It is time for another edition of “Random Samples”–I occasionally get samples from marketing agencies and/or producers, and these can often be grouped together into some sort of over-arching theme: Sauvignon Two Ways, Chardonnay Any Day, If It Doesn’t Sparkle, It Doesn’t Matter. This week, I am focusing on wines that will not set you back too much when it comes time to open the pocket book to pay.
2018 Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $20 (often below $16). Under cork. Heavy bottle. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. When I grab a Cab that comes in under twenty bucks, I am cautious as there are a ton of wines at that price point that are rather, well, regrettable. Not with Benziger, however, as the family has been producing affordable, tasty wines for the better part of four decades. Cab in point (sorry, I really did almost stop myself). Great fruit, surprising acidity, and plenty of depth regardless of price. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato, Argentina: Retail $13. Under screw cap. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a ton to like concerning what Domaine Bousquet is doing in the Eco Valley. They are farming organically, putting most of their wines under screw cap, and producing high quality wines for really affordable prices. I would argue that the average weight of their bottles has increased a bit, which is a disturbing trend that more people should care about, but… This Cab checks all of the above boxes. Dark (but short of brooding) with great fruit, spice, and earth on the nose, with a palate that is well-balanced and pleasant. No, this will never be confused with a Napa Cab, but it has no desire to be. For around ten bucks? Pretty solid. Very Good. 89 Points.
2018 Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec, Tupungato, Argentina: Retail $20. Heavy Bottle. Under DIAM5. 85% Malbec, 5% Merlot 5% Syrah 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Another solid wine from perhaps the leader in quality, yet affordable, organically grown wines from Argentina (but I would like them to use more responsible, i.e., lighter, bottles). Dark, but not exceedingly so, with moderate fruit (cassis, blackberry, plum), a bit of vanilla, and some spice in the glass. The palate is well-balanced with fruit, tartness, spice, and depth. Really nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
2021 Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc, Tupungato, Argentina: Retail $15. Under screw cap. I have been a fan of the wines from Domaine Bousquet from the jump (or at least since I have been receiving their samples) and I really think that the wines are getting better. Perhaps the vines and grapes are happier the more they are farmed organically? That is my story, and I am sticking to it. Light straw with fantastic aromatics of tropical fruit, white flower, salinity, and minerality. The palate is what one looks for in a SB: fruit, tartness, and freshness. It might be a bit short on the finish, but this is really a fantastic wine, particularly given the price. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Ribera del Tinguiririca, Marchigüe, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Retail $14. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carménère, 3% Syrah. When looking for value, there is perhaps no other wine region that delivers more than Chile. And when it comes to producers? Concho y Toro has to be near the top of the list. Sure, it is a huge (really huge) producer, but the wines are varietally correct, balanced, and tasty. Case in point. This Cab has plenty of smoky Mexican chocolate on the nose with fruit and an herbal quality. The palate is layered with fruit and acidity, making this a fantastic choice for the neighborhood barbecue party where somebody’s cousin Cletus is going to go to town on both the brisket and this wine. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 Nielson by Byron Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $18. Under screw cap. The second label from Byron, a Central Coast stalwart in Santa Barbara County, this Chardonnay has plenty going on with great fruit (pineapple, citrus, green apple), floral notes (hibiscus, orange blossom), and a pretty evident seashell, salinity thing as well. Bright and fruity on the palate, and while some of the wine spent some time in French oak, I would hazard not much of it was new as the oak influence is rather low. It is quite creamy, though, as some of the wine spent time in concrete and I imagine much of it underwent malolactic fermentation. This tasty, affordable wine falls short of the “Big American Chard” profile, but it has many of those characteristics. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Old Soul Chardonnay, Lodi, CA: Retail $16. Under Cork. From Oak Ridge Winery, a fifth generation family-owned winery in Lodi, I have to admit I was a bit worried here. Sure, Oak Ridge does a fine job but when I saw the name, “Old Soul”, and the etched bottle with a bare oak(?) tree, I was worried that more money went to the marketing team than to the winemaking. No need to worry (if you like your Chards on the “big” side, that is). This wine spends a bit of time on oak (8 months sur lie in 70% French, 30% American with 100% malolactic fermentation), so there is considerable oaky creaminess going on. There is also fruit: pineapple, pear, white peach, lemon curd, and oodles of vanilla. Again, this is on the big side of the “new wave” of California Chardonnay, but it certainly has its place (and audience). Excellent. 90 Points.