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Wine Review: Capturing the dream of high-class wines for low prices

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Have you ever captured your dream or even come close? My dream has been to sample a $10 bottle of wine that drinks like a $100 bottle of wine.

Please don’t get your hopes up and expect me to write about one; it has not happened yet. But I have found some affordable wines from Cycles Gladiator that have come very close to my dream. I’d like to share them with you.

Cycles Gladiator 2018 Pinot Noir ($13)
If you have read me for any length of time, you know that I glory in the title of “pinot noir curmudgeon.” I will not write about any pinot noir that does not live up to my expectations. The Cycles Gladiator 2018 Pinot Noir deserves to be written about. The Cycles vintners carefully selected grapes from various prime pinot noir regions in California, including Edna Valley, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, Monterey County and Anderson Valley. I will not go into any long-winded and flowery description of this wine, but I will tell you it brought a smile to my face. For a pinot noir curmudgeon, that smile tells the whole story.

Cycles Gladiator 2017 Merlot ($13)
I don’t know how the heck the vintners could get grapes from the famed Margarita Vineyards of Paso Robles in California and still keep the price affordable, and I’m afraid to find out. This is a beautiful example of a variety that has been mistreated by so many other California vintners, resulting in a drop in its popularity. This merlot features chocolate and cherry as the main aromas and flavors that continue on to the long finish. My comment on this wine: I’m still smiling.

Cycles Gladiator 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)
I’m not sure if I should call it a religious experience or a great enlightenment, but my faith in affordable quality wines has been reestablished. Cabernet sauvignon is the world’s most popular red wine variety, and any interloper into this assemblage that does not meet the quality standards expected of the variety is immediately disregarded and discarded. This cabernet sauvignon displays all of the flavors and aromas that the name implies. The aroma is fruity and laced with cherry, raspberry and plum. In the mouth the wine is big, bold and concentrated, featuring dark fruit and oak, because the wine was cask-aged for 12 months.

Cycles Gladiator 2018 Petite Sirah ($13)
This is a dynamic and expansive wine, that has been aged for 13 months in oak. It displays dark summer berries and chocolate as dominating aromas and flavors, with obvious hints of vanilla and oak. The finish is long, laced with the impression of blueberries and cracked black pepper. If you have never tried a petite sirah, try this one and perhaps get a new favorite.

Cycles Gladiator 2018 Chardonnay ($13)
This one is hard. I have tasted so many mediocre and downright poor chardonnays in recent years that I approach the variety with much trepidation. This bargain basement chard totally fooled me; it was one of the best I have tasted in a long time regardless of price. Half the batch of wine was aged in French oak barrels and half in American oak, which resulted in a well-balanced chardonnay and one that came close to my dream. All of the flavors and aromas that should be a chardonnay are right there and not hidden in a cloud of oak. If you have become bored with the chardonnay losers on the market today, try this one. It will brighten your day and your pallet as it did mine.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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