The annual Family Winemakers of California tasting event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds offers the opportunity to taste the latest releases from some 160 wineries represented, reconnect with favorite wineries from previous years and also experience the best of 34 wineries attending for the first time.
Wineries served from one to a dozen wines, so there was no lacking for variety. Prices ranged from $12 to $150. The overall quality of wines at this annual tasting advances each year. This year, we focused on the reds, both for immediate consumption and as collectibles. Here are wines we ranked in the top 10 percent of all wines tasted:
Amizetta – Terraced vineyards in the eastern hills. Harvests just two tons per acre. Our favorites: the 2010 Complexity, $45 (70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc; and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet (just 150 cases), $85 (dark purple, ripe grapes and wood nose; good fruit extraction; subtle, stylish finish).
Cornerstone – Classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, $65. Darkest purple; berries, mint, wood, cassis nose; balanced to big; tight; tight tannins; Steak wine.
Delectus – Estate vineyards on the hills about Knights Valley. Purchased grapes from many sources. Wines all had good structure, depth, style and French oak nuances. Our favorites: 2006 Mutti’s Pride, Cabernet Sauvignon, $75; 2008 Cabernet Franc, $75; the 2009 French Wedding Cabernet Sauvignon, $85; and the 2009 Cuvee Julia (65 percent Cabernet, plus Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah), $140.
Frank Family – 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (87 percent Cabernet; 9 percent Merlot; 3 percent Petite Verdot; 1 percent Cabernet Franc), $45. Fruity varietal nose; light wood; earthy tones; round, fruity finish; good food wine.
Guarachi – Rich 100 percent Napa Valley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $50 (sourced from vineyards in Rutherford and St. Helena). Napa Valley nose; wood; big Cabernet flavor; needs time.
Halter Ranch – Big fruity 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, $32 (77 percent Cabernet, 12 percent Malbec, 11 percent Merlot). Ripe grape, jam, wood nose; round, ripe fruit; beef wine.
Herb Lamb – 2009 HL Cabernet Sauvignon, $150. Most intense Cabernet we found although with style, not just power; distinct varietal nose, mint, cassis, plus big oak secondary aromas (80 percent new French oak). Deep fruity finish. Needs five to ten years.
Mt. Brave – Fine examples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder. The 2009 ($75) offers a big mint and varietal nose; round, ripe on the palate; better structured than most wines from this vintage; balanced, long finish.
Seavey – Food-friendly 2009 Merlot, $45. Complex Merlot, chocolate, berry nose; balanced, mid-body, round Merlot finish.
Tantara – Pinot Noir wines show nuances from different areas, clonal selection. 2010 Sullivan Hill Pinot Noir, $52; 14.3 alcohol; big, hard, tight, long life ahead. 2010 Bien Nacido, Santa Maria, Pommard clone, old vines, $50; subtle varietal nose; smooth, velvety finish. Santa Lucia Highlands. 2010 Pisoni, $65; round, ripe, good fruity finish, straight forward.
Other family wineries we enjoyed that ranked in the top 20 percent in our tasting notes: Ahnfeldt, Ancient Peaks, Bjorn, Cain, Darms Lane, Flying Horse, Fritz, Keenan, Mayacamas, Parallel, Ramey, Sojourn, Thacher, and Trione.
Wineries attending for the first time included: Albertina, Bailiwick, Baily, Cantara, Edict, Grgich Hills, Martinelli and Willowbrook.