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Affordable "second labels" from Napa, Sonoma wineries

Lots of local winemakers at the top of their game, who are making prestige wine at prestige prices, are also producing more affordable wines on what?s known as a second, or sister, label.

Think of it as a friendly way in, akin to ordering a few things off the menu at a top restaurant rather than the seven-course meal. It?s the scrimmage before the match, the EP before the LP, the everyday bottle not the one for Saturday night.

It could be a blend of different vineyards, appellations or vintages rather than a single vineyard designation, or maybe a lesser known varietal that?s more affordable for them to play with. Or, these second-label wines may be aged for less time in less oak, another way to keep costs low.

The savings ultimately get passed on to you. That means it?s never been a better time to love drinking wine, especially once you know your options.

Here are some local ones worth knowing.

Caravan

Napa architectural gem Darioush Estate has been earning rave reviews for its fine juice over the years, ripe, fruit-forward cabernets made in the classic Napa mold. Its Signature Cab is the finest of the fine, made from cooler climate estate vineyards in southern Napa Valley and atop Mount Veeder, where the grapes hang peacefully, taking on elements of earth and spice. But Darioush also offers Caravan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), another estate-grown wine with approachable fruit, a soft, round mid-palate and lingering, spicy finish. 257-2345, www.darioush.com.

Decoy


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