© 2004 by Randy Buckner
April 2004

Spring 2004 Releases

The political season is in full swing, giving us good cause to reach for that extra glass of wine. Meanwhile, oblivious to the political climate, scores and new wines roll off of the bottling lines. 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. As always, enjoy a bottle with dinner tonight.

Bordeaux Blends/Cabernet Sauvignon wine glass

Altamura 2000 Altamura, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $60, 3,000 cases. The wine is almost black in the glass. An intense mix of black fruit, cocoa, cedar, and red roses delight the nose. Substantial but rounded tannins herald in a fully extracted style of wine. Huge flavors of blackberry jam, black cherries, plums, chocolate, and sweet oak give the palate quite a ride; 90/88.

2002 Barton & Guestier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $7. Ruby in color, with aromas of plums, anise, and old wood. Soft and supple, the flavors echo the nose; 81/81.

2002 Caliterra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle Central, Chile, $9. Balanced, with easy tannins, the nose is full of cassis, raspberries, and coffee notes, evolving into black cherries, mocha and strawberry jam in the mouth; 83/85.

2000 Camellia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lencioni Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $40, 525 cases. Showing better than their 1999 offering, the nose is full of blackberry fruit, herbs, and toasted oak. Seamless on the entry, the wine has concentrated blackberry fruit, light herbal overtones, sweet oak, and an endless mixed berry aftertaste; 89/89.

2001 Canyon Road, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $10, 56,500 cases. The nose speaks of plums, chocolate, and Chinese five spice. With its nice balance and easy tannins you can drink this now or over the next 2-3 years. Simple but tasty, this will make a good burger wine; 82/83.

2001 Carmenet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Selection, California, $9. Light ruby in color, with aromas of blackberries, black olives, cedar, and warm spices. Balanced, crisp, and straightforward, the wine does offer flavors of blackberries, blueberries, vanilla, and cocoa; 83/84.

2001 Chateau St. Jean, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, $27, 25,600. Purple-red in the glass, this Cab gives off black cherry, blueberry, cedar, and milk chocolate aromas. The wine is full in the mouth, with moderate tannins that should age out nicely. Flavors mirror the nose, with a long, fruity aftertaste; 86/86.

2002 Errazuriz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile, $12. Nicely structured, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, red fruit jam, vanilla, spice, menthol, and earth. Tannins allow early consumption; 85/87.

2001 Estancia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California, $15, 110,000 cases. This is a fun Cab to drink right now with those spring/summer grilled foods. The wine is fruity and jammy, with aromas and flavors of blackberries, spice, and toasty oak. The tannins are soft and the wine has a pleasant, lingering aftertaste;

2000 Husch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, California, $18.50, 5,010 cases. Medium-bodied with noticeable tannins, the wine has aromas and flavors of leather, cedar, and berry fruit. Berries linger on the long finish; 85/85.

2001 Kendall-Jackson, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Reserve, California, $26. This deeply hued Cab gives off aromas of blackberries, cassis, cedar, and vanilla. Smooth and balanced in the mouth, the tannins do the "iron fist in a velvet glove" routine and should age out nicely. Currants, plums, and blackberries are showcased on the palate; 87/87.

2002 Kirralaa, Cabernet Sauvignon, SE Australia, $15. Here's a medium-bodied wine with modest tannins that can be consumed early on. Purple/red in the glass, with a nose of mixed berries, pepper, and mint. Lots of berry fruit and eucalyptus flavors persist on the long finish; 85/85.

2000 Lake Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California, $22, 5,300 cases. Well-balanced with supple tannins, this wine is easy to drink now. Aromas of blackberries, herbs, cedar, and anise are followed by flavors of same, with an added cinnamon/vanilla spice element; 85/86.

Stags' Leap 2001 Lynch Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France, $38. Dark ruby with aromas of plum, berry and tobacco. Complex flavors mirror the nose of this medium-bodied wine. Tannins are manageable even at this youthful age. Be patient and give this wine a minimum of 5-7 years of aging before opening, although the wine went very well last night with a dry-aged ribeye; 91/91.

2000 Markham, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $29, 21,000 cases. Deeply hued, with aromas of black cherries, cedar, and fennel. Impeccably balanced, the wine is very fruit forward, lush, and offering nice value; 89/90.

2001 Provenance, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $35, 19,393 cases. The nose is a rich, complex mix of blackberries, cassis, anise, and cedar. Full, lush, with silky tannins, the wine has a sense of sweet berry liqueur. There is a touch of heat from the 14.5% alcohol; 88/88.

2001 Snoqualmie, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23, 1,200 cases. This deeply hued wine was unapproachable when first opened due to the overwhelming oak. After decanting for 24 hours, the wine displayed lots of currant and cherry fruit, tobacco leaf, mocha, and French oak; 84/84.

2000 Stags' Leap, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, $40. Deep ruby in color and exuding aromas of cherries, raspberries, cedar, and sweet vanilla, you'll find this wine is well-balanced with modest tannins. Flavors mirror the nose; 88/88.

2000 Valley of the Moon, Cuvée de la Luna, Sonoma County, California, $25, 2,400 cases. This dark ruby claret blend gives off aromas of blackberries, spicy oak, and dill spice. Full-bodied with supple tannins, you'll find a host of black fruit and spicy oak; 86/86.

Barbera wine glass

2001 Montevina, Barbera, Amador County, California, $11, 5,500 cases. Deep garnet in color, this Barbera is very crisp, with manageable tannins. Aromas and flavors speak of tart cherries, berries, and coffee beans. The oak is well-managed. Tasty; 87/90.

2000 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Barbera, Amador County, California, $15, 1,200 cases. Black cherries, smoky oak, and cedar highlight this yummy wine. Full and crisp in the mouth, there is a tad more depth here than their other Barbera. Spice shows up on the finish; 88/90.

Chardonnay wine glass

2002 Barton & Guestier, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $6. Apple and banana aromas arise from this light gold wine. Very soft on the palate, with simple fruit flavors and a modest aftertaste; 80/80.

Beringer 2002 Beringer, Chardonnay, Founders' Estate, California, $12. Sweet (0.6% residual sugar), with a viscous mouth feel, this Chardonnay has aromas and flavors of butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, peaches, and tropical fruit all vying for the leading role; 83/84.

2000 Byron, Chardonnay, Nielson Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, California, $30. 100% barrel fermented and 100% malolactic fermentation. Baked apples, vanilla, and toasty oak define the nose. Crisp, with a viscous mouth feel, the flavors are a mix of poached pears, butter, and plenty of barrel notes. Nice for the style; 87/87.

2001 Byron, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, California, $25. 100% barrel fermentation and aging in 30% new oak gives the wine butter cream, toast, and ripe apple aromas. Creamy and viscous from the malolactic fermentation, the flavors show a pleasant mix of baked apples, lemon creams, butterscotch, and toasty oak; 86/86.

2002 Canyon Road, Chardonnay, California, $10, 83,476 cases. Casaba melons and toasted oak dominate the nose. Despite the noticeable oak on the nose, the flavors are more fruit driven, with melon and tropical fruit flavors, followed by vanilla and caramel notes; 82/83

2002 Carmenet, Chardonnay, Cellar Selection, California, $9. Smoky oak, butter, limes, and green apples highlight the nose and palate, with threshold sweetness at 0.54%; 80/80.

2001 Covey Run, Chardonnay, Washington State, $9, 45,000 cases. Straw-colored, soft, and clean. Straightforward green apple, mango, melon, and vanilla notes carry from the nose to the palate; 81/81.

2002 Deakin Estate, Chardonnay, Red Cliffs, N.W. Victoria, Australia, $9. This light gold, crisp offering from down under has aromas of peaches, caramel, oak, and citrus. Melons, citrus, and vanilla glide their way across the tongue; 84/85.

2002 Errazuriz, Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $9. This is a balanced, easy to drink Chardonnay. Tropical fruit and barrel toast aromas give way to flavors of pears, green apples, vanilla, and toasty oak; 84/85.

2002 Gallo of Sonoma, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $11, 215,000 cases. Two separate samples revealed mustiness consistent with a corked wine. Not rated.

2001 Husch, Chardonnay, La Ribera Vineyards, Mendocino, California, $18, 1,245 cases. This light gold wine is soft and spicy, with aromas and flavors of green apples, figs, vanilla, and toasty oak; 84/84.

2002 Kendall-Jackson, Chardonnay, Grand Reserve, California, $20. Vanilla, toasty oak and apple pie spice highlights the nose of this balanced, creamy, lightly sweet wine. Lovely citrus, apple, and mango fruit manages to win out over the barrel influences; 86/86.

2003 Kirralaa, Chardonnay, SE Australia, $14. The nose is a mix of citrus, pear, cinnamon spice, and toast that repeats on the palate. The finish is long and brisk; 84/84.

2002 Markham, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $18, 31,000 cases. Aromas of citrus, apples and light vanilla emanate from this golden straw colored wine. Delicately styled and well-balanced, the wine is fruit driven, not over-oaked, and makes a pleasant food wine; 87/88.

2002 Ravenswood, Chardonnay, Vintners Blend, California, $10. Straw gold in color, the nose is filled with aromas of ripe yellow apples, almonds, butter, and vanilla. In the mouth the wine is soft, viscous, medium-bodied, and delivers a repeat of the nose with added melon notes; 84/86.

Rodney Strong 2002 Rodney Strong, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $18, 110,000 cases. Toasty oak, butter, pear, and green apple notes mingle on the nose and then carry over to the palate. This is pretty classic California Chardonnay, with tangerine and caramel lingering on the finish; 86/86.

2002 Simi, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, $17, 115,000 cases. It is refreshing to find a Chardonnay that is not an oak bomb. Sparkling gold in color, the fragrance is reminiscent of lemon curd, melons, pears, and nuances of French oak. You'll savor the pear, white peach, and kiwi zest; 87/89.

2002 Stags' Leap, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California, $22. Butter, pears, and toasty oak define the nose. The mouth feel is soft, creamy, and viscous. Chalky minerals add complexity to the yellow apple fruit and smoky vanilla notes. Nice for the style; 87/87.

2002 Toasted Head, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $17, 15,000 cases. Despite what the name may imply, the oak is pretty well integrated. Fruit forward, with plenty of lime, green apple, and spice, the toasty vanilla becomes apparent on the back end; 85/86.

2002 Woodbridge, Chardonnay, California, $8. Aromas of apple, pineapple, spice, and light barrel notes intermingle on the nose, then carry over to the palate. Apples and pears linger on the finish; 81/81.

Italian Super Tuscans/Blends wine glass

2001 Camellia, Diamo Grazie, Dry Creek Valley, California, $42, 223 cases. This is a two-thirds, one-third blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. You'll find lots of black cherries, berries and cedar in the wine. Well-balanced, with silky tannins, the wine is very fruit forward with properly integrated oak; 87/86.

2001 Marchesi Mazzei, Serrata Di Belguardo, Maremma Tuscany IGT, Italy, $44, 6,600 cases. This is a 40/40/20% blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Merlot. This is a gorgeous wine that is silky on the palate, with tannins delivering a delayed punch. Aromas of blackberries, cherries, and French oak morph into complex fruit flavors that seem endless on the palate; 91/91.

2001 Marchesi Mazzei, Tenuta Belguardo, Maremma Tuscany IGT, Italy, $60, 1,000 cases. A 70/20/10% blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Merlot. This is a powerhouse wine, loaded with blackberries and cassis. Substantial tannins will require a few years of bottle time, when the complex layers of fruit and floral notes should really shine; 92/91.

Merlot wine glass

Barefoot 2001 Barefoot Reserve, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $17, 1,317 cases. The nose has lavender intermixed with the blackberry fruit scents. Black cherries, cola, and a dash of spice linger on the lengthy finish; 85/86.

2002 Barton & Guestier, Merlot, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $6. Plums, dried currants, and toasty notes frame the nose. Straightforward red fruit flavors are combined with soft tannins and acids; 80/80.

2000 Buttonwood, Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $18, 1,898 cases. Bright acids and modest tannins make this a dandy wine for those grilled burgers/steaks. Plums, cherries, herbs, cedar, and anise define the wine. Tasty; 86/87.

2002 Caliterra, Merlot, Valle Central, Chile, $7. Plums, berries, and herbs carry this wine from start to finish. Soft, with modest tannins, nuances of mint and old wood course their way through the wine as well; 81/81.

2001 Carmenet, Merlot, Cellar Selection, California, $9. The nose shows a blend of black cherry fruit, vanilla, cedar, and light spice. Showing balance and brisk acidity, the wine offers straightforward fruit flavors and a modest aftertaste; 80/81.

2001 Chateau St. Jean, Merlot, Sonoma County, California, $25, 29,000 cases. The wine is characterized by black fruit jam, plums, bittersweet chocolate, and cedar. Silky smooth on the palate with tannins that become more noticeable with time. They seem ripe and should age out well; 86/86.

2001 Danzante, Merlot, IGT, Della Sicilia, $10. Red brick in color. Plums and earthy notes characterize the wine, with a streak of pepper and salty minerals adding to the equation; 83/83.

2001 Husch, Merlot, La Ribera Vineyards, Mendocino, California, $25, 339 cases. Ruby red with blue highlights. Mixed berry fruit, olives, toasty oak, and a touch of licorice characterize the nose of this well structured, somewhat tannic wine. Lush fruit flavors and a hint of minerals add to the package; 86/86.

2001 Kendall-Jackson, Merlot, Grand Reserve, California, $26. Cherries, raspberries, dark chocolate, and French oak spice delineate the aromas and flavors of this gutsy Merlot. Tannins are ripe and robust, with vivid acidity giving life to the wine. Flavorsome; 87/87.

2002 Kirralaa, Merlot, SE Australia, $15. The nose of this ruby red wine is a mix of red cherries, berries, cedar, and mint. Medium-bodied, with nice red and black fruits, and a touch of "Mudgee mint." Tasty; 85/86.

2001 Markham, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $22, 64,000 cases. When you smell this dark ruby wine, you'll think of cherry pie, with a hint of licorice and cedar. Nicely balanced, this light to medium-bodied Merlot offers up flavors of currants, leather, and cigar leaf; 87/88.

2002 Ravenswood, Merlot, Vintners Blend, California, $10. Big aromas of plums and blackberries dance on the nose, with a touch of new leather and spice. Smooth on the palate, this wine is a real overachiever. Fruit driven and ready to drink now, this will make a dandy deck wine; 86/90.

Stags' Leap 2001 Snoqualmie, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23, 1,200 cases. Blackberries, plums, herbs, and French oak fill the nose, and then carry over to the palate. Balanced acidity and rounded tannins give structure, with French oak lingering on the finish; 85/85.

2001 Stags' Leap, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $32. This charming Merlot has lovely aromas of black fruit, Baker's chocolate, and clove spice. Impeccably balanced with seamless tannins. The complex fruit has a background of chalky minerality that adds real character; 90/90.

2001 Sterling, Merlot, Napa Valley, California, $22, 99,354 cases. Red-violet in color, this wine has alluring aromas and flavors of rich fruit, nutmeg, vanilla, and cedar. Seamless tannins, integrated oak and vibrant acidity give pizzazz to the wine; 86/86.

2000 Sterling, Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley, California, $50, 6,539 cases. The nose is a delightful mix of blueberries, black cherries, vanilla, anise, spice, and Spanish cedar. Full-bodied, with firm, rounded tannins, the wine offers up flavors of juicy black fruit, chocolate, maple syrup, and toasted coconut; 88/86.

2001 Woodbridge, Merlot, California, $8. This straightforward, value quaffer will make a good companion to those grilled hamburgers. Soft and fruity, there's enough black cherry, plum and cola notes to hold some interest; 82/82.

Miscellaneous wine glasswine glass

NV Bonny Doon, Framboise, Santa Cruz, California, $11. Pure essence of crushed raspberries fills the nose. Full, viscous, and sweet, it just doesn't get any better than this. The fruit wine captures the very spirit of raspberries. Think chocolate truffles; 91/92.

2002 Husch, Carignane, Old Vines, Mendocino, California, $15, 213 cases. The yield from the vines is only two tons per acre. While the wine is not varietally what I expect from Carignane, it is tasty nevertheless. Concentrated and tannic, there is a big jammy boysenberry quality that lingers on the finish, with a touch of spice and aged wood nuances; 85/86.

2001 La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi, Moscato Bianco, California, $15. 72% Muscat Canelli, 25% Malvasia Bianca, 3% Orange Muscat. Aromatic Muscat scents are right in your face, followed by hints of citrus and orange zest. Soft and sweet (10.6% RS), the lovely flavors are left begging for balancing acidity; 80/80.

2001 Montevina, Freisa, Amador County, California, $13.50, 550 cases. Freisa is a red grape grown in the Piedmont region of Italy. Known for its bold tannins and acids, this wine is no exception. Cherries, berries, and American oak notes further delineate the wine; 84/84.

2001 Septima, Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon, Cosecha, Agrelo, Argentina, $6. You'll find an inviting nose and palate of plums, smoked meat, and spice. Soft and easy to drink, the wine has great balance – a perfect burger wine at a killer price; 85/90.

Pinot Gris wine glass

2002 Danzante, Pinot Grigio, IGT Delle Venezie, Italy, $10. Light gold with a green sheen. The wine is clean and crisp, with straightforward aromas and flavors of pears, limes, and floral notes; 82/82.

2002 King Estate, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $15. 100% stainless steel. Bright aromas of lime, pineapple, and spice highlight the nose. Crisp in the mouth, pear fruit and citrus peel are offered in a straightforward package; 85/85.

2002 King Estate, Pinot Gris, Vin Glacé, Oregon, $18 (375 ml). Rich aromas of apricots and honey carry through to the palate. Not at all cloying, the wine is very sweet at 19.4% residual sugar. Apricot syrup lingers on the lengthy finish; 86/86.

2002 La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi, Pinot Grigio, California, $15. The wine sees no malolactic fermentation or oak aging. Limes, lemons, spice and pears are displayed on the nose, with lemon-lime fruit more obvious on the palate. A touch of wet stones adds additional character; 85/85.

Pinot Noir wine glass

2002 Acacia, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley – Carneros, California, $20, 20,400 cases. The nose of this ruby red wine exhibits black cherries, blackberries, earth, and Provencal herbs. Creamy in the mouth, the wine speaks of strawberry jam, cherries, vanilla, and black tea; 85/85.

2002 Beringer, Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, $16. The nose is reminiscent of rhubarb pie, with additional tea, smoke, and vanilla notes. The wine has nice balance, with flavors that convey thoughts of cherries, brown sugar, warm spices, and smoky oak; 86/87.

2002 Beringer, Pinot Noir, Founders' Estate, California, $12. Well-balanced on the palate, the wine shows good varietal character. Strawberries, cherries, and Earl Grey tea notes carry from nose to palate. Good value; 85/88.

Chateau St. Jean 2002 Chateau St. Jean, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California, $19, 11,000 cases. The nose is highlighted by cherries, sandalwood, and smoky bacon. Smooth in the mouth, this one can be enjoyed now for the black cherry fruit and nuances of earth, smoke, and black tea; 86/87.

2003 Kim Crawford, Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, $17, 4,000 cases exported to the US. You'll find a bowl of mixed red berries, with a distinct rhubarb note. Light to medium-bodied and lean, the wine has elegant fruit, soft tannins, and light, earthy characters; 87/89.

2002 Sebastiani, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County Selection, Sonoma Coast, California, $15, 17,200 cases. Light ruby with blue highlights. Lovely Bing cherry aromas are augmented by vanilla and cedar notes. The palate has a mix of cherries, strawberries, supple tannins and a healthy dose of toasty oak and sandalwood; 83/84.

Sangiovese wine glass

2001 Camellia, Sangiovese, Merlo Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $24, 545 cases. This dark ruby offering has aromas of cherries and the Hungarian oak used in aging. Tannic, with tart acidity, the wine is defined by straightforward cherry fruit. Pair with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs; 84/84.

2001 Marchesi Mazzei, Poggio Bronzone, Morellino di Scansano DOC, Italy, $29, 2,916 cases. 100% Sangiovese from the commune of Grosseto. This is a warm, friendly wine with black cherry and boysenberry aromas, followed by flavors of blackberries and violets. Well-structured with rounded tannins that need some time in bottle; 88/88.

Sauvignon Blanc wine glass

Beringer 2002 Beringer, Sauvignon Blanc, Founders' Estate, California, $11. Tart, almost sweet peach and citrus flavors fill the mouth. Gooseberry and lime aromas add to the package. The finish is long, with a lime Sweetart quality; 83/83.

2002 Buttonwood, Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $14, 1,845 cases. Two-thirds of the wine was stainless fermented and aged. Showing aromas of honeysuckle, citrus, and fresh pineapple, the flavors speak more of peaches, almonds, and tropical fruit; 85/85.

2003 Caliterra, Sauvignon Blanc, Valle Central, Chile, $9. Here's one for that plate of steamed shellfish. Pale straw in color, soft on the palate, with aromas and flavors of lemongrass and tropical fruit; 85/87.

2002 Covey Run, Fumé Blanc, Washington State, $9, 22,800 cases. Light gold with a somewhat muted nose. Crisp and light, you'll find simple but tasty lime and melon flavors; 80/80.

2003 Deakin Estate, Sauvignon Blanc, Red Cliffs, N.W. Victoria, Australia, $9. Tropical and citrus aromas bound from the glass, with a hint of herbaceousness. Lean, with laser acidity. Melon fruit is upfront with tart lemon persisting throughout the finish. This one is made for shellfish; 85/87.

2002 Husch, Sauvignon Blanc, La Ribera Vineyards, Mendocino, California, $12.50, 8,116 cases. Grapefruit, melon, and lemon are presented on the nose of this straw colored wine. Soft, with a touch of sweetness, the upfront fruit is in competition with the barrel influences; 82/82.

2003 Markham, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $12, 34,500 cases. Full-bodied with modest acidity, the wine displays lovely aromas of tropical fruit and grapefruit. Flavors mirror the nose, with a touch of added spice. Think shellfish and sea bass; 87/89.

2002 Woodbridge, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $6. Lightly styled and soft, with aromas of lemongrass, melon, and light smokiness, the straightforward flavors mirror the nose; 80/80.

Syrah wine glass

2002 Barton & Guestier, Shiraz, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, $6. This ruby red wine with blue highlights emits aromas of dark fruit, leather, spice, and toasty notes. Very soft in the mouth, with simple fruit flavors and black pepper nuances; 80/80.

2001 Canyon Run, Shiraz, California, $10, 7,960 cases. Crisp, with easy tannins, the nose reveals aromas of black fruit, spice, and light vanilla. The wine is pleasant enough, however there is little varietal character; 83/84.

2000 IO, Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California, $60. Oh my! This is one of the best New World offerings that I have tried to date. 9% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre is blended into the final mix. Almost black in the glass, the wine emits aromas of blackberries, cedar, leather, and smoke. Impeccably balanced in the mouth, the wine is very Rhone-like. Lovely fruit, leather, smoked meat, and integrated French oak combine to make a very pretty package; 93/92.

2002 Kirralaa, Bushvine Shiraz, SE Australia, $15. Here's a tasty down under Shiraz at a fair price. Lots of raspberry and peppery notes entice the nose then expand on the palate. Supple tannins and zippy acidity makes for a nice food wine; 87/90.

2001 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Syrah, Amador County, California, $15, 1,200 cases. While the wine has plenty of juicy red fruit for your drinking pleasure, this is not your classic style of Syrah. Tart red fruit, Spanish cedar, and American oak characterizes the wine; 85/86.

2001 Snoqualmie, Syrah, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $23, 600 cases. Aromas and flavors of black plums, blueberries, and blackberries team with soft, silky tannins, however aging in 56% new French oak and 31% new American oak simply overwhelms the wine. Not rated.

Zinfandel wine glass

Beringer 2001 Beringer, Zinfandel, Clear Lake, California, $14. Red berry aromas are upfront, followed by vanilla and earthy notes. Tannins are substantial, but rounded, with straightforward black cherry flavors; 83/83.

2001 Camellia, Zinfandel, Lencioni Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California, $22, 695 cases. The nose is a nice mix of blackberries, warm spices and American oak, which carries over to the mouth. There are a lot of drying tannins here. Will they ever age to an acceptable level? Judgment reserved.

2001 Kenwood, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, $16, 15,500 cases. You can drink this one early on given the supple tannins. Aromas of raspberries, blackberries, and spice carry over to the palate. The fruit is not shy in this Zin; 85/86.

2001 Montevina, Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California, $11, 25,000 cases. Cranberry and oak notes emanate from this light garnet wine. Balanced, with easy tannins, the wine offers straightforward fruit flavors and toasty oak nuances; 82/82.

2001 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, Amador County, California, $15, 5,200 cases. Here's a pretty tasty Zin at a fair price. It's loaded with vibrant acidity, modest tannins, plum and cherry fruit, licorice, and American oak spice, finishing on a briary note; 87/88.

2001 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, Deaver Old Vine, Amador County, California, $21, 3,000 cases. Bold fruit flavors are augmented by spicy oak notes from the American and French oak. Fully extracted, there are big tannins that hopefully will tame with aging. There is a little heat on the finish from the 15.5% ETOH; 86/86.

2000 Montevina, Terra d'Oro, Zinfandel, SHR (School House Road) Vineyard, Amador County, California, $21, 1,850 cases. The nose is an odd but pleasant mix of cherries, cranberries, sandalwood, and vanilla. Crisp with moderate tannins, this wine has lush, juicy plum and cranberry fruit, spicy vanilla, and pepper nuances. 15.5% ETOH; 89/90.

2001 Ravenswood, Zinfandel, Lodi, California, $15, 30,000 cases. This is a full-bodied, fruity, deeply colored Zin. Brambly fruit, spice, modest tannins, and good oak management makes for a nice quaffer; 85/86.

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