Friday, February 27, 2009

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2006 – California

Dancing Bull has received many recommendations as a good, inexpensive California Zin. We used to drink it frequently, but for some reason stopped the past few years. We just tried it again, and were pleased. Nose of grapes and plums. On the palate it’s a very fruity style; not a lot of tannins, acid, or oak. Beautiful color. Notes of cherries, violets, and spice. Yes. $8.50 on sale, usually about $10.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mirassou Pinot Noir 2006 & 2007 – California

We’ve been searching for a cheap, fruity Pinot Noir as a replacement for the “original” Beringer Founders Estate we loved so much when it was made from California grapes. The 2006 Mirassou, from a sixth-generation California wine family, came pretty darn close. The nose was smoky, with some plum and cherry notes, maybe pomegranate. The tastes included those smoke, plum, and cherry flavors, along with some other great fruit, including some nice grape flavors. (Yes, we know, “grape,” weirdly, isn’t supposed to be a positive flavor in contemporary wines, but we rather like the tastes of fresh, ripe grapes.) The plum tastes were sweet (not in a sugary sense), and there was also some mild dark cherry and a hint of spiciness. This was very smooth and nice, and was on our short list for a new standby for our “cheap-and-fruity” California Pinot. We rated it House/Yes. $10 on sale, usually around $12.

The first bottle of the 2007 we tried echoed the above themes. We were pleased. But then, after two more bottles of the 07, we’re not so sure. The wine is now earthier and has lost much of the fruitiness we enjoyed so much. Is this a case of inconsistency? Between vintage years? Or even between bottles? Hard to judge. The latest wines aren’t bad (in the sense of being corked or such), just not the same. We’ll try a few more bottles, as we have liked this wine, and report our findings. (The 2007 is what’s on the shelves now.) As of now, we’re changing this rating to Yes/Maybe, until further tasting.

Another weird note: Looking back at some of our much older notes, we’d previously had this on our No list. Our notes don’t have details that far back, or mention why we rated it a No. But it probably shows what a difference vintage year or grape source can make. Or maybe our tastes changed, or we had a bad bottle previously.

More wine drinking (what a shame) is in order to see if we can determine a pattern, and if we’ll continue to keep trying this over the long term. Consistency is something we look for in “everyday” wines, so it’s not really looking good for this Mirassou, although we’ll keep an open mind.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beringer Sparkling White Zinfandel NV – California

This tastes just like... sparkling white Zinfandel. Nose of strawberries and a bit of melon. Tastes of apricot and strawberries. Definitely some sweetness, with coarse (rather than fine) bubbles. Nothing to write home about, but if you like California white Zin, you’ll probably enjoy this. Yes for Francesca, Maybe for Ken. $8.50 on sale, usually $13.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beringer Third Century Pinot Noir 2006 – California

After loving Beringer’s Founders Estate Pinot when it was made with California grapes, and not loving it when it was made with French or Italian grapes, we decided to try this “Central Coast” (California) Pinot. It opens with a blackberry nose that’s very nice. Taste-wise, it’s much more of a French style (which we like) and far better than the Founders French mentioned above. Still, we’re looking for that great New World fruit style to replace our “original” favorite Founders Pinot. Alas, this isn’t it. Tastes of smoke, earth, with a short, acid, almost lemony finish. Not much fruit on the palate. Yes/Maybe. $12 on sale, usually 16.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cloudline Pinot Noir 2006 – Oregon

We had this wine at Cedars Floating Restaurant in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at the recommendation of our waitress. (It’s always a question of how much wine experience wait staff have, and if their tastes are at all like ours.) The wine starts with a smoky, peppery nose. Tastes of earth, smokiness, black current. Very smooth, rich, and integrated. Yes. $45 on the restaurant’s wine list; we found it for about $24 retail. (Watch for an upcoming article about restaurant wine mark-ups.)

Cedars Restaurant floats on the waters along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. It’s a cute concept, and the restaurant is kinda northwest nautical inside. The menu and wine list are nice for this part of the country, and food was cooked to order and imaginatively.

Restaurant Wines

We generally only dine out when we travel. The times we do we eat out close to home at a “local” spot, we frequently just choose familiar and affordable wines. But any wine accompanying a restaurant meal takes on different complexity, tastes, and meaning – the atmosphere, the quality of the food, etc. all play a factor. Thus, we caution that our reviews of restaurant wines might be colored by the dining experience itself. If we try a new wine in a restaurant we might try to find it at retail. If so, we would “re-review” the wine without the restaurant-atmosphere bias (and add notes to our original post). But in general, we don’t choose restaurant wines that we see at retail – that’s the point of trying something different in a restaurant. We also gravitate toward less-popular (at least in the U.S.) selections in restaurants – such as Marsanne/Roussanne, Corbieres, or Muscadet – which are generally otherwise only found in specialty wine shops. Look for our Restaurant Wines icon on reviews of wines we’ve had in restaurants.

Friday, February 13, 2009

French Hill Almond Sparkling Wine Non-Vintage – California

There’s a local joke in the California central valley. The locals pronounce “Almond” as “A-mond.” So.... You have to know how almonds are harvested. There are big machines that grab the trunks of the trees, and shake them until the nuts fall to the ground. The joke is that they say “Amond” because... “they shake the L out of them.” Guess you had to be there. Anyway.... The nose of this sparkler is of... Almonds. Tastes of almond, cherry. It’s quite smooth, and quite sweet. We like French Hill’s reds a lot, but this takes some getting used to. Yes for Francesca, Maybe for Ken. $18

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sea Ridge White Zinfandel 2006 – California

We never know what to expect from a $5 wine (which is probably why we seldom buy them). We just bought this blind, because we actually like white Zins (if they’re not syrupy sweet); and because we just sometimes try something for no particular reason. Poured into the glass, this has a peach/pink color – sort of like the old, original “flesh”-colored Crayons. The nose is quite light, with hints of peach, apricot, and strawberry. The tastes are quite nice with peach, papaya, and a touch of strawberry. This is pleasant, light, with a slight acidity that keeps it from being KoolAid. Yes/Maybe (at the price). Still, we doubt we’ll go out of our way to buy this again. $5 retail ($4.50 on sale).

BACKGROUND NOTE: From everything we can find, Sea Ridge was an independent winery on the California coast in the 1980s and early ’90s. It seems it’s now a label of Bronco, and sold in Safeway stores. Bronco also makes the (in)famous “Two Buck Chuck” (aka Two Buck Junk).

A 2004 Wine Business magazine article says: “[Fred Franzia, owner of Bronco and creator of Two-Buck] also seems mystified that more groceries don’t emulate Trader Joe’s. ‘How can any major grocery chain not have a wine that competes with Two Buck Chuck?,’ he asked. He said that Bronco’s Sea Ridge brand, which is sold in Safeway for $4.50, sells for about the same at wholesale as [Two Buck Chuck], so Safeway could sell the wine for $2 and still make a profit.”

The implication being that Two Buck Junk sells for about $1 wholesale. As does, apparently, this Sea Ridge White Zin. Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – California

Matanzas Creek is one small valley west of the Sonoma Valley, in a beautiful setting of lilac fields and rolling hillsides. The tasting room is friendly and open, and the grounds are gorgeous.
This wine opens with a nicely floral nose. It has bright, zingy tastes, like a not-too-tart grapefruit. This tends a bit more toward the New Zealand style (grassiness) than most California Sauvignon Blancs, but finds a nice balance before getting too far toward that grassy style. More nice floral notes in the taste, and it finishes dry with a good acid balance. This would be great with rich seafood. Yes/House. $24

(Wine News rated this 90; Wine Enthusiast 91.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Concannon Chardonnay 2006 – California

First we gushed about the Concannon Petite Sirah. Then it was their Pinot Noir. Now, we’re impressed with this first white of theirs we’ve tried. Nose of lemons and pansies. Tastes of chantrelles, jasmine, and lemon curd. Crisp, with little or no obvious oak. Great balance, with a little honey (taste, not sweetness) on the aftertaste. House/Yes. $8 on sale, usually $9.50

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mirassou Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – California

Very light lemon and orange on the nose. The tastes are lemon, tangerine, and a hint of grapefruit. Very nice and subtle – not too much acidity, yet a good food wine. This isn’t an in-your-face New Zealand Sauvignon, but a nice example of an inexpensive California style. Yes. $10 on sale, usually $12.

Our Biases

All wine writers and reviewers have preferences. Yet the best wine writers try to set aside their personal tastes when evaluating a particular wine, and try to judge the wine on its stand-alone merits. Yet biases always show through – in wine, politics, romance, food, or any aspect of our humanness.

So in an effort at openness, we thought we’d discuss some of our general wine preferences. We hope we are still fairly evaluating wines outside our “favorite zone,” but thought you should know what styles we lean toward.

For reds, we like big, fruity wines – Amador County (California) Zinfandels; big Zins from Turley, Ridge, and the like; Petite Sirahs that stain your teeth black; many Grenaches. We also generally like minerally Pinot Noirs in the French style – we’ve said it’s like drinking French dirt (in a good sense). Other fruity reds appeal to us – Washington state Syrahs; fruity new-world Pinot Noirs.

We admittedly aren’t big fans of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, nearly all Italian reds, and most Bordeaux-style red blends – or, for that matter, most red blends at all. Yet we’ve had some wonderful wines in those categories, as well as many others.

With white wines, we generally like crisp and bright wines – the minerally French style in many white Burgundies (Chardonnay), rather than the oaky, buttery California style of Chards (or the similarly heavy white Bordeaux Sauvignon Blancs and Semillons). Yet we can still sometimes be blown away by a “big” oaky-style white, as some of our previous reviews attest. We love Rieslings and Gewurztraminers that perfectly balance softness/sweetness with acidity. And we love crisp Sauvignon Blanc, although sometimes the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are just too bright and grassy (although we generally do like them a lot).

We also gravitate to out-of-the-mainstream whites – such as Chenin Blanc (whether in the French Vouvray style or the lighter American wines), Marsanne/Rousanne, Muscadet.

So even if our “desert island” wines might be Sierra Foothills Zinfandel, French Chablis, and Chenin Blanc, we hope we are offering unbiased reviews of other wines and other wine styles.

Any flat spot will do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Barnard Griffin Syrah 2006 – Washington

We keep being impressed with every Barnard Griffin wine we try. This opens with a nose of black cherries and peppery spice. It’s smooth, fruity, with just the right amount of velvety tannins. A very fruity Syrah style, with tastes of black cherry and pepper and maybe a hint of chocolate. Very nice. House. $13-16 on sale, usually about $18-19.

UPDATE: The April 30, 2009 issue of Wine Spectator rated the 2007 bottling of this wine 90 points.