Boedecker Cellars “Stewart” pinot noir review

5 12 2012

Boedecker Cellars pinot noir reviewToday, it’s a 2009 pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, which I purchased online for $34.

I have a crush on Athena Pappas.  Unfortunately, today’s pinot noir is named after her HUSBAND, Stewart Read the rest of this entry »





Bridlewood cabernet sauvignon review

5 11 2012

Tonight we check out a 2009 cabernet from California’s Paso Robles area, which goes for about $13 at Total Wine and more elsewhere.

Bridlewood cab has some big things going for it.  The label rocks.  I mean, you look at it, and you just WANT this wine.  Plus, it’s only Read the rest of this entry »





Jacob’s Creek reserve cabernet sauvignon mini review

15 09 2012

Here’s a quickie for you:  Jacob’s Creek 2009 reserve cab is just $10.50 at Total Wine.

Although it had a nice texture, this wine from Australia’s Coonawarra region was too sweet for my tastes, and didn’t really taste like a cabernet.  I wanted to like it, because their reserve shiraz is very good for the money.  Unfortunately, Jacob’s Creek 2009 reserve cabernet is:

Not recommended.





artezin zinfandel review: ACH-CHOO!!!

4 04 2012

Today we look at a $15 California red zinfandel from 2009.

Hey!  It’s spring of 2012, it’s pretty outside, and you might be in a hurry.  So let me break this down quickly for you.  The 2009 artezin zinfandel has a cool label, it’s affordable, it smells complex and wonderful, and on your tongue it gives you:

1.  high-quality, freshly-ground pepper that may make you sneeze,

2.  black licorice, and

3.  drum roll…. it’s not too sweet.

Plus at 14.5% alcohol, it will rock your block.  I love this wine!  It has its own flavor, not that typical California red goulash.  THANK you, artezin, from Hess vineyards.  You have blessed us with a red that we can take to any party and show people that we are on the “inside track,” while not breaking the bank.

In the realm of $10-20 wines, artezin zinfandel  is sophisticated, deep, dark, and delicious.  And it is definitely:

Recommended.





Jacob’s Creek reserve shiraz review: WHAT WHAT!!

2 01 2012

Today it’s a 2008 Australian shiraz that goes for $9.99.

Question!   How is this intense, spicy wonder only 10 bucks?!  It used to be $11 or more.  In my last review of Jacob’s Creek reserve shiraz, I said the 2006 was a good buy, but not the best year for this stout red wine.   

But today’s 2008 reserve, which also carries the name Barossa, and still comes with a real cork and everything, is a huge taste winner.  It’s more delicious, AND cheaper, AND more complex.  

That combination threatens to topple the current all-time Wineguider red wine value winner, Koonunga Hill shiraz/cabernet from Penfolds (reviewed here).  I will edit this (see below) to let you know.  For now, get ready for a subtle aroma of spice, impressive “Napa cab”-like tannins, and a big, warm taste of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and a little rhubarb.  Plus subtle blackberry, and no sweet blueberry pie in the face, as is so common with shiraz from down under.   

Jacob's Creek reserve shirazA Best Value winner at $10, and highly recommended anywhere up to $15.

EDIT:   After several bottles, I have decided not to dethrone Koonunga Hill shiraz/cabernet, for one reason:  I have found the 2008 Jacob’s Creek reserve shiraz to be inconsistent.  Some bottles have been wonderful; others have been pretty bad.   I don’t know if this is the fault of the winery, the importer, the store, or what.  But at this low price, it’s still very much worth checking out.





Columbia-Crest Grand Estates cabernet sauvignon review

24 12 2011

Today it’s a 2009 cabernet from Washington State that costs about $8.  At this price, can it possibly be any good?

Yes!  In fact this wine is unbelievably good, for $8.  Spicy, with rich, medium-to-heavy mouthfeel.   A good balance between cranberry/black cherry sweetness and rhubarb tartness, with just the right amount of oak.  It’s also surprisingly interesting, maybe due to the 7% merlot and 6% syrah added by winemaker Ray Weinberger.

Overall, Columbia Crest Grand Estates cabernet performs way above its class.  In a blind comparison with $12 and $16 cabs, Columbia Crest nearly tied — an extraordinary result for an $8 red.  It came in 3rd because it was a little too sweet, and it has some of that generic mass-produced red wine taste.  But at this low price, I’m not complaining, I’m raving. 

Columbia Crest Grand Estates cabernet reviewRecommended, and a clear Best Value winner. 

 





Heron cabernet sauvignon review: GOLDILOCKS, I THINK I LOVE YOU

20 08 2011

Hello!  Up next in our special series of affordable cabernets with one-word names that start with H, we have Heron, a $13 cab from Mendocino, California’s 2009 vintage.

WOW, what’s up with Heron??  This cab is only $13, yet it has exactly what I want: dark ruby color, plentiful tannins, that warm black raspberry/currants taste, and a medium-to-heavy feel.  It improved on day 2, but I was happy when it was first uncorked.  The noticeable oak is like the middle dish in that bedtime story: “just right.”  In fact, Heron cabernet does almost nothing wrong, and as a bonus, it’s only 13% alcohol.  So it won’t rock your block.  Unless you drink the whole bottle in one sitting, which you will be tempted to do.  

This $13 wonder gets a “Best Value” award.  Even at $18 (which is what Total Wine charges, for some reason), the price would seem right.  Still going strong on day 3, this lovely California girl is:

Highly recommended.





Plungerhead zinfandel review: WHOA, DOGGY!

15 08 2011

Today it’s a 2009 old vine zinfandel from California’s Lodi area, which costs about $19.

This is a big one!!  The label is awesome: a guy with a plunger on his head.  It’s pretty hot when first opened, meaning, it smells and tastes of alcohol (it is 14.9% alcohol).  It’s also pretty darn spicy.  That’s a good thing.  More good stuff:  the medium-to-full-bodied texture is wonderful, and there is some nice complexity on your tongue that says HEY, this wine is better than a $9.99 special. 

In your nose, there is a bit more “rhubarb pie” sweetness than actually greets your taste buds.  Meaning, Plungerhead tastes more dry and balanced than it smells.

The problem is, for $19, I just didn’t warm up to the dense, spicy blueberry, rhubarb and eucalyptus flavors, as nicely put together as they are.  At $12, this would clearly get a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Although this zin with the big impact is obviously high quality, my picky, cranky self has decided that it is:

Not recommended.





La Crema Russian River pinot noir review: DAMMIT!

13 08 2011

Today we look at a 2009 pinot from California that costs $32-$40.  I found it at Total Wine for $36.

La Crema has been making good pinot noir for a long time.  They have various “levels” of pinot, including Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, Monterey (which we reviewed right here), and Russian River (today’s wine under review).  Prices for these varieties range from $17  to $90.  Ouch. 

The $36 Russian River pinot is ballsy.  Medium bodied, verging on full bodied.  Crack it open and buckle up — tart spices are about to invade your taste buds.  But first, when you smell it, you’ll get a nose full of clove and cinnamon, along with a brambly garden aroma of roses and mushrooms. 

On your tongue, there isn’t much cherry, which I usually expect from a California pinot noir.  Instead, there’s cola, alcohol, tart blackberry, and a kind of spicy pine forest taste with espresso-ish tannins.  It’s hard to describe.  It’s that “complex, beautiful-yet-kickass expensive California pinot” taste.  And it’s calling you back for more.  Dammit!

Recommended.





Van Der Heyden cabernet sauvignon review

10 08 2011

Hi!  TodayVan Der Heyden cabernet we break all the rules here at Wineguider by reviewing a 2002 Napa Valley cabernet that you probably can’t find at your local store.  Why?  Because it saved my Napa Valley wine tasting trip.  It cost me $50, but the price is $60 these days.

When you visit Napa, it’s all very beautiful, but after several wineries you begin to realize something:  many of the reds taste similar.  Cabernet, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, sometimes even pinot noir, all have this typical oaky California thing. 

Not Van Der Heyden.  We arrived at their tiny operation after enjoying two full days of sumptuous country clubbish dark-wooded wine bars.  The tasting room at Van Der Heyden was a trailer.  Hound dogs lay on the porch.  Cats roamed.  I started whistling the theme from Sanford & Son.  Should we even get out of the car?  We took a chance and went in.  Soon, a short Dutchman appeared and started talking very fast.  I could understand his longer-than-usual aging process, and a few other things, as he explained, basically, “here is why we make the best wine.”  Oh really, I thought. 

Then, as I realized we were speaking with Mr. Van Der Heyden, I tasted his merlot.  “Hmmm… wow.”  And the chardonnay.  “Jesus.”  (I usually hate California chardonnay.)  Then the cabernet sauvignon, the subject of this review:  Rich.  Different.  Exciting.  Like a warm raspberry, cranberry and rhubarb pie, it was not a dry red, but it wasn’t blatantly sweet either.  It had moderate tannins, with restrained oak.  He was right.  This was the best red wine we tasted on that trip.  Including the fancy tasting at Beringer, where you sample their $100-plus bottles.  Van Der Heyden’s cab was 50 bucks.  And it rocked, because it had a complexity all its own.  I hereby award it a “Best of the Best” designation.  Finally, his cabernet dessert wine (“Late Harvest”) was out of control.  Pornographic.  So good, I feared chronic addiction, especially because its price was over $100.

It’s pretty hard to find this wine, because it is sold mostly right out of that trailer.  And through their mailing list.  If you want something special, call them at 800-948-WINE and order a bottle (and maybe that dessert wine).  I think you’ll be glad you did.  

Highly recommended.





Shotfire shiraz review: DEBT LIMIT TONIC

28 07 2011

Hi!!  Tonight, as the United States dissolves into default on its obligations, we review an Australian shiraz from 2008 that costs $20 at Total Wine.

Well, well, well.  Here’s a delicious shiraz.  Importantly, for tonight’s governmental festivities, it has a stout 15% alcohol.  It’s spicy.  Dense.  Big.  Loaded with dry tobacco and juicy blueberries.  And yes!  Some chocolate.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM.  I’m drinking Shotfire together with another little Aussie shiraz from 2009 that I like to call, “Rosemount” (reviewed here).  It’s really good.  Although sorely lacking in House/Senate anesthetic potency — it has a meager 13.5% alcohol — it is in fact beautifully dense, warm, juicy, and spicy.  And it costs a big, fat, $6.50 at Total Wine.  Ha!  Less than 1/3rd the cost of Shotfire. 

Although Shotfire is clearly better, with more complexity, more transparency to its flavor, and more dry “snap” in your mouth to accompany its juicy warmth, it’s not 3 times better than Rosemount.  I’m not even sure it’s 2 times better.  So, it’s just too expensive.   Shotfire, at $20, although very nice to drink, is unfortunately:

Not recommended.





Norton merlot review: hell, the FALL will probably kill you

21 07 2011

Today we review a 2008 merlot from Mendoza Argentina, which cost me $9.

The smooth and soft texture of this merlot is lovely.  Its deep, dark ruby red color makes your mouth water.  And the label is very classy — at only $9, it looks like a $45 wine.  That can help a guy who’s making dinner for his date.

However, you’ll want your date to actually drink her wine.  Norton is OK, with a cigar-chomping / Anthony Quinn take on the usual merlot taste, but it’s not quite “good.”  There’s some Cheap Red Wine taste in there.  A little bitter, and hot, meaning you can really taste the 13.5% alcohol.

Although it has some nice leather and spicy-hot tobacco, Norton merlot from Argentina isn’t warm, comfortable and merlot-ish enough for me to encourage you to take the plunge.

Not recommended.  Maybe I should try something from Bolivia.





Argyle pinot noir review: TOUGH CALL

17 07 2011

Today it’s a 2009 pinot from Oregon that costs $23 at Total Wine.

Argyle pinot noir smells wonderful.  Cola, mushroom, rose petals, some fairly hot alcohol AND a kind of warm caramel all invade your sinuses as you bring this to your nose.  The problem: the taste, although satisfying, is maybe a little boring for a $23 pinot.  It’s definitely not bad, though.  Argyle pinot noir is:  Soft.  Complex, because you get more than one flavor.  But it’s not “super” complex.  I get cola and spicy rose petals.  Interesting.  And easy to drink.

This one is hard to judge.  In its favor: it tastes good, and is an elegant, warm, medium-bodied pinot from our nation’s very best producer of pinot noir (Oregon).  Against it: at this price — which disqualifies this wine as a daily drinker — there are other wines that will offer more of a “wow” experience.

I’ll choose to recommend Argyle, because it really is very good, it does nothing wrong, and it’s modestly priced  — among Oregon pinots (which in general are, admittedly, overpriced). 

Argyle pinot noir reviewRecommended.





Peirano Estate Heritage Collection petite sirah review: OH MAMA

30 06 2011

Hi!  This (hopefully) wraps up our special series of rushed, poorly written wine reviews of good wines.  Today we chug down a 2008 petite sirah from Lodi, California that costs around $13.

Peirano Estate is not super well-known, but the label says they have been growing grapes since 1895 (wow).  This Heritage Collection petite sirah is full bodied, super dark, deep, luscious, ripe, oaky, warm, and very juicy.  It has a medium-to-high amount of mouth-drying tannins, and it doesn’t have too much of any one thing, so its elements come together with impressive balance.  (Many petite sirahs can be tannic monsters.)

For $13, this wine is flat-out incredible.  I would have recommended it at $18.  The only thing that seems “less than $20″ about Peirano Estate Heritage Collection is that the various fruit flavors are hard to pin down — you just know you’re getting dark red and black fruits — and that’s fine.  It’s possible that you will find it too heavy, or just “too much,” but that’s true for any petite sirah.  This one is delicious, is hereby awarded a “Best Value” award, and is:

Peirano Estate Heritage Collection petite sirah review

Highly Recommended.





Project Paso red wine blend review: HEY NOW

3 06 2011

Today we look at the 2009 Project Paso red blend from Paso Robles California, which costs around $11.

This is a second label from Sebastiani.  It’s fun and flavorful, with an original personality that will save your life if you are bored to death with same-tasting California reds.  In fact, it is all-around excellent for an $11 wine.  At 14.8% alcohol, it will rock your block.  This is party wine, people.

The fun begins with the funky new unwrappable rubber “cork”, built into the red/orange lid.  Project Paso red blend smells like caramel.  When first opened, it is reserved, with pleasurable medium-bodied texture but mysterious flavors.  On Day 2 it blossoms, jammy, intense, and filled with deep dark fruit.  Moderate tannins.  Luscious black raspberry and cranberry flavors meet up with dark coffee and spices, spices, spices.  All with a slight “dusty” quality.  Brought to a dinner party recently, the bottle was quickly consumed.

A blend of grenache, zinfandel, petite sirah and mourvedre, Project Paso is a clear Best Value winner — hence the guy at the slot machine.  It is enthusiastically:

Project Paso red wine blend review

Recommended.





Wheelhouse cabernet review: YEAH, BABY

18 05 2011

Wheelhouse cabernet reviewHere’s a 2008 Napa Valley cabernet that sells at Cost Plus World Market for $13, on sale from $18.

Folks, the mission here is to review affordable wines that you can find.  Today, that rule is bent in case you are near a World Market, which has an exclusive on Wheelhouse.  Or near a restaurant that’s smart enough to carry this Napa Valley cab, like Columbus Inn on Pennsylvania Ave. in Wilmington, DE.

That’s because Wheelhouse cabernet is fresh, delicious, natural-tasting, dark-fruited, spicy, and I Can, Not, Stop, drinking it.  Wow — $13, for this?  Mouth-drying tannins, juicy dark cranberry flavors, combined with some oak, a hint of rhubarb and vanilla, and . . . drum roll please . . .  it’s not too sweet.  Medium-bodied, and light on its feet for a California cab, you can enjoy Wheelhouse with almost anything.  Not endlessly complex, but way more interesting than most California reds I’ve had under $20.

I would say that it’s great for a party, but you want this wine for yourself.  A humongous Best Value at $13, receiving a standing ovation at $18, and dangerously close to being awarded a “Best of the Best” designation at ANY price, Wheelhouse cabernet is:

Highly recommended.





Petite Petit red wine review: it goes to 11

17 05 2011

Today we review a very popular 2008 red blend that’s 85% petite sirah and 15% petit verdot.  It’s from California’s Lodi appellation and costs around $18.

This wine is powerful.  Which is what you expect if you’re familiar with these grapes with the dainty-sounding names.  Petite Petit is very juicy and jammy, yet also has medium-to-large amounts of tannins.  Dark purple in your glass, it tastes almost thick.  Somebody took “fruit bomb,” and turned it up to 11.  If you want a deep, extremely dark blackberry-ish red wine, Petite Petit is your answer.

It also has a fantastic label, something that Michael David winery seems to be very good at.

The problem is that the actual flavor of this wine is almost lost.  You’re too busy being overwhelmed by the big juiciness.  (And the feeling that your teeth are now purple.)  When you find them, the flavors in here aren’t really that delicious, so I would not spend another $18 on it.  I prefer this winery’s Incognito, which I reviewed here.

Not recommended.





Smoking Loon pinot noir review: TOUGH CALL

13 05 2011

This 2009 pinot noir from California sells for around $10 and inspires some very divided opinion.

Many wine reviewers love Smoking Loon pinot noir.  This review says, “the flavors started to explode, layers of dark cherries, spice, cocoa, and berries flowing together all framed together by a touch of oak.”   And this review called it a “winner.”

Then there’s this review, which says “if you switch to Smoking Loon after a true, decent pinot noir, it’s a knife in the throat, with the alcohol hitting your sinuses so intensely it’s almost like you took a swig of gasoline by mistake.”

As for yours truly, taking a big swig of this pinot caused me to wince uncontrollably.  Musky, a little dusty, weird, and a jumble of flavors that resist identification.  (Cherry?  Bacon?  No, I’m serious.)

Yet, I keep drinking it, trying to pin it down.  By this time, many other pinots have found their way into my garbage disposal.  Surprisingly, Smoking Loon is calling me back.  Bottom line:  this gets two reviews.  If you enjoy inexpensive pinot noirs generally, you just might like it, because you’re prepared for it.  If you really love high quality pinot noir, stay FAR away.





Uppercut cabernet review: VERY NOT BAD!?!

12 05 2011

Today we review a 2007 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that’s around $20.

Uppercut cabernet reviewHi there!  I bet you’re wondering if Uppercut cab is any good.  The answer is, yes!  It’s VERY good.  It’s reliable, won’t piss anybody off, and looks beautiful in your glass with its deep ruby red color.  At a recent mini-tasting at a nice restaurant, Uppercut was the stand-out cabernet winner: smells like cedar and vanilla.  Great mouthfeel, a deep, dark-fruited taste, and a finish that cries out for steak.  This wine does nothing wrong, balancing blackberry/cranberry fruit with oaky, mouth-drying tannins.

However!  “Not doing anything wrong” could be its downfall. Uppercut is a little bit regular.  At $20 a bottle, I’d like a little more personality, something quirky, something more memorable. Maybe that’s wishful thinking – let’s not forget, this bottle says “Napa Valley” on the label.  I think we’re paying something, just for that name.  If it were $15, Uppecut would be a HUGE recommendation, and a clear Best Value winner.  At $20, I am happy to say that it is:

Recommended.





Gordon Brothers merlot review: oh MAMA

11 05 2011

Today we look at a 2007 merlot from Washington state’s Columbia Valley that costs between $17 and $22.

Whoa.  This stuff is serious.  Super dark red, almost black.  Dense.  Warm.  I mean, really warm.  Fruit-forward.  Woody.  Hints of chocolate.  Excels at both flavor and mouthfeel.  Moderate tannins.  A gentle bite.  Smells like a spice box.

Delicious.

EDIT, Jan. 2013: The current 2008 vintage is similarly wonderful, although it is more fruit-forward than I remember the 2007 being, to the point where the 2008 verges on blatant sweetness.  I still love it.

I paid $22 at Total Wine for this mouth-watering wonder, and will gladly do so again.

Gordon Brothers merlot reviewHighly recommended.





Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes beaujolais review

9 05 2011

Before we begin I want you to know that I have very high regard for French wines.  In fact I believe that with barely any effort at all, they have the ability to kick our California wines all over the room.  When they feel like it, that is.

Now, today, we examine a $15 red from 2009 that I bought at Total Wine.   The bottle says “red burgundy.”  In fact, it is a beaujolais.  Ahh, yes, the French.  Their labels are so user-friendly.  Their marketing is just so spot-on, warmly welcoming Americans with their every move.  (You see, it can be a beaujolais and still have ‘burgundy’ written on the label, because beaujolais is one type of burgundy.)  (Ahhh, thank you . . . . wait – that still doesn’t make any sense . . . plus, what is beaujolais, exactly?  And burgundy?)  (Shut up.)  (Yes, thank you.)

Other fun things on this bottle for Americans include “MORGON” in massive letters, “Georges Duboeuf,” “Jean Descombes,” the very helpful “A. F.71570 Romaneche-Thorins,” and “W.J. Deutsch.”  Great.   Thanks.  Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  It never mentions beaujolais, and never tells you what gosh-darned grape this wine is made from.

(It’s gamay.) 

(“Oh,” I said, acting like that was helpful information.) 

In fact, after you study this bottle at the store, you would be forgiven for wondering, “so what the hell is this shit?”  Ahhh, but then you’re supposed to just drink it, and forgive.  Wine Spectator did, and they gave this dark purple juice a whopping 93.  That’s very, very impressive.

However, I do not give this juice a 93.  Or even a 92.  It tastes, fine — not great.  I do not want more and more.  It’s fairly simple, medium bodied, extremely fruit forward (strawberries and slightly stinky blackberries), yet also has a tannic bite that makes it feel dry in your mouth.  Kind of like Welch’s grape juice.  Actually, really a lot like Welch’s grape juice.  Athough it’s by no means terrible, even if it had a label that Americans could read, this red would remain:

Not recommended.





Kudos reserve pinot noir review – by Sybil

5 05 2011

This 2009 pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley costs $20 at Total Wine.

This pinot noir, made by the NW Wine Company, is pretty good.  Smells like real pinot.  Tastes like cherry.  Cola.  A little raspberry.  On the sweet side.  A little bit of that genuine pinot mushroomy spiciness.  It’s on the lightest side of medium-bodied and has a pleasant, dark rose color in your glass.

BUT!  it has a kind of washed-out taste.  Many reviews say, “bursting with flavors of …”  Kudos reserve isn’t bursting with anything.  My golden-palatted friends at a recent tasting liked it at first, but soured as they tasted it more.  And it tastes noticeably worse on Day 2.  In conclusion:

FOR NORMAL PEOPLE:  Although it’s good, I don’t think Kudos reserve is worth $20.  If it were $11, I would give it a hearty recommendation.  Unfortunately, it isn’t.  So, I am going to say that this low-pricer (for an Oregon pinot) is:

Not recommended.

FOR PINOT NOIR LOVERS:  Kudos reserve has that certain very real, Oregon pinot-ish something that the affordable California pinots are missing.  It’s a little boring, but the fact is, you cannot get better Oregon pinot for much less than this $20 price point.  For you pinot lovers, Kudos reserve is:

Recommended.

Very truly yours,

Sybil





Fabre Montmayou Barrel Selection malbec review: KICKASS

22 04 2011

Fabre Montmayou Barrel Selection malbec reviewToday we review a 2009 malbec from Argentina that costs $16.

  • HEY!  I think you’re going to want to try this rich, dark, dense, medium-bodied, blackberry-licious malbec.
  • 1.   First, malbec is the new merlot.  I mean, pinot noir.  (Or at least, it was a year ago.) 
  • 2.   Second, if you don’t try it, I’m going to say blackberry-licious again. 
  • 3.   Third, Fabre Montmayou is only $16 at the fascinating Veritas Wine & Spirits, at Wilmington DE’s riverfront. 
  • Bottom line, this is one of the best affordable malbecs I’ve ever tasted.  I hope you’ll give it a try, and leave a comment letting us know what you thought.
  • Recommended.




Ironberry cab/shiraz/merlot review: ??

13 04 2011

Today we look at a 2008 blend of cabernet (36%), shiraz (33%) and merlot (31%) from Australia that cost me $10 at Total Wine.

Wow, this one is tough.  At this low price, I feel as though I should like it.  It definitely tastes more expensive than most $10 wines.  It’s very dark, juicy, and even interesting.  Big.  A little smoky.  It smells mostly like shiraz – a kind of alcohol-intense blueberry compote.  Although it has more cab than anything else, this is not your dad’s California cabernet — that sort of west-coast U.S. cab is nowhere to be found here.  Rather, Ironberry tastes like a deep-fruit shiraz that has more mouth-drying tannins, more nameless red fruit, and less gooey-sweet blueberry.   

At only $10, this wine is definitely worth trying.  You may not love it, but as long as you enjoy “big” and fruit-forward reds, you probably won’t dislike it.

Ironberry cab/shiraz/merlot reviewRecommended.





Fog Head pinot noir review: nice name!

30 03 2011

Today we look at a 2008 “reserve” pinot noir from California’s Monterey area, which costs $17.

Fog Head reserve is good.  It does nothing wrong, which is a big score in the pinot world.  It has a nice cherry and cola taste, and doesn’t have too much alcohol.  But it’s a little too sweet, a little bland, has that strange “California pinot” taste (which does not actually taste like pinot noir) and it is not spicy, which I almost require before recommending a pinot.  At $10, this would be a definite recommendation.  Unfortunately, although very nice and friendly, and although it’s done nothing at all wrong, Fog Head reserve at $17 is:

Not recommended.





Coppola Director’s pinot noir review: Cut!

27 03 2011

Today’s wine is a 2009 pinot noir from California’s Sonoma coast, which costs $17-$19. 

This Coppola “Director’s” pinot noir is a step up from the regular Coppola pinot, and it does indeed taste better.  It also tastes a little bit like the Archstone that I just recommended, here.  And like the Grayson, recommended here.  Those are $10 wines, so as you would expect, the Coppola is better. 

All three are California pinots, and all have a certain hard-to-define flavor in common, which I’m not used to in a pinot noir.  I’m not wild about it.  In addition, Coppola Director’s gives you a lot of rose, cherry, and especially cola.  Its color is a beautiful dark rose.

It’s nice and smooth, generally appealing, and it doesn’t do anything wrong.  However, for a $17-$19 pinot, it’s a little bit too sweet, and it doesn’t taste quite enough like pinot noir, so it juuuuust misses.  This California girl is:

Not recommended.





Archstone pinot noir review: wait – what?

23 03 2011

Today we look at a 2008 pinot noir from California’s Carneros area that costs around $10.

Boy, does Archstone pinot noir have a forgettable name.  In fact, I predict that if you turn away from your screen at the end of this sentence, you won’t be able to remember the name of this winery.  Archetype?  Archmere?  Apple Something?   Well, GOOD LUCK when you head to the wine store.

Which you should do, because this low-priced California pinot is worth checking out.  It’s not great, but for $10, it’s very good.  This pinot noir is powerful, rich, with a smoky licorice and black cherry flavor, and has a texture built to please.  It’s not AS pinot-like as the cheaper Mark West, but it might be more of a crowd-pleaser.  So grab $10, and write Architect down on your list.  Or Arch Enemy, something like that.

Archstone pinot noir reviewRecommended.





Ghost Pines cabernet sauvignon review

21 03 2011

Ghost Pines cabernet sauvignon reviewHi!  Today we review a 2008 cabernet from California that costs around $19.

Let’s get right to it:  Ghost Pines cabernet is damn good.  68% from Napa Valley, 32% from Sonoma County.  It’s everything you expect from an affordable California cabernet:  it has mouth-drying tannins, dark fruit, like blackberries and currants, and it pairs well with steak. 

But the key is:  it gives you something different — there is just a little bit of a farm-fresh, mushroomy, walnut-y, earthy undertone that is not run-of-the-mill, and makes you take notice.  With some more familiar qualities, like spice, denseness, full-bodied character and a texture that is almost chewy.  The funny thing is, this cabernet has almost nothing in common with the same winery’s merlot, reviewed here.  Will it change your life?  No.  But at under $20, this cab is definitely:

Recommended.





Ghost Pines merlot at Costco – !$%#@!?!!

21 03 2011

Hi!  Got some news for you. 

Ghost Pines 2007 merlot is $16, at least.   It’s truly delicious, and WELL worth it, as I explained in my review here.   Bright, juicy, fun, flavorful and interesting, it is everything that an affordable California merlot should be.

Right now, a cheaper 2008  is only $12 at Costco.   (?!%$#!!!)  I don’t know if this is simply a new vintage, or if it’s a special version made for Costco.  Anyway the Costco version isn’t as good.  But it’s still good.  It’s less interesting, and extra bright.  One difference is the source of grapes:   The Costco version is 90% Sonoma, 10% Napa.  The 2007 Ghost Pines merlot that I reviewed before is 49% Sonoma, 51% Napa. 

At $16, the “real” Ghost Pines merlot is a screaming buy, and a Best Value.  At $12, this 2008 version is, I don’t know — shrieking?  It is a HUGE Best Value.  BUYBUYBUY!!

Enjoy.





Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve cabernet sauvignon review

21 03 2011

Hi!  Today we look at a 2006 cabernet from California’s Sonoma County, which costs $20 at Costco and $22 at Total Wine.

The $15 “regular” Kendall-Jackson cabernet is juuuuuust good enough to recommend, according to me (I reviewed it here).  Today’s wine, the K-J Grand Reserve, which sounds like it should cost about $85, is actually only a few dollars more.  Unfortunately, it isn’t much better than the regular stuff.  It smells sweet.  It is spicy, oaky, and has a fair amount of mouth-drying tannins.  It reminds me of leather.  It has a lot of dark red fruit and it isn’t very complex.  What we have here is, basically, a generic California cab.   

Although the Grand Reserve is probably a little better, if I were shopping in the K-J lineup, I’d stick with the “plain” cabernet (which is misleadingly named “Vintner’s Reserve”).  (Sigh.)  In the coming months, I am hoping to find other cabernets in this $15-$25 price range that are more interesting, more exciting, maybe even a “Best Value”.  Unfortunately, this Not-Very-Grand K-J cab is none of those things, so it is:

Not recommended.





Oberon cabernet review: BREAKIN’ THE LAW

17 03 2011

Today we look at a 2007 cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, CA that costs around $18-$19 (but I got on sale, for $15). 

On sale at $15, this cabernet is in the ball park of a recommendation.  And 2007 Napa Valley reds are supposed to be “so great,” so the rulebook says that I should be recommending this puppy.  The problem is, I never see it for $15.  Maybe I just live in the wrong state — what are you seeing it sell for?  (Just leave a comment.)

It’s a typical California cabernet, with tannins, deep dark fruit, and oak.  It doesn’t have a very transparent taste (i.e. it is somewhat generic), so it’s more about texture than flavor.  It’s not super dense, and it’s not terribly juicy, but it’s fine.  And it seems very consistent, because I’ve tried multiple vintages and I always have the same reaction — “this is almost good enough.”  But not quite good enough to score a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Unfortunately, this reliable Napa Valley red is:

Not recommended.





Villa Antinori “Toscana” red wine review

17 03 2011

Today we review a 2006 Italian red that is often called a “Super Tuscan”, even though it doesn’t say that anywhere on the label.  (More on that in the Boring Note at the end of this review.) It costs $22 at Total Wine, which is a little too high since many merchants are selling this wine for around $15 or $16, as you can see here

OK I really liked Villa Antinori Toscana.  It tastes very deep and dark, like distilled blackberries and cranberries buried under oak, lots of tannins, and a little chocolate.  Smooth.  Dense.  A little smoky.  A very dry, luxurious texture, and an inviting aroma with a fair amount of alcohol in there.  Balancing that dry texture is a warm juiciness in the flavor.  Basically, it tastes like a very good, extra dense and juicy chianti classico.  It is 60% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, and 5% syrah.

At $15 or $16, I would buy Villa Antinori Toscana all the time.  Even at $22, this dry yet juicy Italian is:

Villa Antinori "Toscana" red wine reviewRecommended.

Boring Note:

There is no law that specifies what a Super Tuscan is.  It is generally a wine from Tuscany (Toscana, in Italian) that has a blend of grapes similar to chianti.  The term used to be reserved for truly kickass wines, so of course today all wines like this are called Super Tuscan.  Many Super Tuscans replace some of the sangiovese that is required to dominate chianti with cabernet sauvignon (true for the wine reviewed today).  Many Super Tuscans say Indicazione Geografica Tipica on the label.  IGT generally means that you are getting grapes from the location shown on the label, in this case, Tuscany…. 

Whew.  I’m already bored, and we didn’t even scratch the surface of Italian wine rules and vocabulary.  Is this stuff worth learning?  I’m not sure — even if you master it, you find that it does not allow you to choose great wines.  You still have to go by word of mouth (or trial and error).  I would just sit back and read Wineguider.





Ruffino chianti superiore review: Isn’t it ironic

16 03 2011

Today we review a 2008 chianti superiore from Italy (of course) that costs around $11 or $12, but is just $9 at Costco.

You would think that Ruffino‘s chianti “superiore” would be, ahem, superior to other chiantis, such as chianti classico, or classico reserva.

But this one isn’t superior to much of anything.  It’s on the light side and it’s dry, not juicy.  Kind of bitter.  Not warm, not complex, not delicious.  Maybe it would be great with food?  Sorry, I just didn’t care for this, despite its promising name.  I can’t suggest that you spend even the $9 that it requires at Costco.  This one is:

Not recommended.





Red Bicyclette pinot noir review: Umm…

14 03 2011

Tonight it’s a controversial French pinot noir from 2009 that will cost you about $10.

This wine is famous, not for its taste, but because there was a huge controversy about it a couple years back.  It seems that the French actually sold about a kagillion gallons of fake pinot noir to the maker of Red Bicyclette, which affected 2006 and previous vintages.

So I bought a bottle, thinking “maybe now, it will be awesome for the price, to help give this label a credibility come-back.”  In my optimism, I ignored the absence of maker’s name (Gallo) on the bottle.  I ignored the winemaker notes, which admit that this pinot is still cut with 14% merlot and syrah.  And I ignored this, on the back label: “Bottled by: Reh Kendermann Gmbh Weinkellerei — Bingen, Germany.”  (????)

Rather than awesome, I felt it was just bland, sweet, fake cherry water that failed to resemble pinot noir.  I poured most of the bottle down the drain.  My bitterness from wasting $10 on this wine is lessened only by the satisfaction of writing those last two sentences.  If you don’t have a wine blog, but you, too feel burned by Red Bicyclette, please feel free to leave a comment on this review.  Or if you work for Gallo, and want to vent at me for being an unqualified wine-swilling jerk, please feel free to leave a comment.  

Unfortunately this pinot is:

Not recommended.





Tilia malbec review: keep it simple

4 03 2011

Today we check out a 2009 malbec from Mendoza, Argentina that cost me $8.

I first had Tilia at a restaurant.  It was a cheaper red, among a collection of overpriced, mediocre labels — that was not a great sign for Tilia.

But I tried it, together with pasta in a spicy red sauce, and really liked it!  It’s very juicy, fairly deep and dark, and most importantly at such a low price, it does nothing wrong (unless you like your wine bone-dry).  To test the bar effect,** I tried it at home, and it held up:  for only $8, Tilia is a no-brainer that you will enjoy with a burger, pizza, that pasta and red sauce, or by itself.  Not much complexity or tannins — just a simple, dark-fruited and easy-drinking red that has more to offer than your usual Yellow Tail / Barefoot / etc. 

Plus it’s a malbec, which is all the rage these days, so it’s a great choice to bring to a party.

Tilia malbec review

Recommended.

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**The mysterious “bar effect” often makes a wine seem captivating, original and wonderful when you’re out among the bright lights and beautiful people, only to disappoint gravely when you drink it at home in front of the kitchen sink.





Ghost Pines merlot review: Happy Birthday!

27 02 2011

Today we check out a 2007 merlot from California that cost $16 at the wonderful Premier Wine in Wilmington, Delaware.

This merlot is 51% from Napa and 49% from Sonoma.  Even though it’s a serious merlot that really announces itself in your mouth, this stuff is FUN, baby – a party on your tongue!  Here’s why:  Ghost Pines merlot tastes way better than its price.  It absolutely beats the pants off the $17 Kendall-Jackson 2006 “Jackson Estates Grown” merlot.  Tasting them back-to-back, Ghost Pines makes the KJ seem as though it has literally no taste at all.  Ghost Pines has very adult, responsible California red wine flavors of blackberry, mocha, and spice, and it smells perfect for a California merlot.  And it has warm, moderately strong tannins to suck the moisture out of your mouth, so you know it’s going to be killer with steak.  

At the same time, there’s this tiny, juicy hint of something a little wild.  Is it frosting from one of those $5 premium cupcakes?  Red Stag black cherry bourbon?  A trace of birthday cake?  I don’t know — you’ll have to decide.  And when you do, promise me you’ll come back and tell us what you thought.  Until then, this warm, medium-to-full bodied winner is: 

Ghost Pines merlot reviewHighly recommended, and a Best-Value.





Bogle Phantom wine review – HOLY COW

10 11 2010

Bogle Phantom wine reviewNote:  This review has been updated here.

Here’s a 2007 blend of petite syrah, old vine zinfandel, and old vine mourvedre.  It’s from California and costs $18.

Does anybody know the difference between mourvedre and “old vine” mourvedre?  (“I love the old vine, but I won’t touch plain mourvedre with a ten foot pole.”)

Well it doesn’t matter, because this wine is fantastic.  It’s almost a “Must Buy.”  It’s super dark, super deep, super rich, and just, super.  I love it.  Lots of tannins that suck all the moisture out of your head, leaving you with a mouth made of felt, like a muppet.  Tons of juicy cranberries and black cherries.  Smoky spices.  A fun balance of sweet red fruit and dry oak.  And finally at the finish, more muppet mouth.

If you don’t like tannins, do not bother with The Phantom.  But if you like red wine generally, you have to try it.  It’s not super complex, and it’s not super fresh or organic, but at $18 you don’t expect these things.  What you expect is pleasure.

And that’s why, at $18, this juicy, tannic wonder is:

Highly recommended!





Mark West 2009 Russian River Valley pinot noir wine review

13 10 2010

Hi!  Today we review another Mark West pinot noir, a California red wine that costs around $20 a bottle.

Bottom line: A yummy pinot, but at $20, not recommended.

OK folks, I’ll keep this short.  You’re forgiven if you’re thinking. “Hey Wineguider, shut up already about Mark West!!” — this is the 3rd I’ve reviewed — but I have good reason for my focus on them: that amazing 2008 $9 pinot with the orange label.

This $20 pinot is also good, although its label is beige: it’s fruity, it’s a bit minerally, and it’s balanced.  It tastes like real pinot noir.  And it’s a beautiful ruby red color.  However, it doesn’t have serious depth or strength of flavor, and doesn’t have a lot of complexity.  At $20, I start to expect these things.  Another problem: I enjoyed it with a spinach salad that included hard boiled eggs and bleu cheese, and honestly, the salad overwhelmed the wine. 

I love their $9 pinot from 2008, and I liked their $17 2009 Santa Lucia pinot a lot, but at $20, this Russian River pinot is unfortunately:

Not recommended.

Next!





Zestos especial 2007 wine review

10 10 2010

Today we review a Spanish wine that costs only $9 a bottle.

Bottom line: Terrific if you enjoy dry red wine!  This wine wins a “Best Value” designation.

OK folks, this one verges on incredible.  It’s 85% tempranillo and 15% syrah (which is the same thing as shiraz).  It’s made in Spain.  It has cool modern art on the label.  And it’s only 9 bucks.  Even if you pay $12, it is still a very good wine for the price.

It’s spicy, and very dry when it first hits your mouth.  But after drinking it for a little while you will begin to notice the dark fruit in there: plums, dates, maybe some black raspberry.  All of them, “not quite all the way ripe yet.”

One thing: buckle up if you’ve never had Spanish wine before, because it has WAY more tannins than the typical U.S. wine.  Tannins are what give you the feeling that all the moisture is being sucked out of your mouth.  Associated with red wine, they are the result of grape skins being left in during portions of the fermentation process. 

I suggest letting Zestos breathe for a couple of hours. Pouring the bottle into a decanter (any container that lets more of the wine’s surface touch air) speeds this up.  Breathing helps to ripen those “not quite ripe” fruit flavors.

Zestos isn’t complex, it’s not going to pair well with everything, and it’s not a “crowd pleaser” due to those extra tannins.  But at $10, it’s a great wine to sip alone, or to enjoy with steak, lamb or anything spicy from Italian to Thai.  And so, it is a “Best Value” wine, and is:

Zestos especial wine review

Highly recommended.





Grayson Cellars cabernet sauvignon review

1 10 2010

Today we review a $10 red wine from California.

Bottom line: This one doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not good enough to recommend.

Uh oh.  OK folks, this will be quick.  Grayson Cellars 2009 cabernet sauvignon tastes OK, but it’s too sweet, kind of generic, and it doesn’t really taste like a cabernet sauvignon.

The reason for the “uh oh” — it tastes similar to their pinot noir, which your Wineguider recommended.  So it makes me wonder if THAT wine also tasted too sweet and generic to recommend.  I mean, a pinot noir that tastes similar to the same winemaker’s cabernet? Really? You’re recommending that? Well, uhh. . . yeah, I think. I mean, it wasn’t the DEFINITION of pinot noir, but it was pretty close.  And yeah, it was a little generic and sweet… but it was OK!  I’m pretty sure!

Oh well.  At least we have clarity for today’s review: the 2009 Grayson Cellars cabernet sauvignon is a no-go.  Although it’s easy-drinking and not bad by any means, it just isn’t dry enough, “cabernet” enough, or delicious enough to recommend.

Next!





Benziger Sonoma cabernet sauvignon review

29 09 2010

Today we review a 2006 California cabernet that costs $18.

Bottom line:  A nice red wine, and a close call, but at $18 it’s not quite good enough to recommend.

Benziger is a very cool winery.  The official name is “Benziger Family Winery.”  I like that.  Go to their website, and you are treated to a video on the first page that will teach you what “whole cluster” pinot noir means.  Cool!  All of their wines are certified for green farming practices.  Each vineyard at which they source their grapes is certified “sustainable”, “organic” or “Biodynamic”.  And all four of Benziger’s own vineyards are Biodynamic, the most organic of the organic, sort of like chemical-free, natural farming on steroids.  Wait – bad choice of words there.  (And I should note, some people allege that Biodynamics is a bunch of hooey, a subject that’s WAY beyond the scope of your Wineguider’s “expertise”.)

Anyway, the cabernet we are looking at today is definitely not a bad wine.  It feels nice and rich, it tastes like “real” cabernet sauvignon, it’s dry, and oaky, and not too sweet, and it has a very nice spiciness to it.  But, it tasted a little bit thin, and a tiny bit sour, compared to some others I’ve tried in this price range.

So, I feel there may be better ones out there for less money.  Maybe Benziger’s cool “green” theme causes their wine to sell for a few dollars more, I don’t know.  Although the Lander Jenkins cab tastes sweeter in a way that makes Benziger seem like the far more serious option, I’d often be tempted to choose Lander Jenkins because it’s only $13, as low as $12 in some stores.  

With one big exception –  if I am throwing a party for Earth Day, or any other kind of green/organic themed event, it’s going to be Benziger all the way.

Next!





Lander Jenkins “Spirit Hawk” cabernet sauvignon review

22 09 2010

Today we look at a 2007 red wine from California that lists for $15, but I found for $13 (and later found for $12).

OK ladies and gents, this new cabernet sauvignon is DARN good for only $13.  The Lander Jenkins “Spirit Hawk” wines — they produce only cabernet and chardonnay, I like that – are from Rutherford Wine Company, maker of the usually-delicious Rutherford Ranch cabernet. The grapes in this cab were sourced mostly from Paso Robles, an area producing such rich, deep, satisfying red wines at such bargain prices that it seems it might just swallow Napa Valley whole within our lifetimes.

However THIS cabernet is not super rich and deep — it’s a little bit lighter, brighter, sweeter, and noticeably more elegant than other Paso Robles reds I’ve had.  Lander Jenkins is delicious, with the obligatory California dose of oak, but not so much as to hide the flavor of the wine itself:  you get a sort of blackberry and rhubarb pie, balanced by pleasant acidity and well-behaved tannins.  Nice!  And a clear Wineguider “Best Value” wine.

Is there a downside?  Well, Lander Jenkins is a little bit on the fruity and sweet side for a California cabernet, and it doesn’t taste exactly like a more expensive, true, tannin-filled classic California cab.   But it’s close.  So, I suggest you buy some high quality ground sirloin, obtain some killer spicy brown mustard and fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and as you complete your cookout menu with your favorite side items, snag a few bottles of this lovely cab for a late summer / early fall dinner outside.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Lander Jenkins cabernet sauvignon reviewRecommended.





Hob Nob pinot noir review: REVISITED

21 09 2010

Hi!  Today, we re-examine Hob Nob pinot noir, a cool designer bottle from France that was $11 for our last review.  We concluded that Hob Nob tastes better than many other cheap pinot noirs, but it is often too sweet and is inconsistent from bottle to bottle.  It couldn’t be recommended at $11.

But then I saw it selling for only $8 — holy mackerel, time for a re-review!  So – this wine smells like, not cherries, but “cherry flavor.”  Giving it a whiff, I’m not sure if I’m about to enjoy a glass of wine, or suck on a Luden’s cough drop.  That’s fine — I’ve enjoyed many wines with unusual aromas.

As for taste, a young wine drinker who drinks “sweet nothing” wines might like this a lot.  Hob Nob is fairly sweet, but not offensively so. For $8, it even has a nice little complexity to it, with a trace of tannins.  More prominently, it has a heaping helping of cherry, with a cameo appearance by strawberry and Kool-Aid “black cherry” flavor.  My throat feels better already!

But to me, the flavors in this wine seemed confused, mixed up with a hint of something hard to identify, but which you don’t really want in your mouth (isopropyl alcohol? sterno??).  Finally – the kiss of death for most cheap pinots — Hob Nob pinot noir tastes almost nothing like pinot noir.  It’s good for only $8, but these issues lead me to decide that it is:

Not recommended.

Next!





Louis M. Martini Napa Valley 2006 cabernet sauvignon review

17 09 2010

Today we review a 2006 Napa Valley cabernet that will cost you $20.

Bottom line:  Good!  Maybe a bit “normal,” but with the right food, really shines.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  This review deals with the Louis M. Martini “Napa Valley” cabernet, which goes for around $20.  NOT the regular ol’ Louis M. Martini cabernet, which is like $11, and not in the same league. 

Here with the “Napa Valley” cabernet, we have a very moderate, somewhat generic and very nice little red wine.  It has a nice, reasonable amount of tannins, maybe more than the average wine, but not beyond the pale.  It smells nice and does nothing wrong.  It’s not very complex.  It has that familiar California tannin bite and dryness.  It tastes like a combination of oak, leather, cranberries, blackberries and . . . . OK, look, it tastes like every other decent California cabernet, I admit it.  Alright?!?

But it’s good.  So I say, buy it.  I had it with a steak dinner and it just kept on delivering that lovely California steak wine thing.

This  one is:  Louis Martini Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon reviewRecommended.





Explore 2008 cabernet sauvignon review

10 09 2010

Today we examine a red wine from South Africa that costs just $4 a bottle.

Bottom line:  This wine is not recommended, because it is absolutely terrible.

You’re probably thinking, “HEY, you just reviewed that awesome $40 pinot noir, how can you switch to a cabernet that costs only $3.99 and give it a fair shot?”  Well, I opened a bottle of Black Opal shiraz/cabernet in between, which costs only $7, and was pretty good.  (And which has been positively reviewed here.)  So, I was actually prepared for a bargain red.

However, I wasn’t prepared for this stuff.  Explore cabernet sauvignon smells like strong alcohol.  “That’s OK,” I thought, “it still might taste good.”

It doesn’t.  In fact it tastes like there is something seriously wrong with it.  A medium-bodied cab, it has a dry, smokey flavor.  Not a woody, or spicy smoke.  More like the black, acrid cloud you get from burning brightly colored plastic.  Halfway through my first glass, I stopped to consider whether I might have just been poisoned. 

I might use the rest of the bottle to marinate steak.  It’s also possible that I will taste it again and rush to force it down the kitchen sink drain while cursing at the winery, or myself.

It’s only $4, but unfortunately the 2008 Explore cabernet sauvignon cannot be recommended. 

Next!





Domaine Serene 2007 “Yamhill Cuvee” pinot noir review

7 09 2010

Today we review a 2007 Oregon pinot noir that will set you back $40.

So here we have Domaine Serene’s “Yamhill Cuvee” pinot noir.  It costs $15 less than their Evenstad Reserve pinot, and guess what?  It may be just as satisfying.

So what first hits you about the Yamhill Cuvee?  Its aromas are lovely, but they won’t blow you away.  Upon first taste, you will know that you are drinking a very good red wine, but no single flavor leaps out: dark red fruits, oak and a little bit of floral, a little bit of earthiness.  The texture?  Nice.  Spicy?  A bit, sure.

To be honest, nothing really leaps out.  This is the kind of artistic offering that takes you beyond the normal reactions to wine.  You vault over things like “hey, it tastes like blackberries and raspberries,” and you instead arrive at, “that’s it, I’m getting that used Ferrari,” or “where’s the laptop, I’m going to book tickets to China and walk the Great Wall,” or “let’s get drunk and fool around in the downstairs bathroom.”  This wine doesn’t just taste good.  It inspires.

Let it breathe for an hour, have it with some good cheese and light crackers, and buckle up — you’re going to be hit with a really fun, totally involving experience.  So good that it’s hard for me to believe it costs only $40.  This is the first wine I’ve awarded both a “Best Value” and a “Best of the Best” designation.  I hope you get a chance to try it.

Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvee” pinot noir review

Highly recommended.





Murphy-Goode pinot noir review

6 09 2010

Today we look at a $12 pinot noir from California’s 2008 vintage.

Bottom line:  Too much alcohol, not enough pinot.  Not recommended.

Folks, if you want a very good and affordable California merlot or cabernet sauvignon, you should know about Murphy-Goode.   Their beige label with the dark purple capital letters does not vary from wine to wine, and neither does their compelling, very oaky, bold and very California style.  With the exception of their pinot noir, which sticks out like a sore thumb among their reds because “bold and oaky” just doesn’t apply very well to this grape.

This pinot is, yes, a bit oaky, very heavy on the alcohol, and doesn’t have much “pinot noir-ness” to it. 

Of course if I went to a party and they were serving Murphy-Goode pinot noir, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at it, but I would probably not be longing for glass after glass, either.  You figure, at a party, anything better than Yellow Tail or Barefoot is a bonus.   But the problem with Murphy-Goode’s pinot is that dang alcohol.  At 13.5% it doesn’t look too bad, but once you taste this dark purple medium-bodied red you will feel like you just inhaled a can of sterno.  

OK maybe it’s not that bad, but it is quite “hot” as the wine pros like to say.  For my $12, or even less, the Mark West pinot noir has yet to be beat.  I am sorry to say that a comparison of today’s wine with Mark West isn’t even a close contest.

Next!





Ponzi 2007 pinot noir review

4 09 2010

Today we review an Oregon pinot noir that costs $36 a bottle.

Well, well, well, another fussy, prissy review from your Wineguider, where an excellent red wine is nevertheless panned.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Basically, I love great pinot noir, and I want your experiences with “the good stuff” to be seriously rewarding.   Ponzi is rewarding, yes, but I think there are better pinot noirs that you can buy in the $35 price range.  The qualities of this panned, not-recommended wine: 

  • it’s very interesting
  • it’s gently spicy
  • it’s elegant
  • it’s medium-bodied
  • it tastes like blackberries, sort of, with some oak
  • it’s juicy but also dry, with no excess sugary sweetness, and no excess mouth-puckering tannins
  • its only downfall — it has a slightly thin and slightly sharp taste
  • and most importantly of all, it’s fun in your mouth.  Complex.  A quality shared by all truly good pinot noirs.  

So clearly, if you buy the 2007 Ponzi pinot noir, you are going to be happy.  Yet, I sit here and pan it.  But only because of the $36 price tag.  So, in my next few reviews, I promise to recommend what I think are even better pinot noirs in this price range.  I’ve been checking out Ponzi, on and off, for over 12 years. This 2007 pinot noir is the best that I have ever tasted.  And it is:

Not recommended.





PINOT TO THE PEOPLE! Mark West 2008 pinot noir review

1 09 2010

Today we look at the 2008 Mark West pinot noir from California, which costs $11 a bottle at most places, $9 at Total Wine.

You probably don’t really care if today’s wine tastes like cherries, boisenberries, or whatever — the main question is, how good is it?  Answer:  holy crap, it’s really damn good!   Mark West pinot noir tastes like real pinot.  This is an amazing feat in today’s world of inexpensive pinot-dom.  There’s a “kick” to it.  Some SPICE.  And even a little bit of complexity.  The website says “Pinot for the people.”  Yes!  This lovely red is Everyman’s pinot noir. 

You can taste more alcohol in this pinot than with some others, although the percentage is reasonable (13.8%).  Other flavors are floral and sort of strawberry-like.  It’s not too sweet, like some inexpensive California pinots (say, Mirassou), and it’s not bleached-out and generic, like many others (say, BV).  

If you want a good, affordable pinot noir, or a good wine for Thanksgiving — THIS is your wine.  If you want a “crowd pleaser” for a party where you’ll serve only one red, this is NOT your wine – but only because many people are not used to the unique flavors that pinot noir provides. 

So, is Mark West better than the 2009 Grayson Cellars pinot noir, which I recommended?  Yes.  Is it better than a $40 Oregon pinot noir?  Probably not.  But luckily Mark West is NOT $40.  In fact, I’m awarding it a “Best Value” designation.  Mark West pinot noir is: 

Mark West 2008 pinot noir reviewHighly recommended!





Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon review – NICE

13 08 2010

This review has been updated here.

Hi!  Today we’ll look at a red wine from California’s Central Coast, which sells for $11 a bottle.

Five Rivers cab used to be made with grapes from California’s Paso Robles area, and it really rocked for $11.  Now, with the 2007 vintage, Paso Robles has been replaced on the label with plain old Central Coast.  It doesn’t rock as much anymore, but it’s pretty darn good:  rich, with plenty of tannins, a “tight” taste, dry, but with some deep fruit, and a nice amount of oak.  It’s medium-bodied, mildly spicy, and overall, “strong.”  In fact, it tastes very close to the way it did when it was a Paso Robles wine.   How do they do that?

On the downside, it’s a bit generic, or even boring, in some settings.  It also might be too oaky for some wine lovers.  But it can serve as a great steak wine, or just a “de-stress after work” wine.  There’s something about Five Rivers cabernet that I just, like.

So there you have it.  This unassuming and mild-mannered California cabernet hits the right buttons for your Wineguider to make me want more and more, and so it is:

Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon review

Recommended.








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