Archive for the ‘California’ Category


Beaulieu Vineyards Coastal Estates Zinfandel

April 26, 2009

Not sure what the relevance of the term ‘coastal’ is, since I thought most of California’s Zin vineyards (Zinyards??) are inland. But whatever they call it, BV has done a great job with this wine.

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Summertime faves

August 15, 2008

 I suppose I should apologize once again for being so slack with my postings here. I would love to keep to a regular posting schedule, but my day job gets in the way. And even though I’ve been on vacation for nearly a week now, I can only muster up enough energy for a few quick tasting notes!

Anyways, without further rambling, here are some of my current summertime favourites and I’m off to the patio.

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The Mid-Winter Merlot Blues

January 24, 2008

January is a tough month. It’s cold (-45 C with the windchill yesterday morning), dark and everyone I know is broke after the holidays (including me). So it’s the best time of year to source out some well-priced comfort wines. So in the interests of pleasing both my palate and my wallet, I braved the cold to find some good, well-priced Merlot.

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Pepperwood Grove Old Vines Zinfandel

September 21, 2006

Just to prove that I’m not totally consumed by my day job, here’s a new post for you. 

Pepperwood Grove is one of the many ranges of wines from the multi-faceted Sebastiani family. I admit that I have a hard time distinguishing between this brand and Smoking Loon (also by the same folks), so I won’t play favourites. But I will say that all these wines hold some good varietal characteristics while remaining affordable and easy-drinking.

The Zinfandel is – in my ever so humble opinion – the best of the bunch. It’s sourced from 100% Lodi fruit. In the glass, it shows off some nice deep purple colours, with a classic Zinfandel nose (think blackberries and spice with a hint of earthiness). It’s medium-bodied (despite being a whopping 13.9% ABV) and is just big enough to stand proud against some charred burgers. In the mouth, there is a ton of great berry flavours with some hints of earth and spice (haven’t we heard this line before?). A long finish wraps up this tasty package.

For $13.99, it’s highly recommended. My only wish is that I had come across this one earlier in the summer. BBQ season is far from over, but the long evenings spent on the back patio have come to an end (it went down close to zero on Friday night).


Summer Wine – Tetra Paks and Cans

July 14, 2006

I’ve got lots of tasting notes to share in the coming weeks, but with summer reigning supreme in these parts, I want to focus on wines for camping and for the lake. So it’s time to look at wines that come in Tetra-Paks and cans.

Vendange Shiraz (California – $6.49 for a 500ml Tetra-Pak)

Lugging wine bottles into your camping site, cabin or canoe can be a hassle when every ounce of weight counts. Thankfully, there are other options. The Vendange line of wines come in a convenient (and light) 500 ml Tetra-Pak, which works out to roughly three decent glasses of wine per container. Four of these wines are widely available in Manitoba (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz), and all are from California fruit.

Out of all four of their wines, I found the Shiraz to be the best. In my (seasonally-appropriate) plastic glass, it showed off a dark purple colour, with a slightly jammy nose. In the mouth, it was lighter than I expected, with lots of jammy fruit. But there were some nice hints of pepper and spice on the finish, and I thought it was really tasty for the price. A good choice for a wine to share around the campfire.

Billygoat Hill Chardonnay (Australia – $2.95 for a 250ml can).

The Billygoat Hill line comes in both bottles and cans. The 750ml bottles cost $9.99 each, while 3 cans (250ml each) will set you back $8.85 before taxes. So not only are the cans are a better deal, but they are a lot more convenient for the great outdoors. They are sold (at the MLCC and private stores) individually and in 4-packs.

Packaging aside, how do they taste? I’ve tried the Shiraz and the Merlot, both of which were fine, but the Chardonnay is my favourite. It’s a basic Australian Chardonnay, with lots of big fruit and oak flavours. I’d say it’s around the level of the Bin 65 or the Little Penguin Chardonnay. Nothing special, but tasty enough on a hot day.

When first poured into the glass, it’s almost fizzy and there is a sharp taste and smell – both of which dissipate very quickly. I don’t know if it’s some sort of preservative, or a result of being in a can, but it’s not too nice. Pour it and let it sit for a minute or two. From there, you’ll find a nice, easy-drinking Chardonnay. The nose has lots of tropical fruit and some hints of oak. In the mouth, you find more of the same, with a bit of acidity to make this even more refreshing.

So it’s worth it if you’re looking for something a little different. The small sizes are also convenient for people who don’t want to open a whole bottle, but just want a glass or two at a time.


Toasting a year of blogging with Painter Bridge Chardonnay

April 6, 2006

I just noticed that this blog has been going for over a year now. Wow. Hard to believe. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, my work has kept me away from the keyboard lately, but I hope to catch up on some of my backlog of wine notes over the weekend.

I still have the final California Wine Festival notes to type up, and I just did an eight-wine Bordeaux tasting on Tuesday. And I have come across a few neat little finds that I want to share. Here’s one quick note to ‘wet’ your appetites for the next round of posts (hopefully by Monday).

Painter Bridge Chardonnay (2004)

This label is from J. Lohr, and it’s an excellent introduction to their wide range of wines. Sourced largely from Monterey County, this wine been fermented in stainless steel, so both the nose and mouth are very crisp. Interestingly enough, the Chardonnay is cut with a bit of Muscat Canelli (7.1%) and Viognier (2.4%). I usually don’t like dry Muscat (even in such small proportions), so I have to compliment the winemaker on their ability to disguise it. The overall effect of the blend is to make this a little richer than your average unoaked Chard.

This wine is lean, crisp, clean and it tastes like the world’s most perfectly ripe pear. Very tasty, although the finish is a bit short. For $13.99 at your local private wine store, this is worth it. The companion Zinfandel (cut with 23% Shiraz and 2% Petite Sirah) for the same price is also worth tracking down.


California Wine Fair Report – Part Two

March 17, 2006

I will confess that I spent most of my time at the wine fair testing out the reds. I did try four whites, all of which were very tasty. But I was really there for the reds. And there were a lot of reds. So I’ll have to split my red wine report in two.

Also, in case any readers are curious – these are tasting-sized pours. You’re lucky if you get two ounces in your glass, and you’re more likely to get a little over an ounce. I wasn’t tossing back huge mugs of Zinfandel here. In this case, I was at the fair to enjoy myself, but not to overdo it.

Having said that, this kind of tasting is best done on a full stomach. And there are plenty of spit buckets if you wish to avail yourself of them. I’m not a huge fan of spitting great wine out (plus it can look a little unclassy if you don’t do it just right) so I end up just enjoying it. At some trade tastings I’ve been at (especially the ones that start at 9 AM), you don’t really have a choice – it’s literally spit or lose the rest of your day.

Enough rambling. Here’s the reds. I’ll do the Pinot Noirs, the blends and Zinfandels today. Look for the Petite Sirahs, Cabs and Merlots tomorrow.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel: Another fine product from the Delicato family of wines (also the owners of Clay Station – which you might remember from my first set of notes). This is a well-priced ($17) and very tasty example of just how good a Zinfandel can be. It’s cut with Petite Sirah (14%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (6%).

On the nose, there were buckets of fruit (cherries, blackberries and even a few plums). In the mouth, it was very rich, with the same fruit coming forward. Lots of spice and even a bit of Primitivo-like earthiness to make it interesting. The finish was medium-long but kept my attention. All in all, a good value for a great wine. I hear that the Kenaston Wine Market is considering bringing this one in. If they do, I’ll be first in line to pick this one up.

There’s no link to this on the Delicato website, so if you want more information, you’re on your own.

Earthquake Zinfandel: I have to confess that my long love affair with 7 Deadly Zins is now over. It’s been fun, but I have a new big Zin to love now. The Earthquake Zin is part of the same family of wines (the excellent offerings by the fine folks at Michael David Vineyards). And it is so tasty. The nose is huge. It literally reaches out of the glass and grabs your sinuses. Dark berries and chocolate are the main flavours. In the mouth, it is even bigger and meaner as it coats your teeth and slam dances its was down your throat. Again, it’s berries and dark chocolate, with some well-balanced tannins. But it finishes long and slow, showing an unexpected soft side. I understand it’s going to hit our market around $35-40. Even at that lofty price range, I’ll still buy it.

Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel: I’ve always enjoyed the regular Vintner’s Reserve bottling. And I liked this example from their County Series line too, but I didn’t find it remarkable in any way. Again, it’s blended with Petite Sirah (14%), which is good (in my opinion). It was a bit spicier than the other Zins I tried. But it was a little too soft, and almost tasted flabby in my mouth. The structure just wasn’t there. I picked up some generic jammy flavours, but nothing stood out. The finish almost redeemed it though, being very long and very spicy. It’s a BBQ wine, meant to be enjoyed on a patio during the summer.

I’ll admit that it’s hard to write off a wine based on a 1 ounce glass at a public tasting. I’ll give this another try someday – but it’s not a priority for me right now. There are many other wines to try before I revisit this one.

Greg Norman Pinot Noir: This was a surprise, as the last time I saw Greg Norman wines on the shelf, they were Australian. Come to think of it, that makes a lot of sense. Anyways, apparently he also lends his name to some fine California wines. This Pinot Noir (from Santa Barbara) was very tasty. The nose was a little soft, with not a lot going on (mostly cherries). In the mouth, it really did taste like a good home-made cherry pie. There was an odd molasses taste on the finish which actually helped it out. The finish was shorter than average, but still tasty. This is a wine for a fine dish containing duck of any type.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir: Sadly delisted in our province, this is a great wine. Say what you will, but I think the Mondavi family makes great wine. And this is one of their top Pinots. It’s way funkier than the Greg Norman. And although I hate to agree with the winemaker’s notes, there is a lot of plum on plum action going on here. My notes show that the finish was long, the nose was funky and the mouth was plummy. This was one of the last wines I tasted, so the notes were a little (ahem) less thorough. I don’t even remember what vintage this was, or if it was the Reserve (I doubt it).

I did score a great wooden Woodbridge pen from the agent though.

Anyways, think of a perfectly grilled piece of wild salmon and you’ve got the ideal match for this wine. Too bad it’s no longer available through the MLCC. Some private stores may still carry this one, although I haven’t bothered to check.

Smokin’ Mendocino Tusk’N Red : Being a child of the Star Wars generation, when I saw this label – I didn’t think Tuscany. I thought of the Tusken Raiders from Episode IV instead. After a laugh or six at my expense, I quickly realized the error of my ways.

This is a blend of (45.4%) Syrah, (20.5%) Zinfandel, (19.9%) Carignane, (11.7%) Petite Sirah, (2%) Sangiovese and (0.5%) ‘mixed red’. What is ‘mixed red’. Hope it’s not something nasty like Ruby Cabernet.

Biases aside, this is a tasty little number. It’s a little more acidic than I expected (mmm…food friendly) and there are a lot of wonderful fruit flavours to be found. Mostly raspberries, but some plums as well. It’s not really an Italian-style blend, despite the name and the small hint of Sangiovese in there. But it is an easy-drinking wine, and a good break from Bonny Doon’s Big House Red (which is the closest comparison I can make). I don’t know what the final price for this will be, but if it’s around $20, I can see it competing for the same market that enjoys Big House Red.