Consider sipping one of these remarkable red wines to start your year off right. (Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.)
After eight years without the ability to produce Zinfandel, celebrated winemaker Dave Phinney is allowed to make the variety he hung his hat on again. If Phinney’s name isn’t familiar, perhaps his successful brand Orin Swift is, as Phinney is the former creator of Prisoner, a Zinfandel blend that was sold eight years ago to Constellation. When Phinney sold the label, it included a non-compete clause not to produce Zinfandel for eight years. Now, that non-compete has ended, and Phinney has returned to crafting fruit-forward, but also slightly austere Zinfandel with the release of 8 Years In The Desert (a nod to his non-compete.) A big wine, 15.7% alcohol, however, within minutes of opening, the alcohol softens leaving minerality, and earthiness, thanks to the addition of Petite Sirah and Syrah. The initial small-production release is sold in packs of eight, each with a unique label, for $1000 here.
Winemaker Chris Carpenter began splitting his time between Napa and Australia a few years ago when Jackson Family Wines purchased the historic McLaren Vale Hickinbotham Estate. His years crafting premium wines for Cardinale and Lokoya help him produce individualistic Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah from Australian vines that date back to 1858. Hickinbotham Revivalist Merlot layers black plum, spice, and woody herbal notes. ($75, at Wine.com.)
In the Northeast corner of Spain, at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains, Arinzano crafts elegant, expressive Tempranillo based wines with character. Arinzano la Casona highlights this terroir, layering chocolate notes with black fruit and dusty cigar box. ($40 at Wine.com.)
Though Napa gets the press when we think of California Cabernet, Cabernet history lies with Concannon Winery in Livermore and the Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7. Concannon helped with the widespread introduction of the clone in the late 1960s, and today it is still one of the most planted clones for Cabernet. Concannon Mother Vine Cabernet Sauvignon celebrates this contribution with ripe cassis, plum, and berry with a hearty tannic backbone. Concannon Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon showcases the clone in a different AVA, Sonoma’s Chalk Hill, bringing the terroir of the chalky soils to the leather and espresso-filled wine. ($90 here.)
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon toasts quality wines that are produced throughout Chile. With an Old World, Bordeaux style, the wine highlights graphite, black fruit, and vanilla, enhanced by the use of new and used French oak in the aging. ($125 at Goody-Goody.)
Sicily’s Tasca d’Almerita recently expanded their production to Mount Etna, crafting aromatic, robust wines from historic vineyards. “Il Tascante” Sicilia DOC highlights the mineral intense earthiness of the volcanic soils of the region, delivering a bold wine with intense structure, but also freshness, making it quite appealing.
David Beckstoffer’s Ghost Dog blends 50/50 Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon from fruit grown on the historic Beckstoffer Bourn Vineyard in St. Helena. Though Petit Sirah is classically a hearty, tannic variety, the wine is quite balanced, revealing blackberry and wildflowers. ($95 via allocation.)
Argentina’s Bodega Norton crafts premium wine from distinct vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. Their Privada showcases Malbec blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from select barrels to create an approachable wine. ($26 at Central Market.)
I continue to find excitement in Sonoma Syrah, particularly from Ram’s Gate and Donelan. These producers capture the elegance of the fruit, grown in vineyards like Durell and Hyde, showcasing the structured texture of the variety. Ram’s Gate Durrell Syrah layers luscious blackberry and baking spice. ($65 here.)