Top 15 California Bordeaux Blend Wines Under $125

New world meets old world


France may have established that the grapes of Bordeaux go very well together, but that essential blend can now be found in excellent wines worldwide, from South Africa to Washington State.

California does particularly well with the black grapes of Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. California Bordeaux blends include some of the biggest names in Napa, like Harlan, Colgin and Opus One. Harlan Estate currently retails for more than $750 a bottle, while Colgin tops $400. But those high-priced bottles aren’t my focus here. Instead, I’m concentrating on the very best Bordeaux blends available for $125 or less.

The top values here are the Ridge Estate, at about $44; the Wallis Family Estate Little Sister at $45; the Rockpile Winery Buck Pasture at about $50 and the Justin Isosceles, which averages about $56 for a bottle of the 2009.

While this list is dominated by Napa Valley based producers, it also includes Paso Robles’s Justin, Santa Cruz Mountain’s Ridge and Northern Sonoma’s Rockpile Winery (Mauritson).

1. Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette, Napa Valley (Spring Mountain District) This winery has incorporated four historic, contiguous vineyard properties that were each quite large on their own: Alba, Chevalier, La Perla and Miravalle. The total holdings are now 845 acres, including 225 acres of vines planted in 135 discrete hillside blocks at elevations running from 400 to 1600 feet on the eastern slope of Spring Mountain. The winemaker is Jac Cole and the vineyard manager is Ron Rosenbrand. The Elivette is basically a barrel selection each year of the best lots from the different blocks of Bordeaux varieties.

2008Very dark red violet color; tart black fruit, dark chocolate nose; tasty, tart black fruit, dark
chocolate palate; needs 4 years; long finish (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc,
6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec; 22 months in new French oak). 94 points
2007Very dark red violet color; tart plum, herbs, tobacco nose; tight, tart black fruit, black
tobacco palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet
Franc, 4% Petit Verdot; 21 months in 85% new French oak). 93+ points
2. Viader Proprietary Red (Napa Valley) - This winery was launched by Delia Viader with plantings on the slopes of Howell Mountain in 1986. The 30-acre vineyard is at a 1,000 foot elevation on a very steep site. Delia’s son Alan is currently Director of Operations and winemaker, with Michel Rolland as consultant. (Delia was the winemaker for the vintages noted below.) The proprietary red usually contains a high proportion of Cabernet Franc, reflecting Delia’s fondness for the wines of Cheval Blanc, which are usually about half Cabernet Franc.

2001Coffee, caramel, blueberry, eucalyptus nose; very tasty and elegant, coffee, caramel, cassis, espresso, chocolate and licorice palate; medium-plus finish (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc). 93+ points
2005Opaque dark red violet color; nice coffee, black fruit and mulberry nose; nice, plush, mulberry, berry and roast coffee palate; medium-plus finish (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc). 93 points

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