The story: It is my opinion that many wine geeks bypass some of the large producers simply because they are large producers. Yet I have come across several of these massive producers who turn out middle and upper lines of wine that are truly great, indicative of their region, and still somewhat affordable. Companies like Chateau Ste. Michelle, BV, and Robert Mondavi jump instantly to mind. One could argue the merits of the plonky, ordinary, non-distinct lines as decreasing the validity of the overall brand, but could inversely argue that it is precisely these lesser lines that enable the good stuff at the prices we like. Since I ultimately care more about finding good juice at a good price, I'll argue the latter.
One such brand is Blackstone Winery from Sonoma whose entire line is built on the success of their $8 merlot. Along with a whole line of varietally specific entry level wines Blackstone is a very common wine to see on the shelves of your supermarket or Target. The mid level wines Blackstone produces are called their Sonoma Reserve wines, and are priced just under $20. The fruit used for these wines is more carefully selected, and the vinification process looks to produce wines of distinction and balance.
The wine: The Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Merlot 2007 is a dark nearly opaque wine that fades to a translucent clear white edge. The nose is a bit reticent with hints of plum and plum skin, a bit of mint, and some dusty oakiness. The palette shows a bit of ripe dark fruit up front, has a bit of a hole in the middle, and finishes with a rather rich earthiness full of dark berries and licorice spice.
The verdict: This is not a bad wine, a bit of fakey wood flavor and a hollow middle were a bit disappointing, but it had a nice body and a good tannin and acid structure. The wine certainly comes across as a much nicer wine to drink than the entry level wines and for the price increase (approximately $8 more) I think it is worth it. If a wine that is rather easy to drink, uncomplicated, but still has a deliciousness and hints of serious is what you are looking for, this is your wine.
This wine was provided as a sample with intent to review.