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Posts Tagged ‘California Wines’

Best Pinot Noir for $20

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The Best Pinot Noir Wines for under $20

Good Pinot Noir Wines for $20 or less

Good Pinot Noir Wines for $20 or less

No, this headline is not a typo with the above-mentioned price. There are many $20 Pinot Noir wines available on the market, but we were hoping to find the Best Pinot Noir for $20.  We were searching for wines you’d be okay serving to friends at dinner.

My wife and I had been discussing how you really can’t find a good Pinot Noir for less than $40. Then, she purchased an inexpensive one while out shopping so we tried it. We were shocked that it was better than expected and quite delicious.

We were talking with our friends Heather and David about this great find. They completely concurred about how hard it is to find a reasonably price Pinot. So, they organized a $20 (or less) Best Pinot Noir for $20 Challenge with a small group of friends. We all had low expectations, but I’m glad to report, we were mainly wrong. Out of the eight wines we all tasted, five ended up being good to very good.

One bottle was the clear loser. All of us hated this wine and I thought it tasted like smelly feet. Our friend Ken joked I was just experiencing terroir. Right. Locker room terroir.

All eight bottles of Pinot Noir wines were blind tasted. The top five wines of the night are listed below along with my tasting notes and comments. These wines received the most total votes for first, second or third place from the eight of us. Of the group, all but two people were serious wine drinkers. Here are five surprisingly good Pinot Noir wines priced at less than $20.

Pali Bluffs 2011 Pinor Noir

Pali Bluffs 2011 Pinor Noir

1. Pali 2011 Bluffs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $19 – Dark in the glass; Great; Very fruit forward so I believe it’s a California Pinot; It doesn’t taste as though this wine is a Pinot Noir at all; It tastes a bit “green” which I believe will improve with aging.

a. This wine received the most “like” votes; although I didn’t cast a vote for it in my top three.


2. Kirkland (Costco) 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $17 – Nice aroma of cherry fruit. Good legs. Classic Pinot flavor profile with raspberry and sour cherry. It was a rich tasting wine with .

a. This wine was my overall favorite of the night. With in the group, it placed

b. Everyone was shocked that the Costco wine, which was the one Stephanie had picked up for her and I to try the prior week. At $17, it is amazingly good wine and perfect for a weeknight dinner.


Coppola Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Coppola Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

3. Francis Coppola 2011 Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast $20 – Light red in color; Delicious; Vibrant; This tastes like a Burgundian style Pinot Noir; Very classic Pinot flavor of strawberry, raspberry; light viscosity.

a. This was the first wine tasted and everyone liked it immediately. I reserved a portion of my original glass and was able to go back and re-sip from it while tasting the other candidates. I never change my mind about it’s goodness; although the Kirkland wine, which was the fourth tasting, ended up supplanting it as my favorite.

b. This was my second favorite.  When it was revealed to be from cool-climate Sonoma Coast, I understood why it tasted like a Burgundian.


4. Sequana 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $20 – Good nose of cherry; This tastes like it is from a warm climate because it is a bit earthy; Good terroir; Solid; Taste a bit of chalkiness.

a. Well I was wrong about the climate but the cherry and earth were spot on. We purchased this wine at Costco on the advice of a wine rep named Dave who was working that afternoon. I told him what I was looking for and he steered me clear of several other Pinot Noirs that had similar price points. It ended up being a good call on his part.


La Crema Pinot Noir 2011 Monterey

La Crema Pinot Noir 2011 Monterey

5. La Crema 2011 Pinot Noir Monterey $18 – This wine is a light, bright red. The fruit presents as cherry and was very floral like cheery blossoms. It tastes as though it has a good whack of alcohol.

a. This wine placing so highly was the biggest surprise of the evening.  What a strong showing for such an inexpensive wine brand. It was my third favorite and very good.


The wines receiving the least votes were as follows:

Becker Family 2010 Pinot Noir

Vine Hill 2009 Pinot Noir Los Carneros

Ortman Family Vineyard 2008 Salisbury Vineyard Pinot Noir San Luis Obispo


So if you are looking for a decent Pinot Noir wine to have with dinner or just for casual drinking, these five will be easy on your wallet and satisfy your palette.  Although yo umay find that these wines retail for slightly more than $20. we were able to find all of them for $20 or less at various our local stores.

You can also use this Best $20 Pinot Noir Wines as a theme to host a wine and cheese pairing party.





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90-Point Wines under $50

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90-Point + Wines Priced under $50

Favorite 90-point plus Wines under $50Recently, I tasted some wonderfully, delicious 90-point plus wines that were given high ratings by the “Kings of Wine Ratings”, aka, the various wine publications and critics.  At the time, I didn’t realize these red wines were so well regarded.   Typically, I try to not let the scoring system taint my impression of a wine.  I’d prefer to taste the wine without any knowledge of scores but afterwards I may do a bit of research to see where I can buy more and/or what others are saying about it.  That was the case with the two wines discussed below.

As I state in my own wine rating system, I think it’s easy to find a great tasting, highly ranked wine that costs over $100.  However, to find a 90-point wines for half or a third that price, is truly something to write about.  That’s why these 90-point rated wines, all under $50 made the grade.  I am partial to California red wines mainly because I live here but also because they are easily accessible, can provide value (given the price of land) and are finely crafted.

Sept is California Wine MonthSeptember is California Wine Month.  If you have an opportunity, get out to some of the wonderful vineyards and wineries around our state.  These California wines below all taste exceptional, provide great balance with foods, and won’t wreck your budget.


Cadre Vineyards Pinot Noir2009 Cadre “The Architects” Pinot Noir, Edna Valley  $45

I love this wine.  The aromatics are wonderful with great spiciness.  On the first sip you get classic black cherry, followed by vanilla and red plum fruit.  This wine feels substantial in the mouth without giving off too much jamminess or alcohol.  As you continue to drink, you’ll find it becoming more complex with a beautiful,medium-bodied earthiness and soft, red-fruit finish.

Cadre is a great story and has some outstanding vineyards.  I particularly love Laetitia Vineyards and Bien Nacido has cultured an outstanding reputation for wines that have been produced from grapes grown in their various lots.

I completely concur with Wine Enthusiast Magazine on this wine.  And wow, what a bargain.  It’s very difficult to find a Pinot Noir that tastes awesome for less than $50.

93 Points – Wine Enthusiast

5/5 Stars – Fine Living Enthusiast


Click here to learn more about Fine Living Enthusiast’s Wine Rating System.


2009 Farrier Presshouse Red, Alexander Valley $24

0-point wines under $50This wine tastes like a big, bold California fruit bomb.  Besides the blackberry, I tasted vanilla, chocolate and cherry cola.  The hint of spiciness, along with the fruit makes me want to serve this wine at our backyard barbeque. This wine has good structure, no doubt coming from the Cabernet Sauvignon presence.

In addition, Farrier wines are sustainably farmed, meaning they are mindful of the environment and the impact viticulture has on the land and its surroundings.

90 Points – Wine & Spirits

5/5 Stars – Fine Living Enthusiast









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United States Wine Festivals in 2013

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United States Wine Festivals in 2013

California Family Winemakers

Having a Great Time at the Family Winemakers of California Festival in San Diego

Okay you wine aficionados, get out your smart phones and add one or more of these United States Wine Festivals to your calendar.  This wine festival listing is not exhaustive but it is a really good start.  Besides sampling great wines from lesser-known wineries, at many of these wine festivals, you’ll also be able to nibble on small bites or indulge in gourmet food.  We have listed events that will be held during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Check back every so often because we will update our Wine Festivals List as we learn of more events.  And if you are an event planner and want your Wine Festival listed here, email us.

Wine travel is a great way to enjoy wines from regions not close to home while enjoying this great country we call home.

Many wineries are heading into harvest season, a particular exciting and stressful time for a winemaker.  If you are lucky enough to have wineries in your local area, go to their sites to see if they have scheduled any harvest festivities.  These are a great way to spend a day or weekend.

Many of the wine festivals we have listed can be combined with a business trip so let us help you plan just the right one.  Do you need some assistance with lodging? Give us a call because we have excellent pricing on hotels and resorts all around the US.


California Wine Festivals

California Wine Month

Sept 1st – 30th

There will be numerous festivals, dinners and other wine-related events at wineries throughout the state.  Check with your favorite winery for specific activities.  We will also provide updates as the date draws near.



Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Sept. 1, 2013Aloha from Hawaii

Malama Maui is a premier epicurean event. World-class chefs use farm-fresh Maui ingredients to create delicious flavors.



Music City Eats – Nashville

Sept. 21st – 22nd

Celebrity chefs, celebrities and chefs get together for this fun-filled weekend of food, wine and spirits festival.  Participating chefs and personalities include Michael Mymon, Jonathan Waxman, John Besh, Trisha Yearwood, Tim Love and Vinny Dotolo, plus many others.



Savor the Central Coast

Sept. 26th – 29th

Sample more than 200 wines and savor culinary treat from over 30 chefs. Celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio will be present.  There brewmasters and artisans also share their craft.



4th Annual Food & Wine All-star Weekend – Las Vegas Lamb Chop with Red Wine

Oct. 4th -6th

The beautiful properties Aria, Bellagio and MGM Grand partner with Food and Wine Magazine for a fun-filled epicurean weekend. Sommeliers, celebrity chefs and mixologists share techniques in demonstrations.



Hawaiian Aloha Calendar 2013Lahaina Plantation Days

Oct. 18th – 19th

This is one of the best events since the Halloween Street Party in Lahaina,  Enjoy the block party in downtown Lahaina with a host of foods and island music.




Temecula Valley Harvest Celebration

Nov. 2-3

Harvest time in CaliforniaThis popular 2-day event features over 30 wineries.  There will be food and barrel tastings. which is always a special treat to sample unfinished wines directly.






Barbados Food, Wine & Rum Festival Rum Festival Cocktails

Nov. 22nd – 25th

In its fourth year, this event celebrates the island’s prize rums, including many aged.  Epicureans and oenophiles will not be left out of this festive island party.  It’s a great time to vacation in Barbados.  Hurricane season is a distant memory and the crowds are thinner with the high season still weeks away.



Oregon Wine Festivals

Sept. 1st – Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon

The 3rd Annual Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon will feature a course that will take runners through the beautiful Willamette Valley.  Runners will receive a custom designed technical running shrit, a finisher’s medal and a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir wine glass with the event logo. Non-runners can enjoy world-class Oregon wines and sample gourmet foods while cheering on friends and family.  Afterwards, everyone can meet up at one of the 200 wineries that make up the Willamette Valley Wine region.


Virginia Wine Festivals

Sept 7-8 – Great Grapes Wine Arts & Food Festival, Reston

Over 200 wines from 20 Virginia wineries, along with hands-on demos with wine and food pairings.



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Top-Rated Wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara

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Enjoy these Top-Rated Wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara

As the weather turns warmer, many people turn to white whites and these three whites from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara are sure winners.  I recommend these top-rated wines because they are refreshingly crisp and are fairly inexpensive but still make worthy dinner companions because of the balance of fruit and acidity they bring to the table.  For this review, I  drank two Sauvignon Blanc wines, one from Napa Valley and the other from nearby Sonoma.  Next, I tasted a Santa Barbara County Chardonnay that was perfect for casual drinking on an unexpectedly warm day.

5/5 Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
This is a classic Sauv Blanc with grapefruit, lemon/lime zestiness. That’s why it earns a  great wine review rating. It has a lovely bright and crisp finish. Between this wine and the weather, it felt like I was enjoying a hot, August day. It’s great to see some of that esteemed Napa soil being used to grow Sauvignon Blanc. Blended with Semillion, this wine is a great example of a Bordeaux-style white. $22

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma

5*/5 Hanna Estate Grown 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma
My review for this wine is an impressive 5-star with value/5 rating.  I recommended this winery to a couple heading up to Sonoma for a long, weekend getaway. This wine is a great value especially from the Russian River Valley, which can be a high-rent district for California wineries. It’s wonderfully crisp, but delicate. It has the tropical flavor of pineapple, and a bit of Granny Smith apple with a lemon finish. Don’t be turned off by the screw-cap closure. $18

5*/5 Tangley Oaks 2007 Chardonnay, Lot #4, Central Coast
Here I go again with my Chardonnay disclaimer. I don’t typically care for these wines but, of course there are always exceptions, which explains the high rating I gave this Chard.  Tangley Oaks Chardonnay is not overly oaky, the very thing I dislike about chardonnays.  What a nice touch of vanilla with a Bit-o-Honey, which was one of my favorite candy bars as kid. Maybe I liked it so much though because it tasted like a Sauvignon Blanc with creamy pear and zesty lemon. $14

Here’s an explanation of my Tasting Notes Ranking System.



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Temecula Valley – Leonesse Cellars

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Leonesse Cellars  in Temecula Valley

4/5 Ranking

2011 Melage de Blanc Viognier

Viognier from Leonesse Cellars

Wine review and rating for a white wine blend from Temecula Valley

2011 Melange de Blanc

Leonesse Cellars is on of my favorite wineries in the Temecula Valley.  Some serious wine aficionados may laugh when I say this winery produces some excellent wines.  But that’s only because they haven’t had the pleasure of sipping their offerings.  As the saying goes, “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.”  You are missing out.

This is a Viognier/Grenache Blanc blend.  It’s very aromatic with flavors of white peach, apricot and pear.  It’s a wine you can drink with or without food. We tried it at the winery with lobster bisque.  Leonesse Cellars has a big tasting room with a separate wine room for special tastings, which need to be purchased in advance. You’ll love this wine come Spring/Summer. $24


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Wines to Pair with Thanksgiving Dinner

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Great White & Red Wines to Pair with your Thanksgiving Meal

Autumn Harvest and WineAre you thinking about serving a bottle of Chardonnay with your Thanksgiving turkey?  Do you plan on bringing a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon over to a friend’s?  Don’t even think about it.  Why?  These wines are too dominant. They are great as the stars of the table but when combined with all the food combinations on a Thanksgiving table, these wines want to be the “King of the Table” and can’t seem to play nicely with the varied dishes.

Okay I see you with that deer-in-the-headlights look, wondering what on earth you are doing to do now that I’ve crushed your little plan.  Come on. You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging.

Instead of the old standards, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, I have some far better choices for you.  And these versatile wines won’t clash with the abundance of meats, sides, sauces, and desserts.  The common mistake people make with wine and food pairing at Thanksgiving dinner is only thinking about the turkey, dressing or the mashed potatoes; and do not consider the herbs and spices used in the preparation of these foods.  If herbs traded on the stock exchange, I’d buy them in October and sell in January.  During the holidays we ramp up our use of thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, cinnamon, and nutmeg; only to neglect them the rest of the year.  But their use, completely changes the food and wine pairing game. Read More >

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Open That Bottle Night

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Open That Bottle Night

Last night we had an Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) and it was very successful.  Just a reminder for those who aren’t familiar.  OTBN was started by John Bretcher and Dottie Gaiter, wine writers for the Wall Street Journal.  The premise is to open that bottle of wine that you’ve been saving for just the perfect occasion, but that event never arrives and more times than not, you end up saving that bottle only to have it end of being past its prime when finally opened.  I’m happy to report, all of the bottles were lovely and more importantly, none were past their prime. Read More >

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I’ve Got a Secret but I Feel the Need to Share It

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Crios Torrontes 2010

The other night I was trying to adhere to my crazy new year’s resolution of only drinking 8 ounces of wine during week nights.   My reason?  I won’t even go there in this post, but just so you know, this resolution was not made while in a drunken stupor.  Anyway, since I can only have one and one half glasses a night, I found myself agonizing over what to drink.  Let’s face it at this rate I’ll be sipping from this same bottle for two and a half nights.  Therefore, the choice I make is very critical.

Now that I’ve shared that foolish resolution aloud, I’ll let you in on something else.   I have to confess that  . . . (wait, wait, okay here it comes)  I’m having an affair.   I thought that it was just a summer fling but I just can’t end it. You see, this summer I had such a wonderful love affair with delicious and refreshing white wines such a Torrontés from Argentina, Pinot Blanc from the Okanagan Valley, and Albariño from Spain that I have not been able to give them up, although it is winter , a time typically shared with reds.  Okay, I know that winter in San Diego is not exactly Green Bay but it’s all relative. Read More >

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Women and Wine

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Women drinking wine

Join us for a fun-filled day of wine, women, nibbles and laughter. Our professional driver will escort us on a comfortable motor coach to some of Temecula Valley’s better wineries.  Instead of fighting traffic up the I-15, you’ll be able to sit back, relax and talk with old friends or meet new wine enthusiasts as we head out for a fun, wine-filled afternoon.

The 6-hour trip includes:

  • Round-trip transportation from San Diego to Temecula by bus with forward-facing seats
  • Visit three (3) wineries, tasting fees included
  • Gourmet Cheese and Meat Platter
  • Winery tour
  • Souvenir wine glass
  • Bottled water

Date:                  Sunday, March 11, 2012

Time:                   10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Meet at the Bud Kearns Municipal Swimming Pool in Balboa Park at 9:45 am for departure at 10:00 am sharp (Upas St in North Park)

If there is enough interest, we can have a second pick-up location in North County!

Return to Balboa Park at 4:00 pm

Costs:                   $85.00

They’ll be leisure time allotted for you to enjoy tapas or a salad lunch (on your own account)

Sorry fellas. This is a “Women Only” event.

Please RSVP by March 2, 2012 to: 619-944-5202 or contactus@www.finelivingenthusiast.com

Sponsored by: Stephanie Terry & Gay Johnson of Fine Living Enthusiast

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2005 Deepwood Cellars Zinfandel, Estate Bottled – Central Coast, California

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Deepwood Cellars ZinfandelRecently, I decanted a bottle of a Deepwood Cellars fruity California Zinfandel for our Sunday dinner.  There was a tiny bit of sediment at the end of the bottle; but for the most part, the wine was still intact.  I examined the color and it appeared to be a bit more brickish red than a few years earlier but that’s to be expected from an aged red.  Now, I was ready to try my first sip.

The vibrant, juicy red-fruit flavor I had loved about this big Zin just wasn’t coming through. I didn’t want to panic, at least not yet so I allowed it to rest another couple of minutes in my glass.  There’s such a fine line between allowing an aged wine to breathe and allowing it to further decline due to oxidation. But, after another disappointing taste, I came to the awful conclusion that this wine was not as age worthy as I thought.  It was past its prime.  I was crushed. Read More >

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