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Small, Exclusive Wines Aren't Always Better

by the Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

In today’s world, public opinion influencers stress that small and exclusive trumps the big, bad, corporate types. Find a winery producing a micro amount of a rare clone of pinot noir or a few rows of cabernet sauvignon and the fashionistas will clamor for the rare juice. But small and rare is not the real world and, ultimately, just frustrates regular wine consumers looking for an affordable glass of wine.

Consumers have proven that a well-made, affordable wine that can be readily found is the rule in the marketplace. Kendall-Jackson’s Vintners Reserve Chardonnay -- a $12-15 wine with 3 million cases sold -- proves this point. It’s the top chardonnay sold in the U.S.

Concha Y Toro the Chilean wine giant also adheres to this philosophy of making good wine at an everyday affordable price and the world has beat a path to its door.

Three red wines from Cocha y Toro, part of its Marques des Casa Concha series of table wines, are extraordinarily well-made and pleasing to the palate. Although they don’t necessarily qualify as super bargains, we believe their quality more than compensates for their moderate price range of $17-25. Also, our research found that these wines consistently earn high scores from a wide selection of other wine writers.

Following are our tasting impressions:

  • Marques des Casa Concha Carmenere D.O. Peumo 2019. This forgotten grape originally from Bordeaux has really found a home in Chile where it seems to flourish. It has one year of new and used French oak aging and contains 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. This carmenere displays an intense, cherry nose and flavors of plum and cherry. A note of black pepper completes the package.

  • Marques des Casa Concha Pinot Noir D.O. Valle Del Limari 2019. Made entirely of pinot noir and aged 11 months in new and used French oak. This very well-made pinot noir exhibits notes of cherry, raspberry and cola with a bare whiff of smoke in the finish.

  • Marques des Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Valle Del Maipo 2018. This cabernet sauvignon is 86.5 percent cabernet sauvignon with the balance cabernet franc, syrah and petite verdot, with 16 months French oak aging. Classic cabernet sauvignon flavor components of cherry, cassis and plum are presented in a big bold harmonious statement. Delicious!

Ancient Peaks

Grape growers understand that many elements contribute to growing quality grapes. A warm growing season with adequate rainfall is basic to growing almost any agricultural crop, but for growing quality wine grapes, significant diurnal temperature swings are critical.

So, what is this diurnal thing? Diurnal temperature swings are the difference in temperature from day-time high temperatures to night-time low temperatures. In the world of growing world class wine grapes, a wide temperature swing from hot days to cool nights is critical.

Paso Robles, located mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is blessed with summertime diurnal temperature swings typically of around 20-50 degrees. According to grape growers there this swing promotes development of fruit flavors and preserves acidity. The only other grape growing areas with similar temperature swings in California are Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Ancient Peaks is a winery located in the most southern portion of Paso Robles. Located in the Santa Margarita Ranch, it is the only winery to sport the AVA designation.

Santa Margarita Ranch sprawls atop a portion of the San Andreas fault, evidenced by the tectonic uplift of the Santa Lucia Mountains surrounding the AVA. This separates the winery and vineyards from the cool Pacific Ocean. The tectonic activity also contributes to a complex mix of soils that produces grapes with different attributes.

We recently tasted two red wines from Ancient Peaks and wanted to share out impressions.

Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch 2019 ($21). A classic example of the Paso Robles style of big bright fruit and balancing acidity. Bold but balanced cherry and cassis elements in a wine that invites a second sip. Great wine at a very fair price.

Ancient Peaks Renegade Red Blend Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch 2018 ($22). A bit of an unusual blend of red grapes: syrah (38 percent), petite verdot (36 percent), and malbec (26 percent). The result is a deeply colored wine exhibiting effusive notes of ripe cherry, plum and blackberries in a completely satisfying wine for the boldest food pairings.

Wine picks

  • Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019 ($35). Expressive aromas with apple and citrus notes, long finish and a creamy texture. It has just the right amount of oak.

  • Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2019 ($30). A good value in an expensive pinot noir market, this delightful wine from Santa Lucia Highlands has abundant cherry and raspberry notes with a dash of vanilla.

  • Francis Coppola Diamond Selection Claret Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($18). We see this wine so often in stores that we tend to ignore it – odd, no? But we shouldn’t. Recently acquired by Delicato Family Wines, the Francis Coppola portfolio is filled with decent wine with great value. This cabernet sauvignon is made in the “claret” style recognized by the Brits long ago. The blend of petit verdot, merlot and petite sirah brings a deep color, forward dark fruit flavors with hints of mocha and anise. We’ve seen this wine as cheap as $13 in some places.

  • Ornellaia Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2019 ($34). Made by one of the most respected wine houses in Tuscany, this delicious wine has expressive aromas with forward, rich and jammy cherry flavors and a dash of spice.

  • Sea Slopes Fort Ross Winery Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2019 ($30). We loved this expressive chardonnay with all its lush lemon curd and peach aromas with bright apple and melon flavors. Hints of mineral and just a kiss of oak.

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