Avalon merlot review: OH, SANDY

30 10 2012

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

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

I opened it during Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Cono Sur merlot: MINI REVIEW

7 10 2012

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

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

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

Not recommended.





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 »





Benziger merlot mini review

24 09 2012

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

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





Kendall-Jackson Avant chardonnay review

23 09 2012

I purchased this 2010 California chardonnay at Costco for $11.

As you may know, I am not a huge fan of California chards.  Kendall-Jackson’s relatively new Avant chardonnay has less of the chemistry-experiment taste than their regular chardonnay, and less oak and butter.  From the front label:  “Fresh.  Crisp.  Clean.”  Read the rest of this entry »





Lapis Luna Moon Eyes cabernet sauvignon review: IT’S COOL

21 09 2012

Tonight it’s a 2007 cabernet from California’s Lodi area.  I paid $14, but I’ve seen it online for $9.99.

Wow, this wine is cool.  It is different from the usual California stuff — instead of Read the rest of this entry »





Apothic Red wine review: Newwww, Worrrrrldd, Mannnnnnn

21 09 2012

Today it’s a 2010 California red blend that you can buy at Costco for just under $9.

Quick lowdown:  Very cool black and red bottle, very popular, a warm, sweet blend of  syrah, zinfandel, cabernet and merlot.  Smells like Read the rest of this entry »





Mini review: Marius red wine blend

18 09 2012

This 2010 French red blend with the cool label cost me just $10.

Marius, from France’s Rhone valley, is a blend of syrah and grenache.  The aroma is spicy and Read the rest of this entry »





Montoya pinot noir review: HUNG JURY?

15 09 2012

Today we review a 2010 pinot noir from California’s Monterey County, which I acquired at Total Wine for $16.

This pinot isn’t spectacular but, importantly for a pinot noir, it doesn’t really do anything wrong.  It has cola, Read the rest of this entry »





Jacob’s Creek reserve cabernet sauvignon mini review

15 09 2012

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

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

Not recommended.





Avalon cabernet review: why it’s REALLY exciting

12 09 2012

Today we review a 2009 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that sells for about $17.

PART I

OK, Avalon’s Napa cabernet is very good, in fact just as good as Kendall Jackson’s legitimately delicious cabernet, at around the same price.   Avalon’s true cabernet taste features an oaky snap, dark red fruit, and a hint of cinnamon and chocolate.  Yum.  Although it won’t change your life, it has plentiful tannins, great mouthfeel, and doesn’t taste funky like some lower priced cabernets.

But what if you could have this wine for only $13 a bottle?  Read the rest of this entry »





Veramonte Reserva cabernet sauvignon review: WHAT THE?

10 09 2012

Today it’s a 2008 cabernet sauvignon from Chile’s Colchagua Valley that I bought at Total Wine for $9.99.

Uhh… not sure what’s going on here.  I mean, Veramonte is a good name — I’ve had some very good whites from this label, and I’ve heard positive things about it from people I trust.

But this wine Read the rest of this entry »





Chateau Garraud 2009 Bordeaux review: SEX LACK

9 09 2012

Today we review a $35 Bordeaux from Total Wine.

Dry.  Tight.  Serious.  Great texture and mouth-feel.  Chateau Garraud isn’t fooling around.  It is 69% merlot, 26% cabernet franc, and 5% cabernet sauvignon.  It smells of earth and alcohol, with traces of blackberries and licorice.  The taste:  lots of mouth-drying tannins and oak.  Faint traces of rhubarb and tart cranberry.   Not much fruit.  It’s elegant, and extremely subtle, but not very friendly.  The taste is so tight that it’s hard to appreciate what little complexity is being offered.

If you want a good example of the austere, no-nonsense reds from Bordeaux, Chateau Garraud 2009 is a nice choice, if you aren’t worried about the price.  But for $35, I want either more sex appeal, more flat-out delicious taste, or more complexity.  Although it is very good, at $35 I believe it is simply overpriced.

Not recommended.

EDIT:  I also tried the previous vintage.  The 2008 was much cheaper, at around $20, but was also much less drinkable than the 2009 reviewed here, with literally no fruit and not much else to redeem it.  Not a viable purchase.





Ravenswood Lodi zinfandel: COME-FROM-BEHIND WINNER

22 08 2012

Tonight we examine a 2009 zinfandel from California’s Lodi area, which I bought at Total Wine for $12.50.  I also received a free sample of it.

Last night we compared three zins, at $17, $15, and $15, and it was basically a tie.  Guess what — tonight, I can announce a clear winner.

Ravenswood Lodi old vine zin.  It wasn’t one of the three we compared, but Ravenswood Lodi has the juicy, crowd-pleasing warmth of last night’s Kenwood.  Going beyond the Kenwood, it has some (but not all) of the spice and tannins of the Rancho Zabaco.  And like the Ravenswood Sonoma, Ravenswood Lodi is definitely not wimpy.  (Partly because it’s actually 23% petite sirah.)  But it doesn’t take the big risks that Ravenswood Sonoma does, which causes that very nice red to have potentially more limited appeal.  In fact, the Lodi is just generally, flat-out delicious.  I love it.

All this, and it’s only $12.50.  It might not be the best of these zinfandels in absolute terms, but then again, it might be.  Taking price into account, Ravenswood Lodi clearly defeats all of last night’s notable contenders.

Ravenswood Lodi zinfandelHighly recommended.





Kenwood, Ravenswood, and Rancho Zabaco: ZINFANDEL SHOOTOUT

21 08 2012

Today, it’s a comparison of three red zinfandels from Total Wine:

RESULTS:

Kenwood Sonoma:  Light, bright, easy, minimal tannins, mildly spicy.  It’s not a “fruity” wine, but it has more fruit than the others.  A potential crowd-pleaser.  However, it’s very neutral, and doesn’t have much aroma.

Ravenswood Sonoma:  Powerful.  Serious. Abundant mouth-drying tannins.  Eucalyptus and a hint of licorice.  An interesting wine.  A food wine.  However, not much aroma, and the flavor is taking a risk, so not everybody will like it.

Rancho Zabaco Dry Creek:  Seductive aroma of coffee, rhubarb and cedar.  The two extra dollars you spend on this zin get you complexity, serious tannins, and a combination of cinnamon, cocoa and blackberries.  I like it a lot, but again, it’s a bit different, so it may not appeal to everyone.

If you factor in the cost, this trio is basically a dead heat.  A three-way tie.  If forced to rank them, I would say:

1. Rancho Zabaco (duh, it’s the most expensive) (I want more)

2. Kenwood (easy-breezy)

3. Ravenswood (serious and real, takes risks, can’t please everybody)

All three, however, are:

Highly recommended.

Kenwood Sonoma zinfandelRavenswood Sonoma Old Vine zinfandel

Rancho Zabaco Dry Creek zinfandel





Parducci Small Lot Blend pinot noir review: MAM-A, MI-A!

5 08 2012

Hi!   Today we review a pinot noir from Mendocino, California that I bought for $11.

Parducci is a family winery, which I like.  Their website lists many varietals, from $11 to $35, including a rose and a port.  And you just know they have more.   I am excited to tell you that the Parducci Small Lot Blend will be an elegant, light-bodied and speecy-spicy addition to your dinner table.  Don’t be fooled by the word blend — this is 100% pinot noir (maybe that’s how it avoids the “generic red-wine-goulash” taste of some other value-oriented California pinots).  It’s not as complex as more expensive bottles, but with this grape, at $11, you mainly just want it to taste good.

And it does.  With aromas of cedar and raspberries, Parducci Small Lot Blend lands on your tongue with a fun, acidic kick of red fruit, roses and some mellow vanilla.  This is a REALLY good food wine for $11, people.  Probably why Martha Stewart rated it a smart buy.

Drink slightly chilled, but not cold (30 mins. in the fridge before tasting).  The acidity might prevent it from being a massive crowd-pleaser at your next party, but at 14% alcohol, this one is definitely a feel-good Winner-For-Dinner.

Parducci pinot noirRecommended.





Radius cabernet sauvignon review

3 07 2012

Hi!  Tonight we review one of Total Wine’s popular selections, a Washington cabernet from 2010 that cost me $8.99.

Radius has two things going for it:  it’s inexpensive, and very sweet and gentle.   So if you are serving a younger drinker, or somebody who “hates red wine,” this might be a winner.

Unfortunately, that bubblegum sweetness was the downfall of Radius for me.  Without significant  aromas, mouthfeel, tannins or taste of a typical cabernet to offset the sugar shock, Radius cabernet encourages me to put down the glass.  It is:

Not recommended.





Anakena sauvignon blanc UPDATE review

3 07 2012

I praised the 2009 Anakena sauv blanc here.

Unfortunately, it is no longer recommended, or a Best Value.  It tastes fine, but the current 2011 doesn’t grab me like the 2009 did.   Waltz two feet down the aisle at Total Wine and pick up Cupcake 2011 sauv blanc for just $7.97, two pennies cheaper and better than our old friend Anakena.

Not recommended.





Five Rivers cabernet UPDATE review

3 07 2012

A quick update on Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon.   I praised the 2007 vintage here and here.

Unfortunately, the current Five Rivers (2009) is no longer recommended here at Wineguider.  It is also no longer a Best Value.  It’s not terrible, but it just has too much of that “cheap red wine” taste.  That’s a deal-killer for me.

Sadly — not recommended.





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.





Ropiteau pinot noir review

27 06 2012

Today we check out a 2010 pinot noir from France (Pays d’Oc) which sells at Total Wine for $8.99.

Ropiteau, which I have only seen at Total Wine, is a big deal.  Why?  Because it is a pinot noir, it’s cheap, and it doesn’t taste terrible.

The current vintage (2010) is a very close call, but I can’t say it’s really floating my boat.  It doesn’t do anything terribly wrong — an aroma of spicy cinnamon and black fruit, and alcohol.   It’s medium bodied, beefier than many other low-priced (and lightweight) pinot noirs.  It tastes like leathery black cherries.   But it is not calling out to me, “Wineguider!  Drink more of me!”  At this low price point (actually a dollar cheaper), the Cloud Break pinot noir, reviewed here, is your go-to bottle.

Ropiteau pinot noir is a good value, but the 2010 vintage is:

Not recommended.





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.





J. Lohr “Seven Oaks” cabernet sauvignon at Bertucci’s

7 06 2012

Concluding our experience at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant, today we look at a 2009 cabernet from Paso Robles, California that Bertucci’s sells for $7.50 a glass / $29 a bottle.

Another winner,  J. Lohr’s 2009 cab is reasonably priced, even here, and delivers mildly spicy, dark red fruits on your tongue with not-too-much oak (it’s more like Three-and-a-Half Oaks) and restrained sweetness.  On the lighter side for a cabernet, it’s still a real, medium-bodied cab. 

Somehow, it goes perfectly with Bertucci’s Piccolo Chocolate Budino, a cupcake version of chocolate mousse, with a dark chocolate wrapper instead of the usual enveloping paper.  YUM.  This combination was sinfully delicious, and even without the dessert, J. Lohr Seven Oaks cabernet at Bertucci’s is:

J. Lohr Seven Oaks cabernetRecommended.





Francis Ford Coppola Bianco pinot grigio at Bertucci’s

16 05 2012

Continuing with our experience at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant, today we review a 2010 pinot grigio from California that Bertucci’s sells for $7.50 a glass / $29 a bottle.  It was paired with their Cod al Forno main course.
 
Here’s a pinot grigio that mostly flies under the radar.  With such a light aroma that I can’t even describe it, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bianco pinot grigio hits your tongue with crisp grapefruit, tangy lime, and a hint of melon sweetness.  That hint of melon makes it more substantial than many other pinot grigios, but might also turn you off if you were expecting a typical, super-light pinot grigio. 
 
It was paired with Bertucci’s Cod al Forno, which is a piping-hot breaded wild Pacific cod baked with marinated tomatoes, and roasted red potatoes.  This dish is delicious and is a healthier go-to when you’re hankering for fish & chips.  Pairing with Coppola’s pinot grigio was a nice balance, as you would expect the acidity of the white wine to balance the breaded baked fish, but — surprise — the hint of sweetness really made it for me.  Coppola’s pinot grigio is:
 
Francis Ford Coppola Bianco Pinot GrigioRecommended.





Chateau Ste Michelle merlot at Bertucci’s

14 05 2012

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





Francis Ford Coppola Rosso at Bertucci’s

14 05 2012

Continuing our Italian restaurant experience, here’s a 2010 red blend from California that Bertucci’s sells for $7.50 a glass / $29 a bottle. It was paired with their Eggplant Napoleone.
 
The Coppola Rosso is a blend of zinfandel (33%), syrah (26%), cabernet (25%) and petite sirah (17%). Whoa — look at those grapes.  But instead of a serious steak wine, the winery says it is intended as a lighter, sweeter red for casual dining.  And that’s what it is.  Likely to appeal to younger drinkers, for me it was a little too jammy, with vanilla and a dusty zinfandel zing.  
 
But!  Bertucci’s Michael Cropper and Chad Phillips paired it with a lovely modern caprese salad, featuring eggplant roasted in their famous brick oven, plum tomatoes and fresh mozzarella all drizzled with a balsamic glaze incorporating pesto without nuts, for those of you with allergies.  The croutons were too crunchy,  but no matter — Eggplant Napoleone rocks, and it made the Rosso shine. 

I don’t recommend the wine alone, but I do recommend this pairing.  This dish would also go very nicely with a pinot noir (Bertucci’s offers the delicious Estancia pinot, which I praised here).





Rodney Strong chardonnay at Bertucci’s

7 05 2012

Today, in the first of our reviews from our experience at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant, we look at a 2010 Sonoma, California chardonnay that Bertucci’s sells for $7.75 a glass / $30 a bottle.  It was paired with their Watermelon, Arugula & Feta Salad.
 
You may already know that I usually dislike California chardonnay.  Guess what?  I liked this fresh, light and affordable chard — a lot.  Rodney Strong  has a pretty aroma of lemons, followed by flavors of snappy pineapple, lemon, and a hint of the “standard chardonnay” melony/oaky/buttery thing.  Everyone at our table loved it, and I hereby pronounce Rodney Strong an outstanding value.
 
The Watermelon, Arugula & Feta Salad improved this perception.  It combines deliciously sweet chunks of watermelon with fresh mint and a tangy balsamic dressing, which everyone praised for its flavor and restrained application.  The touch of feta cheese made this a perfect creamy / sweet / tangy balance to Rodney Strong’s light and tropical chardonnay, which is:
 
Rodney Strong chardonnayHighly recommended.





Wines at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant

7 05 2012

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

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

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




Kirkland Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages review

22 04 2012

Today we review a 2010 Cotes du Rhone from Kirkland Signature (Costco’s brand) which sells for the low price of $7.

I am a fan of the Kirkland label — many times, I have been astounded by the quality of the products carrying this simple all-capital-letters logo.  And that includes wine.

In this case, the dark purple juice that flows into your glass looks beautiful and has a nice subtle aroma of red fruits and flowers.  The taste is certainly not terrible — yes, it’s a little too sweet, and yes it’s very simple, but these things can be forgiven at $7.   What kills it for me is that it sort of tastes like Welch’s grape juice.  Just a little weird, just a little “off.”  Unfortunately, this bargain-priced Costco red is:

Not recommended.





Sebastiani cabernet sauvignon review: No-brainer?

20 04 2012

Hi!  Today we examine a 2009 cabernet from Sonoma, California.  It’s $11 at Costco and Total Wine, and sells for up to $16 elsewhere.

Eleven bucks for a good name like Sebastiani!  A no-brainer, right?

A reasonable answer is “yes,” but for me, it’s no.  Here’s why: Generic California Red Wine Taste.  Mass-produced.  Oaky-sweet.  Actually, it’s not bad — a little spicy, smells like rhubarb pie, and has good mouthfeel with blueberry and reminders of cherry, raspberry, cocoa and cinnamon on your tongue.  At a modest 13.5% alcohol, this would work at a barbecue or with pizza.  And if you’re throwing an upscale party, but don’t have an upscale budget, you might stock up on Sebastiani cab, because it looks upscale.

Unfortunately, the taste is a little too sweetly generic for me.  Although your party guests may very well enjoy it, this competent 2009 California red is:

Not recommended.





artezin zinfandel review: ACH-CHOO!!!

4 04 2012

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

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

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

2.  black licorice, and

3.  drum roll…. it’s not too sweet.

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

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

Recommended.





Wheelhouse cabernet: coming to a theater near you?

2 04 2012

You might have noticed my rabid, out-of-control positive review of the 2008 Wheelhouse cabernet, right here.

Now, it appears that Wheelhouse’s distribution has expanded.  I just found its bad-2010-Napa-self at a regular ol’ wine store, for $16 (TOTALLY worth it, even though the 2010 is not quite as good as the 2008 was). 

If you have found Wheelhouse, let us know with a comment.   Cheers!





Cannonball merlot review: CANNONBALLLLL!!!

29 03 2012

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

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

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

The 2009 Cannonball merlot is:

Cannonbal merlot reviewRecommended.

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

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





Cueva de las Manos reserve malbec review

5 02 2012

Today we check out a 2009 reserve malbec from Argentina.  Its price ranges wildly from $10 to $19 online – I found it at Total Wine for $16.

Wow, malbec has really taken off.  Not taste-wise, but popularity and price-wise.  I’m normally very, very impressed with South American red wines, for their price.  At $16, I expected this Mendoza reserve to blow my head off.  Instead, it’s “good” — a pleasantly mild aroma, with a taste that is more tart, blackberry-flavored tobacco and black pepper than it is juicy.  It’s also a sort of manly wine — aggressive, mouth-drying tannins abound.

Even though Cueva malbec isn’t a value monster, it is plenty good enough at $16 to recommend.   And, it has a cool name, to boot.

Recommended.





Astrolabe pinot noir review: MEET, GEORGE, JETSON!

26 01 2012

Today we check out a 2008 pinot noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough area which costs around $26.  I got this one as a free sample. 

Astrolabe fills a nice niche:  it has a cool name, a cool label, and it’s a pinot in the $25-30 price range.  Thus, it is perfect to bring to a swanky party, or to deliver as a nice gift.   That is, if it’s delicious.

Guess what?  Astrolabe pinot is delicious.  When I first tried it, I liked it instantly.  The aroma is like roses, smoky spices and freshly dug soil — the deep, rich kind that never appears in your own garden without help from Home Depot.  In your mouth, Astrolabe is medium-bodied, bright (actually it’s “bright!!”), spicy, minerally, rhubarby, and floral, with a hint of plumb but none of that cherry lozenge sweetness that is so common in California pinot noirs.  And it’s not too minerally, as so many New Zealand pinot noirs seem to be. 

And yet, while being complex, it also has a clean, almost healthy feel to it, which borders on flat-out awesome and makes me feel like I’m drinking wine from the future, where there is no pollution and everything sparkles with life-giving purity.

The next time you’re off to a classy party, or you want to give a nice gift, or you just want to enjoy a snappy, fresh pinot that will make you live to 100, this one needs serious consideration.  Astrolabe pinot is highly:

Astrolabe Pinot Noir reviewRecommended.





Estancia pinot noir review: THIS REVIEW WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER IF I WEREN’T SO DRUNK RIGHT NOW

6 01 2012

This evening, we check out a 2009 Monterey County, California pinot noir that I picked up for $12.

Usually I try to write helpful reviews of wines that you can afford AND that you can find at the store, as opposed to strange, super-expensive wines that you will never see in your lifetime.  A radical approach?  Oh yeah.

So let’s do that.  This pinot noir is $12.  That’s affordable.  It’s Estancia, so you’ll be able to find it.  And, the verdict:  Estancia pinot noir from Monterey County is complex, spicy, earthy, mushroomy, very pinot-ish for $12, and absolutely freaking delicious.  So that’s the problem.  I’m not sure this review will be “helpful.”   Mainly because I’ve had WAY too much of it.  This is not completely my fault.  I mean, they made it really good.

So, pretty much, I would say you should go out and buy it.  Estancia pinot noir is:

Estancia pinot noirHighly recommended.





Cellar No. 8 pinot noir review: EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

6 01 2012

Today we look at a 2010 pinot noir from California that is $8.50 at Total Wine.

Ho-hum, another California pinot.

BUT WAIT!!  Cellar No. 8 pinot is pretty damn good!  You can see through it, but I say it’s on the lighter side of medium-bodied.  It’s spicy, has subtle tannins, and it’s generally delicious.  

“Wow.”   The label says it’s earthy and has notes of strawberry jam.  For once, I totally agree.  True, Cellar No. 8 pinot noir isn’t thrilling.  But it is $8.50.  Even at $10, I love it.  And it’s like a more crowd-pleasing version of  Mark West pinot noir, which I also love.  Where did all these excellent sub-$15 pinots come from?  Incredible.  Cellar No. 8 pinot is definitely:

Recommended.





Fake wine blog “Best Pinot Noir”: Worst Thing On The Internet?

6 01 2012

The wine “reviews” site called Best Pinot Noir appears to be a website run by wine.com, which allows any producer of pinot noir to pay $10 in order to have a favorable “wine review” posted.   No comments are permitted. 

Let’s be clear.  It’s just a collection of ads.  But it looks, and reads, like a friendly, good-humored home-made wine blog.  The list of ads on the right is even titled, “Pinot noir reviews.”  Nice. 

My favorite statement on the website is this:  “We went with Big Fire, a Pinot Noir out of Washington state.”  Ahhhh, yeah.  Big Fire is from Oregon.  Worse, the large photo of the label, right next to these words, shows “OREGON PINOT NOIR” in big capital letters.  Who wrote this?  Some idiot at wine.com? 

What a crass, reprehensible pile of crap.  Can “best cabernet” and “best merlot” be far behind?





Yellow Tail reserve shiraz review

4 01 2012

Today we examine a 2010 Australian shiraz that sells for $10. 

I’ve heard this reserve is good, so I was excited to try it.   It has a nice “berry” aroma, and in the mouth it feels dense, with a texture that is almost thick, or viscous.  It is pretty darn sweet, with blueberry, huckleberry, maybe a little blackberry.  Some mild spice in the background.  The label says “cherry” as well, which I didn’t get. 

You may like it, but the problem for me is, Yellow Tail reserve shiraz is boring.  Generic.  It tastes “fine,” but I wouldn’t buy it again.   Especially with Jacob’s Creek reserve shiraz in this price territory, and Koonunga Hill even cheaper.

Not bad, but not 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.





Layer Cake shiraz review

1 01 2012

Today we check out a  2010 Australian shiraz that is $13 at Total Wine, $12-$15 most other places.

Have you ever shopped for speakers?  Some of them have a “wow” or “hell yeah!” factor that grabs you in the store.  But later, you realize the “wow” is just hyped-up treble or bass, and they become unacceptable over time.

That’s similar to Layer Cake shiraz for me.  The first sniff is a wow — blueberry shortcake — and the first taste is another — like red wine combined with one of those jelly bar desserts from middle school.  But after a few sips, there comes a realization:  uh-oh, this wine is just too sweet. 

Compared with the cheaper and fairly delicious Jacob’s Creek 2008 reserve shiraz (only $10), Layer Cake loses.  Restaurants may want to consider Layer Cake, because with this name, everybody is going to want to try it.  But for us home gamers, this shiraz is:

Not recommended.

P.S.  For a very different view, and a potential primer on everything that is wrong with wine reviews in America, try this, which states that Layer Cake tastes like “melted” licorice, “crushed” black currants, and also has “intense dry extract” (WTF?). Then there’s the color:  “Layer Cake Shiraz is a tremendously dense blackish-red color with a deep opaque purplish core going out into a fine violet-fuchsia rim definition with super high painted viscosity.”





Apex Ascent cabernet sauvignon review: […..]

25 12 2011

Today we check out a 2009 cabernet from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, which you can get at Total Wine for $16.  It looks like just “Apex,” because the word “ascent” is printed very small.

My first reaction to this Washington cab was . . . drum roll, please . . . no reaction.  I couldn’t taste it.  Or smell it.  I found this to be very strange.  However, it had a nice texture. 

On day 2, I could sort of taste it.  Not too sweet.  Not an excess of tannins.  Dark in color.  Maybe some blackberry.  But what are my affirmative comments and opinions about its taste?  Still, almost nothing.   It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t buy it again at this price.  Maybe  Total Wine has spoiled the experience for me by asking too much.

Not recommended.





Ruffino prosecco sparkling wine review

24 12 2011

Here’s a $15 non-vintage prosecco from Italy, which I obtained from Costco.

This Ruffino is an extra dry sparkling white wine.  The label says that it is creamy and crisp, with hints of peach and golden apples.

I disagree.  I say it is massively over-carbonated, and produces loud, extended belching.  As for its flavor, I can’t tell, because of the Colorado-rapids rush of foam in my mouth.  After various efforts to reduce the carbonation, which your New Years Eve guests will not be able to replicate, I conclude that this is an average, OK-tasting sparkling white wine.  Meaning, it tastes roughly like salty apple cider. 

Like most sparkling wines and champagnes under $300, this prosecco is:

Not recommended.





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. 

 





Cincuenta Se Cumplen Cincuenta Anos Desde Que Victorino Continua Con La Saga De La Familia Eguren En Su 3d Generacion Ugarte rioja review

7 12 2011

Today we review a fine rioja from Spain that costs $15.

Spicy and energetically juicy, I must say that I really liked Cincuenta Se Cumplen Cincuenta Anos Desde Que Victorino Continua Con La Saga De La Familia Eguren En Su 3d Generacion Ugarte rioja the first time I tried it.

Although very dry, and lighter than you expect, Cincuenta Se Cumplen Cincuenta Anos Desde Que Victorino Continua Con La Saga De La Familia Eguren En Su 3d Generacion Ugarte rioja rewards your palate with bright flavors of black raspberry, rhubarb, and tobacco.

In fact I wish that my favorite steakhouse would carry it.  Don’t forget to ask your local wine merchant for a bottle of Cincuenta Se Cumplen Cincuenta Anos Desde Que Victorino Continua Con La Saga De La Familia Eguren En Su 3d Generacion Ugarte rioja, at any price under $20, because this bright, dry-yet-friendly elixir from Spain is:

Highly recommended.





It’s Thanksgiving: What wines should you buy?

19 11 2011

Hello!  Today we are going to get right to the point.  For Thanksgiving, here is what I recommend:

1.  Do not buy “Beaujolais Nouveau,” no matter how much your wine store pushes it.  It is light, boring, and basically worthless.  Ha!  THAT should generate some friendly comments.  Just to put the cherry on top of my popularity profile, you should also avoid California chardonnay at Thanksgiving.  Its flavors are non-complimentary and too dominating.  For turkey, cranberries and stuffing, the next 3 wines are where you want to be.

2.  Zinfandel.  This is THE All-American grape, and yes, it goes very well with turkey.  For a very friendly, sweeter version of this very Thanksgiving-ish red wine, buy 99 Vines for $10.   Try 1 bottle first, and make sure you like it.  For $10 it’s a great value, but it may not be for everybody.

For a more serious, kickass zin, acquire Oak Ridge ancient vine zinfandel, just $12 at Total Wine.  This wine is very dark purple, oaky, spicy, with some sweetness way in the background, and basically acts like a wine that costs almost twice as much.  For a better, more well-known name, buy Ridge “Three Valleys” zin, for $20.  Yes, the Ridge “Three Valleys” is superior, but is it 67% better than Oak Ridge?  No.  For a serious knockout punch, you can buy any zin by Ridge in the $30-and-up range.

3. Pinot Noir.  Buy a bottle of La Crema pinot, the “Monterey” version.  I reviewed it here.  More light on its feet than a zinfandel.  It’s $20.  If that’s more than you are used to spending:  just trust me.  This wine is lovely, spicy, and tastes very organic.  It adds a LOT to any Thanksgiving dinner.  In my opinion, more important than the zinfandel.

For a bolder, also-excellent pinot, buy Hahn SLH Estate pinot noir from Santa Lucia Highlands, which I reviewed here.  It’s around $25, and again, worth every penny.

4. Sparkling pink stuff.  If you want your Thanksgiving table to say “FUN!” loud and clear, add a bottle of Martini & Rossi sparkling wine from Italy, reviewed here.  On the back, it says “Rosé.”  To you and me, it’s pink champagne.  And it’s good.  Only $15.  Definitely not bone-dry, this one’s a crowd pleaser.  Don’t bother with snooty impressive champagnes up to $50, because they are mostly terrible.

So, I am recommending 2 reds, and a sparkling rosé if you want a high fun factor.

If you want a white wine, I recommend the super-friendly David Hill “Farmhouse White” blend from Oregon.  Around $11.  Floral and tropical, this is a brilliant blend of mild sweetness with crisp tartness and acidity.  You don’t want your white wine to steal the show at Thanksgiving, and this won’t.

Have a wonderful holiday!

ridge zinfandel99 vines zinfandeloak ridge zinDavid Hill Farmhouse White





Heavyweight cabernet sauvignon review

28 09 2011

This review has been updated here.

As we continue our white-hot series of affordable one-word cabernets that begin with the letter H, we arrive at a 2007 red that is 76% cabernet sauvignon, 14% syrah and 10% zinfandel.  It is around $13 and is from Lodi, California.

Heavyweight is allowed to be called a cabernet because it has at least 75% of that grape.  It’s nice to know the rest, since they don’t have to tell us.  Here, the syrah and zin add extra power, spice, richness and warmth — punch, if you will — to this surprisingly good cabernet.  You also get smooth tannins, very dark burgundy color, and the expected currants/black raspberry/”other dark fruits” flavors.  Actually that 14% of syrah is almost overpowering, to the point where this wine doesn’t taste like a typical cabernet sauvignon.  It’s more jammy, more fun, and frankly, sweeter.

But who cares?  It’s really good.  It’s only $13.  And it will be a big hit at a party, because of the name, the cool artistic label, and the knockout taste.   Heavyweight 2007 cab is:

Heavyweight cabernet sauvignonRecommended.





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.