Thursday, January 5, 2012

Smoking Loon Current Releases

I was recently sent the new releases of Smoking Loon, another project of Don Sebastiani and Sons, to review. You may recall previous blog features on the Don Sebastiani wines that I posted, in 2011, where I explored the brands "Project Paso" and "The Crusher". In this lineup, the wines are each at a suggested retail price of $9, though often can be found for a few dollars less. The bottles are all labelled California, meaning that the grapes can come from all over the state. Similar to the other brands, the Smoking Loon wines are made with grapes purchased by the company.

According to the press materials I got, the name derives from Don's love of cigars and his father's (August Sebastiani) love of waterfowl. Interesting amalgamation to say the least. The PR stuff also says this is the largest and most popular brand in the portfolio. When I worked for Trader Joe's, we sold the syrah and I think the pinot noir. Both were popular wines priced around $6.

2009 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir:
Nose: Cherry, strawberry, candied fruit, touches of spice and pepper. Fairly one dimensional though. A bit of heat on the nose distracts from what could be a rather complete bouquet.
Palate: Soft initially with ripe red fruits appearing first. Spices come through in the mid palate, some nice acidity too. Tastes light, clean. Hint of dusty earth on the mid palate that disappears on the finish. Solid wine, not overly complex but a very drinkable wine. Lacks soul and any expression of terroir but for $10 what do you expect? 13.8% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Merlot:
Nose: Blackberry, black cherry preserve, red licorice. Touch of earth and oak.Very simple nose, even more one dimensional than the pinot noir.
Palate: Soft tannin, light body. Red candied fruit, earth, strawberry licorice. Light bodied, not hard to drink, but not exciting. Rather unappealing to me but I can't detect any flaws. Seems like an attempt to add a bit of dimension to merlot through the addition of tannin and oak chips. This will please people who just want something red in their glasses. 13.5% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon:
Nose: Very ripe dark fruit, blackberry, blueberry, candied cherry. Slight green note lurks in the background. A little more complex than the merlot, and one that perhaps could stand to age a year or so. Yes, I realize I'm recommending aging a $9 wine.
Palate: Firm tannin, dries the mouth out. Medium bodied. Darker fruit flavors and acid combine for a nice texture. The finish is nice and clean, a pleasant surprise. Biggest disappointment was the hollow mid-palate, I felt like the wine evaporated. Flavors came back on the finish, dark chocolate predominantly. 13.5% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel:
Nose: Juicy plum, hint of raisin, cherries. Lots of ripeness, no zin spice or pepper that I could detect. Was really hoping for more, especially if this truly an "old vine" zinfandel.
Palate: Full bodied ripeness, hints of vanilla and a fine grained tannin are the first to appear. Plenty of fruit, like a mixed bag of summer berries. A touch of cracked pepper meanders through the mid palate along with a touch of dusty soil. Pleasant, but not exactly expected for an "old vine" designation. Finish evaporates quickly, leaving a bitter tannic note. I had the highest hopes for this wine but it just failed to elicit any excitement. 13.5% abv.

The pinot noir and cabernet were the two here I could see having a glass of, if the only other option was Kendall-Jackson chardonnay. None of these wines were unique expressions of their component grapes and they each tasted like they'd been designed to fit a certain profile. Therein lies the secret to the success this brand enjoys though. For the people desiring a bottle of wine that drinks easily and is very non-threatening, the pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are just fine. Taking any of the Smoking Loon wines to a casual party won't make you look like a buffoon. Just don't bring any of these to a gathering of wine geeks. Don Sebastiani and Sons has created a brand that doesn't necessarily open up the world of wine to anyone, but it does quench their thirst.

I'll give a lot of credit to the winemaker, Greg Kitchens, for keeping the alcohol levels reasonable in each of these wines. While I cannot tell if that's from using spinning cones or just naturally using less-ripe grapes, it's encouraging when a big producer puts the brakes on the runaway booze levels in California wines.

These wines were media samples from Balzac Communications & Marketing.

Beau Carufel


  1. We just recently tried a few Smoking Loon wines and for the price we can't complain. They definitely are in our everyday drinking category, and happily so! The Old Vine Zin sounds like something we'd like to try.

  2. I agree 100%. Great wine to take to a gathering of people who enjoy Coors beer. ;~)

  3. I think my biggest issue, if you can call it that, was the lack of interesting characteristics in each of these wines. They were all generic, and for $9-10 you can do better. Examples would be the 2009 Parducci pinot noir and 2010 Pueblo del Sol tannat.

  4. These sound like nice options when I'm feeling too guilty about breaking into my more special wines ;) That, or a great thing to bring to a party where I know the guests won't appreciate the more complex wines I'd prefer to drink myself!

  5. @Becca I think you have hit the nail on the head, it's wine to bring to a party where many other bottles of wine will be consumed by a mixed crowd. Wine lovers won't be repulsed and casual wine drinkers might find these wines enjoyable.