Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Wines Under $20 for 2008 (NW)

In 2008, I've taken tasting notes on nearly 400 wines. I enjoy a wide variety of wines and am especially excited to find good bargains. In fact, my colleagues and I at The Wine Cask Blog are particularly value-oriented. We believe the world of wine delivers tremendous value if you're willing to search out new regions and new varietals.

Many terrific wines are available for $10 or so, but I wanted to share with you my best tastings under $20 in order to capture a few wines that really are special and unique. Here they are:

1. Villa Reale Vigne Nuove Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2005- $11 (Italy)

This might be the best value I've ever found. Incredible stuff for the money!

2. Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Heritage Clones Petite Sirah 2005- $19 (California)

One of the biggest, fruitiest wines on the planet. Make sure you're in the mood for this style!

3. Yangarra McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2004- $19 (Australia)

Here's the incredible balance of ripe fruit and underlying tea notes. Move over Shiraz!

4. Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2003- $19 (California)

Really smooth, rich, and round. Cab Franc in a modern interpretation!

5. Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007- $11 (New Zealand)

I keep finding New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that knock my socks off!

6. Frog Hill Pinotage 2006- $19 (South Africa)

A composition of wild berries and other exotic layers!

7. Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005- $15 (Chile)

Dark, dense, and totally Cab. One of the new "best values" from Chile!

8. Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz 2005- $15

Ripe but also elegant. Don't miss this one!

9. Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2005- $14

A great representation of Malbec at an affordable price!

10. Alamos Torrontes 2007- $10

Exotic and beautifully made- and for only ten bucks!

Cantina di Montalcino Brunello di Montalcino 1995 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Big bouquet of sweet cherry, rich spices, and earth

Rich and full-bodied on the palate

Finish of cherry, tobacco, and more rich, sweet spice

In many ways, this is a classic Brunello with cherry, sweet spice, and an earthy layer. I love that it's from the 1995 vintage, two years before Brunello exploded in popularity and price with the 1997 vintage.

If you have this, drink it soon. It's fully mature and ready to go. I only had a half bottle to enjoy with Billy of this blog. We paid $25 in a shop that always seems to turn up "lost treasures" covered in dust. Unfortunately, this was the only one.

Also read Billy's review of this wine below. Raise a glass!

Domaine de la Cote de L'Ange Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Plum sauce, cola, black licorice, and tobacco on the nose

Full-bodied and thick on the palate

Finishes with moderately strong tannins and layers of currants, cocoa, and smoke

This is a good solid Chateauneuf. It's not a modern interpretation, but rather a traditional style with some real heft and nice layers.

I paid around $35 for this wine several years ago. Raise a glass!

McWilliam's Hanwood Estate 2006 Riesling wine review by Billy

Nose: creamy sweet lemon custard aroma
Palate: very dry, sprightly citrus with robust acid for strength and structure.
Finish: lively finish of green grass that is over too quickly.

Overall: I am blown away by the quality of this Australian Riesling. I paid 6 dollars for this on sale but it usually doesn't go for more than 12. This is an excellent value white. Absolutely brilliant in its simplicity which adds elegance. Perfect for parties and entertaining.

Rosenblum--Groth Vineyard--Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1983 wine review by (PB)

(NW) of this blog stumbled onto this wine at a local Boston shop where he figured the proprietor must have found a case in some out of the way place of the business and seeing the year of production, assumed it would be long past its prime so stuck a $5 price tag on it.

(NW) served this to me bagged and asked me for my thoughts. This wine was obviously old with a murky. garnet color but still holding to the rim. It's bouquet on opening was pretty obnoxious with traces of egg nog and wild grape but mostly acetone and a medicinal ucky smell. Still--there was something lurking below these awful odors that kept me interested. I had no clue about what the wine might be but I said, "It is 20-30 years old." (NW) just smirked.

As minutes passed by, the wine was changing and the hideous aromas on opening were dissipating revealing an amazingly nice, sweet wild cherry and evergreen beneath it all.

As I filled my mouth and swirled, the anticipated nastiness of a wine long gone was not forthcoming. Instead there was an intriguing taste of stewed prunes yet with lively cherry fruit underneath. It was fully integrated, balanced and all around superior. If I had to rate this wine I would give it a 94 and I rarely ever do that!

I was flabbergasted and as we allowed the wine to breath, it turned out to be one of the best wines I have had in several years!

So it was a risk and for $5 you would fully expect it not to even be palatable but sometimes life hands you a bouquet of roses. Raise a glass to this exciting and wonderful find!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

1995 Brunello di Montalcino wine review by Billy

Nose: Loamy, spicy oak, tobacco. sublime and wonderful
Palate: great mouth feel even after 13 years. Quick drink and the character fades, but hold it in your mouth and there it is: Huge character feel, complex and layered structure.
Finish: Delightful and silky-spicy finish.

This was a great half-bottle find that NW and I found tucked away in a corner of a "reserve" room. For 25 bucks it was a steal. A beautiful treat that is showing age but still exquisite.

2001 Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas (Cuvee Tradition) wine review by Billy

Nose: layered tobacco, currant and berries quickly diminishing. Spices like cloves emerge but only with vigorous swirling
Palate: past prime. Overly tannic at front and unbalanced acid structure at the back.
Finish: hints of structure in the finish but never really delivering.

Overall: disappointing. However, NW of this blog and I believe this is due more to the fact that we found the wine on the shelf of a non-temperature controlled store where they have 95 degree summers and 0 degree (F) winters.

Either way, Raise a Glass!

2005 Pauillac Chateau Pichon-Longueville wine review by Billy

Nose:spicy delicate fruit, licorice, cola, coffee and gorgeous ripe cherry
Palate: delicate mouth feel, elegant structure of strong, cherry infused tannins and oaky astringency. Mild character
Finish: Lingering warm finish of cracked black pepper.

Overall: gorgeous color in the class. This is the simple "sometimes" Pauillac label from Chateau Pichon-Longueville. At 37 bucks it's priced for the name rather than a comparable 2005 quality with another label. At half the price, this would be a wonderful find. Still, I am raising a glass of this sometimes label from Chateau Pichon-Longueville.

2005 Les Champans Bourgogne Pinot Noir wine review by Billy

Nose:Earthy strawberry, cherry(?!), layer of tobacco, dirt.
Palate: even balance, soft in mouth, mid palate flavors of socks and warm oaky spice.
Finish: extremely long finish of strawberries and earth

Overall: I paid $26 for this earlier this year. The wonderfully long finish and delightfully earthy nose set this Premier Cru Bourgogne from the vineyard of Les Champans apart. Layers on the nose are complex and engaging. With time it opens even more. In the glass it still shows a very youthful clear plum-purple. Others have called this an "entry level" pinot noir. I call it a wonderfully accessible pinot noir made with enough respect for the land that it allows the earthy flavors to come through. Delightful.
Raise a Glass!

Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 wine review by (PB)

This is the wine (NW) of this blog brought for Christmas dinner. (I supplied the Margaux posted below this one.)

This Napa wine is deep garnet to the rim and needs air! The bouquet is tightly wound but will open with an hour or so of breathing.

Palate-mature, anise front and closed due to tasting on opening; numerous elements fighting to break out.

Sweet cherry flavors with black olives and rose petals. This is tasty and was a nice pairing with our rib roast. This wine will set you back about $40. Raise a glass.

Moet & Chandon Champaign N.V. wine review by (PB)

If you remember nothing else about wine in 2008 please try to remember this: Champaign is a sparkling wine that is made in Champaign, France. Everything else is sparkling wine NOT Champaign.

Okay, this Champaign called White Star runs around $40 and is a light golden with a bouquet furity nuttiness with pecans and vanilla cream.

Palate--Nice pin prick bubbles with hints of off-dry grapefruit, nuts and integrity. An easy drinking Champaign; raise a glass.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chateau Prieure-Lichine 2003 wine review by (PB)

This Grand Cru Bordeaux (Margaux) was the wine I supplied in (NW's) and my Christmas dinner surprise pairing with a nice rib roast. (See previous entry)

It is a lighter garnet color with nice fruity bouquet of berries and cedar with cherry predominating.

On opening, it is a tad watery but nice flavors of cherry and decent structure but needs to breathe.

After 4 hours of airtime, cherries and leather with a touch of wood but finishes a mite quickly. It is at its prime but will hold for another couple years I would guess.

I paid $40 for this on a trip to the mid-west a couple years ago. It is a solid wine but nothing special and for $40, you can find something special. Never-the-less, raise a glass!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from the WCB (PB)

It is December 25th and preparations are underway allowing my wine to breathe before the serving up of the "roast beast."

I cannot divulge what I will be serving at this time as (NW) will be here shortly also bringing a "special" bottle for the occasion. Neither of us knows what the other is serving.

You can read all about it after we have celebrated the arrival of the greatest gift to mankind--Jesus--Immanuel--God With Us.

Merry Christmas to all, in all parts of the world.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PB's Pick for #1 Wine Value of 2008

With all the wines that are "out there" you would think it would be nearly impossible to pick the best wine value of the year.

First some explanation: To be fair, in order to truly designate the BEST wine of the year one would have to have tasted EVERY wine in the world. Impossible of course.

So my pick is more accurately the best wine value of the year out of all the wines I have had this year which is around 350-400 different wines. Remember this is the best wine "value."

And that wine is; tadum-tadum..... Cline Zinfandel 2006; at a market price point of around $9 with bargains to be had at places like Sam's Club where this wine costs just $7.80.

This is Cline's production level Zin (not their ancient vine Zin) and is the cheapest zin they make. For this price you get a classic varietal with the chracteristics of the Zinfandel grape, bursting with a balanced fruit forward presence, and just such a pleasing berry rich palate that is good all alone but even better with a nice grilled "anything."

Pair it with some bolder cheeses; italian food, pasta with garlicky marinara; it works with them all. I don't drink too many repeat wines since ther are just so many wonderful adventures waiting and since, with a few appreciated exceptions, each of us at the WCB pays for our own wines consumed, we want to broaden our palate's discernment.

Yet I have consumed at least a case and a half of this zin this year and past year's vintages have been pretty much equally good.

So raise a glass and take advantage of this nice and inexpensive wine!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beringer Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 wine review by (PB)

(Billy) of this blog surprised his "old man"--yours truly--by showing up in church, with my grandson in tow, from Minneapolis. Christmas surprises are great!

We had two wines "bagged" (blind tasting) by my wife and we then reviewed them. The other wine is below! Raise a glass to Christmas fun!

This was the lesser of the two wines with same presentation as the wine I reviewed below this wine. It is tighter on the nose with slight cherry notes and alcohol out of balance.

Palate--A little more finessed than the KJ Zin below, but another boring wine that you would expect to find in the $10 price however this one cost more than twice that. So I give them both a pass and say raise a glass but look for better values like my "Wine value of the year" just above this entry!

Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel 2005 wine review by (PB)

Opaque red hue to the rim with residual purple. Blueberries on the bouquet, new world sweet slight cherry notes.

Palate--big sweet fruit fighting against alcohol with a slight licorice note trying to emerge. Rich plum finish and sour cherry notes. This was a blind tasting against another unknown wine. My conclusion was, "quite unremarkable tasting like any other ubiquitous $10 wine." Too bad this wine cost around $16.

Pascual Toso Malbec 2007 wine review by (PB)

Jellied cranberry hue with purple rim. Tart pie cherry bouquet with sweet fruit underneath.
Palate--spice front; watery feel, nice berry flavor but somewhat closed.

Finishes with sour cherry fruit. Okay , it is only $9 and it is okay at that price point and perhaps it is that I just don't care for Malbec but this was just so-so. But if you like Malbec, I'd still recommend something else like Neu Direction or Trapiche's Oak Cask. Raise a glass!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Dinner and Wine

See the entry for Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Mumm Brut Prestige N.V. wine review by (PB)

My perennial favorite this sparkler is deal at $14 (Sam's Club). I see it as high as $20 and its worth it at that.

Nose is full of citrus and creme brulee.

The palate has fine bubbles with a juicy citrus core with a light tart mandarin orange note. As always, my favorite, inexpensive sparkler so raise a glass.

Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2007 wine review by (PB)

A pretty light cherry pour with really nice honest pinot aromas of tart raspberry.

Palate--alcohol is a bit overwhelming and flavors a bit thin with light raspberry. For $10, this wine is drinkable and varietal. Raise a glass.

Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 wine review by (PB)

Super sweet, grassy nose with vanilla cream, apple pears and a touch of tropical fruit. Nice.

Palate--nice presence with solid acid foundation; tasty vanilla, tropical fruit salad with a fruity finish. Very nice. At $9, raise a glass.

Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 wine review by (PB)

Bright Cherry hue with pronounced fruit filled bouquet of cherry, slight green pepper and a touch of cedar with tart cherry later on.

Palate--herbal but well integrated cherry and tart cherry flavors with light finish. Not bad but certainly not "wowing." Served with Thanksgiving dinner and our guest loved it saying it was the best wine they had ever had. Beauty is sometimes in the eye of the behold--or in this case, in the tongue of the taster. At $12 on sale, raise a glass.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2007 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Incredible raspberry ganache bouquet with blueberry, black cherry, and spice accents

Plush and thickly textured on the palate

Long finish of wild berries, chocolate, cream, and spice

A complete Zinfandel is a special thing. This wine is rich and layered, with interesting aromas and a long finish. It's a terrific wine year after year, and this is probably their best vintage ever, but a Wine Spectator score of 93 points? That's a big number.

Still, I enjoy this wine every year and recommend you seek this out. I paid $22 at one shop and $20 at another. If you find a really good price and enjoy Zinfandel, you might want to think about buying a case. It will cellar well for at least a few years. I have several previous vintages in my cellar and they are drinking nicely.

Thanks for another terrific Zin, Seghesio! Raise a glass!

Chono Maipo Valley Carmenere 2006 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose of black currant, tar, and loam aromas

Dense and chewy on the palate

Rustic finish of dark fruit and green herbs

I'm glad Chile is having success with Carmenere. It offers a dark, exotic wine at a reasonable price. For something off-the-beaten-path, reach for a bottle of Carmenere next time you're in a wine shop. Spend around $10 or so, like this one, and enjoy!

The dark fruit and herb profile of this wine are really interesting for a wine in this price range. Other Carmenere bottlings also end up with coffee flavors. Check it out- and raise a glass!

Monday, December 15, 2008

McWilliams Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2006 wine review by (PB)

Black cherry pour with ample rich plum and black cherry bouquet full of ripe fruit.

Palate--spicy front with some heft yielding to nicely integrated, extracted plummy fruit with character in an easy drinking style. Finishes with some spice and fruit galore. I paid $8 for this on sale though I don't know what the "normal" price would be but my guess is around--drum roll please.............................$10! Gee, how'd I guess.

At any rate, this is a value wine at either price so raise a glass!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Georges DuBoeuf Brouilly Beaujolais Cru 2005 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Bouquet of strawberry, plum, and roses on the nose

Light-bodied and silky on the palate

Finish of red berries, earth, and herbs

I must admit, I skipped over the Beaujolais Nouveau this year. I guess I just wasn't in the mood. Instead, to support the wine makers of Beaujolais, I bought a couple different bottles of Beaujolais Cru.

Where Nouveau is so hit or miss, the Beaujolais Cru is almost always hit. These wines are tremendous values and offer a versatility that is almost unmatched in the wine world. They are rich but light, balanced and harmonious.

This wine is silky and composed, with some trademark Gamay notes and a hint of neighboring Burgundy. I paid $12 and often see this wine range from $12-15. Raise a glass!

Bodegas Borsao Red 2007 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose of red berries and roses

Juicy core of fruit on the palate

Finish of tart cherry and herbs

This is a lean wine that has some fruit, floral, and herb qualities. Overall it's not very good and lacks depth, but I'm not going to pick it apart when it's in the value aisle at $7 or so.

Spanish wines can be excellent values, but in this case I recommend you spend a few more dollars for something better. In fact, Borsao's red wines in the $12-15 range are much better. Raise a glass to Spain!

2008 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau wine review by Billy

Nose: candied cherry and lush red fruit
Palate:chewy tannins
Finish: candied fruit comes back

Overall: a nice and pleasant Beaujolais Nouveau this year. The best of the bunch I had tasted this year. Nice in the late afternoon before dinner as a cocktail. Unpresuming but enchanting.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

McWilliams Hanwood Estate 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon wine review by Billy

Nose:fruity nose of plum and cherry and some hints of savory spice.
Palate: decently crafted with moderate tannins and a good mouth feel.
Finish: big cherry fruit finish that ends abruptly.

I ended up paying only about $6.99 for this (in a buy one get one free sale). For that price I cannot complain. You can tell it is a 10-12 dollar wine but it is easy drinking and the quality is good for the price.

Raise a glass.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Prosecco Del Vento wine review by Billy

Nose: clear cotton candy and bubble gum nose
Palate: small bubbles that are stumbling. Off dry.
Finish: tapering finish of apples and citrus

Overall: this Italian sparkling comes with a bottle top that is reminiscent of the Steve Martin, Kermit the frog, Miss Piggy scene in The Muppet Movie. A distinctive nose that promises a good time. We paid about $13 for this bottle.

Perrier Jouet Grand Brut wine review by Billy

Nose:complex character, warm white soft cheese nose, soft floral scents, and cool bread dough.
Palate: Dry, good and noticeable structure. Delicate bubbles.
Finish: lingering and tapering. Dry with green apples and floral citrus.

Overall: The feature of the evening. Exquisite. I paid aprox. $45 for this. It's such a treat and a distinctive profile. Please treat yourself to a bottle of this champagne this Christmas.

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava wine review by Billy

Nose: apple and some honey melon hints
Palate: very dry, small delicate bubbles
Finish: finish is understated with green apple being the most prominent with a nearly puckering dryness.

Overall: quite nice for an affordable dry sparkling wine. This one paired best with the Ghirardelli dark chocolate with raspberry squares.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Frizzante wine review by Billy

Nose: pleasant apple and light citrus
Palate: off dry, big bubbles
Finish: nice finish with bigger citrus coming back and a dryer texture.

Overall: a fun bubbly from the usa. This goes best with the milk chocolate with lavender tonight.

We are hosting a bubbly and chocolate tasting this evening so I'll be blogging all the bubbly we taste. The chocolates here include d'Oliva Bar (olive and white chocolate), dark chocolate and chili, milk chocolate and lavender, white chocolate and simple dark chocolate.

Raise a glass!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dry Creek Fume Blanc 2006 wine review by (PB)

Pale gold with sweet vanilla pudding aromas with ripe mandarin orange and tropical fruit.
Palate--Grassy Sauvignon blanc flavors, off dry and solid acid structure for a good food wine.
Finishes with light vanilla fruit touch.

I paid $11 for this and it is what you might expect at this price point. Dry Creek tends to make solidly constructed white wines. Raise a glass.

Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhone 2007 wine review by (PB)

Dark purple/garnet hue with bouquet of rich inky dark berries with dried cherry aromas.
Palate--light spice with tart cherries and tasty berries.

This blend by Delas is 75% Syrah 25% Grenache favoring the Syrah yet with Grenache fruity undertones. For $11, it is pretty good drinking. Raise a glass!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2005 wine review by (PB)

Presence of blackcherry with garnet rim and rich blackberry/black cherry bouquet with notes of green pepper and fruity black licorice.

Palate is finessed with rich dark fruit, integrated structure, smoke, dark berries. fleeting mint and eucalyptus and a smokey finish. this is apretty tasty cab and well made. I paid $22 for it in Los Angeles at a Trader Joes and am grilling filet mignon at present to go with it. Raise a glass to my new grand daughter which is why I am in LA.

Tudor Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2005 wine review by Billy

Nose: strawberry and asparagus
Palate: light body. light but balanced acids and tannins with a touch of acidic bitterness at the back.
Finish:Delicate with strawberries and some acidic bitterness again at the back.

overall: Nice but not the best. I paid for this ($85) at a hipster restaurant in San Fran. Expected better for the reputation.

2003 Twomey Napa Merlot wine review by Billy

Nose: coffee, cherry, blackberry, tobacco
Palate: smooth berry and tannic. Fine soft balance.
Finish: green finish with warm cherry and dry tobacco emerginglate.

Overall: a very finely crafted merlot.

Sonoma Seghesio Zinfandel 2006 wine review by Billy

Nose: deep rich nose. Tight but will open with time. Peppery with Kola nut and berry.
Palate: Rich palate, tight tannins with open with time. Good structure with a touch of acid bite at the back
Finish: long and lingering with cracked pepper and smooth pepper tapering off

Overall rich and savory.

I paid about 31 GBP (about $45 usd) for this at an upscale London restaurant.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Harding Estates Napa Zinfandel 2005 wine review by (PB)

real time review:
Black cherry hue with light cocoa and black cherries fighting through volatile alcohol.

Palate--zesty flavors of ripe fruit of plum and black cherry, milk chocolate, and a pronounced smokey finish carried on a watery textured foundation.

Tasted a little too warm but not enough to negate review. I paid $10 for this on sale from $15. It is a typical $10 Zin; if I paid $15 for it I would be annoyed. On further reflection and time to breath, it is a pretty decent example of a Zin at this price point. Some spice, good fruit, and an easy drinking pizza/spaghetti wine.

For the price, try Cline 's red label zin for around $9. Raise a glass.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Spring Valley Uriah 2005 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose of blueberry, raspberry, and spice

Dense, dark berry core on the palate

Moderately strong tannins on the finish with black cherry, mixed berries, and cocoa

It's always a treat to see this wine on a restaurant wine list. I recently paid $88 for the pleasure of popping the cork at a casual, upscale restaurant. (The retail price is around $45).

While complex and fragrant, the 2005 is a bit tighter and more tannic than in prior years. This is the third vintage I've sampled, and although it's the least impressive, it is still a terrific wine. Raise a glass!