simple quaffer for grilled burgers; 81/81.

2003 Osborne, Solaz Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon, Spain, $8. American oak aromas win out over the red fruit notes. Soft and simple, but quaffable for the red fruit and light minerality; 82/82.

2003 Penfolds, Shiraz-Cabernet, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Aromas of smoked meat, chocolate, and cedary spice evolve into jammy black fruit flavors, with modest oak nuances; 84/86.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2004 Echelon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California, $13, 76,000 cases. Lovely black cherry, dark tea, and clove aromas highlight the nose. While fruity on the palate, the oak is simply overwhelming; 80/80.

2004 Hahn Estates, Pinot Noir, Monterey, California, $18, 9,800 cases. Black cherries, plums, dark tea and smoke define the wine, which is balanced and fruity, with lots of barrel notes; 82/82.

2004 Solaris, Pinot Noir, Special Release, Carneros, California, $15, 17,000 cases. Light and well rounded in the mouth, the wine is highlighted by cherry, berry, and toasty oak notes. Pair with a mild pork or salmon dish; 83/84.

2004 Valley of the Moon, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $20, 1,900 cases. The nose is highlighted by cherries, raspberries and tea, which expand on the palate along with oak spiciness. Very crisp, fruity and easy to drink; 86/86.

Port wine glass

NV Bonny Doon, Bouteille Call, California, $16 (500 ml). Bouteille Call is a raspberry infused Syrah port, underscored by black fruit and raspberry nuances. It is quite sweet at eight percent residual sugar, but has a nice roundness to the wine. Alcohol stands at 17.5 percent; 85/86.

2000 Dow, Port, Late Bottled Vintage, Portugal, $20. Deeply hued, with loads of ripe black fruit, violets, and brown sugar. The wine is presented in a well-balanced, rounded package that is easy to drink now or for many years to come. I paired it with Point Reyes Original Blue cheese (see below) - it took a youthful Port like this to stand up to the cheese; 88/88.

Dow, Ten Year Aged Tawny, Portugal, $29. Brown sugar, caramels and raisins emanate from this Tawny. Very smooth and polished on the entry, you'll find loads of sweet hazelnuts on the palate. It paired perfectly with the Sweet Grass Green Hill cheese (see below); 88/88.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

2004 Dry Creek Vineyard, Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $13.50, 30,000 cases. Although very nicely balanced and refreshing, the grapefruit, lemongrass and melon scents fail to deliver on the palate as promised, with straightforward lime and lemongrass flavors; 84/84.

2005 Geyser Peak, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $12. The wine sees 100 percent stainless steel. A bowl full of citrus unfolds on the nose - limes, tangerines and grapefruit abound. While clean and refreshing, the aromas promise more than the flavors deliver, being one-dimensional, with a touch of garlic; 83/83.

2004 Lake Sonoma Winery, Fume Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, California, $16, 1,570 cases. Lemons, herbs, and melons underscore the wine, with very tangy acidity and a moderate finish. Pair with lemon chicken; 84/84.

2004 Moon Mountain, Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California, $13, 4,700 cases. This straightforward, well-balanced wine offers up citrus, melon, pineapple and oak nuances. Pair with shellfish; 83/83.

2004 Thomas-Labaille, Les Monts Damnés, Sancerre, France, $18. Straw gold in color, with aromas of citrus and melons, the wine has a firm, acidic backbone and a medium framework - nice, but there's not a lot of depth; 86/86.

2005 Villa Maria, Sauvignon Blanc, Cellar Selection, Marlborough, New Zealand, $16. A definite step up from their Private Bin offering, the nose is an inviting mix of gooseberries and exotic tropicals. Gooseberries, herbs, and limes dominate the palate, with tangy acidity giving lift to the wine. Classic NZ SB; 90/90.

Sparkling Wine wine glass

NV Korbel, Brut Rosé, California, $11. Mid-sized bubbles rise through a pink/copper medium. Straightforward cherry and strawberry flavors provide short-term drinking pleasure; 81/81.

Syrah wine glass

2004 Archetype, Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia, $15, 10,000 cases. Mixed red fruits and a wisp of smoke underscore the nose. Medium bodied, very crisp, with straightforward flavors echoing the aromas; 83/83.

2004 Archetype, Shiraz, Old Vine Reserve, Barossa Valley, Australia, $35, 1,000 cases. Almost black in the glass, you'll find smoked meat, blueberry and plum scents unfolding. The wine is very tart, but the luscious fruit is very inviting. Paired with the appropriate foods, it should be fine; 86/86.

2003 Beaulieu Vineyard, Shiraz, Coastal Estates, California, $11, 12,600 cases. This bright ruby wine delivers very smoky, oaky aromas, with black fruit, cola and floral notes underlying. Lean, crisp, and straightforward, I'd drink this one now with grilled fare; 82/82.

2003 Cosentino, Syrah, California, $18, 1,028 cases. The wine leads off with scents of ripe black fruit and barrel notes. Crisp, with rounded tannins, the modest fruit is right upfront; 85/86.

2004 Hahn, Syrah, Central Coast, California, $12. There are a lot of blue and black fruits on the nose, as well as a lot of oak. While smooth on the entry, the oak obscures the underlying fruit; 81/81.

2003 Kendall-Jackson, Syrah, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. Purple/red in the glass. Black fruits and toast highlight this straightforward offering. Approachable now; 83/84.

2003 Penfolds, Shiraz, Koonunga Hill, South Eastern Australia, $12. Plums, cherry liqueur, and warm spices delineate this wine. It is easy to drink right now for the modest fruit; 84/86.

2004 Ravenswood, Shiraz, Vintners Blend, South Eastern Australia, $11, 92,000 cases. Smoke and currants highlight the aromas and flavors here. Crisp and fruity, albeit without a lot of complexity, this is a nice wine for those grilled meats on the barbie; 84/85.

2003 Three Rivers Winery, Syrah, Boushey Vineyards, Yakima Valley, Washington, $50, 361 cases. Three Rivers has a terrific track record with Dick Boushey's fruit - this one is no exception. The wine is impeccably balanced, with tannins as smooth as silk. Complex aromas and flavors of black fruit and smoked game are backed by food-friendly acids and an endless finish; 92/92.

Zinfandel wine glass

2003 Kendall-Jackson, Zinfandel, Vintner's Reserve, California, $12. Brambly berry aromas follow through on the palate. Fruity, jammy, and well rounded, this is a good value wine that lingers on the finish; 85/88.

2003 Lake Sonoma Winery, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, $18, 4,000 cases. This is a pretty wine, but not very Zin-like to me. Black cherries, vanilla, and spice are presented in a middleweight style, as well as packing a little heat from the 14.9 percent alcohol; 84/84.

2003 Sebastiani, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, $13, 5,200 cases. The wine is straightforward and fruity, with moderate American oak and brambly raspberry highlights; 83/83.

Cheese Samples

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Original Blue, Point Reyes Station, California. This cheese is made from Grade A raw milk, Penicillium roqueforti, kosher salt and enzymes. It is hand made, all natural, hormone free, and aged for a minimum of six months. The result is a medium-bodied blue that has a lovely creaminess to it. It needs a young Port to stand up to the intense flavors.

Sweet Grass Dairy, Green Hill, Thomasville, Georgia. Hand made from pasteurized milk, the cheese is all natural and hormone-free. A white bloomy rind encases a semi-ripened, double cream cheese that is soft and pleasantly balanced. This cheese needs a more delicate wine that will not overwhelm it, such as a Tawny Port.

Back to Bucko's New Releases Index Page