Over the course of the past year I began keeping tasting notes on some of great and awful wines that I have had. Consider this the first in a line of hopefully informative insights into what is good and what should apply for a government bailout.
Highly Recommended: 2005, Justin Vineyards Isosceles, Meritage, Paso Robles, California - $60-65
Justin Vineyards embodies what California represents in many ways. They are innovative, they are Earth-friendly, they are focused on healthy living, and they are quality wine. Justin is one of the cooler wine discoveries I have made. Currently they are going through the process of becoming certified biodynamic (using natural means to tend to the grapes on the vine). They definitely have the desire to take care of the Earth, but they also take care of their employees. They have an on-site gym and strongly encourage participation in athletic competitions and physical activity. Overall, I think this makes them very appealing as a company, but how is the wine?
The 2005 Justin Isosceles is my favorite wine of 2009 thus far! It is an amazingly complex blend, with aromas of ripe red currants and juicy dark berries that are mirrored on the palate. The palate begins with the hit of red current and then evolves into the dark berries. The berries get more and more complex and meaty as time goes on and creates a truly memorable finish.
Wine Spectator gave this bad boy a 92, but I think this is slightly lower then what it deserves. I score this a 94 verging on 95, and I am thinking there is possibly a 95 in there if cellared for another 2-5 years.
Avoid: 2004, Duckhorn, Merlot, Napa, California - $45-50
Duckhorn has a romanticized reputation like many fading Napa vineyards. Be leery if you see Duckhorn Merlot on a restaurant's wine list. It usually fetches around $100-120 (add $30-50 for Cabernet) and it is nowhere worth it! The people at Duckhorn need to go back to the drawing board, especially for a winery that prides itself on Merlot! Maybe some restructuring or new vine plantings are in order?
How bad was this wine?
The 2004 Duckhorn Merlot has probably been my least favorite moderately-expensive wine of 2009. It is not a horrible wine, but it is extremely mediocre. Now when you combine that with the price it becomes horrible! The nose is a little awkward. It has a very healthy dose of cigar, cedar and earth notes. The problem is, there is no berry anywhere to lift this up. Just strange. The palate is very thin with some berries developing over time, but unfortunately I didn't have all week to wait.
Wine Spectator gave this a 78 and I think that is actually pretty nice. I would have to give this a 76. A poor showing from a vineyard that does occasionally produce some pretty good, but over-priced, estate-grown Merlot and Cabernet.
Alternative: Since I ripped the Duckhorn Merlot, let me offer a couple to try in the same price range. A 2005 or 2006 Plumpjack Merlot from Napa (co-owned by San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsome) is a great alternative as is a mid-range St-Emilion (2005 if possible) like Chateau Pipeau.
Next time out, look past the names and try to find quality. If you are not sure, ask the waiter or wine steward, that's why they are there!