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Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir’

Peregrine Pinot Noir

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New Zealand Pinot Noir

2011 Peregrine Pinot Noir Central Otago

Great atmosphere at Peregrine Winery Tasting Room

Great atmosphere at Peregrine Winery Tasting Room

I first tasted this Pinot back in 2009 on a trip to the South Island of super-scenic New Zealand. It was a memorable experience for three reasons.

The winery is uniquely gorgeous.  It is set against a backdrop of mountains and looks like the wing of an eagle as it soars high above, catching air currents. Secondly, the tasting room and cellar are as beautiful as the structure, which won awards for its contemporary design. Lastly, the wine was smooth, delicious and exactly what I had hoped for in a New Zealand Pinot Noir.


Flavor Profile

This Pinot Noir has a great floral nose that is followed with flavors of black cherry, thyme, dried flowers, wild raspberries and cranberries.  It’s a medium-boded wine with an intermediate finish. The wine comes in at 13.5% ABV. Aging occurs in French oak for 10 months, then is laid down for another three to five years.


 The Winery

Peregrine selects grapes from the Central Otago sub-regions Bendigo (47%), Pisa (36% ) and Gibbston (17%). All fruit is 100% hand harvested.


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Discover South African Wine

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South African Wine

Cape Dutch Architecture

Unique Cape Dutch Architecture

During the past 10 years, South African wines have gained a bit of shelf space in the wine shop. But, for the majority of American wine drinkers this country remains off the wine-drinking radar screen. That is a huge mistake because South African wine vintners produce some of the most value-driven, yet eminent wines in the world.

Storied History

South Africa is considered a New World wine region. However, European immigrants planted the first wine grapes back in 1652, launching a popular wine culture, especially in England and France. But as luck would have it, war, the opening of the Suez Canal and the presence of phylloxera led to an equally grand fall. Twenty years ago with the dismantling of Apartheid, major investments in the wine industry have spurred a reemergence.

Cape Winelands Surrounded by Mountains

Cape Winelands Surrounded by Mountains

The Cape Winelands region has many favorable conditions present for growing quality vines. With an accommodatingly warm Mediterranean climate, rich top- and sub soils, and adequate winter rainfall, this emerging nation has quickly regained a reputation for producing award-winning wines. It is also strikingly beautiful with Cape-Dutch architecture and picturesque wine estates set against mountainous backgrounds.


Popular Wine Regions

The more esteemed wine regions include the following:

Constantia Valley – Located a short 20-minute drive from Cape Town, this area is the birthplace of South African wine. Constantia, a same-named sweet Muscat wine was extremely popular among the English and French aristocracy. Today, Sauvignon Blanc, a cool-climate grape benefits from nearby ocean breezes off the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Stellenbosch – With more than 150 wine estates and grape producers, this region is the most popular with tourists, as well as locals.The short drive from Cape Town makes it an easy weekend getaway destination. The hilly terrain, compliments of the nearby Simonsberg, Drakenstein and Stellenbosch Mountains provides favorable soil conditions for growing world-class wines.

The University of Stellenbosch is the equivalent of University of California, Davis for viticulture and oenology studies.

Lunch at Moreson Wines in Franschhoek

Lunch at Moreson Wines in Franschhoek

Franschhoek – Famed for its amazing scenery and an outstanding culinary scene, the “French Corner” also produces some world-renown wines. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the valley produces international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, as well as Semillion and Shiraz.

Paarl – If you enjoy fortified wines and spirits, (who doesn’t?), this is your ‘hood. Situated in the Berg River Valley, many of the wine farms also make cheese and grow olives.


Take a Sip

One of my goals for 2015 is to “drink outside the box”. Instead of reaching for my tried-and-true favorites, I have started drinking wines made from lesser-known grapes. The wines of South Africa certainly fit into this category. Also, I plan to drink popular varieties from atypical regions. Instead of pouring a Russian River Pinot Noir, why not give one a try from South Africa?  With a climate similar to parts of Sonoma County and rejuvenated winemakers, expect some pretty tasty juice.

Approximately 55% of wine production in the country is dedicated to white grapes including less-familiar wines such as Colombard, Hanepoot (aka Muscat of Alexandria) and Cape Riesling. Steen, the local name for Chenin Blanc is the most popular white wine. It is one of my favorite styles.

Pinotage South Africa's Indigenous Grape

Pinotage South Africa’s Indigenous Grape

A truly unique red wine grape is the indigenous Pinotage. The grape was invented by a University of Stellenbosch professor as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. This is a wine you will either hate or tolerate; but very few people love it. However, you should taste for yourself.

Here are a few Pinotage suggestions to sample:

  • 2011 Fleur du Cap $12
  • 2011 Neil Ellis $18
  • 2011 Fairview Primo $28

Since South Africa is a southern hemisphere country, all vintages are six months older than wines bottled in the United States.

South Africa exports about 50% of its wine production. The United States markets have started to receive a larger allotment of these shipments. You’ll have to talk to your wine shop owner to help you locate most bottles. As yet, demand hasn’t risen to the point where you’ll find bottle after bottle sitting on shelves. However, when you come across a South African import, my advise is you should reach for a bottle because you will not be disappointed.


My Picks
Quality, Value-packed South African Wine

Quality, Value-packed South African Wine

Here are some other fine, reasonably price South African wines I think you may enjoy:


  • 2012 Graham Beck “Bowed Head’ Chenin Blanc $12 – Dried apricots, tree-ripened peaches, lovely long finish
  • 2013 De Wetshof “Bon Vallon”Chardonnay – Floral notes followed by stone fruit and Bosch pear flavors


  • 2012 Rust en Vrede Merlot $18 – Chocolate nose,  raspberry and black cherry flavors with a rich, raisin-like finish
  • 2010 Painted Wolf Guillermo Pinotage $19 – Soft blueberry and blackberry flavors
  • 2011 Starke-Conde Cabernet Sauvignon $24 – Dark cherry, blackberry with a lengthy finish
  • 2008 Meerlust Rudicon $27 – Earthy followed by berry flavors and Thanksgiving spices
  • 2012 Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block $32 – You may confuse it with with a like a northern Rhône Syrah with a chef’s heavy-hand of black pepper, coriander, nutmeg and juicy red fruits
  • 2011 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir $40 – Hibiscus tea floral notes, typical strawberry & strawberry flavors along with surprising savory spice notes


Let me know your take on any of these picks.



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Wines for Fall

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Warm Weather Wines

Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Last week, I opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to drink with grilled chicken. I never thought it was possible but I was too hot to drink a glass of wine. I know. Me!  I knew something was terribly wrong.  The brutal southern California heat wave was definitely getting the best of me.

So after recovering from my shock, I decided I would chill this white wine to a temperature of about 45°. I tried another sip after it was chilled and did manage to finish the glass.  But this got me thinking.

Checking the calendar, I saw that fall was arriving and hoped it would bring fall-like temperatures.  The warm weather may return given the shift in climate change, but I envision weather, during the next few months that will have me reaching for more red wines.

Over the past week, I have been on a mission to uncover red wines light enough to enjoy in the early evening as the day’s heat dissipates.  But I also want something elegant that can be enjoyed with a great dinner.  And Cabernet Sauvignon was not an option for two reasons.  First, it’s an obvious choice and kind of a cop out.  Second, it’s still too freaking hot to drink Cab! These three wines for fall were my top choices of the bottles I sampled. And yes, it was arduous!


Distinctive Topography

As you probably know, Santa Barbara County vintners make some outstanding wines.  Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards is one of a stars of this region. Their Unbridled Pinot Noir has grapes that were grown in the northernmost part of the appellation, Santa Maria Valley. This part of the Central Coast has a cool climate that sweeps in from an unusual east-west running traverse that brings in ocean breezes. These winds are followed by afternoon coastal fog that lingers throughout the night. This distinctive characteristic helps make for a long growing season, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, in addition to increasing the hang time on the vine.

This 2012 drinks nicely. The tannins have softened already and the fruit isn’t too jammy given the high 14.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). There were slight floral notes on the nose, as well as black cherry. I tasted ripe cherry and baked plum tart. This wine is worthy as a dinner companion.


Two Oceans Converge


South African Pinot Noir

2012 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir

The quality of South African wines has improved dramatically. The Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir is an excellent example of the pride and investment that is leading the charge for quality wines throughout the country. Their 2012 Pinot Noir is produced in the Hermel-en-Aarde area, which is part of the Hermanus wine routeClick to see the map of the Hermanus Wine Route  Along the southern tip of Africa, the cold Atlantic Ocean waters converge with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.  The ocean breezes help to create a perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay.

The garnet color along with the raspberry and red cherry aromas signal classic Pinot Noir. This bottle is an excellent choice to bring to a dinner party, especially if the hosts are red wine snobs. The reason? It is no typical New World Pinot Noir.

Upon tasting, I got a wonderful earthiness typically found in an aged, red Burgundian. I also tasted dark cherry and raspberry, the usual New World flavors; but there was also cranberry and a hint of spice. Given its youth, this Pinot had unexpected mellowed tannins. It is an age worthy wine with an elegant structure, retailing for $38.  (The price at Vintage Wines in San Diego.)

I was surprised to see the alcohol by volume  (ABV) was a whopping 14% given its production area, along the cool-climate Walker Bay region.  However, the wine did not present any pronounced alcohol heat.


Who Wants Italian?
Italian Wines

Indigenous Italian Wines

When you think about wines for fall you have to give a nod to Italian wines, as the two go hand-in-hand.  I am not a huge Italian wine fan but I enjoyed the 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso Monte Vozo.  Located in the Veneto wine region, a ripasso wine is a blend of indigenous grapes Corvina (70%), Rondinella (20%) and Molinara (10%).

The ripasso wine-making process reuses the partially dried grape skins and sediment of Amarone wine.  It then undergoes a secondary fermentation that brings in more flavor, body and structure.

The reason I don’t care for a lot of Italian wines is I find many of them to be ordinary, especially in the lower-end price point. These inexpensive wines usually lack structure and taste like watered down grape juice.  (Of course, I’m not referring to the outstanding Barolo, Montepulciano or Sangiovese wines.) I firmly believe time in the bottle has helped this wine to develop more concentration in flavor.  A bit of age has improved its fruit flavor by adding a bit of depth.

You should treat this wine as you would a rosé, meaning serve it chilled.  Doing so will help bring out more of the almond and dried cherry fruit flavors.

This is a backyard wine to serve as an icebreaker when entertaining friends in the afternoon. It coss around $19. I drank it with various hard and soft cheeses, salamis, dried fruit, and nuts.


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Oregon Pinot Noir Wines

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Willamette Valley Vineyards

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Oregon makes some wonderful Pinot Noir wines.  If you are like many people, you love Pinot but hate paying through the nose for a decent bottle.  So check out my guest blog review on two Oregon Pinot Noir wines that are reasonably priced and delicious.

Also, you’ll pick up a fact or two about this under appreciated Pinot Noir region that will make you a fan.

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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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