2007 (Rutherford, Napa Valley) ($145)
Plush, powerful cab, with formidable oak and cocoa. Todd Coleman
La Clarine Farm Mourvedre
2008 ($23)
An exuberant wine with a dollop of licorice from the Sierras. Todd Coleman
Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel
2007 ($34)
Brambles, plums, blackberries, and loads and loads of spice. Todd Coleman
Everett Ridge Estate Zinfandel
2007 ($32)
Briar, spice, and cocoa from a winery dating to 1887. Todd Coleman
Clos Saron Cuvee Mysterieuse
2005 ($35)
A pungent, salty, and plummy syrah-mourvedre blend. Todd Coleman
Donkey & Goat The Prospector
2008 ($25)
An energetic mourvedre with a leathery, cedaresque depth. Todd Coleman
AHA Wines Bebame Red
2009 ($20)
Alice in Wonderland graces the label of this cabernet franc–gamay blend, whose name is Spanish for “Drink Me.” Indeed, one sip and you’re down the rabbit hole on a lively trip through blackberry and sweet pepper, landing in a tangle of huckleberry and leather. A collaboration of two maverick vintners (Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John and Don Heistuman of AHA), this is an approachable yet elegant tribute to the Loire Valley’s red table wines. Todd Coleman
Failla Phoenix Ranch Syrah
2009 ($44)
A Rhone lover’s wine; pepper aromas and big tannins. Todd Coleman
Renaissance Syrah
2005 ($35)
A textured winner melding earth with sun-baked fruit and leather. Todd Coleman
Demetria Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
2007 ($40)
Racy elegance with cherry-rhubarb likeability. Todd Coleman
2007 ($129)
A lovely Napa cabernet with Bordeaux echoes, moderately tannic but not harsh. Todd Coleman
Favia Napa Valley
2007 ($120)
Round, rich, easy-to-drink cab, with wonderful floral, melony, herbal notes. Todd Coleman
Foxen Bien Nacido Block 8 Pinot Noir
2008 ($54)
Earthy with cardamom, cumin, and nice acidity. Todd Coleman
Ridge Monte Bello
2007 ($145)
Back in 1959, in the Santa Cruz mountains, winemaker Paul Draper developed a vision for his cabernet: Bordeaux’s finesse married to California’s lushness. Today, he still produces magnificent wines, using low-technology methods. Relatively low in alcohol (13 percent) and made from 79 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, this purple-garnet beauty delivers blackberry, anise, espresso, and oak, refreshed by good acidity. Profound and energetic all at once, this is a wine made art. Todd Coleman
Donkey & Goat Four Thirteen
2008 ($32)
Chateauneuf-style blend with berry, wild herbs, and minerals. Todd Coleman
LIOCO Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2008 ($30)
Mineral-edged with a savory orange-fenugreek kick. Todd Coleman
Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Red
2008 ($25)
A spicy, balanced Rhone-style blend with lots of dark fruit. Todd Coleman
Edmunds St. John Bone Jolly Gamay Noir Red
2009 ($17)
A cheery stand-in for beaujolais-villages.
Littorai Hirsch Pinot Noir
2007 ($65)
Powerful and musky, delivering a mineral fierceness. Todd Coleman
Meteor Special Family Reserve Cabernet
2006 ($300)
Mulberry, leather, smoke. Todd Coleman
Morlet Passionement
2007 ($225)
Graceful and berry-scented, a most elegant Napa Valley cabernet. Todd Coleman
Cedarville Grenache
2008 ($25)
Tar and herbs, black cherry and dust, with just a touch of vanilla. Todd Coleman
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant
2006 ($30)
A dark, sexy Rhone blend with exotic spiciness and minerals. Todd Coleman
Peay Estate Les Titans Syrah
2007 ($45)
Black pepper and meaty notes, with some bright berries. Todd Coleman
Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet
2005 ($65)
Cushy fruit amid tar, chocolate, and fresh herbs. Todd Coleman
Quill Howell Mountain
2006 ($95)
Big but elegant cabernet, shining with balanced fruit and tannins. Todd Coleman
Revana Cabernet
2007 ($165)
Silky with a berry-plum nose, some wood, good acid, and real polish. Todd Coleman
Copain Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
2008 ($20)
The dominant style in California pinots for the past couple of decades has been big, dark, and syrupy, the kind Copain Tous winemaker Wells Guthrie used to make. Now Guthrie picks his grapes earlier and makes wine with little technological fuss. The result, as seen in this bottle from a tricky Anderson Valley vintage, is light, bright, and edgy, with lots of berry, earth, and bark. Todd Coleman
Ambyth Estate Maiestas
2008 ($35)
A Rhone blend lush with cherry and marshmallow. Todd Coleman
Palmina Santa Barbara Nebbiolo
2006 ($30)
A big Italian with a light touch of spice and raspberries. Todd Coleman
Coturri Carignane
2008 ($20)
Smoky and sun-drenched biodynamic red tinged with fresh-bitten currants. Todd Coleman
Chappellet, Pritchard Hill
Chappellet has a history of tough mountain wines that can evolve well–though, in recent years, many of the Chappellet Cabernet bottlings have, admirably, gotten a bit softer. Not so for their top-of-the-line Pritchard Hill bottling, first made in the cult-y year of 1997. I have high hopes for this 2007 version–but right now it is closed, brooding, packed with extract, all in an old-fashioned Chappellet way. Todd Coleman
Clos du Val Reserve
A library wine, not easy to find… but well worth the trouble for the glimpse it affords of pre-alcohol-overload Napa Valley Cabernet. Medium garnet-brick, with touch of onion-skin at edge. Chocolate-toffee nose. Full of life on the palate: Napa fruit concentration, with unusual elegance. Just a touch of tannin. Ultimately doesn’t fan out like a thirty-year Bordeaux might, but you can see why the ’70s were full of excitement in Napa Valley. Todd Coleman
Shafer Hillside Select
1994 ($412)
Well, the price tag reflects the crazy-cult values of our own time… but the wine is delicious, healthy, and a good indicator of Shafer at an in-between stage. They ramped it up further later on… but this early-90s guy is Bordeaux-like, restrained, elegant, with no sweetness up front, and a tinge of subtle, earthy flavors. Todd Coleman
Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir
2008 ($80)
Firm and spicy, with pinpoint precision. Decanting helps open it up. Todd Coleman
Sloan, Napa Valley
2006 ($275)
Time to watch those prices rise! This cult-y wine, from an old winery that found a new purpose in the ’00s, is very dark garnet in the glass, with eucalyptus in the nose alongside the ripe fruit. Very extracted, with some bitter tannins stepping up even before the finish. Todd Coleman
Ovid, Napa Valley
Ovid’s vineyards were planted in 2000; its first commercial vintage was 2005. Dark purple, with a fairly closed nose suggesting liqueur, like kirsch. Lots of crushed, velvety red fruit on the palate, chewy, with considerable tannin and bitterness. 14.8% alcohol. Todd Coleman
Jordan, Alexander Valley
Jordan, like Silver Oak, is hanging in there with the crowd-pleasing 1970s style. Medium purple-garnet. Lovely ripe fruit with a floral hint, and a touch of herbal Cabernet-ness. Medium-rich, juicy, soft, easy, “only” 13.5% alcohol. Todd Coleman
Pride Mounatin Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 ($125)
In the words of owner Steven Pride: “uber intense.” And that might be an understatement. Massively structured, with a concentration of flavor that mountain vineyards give. Lots of berries, cedar and violets. Todd Coleman
Materium, Maybach Family Vineyards
2007 ($190)
Another 14.8% alcohol baby–which can, by law, actually have as much as 15.3% alcohol. Maybach kicked off in 2004, as did their cult-y Materium bottling. Very dark purple, almost to the edge. Big and bright young fruit nose: plums, cookies, a little spice. Very sweet entry, with a ton of tannin as payback. Weighty wine. Todd Coleman
Silver Oak, Napa Valley
Silver Oak shows here how they’re staying out of the cult race, continuing to produce easy-to-love Cabernet. Slightly soupy garnet. Hints of Cabernet herbs on nose, with plum, berries, a touch of burning leaves. Good flavor follow-through to a fairly soft finish. Todd Coleman
Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette
2005 ($100)
Old-timer Spring Mountain released its first Elivette in 2000–a stylish, modern wine that has ample fruit for culty fruitheads. But it also has a quiet and sure elegance. The 2005 sports a violet-blackberry nose, with hints of jam. Suave and silky, the wine just glides over your palate, until hitting a moderate tannic speed bump in the finish. Much more harmonious than we might have expected from this tannin-warrior of old hell-bent on making modern adjustments. Just over the Thompson line at 14.2% alcohol. Todd Coleman
Littorai Les Larmes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
2008 ($38)
Ted Lemon blended together several lots in 2008 for this approachable, huckleberry-inflected effort that’s full of bright-mineral finesse. Todd Coleman
Littorai The Haven Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2007 ($75)
Ted Lemon finds a plush and floral expression in this site just a few miles from the coastline. Perfectly pitched sandalwood and tart cherry round out its subtle profile. Todd Coleman
Heitz Cellar, Martha’s Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Vivid purple with touch of garnet. Very ripe style, with a port-y character. Nicely concentrated without being clunky. Todd Coleman
Lagos Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
Very pretty dark purple. Jammy berries on nose; lean, sweet and tannic on palate. Todd Coleman
Caldwell, Estate Grown, Block 15
Very dark garnet-purple, almost to rim. Pinot-like geranium note in nose, with vanilla on palate. Interesting flavors, but chunky-hot. Todd Coleman
Clos du Val, Reserve red wine
Admirably lean in the classic Clos du Val style, but past its peak. Brown-ish, hazy, with nail-polish-remover notes. Todd Coleman
Morlet Family Vineyards, Coeur de Vallee, Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium purple-garnet. Lots of alcohol on nose. The most jammy-sweet and candied of the Morlet wines. Todd Coleman
J. Daniel Cuvee, Lail Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
Similar profile to Lail’s Blueprint — with the addition of some chocolate-y toffee notes in this one. Todd Coleman
Blueprint, Lail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Pretty purple-garnet with hints of red. Touch of varietal green on nose. Penetrating palate with good concentration — but kind of sweet and hot and tannic. Todd Coleman
Mayacamas, Cabernet Sauvignon
Still purple-garnet with just a hint of browning. Tight and lean, but nicely developed leathery flavors. Todd Coleman
Diamond Creek, Volcanic Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon
Undoubtedly a strong “mountain” wine, with lots of tannin. But a kind of glossy polish brings balance to it all. Todd Coleman
SIMI, Alexander Valley Landslide Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Fairly ripe nose. Nice combo of basic components, leading to a medium-bodied wine that’s a bit stiff. Todd Coleman
Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon
Another “new-style” Clos du Val, with lively, peachy fruit and decent balance. Todd Coleman
Quite dark purple. Very pretty stewed fruit and jam. Refreshed by good acidity. Todd Coleman
Clos du Val, Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon
Richer than Clos du Val of old. Quiet right now, with alcohol scents dominating. Todd Coleman
Heitz Cellar, Martha’s Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage 2001
Vivid garnet with touch of browning. None of the classic Martha’s Vineyard eucalyptus, but a comforting earthy development. Rich, but very nicely balanced. Todd Coleman
Verdad Tempranillo, Santa Ynez Valley
Vintage 2007 ($19)
Peppery plum and cedar-box are the dominant impressions of this big red; pair it with grilled lamb. Todd Coleman
Honig Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 ($40)
Smoky with deep berry and plum flavors, this plush Napa cab feels lovely and round in the mouth. Classic with a steak, but keep it in mind for grilled pork, too. Todd Coleman
Failla, Syrah
Leather, cedar, tobacco in spades, with swarthy fruit and pronounced but balanced tannins. Elegant, handsome. Todd Coleman
Failla, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Tart, red fruit — raspberries, cherries, cranberries, strawberries. Juicy and delicious. Todd Coleman
Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Blackberry scent, lingering cherry flavors with a citrus edge, and a wood smoke finish; intriguing on its own and a splendid companion to lamb stew. Anna Stockwell
Sea Smoke Ten
A dark pinot noir with swarthy flavors of leather, tobacco, craisins, black cherry, dates and walnuts. Spicy with a touch of vanilla on the finish. Pair it with roasted or braised pork. Anna Stockwell
Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet
Taut and elegant with a ripe berry nose and savory palate; a fine-tuned balance between fruit and tannins makes for great drinkability–with steak or on its own. Anna Stockwell