Saturday, January 12, 2013

Budget Wine Review 9

It is not that easy to find a decent everyday drinking wine in the under $10 range.  Once you go above that amount, there are many more options.  Here are some I tried in the last six months or so, usually after somebody's recommendation. Most of these wines sell for under $10 and a few, amazingly, are under $5. Some of these I simply couldn't drink. Others were drinkable, but I did not enjoy them and would never buy another bottle.  Eight of the wines listed below are underlined and represent what I think are best values, wines that are well worth the price and that I would enjoy drinking again. One wine, the Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir, is a real standout and an unbelievable bargain.  I've also listed my favorite bargain sparkling wine, which I also highly recommend for the price, the Piper Sonoma, Sonoma Valley NV Brut.

Of course everybody's taste is different, and none of these are really great wines, but one could never expect that at these prices.  With wine you do not always get what you pay for, but you always pay a premium price for really exceptional wines. Purchase prices and sources are indicated with each listing.

Please see our favorite wines from Napa Valley wineries here:  Favorite Wines from Napa Valley Wineries

3 Girls 2011 Pinot Noir-$9.99 Cost Plus.  I didn't bother taking tasting notes on this. It is okay for the price, but I wouldn't buy again and I can't recommend it.

Archeo Sicilia 2010 Nero d'Avola-$3.99 Trader Joe's. Soft, round, candied fruit with little structure poor balance and short, earthy-barnyard finish.  Improved somewhat with air but was not that pleasant to drink, less so than the Epicuro Nero d'Avola.  Might appeal to some who don't ordinarily like red wine or those who like a very fruity, somewhat sweet, simple red wine, but I can't really recommend it.

Black Mountain 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-$5.99 Trader Joe's. Slight nose. Round with too much sweetness, lacking acid and insipid. Does not taste like a SB but more like some cheap jug wine. Slightly bitter finish.  Poured most of it down the drain. Not at all recommended

Black Mountain 2011 Pinot Noir-$5.99 Trader Joe's.  Not much in the way of varietal characteristics.  Medium bodied and rather smooth, with little going on. Might appeal to somebody who wants a really bland, inoffensive red wine.  After trying it at different temperatures and exposures to oxygen, I finally gave up and poured the rest out.  I've had some Black Mountain Pinot years ago that were okay so you might want to try another vintage, but I cannot recommend this 2011.

Blason de Bourgogne 2010 Pinot Noir-$6.99 Trader Joe's. Thin, rather acidic, not pleasant to drink and uninteresting.  I ended up pouring about half of it out. In general, it is best to avoid all inexpensive French Pinot Noirs.  Not recommended

Brancott Estate 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. $8.99 Safeway Pale straw color with a good nose. Dry, crisp and bright on the palate with mostly lemon and some melon. Slight pleasant grassiness. Clean finish. Should appeal to those who find some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs to be too fruit forward, although this certainly has decent fruit.  I've had three bottles now.  Moderately recommended at this price.  You might want to see my previous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc post at:  New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs

Caretaker 2011 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir-$9.99 Trader Joe's.  Fruity, simple, uninteresting, and poorly balanced.  This wine did not come together at all for me, and I did not enjoy drinking it even after airing it, so poured much of it down the drain. This is about what I would expect if Charles Shaw made a Pinot Noir, although Charles Shaw might do a better job. Not recommended.

Castle Rock 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir-$9.99 Vallergas. Somewhat thin and uninteresting but not bad. Not as good as the Castle Rock Mendocino, Monterey or Russian River.  Go for the Castle Rock Mendocino and Castle Rock Monterey, two great bargains in Pinots. I won't be trying any more of this Carneros one. Pass.  

Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir-$7.99 Trader Joe's- Not nearly as good as the Castle Rock 2009 Mendocino Pinot Noir which I highly recommended.  I got some cherry and vanilla on the nose.  It was lighter in body than the 2009, had a less substantial mouth-feel and didn't come together as well.  The finish was unpleasant and fortunately short. A second bottle was better but still not nearly as good as the 2009. (I suspect the first bottle was mishandled.)  You take your chances on the Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir.  Addendum 5/13/13:  I've now tried about a dozen of these 2010s and they are all over the map. Some are fairly good and others have been undrinkable but none have been as good as the 2009. I know Castle Rock has an unbelievably huge production.  I doubt that the problem is with them but rather with those who retail their wines.  It appears that some of these are improperly handled. Just be aware that Castle Rock produces huge quantities of Pinot and have a wide distribution.  So the Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir that one person buys might be totally different than the one another person buys. Obviously it will vary in different areas of the country.  It is a good example, though, of how wines vary, depending on how they are handled by distributors and retailers.  The wine a critic drinks and recommends might be completely different than the one you purchased even though the labels are identical and it is the same winery, varietal and year.  This is a good reason to make purchases from wineries and reputable wine stores.  But in this price range this is not usually an option. You just take your chances.  In 2010 Castle Rock's annual production was a total of 600,000 cases.  That makes it among the largest producers in the U.S.
Castle Rock 2009 Monterey Pinot Noir-$7.99 Trader Joe's. Moderate to full body. Some forest floor. More black cherry than red with some tart plum on the finish.  Good, smooth tannins. Well balanced . Very nice for the price.  I also like the Castle Rock Russian River PN at $20 and the Castle Rock Mendocino PN at the same price as the Monterey ($5.99 to $9.99). When comparing the 2009 Mendocino and 2009 Monterey side by side, I actually liked them equally.  I've had three bottles of this Monterey now and plan to buy more. (I've had many of the Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir, which is a nice alternative at the same price.)  How does Castle Rock do it? Highly recommended at this price for a PN.  Addendum 6/21/13: The Castle Rock 2010 Monterey Pinot Noiris is just as good as the Castle Rock 2009 Pinot Noir and, unlike the Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir, I have not encountered any bad bottles.  It has been consistently decent.
Charles Shaw 2011 California Chardonnay-$1.99 Trader Joe's. Can vary, but usually their best white.  A fairly drinkable wine at only $2. It even sometimes wins in blind tastings. Some people claim Charles Shaw wines are all terrible, but they are better than most cheap jug wines. It is amazing that anybody can produce a wine at this price level. Of course you are not going to get much of a wine at at this price. Usually their Chrad is fairly dry and somewhat balanced with at least some minimal varietal characteristics, but I recommend spending a little more for something better. Pass.

Charles Shaw 2011 California Shiraz-$1.99 Trader Joe's. Simple and  fruit forward, but not very interesting. Does taste rather like a Shiraz/Syrah. Not really bad at this price and as good as some of the inexpensive Australian Shiraz which can be real fruit bombs.  Probably the best of the "Two Buck Chuck" red wines, but I recommend spending a little more money for something better.  Pass.

Cline 2011 Cashmere (Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah)-$14 Cost Plus. Has a good reputation and is fairly good for the price, but I'll pass on trying any more. Mild recommendation at this price if you are looking for a Rhone style California wine.

County Fair 2010 Flying Pinot Noir-$8.99 Trader Joe's. Deep garnet. Red plum with some mushroom on the nose. Smooth entry of soft red fruit. Well balanced, simple with medium body. Medium length finish with some slightly tart cherry. Despite the silly name, it is not bad at this price. When you first open this wine it might seem too tight and thin.  If it does, then give it some air. Usually it is the big red wines that we think of as needing this, but Pinots also often need air to open up.  Mild recommendation at this price.

Delas St. Esprit 2010 Cote du Rhone Rouge-Cost Plus $13 sale $10. Very nice for money. Decent fruit. Well balanced. Enjoyable. Tastes like a decent French Rhone and is a very good buy.  I've had three bottle now and they were very consistent.  Quite nice for the price.  Moderately to highly recommended at this price.

Dry Creek Fume Blanc 2011-$9.99 Safeway. Pale color with light nose.  Dry, pleasantly grassy and balanced on the palate.  No green pepper. Fruit is fairly good but restrained, more melon than anything else.  Acid good but not lively.  All the components come together which is more than I can say for most California Sauvignon Blancs. Very much in the California tradition but not as good as the Mondavi Fume Blanc, which sells for a few dollars more and is a real bargain.  Mildly recommended at this price.

Epicuro 2010 Nero d'Avola-$5.99 Trader Joe's.  Made from Nero d'Avola grapes.  Soft, fruity and simple, this is my least favorite of the Epicuro red wines.  I tried a second bottle and it was the same story. Not bad, but overly fruity and not well balanced so not really recommended.

Epicuro 2009 Salice Salentino-$5.99 Trader Joe's. Good nose of cherry and raspberry. Smooth and fruity w. raspberry entry. Soft tannins, rather simple, light to moderate bodied but balanced. Pleasant, medium length finish.  Decent for the price, but I prefer the Epicuro Anglianico and the Epicuro Primitivo that are both better red wines from the same winery at the same price.  Please see my previous budget wine reviews for descriptions of these two wine bargains. I tried a second bottle of this and it will be my last. Very mild recommendation at this price.

Fadeaway 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley-$8.99 Trader Joe's.  Not much varietal character. Not very pleasant to drink so half of it went down the drain. I took detailed notes but they seem to have "faded away.Not recommended.

Ferrari Carano 2011 Fume Blanc-$11.92 Safeway.  Light citrus nose with grapefruit and some grass on the palate. Some people seem to really like this one for the price, but I thought it was pretty ordinary at this price level.  Pass.

Giesen 2011 Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand-$8.99 Cost Plus. Pale straw color. Light, but pleasant aroma. Fairly dry with a fruity entry of mostly tropical fruit. No grassiness.  Okay finish.  I don't plan to purchase any more. I prefer the Brancott New Zealand SB mentioned above at the same price. This is a pleasant enough SB, though, so mildly recommended at this price.

Gnarly Head 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi-$8.87 Safeway. Pleasant aroma of blackberry and oak. This is a big fruity, rather jammy Zin, mostly blackberry, with some oak, not too high in alcohol (14.5%), and fairly well balanced.  Plenty of  lush fruit. It is ripe and smooth, with tannins being relatively soft and integrated.  Should appeal to those who like a full bodied, fruity but fairly well-balanced Zin.  Might be too jammy for some, but I enjoyed it. It is easy to drink and should go well with BBQs, pizzas, some Mexican food, spaghetti, etc.  Some Lodi Zins I've had have been too high in alcohol, but this one holds its alcohol very well. I'll definitely buy another bottle and add more tasting notes.  The 2010 is moderately recommended at this price but not the 2011.
Addendum 1/24/13: Tried a second bottle of the 2010.  Deep, dark ruby color. Got some dark cherry on the nose and palate this time along with the previous blackberry and also some spice on the palate.  Pleasant touch of rusticity. Finish is short.  I also tried the Gnarly Head 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel and did not like it. Lacking balance with too much jammyness overwhelming everything else. I tasted the 2010 and 2011 side by side for comparision, and the difference between them was remarkable.  The 2011 is not recommended. If you like super jammy Zins, though, you might like it. All Gnarly Head wines are worth trying to see if you like them.  They are often amazingly good bargains. I'll wait until the 2012 is released.

Green Fin 2011 Table Wine-$3.99 Trader Joe's. This is flabby, unbalanced, uninteresting and insipid, more like a cheap jug wine.  It is not really a desert wine but is not dry enough for a table wine unless it was balanced with more acid or carefully paired.  It is the sort of wine that a person who does not usually like wine might like. I poured most of it out.  This wine is produced by the same company that does Charles Shaw "Two Buck Chuck", but the Charles Shaw Chardonnay at half the price is better than this Green Fin. Definitely not recommended.

La Merika 2011 Pinot Noir. $9.99 at Cost Plus. Not bad. Light nose. Medium bodied with plenty of ripe fruit, mostly red cherry.  Somewhat fruit forward for a Pinot. Not very complex, but extremely easy to drink. Good ripe cherry finish of medium length. Should appeal to those who like a smooth, fruity, simple Pinot.  This Central Coast Pinot was rated at 98 and given double gold medals at the 2012 California State Fair International Wine Competition.  It is a good deal at the price, but not a 98 point wine. Worth trying if you like this style Pinot. Just don't expect it to be a complex, elegant 98 point Pinot.  I'm undecided if I'll ever try another bottle. Mild recommendation at this price.

Laurent Reverdy Sancerre 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-$12.99 at Trader Joe's. Bright acid with restrained fruit and little going on. Didn't seem to open up.  Less minerality that I expected. I won't buy any more. Drinkable, but not really recommended.

Mondavi 2011 Private Selection Pinot Noir-$6.65 Safeway-Not bad for the price but Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir or Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir sell for the same price or less and are much better.  I won't try any more. Pass.

Nerelo Del Bastardo 2008-$8.99 Trader Joe's.  Italian table wine.  Cherry nose with cherry, blueberry and some earthiness on the palate. Medium bodied, soft and rather fruit forward.  Short, slightly bitter finish.  A simple wine probably worth the price, but I don't plan to buy any more. Pass.

Panilonco 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Chile-$4.99 Trader Joe's. This seems to be a regular stock item at TJs.  Not much varietal comes through, and it has very little finish, but it is a smooth, rather full bodied, drinkable wine for this price. I wouldn't buy another bottle, but it is very mildly recommended if you are looking for a Cab at under $5.

Pennywise 2011 Pinot Noir-8.99 Cost Plus. Pleasant and drinkable. Lighter style. Not bad for the money if you can get past the name. I recommend the Trader Joes 2011 Napa Valley PN below or either of the two Castle Rock (Mendocino or Monterey)  Pinot Noirs. Even the County Fair Pinot noir above is a better than this one, but the Pennywise is an okay Pinot for the price.  I tried a second bottle and liked it even less.  Pass.

Piper Sonoma, Sonoma Valley NV Brut-$11.99 widely available. My favorite budget sparkling wine, and I've tried many of them in the $10 to $20 range because I'm very fond of sparkling wine and can't always afford French Taittinger or Napa Valley Schramsberg.  (I'm not going to list all the ones I tried but didn't like.)  On the nose I get green apple and pleasant yeast, more aroma than most budget bubblies.  Palate-wise I get mostly citrus, dry and crisp, but not at all austere and very well-balanced, with more yeast and minerality than most inexpensive sparklers plus more delicate bubbles. This is a real class act in this price range, and I haven't found anything at this price that comes close. The Gloria Ferrer NV Sonoma Brut  is several dollars more and tastes sweeter and fruitier.  It use to be my favorite budget bubbly until I started drinking the Piper Sonoma and now it is hard to go back. I tried the Piper Sonoma Rose bubbly, too, but didn't care for it.  This Piper Sonoma NV Brut is 60% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. If you find a sparkling wine for under $20 that you think is better, please email me.  Very highly recommended for the price! 

Pontificis GSM France-$5.99 Trader Joe's-50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre. Drinkable, simple, with adequate balance and fruit but not really recommendable even though I can't think of any other GSM at this price range that I'd recommend. Spend more and get the Delas St. Esprit 2010 Cote du Rhone Rouge at $10. It is much better and well worth the difference in price. Not recommended.

Seaglass 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-$9.99 Cost Plus. Pale straw color. Light melon nose. Pleasantly dry with good acid but not overly crisp. Melon with some grassiness on the palate rather than grapefruit or tropical fruit.  Light to medium body. Medium finish with some grassiness.  A decent California SB for the price.  I don't think I will try another bottle. Mild recommendation at this price if you don't mind the grassiness.

Stonehedge 2009 Sauvignon Blanc-$4.99 Trader Joe's-Fairly drinkable for an under $5 wine but not really recommendable. Pass.

Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir-$12.99 Trader Joe's-Aroma of red, ripe cherries.  Medium bodied with lush mouthfeel of red cherry and some baking spices.  Extremely well balanced! Medium length finish.  This one tastes like a Pinot that should sell for at least three times the price.  (If I tasted this blind I would think it was one of the better Pinots in the $30 to $40 range.) I like it much better than the decent Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir (see below) or the very pleasant TJ's  Reserve 2011 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. It is also a finer wine than any of the Castle Rock Pinots but then most of them sell for almost half the price and are still great buys. This is a fantastic buy!  The best under $20 Pinot I've encountered and a complete winner!!  Very highly recommended!!!  Addendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with others that sound the same.

Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir-$12.99 at Trader Joe's.  Decent nose of cherry and vanilla. Somewhat tart red cherry on the palate with medium body. Not much finish.  A fairly good Pinot for the price. (Inexpensive Pinots are usually not very good.)  At under $20 it is worth trying.   Mildly recommended at this price.   Addendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with something that sounds similar.

Trader Joe's Reserve 2011 Napa Valley Pinot Noir- (ABJ Wines, Geyserville) $9.99 at Trader Joe's. Easy to drink and pleasant but somewhat simple and one-dimensional.  One cannot expect complexity, however, in a Pinot at this price level. Well worth it considering that it is a Pinot and under $10.  A great bargain.  My neighbor is a Pinot devote and loves it for the price.  You might too.  I've tried several bottles and they have been consistently enjoyable, especially since I know how much I paid. Highly recommended at this price.  Addendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with something that sounds similar

Our favorite budget wines for the years are listed here:
Budget Wine Favorites in 2012
Budget Wine Favorites in 2013

Previous Budget Wine Reviews may be viewed here:
Budget Wine Review 1
Budget Wine Review 2 Alsatian Gewurtztraminers
Budget Wine Review 3
Budget Wine Review 4
Budget Wine Review 5 Pinot Noirs
Budget Wine Review 6
Budget Wine Review 7 Pinot Noirs
Budget Wine Review 8 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs

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