Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

White Wine Review: Estancia Sauvignon Blanc

Estancia Sauvignon Blanc Pinnacles Ranches | Monterey County, California

Sauvignon Blanc means different things to different people. For some, it means grassy, herbal aromas. For others, it means tropical fruit character. And, there are people expecting musky aromas and strong mineral notes (i.e., Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre). For me, it means all of those things, and then some — what I’m expecting is for the grape to reflect its origin in some way.

Estancia is one of my “safe” brands — meaning, it’s a widely available name that I trust to provide solid quality for value and at least a hint of “sense of place,” regardless of grape variety. Do I expect to have my socks knocked off? Not necessarily. Do I expect to get what I pay for, and maybe a little more? Yes. Did this wine meet that expectation? Yes.

Clean, bright nose emitting lemon and lime citrus fruit and a distinct green element that most people associate with gooseberries — a strong, unripe, sour fruit odor that is typical of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Some describe the smell as “cat pee,” and since I have yet to see/smell a gooseberry, but have known many cats, well … you can guess which description relates to me. It’s something you either appreciate or don’t like at all. Me, I appreciate that smell.

In the mouth, Estancia Sauvignon Blanc is clean, fresh, and expressive, with ample acidity. Flavors are similar to the nose, but dominated by fresh lime upfront and finishing with lemon peel on the back end. It has a zingy character on its own, and is much more enjoyable with food. I enjoyed it with broiled flounder and scallops; it will be similarly well-matched with other white fish, sushi, mildly seasoned chicken and pork dishes, salads, and vegetarian cuisine.

I picked this up for under ten bucks and for me, that’s a good deal. A good food wine.

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Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Going on 15 years now, Chile has been my “go to” for unearthing great wine values. A long time ago I discovered Casa Lapostolle’s “Cuvee Alexandre” line of wines, finding the Merlot particularly enjoyable — and fairly easy on the wallet. That said, when I happened upon this “Casa” Cabernet Sauvignon, my expectations were high — and I wasn’t disappointed.

If you went through Spanish 101 — or at least knew someone who had — then you know “casa” means “house.” My guess, then, is that the “Casa” line from Lapostolle refers to what they believe are “house wines.” If so, the moniker fits. For me, this supple, earthy, yet easy drinking Cab is a wine that I’d be very comfortable serving as my “house wine” (if such a thing existed under my roof).

On the nose you get typical Cabernet aromas: black berry, earth, some leather and tobacco. In the mouth the berry fruit is plump but just shy of “jammy,” and is well-balanced by ample acidity and mild tannins. There is a hint of vanilla sweetness that Americans love, which makes it appealing on its own, yet thankfully doesn’t get in the way of food matching. I successfully paired it with simply broiled filet mignon, and to me, the meat brought out the juicy fruit of the wine — I enjoyed it much more next to my plate than I did after my last bite.

These days, many “new world” Cabernet Sauvignons taste like they can be from anywhere, formulated in a laboratory of micro-oxygenation and oak chips. Thankfully, this Cab retains a sense of place. No, it doesn’t scream Rapel Valley (what does?), but if it were part of a blind tasting, I’m fairly confident I’d identify as Chilean. Perhaps that’s due to the touch (6%) of Carmenere and the slight hint of brooding Petit Verdot (1%) that helps fill out the blend (the wine is 89% Cabernet Sauvignon; bits of Cabernet Franc and Syrah also are involved). In short, this is what Cabernet from Chile is supposed to taste like. And at under ten bucks, it’s a steal, and the fact it comes with an easily resealable screwcap makes it all the more appealing. Pick up a bottle — or three — for your “house.”

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Disclosure: At the end of a wine tasting that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, this was three-quarters of a leftover bottle gifted to me by a generous brand rep. No wines shall go to waste!

Wine Reviews: Big House Red and White

Big House White and Red WinesThese were sent to me as samples by a nice PR person, but it took me a long time to get around to tasting both of the “Big House” wines, mainly because I saw them as gimmicky and figured they weren’t terribly interesting.

As it turned out, both wines mildly surprised me — they are easygoing and simple but enjoyable and have enough structure to match with a variety of foods. That’s the nice thing about having no expectations — it’s hard to be disappointed.

The name “Big House” came about because the winery is located “an ankle iron’s toss” from the Soledad State Correctional Facility in Soledad, California (Monterey County). It was founded by Randall Grahm — better known as the founder/winemaker at Bonny Doon — and the brand’s focus is to appeal to the “non-snob” by making wine less complicated and more fun and easy to enjoy (hey, just like this website!). I have to admit the branding is clever and appealing, if a bit corny. But, I’m corny myself and therefore have an appreciation for their efforts.

Big House White is a fruity summer sipper with a faint hint of sweetness that makes a good foil for spicy hot foods. I paired it successfully with Indian cuisine as well as buffalo wings and BBQ ribs. It’s also thoroughly enjoyable on its own, with a good chill. For those who care, it’s made from a “kitchen sink” blend of 22.7% Malvasia Bianca, 15.9% Gruner Veltliner, 15.7% Sauvignon Blanc, 9.2% Gewürztraminer, 7.9% Riesling, 7.3% Chenin Blanc, 6.1% Muscat Canelli, 5.2% Viognier,4.5% Verdelho, 4.4% Albarino, and 1.1% Pinot Gris. If nothing else, all those grapes in there make for a good conversation starter.

Big House Red was similarly friendly with food, but completely dry. It has an attractive, expressive nose full of black cherries and a hint of earth. On the palate there are similar flavors — cherry, red and black berry fruit, mild earth, touch of tobacco. There is plenty of acidity and very mild tannins. It finishes somewhat quickly and with tart, sour cherry. Overall it kind of reminds me a Beaujolais Villages, and is similarly easy to pair with just about anything — particularly lean meats (chicken, turkey, pork), vegetarian dishes, and pasta with red sauce. And yes, this one is made with myriad grape varieties as well: 27% Petite Sirah, 14.5% Syrah, 8.6% Montepulciano, 8.2% Barbera, 6.4% Nero d’Avola, 6.1% Tempranillo, 3.3% Malbec, 2.4% Aglianico, 2.4% Souzao, 2.3% Charbono, 2.2% Petit Verdot, 2.1% Cabernet Franc, 2% Tannat, and 12.5% Other Esoteric Reds. I’d love to know what those “other esoteric reds” might be, and why they’re not listed. Ah-ha! Another conversation starter!

At under $10 for a 750ml bottle, these wines are a steal — but it isn’t the kind of theft that will get you sent to the “big house”. And both wines also come in snazzy, convenient, party-friendly bag-in-box packaging as well.

Find Big House White at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher, Vinquire, or WineZap

Find Big House Red at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher, Vinquire, or WineZap

If you want to learn more about Big House and some of their other wines, visit my good friend Charles Scicolone’s site to read about the Big House “warden” Georgette Dune. You can also visit the Big House website and/or follow the brand on Twitter @BigHouseWines

Tamas Rosato

Tamas Estates Rosato Riserva 2010 | Livermore Valley, California, USA

Let me premise this by stating that I don’t like the idea of using the words “Prima Classe” “Rosato” and “Riserva” on a wine produced in the United States. I understand it is Tamas trying to be cute by emulating the terms that might be found on a bottle of Italian wine. However, that marketing ploy only further confuses an already confused wine-drinking public. To be clear: this wine is from the Livermore Valley of California.

That complaint aside, this pink wine delivers juicy strawberry and white cherry flavors on the nose and palate, mouthwatering acidity, and is overall a pleasant, refreshing, and enjoyable quaffer that fits most any budget. It’s nice alone, but better with food. I matched it successfully with roast chicken, BBQ ribs, mild cheese, crawfish cakes, and shrimp/scallop cakes. At under ten bucks, this is a good value. Pick up a bottle while the weather is hot and the wine is still fresh — it’s not something to lay down.

Learn more about the winery at the Tamas Estates website (though, I couldn’t find any info on this particular wine there).

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Red Wine Review: Hob Nob

Hob Nob wine wheelA full line of Hob Nob red wines were sent to me for review: Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. They came in stylish, modern packaging including those dandy new artificial corks that are spongy and easy to remove. There’s even a snazzy website with a clever “spin the bottle” navigation format (though, being an old drongo it took me a few minutes to figure out how to find details about the wines; as it turned out, the details weren’t terribly useful to me — there were “matches” for “Mood”, “Music”, “Books”, and “Social Mastery”, as well as foods. Again, the drongo that I am can’t understand why Shiraz is “loud” and a match for the book Running with Scissors. But I digress …)

Instead of spending much more time letting the HobNob website make me feel old and un-hip, I moved on to the actual wines. [Read more…]

Red Wine Review: Oxford Landing GSM

Oxford Landing Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2006 ·


The “Rhone Rangers” are gaining fame for growing traditional Rhone Valley varietals in California. However, there are winegrowers “down under” doing the same thing in Australia. This is one example.

Though Shiraz is well-known as a wine from Australia, you may not be as familiar seeing the other two grapes from that continent. Grenache is more commonly seen as a varietal wine from France, and Mourvedre is another French grape used almost exclusively as a blending agent. On its own, Mourvedre (a.k.a. “Mataro” or “Monastrell”, depending on the country of origin) is fairly tannic and has a gamey, earthy character. That’s not necessarily a pleasant combination on its own but when blended with the comparatively fat and thin Grenache (funny, only a wine could be both simultaneously), you have a perfect match resulting in a balanced and interesting wine. Add in some Syrah / Shiraz and now it’s balanced, interesting, and has a bit of oomph.

The French have been blending these three grapes together for centuries, and now Australia is beginning to do the same. Oxford Landing is an estate on the Murray River in South Australia that’s been around since the late 1950s, so they’re not new to the game. But, the label has been put on bottles for only about a decade — it is a secondary brand of the large Yalumba wine company. What that means to you is you should be able to find Oxford Landing wines easily, the prices should be affordable, and their flavor should be consistent from year to year.

You may be able to find the 2007 vintage on your retailer’s shelf; they’re still selling the ’06 in my parts.

Tasting Notes: Oxford Landing Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2006

Nose is open, with ample aromas of black and red berry fruits, blackcurrant, earth, and red licorice. In the mouth there is plenty of red and black berry fruit upfront, almost jammy, with notes of tobacco and earth. Tannins are soft, acidity is mild. Finish is pleasant, filled with black cherry, blueberry, and chocolate licorice, with a bit of drying acidity at the tail end. Reminds me a bit of Borsao, or Dao wine from Portugal. Enjoyable alone, will also be good with lean meats and fish, mild cheeses. At under ten bucks, a good value.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-8 ~ 88 Points

Bottom Line

A solid, easygoing, reliable red that is tasty on its own and won’t overwhelm a meal. Good value.

Where to buy this wine

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher, Vinquire, or WineZap

Or, buy Oxford Landing GSM direct from Wine.comicon

Learn more at the Oxford Landing website or from the US importer, Negociants USA

Red Wine Review: Concannon Syrah

Concannon Syrah 2005 · Livermore Valley

Concannon Syrah wine bottle from Livermore Valley CaliforniaFor whatever reason, I’ve always associated Concannon with Petite Sirah — perhaps because they were the first California winery to varietally label the grape back in 1964. And their Petite Sirah generally rocks.

So it was with a little hesitation, overcome by curiosity, that I plucked this bottle from the shelf.

For those unaware, Petite Sirah and Syrah are completely different grapes. Syrah rootstalks were imported from other parts of the world (probably France), while Petite Sirah (which is neither small nor Syrah) is thought to be indigenous to California. We’ll discuss Petite Sirah at greater lengths another time — there’s actually an interesting story and some controversy surrounding its origins. For now, we’ll concentrate on Syrah — the one made by Concannon.

The vintage stocked at my local wine shop is 2005, and it’s drinking very nicely. You may be able to find the 2006 or the 2007 in your area; if so, and you’ve tasted it, please share your notes in the comments.

Tasting Notes: Concannon Syrah 2005

Open nose of mature, overripe black fruits — blackberry, blackcurrant, black raspberry, with hints of tobacco and earth. In the mouth it has a smooth, almost syrupy texture, ripe blackberry and black raspberry flavors. Acidity is mild, tannins are mild. Flavors evolve into a finish of blackberry, blueberry, mild tobacco, and a hint of dark chocolate that is held up with drying acidity. The alcohol is barely noticeable, which is pleasantly surprising for a wine with this much upfront, ripe fruit. OK on its own, perfect with lean-beef burgers, mild cheeses, blackened chicken, sloppy joes, tacos, swedish meatballs.

a-8 t-8 b-8 fc-7 v-7 ~ 88 Points

Bottom Line

A soft and jammy Syrah with enjoyable black berry flavors and perfect match for lean meat dishes. At under $10, a great value.

Where To Buy It

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Learn more at the official website: Concannon Vineyards

Merlot Wine Review: Dante

Dante Merlot 2006 · Michael Pozzan Winery

I have to admit, I purchased this wine based on its label — one of my best friends became a father recently, to a son named “Dante”. So it was an added bonus that the juice behind the label turned out to be pretty good — and well worth the price.

Dante is made by the Michael Pozzan Winery, and ironically (to me, anyway), is named after Michael Pozzan’s eldest son. The wine itself is purportedly inspired by Michael’s trips to Italy — per the the Pozzan website, the wines labeled with “Dante” are: “hearty but approachable wines are reminisant [sic] of your fravorite trattoria in Italy”. At around ten bucks, that’s enough story for me.

I’ve enjoyed the soft, supple, accessible wines from Pozzan for several years, and this bottling fits in with the winery’s style. Unlike other wines from Pozzan, the grapes come from outside Napa — but again, when I’m spending about ten bucks, vineyard location is a moot point. Just give me a decent wine I can enjoy with a simple meal and make me feel like I got my money’s worth. For that, this wine delivers.

Tasting Notes: Dante Merlot

The nose is full of ripe red raspberry, ripe strawberry, and black cherry, with hints of vanilla, spice, earth, and smoke. In the mouth it is borderline jammy upfront, with lots of ripe red berry fruits, vanilla, and white chocolate flavors. The finish is pleasantly tart, with ripe black cherry and red raspberry notes. Acidity is mild to medium, tannins are mild to medium, alcohol is just a touch warm on the finish. All three elements are in good balance with the high fruit level. Enjoyable alone, also good with a variety of foods. Drink it with lean meats, Mexican fare, lean sausage, mild cheeses, vegetarian dishes.

a-8 t-8 b-8 fc-8 v-8 ~ 90 Points

Bottom Line

A soft, warm, approachable Merlot that is enjoyable alone or with simple dishes based on lean meats or mild cheeses. Fine as an everyday drinker and a great value.

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Learn more by visiting the Michael Pozzan Winery website