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

Pine Ridge Chardonnay

Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones Carneros – Napa Valley, California

pine-ridge-chardonnay-dijonEvery once in a while I get a hankering for big, buttery, Chardonnay — i.e., “New World” style, usually from a warm-to-hot wine region.

Although this wine comes from grapes picked both from Carneros and Napa Valley, to me, this wine speaks Napa. When I think of Napa Valley Chardonnay, I think of a rich golden color, toasty vanilla and super-ripe pear aromas, over-the-top sweet ripe fruit upfront, and a hefty, almost syrupy texture. Pine Ridge delivers on all these expectations.

To be clear, this is a style of wine that I want to have occasionally — not all the time. It’s huge in the mouth, with globs of sweet bright fruit that is almost cloying, but somewhat tempered with ample acidity. This wine definitely got a good dose of American barrels, because in addition to the vanilla punch it has more tannin than most rose wines and a few light reds. Though it finishes dry thanks to the acid and tannin, this has plenty of sweet flavor upfront and through the midpalate, which means I recommend you pair it with spicy foods. I matched it successfully with BonChon fried chicken. On its own, I’m sure there is a crowd that will love this as a “cocktail wine,” though its acid and tannin structure beg for food.

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This wine has also been reviewed by Heidi of Brix Chicks, Bill’s Wine Wandering, and The Wine Spies.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Red Wine Review: Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah

Klinker Brick “Farrah” Syrah 2010 | Lodi, California, USA

Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah 2010 wine bottle labelGenerally speaking, Lodi, California is not known for Syrah (nor is Lodi, New Jersey). Rather, Lodi — a town and an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in San Joaquin Valley, within the Central Valley of California — is better-known for Zinfandel, thanks to many “old vines” bearing the grape. Some of these “old vines” were planted over a hundred years ago, and they, along with the soil and climate, combine to create Zinfandel-based wines that exude unique character not seen from the grape elsewhere in California. In fact, Lodi and Zinfandel have become almost synonymous.

But this wine is Syrah, so what gives? On the one hand, I’m an “old schooler” in that I believe winegrowers should focus on grapes that have historically grown well in an area. Burgundy, for example, is focused almost entirely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — and the resulting wines are often mind-blowing, if not life-altering. In Champagne, it’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier — and nothing else. In Tuscany, it’s mostly Sangiovese. And so on. For California — and Lodi in particular — Zinfandel is indigenous and is at its best.

At the same time, I think it’s OK to dabble and experiment with other grapes to see what happens. Syrah is a grape that reaches its full potential in the Rhone Valley, France (and some would argue, in Australia as well). As it turns out, Lodi, California shares similarities with the Southern Rhone, most significantly:

1. Mediterranean climate — warm to hot summers with mild, wet winters, thanks in part to close proximity to ocean coast
2. Cooling breezes emanating from river and ocean (in the Rhone, a strong, cold wind called Mistral blows in as the result of a confluence of factors related to, among others, the Rhone River, valley, and Bay of Biscay; in Lodi, a cool wind that comes from a similar mix of geography thanks to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, San Francisco Bay, and Central Valley)
3. Porous, deep, sandy loam and alluvial soils, providing good drainage

Looking at characteristics in terroir, Lodi is somewhat similar to Costieres de Nimes in particular — an area in the Southern Rhone Valley that is well-known for Syrah. That said, I was excited to try this Syrah wine from Lodi.

Perhaps my expectations were a little too high, because at first sniff I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong — this is a very tasty wine. But it doesn’t remind me of Syrah from the Rhone. And that’s my problem, not yours.

If you completely ignore all the geeky stuff about climate, terroir, soil, etc., above, and just drink this wine for what it is, you’ll probably be very pleased. It has an expressive nose of rich spices — cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla — with a dose of black raspberry. In the mouth it explodes with sweet red and black raspberry (black raspberry brandy, actually), vanilla, and undertones of mild earth and blackberry. The texture is creamy. Tannins are mild to medium, as is the acidity. The finish is mostly vanilla and black raspberry.

For me, the Syrah in this wine is overwhelmed by the oak component (it spent 15 months in French oak barrels), making it difficult to match with food. As a “cocktail wine,” though, it’s awesome, as it shows many layers of spice and sweet fruit. But understand, I’m overly sensitive to oak — most people like it more than I. If that’s your style, you’ll like Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah.

You can learn more about Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah by visiting the Klinker Brick website.

Other blogs to have reviewed this wine include The Pour Fool, Winethropology, Cork Chronicles, Swami of Umami, Jane Garvey (2009 vintage), and James the Wine Guy.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Red Wine Review: Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 | Napa Valley, California, USA

On first whiff the nose expresses enticing black and red berry fruits — both fresh and mature, but then as it sits in the glass it’s chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. In the mouth it is similarly dominated by a milk chocolate flavor mixed with blackberry and sweet black raspberry. It has a pleasant finish of more chocolate, vanilla, sweet red berry, black cherry, and boysenberry flavors that linger. There is ample, mouth-puckering acidity and mild tannins. Texture is smooth, with good weight, feeling almost syrupy.

I’m not sure what to make of this wine. It’s clearly complex with enough acidity to match with food, but when I drank it with a juicy ribeye, all I got from the wine was chocolate. Sometimes I like the taste of chocolate, but not when I’m eating steak, so perhaps it should be more of an after-dinner wine with a cheese plate. Though the acidity was ample, the tannins were surprisingly mild. Despite all the ripe fruit upfront, there was no heat on the finish, which was nice.

Also surprising was the sediment; generally I don’t expect that from a 4-year-old wine. Sediment doesn’t bother me and I don’t consider it a flaw, but I do find it curious.

My thought is this wine was going through a “dumb phase” when I poured it — a time in its evolution when it wasn’t integrated, and showing less than its full potential. I say this because there is clearly a ton of fruit, complexity, and attractive aromas and flavors, but for whatever reason it isn’t hitting on all cylinders. If you have a bottle of this vintage, keep it in the cellar for at least another 6 months to a year before giving it a try. How long can it age? Hard to say, as the acidity will hold it together, but the lack of tannin — which with acid is also a preservative — suggests that this isn’t a wine for decade-holding. On the other hand, maybe I don’t understand what this wine is — which is possible (probable?) as I consider myself a novice when it comes to California wine.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

This wine was also reviewed by Drinkhacker, Bigger Than Your Head (2009 vintage), Pull that Cork, and The Wine Cask Blog, among others (if you’ve seen another review or written one yourself, let us know in the comments).

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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Red Blend Wine Review: Apothic Red

Apothic Red 2009 | California

Usually I drink wine with food. I almost always eat food with wine. Sometimes, though, I like to have a glass of wine with nuttin’. In those cases, the “cocktail wines” are an ideal choice. And on this particular night, I wanted a “cocktail red” — something to sip on its own, that wouldn’t be too tannic, but have some richness and flavor. Oak wouldn’t be a major issue, because generally speaking, oak tastes good when food is not present. So I opened up this bottle, which was sent to me by a very nice PR person.

Apothic Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot. It helps to know that, but I really do believe I can taste all three varietals in the blend. The nose is a pleasant, inviting blend of vanilla, butterscotch, red berries, and black cherry — for me, the butterscotch is dominant in the aroma. Strange, I know — since when does a red wine smell like butterscotch? When it’s been whacked with American oak (barrel or chips? who knows? who cares?). In the mouth it has sweet flavors of ripe raspberry, chocolate, maraschino cherry, and boysenberry syrup (like what you get at IHOP). However, it finishes dry, with a balanced level of mild tannins and puckering acidity. It was exactly what I was seeking on this particular evening. I’m not sure I’d try to match it with food — I don’t know where I’d begin. Maybe General Tsao’s chicken or a similarly sweet dish from the Chinese take-out menu? It’s not sweet like a Yellow Tail or Hob Nob wine, but it’s not all that far from it, either — I would say it is a good stepping stone from critter reds to more “serious” ones, because it does finish relatively dry and it has nicely integrated tannins and acidity. Without question, a crowd pleaser — bring it to your next party where people will be drinking wine as though it were a cocktail.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Red Wine Review: Murrieta’s Well The Spur

Murrieta’s Well The Spur 2008 | Livermore Valley, California

Lately I’ve been spending too much time at my very awesome job, commuting, blogging elsewhere, giving baseball lessons, and doing other things in life that take me away from writing here. I took a look at my list of “drafts” and there are now two dozen waiting in the hopper — but, not all are necessarily “ready” by my standards, which is why they’re not yet published. However, I’m going to make an effort to get some of the reviews out — even without much editing — because if I wait any longer you won’t find some of these wines at your retail shop any longer.

So without further ado, herewith a review of Murietta’s Well The Spur, tasted far too long ago and likely tasting even better now.

A Bordeaux blend — 54% Cabernet Sauvignon 23% Petit Verdot 10% Petite Sirah 9% Cabernet Franc 4% Malbec — from California, but I wouldn’t confuse this with a true Bordeaux. The nose is expressive, dominated by chocolatey spice notes and black fruit — plum, cassis, blackberry. In the mouth you get some sweet oak spice upfront, with blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, and plum flavors following. Decent acidity and dry tannins appear in the finish, which also brings in dusted dark chocolate. For me, this was a hard one to match with food because of the sweet oak character, but it’s a nice “cocktail” wine to drink on its own. For me, it profiles similarly to a modern (i.e., American oak-aged) Rioja. At about $20-$25, this is a good deal.

Visit my friend Christopher Null’s site “DrinkHacker” to read a review of Murrieta’s Well The Spur 2009 vintage, which is more likely to be found at your local retailer.

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NOTE: I received this wine as a sample

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