Hogue cabernet sauvignon review: INTRIGUE FATIGUE FOR YOUR TONGUE

19 08 2011

Hi!  In response to overwhelming demand from you, the faithful readers of Wineguider, tonight we kick off a special series of reviews examining affordable cabernets that have one-word names beginning with the letter H.

First in line:  Hogue, from Washington State’s Columbia Valley.  This 2008 cab is just $8 at Total Wine, but often goes for $10.  While it’s a bit on the light side for a cabernet, a light cab could be wonderful.  Let’s find out.

Hogue smells nice.  You get cloves, a nice “fertile soil” smell, and some cranberry-ish red fruit.  But in your mouth, the familiar red fruit and tannins leave you with a slightly tinny aftertaste.  Unusual, but quickly tiring.  Worse, this wine is actually hard to taste.  It’s a bit generic.  Hogue is vague. 

I love the price, but this Washington value cabernet is:

Not recommended.





Petite Petit red wine review: it goes to 11

17 05 2011

Today we review a very popular 2008 red blend that’s 85% petite sirah and 15% petit verdot.  It’s from California’s Lodi appellation and costs around $18.

This wine is powerful.  Which is what you expect if you’re familiar with these grapes with the dainty-sounding names.  Petite Petit is very juicy and jammy, yet also has medium-to-large amounts of tannins.  Dark purple in your glass, it tastes almost thick.  Somebody took “fruit bomb,” and turned it up to 11.  If you want a deep, extremely dark blackberry-ish red wine, Petite Petit is your answer.

It also has a fantastic label, something that Michael David winery seems to be very good at.

The problem is that the actual flavor of this wine is almost lost.  You’re too busy being overwhelmed by the big juiciness.  (And the feeling that your teeth are now purple.)  When you find them, the flavors in here aren’t really that delicious, so I would not spend another $18 on it.  I prefer this winery’s Incognito, which I reviewed here.

Not recommended.





Gordon Brothers merlot review: oh MAMA

11 05 2011

Today we look at a 2007 merlot from Washington state’s Columbia Valley that costs between $17 and $22.

Whoa.  This stuff is serious.  Super dark red, almost black.  Dense.  Warm.  I mean, really warm.  Fruit-forward.  Woody.  Hints of chocolate.  Excels at both flavor and mouthfeel.  Moderate tannins.  A gentle bite.  Smells like a spice box.

Delicious.

EDIT, Jan. 2013: The current 2008 vintage is similarly wonderful, although it is more fruit-forward than I remember the 2007 being, to the point where the 2008 verges on blatant sweetness.  I still love it.

I paid $22 at Total Wine for this mouth-watering wonder, and will gladly do so again.

Gordon Brothers merlot reviewHighly recommended.





Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes beaujolais review

9 05 2011

Before we begin I want you to know that I have very high regard for French wines.  In fact I believe that with barely any effort at all, they have the ability to kick our California wines all over the room.  When they feel like it, that is.

Now, today, we examine a $15 red from 2009 that I bought at Total Wine.   The bottle says “red burgundy.”  In fact, it is a beaujolais.  Ahh, yes, the French.  Their labels are so user-friendly.  Their marketing is just so spot-on, warmly welcoming Americans with their every move.  (You see, it can be a beaujolais and still have ‘burgundy’ written on the label, because beaujolais is one type of burgundy.)  (Ahhh, thank you . . . . wait — that still doesn’t make any sense . . . plus, what is beaujolais, exactly?  And burgundy?)  (Shut up.)  (Yes, thank you.)

Other fun things on this bottle for Americans include “MORGON” in massive letters, “Georges Duboeuf,” “Jean Descombes,” the very helpful “A. F.71570 Romaneche-Thorins,” and “W.J. Deutsch.”  Great.   Thanks.  Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  It never mentions beaujolais, and never tells you what gosh-darned grape this wine is made from.

(It’s gamay.) 

(“Oh,” I said, acting like that was helpful information.) 

In fact, after you study this bottle at the store, you would be forgiven for wondering, “so what the hell is this shit?”  Ahhh, but then you’re supposed to just drink it, and forgive.  Wine Spectator did, and they gave this dark purple juice a whopping 93.  That’s very, very impressive.

However, I do not give this juice a 93.  Or even a 92.  It tastes, fine — not great.  I do not want more and more.  It’s fairly simple, medium bodied, extremely fruit forward (strawberries and slightly stinky blackberries), yet also has a tannic bite that makes it feel dry in your mouth.  Kind of like Welch’s grape juice.  Actually, really a lot like Welch’s grape juice.  Athough it’s by no means terrible, even if it had a label that Americans could read, this red would remain:

Not recommended.





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





Fabre Montmayou Barrel Selection malbec review: KICKASS

22 04 2011

Fabre Montmayou Barrel Selection malbec reviewToday we review a 2009 malbec from Argentina that costs $16.

  • HEY!  I think you’re going to want to try this rich, dark, dense, medium-bodied, blackberry-licious malbec.
  • 1.   First, malbec is the new merlot.  I mean, pinot noir.  (Or at least, it was a year ago.) 
  • 2.   Second, if you don’t try it, I’m going to say blackberry-licious again. 
  • 3.   Third, Fabre Montmayou is only $16 at the fascinating Veritas Wine & Spirits, at Wilmington DE’s riverfront. 
  • Bottom line, this is one of the best affordable malbecs I’ve ever tasted.  I hope you’ll give it a try, and leave a comment letting us know what you thought.
  • Recommended.




Ironberry cab/shiraz/merlot review: ??

13 04 2011

Today we look at a 2008 blend of cabernet (36%), shiraz (33%) and merlot (31%) from Australia that cost me $10 at Total Wine.

Wow, this one is tough.  At this low price, I feel as though I should like it.  It definitely tastes more expensive than most $10 wines.  It’s very dark, juicy, and even interesting.  Big.  A little smoky.  It smells mostly like shiraz — a kind of alcohol-intense blueberry compote.  Although it has more cab than anything else, this is not your dad’s California cabernet — that sort of west-coast U.S. cab is nowhere to be found here.  Rather, Ironberry tastes like a deep-fruit shiraz that has more mouth-drying tannins, more nameless red fruit, and less gooey-sweet blueberry.   

At only $10, this wine is definitely worth trying.  You may not love it, but as long as you enjoy “big” and fruit-forward reds, you probably won’t dislike it.

Ironberry cab/shiraz/merlot reviewRecommended.





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.





Ghost Pines cabernet sauvignon review

21 03 2011

Ghost Pines cabernet sauvignon reviewHi!  Today we review a 2008 cabernet from California that costs around $19.

Let’s get right to it:  Ghost Pines cabernet is damn good.  68% from Napa Valley, 32% from Sonoma County.  It’s everything you expect from an affordable California cabernet:  it has mouth-drying tannins, dark fruit, like blackberries and currants, and it pairs well with steak. 

But the key is:  it gives you something different — there is just a little bit of a farm-fresh, mushroomy, walnut-y, earthy undertone that is not run-of-the-mill, and makes you take notice.  With some more familiar qualities, like spice, denseness, full-bodied character and a texture that is almost chewy.  The funny thing is, this cabernet has almost nothing in common with the same winery’s merlot, reviewed here.  Will it change your life?  No.  But at under $20, this cab is definitely:

Recommended.





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.





Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve cabernet sauvignon review

21 03 2011

Hi!  Today we look at a 2006 cabernet from California’s Sonoma County, which costs $20 at Costco and $22 at Total Wine.

The $15 “regular” Kendall-Jackson cabernet is juuuuuust good enough to recommend, according to me (I reviewed it here).  Today’s wine, the K-J Grand Reserve, which sounds like it should cost about $85, is actually only a few dollars more.  Unfortunately, it isn’t much better than the regular stuff.  It smells sweet.  It is spicy, oaky, and has a fair amount of mouth-drying tannins.  It reminds me of leather.  It has a lot of dark red fruit and it isn’t very complex.  What we have here is, basically, a generic California cab.   

Although the Grand Reserve is probably a little better, if I were shopping in the K-J lineup, I’d stick with the “plain” cabernet (which is misleadingly named “Vintner’s Reserve”).  (Sigh.)  In the coming months, I am hoping to find other cabernets in this $15-$25 price range that are more interesting, more exciting, maybe even a “Best Value”.  Unfortunately, this Not-Very-Grand K-J cab is none of those things, so it is:

Not recommended.





Oberon cabernet review: BREAKIN’ THE LAW

17 03 2011

Today we look at a 2007 cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, CA that costs around $18-$19 (but I got on sale, for $15). 

On sale at $15, this cabernet is in the ball park of a recommendation.  And 2007 Napa Valley reds are supposed to be “so great,” so the rulebook says that I should be recommending this puppy.  The problem is, I never see it for $15.  Maybe I just live in the wrong state — what are you seeing it sell for?  (Just leave a comment.)

It’s a typical California cabernet, with tannins, deep dark fruit, and oak.  It doesn’t have a very transparent taste (i.e. it is somewhat generic), so it’s more about texture than flavor.  It’s not super dense, and it’s not terribly juicy, but it’s fine.  And it seems very consistent, because I’ve tried multiple vintages and I always have the same reaction — “this is almost good enough.”  But not quite good enough to score a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Unfortunately, this reliable Napa Valley red is:

Not recommended.





Villa Antinori “Toscana” red wine review

17 03 2011

Today we review a 2006 Italian red that is often called a “Super Tuscan”, even though it doesn’t say that anywhere on the label.  (More on that in the Boring Note at the end of this review.) It costs $22 at Total Wine, which is a little too high since many merchants are selling this wine for around $15 or $16, as you can see here

OK I really liked Villa Antinori Toscana.  It tastes very deep and dark, like distilled blackberries and cranberries buried under oak, lots of tannins, and a little chocolate.  Smooth.  Dense.  A little smoky.  A very dry, luxurious texture, and an inviting aroma with a fair amount of alcohol in there.  Balancing that dry texture is a warm juiciness in the flavor.  Basically, it tastes like a very good, extra dense and juicy chianti classico.  It is 60% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, and 5% syrah.

At $15 or $16, I would buy Villa Antinori Toscana all the time.  Even at $22, this dry yet juicy Italian is:

Villa Antinori "Toscana" red wine reviewRecommended.

Boring Note:

There is no law that specifies what a Super Tuscan is.  It is generally a wine from Tuscany (Toscana, in Italian) that has a blend of grapes similar to chianti.  The term used to be reserved for truly kickass wines, so of course today all wines like this are called Super Tuscan.  Many Super Tuscans replace some of the sangiovese that is required to dominate chianti with cabernet sauvignon (true for the wine reviewed today).  Many Super Tuscans say Indicazione Geografica Tipica on the label.  IGT generally means that you are getting grapes from the location shown on the label, in this case, Tuscany…. 

Whew.  I’m already bored, and we didn’t even scratch the surface of Italian wine rules and vocabulary.  Is this stuff worth learning?  I’m not sure — even if you master it, you find that it does not allow you to choose great wines.  You still have to go by word of mouth (or trial and error).  I would just sit back and read Wineguider.





Ruffino chianti superiore review: Isn’t it ironic

16 03 2011

Today we review a 2008 chianti superiore from Italy (of course) that costs around $11 or $12, but is just $9 at Costco.

You would think that Ruffino‘s chianti “superiore” would be, ahem, superior to other chiantis, such as chianti classico, or classico reserva.

But this one isn’t superior to much of anything.  It’s on the light side and it’s dry, not juicy.  Kind of bitter.  Not warm, not complex, not delicious.  Maybe it would be great with food?  Sorry, I just didn’t care for this, despite its promising name.  I can’t suggest that you spend even the $9 that it requires at Costco.  This one is:

Not recommended.





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.





Tilia malbec review: keep it simple

4 03 2011

Today we check out a 2009 malbec from Mendoza, Argentina that cost me $8.

I first had Tilia at a restaurant.  It was a cheaper red, among a collection of overpriced, mediocre labels — that was not a great sign for Tilia.

But I tried it, together with pasta in a spicy red sauce, and really liked it!  It’s very juicy, fairly deep and dark, and most importantly at such a low price, it does nothing wrong (unless you like your wine bone-dry).  To test the bar effect,** I tried it at home, and it held up:  for only $8, Tilia is a no-brainer that you will enjoy with a burger, pizza, that pasta and red sauce, or by itself.  Not much complexity or tannins — just a simple, dark-fruited and easy-drinking red that has more to offer than your usual Yellow Tail / Barefoot / etc. 

Plus it’s a malbec, which is all the rage these days, so it’s a great choice to bring to a party.

Tilia malbec review

Recommended.

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**The mysterious “bar effect” often makes a wine seem captivating, original and wonderful when you’re out among the bright lights and beautiful people, only to disappoint gravely when you drink it at home in front of the kitchen sink.





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.





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!





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!





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.





Grayson Cellars cabernet sauvignon review

1 10 2010

Today we review a $10 red wine from California.

Bottom line: This one doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not good enough to recommend.

Uh oh.  OK folks, this will be quick.  Grayson Cellars 2009 cabernet sauvignon tastes OK, but it’s too sweet, kind of generic, and it doesn’t really taste like a cabernet sauvignon.

The reason for the “uh oh” — it tastes similar to their pinot noir, which your Wineguider recommended.  So it makes me wonder if THAT wine also tasted too sweet and generic to recommend.  I mean, a pinot noir that tastes similar to the same winemaker’s cabernet? Really? You’re recommending that? Well, uhh. . . yeah, I think. I mean, it wasn’t the DEFINITION of pinot noir, but it was pretty close.  And yeah, it was a little generic and sweet… but it was OK!  I’m pretty sure!

Oh well.  At least we have clarity for today’s review: the 2009 Grayson Cellars cabernet sauvignon is a no-go.  Although it’s easy-drinking and not bad by any means, it just isn’t dry enough, “cabernet” enough, or delicious enough to recommend.

Next!





Benziger Sonoma cabernet sauvignon review

29 09 2010

Today we review a 2006 California cabernet that costs $18.

Bottom line:  A nice red wine, and a close call, but at $18 it’s not quite good enough to recommend.

Benziger is a very cool winery.  The official name is “Benziger Family Winery.”  I like that.  Go to their website, and you are treated to a video on the first page that will teach you what “whole cluster” pinot noir means.  Cool!  All of their wines are certified for green farming practices.  Each vineyard at which they source their grapes is certified “sustainable”, “organic” or “Biodynamic”.  And all four of Benziger’s own vineyards are Biodynamic, the most organic of the organic, sort of like chemical-free, natural farming on steroids.  Wait — bad choice of words there.  (And I should note, some people allege that Biodynamics is a bunch of hooey, a subject that’s WAY beyond the scope of your Wineguider’s “expertise”.)

Anyway, the cabernet we are looking at today is definitely not a bad wine.  It feels nice and rich, it tastes like “real” cabernet sauvignon, it’s dry, and oaky, and not too sweet, and it has a very nice spiciness to it.  But, it tasted a little bit thin, and a tiny bit sour, compared to some others I’ve tried in this price range.

So, I feel there may be better ones out there for less money.  Maybe Benziger’s cool “green” theme causes their wine to sell for a few dollars more, I don’t know.  Although the Lander Jenkins cab tastes sweeter in a way that makes Benziger seem like the far more serious option, I’d often be tempted to choose Lander Jenkins because it’s only $13, as low as $12 in some stores.  

With one big exception –  if I am throwing a party for Earth Day, or any other kind of green/organic themed event, it’s going to be Benziger all the way.

Next!





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.





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!





Louis M. Martini Napa Valley 2006 cabernet sauvignon review

17 09 2010

Today we review a 2006 Napa Valley cabernet that will cost you $20.

Bottom line:  Good!  Maybe a bit “normal,” but with the right food, really shines.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  This review deals with the Louis M. Martini “Napa Valley” cabernet, which goes for around $20.  NOT the regular ol’ Louis M. Martini cabernet, which is like $11, and not in the same league. 

Here with the “Napa Valley” cabernet, we have a very moderate, somewhat generic and very nice little red wine.  It has a nice, reasonable amount of tannins, maybe more than the average wine, but not beyond the pale.  It smells nice and does nothing wrong.  It’s not very complex.  It has that familiar California tannin bite and dryness.  It tastes like a combination of oak, leather, cranberries, blackberries and . . . . OK, look, it tastes like every other decent California cabernet, I admit it.  Alright?!?

But it’s good.  So I say, buy it.  I had it with a steak dinner and it just kept on delivering that lovely California steak wine thing.

This  one is:  Louis Martini Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon reviewRecommended.





Explore 2008 cabernet sauvignon review

10 09 2010

Today we examine a red wine from South Africa that costs just $4 a bottle.

Bottom line:  This wine is not recommended, because it is absolutely terrible.

You’re probably thinking, “HEY, you just reviewed that awesome $40 pinot noir, how can you switch to a cabernet that costs only $3.99 and give it a fair shot?”  Well, I opened a bottle of Black Opal shiraz/cabernet in between, which costs only $7, and was pretty good.  (And which has been positively reviewed here.)  So, I was actually prepared for a bargain red.

However, I wasn’t prepared for this stuff.  Explore cabernet sauvignon smells like strong alcohol.  “That’s OK,” I thought, “it still might taste good.”

It doesn’t.  In fact it tastes like there is something seriously wrong with it.  A medium-bodied cab, it has a dry, smokey flavor.  Not a woody, or spicy smoke.  More like the black, acrid cloud you get from burning brightly colored plastic.  Halfway through my first glass, I stopped to consider whether I might have just been poisoned. 

I might use the rest of the bottle to marinate steak.  It’s also possible that I will taste it again and rush to force it down the kitchen sink drain while cursing at the winery, or myself.

It’s only $4, but unfortunately the 2008 Explore cabernet sauvignon cannot be 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!





Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon review – NICE

13 08 2010

This review has been updated here.

Hi!  Today we’ll look at a red wine from California’s Central Coast, which sells for $11 a bottle.

Five Rivers cab used to be made with grapes from California’s Paso Robles area, and it really rocked for $11.  Now, with the 2007 vintage, Paso Robles has been replaced on the label with plain old Central Coast.  It doesn’t rock as much anymore, but it’s pretty darn good:  rich, with plenty of tannins, a “tight” taste, dry, but with some deep fruit, and a nice amount of oak.  It’s medium-bodied, mildly spicy, and overall, “strong.”  In fact, it tastes very close to the way it did when it was a Paso Robles wine.   How do they do that?

On the downside, it’s a bit generic, or even boring, in some settings.  It also might be too oaky for some wine lovers.  But it can serve as a great steak wine, or just a “de-stress after work” wine.  There’s something about Five Rivers cabernet that I just, like.

So there you have it.  This unassuming and mild-mannered California cabernet hits the right buttons for your Wineguider to make me want more and more, and so it is:

Five Rivers cabernet sauvignon review

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.





Greg Norman shiraz review – TOUCHY!

10 08 2010

Today we review an australian red from 2006 with the name of a famous golfer, which can be had for $14 but more often sells for $15-16.

Bottom line: a winner.  This dry shiraz does many things right for a $15 wine.

I am usually sort of bored, or even disappointed, with Greg Norman wines.  But this 2006 shiraz was really cool.  Introduced to me by the very friendly Jessica at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Delaware, it was subtle, very dry, a little bit earthy and moderately spicy with some kickass tannins.  Although it’s not a giant fruit bomb like many other shiraz wines from Australia, it does have some dark fruit for you: the label says “dark plumb and black cherry” — sure, I’ll go with that. 

But fruit is not the main event here.  In fact, this wine from the famous golfer (yes, the blond guy — it’s really his winery) is almost like you combined a medium-bodied Australian shiraz with a dry and delicious Italian red.  It’s more about great texture than it is about flavor.  And I have to mention the label — it says that these grapes are grown on “shallow red soils overlying hard limestone.”  Wow, now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

Finally, one word of advice: serve this one slightly chilled.  As in, stick it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before you enjoy.

Greg Norman shiraz reviewRecommended!





GreenPoint shiraz review

3 08 2010

Today we review a shiraz from Victoria Australia that can be had for $17 a bottle (although Total Wine charges $22).  But holy cow, you can get it for $11.79 at wine.com.   What’s up with this one??

I don’t know, but I really like it.  As the label brags, it really does have character.  Often, a shiraz from Australia is dark, rich, purple, and even a little bit chewy.  But GreenPoint is medium-bodied, ruby red, lighter than you expect, a little sweet for a shiraz, and elegant.  It’s a little bit spicy, and has a little bit of smoke, making it a perfect for very spicy food, or just sipping.   Juicy, warm, spicy, and completely yummy — there’s a lot going on in this glass for $11.79.

A lot going on for your tastebuds, that is.  If you just smell it, you get a face full of alcohol, even after the bottle has been open for a while.  But who cares.  If you love shiraz and the dog-hot summer has been keeping you away from this grape, I suggest you try the 2006 GreenPoint.  If you can find it.    GreenPoint shiraz review

Recommended.





Black Opal shiraz cabernet review

27 07 2010

Today we review an Australian shiraz/cabernet blend that costs only $7 a bottle.

Since we just reviewed two white wines that are “stupid cheap,” I figured we needed a red.  Enter 2007 Black Opal shiraz/cabernet.  Since I almost always hate cheap red wine, I have to admit that I was surprised that Black Opal was even drinkable.   There are several new very cheap red wines flowing from Australia these days, including the confusingly similar “Black Swan,” and as you would expect, most aren’t that great. 

But here we have a rich, drinkable red that is “full of berry, pepper, and spice aromas” (so says the winery’s website, and I agree) that also gives you some spice and pepper on your taste buds, along with very ripe dark fruit flavors.  Tannins are there, sort of.  I don’t really agree with the website’s claim that this is an “elegant” or a “full bodied” wine, but hey, their marketing people have to earn a living just like anybody else. 

I’d say this is a medium-bodied red that doesn’t really taste like cabernet or shiraz, but rather just tastes pleasant.  It isn’t silky or complex, but it doesn’t reek of cheapness either.  If you’re on a tight budget, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  If you don’t like it, please e-mail me any $7 reds that you do enjoy, I’ll be curious!  This super-affordable dark berry down under is:

Black Opal shiraz cabernet review

Recommended.





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.





Stags’ Leap merlot review

15 07 2010

Today we review a merlot from Napa Valley, California that costs $40 a bottle.

OK this is a ridiculous review, because I am going to “not recommend” a very, very good wine.   The problem is the price.  The wine is the 2006 Stags’ Leap merlot.  Big, oaky, with kickass tannins YET bursting with juicy dark fruit flavors all over the place, and silky smooth.  And organic.  Once you let it breathe, this wine smells and tastes very natural, very much “off the farm,” with all kinds of interesting notes calling for your attention.  Stags’ Leap is definitely not your typical processed, corporate, red juice.  Which is what you’d expect, because the Stags’ Leap area of Napa Valley is some of the most high-fallootin’ grape farmland in the entire world.

As with any very good wine, drinking this merlot is like having an artist’s palette explode in your mouth.  You suddenly realize why all the $10 wines that you have been drinking were priced that way — because (compared to the really good stuff) they are bleached out of real flavor and are overly simplistic or “one flavor only.”  

But here’s the thing — at $40, I expect something seriously compelling.   The Stags’ Leap is truly lovely, but it’s really just a great merlot.  If it were $25, it would merit a huge recommendation.  So there you have it.   A very, very good wine, which is:

Not 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.





Cupcake merlot review

9 07 2010

Today we review a nice little merlot from California that costs $10 a bottle.

As we noted previously, Cupcake has a sort of unfair advantage — you can’t help thinking about cupcakes or at least dessert when you try it.  So, like the Cupcake cabernet reviewed earlier, the name may have helped this merlot achieve a recommendation.  Just being honest here.  Cupcake merlot is warm, soft, round, medium-light bodied, and tastes like you expect a California merlot to taste, with just a slight emphasis on the juicier, sweeter side of things.  

It hits you with flavors of dark berries and lays some mild tannins on your tongue. Some California merlots will choke you with too much oaky flavor.  Cupcake does not.  Everything about this wine is moderate, medium, and pleasant.

However, I’ve had 2 bottles that were not so great.  They tasted bleached out and a little bitter.  I’m willing to tolerate that with a wine that is this inexpensive.  But honestly, with Cupcake at $10, I think I would instead select the $11 Zen of Zin most times.  Even though this is not a raving, enthusiastic recommendation, this merlot is:Cupcake merlot review 

Recommended.





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





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!





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





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





Sexy Wine Bomb red wine review

1 06 2010

Welcome to Wineguider’s wine blog!

Our first post will review Sexy Wine Bomb’s “Blends Have More Fun”, a red wine from California that costs $10 a bottle.

This red is a blend (Merlot: 38%, Zinfandel: 38%, Syrah: 23%, Petite Syrah: 1%) that has a warm, fruit-forward taste with nothing weird going on and a bit of oak and spice in its finish.  I liked it right away.  That loving feeling might wane over time, but so far, this stuff is a hit — and that first impression is just what you need if you’re looking for a wine to bring to a party.  Not to mention the reasonable price tag, and the conversation-starting label, which depicts a bomb next to a sexy female silhouette from an 18-wheeler’s mudflap.

With this wide variety of grapes, you’d expect some complexity, and you do get it, but it’s a $10 version of complexity.   Good enough to be entertaining but not academy award-winning.  Sexy Wine Bomb is a new winery, and this is their first offering, so they need it to work.  And I think it does.  It’s not perfect, and it’s not fall-down-on-the-floor delicious, but at this price it’s appealing and a very solid contender. 

The winery’s quirky website states that the grapes come from “all over California,” but more importantly provides verbatim comments from their pre-release marketing survey (many of which are very negative and are still provided with cheerful commentary from the winemakers).  My favorite comment:  “NO.”

But I say, “YES.”  Enjoy!Sexy Wine Bomb "Blends Have More Fun" red wine