I’ve got four quite different bottles of wine for quick review. These were all tasted at various times over the past week with different wine friends.

Penner-Ash 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – We’re opening this week’s round of reviews with the week’s big winner! If you like Pinot, go buy some – now!

Penner-Ash is a big name in Oregon. Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash got her start at Rex Hill before going off on her own. I visited her incredible hilltop tasting room in 2007 and was taken with the full-flavored but still medium-bodied style of Pinot Noir. I also remember a great Pinot Noir Rose’.

Penner Ash simply makes beautiful wines. The world tends to agree on this one. Wine Spectator gave the 2006 Willamette Valley 90 points. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate liked it even better at 91 points.

The wine has a gorgeous finish that lingers with you. It has lush and almost satin-like texture. It’s the kind of Pinot I don’t want to pair with food. I want to savor every sip.

This came from my “stash” of good stuff tucked safely away in a wine storage unit and/or my basement! It’s not at the price point I normally write about on Grape Sense but reviewing it allows me to share some wines for special occasions.

Penner Ash is available in most states, including Indiana. The current 2008 release of this wine has a suggested retail price of $45.

Earthquake 2008 Zinfandel – I’ve had fun with the Earthquake labeled wines before. They come from the Michael-David Vineyards in Lodi and are a part of a multi-label lineup of Zins.

As one might expect at just over $20 and with a name like Earthquake, these wines aren’t for the beginners in your every-other-Wednesday-evening wine group. The entire line is big, bold wine that packs a wallop.

This Zin had pretty balanced fruit up front but was heavy with the oak. The first thing many are going to notice with the first swig is probably the burn. The Earthquake hits you with 16 percent alcohol – and you can taste it.

Now, all that said – I sort of a like a smack you in the face as Mom would when she caught you swearing as a kid – kind of wine on occasion. This is not a sipper – maybe with some tangy, spicy BBQ or chili it would be a good match. I’ve bought the Earthquake label before though this one was a trade sample, and would again. Some of the wines have had a little better balance than this one. But if you like big, jammy Zin with some serious punch, you’re still probably going to like the Earthquake!

Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve – Sour cherry dominated my palate on this basic Malbec from the San Juan region of Argentina. I neither loved nor hated the wine. I got a little plum on the mouth feel and it has reasonable alcohol at 14 percent.

The wine represents great value in a crowded market of similar Argentinian Malbecs. At the $10-$15 range, you can pick up a lot of different Malbec bottles. This one is going to be better than some you’ll find in supermarkets – assuming you can find a Malbec. Frankly, there are many better choices in the price range, but the Graffigna is by no means a bad pic. It’s good for $10 – or in today’s more popular jargon, “it is what it is.” (Trade Sample!)

Geyser Peak 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley – About a year ago I started exploring some of these old names in California Cabernet and I haven’t really been disappointed yet.

The Geyser Peak was a rich fruit-forward Cab with unobtrusive tannins that would be great for most Cab fans in this price range. I got a little chocolate on the mid-plate with some pepper on the finish – a lovely combination. The suggested retail price is $18 but you’re likely to find it a little less in many locations.

This isn’t quite as big as I like my Cabernet, but it’s a real value in the mid-teen range. It’s a balanced wine that’s correct Cabernet with a reasonable finish. The alcohol is light at 13.5 percent.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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