There’s little doubt that we are living in the golden age of wine.
More good wine is being made at this time than at any point in human history. This is a worldwide phenomenon, with new regions springing up in the New World and undiscovered wines coming from areas once hidden behind political barriers.
For the novice oenophile, it’s good to start with the noble wines. These are quaffs from grapes that have spread all over the world, while showing themselves historically to be among the finest and most desirable.
Cabernet Sauvignon is known as the king of red wines and with good reason. Born from an accidental cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in 17th century France, it is the most widely grown grape around the globe. With the ability to age and vigorous growth, it makes great wine almost wherever vines are planted. The two most famous regions are California’s Napa Valley, where it usually is bottled singly, and France’s Bordeaux region, where it is blended. Flavors of black currant and nuances of cedar are hallmarks of this spicy, tannic wine. Other fine examples can be found in Australia’s Coonawarra region and Chile’s Maipo Valley.
Merlot, which translates as “little blackbird,” was discovered in 18th-century France and is one of the six grapes of the Bordeaux region. It can be traced as the main fruit for the plummy quaffs of the Pomerol and Saint-Émilion wine regions in France. When grown in the New World, it is softer and fruitier than its cousin Cabernet, but, when the two grapes are combined, the wine is greater than the sum of its parts. Some is grown in California. However, I believe that the wine from Washington State is, by far, the best Merlot in the country.
Syrah is a dark red grape with origins in the Rhone Valley of France. Shiraz is the same grape with a different spelling to show its Australian style, where it is the number-one planted grape. Both wines are delicious, with big fruit and a hint of black pepper, which adds complexity to its juiciness. In France, the wine is bottled singly north of Avignon and blended with Grenache and Mourvedre to the south. Down under, the designation is GSM for the classic Rhone blend. Both styles are very good and deserve a try from the student wine drinker. Elsewhere, the wines are good but never reach as high a bar.
Pinot Noir, in many ways, is the ultimate red grape. Under cultivation for 100 years, this finicky, thin-skinned grape makes beautiful, sensual perfumed wine. Never blended, each bottle is a testament to the terroir of its specific site. At its best in French Burgundy, the wines have flavors of cherries and strawberries while showing aromas of herb and barnyard. California’s quaffs show full range, from austere to cherry cola, while Oregon’s wines are closer to Burgundy than anywhere else outside of that region.
In my next column, I’ll address noble white wines.
Auros Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2016
Quoted at $48.00*……Save $21.01
This deeply concentrated cabernet sauvignon opens with dark fruit aromas of cassis, blackberry and dried blueberry, underscored by notes of violet and graphite. The rich, full-bodied palate unveils opulent layers of black currant jam, roasted coffee, tobacco, dried fig and vanilla bean. Soft, supple tannins frame a plush, velvety finish.
— Winemaker’s notes
Milbrandt Vineyards Family Merlot Columbia Valley 2017
Offering bright aromas of bing cherry, cranberry, and pomegranate this wine has excellent color and flavor. With a juicy, ripe entry and intense, fruit-driven palate, the red fruit is pronounced and powerful yet remains balanced.
— Winemaker’s notes
Solena Estate Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Estate 2018
A bright ruby color fills the glass. On the nose, the Grand Cuvée displays youthful exuberance with lively aromas of tart cherries, strawberries, and cranberries. Meanwhile, flavors of licorice, cola and baking spices balance perfectly on the palate. A delightful lightness allows this wine to be the perfect accompaniment to any evening or celebration. Enjoy now through 2026.
— Winemaker’s notes