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California and French Wines

Layer Cake Wines

Layer Cake Wines are a new project of Jayson Woodbridge, owner/winemaker, of cult wine Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon.  Woodbridge, a former Canadian investment banker, retired in 1999 at 35, moved to Napa and became a farmer.  From the start, his Hundred Acre, single vineyard Napa Cabernets, have been a great success, retailing for $200-300.

Woodbridge wanted to see if he could also make wine selling for about $15 that tasted at least four times higher.  It is his intention that Layer Cake wines, produced under the brand name Pure Love Wines, reflect the grape, the place, the farmers, the land and the winemaking style.   Woodbridge pays tribute to his grandfather who told him wine should be like the delicious layer cake his grandmother made, offering layers of flavors, aromatics and textures.

The line-up of Layer Cake wines includes Malbec from Argentina, Shiraz from Australia and Primitivo aka Zinfandel from Italy. These wines are widely available and generally retail for $11-16.

It was the cake on the label of the Malbec that caught my attention last year, while looking for a good quality wine at a reasonable price.  The Malbec comes from Mendoza in Argentina — the vineyard is situated along the banks of the Mendoza River near the base of the Andes Mountains and has a climate similar to Napa Valley.  The Shiraz is a blend of grapes from vineyards all over the McLaren Vale region of South Australia.  The Primitivo aka Zinfandel is made from old vines in the Puglia area of Italy.  All three wines are dark in color, aromatic, medium-bodied and fruit forward, offering richness, balance and complexity.

The 2008 Layer Cake Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.9% alcohol), dark-colored, is rich and concentrated, with black fruit, blueberries, plums, cocoa, spice, licorice and tobacco, with fine tannins, ending in medium-long, fruit-laden finish — Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars


The 2008 Layer Cake Shiraz South Australia (14.9% alcohol), dark and dense, displays black plum, blackberry, spice, pepper, licorice, tobacco and chocolate.  It is very fruity but balanced and the complexity derives from grapes sourced from many different vineyards offering a broad array of flavors — Highly Recommended.  2-n-half-yellow-stars


The 2007 Layer Cake Primitivo aka Zinfandel Puglia Italy (13.5% alcohol), is dark in color, balanced and structured, showcasing blackberry, spice, pepper, black cherry, plum and coffee.  The fruit is rich, ripe and textured, with fine tannins and a medium-long, spicy finish — Highly Recommended. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

If you are looking for very nice, well-priced wines, the Layer Cake wines are a good place to start.

Brander Vineyard

Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos is one of the original vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, planted mainly to Bordeaux varietals.  Owner/winemaker Fred Brander, one of the pioneers of Santa Barbara County wine, is renowned for producing world-class Sauvignon Blanc as well as some distinctive Bordeaux-style reds.  Born in Argentina, he received an M.S. degree in Science from U. C. Davis.  According to Brander, the inspiration for this wine came from the Languedoc-Roussillon wines of France, where the full-bodied, orange peel-scented Grenache Blanc marries well with the lime and grapefruit-scented, leaner structured Sauvignon Blanc.


The 2006 Uno Mas de Brander 70% Grenache Blanc/30% Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (13.5% alcohol, 163 cases produced, $18-22), is a distinctive, delightfully refreshing, unoaked  wine.  Light yellow in color, it is aromatic, full-bodied, round and balanced, hinting of orange, lime, grapefruit, apple and smoke, offering good acidity and a bright finish.  A great summer sipper and a fine partner with mussels, clams, oysters, sushi and chicken — Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars


Mosby Wines

A successful dentist for 40 years, Bill Mosby became a full-time grower and winemaker in 1998, producing a broad array of award winning wines from estate-grown Italian varietals in the Santa Rita Hills area of the Santa Ynez Valley and other select vineyards along the Central Coast.   Bill’s Teroldego is one of only a few produced in California, as is his La Seduzione made from the Lagrein grape.  The Sagrantino, a grape grown in Umbria, is presently the only domestically grown Sagrantino available for sale.  Recently Mosby produced his first true Italian import, Ossessione, made from Montepulciano grapes grown in a vineyard in the Marche region of Italy.

One of Bill Mosby’s primary attraction to Italian varietals is their versatility when pairing with food.  These distinctive red wines go well with barbecue, hamburgers, pizza, antipasti of cured meats, roasted and grilled meats and vegetables, steaks, dishes with mushrooms and a variety of cheeses.  The Rosato is also very food-friendly, going especially well with hamburgers.  The Roc Michel is a fine complement for chocolate-based desserts.

The NV Mosby Lucca Vino Rosso di California (blend of Sangiovese and small amount of Dolcetto), red in color, has a subtle perfume of cherries, berries and smoke, flavors of cherries, berries, spice, light oak and roasted meat.  It has balanced acidity, substantial tannin that does not overwhelm the fruit and a smooth finish — Highly Recommended.  $14 2-yellow-stars

The 2005 Mosby Rosato di Sangiovese Santa Barbara County (100% Sangiovese), bright orangish-pink color, with a clean berry perfume, is bright, pretty, crisp and refreshing, revealing strawberries, raspberries, peach, melon, spice and smoke, good acidity and a dry finish – really tasty — Highly Recommended.    $20  2-yellow-stars

The NV Mosby Roc Michel Fremir Vineyards Monterey County (blend of Syrah and Mourvedre), ruby color, black cherry and berry perfume, similar flavors with added notes of chocolate, cola, spice, tropical fruit and oak.  It is rich and silky, rounded, with good balance, concentration and soft tannins — Highly Recommended.  $22  2-n-half-yellow-stars

The 2005 Mosby Primativo Central Coast (Zinfandel), purplish-ruby color, has scents and tastes of herbs, flowers, leather, ripe boysenberry, spice, cedar, toasted nuts and a gamy note.  It is tannic, a bit jammy, finishing dry — Highly Recommended. $26  2-yellow-stars

The 2005 Mosby Ossessione Marche Rosso IGT, bright ruby in color, is perfumed with distinctive notes of sandalwood and exotic spice, has flavors of dried red currant, spice, maple and vanilla.  It is tannic, yet has good acidity, plenty of fruit so the tannins are not overwhelming, good balance and a lingering finish — Highly Recommended.  $26  2-n-half-yellow-stars

The 2005 Mosby Teroldego Santa Barbara County, purplish-ruby in color, is aromatic with dark berries and herbs, and has appealing flavors of raspberry, nuts, flowers, forest floor, spice and oak.  It is balanced, with fine fruit and flavor — Outstanding. $30  3-yellow-stars

The 2006 Sagrantino Santa Barbara County, dark garnet in color, offers up an exotic perfume of rose petal and dark fruit, and lovely flavors of black fruit, roses, tobacco, forest floor, cedar, spice and oak.  It is balanced, complex, rich, mouthfilling, tannic and long — Outstanding.  $30  3-yellow-stars

Maison Louis Latour

The family run company of Maison Louis Latour is a negociant-eleveur in Burgundy, producing both red and white wines.  The Latour family, who have been viticulteurs since the 17th Century, have a 50-hectare domaine in the Cote d’Or.  The wines made from their own vineyards sell under the name, Domaine Louis Latour.

The Maison Louis Latour 2007 Pouilly-Vinzelles En Paradis, pale gold color, has a perfume of pear, apple, tropical fruit and honey.  Flavors are similar, with added notes of mineral and lemon.  It is round and fat, with good acidity, and medium length.  This is a charming wine, clean, fresh, crisp and bright.  Given its lemony acidity, the wine pairs well with poultry, gratins and quiche. 2-yellow-stars

The wine is 100% Chardonnay from the Maconnais region where the vineyard is next door to Pouilly-Fuisse.  The word Vinzelles translates to small vines.  The wine goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and then is aged 8-10 months in stainless steel.  I paid $8 for the wine, most likely on a closeout sale, because elsewhere the price ranges from $13-18.  But, even at the higher price, it is still a good value.

Ron Brown, one of our contributing editors, tasted and reviewed these wines with me.