There are all kinds of wines on the market these days. It's almost as if everyone and their brother has decided to become a winemaker. Well not really. There are exclusive, handcrafted small production wines that appeal to serious collectors. There are excellent, median-priced core wines, single vineyard wines and such that wineries produce as their staples. There are "digital" brands----they usually come from wineries with ficticious names. These wines can be mass produced and backed up by large corporations. Some are decent, some are not. Then there's another category out there that is difficult to describe. There are wineries out there that do a second, third or fourth label wine. You won't find these wines at their wineries. They're usually sold in grocery stores and appeal in mass to mainstream America. These wines have their own niche and rightly so. They're usually in the $10-12 range or cheaper if they're on sale. They are wines for that person who is just getting started drinking wine. For someone who doesn't want to spend a lot of money. For someone who doesn't care to evaluate the flavors and nuances. They just want to drink it---at dinners, at parties, alone, etc.
Recently, I received a set of sample bottles from a local distributor. The wines in this set were of this last niche I am talking about. I am open to trying anything because I truly believe if you try hard enough, you can find some seriously good bargains in that $10-12 price range. Maybe... In this case, it was touch and go. Let's begin, shall we?
The wines I opened were from Blackstone Winery. Blackstone has been a longtime staple of California, best known for their Merlot. They have two tasting rooms--one in Kenwood (Sonoma County) and one in Monterey. My previous experience with Blackstone has been with their Sonoma Reserve wines. I enjoyed them very much. They also do a less expensive tier called Winemaker's Select. I received three bottles: 2008 Winemaker's Select Chardonnay, 2007 Winemaker's Select Zinfandel and 2007 Winemaker's Select Merlot.
The first one I sampled was the Chardonnay. I am known as Chardonnay's harshest critic! I expect a lot from my Chardonnay at every price point. The thing I love most about Chardonnay is that no two are alike. This one is made with Monterey fruit, so I was thinking about tropical flavors-very fruit forward. That part was correct. Unfortunately, they only used 95% Chardonnay. They added Gewürztraminer and Semillon. This made it unbelievably acidic and sweet and after about three tastes, it went into cloying mode and I couldn't take anymore. I felt like I was drinking cotton candy. I couldn't taste any of the vanilla or the crème brûlée they mentioned was supposed to be in the finish. Really disappointing... I truly would like to know why they did that--why they added two other varietals to this wine? Were they trying to enhance the juice of lesser quality grapes? Were they trying to give it layers? It didn't really work...At least not for me. Everyone has their own taste and threshold. It might end up being someone else's favorite wine. Who knows?
I thought I might have better luck with the reds. I was partially correct. The 2007 Winemaker's Select Zinfandel was a little odd. The nose smelled sweet and of chocolate. I was getting a lot of fruit at the front end and it dropped off on the back end. There was no layering of berries and spice that you normally get in a Zinfandel. Just a one dimensional flavor. No spicy burn. It didn't drink like a Zin. If I had blind tasted it, I would not have been able to tell you it was a Zin. It tasted more like a red blend of some sort.
So I'd been striking out all over the place. What was going to save this tasting session? The 2007 Winemaker's Select Merlot. As I mentioned above, Blackstone is known for their Merlot. I've had Merlots that are thin, watery but flavorful and I've had Merlots that are big, rich fruit bombs. I've also had some bad Merlot in my day--the kind that is redolent of gasoline and motor oil. Not this one. I liked this one. This one is a definite bargain. It had everything: bright fruit, lush berries, vanilla, toasted oak. The finish wasn't bad, it lingered a little. No drop off like the Zinfandel. This one was easy to enjoy, making it the perfect table wine for everyday use. It's not going to wow the snobby wine conossieur but the general public would enjoy it. Thumbs up...
I checked out their website, blackstonewinery.com, and unfortunately they have not updated their tasting notes and information for the Winemaker's Select tier for quite awhile now. Someone needs to do that. Most people won't be bothered with checking out the website for information but there are people like me who might and it would be respectful to be up to date and current on the vintages. If you are looking to try some of these wines, you can find them at your local grocery stores and markets. So, in a nutshell, there you have it. You just never know what you're going to find in the $10-12 price range. Some good, some bad. You'll just have to take them and experiment...
I'm an Italian-born, American-bred walking encyclopedia of wine. Wine is my passion. People who know me find me interesting, funny, and knowledgable. A wine country enthusiast, I moved my life from Iowa to California and am enjoying educating the public about wine at one of the most historical wineries in Napa Valley! I'm here to keep it fun and help you enjoy wine as much as I do! I recently obtained my CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) certification from the Society of Wine Educators and am diligently working towards my CWE (Certified Wine Educator) certification in the Fall of 2014.
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