Month: December 2019

Best Wines Tasted in 2019 and My Personal Reccomendations

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In 2019 I was fortunate enough to taste and appreciate over 1600+ wines. I have listed the top 6% of those wines. I have broken it out by price point, those $50 and under and those $51 and up—-something for everyone! I believe whole heartily and stand by these picks, as I not only tasted each, but all of these wines are in my cellar.
No matter which category, each wine listed will enhance your tasting experience.
Only 29 wines are listed in the $51 and Above Group. And 21 wines made the $50 and Less Group. These wines represent some of best quality for California wines. Again most can be purchased at the winery only and are based upon availability.


Again this year based upon feedback are the Best Imported Wines. These wines are markedly above average, unique in specific characteristics and should be tried. Additionally most of these would only be sold at your local high end retail store. I have also provided the links to  The Wine Steward (a great importer) and Topochines Wines (focused on Croatian wines) and they would be happy to procure these for you.


On many of the higher end wines, I listed the pricing for their current release. as I had procured them years ago. Additionally, all pricing was checked via the winery website, phone calls to the winery or an average price on a web search.


During the years I have kept meticulous notes on each wine tasted and hope you enjoy these selections in the coming year. Wishing you a wonderful New Year and that 2020 be prosperous, meaningful and find you in good health.


Michael Kelly

Best California Wines $50 and less
3 Steves 2014 Cabernet Franc, Cienega Valley $45
3 Steves 2016 Carmenere, $35
Acquiesce 2018 Ingenue $32
Acquiesce 2018 Picpoul $28
Allegorie 2015 Tempranillo, $32
Alyris 2015 Chardonnay Audition, $45
Black Sheep 2014 Censaut, $24
Chatom 2014 Malbec, $28
Crocker & Starr 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, $38
Dracaena Wines 2016 Cabernet Franc Reserve, $45
Gossamer Cellas 2014 Negroamaro, $28
Hanna 2016 Chardonnay, Russian River $29
Hoopes Vineyard 2015 Chardonnay, Genny’s Vineyard $50
Jazz Cellars 2014 Lone Oak Pinot Noir, $44
Jazz Cellars 2017 Rhapsody (Marsanne/Roussanne) $26
Jeff Renquist 2017 Charbono $27
Jeff Renquist 2018 Cabernet Franc $26
Jessie’s Grove Winery 2013 Ancient Vine Zinfandel $45
Jessie’s Grove Winery 2015 Carignane $32
Kenefick Ranch 2016 Cabernet Franc, Caitlin’s Select $50
Ketcham Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir, $48
LangeTwins 2015 Midnight Reserve, blend, $40
LangeTwins 2016 Cabernet Franc $32
LangeTwins 2017 Petite Sirah $32
Las Positas 2015 Tempranillo, $48
Lavender Ridge 2017 Grenache, $28
Lavender Ridge 2017 Roussanne, $28
Ledson 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, $34
McKahn Family Cellars 2016 Syrah $49
McKahn Family Cellars 2017 Grenache $36
Monticello Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Franc, $34
Paoletti Estate 2012 Nero d’ Avola, (current release $42)
Rapp Ranch 2016 Chardonnay, $40
Saddleback Cellars 2017 Pinot Blanc, $30
Shale Canyon 2014 Cabernet Franc, $30
Stevenot 2016 Barbera Gran Reserva, $34
Tate Wines 2013 Merlot, $50
Terminim 2017 “Cepages d’ Or” (Marsanne/Roussanne), $40
Wood Family Vineyards 2017 “Against the Grain”, $45
Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc, $34
Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay, $30
Zuidema 2016 Grenache, $42


Best California Wines $51 and up
Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, $250
Alyris 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, $85
Arkenstone 2015 Cabernet Sauvginon Coliseum Block $175
Arkenstone 2016 Cabernet Sauvginon NVD, $90
Brecon 2016 Cabernet Franc, $62
Caymus 2008 Special Selection (current release $190)
Crocker & Starr 2010 & 2014 Cabernet Franc (current release $150)
Crocker & Starr 2016 Casili 7, Malbec blend, (current release $95)
Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 & 2013, (current release $150)
Detert 2016 Cabernet Franc East Block ($175)
Gemstone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $155)
Graciano 2014 Pinot Noir Estate, $68
Hanna 2016 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon, $70
Hoopes 2016 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
J. Davis 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $120)
Kelly Family Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (no relationship), $85
Kistler 2015 Chardonnay Les Noisetiers , (web $71)
Lail Blueprint 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, (current release $80)
Larkmead 2007 Cabernet Sauvingon, The Lark (current release $360)
Larkmead 2008 Solari, (current release $240)
Larkmead 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, LMV Salon (current release $180)
Larkmead 2010 Firebelle (current release $150)
Ledson 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $94
Ledson 2017 Russian River Pinot Noir Reserve, $66
Lindstrom 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $130)
Lineage 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $160)
Maritana 2017 Dutton-Hansen Hill, Chardonnay, $90
Maritana 2017 Russian River “Rive La Riviere”, $55
Merriam 2013 Cabernet Franc, $68
Mira 2013 Cabernet Franc, $150
Nickel & Nickel 2010 Chardonnay, Stiling Vineyards (current $55)
Oakville East 2016 Cabernet Franc ($90)
O’Shaughnessy 2007 & 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder (current release $140)
O’Shaughnessy 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn (current release $100)
Outpost 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate (current release $95)
Outpost 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon True (current release $150)
Outpost 2014 Grenache (current release $55)
Peter Michael 2010 Ma Belle-Fille Chardonnay (current release $100)
Rapp Ranch 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
Robert Mondavi 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (current release $175)
Rubicon 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $210)
Secret Door 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $170)
Shadybrook Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $125)
Steven Kent 2007 & 2009 Premier Cabernet Sauvignon (current release $100)
Tate Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder, (current release $75)
Tate Wines 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Jack’s Vineyard Howell Mtn, $125
Trespass 2011 Cabernet Franc (current release $110)
Vinoce 2015 Cabernet Franc, $75
William Harrison 2013 Cabernet Franc, $65
YoungInglewood 2013 & 2016 Cabernet Franc (current release $110)


Best Imported Wines of 2019 (prices not shown due to pending tariffs)
Alaya Tierra – Grenacha Tintorera, 2014
Arzuaga Reserva by Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, 2012
Arzuaga Ribero del Duero Tempranillo, 2015
Casa Silva Carmenenere Los Lingues, 2011
Castillo di Bossi Berardo, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2013
Chene Bleu Abelard, 2008
Flower Assyrtiko, 2017
La Quercia Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, 2009
Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc , 2015
Matua Sauvignon Blanc, 2017
Mendel Finca Remota Malbec, 2014
Pilltteri Estates Cabernet Franc Riserva Familia, 2012
Stina “For Inspiration” Plavac Mali, 2015 (Croatian)
Tomic Plavac Mali, 2011 (Croatian)


Steven Kent Winery, 2010 Premier Cabernet Sauvignon

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This represents Steven’s best Cabernet grapes in the vineyards he can assemble. It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and always a phenomenal wine. This evening with a steak we opened this beauty. On the eyes the purple hue beamed royalty and uniqueness with its coloring being crisp with clarity. It possessed a medium viscosity. On the nose, red fruit filled the olfactory senses coupled with medium oak tones. On the palate, this wine shined with hints cocoa, expresso and which provided a rich and dense fluid of cherries, vanilla and soft pipe tobacco. The tannins and structure were still strong enough after almost 10 years to provide an elegant and velvety feel, yet structured with a long lasting finish. Paired with a nicely marbled rib eye steak (plus salad and potato’s), provided a great host for this opulent Premier Cabernet Sauvignon by Steven Kent Winery.




2016 Rapp Ranch Chardonnay

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2016 Rapp Ranch Carneros Chardonnay by winemaker Rudy Zuidema. On the eye light colored straw & medium viscosity. On the nose & palate, pear, kiwifruit and butterscotch with a slight minerality finish. A perfect wine after a San Francisco classic win today👍🏈. Paired with winter time comfort food, tuna noodle casserole. #rappranch #rappranchwine #whitewine #chardonnay #napavalleychardonnay #





Cabernet Franc Wine Competition 2019 Complete Listing of Winners per Category

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Below is a listing by Categories (price) with Best of Class and Best of Show shown in BOLD from the December 4th Wine Competition. Professional Judging on the left of slash and People’s Choice on the right of slash. Location of winery (not necessarily vineyard used) shows a well rounded showing from various AVA’s around the state of California.


Category “A” ($30 and under)
{Winery, Vintage, Location, Price, Prof Award/People Choice Award(s)}
Coppermine 2016 Vallecito $26 Silver/Bronze
Coppermine 2017 Vallecito $26 Bronze/No Award
EnotecaFive 2013 Livermore $30 Silver/Silver
Holgate Hill Winery 2018 Jackson $28 Bronze/No Award
Indian Rock Vineyard 2013 Murphys $28 Silver/Bronze
Indian Rock Vineyard 2014 Murphys $28 Silver/No Award
Indian Rock Vineyard 2015 Murphys $28 Silver/Silver
Indian Rock Vineyard 2016 Murphys $28 Silver/No Award
Jeff Runquist Winery 2014 Amador $26 Bronze/Bronze
Jeff Runquist Winery 2018 Amador $26 Silver/Gold
Shale Canyon Wines 2014 Monterey $30 Double Gold, Best of Class Double Gold, Best of Class
Stevenot Winery 2017 Vallecito $30 Bronze/Silver

20191207_112151(Best of Class by Professionals, Best of Show by Professional Judges and Double Gold/Silver Awards)



(Best of Class and Best of Show by People’s Choice and Double Gold/Silver)

Category “B” ($31 to $60)
{Winery, Vintage, Location, Price, Prof Award/People Choice Award(s)}
3 Steves Winery 2016 Livermore $45 Gold/Silver
3 Steves Winery 2016 Livermore $45 Silver/Gold, Best of Class, Best of Show
Casa Barranca 2017 Santa Ynez $44 Bronze/No Award
Darcie Kent Winery 2015 Livermore $50 Silver/Gold
Dracaena Wines 2016 Paso Robles $45 Double Gold, Best of Class, Best of Show/Silver
EnotecaFive 2011 Livermore $35 Bronze/No Award
Hagafen Cellars 2016 Napa $48 Silver/No Award
Kenefick Ranch Winery 2016 Calistoga $50 Gold/Bronze
LangeTwins Winery 2016 Acampo $32 Silver/Silver
Luna Hart Wines 2017 Santa Barbera $34 Silver/Bronze
Merriam Vineyards 2014 Healdsburg $45 Double/Gold Silver
Steven Kent Winery 2017 Livermore $48 Silver/Bronze
Tessier Winery 2017 $38 Bronze/Bronze
Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Livermore $34 Double Gold/Bronze

Category “C” ($61 to $99)
{Winery, Vintage, Location, Price, Prof Award/People Choice Award(s)}
Brecon Estate Winery 2016 Paso Robles $62 Silver/Silver
Crocker & Starr 2015 St Helena $90 Silver/No Award
Merriam Vineyards 2013 Healdsburg $68 Silver/Silver
Oakville East 2016 Oakville $90 Silver/No Award
Vinoce 2016 Napa $75 Double Gold, Best of Class/Silver, Best of Class
Young Inglewood 2016 St Helena $95 Silver/Bronze
Category “D” ($100 and up)
{Winery, Vintage, Location, Price, Prof Award/People Choice Award(s)}
Detert Family Vineyards 2016 Oakville $175 Silver/Gold, Best of Class
Mira Winery 2013 Napa $150 Gold/Bronze

Blend (not officially in competition but rated)
Crocker & Starr A.V.A. 2016 St Helena $50 Silver/Silver



Looking forward to next year’s event on December 4th, International Cabernet Franc Day!



Results of Cabernet Franc Day Wine Competition by California Wines and Wineries Held December 4th

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So you are asking “Who won?”

We had two sets of judges in opposite corners of the banquet room. The judges spent over 4 ½ hours in scoring instructions, tasting, discussing and evaluating the scores at their respective tables. Each table handed in their Best of Class (Categories based on pricing). The results were enlightening and quite frankly amazing in some similarities for two different sets of judges doing a blind tasting. Both sets of judges were doing different categories and could neither be seen or heard in tabulating their results.


The Best of Show (overall) by the Professional Judges went to the 2016 Dracaena Wines Reserve. The wine comes from the Plummer Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County. Dracaena Wines is located in Paso Robles. The current price is $45 on their website and it is described as having “a deep ruby color with aromas of cherry, eucalyptus and roasted coffee aromas”. Perhaps this will encourage you to partake as it makes “your palate dance with excitement over the fresh black cheery, blackberry and toasted oak flavors”. Alcohol is 14.2%. While I didn’t witness any palates dancing by the judges, they certainly voted enthusiastically scoring it Double Gold, winning Best in Class (price category) and then Best in Show. A key point in this win as an observer is that the four professional judges hailed from Napa, two from the Sierra Foothills and one Central Valley. I think this shows their discernment and not showing any partiality to their respective regions. Well done judges.

Professional Judges Results

Best of Class ($30 and less) – 2014 Shale Canyon Wines
Best of Class ($31 to $60) – 2016 Dracaena Wines, Reserve
Best of Class ($61 to $99) – 2016 Vinoce Vineyards
Best of Class ($100 and up) – 2013 Mira Winery

The Professional judges gave out 4 Gold Medals: Mira Winery (Carneros, Napa), 3 Steve’s (Livermore), Kenefick Ranch Winery (Calistoga) and Coppermine (Sierra Foothills). The same judges awarded 5 Double Gold Medals: Vinoce Vineyards (Mt Veeder, Napa), Wood Family Vineyards (Livermore), Dracaena Wines (Paso Robles), Merriam Vineyard (Napa, Carneros) and Shale Canyon (Arroyo Seco, Monterey).


The Best of Show (overall) by the People’s Choice Judges went to 3 Steves Winery in Livermore. This was for their dry farmed wine in Cienega Valley, San Benito County. The current price is $45 and does not show up on the website. Even the Professional Judges gave it a Gold Medal. A key point in this win as an observer is that the four People’s Choice judges two hailed from the Sierra Foothills, one Central Valley and one recently moved to the Sierra Foothills from Napa. I think this shows their dedication to the task at hand and not showing any inherit biases. Again well done judges.

People’s Choice Judges Results
Best of Class ($30 and less) – 2014 Shale Canyon Arroyo Seco, Monterey
Best of Class ($31 to $60) – 2016 3 Steve’s Winery in Livermore for their Cienega Valley entry.
Best of Class ($61 to $99) – 2016 Vinoce Vineyards in Mt Veeder
Best of Class ($100 and up) – 2016 Detert Family Vineyards, East Block Oakville

The People’s Choice Judges gave out 4 Gold Medals: 2018 Jeff Runquist (Amador, Clarksburg), 2016 Dracaena Reserve (San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles), 2016 3 Steve’s Winery (Livermore for their Cienega Valley) and 2016 Detert East Block (Oakville). The same judges awarded only one Double Gold to Shale Canyon (Arroyo Seco, Monterey).

Having both Professional Judges and People’s Choice Judges I was warned I might be opening a can of worms. In the end it turned out to a great social and wine event with quality rising to the top. For example in the Best of Class category ($30 and less) both set of judges selected Shale Canyon Arroyo Seco, Monterey. Same with the Best of Class ($61 to $99) with both selected Vinoce Vineyards in Mt Veeder. Add to this that they voted identically on 7 of the wines and 20 wines within one vote up or down from the Professional Judges.


Pic #1 Professional Judges, L to R, Debi Miller, Tom Bender, Tana Cole, Missing is Rudy Zuidema. Pic #2 People’s Choice Judges, L to R, Dave Gardin, Shelby French, John Krause, Steve Besst

I will publish all the awards given in another article shortly but wanted to showcase the Best of Class and Best of Show Winners.

Collectively we are looking forward to the 2020 event and will be inviting Cabernet Franc wineries from all 50 states to participate. If you know of a great Cabernet Franc producer in your area please have them get in touch with me.


Michael Kelly

Happy International Cabernet Franc Day!

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Banner Cab Franc


Wishing you some of the best tasting Cabernet Franc today!  Two quotes and a great short story will give you some background on this varietal, called by me “the seductress of wines”.

I’m not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc.” — Jancis Robinson

In addition to the 100% versions I make for my Steven Kent Winery brand, Cab Franc is an indispensable part of the blend of my flagship brand. A natural blending partner in Bordeaux, in my wine Cabernet Franc is the id…(hopefully) relentlessly and lubriciously driving flavors and aroma and structure forward to a very long conclusion” — Steven Kent Mirassou

Lori Budd, co-founder of International Cab Franc Day (Dec 4th), wrote a compelling and romantic story of Cabernet Franc. You can read about the love affair between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc and their offspring Cabernet Sauvignon at:

Today marks the inaugural Cabernet Franc Wine Competition for California Cab Franc’s in Copper Valley, Copperopolis, California.  Next year it will be open to all 50 states. The results will be forthcoming on Thursday and Friday. In the interim, enjoy your glass or bottle of Cabernet Franc!









2016 Stevenot Barbera, Gran Reserva – A Wine For Everyone

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Barbera, the red-headed step child of Italian descent! Yes that is how many people view Barbera wine. Yet the pedigree goes back to the 7th century as compared to the relatively “new comer” Cabernet Sauvignon which dates only to the 17th century. The production of Barbera is primarily in Italy boasting about 83% of worldwide vines. The United States accounts for the second largest production of approximately 11% and is found primarily in the Sierra Foothills, Central Valley and Santa Barbera areas. The small balance can be found in Australia and Argentina. Barbera was at one time the third most planted grape in Italy behind Sangiovese and Montepulciano.

If the aristocratic Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Varietals, then Barbera is “wine of the people”. In northern Italy, especially in Piedmont, it does not get the same respect as Nebbiolo with prime real estate. Barbera is grown in the low slopes and valleys. Often very good Barbera can be obtained for a fraction of the price of a vintage Nebbiolo. Thus the early years of Barbera was known as a “jug wine”. When immigrants coming to the United States often desired an inexpensive wine and Barbera filled the demand. Barbera is meant to be enjoyed young with intense aromas of cherries and blackberries.

This Stevenot Barbera Gran Reserva possess a typical profile. On the eye the color is a deep crimson and medium heavy body. On the nose and palate, dark cherry, blackberries and a hint of strawberry waffles into the olfactory receptors and then the mouth discerns spices of vanilla and mild black licorice. What makes Barbera unique are the low tannins but high acidity. This makes it easy to pair with just about any meat dish, pasta or herbaceous cheeses like blue cheese.

This was a delightful wine and could easily be denoted, using a baseball term, as an all-star utility player for your cellar.