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Run for the Red Hills

The Red Hills Appellation of California is wildly beautiful terrain. In addition to its natural beauty, it's a region known for some remarkably delicious Lake County wines.

The area boasts some of the cleanest air in the United States and perches on heights that provide lots of unfiltered sunlight and well-drained, obsidian and volcanic soils.

These characteristics create perfect growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon -- as well as other rich red grapes by Petit Syrah and Syrah.

The terroir and abundance of the region is something winery owner and founder Tuck Beckstoffer recognized. Beckstoffer, who I last visited with early last year over lunch at Noble Fare, is a pioneer, a wine adventurer and storyteller. He possesses an amazing palate and the ability to size up vineyard lands with uncanny and predictable success.

He founded The 75 Wine Company in 1975, a year that we may one day look back on as a cultural linchpin: It was the year Saturday Night Live debuted, the year Bill Gates founded Microsoft -- and don't forget the first vintage of these juicy Lake County reds.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is bold and powerful -- and certainly is the hallmark of Red Hills Cabs.

The Sauvignon Blanc breaks the mold for California Sauv Blancs. Of course, there's nice acidity on the finish -- lending great food friendly traits to the wine -- but count on a palate-pleasing collections of flavors ranging from tropical melons to sweet, wild honeysuckle.

I detect a little toastiness -- not like oak but like sweet yeastiness from home-baked white bread.
Beckstoffer, who is fostering a project in South America, promised me that I had never tasted the best Malbec from that continent. Now, he introduces a new wine from 75 Wines that takes my breath away.

The inaugural vintage of "The Sum" is a Cabernet-based blended red wine that must be smelled and tasted to be believed.

Spices notes reminiscent of cinnamon, cedar and rich, ripe cherries and stone fruits slipped over the edge of the glass as I raised it to my nose. A quick swirl only intensified the experience and left me quietly oooohing to myself with joy. This is one to be savored.

Layers of flavor taunt your palate and dare you to identify the flavors. I can definitely say you'll detect ripe, dark berries -- blackberry, currant and sweet dates. Tannins and oak play roles -- but this wine is built on precise balance and careful blending.

Remember, it's based in Cabernet Sauvignon, but has a splash of Petit Syrah and Syrah. And if you think Beckstoffer tosses 'em all into a barrel for aging together, you'd be sadly mistaken. Each varietal is held separately and aged for a minimum of 14 months in 80 percent new French oak.

Only then does blending begin -- it's a process that can take up to three months. The blended wine is aged another three months and assessed again before bottling.

The good news is that this limited availability wine will not set you back a day's pay. It's available for around $22.99 -- a great example of a wine that drinks far bigger than its price tag.

It's sippable for sure -- or pair this with aged cheeses, grilled meats or braised meats like pork cheek or wild boar.