This is an important post. I have always made a point of reviewing and sharing wines that represent what I love and drink. Well, if this is true, which it certainly is, then I am guilty of a grave oversight. The oversight being Cline Cellars from Sonoma, Califonia—and that’s why, in this review, I’m including a number of great nights and meals that the folks at Cline produced memorable wine for.
Not only do I believe that Cline is capable of producing stellar wine from wonderful, lesser-known grape varieties, but they have achieved this while maintaining an easy price point with unparalleled accessibility. As a big fan of Zinfandel, I consider the Cline Ancient Vines* to be a benchmark by which I have judged many wines against. I have probably served more of the Ancient Vines Zin to guests than almost any other wine.
On the evening of October 25th, 2008, Carey and I were at our rehearsal dinner at The Company of the Cauldron on the island of Nantucket. My mother spent weeks planning this one small event for our 40 closest friends and family. My only task, on the other hand, was very easy—the wine we will be serving with dinner: the 2006 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel. Even with overage anticipated, we still came in about 6 bottles short. Wine drinkers loved it and wine lovers appreciated it—I couldn’t have asked for more.
At Bistro AIX, an amazing contemporary bistro on San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida while dining with my wife and both sets of parents, I was put in charge of an incredible wine list. With 50 different wines by the glass and a 250+ bottle selection, I had my work cut out for me. Time to deliver. Under-promise, over-deliver, and shock all when the bill arrives. The perfect balance was a 2006 Cline “Cool Climate” Syrah out of Sonoma. Only $34—it was a total hit. Incredible to drink, great with food, and we didn’t deviate the whole night.
“As rare as the goats in the Gobi Desert, this silky rich blend is a special treat.” This is how the winemakers at Cline describe the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend they call Cashmere. My local wine store had this Cline offering on special for about 6 months and I was immediately intrigued by the blend and silky textural precision—not to mention the $25,000 that Cline donates to breast cancer prevention from the proceeds. To this day, Cashmere is still one of my favorite mid-priced Grenache blends out of California.
One of my favorite experiences with an aged Zinfandel came from a 2001 Live Oak Zinfandel I purchased on Winebid.com. Zinfandels can get a little “raisiny” and hot after they have rolled over their peaks, and this often doesn’t take more than a handful of years. I have dumped a lot of good Zinfandel down the drain well within a decade of bottling. But the winemaker’s notes stated that the Live Oak was good to cellar for 7 to 10 years—and they were right. No baked plum, no raisins, no astringent linger—just complex and well integrated layers of spice, herbs, fruit, and mocha.
This brings me to tonight. The 2007 Cline Carignane (Karen-yawn), along with a number of other offerings from Cline, was just put on the shelves at the Grapevine Fine Wines just outside Saratoga Springs. A shock of ruby and plum colors in the glass, the Carignane, in the vein of the Cline family, is extremely smooth in the nose and mouth. Texturally supple, cool in the back of the throat and made elegant by semi-sweet chocolate and cinnamon.
* The “Ancient Vines” line of wines from Cline includes a Zinfandel, Carignane, and Mourvèdre. I consider these to be the mid-range line of Cline wines (range $16-$20). All the Ancient Vines wines have an identical label design.