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Top Twelve Red Wines from the 2015 Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival

IMG_1841The 2015 Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival is sadly behind us, and it was another great weekend. You can read a brief recap by clicking here. In this blog we’ll examine the red wines from the event. There were many great ones, a lot of good ones and a few that weren’t so good. This blog is about the great and the good and the screaming values some of these wines represent. It was a tough call, and the group at the top, as usual, could easily be interchanged by someone with a different palate or opinion. That’s what’s great about wine, it’s different for everyone.

So this is, as always, our opinion. Some are here solely on quality, others on value. We did manage to get to just about every table at the event, but there is still a likelihood we missed something, so you might not see your favorite here. Many of the producers you’ll recognize. Once again we established a price limit of $100 to make the list, although there were several above that which were pretty special, and we’ll mention them later in this article. To the wines!

  1. 2012 Arkenstone Napa Valley Cabernet – all the fruit here is from mountain sites, and all blocks are fermented and aged 11 months in barrel prior to blending. The blend goes back in oak for about another year. The result is a pure expression of Cabernet which is rich yet fresh, with a nice acid balance and a long finish. Very drinkable now and age worthy. Well done. $75
  2. 2013 WALT La Brisa Pinot Noir – HALL always makes great wines, and this is noIMG_1817 exception. We drink more Pinot Noir than we used to, and it’s becoming a favorite of Cheri’s. We ran into this early on Saturday and just knew it would end up near the top. From four different vineyards in Sonoma (two in Green Valley and two in Sonoma Coast) this is a fruity and rich Pinot Noir with nice layers and a long finish. $37 list and a value there.
  3. 2008 Tenuta Santa Maria Decima Aurea – from another producer who just excelled across the board, this 100% Merlot sees special treatment, with 50% of the grapes dried in the apassimento method while the other 50% gets IMG_1828extended hang time before harvesting. The result is a wine with complexity and depth, approachable but firm tannins and an elegance that belies its price. We absolutely love this wine. Crazy good for the money as it drinks better than some wines we’ve tried that go well north of $100. This one runs about $45.
  4. 2013 Larkin Cabernet Franc – Sean Larkin took home #1 last year with his 2012 Cab Franc. He was pouring that as well, but the 2013 is the better wine. Sean thinks it is the best he has ever made, so we’ll take his word on it. It’s great, really. With 85% Cab Franc the wine is still a little tight, the tannins are a little brisk, but the stuff is all there. Give this some time, either in the decanter or in the cellar and revel in world class Cab Franc. We need to get on his mailing list. $75 and Value List at that price. Could easily have been #1 again.
  5. 2012 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel – a Zin has never appeared this high on our IMG_1850lists. In fact I’m not sure one has ever appeared on our lists at all, but this one deserves it. The jammy tones of traditional Zin are veiled under the savory nose and dark fruits. It’s rich and long and very full bodied. In spite of our admitted prejudice against Zin this had to be recognized. Must have been really good. $42 and Value List.
  6. 2009 Tenuta Santa Maria Amarone – the 2008 was one our favorite wines at the Savor event in Hartford earlier this year (read about that here). This one is just as good, with red and black fruits playing with a refreshing acidity at the end. The “raisiny” notes which are dominant in some styles of Amarone only tickle you a little, complimenting the overall experience. This is also crazy good wine, and Cheri termed it “food optional”. $90
  7. 2011 Raats MR de Compostella – from Bruwer Raats in Stellenbosch, South AfricaIMG_1851 this is a blend of all five Bordeaux varietals. They treat them separately each year, then taste and rank the individual varieties. Whatever is best becomes the dominant wine in the blend, and they go down from there. It’s very elegant, with lot’s of berry fruit, some oak and some savory notes. A long finish wraps up an outstanding wine. We like everything Bruwer makes. $65
  8. 2012 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – from another consistently excellent producer, this Cab is a classic Napa Cab, with currant and blackberry, a rich profile and excellent balance. Always good, and exceptionally so in 2012. $50
  9. 2010 5Stelle Sfursat – something different here, as this wine is Nebbiolo from IMG_1821northern Italy. When you get north of Barolo and Barbaresco, and they start calling the grape by different names, the wines tend to get a little leaner. They make a traditional variety as well we have not yet tried, but this differs in that it sees some time in French oak barriques (about six months) before transferring to the more traditional large casks. The French oak gives it a little edge, more structure and compliments the usual refined and elegant Nebbiolo experience. Very nice and out of the ordinary, but still very much Nebbiolo. $90
  10. 2012 J. Lohr Tower Road Paso Robles Petite Sirah – another consistently IMG_1863outstanding producer brings some new single vineyard wines to the market, and they were all really good. This one is dark purple and very full bodied, really a classic Petite Sirah. Dark plum and earthy notes wrap you up and scream for a roaring fire in winter. If you like good Petit Sirah, and we do, then you’ll love this. $25 and Value List.
  11. 2012 Pine Ridge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – another great Cab from the 2012 vintage, this has a dollop (10%) of Petit Verdot in it. The classic currant and blackberry flavors are joined with some nice oak tones yielding a wine that is so smooth but still has the stuff to last. $55
  12. 2012 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Pinot Noir – a repeat performance IMG_1830on the Top Red list for this wine, which is consistently good and brings an explosive fruit party in a very well made and enjoyable wine. Another of Cheri’s Pinot Noir favorites from the event. $35

So there you are, twelve outstanding wines to think about trying. Unfortunately not all are in everyone’s financial comfort zone, but some are. Let’s talk about a few more that definitely are, as well as some that most probably are not.

Great Values – on the red side maybe the best value of the event was the 2013 Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon. From Alexander Valley fruit this wine is easy drinking with bright IMG_1848fruit and great balance. We guessed closer to $40. It is probably under $15. Great house wine here and a screaming value. Another to mention is the 2013 Oyster Bay Merlot from New Zealand. This was the only wine from New Zealand which came close all weekend, and it is quite nice with red fruits, good body and a long finish. From Hawke’s Bay with about a $12 price tag.

Great Wines Over $100 – of these there were several. First was the 2012 Arkenstone Obsidian, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend of the Bordeaux grapes. Another beautifully balanced wine that will age effortlessly for a decade or two, or three. High end and IMG_1842$175. Equally good was the 2012 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon, IMG_1872from a nine acre plot in Napa’s St. Helena. Full bodied and rich and $150. The 2012 Blackbird Contrarian is a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot. Luscious and complex it brings great berry flavors, and a long, long finish. $125. Finally, the Trifecta 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is a stunning wine. We’ve had this before, at the same Savor event mentioned earlier, and it remains one of our favorite wines from the 2011 vintage in Napa. $105  They also make an excellent Pinot Noir at $60.  The bad news is the wines are sold by allotment only, and they have a healthy waiting list.  The good news is that all of the proceeds from the sale of Trifecta wines go to charitable endeavors, so we are huge fans.

Honorable Mentions – of course there were many other quality wines on the red side. Here’s are some others which stood out.

2012 Blackbird Arise – rich and jammy

2010 Fattoria di Barbi Brunello – from the great 2010 vintage and classic

2012 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon – from Antinori’s property on Atlas Peak

2012 Galerie Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – beautiful balance and a producer to watchIMG_1823

2012 Bouchaine Pinot Meunier – unusual, wonderful fruit and freshness.

2012 J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir – from the valley floor in Arroyo Seco, Monterey

2012 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon – from a hilltop vineyard in Paso Robles

And that’s a wrap on the reds from this year. Having to sample and then decide from among all of these outstanding wines is hard work. It’s a good thing there was lots of good food to keep us going!

All of these are worth a try.

A votre sante!

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