Pinot Noir – The Utility Wine

We call Pinot Noir the utility wine because it is the perfect fit for a meal that has a variety of foods and courses. That’s why so many wine and foodie folks recommend Pinot Noir for the Thanksgiving Dinner.  Pinot is lighter in style than Cabernet, Syrah or Zinfandel. It also has more red fruit flavors and spice than the other wines. Maybe you have your wine selected for Thanksgiving, but with so much entertaining going on in the Holiday season, it is good to have a nice supply of Pinot Noir on hand. I recommended the Kirkland Russian River Pinot a couple of weeks ago, and now we have two more that I think top this wine and for roughly the same price.

Ocean View Pinot Noir 2013 – Trader Joe’s $14.99

This is one of those wines made exclusively for Trader Joe’s, and when this vintage is gone there is no gaurantee that another vintage will be on the shelves at Trader Joe’s. This Pinot Noir is from a vineyard near Avila Beach in the San Louis Obispo area. Thus, the name of the wine, Ocean View. The vineyard is owned by Mike Sinor and his Cheri La Vallee-Sinor. They make wines under the Sinor-LaVallee label. Mike is also the head winemaker for Ancient Peaks winery in Santa Margarita. I spoke with Mike on the phone, and he told me that this was a huge yield for this vineyard. With the extra Pinot Noir juice, Mike made and bottled this wine for  Trader Joe’s.  The first notable characteristic is the aroma, very strong and full out of the glass, without any breathing time. It pops with strawberry. Good flavors in the mouth, light to medium bodied. I like the spicy finish to this wine. I asked Mike what a comparable price would be for a similar Pinot Noir and without hesitation he replied, “Around $35.”  Of course this is the winemaker speaking, but it is a great value in my opinion. 89 Points.

Ocean View Pinot

Made exclusively for Trader Joe’s

Sparrow Hawk Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 – Costco $12.99

I purchased this one at the Redwood City Costco. The list price is $15.99, but an instant rebate of $3 is given at the checkout stand. The price of the Sparrow Hawk Reserve Pinot is $35 on the online shop. I definitely think this is worthy of a $25 price tag. The Sparrow Hawk Pinot has grapes from both the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and the cool-climate area of the Santa Barbara wine region. The winemaker is Megan McGrath, formerly Assistant Winemaker at Flowers. Flowers is one of the premiere makers of Pinot Noir on the Sonoma Coast. Good aroma, not as strong as the Ocean View, but in total I think a tad better than the Ocean View, especially at $12.99. I like the aftertaste and finish on this wine much more. Again, this wine is perfect for Thanksgiving and similar meals where one has the dilemma of what to serve with a meal. 90 Points

sparrow hawk pinot noir

Sparrow Hawk Reserve 2012 Pinot Noir, 63% from Santa Barbara, 37% from Russian River Valley

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Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay $5.50 per bottle

bottle and cork

The fill line at Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia

Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia Winery

Bottle and Cork La Nebbia

Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia winery on Saturday , November 15

It’s Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia winery in Half Moon Bay. Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia is held eight times during the year. The price of a regular-sized wine bottle to fill with wine is a measly $5.50. This last Saturday, La Nebbia offered its customers Dry Red Blend Happy Valley 2013. The wine is from High Valley in Lake County. I did  a quick Google search for High Valley and found many of the vineyards in the High Valley AVA are owned by Shannon Vineyards, the makers of many low cost but very decent wines. The red blend may have been purchased in bulk from Shannon Vineyards, just guessing. This is how Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia works. You bring in your clean wine bottles, regular 1.5, or gallon jugs. You stand in line, get the bottles filled, corked, and labeled. When done, you pay and you are on your way with what I consider decent jug wine. I had not done this recently, so off I went this last Saturday. I brought in an old favorite gallon jug that I dug out of my father’s basement long ago. I did get a sample taste beforehand and I have to say that was quite the experience. The woman gave me a healthy pour in my glass. I took a sip and was happy with the taste. I asked her what was in the blend, and she replied, “Oh, a bunch of grapes, some Malbec, Merlot, and too many others to remember.”   I said my thanks placing my nearly-full glass back on the table and she quickly orders me, “Come on, finish the wine!”  My kind of wine tasting room server.

I have to say this Dry Red Blend wine is better than I expected. It is young, fruity, no oak to speak of, and I am sure far better than the original wine in my gallon wine jug.  This is what you call an everyday drinking wine. You could try and age the wine for a year or so, and I do think it might take some rough edges off the wine, but I don’t think it has enough qualities to age. Drink for fun and conversation. That’s what it is all about. Perhaps the Vintage Wine Tasters can mix this wine into one of our future blind tasting events. It’s a party wine and even more enjoyable when you consider the price is $5.50 per 750ml wine bottle. My gallon jug cost me $22, an even better bargain. I got almost an extra 750 ml bottle for free. You can also buy a bottle for an extra $1.50 as part of the deal if you do not have any empties of your own.

The next Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia is December 13th. It will be a red wine but the exact grape or blend will not be announced until a couple of weeks before. I know of two other wineries that have a similar event where you bottle your own wine. The La Honda Winery in Redwood City does this every third Saturday of the month. I have not done this one but it is on my list to try. La Honda Winery charges $5 a bottle, even a better deal. The Charles Mitchell Winery in Fair Play in the Sierra Foothills does this for a weekend activity a few times a year. We did this once, but it is a very far trek for us. The closer, the better, I say.

About the Gallon Jug – La Bonita California Burgundy

California Burgundy

California Burgundy

My Dad almost exclusively drank jug wine and La Bonita California Burgundy was one of his early favorites.  At some point this label disappeared,  so onward he went to Petri, Carlo Rossi, Guild, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, Italian Swiss Colony, and finally CK Mondavi. I thought it would be fun to fill this jug and have it on our Thanksgiving table. This will drive Papa’s grandchildren crazy. They used to encourage him to switch his wine drinking habits to more quality bottles of wine. They often gave him expensive wine as gifts. He would say, “If I drink this good stuff, I would get used to it and not like my wine. So why should I drink the good stuff?”

Back in the day, many jug wines of red were labeled Burgundy and many jugs of white were labeled Chablis. We don’t really see any of that today, do we? In the Burgundy region of  France, Pinot Noir is the only red grape that goes into any of their wines. Chablis is part of the Burgundy region of France and the only grape that goes into the white Burgundy of Chablis is Chardonnay.  I doubt any jug wine made in California ever had any significant amount of either one of these grapes.

Save your own bottles and give the next Bottle and Cork at La Nebbia Winery a go. It’s a fun experience.

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Bacchus Wine Shop opens in Millbrae

Bacchus wine shop

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Best Napa Valley Cabernet under $20 – Vintage 2012

Best Napa Valley Cabernet under $20  Vintage 2012

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Renegade from Ancient Peaks is ridiculously good

Renegade wine

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Top Bargain Wines 2014 and Safeway Wine Sale

Daou Cabernets

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