1999 Luna Beberide Tinto

Price: $19.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Grapes of Spain

What They Said:

1999 Luna Beberide Tinto VdT Castilla y LeonPer K&L Wines “This is an incredibly rare, fully mature, Spanish gem. Produced from the steep, slate, terraced vineyards of Bierzo by Spain’s legendary Mariano Garcia (while he was still making wine at Vega Sicilia!), here is a beautiful example of a perfectly aged Spanish wine that has developed quite beautifully in bottle. Produced from 40% Cabernet, 30% Merlot and 30% Mencia, think of it as a supple, balanced, old school styled Bordeaux blend with a Castillian twist. Savory cherry, hints of sage leaf, green and black peppercorn and an unmistakable character of mature Cabernet family aromas (many people liken Mencia to Cabernet Franc, which completes this Graves style blend) make for one gorgeous bottle of wine. And Mariano Garcia made it at the same time he was busy working on Vega Sicilia “Unico,” which is a good few hundred dollars more. For fans of good, honest affordable bordeaux and old school California Cabs, this K&L exclusive could be right up your alley.”

What I Think:

Given I have a case of the ’05 in the cellar I had to take the opportunity to see how this one might age. This bottling, an interesting blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Mencia, is the Spanish version of Bordeaux and seems it may be worthy of a name of its own (e.g Super Tuscan). Perhaps we should let the wine decide…

On the nose it shows gorgeous dark fruit and herbs. The palate shows dry cherries and black olives (with a hint of rhubarb) that frame themselves with a dry, cedar backbone. The finish shows this wines age with perfectly integrated tannins and spices that last and last. For those sensitive this wine may be overly dry but I still find it to be smooth, silky, and elegant. If you missed the chance to try the ’99 K&L Wines just sent me an email to let me know the 2000 (which they described as “more muscular, ageworthy, and a bit more impressive” is now in stock. I already added a bottle to my cart, hope it can deliver on their promise!

Thanks to Viva La Wino for tipping me off to this one! You can find his thoughts here.

Rating: Wow!

2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir

Price: $13.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2007 MacMurray Central Coast Pinot Noir90 points Wine Enthusiast: Currently hard and tart in acids and tannins, but loaded with sweet, ripe fruit, this Pinot is silky enough to drink now, which most consumers probably will. But if you give it until sometime in 2010, the cherries, cola, sandalwood and spices will mesh and improve.” (12/09)

89 points Wine Spectator Review: Ripe, floral, perfumed aromas of black cherry and raspberry are pure and zesty. Full-bodied, balanced and delicate, showing just the right touch of acidity and tannins, with pleasant mineral and earth notes. Drink now through 2012.

What I Think:

As you know Trader Joe’s has been flush in reasonably priced, well made Pinot. It started with the Castle Rock, then the Caretaker to the Davis Bynum followed by the Sebastopol Hills…you get the idea. And I haven’t even tried the Lane Tanner offerings yet! Next on that list is this MacMurray Ranch which is part of the Gallo brand portfolio. Suggested retail price on this bottle is $24 and it primarily sourced from the Olson Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands. What about the juice inside you say…

This one is like sticking your nose in a berry patch, complete with leaf and brambly accents. Very inviting begs you to dive in and delivers loads of juiciness when you do. Nice acidity emerges towards the mid-palate and is balanced by a nice cranberry component that is present throughout. The finish is tart but pleasant (reminded me exactly of Ocean Spray Cranberry juice) and has a spicy (clove) kick that lingers on long after you have put the glass down. A nice wine that delivers on the price point. That said I would go lower than the 90 from Wine Enthusiast and maybe even the 89 from Wine Spectator on this one. My ultimate gauge, would I buy it again? For $10 I would. At $14 I’m on the fence, we will see next time I hit the store!

Rating: Pricey

2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 112 Napa Valley Merlot

2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 112 Napa Valley MerlotPrice: $12.00 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Cameron Confidential: Lot 112 Napa County Merlot represents exceptional value. Sourced from the un-appellated Coombsville and Jamieson Canyon regions (which is why it has the Napa County designation), this wines has the beautiful, supple structure and classic fruit profile of great Napa Merlot (which requires a few minutes of swirling in the glass to get going). Sourced from one of the most-respected wineries in the Napa Valley (where it is sold for $24/bottle), this wine is sure to please those of you who crave Merlot or those of you looking for a supple wine with harmonious mouth feel and great character.

Taste: Dark, almost blackened crimson color; Aromas of cherry, spice, and chocolate spring from the glass underpinned by bright fruit notes of strawberries and plums. A supple, rich mouth feel coupled with well-integrated oak presents a complex, yet smooth Merlot, perfect for that wintertime cocktail party.

What I Think:

Though I am very aware of Cameron Hughes I have rarely tasted his wines. In fact my records show I’ve that this is just the second of his offerings that I’ve sampled (the other being Lot 55 Napa Valley Meritage). For those that need an intro Cameron Hughes is very well known négociant who sources high quality wines from around the world and sells each as a lot in his series. The easiest place to find his wines for those interested is Costco, at least from what I hear…

So let’s get to the wine. On the nose this one shows cherry and oak. When the wine hits your tongue you get a glimpse of soft red fruits that disappear before you can decide if it was strawberry or raspberry. From there the wine becomes dark and rich. This is a very well structured effort that is smooth and balanced throughout. The finish is dusty and chocolaty and leaves your mouth coated with tannins long after the glass is empty. A nice, smooth, easy drinking bottle. I would argue everything you expect for $12 but not more at the same time. If I had to choose whether or not to buy another bottle I’d likely roll the dice on trying something new.

Rating: Pricey

And for those interested in another opinion how about one from the man himself… Check Cameron Hughes in the video below, he start talking about this one around 4:50 into the video. Enjoy!


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2006 Windbreak Pinot Noir

2006 Windbreak Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per San Antonio Winery “Windbreak is handcrafted at Orcutt Road Cellars in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. Both clonal selections are fermented separately in small, open-top tanks. The cap is “punched down” in order to delicately extract color without creating excessive tannins. After aging in French oak barrels, the individual lots are evaluated and blended. The wine is dark and structured with intense flavors of black cherry and raspberry. Barrel aging contributes nuances of oak spice and cedar with a long, mouth-filling finish.”

What I Think:

This one is a product of the San Antonio Winery and the ’07 goes for $35 a bottle on the site which also mentions in its awards that it received 89 Points from the Wine Enthusiast in September 2008. As to the brand, the description from the bottle describes the Windbreak (brand) as the rows of trees planted to protect the vines from the maritime winds.

This one is light brownish red in color, almost sun-baked mud. 14.5% abv. On the nose this one offers black cherries, rhubarb and green pepper action. The palate greets you with forward, bright fruit and racy acidity. The structure is sound but the acidity is a bit overwhelming for me to grab another bottle. Especially considering the stellar Pinot lineup Trader Joe’s has on the shelves today. Granted I might be getting greedy and expecting a bit much but there are plenty of options out there. What’s your favorite $10 Pinot Noir today?

Rating: Pricey

2007 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas

Price: $21.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

2007 Tablas Creek Côtes de TablasPer K&L Wines “93 points Robert Parker: “The 2007 Côtes de Tablas is a sensational wine as well as a great bargain. The fact that it is finished with a screw cap may give some consumers the wrong impression, but this is a serious, mouthfilling red. A blend of 50% Grenache and the balance equal parts Syrah and Counoise, it exhibits sweet, gamy notes along with plenty of pepper, licorice, roasted herb, blackberry, and cassis characteristics, a velvety, lush texture, a full-bodied richness, beautifully integrated acidity, abundant Provencal typicity, and good minerality for a wine of such remarkable flavor depth. Enjoy it over the next 5-6 years.” (08/09)

Tablas Creek, a partnership between Robert Haas and the Perrin family of France’s famed Château de Beaucastel, has been at the forefront of growing and producing top-notch Rhône varietals for more than 20 years. Their “Côtes de Tablas” blend of Grenache, Syrah and Counoise is an homage to the wines of the Southern Rhône kissed by the California sun. The 2007 vintage is fantastic and alluring from the moment you pop the cork. Lead by bright red cherry aromas underscored by hints of iron, game and fresh cracked black pepper, the bouquet translates seamlessly to the palate, which is fresh and spicy with a vein of anise that weaves itself through to the finish. Like other Perrin wines, this medium-bodied beauty is built for the table. Try it with braised short ribs, grilled hanger steak with shallots or bucatini all’Amatriciana.”

What I Think:

Tablas Creek is a wine I have been meaning to try for years. With that it silently became the movie that everyone raved about. Expectations growing each day as you await the experience. A bit ago they had a tasting at K&L Wines but I managed to catch a cold around that time. From my sick bed I added a couple bottles to my virtual cart which I picked up a few months later. Then the wine sat in the rack begging for me to drink it. Last Friday I took it up on the offer but could it meet the lofty expectations?

This effort was 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Counoise. Anyone ever had a varietal bottling of Counoise? I haven’t but would love to give it a try. No better way to learn about a grape. Speaking of learning something crossed my mind when drinking this bottle; currants. This is a smell/taste that crosses my mind often. I need to get more familiar with it. I decided that part of my New Year’s Blogging Resolution (#nybr) will be to explore a different flavor component each month. The goal being to familiarize myself with each and expand my wine tasting vocabulary. Anise may be my early choice for February. Who else has wine related resolutions to share? Ok, ok let’s get to the wine…

The Côtes de Tablas greeted me with an expressive nose showing spicebox, herb, black cherry and dark brambly fruits notes. It was medium to dark garnet in color. The entry to the palate showed a glimpse of fruit that is quickly enveloped into a tight, but balanced, acidic wrapper from which emerges a dry, finish laced with red licorice flavors. My initial impression was that this wine was clearly well made, a bit tight and enjoyable without being memorable. Those that know me are aware I am looking for more than that in a $20 bottle. After four nights I learned that this one just needed more time in the bottle. Though enjoyable initially a few days of air made a world of difference. With time the front of the palate softened and the wine now greeted you with nice, warm fruit on entry while still holding its balance with a nice acidity emerging towards the middle that leads to a long, dry, chalky finish. In hindsight, I would have liked to let this one lie for at least another year (or decanted for a few hours). Had I checked earlier perhaps the Tablas Creek vintage chart (pdf) could have saved the day. It currently lists the ‘07 Côtes de Tablas as “early maturity”. The ’06 is drinking at “peak maturity”. I wonder if I can find a bottle for comparisons sake. In the mean time what to do about that bottle of ’07 Esprit de Beaucastel

Rating: Pricey

2006 Summers Napa Valley Charbono

2006 Summers Napa Valley CharbonoPrice: $21.00 @ Mill Valley Market

What They Said:

Per Jon Bonné “Just 85 acres of Charbono are planted in California. Its fans are few but devoted, including Calistoga’s Summers family. Their estate vineyard produces the most Charbono in the state, including the fruit for this lively effort, aged in 50 percent new American oak, with its engaging dusty, floral scents that preface an overt fruit – crushed raspberry and blueberry – with an herbal-tinged finish and buoyant acidity that reminds you why it’s so pleasing with food.”

What I Think:

I had this one a bit ago with pork chops. Pork chops is the inside code for the wife was away as she is not a fan of the swine. This time the kids were away to so it was a quiet and I was looking forward to spending the night with a (pseudo)new grape. I had never had Charbono before but I have had quite a few experiences with Bonarda aka Charbono. After my last trip to Argentina in early 2006 I have been on the lookout for more Bonarda to appear in the US market but it has yet to materialize. As they give the average Malbec a run for their money at half the price I guess it is no surprise. Anyhow, this waiting led me to learn about Charbono which in turn led me to grabbing this bottle to pair with pork chops. Care to hear more?

On the nose this jumps out with juicy, raspberry aromas. Traces of mint linger closely by. Smooth and silky on the palate this wine coats the tongue with smacking tannins on a nice, dry herbal finish. Do you know the kind of finish I mean? An effort that nicely balances fruit with acidity and is easy to drink. At the same time I prefer to see a few more dimensions (or better said a bit more complexity) at this price point. I know, I am hard to please… That said I will be trying more Charbono, anyone out there have any favorites to recommend?

Rating: Pricey

2008 Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio

2008 Italo Cescon Pinot GrigioPrice: $14.99 @ Vintage Wine & Spirits imported by Bacco Wine & Spirit

What They Said:

Per Italo Cescon “A deep yellow, straw-like color. Intense aroma with slight hints of nutmeg, peach, and acacia. A dry, fresh wine with strong, fruity overtones and orange peel. It has a rich, persistent flavor. Is best served with seafood dishes.”

What I Think:

After a haircut I was wandering around town and the magnet drew me into the local wine shop. Given that I hadn’t come in for anything in particular I asked the folks there to share their favorites under $20 with me. This is one of those they identified as being a staff favorite, so even though a bit pricey for me, I decided to give it a go. This one is light in color and shows some bubbles in the glass. On the nose I get mostly floral aromas with hints of lemon. The front of the palate is crisp and clean with stony white fruit flavors appearing towards the middle. From there the zingy acid and mineral component come to the fore leading into a finish that shows notes of nutmeg. This is a pleasant wine for sipping on a warm afternoon.

As I was writing this post I came to a realization that while I find most Pinot Grigio’s from Italy very agreeable they rarely capture my full attention. As I followed this thought a bit further I was reminded of memories of fantastic Pinot Blanc’s I’ve had from the Alsace (disclaimer: As long time readers know I have a soft spot for the region). Once upon a time, Trader Joe’s had a fantastic Marcel Hugg offering from the region which I enjoyed immensely. I’ll have to grab another offering from the area soon. Let me know if anyone has any recommendations.

Rating: Pricey

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Price: $16.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast ChardonnayPer La Crema “The 2007 release of our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay bursts with vivid citrus and fresh green apple aromas, laced with subtle notes of honeysuckle and clove. On the palate, flavors broaden into rich spiced apple and crisp lime zest, with vanilla and caramel tones adding richness and texture on the finish.” – Melissa Stackhouse, La Crema Winemaker

90 points Robert Parker: “There are 6,200 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Russian River. It exhibits plenty of tropical fruit and honeysuckle along with a touch of spice, full-bodied, rich flavors, and a subtle note of oak. This wine was 100% barrel-fermented and was put through 100% malolactic fermentation, but the oak is kept in the background.” (12/08)

90 points from Wine Enthusiast: “A beautiful Chardonnay, with a chalky minerality that anchors and braces ripe fruit flavors of Bosc pears and pineapples, subtlely accented with new smoky oak. Bone dry, this polished wine shows lots of finesse and complexity.” (02/09)

What I Think:

First off, for those that may have find this posting by accident (as well as for those that may have forgotten), please be aware that I am not a fan of the vast majority of California Chardonnay. I prefer fruit to oak and find that for my taste many come across as unbalanced. This leads me in the direction of those that are made using stainless steel or in some other unoaked fashion. The Catch 22 here is that my wife loves California Chard and in an effort to keep a happy household it is a good idea for me to put my personal wishes aside and “suck it up” every now and again. And that is the long way of telling you how the La Crema found its way to my table recently.

The wine was medium gold in color. The nose made me immediately step back as I was overtaken by oak. When I put my nose back in the glass I found some white fruit notes. On the palate, you get the rich, creamy texture (which usually lets me know secondary malolactic fermentation occurred) with subdued apple/pear flavors and the faintest hint acidity. The finish delivers the oak barrel in spades with buttery caramel and vanilla flavors that linger for a bit before fading away. My take here is that either the fruit is slightly underwhelming or the oak is overwhelming. That said on my “butter scale” this one is not on the popcorn side and when paired with food (roasted chicken) had its merits, perhaps I am getting accustomed.

To prove I’m not in the majority here let’s see take a peek at what the critics had to say. Parker said “…a subtle note of oak. … but the oak is kept in the background.” And the Enthusiast this “…subtlely accented with new smoky oak.” And they both scored it 90 points. Yip, I guess I am way overly sensitive to oak. Guess I’ll keep trying to refine my palate though, for the good of my marriage!

Rating: Pricey

For those out there that want to give this one a try it is available at wine.com.

2007 Sobon Estate ReZerve Primitivo

2007 Sobon Estate ReZerve PrimitivoPrice: $24.00 @ Sobon Estates

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Big, rich ad full bodied; with toasty, jammy aromas and forward fruity flavors. Genetically related to Zinfandel, but strikingly different in balance and intensity.”

What I Think:

This is a wine that twitter made me crave, too bad their search doesn’t work or I would show you why. Fresh off the Rocky Top Zinfandel I loved I had to get this one. In a rare episode where it seems I am living the dream Sobon Wines offered to send a bottle my way, lucky me! My experience with Primitivo from Italy (from where it hails) does not run all that deep but this is only the 2nd I’ve tried stateside (the other is Perry Creek but I didn’t record any tasting notes, shame on me!). Anyhow let’s get to it…

With pizza in the oven this was an easy choice. If a bottle were to be judged solely on its weight this one would be liquid gold as it is super heavy. On opening the nose was smoky, hot and dusty and the palate was heavy on oak, a bit surprisingly given it was aged in 1 to 2 year old oak. This all blew off with some time and became toasty with a nose of cooked/stewed plums showing a small hint of green. Once it cleared the palate showed nicely balanced fruit and hearty acid, the combo hardly indicate the high alcohol content (15.3%). The end shows tart fruit, white pepper and tamed tannins leading to a finish of great tangy notes that last and last. This last paragraph is really my best guess. This wine is hard to figure out and keeps you guessing. A challenge for sure, but one that I look forward to taking again, just be sure to give this one some time to open up. Next time I want to taste this one side by side with an Italian bottling to better assess the different styles between the continents. Kudos to Sobon for not only working with Primitivo but Sangiovese and Barbera amongst many other uncommon varietals here in the states.

By the way, have I mentioned everyone should be visiting Amador County? For the record, I haven’t yet. They are bottling a ton of unique grapes that few other work with here in California. Those that read often are tiring of hearing me say this so here is my promise to you, before the end of August I will make a visit to Amador County happen. You heard it here first! Stay tuned…

Rating: Pricey

2008 Domaine de la Fouquette Rosee d’Aurore

Price: $14.99 @ Vintage Wine & Spirits imported by Wine Agencies

What They Said:

2008 Domaine de la Fouquette Rosee d'AurorePer K&L Wines “A lovely wine from a beautiful part of France, the 35-acre Domaine de la Fouquette sits at the heart of the Cotes de Provence appellation. This is an environmentally friendly estate that works without chemicals and hand harvests entirely. The cepage is 65% Grenache and 30% Cinsault. A small amount of the white grape Rolle (5% – aka Vermentino in Italy) is added, elevating the citrus aromatics and acidity.”

What I Think:

I’m still searching for my summer Rose. With none in the house I decided to stop by Vintage Wine & Spirits, one of my local shops here in Mill Valley, and this was their pick. A bit pricey for an every weekend sipper for me but given it was from Provence I was willing to give it a try.

I’d normally call this salmon but it was amazingly pale in color (which I hope I captured in the picture). Loads of delicate strawberry notes on an aromatic nose rolled out the welcome mat. Though the color was light the body was medium. The strawberries were joined by citrus notes early on the palate before they were met with a bracing, refreshing acidity. Mineral notes shined through on a dry crisp finish. A nice bottle for sure but not worthy of splurging on all summer long. Anyone have any Rose recommendations around $10 for me?

Rating: Pricey