LaCrema vs. Decoy pinot noir review / shootout

22 06 2014

Today we compare two 2012 pinot noirs from Sonoma County, California:  La Crema Sonoma Coast ($19 at Total Wine and Costco, but usually in the low $20s) and Decoy Sonoma County ($22).

Decoy first impression:  a beautifully sweet aroma, a delicious cherry-rhubarb pie taste, what could go wrong?  Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »





Les Martinieres table wine: YOU MAKE ME WANT TO –

14 10 2012

Today we look at a French white wine.  Seven dollars at Total Wine.

If you get excited about great food.

If you get excited about delicious wine.

If you like a bargain, but you love an extreme bargain — then it’s time to discover Read the rest of this entry »





La Crema Sonoma Coast pinot noir: IMPORTANT NOTICE

26 09 2012

ALERT!  La Crema 2010 Sonoma Coast pinot noir is delicious — and right now it’s just $16.89 at Costco.

Wow.  I’m used to seeing this wine for around $23.  Regardless of the price, it is compelling: light, but spicy.  It smells Read the rest of this entry »





Harbor Front pinot noir review: OH GOOD GRACIOUS

28 06 2012

Today we check out a 2010 pinot noir from California that sells at Total Wine for $9.99.

OH MY GOD THIS WINE IS GOOD.  At just ten bucks, you HAVE to try it.  I promise, even though it’s an inexpensive pinot noir, which therefore should be wriggling all over the place to try to disappoint you, this wine in fact does nothing wrong.

It’s got aromas of rhubarb and blackberry, and in your mouth it’s a whirlwind of pleasurable cranberry, eucalyptus, roses and unknown spices.

I hereby nominate and confirm Harbor Front pinot noir as a flagrant, screaming, Best Value.  It is highly:

Harbor Front pinot noirRecommended.





Cloud Break pinot noir review: GAME CHANGER

21 06 2012

Cloud Break Pinot NoirToday your Wineguider reviews a 2011 pinot noir from California that is just $7.99 at Total Wine.

Sure, at this writing 2011 seems recent for any red wine, but there’s some good news here.  Cloud Break‘s aroma:  vintage middle school jelly bar.  (Translation: AWEsome).  Taste:  innocent, with lovely reminders of cherry cough drops and almonds.  It has a nice light-bodied mouthfeel appropriate for a pinot noir, with hints of oak and speecy-spicy meat-o-ball.  At this price, simply a great pinot noir.  Not complex, but extremely yummy.

Serve slightly chilled, but not refrigerator-cold.  Mark West was my GO-TO pinot noir under $9.  Now it’s Cloud Break.  Consider the low-priced pinot noir game, “changed.”  A Best Value winner (hence the guy at the slot machine), Cloud Break pinot noir is:

Recommended.





Cupcake sauvignon blanc review

14 06 2012

Hello!  Today we review a 2011 sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley, selling at Costco for just $7.89.

WOW do I ever like this wine.  The 2011 Cupcake sauvignon blanc is a summer party hit — it has a fun name, a lighthearted yet classy label, and its taste is tangy and refreshing, with lemon, a little lime, and just a whisper of  grapefruit and honeysuckle.  It does nothing wrong, and with the crazy low price, this is kind of a big deal.  In fact, why isn’t everybody talking about this?  What is going on!?  Why isn’t this wine on the FRONT PAGE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES?   EVERY DAY?

I would like to humbly suggest that you hurry to Costco and buy as much of this little stunner as your family can afford.   Or, to Total Wine, where it sells for a mere $7.97.  Or anyplace you can find it, really.  That guy at the slot machine is laughing because Cupcake 2011 sauvignon blanc is a Best Value winner, even at $12.  And it is highly:

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.





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.





flipflop riesling review: kick back and have a sip

23 05 2011

Today we review a 2009 riesling from Washington State that costs $7.

Hi!  Today’s burning question:  “At this low price, how good can it be?”  I’m happy to report that this wine with the carefree name is officially “really good.” Yes, it’s fairly sweet, but it’s less sweet than most rieslings.  That’s cool.  It’s fun, light, and it doesn’t do anything wrong.  With flavors of melon and peach, flipflop riesling is pretty much the ultimate party wine.

That’s good.  But there’s more.  Flipflop is actually kind of a big deal, because this $7 wonder is just as good as the Mack Daddy of affordable riesling, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is also a bargain but costs a bit more than flipflop.   

In fact, the only disappointing thing about this bottle for me was the grammatically challenged slogan, “to each, their own.”  A little singular/plural issue there.  Oh well – I’m glad they are making wine at flipflop, and not worrying about grammar. 

flipflop riesling reviewRecommended, and, hereby awarded a Best Value designation.





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.





Jacob’s Creek reserve chardonnay review – HOLY FREAKING

29 04 2011

Today we review a 2007 $14 chardonnay from south Australia.

Holy freaking COW this Jacob’s Creek reserve chard is good.  It costs around $14.  If you find it for $20, you should still buy it.  Below, you can read part of a real, grown-up review of this wonderful white wine, from a website that usually requires you to pay in order to benefit from their wisdom. Bring this to a party and everybody who has been choking down California chardonnay will love you.

Much better on the 2nd day after opening, this bargain chard with a real cork from the other side of the world has aromas of butterscotch and tastes fresh, natural, and real — with acidic citrus flavors like lime, balanced by round tropical notes like mango (and some butterscotch). 

More, please! 

Highly recommended, and a “Best Value”.   

Jacob's Creek reserve chardonnay review

From Jancis Robinson.com (I added the emphasis):

“As detailed in Chardonnays – Oz vs the rest, I ended up giving the same relatively enthusiastic score, 16.5 out of 20, to Jacob’s Creek regular Chardonnay 2008 [a $6 value monster that your Wineguider recommended in 2009 form, right here] as to Bruno Colin’s Premier Cru Morgeot 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet [a fine French chardonnay that sells for $50-$80], and gave an even higher score to the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2008.

The distinguishing mark of the Jacob’s Creek Chardonnays is that Phil Laffer has steered their stylistic evolution in parallel with the dramatic change in the style of the average Australian Chardonnay much higher up the ranks, towards something much leaner and more refreshing. More Chablis than the old heavily oaked monsters. 

The main changes Laffer has made in recent years have been to treat the Chardonnay grapes as though they were fragile Riesling, picking them at night, protecting them assiduously from oxygen, minimising the time between vineyard and winery. Laffer reckons even his regular Chardonnay should last five to six years, ‘which certainly wasn’t the case five years ago’.”





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.





Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz cabernet review – STRIKER!

6 01 2011

Today we examine a 2008 southern Aussie blend that you can buy at Costco for $7.69.

This medium-to-full-bodied red smells like a nice cab with some black cherry shiraz notes, but on your tongue it’s jammy blueberry shiraz all the way, balanced by soft tannins and a touch of chocolate.  It’s better on day 2: you get more cabernet, and less alcohol.

And it’s a screamer.  In fact, let me be frank — 

it’s the new value red wine top dog — the big cheese, the head honcho — Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz/cab blend is HIGHLY desirable even at $13, and it’s better than many $20 wines I have tried.  It’s warm.  Tilted toward the sweet side of the sweet/dry spectrum.  Big, but won’t overpower most food.  It was the only red served at the hip New Year’s party I attended in posh West Chester, PA, and it beat 14 other reds in my friends’ $15-or-less blind tasting. 

Our past favorites in the red wine value race are narrowly eclipsed by this reliable Godzilla.  Highly recommended, and a blatant “Best Value” red.   Bravo! 

Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz cabernet review





Rosemount shiraz review – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

18 11 2010

Rosemount shiraz reviewTonight your fussy, picky Wineguider reviews a 2008 Australian shiraz that’s only $8 at my local store, and just $6.50 at Total Wine.

What is this, some kind of a joke?

How much, for this jammy plastic explosive?  $6.50??  This big, dark, chewy, fruit and tannin-filled shiraz costs what?

OK if you’re reading this, you probably know what cheap red wine tastes like.  Think about the last time you trusted a good-looking flight attendant who offered you a merlot, and suffered the consequences.  Or the last time you ordered “red wine” at a hotel bar.  Rough.  Bitter.  Weak.  Totally anonymous. Fraudulent. And you paid nine U.S. dollars for one glass of it, didn’t you.

But wait — I can offer you a whole bottle of feel-good, for $6.50 — less than a carwash.  I’m not saying it has huge individual personality.  And it’s not perfect, or layered, or complex.  But it’s SO drinkable, and it’s so cheap, that you can grant yourself forgiveness with it.  Forgiveness for all of those bad drinking decisions at “hip” after-work nightspots (for example).   Just order your favorite Chinese food, and get some Rosemount shiraz.  And get ready for a good time.

Go ahead.  You deserve redemption.  Rosemount is there for you.

At $6.50, or $8, highly recommended.  And, a “Best Value.”  Enjoy!





Da Vinci chianti review – WHAT IS THIS!?

12 11 2010

Da Vinci chianti reviewToday we review a 2008 chianti from Italy (of course), which costs $10 at my local wine store.  However, I’ve seen it for as high as $14.

Holy cow, is this the perfect value-oriented wine?

It may not be terribly cool to love Da Vinci chianti, but I love it.  But only on day 2, after leaving the bottle corked overnight.  To be honest, when first opened, it struck me as generic, slightly too sweet, and lacking any kind of personality.

On day 2 my views changed, so I suggest letting it breathe — even better, pour it into a decanter.  Da Vinci has noticeable, mouth-drying tannins, but less than many other chiantis. It’s juicy, and very friendly for a chianti.  It’s medium-bodied, verging on full-bodied.  Wine geek words like “mouthfilling” come to mind.  It smells like a sweet Marks-A-Lot magic marker.  And it tastes like oak and vanilla, mixed with strawberry, cranberry, blackberry, and a little smoke.  Perfect?  No.  It doesn’t have the sensual complexity or fresh, organic explosion of colors that you get with a truly great wine.   But at this price, it’s damn near perfection.

WOW.  At $10, absolutely unstoppable.  This crowd pleaser is easily a “Best Value” winner.  Recommended!





Five Rivers cabernet: OH MY GOD

4 11 2010

This review has been updated here.

Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon, which normally goes for $11 or more and was recommended by your Wineguider here, is now selling for $8.99 at Total Wine and, I’m told, at Wegmans.  Thereby CATAPULTING it into “Best Value” status.  Juicy, yet packing a dry punch full of tannins, it’s not as full-bodied as some other cabs, but it does almost nothing wrong.

Is there another $9 cabernet sauvignon on planet Earth that is this good?  I DON’T KNOW.

Are any red wines this good, at $9?  Yes:  Mark West pinot noir, and super-tannic Zestos especial.  But they have strong personalities that prevent them from being budget crowd-pleasers. Five Rivers is generic enough that almost anybody can enjoy it.  Admittedly, this is also its downfall: it can be kind of plain.  And maybe a little sweet for a “real” cabernet sauvignon.

But at this price, I don’t know of any cabernet that comes close.  To my budget red wine drinking friends – enjoy!





Jacob’s Creek 2009 chardonnay review – WHAT THE?

12 10 2010

Today we look at a chardonnay from Australia that will cost you only 6 bucks.

I can’t restrain myself, ladies and gentlemen, this white wine from south-eastern Australia is AWE-SOME.  At a price that is almost laughable, you get a smooth white wine with some real character.  A crisp, tart, tangy, enjoyable wine with some true chardonnay taste and aromas, combined with a little extra citrus and minerality, yet almost no oak and almost no butter.   Almost nothing like a typical California chardonnay, it actually acts more like a sauvignon blanc in some ways.  I literally can’t stop drinking it.

Now I admit, Jacob’s Creek 2009 chardonnay is strange in one way:  one bottle that I bought had a screw top.  Another one had a cork.  Same wine.  Same year.  Same STORE.  What the hell!?  I don’t know, but I can tell you this:  the bottle with the cork tasted better.  It was smoother.  And it lacked the slightly over-tart, slightly kerosene-tinged character of the screw top.  But most importantly: both bottles were incredible for a $6 wine.

This aussie is an obvious, flat-out “Best Value” winner, and is:

Jacob's Creek chardonnay review

Highly recommended.





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.





Extra!! Mark West “Santa Lucia” pinot noir review

3 10 2010

Today we review a 2009 pinot noir from the Santa Lucia area within California’s central coast, which will cost you around $16.  My bottle came free directly from Mark West.

Wow.  Let’s get to the point — I cannot think of another $16 pinot noir that is this entertaining, this notably good.  (The same is true of the “plain” Mark West, which has an orange label.  Nothing at its lower price point tastes as much like real pinot noir.)  And yes, Mark West Santa Lucia is better than the “plain” Mark West: it’s more silky, tastes more mature and complex, and some of the rough edges of the “plain” Mark West have been sanded down without losing that very real, true, pinot noir character.  You’ll taste rose petals, cola, raspberry and cherry, very bright spices, and a little bit of oak and minerality.  This medium-bodied wine is perfect for drinking on its own, or with just about any food other than the heaviest of meats.

Drawbacks?  It’s pretty darn hot, so it delivers an “alcohol!!” punch in the mouth.  It’s definitely not your father’s light, see-through pinot noir.  This very real pinot noir is another clear “Best Value” winner, hence the guy laughing at the slot machine.  Mark West Santa Lucia Highlands is:

Mark West "Santa Lucia" pinot noir review

Highly recommended.





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.





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.





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!





Anakena sauvignon blanc review

23 07 2010

This review has been updated here.

Today we review a white wine from Chile that costs only $8.  I found it at Total Wine.

Anakena’s price is what makes it hot.  There just aren’t many $8 wines that taste this normal and civilized.  This 2009 sauvignon blanc is light, and a little bit tart and minerally.  It tastes more round and slightly sweeter than some sauvignon blancs.  It has some pleasant citrus, but it’s not a mouth-puckering All-Grapefruit Assault.

Is there a downside?  Anakena doesn’t have as much “zing” for your taste buds  as Oyster Bay, which I reviewed here, and which is 25-35% more expensive.  But on the bright side, Anakena is easy to drink and clean, leaving less mineral feel behind than Oyster Bay.  Even brighter is Anakena’s price.  Gotta love it.

If you love white wines and a great value, THIS is your summer white.  And if you have been drinking very sweet white wines, and you want to “get more serious,” this is a really great starting point.  Anakena sauvignon blanc is hereby awarded a “Best Value” designation, and is:

Anakena sauvignon blanc review

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.





Zen of Zin zinfandel review

8 07 2010

Today we review a Sonoma California zinfandel made by Ravenswood  that is $11.

OK, this is a deep, dark wine that smells like coffee and tastes like a typical, smooth, semi-oaky, warm California red.  Unlike lesser zinfandels, Zen of Zin is not a fruit bomb — it has real tannins, and a dry finish.  It’s not complex or superb, but there’s almost nothing wrong with it.  Nothing sticking out here.  Nothing poking your taste buds there.  It’s rich, delicious and affordable.  THAT makes Zen of Zin a “Best Value” (hence the guy at the slot machine).

This is all painful to admit, because I am so turned off by the label.  It proudly commands, like a fat redneck who loves champagne:  “POUR OFTEN:  Especially among friends.  PAIR BOLDLY:  With prime rib, pork, and chocolate.  EXPERIMENT FREELY:  Bring to a party full of Chards.  SHARE WISDOM:  And laughter.  Always laughter.”

Um, OK.  Did Zen of Zin outsource the label to spammers on AOL, who write about dancing like nobody’s watching?  Do we need to be told to pair this wine BOLDLY with pork?  Before this review degenerates any further, I’ll just pour yet another glass of Zen of Zin, and remind myself that this wine is:

Recommended!Zen of Zin zinfandel review





Pine Ridge chenin blanc/viognier review – INTERRUPTED

1 07 2010

Today we review the very affordable $11 2008 – WOW!

— sorry,  this review is being interrupted because I’ve just tasted a flat-out delicious and obviously “Best Value” white wine.  Pine Ridge’s chenin blanc/viognier blend from California is balanced, interesting, and tastes like pears, citrus, melons and green peppers.  Yes, green peppers.  When I say “balanced” I mean that the sweetness from the viognier is countered nicely by the citrus acidity in the chenin blanc.   This stuff is unbelievable.  And it’s only $11?  WTF?

Just buy it — trust me.  

See, I’m like Colin Powell, except I’m not an impressive war leader, and you’re not the white house press corps trusting the U.S. military for the first time since Viet Nam.  (And, instead of caring about Washington news, you’re mainly looking to get buzzed on white wine.   Wait, that makes you EXACTLY LIKE the white house press corps.) 

Highly recommended.Pine Ridge chenin blanc/viognier review





gotham Barossa Valley cabernet sauvignon review

29 06 2010

Today we review gotham 2008 Barossa Valley cabernet sauvignon, which sells for $15 at Premier Wine in Wilmington, Delaware. 

Another big wine from Australia, this 2008 cabernet is powerful, luscious, peppery, very warm, and a deep, dark cranberry red in color.  It has definite fruit, but it’s not sweet.  It has some big, bad tannins.  A texture like a cup of strong coffee that you threw a couple of espresso shots into. 

And it’s clearly a cabernet.  On steroids.  It’s not super complex, but there is plenty here to keep your palate entertained. As well as your nose — the aroma is a combination of dark berry desserts and strong spices.  Let this one breathe — it was noticeably better on day 2.

Is this wine bigger and better than the powerful Jip Jip Rocks, Jacob’s Creek reserve and Incognito reds, reviewed earlier?  Bigger, yes.  Better:  Mmmmaybe.  It’s SO big and powerful that many wine lovers may be turned off.  But if you are all about big, this is your wine. 

Enjoy!gotham Barossa Valley cabernet sauvignon review





Espiral vinho verde review

27 06 2010

Today we review a white wine from Portugal available at Trader Joe’s for the remarkable price of $4.

Let’s be honest, at this low price, a wine doesn’t have to do very much to achieve a recommendation.  As long as it doesn’t suck, it should be recommendable.  (In fact, this wine was featured in the “Cheap Wines That Don’t Suck” column in the San Francisco Weekly.)  But this wine actually does some things very well.   

Espiral vinho verde is perfect for a starter wine at a summer party.   “Starter” meaning that the guests are just arriving, it was hot as a firecracker outside, and they are saying hello and getting comfortable.  Why does Espiral work here?  It’s light.  REALLY light.  And it’s fun, because it’s a little bit bubbly.  Effervescent.  Spritzy.  It’s also fun because, as my foodie friends who introduced me to Espiral pointed out, it tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher.  Finally, it’s very low alcohol, so it won’t bog anybody down as they begin to enjoy your party.

On the downside, depending on your tastes, this crisp white wine is very simple, lacking depth and “oomph”.  And it’s extremely dry.  Some people want their white wine to provide some ooey-gooey sweetness.   (Although I think some of these people will come around once you lay the Jolly Rancher comparison on them.)

Serve this one very well-chilled.  Enjoy!

Espiral vinho verde review





Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz/Cabernet and Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz review

8 06 2010

Today we will review two big Australian reds.

Jip Jip Rocks (2008), $15:

First: you don’t want the cabernet.  And you don’t want the shiraz.  (They are drinkable, but merely average.) You want the shiraz/cabernet blend, recommended to me by Michelle at Premier Wine in Wilmington, DE.

Jip Jip is a hit because it tastes big — REALLY big — yet it is not overpowering.  It’s very fruit-forward, without being ooey-gooey sweet.  It has some mild tannins.  It’s  very warm, it’s very dark purple, and it’s delicious.  Its mere existence makes you think of steak.  And it has a cool name and zero “get used to it” phase: most red drinkers will like it right away.

However, Jip Jip is not layered or super complex.  And prior vintages were better.   Either 2008 was a so-so year, or Jip Jip is beginning to “dumb it down” by using cheaper grapes for greater profit as the brand becomes popular.   We won’t know which until next year’s vintage.  For now, it’s still very good, and I still buy it.

Jacob’s Creek (2006), $11:

Another red that I buy fairly regularly, the Jacob’s Creek reserve shiraz has been around a while.  It’s usually incredible for its low price, but it’s always at least good.  The goodness-to-dollars ratio is so exceptional that I have deemed it a “Best Value” (hence, the guy laughing at the slot machine).  It’s a very deep and dark red in color, very BIG, very warm, and utterly yummy.  However, it’s drier, smokier and spicier than Jip Jip, with more tannins.  You wouldn’t call this one a fruit bomb.

The Jacob’s Creek works well with food, or on its own.  One note:  you don’t want their regular shiraz.  You want the reserve.  Finally, Jacob’s Creek is not super complex, and the current vintage is not their best ever.

Which is better?  This year, for me, it’s Jip Jip, as its higher price would suggest.  But if you like smoky, spicy reds and you avoid juicy, fruit-forward wines, you’ll prefer the Jacob’s Creek.  Either way, you get wonderful bigness on a budget, without the excess oaky taste that is injected into so many California reds.

Both recommended!

Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz/Cabernet review

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz review





Nobilo sauvignon blanc review

4 06 2010

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc reviewToday we review Nobilo’s 2009 sauvignon blanc, a white wine from New Zealand that costs $11 a bottle.

This crisp, citrusy wine is perfect for summer.  Even though it’s not sweet, it gives you a tropical feeling.  If you are not too experienced with wine, this is a great choice to begin “branching out.”   On a hot day, have a little wine tasting: open a bottle of Nobilo, and a bottle of something you normally drink, like a California chardonnay.  Have some grapes, or cheese and crackers to nibble on.  Compare the flavors you get:  If you’re like me, the chardonnay’s flavors will seem clogged up and unnatural when compared to the Nobilo.  California chardonnay … hmm, butter, and oak (or a feeling that you’re sucking on a two-by-four?).  Nobilo … mmm, flavors of lemon, melon, a hint of green grass and no trace of oak, butter, or Sterno.

Nobilo is delicious, tastes like a $20 wine, and is bound to be a hit with anybody who likes sauvignon blanc.  It’s a clear “Best Value” winner. 

Highly recommended.