“Most of the guests who stay here wouldn't know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” -----  John Cleese(Basil Fawlty) Fawlty Towers

Red wine, orange, rose and white; dry wine and sweet, sparkling wine – each adds to the buffet of our lifestyles that rotates with the occasion and season and the meal being served. Fruit forward or reserved and earthy, these styles too await the matching circumstance to show themselves at their best. And then, another category: from what I call “safe” wines.  These are not wines to contemplate analytically. They are simply enjoyable. They’re safe because they fit a  niche that requires easy drinking and socialization.  “Safe” wines are those that are the best choice for serving at a mixed group get together.  “Safe” wines are pleasurable to drink and serious enough so that advanced wine consumers won’t be against having a glass. Any large get together folds in people with different palates, but what is commonly shared is that they would like to spend time with you.  That can’t be done if you spend all your time hidden away opening bottles after looking through your racks wondering what to open next, and then next and then…

And then there’s the economics. Do you really want to open a Romanee-Conti for a mixed group that’s certain to include those who wouldn’t understand it?  Save those bottles for when they fit the required circumstance.  On the other hand, showing your guests what you think of them with a $5 bottle is showing them what you think of them.

I tasted Donati’s 2012 red blend and immediately thought it would fit nicely into both the everyday drinking and the “safe” wine category. With an ARP of $17, (found at $14.99) it’s affordable, one of the criteria for inclusion into this class.  It’s also well made. A blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, it is a classic “old world” blend from “new world” California vines.  Medium bodied and fruit forward, the wine presents a pleasing taste of blackberry, plum and black cherry fruit that is enjoyable by itself.  Not jammy and not cloying, the fruit is balanced nicely against acidity and picks up secondary character from 19 months aging (19% new French, 3% new American and 78% neutral oak).  With hints of earth, chocolate, cassis, violet and spice, the wine offers enough substance for “serious” wine drinkers to be able to enjoy it.

Grapes are from their vineyards in the Paicines AVA within the larger San Benito County AVA in the center of Coastal California.  This area has been under cultivation since its Mission Days, giving way later to wine giant Almaden which was sold and split up in the 1980s. Although several vineyards border the Paicines, the Donati Family Vineyards are, so far, the only winery-vineyard brand contained within this sub-appellation. South of San Jose and east of
Monteray, the AVA is located within Davis Class II where acreage is less costly than their neighbors more coastal. And while warmer than nearby regions within San Benito County, the Paicines appellation enjoys cooling breezes of ocean air from the cold Monterrey Bay which serves to cool temperatures overnight and extend hang time. (U of Davis classifies regional climates from 1 [the coolest] to 5, with zones 1-3 considered most suitable for production of premium wines).  

I was attracted to this bottle by its unpretentious use of the term “Claret” on the label.  In fact the winemaker’s own notes state, “Fruit forward and easy drinking by design….” Tannins are soft and rounded, fruit is forward and evident, but not syrupy and is presented in balance. Easy drinking, it’s a crowd pleaser.  91 points from Wine Enthusiast and awarded an “Editor’s Choice,” it also took GOLD at the 2015 San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition.  And your kids won’t need to go barefoot because at prices under $17, you can buy them shoes and some DFW Claret and still have some money left over for the get together.

……………… Jim
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Fermentation:                         Stainless, 100%
Twice daily punch downs & pump overs
Alc:                                          13.8% ABV
Bottled:                                   May 5-7, 2014
Cases:                                      9490

Donati Family Vineyard
2720 Oakview Rd
Templeton CA 93465


  1. I just shared a bottle of the 2016 Claret and I think that all aspects of this review hold true with the 2016 vintage. Jim, thanks for the thoughts, info and insight!
    -Milwaukee Mike

    1. And thank YOU Milwaukee Mike. I don't get much exchange with people on the blog and so (forgive me) have been doing more on Facebook as Wine Mizer. It's kind of you to offer a comment and your kindness is appreciated. Sante! And stay safe.