September 19, 2006

Wynns "Coonawarra Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon

Wynn Coonawarra CabernetWe've had Coonawarra Estate wines before, and we really liked them. We found a flattering write up of their 2003 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon - the MSRP on the stuff is $14, but apparently it tastes far more expensive than it is. Check out some tasting notes about the wine below.

For decades, literally, "Wynns" has been an advertisement for Cabernet that overperforms. There's no way you can mistake the aroma: blackberry jam, currant jelly, creme de cassis, pipe tobacco, warm oak spice. This is Cab with a capital "C." No blockbuster, it still has enough heft and length to wrestle a big juicy steak to the floor. Its length and complexity are false testimony to a much more expensive wine, a lie we can happily live with!
from; check out the official Wynn's site

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September 17, 2006

Franciscan Oakville Estate Chardonnay 2004

Franciscan Oakville Estate
Varietal: Chardonnay
13.5% ABV
We Paid: N/A (MSRP: $18)

franciscan-chardonnay.jpgWe haven't paid much attention to Chardonnays lately, but this bottle reminded us why it's the most popular grape going right now. Light and white and not too sweet, we were extremely happy with every sip. Of course, considering this just falls inside our "Under $20" mission statement, we're not too shocked that we liked it so much. We know a bigger price tag doesn't necessarily mean a better wine, but sometimes it does give you a nice little boost.

Tasting Notes: They say the Oakville Estate contains "notes of peach, pear and apple" in the nose, while the taste is "lively and lengthy on the palate with a great body and structure. Mineral notes linger and the finish is crisp, creamy and clean with apple and citrus flavors."

We definitely picked up on pears and apples, and we thought the nose had a good body once this one lost its chill from the fridge. The flavor was crisp and tart, carrying on the orchard fruit theme and kicking us with a nice rich, creamy finish.

Bottom Line: Like we said we haven't been drinking a whole lot of Chardonnay lately but this is one we'll sip again. We thought it'd be equally great drinking on the back porch on a warm summer day or next to a fireplace on a crisp autumn one. We'll definitely be adding a couple more bottles to our cellar (OK...closet) and we'll let you know what's up when we actually try during the late fall.

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September 11, 2006

Wine Rack Essentials from AskMen

Wine has put together a nice list of what they consider to be "essential" wines in a bunch of different varietals, both red and white. What drew us to it was the fact that they didn't throw out a bunch of $50 wine as essential - every single one of them is under $20. Plus, they also offer general tips about the different varietals, pairing suggestions, and tasting notes about the suggestions so you can sound like you know what you're talking about. Well done, boys!

The world of wine is a complex and daunting place for the uninitiated. The combination of tastes (freshly cut grass, are you kidding?) and smells, as well as varietals, vineyards and vintages, can be intimidating for anyone who does not know. The truth is that the world of wine doesn’t have to be a complex place, and it can be very rewarding with the understanding of a few basics.

This handy guide lists some varietals that will help you build an impressive wine rack and will certainly give you a sound understanding of the nuances of different types of wine.


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September 7, 2006

New York Times on Cheap Wines

cheap-wine-nyt.jpgThe New York Times isn't the first place you think of when we think of cheap wines, but they've just put out a story where they evaluated 24 bottles of red and white wines for $10 or less per bottle. We've included our favorites, the ones we want to try, along with their tasting notes. We know there's some stigma attached to bottles of wine that cost less than ten bucks, but if the Times can do it, so can you!


E & M Berger Austria Kremstal Gruner Veltliner 2005
1 liter
Crisp, clean and fresh with distinct floral, citrus and mineral flavors. (Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.)

Domaine Delaye France Saint-Veran Les Pierres Grises 2004
Grassy and floral with a lively, inviting texture. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.)

Pascual Toso Argentina Mendoza Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Crisp, lively and refreshing. (TGIC Importers, Woodland Hills, Calif.)


Perrin Reserve Cotes-du-Rhone 2004
Direct, balanced and refreshing with aromas of earth, raspberries and dark fruit. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Central Coast Pinot Noir 2005
Straightforward and balanced with flavors of raspberry and anise.

Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 2004
Dry and lively with cherry and earth flavors and a nice bitter edge.(Winebow, New York)

from The New York Times (subscription)

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On Single Serve Wines

Single Serving WinesSometimes you don't want to open up a full bottle of wine - maybe you're cooking with it, or maybe you just want a taste of wine without the possibility of smacking down an entire bottle. We've found reviews of some single serving wines that should serve if you're looking for your wine bottles to be on the petite side.

We pulled our favorite, the one we want to try most; click through for tasting notes on a few more brands.

Sofia Blanc de Blancs by Francis Ford Coppola, California (about $17 for a four-pack). This surprisingly good wine comes in cans, with straws attached. It's a sparkling white wine, yellow-gold with the aroma of warm cantaloupe and white grapes. The flavor offers good mousse, acidity and freshness, and tastes of clean fruit with a little golden apple. So far, this is the winner of the miniwines. 85 points.
from AZCentral

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June 20, 2006

Prosecco, Pepperwood Grove and a Hawk Crest

So I finally caved and picked up a bottle of Prosecco (sparkling wine) at Trader Joe's today. It's a Zonin Prosecco from Gambellara, Italy. At $5.99 a bottle, there was no need to pass it up and move on to the chocolate aisle. It's been a sunny week, too, which is as good of an excuse as any to drink some bubbly stuff. Maybe I'll ship a few bottles to Mark Cuban, too, to help him nurse his Miami-inflicted pain.

So we'll be reviewing that bottle soon. In the meantime, here are two recommended cheap whites: a 2003 Hawk Crest Chardonnay (by Stag's Leap Wine Cellar, Napa, CA). The other is a 2005 Pepperwood Grove Pinot Grigio. I haven't reviewed a pinot grigio in awhile (since the Fontana Candida) so it's probably time. Pepperwood Grove, which is owned by Don Sebastiani & Sons, makes some pretty good cheap wines overall. It's one of my grocery store staples. This Pinot Grigio (About $8) was refreshing, light and citrusy in a grapefruit sort of mode with a somewhat tart finish....It's a tasty summer white; what a Pinot Grigio should be. The Pepperwood Grove labels, according to the winemaker, were inspired by "the swirls of a Bristel Cone tree." To me, they look a lot the minimalist Spirograph designs of my youth.

The Hawk Crest (about $10) is a very decent Chardonnay for the money. For the same price, I prefer the oak of the J. Lohr wine, but the Hawk Crest boasts some nice fruit and is easy on the palate. Definitely a lot less oak in this Chardonnay, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's balanced and tastes of melon and peach.

Grade for both: 2 stars. Both are solid table wines that I'd buy again.

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June 13, 2006

2003 Sunstone Syrah

The Sunstone 2003 Syrah (Santa Barbara) is organic and made from 100 percent syrah. It costs about $17 (marked up to $39 at the restaurant we drank it at!!! ugh) and worth it at the lower price :). I do loathe restaurant markup.

The PIT and I both loved this wine, which was earthy and spicy with a great bouquet of dark fruit on the palate (the winemaker says blueberry, but I didn't taste that. Then again, I missed the white pepper and blueberry smell, too. I was more in the BLACK pepper, strawberry/plum zone). I drank my syrah with some delicious lamb accompanied by peanut-topped rice and the PIT had his with a duck breast/cherry combo. It worked well with both dishes.

Sunstone Vineyards and Winery (not featured in the movie Sideways) is located 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. Judging by the website photo, this place is beautiful. This USA Today article calls it one of the area's grander tasting rooms. I still haven't made it to the Santa Barbara wineries, but hope to go and review a few soon.

Grade: 3 stars. I really dug this wine and would buy it again in a second.

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June 10, 2006

2004 J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay

For $10, the J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay (Monterey County) is a bargain. We liked it so much we drank a bottle two nights in a row - first with a salmon with a citrus sauce and last night with lemon/olive oil pork chops. My father-in-law, not usually a chardonnay fan, really liked this wine (Mmmmm. Very good, he said). So did the partner in tasting (PIT). So I picked up another bottle at Trader Joe's. I served this wine quite cold and liked it because it was smooth and light-- citrusy/pear in the mouth with a lot of vanilla (Big, big on the oak.) Nothing cloying or overblown about this chardonnay. Why it's called Riverstone? This from the winemaker:

The vines are grown primarily on Elder loam soils underlain by "riverstones" deposited over thousands of years from the Arroyo Seco River, allowing a four-foot rooting zone that keeps the vines¡¯ vegetative growth and fruit in balance. Additionally, the cool climate and winds of the Salinas Valley extend the growing season and retain the natural grape acids and intense varietal character of the Chardonnay.

Here are a few other reviews of this wine at

Grade: 2 1/2 stars.....A notch above a solid table wine. I'm not big on a lot of chardonnay, but I'd buy six bottles of this wine to have on hand if we had room.

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June 5, 2006

Italian Red Roundup

Here's a roundup of the six Italian reds we tried during our blind taste test Sunday night. Strangely, the wines seemed to get better as we went along.
1) 2004 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Barbera D'Alba (Piedmont, Italy. $13.99) It's always hard to review the first bottle at a tasting because we have nothing else to compare it to, but the response to this wine was generally positive. Jonathan called it inoffensive. I thought it was a bit harsh because it hadn't opened up, but found it pleasantly fruity. After it opened it was much nicer. Generally positive reviews for this wine.
This review is from K&L Wines, which lists this Barbera as a "top pick"

"From the husband and wife team of Nicola Argamante and Loredana Addari. Small production and super values! This young red offers a grapey nose, intense and yet delicate offering raspberry and violet notes. On the palate this wine is quite dry, full bodied and with plenty of acidity though tannins are soft and fully integrated. Enjoy with just about any sort of Italian-inspired food!"

2) 2003 Aglianico Beneventano. ($8) I thought this was a nice bottle of wine that would be even better paired with some food. I called it "dirty, earthy and spicy." Marlo tasted mushroom, while Erica called it the "most unfruity wine ever." Christina found it quite nice with the parmesan we served. Anglianico is a big red wine of southern Italy, a wine variety brought by the Greeks to southern Italy over 2,000 years ago. Aglianico is supposedly an up and coming wine among wine lovers.

3) 2003 Castello D'Albola Chianti Classico ($10.99). Finally, we dive into a chianti. I could have sworn No. 2 was a chianti, but alas it was not. Marlo found this wine mineral-ish and slightly bitter. I found it quite simple and straightforward and quite drinkable. Nice fruit; a little spice. Christina found it flat, but nonetheless would toss it back by the pool. Robin said it was mild and "doesn't jump out at me." "Tastes like a wine that wants to open but just can't," John wrote. This Chianti Classico is 95 percent Sangiovese balanced with 5 percent Canaiolo grapes. No Silence of the Lambs jokes, please.

4) The 2002 Lambardi Rosso Di Montalcino I reviewed last night...Generally enjoyed by all.

5) A Cabernet Franc made in Italy. This wine was freaky. I just wrote FUNK in capital letters on my tasting sheet because all I could taste was white pepper, black pepper. Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze HACHOOOOOOO. Robin and Christina really liked this wine's spice. Jim liked it, too. Jonathan said "it smells like grandpa's den." Unfortunately Robin brought the bottle home with her and I forgot to write down this wine's name, so I will update tomorrow. Apologies!

6) Six came in a lovely but oddly-shaped bottle. It's a Travaglini 2000 Gattinara (about $18) made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in Italy's Piedmont region. This was another favorite wine with our group. Marlo said this wine had nice body and tasted like cooked dried fruit. Robin found it sweet and fruity. I found it Zinfandel-ish with lots of plum and berry, while Christina thought it tasted like a pinot. hmmmmm. Here are some other opinions. From the winemaker: Nebbiolo, the outstanding red wine grape of Italy, is deep in color, robust and full-bodied, with rich, deep, complex flavors. An approachable wine, with characteristic aromas of rose and violet, along with cherry. Nicely textured, earthy notes, offering a note of anise, with flavors of plum and berry, and it has a fairly long finish.

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May 26, 2006

2004 Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio

The PIT (Partner in Tasting) popped the cork on a bottle of 2004 Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio ($8.99 Trader Joe's) last night and filled a glass for himself, conveniently forgetting about me, the wine blogger. I demanded a glass, with high hopes, as I like many cheap Italian Pinot Grigio wines.

Pinos grigio is white wine made with the pinot gris grape. Pinot gris is the best-known "white" variant-clone of Pinot Noir, according to the Professional Friends of Wine website. Some pinot gris is grown in Burgundy. In Germany, it is known as ruländer.

I usually drink Pinot Grigio with my sister because it's the only wine that doesn't give her migraines. (Poor girl!) She wasn't missing much with this bottle. The problem wasn't how this wine tasted. No, this wine was pretty easy on the tongue -- crisp and light with nice citrus. My issues were with the before and after: it smelled like cat pee and had a rough finish. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to identify the bitter after-taste. I wound up thinking it might have been rubber mixed with dandeloin greens or something like that.

Score: 1 1/2 stars. I wouldn't dump the bottle, but wouldn't finish half of it either. I drank half a glass, wincing a tad after a few sips.

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