Affordable everyday Wine review: Smoking Loon 2009 Zinfandel California

When people talk about “everyday” wine, I’ve sometimes wondered exactly what they mean. Is it a wine that goes with all sorts of food so it can be consumed without care? Is it a simple wine that that can appeal to many different palates? Or is it an inexpensive wine that you can afford to sip everyday? Family-owned by Sonoma County’s Sebastiani and Sons, Smoking Loon wants to be all that and more.

Read more: Affordable everyday Wine review: Smoking Loon 2009 Zinfandel California

Sparkling wine review: J Winery Cuvee 20 Brut

A dear friend gave me a 1.5 liter magnum of this elegant sparkling wine for Christmas and I almost peed my pants. (Available to buy online only, by the way). There’s nothing quite like looking at a family-sized bottle of bubbly and savoring the ensuing drinking fantasies. I haven’t opened the behemoth yet but the little 750-milliliter brothers of the California sparkler are a staple in my house. A blend of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier grapes, Cuvee 20’s new, sleek packaging celebrates Judy Jordan’s 25 years of making sparkling wine in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. They’ve had some time to get it right using the same production methods and grape varietals established in France. Sure, not that long in French Champagne terms but, hey, we’re a new country full of zeal, still finding our wine way.

Read more: Sparkling wine review: J Winery Cuvee 20 Brut

Wine review: Estancia 2009 Pinot Noir Monterey Pinnacles Ranch

Even generic, corporate-owned wineries like Estancia can make good wine if they have great fruit from Monterey, specifically their Pinnacles Ranch vineyard. And another thing corporate wineries have to offer is lower prices. Like under $15 for a pretty decent Pinot.

Read more: Wine review: Estancia 2009 Pinot Noir Monterey Pinnacles Ranch

Wine review: Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Sparkling

Established in 1986 as the California home of Spain’s Ferrer family (who own Freixenet), Gloria Ferrer embodies the winning result of a large gamble placed 29 years ago. Sure, the Ferrers likely had some money to burn, but to throw down cash to buy 160 acres of land in Sonoma County’s unproven Carneros Valley takes some courage. However, they did have some experience in the bubbly arena.

Read more: Wine review: Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Sparkling

Rediscovering Chardonnay wine: The unoaked version

Unoaked Chardonnay

Chardonnay has become the whipping child of the wine world — the veritable before-the-ball Cinderella or Joan of Arc. But this unfortunate rep has a reason behind it. There are a crapload of disgusting, woodchipped and buttered Chardonnays lining shelves of every American retailer. And, like Merlot before Sideways busted its ass, the quality level simply plummeted into the deep sea of average wine. Sweet-lovin’ consumers fleeing White Zin, after the populist mocked them, found solace in the softer, fruitier Chardonnay grape. It was comforting and easy to drink, like a cold bottle of Kendall Jackson on a warm summer day. But enter the un-oaked Chardonnay.

Read more: Rediscovering Chardonnay wine: The unoaked version

Wine review: Blackstone 2007 Rubric Sonoma Reserve

I’m rarely a fan of the lower level Blackstone wines, seeing them as bland, sweet and too commercial. And, like most Rhianna songs that get played too often on the radio, I grew tired of hearing about and seeing Blackstone Merlot like everywhere when there were so many others of better quality for the same price. But Blackstone’s Rubric Reserve always intrigues.

A blend of seven red grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant, the hand-crafted, loving quality completely shows through this wine. It’s like Blackstone opened up the sandbox for winemaker Gary Sitton to play in. With the 55% Cabernet, he adds Malbec for fruitiness, Cabernet Franc for earthiness, Petit Verdot for depth, Tannat (an obscure grape originally from the south of France) for tannin structure, Merlot for softness and Petite Sirah for a ‘lil color and dark fruit flavors. The result is a lovely, full-bodied sexy wine layered with black cherry, sweet vanilla, a smidge of cocoa, blackberry and earthy tobacco. Supple tannins, balanced acidity and long, fruity finish of oaky black cherry. If you like Cabs, this might be a good change of pace.
Read more »

Wine review: Snoqualmie Naked 2008 Merlot Columbia Valley

Snoqualmie is owned and operated by the fine folks who bring us Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle wines in Washington State. Per their corporate mantra, this is a good value wine that’s well made but there’s one added benefit to this brand: Snoqualmie practices sustainable and organic grape growing.

Read more: Wine review: Snoqualmie Naked 2008 Merlot Columbia Valley

Five refreshing white wines for spring and summer

Warmth is finally peeking out from underneath the underbelly of winter, escaping to where people wear shorts and sandals. When the mercury rises to this level, it’s difficult to slurp red wine, so I recommend these five inexpensive white and sparkling wines that should quench the thirst tugging at your tongue.

Read more: Five refreshing white wines for spring and summer

Wine review: Mulderbosch 2008 Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch (South Africa)

In new world regions like South Africa, Chenin Blanc transforms. They often call this white grape “Steen” in South Africa. And the Mulderbosch Chenin was mistaken for a White Burgundy at a recent blind tasting… embarrassing all the certified sommeliers in attendance.

Read more: Wine review: Mulderbosch 2008 Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch (South Africa)

Wine review: Glen Ellen 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietor’s Reserve California

There are days when blind wine tastings (link) slap my ass and call me Sally. Like when a stereotypically derided wine brand like Glen Ellen actually represents well in the glass. It’s not a tempting bottle to reach for from the samples rack on a random weeknight, so blind was the *only* way to assess it without prejudice.

Read more: Wine review: Glen Ellen 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietor’s Reserve California