A Weekend Full of Great Wine & Friends

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Comments Off on A Weekend Full of Great Wine & Friends

This past weekend my husband and I flitted off to San Diego to visit some friends and chill out. In addition to excellent company and excellent food, it was a fun wine weekend, too.

Wine #1: 2006 Beringer Napa Chardonnay

2005 Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay

2005 Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay

As a pre-dinner diversion, our friends Greg & Celine had us over for snacks and a glass of wine before heading out. They served us homemade dips (a delicious Greek yogurt dip with herbs in it and a yummy parmesan-artichoke dip) with pita chips and edamame. They served it to us with (and here's an adjective I never thought I'd use to describe a Beringer wine) Napa Valley Chardonnay. It was crisp, a little oaky, and had hints of green fruit. A well-structured, enjoyable white wine for $10-13 per bottle.

Wine #2: 2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Greg & Celine brought us to their friends' new restaurant in Del Mar, California called Zel's. The patio was lovely, the food (mine at least) was excellent, and the service was an adventure. Greg insisted that since I have a wine blog I needed to choose the wine for the table. Unusually, there was a choice to be made because Zel's has a great wine list and really great bottle prices on the wine. I asked around and everyone liked Cabernet, so I chose the Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. You've heard me say before that you can't go wrong with a Cab from Alexander Valley and this gem was no exception. A delicious Cab typical of Alexander Valley, it carried us gracefully through mussels & french fries, warm spinach salad, sea bass with mushroom risotto, steak, pork shoulder, and a serrano ham woodfired pizza. We happily ordered 2 bottles during dinner and not only would I go back to this restaurant (a rare compliment from me) I would buy this wine at twice it's normal price of $14-17 per bottle.

Wine #3: 2005 Clos du Bois North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast

2005 Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast

In the afternoon, I took my friend Gary shopping at Walmart. There are so many parts of that sentence which sound strange to me, but the strangest of all is that I voluntarily went into a Walmart (stranger still I spent money while I was there… on wine!). While we were wandering the aisles, I discovered they sell wine. In fact, I picked up a couple bottles of the Bonterra Organic & Biodynamic Chardonnay for $6 which is a STEAL. While perusing the shelf I saw the 2005 Clos du Bois North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and opted to pass. Boy was that dumb. Later that afternoon, while sitting around playing games and drinking (that's what Sunday afternoons are for, right?) we opened a bottle that Gary already had at his place… and it was better than I've come to expect from Clos du Bois which can be SO hit-or-miss. (Example: I love their Pinot Grigio but hate their Pinot Noir.) This Cabernet was not of the same exceptional quality as the one from the night before, but nonetheless, when you're looking for value in your limited wine budget, this wine will make you think you spent more than you did for your $12-15 per bottle.

Wine #4: 2006 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

2006 Domain Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

2006 Domain Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

When we made it to our final dinner of the weekend, we were ready to keep the good times rolling, so we ordered another bottle of wine. Well, I guess we technically ordered two bottles of wine. The first one was a Zolo Malbec… a wine I love! Or thought I did. I in fact love the Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec which I bought at BevMo! (which is, near as I can tell, a Reserve wine). They also bottle a lesser-version of it without the Gaucho Select, and I can tell you it's not as good as the Gaucho Select. So, I sent it back. Instead we ordered the 2006 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros because Mitch loves Pinot and we were all eating dinners that would go nicely with a Pinot. Lately I've felt like every Pinot Noir I taste is overwhelmingly cherry or tastes like water even though it looks like wine. Finally that streak has been broken but I don't have a new Pinot to add to my shopping list when I want a wine in the $20-25 range because I don't think it was worth that much. More like $15-18 per bottle.

Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – From Costco… Really!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment
We love Alexander Valley Cabs at a great price!

We love Alexander Valley Cabs at a great price!

So, I recently wrote about my last trip to Costco, which accidentally ended up including buying more wine. No, no one is shocked by this. My impulse purchases are no longer clothing, shoes, and jewelry–they're now wine, gourmet food stuffs, and more wine. I restocked on the Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (because the label says it's from Alexander Valley) and I didn't recall NOT liking it. Couldn't really remember specifically liking it or anything, but cheap wine I don't dislike is grounds for a closer inspection.

And inspect I did! I read the back of the label this time, seeing as when I opened the bottle and smelled the cork it was lovely. Just what I like in

my Cabernet's… a hint of red fruit, some blueberries, and something I can only describe as purple. Maybe someday I'll have the flavor word for purple, but for now, purple will have to do. It's good I inspected the label because it SAYS Cabernet Sauvignon on the front, but when I turn her around, I find it out she's all slutty (in a good way of course). From the back of the label,

“Alexander Valley's gravel and  loam soils create dense, dark blackberry fruit with a sweet hint of wild cherries. 20 months in American oak barrels add toasted spice layers, vanilla, and cinnamon. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Petite Sirah and Merlot create a complex mid-palate of black cherry and currant. The long finish shows depth and concentration with lifting acidity. Drink now through 2012.”

Sometimes Costco does buy good wine!

Sometimes Costco does buy good wine!

Yeah, what they said. Exactly. But can you believe how many different grapes are in there? It's like that six-hour spaghetti & meat-sauce I made last weekend that had really complicated flavor profiles in the sauce because of the six million ingredients (six-hours is not an exaggeration… six million may be a little).

Moral of the story: PromisQuous Red could have been MUCH better if it were more about winemaking and less about marketing… and I have to go buy more of the 2006 Kirkland Signature Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Costco!


The Costco Cabernet Saga Continues

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Label

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Label

One of the best ways to get value in wine is to buy it on sale. Even more value happens when a big retailer buys so much of it they got it at a great price, which they pass onto you, and then they add coupons to it! For this reason, I pay special attention to Costco Wine Coupon Sale time… which, coincidentally happened last week.

This time, I restocked on the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, the Kirkland brand Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, and the J Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon. I also tried an experiment from the sale wines because the price seemed right for experimenting… $10.49 with coupon. It was the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

I ate it with a spaghetti & meat sauce recipe that I spent all day cooking (six hours, to be precise) figuring it would pair nicely with a hearty meaty dish. It left me flat. It wasn't bad, but it was tannic and very very dry… too dry… and I usually prefer very dry wines. Then again, so was the food. Well, not tannic, but dry. I'll blame the chef for that.

Buying Wine by Region and Year

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments

About a year ago I decided to try an experiment. It was this: use the Wine Spectator region/year rating system to pick out wines even when I've never heard of the vineyard or winemaker (which constitutes at least 90% of wines I encounter). I can honestly say I've never been disappointed with this wine-buying method.


The Vintage Ratings Chart at Wine Spectator (subscription required to view the chart)

Here are some example region-vintage combinations that I like, and the full list of winners as decided by Wine Spectator (who I trust for their wine reviews explicitly… better than Parker in my opinion).

  • Australia: Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale 2003-2005
  • Spain: Ribera del Duero 2004-2005
  • California Pinot Noir: Anderson Valley 2003-2005, Sonoma 2004, Santa Barbara 2004
  • California Cabernet Sauvignon: Napa 2004-2005 and (in my experience) you can never go wrong with a Cabernet from Alexander Valley in Sonoma
  • California Syrah: Napa 1999-2006, Paso Robles 2004 and 2006, Sonoma 2002-2006
  • Washington: 2005 and 2006

I keep this short list in mind as I peruse wine lists in restaurants and when I go to wine stores. This helps me pick out the best bargains. It's led me to some of my favorites including:

  • 2004 Vina Santurnia, Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain
  • 2004 and 2005 Peter Lehmann Shiraz, from McLaren Vale, Australia (ok in all fairness, a friend brought a bottle of this over for dinner, bit I've continued to test the vintage/region combination and am pleased with it)
  • 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, from Washington

Last week I was out for happy hour with a friend at my favorite wine bar in town (Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica) and I ordered a bottle I'd never heard of, but it was a 2005 Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero and since I love that Vina Santurnia I figured it was worth a shot. We both enjoyed the wine!

Try this! If you don't have a Wine Spectator online subscription and you don't want to purchase one just to get your hands on this list, I found pre-printed copies of it at my favorite local wine store… yours might have them, too. It's called the Vintage Ratings chart.

Great wine under $20 – Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on Great wine under $20 – Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Chateau Souverain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Last night we ate a nice little fish restaurant on the Malibu Pier (the Beachcomber). We ordered the 2005 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon which I had had before and remember enjoying quite a bit. Mitch, who usually doesn't love a cabernet really enjoyed this and said, “We should keep