2013 Aquinas Pinot Noir, Sonoma - Napa, Wine Review 95 Points!

Pinot Noir this impressive is beyond rare around $20. Jimm and I (Tasho) were amazed as the 2013 Aquinas Pinot over delivered with extreme excess making many Pinots at two to three times the price look bad! 

Importantly, it can't be stressed enough that this wine demands 35 minutes of decanting before it will begin delivering its riches. Immediately after pouring the wine into your decanter, please set an alarm for 35 minutes because you won't want to miss any stage of this dynamic wine! At 35+ minutes, this wine remarkably broadens and becomes intensely aromatic. 

The initial slightly darker fruit flavors of black raspberry, plum, and black cherry begin to work themselves into a high-pitched frenzy of bright red-fruit flavors featuring cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, and cranberry skins delivered with a sensational citrus-fruit juiciness that's like Mandarin orange! The incredibly bright acidic energy results in some of the fruit flavors displaying a tartness that interestingly contrasts a slight sappiness similar to that of candied-apple coating (wine is dry). Plus, an incredible array of aromas and nuances make this an absorbing wine. Roasted vanilla, eucalyptus, purple flowers, graphite, spice (distant clove), fine French oak, and a pleasant earthiness are all delivered on the long mouth-watering finish! For those patient enough to allow full development, blueberry flavors further complicate the array of red-fruit flavors after an hour and fifteen minutes or so. 

This wine is the epitome of a holiday-food-friendly wine; however, the wine is so nuanced that it's a shame to introduce the distraction of food flavors. Importantly, because this wine demands 35 minutes of decanting followed by very slow enjoyment over the next 45+ minutes to allow full development, it's best enjoyed alone or with one friend. If you taste with four, get a couple of bottles and decant them simultaneously in a large decanter.

Because this wine retails for just $21, I was skeptical of Wine Review's 95 point review. However, this dominant Pinot delivers a spectacular parade of flavors with remarkable energy, a silky mouthfeel, and a long elegant finish that has me on board! I would love to see this Pinot in a blind tasting against this year's very best $50+ Pinots.

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2014 Casarena 505 Esencia Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina (Guía Peñin 91)

The 2014 Casarena 505 Esencia Red Blend from Mendoza, Argentina is a fantastic wine for one person to drink while watching a movie. This wine rewards patience as it doesn't get going until it has been decanted for 35+ minutes and continues to evolve and impress more and more between 45 minutes and an hour and a half after opening. At 7-10 minutes, the initial nose offers dried mint, tobacco, steely minerality, and a mix of red and black cherry compote. At 15-minutes, toasty oak emerges on the nose. 5 minutes later, whiffs of roasted coffee beans and plum skins add dimension. At 35 minutes, the cherry fruits are becoming juicy, and the plum skins are picking up fleshiness signaling the beginning of the drinking window. By 45 minutes, the cherry flavors are becoming sweet with air (wine is dry) as delivered on the 30+ second finish. There's an interesting spicy minerality with cracked black pepper and hints of bell peppers.     After an hour, the Esencia has become delicious delivering a lush melange of cherries with fine powdery tannins. At an hour and fifteen minutes, this wine really starts delivering sappy red cherries such as sweet red Twizzlers licorice (wine is dry) with lavender accents. This wine has more than ample structure as the wood presence is such that it will compliment fatty cuts of beef such as Ribeye perfectly. At this point, I can go a tick higher than Guía Peñin's 91 point score. At just $13.87, this is a fantastic value for those who show patience in making this wine an event.

- Tasho Katsaboulas 

2014 Concannon Cabernet, Paso Robles, Tastings 93!

This 2014 Concannon Cabernet from Paso Robles is coming in with a 93 point score from Tastings.com, and at $15.69 per bottle, it's fighting well above its weight. The Concannon has initial aromas of blackberries, black currants, and whiffs of cocoa powder. However, a little swirling of the wine introduces blueberries, eucalyptus, and hints of bell pepper to the nose.

On first taste, juicy black fruits, riding on acidic energy, flood the palate while the conclusion is a cascade of black grapes, black plums, and blueberries. For decanting, this wine is ripe for test sipping between the 20-30 minute mark where beautiful oak, vanilla bean, and elegant cedar notes fill the nose. After 30 - 35 minutes of decanting, one's patience is handsomely rewarded as a seamless wine with character and elegance that far exceeds its price reveals itself. Concannon has come through with a massive over delivery in this wine that easily drinks like a wine twice its $15 price!

- Andrew Dunaway, Jimm Brumley, and Tasho Katsaboulas

2014 Casarena Estate Malbec, Mendoza -Suckling 92

2014 Casarena Estate Malbec, Mendoza (Suckling 92): The 2014 Casarena Estate Malbec is from famed Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina.  By the end of our experience, Jimm and I (Tasho) were amazed at how delicious and easy drinking this wine is while still displaying intriguing minerality. After vigorously agitating in a decanter, an initial nose of sweet charred oak, rich vanilla extract, and blackberries with faint sage emerged. At 10 minutes, aromas of damson plums join with a whiff of dried dill. On the palate, the juicy blackberries and luscious plums finish with slight spice and attractive minerality. At 25 minutes, a lightly floral aspect like violets adds complexity with faint wet chalk or a slight soapiness. By 45 minutes in, the fruit is becoming even more textured in revealing a red-fruit dimension like cherries. The wine is elegantly balanced with juicy acidity keeping the wine light on its feet while gracefully delivering rich fruits. Everything that this wine does is in perfect harmony. It's like each flavor was meant to go with the other in the proportions delivered. Malbecs don't get much better at $16, and the ones that are won't appeal to as many as this one.

2011 Edgebaston Chardonnay, Wine Spectator 90, $14.98.

The excellent 2011 Edgebaston Chardonnay from Stellenbosch, South Africa opens with aromas of white flowers, bread-dough yeastiness, fresh lemons, and mineral water. On the palate, crisp green apples, pears, and faint almonds come through with caramel custard and ground cinnamon. The personality of this wine is crisp with refreshing citrus minerality, yet there's warmth from the caramel custard and cinnamon that creates an attractive duality. Many who love unoaked Chardonnays and Chablis will love still love this wine as the caramel custard, and cinnamon nuances are subtle and add interesting complexities. This wine is ideal for those who love Northern Burgundy but do not want to endure the price. I feel that Wine Spectators 90 point review was a little stingy and would rate this wine in the 91-92 range.

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2014 Casarena Cabernet (Suckling 92)

James Suckling reviewed this outstanding $16.98 value 92 points. The wine's initial aromas are of cranberry skins, struck flint, dry herbs, and white pepper. With air, dark fruits begin to emerge on the nose with pleasing oaky aromas, charred vanilla, and mocha. The initial palate is lively displaying tart black cherries, cranberry skins, and yellow plums. At 15 minutes, blue fruits join on the nose a palate with dry mint flavors. At 25 minutes, the wine starts becoming more varietally correct with a whiff of bell pepper accenting black currants, mocha, dry mint, and vanilla extract. With more time, the wine seems to become darker and richer while still maintaining a tart cherry component that keeps the wine dynamic. This Cabernet is a steal. 

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2015 Les Darons, Languedoc (Parker 91-93 Points!)

Because the wine's grapes came from 40+-year-old vines, the winemaker named the wine Les Darons which is slang for the Dads or old men. This wine is young and requires 25+ minutes of decanting before getting too deep into it. The initial nose is of dusty blackberries, fine dried tobacco, cocoa, and soft leather. At 15 minutes, violets, blueberries, and black cherry liquor diversify the darker black fruit flavors. The Syrah and Carignan impart enough juiciness to deliver the notable tannins which would compliment rich, full-flavored meats. The fine tobacco and peppery minerality give this wine a level of sophistication typically seen at much higher price-points. This $16.98 value was reviewed 91-93 point by Robert Parker.

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2013 Seaglass Cabernet, Paso Robles (Tastings 93 Points!)

At just $13.87, the '13 Seaglass Cabernet delivers a wine worth twice its price. After agitating the wine in a decanter and 17 minutes, the wine gives off aromas of vanilla extract, baked blackberries, and cool, dry mint. At 25 minutes, aromas of blueberries and dry mint chocolate (wine is dry) join a palate featuring gobs of fresh, lively black cherries on an impressive 45+ second finish! At around 45 minutes, the vibrant fruit flavors join a silky saline minerality, hints of salted dried meats, and charming sandalwood accents. At 55 minutes, green bell peppers emerge with raisin-box aromas and an array of plums on the palate. There won't be many other sub-$15 Cabernets that deliver similar quality. I find Tastings.com's 93-point review to be spot on. 

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2015 Penya Red Blend, France (Tasho Katsaboulas 91)

The 2015 Penya Grenache-Carignan-Syrah blend from Côtes Catalanes, France generously rewards those who decant with patience. Out of the decanter, an initial nose of spice, violets, dry gray stones, and tart red fruits with blue and black fruit accents is joined by an interesting inkiness. At 15 minutes, faint whiffs of smokiness emerge and meld with aromas of fresh raspberries. At 21 minutes, the fruit is just beginning to loosen a bit, and plum skins are emerging on the nose, but the wine is still not quite ready to drink. At 27 minutes, the fruit is starting to loosen introducing the beginning of the drinking window. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate scored this wine 89 points. For the first 40 minutes, I agreed. However, after 40 minutes of decanting, this wine soars to a new level as lush black fruits impart a deep, rich flavor that brings a wonderful counterbalance to the tart, juicy red fruits. At 57 minutes, there's a sappiness to the plum and raspberry fruits that remind me of Now-and-Later candy (wine is dry). This interesting red blend kills it at just $13.87! I have no reservations in upgrading the Wine Advocate's 89 to the 91 point score this wine fully deserves.

- Tasho Katsaboulas

2015 Amalaya Malbec, Salta, Argentina (Decanter 94 Points)

Any wine that survives the three-judge gauntlet of Decanter with a score of 94 is worth a look in our book, even more when that wine comes in at under $20 a bottle. The Amalaya 2015 Malbec fits that bill, and after our tasting, we discovered that this is not your average Argentinian Malbec.

With decanting in mind, we recommend delving into the scent of the wine at 25 minutes with a few test sips to follow in the next 10 minutes. From 35 minutes out, the wine truly shows its character and can be fully enjoyed. 

We poured this wine into a decanter, and after five minutes of vigorous agitation, we found that the initial nose was filled with soft scents of gunpowder and cocoa powder. At 15 minutes, the cocoa powder had asserted itself to be the dominant flavor while scents of dried wintergreen and dark fruits were lurking in the shadows.

At 25 minutes, hints of vanilla began to pierce through the cocoa powder cover whereas 30 minutes of decanting allowed an array of juicy plums and black cherries to shine on the palate with a solid 30-second finish.

Now 35-45 minutes in, this wine shows just how unique of a Malbec it is when the palate and nose fill with burnt matchstick, underripe strawberries, blueberries, and crabapples. Finally, at the 1-hour mark, a minerality emerged with notes of salt and yellow plums.

Throughout the tastings, we were intrigued by the character of this Amalaya Malbec.  There is a remarkable acidic energy beyond that typical for the varietal making it a fantastic food wine made for spring patio weather.  With such acidity, this wine would pair perfectly with freshly grilled ribeyes or lamb chops. However, it's not limited to the grill; this wine can be the new best friend for your meat lovers pizza, beef roast, rich cheeses, or any fatty, stick to your ribs fare. 

If you've been struggling to decide which wine should go with your Sunday dinner, we have your answer with the Amalaya 2015 Malbec.

- Andrew Dunaway