2004 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone

Price: $9.99 @ The Wine Club imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies

What They Said:

Per Wine Advocate “The Wine Advocate A strong effort, the deeply-hued, seductive 2004 Cotes du Rhone (primarily Syrah with some Grenache included in the blend) displays loads of berry fruit, not a great deal of complexity, but beautiful texture, softness, and silkiness. Guigal’s master blends are always consistent and uniform despite different bottling dates. Most of these wines drink well for 3-4 years. If readers can still find any, 2003 was a very strong vintage for Guigal, with the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape meriting a solid 90 points. It is a slightly more tannic version than the 2004, with more meat, kirsch, and body. I also thought the 2003 Gigondas (89) was better than the 2004. You can’t go wrong with the 2003 Cotes du Rhone (88) as it offers loads of berry fruit. Guigal, who also owns fabulous vineyards in the Northern Rhone, is a superb blender when it comes to his Southern Rhones. He is turning out enormous quantities of high quality Cotes du Rhone reds, whites, and roses as well as fine Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas, and a terrific rose from Tavel. Score: 87. —Robert Parker, February 2007.”

What I Think:

I still remember E. Guigal from when they received the #1 ranking in Wine Spectator’s top hundred wines of the year back a few years ago. I knew their offerings ran the gamut but it isn’t often you see them in front of you. Given it was there I grabbed it. With my wife out of town a few weeks back I was on back to back steak dinner nights which seemed like an opportune time to put this on the table. The notes are sparse but this wine falls into the upper tier of the ho-hum category. It isn’t manufactured; it is nice and starts to show something of interest. Unfortunately it stops along the way. Given that I would say that it is nice but not exceptional. This price point makes it particularly difficult; I give it a pricey rating. Good intro to Rhone wine, for those that can use this. As for me I’ll be trying to find a better version at TJ’s. This Pont du Rhone is the best I know of now, but I will be trying some of the others soon.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Razors Edge Shiraz McLaren Vale

Price: $7.99 @ The Wine Club imported by Joshua Tree Imports

What They Said:

Per The Wine Club “This has an impressive McLaren Vale appellation and the quality of fruit shows it as well. This bottling goes to show you how competitive things have gotten and how much really good juice is out there ”” a great thing for the punter. The nose is lifted and pretty complex considering its price, with notes of black plums, blackberries, spice, licorice, loam and dusty chocolate. The palate is fuller bodied, supple textured, with good fruit purity offering juicy, spiced, dark fruit flavors backed with ripe, almost powdery tannins and a tinge of chocolate richness on the finish. Upfront and forward this still has the structure for short term aging, but at this price and flavor profile, who would want to wait? This has value written all over it!

The Wine Spectator Bright and appealing for its clarity of plum and blackberry flavors, persisting on the finish against firm tannins. Best after 2007. 15,000 cases imported. Score: 87. —Harvey Steiman, December 15, 2005.

The Wine Advocate This dark ruby/purple-colored, compact, straightforward, simple 2004 Shiraz exhibits sweet blackberry fruit, medium body, and a pleasant finish. Drink it over the next 2-3 years. Score: 86. —Robert Parker, October 2005.”

What I Think:

Hmm, must have been impressive marketing around this one at The Wine Club. I was surprised to see the scores above based on my short term memory. Perhaps it is a by product of them having the best of the best available from Australia. Of course for that you have to open your wallet a lot further than this. Thinking back to my all time favorite Aussie wine for $8 bucks on once bought a case of the d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Red from Cost Plus. Interestingly the two I have posted here are also blends, the Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red and the Oxford Landing GSM. But I digress…

Back to the matter at hand, the notes on this offering are sparse but fair to say the product wasn’t compelling me to pick the pen up. All in all what I tend to refer to as a ho-hum effort. It was nice to have a glass of wine this evening, but beyond that not much compelling about the experience. From the notes we got a bit of barnyard on the nose. On the palate the wine had fruit as expected but was also hot and likely high on the alcohol side (forgot to check) which lead to more tannins on the finish than I care for. Not a bad wine, just not a compelling one. At this price point I’m buying some of the wines mentioned above.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Mark West California Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ The Wine Club

What They Said:

Per the winery “Enticing aroma of cherry/raspberry pie and cola berry interwine with barrel notes of candied vanilla and spice. Oak aging rounds out the palate and gives the wine its body. Deep rich berry compote flavors. Pinot from beginning to silky finish.”

What I Think:

This wine is an interesting blend. 85% Pinot, 13% Syrah and 2% Chardonnay with 66% Central Coast grapes, 22% Sonoma, 4% Napa, 3% Mendocino and 5% from elsewhere. As I read that and open the bottle I begin to wonder what I will find inside.

Interesting nose, what is it…familiar but eluding. Let’s get the aroma wheel out and see if that helps. On first impression the wine seems very elegant. Is it complex or just full of flavors? Is there even a difference? Loads of light berries, which are the lightest? I usually think raspberry but these seem even lighter. Are there hints of cherries? Everyone should try this wine. There is so much going on that just trying to figure it out is worth the money alone. You can never quite put your finger on it but one thing is for sure you’ll keep coming back for more. And even after you are done you are still wondering what you just had.

This may be interesting to try in unison with the Rabbit Ridge I had a while back. I could certainly draw some comparisons between the two and I would be interested to see if this Mark West holds up against that wine as well as I think it would. As I intend to grab a half case, good Pinot at this price is close to a no brainer, of this one in the very near future we may have the opportunity to find out.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Hayman & Hill Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Selection No. 41 Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ The Wine Club

What They Said:

Per the winery “Lifted strawberry and sweet ripe raspberry characters attack you on the nose and palate. Subtle dusty overtones with a sweet smokiness help to make this a powerful yet elegant Pinot with plenty of class.”

It was also selected as one of the top 100 wines by the San Francisco Chronicle who had this to say; ‘THREE STARS 2005 Hayman & Hill Reserve Selection No. 41 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($14) One of only two three-star wines in this group, this is also the least expensive. Run, don’t walk, to buy this pretty, balanced Pinot, with vivid raspberry, cherry and cranberry fruit, juicy acidity and a soft, supple mouthfeel. Subtle notes of black pepper and black olive add complexity.

What I Think:

This wine was part of a half dozen I picked up while shopping for the Ridge a while back at The Wine Club. What initially attracted me to this bottle was the opportunity to by a Santa Lucia Highlands designated Pinot for $10. It seemed unbelievable as you usually have a hard time getting yourself a bottled classified as California at this price point. Once I got home and did some initial research it seemed that I may have stumbled on to something as this had been selected to the top 100 wines of 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle (see above). Given all of this excitement it is somewhat amazing that it took me this long to open it but with steak (which more aptly turned out to be beef roast) planned for dinner I decided to pop the top on this. It would square off against the 2000 Bordeaux I had opened the previous evening in anticipation of this meal.

On first impression it had a nose that didn’t stop. It was like walking into a strawberry patch. The light fruit was followed by leafy aromas with a dusty, earthy backbone tying it all together. On the palate I thought I initially had sensed some cherries but if I did they quickly gave way to the strawberries. Either way the fruit was red and ripe, perhaps overripe as it seems hot throughout (my wife called it spicy). The wine had nice structure but wasn’t overly complex as it has same flavor profile throughout. As I put the cork back in that first night I thought this is a nice, light easy drinking wine. The second day it seemed much better integrated adding a new dimension to the wine, it was still strawberries from beginning to end but they seemed to be balanced throughout by the ever so mild peppery notes that came on in the finish. By day three there was a little less on the nose and mid-palate seemed to be shrinking though the start and finish were in fine form. It was also starting to get slightly sour with hints of cranberry making an appearance. Sadly there are no notes from day four as I finished the previous evening.

As I placed the empty bottle with the recyclables I thought to myself that was a very pleasant wine. Nothing strong or overpowering about it but very enjoyable. This would be a great first red for those of you that prefer whites. I may get another bottle, but I am not running, and if I do you can be sure I will pair it with lighter fare, perhaps salmon or roast chicken. Given that most of the Pinot’s out there today are much bigger, bolder (hence my thoughts of pairing with beef) efforts this was a pleasant break and a reminder of how delicate Pinot can be. If you like to see both sides of the coin grab yourself a bottle of this and ponder the differences.

Rating: Buy It

2006 El Portillo Malbec

Price: $6.99 @ The Wine Club imported by The San Francisco Wine Exchange

What They Said:

Per the Importer “Deep hues of ruby red gain intensity from shades of shimmering violet in this Malbec with good structure, medium acidity and a long finish. Rich with fruit, the nose is reminiscent of plums and blackberries. Tannins as soft as velvet set the stage for an enviably round finish.”

What I Think:

This is a bottle I picked up while grabbing the Ridge when I was shopping at The Wine Club. As mentioned previously I have been impressed by their prices. This one retails at $13.99 at BevMo and even if you get it at their sale price of $9.99 you are still paying almost 50% more than the $6.99 price tag you find at The Wine Club.

This one we opened when we had my dad and his wife, as well as another couple, over for dinner so my notes and thoughts on this bottle are limited. On opening this and taking a look there is nothing notable about the color but when you stick your nose in the glass the fruit interlaced with spices that I was expecting doesn’t appear. I think to myself that this doesn’t bode well. On the palate you find a nice light texture laced with light fruit that gives way to darker, chocolate-y flavors as we move along the palate before winding down to a soft finishing of lingering tannins in the back of the mouth. Perhaps pasta wasn’t the best pairing as the fruit seemed somewhat repressed and muted in comparison to my expectations. The bottle did improve as the night went on but never really moved beyond an average effort. Given that I prefer bottles I have had in the past. If you want an easy drinker stick to the Alamos or if you prefer something more complex grab a bottle of the Terrazas de los Andes.

A final thought on the wine club, of the six bottles I brought home along with the Ridge to date I have consumed four. It appears I have chosen poorly. It makes me believe that roaming the store and buying wine on the spot based on the staff write-up isn’t a good idea for me. Perhaps the two Pinot’s I have remaining will change my mind.

Rating: Skip It

NV Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot Number Forty Three

Price: $8.99 @ The Wine Club

What They Said:

Per the winery “Old Vine Red is a proprietary red wine that is round, smooth, “Zinfandel-like,” and noted for its balance, approachability, and consistency. It is primarily comprised of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane as well as smaller amounts of Cabernet and Syrah. Various Italian varietals round out the blend.

Our entire production of Old Vine Red has been completely allocated since 1978″.

What I Think:

I picked this up as part of a mixed dozen a few weeks back when I was shopping a few weeks back at The Wine Club picking up the Ridge. Given the results of the first two I am hoping a change in fortunes is one horizon.

We brought this one out to match some turkey burgers my wife cheffed up for us. On the nose there was loads of fruit with spice lingering in the background. At the front of the palate the dark fruit quickly gives way to the lighter taste of cherries. The texture is smooth, rich and chewy; there was a lot to like here. From my initial tasting it seemed heavy of Petite Sirah characteristics. I searched in vain for the blend percentage but alas I could only find historical figures giving me reason to believe it is roughly 60% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane and 20% Petite Sirah. While searching for this I found that it was bottled just January 1st of this year. Not sure that it could have benefited from any more time in the bottle but found it interesting none the less. I initially thought about rating this higher but given that I don’t believe this wine will find its way to my house again I’m going with “12th Bottle”. That said, if you see it give it a try, you are likely to enjoy it.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Calina Carmenere Reserva

Price: $6.99 @ The Wine Club imported by Sovereign Wine Imports

What They Said:

Per The Wine Club monthly newsletter, “Perhaps Waterloo was not the only catastrophe that France had to suffer. There are some who say that the loss of Carmenere, due to the first phylloxera epidemic in Bordeaux, changed the make-up of those wines in a negative way. That may be true for if they had replanted Carmenere perhaps they could have made a wine of this caliber. Chile is a string of agricultural valleys each with unique soils and micro climates. The Maule Valley where this wine hails is quickly becoming the go-to area for big, opulent red wines. This one is no exception. Loaded with blackberry, and cassis flavors it has persistent flavors of coca, cedar, and walnuts. A very approachable palate not unlike Merlot, which it has often been mistaken for. A real treat and clearly a go-to wine for the more relaxed afternoons ahead”. – David Goodwin, San Francisco

What I Think:

I grabbed this bottle the same evening I had a disappointing experience with the Chianti. Given my only experience with Carmenere, my expectations were certainly high. For a while, I had been meaning to invest in a more expensive bottle to see how good it can get. In the meantime I grabbed this one a week or so back at the wine club and opened it expecting good things.

Survey says…No. Not that this was a bad wine. It had to deal with my expectations which it had no interest in. I was expecting dark, pure fruit flavors but there was nary a note of this in the bouquet. On the nose you got heavy doses of toasted oak with a hint of cinnamon. My initial impression on the palate was that of vegetal flavors I couldn’t pinpoint them and wasn’t even so sure I wanted to try. I gave up on this wine pretty quickly wondering me what convinced me to buy it. It was Carmenere but I think it had a flashy in store write-up as well, if I make it back I’ll have to check. Given the lackluster effort I thought maybe it could be a vintage issue but nope; same as the Casillero del Diablo. The good news is that at least now I know that I don’t like all Carmenere.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Badia di Morrona I Soldi del Paretaio Chianti

Price: $8.99 @ The Wine Club imported by Vinity Wine Company

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “According to the Wine Spectator: “A soft, fruity red, with juicy plum and berry on a light mineral bed. Simple. Drink now.” (Web only, 2006) 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot.”

What I Think:

Are Italians stubborn? Because I know when it comes to their wines I am. If I were smart I would stick to areas that I am more able to appreciate. That said as friends and the world sing the praises of these wines I feel like I am missing the boat! Nobody wants to be that guy, so I keep trying. Maybe you can only get the good ones if you drop a wad of cash though I don’t think that is the case. My latest strategy was only to pair Italian wines with likewise food so this one was opened to accompany a made from scratch sausage pizza. Check it out if you shop at TJ’s. You get a bag with a ball of pre-made dough, a little bowl of sauce and with the cheese and sausages you are off to the races. I know, not quite made from scratch but that is as close as I am getting. To boot the crust comes in whole wheat crust for those that are more health conscious. So with that in the oven this finds its way into my glass.

Taking a look at the wine it looks medium bodied and colored, the upfront fruit seems to initially be that of black cherries and plums before it gives way to what I think of as the barrel characteristics. I’d describe these along the lines of minty, spicy and tannic. On the palate this wine seems almost backwards. It starts with a heavy mouth of closed tannins that gradually start to show sour cherries before opening up to match the initial aromas. Strange…what does it mean? I have no idea so I drink on. As I put the cork in and grab a bottle of Carmenere from the rack I find myself wondering, why do I keep trying?

On day 2 I pull the cork out and am greeted with the same nose but as the wine meets the tongue it is a whole different story. This is a much better wine. Rich, dark fruit has come to the fore and the wine now seems well integrated. The sour notes of the cherries have disappeared and the mint and tannins appear more pleasantly at the end (which is where I always thought they belonged). Perhaps it need more time in the bottle…

This led me to two new thoughts on Italian wine; maybe they are like left over spaghetti. I always enjoy it more the second day after the flavors have had some time to meld in the fridge. The second going back to my thesis at the top is that these wines should only be had with very authentic Italian food; I am thinking more the sweet savory type. When I tried that with the Nero d’ Avola and the Rubino a few weeks back I was pleased with the result. Being the stubborn man that I am (and I’m not Dr. Suess) I’m sure we will see how this revision effects my results. We won’t be doing so with this bottle though, if you have any ideas of which to try do let me know.

Rating: Skip It