Same old song – I have some catching up to do. So tonight I’m going to try to get current on a bunch of “trade sample” wine I’ve recently tasted.

Yes, people send me wine to review. There is a whole disclaimer process – including ‘no promises I’ll review it’ and more important ‘no promises I’ll like it.’ But I’ve written that before and would hope there has been enough credibility established for the skeptics.

Someone once asked why I don’t write much about real stinkers. Well, there are two answers to that one. First, I don’t go looking for real stinkers. I also consider that some wines I might not like, others might. With those wines, I try to review them for what they offer and how well I think they’re made.

I’ll throw in what I thought was a real stinker in tonight’s reviews just to make the point! How’s that?

Let’s start off with three wines from the legendary Robert Mondavi. It starts with an example of price point and style.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc – The grapes come from the Central Coast and make a nice light and lean Sauv Blanc. There are no big flavors or acidity clobbering your palate but still nice enough zest and fruit for the price point. This is nice wine for $11 and widely available. (Mondavi Private Selection Sauv Blanc, $11, Trade Sample, Recommended)

Mondavi 2009 Fume Blanc – Most people think of Cabernet when they think of the most iconic name in California wine. But this Fume Blanc has been a favorite of wine drinkers for a long time. It’s 90 percent Sauv Blanc and 10 percent Semillon. For those unfamiliar with Semillon it’s often used in blending and provide a very nice fruit and softness to any grape combination. The fruit is mostly Napa Valley in this one. This wine enjoys some time in oak and offers up a richness many Sauv Blancs often miss. If you love the strong citrus and acidity of Sauv Blanc but like it with a softer edge, you’d love this wine. (Mondavi Fume Blanc, $20, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended)

Mondavi Pinot Grigio – This is like a bad movie that starts with a disclaimer. I’m NOT a big Pinot Grigio fan in general. I just find it uninteresting. I opened this wine on a hot Hoosier afternoon after doing yard work. It was … okay … not a lot of fruiit on the palate …. the acidity was okay … it was good wine for $11 … just not memorable. (Mondavi Pinot Grigio, $11, trade sample, No recommendation)

Now some samples from marketing friend Rusty Eddy who represents Clayhouse Wines in Paso Robles. I visited the Clayhouse tasting room in downtown Paso when there in October 2010 and loved them. Rusty had the marketing arm send out their Adobe line of wines. Very good stuff!

Clayhouse 2009 Adobe Red – This blend of 32 percent Zinfandel, 25 percent Petit Sirah, 13 percent Malbed, 11 percent Cab, 10 percent Syrah, and 9 percent Petit Verdot sounds like a kitchen-sink blend – and it might be. But I found it had a wonderful dark fruit, cherry flavor with soft tannins and extraordinarily drinkable. You won’t find this in every state – but ask! (Clayhouse 2009 Adobe Red, $14, Trade Sample, Recommended)

Clayhouse 2010 Adobe White – Have you ever opened a bottle of wine that you are “not supposed to like” by all standards – but you just loved it? Well, I’m not sure if the “not supposed to like” standard applies here but I loved this simple, rich, and soft white wine. It’s a lovely blend of Viognier, Sauv Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Princess, and Chenin Blanc. This has orange, lemon but above all it has a rich and smooth feel in the mouth that I think many wine drinkers would just fall in love with after a taste. This is damn fine juice. (Clayhouse 2010 Adobe White, $14, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended – nah, make that my second ‘Very Highly Recommended” wine of the year. Snobs won’t like it. Porch drinkers like me will love it!)

Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve – This great Malbec surprised me as it opened up. At first sip I thought ‘Okay, so-so Malbec and a nice little wine for the price.’ But as the wine opened up it really became a rich and interesting wine for the price. There’s pepper, spice, and maybe even some coffee. It was delicious! Robert Parker gave this wine 90 points! (Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve, $12-$14, Trade Sample, Recommended!)

Baker’s Dozen Wines – Okay, I promised! I was sent these four samples from a marketing firm representing the winemakers who were introducing non-traditionally sweet wines … sweet Chardonnay, sweet Pinot Noir, sweet Cabernet (you read that right), and sweet Pinot Grigio. Indiana was a test state for the wine, which makes some sense considering Hoosiers taste for sweeter wines – particularly our homegrown ones. I just tasted the Pinot Noir and Cabernet – and to say they were an undrinkable mess would be an understatement. Cabernet should be dry – Concord is sweet. I like trying new things and respect people trying new things. This was a bad idea from the beginning. And don’t get me started on the labels which look an awful lot like a famous jelly and jam company. (Baker’s Dozen wines, Cheap, Trade Samples, Absolutely NOT Recommended, don’t think about it … buy local sweet wines from your state winery instead!)

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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