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Top Ten Red Wines from the 2014 Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival

Red Larkin 1Once again it is time to crown the Top Ten Red Wines from the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival, in this case the 2014 version of this great event.  As always there was fierce competition for inclusion, and as always this list represents our favorites and is totally subjective.  We consider quality, price, unique characteristics and different wine regions.  A wine could be on the list for any one of those factors, or all of them.  We tend to not include wines in the $100+ range here, because we don’t buy wines at that price point.  That said, we did make the Realm To Kalon Cabernet #1 last year, and that was $150.  (You can read about that here) Simply put, it was because it was just that good and we made an exception.  You will not see the same exception this year, although we have wines here equal in quality.

As in past years we did not get a chance to try every single wine at the festival, so there is a distinct possibility (and in fact a surety) that we missed something.  We’ll also likely list some you did not try even if you went to the Grand Tasting, since some will generally be from the seminars we attended.  Everything is fair game.

So here we go, and keep in mind most of these decisions really come down to splitting hairs or an overall impression.  You can’t go wrong with any of these.

1. 2012 Larkin Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Franc can be great, as the reputation of Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux attests to.  It rarely is great however, and when you find that Cabernet Franc that brings the power, the intensity and the structural complexity as well then you have a rare wine.  This is a rare wine.  Probably the best Cabernet Franc I have ever tasted.  This is generally about 75% Cab Franc with the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Special and about $60.

2. 2012 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir – this blew us away Red Phelps Pinotwith intense fruit, great acid, amazing persistence and depth and a long finish.  In other words, it’s a Pinot party that doesn’t quit.  It brings all of that while maintaining structure and complexity, this wine has it all.  A great Pinot Noir.  It’s not a brooding, esoteric or academic Burgundy (and don’t get me wrong – they can be great), but if you like some fruit with your excellent Pinot this is for you.  Outstanding and about $45.

3. 2003 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – we almost disqualified them for bringing a library wine, since no one else

Red Jordan 1was pouring Cab with ten+ years of barrel and bottle age, but it was just soooooo good.  Still vibrant, this wine brings a smooth tasting experience even though the tannins are still holding up the back end and it is not done yet.  Great fruit and subtle oak and just refined and elegant.  I love good wines with some age on them, and this is why.  They had the 2002 as well, but on a split decision we go with this one.  You can still buy it, or it wouldn’t be here, and it’s likely around $80.  This is also pretty great (might have been #1 but for an extensive aging penalty).

4. 2012 Jack Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon – we go back to Larkin for this, our favorite non-decade aged Cabernet Sauvignon of the festival.  Think classic Napa Cabernet and you get this.  Great fruit, beautiful depth and a stunning finish, this wine has it all.  For the lover of Cabernet or anyone who appreciates killer wine, it’s hard to imaging a Cab getting much better.  Spectacular and about $75.  We have to figure out how to get some Larkin wines in the cellar.

5. 2012 Michael David 6th Sense Syrah – the first value wine of the bunch, Red 6th Sensealthough based on the extreme quality of the previous four I would not call any of them over priced.   Michael David always seems to over deliver, and this is no exception.  A dark, brooding wine this brings blackberry and spice and everything nice.  A very long finish leaves you quite satisfied.  Extremely good value at around $16.

6. 2012 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee – this is a blend of Bordeaux grapes and tends to be a reliably excellent wine year in and year out.  Add another year of excellent to the list, as the 2012 throws an array of berry fruit at you balanced with nice acidity and a very long finish.  It is just delicious and a very good value at about $30.

7. 2011 La Jota Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – an Red La Jota Cabunknown commodity for us, we were duly impressed with this excellent Cab.  It’s 82% Cabernet with the rest coming from Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.  This brings dark berries in waves, nice acidity and some still stiff tannins which will need some time.  Approachable now it will only get better, and promises to be very good indeed.  Not cheap at about $75, but an outstanding wine.  A producer to keep an eye on.

8. 2011 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon – I’ve tasted this twice over the past Red Hilltop Cabtwo weeks and it is consistently excellent.  This is a rich, round ready to drink now Cabernet that brings depth and a long, smooth finish.  It is really a pleasure to drink, and should leave any big red wine fan satisfied.  It checks in at about $35.

9. 2010 Glenelly Lady May – this is a South African blend of Red Lady May90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot.  There is a ton of dark fruit on the nose and palate, a persistent and rich tasting experience which culminates with a long finish.  It is very good stuff.  It’s also in the $35 range.  This is a new producer for us, but we liked all of their wines.  Someone to keep in mind when you’re looking for a new area or producer.

10. We’re going to follow tradition and chicken out with a tie for tenth place.  There were just too many good wines.

– 10A – 2011 WALT Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – just a classic, cooler climate, California Pinot Red Hall 1Noir with beautiful fruit delineated with bright acid, all in balance and tied together at the end seamlessly.  It’s just delicious.  A quality wine through and through and about $40.

– 10B – 2011 Colliano Cuvee Red – from Slovenia, so a new area and a new producer here.  We liked everything they were pouring, and you’ll see one of their whites on that Top Ten list as well.  This is 40% Cab Franc, 30% Cab Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  It spends 12 months in French oak.  Medium bodied it brings red and black fruit and spice to the palate and finishes long.  It’s a very classy bottle of wine, not as big as most on this list but quite nice.  Quite nicely priced as well at $15.  Their whole line is $15, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

So, a great list without question, but there were so many others.  Here is an honorable mention group that based on another person’s preferences could easily have made the Top Ten.

– 2011 Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red – we did ban them from the top ten, but anytime they are pouring wine at any event their estate red is going to make our list.  Still one of our favorite wines anywhere and available around $30.  We just have to give some other very deserving people a chance.

– 2008 NEMEA Grand Cuvee – Agiorgitiko, different and excellent.

– 2008 Dry Creek Mariner

– 2009 Torbreck “The Steading”

– 2009 Bellussi-Belpoggio Rosso di Montalcino

– 2010 Zenato Ripassa – Valpolicella Ripasso

– 2009 Twomey Merlot

– 2011 Michael David Petite Petit

– 2010 Michael David Inkblot Cabernet Franc

– 2011 Michael David LUST Zinfandel (the Michael David train is unrelenting)

We enjoyed all of these tremendously.  There were a few, alas,  we did not like at all, but that is another story.  Some were in boxes, some were not, and as always there were people with vastly different opinions.  That is the beauty of this, we all like something a little different, and in some cases a lot different.

Whites to follow!

A votre sante!

 

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