2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

In my ode to 2012 I paid tribute to my greatest (yes there are many) shortcoming as a writer. That being clamming up when it comes to sharing something I really enjoy; like this wine. I fear I can’t convey my sense of excitement. Or sometimes convince myself that I want to provide more context for the overall story (like a bio on winemaker Ed Kurtzman) which I never have time to put together (and it has usually already been done). But not this year, for better or worse I’m just going to get these stories out there and build from there. So let’s get this started…

2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirPrice: $30.00 direct from Sandler Wine Company

What They Said:

Per Weimax “We like his 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. You can’t mistake this for anything other than Pinot Noir. The wine is medium garnet in color and has classic strawberry and cherry-like fruit notes. There’s a touch of a vanillin note in the back. It’s light and aromatic, flavorful and smooth. We suggest cooling it to cellar temperature. It’s not a wine intended for cellaring, so drinking it this year or next is ideal.”

What I Think:

(14.5%) A Pinot made in a bigger style but while retaining its elegance. Nice dark cherry fruit with a touch of cranberry and a “singing” acidity that brings it all together. While the fruit remains this one turns earthy and spicy on a long finish. Intense but not overpowering; a wine that speaks to me. My only regret is that this is my last bottle. Wish I had a few more around. Let that serve as a note for me to start ordering regularly…

Rating: Wow!

2008 Mud House Swan Pinot Noir

Price: $10.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective

What They Said:

2008 Mud House Swan Pinot NoirPer K&L Wines “This is a great deal in Pinot Noir coming in at 1/2 the normal price. The fruit comes from Central Otago which is the new “darling” area for New Zealand Pinot and to be specific the sub-region of Bendigo. The wine which spent 10 months in 30% new French oak offers a bouquet of raspberry, cherry, clove, earth and mocha. On the palate, there are fine tannins that frame the core of fruit with good acidity supporting the fine finish. Buy a case of this one. (Jim Chanteloup K&L New Zealand Wine Buyer) Stephen Tanzer adds: “Bright medium red. Red berries and cherry dominate the nose and palate, with some spice notes emerging with air. A juicy, fresh, supple wine with the sweetness of fruit to support its oak element. Finishes with good life and lift.” (Sept/Oct 09)”

What I Think:

(14%) Warm, ripe, supple fruit (tart cherry and raspberry) out of the gate with a beautiful inflection to the proper acidity which also delivers a nice clove spice. This one is a fine choice. Great balance, smooth and lengthy on the palate. A very nice Pinot for the $11 (retail is $24) this one cost me; too bad I didn’t figure that out before they sold out of this one. A very nice, lush, new world, fruit forward Pinot. Would buy more if I could…

Wine Geek Notes: 10 months in 30% new oak; Screwtop; Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective

Rating: Buy It

2008 Buena Vista Pinot Noir

While we wait for me to get in gear on formally starting the 2012 writing season I thought I’d sneak this out in the meantime. And what better place to start than with one of Angela’s, my right hand (wo)man’s, recommendations. For those that don’t know she is a very trusted palate so when she says run I do and you should feel free to do the same. Not that I needed it but this one also earned some accolades from Joe and the crew over at GoodCheapVino.com which is another trusted resource. Now as for James’s take that this one is no big shakes in comparison to daily deal sites the difference to me is I don’t have to commit to multiple bottles in advance and/or pay shipping charges. Now as for the Fort Ross Pinot he mentions as available at Grocery Outlet ($13) I’d love to give it a try. But in the meantime let’s see what I think of this one…

2008 Buena Vista Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’sBuena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir is made with grapes grown in the Carneros region, the area that spans the distance between the Napa & Sonoma Valleys. The grapes were handpicked at night to preserve the fruit’s character, then hand sorted to ensure only the very best of the lot were used in the winemaking. After fermentation, the wine is aged for eight months in 33% new French oak barrels, with the remaining wine aged in one to two year old barrels.

This Pinot Noir is bright with Bing cherry, allspice and earthy elements. Blackberry & plum fruit flavors give way to undertones of coffee and clove and a long, supple finish.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) Initially this one comes across as more earthy and minerally before opening up to dark, lush (mainly cherry) fruit with sandalwood and spice. The rich, creamy finish lingers softly with cherry-cola spice. Once given time to breathe this one is smooth and easy drinking throughout. That said be sure to crack the top on this one an hour or two prior to planned consumption. If you can handle that this one offers some nice QPR at $10.

Rating: Buy It

Wine Geek Notes: Screwtop, Aged in 33% new French oak

2009 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 C. Donatiello Winery Pinot NoirPer C. Donatiello Winery “Spicy black pepper, dried cranberries, cola, mocha and cherries on the nose. The palate starts bright and clean with deeply layered flavors of raspberry and rhubarb which give way to flavors of cinnamon and chocolate. The finish is long and clean with balanced tannins, acidity and oak.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) $38 via the winery in an etched bottle, clearly not intended for Trader Joe’s where I picked it up for $10. Bright, big and clean while at the same time balanced. Forward fruit with cherry (cranberry) cola flavors and vibrant acidity. A bit of oak creaminess on the backbone before the fruit turns a tad tart with cinnamon spice (and a bit of heat) on the finish. Not my preferred style but well made, no harsh edges and smooth throughout. If you’re a fan of Russian River (or even more broadly California) Pinot Noir you likely can’t go wrong here…

Rating: Buy It (if you’re a California Pinot fan!)

2009 Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Pinot Noir

This one is made by DNA Vineyards and Dennis Patton who is known as the Merlin of Mendocino and is one of the chief proponents of the Coro Mendocino initiative. While his Trader Joe’s track record is strong this one is a bit curious as Pinot is not his forte (at least based on my somewhat limited knowledge) and the Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo county from which this one hails is a good distance away from his familiar stomping grounds in Mendocino County. That said let’s have the wine speak for itself…

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Trader Joes Petit Reserve Pinot NoirPer Trader Joe’s “The San Luis Obispo AVA (American Viticultural Area) is known for its cool climate and long growing season, conditions that make it an ideal region for Pinot Noir grapes. The Edna Valley, nestled in the middle of this AVA, amplifies everything about San Luis Obispo that makes it Pinot’s perfect partner.

Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Pinot Noir Edna Valley is made exclusively for us using 100% Pinot Noir grapes from Edna Valley, aged in French oak for 12 months. Pinot Noir from warmer regions tends to be super dark and highly tannic; not this one. The longer, cooler growing season afforded by Edna Valley’s climate results here in a lush, floral and vibrant wine with aromas of raspberries and violets, and hints of nutmeg. It’s an easy drinking wine, with a soft, round finish. Pair it with Pork Tenderloin, Mushroom Ravioli or an evening by the fire with a good book.

Wines of this quality, with this kind of pedigree, generally come with a hefty price tag. Our price of $6.99 proves that you can get really excellent wine at a really excellent price. Cheers!”

What I Think:

(13.9%) Tried at TJ’s and was going to pass but second thoughts made me reconsider. Light, bright in color. Aggressive candied cranberry with earthy, forest floor notes on the nose. Remains aggressive on palate with sweetish raspberry fruit. Slightly harsh on the edges with a clean, peppery finish. The thin flavor profile packed with big fruit leaves this one out of balance IMHO. Not one I’ll buy again but guessing there will be those that beg to differ…

Wine Geek Notes: 100% Pinot Noir aged for 12 months in French Oak. 13.8% ABV (although the label states 13.9%)

Rating: Skip It

2009 Bergström Pinot Noir Old Stones

While my vacation may be over I am still in a drinking local state of mine. This was another I picked up at Whole Foods in Bend where I asked for a recommendation. After being asked if I preferred bigger fruit or something more elegant; when I said later I was the told this was the best thing going for $25. Per the winery this one is made for early drinking, while the precious (Lord of the Rings anyone?) single vineyard offerings get a bit of age, from barrel selections of non-estate fruit and received 91 points from the Wine Spectator but how would it fare here?

Price: $24.99 @ Whole Foods

What They Said:

2009 Bergström Old Stones Pinot NoirPer Bergström Winery “We have renamed our “Willamette Valley” Pinot Noir “Old Stones” to give it a personality & an identity that is worth seeking out. A great wine born of the West Coast’s most ancient soils that shows breed & nobility of varietal, but is accessibly priced for everyday drinking. We admit that our single vineyards are definitely wines that need to be cellared to reach maximum potential. In fact, that is how we think great Pinot Noir should be! But we also need great wine that we can drink while we wait for those precious bottles to come around. And so was born our “Old Stones” wines Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. These are wines that are barrel selections from our best non-estate sites that show more accessible texture & lower level of tannin & acidity which benefit from early consumption. The 2009 Old Stones Pinot Noir is a lavish mouthful of red fruits reminiscent of a berry pie with cinnamon & vanilla spices, a sweet pie crust type of flavor that is folded in amongst the waves of ripe & beautifully textured red cherry & raspberry fruit flavors. This is a joyride of a wine & will deliver immediate pleasure & drink well for the next 1-3 years.”

What I Think:

(14.1%) Nose promising as more balanced than most. Medium bodied with a fresh mineral acidity before the fruit arrives on the scene with racy, tart black cherry, raspberry and sandalwood leading to a spicy, tingling tannic finish that dries out and lingers on. Lots of tannins and acidity make me think despite the wineries take otherwise that this will improve with a bit more age.

Wine Geek Notes: 902 cases made, aged in large oak cases versus barrels. No new oak

Rating: Very Nice (At $25 this didn’t disappoint a bit; didn’t necessarily over deliver either making it a fair QPR)

2009 Lange Pinot Noir

More from my Oregon summer vacation drinking local series. Next up are a few wines I picked up at the local market here in Sunriver (which I keep reading as survivor every time I see it…). First up is this Pinot from Lange Winery which marked their first vintage in Willamette Valley in 1987.

2009 Lange Pinot NoirPrice: $19.99

What They Said:

Per Lange Winery “Our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is an assemblage of all our North Willamette vineyard sites, delivering a true reflection of the finest viticultural practices and dedicated winemaking. In our true “classique” style, this wine is approachable and fruit-forward upon release.

Tantalizing aromas of candied cherry, crushed raspberry, and cola play over a current of black licorice and refined tannins.”

What I Think:

(13.6%) Warm, earthy, cranberry with a touch of orange rind on the nose. Vibrant & juicy on the palate with bright red fruit (a raspberry, cherry, cranberry mélange) and a nice acidity on a mineral backbone. This leads to a soft, warm, barrel spiced (and creamy) finish with light, lingering tannins. Smooth, fresh and delicious but another layer away from being great in my mind. That said extremely well made, enjoyable and under screwtop to boot! At $20 a favorable QPR for sure but there are others I personally prefer at this price point.

Wine Geek Notes: A little sediment on the finish; 6,000 cases made; 10 months in French oak. 25% new (and very well done IMHO)

Rating: Good but… (as enjoyable as it was I personally prefer others at this price point)

#PinotSmackdown, Oregon & Flowers Winery


This past Thursday was #PinotSmackdown, an “all-day global celebration of the world’s most expressive wine grape combined with a knock-down, drag-out cage fight between YOUR FAVORITE Pinot-producing regions!”, and I’ve had Pinot on my mind as of late. The 2001 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode Alancienne was one of my first loves and I have long been a fan of this grape. Affordability has long been the biggest barrier between me and drinking more Pinot. The value hunter in me has learned you typically have to spend the majority of a $20 bill (if not more) to get a taste of the best this grape has to offer. That said when you do get a taste what treat it is!

Oregon Wine Map

I mentioned I’ve had Pinot on the mind as of late and this is directly related to the fact that I am currently vacationing with my family in Oregon, a Pinot Noir haven. Couple this with watching the #PinotSmackdown conversation stream by I began to ponder further. Navarro has long been, and is still to date, the benchmark by which all other Pinots are measured. I’ve had some great ones from Three Sticks and Alta Maria and sampled quality offerings from France, New Zealand, Chile and more. Which leads me to Oregon which I am exploring as I vacation now. Yes I’ve had some in the past but this is my first time in given it singular focus. My initial impressions is that the style better suits me than the vast majority of Pinot Noir made in California.

Pinot Shopping in Oregon

That said when a California Pinot suits my style (which seems to most often happen on the Sonoma Coast) it leaves me swooning and wishing for more. Nowhere has that been more evident than when I visited the wine shop yesterday and stood in the aisle perusing which bottle to try next. As mentioned I’ve been drinking local and had ever intention of doing so until I once again crossed the border but then something caught my eye on the top shelf. 2009 Flowers Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (pdf), a wine that had recently haunted me, in such a good way, as part of a recent TasteLive event. I restrained only to later that evening finding myself at the dinner table thinking about nothing but that Flowers Pinot. And this is why my #PinotSmackdown vote goes to #CA (the twitter hashtag to use when casting your vote for California). That said I’m a day late and a buck short as the voting has closed. And it appears my vote may have mattered as California came in 3rd to Oregon (New Zealand was the winner; visit Wine Tonite for full results) losing by a mere four votes. Rumors are there is a recount underway but for the time being I’ll send you back to your regularly scheduled programming… Stay tuned for more on Flowers Winery soon and in the meantime let me know what your favorite (or region for) Pinot is. Cheers all!

2009 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir

And the drinking local Oregon summer vacation continues. As mentioned when we hit Trader Joe’s in Bend they had a nice selection of local wines with about 10 of each Pinots (Noir and Gris). Far more variety than we see in California so I decided to grab one of each. I already covered the Pinot Gris so next up is the Pinot Noir…

Price: $12.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Montinore Estate Pinot NoirPer Montinore Estate “Our 2009 Pinot Noir is rich in bright red fruits and accents with notes of spice and mocha. True to it’s past character, this wine is a medium bodied Pinot which pairs beautifully with salmon, duck breast and all things mushroom.”

What I Think:

Again Montinore Estate is a legit winery as I’ve seen some of their offerings in wine shops when looking about. Farming on about 230 acres in the Forest Grove region of the Willamette Valley they also produce Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muller-Thurgau and Gewurztraminer. But we’re here to talk about the Pinot (which is available via the winery for $20) so let’s get to it…

(13.9%) Light, rusted red in the glass with light red fruit and spice on the nose. Medium bodied and forward on the palate with tart cranberry flavors and a bright acidity. The finish is short, creamy and pleasant showing just a bit of clove spice. While new world in style this one is bright and tangy rather than “big”. I find it simple and one dimensional but enjoyable as well. For $13 a fair QPR but the value hunter in me wants to believe we can find better (vs. stocking up here…)

Rating: Good but… (Yes a new rating; meaning enjoyable but not enough so to buy again)

If you’re interested in learning more about this one check the tech sheet (pdf) from the winery. Otherwise I’d love to hear what your favorite Pinot for under $15 is nowadays…

2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir

2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot NoirPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) “Oh, how we love a good wine. But what we love even more is a good wine at a great value. That’s why we like Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir so much. You would, in ordinary circumstances, expect to pay considerably more for a wine of this quality from the Santa Barbara region. These, however, are extraordinary times in which we live, and it seems that extraordinary times produce both extraordinary wines and extraordinary values. Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir is a silky red wine crafted from grapes grown throughout the coastal vineyards of the Santa Barbara growing region. At first blush, you’ll notice aromas of strawberry, cherry and cedar. At first sip, the berries burst on your tongue and mingle with a bit of oaky-ness that leads to soft tannins and a smooth finish. This is an excellent wine to serve with our Vintage Reserve Cheddar (p. 7) and makes a cheery companion to our Stuffed Pork Chops (p. 21) at dinnertime. At $3.99 a bottle, this wine is a really terrific value that won’t be around forever. Get yours while it lasts, because when it’s gone we can’t guarantee we can get more.”

What I Think:

2008 Santa Barbara Landing Pinot Noir (color in bottle)(13.5%) On the lighter side (see picture) but the right color. Garnet at the core with light reddish, orange edges. Right nose as it shows some strawberry notes with cloves. On the palate it is smooth and goes down easy. Rich but decent acidity with fake oak creaminess and manageable heat on the finish. It is clear this is nowhere near 100% Pinot and I’m guessing Syrah is its partner in crime. Far better than the Blue Fin offering Bronco put out last year. I’d have to say it is drinkable in a lighter, generic red kind of way. That said for $4 it could be far worse. I’d like to be harsher but while I won’t be buying this wine I have a hard time telling you not to if you were initially inclined to do so…

Rating: Skip It