One of the perks of my job is getting the opportunity to taste unique and premium wines that are anything but run of the mill—wines that many people don’t get the chance to drink unless they’re willing to shell out a pretty penny in a restaurant.
My favorite wine rep, Shelley, shows up at my bar like Santa Claus. Instead of a sack thrown over one shoulder, she drags a black wheeled suitcase behind her. Her visits are decidedly better than Christmas, though—at least once a week I can look forward to a chime from my phone announcing Shelley’s text: “hey kid, wanna taste?” Spoiler alert: I always do.
She likes to show up during slow times and shift changes to brighten my day, and introduce me to new wines her company can offer us. On this particular occasion, she had just visited a local steakhouse, and so she had a grab bag full of bottles of the most luxurious reds imaginable—velvety, sensuous, sinful bottles of blood red or inky purple juice.
It would be criminal for me to not chronicle the experience.
Wine #1: Periano Estate Six Clones Merlot, 2014, LodI, California
Oh Lordy, Lodi. If you’re deep in lust with sinfully jammy fruit flavors but can’t stand to sacrifice a crisp acidity, you may find something to swoon over in Lodi. This Merlot* is excellent. The nose of this brick red wine is full of juicy red and black berries, spiced plum, and cedar. On the palate, I tasted plum and cherry compote, sweet baking spices, and a robust earthy flavor that I wasn’t expecting.
*I refuse to hate on Merlot just because it has fallen out of fashion these days. It’s a perfectly acceptable grape varietal that makes a lovely wine, whether on its own or blended with other Bordeaux family reds (Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, etc). Merlot is delicious and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (I blame the movie Sideways.)
Wine #2: Buena Vista Merlot 2013, Sonoma, California
Aromas of ripe blackberry, black currants, and boysenberry wafted from the glass. Flavor reminiscent of a mixed, brambly berry compote with notes of warm spice, vanilla, cedar, and smoke exploded on the palate. Fine tannins suggested that this wine was born to be paired with filet mignon—or perhaps a roast pork loin, or grilled rack of lamb.
Wine #3: Paydirt, “Going For Broke” Red Blend, 2016, Paso Robles California
True to its name, this wine is purple gold, and I don’t say that lightly. This wine represents a rabbit I’m constantly chasing—the elusive blue fruit flavors that aren’t found in just any wine. An intense purple in the glass, the aroma was redolent of ripe cranberry, wild blackberry, black pepper, savory stewed tomato, fresh basil, and black olive tapenade. As I sipped, I expected a bold, earthy wine full of smoke and oak. I was shocked when I instead tasted sweet fruit flavors, including ripe boysenberry, blueberry-basil jam, and fig preserves. What a wild ride. I cannot recommend this bottle enough. Actually, scratch that, don’t try it—more for me!
Wine #4: Aviary Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016, Napa Valley, California
Aromas of ripe blackberry, cassis, and black currants interlaced with baking spices, specifically cinnamon and nutmeg, filled the nose of this deep purplish-black juice. On the palate, bursting flavors of black fruit—blackberry, currants, cassis, and fig jam rippled alongside smooth Mexican vanilla. My overall impression of this wine was that it’s like drinking black velvet. You know that sultry song by Alannah Myles? Black velvet, if you please. That’s Aviary.
Wine #5: Lucas & Lewellen Cote Del Sol Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
Ripe black cherry dominated the nose, accompanied by notes of jalapeño and fresh-cut green bell pepper, blackberry pie, cedar, and cigar box. On the palate, layers of rich black fruit (blackberry, cassis, black spiced plum), pipe tobacco, and a hint of cocoa powder enticed the tastebuds. On the third sip, the flavors seemed to morph, revealing bright notes of tart blackberry and boysenberry. This wine was a pleasure to drink, a bit like combining the sensations of eating a decadent dessert and smoking a fine cigar into one. Sounds weird, but it’s surprisingly tasty.
If you can’t tell, I love red wine. There are plenty of Old World reds that would knock your socks off and give these selections a run for their money, but these New World beauties are definitely worth a try.
If I had to pick a favorite from this tasting, I’d likely go with Paydirt. It’s a fun, chameleon-like blend with a lovely dissonance between its bouquet and actual flavor on the palate. Lucas & Lewellen and Aviary tie for second place, followed by the two Merlots, which are perfectly delicious and drinkable in their own right.
To summarize, these six wines are last meal or desert island material. Don’t believe me? Try them for yourself!