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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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2007 Castello Banfi Belnero Proprietor’s Reserve

The nose offers up a blend of fresh cherries, and the sweet cherries and fondant inside chocolate-covered cherries, a touch of coffee, and a strong shot of vanilla. On the palate the lead is with bright red fruit and chocolate, softening to black cherry and a bit of black fruit on the mid-palate. The vanilla effect of oak shows up on the finish, ending with a strong flavor of sweet milk chocolate-covered cherries. Acids are rather bright, tannins somewhat understated, making it a fair food-matching wine today, but not a strong candidate for long-term cellaring. Drink with eggplant parmesan. This might be highly recommended at half the price, but at $40 it is recommended. DH
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2008 Kirkland Meritage

If you live near a Costco you know where this is going. “Kirkland” is Costco’s proprietary brand for everything from soup to nuts (and I mean that literally). They market a “Kirkland Signature Wine Collection” whereby they slap their own label on wines, and some of them are quite good and represent excellent value. This Meritage is a classic Bordeaux blend. The nose is slightly herbal and gives off whiffs of boysenberry and cedar. The flavors are of blackberry and there is perhaps a shade too much oak. The merlot comes on strong, almost overtaking the cabernet sauvignon, but the fruit is quite nice. A tad one-dimensional, but still very pleasant, and an absolute bargain for the price and quality. Nice with simple grilled meats. Recommended. GT
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2008 Veranda Cabernet-Carménère

A well-made wine that shows both component grapes off very favorably. Intriguing nose of cedar, blackcurrant, thyme, and allspice. Blossoms open on the palate (after about 15 minutes to breathe, perhaps longer) with gobs of ripe fruit ferrying cranberry and blackberry overtones. A bit short in the mid-palate, with the lean Carménère a bit more dominant, but has a long, luscious finish. An interesting wine at a good price. Try with glazed pork chop or roast. Recommended. GT
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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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2008 Girard Signature

The nose is a little tight, suggesting blueberries and tobacco along with a light background of red fruits and licorice. It offers some interesting complexity in the palate, too, with loads of dark fruit, blackberry, elderberry, and blueberry, with a bright red fruit background. The mid-palate has coffee and licorice, the finish adds unsweetened chocolate. Tannins are very sweet, mouth-feel is very smooth. Complexity seems to come from fruit (plus, perhaps, some extraction), not from wood. The wood effect is clear but light, adding touches of spice but not overwhelming the original juice. It would be at home with a steak or a great burger, or a fireplace and a friend. Highly recommended. DH