Wild Haven reserve vs. BV Napa merlot shootout

1 06 2014

Today we pit the 2010 Wild Haven reserve merlot from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State ($13) against the BV Napa Valley 2011 merlot ($16).

Whew.  These merlots were not easy to taste.  Both had unripe green vegetable flavors.  Both tasted sour.  Both make you feel like you have been really sick for a few weeks and you’re just now Read the rest of this entry »





Decoy merlot vs. Purple malbec shootout

21 05 2014

This is the debut of the new Wineguider:  all comparison shootouts, all the time.

Today, we compare:

– Decoy, a 2012 merlot from California’s Sonoma County, $19 at Costco

vs.

– Purple, a 2011 malbec from France, $15 at the local wine shop.

Aroma Read the rest of this entry »





Chateau Carignan Prima merlot (Bordeaux) review

2 11 2013

Today we examine a 2010 Bordeaux that is 100% merlot.  I found it at Total Wine for $25.

Here we have a nice example of a French red – robust, yet restrained.  Delicious fruit, yet not sweet.  But is the price too high? Read the rest of this entry »





Santa Ema Reserve merlot review

25 09 2013

Today we look at a 2009 reserve merlot from Chile’s Maipo area, which I found at Total Wine for $14.

This wine is deep purple in the glass, and throws off aromas of caramel, honey, allspice and cloves.

It is 13,5% alcohol, comes in a heavy and stately bottle, and Read the rest of this entry »





Avalon merlot review: OH, SANDY

30 10 2012

Here’s a 2010 Napa Valley, CA merlot that costs around $12.

Tonight I had one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever opened.  It was Avalon merlot.  A Napa Valley red that you can find at Total Wine for a mere $11.  Why was it so great?

I opened it during Read the rest of this entry »





Cono Sur merlot: MINI REVIEW

7 10 2012

Today it’s a 2010 merlot from Chile that costs around $10.

Cono Sur is impressive when you first open it — dark, rich, with an earthy, manly taste.  Blacker-than-black blackberries.  Smoky leather.  Plum and maybe a touch of prune.  Spicy and dry for a merlot — in fact, it almost seems like a juicy carmenere.

The problem is, for me, Cono Sur is a tad bitter.  A situation that did not improve on day 2.  I like this winery’s bicycle theme though, and I want the reserva now!  Unfortunately, this one is:

Not recommended.





Benziger merlot mini review

24 09 2012

Hi!  Today it’s a 2008 merlot from California’s Sonoma County.   I found it at Costco for $13.

Benziger Family Winery’s Sonoma County merlot uses grapes grown with sustainable farming methods.  And it tastes that way – Read the rest of this entry »





Chateau Ste Michelle merlot at Bertucci’s

14 05 2012

Continuing with our delicious Italian restaurant samplings, today we review a 2007 merlot from Washington’s Columbia Valley that Bertucci’s sells for $8.25 a glass / $32 a bottle.  It was paired with their Garlic & Herb Roasted Mushrooms and Warm Assorted Olives.
 
OK this wine caused a stir — everyone at our table loved it, almost couldn’t get enough of it.  Like most Washington merlots, it’s on the sweet side.  But then there’s that leather.  Blackberry.  Spice.  Licorice.  And a touch of oak and black pepper.   By itself, Chateau Ste Michelle merlot is good but not perfect, with a bit of harshness.  But with food, it’s a different and much better story. 
 
Our hosts paired it with a fascinating dish: roasted mushrooms and warm Mediterranean olives.  I don’t know where Bertucci’s is sourcing these items, but somebody in that organization deserves a gold medal.  Absolutely delicious and original.  And, a drop-dead perfect pairing with this merlot.  I am jonesing for a repeat of this course!
 
Chateau Ste Michelle merlotRecommended.





Wines at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant

7 05 2012

This kicks off a series that will review various popular wines that are sold at Bertucci’s.  These brick oven-style Italian restaurants on the east coast have a warm, modern atmosphere, open kitchen and a “dim the lights” feeling of class.   
 
Manager Chad Phillips and culinary manager Michael Cropper in Christiana, Delaware treated us to their newest dishes (excellent) and wines (very good or excellent, for the price, with one exception).  The evening was gratis, but I returned to buy each wine on its own. 

In every case, the food improved the wine experience.  In one case, the pairing caused a so-so wine to become downright enjoyable.  Read on to learn which.
 
The pairings:

  • Rodney Strong chardonnay (Sonoma CA, 2010), with Watermelon, Arugula & Feta Salad
  • Francis Ford Coppola “Rosso” (CA, 2010), with Eggplant Napoleone
  • Chateau Ste Michelle merlot (Columbia Valley WA, 2007), with Garlic & Herb Roasted Mushrooms, and Warm Assorted Olives
  • Francis Ford Coppola Bianco pinot grigio (CA, 2010), with Cod al Forno
  • J. Lohr “Seven Oaks” cabernet sauvignon (Paso Robles CA, 2009), with Piccolo Chocolate Budino




Cannonball merlot review: CANNONBALLLLL!!!

29 03 2012

Hello!  Tonight we look at a 2009 Napa Valley, California merlot that costs around $15.

Look out:  here’s an addictive light-to-medium-bodied red wine with a fun label that everybody at the party will love.  Blackstone merlot’s former winemaker is behind this.   I got a free sample from the winery, and then bought another six bottles.

A bit  on the sweet side, Cannonball merlot is fun (like your first real cannonball at the pool) and friendly, yet strangely seductive.  It smells like a sweet cabernet, and has some cabernet-ish blackcurrant flavors in addition to black cherry, apple, vanilla and cinnamon when it hits your tongue.

The 2009 Cannonball merlot is:

Cannonbal merlot reviewRecommended.

EDIT:  I recently took this wine to a blind wine tasting featuring 16 wines from around the world.   I didn’t even know if it was included in the 8 wines I tasted.

On a scale of 1 (horrible) to 5 (incredibly great), I rated everything a 1, 2, or 3.   Except one wine, which I rated a 4, and wrote “Nice!!”  Yes, it was this Cannonball merlot.





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.





Oyster Bay merlot review: YES OYSTER!

19 07 2011

Today we review a 2007 merlot from New Zealand that costs around $13.

This glass of medium-bodied Oyster Bay merlot really reminds me of the beach.  Not a pristine white sand / blue water beach, but a fishing beach.  Lots of thick rope, metal buckets, and shellfish.

I guess what I’m saying is, this merlot is salty.  It has a hint of black olives.  It’s also minerally, and woody.   Maybe a little bitter, in a good way?  It’s interesting, and would go well with salty food, or a good book on the deck of a beach house.   But at $13, I want a little more composed and smooth delivery of merlot warmth.  I don’t think it will make most merlot drinkers super happy.  And so, it is unfortunately:

Not recommended.





Chateau Ste. Michelle “Indian Wells” merlot review

1 06 2011

Hi!  Today we are reviewing a 2009 merlot from Washington State that is $13 at Costco.

OK Washington merlot is supposed to be sweet and jammy.  This merlot IS kind of sweet, because it’s very fruit-forward.  But it’s also a little spicy, and has some leather/chocolate going on.  Maybe a tiny bit of tobacco.

At $13, I give it a thumbs-up.  It’s not “great”, but it is definitely nice, and does not do anything wrong if you like warm, jammy, velvety merlot.   BUT — there’s a caveat.  You really have to let it breathe, for at least an hour.  When you first open it, the only thing you will smell is alcohol, and it will be almost tasteless.  Just takes a while to open up.

Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" merlot reviewRecommended.





Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot review

22 05 2011

Today we examine a 2009 merlot from Washington State that costs $9 at Costco.

OK Washington merlot has a reputation.  That being, it is generally on the sweeter side.  It’s a good choice if you want to bring a white wine drinker over to the dark side.

Kirkland Signature Columbia Valley merlot falls right in line with that reputation.  And, it’s pretty good:  soft, medium-bodied, and pleasant.  Warm blackberries, with spicy chocolate.  It’s great for a party — most people will be happy to sip it, and it’s a conversation starter, as in: who knew that such a “bargain brand” could taste this good?  (Idiot wine snobs may talk behind your back, as if you brought some wine that you found at a gas station.  Screw ’em.)  It’s got some mouth-drying tannins, but it mostly soothes you with vague deep, dark fruit flavors.  It does almost nothing wrong. 

I found myself pouring glass after glass, a very positive indicator here at Wineguider.  This easy-drinking red is:

Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot reviewRecommended.





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.





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.





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.





Stags’ Leap merlot review

15 07 2010

Today we review a merlot from Napa Valley, California that costs $40 a bottle.

OK this is a ridiculous review, because I am going to “not recommend” a very, very good wine.   The problem is the price.  The wine is the 2006 Stags’ Leap merlot.  Big, oaky, with kickass tannins YET bursting with juicy dark fruit flavors all over the place, and silky smooth.  And organic.  Once you let it breathe, this wine smells and tastes very natural, very much “off the farm,” with all kinds of interesting notes calling for your attention.  Stags’ Leap is definitely not your typical processed, corporate, red juice.  Which is what you’d expect, because the Stags’ Leap area of Napa Valley is some of the most high-fallootin’ grape farmland in the entire world.

As with any very good wine, drinking this merlot is like having an artist’s palette explode in your mouth.  You suddenly realize why all the $10 wines that you have been drinking were priced that way — because (compared to the really good stuff) they are bleached out of real flavor and are overly simplistic or “one flavor only.”  

But here’s the thing — at $40, I expect something seriously compelling.   The Stags’ Leap is truly lovely, but it’s really just a great merlot.  If it were $25, it would merit a huge recommendation.  So there you have it.   A very, very good wine, which is:

Not recommended.





Blackstone Sonoma Reserve merlot review

12 07 2010

Today we review an upgrade to an old favorite value, Blackstone merlot.  The Sonoma Reserve is $15-$17.

Before we begin: a “reserve” is supposed to be a winemaker’s really good stuff, from the days when each year’s best juice was kept off the market (reserved) for the vintner to enjoy.  The word can be abused.  For example, the regular, everyday Kendall Jackson chardonnay is called “Vintner’s Reserve.”  It’s their bottom-of-the-line.  So wait, it’s ALL reserve?  Hmm.

Blackstone is not playing these games.  I just tried their 2007 Sonoma Reserve merlot, and WOW.  (NOTE: previous years of the reserve were good, but not THIS good.)  This is a great example of a California merlot.  It’s big, but still medium-bodied, so it won’t overpower your food.  Spicy.  Super dark red — almost black (like the label).  A silky texture.  Juicy, but balanced by plenty of tannins.  Dry, with a bit of oak, but nothing excessive. 

It seemingly did nothing wrong, to the extreme.  At only $15, is this Merlot Perfection?  I’m leaning toward “yes”, but at any price under $20, this ’07 Sonoma Reserve merlot is an absolute, fall-on-your-face, flat-out “Best Value.”  

Blackstone Sonoma Reserve merlot review

Highly recommended.

UPDATE:  Yikes!  The 2009 isn’t so hot, at least this bottle on my kitchen table right now isn’t.  I will come back to reconfirm, but for now it looks like the 2007 was a gem.





Cupcake merlot review

9 07 2010

Today we review a nice little merlot from California that costs $10 a bottle.

As we noted previously, Cupcake has a sort of unfair advantage — you can’t help thinking about cupcakes or at least dessert when you try it.  So, like the Cupcake cabernet reviewed earlier, the name may have helped this merlot achieve a recommendation.  Just being honest here.  Cupcake merlot is warm, soft, round, medium-light bodied, and tastes like you expect a California merlot to taste, with just a slight emphasis on the juicier, sweeter side of things.  

It hits you with flavors of dark berries and lays some mild tannins on your tongue. Some California merlots will choke you with too much oaky flavor.  Cupcake does not.  Everything about this wine is moderate, medium, and pleasant.

However, I’ve had 2 bottles that were not so great.  They tasted bleached out and a little bitter.  I’m willing to tolerate that with a wine that is this inexpensive.  But honestly, with Cupcake at $10, I think I would instead select the $11 Zen of Zin most times.  Even though this is not a raving, enthusiastic recommendation, this merlot is:Cupcake merlot review 

Recommended.





gotham “McLaren Vale” merlot review

26 06 2010

Today we review another big red from Australia, which can be had for $15 a bottle. 

Bottom line:  Does not taste like merlot and too sweet for yours truly.  Not recommended.

This 2008 merlot from Australia’s McLaren Vale (or valley) was recommended by a wine expert I have a lot of  respect for.   It has 14.9% alcohol, so you know it’s serious.  However, it also has a very non-merlot taste to it.  So it’s seriously “something”, but I’m not sure what.  The expert said that it tastes like old vine zinfandel.  

As for whether it’s enjoyable to drink, to me, it’s very heavy, very sweet, and doesn’t have enough complexity, tannins, spice, etc. to balance the sugar load.   Its primary flavor struck me as powerful and unusual for any wine, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it tasted like.  What WAS this mystery flavor? 

To be fair, I know two  people who enjoy this rusty red.  They call it fruit-forward, big, “on the sweet side,”  jammy, and a “jelly jar.”  Hmmm… jelly jar…  maybe that mystery flavor was a sort of alcohol-heavy orange marmalade.  Whatever it was, this wine just didn’t work for me.   

Next!





Gato Negro malbec and merlot review

22 06 2010

Today we review two bargain reds from Chile’s Gato Negro, each of which can be had for just $4 a bottle: the 2008 malbec and the 2008 merlot.

Here’s the deal.  This stuff is cheap.  The malbec smells very strange, and tastes bad.  The merlot smells pretty good, and tastes bad.  This is the kind of wine that makes you grimace when you try it. 

You’ve probably heard more about Gato Negro as this year’s “two buck chuck” than any other wine.  I would say, don’t bother.  It’s not a miracle discovery to slash your wine bill.  It’s just cheap, crappy wine.

One caveat:  I haven’t tried the cabernet sauvignon.  I probably should, since I am panning these two.  I’ll come back and edit this once I’ve had the chance.

Next!