2008 Blue Fin Pinot Noir

2008 Blue Fin Pinot NoirPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “Blue Fin Pinot Noir, a new addition to the Blue Fin family, is a vibrant, ruby-colored wine with rich, fresh berry and currant flavors and a velvety smooth finish. This wine is priced at the ridiculously low $3.99 a bottle – a perfect example of our favorite equation: quality + price = value.”

What I Think:

The counterpart to the Chardonnay this is a $4 Pinot Noir which violates my sensibilities given the struggles I have finding good Pinots under $10. But given the story line here includes Fred Franzia and Bronco Wine Co. I am intrigued to see if this could be the Two Buck Chuck of the Pinot world. In short, it might be.

My initial impression was not good. My first notes were thin, hot with a hint of fruit notes. Over the next few days the nose revealed some faint strawberry aromas and even showed the slightest hint of varietal characteristics but the heat and tannins remained. Guessing this one includes a lot of stems. That thought got me wondering; what is the minimum percentage required by law to label something as Pinot? Would including the stems make it easier to get to that number? Guessing it can’t get better than this at $4 otherwise Fred would know how. Not worth it to me, I’ll still be dropping a ten spot on the Castle Rock.

And that is how my review would have ended had it not been for so many people defending the Blue Fin both on twitter and in the comments here on the blog. Did I miss something that everyone else is getting? Was my bottle bad? This is only the 2nd time I’ve felt this way. For Exhibit 1a see: Sparkling ,Albero. Next shopping trip I’ll grab another bottle of each and give both a do over. I know Bob Dwyer is working on a review for this wine over on The Wellesley Wine Press but in the mean time here is what he had to say on Cellar Tracker:

“A very simple, straightforward and drinkable wine. Mild strawberry and cherry aromas on the nose. Perhaps limited aromatically. Really tasty on the initial attack (with a surprising amount of flavor), but fades extremely quickly and is gone in a flash (both the finish and the bottle). An intriguing play at $3.99.”

UPDATE: Bob has now posted his full review. For those interested check it our over on The Wellesley Wine Press.

Stay tuned for more on this one…

Rating: Skip It (for now)

Editor’s Note (07-Jul-2009):Updated the post to include a link to The Wellesley Wine Press review.

2008 Caretaker Pinot Noir

 2008 Caretaker Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Ruby in color the 2008 Caretaker delicate and floral with rose petal, raspberry and strawberry aromas. The palate is exuberant with sweet red berries that continue into a soft, earthy plum finish.”

What I Think:

Nary a word about this one to be found on the internet but that’s okay I knew that before I brought it home. You see, this one is a product of the Central Coast Wine Warehouse which appears to be a shared production facility. This is the same place that delivered the The California Wine Party Franc Merlot and the Pancake Cellars Big Day White. I’m still pretty certain the Central Coast Wine Warehouse is an operation/business that uses this facility to create the wine. But that is becoming less clear by the bottle… Here nor there, based on my history with the Franc Merlot I bought two bottles of this one on site. Seeing the listing of the  2008 Caretaker Pinot Noir
Pinot clones they used on the back label only reinforced my decision.

Shortly after bringing it in the house it is on the table. Opening it my first thought is really! A 2008 Pinot already? 7 months from the vine to my table. My initial inclinations proved right as this one came across disjointed and with little balance. I sensed the delicate, floral nature on the nose. But the palate couldn’t bring anything together. Not a bad wine, likely very young and needing some time. For now, no fruit and lots of acidity. No way I could recommend this over the Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot. I’ll let you know if the 2nd bottle changes my mind but thinking unlikely at this point…

Rating: Skip It

2007 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir

2007 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot NoirPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Castle Rock “Our Castle Rock Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown in Northern California’s beautiful Mendocino County, where vineyards were first planted in the early 1860’s. Here, the headwaters of the Russian River carve a fertile and rugged landscape. The warm summers, cool springs, crisp falls and wet winters make ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir grapes, in a climate similar to that of the Burgundy region of France, where the grapes were first established. This elegant and medium-bodied wine has delicate aromas of violet and rose petals, complex flavors and long silky textures, with layers of strawberry and raspberry leading into a long refined finish.”

What I Think:

This wine was first brought to my attention via a comment from Diane Diane in late October. As my experience with the ’06 wasn’t that great I wasn’t super keen to grab it. After it scored another recommendation on twitter from Big Wine Blog I decided to track it down.

And boy, am I glad I did! Delicate, floral perfumed nose. Lilacs? Rose petals? I definitely need to smell more flowers to get better at isolating these scents as floral is about as far as I can usually get. At the front of the palate nice, soft strawberries. Lingers nicely through the mid palate leading to a slightly dry finish with silky tannins and flavors of orange rind. Easily worth every cent of the $10 I paid. Slightly reminds me of all time favorite Pinot which is also from Mendocino, the Navarro I grabbed some more and am thrilled to have a go to bottle of Pinot for the near future!

Rating: Buy It+

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2007 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

2007 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot NoirPrice: $12.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) We set out to find a couple of magical wines that had the character, style and pedigree of really good reds. And yet, we dreamed both would have reasonable prices far lower than wines of this caliber normally command. Fulfilling our fantasies required a dedication to tasting and patience. Really good wines don’t grow on trees after all. Many tasting panels later, we discovered these wines worthy of the moniker Trader Joe’s Reserve. The Grand Reserve Pinot Noir has spent six months in oak to develop its grand complexity. This wine is rich with smoky plum, black cherry and raspberry. We watch our costs carefully, so we can offer values that might make others blush (or, rosé). We’re selling each 750 ml bottle of Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands for $12.99.

What I Think:

Wow, upon reflection I still can’t believe I paid $13 for a bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s. Further confounding this is that it was one of their very own private labeled bottles. This one had some background before it arrived. Angela and her crew called it a favorite in reviewing the majority of Trader Joe’s Pinot Noir offerings. Shortly thereafter Danny gave it a solid two thumbs down, saying after a single sip that he saved himself some coin. Obviously at this price point my expectations are sky high. The only thing tempering them is knowing how good it is to find quality Pinot at a reasonable price point.

Now let’s move on to the main event. On opening an aromatic nose smelling of light fruits, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cola. On the palate holy moly! I am initially blown away by fruit, a bit on the sweet side even. This needed time to blow off, wonder if that is the sip Danny had. After giving this one some time the fruits mellow with cherries and cranberries predominant on a light frame that lasts and linger through a long finish with barrel notes, a bit of spice and sour fruit. All in all, this was nice but I need a bit more than just fruit. I would have liked a bit more complexity or if not a range of flavors. I much prefer this Hayman & Hill which also hails from Santa Lucia and is even a few bucks cheaper…

Rating: Pricey

2006 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Our Castle Rock Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown in Northern California’s beautiful Mendocino County, where vineyards were first planted in the early 1860’s. Here, the headwaters of the Russian River carve a fertile and rugged landscape. The warm summers, cool springs, crisp falls and wet winters make ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir grapes, in a climate similar to that of the Burgundy region of France, where the grapes were first established. This elegant and medium-bodied wine has delicate aromas of violet and rose petals, complex flavors and long silky textures, with layers of strawberry and raspberry leading into a long refined finish.”

And from the Wine Spectator, “Aromas of ripe cherry, tree bark and wild raspberry are elegant, stylish and balanced, with nice focus and a lingering finish. Drink now. 110,000 cases made.” (86 points, $12)

What I Think:

After having my friends treat me to a few bottles of the Castle Rock from Willamette and Monterrey I figured I could invest in this Mendocino on my own. Given Mendocino is the home of my beloved Navarro expectations immediately escalated and I was sure I had a winner on my hand before I even made it home…

So a few evenings later with salmon on the menu this wine found its way to the table. The bouquet showed some light fruit and floral notes on top of woody overtones. On the tongue it started with cherries and then shifted towards cola type flavors. The mid-palate had a twang (perhaps orange rind) before heading on to a smooth finish. This wine is good but not stunning. That leaves the question, at $10 is that enough for a Pinot? I am personally on the fence so will answer “sometimes”. It sure would be interesting to try all three of these side by side. Furthermore, given that I have tried three it would seem foolish not to grab the California Cuvee offering as well. Has anybody else had that one? If so, what do you think?

Rating: Pricey

2006 Castle Rock Monterrey County Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per wine.com on the 2006 Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir: “Our Castle Rock Pinot Noir is produced from grapes grown in Monterey County along the Central Coast of California, where the climate and soil quality provide excellent growing conditions for this Burgundian varietal. Here, the cooling air from Monterey Bay helps to produce a longer growing season for grapes, with extra grape-time on the vines leading to a characteristic depth of flavor in the wine. Our Pinot Noir is elegant and medium-bodied, offering aromas of cherry, tea and herbal spice. On the palate, the wine gives flavors of black cherry, plum and spice. It is smooth with a silky texture and mild tannins. This versatile food wine pairs well with lamb, chicken, veal, salmon and light pasta dishes.”

What I Think:

Loads of light fruit and hints of things stranger. Is this a blend ala this Mark West, it seems not. I get hints of cola and things that hint toward orange. Either way it is certainly elegant and silky. Were this a Cabernet I would likely rate it much lower but a Pinot at this price that you can enjoy is a rare find. Guessing you can spend 4x as much and still only beat this one half the time. If you are a Pinot fan grab it!

Rating: Buy It

2006 Copain “L’Automne” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Price: $19.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Made from 100% pinot noir from the Anderson Valley, this is yet another release from rising star winemaker Wells Guthrie. Completely destemmed and cold soaked for five days, the grapes were fermented using their native yeasts, finishing malolactic fermentation in a combination of new and used French oak barrels (15% new/remainder twice used). But enough with the technical mumbo-jumbo. This is simply a great value in the world of pinot noir. So many pinots these days have well surpased the $30 dollar mark leaving this loved varetial unaffordable for most “everyday drinkers.” Well look no further. This bright tangy pinot is full of freshly cut roses and spiced orange peel aromatics. Turning to more lip-smacking pomegranate fruit and a deep core of supple black cherry on the palate, this is a crowd pleasing pinot sure to quench most peoples deepest thirsts. (Bryan Brick, K&L)”

What I Think:

I am predisposed to Anderson Valley based on years of Navarro Pinot Noir’s exceeding expectations. When my wife bought me this one for our anniversary I was keen to give it a try. After cheffing up an, what turned out to be, awesome steak tenderloin filet this was on the table for pairing. And boy what a pairing it was. Earth on nose, nice harmonious red fruit on the palate and just getting better with every sip. Incredibly elegant at the end, if only there was some left.

Rating: Wow!

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 Castle Rock Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Price: $10.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Is anybody doing bargain Pinot Noir better than Castle Rock Winery? Not that I know of. Trader Joe’s has been running their wines of late, and I have been impressed by every one I have tried. Too bad this one has crept up in price one dollar compared to the previous vintage.

It seems awfully early in the day to be bringing 2007 red wines to market, but that’s part of the philosophy behind these wines. They are light, fresh, and do not see a lot of oak aging.

The 2006 Willamette Valley is clone of the 2005. Not quite as light and transparent, the wine shows smoky, earthy, and sandalwood aromas, along with bright strawberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is simple, but it’s clean, without any green or other off flavors, leading to a nice but short finish. Like the 05, the texture as a bit of silk to it. To be clear, this isn’t great – it’s just a clean, nicely made wine. Regrettably, that’s the most you can hope for at this price point, and it’s more than many producers can provide.”

What I Think:

I had been eyeing this bottle at TJ’s for some time now so when our friends brought this one over on the 4th of July I was excited. We popped it open and drank it with some good old fashioned hamburgers. Given that we had guests my notes are extremely limited. The one thing I seem to remember most about this wine is strawberries. This wine is light and delicate, almost reminding me of a rose. Perhaps the burgers were a bit much for it. I certainly don’t feel that I spent enough time focusing on this wine to pass a verdict but given my initial impressions it has certainly lost some of the mystic that it once had. Next time I see it on the shelf at TJ’s it won’t hold my glance as long, but some day it may find its way to my house again. Typically I would rate this as a “12th Bottle” but at this price point I don’t find that relevant. Faced with labeling it as “Skip It” which seems unfair I decided to bend the rules and call this one “Pricey” though it doesn’t quite meet the arbitrary $12 price barrier.

Rating: Pricey