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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2007 Cakebread Cellars Merlot***
07CakebreadMerlot.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Napa, CA $54 Private Tasting 4/28/10
A medium, ruby-colored wine with bright aromas of red cherry, plum, herbs, chalk and oak. The palate is medium-bodied and well-balanced with integrated fine tannins and a lengthy finish. Round fruit flavors unite with the herbs and minerals to create an elegant and earthy wine. Made from mostly northern vineyards in Oakville, Rutherford and Calistoga with only 10% coming from Carneros which is a much cooler district, giving this vintage a lusher and smoother mouthfeel. The wine has a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon (9%) and Malbec (1%) to help give it depth. While the oak aging is evident (the wine spent 18 mos. in French Oak, 42% new), it's not obvious which I really liked. Definitely more of a food than a sipping wine. While this is clearly a very well-made wine, I'm glad I didn't have to pay to taste it.

2007 Montes Alpha Merlot**
07MontesAlphaMerlot.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Colchagua Valley, Chile $24 Private Tasting 4/28/10
Medium-deep, ruby-red colored wine with a bright nose of red berries, black cherry, smoke and hints of earth and herbs. The palate is medium-bodied and elegant with medium tannins and acidity getting a bit of round ripeness from the 10% carmenere. The flavors are a nice mix of red fruit and earth with a nice hit of pepper that really makes the wine pop and notes of vanilla and oak on the medium length finish. This wine shows a true sense of place and is one of the most interesting versions I've had in a long time. Great QPR.

2005 Chateau D'Aiguilhe Comtes de Neipperg**
daiguilhe.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Cotes-des-Castillon, Bordeaux $37 @ The Wine House 3/10/08
A deep ruby-colored wine with a medium bouquet filled with mineral, black and red fruits and a fair amount of alcohol. The palate is still bracing with high acidity and tannin with medium body and flavor intensity which includes blackberry and cherry with hints of earthiness and bitterness on the medium finish. This wine definitely got better as it opened, but it needs several more years in the bottle to tame the intensity and release its' true flavors.


2005 Chateau La Tour Figeac Grand Cru Classé***
latour05.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
St-Emilion, Bordeaux $60 @ The Wine House 3/10/08
A medium-bodied and colored ruby wine with a developing nose of black fruits, smoke and spice that follows through on the palate with big tannins, moderate acidity and flavors of blackberry, cherry, earth, tar and oak. The finish is fresh, lingering and soft. A wine that still needs time to integrate its' powerful tannins, but should be fairly appraochable in a year or two. A lovely Bordeaux, though I'm not sure it's worth the price for the average wine drinker.


2005 Chateau Souverain Alexander Valley Merlot**
85928.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Sonoma, CA $18 @ the Winery 12/3/07
Deep ruby in color, this wine has aromas of ripe plum, blueberry and currant that follow through on the palate. The soft, round tannins create a lush and juicy mouthfeel. Notes of spice on the long, velvety finish. A lovely example for the price, but nothing I had to have again.

2005 Dark Star Cellars Merlot**
darkstar.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Paso Robles, CA $25 @ the Winery 11/15/07
A medium-deep, ruby-colored wine with a somewhat muted nose of red fruit, oak and minerals. After aerating, the palate was round and medium bodied, exhibiting dried fruit flavors of plum, cherry and blackcurrant with notes of smoke and white pepper on the medium finish. A little rustic and not very complex, but an easy-drinker. Retasted on 10/6/09, this wine hasn't changed much over the 2 years. Still has life but didn't get much better like I hoped it would. Not quite up to its' price tag.

2005 Halter Ranch Winery Merlot**
05HalterRanchMerlot.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Paso Robles, CA $28 @ the Winery 8/2/10
A deep, ruby-colored wine with a tinge of mangenta around the edges that's 80% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec, all estate grown. The nose was somewhat tight with notes of black fruit, plum, herbs, oak and leather. The palate was super tight, so we aerated the wine, which helped soften the dusty tannins and acidity, but not as much as I hoped with flavors of cherry, blackcurrant, plum, herbs, sweet oak and smoke on the medium-length finish. This wine is still very young, the flavors and tannins not yet fully integrated. The wine saw 18 months in French Oak before bottling which gives it quite a backbone. Would give it at least another year in the bottle to show its true texture and complexity. I could see where it was going but it never become more than enjoyable for me. A very serious Merlot. (15% abv/666 cases)

2005 Sobon Family NOBOS Merlot**
05NobosMerlot.jpg Region Price Purchased Date
Sonoma, CA $20 @ the Winery 10/18/09
A deep, ruby-colored wine with an aromatic nose of black cherry, plum, sweet spice and earth. The palate was medium-full bodied with a round mouthfeel and well-balanced acidity. The flavors were ripe plums, black cherry with notes of mocha and sweet spice on the slightly hot, yet fairly lengthy finish. We aerated this wine because it was still a bit tight and tannic upon opening. Was quite delicious with our dinner of Walnut/Sage Crusted Pork Chops. Somewhat better with the food, which helped integrate the alcohol (14.7%) and tannins. The Sobon family is known more for their Zinfandels from the Sierra Foothills region of CA, so this Merlot (made from grapes from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley) is a step out of the box for them. A nice first effort that made me wonder if I should start drinking more Merlot. (439 cases made) [This wine was a sample.]

2005 Swanson Vineyards Oakville Merlot***
05SwansonMerlot.jpg Region Price Tasted Date
Napa Valley, CA $36 Private Event 4/28/10
A deep, ruby-colored wine with a subtle nose of blackberry, black currant, earth and toast. The palate is full-bodied with firm, yet integrated tannins and a smooth, supple texture. The flavors mirror the nose with some additional notes of chalk and maple syrup on the lengthy finish. Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine, though one of the oldest in the tasting, still took some time to truly open up. Aged for 20 mos. in French and American oak (40% new), this wine was built to age and I would wait another year or two if I had a bottle. If everyone made Merlot with this much structure and class, I think it would regain its' reputation a whole lot faster. (14.8% abv though you'd never know it.) Very Good QPR.

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