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.





Bouchaine pinot noir review – GET SERIOUS

4 11 2010

Today we look at a 2007 pinot noir from the Carneros area of California, which costs $25.

Well, what do we have here?  A pinot noir as dark red (or is it purple?) as many California merlots, with an aroma that gives off some smoke and then whispers to your nose, “get ready for some serious pinot.”  Must taste wonderful, right?

Actually, right!  Although I often prefer Oregon pinots, Bouchaine stole my heart right away.  It is:

  • Juicy.
  • Yet, not sweet.
  • Serious.
  • Yet, easy to drink.
  • Silky.
  • And finally,
  • It is very, very, pinot.  There’s no mistaking it for anything else.  It’s dry and mildly spicy.  Its taste has real depth and includes cranberries and oak.  

It’s very coherent (if that makes any sense) and doesn’t do anything wrong.  Meaning, its flavors come together peacfully, with no random notes sticking out here or there to jar your senses.  This is the kind of behavior that I’m willing to pay $40 and more for, from Oregon.  True, an Oregon pinot might be more complex — but then again, an Oregon pinot might taste like a barnyard and beg to be jammed down my kitchen drain.

So at $25, I think Bouchaine pinot noir is a bargain, maybe even a SCREAMING bargain.  But what if you can only find the 2006?  I liked it too, although the ’07 was maybe a little spicier and a little more complex.  Given the choice: ’07.

Your picky-as-all-hell Wineguider loved this medium bodied wonder, and so it is:

Bouchaine pinot noir review

Recommended!





Jacob’s Creek reserve pinot noir review

3 11 2010
Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir

Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir

Hello!  Today, in a mild-mannered Clark Kent of a wine review that will make no mention of urine or the Pain Train, we check out a $12 2007 Australian pinot noir.

OK here’s the deal:  if you love wines with a minerally taste, this is your pinot noir.  And if you don’t . . . you should read on.  The appearance, one bottle of which I received as a sample, matches its taste: somewhat light.  (Jacob’s Creek calls it medium-bodied.)  The aroma is muted, a combination of cherry and alcohol.

On your tongue you get minerality, along with black cherries, raspberries and cloves. It tastes like real pinot noir, and it’s very drinkable, at a low price.  That almost never happens.  The flaw I noticed is a lack of complexity, also true for the $9 Mark West, our value benchmark. 

Which is better?  I prefer the Mark West, because it’s SO pinot, and SO cheap, and because I am not a huge fan of the “minerally” thing in pinot noir. But the Jacob’s Creek Reserve is probably better, because it’s smoother, has a more pleasing texture, and doesn’t have Mark West’s fire-breathing alcohol overtone.  Either way, this Aussie, ladies and gentlemen, is:

Recommended.





Mark West 2009 Russian River Valley pinot noir wine review

13 10 2010

Hi!  Today we review another Mark West pinot noir, a California red wine that costs around $20 a bottle.

Bottom line: A yummy pinot, but at $20, not recommended.

OK folks, I’ll keep this short.  You’re forgiven if you’re thinking. “Hey Wineguider, shut up already about Mark West!!” — this is the 3rd I’ve reviewed — but I have good reason for my focus on them: that amazing 2008 $9 pinot with the orange label.

This $20 pinot is also good, although its label is beige: it’s fruity, it’s a bit minerally, and it’s balanced.  It tastes like real pinot noir.  And it’s a beautiful ruby red color.  However, it doesn’t have serious depth or strength of flavor, and doesn’t have a lot of complexity.  At $20, I start to expect these things.  Another problem: I enjoyed it with a spinach salad that included hard boiled eggs and bleu cheese, and honestly, the salad overwhelmed the wine. 

I love their $9 pinot from 2008, and I liked their $17 2009 Santa Lucia pinot a lot, but at $20, this Russian River pinot is unfortunately:

Not recommended.

Next!





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!





Mirrabooka pinot noir review

12 08 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Not recommended.





Grayson Cellars pinot noir review

22 07 2010

Today, we review a 2009 California pinot noir that sells for $11 a bottle.

The 2009 Grayson Cellars pinot noir is a good value at $11, but something bugged me when I first tried it.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, until I spoke with Alexis at Capers & Lemons, a modern Italian restaurant in Wilmington DE.  She mentioned that she likes it very much, but hadn’t in the past.  Bingo!  That’s what it was.  I kept thinking, “this stuff isn’t supposed to be this good . . . “, but I kept sipping it, and liking it.  That’s because, as Alexis reminded me, a few years ago this stuff wasn’t as good — still a decent wine, but unexceptional. 

What’s changed?  The 2009 Grayson Cellars does a fairly good job of actually tasting like pinot noir.  I know that sounds strange, but most cheaper pinots taste like something else.  They might taste good, but they are often too sweet and you miss that spicy, layered, floral, earthy, gentle-yet-potent pinot character.  Grayson Cellars wins the “most improved” award of 2010.  NOTE:  I preferred the 2009 over the 2008.

Specifics?  It smells like black cherries.  In the mouth it is easy drinking, with a variety of berry and earthy flavors with a touch of oak, making it nicely interesting for an $11 wine.  However, one bottle I tried had no black cherry aroma and was less friendly, with too much alcohol smell and taste.  Why?  Maybe it’s this year’s blast-furnace summer, as wines literally cook on their way to the store, being altered in diabolical ways.  Pinot is famous for being especially sensitive in transport.  I will try it again in the fall to confirm, but for now I’ve tasted enough good Grayson Cellars to decide that this wine is:

Recommended.

Grayson Cellars pinot noir review





SMACK TALK at another blogger, about Lange vineyards in Oregon

18 07 2010

Lange pinot noirToday I respond to a guy on the west coast with a blog called Beyond the Bottle.  He reviewed Oregon’s Lange vineyards, maker of some seriously great pinot noir.  He rated them a 2 out of 5.   (???)   His reason: the tasting was $10 and they wouldn’t refund his money if he bought their wine. 

Let’s get one thing straight: $10 for a tasting at Lange is worth it.  Big time.  They let you try 5 different wines, and it’s serious stuff — up to $60 a bottle.  The five tastes add up to more than a full glass.  Now, what would a full glass of Lange wine cost you at a restaurant?  Definitely more than ten bucks — probably $13 or $15. 

Plus, buying a tasting at Lange lets you hear from the people who make the wine, or at least people who work with the winemaker.  That’s worth a lot to me.  I mean, imagine test-driving a Porsche with one of their head engineers.  I remember my first tasting at Lange was hosted by. . .  drum roll please . . .  Don Lange. 

Anyway, the blogger accused Lange of  “highway robbery” and didn’t mention how any of their wines tasted.  Read his review here.   

He disabled comments, so I sent him an email:

“Hi,

I see you are somewhat upset after visiting Lange, which you rate a 2 out of 5.  Sorry about that.  After visiting Oregon and its wine country several times, I believe Lange is one of the finest wineries in the state. For my money (wink wink, let’s remember what’s really important here), they are in fact the single best. Their pinot noir introduced me to the concept of really high end wine, and in my journies since then (12 years) they have yet to be bettered. 
 
I am sorry that you were so put off by having to pay for their wine that you were not able to actually review their wine.  For example, their $17 pinot noir is sort of weak and disappointing, their reserve pinot is more robust and even more disappointing because it costs more and doesn’t taste that great, their Estate pinot noir is again more robust but also very mature, dry, and almost challenging, their Three Hills Cuvee pinot noir is a violent orgasm of multiple pleasurable flavors in your mouth, and their Freedom Hill pinot, at a very dear $60, is perhaps the single best wine at this price in the known universe, with layers, and layers, of deep, sensual complexity. 

With this winery, it really is all about the wine.  I figure, if I spend $10 on tastings, who cares?  In fact it appears you are so interested in receiving something for nothing that you were briefly incapacitated.  Tell you what, why don’t you let me paypal you 20 bucks to cover your first visit, and a return visit, and go back and just open your mind and your palate to the actual wine that Lange is producing — I am sure that your readers would greatly benefit.

Cheers,

Andy”

If he replies, I’ll seek permission to post it.





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!





Domaine Serene 2006 “Evenstad Reserve” pinot noir review

2 06 2010

Today we review a 2006 Oregon pinot noir by Domaine Serene called “Evenstad Reserve,” which costs $55 a bottle.  (UPDATE:  As of 2013 the retail price is $65, but you can find it at Total Wine for under $50.)

With this wine, you are entering the big leagues.  It may not be immediately delicious to everyone, but give it a few minutes.  Your first impression will be a reserved feeling of “quality”.  After a while, I predict, you will be addicted.  Bring it to a party and heads WILL turn, if the guests know about wine.  However such a move is risky – Lou might pour half the bottle into the oversized glass of the 20 year-old he’s hitting on, causing you to burst into tears.

This pinot has a gently spicy and very layered taste.  It smells incredible.  I know a woman who can’t drink red wine due to an allergy, and she is very happy to simply take in the aroma of this wine.  Once sipped, you are endlessly entertained by various flavors, like waves arriving on a beach: a hint of cedar, some raspberry, cranberry, and strawberry, oak, fresh spices, and pure pinot magic.  For all its delicacy and complexity, this is a fairly big, medium-bodied wine that shows a deep, dark, ruby red.  Finally, it does not have the stinky barnyard flavors and aromas that many admittedly good pinots have.

This wine wants to breathe for a while before being enjoyed.  It’s best when slightly chilled, as in, refrigerate for 20 minutes before drinking.  The Evenstad Reserve is highly recommended and is a “Best of the Best”.

Enjoy!er