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2009 Bonny Doon Contra

Combining the pleasantly mineral and grippy character of Carignane with rounder notes from five other grape varieties, this inexpensive offering from Bonny Doon is rather easy-going, despite the contrarian attitude implied in the name (which also refers to Contra Costa County, where most of the grapes come from). That contradictory character may be found in the fact that it is, in fact, so lovely and elegant and pleasant to drink, despite having fairly moderate alcohol (13.5%) and none of the overbearing fruit that so many Californian wines (certainly in that price range) would have you believe is balanced. At $14, there’s a lot of great stuff in there. A great deal—and just a really pleasant wine to drink. Recommended. RC
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NV Sean Thackrey Pleiades XIX Old Vines

This particular Pleiades (XX has also been released) is a symphonic, multilayered blend that keeps changing at every sip, with spices jumping over red fruit, richness competing with acid, eucalyptus rolling in over earthy, gamey notes. It’s unlike anything else, for sure, an unidentifiable drinking object that defies definition and expands the possibilities of what wine can be. Highly recommended. RC
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Doing the Medal Rounds at the California State Fair

With roughly 2,800 wineries in the state of California—nearly half of the 6,000 total in the U.S.—that, by any measure, is some pretty steep competition. Though not all of the big, prestigious and luscious Cab, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay producers from Napa and Sonoma compete in the State Fair competition, enough do to make it interesting.
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2009 Shannon Ridge Ranch Collection Lake County Petite Sirah

The wine poured out with promise, the characteristic deep purple of Petite Sirah. It had the scent of very young wine, reminding me of being in a winery and tasting barrel samples early in the winemaking process. Unfortunately, this was a prediction of the wine's flavors, too. It was light in taste, very mild, with tannins so soft and structure so insubstantial, it disappeared when tasted with salty foods. I saved it, chilled, to sample again the next day, and by then it sort of deconstructed and became a non-wine. Not recommended.
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2009 Ridge Geyserville

The bottle says 14.5% alcohol. My nose and eyeballs suspect if might be well north of 15%. This is a big wine, with brawny red fruits, a bowl of mixed cherries ranging from barely ripe to nearly black and strawberries to match, fighting it out with blackberries in a ring made of American Oak, refereed by a box of raisins. Sweet dusty tannins abound, but there is enough acid to match. This might settle down and blend together with a few years in the cellar. It is more a stand-alone snack than a food wine, but if you must, match it with a very sloppy cheese steak sandwich. Recommended.
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2009 Ridge Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel

A mouthful of wine, this Zin is a moderate (by today's standards) 14.8% alcohol, but has loads of black fruit, cocoa, and coffee. The nose is slightly vegetal, suggesting perhaps some whole cluster fermentation. Blackberries on attack are followed by raspberries on the mid-palate and finish. Black pepper runs under everything from attack to finish. On the mid-palate, first mocha, then dark chocolate, come through. The long finish tastes of dark chocolate and dusty tannins. Drink with well smoked pork ribs. Recommended.