2014 Underwood Pinot Noir – Oregon Value

If I was to ask you to name a Pinot Noir producing region, what comes to mind first? For most Pinot Noir fans, the most likely answer is Burgundy. And why not, its wines are considered to be among the world’s best, which however also puts them as some of the world’s most expensive wine.

Finding an inexpensive but good quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy can be quite the challenge. However, luckily for fans of the heartbreak grape, there are a number of other regions producing good quality inexpensive Pinot Noirs.

One of those regions just happens to be the Willamette Valley in Oregon and like Burgundy, the valley is almost exclusively known for its Pinot Noir production. According to the 2015 Oregon Vineyard and Winey Census report, the valley accounts for 82% of the Pinot Noir production within Oregon, with 14,417 acres planted. The next closest grape in terms of planting was Pinot Gris at 2,463 acres.

However, there are noticeable differences between the two regions, most notably is the fact that Pinot Noirs from the Willamette valley tend to be somewhat more fruit forward than their Burgundy counterparts. This is most likely due to the different soil conditions between the two regions and the differences in climate.

Now when I mentioned other regions making inexpensive Pinot Noirs, I didn’t mean to indicate that wines coming out the Willamette Valley are necessarily cheap, because they are not. A good quality Oregon Pinot Noir is most likely going to run you $35 – $50, which may seem steep to a lot of folks. However, when compared to a Grand Cru Burgundy, which can start at $50 you can see where an Oregon Pinot Noir might be considered quite the value.

Given what I know about Oregon Pinot Noir, I tend to be skeptical when I see them for less than $25/bottle. So when I first tasted the 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir, I was quite impressed by the character shown in this wine, especially at a $20 price point.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir
Oregon – 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir

Right off the bat, I picked some intense notes of cherry and raspberry on the nose, along with a slight floral  note in the background. In comparison to other Pinot Noirs, I found the aromas for this wine to be quite a bit more pronounced and up front. In the glass, the wine showed a clear, pale, ruby color.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir in a glass

I found this to have a slightly more structured body than a lot of other Pinot Noirs, there seemed to be a slightly more tannic presence along with a finish that just seemed to linger longer than usual. There was also delightful acidity to the wine that helped to give it that slight boost in the body.

On the palate flavors of black cherry and cranberry coupled with vegetable notes. Interesting note on the flavor of the wine, while writing up my tasting notes, I happened to read the back of the wine label that highlighted “cola” as one of the predominate notes of this wine. As soon as I read cola, that was all I could taste and think of.

Back of the label
2014 Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola

I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine, it showed much more complexity than I was expecting especially at its $20 price point. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after reading up on the history of the winery. According to the wineries website, the winemaker Ryan Harms, set out to make a Pinot Noir that was accessible but not expensive.

A good indication of this desire is shown in the wineries newest offering, their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rose, and sparkling wine in a can. I’ve yet to try the Pinot Noir in a can but the word from friends and associates is that it’s pretty good and shows very similar to the Pinot in the bottle.

At the end of the day I can confidently say that if your hunting for a good quality value Pinot Noir, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Underwood Pinot Noir.



New Review: Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache

I have a wine problem!

I’ve fallen into a tendency lately to focus on only a few select wine regions when it comes to tasting, buying or drinking wine. When reviewing my tasting notes from the last couple of months I noticed this trend. A quick peek in the cellar confirmed my suspicion.

Perhaps calling it a problem is not accurate, but it is a concern. If you limit yourself to wine from only certain areas, you run the risk of missing out on some potentially great wine being produced elsewhere.

A perfect example of this is the 2012 Old Vine Grenache from Yangarra Estate Vineyard from the McLaren Vale region of South Australia. I don’t tend to drink a lot of wine from Australia not because it’s not good, but just because it’s not a region I tend to think of.

So when I got the chance to sample some of this wine a while  back I jumped at the opportunity. This was possible a chance to add a new wine and a new region to my repertoire. I was impressed enough with I had tasted to pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard - 2012 McLaren Vale Grenache


Yangarra Estate Vineyard.

The winery is in the McLaren Vale region which is located on the southern tip of South Australia near the city of Adelaide. It sits on the eastern side of the Gulf St. Vincent and tends to benefit from a Mediterranean style climate with abundant sunshine and cool evening breezes.

The first vines were planted in the vineyard in 1946 and originally the grapes grown were used by local winemakers to beef up local wines from surrounding wineries.
In 2000 the vineyard was purchased by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke (Jackson Family Wines proprietors) and they began the process of developing the vineyard into what it is today.

The vineyard encompasses 100 hectares and is divided into 35 individual blocks. Currently, plantings include Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro, and Carignan, and white grapes such as Roussanne and Viognier.

The Old Vine Grenache vines are located along the western side of the vineyard, in sandy soil with a layer of clay underneath. The sandy top soil acts as a reflector for the daytime heat but also releases heat captured during the day in the evening.

The vines are freestanding, with no support system or wires, allowing the fruit to spread out evenly and to allow greater airflow.

In keeping with a desire for quality, the grapes are handpicked and received via a belt elevator. They are then destemmed and sorted, the tubs of whole berries are tipped into open fermenters in an effort to avoid maceration.

The grapes are cold soaked for up to 6 days and allowed to undergo wild fermentation. Finally, the wine is put into old French barrels for 12 months prior to blending.

2012 Old Vine Grenache

Right off the bat, the first thing you notice is the color of this wine, a deep burgundy color with just a slight ruby rim. Upon the first pour, you notice right away aromas of cherry which slowly give way to notes of plum and bay leaf. After the wine had a chance to breathe the cherry notes started to change to almost a black cherry like aromas. Also, the bay leaf faded to the background and was replaced by a slight leathery note.

Red Wine

Taking the first sip, I noticed right away a significant acidity to the wine, it had quite a mouth puckering effect with a somewhat tannic almost harsh finish. I let the wine sit for about 15 mins before I tried it again and that had a significant effect on it. That initial acidity was replaced with a smoother almost velvety feel in the mouth and was able to pick up some flavors of white pepper, blackberry and plum.

The longer the wine sat the better it got, that original harshness faded and the flavors and aroma really started to open up. This is definitely a wine that will benefit from a good long decanting, allow it to breathe and mellow before serving.

All in all, this was a good wine and I quite enjoyed it. It might even get me to take a peek down that Australia aisle once in a while.



Review: Penfolds 2014 Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet

Have you ever purchased a bottle of wine based solely on the fact you liked the label? Years ago I was shopping for wine for a dinner party I was attending. At that time Australian wine was the big thing, so I happened to be browsing through that country section of the wine store.

My eye was immediately drawn to this bottle of wine. It had a crisp white label against a black bottle and a striking red capsule. It instantly stood out against the many other bottles on the shelf. The very first time I was exposed to Penfolds wine as purely accidental, based solely on the fact that I liked the label.

Now that I’ve had many years to obtain more experience and knowledge, I have a much better idea of what to look for when purchasing a bottle of wine. That being said as an admirer of Penfolds wine, I do still keep an eye out for the white label and iconic red lettering.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet
The iconic Penfolds label!

After arriving in Australia, Christopher and Mary Penfold began producing fortified wines such as Sherry and Port as a medicinal aid for Christopher’s patients. Soon the demand grew for their wines, the winery expanded and “Penfolds” was officially established in 1844.

Over time Penfolds started to introduce new grape varieties into their vineyards and expanded their production to include sweet and dry red wines, along with white table wines. As the winery grew they began to expand their production by purchasing additional vineyards in the McLaren Vale and New South Wales.

Beginning in the 1940’s Penfolds began to change its focus and started to produce more and more “table wines” to accommodate consumers changing tastes. This change in focus was responsible for the creation Penfolds most famous wine, “Grange”, as well as the the “Bin” series of red wines: Bin 389, Bin 707, Bin 28, and Bin 128.

Penfolds 2014 Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet

I try to keep my eye out for sales on Penfolds and pick up some bottles whenever I get the chance. Last Christmas, I found Bin 28 on sale at a local wine shop so I picked up a couple of bottles and put them away for a rainy day. A couple of weeks when I was stocking up on some white wine for my wife, I noticed the Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cab on sale, so of course took advantage and picked up a bottle.

First impressions of the wine was that it is was young, very young. The aroma of fruit was intensely strong and overpowered any other aromas. Once the wine had breathed for several hours I was able to note some herbal aromas along with some earthiness.

It’s definitely a complex wine, the Shiraz grape really brings a strong fruit profile, notes of blackberry and cherry. The Cabernet component brings in flavours of oak and green pepper, as well as some big tannic properties. One thing I noted about the body of the wine was a seemingly oily texture. The wine left a coating in the mouth after each sip, which was something else I attributed to the wine being young.

Out of curiosity I went on to Penfolds website and looked up the tasting notes for this wine. To my surprise they only had notes listed up to the 2011 vintage, and for that one they were recommending cellaring until 2015. Looking at the fact that I had opened up a 2014 told me that I should have been more patient and put this away for a couple of years. I’ll know better next time.




  • Winery: Penfolds
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Grape: Shiraz & Cabernet
  • Region: Northern Barossa
  • Country: Australia (South)
  • Nose: Cherry, Herbs,
  • Taste: Blackberry, Black currant, Oak, Green Pepper
  • Purchased: Aspen Wine & Spirits
  • Price: $17.99






Cave Spring 2013 Pinot Noir

How do you answer the question “what’s your favourite wine”? Do you have a favourite? Is there one wine from a particular winery that absolutely stands out from all the rest? Perhaps there’s one wine that holds a sentimental place in your heart and for that reason you consider it your favourite?

For me there isn’t one specific bottle of wine,  but I do have a favourite grape. Hands down Pinot Noir is my favourite and is what I reach for whenever given the choice. So when we popped into one of our local wine shops one day and I saw a 2013 Cave Spring Pinot Noir sitting on the shelf I decided to give it a try. I had heard some good things about the winery in general and if they had a Pinot Noir then I was sold.

Cave Spring 2013 Pinot Noir

When you think of wine in Canada you think of two regions, Niagara & the Okanagan, and while they are not the only wine producing regions they are the two best known. I live within easy travelling distance to the Okanagan, and as such visit there as often as I can. This allows me the opportunity to try as many as their wines as I can with relative ease. On the other hand I rarely get a chance to travel to the Niagara region and so I jump at the chance to try as many wines from there as a I can.

Cave Spring Vineyard is located in the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Lake Ontario in area known as the Beamsville Bench. Mineral rich soil consisting of limestone, shale, and sandstone provide an optimal balance required for growing grapes, and the natural slope of the vineyard allows for excess water to drain away while still retaining the required amount of moisture. The surrounding escarpment cliffs allow for temperate breezes that lengthen the growing season ensuring grapes ripen to their full extent.

The history of Cave Spring Vineyard goes back to the early 1920’s, when Giuseppe Pennachetti acquired the farmland where the vineyard is currently located. The vineyard began with the planting of European grape varietals, including Riesling and Chardonnay. The winery continues today under the guidance of Len Pennachetti and other family members. Cave Spring Vineyard is recognized as a foremost producer of Riesling within North America.

Cave Spring 2013 Pinot Noir

As mentioned above I’m always excited when presented with the chance to try a new Pinot Noir, and in the case of Cave Spring’s 2013 Pinot Noir, I was not disappointed.

At first the color of the wine appeared quite light and transparent, but after letting it sit for 10-15 min it had taken on a slightly darker hue. CSPN_003I would best describe the color as burgundy with purple tones and I immediately assumed a richer and heavier body then would be assumed for a Pinot Noir.

On first tasting of the wine I was taken aback to find the body much lighter then I had expected. It had the freshness and easy drinking body that I’ve come to enjoy in Pinot Noir but with a much darker color to it. It comes across as a young wine with very low tannins.

On the nose there was a definite earthiness to it, notes of minerality and cedar along with ripe cherries. As the initial chill of the wine wore off and the temperature increased, the earthiness aroma became less prominent and the aroma of ripe fruit became more pronounced.

On the palate I immediately picked up a strong note of black pepper and raspberry. Not as prominent as the black pepper, but I also noted a subtler note of something almost like chilli pepper. For a wine with a light easy body it definitely had a lot of structure and complexity to it.

Based on how well the Pinot Noir performed I can’t wait to try the Riesling.




  • Winery: Cave Spring Vineyards
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Grape: Pinot Noir
  • Region: Niagara Escarpment
  • Country: Canada
  • Nose: Mineral, Cedar, Cherry
  • Taste: Black Pepper, Chilli Pepper, Raspberry
  • Purchased: CO-OP Liquor, Wine, & Spirits
  • Price: $18.99

Arrowleaf – 2013 Pinot Noir

Sitting in the office one day and I get a text message from a friend of mine. He and the wife are out in Kelowna for the fall wine festival and he’s raving about the Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf winery. Says that I will absolutely love it and asks if I want him to pick up a bottle for me. Being the Pinot Noir fan that I am it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, of course I wanted a bottle.

That was the first time I had their Pinot Noir and I was instantly hooked. It can be hard to find in stores here in Calgary so I’m always happy whenever I can get my hands on a couple of bottles.


Arrowleaf Cellars is located on Okanagan Lake just north of Kelowna in British Columbia and consists of four separate vineyards.  It’s a family run winery, owned and operated by Joe and Margrit Zuppiger and their son Manuel. They proudly opened their doors for business in the spring of 2003.

They offer a blended line of wine called First Crush, but it’s their Arrowleaf and their Solstice line that really stand out. The Arrowleaf line is their varietal wine and includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, and others. Their Solstice wines are made from the best grapes from a vintage and if they are not of a high enough quality they won’t make a Solstice vintage that year.

This time around I pulled a 2013 Pinot Noir from the cellar and it still doesn’t disappoint.AL_002 It has a well structured body with low tannins and a medium low acidity. I found it light enough to enjoy on its own but that it and stood up to food very well. On this night I paired it with a tossed salad and a chicken quesadilla. I noted a light ruby colour that was semi transparent.

Right away I noticed aromas of black cherry, raspberry and cedar. There was just a very slight floral hint on the nose but I wasn’t able to determine any particular aroma.

On the palate I found flavours of blackberry, tobacco, and just a slight note of liquorice. The first glass that I poured was nicely chilled (18º C) but as the wine warmed up the flavours started to mute slightly. This is definitely a wine best served with a slight chill to it.

I’m quite fond of this wine, for me it’s a very good Pinot Noir and is one I come back to again and again. I have a bottle of their Solstice Pinot Noir in the cellar and I’ve been saving that for the right time. I’m quite anxious to open that up and compare it to their Arrowleaf Pinot Noir.




  • Winery: Arrowleaf Cellars
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Grape: Pinot Noir
  • Region: Okanagan Lake
  • Country: Canada
  • Nose: Black Cherry, Raspberry, Cedar, Floral hints
  • Taste: Blackberry, Tobacco, Liquorice
  • Purchased: Winery
  • Price: $18.00