Chateau Ampelia Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux 2011

W Ampelia 2011Bordeaux Red Blend, St. Philippe d’ Aiguilhe, Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

95% merlot

5% cabernet franc

13.5% alcohol

Purchased: 24 April 2014 – $17.99

Opened: 14 Feb 2018

els: 8.9/10

Wine Enthusiast: 92

Cellar Tracker: 89

Wine Spectator: 88

The Despagne family has been making wines in the Saint-Emilion AOC  for more than 200 years. Today Francois, a seventh generation descendent of the Despagne family, is currently manager, since 1996, of Grand Corbin-Despagne winery and founder of the Chateau Ampelia in 1999. Breaking with family tradition the new winery and vineyards are located to the east, and adjacent to Saint-Emilion in the Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux appellation 1.5 miles west of Saint-Philippe-d’Aiguille, and a little more than 4 miles north of the Dordogne River. This AOC was upgraded from Bordeaux Superior in 2008 and the area includes about 230 families working, on average, 25 acres of vines; predominately Merlot (70%), but also Cabernet Franc (20%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%).  Vines in this area date back to at least the 2nd century AD when the Romans planted Vitus Biturica, an ancient cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Merlot, the most planted grape in France, in known for its mellow and rounded flavors and is often blended with its close cousin: Cabernet Sauvignon and or its parent: Cabernet Franc, to soften them up. Cabernet Franc is a black skinned grape that imparts a peppery character to Bordeaux blends.

The grapes are harvested and sorted twice, once in the vineyard and then again at the winery. They are crushed, de-stemmed and fermented in temperature controlled, concrete and stainless steel tanks.  The post-fermented juice is racked into French oak barrels, one-third which are new, and allowed to age for 12 months before being blended and bottled.

The wine has ruby-red color with a garnet rim. A bouquet of cherries, plums and cedar with a hint of pepper. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied with soft tannins.  It has a pleasant, medium lasting, and soothing finish. Not overly bold but a refreshing wine.

A good wine but hard to find and a little expensive for the quality. Pair with a snack of soft cheese and berries.  Drink now, but should last for another year or two.  Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$22.37 (limited availability)


Highway 12 Highwayman Proprietary Red 2012

W Highwayman 2012Other Red Blends from Sonoma County, California

Proprietary red blend:

     cabernet sauvignon

     cabernet franc


14.8% alcohol

Opened 2 Dec 2017

els 9.1/10

Highway 12 is a North Coast, Sonoma County winery producing 3 brands of differing quality wines from the vineyards of Sonoma and Carneros regions: Highway 12, Carneros Highway, and their flagship wine: Highwayman.  The Highwayman lineup includes 1 white and 4 reds: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and 2 red blends.  Their Proprietary Red was the initial wine in this lineup with the blend of grape types and percentages changing from vintage to vintage.  The 2013 vintage is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot as opposed to this 2012 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

Highwayman, the wine, commemorates the fabled gentlemen robbers of days gone by, who relieved, accessible and unguarded, or guarded, travelers of their possessions on the desolate stretches of road in many a nation’s country-sides. In California, a highwayman was known as a road agent, the most famous of which was probably Charles “Black Bart” Boles, a bandit with a particular affinity to Wells Fargo Coaches and their money boxes. He plied his trade of questionable legitimacy for 8 years during the late 19th century, along the deserted roads of northern California.  Black Bart, always armed with a shotgun but never fired during any of his roadside capers, acquired his name by leaving snippets of rhyming poetry at the scene of his crimes. Below is a sample of his poetry that he left at a robbery in 1877, with a slight, germane, editorial modification:

I’ve labored long and hard for (wine and) bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.
— Black Bart, 1877.

Fortunately for all of us, highway robbery is now practiced by a better class of erudite individuals.

This wine has a black ruby-red hue, aromas of sweet black and blue berries, with whiffs of spicy herbs and earth, producing an enjoyable, full-bodied, long finish. It exhibits a powerful but balanced and delightful taste of chewy tannins and fruit. Perhaps a tad heavy by itself, better if served with a medium rare rib-eye.

An outstanding wine. Decant and aerate for at least one hour.


Chateau Peymouton 2012

W Chateau PeymoutonBordeaux Red Blends from St. Emilion, Bordeaux, France

65% merlot

25% cabernet franc

10% cabernet sauvignon

13.5% alcohol

Opened 9 Oct 2017

els 8.9/10

Wilfred Wong 92

Wine Enthusiast 90

The Beaumartin family winery, approximately 2 miles east of picturesque St. Emilion and 23 miles east-northeast of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, consists of 2 vineyards; the Chateau Laroque, covering 150 acres, and the Chateau Peymouton, covering 76 acres, both growing predominately Merlot, with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, and minor acreage devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all from vines planted in the early 1960s.

The vines of the Saint Emilion area spring from clayey limestones, with growing season temperatures ranging from the low 50s at night to the mid-80s during the day, receiving as little as a half-inch to as much as 4 inches of rain per month with the harvest season usually being the driest time of the year.  Cabernet Sauvignon vines generally do not grow well here, due to dampness of the soils, thus Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines dominate.

St. Emilion wines are reclassified every 10 years, vying for the elite, but limited award, Premier Cru Classes, and the lesser, but still good Grand Cru Classes, judged and assigned by two different tasting panels. The recent year’s reclassifications, 2006 and 2012, are hopelessly tied up in legal dramas by Chateaus that have lost their Cru Class. Chateau Peymouton is rated below the Grand Cru Class as a generic grand cru, although it is still a very good wine.

A dark, ruby-red wine, aromas of dark berries, smooth tannins and acidity with a nice balance and moderate finish.  This wine will go well with red, fatty meats.

A good wine.


Concrete Old Vine Zinfandel 2012

W Concrete 2012Zinfandel from Lodi AVA, San Joaquin County, Inland Valleys, California

85% zinfandel

10% cabernet franc

5% cabernet sauvignon

15.5% alcohol

Purchased: 6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened: 24 April 2017

els:  9.0/10

Tasting Panel: 93

Wine Enthusiast: 89

Cellar Tracker: 84

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries producing 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country.  There are almost 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and 4700 wineries in the state producing 238 million cases of wine. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA labelled bottle must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used.

The central valley of California, collectively known as the Inland Valleys, is an extended 450 miles of fertile farmland stretching from Redding in the north to Bakersfield to the south, best known for its vegetables and nuts. The central valley wine growing regions though, are compressed into a smaller 200 mile segment in the middle portion of this area beginning a little north of Sacramento near Esparto and finishing just north of Fresno with the San Joaquin River defining the southern edge. There are 5 separate appellations or AVAs in the Inland Valleys, including the northern most AVAs of Capay Valley and Dunnigan Hills; the central area AVAs of Clarksburg and Lodi; and the southern most AVA, Madera. These Inland Valley AVAs account for almost 50% of all vineyard acreage planted in California. Lodi and Madera AVAs produce 75% of the wine from these 5 Inland Valley areas. Predominate grapes grown in this region are Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Brandy grapes, and Muscat of Alexandria. Brandy grapes, generally a white variety, but not exclusively, include Flame Tokay from the Lodi AVA and Thompson Seedless from the Madera AVA. Other Brandy grapes include Burger, Green Hungarian, French Colombard, Malaga and Muscat of Alexandria. Muscat of Alexandria, a white grape, is considered one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines in the world today.  It is used many as a table grape or for raisin production. The grape is also used in making port, sherry, and as already mentioned, brandy.

As the south flowing Sacramento and north flowing San Joaquin Rivers complete their Inland Valley journey to the sea, they merge, turn west, and discharge their combined waters into the San Francisco Bay. The rivers are forced to turn west here as they have to wrap around the deflecting, elevated plateau that eventually throws off its cloak of easy nonchalance and transforms into the youthful, snow-capped Sierra Nevadas to the east. Lodi AVA claims its place in California viniculture as the east bank occupant of this plateau and the pre-Sierra Nevada foothills. Lodi is spread over 550,000 acres with 90,000 of those precious acres dedicated to growing grapes; more than the rest of the north and central coast regions combined. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are all grown in abundance here. These 5 varietals out pace the rest of California in terms of grapes grown and produced. Zinfandel is the 800 pound gorilla in Lodi, producing more of these grapes than anywhere else in the world. Zinfandel has been around for a long time in Lodi, boasting many old vine plantings, some exceeding 120-years in age. The area was able to escape the 1930 prohibition era by the wink and nod claim that the vineyards were all for home wine making use. The AVA is home to roughly 60 wineries with some very large producers located here, such as Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. Another 90 or so non-resident wineries source their grapes from Lodi. The soils of Lodi are predominately composed of thick, well drained loams with large stones exposing themselves here and there.  The breezes coming across the San Francisco Bay provide the basis for a Mediterranean climate of cool nights, warm days and very dry summers.

The Lodi AVA takes its name from the city of Lodi, a community of 65,000 sitting at the lofty heights of 45′ above sea level, 80 miles east of the Pacific coast and 50 miles west of the Sierras.  The city traces it origins back to the 1840s but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that they decided to become a legitimate settlement by incorporating in 1909.  The area’s Flame Tokay grape inspired the 1907 Tokay Carnival that drew 30,000 visitors and crowned Miss Bertha de Alamada as the first and last, Queen Zinfandel. In addition to wine the area was once known for prodigious production of wheat and watermelons. Wine, wheat and watermelons, oh my.

Zinfandel grapes are identical to the Italian Primitivo and the Croatian Tribidrag grapes. It is believed that this grape originated in Croatia, just east, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. The grape, today, is grown predominately in the US and Italy with these 2 countries accounting for about 80% of the worldwide planted acreage. In Italy it is the 12th most common grape planted, mainly in the boot region of Puglia. In California it is the 3rd most common grape grown, behind Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (possibly it is the 3rd most common grape in the US also). World-wide it is the 29th most common grape planted. The grape was introduced into the US in the early 19th century along the eastern seaboard and didn’t reach the west coast until about 1850. Zinfandel grapes are dark, thin-skinned, high in sugar, producing a bold, full-bodied wine with aromas of strawberries, blackberries and cinnamon. The wine is known to have an alcohol content reaching or exceeding 15% but low tannins and acidity result in a generally short shelf life especially as a white Zinfandel.  Due to its thin skin it easily turns to raisins in hot weather or excessive time on the vine.

The Concrete Wine Company, established in 2014, is named for its mid-1900s concrete fermenting tanks.  Three partners started the company; Tyson Rippey, who is the director of operations at Lodi Vintners, and wine makers Joseph Smith and Barry Gnekow. The company produces their wines through a layered system of fermentation and aging, ostensibly achieving great wines at an economical price. The wines are fermented separately in three different portions; concrete, Flash Détente in stainless steel, and French and American oak barrels, mixed back together, and followed by ageing in the same oak barrels. This process creates what the company calls the Vertical Profile Palate, producing flavors that travel vertically in the mouth instead of horizontally.  Ok.

The company’s Lodi, head trained, old vine Zinfandel vineyards were planted in the early 1900’s and are considered to be some of the oldest in the AVA. The vines are planted in well drained, loamy soils  encouraging deep root penetrations into the cool subsoil.  The vines are chilled and shaken by the nightly western breezes coming off the San Francisco Bay. The Lodi climate has a growing season, diurnal temperature range of  50-90ºF and a rain-fall range of 0-2.0″ per month. July and August rains are rare.

The 2012 the Zinfandel grapes were picked with a Brix range of 25-27. The grapes were crushed, de-stemmed, and separated. The wine then went through the Flash Détente process in addition to fermentation in a combination of 75-year-old concrete tanks and small 60-gallon, new and used French and American oak barrels. The wine is aged in these same oak barrels for at least a year.

This is an outstanding Zinfandel exhibiting a wonderful ruby chocolate color, a cinnamony plum aroma and a full-bodied, but smooth, berry taste. It has a nice medium finish.

Enjoy this wine with a grilled, chopped onion stuffed, high-fat burger, topped with avocado slices or guacamole, bacon, Swiss cheese, and a fried egg, all served on a light wheat flour bun.  Add a side dish of fruit slices of apple and orange mixed with almond slivers and big spinach leaves to complete this California repast.

An outstanding wine at a fair price. Drink now. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.  I tend to shy away from California wines, not due to quality, but rather their price tends to be higher than comparable wines from other regions of the world, but this wine is not only delicious but very economical.

$19.99 at

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