At the store: I was scouting the perimeter of the wine department at Costco this week and spotted the Kirkland Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, $9.99, and picked up a bottle. What a surprise. This is as good as any Zin from a top-flight Sonoma winery: tannins as smooth as silk; ripe, berried, spicy fruit that is Not Sweet! Good balance. And body — 15.3 percent alcohol. Lift a glass to your nose: ripe blackberries, cherries, dark chocolate, vanilla and spice. This is fruit that’s shriveled and raisined off old vines — shrubs, not on trellises. At least, that’s what I am guessing. Folks, it’s the real deal if you love Zins. News tip: You don’t have to be a member to buy wine at Costco in Michigan, but get a pass at the desk to shop for it.
Michigan find: St. Julian Braganini Reserve Cabernet Franc Lake Michigan Shore 2010, $20: Nancie Corum Oxley, winemaker at St. Julian, gives this varietal Burgundian panache — not the dense, intense, concentrated, almost port-like personality, but a style that imparts the virtues of the grape without the hammer. It’s got that herbacous, cranberry, dark cherry nose. Even some saddle leather. In the mouth, it has good balance of fruit and acidity. There is no green, stemmy character, as some cool-climate Cab Francs can have. It’s quite elegant. Perfect to pour with robust stews, roasts and pastas, and more delicate veal and pork. Find it at the tasting rooms.
Headliner: Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2009, $75. This is the 20th edition of this famous “five varieties” blend that Wine Spectator made so famous as its 1999 “Wine of the Year.” From that point on, the wine went from an $18-$22 bottle to $75 today. I have tasted and loved many of the previous vintages, but the new 2009 is spectacular. Silken tannins, layers of flavor, a laser-sharp focus on each varietal in the blend. It’s like a symphony. It’s not so much black currant but Sonoma’s blackberry, plum, clove and cherry fruit; aromas are black tea, roasted coffee, cherry. Tannins are burnished; good acidity and integration of the oak helps bind the package. It’s a lovely wine. You hate to muck it up with food. Fine French or English country cheeses might be better. The blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Winemaker Margo Van Staavearen has been involved in its production since the inaugural harvest in 1990. (I was lucky to taste a sample from the winery, but it’s available if you check at wine stores.)
Postmark Argentina: Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina 2011, $13: Another great taste from the Catena family — and affordable at the top asking price of about $13, but probably on sale. It’s red berries, ripe plums, cocoa and cola through and through. Tannins are supple; it has the acidity for balance. It spends enough time in oak to broaden the mouthfeel and add some spice and vanilla. Thank you, Argentina and the Cantenas for affordable quality like this. The Catena family has been a force in raising the quality of wines in Argentina. Their Malbec is another winner. Find the wines all over Metro Detroit including Meijer. My book pile right now has “Vineyard at the End of the World” by Ian Mount on top. He goes into great detail about the rise of the Catena family and their influence on modern winemaking in Argentina. Alamos is made for the U.S. market and is sold under the Gallo umbrella.