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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2005 Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red Mountain Blend**
hedges.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Yakima Valley, WA $24 Mission Wines 4/26/08
A blend of 61% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon and a splash of Petit Verdot. The wine is an intense ruby color with black cherry and blackberry fruit, menthol and clove spice along with toasted oak, cocoa and hints of vanilla. The mouth-feel is full and rich with a great balance¬Żof dark fruit and toasty, spicy oak flavors with notes of pepper on the finish. The acids, tannins and alcohol hadn't yet fully integrated, so give this one another year or two or at least some time in the decanter. May show even better once it's come together. Just a bit too tight right now.

2005 La Croix de Beaucaillou St-Julien**
croisbeucaillou.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Bordeaux, France $42 The Wine House 3/10/08
This 60/40 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is the second label of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, one of the region's Second Growths. The wine is a medium-colored ruby with aromas of black fruit, herbs (mint), minerals and smoke. The relatively low acids and tannins make the palate more approachable than many 2005s, which is filled with black cherry, cassis and spice with notes of chocolate and cedar on the moderate finish. Though this wine still needs a few more years in the bottle, it's quite pleasant and classy now despite its' typical regional restraint. Wanted to love it. Just needs a lot more time than we were given for it to open and integrate.

2004 Brian Benson Cellars "Karma"**
bbcKarma.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Paso Robles, CA $24 @ the Winery 6/21/09
A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
Even with 5 years of age this wine was still a deep ruby-purple color with ripe kirsch-like aromas along with black fruit, currant leaf and minerals. The palate was round and ripe with well-integrated dusty tannins and well-balanced acidity. The flavors are of blackberry and black cherry with notes of herbs, blueberry and licorice on the medium-length finish. A wine that is fully developed, but still has several years to go. Was hoping for a bit more depth of flavor and elegance, but still a solid QPR blend.

2004 Calcareous Vineyard Twisted Sister**
twistedsisters04.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Paso Robles, CA $28 @ the Winery 2/11/08
A deep ruby colored wine with a subtle nose of black currant, vanilla, mint and earthy undertone. The palate is vibrant with spicy dried raspberry and cinnamon flavors. The mid-palate is broad with mouth coating tannins and the moderate finish is smooth and savory. A pleasant wine, but nothing that will knock your socks off. Tasted better when we bought it from the winery.

2004 Stolpman Vineyards Limestone Hill Cuvee**
stolpmanlime.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Santa Barbara, CA $18 @ the Winery 7/3/08
A medium-bodied, ruby colored wine which is unfined and unfiltered, so expect a lot of sediment. The nose was filled with ripe black fruit with some smoke and spice. The palate was medium all the way with integrated tannins and acidity, a smooth texture, ripe blackberry and cherry flavors along with a hint of minty minerality and oak on the medium finish. A solid wine ready for drinking that just lacks the complexity to be more than enjoyable. (This blend has been discontinued as the winery focuses more on their Rhone and Italian varietals.)

2003 Dark Star Cellars Ricordati**
darkstar.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $28 @ the Winery 7/8/08
This deep ruby colored wine has a bright nose filled with black fruit aromas (blackberry, black cherry) and hints of herbs, smoke and cedar. The palate has a medium intensity, but only moderate acids and tannins. It was smooth right out of the gate with the same flavors found in the nose, but with the addition of prune, vanilla, violets and a touch of licorice. If the finish had been longer, I'd have given it three stars. This wine is nicely integrated and drinking perfectly right now.

2003 La Parde de Haut-Bailly Pessac-Leognan**
hautbailly.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Bordeaux, France $20 K&L Wines 4/3/08
A deep ruby with a big nose of bitter red fruits, minerals and a hint of flowers. The palate is full-bodied with big tannins and flavors of black fruit, dusty earth, a bit of cedar, minerals and a long vanilla-tinged finish. Though this is the second label of Haut-Bailly and made to be more drinkable, this wine still needs 2-3 years in the bottle or at least an hour in the decanter to soften its' bite. The blend is 65% Cab Sauvignon, 21% Merlot and 14% Cab Franc. A good example and value for those seeking to explore this classic region.

2003 Rio Seco MVP Reserve***
03RioSecoMVP.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $30 @ the Winery 8/15/09
A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauuvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. A medium, ruby-colored wine with a nose of blackberry, sweet spice and blackcurrant leaf along with hints of licorice and smoke. The palate is medium-bodied with integrated tannins and low acidity, round and well-balanced with the same flavors and notes found on the nose with cedar and vanilla on the lingering finish. Concentrated flavors without being overbearing. Was just as good with our steak dinner as it was alone. We popped and poured this wine assuming 6 years in the bottle would be enough to unite the flavors. We were right. Drinking really well right now without the overwhelming licorice flavors found in the 2002 version. At 14.9% ABV this is certainly a fruit-forward wine, but the cabs keep any overripe flavors in check. One of the winery's more expensive wines for a reason. Glad we gave it some extra time in the bottle.

2002 Buttonwood Farm Winery Trevin**
buttonwoodtrevin.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Santa Barbara, CA $30 @ the Winery 11/26/07
Dark fruit and smoke aromas follow through on the palate with smooth black cherry and cedar flavors in a framework of warm earthy richness. A bit of herbaceousness mingles with the solid tannins on the medium finish. A nice example of this type of blend but not quite worthy of its' price tag.

2002 Dark Star Cellars Ricordati**
darkstar.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $28 @ the Winery 4/2/08
A classic Bordeaux blend with mostly CS and Merlot dominating the blend with bits of Malbec and Cab Franc as well. The color is a deep ruby. The nose is filled with subtle notes of red fruits, earth and oak. The mouthfeel follows through from the aroma, ripe and smooth with a bit of stewed fruit on the finish. As much as I usually love Norm's wines, I think I let this one go a bit too long. It's still pleasant, but it's definitely at its' peak. Whatever complexity it had has reverted to mere red fruit flavors. With almost half the blend being Merlot, this is probably a wine better drunk within 4-5 years of the vintage date.

Last Bottle: 5/10/08 – This bottle tasted better than the previous one. More blackberry, black cherry fruit with some oak and herbal notes, less stewed characteristics and a rounder mouthfeel and finish. Though if you have some I'd still drink it up.

2002 Rio Seco MVP Reserve***
rioseco.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $30 @ the Winery 12/7/07
An opaque ruby blend of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. The nose is aromatic with notes of smoke, licorice and ripe black fruits which follow through on the palate. The wine was still a bit tight the first night, but integrated and softened beautifully the second with black cherry and only a hint of licorice – which was overwhelming the first night – on the long finish. The 50% cabernet sauvignon will allow this to continue to evolve and be drinkable for at least another year.

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**** Outstanding | *** Delicious | ** Enjoyable | * Drinkable
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