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.





urban riesling review: Yavolt!

31 07 2011

urban riesling reviewHello!  Today we review a 2010 riesling from Germany that I discovered for $10 at Wilmington Delaware’s excellent Premier Wine.

“Urban” in German means polite, with good manners.  Works for me:  urban riesling is absolutely civil, especially on one of this summer’s hot days.  Although it smells like peaches and honey, it’s on the dry side of sweet.  Definitely not ooey-gooey.  In your mouth it delivers smooth melon, a very light tangy snap, and a hint of stone.  Perfect by itself or with spicy food, pizza, even with dessert. 

The bottle and label are retro-German stylish, as if you’re holding a prop from a high-society European scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.  Urban is not a “huge wow” wine, but at $10, this well-mannered and delicious refresher is:

Recommended.

P.S. Although Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes sounded like he was answering commands with “yavolt,” it appears that the German word is “Jawohl.”





Clos Robert pinot noir review: KEEPIN’ IT REAL

8 06 2011

Today we look at a 2008 pinot from Oregon that cost me $13, but can be found for $10 if you look around.

Clos Robert seems like an unusually small winery, which is cool.  I can’t find much about them, beyond this.  Now, this wine is very inexpensive for an Oregon pinot.  Is it any good?

Yes!!  It’s not a crowd-pleaser and it’s not super-complex, but for a bargain Oregon pinot noir, Clos Robert is very, very good.  It gives you a kick when you first taste it — bright acidic cherry, followed by mushroom, cola and strawberry, along with a healthy dose of spices.  Juicy, not much in the way of tannins.  The best parts:  Clos Robert doesn’t really do anything wrong, and for this low price, it has TONS of “real pinot” in it. 

What’s the secret?  I think the 2008 vintage in Oregon was just extremely friendly.  Either way, at $10 or even $13, this Oregon pinot is:

Clos Robert pinot noir review  Highly recommended.





Louis Chavy Bourgogne pinot noir review: haw-haw-HONNHHH!!

7 06 2011

Today we review a 2009 pinot noir from France that costs $15 at Total Wine.

This wine is so French (the word Bourgogne in its name means burgundy), yet, it’s American in a very important way.  French: it’s not juicy, jammy, or sweet in any way, it’s light-to-medium bodied, and it’s hard to love, at first.  Kind of stand-off-ish.  (Fun facts: burgundy is an area in east France, and red burgundy wine is almost all pinot noir.) 

American: the label actually says “pinot noir.”  French labels almost never give you this useful info, which seems incredible, and makes me want to slap my gloves in their face.  So, how does it taste?  It’s adult.  Louis Chavy Bourgogne pinot noir is dry, spicy, cranberry-ish, and very, very serious. 

I love it.  It’s the kind of wine I can drink by itself, and finish almost a whole bottle in one sitting, without realizing it.  It is not for white wine drinkers, or those who complain that red wines are too bitter, or sour.  But if you like exploring, if you like pinot noir, if you find most red wines too sweet, and especially if you love budget burgundy, Louis Chavy Bourgogne pinot noir at $15 is definitely:

Louis Chavy Bourgogne pinot noir review Recommended.





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

5 06 2011

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

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

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

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

Hahn SLH Estate pinot noir review

Highly recommended.





Project Paso red wine blend review: HEY NOW

3 06 2011

Today we look at the 2009 Project Paso red blend from Paso Robles California, which costs around $11.

This is a second label from Sebastiani.  It’s fun and flavorful, with an original personality that will save your life if you are bored to death with same-tasting California reds.  In fact, it is all-around excellent for an $11 wine.  At 14.8% alcohol, it will rock your block.  This is party wine, people.

The fun begins with the funky new unwrappable rubber “cork”, built into the red/orange lid.  Project Paso red blend smells like caramel.  When first opened, it is reserved, with pleasurable medium-bodied texture but mysterious flavors.  On Day 2 it blossoms, jammy, intense, and filled with deep dark fruit.  Moderate tannins.  Luscious black raspberry and cranberry flavors meet up with dark coffee and spices, spices, spices.  All with a slight “dusty” quality.  Brought to a dinner party recently, the bottle was quickly consumed.

A blend of grenache, zinfandel, petite sirah and mourvedre, Project Paso is a clear Best Value winner — hence the guy at the slot machine.  It is enthusiastically:

Project Paso red wine blend review

Recommended.





Chateau Ste. Michelle “Indian Wells” merlot review

1 06 2011

Hi!  Today we are reviewing a 2009 merlot from Washington State that is $13 at Costco.

OK Washington merlot is supposed to be sweet and jammy.  This merlot IS kind of sweet, because it’s very fruit-forward.  But it’s also a little spicy, and has some leather/chocolate going on.  Maybe a tiny bit of tobacco.

At $13, I give it a thumbs-up.  It’s not “great”, but it is definitely nice, and does not do anything wrong if you like warm, jammy, velvety merlot.   BUT — there’s a caveat.  You really have to let it breathe, for at least an hour.  When you first open it, the only thing you will smell is alcohol, and it will be almost tasteless.  Just takes a while to open up.

Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" merlot reviewRecommended.





Hahn Winery cabernet sauvignon review: dazed and confused; happy

24 05 2011

Today we review a 2009 cabernet sauvignon from California’s central coast that includes 10% merlot and costs $10 – $11.

OK I am a little confused about “Hahn Estates” vs. “Hahn Winery.”   At the Winery part of their website, you see both Winery and Estates wines for sale.  Also, the Estates label seems to now be called “Hahn SLH Estate”, just for fun. [EDIT: I spoke with Hahn.  For their normal, basic wines, Hahn Estates is the old name and Hahn Winery is the new name.  Hahn SLH Estate is their “upscale” label.”]

This $11 cabernet from Hahn WINERY is really good.  Right now it’s noon, and I just poured myself a little glass, after having sampled it last night.  I like it that much — willing to risk the self-loathing that comes from drinking at home, at noon, on a Tuesday.  (“What has my life come to?  Am I going to be OK?”)  This easy, medium-bodied cab tastes nice and fresh, with lovely dark flavors of blackberry and unsweetened chocolate, balanced by prominent tannins that will suck the moisture out of your mouth faster than chewing up a piece of chalk.  It tastes serious.  Not a fruit bomb.  Not a party wine, more of a steak dinner kind of deal.   

Hahn Winery cabernet sauvignon reviewIt doesn’t give much of an aroma that I can describe, but really, who cares?  Here at Wineguider, we drink wine.  At $10 or $11, Hahn Winery’s 2009 cabernet gets a strong recommendation.  Even at noon.





Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot review

22 05 2011

Today we examine a 2009 merlot from Washington State that costs $9 at Costco.

OK Washington merlot has a reputation.  That being, it is generally on the sweeter side.  It’s a good choice if you want to bring a white wine drinker over to the dark side.

Kirkland Signature Columbia Valley merlot falls right in line with that reputation.  And, it’s pretty good:  soft, medium-bodied, and pleasant.  Warm blackberries, with spicy chocolate.  It’s great for a party — most people will be happy to sip it, and it’s a conversation starter, as in: who knew that such a “bargain brand” could taste this good?  (Idiot wine snobs may talk behind your back, as if you brought some wine that you found at a gas station.  Screw ’em.)  It’s got some mouth-drying tannins, but it mostly soothes you with vague deep, dark fruit flavors.  It does almost nothing wrong. 

I found myself pouring glass after glass, a very positive indicator here at Wineguider.  This easy-drinking red is:

Kirkland Columbia Valley merlot reviewRecommended.





La Crema Monterey pinot noir review: YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

19 05 2011

Today we look at a 2009 pinot noir from California’s Monterey region that costs around $20.

STOP EVERYTHING – this is to announce that Monterey pinot noirs have overtaken the universe and must be bought!! — ahem, I mean, if you’re looking for pinot, and you want to spend $15 – $20.  Here’s the deal — Oregon pinot is supposed to be so great.  Well, at the $20 price level, Monterey pinot is now COMPLETELY OUTPERFORMING, NAY, EMBARRASSING, Oregon pinot.  That’s saying a lot, because Oregon pinot is my favorite thing to drink in the whole world.  To be specific, La Crema Monterey for $20 is **Far Superior** to these $20-ish Oregon pinots:

  • Erath
  • Cloudline
  • Kudos Reserve
  • A to Z
  • Acrobat
  • Big Fire

La Crema Monterey smells bright, with aromas of spicy raspberry and medium-bodied flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, red cherries, a little rhubarb and vanilla, and a slight “farm fresh” mushroomy earth.  YUMYUMYUMYUM.  This Monterey pinot noir is:

La Crema Monterey pinot noir review

Highly recommended.





Wheelhouse cabernet review: YEAH, BABY

18 05 2011

Wheelhouse cabernet reviewHere’s a 2008 Napa Valley cabernet that sells at Cost Plus World Market for $13, on sale from $18.

Folks, the mission here is to review affordable wines that you can find.  Today, that rule is bent in case you are near a World Market, which has an exclusive on Wheelhouse.  Or near a restaurant that’s smart enough to carry this Napa Valley cab, like Columbus Inn on Pennsylvania Ave. in Wilmington, DE.

That’s because Wheelhouse cabernet is fresh, delicious, natural-tasting, dark-fruited, spicy, and I Can, Not, Stop, drinking it.  Wow — $13, for this?  Mouth-drying tannins, juicy dark cranberry flavors, combined with some oak, a hint of rhubarb and vanilla, and . . . drum roll please . . .  it’s not too sweet.  Medium-bodied, and light on its feet for a California cab, you can enjoy Wheelhouse with almost anything.  Not endlessly complex, but way more interesting than most California reds I’ve had under $20.

I would say that it’s great for a party, but you want this wine for yourself.  A humongous Best Value at $13, receiving a standing ovation at $18, and dangerously close to being awarded a “Best of the Best” designation at ANY price, Wheelhouse cabernet is:

Highly 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.





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.





Uppercut cabernet review: VERY NOT BAD!?!

12 05 2011

Today we review a 2007 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that’s around $20.

Uppercut cabernet reviewHi there!  I bet you’re wondering if Uppercut cab is any good.  The answer is, yes!  It’s VERY good.  It’s reliable, won’t piss anybody off, and looks beautiful in your glass with its deep ruby red color.  At a recent mini-tasting at a nice restaurant, Uppercut was the stand-out cabernet winner: smells like cedar and vanilla.  Great mouthfeel, a deep, dark-fruited taste, and a finish that cries out for steak.  This wine does nothing wrong, balancing blackberry/cranberry fruit with oaky, mouth-drying tannins.

However!  “Not doing anything wrong” could be its downfall. Uppercut is a little bit regular.  At $20 a bottle, I’d like a little more personality, something quirky, something more memorable. Maybe that’s wishful thinking — let’s not forget, this bottle says “Napa Valley” on the label.  I think we’re paying something, just for that name.  If it were $15, Uppecut would be a HUGE recommendation, and a clear Best Value winner.  At $20, I am happy to say that it is:

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





Jacob’s Creek reserve chardonnay review – HOLY FREAKING

29 04 2011

Today we review a 2007 $14 chardonnay from south Australia.

Holy freaking COW this Jacob’s Creek reserve chard is good.  It costs around $14.  If you find it for $20, you should still buy it.  Below, you can read part of a real, grown-up review of this wonderful white wine, from a website that usually requires you to pay in order to benefit from their wisdom. Bring this to a party and everybody who has been choking down California chardonnay will love you.

Much better on the 2nd day after opening, this bargain chard with a real cork from the other side of the world has aromas of butterscotch and tastes fresh, natural, and real — with acidic citrus flavors like lime, balanced by round tropical notes like mango (and some butterscotch). 

More, please! 

Highly recommended, and a “Best Value”.   

Jacob's Creek reserve chardonnay review

From Jancis Robinson.com (I added the emphasis):

“As detailed in Chardonnays – Oz vs the rest, I ended up giving the same relatively enthusiastic score, 16.5 out of 20, to Jacob’s Creek regular Chardonnay 2008 [a $6 value monster that your Wineguider recommended in 2009 form, right here] as to Bruno Colin’s Premier Cru Morgeot 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet [a fine French chardonnay that sells for $50-$80], and gave an even higher score to the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2008.

The distinguishing mark of the Jacob’s Creek Chardonnays is that Phil Laffer has steered their stylistic evolution in parallel with the dramatic change in the style of the average Australian Chardonnay much higher up the ranks, towards something much leaner and more refreshing. More Chablis than the old heavily oaked monsters. 

The main changes Laffer has made in recent years have been to treat the Chardonnay grapes as though they were fragile Riesling, picking them at night, protecting them assiduously from oxygen, minimising the time between vineyard and winery. Laffer reckons even his regular Chardonnay should last five to six years, ‘which certainly wasn’t the case five years ago’.”





Chateau Montelena chardonnay review

28 04 2011

Today it’s a 2007 California chardonnay that will cost you $40 at Total Wine, up to $50 elsewhere.

This wine is famous.  It comes from a Napa Valley winery that was founded in 1882.  (That’s not a typo.)  Chateau Montelena is also THE white wine that put California whites on the map — in 1976, the 1973 vintage of this wine stunned everybody by trampling a bunch of great French whites to win the Paris Tasting, a/k/a the Judgement of Paris.

So, this 2007 chardonnay has a lovely floral aroma.  It tastes like an extremely elegant version of the familiar California chardonnay.  The  typical super-oak quality is replaced by subtle notes of oak.  The typical buttery thing is replaced by smoothness, a really pleasant mouthfeel.  Besides that unfortunate “California chard” taste, you get hints of mellow pineapple, vanilla, and a spicy, minerally finish.  It has a LOT of character, so it should be paired with something spicy or bold.  It is crying out, “spicy chicken dish” to me right now.

However, this wine is $40 at Total Wine, and costs more just about everywhere else.  With its pedigree, it should be expensive, but I would not pay $40 again for it.  Then again, most California chardonnays hit me with an unnatural, weird kind of non-wine flavor, so I admit that I am not a neutral judge of this animal.  (No other wines do this, and I love chardonnays from other parts of the world.)  I say, there are much more satisfying white wines you can buy for around $25.  However, if you are living in a Groundhog Day-like cycle of California chardonnays and only California chardonnays, then you should definitely check out Chateau Montelena, because it’s one of the best.

Not recommended.





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.





Ca’ Montini pinot grigio review

13 04 2011

Today, we review a 2009 Italian pinot grigio that cost me $19.

Folks, Ca’ Montini is serious.  It is less sweet than many other pinot grigios, so it is less “fun”.  But it’s good, some might say, extremely good.  Dry, minerally, citrusy, and balanced.  However, I just didn’t find that it was delicious enough to merit a price of $19.  But this one is close — you might love it.  Unfortunately, for your Wineguider, this elegant Italian is:

Not recommended.





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.





Le Jade picpoul review

23 03 2011

Today we look at a 2009 picpoul from France, which costs around $11, give or take a couple dollars.  Actually, it’s a “picpoul de pinet.”   Whatever.

I don’t pretend to be a French wine expert, but I can tell you that this refreshing, affordable white wine is really good.  It’s nice and crisp, smelling like lemon and grapefruit.  It tastes like lemon/lime, grapefruit, pineapple, honeydew, and a little bit of green pepper.  Tart.  Fairly dry, but also round.  Minerally.  Friendly.  And easy-drinking, at 12.5% alcohol. 

Picpoul is not a common grape.  So most people haven’t heard of it, and that’s why this wine is great to bring to a party.  Everybody will be asking, “what IS this??”  (In a good way.)  Great with shellfish, chinese food, or any cheese, especially “big” cheeses.  At any price under $15, this Frenchy white is a Best Value, and is definitely:

Le Jade picpoul 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.





Tiefenbrunner pinot grigio review: WOW

13 03 2011

Today we review a 2009 pinot grigio from Italy that will cost you $14 at Total Wine.

OK, this Italian white wine with the German-sounding name is absolutely delicious.  It comes from the northernmost parts of Italy, bordering not Germany, but Austria.  Clean, fun, a dash of minerality on your tongue, full of crisp, juicy citrus and honeydew flavors, with a gentle aroma of pears.  Wow.  I haven’t compared it directly to the very nice $15 Bolini, which I reviewed here, but I think Tiefenbrunner might be even better. 

Tiefenbrunner is also better than the delectable value champion Lagaria pinot grigio, reviewed here.  It should be better, since Lagaria is only $9.  Is Tiefenbrunner worth the extra $5?  Yes.  But it’s a close call.  Lagaria still gives more joy-per-dollar.  If you are throwing a party, go with Lagaria.  No-brainer.  But if it’s a special dinner with just the two of you, I’d recommend Tiefenbrunner.  Or Bolini.  Both, also no-brainers. 

Tiefenbrunner pinot grigio reviewThis pinot grigio is: 

Highly 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.





Cakebread Cellars chardonnay review

24 10 2010

We continue our special California chardonnay week with this coveted $42 wine from Napa Valley’s 2007 vintage.

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Am I crazy??  This $42 (sometimes $53) (but look here — just $32.98) chardonnay, thought to be one of the best in the U.S., isn’t good enough??  The wine that I actually saw two grown men fight over in an Atlanta liquor store that had only 1 bottle left (one of whom turned out to be my dentist!)??

First, Cakebread was better than this week’s previous (low-dollar) contenders.  We had high hopes, because this chard was one of the best in Napa Valley when I visited Cakebread‘s winery in 2004.  But it seems oakier and more buttery now.  Our first drink made us grimace uncontrollably.  It tasted like the fake, clogged-up stuff you get when you absentmindedly order “white wine” at some stupid work-related event.  The smell was VERY oaky and buttery.  Decanting didn’t help — still tasted like an improved version of Clos du Bois, which we dissed here

But on day 2, things improved a lot.  NOW this golden boy began to act right — a smell of honeysuckles and a taste of (acidic) lemon/lime, countered by (sweet) honeydew melon and cantaloupe.  And a hint of oak, which combined with the citrus to zap your tongue with a mildly spicy “zing!”   Wow — a natural-tasting, balanced, white wine. 

Then there’s the price.  I would highly recommend this wine at $23.  But at $42, or $53, or whatever, I expect a near-orgasmic experience.  So far, only pinot noirs at this price level have earned a recommendation from your Wineguider.  Unfortunately, at $42 this golden boy is:

Not recommended.

Next!





Clos du Bois 2009 chardonnay review

21 10 2010

LET’S GET READY TO RUMMM-BLLLLE!!!!  Today we continue our special California chardonnay week by reviewing the Clos du Bois 2009 chardonnay, which will cost you $12.

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

Et tu, Clos du Bois?  This is the THIRD DAMN California chardonnay I’ve auditioned this week, and I can’t find one that I would buy again.  What’s up, ladies and gentlemen?  I guess I am just too cheap and too optimistic, as I have now tried chards priced at $11, $8, and $12. 

What I got here was an aroma of “standard California chardonnay,” and a taste of — this was a shocker — “standard California chardonnay.”  Admittedly, it tastes cleaner than Bogle or Kendall-Jackson.  In fact Clos du Bois is not horrible, and does not slap you with grimace-producing chemical flavors, but the problem is, there’s just no reason to keep drinking it.  Pale yellow in color, it had notes of oak, butter, grilled pears, broasted pineapple . . . oh who cares?  Life is meaningless!

(Sorry about that.)  And check this out: after 3 days in the fridge, this chardonnay transformed into some kind of flavored water.  Monday night, when first opened:  blah chardonnay.   Thursday afternoon:  yellow sports drink.  I’m having some right now.   Nothing.   It’s vaguely buttery, and has a light spice.  Whatever. 

Looks like we’re going to have to up our game for the next California wine that we audition, ladies and gentlemen.  CHOO CHOOOOOOOOOOO!!  Here come the PAIN TRAIN, YO.  As I commence a 2nd mortgage application on my house to purchase our next contender, today’s ordinary $12 California chardonnay is:

Not recommended.

Next!





Bogle 2009 chardonnay review

19 10 2010

The second contender in California chardonnay week is the 2009 Bogle Vineyards at $8.  That’s $3 less than the almighty Kendall-Jackson (which we rejected for tasting like a bunch of chemicals and for its unrelenting mediumness).

Bias alert!  I’m doing this series because I don’t generally like California chardonnays — so if I can recommend one, it’s probably good enough for most people.  I am not a normal, impartial judge of this kind of wine.

“WHOA.”  That was my first reaction.  This stuff is truly intense.  It smelled like sweet mangos, butterscotch, and lemon — far more interesting than the Kendall-Jackson factory.   The taste?  Oaky and buttery . . . lemon and green apple acidity . . . butterscotch, melon, cream, some real sweetness . . . and, like Kendall-Jackson, the feeling that I was ingesting random chemicals.  At least it’s a little spicy.  That was my favorite part about this bargain white wine.

Bogle is a cool winery.  It’s family-owned.  They keep the price of this wine really low (which is a mystery, because it’s at least as good as Kendall-Jackson).  And I hear great things about their bargain cabernet and “ThePhantom” red blend. 

But I can’t recommend this chard.  Which isn’t surprising because, as I’ve said, I generally don’t like California chardonnays.  I wouldn’t go as far as this guy, who called the 2004 Bogle chard “undrinkable,” but I can’t agree with this other guy who said it was his favorite chard under $10.  Wow.   As for me, it really smells wonderful, but this intense California chardonnay is, unfortunately, not recommended.

Next!





Kendall-Jackson chardonnay review

18 10 2010

Guess what!!?  In this review, we kick off a feature:  California chardonnay week!

Why?   Because I couldn’t find a hammer to smash myself in the face with?  No, I’m doing this because (1) California chardonnays are incredibly popular, and (2) I dislike them so much, that if I can recommend even one with a straight face, it’s likely to be really damn good.

Our first is the big dog, the mac-daddy: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve from 2008, which sells for $11.  It’s a big label in the wine world, and therefore a little controversial.  See various opinions:

  • here (“it tastes like fruit juice mixed with oak essence and some vodka” … “I will not finish the bottle”)
  • here (“rarely taken seriously”)
  • here (“yellow colored” … “this chard is extremely popular for a reason”)
  • here (“my favorite chardonnay under $12”) and
  • here (“one of my favorite white wines”).

How does it taste?   Not so great.  But not terrible.  The first word I wrote when tasting this medium-bodied yellow fluid:  “chemicals.”  It’s oaky, and buttery, but not excessively so.  It has strong sweetness with vanilla, pear and melon, and medium acidity with citrusy something-or-other.  The overall message is:  extremely medium.  If I needed a good California chardonnay, I’d definitely spend the extra bucks and get William Hill, which I reviewed right here.

Why is KJ one of the best selling wines in the universe?  I don’t know.  Perhaps Oprah recommended it?  Or perhaps your Wineguider is screwed up, and this is really great wine?  We’ll let the comments sort this out.  So, our first entry in this week’s California chardonnay face-smashing celebration is too medium and too chemical-ish and thus is:

Not 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.





William Hill 2008 chardonnay review

6 10 2010

Today we review a California chardonnay from Napa Valley that costs about $20 a bottle.

Bottom line: Recommended for those who like buttery, oaky chardonnay.  Did I mention buttery?

OK I have a confession:  I have something against most California chardonnays.  That being, I hardly ever like them.  The ones that are remotely affordable are usually way too oaky and they feel sort of clogged, flavor-wise.  Clogged with what?  I don’t know — strange, artificial-tasting flavors.  

Now, for a ray of hope.  Today’s chardonnay is a bit different: it’s extremely buttery, and yes it’s pretty darn oaky, but it’s not overwhelmed with those weird, fake flavors I was mentioning.  So despite my bigoted prejudice, I think William Hill chardonnay from Napa Valley is actually pretty darn good.  And I’m really glad that the winery sent me this sample to check out.  

The downside?  It’s not crisp or refreshing, because there is so much deep, intense flavor.  And yet, it doesn’t do anything really wrong.  For $20, that’s special.

As for the Wine Review Tasting Notes — you know, “braised honeydew melon with hints of duck taco” — they aren’t that important here, because William Hill tastes similar to every other decent California chardonnay, with its flavors presented in a way that feels more natural, and less weird to your Wineguider.  But two other things stand out:  it’s a little bit minerally, and it’s a bit spicy.  Yum.  More William Hill, please?

You can now store your ice cubes safely in hell, because your Wineguider has decided that this $20 California chardonnay is:

William Hill chardonnay review

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!





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.   

Next!

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.