2010 Brancott B. Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough:
Aromas of grapefruit, cut grass, and wet rock immediately let you know it’s a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. There’s a whiff of passion fruit, ever so faint, weaving amongst the grassy bouquet.
There’s really nothing wrong with this wine, it’s clean with lots of acidity that shows up as more citrus elements intermixed with tropical fruit and a twist of minerality. A varietally honest sauvignon blanc, if one that’s somewhat generic. At the price, around $10 most places, it's a great everyday white wine for the spring weather.
2007 Brancott Terraces Pinot Noir Marlborough:
Lots of red fruit and wood initially, but the wood isn’t necessarily oak as much as tree bark. Notes of black tea, soil, and a red licorice component round out the bouquet. Interesting and enticing are the two words that sprung to mind.
Very clean flavors of cherry, raspberry, and forest floor are held together by an uplifting acidity that creates a very pleasant, light mouthfeel. The finish is airy but works well for this wine. Not an especially textured pinot noir by any means, but one that's very easy to drink and versatile.
2009 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast:
Nice bouquet of warm dark fruit, baking spice, vanilla, and a hint of wooden match. Seems a bit tight but it’s hard to imagine this wine needing age considering the price. I kept returning to the glass to smell it, because the way the baking spices and red fruit are integrated is quite alluring.
The palate is too light and uninteresting, with one dimensional notes of red fruit. The finish is evaporative and all too brief. I rarely say it, but this wine tastes cheap. A pity, since 2009 produced some exceptional pinot noir in California. After the wonderful bouquet, the mouthfeel is a huge letdown.
2009 La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir:
Smells of green herb, oak, but with pleasant notes of earth and spices. Not much fruit, and surprisingly no heat considering the labeled 15.5% abv.
Clunky acidity dominates the palate, with some raspberry and plum notes struggling to manifest. Bright, linear acidity traces a line through some forest-floor and vanilla flavors. I think this is a big pinot noir struggling to find it's place, and perhaps needs some age.
2006 Camp Viejo Reserva Rioja:
Strong aromas of sundried tomatoes, herbs, cherries, and dusty red soil. Very much what I would expect in a Rioja. Good complexity indicates the wine might be drinking near or at it’s peak. Some subtle smoked-meat is present but very faint, hopefully it would come through more after some time open.
Easy drinking, with a tannin framework surrounding flavors of dried cherry, soil, and dried herbs. Slightly rustic, in a charming way. Finishes cleanly, with some light acidity paving the way for another bite of food. A killer deal for under $10 in most markets. This is one to stock up on for those Wednesday night pizza sessions!
2009 Francis Ford Coppola Claret:
Black fruit, herbs, dusty soil and some woodsy aromas. Very straightforward and unoffensive. I did find a strange-ish campfire or barbecue aroma, it added to the bouquet, gave it a sense of uniqueness. Unfortunately the integration of the various grapes isn't happening as well as I'd like though, with disparate elements refusing to coexist.
Initially very expressive with black fruit and tannin, wood, and campfire but it quickly became a mess of sweet fruit. That jammy note stayed through till the finish, where a nice tannic streak came to the rescue. Although the finish was brief, I think the structure saved it. Tasted the next day with consistent notes.
2009 Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast:
Simple bouquet of red fruit, wood smoke, earth, and not much else. A bit disappointing, but for around $10 it's precisely what I would expect from a Central Coast cabernet at that price level.
On the palate, flavors of salted meat and cherries persist with flavors of sulfur (burnt match) and a leathery tannin component. Over time, the mouthfeel evolves nicely, lending some dried currant flavors that do wonders to make this wine more palatable. Tasted the next day, it was much more complete and enjoyable.
2009 Parlay “The Bookmaker” Red Table Wine California:
The bouquet is full of candied red fruit, herbs, and earth. Some funk is present, but it blows off quickly. Good complexity, and appealing scents kept drawing me back for more sniffs. There are a lot of grapes here including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah, and petite verdot.
A very ripe, fruit-forward wine with lots of plum and black cherry. I noted a vanilla-wood taste as well, indicative of oak barrel aging (or oak chips). This is mouth-filling red that people who enjoy that style will probably love. Lacks acid for my palate though, and the finish is too sweet and ripe, needs to lighten up and taper off more gracefully. That said, for $20 it's a nice bottle of wine that delivers at the price point.
Smokey baking spices, cherry preserve, and plums followed by oak-vanilla notes make up the bouquet. It's very typical for a low-priced malbec and smells delicious.
This wine is lush and soft, but goes nowhere with that. Rather insipid, and the tannin that builds through the mid palate essentially creates a framework for fruit that should be there but is nowhere to be found. Very disappointing. Tasted the next day with consistent notes.
2009 Mandolin Syrah Central Coast:
Stinky nose of sulfur and rotting wood. Very disappointing. Perhaps something went wrong during fermentation?
Overripe, gloppy fruit that is reminiscent of artificial plum flavoring. Hollow through to the finish where an acidic kick surprised me, but not in a good way. Expected a lot more from this wine considering how nice the cabernet sauvignon was.
The good, the bad, the ugly. With the prices of these wines ranging from $7 all the way up to almost $40, I should have expected nothing less. What struck me though was how "processed" some of these wines tasted. In winemaker-speak, they'd be called "heavily manipulated", to a wine geek they don't express any sense of place. Put more bluntly, most of the cheaper wines here tasted sterile, like they were designed to fit a preconceived notion of what the wine should taste like. That is the price we often pay for inexpensive wine though. I suppose though, that finding those rare gems that are at once inexpensive but also expressive is what makes them special.
All the wines in this feature were media samples for review purposes.