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.





Plungerhead zinfandel review: WHOA, DOGGY!

15 08 2011

Today it’s a 2009 old vine zinfandel from California’s Lodi area, which costs about $19.

This is a big one!!  The label is awesome: a guy with a plunger on his head.  It’s pretty hot when first opened, meaning, it smells and tastes of alcohol (it is 14.9% alcohol).  It’s also pretty darn spicy.  That’s a good thing.  More good stuff:  the medium-to-full-bodied texture is wonderful, and there is some nice complexity on your tongue that says HEY, this wine is better than a $9.99 special. 

In your nose, there is a bit more “rhubarb pie” sweetness than actually greets your taste buds.  Meaning, Plungerhead tastes more dry and balanced than it smells.

The problem is, for $19, I just didn’t warm up to the dense, spicy blueberry, rhubarb and eucalyptus flavors, as nicely put together as they are.  At $12, this would clearly get a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Although this zin with the big impact is obviously high quality, my picky, cranky self has decided that it is:

Not recommended.





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.





Van Der Heyden cabernet sauvignon review

10 08 2011

Hi!  TodayVan Der Heyden cabernet we break all the rules here at Wineguider by reviewing a 2002 Napa Valley cabernet that you probably can’t find at your local store.  Why?  Because it saved my Napa Valley wine tasting trip.  It cost me $50, but the price is $60 these days.

When you visit Napa, it’s all very beautiful, but after several wineries you begin to realize something:  many of the reds taste similar.  Cabernet, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, sometimes even pinot noir, all have this typical oaky California thing. 

Not Van Der Heyden.  We arrived at their tiny operation after enjoying two full days of sumptuous country clubbish dark-wooded wine bars.  The tasting room at Van Der Heyden was a trailer.  Hound dogs lay on the porch.  Cats roamed.  I started whistling the theme from Sanford & Son.  Should we even get out of the car?  We took a chance and went in.  Soon, a short Dutchman appeared and started talking very fast.  I could understand his longer-than-usual aging process, and a few other things, as he explained, basically, “here is why we make the best wine.”  Oh really, I thought. 

Then, as I realized we were speaking with Mr. Van Der Heyden, I tasted his merlot.  “Hmmm… wow.”  And the chardonnay.  “Jesus.”  (I usually hate California chardonnay.)  Then the cabernet sauvignon, the subject of this review:  Rich.  Different.  Exciting.  Like a warm raspberry, cranberry and rhubarb pie, it was not a dry red, but it wasn’t blatantly sweet either.  It had moderate tannins, with restrained oak.  He was right.  This was the best red wine we tasted on that trip.  Including the fancy tasting at Beringer, where you sample their $100-plus bottles.  Van Der Heyden’s cab was 50 bucks.  And it rocked, because it had a complexity all its own.  I hereby award it a “Best of the Best” designation.  Finally, his cabernet dessert wine (“Late Harvest”) was out of control.  Pornographic.  So good, I feared chronic addiction, especially because its price was over $100.

It’s pretty hard to find this wine, because it is sold mostly right out of that trailer.  And through their mailing list.  If you want something special, call them at 800-948-WINE and order a bottle (and maybe that dessert wine).  I think you’ll be glad you did.  

Highly recommended.





Shotfire shiraz review: DEBT LIMIT TONIC

28 07 2011

Hi!!  Tonight, as the United States dissolves into default on its obligations, we review an Australian shiraz from 2008 that costs $20 at Total Wine.

Well, well, well.  Here’s a delicious shiraz.  Importantly, for tonight’s governmental festivities, it has a stout 15% alcohol.  It’s spicy.  Dense.  Big.  Loaded with dry tobacco and juicy blueberries.  And yes!  Some chocolate.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM.  I’m drinking Shotfire together with another little Aussie shiraz from 2009 that I like to call, “Rosemount” (reviewed here).  It’s really good.  Although sorely lacking in House/Senate anesthetic potency — it has a meager 13.5% alcohol — it is in fact beautifully dense, warm, juicy, and spicy.  And it costs a big, fat, $6.50 at Total Wine.  Ha!  Less than 1/3rd the cost of Shotfire. 

Although Shotfire is clearly better, with more complexity, more transparency to its flavor, and more dry “snap” in your mouth to accompany its juicy warmth, it’s not 3 times better than Rosemount.  I’m not even sure it’s 2 times better.  So, it’s just too expensive.   Shotfire, at $20, although very nice to drink, is unfortunately:

Not recommended.





Norton merlot review: hell, the FALL will probably kill you

21 07 2011

Today we review a 2008 merlot from Mendoza Argentina, which cost me $9.

The smooth and soft texture of this merlot is lovely.  Its deep, dark ruby red color makes your mouth water.  And the label is very classy — at only $9, it looks like a $45 wine.  That can help a guy who’s making dinner for his date.

However, you’ll want your date to actually drink her wine.  Norton is OK, with a cigar-chomping / Anthony Quinn take on the usual merlot taste, but it’s not quite “good.”  There’s some Cheap Red Wine taste in there.  A little bitter, and hot, meaning you can really taste the 13.5% alcohol.

Although it has some nice leather and spicy-hot tobacco, Norton merlot from Argentina isn’t warm, comfortable and merlot-ish enough for me to encourage you to take the plunge.

Not recommended.  Maybe I should try something from Bolivia.





Oyster Bay merlot review: YES OYSTER!

19 07 2011

Today we review a 2007 merlot from New Zealand that costs around $13.

This glass of medium-bodied Oyster Bay merlot really reminds me of the beach.  Not a pristine white sand / blue water beach, but a fishing beach.  Lots of thick rope, metal buckets, and shellfish.

I guess what I’m saying is, this merlot is salty.  It has a hint of black olives.  It’s also minerally, and woody.   Maybe a little bitter, in a good way?  It’s interesting, and would go well with salty food, or a good book on the deck of a beach house.   But at $13, I want a little more composed and smooth delivery of merlot warmth.  I don’t think it will make most merlot drinkers super happy.  And so, it is unfortunately:

Not recommended.