07 Apr 2010
Big wine, small lot, Napa vineyards, small price. Looking at the Smith brothers, you might mistake them for iron workers in Pittsburgh or mine workers in West Virginia. One sip of their wine and there is no mistaking that Stuart and Charles Smith are definitely wine makers!
Planted in 1971 Smith-Madrone Vineyards sits on 200 acres of steep hillside on top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The vineyards consist of 13 acres of Chardonnay, 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 7 acres of Riesling. With less than 5000 cases of wine made each year, attention to detail stands out with these wines. Brothers, Charles Smith (the winemaker) – former school teacher and international croquet player – and Stu Smith (vineyard manager) – graduate of enology and viticulture from U.C. Davis, make wine that showcases the beauty of their vineyard.
In doing research for this review, two things stood out:
1) The reference to wine bloggers in the tasting notes. (Joe from www.1winedude.com was referenced in the recent Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon release notes)
2) This quote: “Let me make an analogy with the “Wizard of Oz” to the wine business. Like the Scarecrow, the wine industry is mindlessly making wines to achieve some vaunted number, thus the resulting wines, like the Tin Man, have no heart. I can only hope that the Cowardly Lion will find his courage and roar his defiance and independence by making wines of balance, complexity and nuance. The witch would be (wine critic) Robert Parker because he’s the cause of all this stuff.”
2007 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
- The Stuff: 100% estate Chardonnay, 11 months in oak, 754 cases, 14.3%abv
- The Swirl: Pale gold color with hints of thicker viscosity, clean and clear
- The Sniff: muted undertones of toast, pear, and citrus fruits. Pleasing and crisp
- The Sip: Slightly effervescent and very crispy pear and citrus. A good thickness indicative of a Chardonnay, but could be mis-diagnosed during a blind tasting as a Sauvignon Blanc. Excellent acid with finish of stone minerality.
- The Score: At $30, slightly more than I would pay for a quality Chardonnay, but a good score of 4 out of 5. One of the better Chardonnay’s I’ve had from the 2007 vintage.
Cellar Tracker Scores – 90 pts (3 reviews)
2004 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff:82% Cab , 8% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc; 22 months in American oak, 2164 cases, 13.9%abv
- The Swirl: Dark inky plum with some brilliant bright purple undertones. Nice ruby colors toward the edges, opaque.
- The Sniff: The hills are alive with bright cherry fruit, earthy evergreen trees and smoky tobacco. A bouquet that causes you to get lost in time, forgetting the final stages of sip and spit.
- The Sip: The flavor profile was slightly off balance with a good earthiness on the front end but a hollow mid-palate that lacked the fruit. The finish did show off cedar chocolate covered cherry finish with good tannin structure. The wine could show very well in 3-5 years.
- The Score: At $45, I can score this a 3 (out of 5). The sour burnt cherry and hollow mid-palate lowered the score a bit at this price range.
Wine and Spirits 90 points; No 2004 Cellar Tracker reviews
25 Mar 2010
Last night I dumped a wine down the drain. Even at $3, the wine was not a good deal. Grocery Outlet buys wine that wineries are moving prior to new releases.
From the Bargainista Blog: These overstocks are most of what Grocery Outlet buys. The wine can be from the winery, importer or distributor. Past vintages are opportunistic buys, because once a vintage has been replaced by a newer vintage, the salespeople stop showing the older vintage. Older vintages become a storage expense, not a sales opportunity. Wineries, importers and distributors have money tied up in this stock. To quickly move through non-performing inventory, wineries, importers, and distributors will sell the wine at cost or even a loss.
Yesterday’s post brought lots of activity and comments. People are pretty passionate about finding good deals. The general consensus about shopping at Grocery Outlet is that it’s hit or miss. Be cautious and buy some “test bottles” before you commit to quantity. BUT – when you find a bottle you recognize or a region you trust…scoop it up.
Tonight, I broke out the short sleeve golf shirt to celebrate Spring and two potential white wine “deals.”
- The Stuff: 100% Russian River Chalk Hill estate Chardonnay. Aged in oak. A portion of each bottle benefits disadvantaged children.
- The Swirl: Clean and well filtered with a nice golden yellow color
- The Sniff: Melon and pear/apple aroma with hints of oaky vanilla
- The Sip: The wine has a nice mouth feel but the mid-palate seems slightly off structure. There is a mild butter toast that includes an effervescence like a sparkling wine. A good apple flavor comes through as well.
- The Score: Retail of $22, I wouldn’t re-buy this Chardonnay, but at $11 this is a good 3!
Cellar Tracker Score (2 Reviews) of 84
This is the first DEAL from the Grocery Outlet bunch! With the 20% off sale March 30-April 3, this wine would only be $9 which is a good price for a well made Sonoma Chardonnay.
- The Stuff: 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Chardonnay from Paso Robles
- The Swirl: Pale yellow, straw
- The Sniff: A hint of lemon but a predominant yeast / bread smell
- The Sip: At first the wine presents a really nice citrus and straw flavor but the back end kicks you with a tart finish.
- The Score: Even at $5 I have to compare this to some other good Sauvignon Blanc’s from Arbor Crest ($7) and Yellow + Blue ($9). I can give this a 2 (out of 5). Some people may love the crisp flavor but there isn’t a lot going on here.
Cellar Tracker Score (1 Review) of 76
As a reminder, Grocery Outlet has a huge wine sale March 30 – April 3. Stop by for 20% off their already low prices. Each of the 130+ Grocery Outlet stores is independently operated, so selections vary by store.
*The wine in these reviews was purchased using a $50 gift card provided by Grocery Outlet
ENTER TO WIN $50
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28 Feb 2010
“My wife died for no damn good reason. It’s time to do something about this.” – Budge Brown, Owner of Cleavage Creek
At an age when most men have earned the right to retire, 77 year old Budge bought the Cleavage Creek label with one goal – fight breast cancer. After his wife of 48 years passed away, Brown was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Every year 40,000 women die of breast cancer and 130,000 are diagnosed. The passionate act of making wine has led to over $73,000 in donations to Oncology Research Centers, medication, and financial help for women struggling to survive.
Many of you come to DrinkNectar for wine reviews and this is a wine review of three Cleavage Creek wines. Life is more than wine. Life is about connecting with people and making a difference and leaving a legacy. Cleavage Creek donates $1.50 from every bottle sold. Drinking wine can actually make a difference in a woman’s life. Chances are, as you are reading this, you can think of someone who has been touched by breast cancer, maybe you’ve even lost someone close to you. You can relate to Budge’s passionate anger toward finding a cure.
I was first introduced to Cleavage Creek when they agreed to participate in my Wineries on Twitter Series. Their use of Social Media is a model to be followed. They connect, their social, and they rarely promote. They are using the power of the social world to spread the great word about their wine and their mission. With vineyards in Napa Valley (20 acres) and Tracy Hills (20 acres), Cleavage Creek has a vast selection of estate wines, reserve releases and blends.
On the label of each Cleavage Creek wine is the picture of a breast cancer survivor. Their story of struggle, courage, and hope can be found at the Cleavage Creek Web Site. Terrie, who graces the bottle of 2008 Chardonnay, was diagnosed in 2004. After a long painful battle, including a Mastectomy and several surgeries, Terrie is a survivor! “I don’t take anything for granted and I thank my Creator every day for all of my blessings. Dealing with breast cancer was a horrible experience but I emerged a more positive, appreciative person. I am thankful for the incredible people I have in my life. They are my angels. My life is blessed and I know it.”
Yes, this is a wine review, but more than that, it’s a humanity review. In my book, Budge and the folks at Cleavage Creek score a Best in Show, Double Gold and 100 point score for their efforts!
2008 Tracy Hills Chardonnay
- The Stuff: 100% Estate Chardonnay from Tracy Hills AVA, CA – 8 Months in new French oak; 225 cases
- The Swirl: Golden Wheat colored with less “viscosity” than some Chardonnay
- The Sniff: Interesting to find a predominate melon (no pun intended) and citrus aroma with hints of smoky vanilla. Not a strong nose, but very pleasing
- The Sip: Classic Chardonnay thickness on the front palate with a gentle flavor of vanilla and nut. The melon flavor is very mild (maybe like a Honeydew Melon). The acid is light on the back end.
- The Score: At $18, this is an above average Chardonnay and the price point is good. I score it a 3 (out of 5). The flavor was nice but lacked depth and dimension.
2007 Tracy Hills Shiraz-Merlot
- The Stuff: While the label says Shiraz, the blend is actually 67% Syrah and 33% Merlot. 230 Cases
- The Swirl: Very dark and inky, opaque and ominous looking
- The Sniff: As described in the video, the fruit seemed to be playing hide-n-seek with a tree. There was a distinct woodiness and moderate fruit play. The typical Syrah spice was downplayed (probably because of the Merlot).
- The Sip: The wine needed to breathe. The initial sip felt like an all out assault on my mouth. In the video, you can tell I was not super pleased with the presentation. DAY TWO provided a great experience. The wine opened up very nicely with a beautiful blackberry / dark cherry flavor and the tannins on the back end were much more palatable presenting a nice finish. Strongly encouraged to decant this wine.
- The Score: At first sip, I was going to score this a 2 (out of 5) because of the bold tartness that seemed to overwhelm. My enjoyment on day two lifts the score to a 3+ (out of 5). For $18, this is a nicely balanced Syrah (after decanting) that provided a good structure of fruit, spice, and finish.
2007 Tracy Hills Secret Red
- The Stuff: There is no disclosure of the blending of this wine (hence the secret) – my guess would be predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Syrah (or Zinfandel); 400 cases produced
- The Swirl: The color is what I like to describe as a rusty purple, similar to what you might find with an aged wine or a Cabernet.
- The Sniff: The fruit raises his hand from the back of the class and says, “Hello, I’m here and I’d like you to meet my friends cocoa and cinnamon.” This is a nice mildly aromatic wine, not overwhelming but nice.
- The Sip: At first taste this wine was my favorite of the three tasted (although after the day two showing of the Shiraz-Merlot it is close). The structure seemed to be a dance between the cherry and a cinnamon / pepper spice on the front. As the pair danced away, the mouth was met with a two note melody of cocoa and oak. The tannins were mild and the acidity was balanced. Nice sipping wine that would hold well to pork or a chicken with a red sauce.
- The Score: Also at $18 this is a 3+ (out of 5). The mild aroma holds this back from being a 4. At $18, it’s a sure bet to please most casual wine drinkers and connoisseurs.
The cause if phenomenal, the story is inspiring, and the wine does not disappoint. I couldn’t more highly recommend a wine to support and enjoy. Your mouth will enjoy and your heart will swell with pride.
16 Feb 2010
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training this week. Why does this matter? It means spring is here, regardless of what the groundhog says, and that grilling season is right around the corner. The Mariners have added Cliff Lee to their pitching rotation and ‘game maker’ Milton Bradley to the outfield in the hopes to improve upon their winning season last year. Regardless of the outcome, one guarantee – I’ll be out on the deck with a glass of wine (and the occasional beer) rooting them on.
The under $10 wine challenge is an effort to field a team of 9 quality wines and a few bench players that YOU can trust. The budget wine category is the most precarious for wine selection. Finding a good quality made wine can be a challenge. With the help of my Social Media friends, we will field a team before the 2010 All Star break.
To date, 15 wines have tried out, been in the batting cages, and worked out with the trainer, and only two have made the starting line-up (Arbor Crest Sauvignon Blanc and Bogle Petit Sirah). Two wines are holding out in AAA ball working on their game (Dancing Bull Zinfandel and Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon)
Today’s training brings the traditionally rich Chardonnay trying out for Right Field, Riesling shooting for Second Base, and a Pinot Noir looking to gain a spot at Third Base.
For all my scouts on Twitter – I’m looking for your recommendations for Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sparking, Bordeaux Blend, and Syrah). To qualify, the wine must be widely available and under $10 (on sale counts).
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from the Central Valley of Chile. Four months in 35% oak / 65% stainless; 13.4%ABV
- The Swirl: Elegant and delicate light purple, mostly translucent but with modest jewel tones.
- The Sniff: Very green – like a Christmas tree – with strawberry and smoke. Slightly earthy.
- The Sip: Very grapey Welch’s juice with hints of green twig and strawberry
- The Score: For a $10 Pinot Noir, I score this a 3 (out of 5). This is a wine that has potential and is not embarrassing or poor.
This is the first Pinot Noir to try out for the team. I’ll send this one to AAA for the potential to be called back up. It’s missing the sweet elegance that I would expect from a Pinot.
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from the River Junction Vineyard in California; partial malolactic fermentation in stainless steel; 13.5%ABV
- The Swirl: Pale yellow but not the rich thick of a standard Chardonnay, reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc in color
- The Sniff: Tropical aroma of melon and pear, very faint hints of Chardonnay vanilla and butter
- The Sip: Chardonnay characteristics on the front with strong citric and melon on the back end. This is a Chardonnay trying to come out as a Sauvignon Blanc. This is a refreshing Chardonnay that has hints of sparkling wine.
- The Score: While this is not a great representation of a Chardonnay, I score it a 3+ (out of 5). It is a quality wine with a well balanced flavor for only $8
I’m looking for a Right Fielder, not a First Baseman. This wine is schizophrenic but well made. Not making the team as the Chardonnay, but will be back in my wine rack for parties.
- The Stuff: 100% Riesling from various Columbia Valley vineyards, 12%ABV
- The Swirl: Very light, pear in color
- The Sniff: Mild peach, citrus, and metallic aroma
- The Sip: Moderately sweet front end with a well balanced dry back end wine. This would be considered an off-dry Riesling. Hints of peach and lemon peel
- The Score: For only $6 this is a 3+ (out of 5). This is a solid wine for the money.
This is the first Riesling to try out for the team and will most certainly make the squad.
Cheers and Drink.Happy!
08 Feb 2010
Many people associate Australian wine with a little yellow kangaroo. While this little yellow kangaroo has done wonders for wine promulgation, it has also caused some negative backlash into the wine world. Australian wine has garnered a reputation for being big, fruity, and cheap, affordable, inexpensive. The price point has been fantastic for introducing people to the world of wine but it has also set the expectation that wine pricing should be under $10 and red wine = massive fruit bomb! The low price point (and the current economic time) has shook the California wine business like a 7.2 earthquake. Wine is way more than the little yellow kangaroo. Australia produces quality wine in many price points.
Today’s review is from Australia’s #1 export…no not Paul Hogan…a bolder, more alcoholic import…no, not Mel Gibson either! Today we review Australia’s #1 wine export, Jacob’s Creek. If you’re familiar with wine, no doubt you’ve seen and tried Jacob’s Creek. With a history dating to the 1850’s Jacob’s Creek produces over 1.1 million cases of wine per year. The vineyards in Southern Australia are some of the oldest and highest quality on the continent.
Jacob’s Creek offers four labels in a variety of price points and focus:
- Jacob’s Creek (main label): A variety of two grape blends and single varietal offerings ranging from $5-$10
- Jacob’s Creek Reserve: A mid price label with a range of white (Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose) and red (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir) $10-$15
- Jacob’s Creek Heritage: Moderate price label with a range including Shiraz, Shiraz-Cab, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Chardonnay $20-$30
- Jacob’s Creek Three Vines: Contemporary label exploring non-traditional blends $8-$15
Reviewed in the video: 2007 Chardonnay, 2006 Shiraz, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Reserve label
2007 Reserve Chardonnay
- The Stuff: 100% reserve block Chardonnay; 60% barrel fermentation; partial malolactic fermentation; 13.5% ABV
- The Swirl: Yellow gold tone with hints of green apple. Beer-like color.
- The Sniff: Bright acidity and lemon qualities with moderate hints of green grape and oak
- The Sip: Two dimensional wine with mellow front end consisting of meaty vanilla and pear and a bright acidic lemon peel back end. The flavor drops off quickly and leaves a moderate bitterness in the mouth.
- The Score: At $12ish I score this wine a 2+ (out of 5), for my tastes there are more complex and robust Chardonnays available for the money
2006 Reserve Shiraz
- The Stuff: 100% reserve block Shiraz; 18 months in oak; 14.3% ABV
- The Swirl: Dark plum inkiness with mild jewel tones toward the edges
- The Sniff: Underwhelming nose with hints of blackberry and/or plum, moderate sprigs of clove and spice
- The Sip: Grape candy licorice on the front end with green twig component on the back end. The wine still feels young and could/should be cellared for a few more years.
- The Score: At $12 this is a pleasant Shiraz offering that scores a low 3.
Other researched scores: Cellar Tracker (2 scores avg 86.5); Cork’d (2 scores avg 87)
2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 100% reserve block Cab; 18 months in new and old French oak; 14.2% ABV
- The Swirl: Dark plum with hints of aged rusty brown toward the edges
- The Sniff: Mellow aromas of sweet blackberry and a whiff of vanilla and cocoa
- The Sip: Mild front end with a wash of chocolate and berry; back end of bitter cassis and pepper spice. Slightly off balanced in flavor
- The Score: At $12ish can score this a solid 3 and makes the re-buy list. Paired well with our hearty beef stew.
Other researched scores: Cellar Tracker (1 score at 78); Cork’d (2 scores avg 85)
Have you had Jacob’s Creek? What is your experience with some of their other labels?
In the video I mentioned the Washington Redskins and my annual disappointment. What team do you cheer for? How do you cope with the let down?
*This wine was provided as an industry sample with the intent to review