Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2011 Kirkland Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

I paid $12.99 for this bottle of Kirkland Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, 2011 vintage. Here's my impressions:

Color-wise it was just a bit dark for the varietal.  Aroma-wise, it had a Pinot Noir character but it wasn't obvious.  That is, you wouldn't swirl and sniff and immediately know what grape was in the glass.

On the palate the wine was nicely fruity with smooth tannins and balanced acidity.  It also had a natural texture and taste to it - that is, it didn't have an overly fruity or bubble gum character that some Pinot Noirs seem to have that make them taste artificial.  The aftertaste was fairly short but pleasant.  It's an easy-drinking wine at a reasonable price.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

rieslings and grammar

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker online because my memory is so bad I have to make sure I'm not repeating something I wrote in this blog even a few days ago!

Okay, so you are wondering what's up with that first sentence and what does it have to do with wine. I'll tell you, but first I'll just tell you about a recent experience drinking a couple of Rieslings.  First one was from Navarro Vineyards, a 2011 from California's Anderson Valley.  The other was a 2011 from Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, Columbia Valley (Washington).  Their prices were $16.63 and $5.99 from the winery direct and Costco, respectively.

What I noticed was that the Navarro had more of a full fruit character than the Chateau Ste. Michelle (CSM). The latter seemed more sugary, more like 7UP, and the Navarro more like fruit juice.  Both were dry and both had nice acidity to balance out the fruit. The characters of the two were quite different, though. 

Initially I preferred the Navarro and thought the CSM was less natural tasting but after drinking it over four nights it tasted better. I wonder if that is because it improved over those four nights or I just got used to it?  Whatever it is, I rate the Navarro the better wine but then the CSM was available for a bargain price, thanks to Riesling's undeservedly lower popularity among grape varietals. That said, both get a thumbs up from me. If you're looking for a nice thirst quencher that is on the simple side but very economical, the CSM is a good choice. The Navarro is more complex and has better fruit, but you pay more.

Going back to the first paragraph, I was informed about a web site that offers automated proofreading and grammar checking.  It's called Grammarly. It also compares text against over 8 billion web pages to check for plagiarism.  I think it's a useful tool and if you are tasked with writing anything that might be subject to critical evaluation, or if you just want to improve your grammatical skills, this is a site worth checking out.

I pasted the preceding paragraph into their checker and was informed that this brief collection of words contained five (5) "critical writing issues."  Two had to do with passive voice use and three had to do with writing style. My overall score was 50 out of 100, meaning what I wrote was "weak, needs revision." Oh, my.  But at least I can rest easy that I haven't previously written about those two Rieslings!

Would I use Grammarly for this blog?  Probably not, because I try and write these posts in a  more conversational way without being a stickler for grammar. I don't even bother to proofread what I write; I just type it and post it. Later on I may happen to read it at which time I'll wonder what the heck was I thinking, and then edit to correct my errors. If I were tasked with writing something more formal, however, then Grammarly would be of good use to me.

Maybe I'm learning as I go along because the above paragraph received a score of 75/100 with only two critical writing issues.  One was passive voice use and the other writing style so I'm still having problems in the same category but they are fewer.

Anyway, I thought I'd mix it up a bit and write about something more than just wine this time.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2009 Villa Antinori Toscana

I'd see this wine in the bin at Costco every week and finally I decided to put one in my cart. It was $13.99.

The Toscana was a nice dark purple color.  Aromas were initially pretty muted, of earthy berries. I took a sip and the first impression was of a rather thin wine, more earth and minerals and stingy with the fruit, with a tannic bite. I thought maybe it needs some air.

It did need some air.  After sitting there in the glass for a while, the aromas opened up quite a bit and were a lot more fruity.  On the palate it rounded out as well, cherry fruit helping to fill out the initial thin character with still a good bit of earth and tannin.

As with pretty much all the wines I taste, I filled three 187.5 ml split-size bottles for subsequent nights.  Each night my impressions were pretty much the same.  The wine needed some time in the glass to round out and for the fruit to emerge.  That fruit was mainly cherry with a tart character to it.  To me it never really got past the earthy and tart character and along with the tannins left a bitter taste in my mouth.   Does it need more age? I'm not sure. It seems like there is still enough fruit underneath to age for a while, but me, I wouldn't buy it again.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2011 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay, Sonoma County

Picked this one up at Costco not too long ago for $11.99.  They still have it in stock.

It's a nice clear light yellow gold color.  Not much in the way of aromas, mainly a nutty charcter with some fruit underneath.

In the mouth the first impression was of zingy acidity, the degree approaching that of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That gave way to tastes of wood, lemon meringue, Squirt soda and more wood, with a narrow mouth feel.  This was definitely not what you'd call a buttery Chardonnay by any means! The aftertaste had a sourish and woody, green apple/grapefruit character with a somewhat watery feel to it with the wood component being the last thing to fade out.

This didn't taste like a Chardonnay.  If I didn't know what it was, I'd have guessed it was some sort of blend containing Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon based on tasting it, but with lots and lots of wood. There was just way too much wood for my liking and it ended up prevailing over any other flavor in this wine.

Does it need time?  In my opinion there's not enough of anything else to outlast the wood but like I said, that's just my opinion.

Monday, August 12, 2013

2012 Navarro Vineyards Rose - Mendocino

This coral-colored wine is 92% Grenache and 8% Carignan.  It retails for $16.50 and is available only via winery direct.  I received it as part of the pre-release program to which I subscribe.  Through the program I get two shipments of six bottles of assorted wines each June and November at a nice discount off the retail price. What I like about Navarro wines are their consistent quality and reasonable prices.  I've had subscriptions to other wineries and while the wines were good, either they got to be too expensive or there were too many shipments. For me, Navarro is just right.

I found the taste to be like the aromas: mixed berry fruits, melons and some peach, with a mineral element on the palate.  It's juicy, fruity but dry, and I thought it could use just a touch more acidity.  The fruit in the aftertaste trailed off pretty quickly but the stony/mineral element lingered for a while.

It's refreshing, but don't drink this one too cold or else you won't be able to taste the range of flavors that make it more than just a fruity sipper. It's a nicely complex rose that improved with air, and tastes great now.

Here is the link to Navarro's product page if you're interested: click here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Vina Eguia Tempranillo Riserva 2007

I ran across this bargain at Costco.  At $9.99 it seemed to be a great price but with a $2.00 instant rebate it was even better so I had no hesitation putting a bottle in my cart.

Overall, I've found Spanish wines to be of good value and this was no exception.  $7.99 for a six year old reserve wine? 

In the glass it was a nice deep purple color, opaque with no signs of age. Swirling the wine brought out nice aromas of red and black fruits mixed with some earth and a bit of tar. Didn't smell like a young, fruity wine but it did smell good.

First impression when sipping was that it was really silky, with no texture at all to it. In fact it seemed odd to me as I was expecting some sort of tannin or acidity. It took a few seconds in the mouth for the flavors to come out, which to me tasted like earthy black fruits.  It remained silky but some light tannins and a bit of acidity emerged to give the wine texture, balance, and complexity.  The aftertaste was pleasantly lengthy, too.

I think properly stored, this wine still has some years left. It drinks well now but has the stuffing to last a while. 

All in all I was pleased with this wine.  It's a definite thumbs up and especially so at the price. I got a couple more bottles with the rebate tacked on; as of last weekend it was still at Costco but I don't remember if the rebate was still in effect.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

snake oil

In my previous post I discussed some similarities between two of my hobbies, tasting wine and enjoying (or trying to enjoy) audio equipment.

In the audio world, there are certain products that are looked upon as "snake oil," meaning they promise to improve the listening experience even though they are of no real value.  Some people pay literally thousands of dollars for cables and even power cords because supposedly these things make the system sound better. People also buy "cable risers" - little blocks of wood that you put on the floor and then put the cables on top of them instead of letting the cables lie on the floor because the manufacturers claim letting cables be on the floor causes interference with the signals running through them.  Then there is a big deal made about the materials used for such risers.

Some people claim to hear significant, "jaw dropping" differences between cables, and even power cords, and between using versus not using cable risers. Personally I feel that's a bunch of baloney.  So you have miles and miles of regular wire coming into your house from the electric company and then some three foot long $10,000 power cord that goes from your wall outlet to the back of your preamplifier or amplifier, which inside of it has regular wire connecting everything, and that makes a huge difference in the sound???

Yet, like Fox Mulder in the X-Files, some people want to believe. And they will tell you they hear the difference.

They figure it costs so much, it must be better. Or, some "expert" proclaims it to be, so it must be.

Anyway, this blog is supposed to be about wine and not about audio, but I find the same thing happens in the wine world.  No one wants to appear stupid, so they go along with whatever the crowd says, even if that isn't what they themselves believe.

Some time ago I did a review of a product and declared that I could not detect a difference in the wine that was processed by this product versus wine that was not processed through this product. Then I got a rude, insulting comment from the inventor who basically said I don't know what I am talking about.  Just so I don't get another rude comment from this rude fellow, I won't name the name of the product but let's just say you pour the wine through it, it supposedly dramatically aerates the wine and thus the wine emerging from this product has been properly aired and thus has become more open, aromatic and just plain better.  I don't even remember the name of this product anyway, but I do still have it (don't use it). It looks really good.

Logically speaking, just how different is doing that versus swirling the wine in the glass for aeration?  To me it is no different than putting on that $10,000 power cord for your amplifier, although this product costs much less than that.

Popular opinion is that it works.  I'm not going to question the people who say it works since their nose isn't my nose and their palate isn't my palate, but as I said, logically speaking why should the results of using that product differ from just swirling the wine?

The person I mentioned in my prior blog post who describes wine by Parker's score told me he can detect the difference. I can only point to my own experience and say I could not. But, if I were with a big group of people and then someone declared that he or she was wowed by the product because it really "opened up the wine" then I would be hard pressed to say I couldn't tell the difference myself, especially if other people started chiming in that they, too, could tell the difference.

I'm only going by logic that I feel supports my own experience.

Monday, August 5, 2013

psyched out

Tasting wines is one of my hobbies and audio equipment is another one. I find that are similarities between the two in terms of psychology when it comes to enjoyment and evaluation.

In broad terms, both hobbies have devotees who can be so obsessed fussing with the details that they get lost in the trees and don't see the forest; for them it is all about bragging rights, what's in their collections, the "specs" and making such a big deal about everything that they don't really enjoy the wine or the music. Instead they're always looking for something better.

There's also an assumption that price is directly related to quality.  The more expensive something is, the better it is. I'd say generally that is correct - that you get what you pay for, although I'd also say the law of diminishing returns applies. As you go up the price ladder, any improvements are incrementally less and less, not directly proportional.  But some folks feel that you cannot have "quality" below a certain price. Or something grossly expensive is also grossly marvelous.  My two cents is, not true.

There are plenty of studies in both hobbies with results showing that people tend to judge what they are told is the more expensive of the products being sampled as the better one, regardless of whether that is really true. The thing is, very often the price assigned to a product has less to do with the actual costs of that product and more to do with the bravado and chutzpah of the marketing department.  What exactly makes that Napa Cabernet worth $120, just because it came from some boutique obscure winery with limited production?  Or what makes that speaker worth $4,000? You take these same products, cut the price in half and a lot of people would reduce their ratings accordingly.

Then you have people who just go by points. I know someone who describes all his wines in those terms. He never tells me what the wine actually tastes like, but instead tells me how many points Parker awarded it. Now, I have a great deal of respect for Robert Parker and find that he is a reliable guide when it comes to choosing wine but again, people get obsessed and think that if he hasn't scored a wine highly then it can't be that good. Thankfully there is no such guru in the audio world who has such a degree of influence. But still, people put a lot of credence into reviews and often those reviews really don't have anything of substance backing them up except the reviewer's flowery prose, such as a speaker having a "chocolatey, organic midrange."  Now just what the heck does that mean?  I notice several audio reviewers will resort to food terms when describing the equipment they review. Maybe wine reviewers should start using audio terms, such as "the Pinot Noir had tight, taut bass and silky highs."

The thing is, it is always safe to go along with (1) what the expert says and (2) the higher the price the nicer the nice.

After all, who is going to disagree with an expert?  Even if you have your own opinion, or if you really have no opinion, at least you are on safe grounds to go along with the expert.  And the same goes for equating price with quality - if you can't appreciate the higher priced stuff, then you must be like casting pearls before swine.

Just some chocolatey observations to chew on... more in the next post.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Kendall Jackson 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay

Here's my review of the Kendall Jackson 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay that I purchased from Costco a couple of months ago for $10.99.  Its California county composition is 53% Monterey, 42% Santa Barbara and 5% Sonoma.

First thing I noticed is it comes with a pretty short cork. I guess it isn't meant for long-term storage.

My tasting confirmed my guess.  The wine had a golden color, looking a bit older than what I would expect for something from 2011.

The tropical fruit aromas match the taste. It has a nice, full entry with lots of tropical fruit that is offset by juicy, zingy acidity. There's also a good dose of oak. To me it is in good proportion and there's lots of everything - a full bodied California Chardonnay.  I liked it.

I'd say drink this wine now or in the near future because once the fruit starts to fade it will become unpleasant. Right now it is very full bodied and fresh, great for summer sipping. Enjoy it before it starts losing the abundant fruit and acidity.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Costco envy

My wife and I recently took a short vacation down to the San Diego area. Being a Costco fanatic, I like to visit whatever Costcos happen to be along the way whenever we go anywhere.  Each one is just a bit different in terms of what they stock, including the wine selection. 

We visited three: San Diego (Mission Valley), Vista and Carlsbad.  We also went to the Irvine location on the way down and Tustin on the way up.  

I have to say, I am jealous of the San Diego locations because they have more stuff than the ones I have been to in my area (San Gabriel Valley section of Los Angeles county).  The wine selections were very good, a lot better than what I am used to seeing.  I thought the Vista store had the most interesting ones. Mission Valley and Carlsbad had big selections but a good portion of it were the expensive offerings for those looking for labels rather than value. 

The three Costco's in San Diego also had great food selections, including sushi made on the premises by a real sushi chef. Or at least a guy who looked like he was a real sushi chef. He just stuck to making the sushi and didn't put on any Benihana-type samurai show. It looked a lot better than the prepackaged stuff I see up here. 

Irvine had a pretty good selection, too, though not as good as the San Diego area locations.

Tustin was meh.

Maybe its good that my local Costco's don't have as big a selection of wine as the ones in San Diego. There's only so much space in my wine refrigerator!  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cameron Hughes Lot 326 Pinot Noir

In the past I hated writing tasting notes. Maybe I still do. I won't know until I finish writing this post, at which time I will let you know.

Why do I hate writing tasting notes?  Because I get tired of trying to think of flowery prose that is so detailed and original and blah blah blah. The thing is, there's really nothing new under the sun so everything I can manage to write has been written before about some other wine that probably tasted only remotely similar to the one I am scrambling to describe. 

I will sometimes read the notes people write for a particular wine over at Cellar Tracker. There's such a wide range of impressions and scores, so if you think about it, what is the point of reading all these reviews to try and decide if a wine is worth buying?  Everyone says something different.  Perhaps there is a general consensus but still, most of the time the details vary quite a bit. 

Maybe that's why everyone sticks to going by what Robert Parker Jr. says. At least there is some consistency there. 

So here, for whatever it is worth, is my first review in a long time of a wine. I'll try and keep it simple. 

The past four evenings I've had the pleasure of tasting Cameron Hughes' Lot 326, which is a 2010 North Coast Pinot Noir that I bought at Costco for a mere $9.99. 

The color is a little bit darker than I expected for a Pinot Noir. Aroma-wise, yes it is a Pinot but it was missing that character that tells me right away, this is a Pinot Noir. I had to think about it briefly instead of just knowing what it was. 

Taste-wise: The wine had nice red fruit balanced by good acidity and the tannins were smooth. Did it taste like a Pinot Noir?  My answer for the taste is the same as for the aromas - it makes a nicely fruity red wine but it isn't immediately apparent what the varietal is. My impression was the same for all four portions of the bottle over the four nights.

It's drinking very well right now; it's got very good balance and held up well in the glass. For the price it is a good deal and I'd recommend it if you aren't overly critical about wanting something truly Pinot Noirish, but instead are happy about something in the general vicinity. 

Now.. did I like writing that review above?  Yes, I did!  I guess I will do some more. But don't expect them any more frequently than every four days. 

Remember.. if you were intending to buy something from Amazon.com, go there by clicking the product link at the left.  Okay?  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Am I still drinking wine? 


One wine per week?

Not quite. A little more than that. I am still doing what I described a while ago, which is to open a 750 ml bottle, fill up three (3) 187.5 ml bottles and then drink the 4th 187.5 ml portion that evening. 

Well actually, not drink it. I put the wine in my mouth, chuggle it around (like that word?), savor it, then spit it out. I get all the benefits of the taste of the wine but not the "relaxation" from the alcoholic content. Not that there's anything wrong with that relaxation but spitting it out helps avoid the temptation of opening that 2nd or 3rd (or 4th) little bottle that I am supposed to save for subsequent nights. 

And that's my wine-tasting process. I've had a bunch of wine since the last tasting note I wrote which was so long ago I don't even remember. 

I'm going to make an effort to be more timely with this blog instead of having it be an annual event.  

By the way, if any of you need anything from Amazon.com, please get there by clicking whatever product I've got featured on the left side of this blog because if you buy something during the visit triggered by that click, I get a little spiff.  It doesn't have to be that product; as long as you buy something in the same visit, that's what counts. 

I'll try to post some interesting, less-conventional stuff there to remind you, okay? 

See ya' tomorrow! 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Couldn't wait a year... I'm back!

My previous post was nearly a year ago - July 31, 2012. That was spent giving you all an update on my Vassani wine cooler, which at that time I had used for about a month or so. 

After another year, or nearly so, how has it held up? 

Very nicely, I would say. Knock on wood, I'm pleased with it. 

In my opinion, a condenser-driven unit is better than one of those thermoelectric deals.  Yes it is a lot noisier but if it is not in a room in which you require a quiet environment, then what difference does it make?

According to the indoor/outdoor thermometer whose outdoor probe I keep in the middle rack of the unit, it ranges from 57.6 to 47.8 degrees. Now you might think a 10 degree variation is too much for storing wine, and you'd be right except most of the time, except for when the condenser turns on, the temperature hovers around 56-57 degrees (54-55 in the winter). 

I figure even though the temp goes down to 47 degrees, it doesn't stay that low for very long. Right away it starts rising up, but when it hits the mid 50's it seems to rise a lot slower so the unit is not constantly cycling on and off.  

The proof is in the wine, I suppose, and so far I haven't encountered a bad bottle.  It's not for real long term storage anyway; the oldest bottles are vintage 2005: Tablas Creek Panoplie and Esprit de Beaucastel, and Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme.  There's also a 2007 Stony Hill Chardonnay, but everything else is a lot more recent. 

For $149, I sure can't complain. It's been great so far.