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.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

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

Canadian White Wine: Peller Estates Chardonnay

Peller Estates Chardonnay 2011 | VQA British Columbia, Canada

peller estates chardonnay niagara canadaAs a follow-up to the post on Inniskillin Pinot Grigio, my personal somm offered me two Chardonnays from Canada — one on the high end, one on the low end. This one was on the low end of the spectrum. But don’t take that the wrong way — this was no dog.

Peller Estates Chardonnay has an expressive nose of spicy vanilla oak, ripe pear, and honeysuckle. With that nose I was expecting an in-your-face, fat, sugary, over-oaked blast of tree bark on the palate, but that was not the case. Rather, there was plenty of bright acidity balancing ample ripe fruit, and the spice flavor was more toward something exotic like ginger or cardamom than the typical vanilla extract we’re used to tasting in cheap California Chardonnays. The finish was well-balanced and even had a hint of tannin. A nice solo drinker, and it would likely match with roasted or grilled pork.

Unfortunately, I think this wine will be difficult if not impossible to find in the USA, but if you live in Canada, you can find it at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

If you find yourself in the Niagara, Ontario area of Canada, check out the winery personally — for more info, visit the Peller Estates website.

By the way, yes I realize the winery is in Ontario and the wine is from British Columbia, which is a pretty far distance. If anyone has more information on how the wine is produced, please elaborate in the comments. Thank you.

We’ll soon review the Chardonnay that was on the higher end — stay tuned.

White Wine Review for Thanksgiving: Macari Early Wine 2012 Chardonnay

Macari Vineyards Early Wine Chardonnay 2012 | North Fork, Long Island, NY, USA

Macari Vineyards Early Wine ChardonnayWho needs Beaujolais Nouveau when you can “get local” with a luscious white wine from Long Island?

The truth is, I enjoy the hoopla, celebration, and tradition around Beaujolais Nouveau. Not to mention, the grape-jelly-like wine pairs mighty well with nearly everything on the Thanksgiving table. Just make sure you drink it before Valentine’s Day, OK?

Now, what if you’re one of those people who is anti-French? Or a staunch locavore? Or what if you feel that the American tradition of Thanksgiving should be celebrated with an American wine? There’s more to America than Zinfandel, and though Chardonnay is technically a French varietal, Macari’s is 100% grown and bottled in ‘merica, the good ol’ U-S-of-A. Most importantly, Macari Early Wine Chardonnay is guaranteed to pair well with the traditional turkey as well as nearly every trimming on the table. And, if you’re one of those who does something other than turkey, this wine will also go very well with roast pork, spiral ham, duck, chicken, or game fowl.

The nose has an understated aroma of pear – like pear nectar that you might drink from a Goya bottle or can. In the mouth, though, it explodes with bright, juicy flavors that remind me of fruit salad: sweet pear, peach, pineapple, guava, green seedless grapes, and white cherry. It has mild acidity and a healthy dose of residual sugar that pushes all the fruit forward and makes for a delectable foil to hot and spicy foods; think sausage stuffing. It finishes with a pleasant, clean taste of pure fresh apple juice. This is a truly enjoyable, lovely wine that will be hugely popular with people who normally don’t drink wine. The snobs will eschew it for its r.s. level but watch them as they take surreptitious sips in between their condescending comments.

If you can get a bottle for Thanksgiving, by all means do so. And if you can’t get it in time for Thursday’s feast, pick it up anyway and enjoy it later with Chinese take-out, spicy Thai, Indian cuisine, buffalo wings, or on its own as an aperitif.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

Alternatively, purchase it directly from the winery by visiting the Macari website

This wine was also reviewed by New York Cork Report and The V.I.P. Table.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Best Wine Deals Under $20

Forgive me if I sound like a shill for this week, but it’s all in the name of helping you get good wine at good prices — and one-cent shippingis nothing to sneeze at in the quest for great values.

That said, this is the last day of one-cent shipping from So I’ve done a quick review of the wines available from the site, which I think give good bang for the buck — some call it “QPR” or great quality:price ratio (I call them “no-brainers”).

Click on the wine names to order directly from — do it before midnight on September 10th, and you’ll get a case delivered for one penny.

Kanonkop Pinotageicon $19.99 sale price
Kanonkop is the king of Pinotage — the beginning, middle, and end of any and all conversations concerning the grape. The 2004 vintage was the first made without legendary winemaker Beyers Truter, but that shouldn’t preclude you from denying it. However, Pinotage is a wine with a distinct flavor profile, which includes an element some describe as “band aid”. It’s one of those wines that people either love or hate. If you love it, this wine at under twenty bucks is an incredible value.

Argiolas Costera 2007icon $17.99
Year in and year out, Argiolas consistently delivers great wines from “unknown” varietals — i.e., grapes with which the casual wine consumer aren’t familiar (I’ve reviewed their “Perdera” and “Costamolino” in the past). This wine is what I like to refer to as a “Super Sardinian”, a fabulous red for stews and steaks made from 100% Cannonau (you may know the grape better as Grenache). A perfect choice for the autumn season.

Statti Calabria Gaglioppo 2007icon $19.99
It’s wine “discoveries” like this that invigorate my passion for grape juice — the unknown jewels from regions and grapes that even geeks overlook. People generally know wines from the northern regions of Italy, and Sicily is gaining popularity, but Calabria? Gag-me-up-what? Truth is, Statti Gaglioppo is an open, ripe, distinctive red that would likely cost $35-40 if the label said “Tuscany” instead of “Calabria”. To me it’s something like a cross between a Chianti Classico Riserva and a Moulin-a-Vent. At under twenty bucks it’s a steal.

Clos de los Sieteicon $18.49
OK, this one isn’t on sale, but it’s an incredible value nonetheless. Made by flying winemaker extraordinaire Michel Rolland, this Argentine blend drinks like a wine twice its price. Great with ribeyes and skirt steaks.

Plantagenet Riesling 2006icon $17.49
The name of this wine reminds me of “Interplanet Janet“. Now that you have an idea of my age, I’ll tell you the taste of the wine reminds me more of a Riesling from Alsace than Australia — and that’s a good thing. It has that typical oily texture and flavors of fresh ripe apple, lemony citrus, and stony mineral that are common from Alsace, and also has the edge of tart acidity to hold everything together and make it a good food wine.

La Crema Chardonnay 2007icon$19.99
I’m generally wary of California Chardonnays, as many tend to be overoaked and unnaturally sweet. La Crema, though, is one brand that has always delivered good balance and pure, ripe fruit. I reviewed the 2005 and jotted similar notes for the 2006. There’s every reason to believe the 2007 is similarly scrumptious.

Chardonnay Review: Mondavi Solaire

Robert Mondavi Solaire Chardonnay 2007 · Santa Lucia Highlands

solaire_chardonnay.jpgIn the past, when I was geekier, more condescending, and had free access to world-class (read: expensive) wines, I stayed away from the “mass produced” brands. But lately I have become more humble and open to wines from any and every producer. And there’s something to be said for a wine that provides consistency year in and year out.

So with my newly opened mind I uncorked this Chardonnay from Robert Mondavi. Called “Solaire”, it retails for between $12-15 and has a cousin named Cabernet Sauvignon using the same moniker. The Chardonnay delivers good bang for the buck and is easily found at wine shops across the United States.

Tasting Notes: Robert Mondavi Chardonnay “Solaire” 2007

Rich nose of ripe and overripe white fruit — pear, apple, peach, banana, along with honeysuckle and vanilla. In the mouth it has a weighty, slightly oily mouthfeel and a creamy texture that carries ripe pear and candied peach fruit flavors. Also some oaky vanilla and honey. Acidity is low to medium, so with the abundance of ripe fruit this wine has a slightly fat character to it. OK on its own, better with food. Match it with rich and buttery fish and chicken dishes, such as shrimp scampi, lobster, chicken francaise.

a-8 t-7 b-7 fc-7 v-8 ~ 87 Points

Buy Mondavi Chardonnay Solaireicon directly from

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

Visit the official website for Robert Mondavi Solaire wines

Kosher Wines for Passover (Red and White)

Kosher wines don’t have to taste “funny” any more. Recent developments in kosher winemaking has resulted in high quality, great-tasting wines fit for any occasion.

This year, Passover begins at sunset on April 8th, and will continue through Wednesday, April 15th. If you observe Passover and aim to keep kosher during this Jewish holiday, here are two excellent wines — one white, one red — that are both kosher and appropriate for typical Passover feasts.

Tasting Notes: Yarden Chardonnay 2006

Yarden Chardonnay kosher white wine Wide open, expressive nose of bright ripe pear, peach, honeysuckle, banana, vanilla. In the mouth it is velvety smooth, with almost sweet ripe pear, candied peach, vanilla, honey. Acidity is mild. Alcohol is surprisingly low considering the high level of ripe fruit. Finishes with spicy peach, vanilla, and a touch of zesty lime. This is enjoyable on its own, also good with leaner foods such as simply prepared roast chicken. Will be nice with spicy and sweet Chinese dishes (General Tsao, sweet and sour shrimp, sesame chicken), BBQ ribs. As far as the Passover table goes, this will be a nice match for a mildly sweet noodle kugel.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 87 Points

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

Tasting Notes: Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon kosher red wineOpen aroma of ripe plum, red raspberry, jam, chocolate. Jammy, juicy ripe flavors of sweet raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate. Tannins are mild, acidity is mild to medium. Texture is smooth. Finish is pleasant, full of raspberries and pomegranate, with a slight edge of tart acidity. Enjoyable alone, it will match well with lean meats such as roast chicken and fish but also has just enough structure to stand up to simply prepared beef — such as beef brisket. Will also be nice with turkey meatloaf, Chinese rib tips or beef with spicy and/or sweet sauce.

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

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

Chardonnay Review: Macari Reserve

Macari Chardonnay Reserve 2007 ♦ North Fork, Long Island, NY, USA

macari_chardonnay.jpgWhen it comes to wines from the United States, North Fork, Long Island, New York, is not exactly mentioned in the same breath as, say, Napa Valley, but nonetheless this small region does produce drinkable and enjoyable wines. Its Northeast geography lends itself to less consistent and predictable summers, with a climate and soil type that is not necessarily ideal for “traditional” grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot. Very generally speaking, Long Island summers are better suited for varietals such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Cabernet Franc, which tend to flourish in cooler climes.

However, that doesn’t mean that more popular varietal wines can’t be made on the East Coast — there are a few top-notch wineries that are able to bottle wines that you might guess came from the “left” Coast. One such wine that might fool you is Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve, a rich and luscious example that benefits from a full year in French Oak barrels — just like they do it in Napa.

Tasting Notes – Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2007

Bright, fragrant nose of tropical fruits, sweet peach, overripe pear, pineapple, banana, along with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch. In the mouth it has a sweet fruit flavor, showing ripe pear and some other white fruits. A distinct candied peach flavor arrives in the finish. Acidity is low. Texture is smooth, almost oily. Enjoyable on its own, can work with some low-fat foods.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 87 Points

Macari Vineyards

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

Chardonnay Wine Review: Artesa

Artesa Chardonnay Reserve 2005

Artesa Chardonnay Reserve white wine bottleOnce in a while when I’m in the wine shop my alligator arms reach way way down to the bottom of my pocket, where I hide my twenty dollar bills, so that I can buy an “expensive” bottle of wine. I know, I know, there are plenty of people who plunk down much more than that on a regular basis — indeed, you might be one of those who regularly have Andrew Jackson as your wine enabler.

However, I tend to be — oh, let’s call it “cash challenged” — so when I go far above $15-20 for a bottle of wine, it HAS to be worth it.

In this case, it is.

The “regular” or “Classic Tier” Chardonnay made by Artesa is more in my price range — about $12-14 depending on the retailer. And it’s a very nice bottle of wine. But the “Reserve” edition, which we review here, is much better — at least ten to fifteen dollars better.

For both wines, the grapes are from Carneros, California — and if you’re not aware, that’s a good place to grow Chardonnay. The vines bearing the grapes for this “Reserve” Chard are from the highest hills in Carneros, which means they soak up more sun than any others in the region, and therefore ripen more fully and completely. Lots of sun equals lots of flavor, and in this case, the winemaker further enhances the fruit by putting most of it through what’s called a secondary malolactic fermentation. If you’re not a geek, you don’t need to know exactly what that means — all you need to know is that it makes the wine feel fuller in the mouth, and more buttery and creamy.

In addition, they put half of the juice into new oak barrels for almost ten months, which adds a nice vanilla spice complexity. You can’t do that with just any wine or it will be dominated by a woodsy flavor. With this wine, the oak both “complements” and “compliments” the ripe fruit.

On to the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes: Artesa Chardonnay Reserve 2005

Wide open aromas of ripe pear, candied peach, apple, melon, spice, and vanilla. On the palate it is equally wide open and forward, expressing ripe pear, red delicious apple, and a creamy vanilla flavor that melts into butterscotch. Acidity is mild to medium – just enough for food matching. Texture is thick and creamy, almost heavy, just short of cloying, with a luscious mouthfeel. Overall, a yummy drinker on its own, with enough structure to enjoy with food. Drink it alone or with garlic-roasted chicken, lobster in butter, popcorn.

a-9 t-9 b-8 fc-7 v-7 ~ 90 Points

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

Winery: Artesa

White Wine Review: La Crema Chardonnay

La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma County 2005

La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma County California wine bottleGenerally I’m not a fan of California Chardonnay, mostly because many of the examples I’ve tasted were too over the top with sugary fruit, high alcohol, and overabundant oak. Of course, not every California Chardonnay is like that, but in my experience there have been more “cocktail quaffers” than bottles appropriate for the dinner table.

However, I took a gamble on La Crema’s Chard, and paired it with two different meals: one a simply grilled chicken, and then a Greek salad that included more grilled chicken. The result: I can say confidently that La Crema Chardonnay is a fine match for grilled chicken.

It’s also an enjoyable wine overall. The nose is expressive, showing full aromas of ripe pear, apple, and a touch of spice. On the palate you get a creamy, smooth texture that carries forward, ripe pear fruit with a good dose of vanilla spice and oak and a faint touch of honey. However the oak is not overpowering — it’s right on. The ripeness is most apparent upfront, but carries through the midpalate and stays through the finish, which is appropriate in length, polished, and subdued. This wine can be described to a neophyte as smooth, buttery, and ripe. It may be more directed toward cocktail hour, as it is very enjoyable on its own. However, it has enough acidity and a touch of tannin to make it matchable with lean foods — try it with the aforementioned chicken, fish, and veggie dishes. A pleasant surprise to my palate and a recommended Weekend Wine.

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

La Crema Winery Website

Buy La Crema Chardonnayicon direct from

Find this wine from a local retailer through WineZap or Wine-Searcher