French Rabbit Pinot Noir 2005

French Rabbit Pinot NoirPrice: $9
Maker: Rene Clement, Orange, France
Variety: Pinot Noir
Packaging: 1-liter Tetra Pak
Alcohol: 13%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

We were pleased to find a new entrant, French Rabbit Pinot Noir 2005, into the non-bottle wine arena in our local Target Super Store. Target seems to have an eclectic, if not overly large, selection of wine. They have their own Wine Cube boxed wines, a smallish selection of bottles, and one of the larger selections of little packs of single-serving bottles. The 1-liter Tetra Pack used by French Rabbit is the typical miracle of thin-wall packaging. It takes up much less space than a 750-ml bottle, but holds a third more. I should point out that this type of box packaging is like a bottle in that once opened, the wine is in contact with the air contained in the container’s void space. So, if you plan to consume the wine over a period of days, you might consider pouring the remainder into a smaller container or using some other type of preservation technique.

The packaging is cute, though this Pinot Noir wasn’t overly impressive. We found nice licorice and berry notes in the aroma, but the cherry and oak notes in the flavor had to contend with a rather acidic finish. Letting this wine breathe didn’t seem to have much effect on its flavors.

We are encouraged by French Rabbit’s novel approach to the American market. In addition to their eco-friendly Tetra Pak, the are also claiming to plant a tree for every four liters sold. It also looks like they are introducing Tetra Prisma packaging, a softer side pack that will let one squeeze out excess air from a partially consumed package.

Wine Tasting at the Vine & Spirits

We love to attend wine tastings, as they let us sample a range of wines in the space of an hour or two, without having to commit to buying and consuming a bottle of something that turns out to be not to our liking. The Vine & Spirits hosted one the other night, with a slightly unusual approach. While normally such tastings showcase the range of wines from one or several vineyards, this tasting night contrasted the offerings of different brands in four varietals: Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. With three wines in each category, the taster could compare and contrast the different characters of each wine. This wonderfully practical approach is often superseded by the necessity of meeting the needs of a sponsor, but in this case it was an enjoyable change from the ordinary.

These included a Yalumba “Y” Series Riesling from Murray River, Australia, a Kiona White Riesling form Washington, and a Black Star Farms Late Harvest Riesling from Michigan. We didn’t keep notes on these, but the Kiona White was easily the sweetest, almost a dessert wine in character.

Pinot Grigios
These were Cantina Torlano Pino Grigio from Alto Adige, Italy; Torre Di Luna Pinot Grigio from Trentino, Italy, and Cantina Lavis Pinot Grigio IGT (Trentino, Italy). The Torre Di Luna wine seemed a bit more acidic, but not in a bad way.

Pinot Noirs
The Castle Rock Pinot Noir from Mendocino, California had a mild plummy flavor with a little spice. The first wine from Tasmania that I can recall tasting was Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir Devil’s Corner; this wine was rather thin, with quite a bit of pepper and acidity, but more mineral than fruit. My favorite of the group was the Babich Pinot Noir from New Zealand; it had quite a bit of body with a good mix of cherry/berry notes and pepper.

The most unusually named wine of the night was Gravity Hills Tumbling Tractor Zinfandel (Paso Robles), supposedly named for an incident in which a tractor slid down the steep hillside of the vineyard. This zin had a plummy start, and a dry, peppery finish. The Graziano Zinfandel from Mendocino, California had a big, bold flavor; it was fruity, almost slightly sweet as it hit the palate, but complexity and spice increased quickly, leading into a woody finish. My favorite from the group was Schuetz Oles So Zin, a California wine that was full bodied and showed a nice balance of cherry and spice from start to finish.

At the end of the evening, I ended up taking home some of the Babich Pinot Noir and the Schuetz Oles So Zin, my two favorites of the night. Kudos to The Vine and Spirits for hosting an interesting tasting event organized by varietal rather than the more typical brand arrangement.

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2005

Pepperwood Grove Pinot NoirPrice: $6
Maker: Don Sebastiani & Sons, Napa, California
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 7.5 out of 10

We had high hopes for Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2005 after finding their 2004 Merlot to be an enjoyable, inexpensive wine. Once again we were slightly startled by the snow-white artificial cork, and as we poured the wine we detected a promising nose that was mostly raspberry with slight floral notes. The wine proved to be very light-bodied, though, and a bit bland. Cherry, berry, and oak notes were present, but didn’t do much to excite this taster’s tongue. Admittedly, our taste leans toward robust zins and cabs, so perhaps this pinot is just a bit too subtle for our jaded tastebuds.

Since pinot noir wines tend to be lighter, perhaps a real pino aficionado would find this one more acceptable. At the price, one’s risk is certainly limited.

Little Penguin Pinot Noir 2004

Price: $6
Maker: the Little Penguin
Variety: Pinot Noir
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

In spite of the movie Sideways, which has caused a boom in the sales of Pinot Noir wines, that variety isn’t one of my favorite reds. I prefer the bigger, bolder cabs and Shirazes. Nevertheless, I picked up a bottle of the Little Penguin Pinot Noir 2004 based on my experience with some of their other varieties. To my great surprise, the Penguin came through with a very nice, very affordable wine. This Pinot is smooth and fruity, with cherry predominating. The finish gets more spicy. The Little Penguin Pinot isn’t a classic Pinot Noir, but it’s pleasant and smooth, and can be served with confidence for casual entertaining.

The Little Penguin web site says,

Pinot Noir has developed quite a reputation as a delicate grape that, when handled properly, can become an elegant wine. the Little Penguin’s Pinot Noir is no exception. the Little Penguin Pinot Noir has rich, spicy flavors with a smooth, clean finish.

. Their site is a fun one and worth a visit – check out the Wine Personality Test.