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.

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Marchese Antinori chianti classico riserva 2004 review

28 09 2010

Today we review a 2004 chianti that costs $30 a bottle. 

QUESTION!   What to buy if you’re making a romantic Italian dinner for a seriously hot date?  Answer – something Italian!  Although many U.S. reds will pair wonderfully with your meal, nothing gets the romance going like an Italian.  

There are many kinds of Italian wines, but if you’re starting out, a chianti is a safe bet — they hardly ever taste bad, they are affordable, and most people have a good association with the name.   But what IS chianti?  It’s not a grape.  It’s a blend of three or four grapes, but always most prominently sangiovese.  It’s made in the Chianti area of Italy, in Tuscany.  There are several “grades” of chianti, and it usually goes like this:

          Good:  chianti

          Better: chianti classico

          Best: chianti classico riserva

Then there’s “chianti superiore”, which is supposed to be even better, but is rare.  My local Total Wine has only one. 

So today we have a $30 chianti classico riserva which is very warm, extremely dark red, almost black, tastes very full and extracted, and is VERY very sumptuous in the mouth, with perfect texture.  But there’s a problem: too much oak.  Drinking it is like sucking on a 2×4.  It’s hard to taste the grapes, much less describe them for you.  Although it is very romantic, has great texture and has a sexy, upperclass label, this Italian is unfortunately:

Not recommended.   

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P.S.  Hey WINEGUIDER!!  What about my dang date?!?!   Well, for a moderately pricey chianti that will taste good and show that you really cared about the meal, I suggest you buy the little brother to the above wine, another Antinori offering called Peppoli chianti classico, which costs $24.   I will do a full review soon.





Lagaria pinot grigio review

25 09 2010

Today we look at a pinot grigio from Italy that costs $9 a bottle.

Bottom line:  Love it!  An  affordable and very drinkable pinot grigio.

Lagaria is a hot little commodity these days because it’s not super well known, yet it’s very good and it’s very inexpensive.  So, you can serve it at all your parties, or bring it to your friends’, and everybody will think you’re a wine expert — yet you hardly spent anything on it.  (Or, like one high-end Italian restaurant around here, you can put it on your menu at $7 a glass and people will drink your store room dry, even though the stuff is only $9 a bottle if you know where to find it.)

Why is it so good?  As we have said, pinot grigio is often so light and clean that it barely tastes like anything.  Well, Lagaria has some real flavors — zippy lime and other citrus flavors with some pleasant mineral inflections on the finish, as one short online review said.  BUT, it’s still light and clean (UNlike the dreaded Estancia pinot grigio, which is packed with many flavors and ends up tasting heavy, confused and weird.)   By the way, I hereby pledge never to use the word “inflections” in a review again.

Lagaria is fruity, and tangy.  It tastes like real pinot grigio.  It has a nice, coherent feel in your mouth that speaks with one voice, and it stays interesting while being refreshing.  It’s easy to drink (I’m reminded of the Coneheads beeping out the words, “mass quantities”).  And finally, it’s a little bit on the sweet side for a pinot grigio, but it’s not too sweet. 

Lagaria pinot grigio reviewThis one’s a crowd pleaser.   Highly recommended.





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.

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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. 

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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.