We celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday with the $10 Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir
This fall, wine guru Roberta Backlund recommended Chilean pinot noir, and those who listened to the podcast with Roberta probably heard the skepticism in my voice. Shows what I know: The Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir shows Roberta may be on to something.
But this Chilean red is a pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir. Isn’t tarted up with residual sugar, overloaded with over-ripe fruit, or blended with a couple of other grapes to “smooth” out the wine. Instead, it’s almost earthy in the front, with soft tannins and a pinot-like, almost restrained, approach in winemaking. There is a lot of berry fruit, but it’s not overdone.
Highly recommended, and especially with the uncertainty about inexpensive French pinot noir given the 25 percent wine tariff. Pair this with any weeknight dinner or something like Italian takeout – and even enjoy a glass or two in the afternoon.
The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir shows California’s Anderson Valley to its best advantage
My friend, the New Orleans wine judge, critic, and radio host Tim McNally, regularly rants about the decline in pinot noir quality and value. Tim would rant less if he tasted the Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir.
The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir is classic Anderson Valley pinot – earthy with spice and green herbs in the front, almost silky dark berry fruit, elegant tannins (perhaps the most interesting part of the wine), and wonderfully restrained oak. All in all, this is a New World pinot noir that isn’t too big or too overpowering, yet still tastes like the New World and not a lesser Burgundian knockoff.
Highly recommended, and given the price of very ordinary California pinot, a fine value. Drink it with any sort of lamb (crusted with a garlic and herb paste, perhaps?) or a Mediterranean vegetable platter marinated with herbs, garlic, and olive oil.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: a German rose, plus Oregon pinot noir, a Rioja, and an Italian white for Black Friday 2018
• Vallobera Rioja Crianza 2015 ($15, purchased, 14%): Heavy, old-fashioned Spanish red that isn’t very interesting – sweet cherry fruit, not much orange peel or earth, and almost flabby. Very disappointing. Imported by Evaki
• Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 11.5%): This German pink is sweet (not quite white zinfandel, but noticeable) and fizzy, with almost crisp cherry fruit. Neither sweet nor fizzy is a bad thing, and there will be people who will like it. But not for anyone expecting a dry rose. Imported by Loosen Bros. USA
• Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Jordan Block 2014 ($49, sample, 14%): This is a well-made wine, and the winemakers apparently accomplished what they were trying to do – an Oregon pinot noir that is heavier and more California in style than Oregon. It doesn’t have any brambly fruit, but more concentrated, rich black fruit.
• Umani Rochi Villa Bianchi 2016 ($9, purchased, 12%): This Italian white is not quite $9 worth of wine – very tart (citrus fruit?), too simple, and not crisp or fresh enough to balance the tartness.
Believe it or not, the Matua pinot noir is quality and value from Big Wine. Maybe there’s hope for the wine business after all
It’s understandable if any you reading this are convinced the Wine Curmudgeon has moved on to legal weed. Frankly, I’m as surprised as you are. How could Treasury Wine Estates, the No. 4 wine producer in the world, make the Matua pinot noir, which is varietally correct, shows a bit of terroir, and doesn’t cost $18? The wine world just doesn’t work that way these days.
But all of that is true. Somehow, the same multi-national that has given us zombie labels and the “we’ll make it just a little bit sweeter” 19 Crimes red blend has also given us the New Zealand Matua pinot noir ($13, sample, 12.5%). Maybe there’s hope for the wine business after all.
This wine is a stunner. It’s pinot noir in the New World style, so not earthy or funky. But it doesn’t have the overripe fruit, too much oak, or harsh, cheap, cabernet-like tannins of many so-called New World pinots. In this, it tastes like pinot noir from New Zealand, with zingy berry fruit, an almost silky mouth feel, and a clean and refreshing finish.
Highly recommended — plus, it should be in a lot of grocery stores. Drink this on its own or with burgers, takeout pizza, and even roast chicken.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This, month, a highly recommended white and red:
• Geyser Peak Chardonnay Water Bend 2016 ($18, sample, 14.5%): California white that tastes like coconut and pineapple – another example of the post-modern, better living through winemaking approach that dominates so much wine at this price. Coconut and pineapple are ideal for an ice cream sundae, but probably not the way chardonnay should taste.
• Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%) If all $17 wine tasted like this California red, I wouldn’t rant about $17 wine. It’s got actual pinot noir character – almost silky, with precise black fruit and actual oak that lends to the wine and doesn’t dominate it. Highly recommended.
• Tyrell’s Semillon 2016 ($22, purchased, 11%): This white is another brilliant Australian wine that was lost in the disaster that was 15 percent shiraz and that the Aussie wine business is still recovering from. It’s somehow balanced, soft and crisp and with lots of fresh stone fruit, and balanced. Highly recommended. Imported by Broadbent Selections
The Bogle pinot noir is, as always, $10 Hall of Fame wine. The same can’t be said for the label’s cabernet sauvignon
How amazing is the Bogle pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%)? It mostly tastes like pinot noir. This is unheard of in a $10 wine, and it’s not all that common for pinot noir that costs as much as $30, either. That Bogle can do it speaks to the producer’s emphasis on quality and value.
That’s the good news. The bad news, and it pains me to write this, is that the 2015 Bogle cabernet sauvignon ($10, sample, 13.5%) is as disappointing as the pinot noir is not. The cabernet is soft, flabby, and bereft of almost any varietal character. In this, it’s another example of winemaking by focus group; someone, somewhere, decided that U.S. wine drinkers don’t want tannins or spice or pepper or earth or anything that adds interest to cabernet. Instead, all we want is great gobs of gushy fruit, so any number of red wines that were once worth buying aren’t (like this one and this one). I never thought to add a Bogle wine to that list.
Regular visitors here know of my respect – almost reverence – for Bogle. That is borne out in the pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%), which is as subtle and elegant as a $10 pinot noir is going to get. Look for cherry fruit, some peppery spice, a little foresty something or other, and oak that is there to be barely noticed. Again, all qualities I rarely seen on wines at this price.
Hopefully, the decision makers at Bogle will realize wine drinkers prefer wines like the pinot and will return the cabernet to its former style. That, more than anything, is why I included it in this review. Because it’s easy to buy cheap wine; it’s much more difficult to buy cheap wine that reminds us why we love wine.
The Fort Ross FRV pinot noir ($52, sample, 13.8%) is elegant and, in its elegance, spectacular. It’s not what one expects from California pinot nor, given the excesses of many of the best selling labels. It somehow combines New World freshness with a little Burgundian complexity, so that each part of the wine complements the other and the whole is greater than the parts. It’s balance where balance is too often lacking.
Look for forest floor aromas (not too funky), plus dark red fruit and baking spice flavors, and soft, refined tannins. The tannins, as well as the exquisitely judicious use of oak, might be the most impressive achievements. This is a California pinot noir made to express pinot noir from Fort Ross’ Sonoma terroir instead of making it to get 94 points, the soil and the climate be damned.
Highly recommended. Ready to drink now, and probably won’t age for more than several years. Enjoy it with anything pinot noir–related, from roast lamb to salmon. And, given its grace, by itself.