Fall from Grace? Two Awesome White Wines Stumble in 2010

15 06 2011

Hi, how are you?  I’m good but — well, there are some things I should tell you.

I wildly recommended the 2009 Tiefenbrunner pinot grigio, in this humdinger of a review right here.  I stand by that review, but I have to say, the 2010 is not as good.  It’s OK, but a bit lifeless, and I am just not digging it.

Second, for years now, I’ve been telling everybody how great and low-priced Nobilo sauvignon blanc is.  (My fawning review of the 2009 is here.)  At $11, it consistently tastes like a $20-ish wine.  Well, the 2010 ain’t so hot.  It’s lost some of that bursting-with-citrus magic.  Coincidentally, it now sells at Total Wine for the absurdly low price of $7.47.

I am confident that Nobilo 2011 will stage a complete comeback.

Tiefenbrunner, I’m not as sure about, because I only got to know it last year.  I am very hopeful that it will return to its 2009 glory days as well.

Until then, these charmers are “Not recommended.”  Cheers,

Wineguider





Frei Brothers reserve zinfandel review

13 06 2011

Today we review a 2009 zin from Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma Valley, California.  I got it for $20.

OK this Frei Brothers zin is really good.  It has 15% alcohol, so, if you want to wind down after a hard day’s work — WAY down — it will do the job.  Spicy, rich and tannic, full of dusty blackberries, and deadly serious, this wine tastes like a real step up from the normal $10 family dinner wines.

The problem is, I’m not excited about paying a full $20 for another bottle.  If it were $15 or $16, Frei Brothers reserve zinfandel would receive a committed, definite recommendation.  At this price, however, it’s a delicious, happy dreams-inducing, near miss.

Not 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.





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





Chateau Montelena chardonnay review

28 04 2011

Today it’s a 2007 California chardonnay that will cost you $40 at Total Wine, up to $50 elsewhere.

This wine is famous.  It comes from a Napa Valley winery that was founded in 1882.  (That’s not a typo.)  Chateau Montelena is also THE white wine that put California whites on the map — in 1976, the 1973 vintage of this wine stunned everybody by trampling a bunch of great French whites to win the Paris Tasting, a/k/a the Judgement of Paris.

So, this 2007 chardonnay has a lovely floral aroma.  It tastes like an extremely elegant version of the familiar California chardonnay.  The  typical super-oak quality is replaced by subtle notes of oak.  The typical buttery thing is replaced by smoothness, a really pleasant mouthfeel.  Besides that unfortunate “California chard” taste, you get hints of mellow pineapple, vanilla, and a spicy, minerally finish.  It has a LOT of character, so it should be paired with something spicy or bold.  It is crying out, “spicy chicken dish” to me right now.

However, this wine is $40 at Total Wine, and costs more just about everywhere else.  With its pedigree, it should be expensive, but I would not pay $40 again for it.  Then again, most California chardonnays hit me with an unnatural, weird kind of non-wine flavor, so I admit that I am not a neutral judge of this animal.  (No other wines do this, and I love chardonnays from other parts of the world.)  I say, there are much more satisfying white wines you can buy for around $25.  However, if you are living in a Groundhog Day-like cycle of California chardonnays and only California chardonnays, then you should definitely check out Chateau Montelena, because it’s one of the best.

Not recommended.





Ca’ Montini pinot grigio review

13 04 2011

Today, we review a 2009 Italian pinot grigio that cost me $19.

Folks, Ca’ Montini is serious.  It is less sweet than many other pinot grigios, so it is less “fun”.  But it’s good, some might say, extremely good.  Dry, minerally, citrusy, and balanced.  However, I just didn’t find that it was delicious enough to merit a price of $19.  But this one is close — you might love it.  Unfortunately, for your Wineguider, this elegant Italian is:

Not recommended.





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.





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.





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.





Block Nine pinot noir review: digital representation of pinot

22 02 2011

Today we look at a 2009 pinot from California that I bought for $13.

Block Nine vineyards is dedicated to making only pinot noir, which is really cool.  Right now they offer only the “Caiden’s Vineyards” pinot.  The famous Robert Parker has called the 2009: “Everything a pinot noir should be,” and said, “even more shocking is how good Block Nine pinot noirs are for their price.”  His notes on the 2008 included: “Earthy, gamy, plum and cola aromas jump from the glass of this medium plum/garnet-colored wine. Complex notes of herbs, sweet cherries and sassafras follow through on the palate.”

All of which is baffling and mildly hilarious, because, unfortunately, this California red with the pretty dark-pink color tastes like alcohol-infused cherry water, not pinot noir.  It’s very pleasant, light-to-medium bodied, and easy to drink.  It’s also too sweet, typical of California pinots.  To be fair, it does have a bit of spice and floral action going on, which is nice.  Overall it’s like a computer-generated replica of pinot noir, by the guy who made the ’80s Atari video games.  The big problem for Block Nine is Mark West, which is still under $9 at many stores, and really does taste like pinot noir. 

Cool bottle, awesome “one grape only” philosophy for a winery, but Block Nine is:

Not recommended.





The Little Penguin cabernet sauvignon review

7 01 2011

Hi!  Today we look at a 2009 cabernet from south eastern Australia that will cost you only $6.

This is gonna be quick — don’t bother with Little Penguin cabernet sauvignon.  It tastes like cheap red wine.  Medium-bodied.  Doesn’t really taste like cabernet.  Slightly strange.  Not yummy.

I will say this:  certain bottles of their pinot noir that I’ve tried (same cost) have been good for the price.  But this one’s a no-go.

Next!





David Hill Willamette Valley pinot noir review

28 12 2010

Here’s a 2007 pinot noir bought at Total Wine for $22, from Oregon’s famously delicous Willamette Valley.

Day 1:  Hmm, $22.  Tastes like real pinot noir, but more like real pinot noir’s evil twin.  Thin.  Sour.  Cherry.  Borderline bitter.  Aromas of your grandparents’ basement.  It’s not terrible, in fact I think it might even be very good, in a French burgundy sort of way.  But not my cup of tea. 

Day 2:  Still $22.  But today it smells like licorice and chocolate, with a sexy, “real pinot noir” aroma that tells you this stuff is serious — wow!  Taste — still a little sharp, but much better than Day 1.  Enjoyable.  Medium-bodied.  Still not my cup of tea exactly, and definitely not a crowd pleaser.  But it’s very good pinot noir.

For me, if it were priced at $16 or $17:  Yes!!

At $22?  Can’t quite recommend it.  But it’s close.  If you really love pinot noir, you should definitely try it — you’ll find David Hill one of the most interesting, quality pinots under $40.  On Day 2, that is.

Not recommended.





Toasted Head barrel reserve chardonnay review

22 12 2010

Today we examine a 2008 “reserve” chardonnay from California’s Russian River Valley that goes for $15. 

14.5% alcohol.  If you follow alcohol percentages, you know this is a bit high for a white wine.  But I like that Toasted Head has amped up its reserve chardonnay in this way.  It’s like a Colt-45 version of white wine, with a splash of Vicodin — party on, Garth! 

And I’ll need all the amping-up I can get to muscle down this larger-than-life, 3D-animated cartoon version of California chardonnay.  ULTRA-full of classic California chard flavor.  Super ripe.  Bonk-you-on-the-head spicy, thick, sweet and creamy.  Like a trusty oversized flame-thrower, it will methodically wipe out the taste of any food you attempt to pair it with.  These chardonnays tend to give you lots of oak and butter, but if you think about it, it’s more like DAP Plastic Wood and Country Crock Vegetable Oil Spread, fresh from Wal-Mart.  This one is no exception.

Seriously, if you do like California chardonnay, you may truly love Toasted Head barrel reserve, since it’s like drinking California chardonnay squared.  But if you like white wine for its natural, fresh and delicious real fruit flavors balanced against crisp tartness, citrus or acidity, you may spit up your Toasted Head barrel reserve all over your new shirt.  At least you’ll be feeling good while you do it.





Nicolas Feuillatte rosé champagne review: THE TEST

6 12 2010

As your picky Wineguider continues asking “what champagne for New Year’s Eve?” today we review a $50 French rosé, Nicolas Feuillatte.

OK this stuff is serious.  It has a very fruity, slightly spicy aroma.  Maybe that’s because it’s 60% pinot noir.  (And 10% chardonnay, and 30% pinot meunier, whatever THAT is).  The taste is also interesting, very balanced.  Tasting less sweet than the aroma suggests, it gives you sparkly strawberries and blackberries combined with a tart, alcohol-ish snap.  The bubbles are NOT overwhelming, and you get some of the joy of drinking a good wine — nice!  

But then, I did THE TEST.  I brought this $50 bottle to a big, fun Christmas party with a live band and guests in their 30s – 60s, in an affluent neighborhood in West Chester, PA.  This, and a bottle of Martini & Rossi sparkling rosé, which is just $15.  The results?  At the end of the night, the Nicolas Feuillatte was untouched.  The Martini & Rossi was drained.  Like, half a glass left.  And you can’t say it was because the M&R looked better — these bottles look eerily identical.

The lesson?  For a big party like New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t make sense to break the bank on bubbly.  Cheap works.  Or at least, it CAN work, if you buy the right kind.  Lesson 2?  Martini & Rossi rosé is FUN, as I said in my recent review.  And when you’re not buying for a big party, I say go extreme: either cheap n’ sweet, or high end — $45 and higher.  Mid-priced bubbly is a waste of your money, because it just doesn’t taste good — overwhelmed with bubbles and alcohol, and not much else.

Nicolas Feuillatte brut rosé champagne is very good, and I highly recommend it for general purposes.  But I can’t recommend that you buy it “in quantity” for your New Year’s Eve party.  Next!





Chilensis reserva carmenére review

6 12 2010

Today we review a $9 red wine from Chile — a carmenére — which I found at Total Wine.

Hi!  Today we look at a different kind of wine, a carmenére.  That’s a grape.  For those of you just getting into wine, this was a helpful fact when I first started — all these names, merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, are just the names of different kinds of grapes.

So, what does this stuff taste like?  Have you ever gotten a big cigarette lighter and a piece of saddle leather and just lit that sucker up, blew it out, and then sucked on it?  Me either.  But I feel like this describes the experience I’m having right now.  It’s not very good.  But for $9, what do you expect?  Well, I don’t expect much.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to recommend this wine.  It tasted “cheap” to me on my first sip, and later sips didn’t really change my mind.  Unfortunately, this wine is not recommended. 

Next!





Line Shack petite sirah review – a close call

15 11 2010

This powerful petite sirah from southern Monterey and San Antonio Valley, California cost me $15 at Total Wine.

Line Shack was recommended very enthusiastically by someone whose opinion I respect, so I had some expectations when I tried it.   It’s really, really deep, and dark purple, and really, really “dark berry” in your mouth, like a jam of blackberries and blueberries with some dates and something else that’s dark.  And maybe too sweet, or even much too sweet.  And too young.  But then there are some tannins that creep in later, to remind you it’s serious.  

It’s also a bit hot, as they say, with the 14.9% alcohol content coming off more like 80 proof.  Maybe I’m just not man enough to drink this wine.  Where’s Anthony Quinn when you need him? 

Or, maybe Line Shack is way, way too sweet, so it’s for girly men.  In which case, I’m fine.  I have to say, it’s a very close call, because I can tell this is good wine, but I just can’t hack it.  Really nice texture and very interesting flavors, but tooooo much berry.  Tooooo much alcohol.  Tooooo sweet and deep and dark.   No mas.  ¡Ay, caramba!   This juicy firebomb is . . . at least I’m pretty sure it is . . .

Not recommended.





Mommy’s Time Out white wine review

10 11 2010

Today’s subject is a 2009 blend of garganega (70%) and pinot grigio (30%) from Italy that costs just $7.

With a name like this, I pretty much HAVE to recommend it, don’t I?  (Wait . . . does mommy really want a “time out”?)  Let’s dive in:  Mommy’s Time Out smells harmless and slightly fruity, with some  lemon and honeysuckle.  Pretty.  It tastes. . . “OK”.  Kind of flat and plain.  Mildly sweet.  Very easy to drink, with just 11.5% alcohol.  Not much tartness or acidity.

It’s better than a cheap pinot grigio, because it’s less alcohol-ish.  And better than a cheap California chardonnay, because it tastes like wine.  But describing the flavor is hard:  if I say “pears” or “melon” or any other common thing, I’ll get struck by a bolt of lightning.  Mommy’s Time Out just refuses to taste like anything specific.  Maybe diluted sweetened lemon?

I probably won’t buy more, even though $7 is a great price.  Don’t forget, for $8 you can get the lovely Anakena sauvignon blanc, and for $6, the spectacularly acceptable Jacob’s Creek chardonnay.  Although it’s a close call because this blend is so easy to drink, this forgettable wine with the unforgettable name is:

Not recommended.

Next!





Iris pinot gris review

6 11 2010

Today’s subject is a 2007 pinot gris from Oregon that cost me $13 (but look here — only $10.80).

This, ladies and gents, is a really cool bottle.  There’s no label!  They just painted in red, purple and yellow on a dark green wine bottle.  The “I” in Iris is represented by a painting of an eyeball.  And the words on the back are sideways.   They provide a dictionary definition of “iris.” 

Their website says: “Beautiful aromas of orange blossoms and jasmine are accented by hints of figs and pears. On the palate this medium bodied wine bursts with tropical flavors of papaya, banana and mango, with a dash of nectarine.”

I don’t know what that means.  Except the banana part.  But it doesn’t taste like a banana.

Although it’s pretty good, and I’m a bit on the fence about it, I can’t recommend that you buy Iris pinot gris, even though it’s from Oregon (which I love) and it’s only $13 (which I love even more).  It’s definitely interesting, and it’s definitely not bad, but I don’t have the desire to keep drinking more and more.  It has some mild sweetness and its aroma is nice, with some melon and a mixture of tropical fruit.  But to my stupid mouth, the main flavor was sort of just, melon-sweetened alcohol.   However, I will be buying more if I find it for $10.

So, at $13 this one is not recommended, unless I am going to an outdoor concert, or a picnic, where a really cool-looking bottle of white wine will score points, in which case, Iris can’t be beat!

Next!





SCHUG chardonnay review

2 11 2010

Here’s a 2007 California chardonnay that costs $22 and is from “Sonoma Coast.”

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Bottom line:   The most intense white wine I’ve ever tasted.  Unless you’re a crazed California chard fanatic who is looking for the fringe of possible chardonnay flavors, this wine is not recommended.

GAAKK!!!  SCHUG chardonnay may be “respecting the fruit and regional character of each variatal,” but this stuff is VERY challenging to drink right after you open it.  Positively face-wilting with sour flavors, it just defies you to bring it to your lips for a second try.  However, as I explain below, it gets MUCH better on day 2 and could be fascinating to a die-hard California chardonnay fan.  Right after opening, for me the smell was the worst part, reminding your Wineguider of urine and rotting flowers.

On day 2, it definitely got better, with some minerality, citrus and green apple, but it was still VERY intense.  Is this stuff awful, or stellar and academy-award-winning?  I’m not sure!  All I know is, it’s way, way out there.  The smell improved on day 2 as well, morphing into a pleasant combination of light tropical fruits. 

And I have to give some serious “props” to SCHUG chardonnay:  UNlike most California chards, it tastes very organic and very natural.  If I were really into California chardonnay, I could see loving this stuff.  It’s quirky.  It’s off the beaten path.  It’s intense.  It makes a very serious statement.

I just don’t think that the average wine drinker will want to listen.  This one is:

Not recommended.

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Morgan “Metallico” chardonnay review

2 11 2010

In this extension of the dreaded California chardonnay week, we review Morgan Metallico 2008 chardonnay, at $18.

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Hey!  Maybe I should figure out exactly WHY I hate all California chards!?  Maybe it’s the oak?  That’s why I bought this Morgan: the “Metallico” is named for the metal containers used instead of oak barrells in fermentation.  It’s from Monterey, which is yielding some delicious wines these days.

Great!  No oak!  But, I didn’t like it.  It tasted a little weird, on day 1 and day 2.  Tart citrus combines with sweet tropical flavors, which seems like a great balance.  But the tartness verges on sour.  And the sweetness verges on — well, just weird.  

I keep complaining that California chards are too oaky and too buttery.  Morgan says that it addressed both problems here.  No oak barrells.  And — surprisingly — no “malo-lactic fermentation,” which gives buttery taste by converting malic acid to lactic acid.  (This mutes the naturally tart malic acid in chardonnay grapes.)   But it still tasted a little buttery, somehow.

Maybe I’m just too hard to please.  Maybe I’m just a total jerk.  But whatever the reason, unfortunately, this oakless wonder is:

Not recommended.

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Cakebread Cellars chardonnay review

24 10 2010

We continue our special California chardonnay week with this coveted $42 wine from Napa Valley’s 2007 vintage.

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Am I crazy??  This $42 (sometimes $53) (but look here — just $32.98) chardonnay, thought to be one of the best in the U.S., isn’t good enough??  The wine that I actually saw two grown men fight over in an Atlanta liquor store that had only 1 bottle left (one of whom turned out to be my dentist!)??

First, Cakebread was better than this week’s previous (low-dollar) contenders.  We had high hopes, because this chard was one of the best in Napa Valley when I visited Cakebread‘s winery in 2004.  But it seems oakier and more buttery now.  Our first drink made us grimace uncontrollably.  It tasted like the fake, clogged-up stuff you get when you absentmindedly order “white wine” at some stupid work-related event.  The smell was VERY oaky and buttery.  Decanting didn’t help — still tasted like an improved version of Clos du Bois, which we dissed here

But on day 2, things improved a lot.  NOW this golden boy began to act right — a smell of honeysuckles and a taste of (acidic) lemon/lime, countered by (sweet) honeydew melon and cantaloupe.  And a hint of oak, which combined with the citrus to zap your tongue with a mildly spicy “zing!”   Wow — a natural-tasting, balanced, white wine. 

Then there’s the price.  I would highly recommend this wine at $23.  But at $42, or $53, or whatever, I expect a near-orgasmic experience.  So far, only pinot noirs at this price level have earned a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Unfortunately, at $42 this golden boy is:

Not recommended.

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Clos du Bois 2009 chardonnay review

21 10 2010

LET’S GET READY TO RUMMM-BLLLLE!!!!  Today we continue our special California chardonnay week by reviewing the Clos du Bois 2009 chardonnay, which will cost you $12.

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Et tu, Clos du Bois?  This is the THIRD DAMN California chardonnay I’ve auditioned this week, and I can’t find one that I would buy again.  What’s up, ladies and gentlemen?  I guess I am just too cheap and too optimistic, as I have now tried chards priced at $11, $8, and $12. 

What I got here was an aroma of “standard California chardonnay,” and a taste of — this was a shocker — “standard California chardonnay.”  Admittedly, it tastes cleaner than Bogle or Kendall-Jackson.  In fact Clos du Bois is not horrible, and does not slap you with grimace-producing chemical flavors, but the problem is, there’s just no reason to keep drinking it.  Pale yellow in color, it had notes of oak, butter, grilled pears, broasted pineapple . . . oh who cares?  Life is meaningless!

(Sorry about that.)  And check this out: after 3 days in the fridge, this chardonnay transformed into some kind of flavored water.  Monday night, when first opened:  blah chardonnay.   Thursday afternoon:  yellow sports drink.  I’m having some right now.   Nothing.   It’s vaguely buttery, and has a light spice.  Whatever. 

Looks like we’re going to have to up our game for the next California wine that we audition, ladies and gentlemen.  CHOO CHOOOOOOOOOOO!!  Here come the PAIN TRAIN, YO.  As I commence a 2nd mortgage application on my house to purchase our next contender, today’s ordinary $12 California chardonnay is:

Not recommended.

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Bogle 2009 chardonnay review

19 10 2010

The second contender in California chardonnay week is the 2009 Bogle Vineyards at $8.  That’s $3 less than the almighty Kendall-Jackson (which we rejected for tasting like a bunch of chemicals and for its unrelenting mediumness).

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

“WHOA.”  That was my first reaction.  This stuff is truly intense.  It smelled like sweet mangos, butterscotch, and lemon — far more interesting than the Kendall-Jackson factory.   The taste?  Oaky and buttery . . . lemon and green apple acidity . . . butterscotch, melon, cream, some real sweetness . . . and, like Kendall-Jackson, the feeling that I was ingesting random chemicals.  At least it’s a little spicy.  That was my favorite part about this bargain white wine.

Bogle is a cool winery.  It’s family-owned.  They keep the price of this wine really low (which is a mystery, because it’s at least as good as Kendall-Jackson).  And I hear great things about their bargain cabernet and “ThePhantom” red blend. 

But I can’t recommend this chard.  Which isn’t surprising because, as I’ve said, I generally don’t like California chardonnays.  I wouldn’t go as far as this guy, who called the 2004 Bogle chard “undrinkable,” but I can’t agree with this other guy who said it was his favorite chard under $10.  Wow.   As for me, it really smells wonderful, but this intense California chardonnay is, unfortunately, not recommended.

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Kendall-Jackson chardonnay review

18 10 2010

Guess what!!?  In this review, we kick off a feature:  California chardonnay week!

Why?   Because I couldn’t find a hammer to smash myself in the face with?  No, I’m doing this because (1) California chardonnays are incredibly popular, and (2) I dislike them so much, that if I can recommend even one with a straight face, it’s likely to be really damn good.

Our first is the big dog, the mac-daddy: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve from 2008, which sells for $11.  It’s a big label in the wine world, and therefore a little controversial.  See various opinions:

  • here (“it tastes like fruit juice mixed with oak essence and some vodka” … “I will not finish the bottle”)
  • here (“rarely taken seriously”)
  • here (“yellow colored” … “this chard is extremely popular for a reason”)
  • here (“my favorite chardonnay under $12”) and
  • here (“one of my favorite white wines”).

How does it taste?   Not so great.  But not terrible.  The first word I wrote when tasting this medium-bodied yellow fluid:  “chemicals.”  It’s oaky, and buttery, but not excessively so.  It has strong sweetness with vanilla, pear and melon, and medium acidity with citrusy something-or-other.  The overall message is:  extremely medium.  If I needed a good California chardonnay, I’d definitely spend the extra bucks and get William Hill, which I reviewed right here.

Why is KJ one of the best selling wines in the universe?  I don’t know.  Perhaps Oprah recommended it?  Or perhaps your Wineguider is screwed up, and this is really great wine?  We’ll let the comments sort this out.  So, our first entry in this week’s California chardonnay face-smashing celebration is too medium and too chemical-ish and thus is:

Not 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.

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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.

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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.

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Marchese Antinori chianti classico riserva 2004 review

28 09 2010

Today we review a 2004 chianti that costs $30 a bottle. 

QUESTION!   What to buy if you’re making a romantic Italian dinner for a seriously hot date?  Answer – something Italian!  Although many U.S. reds will pair wonderfully with your meal, nothing gets the romance going like an Italian.  

There are many kinds of Italian wines, but if you’re starting out, a chianti is a safe bet — they hardly ever taste bad, they are affordable, and most people have a good association with the name.   But what IS chianti?  It’s not a grape.  It’s a blend of three or four grapes, but always most prominently sangiovese.  It’s made in the Chianti area of Italy, in Tuscany.  There are several “grades” of chianti, and it usually goes like this:

          Good:  chianti

          Better: chianti classico

          Best: chianti classico riserva

Then there’s “chianti superiore”, which is supposed to be even better, but is rare.  My local Total Wine has only one. 

So today we have a $30 chianti classico riserva which is very warm, extremely dark red, almost black, tastes very full and extracted, and is VERY very sumptuous in the mouth, with perfect texture.  But there’s a problem: too much oak.  Drinking it is like sucking on a 2×4.  It’s hard to taste the grapes, much less describe them for you.  Although it is very romantic, has great texture and has a sexy, upperclass label, this Italian is unfortunately:

Not recommended.   

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P.S.  Hey WINEGUIDER!!  What about my dang date?!?!   Well, for a moderately pricey chianti that will taste good and show that you really cared about the meal, I suggest you buy the little brother to the above wine, another Antinori offering called Peppoli chianti classico, which costs $24.   I will do a full review soon.





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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.





Mirrabooka pinot noir review

12 08 2010

Today we review a 2006 pinot noir from Australia that costs anywhere from $9 to $15 a bottle, depending on where you get it.  I snagged it for $13.

OK, I obviously love an inexpensive wine as much as the next guy, but when it blatantly sucks, I still get rattled, no matter how cheap the bottle was.   The 2006 Mirrabooka pinot noir from Australia’s Victoria region is fairly cheap, and yes, it blatantly sucks.  

It smells bad, like something you left in your kitchen sink way too long — sharp, and sour.  But its taste is where the suck really shines through.  Ever tried red wine that’s been open too long?   That’s what Mirrabooka tasted like after it had been open for about 4 hours.  And it wasn’t even open the whole time — the screw cap was put tightly back in place.  Specifics?  Sour.  Very minerally.  Sharp, like they threw some vinegar in there.  (Hey!  Why not?)  Very acidic and bright, with hints of some flavors that I don’t care enough about to write out.

CAVEAT:  I’ve had 2 bottles of this pinot, from the same store, and it’s possible that their stock was damaged in some way.  I will seek out this wine in the fall to reassess, and hopefully will have kinder words to say.

As I contemplate how I will obtain a badly needed attitude adjustment after choking down this Aussie from much too far down under, I will remind myself that this one is:

Not recommended.





Estancia pinot grigio review

6 08 2010

Hi!  Today your wineguider reviews a $12 pinot grigio from California’s 2008 vintage.

This review is difficult to write because I usually love Estancia wines.  They aren’t awesome, but most perform above their price class.  I don’t know what happened here, but I think their choice of language on the back label almost warns you about what you’re in for.  The first sentence is:

“Simply put, Estancia pinot grigio is better than all the rest.”

What a crock of shit.  Sorry, but instead of “bliss” or the other goodies mentioned on the label, you mainly get a mouthful of confusion.  It tastes like they might have put some chardonnay or sauvignon blanc in there, to make it interesting.  Well, it is kind of interesting, but it doesn’t make you want more and more.  

As we have said, pinot grigio usually tastes very clean.  Estancia doesn’t.  Although its various flavors give you “more” than a typical pinot grigio, and its slight mineral afterfeel on your tongue is nice and pleasant, I preferred the dirt-cheap Jacob’s Creek pinot grigio, reviewed below, which costs, I don’t know, like, 45 cents.  Surprisingly, this Estancia wine is:

Not recommended.

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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.





Hob Nob pinot noir review

5 07 2010

Today we review a pinot noir from France that costs only $11 a bottle.  [EDIT:  I’ve now seen it for just $8, which caused a re-visit to this review, right here.]  

Here’s the deal with pinot noir — it’s very hard to grow, it’s difficult to make into great wine, and it’s very hard to ship without damage by way of excessive heat or jostling around (“bottle shock”).  So why bother?  Because when it comes together, I believe pinot noir is simply better than any other wine.

Hob Nob pinot has some things going for it.  It can be a crowd pleaser for those who are just beginning to enjoy wine, or those who prefer something on the sweet side.  It is robust — not a wimpy see-through pink in color, like many pinot noirs.  And it has some definite taste notes — deep, dark cherries and black cherries — so it doesn’t taste like generic and totally nameless “red wine”, as many cheap pinot noirs do.  

The problem is that Hob Nob doesn’t really taste like pinot noir.  And, it is inconsistent.  Some bottles that I’ve tried have been simple in a “cheap wine” way, and blatantly too sweet.  Although many will still enjoy it, Hob Nob doesn’t quite merit a recommendation.  If you want a fun red wine with some sweetness and you don’t really care if it tastes exactly like pinot noir, you should try Hob  Nob — it’s a very good bargain.  But those in search of a great bargain “pinot noir” should check out the wine which I reviewed: here.

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Three pinot grigios reviewed

28 06 2010

Today we review 3 pinot grigios: Yalumba ($12), Adelsheim ($15), and Albino Armani ($18).

Bottom line:  Yalumba and Adelsheim are not recommended, based on taste.   Albino Armani is a very nice pinot grigio, but its price makes it a little bit difficult to recommend.

Before we begin: pinot gris and pinot grigio are just two different names for the same white wine grape.   The name used usually depends on the location of the winery — for example, pinot “grigio” is usually used in Italy and California, pinot “gris” in France and Oregon.

1.

Yalumba pinot grigio is Australian and costs $12.  It’s a very dry white wine with lots of acidity and minerality but not much in the way of depth, complexity, or fruit.  More importantly, overall it just isn’t delicious.  A friend who has a great palate noticed a slight aroma of urine. (Yikes.)  The first time I tried it, I agreed.  After a few more encounters with Yalumba I don’t get that anymore, and its clean taste has grown on me a bit, but it’s still not quite good enough to recommend. 

However, I can imagine somebody who really loves dry and minerally white wines being OK with the Yalumba, pairing it with shrimp, sushi or spicy roast chicken. 

2.

Adelsheim pinot gris is from Oregon and costs $15. It is very hard to describe, except that it is definitely not yummy.  In fact, it is awful.  To its credit, it’s not overly sweet, or overly acidic… it doesn’t taste like feet, or anything else that is remotely familiar… and its malignant flavor profile doesn’t linger.  Its minerally texture does linger, but only a little. 

Since I generally respect Oregon wines, I shared the Adelsheim with some friends to see what they thought.  It was universally hated.  I wish I could think of something truly good to say about this wine.  Wait — the label is beautiful, and features a painting of a woman by winery co-founder Ginny Adelsheim.  There!

3.

Albino Armani pinot grigio is from Italy and costs $18 at Total Wine.  It is very pleasant, easy to drink, and has a great balance of sweet and citrusy fruit against mild acidity.  It smells wonderful, with fresh, tropical scents.  And it sort of lights up your mouth.  Nice.  I can’t imagine anybody hating this wine, but I don’t think it is a massive crowd pleaser or incredibly delicious  as a pinot grigio, either.

If Albino Armani were $10 a bottle, I would DEFINITELY recommend it.  At $18, it’s a much closer call.  I think there are better white wine values.   

So, if cost is not a big issue for you, by all  means try the Albino Armani.  I think you’ll be happy you did.  If cost is more important, you can do better with other white wines.  I’ll search for a better value pinot grigio to recommend soon, but previously reviewed white wines that are better values include Nobilo sauvignon blanc and Bree riesling.

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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.   

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Georges DuBoeuf chardonnay review

25 06 2010

Today we review a white wine from France that sells for just $5 a bottle at the fabulous Premier Wine in Wilmington, Delaware.

This chardonnay is part of a line of very inexpensive french wines under the Georges Duboeuf label.  I think the chardonnay is the best of the line.  In fact, possibly the best restaurant in Delaware (Harry’s Seafood Grill, on the riverfront) uses this, re-labled, as their house chardonnay.  When I had it at Harry’s, I thought it was a solid winner.  When I tried it at home while staring at the dishes in my kitchen sink, some doubts begain to creep in.

It’s fruity, and does smell wonderful.  The taste has some real character and gives a balance of sweet and tart flavors.  If you’re not too picky and you love white wine, this might be the key to slashing your wine budget and putting a big, fat smile on your face.  But to me, it had a confused feel to it, an alcohol-heavy, sharp overtone that prevented it from being truly yummy, and so I’ve decided that this great value is unfortunately:

Not recommended.

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Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select riesling review

23 06 2010

We have called Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling from Washington state the “king” of inexpensive U.S. rieslings.  Today we review an “upgrade” to the king called Harvest Select, which sells for $10.

Before we begin, let’s talk about something important:  if you like sweeter wines, you should definitely be aware of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s “plain” riesling.  Selling at Total Wine for just $8, this stuff is a big deal because it is very drinkable, even for people who don’t usually drink wine, YET it is also very servable because it qualifies as “real wine” in snob circles.

Now, for 2 more dollars, you can buy the Harvest Select.  Mmmm, “Harvest Select”. . . the name just reeks of exclusivity — so wine country, so authentic, so, upper crust.  Unfortunately, if you buy this thinking, you have been fooled.   To be fair, the Harvest Select is an upgrade in one way: it has no troubling flavors at all.  The plain Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling cannot make this statement.  You could also argue that the Harvest Select’s sweet flavors are higher quality, more interesting, more umm. . . upper crust, than the plain riesling’s. 

But the plain version is more balanced.  Its awkward notes provide a little acidity and tartness.  Balance is where the Harvest Select falls on its sugary face.  There isn’t much to counter its powerful, heavy sweetness.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not terrible wine at all.  But my reaction, and the overall reaction at a recent wine tasting, was that it is too sweet and not interesting enough when compared with other wines in this price range.

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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.

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Bree pinot noir review

19 06 2010

Today we review Bree pinot noir, a German red wine that can be found at Total Wine for $11 a bottle.

Bree pinot noir is not bad, it’s just not very good.  On the bright side, it’s very affordable, and you can drink it, even drink a lot of it.  It won’t make you grimace, and you won’t have the urge to spit it out, or take it to the sink and force it down the drain while swearing at it. 

The problem is, Bree is just too simple.  And too sweet.  There are several affordable pinot noirs in this price range that taste more like real pinot noir, and have a little bit of complexity.   This stuff is like a Stepford Wife version of pinot noir.  All the possibly troubling flavors have been removed, for your sterile, Disney-themed taste experience.  Smooth, drinkable cherry water, anyone?

The bottle is drop-dead gorgeous, but you can enjoy it far better when filled with the very nice Bree riesling, reviewed below.

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