New-release wines from Ancient Peaks offer good value across styles

August 28, 2021

I was provided a selection of three Ancient Peaks new-release wines from Margarita Ranch Vineyards in southern Paso Robles to evaluate.

Margarita Ranch is located in the coolest part of Paso, with as much as 50-degree temperature swings day to night, a variety of soil types, and several separate microclimates caused by the tectonic activity that raised the peaks from the nearby Pacific Ocean floor.

The 2020 Chardonnay is a delightful surprise. RRs may remember that 2020 was a very difficult year in Paso, both with weather and its rash of fires.

Lovely golden-colored, the Chard opens to lemon and butter with hints of oak and melon aromas. On the round palate, it’s buttery with vanilla, olive oil and barrel notes. Pleasing long, clean finish. An excellent entry-level Chardonnay, 89 McD. I’ve seen cases on sale at $177. The 2018 and ‘19 are also safe buys.

The 2018 Renegade is blended of 38% Syrah, 36% Malbec and Petit Verdot. It is inky dark with blueberry, herbs, pencil shavings and toasted oak bouquet. A rich palate with black cherry and blackberry, nuanced with cocoa, tobacco and more barrel spice rides sufficient acidity and slightly elevated tannic frame though a long finish. Don’t worry about the tannins. The very dark color says age me, and they will incorporate. May be their best since the 2013 and ‘14 vintages. The 2018 is just hitting the market and it is priced under $25, McD 91.

Cabernet fans will love their $19, 91 McD 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon with its bouquet of boysenberry (a blackberry, raspberry, dewberry, loganberry cross) and black currant with tobacco back note. On the palate, blueberry, cherry and blackberry notes are augmented by black olive, vanilla and mint. Smooth tannins and proper acidity complete the package. Ancient Peaks also produces a fine, fairly priced Zin, and their upper-scale Oyster Ridge red blend rates above 90 points at $ 55. 

Zinfandel aficionados recognize Martinelli’s Jackass Hill Vineyards, planted in the 1880s, as one of the best in Sonoma. Barbara and I visited there and were surprised how steep the property is. In fact, it is the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma, with a 60-degree slope. So named because Grandpa Giuseppe is credited with the comment, “Only a jackass would farm a hill that steep.” What few know is that Martinelli also produces several other Zin labels that are consistently rated in the 90s and far more affordable. Jackass Hill RRV Zin is nearly impossible to find, but if found may set you back close to $250-$300/bottle. Not exactly a spaghetti-and-meatballs or pizza price. The 96-point 2018 is findable around $296. Just entered its window but better in 2025-30. All reports claim the 2019 is better still. I’m recommending their Giuseppe and Luisa label, any vintage 2016-19, under $60 rated 92 points or better. The 2019 is excellent for patient purchasers. From a 30-year-old vineyard initially planted with Jackass Hill and Jackass Vineyard cuttings, this is medium purple with ruby rim, a complex, silky, spicy, beauty with berry flavors and a spicy nose showing lavender, cinnamon, mint. Proper tannic support through a long, minerally finish. Acidity keeps it clean.

There is some 2016 available in Claymont for honest, law-abiding citizens. I think some raters did this wine a disservice by leading that it had prune aromas, normally associated with Sangiovese, Barbera and some S. Rhone and Languedoc-Roussillon wines. How many here read prunes and think uggh. Prune is common to many full-bodied reds with concentrated fruit flavors and oak notes from barrel aging. When the aroma is pronounced, it indicates possible premature aging or overripe grapes. Read more at I found it noteworthy that these same reviewers awarded 92-93 points, obviating the “pruno” negativity. McD prefers fruit-forward, concentrated, ripe, jammy black fruit with barrel spice, mocha, cigar box, full-bodied with slightly elevated tannins and mouthwatering acidity to support and keep the long finish clean and lively. Those who wish to learn what well-made, aged Zinfandel should be will do themselves a favor by finding this wine. An affordable bellwether around $60.

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