Looking for new adventures in matching red wines with food? We reviewed tasting notes from the past three months and found a high number of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Noir.

So, in a contrarian mood, we thought it would be worth featuring wines from less traditional grapes, including Zinfandel (which thrives in California and can take on Cabernet-like nuances as it ages), Tempranillo from Spain and Rhone blends (Grenache, Syrah). Also included: classic wines from recent cellar tastings.

The prices, mostly under $20, can vary. Our sources included the big box stores, online discounters and local merchants and grocery stores. The best prices are usually found when merchants want to clear inventory in anticipation of new vintages arriving.

The following are Tweets on those tasting notes. Also included: classic wines from recent cellar tastings. Cheers!


Solid $10 Amador Zinfandel ’15 Renwood Cranky Old Vines. Mid-dark; brambles, blackberry, wood nose; mid-body, balanced, good Zin fruit, easy-drinking fruity finish.

Old Vines Lodi Zinfandel ’14 Klinker Brick $14. Mid-dark garnet; good Zin nose; brambles, jam, raspberries, Manzanita; mid-body; mid-tannins; good flavor; some style; a bit hot on the finish (15.4 alc.). Burger, pizza, pasta, beef stew wine.

Pizza, pasta, BBQ $14 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ’13 Coppola Directors Cut. Mid-garnet/ruby; peppery, clove, wax and wood nose; mid-body; some style; long tight finish; a little hot (14.5 alc.).

Sbragia Zinfandel

Well-made $15 Dry Creek Calif. Zinfandel ’14 Sbragia, Gino’s Zinfandel. Mid-garnet; bramble, mint, red fruit and oak nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit; smooth tannins; long semi-chewy finish.

BBQ/rib Paso Zinfandel ’14 League of Rogues Rapscallion $15. Mid-dark garnet; blackberry, wood, smoky nose; mid-big body; grapey; one-dimensional; long hot (15.2 alc.) chewy finish.

Tasty 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel A. Rafanelli Unfiltered ($35). Mid-dark garnet; spicy, peppery, wood nose; brambles; mid-body; nice structure; balanced; good fruit and flavor; long semi-chewy raspberry finish. w/beef.

Spain, Rioja

$13 Spanish BBQ and grilling wine ’14 Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard (Tempranillo). Dark garnet; black fruit, prune, old world woody nose (American oak?); mid-big body; tight tannins; semi-chewy; long hot finish (15.0 alc.).

Fine $14 Rioja ’12 Cune Riserva. Blackberry jam, nutty nose; mid-body, balanced; good fruit, flavor; semi-chewy; a little hot (13.5 alc.).

Stylish $15 Rioja ’15 La Vendimia Palacios Remondo. Mid-brick; plum, peat moss, acacia nose; light-mid body; balanced; soft tannins; good fruit and flavor; long semi-tight finish; improves with air. w/beef

More value in $15 Rioja ’12 Vina Real Reserva. Smokey, earthy, redwood nose; mid-body; balanced, good fruit, flavor; nice style; food wine.

Dependable Rioja producer ’11 Marques de Caceras Reserva $17. Mid-ruby; bramble, redwood, blueberry nose; dark fruit; mid-body; balanced; decent fruit and flavor on the palate; a little hot on the finish (14% alc.)

Rhone Wines, Blends

Party-friendly $12 Cotes due Rhone ’15 Yves Cheron Les Dentelles. Mid-dark garnet; raspberry jam, wood and spice nose (65% Grenache, 35% Syrah); mid-body; bright fruit; a bit tannic; opens with time; a little short on the finish. Appetizer wine.

Paraduxx 2014 Napa Valley Candlestick Blend (Syrah, 62%; Grenache, 38%). Dark garnet; smoky, woody, hyacinth nose; mid-big body; big extract; grapey; long chewy finish (14.7 alc.). $58 suggested (winery sample). w/beef, stew, cassoulet.

Other Reds, Blends

Good $10 pizza/pasta/burger Petite Sirah ’14 Criss Cross Clarksburg. Dark garnet; pomegranate, waxy nose; mid-body; grapey; semi-chewy; some varietal character; a little short.

Fruity $11 Paso Petite Sirah ’14 Adixion. Prune, plum, cocoa nose; fat, fruity, long hot semi-chewy finish (14.5 alc.). pizza, pasta wine.

Classics from Cellar Tastings

Cos d’Estournel 1986 St. Estephe. Mid-garnet, brick edges; complex herbaceous Cabernet, leather, smoky, tobacco nose; mid-body; semi-tight; good tannin/acid balance; long rich elegant finish. w/tri-tip.

Nicely aging Pichon-Lalande ’89 Pauillac. Weekend treat. Mid-garnet, brick edges; complex earthy, terroir, minerals, Cabernet, cocoa, cedar nose; mid-body; soft, rounding out; good flavor; smooth lush finish, a little short; drinkable now.

2d label star ’05 Pauillac, Les Forts de Latour. Mid-garnet, ruby/brick edges; cedar, Cabernet, regional terroir; currants, cassis, lead pencil nose; mid-body; balanced; decent tannins; long elegant finish. Decanted one hour. Nose continued to open with more time. Can age more.

1997 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Fay Vineyard ($85). Mid-brick, amber edges; rich herbaceous Napa nose; wood, cedar, leather, cassis; balanced; refined elegant style; long flavorful Cabernet finish. w/tri-tip.

Tasting older Calif wines. Wish I had more of this: ’09 Steltzner Napa Valley Estate Malbec ($22 two years ago). Mid-dark garnet; raspberry, mint, wood nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit, flavor; evolving; long rich smooth finish.

Evolving ’04 Spottswoode Napa Cabernet Estate. Mid-garnet, brick edges; beautiful Napa Cabernet nose; herbaceous, smoke, mint, cassis; mid-body; balanced; rich fruit; gaining elegance with age; long rich finish.