Your Thursday wine: Decoy Sonoma County Red Wine


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“THE EVERDAY wine for the well-informed” certainly sums it up. That’s the message on the back label of every bottle of Decoy, a brand invented by the people at Napa Valley’s venerable Duckhorn Vineyards to create wines that overachieve at their price point. At $20 to $25 a bottle, however, the Decoy niche is best described as “affordable luxury” rather than “affordable.” The brand is a bridge for consumers to Duckhorn’s premium wines. Decoy’s varietals are all from Duckhorn’s Sonoma County estate vineyards and other top sites. They are made under the watchful eye of Dana Epperson, whose credentials equip her for the job. And if Dana needs help, she calls on the rest of Duckhorn’s winemakers — who work as a team. Production of the Decoy brand over the last five years has mushroomed — to put it mildly. Decoy is a hot item because the quality is amazing.

BUT LET ME let me back up a few steps in the Decoy story to pass on big news at the parent winery, Duckhorn Vineyards, which built its reputation on world-class Merlot from its Three Palms Vineyard. The wine giant has purchased the famous site on the northeast side of Napa Valley from Sloan and John Upton for an undisclosed sum. Duckhorn’s first vintage of Three Palms Merlot was 1978.

Decoy Red Wine Sonoma County 2012, $25: This red beauty is the wine that kicked off the Decoy brand 25 years ago and spawned the portfolio we know today. This vintage is a blend of 62 percent Merlot, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Zinfandel and the remainder Cabernet Franc. The 2012 vintage yielded wines of extreme lushness and ripeness, as demonstrated by the bold fruit of cassis, cherry and plum infused with French oak and fleshed out with the spice of Zinfandel and dark berries of Cabernet Franc. It’s harvested off 19 vineyards and aged 12 months in French oak. It’s delicious!

Decoy Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2013, $25: Just let this baby sit in the glass and relax — it unfolds into this rich, complex red wonder with rich notes of cherry, blueberry, lavender and sage punctuated with a dash of white pepper. It’s made off vineyards in Russian River and Carneros, including the highly regarded Sangiacomo and Dutton Ranch vineyards. Judicious use of new French oak helps make the wine more approachable.

Decoy Merlot Sonoma County 2013, $25: Duckhorn has long been a Merlot house in Napa Valley. This wine — 100 percent Merlot — is from Sonoma. It has all the character worthy of Duckhorn production: big fruit, lush tannins, density, acidity for balance, a wonderful infusion of French oak. Think flavors of ripe plum, cherry, dark chocolate, and spice. It’s still young and tightly wound, but the lush flavors and tannins pull you in.

Decoy Zinfandel Sonoma County 2013, $25: These reds — they drive you crazy they are so good. This baby is from epic vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. It’s fresh, vibrant, intense and concentrated, with great balance — so spicy, so packed with blackberry, blueberry, cherry fruit, white pepper, dark chocolate, espresso. Tannins are like velvet.

Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2013, $25: This Cab is still young, tightly woven, with bigtime dusty tannins coating the mouth, and flavors of cassis, cherry, dark chocolate. The Cabernet grapes in this wine are mostly from the Alexander Valley, but it also includes fruit from Duckhorn’s own Ridgeline and Brownell vineyards and some mountain fruit. The grapes were so perfect there was very little blending with other varietals.

Decoy Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2014, $20: Styles of Sauvignon Blanc abound — grassy, herbal, tropical, oak-infused. This one takes an elegant, appealing approach with tons of lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin orange, and undertones of herbs and minerality. This a subtle hint of honey in the midpalate. Texture in the mouth is like silk. It sees no oak.

Decoy Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013, $20: Produced primarily off vineyards in the Russian Viver Valley and Carneros, and crafted around a core of 30 percent Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay, this is quite the wine. It’s rich, intensely aromatic and packed with ripe tropical fruit. Again, there’s judicious use of oak — only 10 percent of the wine sees barrels, which broadens the mouth feel and supports the fruit. Think ripe pear and Honey Crisp apple, lemon, pineapple and a subtle herbal-minerality in the midpalate.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at