OK, I admit it: I have a hard time with California wines, especially in the value category. I’ve warmed up to the Sauvignon Blancs (thank you, Geyser Peak) and some of the Pinot Noirs, but it’s been a bit of a battle. There’s a lot of quality in the $30-plus market segment, but below that? Let’s just say it’s a jungle out there. So when Blackstone sent me several bottles of their value and midrange wines, I was curious to try them out. Here are the results.
Blackstone Winemaker’s Select Chardonnay 2009 (Monterey County) (note: link goes to the 2008 tasting notes)
Pale straw color. Not much oak on the nose (which is good news for me, as I’m not a fan of oaky Chardonnays); there are aromas of pineapple, melon and peach. I really like the use of oak in this wine — it provides a subtle background to the well-integrated tropical fruit flavors; I get lemon, honeysuckle, Red Delicious apple and a whiff of vanilla. However, the sweetness becomes a bit overwhelming after half a glass or so. At $10, this is a pretty good value. I’d probably buy it to bring to a party — but not for myself.
Blackstone Winemaker’s Select Merlot 2008 (California) (note: link goes to the 2007 tasting notes)
Dark burgundy color; rather light body. Nose is dominated by blackberry, plum, currant, a touch of petroleum and dust (disclaimer: they were tearing up the street my apartment overlooks when I tasted this wine, so it might have been from the trucks). Not much of a mouthfeel. I get violet, blackberry and dark cherry on the palate. This is an uncomplicated wine; the SRP of $10 isn’t bad, but I have to say you can do better in this category. It’s not bad at all, but not memorable enough that I’d seek it out.
Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Sonoma County)
Dark and nearly opaque with glints of burgundy. Very jammy nose tinged with vanilla and lightly toasted oak; black pepper emerges if you let it sit for a while or decant. Not much fruit in the mouth at first; the flavor is dominated by oak, baking spices and vanilla, with subtle blackcurrant and plum emerging on the back palate. I tried this with broiled flank steak and it paired well; I don’t think I’d drink it on its own (the alcohol, at 14.5%, is a bit high for that for my taste), but it’s a good food wine. The SRP is $20.
Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Rubric 2007 (Sonoma County) (note: link goes to the 2006 tasting notes)
Now this one is a beauty. Dark ruby color, fairly transparent. Yeasty nose full of baking spices and ripe red berries with notes of tobacco, cocoa and black cherry. I could sniff this wine all night, and I am a sucker for a great-smelling wine. The taste? It’s like a mouthful of Grandma’s cherry pie (or at least what I remember of it — it’s been a while since I had cherry pie, and I have yet to encounter a gluten-free version, so it’ll probably be a while before I taste it again). This is a wine for fruit lovers and a great sipper for a cold winter’s night — pick up a bottle before Christmas and enjoy it over the holiday. I plan to do just that. Out of the four Blackstone wines I sampled, the Rubric is the only one to earn my wholehearted recommendation. I don’t think it can really compete with the $30-plus wines from the same region, but it’s an excellent choice for its price category (SRP is $22).
Full disclosure: I received all four wines as samples from Blackstone.