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What Makes Wine a "Good" Wine?

Far be it from us to tell you what you should like in wine. We may be able to tell you what is a good wine – but we can’t determine what is a good wine to you. We can tell you, for instance, many cheap, jammy, and sweet wines are not good wines. But if you like them, who are we to say you shouldn’t?

So, call us frustrated that these extracted wines are flooding the market and attracting consumers who haven’t the desire to ponder something more balanced. While serious winemakers have been refining their wines for centuries, others have come along to mask defects with a load of sugar.

We get it. There are no rules, right?

"Once you ripen wine to almost a raisin quality, you lose a little varietal character, especially with cabernet sauvignon," said Jay Turnipseed, winemaker at the Rutherford Wine Company.

He said an over-extracted cabernet loses its red currant flavors, picks up more dark cherry and plum character, and sheds some the tannins that give it ageability.

He doesn't take issue with producers who make these riper wines if it's appropriate for their business. While some winemakers base their reputation on complex and age-worthy cabernet sauvignon, others look for fast sales from ripe, sweet zinfandel blends.

If you like your red wine fruity and forward, here are some to discover:

  • Apothic Brew ($16). Millennials apparently love cold coffee, so here comes E&J Gallo to combine two passions with their latest member of the popular Apothic wines. A variety of red grape varieties are infused with cold brew coffee to make up a sweet, ripe blend that has chocolate and coffee flavors. Do you drink it for breakfast? Robert Mondavi was known to add wine to his morning cup of Joe.

  • Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Cabernet Sauvignon ($15). Ripe, copious, blackberry jam flavors. Gnarly Head's Old Vine Zinfandel ($15) is similarly jammy, although the producer likes to call the flavors "bold." It's over the top but perfect with sauce-ladened ribs and chicken.

  • Big Smooth Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 ($15). It's smooth all right. The Lodi fruit provides plenty of sugar, some of which has been fermented into alcohol and oodles of lush plum flavors.


Family owned Flora Springs in Napa Valley is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and two new releases that we recently tasted are a fine tribute to this first-rate Napa winery.

The Flora Springs Merlot Napa Valley 2015 ($30) combines the elegance of a well-made merlot with the bold fruit and style that is typical of Napa Valley wines. This 100 percent merlot offers a classic merlot cherry nose and a hint of mocha. Ready to drink tonight and offered at a great price.

Since October is Merlot Month, give Flora Springs a try. We also enjoyed the Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2015 ($50). 100 percent cabernet sauvignon this well-built cabernet sauvignon is a bold mélange of black cherry and cassis in an elegant oak frame. Very well balanced and accessible now this wine is made to match with grilled steak.


  • Geyser Peak Winery Devil’s Inkstand 2013 ($55). Many years ago, we dubbed Geyser Peak a comeback winery. Aussie Nick Goldschmidt had brought a lot of spirit and innovation to this historic property founded in 1880. Goldschmidt left in 2008 amid one of many ownership changes. During this turnover, the wines slipped back into those pedestrian grocery-store wines. Lately, however, we have regained our confidence that Geyser Peak is capable of making extraordinary wines. This reserve cabernet sauvignon, made from mountain-grown grapes in Alexander Valley, is concentrated and layered. It is a gorgeous wine with dark color, dark fruit flavors and fine tannins. Although not declared, we suspect petite sirah has been blended into the wine.

  • Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury 2016 ($30). This is another notable pinot noir from New Zealand where their pinot noirs are deservedly becoming better known. Deep dark and rich black cherry flavors are dominant in this bold pinot noir. It would do well with beef dishes.

  • Steele Pacini Zinfandel 2015 ($20). Using grapes from Mendocino County, this reasonably priced zinfandel has assertive aromas of cherries and blueberries while the palate exudes cola, chocolate and oak-inspired vanilla.

  • Castello del Trebbio Chianti Superiore 2016 ($15). You’d be hard pressed to find a better chianti in this category at this price. Owners Anna and Stefano Casadei struck a friendship with Fred and Nancy Cline of Cline Vineyards and now the Clines are importing the wines to the U.S. We appreciate that. The wine is mostly sangiovese with some canaiolo and ciliegiola in the blend. Generous, forward cherry and strawberry flavors with a soft mouthfeel. Delicious.

  • Kim Crawford Signature Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2017 ($25). In a departure from many New Zealand sauvignon blancs that emphasize grass and grapefruit notes, this premium offering from Kim Crawford displays an enticing passion fruit and lemon nose and flavors with an underlying herbal dimension that makes this package intriguing.

  • Poggio Alle Gazze Dell’Ornellaia Toscano Bianco IGT 2016 ($85). We know this white wine from Tuscany is expensive, but it delivers big. Eighty percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent viognier, and 10 percent vermentino grapes in this Bolgheri white blend were aged in used and new barriques and stainless-steel and concrete containers. The result is a splendidly complex wine that is atypical for sauvignon blanc with passion fruit, floral, citrus, and honey notes as well as a pleasant creamy finish.

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