“Everything goes into what a grape taste like,” says Natalie, who tends bar and doles out sound advice at Wine Steals wine bar in Hillcrest. “The soil, the climate: everything.” With so many factors to consider, attempting to find a good place to jump in can quickly become a daunting task. That’s why this month we went straight to the experts at some of San Diego’s hottest wine bars to discuss which red wines you should be drinking right now. Read on to discover the fruits of our investigation.
10. Van Ruiten 2008 Petite Sirah
100% Petite Sirah (California)
With praise from everyone from local magazines to the Wall Street Journal, Van Ruiten Family Vineyards in Lodi, CA, is a high achiever. Its 2008 petite sirah is no exception, winning a gold medal at the World Wine Championships and being named one of 2010’s top ten wines under $15 (a bargain!). This wine is slightly higher in alcohol content than most, with strong tannins and a hint of black pepper that complement the flavors of crisp, bright fruit underneath.
9. Cold Heaven 2009 Makepeace
100% Pinot Noir (California)
Santa Barbara’s Cold Heaven winery gets its name from both a Yeats poem and winemaker Morgan Clendenen’s desire to produce great wines from cool climate varietals – a little bit of wine-drinking heaven from the cold, if you will. Makepeace is one of the winery’s two pinot noir offerings, and it does not disappoint. Made with a blend of grapes from the emerging Santa Rita and Santa Maria appellations, this wine has been lauded far and wide for its bright, fresh flavors of red fruit with hints of tea and rose petal.
8. Hedges Family Estate 2007 Red Mountain
Bordeaux Blend (Washington)
“Blends are really popular right now,” says Natalie of Hillcrest’s Wine Steals. Hedges Family Estate’s Red Mountain is a blend produced from Bordeaux grapes grown near Washington state’s easterly Yakima Valley region, and is about as popular as they come with critical acclaim and 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. Deep red in color, this vintage is smoky with dark flavors of blackberry and licorice, and its Merlot base makes it a great wine for beginners and connoisseurs alike.
7. Chronic Cellars 2010 Purple Paradise
Zinfandel Blend (California)
We’re not going to lie: we love everything about this Paso Robles winery, from the Dia de los Muertos-inspired labels to the titles (see also: their Sofa King Bueno syrah blend). But today we’re highlighting this easygoing winery’s blend of zinfandel and petite sirah. Purple Paradise may be a red wine in name, but the name says it all and its rich color comes with flavors to match – smoky, spicy, and loaded with the tastes of coffee and cocoa, plum, boysenberry and blackberry jam. This is a wine that will satisfy your sweet tooth while still keeping things balanced and refined.
6. Écluse 2007 Improv
Syrah Blend (California)
No matter where we went, one thing was clear: blends are very in right now. One such offering is Improv, a 2007 vintage from Écluse Wines in Central California’s Paso Robles. This blend of syrah and zinfandel has racked up plenty of accolades since its release, including a Silver Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and an impressive 93 points from Wine Spectator. Rich with the flavors of jammy fruits and chocolate, this wine would transition nicely from a decadent dinner into dessert without skipping a beat.
5. Willamette Valley 2008 Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Oregon pinot noirs are an altogether different beast than similar wines produced further south in California – more earthy than sweet, thanks to the effects of a chillier climate. Produced with grapes from Willamette Valley’s Tualatin Estates Vineyard, this pinot is complex and earthy, with a mineral finish and faint hints of fruits like blackberry and sweet cherry. It’s a wine that commands thought, and holds its own against food pairings with rich, strong flavors.
4. Lang & Reed 2009 North Coast
100% Cabernet Franc (California)
No vintner can deny that trends in wine are moving north – smart winemakers are learning how to take this knowledge and use it to their advantage. Lang & Reed’s 2009 North Coast may be produced wholly from cabernet franc grapes, but they don’t all come from the same vineyard – the wine blends classic Napa Valley flavors with grapes from Lake County to the North. The result is an easygoing wine that is bright and soft, with dark red fruits that don’t overpower and a layer of toasty warmth.
3. Bridgeview 2008 Blue Moon
100% Pinot Noir (Oregon)
“This is one of my favorites,” says Wes at Mosaic wine bar as he pours us a taste of Blue Moon, a pinot noir from Bridgeview Vineyards in Oregon. It’s easy to see why: 2008 is a good year for Oregon pinots. This pale red wine is defined by a delicate tartness, fresh red fruits tempered by tannins. Not too sweet and with just the right amount of spice, it’s a great example of an Oregon pinot noir done right.
2. DeBeikes Oakville Estate 2005
100% Cabernet Sauvignon (California)
DeBeikes Oakville Estate is a boutique winery with one singular mission: producing a fabulous cabernet from the classic terroir of Yountville in California’s Napa Valley. Their sole product, a 2005 cabernet sauvignon, is obviously a labor of love that’s clear in every sip. As a young wine, this vintage spent two years aging in French barrels to help it develop its complex, oaky flavors and softness in its sweeter notes of blackberry and cassis. Only 80 barrels were made of this vintage, and with rave reviews and a 96 point rating from Wine Spectator, we don’t expect this vintage to linger on store shelves for too long.
1. Donati Family Vineyard 2007 Ezio
Red Blend (California)
We were won over by this blend from Donati Family Vineyard from the first sip. The product of a cool, dry winter and a consistently temperate growing season in the Paicines region of California’s wine country, this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc is dark, rich, and almost savory with the plush tastes of dark berry fruits and chocolate. Meanwhile an aging process in French oak barrels elevates the wine with the warmth of vanilla and spice.