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Wine of the Week: Cline 2017 Ancient Vines, Contra Costa County Mourvèdre

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This week's blind tasting

Rhone Reds

TOP PICK

Cline

2017 Ancient Vines, Contra Costa County Mourvèdre, 15.5% alcohol, $22. ★★★★½

A striking, full-bodied mourvèdre, with a full range of flavors. It has notes of cherry, a hint of raspberry, plum and a kiss of chocolate. This Rhône red is robust — powerful and lush — and it’s such an incredible steal for this caliber of wine.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Beckmen Vineyards, 2017 Purisima Mountain Vineyard, Ballard Canyon, Whole Cluster Grenache 15%, $50. ★★★★★: This delicious grenache has bright fruit –– raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate. Notes of white chocolate and pepper in the mix. Pretty.

Breaking Bread 2018 Redwood Valley Mendocino County Grenache, 12.9%, $24. ★★★★: A lovely Rhône red with great minerality and high-toned red fruit. Bright and lively. Finishes crisp.

Front Porch 2014 Russian River Valley Mourvèdre, 14.1%, $38. ★★★★: An edgy mourvèdre with concentrated flavors. It’s weighted to black fruit and has an intriguing intensity. Rich, with a spicy finish. Smart.

Bell, 2016 Sierra Foothills Syrah, 11.6%, $23. ★★★★★: A smoky syrah with juicy black fruit. Bold notes of blackberry and cracked black pepper. Tasty.

When you look at the gnarled vines of mourvèdre, aging gracefully takes on new meaning.

Planted in the early 1900s, these vines continue to thrive in the warm, sandy soils of Oakley in Contra Cost County, delivering delicious flavors.

These are the sage vines behind our wine of the week winner –– the Cline 2017 Ancient Vines, Contra Costa County Mourvèdre at $22. This is a striking, full-bodied mourvèdre, with a full range of flavors. It has notes of cherry, a hint of raspberry, plum and a kiss of chocolate. This Rhône red is robust –– powerful and lush –– and it’s such an incredible steal for this caliber of wine.

“Once a consumer tastes this wine they will buy it again, and they will tell their friends about it,” said Charlie Tsegeletos, director of winemaking for Sonoma’s Cline Cellars. “It’s very reasonably priced considering that the vines are rare, 100 years old, planted on their own rootstock and farmed like they were 100 years ago.”

Tsegeletos, 63, first came to Sonoma in 1981 to visit his aunt and uncle. He walked up the road and got a job at Hacienda Wine Cellars. Before long he studied at UC Davis, earning a degree in Agricultural Science and Management in 1979.

What made the winemaker determined to excel was a bewitching taste of a highbrow cabernet sauvignon.

“I tasted a glass of Charles Krug Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the early ’80s and it was beautiful,” Tsegeletos said. “It occurred to me then that I would really like to make something like that someday.”

More than three decades later, the winemaker said what makes him a good fit for making mourvèdre is experience.

“Cline Cellars has been making a mourvèdre from the same grapes since the early ’80’s,” Tsegeletos said. “The Cline family has made an effort to preserve these ancient vines, and we know what to expect from these grapes come drought or high water. They have never failed to deliver delicious flavors.”

What the uninitiated don’t know about mourvèdre is that it arrived in California as “Mataro” in 1860, according to Charles Sullivan in his “A Companion to California Wine.”

“In Santa Clara in the 1870s, it was more popular than zinfandel, and during the boom years of 1878-1886, it was planted all over California,” Tsegeletos said. “In California in 1932 there were 7,000 acres planted, and that had dwindled to 324 acres by 1994. The 2016 California Grape Acreage Report shows a total of 1,068 acres in the ground.”

The winemaker said no matter what the quantity of wine is, all the wines he crafts are quality-driven; they all have a great sense of equilibrium.

“I’m happy with my sense of balance,” Tsegeletos said. “In other words, I think that if I feel the fruit character is balanced against the natural acidity, and that the tannin or oak character is correct for the weight of wine, then it will find an audience that likes it, too. I make wines that I like knowing that others will like them too.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week's blind tasting

Rhone Reds

TOP PICK

Cline

2017 Ancient Vines, Contra Costa County Mourvèdre, 15.5% alcohol, $22. ★★★★½

A striking, full-bodied mourvèdre, with a full range of flavors. It has notes of cherry, a hint of raspberry, plum and a kiss of chocolate. This Rhône red is robust — powerful and lush — and it’s such an incredible steal for this caliber of wine.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Beckmen Vineyards, 2017 Purisima Mountain Vineyard, Ballard Canyon, Whole Cluster Grenache 15%, $50. ★★★★★: This delicious grenache has bright fruit –– raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate. Notes of white chocolate and pepper in the mix. Pretty.

Breaking Bread 2018 Redwood Valley Mendocino County Grenache, 12.9%, $24. ★★★★: A lovely Rhône red with great minerality and high-toned red fruit. Bright and lively. Finishes crisp.

Front Porch 2014 Russian River Valley Mourvèdre, 14.1%, $38. ★★★★: An edgy mourvèdre with concentrated flavors. It’s weighted to black fruit and has an intriguing intensity. Rich, with a spicy finish. Smart.

Bell, 2016 Sierra Foothills Syrah, 11.6%, $23. ★★★★★: A smoky syrah with juicy black fruit. Bold notes of blackberry and cracked black pepper. Tasty.

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