Russ Winton: Wine List

Wine Line: So many wines, so little time

Russ Winton

The best way to learn about wine is to go wine tasting and the best time to do that is now. In the next few weeks many wineries will have passport weekends, which means you purchase a passport or wineglass at the start of your journey and visit as many wineries as you wish. It is a great opportunity to learn about wine, the various wine regions, nibble on great foods, listen to music and perhaps purchase some great wine. Here are some wine weekends I highly recommend.

Madera Wine Trail

The family wineries of the Madera Wine Trail will host "Wine and Chocolate Weekend" on Feb. 14-15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wine lovers may purchase a $20 Passport wine glass at any of the participating wineries either day of the event. This is a great opportunity to do some tasting close to home and support the local wineries. For more information on participating wineries call (800) 613-0709 or go to

Valentine's passport

The 12 vintners along Monterey's River Road Wine Trail want to share the love! Rare vintages, fun, food, custom chocolates and entry into a grand drawing are promised on Feb. 14. This is one of my favorite wine regions. The River Road wineries remind me what Napa was like 30 years ago -- small friendly wineries which produce outstanding wines. Passports are $25 if purchased before Feb. 1. Go to

President's Wine Weekend

The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, which includes 25 wineries, is hosting the President's Wine Weekend on Feb. 14-15. There will be special barrel tastings, new wine releases and food available at each winery. The cost is just $10 for a CWA logo glass, good for both days and available at all participating wineries. Go to

ZAP Festival

At last year's Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Festival, 273 wineries poured nearly 550 different Zinfandels. It's no wonder that it is referred to as the "Grand Tasting." If you are a Zin lover, this is the tasting for you! The event will take place on Jan. 31 at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 2-5 p.m. The tickets are $69 and each attendee receives a commemorative wineglass and a baguette. For information and tickets go to

What's On Our Table

2005 Avalon Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

This is the best Cabernet for less than $15 I have tasted in many years. Avalon produces only Cabernet Sauvignon. The California appellation is good but the Napa Valley appellation is very, very good. It is 86 percent Cabernet with Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah making up the balance. It has dark ruby colors with aromas of smoke, black currants and spice. It is silky and ripe, medium bodied with a nice long finish. Avalon lists the wine for about $15 but I found it at Costco for less than $11 a few months ago. BevMo has it in stock, as well as K&L Liquors in San Francisco and I have seen the Avalon label at Raley's. In these tough economic times, buying four $12 Cabs may make more sense than buying one high priced Cabernet for $50. Cheers!

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