The panel, from left, Rick Sobey, Kori Tuitt, Chris Lisinski, Alana Melanson, Grant Welker, Richard Rourke, Jim Campanini
The panel, from left, Rick Sobey, Kori Tuitt, Chris Lisinski, Alana Melanson, Grant Welker, Richard Rourke, Jim Campanini

'Tis the season for picking out a special wine for the connoiseur on your list.

The Mill City Oenophile Club, comprised of Sun reporters and editors, met recently at Ricardo's Trattoria in Lowell for a splendid evening of food and wine tasting. The panel, which included Richard "Ricardo" Rourke himself, blind-tasted six wines in three varietal categories.

The goal was to evaluate the wines individually and assign each a score (5-point system, with "5" being the best) in five categories -- appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish.

The beauty of the exercise proved there is a wine to fit every palate preference and price point.

In the end, club members gave all six wines a unanimous stamp of approval.

Nobilo Pinot Noir
Nobilo Pinot Noir

Category 1: Pinot Noir

  • Nobilo Pinot Noir 2014, New Zealand, $22 -- Opening the session with a persnickety varietal is always risky, but this Marlborough version registered excitement. "Very smooth, subtle, spicy notes" raved one taster. Another gushed "fine cherry flavors, simple yet pleasing aroma, nice weight" on the palate. I detected fresh rose petal, raspberry and cherry notes. It exhibited a multi-layered, elegant finish. According to the winemaker's notes, the grapes are cold-soaked for five days prior to crushing, which builds extract intensity. It can be cellared for 2-4 years.
  • Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2014, Napa Valley (Carneros), $27 -- The group gave it a slightly lower overall score than its category mate, although two judges rated it their favorite. "Beautiful ruby color, ripe strawberry flavors, silky dry, and nice oakiness" were the tasting highlights. A "soothing" mouth feel also mattered, they said. Others said it was "short" on fragrance and finish.

Category 2: Mixed Varietals


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Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir
  • Red Truck California Red Wine 2014, Sonoma, $10.99 -- It was only natural that the "sweetness" of this wine's ripe fruit would register a mixed reaction from a group preferring dryness. Still, all agreed that Fred and Nancy Cline, owners of Cline Cellars, have produced a nice, easy-drinking, everyday red blend (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Merlot). "Intense dark ruby color, candied cherries, juicy" were the top comments. It's a decent bargain.
  • Robert Mondavi Merlot 2013, Napa Valley, $23 -- This dark plum-colored beauty garnered six of seven perfect scores for appearance. It rated well across the board. "Velvety smooth, nice medley of blueberry, plum and cherry flavors" wrote one taster. "Good flow," said another.
    Red Truck California Red Wine
    Red Truck California Red Wine
    I was bowled over by its rich aromas, refined texture, and dry, enduring finish. If this is Mondavi's entry-level Merlot, it's definitely among the leaders of the pack.

Category 3: Cabernet Sauvignon

Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon
Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, $28 -- This wine tallied a session-leading 16 perfect "5" scores -- at least one in each review category -- and garnered top honors by two judges. The most perceptive comment went like this: "Many, many fruits -- discernible. Enjoyed the chocolate (cherry) flavors as well. This is tremendous." Another said it was "enchanting," noting the "dark cocoa and chocolate-coated cherry" taste and "exquisite," drying finish. Winemaker Genevieve Janssens probably said it best: "Robert Mondavi built his reputation" on Cabernet Sauvignon like this. Simply outstanding at $28 a bottle. 
  • Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, $60 -- The panel's top-scoring wine, narrowly edging the aforementioned Mondavi, it received14 perfect scores across the five categories, with the majority coming for taste and finish. In my view, Acumen is powerful and classically balanced in every way. Two judges ranked it their favorite wine. The comments were dead on: "Very classy, richly layered in blackberries, plummy, so smooth and velvety, refined, toasty vanilla finish." Also detected were figs and chocolate. Sadly, the original winemaker, Denis Malbec, died in a tragic auto accident earlier this year, but his beautiful craftsmanship lives on in this premium Cabernet Sauvignon that is well worth the asking price. However, for more value, try Acumen's Red Blend, discounted from $55.99 to $24.99 at several New Hampshire wine outlet locations.

The scores

  1. Acumen -- 150 points (21.5 average score)
  2. Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon -- 149.5 points (21.35 average)
  3. Mondavi Merlot -- 142 points, (20.3 average)
  4. Nobilio Pinot Noir -- 137 points, (19.6 average)
  5. Red Truck Blend -- 122 points., (17.4 average)
  6. Mondavi Pinot Noir -- 113.5 points, (16.2 average)

Tasting panel: Rick Sobey, Kori Tuitt, Chris Lisinski, Grant Welker, Alana Melanson, Richard Rourke, Jim Campanini