THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Party Reds

TOP PICK: Cline Cellars

Cline Cellars, 2015 Contra Costa County Ancient Vines Zinfandel, 15% alcohol, $20. ★★★★: A snappy zin that makes an exceptional party red for the holidays because of its generous fruit, its spicy undercurrent and its budget-savvy price. It has aromas and flavors of bright strawberry, with notes of chocolate and coffee. This zin definitely over-delivers.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

The Whole Shebang! California Red Wine, the Tenth Cuvee, $15. ★★★★1/2: This red is as precocious as its winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson. It’s a savvy multi-vintage blend that has dense fruit, meaty flavors and a kick of spice. Smart pick for gatherings, big or small. Twain-Peterson is so quality-conscious, this red will never disappoint.

Coppola, 2014 California Rosso, 13.7%, $7. ★★★★: This is Coppola at its best — rustic and generous. It has pretty red fruit — strawberry and cherry — and a hint of mocha. Juicy. Edgy. Partygoers will love it, and the cocktail conversation that surrounds it with the director turned vintner, Francis Ford Coppola, behind the brand.

Garnacha de Fuego, 2014 Old Vines, Spain, $7. ★★★1/2: This wine is definitely a crowd pleaser with tangy cherry notes, coupled with herbs and pepper. The price is a bargain for the quality.

Cycles Gladiator, 2013, Central Coast Merlot, 13.5%, $11. ★★★1/2: This is a solid quaffer for big gatherings because its tasty with layered flavors and the price makes it hard to resist. This approachable red has notes of berry, herbs and a hint of cracked black pepper. Festive.

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Peg Melnik’s Tasting Room blog

In charge of the holiday office party? Well, you might just score a raise when you show your bosses how cost savings doesn’t have to hamper quality.

This week we feature a flight of Party Reds — budget-wise bottlings that are inexpensive enough for you to easily buy half a dozen. Calculating the amount needed for a holiday party is simple when you keep in mind that each bottle equals five glasses.

While the entire flight showed well, our wine-of-the-week winner is the Cline Cellars, 2015 Contra Costa County Ancient Vines Zinfandel at $20. (You can sometimes find it for $17 on store shelves in Sonoma County.)

This is a snappy zin that makes an exceptional party red for the holidays because of its generous fruit, its spicy undercurrent and its pitch perfect balance. Striking the right balance is feat for ripe old vine zin. The Cline zin has aromas and flavors of bright strawberry, with notes of chocolate and coffee. This is a zin that definitely over-delivers.

“Much of the wine is made from grapes that come from vineyards that date back to the early 1900s,” explained Charlie Tsegeletos, Cline’s winemaker. “Many are planted on their own rootstocks, dry-farmed and head-trained. To be able to buy a bottle of a wine like this for under $20 makes it quite a value for a party or otherwise.”

Tsegeletos said he’s a good fit to make zinfandel because he has had plenty of practice.

“We have been making zinfandel at Cline since the early ’80s so we have a lot of experience with the grape,” he said. “The Cline family has helped to preserve the old vines in and around Oakley in Contra Costa County … I believe my sense of balance in a wine has served me well.”

Tsegeletos, 61, studied at UC Davis and graduated with an agricultural science and management degree in 1979. He’s been the winemaker for nearly four decades.

In the early ’80s, Tsegeletos tasted a glass of Charles Krug Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at a wine tasting in Napa and he had an epiphany.

“I thought I would really like to make something like that one day,” he said.

What inspires Tsegeletos about winemaking is he never leaves the classroom.

“I’ve always tried to be a good student in the sense that I listen to what other winemakers do and if it sounds like something that would benefit our wine, I try it,” he said. “If the technique works, it’s added to our toolbox.’”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Party Reds

TOP PICK: Cline Cellars

Cline Cellars, 2015 Contra Costa County Ancient Vines Zinfandel, 15% alcohol, $20. ★★★★: A snappy zin that makes an exceptional party red for the holidays because of its generous fruit, its spicy undercurrent and its budget-savvy price. It has aromas and flavors of bright strawberry, with notes of chocolate and coffee. This zin definitely over-delivers.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

The Whole Shebang! California Red Wine, the Tenth Cuvee, $15. ★★★★1/2: This red is as precocious as its winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson. It’s a savvy multi-vintage blend that has dense fruit, meaty flavors and a kick of spice. Smart pick for gatherings, big or small. Twain-Peterson is so quality-conscious, this red will never disappoint.

Coppola, 2014 California Rosso, 13.7%, $7. ★★★★: This is Coppola at its best — rustic and generous. It has pretty red fruit — strawberry and cherry — and a hint of mocha. Juicy. Edgy. Partygoers will love it, and the cocktail conversation that surrounds it with the director turned vintner, Francis Ford Coppola, behind the brand.

Garnacha de Fuego, 2014 Old Vines, Spain, $7. ★★★1/2: This wine is definitely a crowd pleaser with tangy cherry notes, coupled with herbs and pepper. The price is a bargain for the quality.

Cycles Gladiator, 2013, Central Coast Merlot, 13.5%, $11. ★★★1/2: This is a solid quaffer for big gatherings because its tasty with layered flavors and the price makes it hard to resist. This approachable red has notes of berry, herbs and a hint of cracked black pepper. Festive.

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Peg Melnik’s Tasting Room blog