Each month I review between 17-20 wines on camera. The total has climbed above 200. However, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t always wait until the film is rolling to drink wine. Several wines are enjoyed at trade tasting events or even in the casual company of friends over dinner or just for fun. Some of these wines, while embedded in my memory for their amazing quality, just don’t receive the time and attention that is needed for a quality review.
Below are six wines that I tasted during the month that didn’t see the bright lights of the video room but did receive the attention for a review. The best phrase I can use to describe these are ‘beauty and beast.’ These wines left indelible impressions on my palate and not always in a good way. Below are some of the best AND worst wines I’ve tasted this year.
Former Chateau St. Michelle wine maker Michael Januik continues his quality tradition at Januik Winery. During our visit to Woodinville in September 2009, sister properties Januik and Novelty Hill were a favorite stop. The ultra modern facility provided one of the more unique tasting room visits we have experienced. The Klipsun Vineyard Merlot was bold in flavor but soft in presentation. The multiple layers of fruit included raspberry and red currants along with thick milk chocolate layers. The wine leaned toward a medium full body and offered an extremely well balanced and soft finish that whispered hints of vanilla and candied cherries. At $30, this Merlot was perfect for a night cap sip, with desert, or along-side chicken parmesan, lamb or roasted duck. 4/5
I am a fan of Zinfandel. I’ve been on a search for the quintessential Washington State Zin, and hoped I had found it at Hard Row to Hoe. This big full bodied fruit attack is from Milbrandt Vineyards and is a blast of jammy strawberry and blackberry in the mouth accompanied by a pinch of pepper on the finish. Sadly, I learned that Milbrandt removed their Zinfandel vines after the 2006 vintage leaving me on the continued quest for a sinful Washington Zin. The wine is big and slightly hot and best enjoyed on its own. The $35 price tag may seem hefty when comparing to quality Seghesio from California, but the Hard Row stands tall as a big and dynamic wine. 4/5
Rated 90pts by Wine Enthusiast
Maison Bleue has burst on to the scene with quality Rhone varietal wines from Horse Heaven Hills and around Prosser, WA. As I tasted through the line-up of wine, the Roussanne stood out among the others for its unique flavors of honey, apples and sweet peaches. Beautiful floral notes permeate the nose. Even with a 4.7% residual sugar, the sweetness of the wine is perfectly balanced with the acidity. A refreshingly “low” alcohol of 12.7%ABV is hardly noticeable in this dangerous summer delight. A bright crisp finish surprises at the end. The Alder Ridge and Six Prong Vineyards provide great fruit for this stainless steel fermented wine. At only $20, this is easily one of the more memorable wines I’ve experienced for the month. 4+/5
Rated 91pts by Wine Enthusiast
A glass of sweet elegant gold is a good way to describe this opulent desert wine. The 2007 R.A. Harrison Nobility is an addiction waiting to happen. I’m not a lover of syrupy sweet wines. I tend to avoid dessert wine tastings. I kept waiting for the opportunity to get the Nobility on camera. Just sitting in its 375ml bottle, it boasted super star qualities. The casting call never came and the 78% Napa Sauv Blanc and 22% Sonoma Semillon ended up stealing the supporting role for the month. The 12.2% residual sugar may make you think simple sweet Taylor Swift but this wine has a dangerously sexy and seductive quality of the mature Heidi Klum. Amazing flavors of honey, almonds, peach syrup and gardenias fully envelop the entire palate. While I know to enjoy this wine in small quantities, the bottle kept beckoning me back for more. $75; 4+/5
The Osborne Seven non-vintage red blend is available in the Octavin Home Wine Bar packaging. The premise is a four bottle package that utilizes a non-oxygen permeable bladder and spigot that keeps wine fresh for up to six weeks. If you could stomach this wine for six weeks, then this would be a value. At only $22 ($5.50 per bottle) the blend of 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Tempranillo, 8% Grenache, and 8% Graciano makes for a less than desirable combination. The juice is thin, tepid and extremely disjointed. The berry flavors seem tart and under ripe and while the tannin is smooth on the finish the blast of alcohol and bitterness ruin any hope this wine has. This wine is not a value at any price. It was given several chances to perform over a three week period and ended up down the drain. 1/5 – There are better ways to spend your money.
The eclectic mix of 51% Malvasia Bianca, 14% Muscat Canelli, 13% Viognier, 10% Gruner Veltliner, 5% Pinot Gris, 4% White Riesling offer a unique tasting experience. Flavors of melons and sweet tropical fruits are gentle on the palate. An unfortunate steely bitterness pervades the finish causing a very disjointed tasting experience. At $22 for the four bottle Octavin packaging, some may consider this a good value. Personally, I prefer the Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc or the Monthaven Chardonnay for wine bar value whites. Combining this wine with spicy chicken and serving extra chilled helped considerably. 2/5
14 Jul 2010
Red wine goes great with grilling! Burgers, dogs, sausage, steak…most of the common summertime grilling treats are screaming for big full bodied red wine. Do you want to break out your 78’ Cabernet or 100 year old vine Zinfandel when the wine will probably end up in a red plastic cup? Life may be too short to drink bad wine, but there are times when good value wine is needed! We can’t drink $175 bottles of Opus One every night can we?
These are the wines for you. Three Zin, under Ten ($10). They won’t break the bank, but are they drinkable? To explore the value in the “all American varietal,” we venture to the place where the grape gained prominence…California. With 10% of California’s crop planted to Zinfandel (sadly most used for sugary sweet White Zinfandel), the big bold red grape can provide powerful fruit and a sassy spice that work well for BBQ (and pizza).
- The Stuff: 100% Zinfandel from various California vineyards; aged in new and used American, French and Hungarian oak barrels for 10 months; 14.3%ABV; 23,000 cases produced
- The Swirl: A presentation of plum colored cola with browning occurring toward the edges.
- The Sniff: Semi-sour raspberry aromas laced with hints of lavender and cloves
- The Sip: The XYZin has some moderately complex layers of flavor that open up nicely to include a dark strawberry, baking spice and cocoa. Reminiscent of a canned strawberry pie filling with hints of sour berry. Good finish with a lingering flavor of pepper spice and nutmeg.
- The Score: Retail on this wine is $16 for the newer vintages, picked up the 06 for $10 at a local wine store. At that price the XYZin is good value that competes well with other value priced Zinfandel from Cline, Dancing Bull, and Seven Deadly Zins. 3/5
Cellar Tracker Score 87 points (8 reviews)
2008 BOHO Vineyards Octavin 3L Zinfandel
- The Stuff: Wine maker David George showcases his 100% California Zinfandel in a ready to drink now 3L Octavin Home Wine Bar. The wine is said to stay fresh for up to six weeks in the patent pending bladder; 13.5% ABV; 20,000 cases produced.
- The Swirl: Dark inky plum color that is about 80% opaque. Wine seems thin in viscosity and has watery edges.
- The Sniff: Very restrained nose with subtle aroma of dried cherry
- The Sip: A somewhat thin presentation of dark berry fruits on the palate. The mouth feel seems round without being flabby. A single dimension wine that is neither off nor dynamic. Lacking in layers of fruit but balanced in flavor and finish.
- The Score: Coming in at $6 per “bottle” the BOHO is certainly a drinkable wine when in need of a larger quantity. If you’re headed camping, having a wedding, or throwing a party, the BOHO Zin would do well to satisfy the average wine drinker. 3-/5
A review on JenniferReview.com – It’s an Octo-box!
- The Stuff: 78% Zinfandel, 8% Primitivo, 7% Merlot and 7% Petite Sirah from Mendocino and Lake County; Aged 10 months in 15% new oak (combination of American, French and Hungarian); 13.8%ABV
- The Swirl: Medium dark plum with slight brightness of cherries. The wine is about 60% opaque
- The Sniff: Medium aromas of blueberry and cocoa are initially present with a mild presentation of black pepper
- The Sip: The Dynamite Zinfandel is new world jam flavors of blackberry and dark cherry fruits. A subtle woody evergreen tree pokes through that reminds me of Christmas. This wine has a good firm grip on the back end and would hold up well to a BBQ steak or spicy burger.
- The Score: At $10, the Dynamite Zin is a fair value but doesn’t hold up as well against other California Zin in this price range. 3-/5
Cellar Tracker Score 87 points (1 review)
31 Jan 2010
Baseball season is quickly approaching. The beginning of another year of great expectations only to be frustrated by June, slightly excited in August and utterly depressed in September. I am a Mariner fan. We are the only team who can win 116 games in a season and not make it past the first round in the playoffs. We are the only team who trades away all star after all star. Ahhh…I digress.
While the Mariners consistently field a team of high priced underachievers, I’m a fan of Billy Beane ball. Billy is great at fielding a team of underpaid over achievers. My goal, in the wine world, is to field a quality under $10 team. In today’s economic conditions $10 is the new $20, but with all the inventory and variety on the shelves, not all labels can be trusted. You don’t want to spend your money for a Richie Sexson only to devote four seasons of wasted expectations…again I digress.
In previous episodes I’ve found a starting Sauvignon Blanc from Arbor Crest and am thinking of a bringing the Dancing Bull Zinfandel up from Triple A.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- Syrah / Shiraz
- Bordeaux Blend
- Sauvignon Blanc / Pinot Gris
- In the bullpen a nice alternate red and white (Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, etc).
Below is this trip to the minors to scout new members for the team. What suggestions do you have? Share below some of your wines who are performing well and deserve a chance to be called up to the “Field of Dreams.”
Tonight we are watching the work out and batting practice of a 2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 Bogle Petit Sirah, 2006 Renwood Zinfandel.
2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon 5% Merlot, Cab Franc, Syrah; Barrel aged for 16 months (1/3 new oak)
- The Swirl: Deep plum with watery edges
- The Sniff: Aromatically challenged for fruit. Did display characteristics of vanilla, cocoa, and woodiness
- The Sip: Overall a very smooth with that is tight on flavor. The vanilla and cocoa presents itself with a moderate dose of blueberry fruit. Very little back end structure.
- The Score: Considering the $8.88 price I would score this wine a solid 3. There is nothing offensive about the wine and the smooth vanilla, cocoa combination could be a hit with a lot of people. Serious wine drinkers will be disappointed with the lack of character and structure.
This wine will be sent to AAA ball for potential call up if I’m unable to find a starting Cabernet Sauvignon.
2007 Bogle Petite Sirah
- The Stuff: 100% Petite Sirah
- The Swirl: Very very dark plum, completely opaque, nice legs indicating some stronger residual sugar
- The Sniff: Once again a restrained aroma profile. Some dark cherry, dark blackberry fruit and a hint of spice trying to come through
- The Sip: Wholly wow, this is a big wine. There is some decent fruit on the front end which is immediately attacked by the strong tannin on the back end. This wine needs food! I look forward to pairing it with some BBQ, spicy pork, or a steak.
- The Score: At only $10 this is a big wine with some big back end structure that deserves a 3+. I would definitely consider this for a future purchase to pair with food. NOT A SIPPING WINE.
This wine makes the team as a pinch hitter. Petite Sirah is not your mainstream varietal but this one showed some serious power to bring in during the late innings of a close game.
2006 Renwood Zinfandel
- The Stuff: 100% Zinfandel
- The Swirl: Very light in color moderate brownish plum color. Can see through glass very translucent
- The Sniff: Not much on the nose other than hints of cherry, vanilla and leather spice
- The Sip: Very watery and non-substantive in flavor. A hint of smoke and spice as it lingers in the mouth. In my opinion a very underwhelming wine.
- The Score: At $9 I would not buy this wine again and score it a 2 (out of 5).
The wine definitely is sent back to single A ball to work on its structure and character.
The $10 quest continues. So far, I think I’ve sound a staring Sauvingon Blanc, and two potentials who are in AAA (Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon and the Dancing Bull Zinfandel). Tonight’s Petite Sirah has made the team as a pinch hitter!
Please leave your comments and suggestions below!
20 Nov 2009
What do you get when you combine high fruit, high sugar, high alcohol, high flavor, and traditionally smooth flavor?
My favorite wine varietal.
Some oenophile’s think Zinfandels are too sweet to be considered among the elite, but the grape that makes up 10% of the California production is a complex, challenging grape to coax consistent flavor out of.
Tonight the everyday man Zinfandel gauntlet is thrown down. Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Brett Hart in a cage match to the death. Okay, so no death was involved, but this taste test certainly exposes three under $20 Zinfandel wines! Check out the NectarView and tasting notes!
- Swirl – Light in color, could see all the way to the bottom of the glass.
- Sniff - Aromatically challenged with hints of pepper and red fruit, cherry and strawberry.
- Swirl – More pepper than fruit on the front; fruit comes through on the back. Like biting into a sweeter green pepper with a mild cherry finish. Not enough acidity to compete with the big boys.
- Price to Value Ratio: $$$+
For $8, the wine wasn’t offensive or negative in taste. Overall there wasn’t anything exciting to write home about. Your everyday Hulk Hogan wine that has a lot of talk but not much substance.
- Swirl: Darker plum in color with slight cloudiness, mild legs representing mild acidity
- Sniff: Musty wet basement smell was overwhelming. With effort a little bit of spice comes through. Pretty offensive to the nose
- Sip: Now the fruit, strawberry and cherry, comes through. More acidity and tannin on the finish
- Price to Value Ratio: $ – Not recommended. Could be an issue of poor storage or a bad bottle, but the musty smell was difficult to overcome.
Like Rowdy Roddy Piper very offensive, but tries to compete with the big boys.
- Swirl: Dark pearlescent plum color with good color. Good strong legs representing good acidity
- Sniff: Wow, before I even put my nose in the glass I could smell the amazing berry fruits – especially strawberry. More investigation revealed more mild pepper, rhubarb cinnamon and vanilla – it smelled like I was going to bite into a freshly made strawberry rhubarb pie.
- Sip: The flavor did not disappoint. Just beyond the berry was a great cinnamon flavor paired with just enough spice and acidity to cut through a roast, pizza, or turkey dinner. Would even be a great dessert wine!
- Price to Value Ratio: $$$$ – Maybe not an everyday value for those on a budget, but definitely a crowd pleaser for the holidays or to show your wine sophistication.
One again Brett Hart shows everyone up as the best and most entertaining of the bunch.
Overall, this was the most interesting taste review. It was super cool to have three different price points side by side to explore the grape quality and wine making quality differences.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY
14 Nov 2009
Left Bank is Today’s GROUPON OF THE DAY! < Click to buy
Get $25 worth of wine and food for only $12. Sign me up.
Tonight we were excited to explore a new(er) wine bar in downtown Spokane, Left Bank Wine Bar. I Saw a tweet that local musical genius Darin Hilderbrand was performing at 8pm, so we hopped in the Jeep, braved the snow and headed downtown. I brought my flip cam hoping to capture the essence of the place .
Left Bank is at 108 N Washington (although I refer to it several times incorrectly in the video – to my credit the door does say 105 on it, but that refers to the suite number at the American Legion building). Their logo is great and the building they are in is BEAU-tiful. While the space they have is on the long/narrow side, they make great use of it. The decor is fantastic juxtaposition of elegant chandeliers and exposed brick (tres-chic). Once word gets out about this place I think they’ll struggle with seating. Most of the available seating was at the bar.
Walking in to the great lighting, acoustic music, tall ceilings, and friendly fireplace transported us away from the cold dreary night of Spokane. The vibe in this place is trendy without feeling cold, warm without feeling like a lodge and hip without feeling like a night club.
We sat at the bar, introduced ourselves to the wine buyer and proceeded to order four glasses of wine (described later).
The small staff, busily tended to the needs of about 15-25 wine drinkers. I didn’t get a chance to look at the menu too closely, but did learn later that Left Bank offers light fair food service with salads, sandwiches, and paninis. We handily devoured a double dutch chocolate cheesecake (while not made onsite - it was very delicious). They have an intriguing menu of 3 and 5 cheese plates that I will have to experience during a future visit.
The wine selection is a nice balance of white and red, consisting of about 60 bottles (all available by the glass) ranging in price from $6-$10 per glass. A majority of the selection was Washington, Oregon, and California wine regions. New items are rotated on every 4-6 weeks (so stop by often to explore new tastes). If you have a glass you like, you can even buy the bottle and take it home.
The owner, Aaron Kelly, quickly introduced himself and was glad to have us around. He was a little apprehensive to be on camera, which is understandable because he was coming off a long shift and not feeling his best. After a brief chat, we talked at length to his wife, Katrina and learned of their journey to opening Left Bank April 2008. They are beautiful people, with a desire to share their passion for wine with others.
As the music continued, we enjoyed our wine and the conversation. Several new people joined the party, but very few left.
Check out my first ever on location review at Left Bank (November 14, 2009)
The place was clean, had a balanced atmosphere. I felt their business model and understood what they were going for. You can even pick and choose various wines from the menu for small pour flights to expand your wine experience. The staff was incredible and made all the patrons feel welcome and tended to. The restroom was a shared restroom with other building tenants, so no wow factor there (but it was clean). The wines were well priced for the quality (no $7 a glass Sutter Homes or Hogue Fume Blanc here). Highly recommend a stop after work, with a date, or before / after a show at the INB Performing Arts Center. Parking is either pay parking or metered parking (before 7pm). The location is near perfect walking distance from RiverFront park, the INB, and several downtown financial buildings.
Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel - This is one of our favorites that we’ve had several dozen times. I won’t review it here, but it is one of my all time favorite wines and the wine by which I measure all Zins (except maybe the Kana that I had in 2007). $25 retail
La Dolce Vita Pinot Noir; Oregon – I’m not a huge Pinot Noir fan, but I’m also a rookie when it comes to tasting them. The color is always intriguing. After the swirl, I wasn’t sure I wanted to taste the wine. Very much a musty, dirty, earthy smell. Not to be crude, but smelled like a wet dog. Kimberly came up with one of my favorite descriptions ever – “smells like a musty Aquanet hairspray smell after being at the bar all night” (not sure how she knows that). During the taste, I noticed a strong cigar taste with a hint of black licorice. At first I wasn’t a big fan. A finished about 1/2, then set it aside to taste other wines and to talk. After about an hour, I came back to it and it had settled quite well. Could be a good wine with a game meat, spicy pork, ect. For me, not a sit around and drink wine. $22
- Swirl – Great light plum color. Nearly see through, very jewel like
- Snif – As said above, very dirty smell, wet dog, smokey hair spray, cigar box
- Sip – After sitting became more tame, smooth on the finish, recommend with food
- Score 3-/5 (but I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Noir)
Two other wines were tasted (and possibly will be reviewed tomorrow – because right now, it’s 1AM). Thanks for watching and reading. Stop by and have your own experience at Left Bank – tell me about it here. Check in regularly as we explore the wonderful nectars of coffee, wine, (tea and more).
The DOTD (Drink of the Day) – for me my favorite was the Seghesio Zin – how about you? What are you drinking?
Enjoy life with friends and <drink.happy>