Trione Vineyards & Winery produces great Sonoma County wines

For more than 30 years the Trione Family has been growing and selling grapes in Sonoma County from their own property, as well as vineyards they manage. Almost a decade ago they launched Trione Vineyards & Winery to bottle their own wines. Scot Covington, their founding winemaker, brought winemaking experience in Sonoma County and elsewhere to the table as well as winery building and design knowledge. Over the last few years, I’ve been impressed with the quality and value their releases represent. They make Estate wines that represent two distinct appellations within Sonoma County: Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley. Here’s a look at the most recent releases from their 115-acre property located in the heart of the Russian River Valley. All three wines are 100 percent varietal.

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Trione Vineyards & Winery 2012 Chardonnay – Suggested retail price is $32. When making this wine, Scot used old world Burgundian methodology. Whole clusters were pressed and then racked into French oak; 40 percent of the barrels used were new and the balance a combination of once and twice used. About 825 cases were produced. Yellow Delicious apple, Anjou pear and light wisps of spice are all part of the aroma profile of this Chardonnay. Continued apple, bits of tangerine, and papaya are all part of the deep and layered palate, along with a wallop of pineapple and a well-proportioned spice component. The finish shows off wet limestone and crème brulee in what is a rich, round, super long close that is studded with fruit, spices and hints of toast. This Chardonnay is clean and crisp, enhanced by the oak treatment, not hampered or over-burdened by it.

Trione Vineyards & Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – Suggested retail price is $23. The fruit was hand-picked and pressed into stainless steel tanks. It was fermented with a South African yeast strain. Aging took place over four months in a combination of new (10 percent) and neutral (90 percent) French oak. Just fewer than 2,000 cases were produced. Big, bold, yellow melon and lemon zest aromas are in strong evidence on the nose here. Passion fruit, bits of guava, Bartlett pear and lemon ice inform the rich and succulent palate. Pineapple and green melon are part of the clean, crisp and refreshing finish. This is an incredibly appealing example of Sauvignon Blanc that goes down easy, but also features above-average depth and complexity in the price range.

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Trione Vineyards & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir – Suggested retail price is $37. This wine was made in small lots. In total, five different Pinot clones were utilized, and 20 percent of the fruit in each fermenter was whole cluster. Barrel aging occurred over 15 months in all French oak; 45 percent of the barrels were new. Just fewer than 1,300 cases were produced. A hint of pine resin, black cherry and savory herb are all enveloped in the intense nose. Wild strawberry, red and black cherry as well as cinnamon and clove are each prominent on the palate. The fresh fruit flavors, however, lead the flavor charge. Mushroom, black tea and a tiny hint of coal emerge on the persistent finish, along with minerals and copious amounts of earth. Firm acid and tannins, which yield with some air, mark the structure. This Pinot is delicious now, particularly with food. However, if you’re patient, lay it down for the next 6 to 8 years and drink it in the 4 to 5 years after that for even more delicious results.

Scot Covington has many choices in front of him when he selects fruit for the Trione wines. He picks the cream of that to make the Trione Vineyards & Winery offerings. Control of so much fruit also gives Trione the ability to sell wines that represent terrific values. Each of the wines listed above does a fine job of representing Sonoma County at large and Russian River Valley specifically. That they do so at such reasonable prices compared to the quality they are offering is a boon to wine lovers. I heartily recommend jumping on anything with the Trione name on it. You’re sure to get a genuine, well-made Sonoma County wine at a very fair price.

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A trio of 2012 California reds gets it done for under $20

It occurs to me that $20 might be the ultimate sweet spot in the wine world. There are all sorts of benchmarks and barometers, but for most people taking a leap over the $20 barrier is done cautiously and with consideration. So when I find wines under that threshold that provide significant value and taste way more expensive than the price the cash register will ring up, I make a note of it. Here are three wines made from fruit sourced in various parts of California that offers tons of drinking pleasure and tremendous bang for the buck. One of them even has the necessary elements to lay down for a couple of years, should you so choose. That’s not something often in play in this price range. Whether you’re looking for a wine to bring to a dinner party or something to keep you warm all winter long, these selections will get it done for a minimal price.

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Layer Cake 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – The fruit for this wine was sourced in two distinct appellations, Paso Robles and Alexander Valley. It’s composed entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon. Layer Cake was aged in entirely French oak for 46 months; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $15.99. Plum, black raspberry, vanilla and toast aromas are all part of the tempting nose on this Cabernet. The palate is rich, lush and deeply concentrated with lots of appealing black fruit flavors. Leather, black pepper and earth are all part of the long finish. Soft tannins and solid acidity lend themselves to the food friendliness of this Cabernet. You could probably find a wine slightly more perfectly suited, as well as more expensively priced, to pair with a burger, but why go through the trouble and expense when this one works as well as almost anything?

Educated Guess 2012 Napa Valley Merlot – The vast majority of the fruit for this wine (95 percent) was sourced in Napa Valley, the balance (5 percent) in nearby Lake County. In addition to Merlot (85 percent), some Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent) was blended in as well. Barrel aging took place in French oak over 12 months. The suggested retail price is $19.99. The color of this wine is striking, the minute it’s poured — the deep purple hue looks brilliant in the glass. A hint of cocoa underscores blueberry aromas on the warm and welcoming nose. The palate is studded with red and black cherry flavors galore that are complemented by black pepper and cinnamon spice. A dollop of chocolate, earth and thyme emerge on the above average finish, along with all the fresh fruit flavors. This is a textbook example of a Merlot that actually tastes like Merlot.

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The Sum 2012 Red Blend – Fruit for this offering was sourced throughout California. This selection blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), Petite Sirah (15 percent) and Syrah (10 percent). The Sum has a suggested retail price of $19.99. The nose of this blend is big and incredibly floral, and the little bit of Syrah really makes its presence felt. The flavors are deep and dark lending to a layered and dense palate. It’s substantial in complexity and depth. Bits of chicory play alongside blueberry and blackberry flavors, which dominate the palate. Sweet, dark chocolate flavors emerge on the persistent and notably long finish, along with rhubarb and sour cherry. This would be a very good wine and a reasonable value if it was priced in the $35 to $40 range. At $20 suggested retail price, less if you shop around, it’s a fabulous and delicious bargain. Scoop it up before it’s gone.

I highly recommend all three of these wines for sipping and pairing with medium-bodied to full-flavored foods. Each of them is also quite drinkable on its own. The Merlot and the Cabernet will be at their best over the next handful of years when their young, fresh fruit flavors are in full bloom. The red blend (The Sum) is delicious now and will drink well over the next decade. Its structure is such that laying it down, for those with the patience to do so, will provide a nice reward. At such an appealing price point it would be a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a ton to experiment on age-worthy wines.

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Hall makes tasty Napa Valley wines

Hall Napa Valley currently produces about 120,000 cases of wine per year. They have been making wine in Napa since they opened their winery in 2005. Just this spring, the Halls launched a new facility in St. Helena. This new winery and tasting room was built on a site that has a 150-year history in Napa Valley wine making. The Halls still maintain their original, intimate location in Rutherford and continue to make some wines there, but the new facility allows them to host a variety of events as well as have more people visit and taste wine on a daily basis. On a recent trip to Napa Valley I stopped at Hall St. Helena, toured their new facility and grounds, and of course tasted through their current portfolio. Here are some wines from their Napa Valley collection that I enjoyed. These selections are widely available all over the country.

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Hall Napa Valley 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced within Napa Valley. It’s composed of entirely Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel; there was no oak influence on this offering. It has a suggested retail price of $24. Bright, ripe gooseberry aromas practically explode from the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus and stone fruit aromas abound as well. The palate is rich and refreshing with both tropical and citrus zest flavors playing big roles. Hints of crème fraiche, white and green peppercorn and a touch of grass mark the finish, which is clean and crisp with racy acidity. The Hall Sauvignon Blanc will work equally well paired with light summery foods or all by itself as an aperitif.

Hall Napa Valley 2011 Merlot – The fruit for this wine was sourced at two vineyard sites within Napa Valley. In addition to Merlot (95 percent), it contains some Petit Verdot (5 percent) as well. After fermentation, it was aged on French oak for 20 months; 45 percent of the barrels were new. This Merlot has a suggested retail price of $33. Bright red cherry aromas are supported by bits of spice on the highly engaging nose of this Merlot. The palate is stuffed with both red and black cherry, as well as chicory and black tea characteristics. Kirsch liqueur interspersed with hints of sweet chocolate are in play on the above average finish. This is a fine example of Merlot that is loaded with varietal character and has terrific structure. It’s delicious now and will drink well over the next five years.

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Hall Napa Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – This offering is composed of fruit sourced throughout Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (91 percent), some Merlot (8 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) were blended in. After fermentation it was barrel-aged over 18 months in exclusively French oak; 55 percent of the barrels were new. This Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $50. Roasted coffee and berry aromas are prominent on the nose here. Blackberry, cherry and wisps of mission fig make up the substantial palate. Earth and gingerbread spices, along with a bit of brown sugar, all emerge on the persistent finish. Napa Valley Cabernet comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. This is a substantial one for the $50 category. It’s delicious now and will evolve and drink well for six to eight years.

The most important thing to me about these wines it that they are each a fine and genuine reflection of Napa Valley. Each individual offering speaks not only of the grape variety in question, but also of the place the fruit was grown. To varying degrees these are varieties Napa Valley is well known for. Cabernet Sauvignon is king there, and this selection is made in a classic style. Sauvignon Blanc has been hugely popular in Napa for years, but still it’s on the rise. Where most every tasting room seemed to once have a multitude of Chardonnays (many still do of course), it’s increasingly common to see multiple expressions of Sauvignon Blanc at one winery. Merlot — when done right, like this example — can be as well structured and complex as good Cabernet. These wines from Hall are also fairly priced for the quality they represent. And their wide availability helps make them solid go-to choices. In addition to these wines, Hall produced a range of selections in what they call the Artisan Collection. This higher end tier features vineyard designate as well as proprietary wines. So if you’re looking for genuine Napa Valley Wine, Hall should be on your radar.

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Rutini Trumpeter offers delicious values from Argentina

I don’t know about you, but Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind when discussing Argentina. It’s their signature varietal and as such has received some serious attention over the years. When it’s done right, Argentine Malbec is as good as examples from anywhere in the world. That said though, there’s a lot more to Argentine wine than just Malbec. When I started drinking wines from Argentina in the mid 1990s, it was Cabernet Sauvignon that got my attention, Chardonnay soon followed. The point is that while the Malbec gets most of the attention, there’s a lot more to love. In the value category in particular, Argentina offers a wide swath of affordable wines. Here’ are four from Rutini Trumpeter that offer varietal character and value to boot.

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Rutini Trumpeter Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine was sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine, and 30 percent of the fruit underwent malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation process that converts the harsher malic acid to softer lactic acid). It was aged in a combination of new (50 percent), once-used (25 percent) and twice-used (25 percent) French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $10.99. Apple and kiwi aromas emerge from the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate features both orchard fruit and pineapple characteristics. Both yellow and green apple flavors are in evidence on the finish, along with hints of limestone and white pepper. This is a clean, crisp Chardonnay, loaded with pure fruit. It would be a great choice to drink all summer and fall.

Rutini Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon – All of the fruit for this wine was picked by hand in the Mendoza region. It’s 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and all of it underwent malolactic fermentation. It was aged in a combination of new American (40 percent) and used French (60 percent) oak over a period of 9 months. It has a suggested retail price of $10.09. Red plum and black raspberry aromas are prominent on the nose. Those fruity characteristics carry through to the palate where it’s joined by hints of black raspberry and cherry. Vanilla bean, black pepper and a hint of cardamom are all in evidence on the finish. This wine is loaded with eager fruit flavors. It’s fresh and appealing; drink it in its youth for maximum pleasure.

Rutini Trumpeter Malbec – This 100 percent Malbec wine was produced using fruit sourced at the Tupungato vineyard in Mendoza. It underwent malolactic fermentation. Barrel aging took place over 7 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak. It has a suggested retail price of $10.99. Red raspberry and a hint of crème fraiche tell the story of the nose on this fruit-driven Malbec. The palate is juicy and studded with more of those characteristics, as well as red cherry and a hint of super ripe red wild strawberry. The finish shows off wisps of sweet cocoa and continuing fruit flavors. Pair this wine with something off the grill for a delicious pairing.

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Ironstone Vineyards Has Something for Every Taste Bud

The Kautz family has been farming grapes in California for more than 65 years. With more than 5,000 acres under vine, they’re one of the largest growers in the state. In addition to selling fruit, for more than 25 of those years they have also been making their own wine. Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills. They farm their property sustainably as shepherds of the land they inhabit. Their portfolio features a wide range of wines, many available nationally, as well as a few limited releases found in their tasting room. Here’s a look at four of my favorites among their current offerings.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine came from Sierra Foothills vineyards that have been in the family for four generations. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. The fruit was hand-selected and gently pressed. Barrel aging occurred entirely in French oak; bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright apple, white fig and gentle crème brulee aromas are all part of the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with Asian pear and a potpourri of different apple characteristics. Reminders of Challah bread and pie crust lead the above average finish, which also shows off wisps of cinnamon, butter and rugelach spices.

Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Old Vines Zinfandel – All of the fruit for this wine came from Mokelumne River, a sub-appellation of Lodi. In addition to Zinfandel (92 percent), a small amount of Petite Sirah (8 percent) was blended in. Barrel aging took place over 6 months in entirely French oak. About 15,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The boisterous nose of this Zinfandel is led by violet, plum and red raspberry aromas. The aromas are so welcoming they practically demand you take a sip. When you do, you’ll find red and black raspberry, which is a just a wee bit of a jam element. Blackberry and blueberry flavors are present, along with black pepper and clove spices. All of these flavors continue through the finish which has reasonable length. This is a crowd-pleasing wine that goes down easy. You could pair this wine with a lot of full-flavored foods such as BBQ, but for me this is a perfect Tuesday-night-with-pizza wine.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Petite Sirah – The fruit for this wine was sourced in the same sub-appellation that the above Zinfandel came from. After fermentation the wine was aged for 2 months in new French oak. About 5,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The moment you pour this wine it has that beautiful deep purple hue that more than any other varietal brings to mind grape juice. Deep, concentrated dark fruit aromas are joined by vanilla and a hint of bay leaf. Lots of dark and brooding flavors are in play throughout the densely flavored palate; plum, blueberry and blackberry are prominent. White pepper, cardamom and minerals are all in evidence on the solid finish. Medium tannins give easily with some air. Decanting this wine for 30 minutes really allows it to open up. This is a big mouthful of delicious flavor for less than $12.

Ironstone Vineyards 2011 Obsession Red – The fruit for this wine was sourced in both the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, California. This blend is comprised of Merlot (50 percent), Zinfandel (40 percent), and Petite Sirah (10 percent). After fermentation the wine was aged in French oak for 3 months prior to bottling. About 2,500 cases of this release were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Plum, blueberry and plum pudding spice elements are all present on the nose. The palate is full-bodied with black cherry elements leading a veritable boatload of sweet fruit flavors. Espresso, chocolate dipped cherries and copious spices are all present on the finish. This trio of grapes comes together to form a wine with sweet, dark fruit and good structure. BBQ season is coming, and you can pair this with anything that comes off your grill.

This quartet offers a small window into the array of offerings Ironstone produces. Their wines are quite fairly priced for the quality in their respective categories. The Chardonnay is a tremendous value. The bottom line is that if you wanted to buy a Napa Valley Chardonnay of that quality and depth, you would most often need to spend $40 to $50. That makes the Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay a very smart buy for fans of that grape. Many of their wines are available on shelves all over the U.S., so check them out; it’s likely to lead to a tasty good deal.

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