Tasting Notes: 19 Crimes Red Blend

If you've never seen 19 Crimes, you may live under a rock. I'm just kidding, but really I have seen this wine everywhere. The frosted bottle and menacing label always intrigued me, plus I always thought it'd be nice to have a wine I liked that I could get almost anywhere, but for whatever reason I never bit the bullet. I'm not sure why, but I never did. Finally, my dad gave me a bottle to try. 

The Facts

  • Producer: 19 Crimes
  • Region: South Eastern Australia
  • Vintage: 2016
  • Variety: GSM blend (Grenache, Shiraz/Syrah, Mataro/Mourvedre) , with the majority being Shiraz.
  • Where I purchased: Widely available - Grocery store, Target, Costco, Total Wine, etc.
  • Price: $8.99 - $11.99

Eyes: This wine is DARK purple. It's got an opaque center to just a slightly lighter rim. Very characteristic color of a New World, young, Shiraz-heavy GSM blend. Expecting it to be a bold, flavorful wine.

Nose: Black fruit and vanilla. I also think it has sort of a medicinal smell that I can't say is pleasant. I'm not sure what that is coming from, but it reminds me of Robitussin or something. Needless to say, that was unexpected.

Mouth: Wine is full-bodied and a vanilla bomb. I know people will describe it's texture as "smooth", but to me it was lacking acidity and/or tannin. The texture just seems sort of one-note to me. The flavor that lingered after sipping was pleasant, probably because it was less vanilla-y. 

Thoughts: I can't lie... I was disappointed in this wine. I had a feeling before I even opened it (maybe because of the bottle design?) that it was going to be very vanilla-y, and that is exactly what I got. I wish I knew what their aging process or wine-making process was, but their website doesn't give much info. To me, there's something missing and it's tough to put your finger on what exactly that is. That being said, if you like full-bodied, oaky, smooth red wines, I think this is a good choice at an excellent price point with an availability that can't be beat. I know this wine is super popular, but for me, I prefer other bottles to this one for my every day. I will give them props for their marketing though -- crimes on each cork? Love it. 



Coravin Test: 3 Inexpensive Cabs

Confession: I caved and bought a Coravin. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with a Coravin, it is a nifty gadget that allows you to try wine without uncorking the bottle. How does it work? In short, the contraption uses a needle and gas to extract the wine, and since cork is self healing, the cork repairs itself keeping the wine inside away from harm. This sounds awesome, right? It is, but the downfall is it's a little pricey. Ultimately, I decided to get one in order to do things just like this post: taste multiple wines without having to pull 3+ corks and have all that extra wine sitting in my fridge degenerating quickly. Plus I got a good deal through my friends at Mountaintop Wine Shoppe, so I couldn't pass it up. 


So what was my first test? I wanted to try the three "grocery store" Cabernet Sauvignons I had on hand to see which was the best. Here was the lineup:

  1. Carnivor - California, 2013. Purchased at Fresh Market but I've definitely seen it at a ton of other grocery stores. It's also at Total Wine for $10.99. I wanted to give this one a whirl because it was on a list of highly rated wines under $20 (90 points by Wine Enthusiast). 
  2. Liberty School - Paso Robles, 2013. This historically has been a go-to grocery store purchase for me. We haven't had it in a while since we've been trying new things, so I wanted to give it a go when compared to other wines. I'd say it averages around $14 in grocery stores, but can be found at its cheapest at Total Wine for $10.97.
  3. Motto Backbone - California, 2013. I've actually done a tasting notes on this wine already. You can find it here. While I purchased it at a restaurant, you can find Motto in grocery stores and Total Wine as well. It runs from about $8 to $10.

I used my Coravin to pour about 3 oz. of each and did a mini-tasting to see which I liked best. When you only have one wine at a time, it's difficult to say which wine you like best, so using the Coravin was the perfect way to find a "favorite". Here are some details about each wine:

1. Carnivor

Carnivor was an extremely deep purple color and completely opaque. It even stained the glass when you swirled it around. Based on this, I knew there had to be some other grape blended in, and sure enough, they add some Petite Syrah to the mix. I immediately smelled vanilla and dark, ripe fruit like blackberry jam and even some blueberry. I also got a hint of something herbal or almost minty. The vanilla also came through on the pallet, and in my opinion, it was a total vanilla/oak bomb. Sure, you also got some of that blackberry or cassis flavor, but it seems like they let the wine sit in oak until there was nothing but vanilla to taste. It was smooth and full-bodied, but too heavy and creamy for me (although Kevin thought it was fine).



2. Liberty School

Since this was my go-to for so long, I had high expectations. The color was a pretty medium-red, garnet and it was semi-translucent. Definitely less full than the Carnivor. It smelled of red fruit like cherry, and there was no vanilla on this one! The wine tasted of the same red fruit and also maybe plum. It was pretty smooth for those who don't like tannin, but it was a little thin in my opinion. No real "oomph" from tannin, acid, or spice. Maybe I needed to let it sit out for longer. It was definitely still good, but not as stellar as I remembered.

Liberty School


3. Motto Backbone

As I mentioned before, I've already done a tasting notes on this wine here. Backbone was actually my favorite out of the bunch, and Kevin thought it smelled the best. To summarize, this wine was a medium-red color and smelled of ripe red fruit. I instantly thought of cherry pie and sweet raspberries. To be clear, this wine is not sweet. Just fruity. There was definitely some tannin in there, although mild. I think this bit of tannin is what pushed it ahead of Liberty School. I found this wine to be easy to drink and tasty!


So what does all of this mean? First, I loved being able to compare, so I'll have to do this with other grape varieties in the future. Second, it also means that you shouldn't always follow ratings (including my own). While they can be useful as a guide, tastes are subjective so it won't always be accurate. Therefore, I'll stick with my tried and true Liberty School or Motto for easy to drink, inexpensive Cabs. I'd say Liberty School is more widely available, so it's good to know that it stands up to others that we enjoy.

I'd love to hear about more inexpensive Cabs, so let me know yours in the comments below!


Tasting Notes: Bonterra Riesling

Every now and then, Harris Teeter has case sales and half case sales, so I like to stock up on wines to try out during these sales. Since Kevin has professed his love for Rieslings, I thought I'd give this Bonterra Riesling a try. Bonterra has received good ratings from Wine Enthusiast and they are an organic winery, so I was curious to see how an organic wine compares.

The Facts

  • Producer: Bonterra Organic Vineyards
  • Region: Mendocino County, CA
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Variety: Riesling
  • Where I purchased: Grocery store - Harris Teeter
  • Price: $12.99
  • Eyes: This wine was VERY golden yellow. I know Rieslings can be on a spectrum, but I was quite surprised at how golden this wine was. It was unlike any other Riesling we had tired.
  • Nose: To be frank, this wine smelled uninviting. The aromas were not appealing and I didn't even really want to try the wine. We had experienced this once before at an "open cellar" tasting with a Riesling, so I powered through, but it had a strong petrol or gas smell to it. I also picked up on notes of apricot, which did not bode well since apricot is not my favorite.
  • Mouth: The bottle indicated this wine was "medium dry" to "dry", so I was surprised with how sweet it tasted, and I definitely picked up on apricot. This wine was not crisp or refreshing like other Rieslings I have had and it just didn't taste good to me. 
  • Thoughts: This was a total dud. The aroma and flavor were just not our profiles at all. At this price point, I didn't even waste my time trying to finish the glass. I am bound to hit a few duds every now and then, so chalk it up to a learning experience. We definitely prefer the light and crisp, citrus-y Rieslings over this one which had more tree fruit, so California just may not be the region for us... we'll stick with Germany or Austria. I am not totally out on Bonterra, though. I'm sure I'll pick up one of their other varietals in the future. 


Tasting Notes: Queen of Hearts Merlot

This wine has been on the rack for a while... it was originally purchased way back in February. As you may guess from the kitschy name, I came across a tasting of this brand around Valentine's Day while doing some grocery shopping. For a reason unknown to me, I tend to shy away from buying Merlot, so I was happy to give it a go!

The Facts

  • Producer: Was Queen of Hearts Wines but is now owned by Lucas & Lewellen
  • Region: Santa Barbara County, CA
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Variety: Merlot
  • Where I purchased: Grocery store - Fresh Market
  • Price: $12.99
  • Eyes: This wine was a medium red color. After a brief foray into white and rosé wines, I am back to the color I love most! It was relatively transparent and was not super viscous. As a note, viscosity can be an indicator for acid levels in the wine, so I'd have qualified this as a "medium acid" wine based on how it looked. 
  • Nose: This wine was very pleasant to smell. I tend to be biased toward the aromas of fruit forward reds, but hey, I like what I like! The wine smelled of dark berries and plum. There was a hint of something sweet smelling, whether that be vanilla or something jammy. Regardless, it smelled good.
  • Taste: This wine definitely had a strong fruit flavor, but a mix of red and black. I picked up on some blackberry and some cherry which was not unexpected based on the aromas. There was definitely more of a jammy taste to the wine once I had some, but there was still a good bite from the tannin. Sometimes I think jammy can be a turnoff, but it worked in this case. 
  • Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised by this wine! I remember having the same feelings while in Fresh Market. I (probably unfairly) had low expectations of the wine based on the name and price point, but it actually came out as an "every day" category winner for me. I thought there was a good balance between fruit and tannin and was just really pleasant to drink. Fair warning: I tried this label's Pinot Noir, and I was NOT a fan of that. I'd buy the Merlot again, but in my opinion, shy away from the Pinot.


Tasting Notes: 14 Hands Stampede Red Blend

As you know, one effort of this blog is to taste wines that are widely and easily available. Now, I am a big fan of local wine shops because of their knowledgeable staff and carefully curated wine selections, and I love Total Wine because of their wide range of grape and region offerings and price ranges. But the bad news? There isn't always a wine shop or Total Wine around! Sometimes Harris Teeter or Kroger or Publix or whatever your local grocer may be is the best choice around. For that reason, I make it a point to purchase options from these places, and this choice was one of those selections.

The Facts

  • Producer: 14 Hands Winery
  • Region: Columbia Valley, Washington State
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Red Blend - Syrah, Merlot, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre 
  • Where I purchased: Grocery store - Harris Teeter
  • Price: $11.99
  • Eyes: This wine was a deep red color with some purple in it. Definitely not as deep as a Syrah or even a Cab, which makes sense now considering Merlot and Viognier (a white grape) is included.

    As a sidenote, I was surprised that Viognier (pronounced vee-ohn-yay) was included in the red blend, but after a quick search, I found that it is actually not uncommon. Viognier grows alongside Syrah in the Northern Rhone Valley in France and French wine laws allow the combination. Viognier is very aromatic (think peach, pear, and floral), so it is blended to give the other wine an aromatic boost. 
  • Nose: Despite the Viognier being in the blend, I would not say that this wine had those typical aromas. As expected, I picked up on the berry and cherry aromas, but I also got vanilla or a syrupy smell on the bouquet. It reminded me of the smell of a flat cup of Coke... heavy, a little sweet, and it kind of lingered.
  • Mouth: When I tasted this wine, I primarily tasted two things: berries (blackberry and cherry) and vanilla. There was a hint of spice, likely from the Syrah, but overall, the wine wasn't overly complicated. The wine bottle touts cedar, but to be honest with you, I still need to decipher what that smells and tastes like. I didn't pick up on anything overly "woodsy" but maybe that is also where the spice or bite comes from. I guess I need to go find some cedar to smell!
  • Thoughts: This wine was decent for a red blend at this price point. I listened to a podcast on the red blend trend from Wine For Normal People (you can listen to it here or check it out on iTunes), and Elizabeth mentioned how lower tier red blends tend to be what's left over versus an intentional blend (ex: Dave Phinney's Prisoner or Chappellet's Mountain Cuvee, which are both delicious). This causes the wine to be flat, lacking character of the grapes, and usually on the sweeter side. That was eye opening to me, and I definitely pick up on that in cheaper red blends. This wine had some of that, but I actually thought this one was better than most. The vanilla was a little strong in my opinion, but the hint of spice helped it be a step above others I've tried. Will this be a consistent purchase in our household? No. However, I know the 14 Hands brand is widely available, and this isn't a bad choice when my options are limited.