Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Of course, we're concerned about only a handful of things here. Is it easy to find? Is it cheap? Is it good?
Well it's definitely easy to find. I picked up this bottle of Jacob's Creek 2007 Shiraz at my local Wal-Mart. I've seen the brand in pharmacies, wine stores, and grocery stores. You should have no trouble picking it up. And to answer the second question - yes it is cheap. At $7.99, this bottle won't murder your wallet.
This wine entertains the nose with a distinct licorice/anise quality. Plum, cherry and blackberry fruit waft forth along with a whiff of oak.
The taste is a cherry fest, but lacking the fruit overkill of many wines. The structure of this wine doesn't fall apart in the mouth like yesterday's Alice White. It isn't building a house on the palate - not that kind of strength - but it might be building a tool shed up there. Other than the cherry, it constructs its little shed with a nice peppery oak nicely balanced with delicate acid.
3 of 5 glasses
But it doesn't mean I have to like it.
It doesn't suck. Don't get me wrong. But this $6.99 Shiraz, vinted in 2008, just doesn't get my juices flowing. And, perhaps ironically, this wine does deliver a high flow of juiciness.
In the nose, this shiraz presents a fair amount of fruit. Cherry, plum and strawberry happily co-exist with a mild dose of black pepper.
The sip brings on a fruit-forward, cherry-strawberry duo. It's also very smooth and effortless. Merlot drinkers might approve of this wine. Tannins are light, so drink this wine young! But it isn't all juice and spice and all that's nice. The mid palate just falls apart, which bores me endlessly. Nothing happens there at all. Moments later, the finish returns a moderately obnoxious tangy, tinny, suck on a penny kind of taste. This wine was about to get a solid 3 of 5 glasses until that stupid finish.
Here is a list of some things named Alice that I prefer to Alice White...
- Alice (that girl in Wonderland)
- Alice Cooper (welcome to my nightmare)
- A.L.I.C.E. (the Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity)
- Alice's Restaurant (you can get anything you want...)
- Alice Walker (Pulitizer Prize winning author of The Color Purple)
- Alice (the town in south Texas)
2.5 of 5 glasses
Monday, April 26, 2010
Given the volume of wine sold under this label, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to explode the content level here and give you all a Two-for-Tuesday! Here they go, the 2009 Shiraz and the auspicious 2008 Reserve Shiraz.
Yellow Tail's Shiraz is up first. This is the exporter's flagship and I would guess the number-one selling red wine in America. Why? Volume, price and marketing. The shiraz/syrah grape makes up 25% of the red harvest in Australia. The brand is able to sell it at a very accessible price of $6.99. Lastly, the non-pretentious, fun, eye-catching yellow label just jumps off the shelf. Not to mention the fact that this label is plastered all over billboards, delivery trucks, and media of all sizes.
But does it live up to all the hype? Well, yes... and no.
The nose gives up a cherry vanilla aroma right away, but holds back on the rest. Maybe I'm just not smelling good tonight because I'm getting more out of this in the sip. There is a strong, perhaps over-oaked quality to the taste. However, other notes do sing through. A bit of black-tea comes in - or maybe I'm just confusing that with the tannins - but I really get a slight tea flavor as well as some fruit. There is strawberry, a bit of blackberry... a pinch or two of prune juice. It has that somewhat oily quality like i just licked a prune. Very interesting. Still, this really is by far NOT the sweetest of the week here in our trip down under. In fact, this wine really has a very bitter mid palate.
There is a little bit of clove in the mix as well. The finish is moderate and departs with a somewhat unsettling green pepper aftertaste.
3 of 5 glasses
Next up, Yellow Tail's Reserve Shiraz...
The reserve, from 2008, rings in a a somewhat heftier $10.99. It has a super dark cherry red color, and exceeds the '09 Shiraz in depth of color and viscosity. This wine has got some legs for a budget bottle.
The nose is a bit like a chocolate cherry - the candy kind. Not fresh out of the box, mind you! Not that somewhat cardboard-like, mass-produced chocolate... okay - maybe the mass produced kind. Imagine someone just bit into a cheap chocolate cherry from a box they picked up at the drug store... then they held it under your nose... that's the smell. That, and a bit of blueberry... a touch of oak... a twist of cracked pepper.
The flavors are interesting. Chocolate comes through quickly, but the blueberry steals the show. There is also a good sampling of blackberry and other dark fruit coming through in the mid palate. This is all accompanied by a bit of vanilla. The tannins are smooth and rounded. It dissipates in a bit of a green apple finish.
I can't say this is more interesting than the '09 Shiraz - but it is certainly better in its execution. The flavors work together. The structure is more coherent. The flavors are less bitter. On the other hand, it's about $4 more... but at $11.99 it's still quite a nice price.
3.5 of 5 glasses
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."
Yep. We're going to Australia this week, that strange and eerie land from south of the Equator. Rockin' some Men at Work... Throwin' another shrimp on the barbie... Keeping our babies safe from dingos. Okay I'm done with the cliches.
Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world, behind France, Italy and the USA. Each year, Australia produces 25% more Shiraz grapes than it does of it's second largest crop, Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the Shiraz (known as Syrah to the rest of the world) varietal as my yardstick for this week for that and one other reason - I've never met a Shiraz that made me chunder. In fact, it seems like just about anyone can make a decent bottle of wine from Shiraz grapes.
On top of that, I really want to focus on the kind of bottle you can find in just about ANY store. The wines I'm reviewing this week should be in any Wal-Mart, Kroger, you name it. They are available in drive-thrus... in gas stations. You won't have too much trouble finding them.
And with these wines so readily available, at such low prices - I want to equip you with a bit of knowledge for the next time you're picking up an emergency bottle at the local CVS.
Let's start with the Little Penguin 2008 Shiraz.
This bargain find is available EVERYWHERE for about $5.99. Little Penguin is a great high-production winery and has really grown to challenge Yellow Tail's market share in the past few years. NOTE: I swiped today's picture from someone else. Usually I take my own. Meh...
This Shiraz is a dark rose, almost ruby color. The nose is fairly closed, but does impart a lot of fruit - primarily strawberry. We're not talking Boone's Farm strawberry here people - but it's definitely in there. There's a little oak coming through and a whiff of smoke.
The sip is jammy - bursting with that strawberry flavor. It really feels like drinking a spiked juice box - you know, the kind... stick it in the the crumb crucher's My Little Pony lunch box with a bologna sandwich and a gogurt... send her off to school... receive a call from the principal around 1 to talk about your darling daughter. By 2 you're meeting with someone from the state about your fitness as a parent... worried you'll never see her again.
Nope? Never happened to me either. But this stuff DOES taste pretty much like that. It kinda falls apart on the mid palate and the finish is a little hot.
Though it's too fruity for my palate, this is a very drinkable wine for a very affordable price.
3 of 5 glasses
Friday, April 23, 2010
Pick up a Shiraz by each house if you want to follow along! I think you can get all of this stuff at Walmart... all priced between $4.49 and $10.
Have a great weekend!
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Bottled by the Three Loose Screws Napa winery, this $9 Cab fills the glass with a deep, jewel-like hue of purple. The nose is slightly closed, but certainly gives up some blackberry, a bit of currant and some cracked black pepper.
The flavors of blackberry and grape come through clean and delicious, but with little additional complexity. It is balanced (acidity vs. sweetness), though perhaps a little bit astringent.
You're not going to wow anybody with this wine, but you're also unlikely to truly offend them either. The bottom line is that it is just plain hard to find a decent Cabernet in the sub-$10 range. Given the price point of this wine, it's a no-brainer.
3.5 of 5 glasses
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
But what is this "old vine" business all about?
A grape vine can grow over 120 years, but it begins to lose vigor around 20 years or so. Each year beyond, it may produce smaller harvest yields. However, the flavors in each yield may be different or more intense than in younger vines. The "old vine" terminology is not policed or standardized, so a winery could theoretically call 20 year old vines "old." In this case Bogle's Lodi and Amador county Zinfandel vines are between 45 and 80 years - certainly old for California grape vines.
In the glass, this youthful wine takes on a garnet cranberry color and gives off moderate notes of strawberry and spice. There is also a fairly strong scent of alcohol for a wine at 14.5%. The spice really had me going back to childhood - like I was about to bite into a snickerdoodle cookie covered with strawberries and vodka.
So... is it good?
Well it really isn't a stellar start as it hits the palate. The alcohol is just a tad too forceful. Sometimes I wonder if these bottle labels are correct - it feels closer to 20% but the label says 14.5%. When you get past the inital heat of the sip there is a nice cherry and raspberry fruitness cloaked in pepper and oak. It all dissipates in a moderately warm, smoky finish. Try this wine out with some smoked pork ribs or beef brisket.
Bogle's Old Vine Zin doesn't hold a candle to their Petite Sirah, but this is certainly a good wine. Still, for my tastes it is a little hot and lacks some of the complexity I'd like to find in a wine.
3.5 of 5 glasses
On a somewhat related note, I am REALLY looking forward to trying Bogle "Phantom" - a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Yummy.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
"Dude... you gotta smell this stuff."
*Disclaimer: I'm about to go off on a tangent. If you only care about the way the wine tastes, skip to the picture below.
My only real problem with a screw-cap is that I can't help but feel like I'm about to crack into a brown bag of malt liquor - but What does a screw cap really mean? There really is a fair amount of debate on the subject and I'm not going to get too into it now. Suffice it to say that some argue the screw cap prevents breathing which stops the aging process. Others argue that the screw cap preserves a tastier wine and avoids cork taint and other flavor faults. This, along with economic factors seems also to have driven many winemakers to plastic corks. Italy, however, has largely leaned toward the screw-cap.
While we're learning, I want to point out that this particular blend is a Super Tuscan. So just what is a Super Tuscan? Look it isn't going to leap tall buildings in a single bound or anything like that. This naming just has to do with politics and control.
Italy has a tremendous winemaking history going back to ancient times. I recall my trip to Pompeii. The tour guide pointed out the wine bar, still preserved after being encased in Vesuvius' deadly ash cloud nearly 2000 years ago. Still, that is young in terms of this wine region. The Greeks established viticulture 800 years before Christ and the local population produced wine from wild grapes for millenia before that.
Given such a tradition, it is only fitting that there be some kind of standardization - thus the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) was established in 1963. The DOC essentially requires that the grapes are grown in certain regions, harvested according to defined methods, and meet certain standards.
To make a long story short, the Super Tuscan fails to meet the DOC standard. Why? Well, most Tuscans, like Chianti, are comprised primarily of Sangiovese grapes along with other non-DOC varietals. The Super Tuscan breaks that mold by incorporating other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
That is the case here. Monte Antico's 2006 Toscana is a blend of Sangiovese (85%), Merlot (5%), and Cabernet (10%), and can be yours for the low price of $10.99.
This wine is a nice, very clear cranberry red - far more translucent than I am accustomed to drinking. The nose is ample and gives up bits of pine, clove, pepper and pungent herbs.
In the mouth, though scant in body, this wine's bright acidity is a little overpowering. It really just sucks the moisture right out of your cheeks. Perhaps resultantly, the taste is hardly as complex as the nose. Regardless, a fair amount of red fruit flavor manages to fight its way through the tannic fray. The finish wraps up with some herb. But it doesn't go off without a hitch... there is a somewhat tinny aftertaste that was just a little off-putting to my palate. Then again, we all have different tastes!
If I had to pair this wine I'd put it with a pizza pie.
Wine Spectator put this value play at 90 points, but I'm just not feeling it. I'll give it a 3 of 5 on my scale, which equates roughly to a low-to-mid 80's score on the 100 point scale. A solid B minus. It might have earned a 3.5 (87 or 88 points) if it wasn't for the tin.
3 of 5 glasses
Monday, April 19, 2010
First, it all depends on what you think is "good." If you like Little Penguin's Shiraz - by all means, buy it and drink it! It's not exceptionally interesting, but it smells and tastes a little bit like fake strawberry candy. It is a wine - a real wine and it's $5 to $6 a bottle and available just about everywhere. If that doesn't do it for you, find out what you like. Read this blog. Read other websites about wine. Go to tastings or wine restaurants. Talk to your wine merchant. Try different wines at different prices. One way or another, see what is out there.
Once you know what your tastebuds prefer, you can start to hone in on price. I try to keep my price under $15, but I am willing to spend up to $20 if it looks like an exceptional value. My average bottle is about $12 and you will read about a lot of wines in the 8 to 15 dollar range on this site.
The most common myth in the wine world is that you get what you pay for... that a $25 wine will necessarily taste better than $10 bottle of the same varietal. Wrong. So many factors are actually at play here: brand recognition, vineyard size, harvest yield, bottling costs, etc. Not to mention your own palate (as we discussed above).
Take my current muse - Petite Sirah. I recently rated a Trentadue Petite Sirah. At $18, Trentadue is a price point above the $11 Bogle Petite Sirah. I gave both wines 4.5 of 5 glasses. Both wines were fantastic in my opinion, but the Bogle leaves an extra $7 in your pocket!
There are a lot of resources out there for people in the <$20 range.
- Wine.com has a list of 90+ point wines under $20
- WineLibrary offers their best selling under $20
- MyWinesDirect sells a lot of six-packs for $70 to $100 (that's $12 to $17 per bottle)
On top of that there are many other blogs like this (but read this one please).But despite all these resources screaming $20 and under people continue to believe the "good wines" are expensive. I did too, until I read a book. Miles Gone By, William F. Buckley Jr.'s autobiography is one of my favorite books. Now I'm not going to get all political here - so don't get your panties in a bunch. I just want to talk about his approach to wines.
In a chapter of Miles, Buckley discusses his wine purchasing during the 1980's. Although money was certainly not an issue, Buckley endeavored to find the best wines he could under $10. When he found such a gem, he would buy up as much of it as he could and stock his cellar. Years down the road, those $10 wines had softened and matured and become truly fantastic specimens that Buckley shamelessly served in his home (to the delight of such guests such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan... heavy hitters).
Adjust that $10 for inflation and you get $20 in 2010 dollars. So if Buckley were buying today he'd be buying in this range - and if it's good enough for presidents and prime ministers, it's good enough for the rest of us... right?
So get out there and try that $8 Pinot Noir. Treat yourself to that $14 Syrah. Pony up the dough for that $3 Merlot. Know your tastes and your budget and most of all, have fun tasting!
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Oh Petite Sirah - how I love thee. Your tiny dark fruit, bunched so tightly... mildew resistant, but prone to rot... but so full of lovely tannins, rich plum color, and general tasty goodness. Face it people, this is a fantastic little grape.
Even after two hours decanting and some vigorous swirling in the glass, the taste is very very dry. There is a fresh exotic breezy kind of quality, like I'm tasting the sea – in a good way. It is chocolatey. Rich. There is a very woody, rooty, earthy quality. But it is nicely balanced with dark red fruits, some plum flavors and it fills the mouth and excites the palate.
This wine has an incredibly interesting nose and a delicious sip – but at $18, it's a little hard on the wallet.
4.5 of 5 glasses
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The nose reeks heavily of alcohol – surprisingly strong for its 12.5% alcohol content. Actually it smells a bit isopropyl – not great whiffage. There is also some heavy oak, and walnut going on. As it opens up dark fruit scents do come through.
The sip is very dry, but light - not at all full bodied. Nothing too exciting really happens on the palate. There is a nice tart, crisp quality and a pucker effect - like a cherry jolly rancher just sidled up to your tongue. Not a bad pizza wine.
Not bad - not great.