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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Trey’s California Greats!

The 2002 Flora Springs Napa “Trilogy” ($49.99) is another winner in a long line of top California Bordeaux blends. The 2002 Trilogy is comprised of 50% cabernet sauvignon, 29% merlot, 13% cabernet franc, 4% malbec and 4% petit verdot. The majority of the fruit used in this wine comes from the Komes Ranch Estate vineyards, which surround the winery in Rutherford. The wine is vibrant, rich and dark. Flavors of red currants, blackberries and mocha are followed a full, lush and well-structured finish. A few more years in the bottle will help to round out the ripe, firm tannins. The 2002 Cabernets continue to impress us. The 2002 Vine Cliff Napa Cabernet Sauivignon ($34.99) is a blend of 86% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc and 4% petite verdot. This wine really shows the fleshy, ripe fruit that is typical of many great 2002s. Hints of mocha, ripe cherry and black currants jump from the glass! Switching gears to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Taz Vineyards is a winery to watch. The 2004 Taz Santa Barbara Chardonnay ($12.99) is a well focused, rich-fruit driven wine. Eighty percent of this wine comes from a southwest-facing slope on the inland side of the Cat Canyon Vineyard in Los Alamos. Their current Pinot Noir is the 2003 Taz Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($17.99). In blending this 2003 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, the folks at Taz pulled together fruit from Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills—two very different sites with contrasting signatures. The final product shows a blackberry burst in the wine with cola spice and juicy jammy berry notes, supported by a balancing act of tannins and structure. Another value in Santa Barbara Pinot Noir would be the 2004 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($17.99). This wine is just easy to drink. Whether with fresh grilled salmon or left-over roast chicken or just in a glass by itself, the pretty plum and spring strawberry flavors of ABC’s Santa Barbara Pinot are simply delicious. —Trey Beffa

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