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Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of small production boutique wines. I love finding unheard of producers that have gone unnoticed, who turn out exceptional wines in limited quantities. It’s almost like these wines are collectors items, and with so few made, if you get a hold of a bottle, you immediately feel a connection to the winemaker. The entire experience is so much more personal and intimate than just buying one of the thousands of wines sold everywhere on grocery store shelves.
However, this limited production and personalized experience often comes with a very high price tag. Many boutique wines will often obtain a cult following that causes their prices to skyrocket (just check out how much Sine Qua Non wines go for and you’ll know what I mean.) That’s not to say that these wines aren’t worth every penny, they usually are some of the best wines on the market. That being said, I always keep my eyes peeled for bargains, and the wines we’re going to be talking about today manage to offer the small boutique product with an equally small price tag.
Santa Maria Cellars is the private label of Benny Rodriguez, a rising star in Temecula, California. Mr. Rodriguez is currently the chief winemaker at Churon Winery, a French Chateau-inspired hotel property and vineyard in the heart of Temecula wine country. He has also worked for Wilson Creek Winery and Cilurzo (now called Bella Vista) Winery, which was actually the first commercial vineyard in Temecula (established in 1968.) So it is safe to say that he knows what he’s doing.
The wines produced under the Santa Maria Cellars label are blends created from bulk wines from Temecula and various regions in California. This means that all of his wines simply list California as the appellation on the label. Nevertheless, these are by no means simple wines. To my knowledge, Mr. Rodriguez has released three wines so far, each one a combination of two different grapes. His current line includes a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel/Petite Syrah, and a Mourverdre/Cabernet Sauvignon. The last two are the ones that we will be discussing today.
Wine #1: Santa Maria Cellars 2005 California Zinfandel/Petite Syrah
As the name implies, this is a blend of 86% Zinfandel and 14% Petite Syrah. This is a great combination that is commonly practiced even by winemakers who list their wines only as Zinfandel. A wine only needs to be 75% of one varietal for that varietal to be named solely on the label according to certain Federal regulations. With the plush, jammy qualities of the Zinfandel and the dark, inky, tannins of the Petite Syrah (derived from its small size and its high skin to fruit ratio,) these wines typically manage to get the best of both worlds.
This wine is deep, dark, and ruby red in the glass. The aroma shows well with extreme strength, which almost overpowers the wine’s subtleties at times. There is a good amount of blackberry jam on the nose, some campfire notes that sort of remind me of smores, with a touch of licorice and Bananas Foster mixed in with a faint dark minerality in the background. It opens on the palate with vague chocolate and wood notes, some graphite, and a little dried fruit. There is also a vanilla character that seems to have burnt sugar and figs tide closely to it. The finish is reminiscent of Tiramisu and Black Forest Cake. The acidity is a little mild, but there is a nice balance between the soft jammy fruit and the cacao-like tannins. I am also impressed by how well this wine contains its alcohol, which is extremely high at 16.2%. Instead of being hot and port-like, as I was expecting, this wine is full bodied and thick with very nice balance and smoothness. At $20 a bottle it isn’t necessarily cheap, but I also think that it is a pretty good buy. There are a lot of Zinfandels on the market at this price range that do not have the control or structure that this one does, and I think that this is a solid wine at or just above this price range, making it a wine…
Worth Trying. 89 Points.
Wine #2: Santa Maria Cellars 2005 California Mourverdre/ Cabernet Sauvignon
Before we begin, I just want to say that “Mourverdre” is not a typo (with the extra “r” between the “e” and the “d”.) For some reason, that is actually how it is written on the label. So there, now that we have gotten past the unusual label, let’s get to the wine. This is not a typical blend, and I was very interested to see how these grapes work together. Mourvedre, a Rhone varietal, is rarely blended with Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon in this style, so here was a wine that I knew was going to be unique.
The first thing that I noticed about this wine was its peculiar orange cast, that made me think more of Sangiovese than of Cabernet Sauvignon. The very first thing I notice on the aroma is a lush blackcurrant note coming from the Cabernet Sauvignon, but after that, almost everything that I detect on the nose indicates Mourvedre. There is a dark chocolate cherry aroma, buttery caramel, coffee beans, and a faint citrus flower note. The flavor is rich with raspberries, sugar cane, dark caramel tones and chocolate, with blackberry, granite, and forest floor notes giving the wine multiple dimensions. There is a lot of layering to this wine’s complexity, but like the nose, the palate strongly shows the Mourvedre more than the Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has excellent acidity that is like biting into a fresh red berry, coupled with this really nice limestone, mineral finish. There is a lightness about this wine but it also manages to be very intense at the same time. I like this wine quite a bit. It has the intense, rich flavors of Mourvedre and the firm backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon, really capturing the best of both grapes. It’s unique, it’s elegant and refined, and at $20, a steal definitely…
Worth Buying. 91 Points.
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The Grapevine: How often do you drink blends, and what are some of your favorites?