La Crema Russian River pinot noir review: DAMMIT!

13 08 2011

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

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

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

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

Recommended.





Hahn SLH Estate pinot noir review: THIS-IS-HOW-WE-DO-IT

5 06 2011

Today we check out a 2009 pinot noir from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands area.  Price — that’s a mystery, to be revealed below.

Whoo!!  Baby, this wine is hot.  Actually, it’s slightly chilled, for maximum enjoyment.  But Paris Hilton and anybody else with taste buds will tell you, Hahn SLH pinot is hot.  Spicy.  Bright, fruit-forward, and interesting.  Smells like caramel and rhubarb.  Tastes like spiced dark raspberries and cola.  Medium-bodied and sensual in your mouth.  Missing the floral notes of many French and Oregon pinots.

I don’t know the price, because Hahn sent it to me.  I’m going to guess.  An Oregon pinot like this would be $40, except there are no Oregon pinots like this.  Since this is from the up-and-coming Santa Lucia Highlands, I’ll say lower.  Even though its taste could easily command $30, I’ll say $23 because Hahn wines seem to be a great value in general.

Google search . . . and the price is: a range from $22 to $30.  Averaging the prices I found, this is a $25 wine.  So I was close.  Whatever price you find, I hereby decree this explosively delicious pinot to be:

Hahn SLH Estate pinot noir review

Highly 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.





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





Fog Head pinot noir review: nice name!

30 03 2011

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

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

Not recommended.





Coppola Director’s pinot noir review: Cut!

27 03 2011

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

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

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

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

Not recommended.





Archstone pinot noir review: wait – what?

23 03 2011

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

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

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

Archstone pinot noir reviewRecommended.





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.





Hob Nob pinot noir review: REVISITED

21 09 2010

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

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

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

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

Not recommended.

Next!





Domaine Serene 2007 “Yamhill Cuvee” pinot noir review

7 09 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvee” pinot noir review

Highly recommended.





Murphy-Goode pinot noir review

6 09 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next!





Ponzi 2007 pinot noir review

4 09 2010

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

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

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

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

Not recommended.





PINOT TO THE PEOPLE! Mark West 2008 pinot noir review

1 09 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Mark West 2008 pinot noir reviewHighly recommended!





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.

Next!