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Randall Murray: Appreciate the pretty good by knowing the really good
Randall Murray
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column publishes monthly.

Sometimes to appreciate something that’s “pretty good,” you need to experience something that’s “really good.”

            So it goes with wine. You read about the $150 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and wonder if it really is five times better than the $30 bottle you favor.



 The wine: Full-bodied, dry red table wine.

The grapes: Blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

The source: Sardon de Duero, Spain.

The verdict: This is a relatively new Spanish producer and these folks are not afraid to break some rules. Rather than apply the distinctive appellation Ribera del Duero to the label of this big red, Abadia Retuerta chose the less confining Sardon de Duero. That gives them more flexibility in blending. They also are not afraid to blend traditional Spanish grapes with those with roots in Bordeaux and the Rhone. The result is an impressive red wine with lovely tannins and big fruit flavors. It comes from the difficult 2013 vintage, but the wine makers created a truly good wine despite the weather travails. It’s ready to drink now, but should hold for another 3-4 years. Grill a steak to go with this one … you’ll enjoy both.

The price: About $32.

Value, like beauty, is in the eye (or taste buds) of the beholder.

            With that in mind I’m yapping this month about four wines that fall into categories of “really good” and “pretty good.”

            What makes a wine so much more costly than similar bottles on the shelf? In the case of Napa Valley wineries created within the past decade, much of the influence is in the mortgage payment. It was reported recently that for the first time prime Napa vineyard land sold for more than $1 million an acre. An acre! As Will Rogers once said, “invest in real estate. They ain’t making any more of it.”

            The first of the “really good” wines comes from the Michael Mondavi Family Estate. It’s called Animo Heritage Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley. Michael is the older son of the late, great Robert Mondavi and he has established his winery operations not only with the family name but also with a devotion to crafting high-quality wines.

            The 2015 Animo was produced in only a trickle – 132 cases. And although I hate writing about wines my readers probably never will see, I’m making an exception here. The fruit came from the legendary ToKalon Vineyard containing the oldest surviving Sauvignon Blanc vines in North America. The original vines arrived in the 1880s, and can be traced to Chateau d’Yquem.

            Animo is a superb wine, boasting subtle fruit flavors enhanced by fermenting and aging in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. Grapes were hand-harvested, and during the various stages of production the wine was fussed over like offspring of the emperor. It is complex and quite impressive … with every sip I found another nuance.

            It is “really good.” And, if you could find it, it would cost you upwards of $65.

            In the “pretty good” category, I bring you Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s prized Marlborough region. It’s Nobilo’s flagship wine and a fine example of the NZ approach to SB. It gets no oak and the crisp, tight flavors roar of citrus … especially grapefruit peel. The Kiwis shun oak so as to allow full expression of the fruit.

            It’s produced from a carefully selected gathering of growing areas within Marlborough and, like Animo, is blessed with hands-on care and devotion. Purists may gripe that comparing the Napa to the Marlborough is apples and oranges. And in a way it is. Each wine has its own distinct style, and I believe most folks tasting them side by side would decide they were from different grapes.

            Nobilo is “pretty good.” But it lacks the depth and complexity of the Animo. It also is priced about $24 … which is “pretty good.”

            Let’s turn now to America’s most popular white wine, Pinot Grigio, which dethroned Chardonnay more than a decade ago and shows no sign of abdicating.

            I believe many Americans were introduced to Pinot Grigio through the skillful marketing of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio by Terlato Wines out of Chicago.

            It was a nice enough wine, but overpriced. Terlato no longer has the brand. But it does have a new one – Terlato Fruili Pinot Grigio 2016. This superb PG comes from Fruili, in northeastern Italy. Cooler climate there produces singular fruit, and Terlato established an estate vineyard for this wine.

            The result is a Pinot Grigio that will tantalize your nose and your mouth. It’s complex, crisp and dry, with an undertone of fruitiness that declares this PG is not the vapid, vague white that too many producers put on the shelves. This is a “really good” wine. I will echo what the press release states: “ … brings out the best in Pinot Grigio.”

            It’s not wildly expensive … about $25. And it will be a lot easier to find than Animo.

            Time to return to California, but this time to the Central Coast … around San Luis Obispo. And this wine could become a steady resident in my fridge … Edna Valley Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2016.

            This clearly is a California wine. Fruit comes from various regions in California, with 90% Pinot Grigio. A splash of Gewurztraminer and Riesling go in to provide fruity spice tones, which will appeal to many white wine drinkers.

            This wine represents why PG zoomed to the top of the U.S. charts. It’s relatively simple, is well-balanced, comes from a respected producer and just flat out tastes good. Great picnic wine, good with chicken, seafood and lighter cheeses.

            It’s easy to find in wine shops or supermarkets and the price tag makes this “pretty good” offering very attractive … about $15.