27 Apr 2011
Earlier this year I made the observation that I’ve tasted a lot of wine from Washington. While I’m a huge fan of Washington Wine, I made the comment that I needed to expand my horizons and tasting experiences. So far, I’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy wine from Bordeaux, South Africa, Beaujolais (notes coming soon), Chile, and Italy. In 2010 only 1 non-American wine made my top 10 list – a Chilean red blend of Syrah, Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Mourvedre. Chile makes a lot of wine. In fact, they are the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world. In all, I’ve officially explored about 20 Chilean wines in regular tastings and Wines of Chile tastings.
I’m impressed by the focus on engaging wine bloggers to “get the word out” about the various regions of Chile. While I recently participated in a Chilean wine tasting called #redblends, the following wines were sent by Vina Santa Carolina winery. With over 125 years of history and heritage in seven Chilean wine regions, Vina Santa Carolina showcases quality wine at a value.
Approximately right in the middle of the long narrow country of Chile is the region of Maule Valley. This 100% Pinot Noir is fairly substantive in the glass with a thicker than expected crimson color. The cooler climate Pinot starts off like many of the Chilean wines I’ve had lately with hints of burnt rubber. After letting this wine sit for about an hour the magic shines through. A very soft perfumed blueberry is shy in the glass. Subtle candy aromas come out as well. In the mouth the wine is soft on the front palate but offers a touch of sweetness, light tannin and pepper on the back end and finish. The 14.5% alcohol is well balanced with the acidity. A little research shows that this wine is available online for around $10. A fantastic value even at $20. Easily a 3+/5 and a tremendous buy for any Pinot Noir lover.
- 88pts Robert Parker and Best Buy from Wine Enthusiast
Hailing from the HOT Maipo Valley is the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The weight of the muscular heavy bottle shouts strength and power. In the glass the wine is dark, thick and inky. The 12 months in new French oak help to impart a nicely balanced aroma of dark chocolate and toast. EVEN more aromas of dark red fruit jump out of the glass along with hints of holiday baking spices (think pumpkin). In the mouth this wine is a full bodied delight of fruit, cedar and oak. While lacking an evolving flavor profile the straight forward approach is tastefully done. Put Napa on this wine and you’ve got a price tag of $39. This Chilean wine comes in at under $20. 3+/5
- 88 Pts Wine Enthusiast
Chile’s flagship grape, previously mistaken for Merlot, shines bright in this wine. The 12 months in French oak are not overpowering and offer the perfect balance of fruit and thickness. After a brief decanting the wine loses the notable burnt rubber aroma and gives way to a beautiful minty blackberry aroma. Smelling this wine was almost as enjoyable as drinking it. The wine is dark and intense in the glass. A slight herbaciousness on the nose gives way to a very complex flavor of red fruit, baking spice and thick plum. A light tannin joins the medium finish on the back end. I often describe wine as being ‘one note wonders’ or just offering ‘two dimensions.’ This Carmenere is the full package of aroma and complex flavor. Again, under $20, scores a strong 4/5.
- Robert Parker 90 Pts
In conclusion, these are three wines that I will not only keep my eyes out for, they are wines I will strongly endorse in the good tasting under $20 range. Go Chile – keep up the great work!
30 Dec 2010
Folie à Deux, French for shared fantasies; I can think of a few shared fantasies I’d like to have, but they may be a little more than PG-13 for this blog. Folie à Deux is an Oakville California winery focused on creating wines that deliver a memorable shared experience. Many know Folie à Deux from their racier little sister label, Ménage à Trois (lower cost red and white blends). The Folie à Deux label offers varietal focused wines at a good price point.
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from Napa Valley vineyards in Oak Knoll, Oakville, and Atlas Peak. 6 months on 65% new French and American oak. ½ the juice was fermented in stainless steel and ½ in small oak barrels. 14.2% ABV; 25,000 cases made.
- The Swirl: In the glass the wine presents a muted golden color.
- The Sniff: The Chardonnay features typical chardonnay characteristics of apple juice and buttered toast. Not a lot dynamic aromas here, but still very nice.
- The Sip: I really enjoyed the flavor profile on this wine. More is happening on the palate than on the nose. A soft apple flavor gives way to a gentle coconut and almond. There are also interwoven characteristics of citrus fruit. The finish provides a slightly disjointed burnt flavor and the acidity seems relatively mild.
- The Score: At $18 retail (typically $15 in stores), a lot of people will enjoy this wine. The flavor characteristics are typical of what chardonnay lovers enjoy. For me, I was mostly pleased with the structure but didn’t care for the finish of the wine. 3/5
Cellar Tracker score of 87 points with 2 reviews
- The Stuff: 86% Napa Valley Merlot and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7 months of barrel aging in a combination of American and French oak; 14.5% ABV, 7,750 cases made
- The Swirl: A thin plum color defines the center of the wine but the edges are slightly watery.
- The Sniff: Pleasantly surprised by the pop of aroma on this Merlot. Very easily distinguishable as a smooth cherry and cocoa merlot. A nice hint of spice rounds out the nose.
- The Sip: The Folie a Duex Merlot has a soft initial attach but then opens up to a touch of sweet cherry on the mid palate. Good layers of flavor that evolve from cocoa to coffee and then a hint of spice on the finish. This is an easy drinking flavorful wine. The high alcohol slightly burns on the finish. At just $18 retail this is a great buy! 3+/5
Cellar Tracker score of 85 points with 2 reviews
- The Stuff: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah from Napa Valley vineyards. After fermentation the wine spent an additional 14 days on the skins (extended maceration) before being aged for 15 months in a combination of French and American oak; 14% ABV, 20,500 cases produced.
- The Swirl: In the glass the wine has an inky core with a cloudy plum color around the edges.
- The Sniff: Very muted nose with hints of dried plums and a very mellow cigar box aroma.
- The Sip: I expected more from this wine and maybe I am being too harsh on it but the aroma and flavor profile doesn’t seem overly complex. The wine offers a good initial flavor of plums but to me that’s all the wine has. The tannins are very well integrated making this a drink now, drink often wine.
- The Score: At $24 retail, I’m not too hot on this wine. Give it a go at the tasting room or sample a glass before committing to several bottles. For the money there are more interesting options for affordable Cabernet Sauvignon. 3/5
15 Dec 2010
Turkey dinner with cranberry sauce and apple pie; the traditional Swanson TV dinner. Since 1953 Swanson has been synonymous with bachelor living, working families and modern convenience. In 1985 the Swanson family purchased 100 acres between Silver Oak and Opus One. W Clarke Swanson planted Merlot in the heart of Cabernet country, CA and that gamble paid off. Swanson built a reputation with quality Merlot and now expands that production to Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and a few red blends.
While Swanson TV dinners have become equated with microwaves and convenience, the wines have proven themselves to be associated with quality. Recently selected as one of the top 100 wines of the world and winery of the year, 2010 by Wine & Spirits Magazine, Swanson is a winery to be considered on your list of top contenders. The three wines reviewed here will be released in the spring.
You’ve had the dinner, how is the wine?
Visit Swanson Vineyards on the internet www.swansonvineyards.com
2009 Swanson Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio to me is usually either crisp thin and tart, or slightly flabby but still light on fruit. The 2009 100% Napa Valley Pinot Grigio (13.6%ABV) is a nice balance of flavor, fruit, and mouth feel. 100% stainless steel fermented to bone dry with no malolactic fermentation, the sip reveals a nicely structured wine that is pleasing to the palate without being flabby or tart. Flavors of melons, lychee and citrus are softly interwoven. At $21 this is typically more than I would pay for a Pinot Grigio. Give this wine a try at the tasting room (or order it by the glass) before committing to the whole bottle. 3+/5
Scores on Cellar Tracker are 89 points from 3 different reviews
2007 Swanson Merlot
It’s no secret I love a well made Merlot. I love the combination of aromas and soft subtleties of fruit that can often times have flavors of coffee, cherry, and chocolate. Merlot makes for a great dinner pairing or just relaxing in the evening. The $36 Swanson Merlot is sourced primarily from their Oakville estate vineyard. Winemaker Chris Phelps gave the fruit a cold soak extended maceration before laying it down for 20 months in 40% new French and American oak. The color in the glass has a fairly dark plum center and soft colors of muted ruby at the edges. The aroma out of the glass is a bright combination of fruit, licorice, and cola. From what I’ve seen and smelled the anticipation was very high. This wine, on the sip, lived up to the expectations. The fruit was slightly thin on the front palate but opened up to a medley of flavor. I loved the play between cola and coffee and the fruit flavors were not over the top but nicely balanced. This merlot also boasted some modest muscle with a hint of thickness on the finish. At $36, worth the price for merlot lovers. 4/5
2007 Swanson Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon
The 07 Swanson Alexis stands tall above everything else. Literally…the bottle is like two inches taller than your standard wine bottle. Do you get more? At $75 you should, but sadly it’s just a marketing play. The pedigree here is strong; 26 day extended maceration, 22 months in 60% new French oak, Napa Valley fruit from Schmidt Vineyards and a moderately tame (for California) 14.8%ABV. The Alexis is 81% Cabernet and 19% Merlot. The swirl showcases the deep color of the fruit but the wine is not opaque. Like the merlot, the aromas jump out of the glass. This wine is deep and lush with a bouquet of dried flowers, baking spices, dark berry fruit, and subtleties of toasted oak. On the sip, I was surprised by the soft strength of the wine. For a young bold California Cabernet, Alexis is very approachable and velvety while still offering well integrated tannin that you would expect. I would expect this wine to be in its prime in just about 5 years. I liked the wine but I didn’t LOVE it and for $75, I need to LOVE it to recommend it. From a quality perspective, the Swanson Alexis is an extremely well made wine with great aroma and flavor. Proceed with caution even with a 4/5 score.
Only 500 ½ cases of this wine were produced so chances are your only experience will be at the tasting room or very select restaurants.
Previous vintage of this wine scores 92 points with 3 reviews on Cellar Tracker.
Wines were provided as an industry sample with the intention to review and for fun…here is a flashback to the 80’s with some TV Dinners by ZZ Top!
23 Nov 2010
I love discovering value wines. The majority of the folks on this earth are average Joe wine consumers. The average Joe (or Suzie) consumes about 12-15 bottles of wine per year (I go through that in less than a month) and spends about $15 per bottle. Finding good tasting value wines has been a fun challenge over the last year. I have an entire section of my blog dedicated to “Under $10 Wines” and reviewed 30+ wines over the course of the year to create the “Under $10 Wine Team.”
Recently, by way of industry sample, I received 2 bottles of Parducci wine. I try to review every wine I receive (timing and format vary) but I was excited about the Parducci because there is a Spokane connection. Mike Conway of Latah Creek winery spent time at Parducci in the 70’s. It was while at Parducci that he honed his skills for white wine and brought the slow cold fermentation process to Washington state (cold fermentation brings out a natural residual sweetness in white wines at a lower alcohol level of 8-10%).
Parducci was founded in 1932 as the first Mendocino County winery. In 2004 ownership changed to Mendocino Wine Company, headed up by Paul Dolan and the Thornhill Family. Parducci makes approximately 200,000 cases of wine per year with the majority of it retailed at $10.99. Mendocino Wine Company moved Parducci into sustainable and eco-friendly practices being recognized as the America’s first Carbon Neutral winery.
“In recognition of Parducci’s status as the nation’s first carbon neutral winery and our continuing dedication to social responsibility and environmentally sound practices, we received California’s highest environmental award, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2007 and 2009.”
The Nectar View
The 07 Petite Sirah (actually only 88% Petite Sirah 11% Syrah and 1% Viognier) is very vibrant and violet in the glass. The color is actually quite striking and invites a continuous swirl. Moving on to the sniff produces a mild aroma of dried prunes, wet socks (not entirely awful) and violets. The strange mix of aroma makes for a fairly interesting experience. On the sip the PS starts with a very smooth and velvet attack but quickly moves to a strangle hold on the tongue. Petite Sirah can be a little tart and tannic on the palate but in the right settings is a great food pairing. This Parducci wine has nice flavor and structure and begs to be drunk with food. Looking for a sipping wine? This is not it. Looking for a unique inexpensive experience? Give this a try. At $10.99 retail (usually under $10), this scores 3/5.
The 07 Cabernet Sauvignon is a combination of Cab Sauv, Malbec, Cab Franc, Syrah and Viognier. With 20% of the wine spending 26 months in new American Oak, I would expect a bit woody experience. Overall, the wood is flaccid J. In the glass the wine is moderately opaque and the sniff is very mild and tame only producing hints of fruit aroma and vanilla. In the mouth the Cab Sauv is minimal in flavor as well. At this price point you’ll often find under ripe or off flavors. The Parducci produces a decent smooth, easy drinking flavor that will not offend or surprise. Only $10.99 retail (usually under $10), this scores 3/5.
Paul Dolan talking about Sustainable Practices
27 Oct 2010
There was a time last week when I had 25 bottles of wine open in the house. “What is the problem,” you ask? Well, for one I feel obligated to drink every bottle and two, not all of them are good wines. The open wines were from the Chile Blends tasting, One Hope Chardonnay, and four box wines from Don Sebastiani & Sons.
Over the last six months, I’ve had my share of boxed wines, many of them from the group that distributes the Octavin family of wines. This week, I’m cautiously optimistic to take a look at four wines from Don & Sons and their Pepperwood Grove brand. As a mouth breather and wine lover, chances are you’ve had one of the seven D&S brands, Aquinas, The Crusher, B Side, Flock, s|k|n, Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove.
After significant research Don & Sons concluded that consumers were hesitant to buy 3L boxes because they didn’t see a brand they liked or knew. D&S is taking a significant step by using one of their mainstream recognizable brands in the 3L box format. The four Pepperwood Grove wines are Don & Sons first boxed wine release. In my opinion the packaging, presentation and labeling are the best of what I’ve experienced in this format.
For newcomers to the “new” box wine format, a bladder inside the box deflates as the wine is consumed keeping oxygen (wine’s enemy) from deteriorating the flavor. The 3L format is equivalent to four (4) bottles of wine. A convenient spigot provides easy access. While I’ve yet to encounter a premium wine I’d enthusiastically serve, there are several mid-quality offerings available. Let’s see how the recognizable GREEN BOX wines perform.
BIG GREEN BOX NECTARVIEW
Since each of these wines is simple, clean and in eco-friendly packaging. I’ll keep my reviews simple, clean and I’ll save some words too.
Pepperwood Grove Pinot Grigio
Tweets from the machine:
The un-oaked Pinot Grigio comes across as an oaked wine to me. The wine was round, slightly flabby and offered subtle hints of pear and lemon water flavors. The acidity was weak and the finish was a quick flash. 13%ABV – certainly no offensive flavors but very simple in presentation. Quite a few people will enjoy this wine. It’s simple to drink and will probably go fast at a party. $20 retail for 3L ($5 per bottle); 3-/5
Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay
Tweets from the machine:
Very yellow and thick in the glass, like a pale banana. Strong aroma of toasted apples and vanilla. The mouth feel is big and flabby. The six months on oak staves comes across. I would envision quite a bit of malolactic fermentation as well. The acidity is mild leaving the flavor lingering in your mouth. For those that prefer crisp Chardonnay, this will not be your wine. If you enjoy Chardonnay for the thick easy drinking apple flavors, you may want to give it a try. $20 retail for 3L; 3-/5
Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel
Tweets from the machine:
Light burgundy in color and very translucent, can see to the bottom of the glass. At only 13.5%ABV (refreshing for a California Zinfandel), this is on the very low side of alcohol for Zins. Good aromas of blueberry, subtle strawberry, tobacco spice and more. It’s all mellow, but it’s there. The palate is very nice as well with flavors of plums, strawberries and mild pepper. The acidity is well balanced and the finish is lovely. Definitely the bargain find of the four wines tasted. While not complex, there are good flavors in this wine. 3/5
Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon
Tweets from the machine:
The wine is sourced from Valle Central (Chile) fruit and weighs in at 13.5%ABV. I get a lot of sour red fruit and raw meat with hints of clove on the nose. Other participants enjoyed the aroma, but for me it was a little off putting. In the mouth the wine felt disjointed and out of balance. With green peppers, sour cherries and medium tannin, the flavor profile was not one that I enjoyed. From the comments on the machine, it looked like the participants were split. 3-/5
Other Reviews, Insights and Final Thoughts
Don’t try this party trick with 16 bottles