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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2006 Navarro Brut Sparkling Wine

2006 Navarro Brut Sparkling WinePrice: $25.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per Navarro Vineyards “Most winemakers focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for sparkling wine but Navarro admits to a rebel streak. In 1989 we made our first sparkling Gewürztraminer and fans still ask when we’ll make more. This is our third bottling. We don’t make it every vintage because most years we are fairly confident that we will get our grapes to 24° Brix, perfect for our signature still Gewürz. In 2006 we weren’t sure. The vintage was cold and late and the grapes had already turned a lovely ripe, russet color at only 20° Brix. Just as importantly, it was one of the rare vintages where we had several blocks of Gewürztraminer with no millerandage; all the berries were normal-sized two-seeded berries. The ratio of free-run juice to skins was high, promoting fine flavors, clean aromas and high natural acidity, perfect for sparkling wine. We decided to celebrate with this bottling. We blended 10% Chardonnay into the cuvée to strengthen the wine’s backbone. Delicate peach and spice in the aromas and flavors combined with fresh baked-bread yeastiness and a dazzling citrusy finish. Silver Medal winner.”

What I Think:

Gewurzt, interesting. This one came in my last wine club shipment, only the 3rd time they’ve actually made it since 1989. Offers a nice sweetness that isn’t quite as cloyey as usual. Fizzing and yeasty with a bit of citrus on the backbone. Hints of crisp apple notes appear sporadically throughout. Full disclaimer, I’m not a huge fan of Champagne so dropping $25 is pretty much never in the picture. If that seems reasonable to you, definitely get this one. Certainly enjoyable, I’d just rather buy a nice bottle of red…

Rating: Pricey

2006 Dynamic Mendocino Red Table Wine

 2006 Dynamic Red Table WinePrice: $8.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Ceago Vinegarden well not much about the wine but they did have this to say about biodynamic farming; “Our Vineyards are grown and certified Biodynamic by Demeter which adheres to the DYNAMIC farming methods established in the early 1920s by Rudolf Steiner. The Biodynamic Tower on our property is where, during cycles of the year, homeopathic teas are prepared to enhance and regulate plant growth and soil fertility which brings forward the unique qualities that this wine demonstrates. This is our commitment to you…think DYNAMIC!”

I’ll shoot the winery an email and see if they have any thoughts they want to share on the wine itself…

What I Think:

Another wine I have long enjoyed and yet to post. Being easily intrigued by new labels I was quickly drawn to this offering. Interesting label, from Mendocino, seemingly tasty blend and made with care for the environment. A lot to like, and despite the high $9 price point (anyway for me, especially at Trader Joe’s) in the cart it went. Upon getting home looked up Ceago Vinegarden who is behind the label and found that Jim Fetzer, who sold his eponymous label in 1992, is behind the offering which they are selling exclusively at Trader Joe’s. Reason #1,001 I love Trader Joe’s wine. The cheapest bottle Ceago Vinegardens sells on their site, $18. These grapes are biodynamic so you know they are coming from the same place and grown with the same care. Yes, I know the best of the bunch are used elsewhere but still you get the idea. These are high quality grapes. And I get to drink them for half the cost!

Onto the main event; the blend here is 55% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose immediately impresses with a blend of earthy tones and fruit aromas. On the tongue you take notice immediately as the fruit packs a punch, not that it is overpowering but there is a richness and warmth to it that grabs your attention. Towards the middle of the palate a nice earthy structure emerges and the fruit become chewy. A nice tanginess develops which leads to a lasting dry, earthy, lip smacking finish. The finish lingers on with light tannins tickling your throat and a hint of mint. I wouldn’t have thought the Merlot characteristics to be so subdued given it is the predominant grape in the blend. The Cab twins strike a nice balance and the overall result is impressive. I was surprised by the negative sentiments I found over on Cellar Tracker. This one is a winner in my book.

Hopefully TJ’s gets the sister offering from Lake County soon. I am already drooling thinking back to one of my all time favorite finds this Beringer Zin. Yes it is pricey but well worth it. If you see either of these grab them on sight. If your budget allows don’t be afraid to buy in quantity.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Jepson Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Bright, clean and crisp. Reflecting characteristics of hay, herbs and citrus. The grapefruit and lime flavors are subtly balanced by a little melon and kiwi. A very versatile wine, paring up nicely with seafood, chicken breast, salads and creamy pasta dishes.”

What I Think:

This one started and finished nice on the palate but was a mess in between… Was it too cold? As always more flavors started to emerge as it warmed up. Nice minerally finish but tart leaving you with a slight tang…hints of floral, lemon and citrus throughout. If you don’t taste it let it cool. Perhaps it is time for a wine fridge so I can get the temperature right…Any generous readers out there?

Worth a go if you don’t want to spend for the more expensive Geyser Peak ($8), Kono ($8) or (yet to be reviewed) King Shag ($7). That said I would recommend splurging, that is what I’ll be doing. By the way, $11.50 on the Jepson website. $2.99 at Trader Joe’s…

Rating: Skip It

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 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 Chalk Creek Mendocino County Petite Sirah

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Not a word to be found…guess I will have to make my opinion authoratative…

What I Think:

To be authoritative I should have taken more robust notes which I did not. In a nutshell I found this one rich & robust with some hints of varietal character when looking through my optimistic glasses. Switching over to the side of pessimism I find this slightly medicinal, definitely a doctored taste as this from a fruit perspective is too far over the top. That leaves me straddling the fence. One I am likely to pick up again but I will leave it to you to decide for yourself.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2002 Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot Gris

Price: $12.60 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery Refreshingly vibrant, with lovely floral aromas of creamy nectarine, with a touch of fresh grain and fennel. Crisp, dry and intense, with pear and orange fruit and a finish that fans out. – Wine Spectator, May 15, 2004.

What I Think:

Had this one nearly a month ago when friends came over for dinner. As I was in charge of cooking I missed the majority of this wine as it was served with snacks/appetizers. That said, I put my friend Paul in charge of writing this one up. Here is what he had to say:

Light nose, hint of lychee (his favorite descriptor by the way)
Strong citrus with sharp lemon on the start
Fade reveals hint of strawberry lingering longer than a typical white.

What I didn’t get him to do was rate and score it. That said I’ll repeat my rating from last time I had this wine and call it “Pricey”.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Navarro Mendocino Chardonnay

Price: $13.30 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “There is a distinct reason that winemakers like making Chardonnay. It puts their craft, and consequently them, front and center stage. Unlike other white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, which is herbal and grassy or Gewürztraminer, which is heady with floral aromas, ripe Chardonnay is more chameleon. That means the winemaker’s choices in the cellar become paramount. These decisions include whether to encourage a secondary malolactic fermentation that adds buttery tones, the length and temperature of the fermentation and perhaps above all the choice of oak cooperage including which cooper, which forest the wood should come from, how long the wood should dry, the toast level, whether to toast the head of the barrel, not to mention how long the wine should rest on the yeast, if it should be stirred and how much time it should spend in oak.

This Mendocino bottling is less buttery than the Première Reserve and the lovely apple-melon flavors and moderate price tag entitle Navarro’s winemaker Jim Klein, to take a bow. Gold Medal winner.”

What I Think:

Another bottle from Navarro, as many of you I am a big fan of theirs (full disclosure: I am a member of their wine club). They called this one “What’s the difference?” My history with their Chardonnay’s has been decent. Given that I don’t have an inclination to this style to begin with they haven’t been able to create one for me. Given that I use their basic Mendocino Chardonnay as an annual benchmark to make sure that my overall opinion towards these wines hasn’t evolved since our last encounter. That being said, they have an Anderson Valley Reserve label that I have been showing to the cellar for the last three or four years, maybe one of those could change my opinion.

Now, let’s get back to this bottle of wine. On the nose you think typical chardonnay; there is butter at the forefront followed by the aromas of the barrel with some fruit lingering way off in the distance. On the tongue, it dances a little before starting to show some apple flavors. The wine is rich and full bodied through the mid-palate before finishing slightly tart on the backbone. A nice wine to drink but given my general disdain for the butter and barrel that dominate these wines I won’t be signing up for more. Above you can see some of the many decisions that go into making these wines. I wonder how they could be made to suit my palate profile. Seems like me the first thing I would do is barrel them in stainless steel. I have had a few of these unwooded chardonnays that let the fruit do the talking and while I haven’t loved them I have enjoyed them better than most. Let the fruit do the talking! The second thing I may do is skip that secondary malolactic fermentation which introduces the buttery tones. Once I get a hint of these I think I almost mentally shut down on giving the wines a real chance, quickly chalking them up as typical. Lastly, I’d play with the degree of toasting. I am guessing that for me less would be more. No all I have to do is get someone to hire me as a winemaker and we could my theories to practice. Who’s got connections for me?

Rating: Pricey

2004 Navarro Mendocino Pinot Noir

Price: $14.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “This declassified wine from a great vintage is actually better than pricier Pinots from more difficult years. It may be labeled Mendocino but it tastes and smells like Anderson Valley Pinot. Whiffs of ripe cherry, lavender and cedar followed by a crisp finish will make you think you are drinking a much more expensive bottle. Because of the continuing rise of Pinot prices we have less to sell this year than last and probably even less next vintage. Don’t wait too long! Moderately priced Pinots are getting as rare as family-owned farms. Gold Medal winner”

What I Think:

I opened this wine after having a bit of a let down when trying the 2005 bottling of the same wine. Given that I had a half glass of that left and knowing that I bought a case of this wine I found myself suddenly worrying about a case of buyer’s remorse. With the opportunity to alleviate that concern in the name of a vertical taste comparison I headed straight downstairs, grabbed a bottle

Given my experience with the last two bottles of Navarro I opened this one 7 hours before we ate to give it ample breathing time. Immediately on opening these two you could easily identify differences between the two. The 2004 was much richer, more supple with darker fruits forward. There were boysenberries that lasted well through the mid-palate and it was a very well integrated effort. Buyers remorse is now in the rear view mirror.

So this brings the questions. Could one year really have made that much of a difference? As Navarro publishes the specs for their wines I checked the two and found not much difference but when reviewing the winery notes on the bottlings I think I found the clue. Specifically on the 2004 which refers to it as a “declassified wine labeled Mendocino but it tastes and smells like Anderson Valley Pinot” or so I thought until I saw the ’05 mentioned this “89% of this wine was grown right here in the Anderson Valley.” Oh well perhaps it is personal preference….

By the way the winery called this one “Family Farmed”. This one certainly brings the “Wow!” factor out for me. Glad to have some more around.

Rating: Wow!