Thursday, January 04, 2007

An Overlooked Bargain

When retailers I meet talk about bargain wines, they usually steer me toward wines from Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Chile. Usually with good reason. But with so much attention currently focused on these parts of the globe, we often overlook the bargains, if not numerous, to be found in California.

Take Cline Cellars, for example, located in Carneros. It seems to me that Cline does not get a lot of ink, as a fairly large producer that does not make the big, blockbuster cabs. But they do make some terrific zinfandels and a number of distinctive Rhone varietals. For example, I was a huge fan of their mourvedre for $10 -- the price is now $18 and I assume it's still great, but I haven't been able to find this wine around here in years.


Thankfully, I continue to find their $9 syrah. I've always enjoyed this inexpensive, peppery black cherry-laced wine. Still, I was not prepared to be bowled over -- and I was -- when I opened a bottle recently. It was a '99 that I found in the basement, more or less hidden from view and forgotten about for several years. So, it had aged about four years longer than I would normally lay down a cheap wine.

Wow, what a surprise. Instead of exuberant spicy black cherry aromas, I was greeted by hints of leather, earth and smoke. This isn't supposed to happen in this price range. Don't get me wrong -- I love many inexpensive wines. I just don't expect a lot of complexity. And, age a wine like this? Perish the thought!

We visited Cline almost 10 years ago and tasted a lot of good zins. I don't remember the syrah standing out then. But over time I think the syrah has been more consistent than Cline's ubiquitous low-end zin. So, Cline has proved to be a year-in and year-out bargain...and from California. Cool!

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