Three Wishes Wine…for $2.50 USD, the Official Review (my 3 wishes too)!

1 03 2011
3 Wishes Lineup

The 3 Wishes Wine Lineup ©2011 TalesFromtheTrellis

When I was visiting family in Maine this past Holiday season, I stumbled upon a new wine brand named Three Wishes. The bottles peaked my interest as they were oddly shaped (shorter and lighter than the regular  750 ml bottles) with a pretty label – clean and simple.

Three Wishes Vineyards is based in Livermore, California. They produce non-vintage wines (meaning not from a specific year and can be blended with many vintages) in and from California and started appearing for sale at Whole Foods Markets in October of 2010.

I picked up all three of their offerings: Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Each were $2.50. This is a brand that intends to compete with Trader Joe’s low price entry-level wine called Charles Shaw’s 2 Buck Chuck. So, in the name of science and value priced wine experiences – I had to buy all three to try them and let you know how they fared.

Here are my notes:

Chardonnay: Extremely pale in color, not quite straw. When swirled, the body is light as well, with no tears on the glass. Nose of stone fruit, perhaps guava or papaya..and pineapple with honeysuckle. Traces of citrus like lime or grapefruit. Not giving much away from the nose. Taste is similar though, with definite stone fruits like apricot and very definitely grapefruit. If I did not pour this myself from the bottle, I would think it was a cheap New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or even off-dry (semi-sweet) style Riesling. The mid palate is invisible, it goes from initial fruit and sweetness to an incredible dry, tart, sour, metallic and astringent finish quickly.  This wine is extremely unbalanced as the fruit and the alcohol have not quite come together. I can not recommend this.

Merlot: Again, light in color, especially for this varietal. Nose of cherry and vanilla (um, sounds like they are doing a switch on the varietals here again. This looks and smalls like a light – albeit cheap, pinot noir. Starts with raspberries and a bit of that cherry vanilla cola, and fades fairly quickly into the night. It is easy drinking, no harshness like it’s Chardonnay brethren. Sweet through the mid palette right to the finish – with a bit of fake candy-esque sweetness. Wish it had a bit more personality or backbone, but it’s OK for casual settings or newbies. This won’t make anyone take notice/remember it, or get sick. Note: it improves slightly after some time swirling or decanting. Again, this one, for $2.50, is “OK”.

Cabernet: Lighter than most cabs, with a nose of dark fruit. Plum on the initial taste, with dark berries. Ok, so this one actually tastes a bit more like what the Merlot should be. So strange. This one goes from ok to bad quickly…finishes with a hot,tart and tannic bitterness that I can not get past. This one is a no-go, for any price.

So, which did I pour a glass of after tasting it all? The Merlot. But again, I can’t really call it that, as it really has more of a cheap pinot noir profile. So, for $2.50, I would say – try it. It is better than some of the cheap bottles I have had for more money (i.e Estancia Pinot Noir).

Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying this is life changing, good or must try stuff…but if you are in Whole Foods and have been drinking “2 Buck Chuck” – try this at the same price and see what you think. I would also say try the Chardonnay, but don’t expect Chardonnay since it has more of the initial NZ Sauvignon Blanc traits (then that dry sour aftertaste).

Three Wishes Chardonnay Label ©2011, TalesFromtheTrellis

Three Wishes Chardonnay Label ©2011, TalesFromtheTrellis

My Three wishes:

1) I wish these wines were better – but they are under 3 dollars and that’s a tall wish.

2) I wish my palette could not differentiate between great, good, bad and really bad wine. Unfortunately I can, and I think you will notice on this occasion if you have not yet.

3) I wish people who try this will see the difference between this and a decent 7-9 dollar bottle in terms of quality – and go with something made well, but value priced like Chateau St Jean, Columbia Crest Two Vines from Washington State, Cupcake Vineyards, and Yellowtail. Big House wines that come in the Octavin have 3 liters and comes out to about $5 a bottle and a really great buy for the quality!

I also have a 4th wish:

I hope if new wine drinkers try this, it will be an entry point into wine, not a final destination.

In winning the battle between Charles Shaw and Three Wishes –being the best of the worst is still not a huge compliment is it? Their Merlot (that taste like Pinot Noir) is the best of the 3, then the Chardonnay, and last is the Cabernet.

Try and see – is what I recommend, then you be the judge. It’s cheap enough to try this tasting at home for under $8. But as I always say – “Life is too short for (really) bad wine”!

Coming up next post:

I am about to do a tasting for a new brand called Wily Jack. It is about $5 USD and comes in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Let’s see if doubling the price doubles the quality of the last one! Oh, and for those in the brand/marketing field – Michael Schwab (I love his work) designed the labels! Nice bold branding. Check back soon!


Steve From the Trellis

©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011


Valentine’s Day Sparkling Wine Suggestions Under $11 USD – Spreading the Love!

14 02 2011



Mionetto Prosecco on the Sill ©2011

Mionetto Prosecco on the Sill ©2011

Since today is Valentine’s Day, let me quickly suggest a few value-priced sparkling wines under $11 USD –  that bring a lot of quality for very little cost that I tasted blind, with my wife and mother last month (we are all avid sparkling wine fans). Champagne put you into a higher price point so we went with these international sparklers for this tasting.

Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington and Charles De Fére-Reserve Blanc de Blanc from France, were the top two based on the comments and notes from the rest of the tasters with me. Barefoot Brut Cuvée and Yellowtail Bubbles Rose (YT was good for the price but a touch sweet and creamy-so those with a love for the sweeter style wines will love this). The new label is beautiful and the closure is amazing. It seals the bottle! At the bottom was Woodbridge by Mondavi-Brut – which I can not recommend at any price.

Also check the post about Riondo and Mionetto Proseco, both are excellent sparkling wine choices for today (or any day) as well!

Last year I posted this article about sparklers, have a look.

Have a happy and safe Valentine’s Day everyone, cheers! Peace, health and love today – and always.


New Year’s Sparkling Celebration Taste-Off Part 1: Prosecco!

31 12 2010

Anticipation of the Bubbles

As the close of the past year is upon us and promise of the new year is hours away, we toast to all that has come before and that lie ahead.

As I have mentioned in the Valentine’s Day post earlier this year, my favorite wine is sparkling, so this day is always special when it comes to my preferred choice(s). Many countries and wine regions produce various styles of sparkling wine (see the Valentines blog for more detail) from bone dry to downright cavity inducing sweetness, and everything in between!

Of course we all would love to be drinking Dom, Crystal or  my favorite higher end Champagne – Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, but for many of us, we need to find the best quality and taste for our hard-earned dollars. So spending between $8 and $15 USD is our sweet spot. No, we won’t be able to compare any of the 8 bottles in this 2 part blog with anything that resembles a classic and true French Champagne, but let’s find what is the best of the value priced sparkling wines. Also note, these are priced for everyday drinking – so if you do try and like some of these, make them your go to wine. Many of these will be great appertiefs and some will work with some fried foods or light cheeses. The more acidic the wine, the fattier the food to pair. I always love tuna or especially salmon with my sparklers. Potato pancakes, egg rolls, Tempura and other fried foods work well too – try KFC and french fries!

Prosecco on the Sill

3 Prosecco

I have broken the tasting up into two categories: Prosecco (from Italy) and Sparkling wine from the USA and France. I would have loved to include Spanish Cava, but will need to return to you with another global sparkling tasting report another time. The Prosecco tasting was done blind, meaning that I had no idea which of the 3 producers I was sampling – until the reveal at the end.

Prosecco is a lighter style of sparkling wine, from the Veneto region of Italy. There are also several South American countries that are producing Prosecco like Argentina and Brazil.

Prosecco is created using the Charmat method, where there is a secondary fermentation that takes occurs in stainless steel tanks. This is a less costly method than the French “Method Champenois” where the secondary fermentation occurs inside the bottle itself to create the carbonation.Less cost make for bargain alternatives!

One thing to note and understand, and this also holds true for most sparkling wines, is the level of sweetness/dryness.

“Brut” style has up to 15 g of residual sugar and is typically the most dry, though some producers have started to make zero percent dosage (added sugar after the secondary fermentation) sparklers that would be the driest of all, but those are not a large share of the market.

“Extra Dry” does not mean it is drier, it means it may be sweeter than the Brut with anywhere from 12–20 g.

“Dry” designation means it is actually the sweetest with 20–35 g. In France, there are other styles such as Cremant and Demi-Sec, which will have to be discussed on a post closer to Valentines Day.

Ok, enough about the nomenclature, let’s get into it!

Rionolo Prosecco, First Place

Rionolo Prosecco, First Place

My first place choice ended up being my favorite go to Prosecco from Riondo. It had nice random bubbles but was not as sparkling as the other 2. Color was very pale yellow with floral scents and flavors of apricot and lemon/citrus. The finish is nice and smooth, but with enough acidity to keep it interesting. It was clean and pure tasting. It sells in the Tri-State area for around $10 to $15.

CupCake Vineyards Prosecco

CupCake Vineyards Prosecco

My second place choice was CupCake Vineyard Prosecco. This brand has made a big splash making different varietals around the world sourcing grapes from the correct regions. In this case, they made this Prosecco from 100% Prosecco grapes from Veneto. I found that it was a bit more dark in color, more effervescent than the others, and resembled a california sparkling wine with its nose, body and crispness. There was a bit of a sharp chalk/minerality on the finish. I like this very much, though the other 2 seemed to be more in line with a typical Prosecco profile. This can work really well with fattier foods as the acidity will help cut that fat and refresh your mouth. For $7.99 on sale, it is a steal.

Mionetto Prosecco

Mionetto Brut Prosecco

Third place went to Mionetto, though I would consider it a tie for second. Similar in profile to Rionolo, but with apple and lemon/lime aromas and flavors. The finish is faster than the other 2, but it is smooth and easy drinking. This is a nice light style sparkler that many will love. Priced at around $9.99 – $12.99.

In conclusion, any of these 3 are great value priced Sparkling Wines and you won’t go wrong here.

Look for part 2 of the Sparkling Wines for New Years coming soon!

We tasted 5 more Sparkling bottles including Woodbridge by Mondavi from California, Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington, Charles de Fére from France, Barefoot Cuvée from California, and Yellow Tail Bubbles from Australia.

Best and Happy New Year! Thank you all for reading and following Tales From the Trellis.

Steve from the Trellis

©, 2010

Out and About: The Prickly Pear Restaurant Dinner and Pairing

22 11 2010

As I write this, it is 4:00 AM. I should be sleeping but here I am, writing about one of the best wine and dine experiences I have had since Napa earlier this year, and perhaps years before that.

Every once in a while it will happen – when perfectly prepared food and excellent wine work together to elevate the experience into something magical and memorable. Saturday night I felt the magic again. I’m not talking about the basic parings that always help wine and food come together to help each other, I mean something to remember always!

There is a place in Hackettstown, NJ that is known by the locals as “THE” place to go for a special night out called the Prickly Pear. Since last night was that “special” night, I checked out the menu online to see if anything changed since my last visit and to plan the wine selections.

In New Jersey BYO is very much the norm (difficulty and costly to get Liquor Licenses) – which is perfect for people who enjoy purchasing in advance to cellar for the right time. As I read through the menu, my stomach and head told me…meat. Not sure about the type yet, so I went down to pick a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir. I already knew what we would start with, as I had saved this 1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparking wine for this. I had last had a bottle of this New Years Eve and wanted to see if or how it evolved since. I polished up my Riedel glasses and put them in the case (yes, I bring my glassware at times too and I will explain this later). I picked out the Waypoint 2003 Napa Cabernet from the Beckstoffer/To-Kalon Vineyard. Again, these are serious wine by themselves, and price on release was in the $50 – $75 range. I did bring a bottle of the 2006 W.H. Smith Sonoma Maritime Pinot Noir, in case I went with roasted lamb for my dinner entrée.

As we walked in, Linda Andes, the owner, host and “front of the shop” manager was there to greet us. It was around 6:00 PM and the line was already out the door as reservations are only taken for parties of 6 or more, so get there early! Smiling, she sat us and we were quickly served with fresh warm bread and butter. Simply but elegantly decorated, you would never know you were in a strip mall, or even in extreme west New Jersey for that matter!

As I turned around, I saw a few large empty tables and it looked as though a party was going to take place in the rear of the restaurant (we have been here with a large party before and that area is perfect to keep noise and privacy for all).

After perusing the menu (specials listed on the front) I spotted a 16 oz. T-bone, simply grilled, with roasted small potato and blue cheese. I was sold. The starter for me would be the smoked salmon flatbread with a jalapeño-spiked crème fresh and lightly dressed (house vinaigrette) arugula served on a flatbread. I was a bit concerned about the heat/spice against the sparkling wine, but it was not an issue.

As the party guests arrived and were seated, our service remained excellent and we were served our appetizers quickly. My wife opted for the goat cheese and caramelized onion and sage perogies and my daughter went for the Prickly Pear Salad (both were amazing and passed around the table to share).

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

Our Argyle bubbly that had been taken from us upon entry arrived back to our table opened, and I poured a glass for my wife and myself. The nose was a bit different from last time, and felt deeper. Plenty of yeast and biscuit. Tasting it, it had put on some “weight” and was definitely much fuller and complex. So smooth and creamy at the finish. Not overly heavy – but plenty of layers of flavor like pear, apple, melon, toasty brioche and vanilla. This has a very long finish and will dance in your mouth for a while after!

I feel this is one of, if not THE finest sparkling wines from the USA I have had. I would put it up with top champagnes and far most cost. This is the type of wine that you can have with your entrée, not just an appetizer. It has the weight and complexity to stand up to many dishes and guess what, it held up to my steak (but was perfectly paired with my salmon appetizer). Some of you reading this may balk at this, but there sparkling wines that can pair well with heavier fare.

This was rated the #18 Wine of the Year from Wine Spectator last year, and given 95 points. I would say it has improved and would go a bit higher. It has become smoother, seamless and if you have the chance to try this, you wont forget. Bubbles are the perfect wine, they go with almost anything and lighter style versions are great for starters while deeper and more complex iterations (like this Argyle) can take you through main courses.

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

I opened the 2003 Waypoint To-Kalon Cabernet and poured/swirled to prepare it for the upcoming entreés (my t-bone and my wife’s fillet). I brought my Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses because they DO make a difference! If you don’t believe me, try and see. The thin crystal and gorgeous shape (tall with plenty of room to swirl) of the glass help enhance the wine and allows your tongue and mouth to get the best from it (hitting all areas). Think of thick beer mugs for instance and how that forces the beer in your mouth to the back. I did not believe this when I first heard of Riedel, but I can definitely taste the difference.

Riedel make several lines now from the top of the line Sommelier to the overture basic affordable glassware, but the Riedel O glasses emerged as a huge commercial success. They are those stem-less glasses that have now been copied by lower end producers like Libby. I love them and these have all the quality of their other lines, but without the stem (and less likely to break) they fit into the top track of the dishwasher (yes, these Riedel’s I do wash in there) and are like weebles, they wobble but the don’t fall down! I will create a post dedicated to stemware soon to get geeky/scientific on this topic, but do check out the Riedel website.

Our main courses were served and service remained excellent (even with 2 large parties going on in the back). Perfectly grilled to medium rare and seasoned simply to let the quality of the meat shine. The potatoes were amazing. Just enough melted blue cheese on them to give that tangy flavor but not too overpowering. Some fresh string beans were also served on the same plate.

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

The Waypoint 2003 Cabernet was a perfect complement to the meat. Extremely dark in the glass and when I swirled – cassis, dark berry, plum and vanilla cream on the nose. Initial reports on this wine were that it needed time to soften the tannins (too harsh on release) but it has aged very well and the tannins are totally integrated – all smooth sailing with dark plum, berry and oak. I was thrilled with this wine and the pairing was amazing. Kudos to Chef/Owner Joe Andes. He never fails to have something on the menu that exceeds expectations! The filet was also cooked perfectly and was wonderful with the Waypoint Cabernet as well.

Dessert consisted of a crème bruleé, crispy on top and perfectly smooth with rich vanilla custard. I was unable to try the Pumpkin Cheesecake (nut allergy) or the Chocolate cake (nuts again) but the word from the table was – thumbs up. My double espresso was the perfect foil for the rich creamy bruleé.

It was a great night out with family, made even more special with great food and wine. Truly a perfect evening with all the right ingredients.

Santé and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday to all those celebrating. I will try to publish my top picks for Turkey Day Pinot Noir before Thursday!

Steve From the Trellis

Related Links:

The Prickly Pear Restaurant: 80-30 Main St. Plaza, Hackettstown, NJ                   908-879-0003

Riedel Stemware

Argyle Winery

Waypoint Wines from The Bounty Hunter

6 Sexy, Summery, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs Under $15 USD: Taste-Off! Part 1 of 2

11 06 2010

Sauvignon Blanc on the Sill © 2010, Tales From the Trellis

The hot, steamy weather is here and that means it is time for some delicious white wine. One of my favorites, when it gets hot, is Sauvignon Blanc. So, being that New Zealand Sauv Blanc  is a big hit here in my house as well as with friends, I decided to see which of the current brands out there were the best. Best way to do this is have a semi blind tasting to see. Semi blind, in that already know the varietals and even the brands, but we do not know which one is which.

I’m excited about this tasting on a few levels. First of all, unlike the last blind tasting on value priced Pinot Noir under $12 USD, there are far more quality choices here. So even though I am only going to taste and discuss this sample of 6 “popular” and available bottles, there are many out there that can be had for around this same price – so go forth and find/try them.

Overview: Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand  is (still) a great value varietal that has been around and makes its appearance in many blends and in many regions around the world. Taste profiles range vastly with this grape, and in New Zealand – it produces very distinct aromas and flavours – so you should be able to pick it out of a lineup with other types of wines.

All of the wines I am about to discuss originate from wineries in Marlborough. It is arguably the best place to grow and produce this wine and I have found it to be the best example of SB from this country (and many others too).

Typical of NZ SB’s, you will find tropical fruit like pineapple, peach, citrus like lemon and/or lime, freshly cut grass, and sometime cat pee (yes-I went there),

If you like this, try to find SB from other regions to see how styles change with region and terroir. This can be seen easily with this wine. French use it to make Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. It is blended with Semillion.

Tropical flavors like melon, pineapple and heavy grapefruit as well as gooseberry, herbs, grass and rhubarb and citrus (limes) lemon zest, passionfruit. enough acid (crisp) on the finish to keep it refreshing.

Easy drinking, great summer wine, no bitterness, some crisp acid that is refreshing and super on hot days. In the summer, I go for this and sparking wines as well as rosé (look for a post on that soon).

History: Though NZ is considered “New World”, they have made wine since the early to mid 1800’s and the oldest area is Hawke’s Bay where, as we see in many other regions, wine was being produced for the church. In the last 14 years, the amount of wineries in NZ has almost tripled from about 230 to 600.

Growing Areas: The Region is made up of 8 main regions: Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wairairapa, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury, and Central Otago. There are 2 islands that make up NZ. Marlborough is at the northernmost part of the South island and produces the most amount of this wine. Chardonnay and Pinot are also produced, and are really starting to be of excellent quality for the price. Look for an upcoming post on blind tasting NZ pinot noir under $12 soon! I have already purchased a few great examples for this one. The vast amount of sun along with cool nights and low rain make this a perfect place to grow this grape.


  • 24 glasses: Riedel O white and Riedel Party glasses (did not have 24 of either so had to work that out)
  • 6 wine bottles with all labels hidden and numbered-and thus “blind”
  • About 2 ounces in each glass, each served one “round” at a time
  • 4 people tasting and taking notes of which 2 are SB fans, 1 is ambivalent and the other is “not a fan”

NOTE: These wines did change a lot from the time we first sipped #1 until we worked through the 6th one. I thought I had a clear winner –but changed my mind entirely.

Semi-Blind Tasting

I am getting some help with this tasting, as my wife Stacey, mom and mother in law will be sipping along to ensure a “fair and balanced” representation. Each bottle is wrapped with a blank paper and tagged with a number so we will be able to associate our notes with that bottle. There are some fancier kits you can purchase for wine tasting parties, but since this is merely for “science” and not for “show,” I will keep it fairly casual.

OK, the bottles are organized and covered (blind), and I have poured 2 sets of 4 Riedel Overture red wine glasses with about 2 ounces each of the 4 bottles and labeled napkins under each to tell us what to associate with our notes. Again, this is “blind” so we have no idea which we will be tasting until after we reveal out notes and rankings. I also allowed these samples about 45 minutes in the glasses to breath before we began.

The wines are:

Matua, Cooper’s Creek, Babich, Brancott, Satellite and Oyster Bay. All of these but the Brancott (2009) were from the 2008 vintage. Also note, I am estimating under $15 US, but I did pay about $10 here in NJ.

Check back soon to see the tasting notes and the final results! It was surprising to say the least.

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales From the Trellis and Talesfromthetrellis, 2010

Steal My Sip: Pinot Noir recommendations for around $12 USD and under: The blind tasting!

29 03 2010

Four Pinots on the Sill © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Okay, after over a week of miserable allergies, my nose is back and I am raring to go on with this tasting!

Let me start by saying that this is not going to be easy. Typically to find a nice Pinot under $18 USD is almost impossible, but let me explain. Pinot noir is typically priced at starting points higher than other varietals because…it is a pain in the a@@ to grow. Some of you may have seen the movie Sideways (which explained a bit of this, but also put the screws to Merlot), and remember that Miles said it is a very thin-skinned grape and needs the perfect climate to grow into something extraordinary and become Pinot Noir.

Varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot are grown almost everywhere and are stronger, tougher grapes and can withstand the elements better than Pinot Noir. So that all being said, we pay for all of this at the checkout. The care needed and given to these grapes will cost us more, but…when it is done right, Pinot takes up to another planet. This is why you will find a ton of those varietals previously mentioned, on the shelves at much higher volumes produced and the ability to sell at lower prices. Much more available grapes to make these wines, blend with others, etc. So there are fewer produced at the under 11 price point.

There are so many styles from which choose. California is typically more fruit-forward, France is typically more earthy, Oregon skates the line between, New Zealand, and South America have become players now in their cooler regions.

Today, we have a few bottles that were $12.00 USD or less from the 2008 vintage. Three of these 4 come from California. The other is French. I will blind test to see what I will use as my “house Pinot” and can serve to guests at events or give away as presents in the future. Again, everyone has a different sense of what is good, mine will be about color, nose (smell), mouthfeel, taste, price and of course – overall bang for the buck. Which of these will taste like a 2 dollar wine and which can pass for a $20? Let’s try them and see.

I have chosen these 4 bottles based on availability, popularity. Please note that I have had tried them all in the past – but different years (vintages) for each. So these represent, to me, the best of the best that are widely available. 3 of the 4 were purchased in a local Supermarket Chain wine store – if that gives you an indication about just how widely available they are here in NJ and the tri-state area.

4 glass tasting 1 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

4 glass tasting 1 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Blind Tasting

I am getting some help with this tasting, as my wife Stacey will be sipping along to ensure a “fair and balanced” representation. Each bottle is wrapped with a blank paper and tagged with a number so we will be able to associate our notes with that bottle. There are some fancier kits you can purchase for wine tasting parties, but since this is merely for “science” and not for “show,” I will keep it fairly casual.

OK, the bottles are organized and covered (blind), and I have poured 2 sets of 4 Riedel Overture red wine glasses with about 2 ounces each of the 4 bottles and labeled napkins under each to tell us what to associate with our notes. Again, this is “blind” so we have no idea which we will be tasting until after we reveal out notes and rankings. I also allowed these samples about 45 minutes in the glasses to breath before we began.


Bottle One of 4

Bottle 1 of 4

Bottle number one:

Color: Medium Ruby, as we can still see our fingers through our glass, but not clearly. All 4 of these are similar.

Legs/Tears: After swirling, we see that the “tears” or “legs” which represent alcohol content, take a bit of time to develop then show – but slight. This is indicative of alcohol content. Higher will typically mean higher levels of alcohol.

Nose: A bit “tight” and not giving that much in the way of scent now. Dark fruit, a bit of alcohol burn (astringent) and a bit of a sour note. Not much in terms of the nose.

Mouthfeel: Think of mouthfeel like viscosity: water (light), skim milk (medium) milk (full), heavy cream (mouth coating and silky). This one was between light and medium.

Taste: Light raspberry, vanilla, and heat on the finish from high alcohol (burns the back of the throat a bit) – so not much to talk about. This was not pleasant and any taste disappeared quickly, except for the alcohol burn on the short finish. Think of the tasting as a movie or play. There is a beginning, a middle and end. This went from start to finish quickly and ended poorly, but quickly.

Bottle 2 of 4

Bottle 2 of 4

Bottle number two:

Color: Medium Ruby, as we can still see our fingers through our glass, but not clearly–just outlines (as all 4 of these are similar)

Legs/Tears: After swirling, very similar to the first glass

Nose: Differs from the first bottle as it revealed some interesting notes. A bit of cherry vanilla, but a very different characteristic was some orange peel. Perfumed with violets with herbs and  a bit of alcohol as well. Interesting nose overall. High hopes based on this.

Mouthfeel: This one was more toward medium

Taste: Light cherry vanilla, some cream soda, dark berry, and a bit tannic (tart and sour) on the finish. This tannic characteristic faded and got somewhat better after abut 15 more minutes in the glass, but still fruit faded into heat.

Bottle 3 of 4 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Bottle 3 of 4

Bottle number three:

Color: Medium to dark Ruby – the darkest of the 3 so far

Legs/Tears: After swirling, similar to the first glass. Then we see tears slowly forming and moving down the glass.

Nose: Sweet dark stone fruits, some cherry and a lot of vanilla, a bit of alcohol was wafting up, but not overpowering the vanilla notes. Hoping this tastes like it smells. I think I know which bottle this is, based on the nose alone.

Mouthfeel: This one was medium to full, with a creaminess – thanks to that heavy use of oak (probably oak chips not full oak barrels at this low price)

Taste: Very “manipulated” but smooth with “skittle- like” candy notes (kudos to my hero, Gary Vaynerchuck and WL TV) some cream soda, dark berry, and a bit of heat on the finish. This one had the longest finish, with the fruit giving way to the vanilla oak. Very smooth. Smoothest so far, but reminiscent of the wine I had made 2 years back – and it was not a pinot noir. I’m torn about this wine. I want to dislike it because it seems a bit “fake” but really do like the way the oak and fruit work together and how smooth it is. I think many people will really like this. Not as much a food wine as it seems an apéritif that can work alone. Best so far, but again, I’m still undecided on this one. Will come back to it later to see. I’m intrigued.

Bottle 4 of 4 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Bottle 4 of 4

Bottle number four:

Color: Medium to dark Ruby – like  3

Legs/Tears: After swirling, similar to the first glass. Then thick tears, the most of this grouping

Nose: Wow, interesting! What the hell is this? Unusual tobacco and dirt. This is earthy and full of vegetable aromas. I am picking up green peppers, olives and even cut grass. Also, getting some oregano here. Unfortunately, I also am picking up a very strange (in a bad way) tar and burnt plastic aromas. I will come back later to see if this “blows” off /dissipates with air time.

Mouthfeel: This one was more toward medium like skim to regular milk

Taste: Picking up that tar in here like a young Barolo from Piedmont, Italy or perhaps that burnt plastic/acetone is reminding me of a South African Pinotage blend I had last year. This is interesting, for sure, but seems out of balance. Dark fruit. The alcohol is not playing well with the fruit just yet. Some bitter notes through this and that grassy vegetable characteristic from the nose is coming through on the palate. This differs from the first and second bottle, with a serious personality here, but not sure it is a friendly one. This may be like the annoying neighbor that we all know, but love despite his faults.This definitely reminds me of South Africa, like Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap (only not as smooth).

Empty Glasses for Pinot Tasting © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Empty Glasses for Pinot Tasting © Tales From the Trellis, 2010


I was right, lol. It is really hard to find something under $18 USD that I really like and would want to have every day and is a real quality product with a sense of place and overall high quality. That being said, here are the final notes and placement of the bottles:

  • 4th Place: Bottle #1. This had little to offer in nose or taste. We both agreed that it was not something we want to drink again. I give it 1 star of 5.
  • 3rd Place: Bottle#2. Though this was smoother than the first, and had a start, middle and finish – it was light and did end on a harsh note with high alcohol burn. 2 Stars.
  • 2nd Place: Bottle #4. Ok, let me explain. Stacey hated this bottle, but for some of the reasons she did not like it, I found it interesting. Again, we all have our own palette so no answer is wrong. Since this offered up really different aromas and flavors, I found it interesting than the first 2, though it was not characteristic of a “real” pinot noir. I think that this bottle may have had higher levels of “Bret” in it, a wine flaw that could have been responsible for that “burnt plastic” characteristic. I would actually say it tied with bottle #2 to be fair, but want to see what would happen to an unopened bottle in about 6 months to a year. Perhaps that may help this bottle. I am giving it 2-2 ½ stars.
  • 1st place: THE WINNER! Ok, so this leaves Bottle #3. Even though this bottle tasted “fake” and “manipulated”, it was still the clear winner. It was fruity, smooth and easy drinking. Had notes of cherry vanilla, a bit of cola, dark fruit and a good mouthfeel. This is a wine that novice drinkers will flock to. Easy drinking, nothing to hate – no tannins, super fruity, a touch sweet with ripe fruit and plenty of cherry/berry vanilla. Intermediate to advanced pinot noir drinkers will not feel this way – but hey, this is for the majority out there that makes up this target market at pinot under $12. 2 ½+ stars.

Pinot Corks Blind Taste Rankings

Pinot corks rankings © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

The big reveal, in order of ranking:

HobNob Pinot Noir 2008, © HobNob Vineyards

HobNob Pinot Noir © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

1st Place: HobNob, Vin De Pays d’Oc, France

I think in a year, the over ripe fruit (skittles) taste may die down a bit and balance out a bit more, so I will put away a bottle to see and get back to you, but I do think this is a short-term wine. I am also surprised that this bottle came from France. This is the most atypical flavor profile for a French Pinot that I have ever seen (smelled, tasted, etc). I thought this would be a California producer for sure. I would have lost a lot of money on that bet. Hobnob has a fantastic website, so check it out.

This was like Rachel Ray compared to Bobby Flay. Many love Rachel for her mass appeal, familiar and comfortable like the girl next door  – and some dislike her for her lack of knowledge and label her as a “wannabe” chef to discredit her. Note: I appreciate what she brings to the table, which is getting more people interested in cooking!

McDonald’s is fake in every sense of the word, but still – many love it. It has mass appeal, hell – even Julia Child admitted to liking Mickey D’s! So, I admit it…out of the 4, this is what I would choose as the top of the lot. So kill me, I enjoy McDonald’s once in a while. When I asked which one Stacey wanted to have again if I could only pour one more, and she said bottle #3 (even after voting Mark West as her initial favorite). Not a wine for the “purist” pinophiles.

2nd Place: Castle Rock, Mendocino, California

Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Mendecino 2008

Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Mendocino 2008

Castle Rock is a fantastic producer of value priced wines, consistently. They have made wine from all over California and even Washington. I always recommend them to people asking for a solid producer across the board. I love their Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, so look for that too, and at around $12 a bottle, a steal. This pinot was really funky and I think that it is not for novices, and probably not for advanced drinkers as well, but for people looking for something different. It is interesting, but again, I want to see if some of that funk blows off in a year. That will help pull this one together.

Mark West Pinot Noir 2008 © The Purple Wine Co.

Mark West Pinot Noir 2008 © The Purple Wine Co.

3rd Place: Mark West Wines, California

Mark West has really taken the country by storm. Many magazines and critics have rated this wine as a best value and you see it all over. Huge acclaim and has beat out pinot up to $100 USD.

I remember when they were not as well know here in NJ and bought 2 bottles. One was the lower end (like this one we tried today) and one higher end. I loved the higher end version (Russian River Valley 2005?) but was more than double to cost. I don’t see those around and don’t think they make it anymore. I did not like the lower end version then, and though it has improved, still put it in 3rd overall. Light in style, an interesting nose but with fading flavor and heat and bitterness on the finish. Good start, decent middle but bad finish. Also “manipulated” tasting like the HobNob, but not as smooth. Not a wine for the “purist” pinophiles.

Heron 2008 Sonoma Pinot Noir, © Heron Wines

4th Place: Heron Wines, Sonoma, California

Heron has made quality Pinot Noir in the past. This is not one of them. Light, fading fast and a whisper of a flavor profile. Hoping they can have better luck next year, because I do like them very much.

Closing Statement: Pinot Noir recommendations for $12 or less

So there it is. Unanimous with an explanation. I poured us a second glass and we finished our dumplings – knowing we had a winner in the under $12 USD category anyway. Next time, I will work up to the $12-17 pinot and will include a global representation for more diversity. This time out, McDonald’s rules the day, as the others were not able to overcome their faults, while the winner won with sheer over-the-top excess in fruit and wood (and a bit of manipulation). Cheers to HobNob Vineyards for this import that will satisfy many here in the USA.

Also try these value Pinots:

  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2008: $10.00-12.00 USD
  • Chalone Pinot Noir, Monterey County 2008: $11.99- 16.00 USD
  • Deloach California Pinot Noir: $10-13.00 USD
  • Spend the extra and go for the Cambria, Julia’s Vineyard for $18.00!

Post your favorite Pinot Noir under $12 USD here! Let me know what you liked about them.

Full disclosure: I do not take money, wine, advertising or trade for higher or manipulated reviews–period.

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales From the Trellis and Talesfromthetrellis, 2010

Tasting blind is possible, but tasting stuffed?

23 03 2010
The Nose Knows © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

The Nose Knows © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Forgive me but I’ve been unable to have that pinot tasting I had been hinting at and building suspense around. I was to conduct a blind tasting of 4 Pinot Noir bottles on Saturday, but unfortunately allergy season hit that evening. So, it would be unfair to try to taste, since most of the tasting requires your nose to be in working order. Ever pinch you nose and try to taste anything…well, you really can’t. This is the current state of affairs.

I am depressed, as this is now into the third day, and looks like the Claritin®  has not yet begun to work its magic.

This situation does, however, bring up some interesting fodder for conversation. If critics run into a situation where they have come down with a cold, have horrible allergies (like me), or even an injury to their mouth or tongue…what do they do if a piece they are writing about is due?

I would tend to think they have to take a pass, or swap it for another piece non-tasting required. I do not think any wine critic could even attempt to grade or write about a wine in such a state. Sure, they can discuss color all day long, but what do they really do when this happens.

In any case, I am hoping to get this tasting done and come back to you all with my notes! In the meantime, hope you are all enjoying something nice and have not fallen ill with the coming of the new season – and these same symptoms.

I will be back soon, and hopefully with info, so stay tuned! Cheers.

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales From the Trellis and, 2010