Formality – A Necessary Evil

This week I'm absolutely ga-ga over a winery whose wines have just now become available in Mississippi. This new kid's name is Castle Rock Winery. This winery is exciting to me for a few reasons: 1) the wines come from several different viticultural areas (AVAs), 2) all of them are really, really good and 3) they are really, really cheap. In my opinion, these are some of the best low end wines I've ever tasted. (And I've tasted a lot of 'em; just ask my liver.) In a blind tasting I would never guess that these wines are bargain-priced.

One Sauvignon Blanc comes from Lake County, which is about an hour's drive north of Napa County. This wine is perfect for hot weather. It's crisp, clean and refreshing, with zesty citrus and melon flavors. For around $8, you really can't beat it.

The barrel-fermented Chardonnay (about $9) comes from California's central coast region, which runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco and includes Monterey, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Santa Cruz, among many others. This tasty treat offers delicate richness from French oak aging and ripe pear and citrus notes. I'm not usually much of a Chardonnay fan, but I'm a huge fan of this wine.

The Reserve Pinot Noir (about $16) is from Russian River Valley, one of the best AVAs for the Burgundian varietals. I was positively blown away by this wine. It's not too earthy, with fresh, lively red fruit flavors with very little tannin and a long, lingering finish. It could definitely give the big boys of Pinot Noir a run for their money.

The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (about $16) is another superstar. It shows almost carmelized black fruit flavors, with firm-but-velvety tannins and a very long finish. I'm telling you, it doesn't get much better than this for these prices.

The Petite Sirah ($11) from Lodi in Central Valley is a little bit toasty and spicy, with ripe blackberry and plum flavors. If you've never tried a Petite, here's your chance to sip on a really good one without investing much moolah.

Oh, and last, but definitely not least, the love of my palate's life is the Central Coast Syrah ($9). Though this is not one of those big, burly Syrahs, it is quite a smoky, peppery wine with gobs of black cherry and plum flavors that will stand up to lamb as if it hailed from the northern Rhone.

Even the biggest wine snob in town couldn't deny that these are special wines. On your next booze shopping trip, do yourself a favor and walk right up to the new kid and introduce yourself.


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