A mixed bunch, here are some tasting notes on a modest Rioja Crianza, a relatively unpretentious but ultra-high quality Sonoma Chardonnay, and a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bodegas Bilbainas 2012 Vina Zaco Rioja Crianza ($15) This is a very nice, straightforward Rioja Crianza, aged for just a year in oak, so its fruit is well-preserved, but there's also a retained freshness. I love Rioja Crianzas. They aren't overly oxidized and mummified before they hit the market, which is to me the downfall of many Rioja Reservas. Here you have a lovely berry flavored, medium-bodied, food-friendly red wine that could go with almost anything, foil most pairing challenges and perhaps prove surprisingly good after 8 years in the cellar. At its heart, it's a simple wine, but it finds a balance that is classical, eternal and which has a higher value. It has simple beauty, and that's all too rare these days. It's everything I like best about contemporary Rioja in the under-$20 category.
Patz & Hall 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($38) Let me just start by saying that I love most of what this house produces, but I see a certain spark in this release that I truly appreciate. Patz & Hall wines tend to be fairly robust and the Chardonnays often seem to see a hefty dose of handling. To me, this one just seems incredibly straightforward, zesty and focused, but obviously also made from great fruit. It just seems to radiate class despite the lack of a vineyard designation or a higher price tag. I like the price and I like the end result. Color me impressed. This is just first class north coast Chardonnay without any pretense that can go toe-to-toe with anything from Burgundy.
Field Recording 2013 The Hinterlands Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA ($35) This is a new one for me, and just one of many Cabernets and Merlots I've had in the last few years that should put this region back on the map for Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. With some added investment and know how (as well as a bit of despair with regard to Syrah) Bordeaux varieties seem to be rising to the occasion in Paso Robles. I reviewed this wine for an internet site I've been working for and it's impeccably made. It's loaded with deep, dark California fruit, but has solid tannins in all of the right places.The winemaker's name is Andrew Jones, and he's probably a guy you should keep an eye on. This is a relatively new label and a new one on my radar.