Awesome Wines Under $15

The Wine Enthusiast magazine just released its Top 100 Wines under $15, and I found the list absolutely fascinating.

To its credit, the web page identifies those wines listed that are also sponsors, as in paid advertisers. So all is above board.

But can you trust the people behind the reviews?  

Well, I happen to know several of them quite well. Two in particular are excellent tasters who cannot be compromised: Roger Voss and Jim Gordon.

The wines from Oregon and Washington State mentioned in this list are also chosen by another highly regarded critic.

Voss is the magazine’s expert reviewer of French wines from Bordeaux, Loire Valley, the Southwest as well as the best reviewer of wines from Portugal.

Gordon is the West Coast reviewer who can be trusted for his ratings of wines from Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa.

Back to the Top 100

The #1 wine was made by Columbia Crest.  No big surprise there.

Its Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay make most top values lists.

But the top ranked wine turned out to be the winery’s 2015 Grand Estate Syrah at $12 which is also one of my discoveries.

Sad. Now, everyone will know and it will disappear quickly.

Bargain hunters can check out the entire list at

To me, the following wines are the Other Awesome Deals under $15:

2014 Bogle “Essential Red,” Old Vine, Clarksburg (often sold under $10)

2016 Gnarly Head  Zinfandel, Lodi

2016 San Pedro Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Chile

2015 Mas des Bressades  Cuvée Tradition Syrah-Grenache (Costières de Nîmes)

2016 Cline Cellars Viognier, North Coast

2015 Château le Payral, Bergerac Rouge

2016 Foris Dry Gewürztraminer Rogue Valley

2014 Hogue Red Columbia Valley

2015 Wines & Winemakers Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas Red Douro

2016 Dry Creek Vineyards, Dry Chenin Blanc (Clarksburg)

2016 Domaine des Carteresses, Tavel (a Rose)

Class Acts in the Wine World

I just discovered this super online offer:

October is Adopt a Dog Month, and we are celebrating with MIXED BREED, a delicious red blend handcrafted specifically to help shelter dogs and cats.  With every sip of this rich Sierra Foothills red from C.G. Di Arie Winery, you can take pride knowing that $6 of your MIXED BREED purchase price will be donated to help fund a shelter for homeless, lost or abused pets, low-cost spay/neuter services, humane investigations and increased public awareness.

But it is not just a wine for a great cause, it is great wine!  The C.G. Di Arie 2014 “Mixed Breed” is a blend of 45% Zinfandel, 31.5% Syrah, 13.5% Petite Sirah and 10% Cabernet Franc. Every component has been individually crafted and aged in French oak barrels for 2 years. The wine has a ruby color with strong blackberry aromas which carry to the palate adding hints of chocolate and spice. The finish is long with a firm but delightful grip of tannins. We are offering it for $19. See the wine. 

C.G. Di Arie Winery works to support regional animal welfare organizations in the area this wine is sold. The winery will be donating $3 for every bottle of Mixed Breed sold through The California Wine Club to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC). Sparc’s mission, in addition to helping critters, is to develop a template for “No Kill” animal shelters that can be used in any municipality.

The California Wine Club will be matching their donation with our own $3 per bottle sold donation, for a total of $6 per bottle going to this worthy rescue center.

“Enjoying a world class wine while helping animals in need,” says Proprietor/Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh “is a win-win!”

Merlot & Me


October has been declared Merlot month by some unknown entity.

I read this recently so it must be true:

“Beginning October 1, 2017 more than 100 Merlot-producing wineries from California, Oregon, Washington, and around the world, join together for #MerlotMe, a month-long, global movement celebrating the noble variety.”

Well, never one to bypass a celebration, I’ve been thinking about the greatest, the finest Merlot in my experience.

It is the 2002 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot tasted in 2015.

“Gorgeous, seamless, harmonious, rich with a fantastic finish, it was amazing and was obviously at its peak, but showed no signs of its age.”

It wasn’t just remarkable for its age, it was great.

Of course, normal people don’t cellar Merlot for a dozen years. But over the years I have set aside various wines to see how they age beyond the norm.  Just recently, I uncorked the 2000 Phelps “Insignia” which was another beauty: seamless and lovely, but without the drama of the 02  Duckhorn Merlot.

To be honest, very few of my long-aged wines turn out to be exciting. I’ve found most 1998 Cabernets, for example, to be disappointing after a decade or more.

But back to Merlot and Me and My Musings

Other than Duckhorn, my favorite Merlots in recent vintages have been Pride Mountain, Pine Ridge, Whitehall Lane, Shafer and Pahlmeyer.

Historically, I wrote a feature article about California Merlot when fewer than ten wineries produced a varietal. And most people pronounced it “mere lot.”

I’ll never forget tasting Merlot from barrels with pioneering winemaker Ric Forman at Sterling Vineyards and spitting into the drains below.

Besides Forman, Warren Winiarski was a major advocate of Merlot and I have fond memories of his 1974 Merlot. Phil Baxter of Rutherford Hill also helped put Merlot on the wine map.

In the late 80s, Beringer made several super Merlots from the Bancroft Vineyard on Howell Mountain. The ‘86 and ‘89 were outstanding.

Sorry millennials for my meandering down memory lane and for the following reference to the movie “Sideways”:

“Screw you, Miles and your childish hissy fit. Merlot is here to stay. At least this month.”