Hot Wine Deal! 2005 Opolo Fusion

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Hot Wine Deals | 1 Comment


We're all about value over here… sometimes that means buying cheap wine that will surprise you, sometimes that means buying mid-priced wine that tastes expensive, and sometimes (today will be one of those times) it means buying mid-priced, expensive-tasting wine so cheap you won't believe your eyes.

Have you met Opolo? I have! I've been to their winery and came home with a bottle of this stuff (among others). I liked Opolo so much I also went to a winemaker dinner here in town so I could have some more without the drive to Paso Robles!

Today, while scouring the web for great deals, I came across this one and said… BINGO! So if you like balanced, well-made California fruit-forward red wines you can have a bingo, too!

2005 Opolo Fusion (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Syrah, 2% Petite Verdot) from Paso Robles.
Release price: $37.50. Sale price: $21.99. There's a “member-only” price, too.

Trust me, if you're thinking about this wine, register for an account so you can see the low low price they're offering to their registered shoppers.



My Introduction to the C. Donatiello Winery

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

c-donatiello-bottlesLast month I was kindly invited to a pre-release luncheon for C. Donatiello Winery at the lovely Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills. Rarely one to turn down free wine or free food, I gladly accepted the invitation and waited for the big day.

Since I'm hyper-punctual (thanks, Mom!) I was the first one of the guests to arrive and I had an opportunity to spend some time with proprietor Christopher Donatiello. One of the things I love about the wine business is the willingness of the owners and winemakers to talk about their wines and themselves (even before they're knocking 'em back). Like a piece of art whose meaning is deepened by the artist's story and message, the more you know about the people making the wine and where the wine comes from, the more you get from the experience of drinking it. Getting to know the story of the birth of the C. Donatiello Winery helped me experience the wines as if I secretly knew the wines' hopes and dreams, in addition to what they were in the glass that day.

The focus for this winery was to be on single-lot wines made in a traditional “hands-off” style. I can't always taste the way a wine is made, but I typically notice a “naked” wine where minimal winemaking has been applied and the fruit is allowed to speak for itself. I enjoyed this aspect of the C. Donatiello wines we tried.

Chris was also interested in making great Pinot Noir (who isn't?). He wanted his Pinot to express a lighter style, and be more elegant than much of the super-cherry fruit-forward Pinot Noir we get from California.

I happen to be a big fan of Russian River Valley wines and typically when I purchase them I do so as a treat because they tend toward the over $30 mark and there's too much good wine out there priced well below $30 to have the expensive stuff on a regular basis. If you're looking to buy any of these wines, here's a good place to start for C. Donatiello Winery, and here for Healdsburg Ranches.

The Chardonnays

The first wine poured for us was the 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $24 per bottle). I always feel bad for the first wine that gets poured because my palate and nose are hyper-sensitive to alcohol until I've had a few sips. I suppose that's why they started us with their “lesser” Chardonnay (not single-vineyard). This wine contains fruit sourced from two vineyards: Orsi Vineyard and Maddie's Vineyard. Maddie's estate-grown contribution made all the difference in this wine.

What they said:

Nose: Lemon curd and apricot, with a bit of clove and just a hint of wet wool. Don't be surprised if you also detect an ever so faint whiff of vanilla cookies.

Palate: Layers of spiced apple, honey, and nutmeg reveal seamlessly on a tight frame to give way to the long, luscious chamomile-tinged finish.

What Jess says:

After trying all of the wines, this was the one I came back to and wanted more of. I was particularly impressed with the balance of this Chardonnay, a feat indeed since so many Chardonnays lean oaky or buttery or alcoholic or fruity… this just expressed itself as fine fruit made in a fine style. I find the $24 release price to be a good value, especially if you can find it a retailer for less.

Side note: I smelled honey on the nose. I often can't tell the difference between honey and apricot on the nose (or on the palate) until it's pointed out. I was able to detect the spice (though it was super mild) and I detected “herbal” where they say the “chamomile” ought to be. But then again, my descriptions tend toward the general rather than the specific.

Next up was the 2007 Chardonnay, Orsi Vineyard (release price $30 per bottle). This single-vineyard wine, in my opinion, didn't enjoy the balance of the Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It was brighter and fruitier (popular characteristics in Chardonnay, just not my preference).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of baking spices, pannetone and toasted pineapple, exquisitely accented by a faint hint of lemon.

Palate: Decadently lush with flavors of caramel candied apple, key lime, lemon, and grapefruit. A round, full mouth feel develops effortlessly into a medium to long finish.

What Jess says:

I have no idea what pannetone tastes/smells like. And toasted pineapple isn't exactly familiar to me either (though I smelled what I referred to as “tweaky pineapple.” But I sure did smell and taste that lemon! I found this wine to be enjoyable and unique, but since fruity isn't my favorite, I didn't find $30 to be an attractive price.


Later on, we tried some of the wines from different labels that are part of the Hambrecht Wine Group. A value highlight for me was the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $14.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Stone fruit, honey dew melon, apricot, golden delicious apple

Palate: Apricot, toffee, nutmeg, white peach, nectarine

What Jess says:

This was a great Chardonnay in this price range. I would happily sip on this on warm summer days or nights, accompanied by some form of food since the acid tended to build up a little in my mouth as I drank it. I detected a brightness and some non-specific form of “fruit” on the nose. Well-balanced for a $15 Chardonnay (only a little acidic), I detected notes of apricot, citrus, pear, and little hint of malolactic fermentation that didn't annoy me as buttery (considering this wine's fermentation was 100% malolactic, that's saying something).

The Pinot Noirs

I'm not one who goes gaga over Pinot Noirs, but when I do, they tend to originate from the Russian River Valley (and sometimes elsewhere in Sonoma County). So please take all of the following comments with the perspective that I'm not really a Pinot Noir afficionado… I think it's because Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult wines to produce and so very few wineries have truly figured it out.

First up in the Pinot department was the 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $38 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: A vibrant burst of Morello cherry, Santa Rosa plum, cranberry and muddle raspberries, braced by notes of grey pepper and mocha.

Palate: Luscious and fruity, with perfectly-balanced flavors of cherry, strawberry, and cola. The brightness of the fruit is elegantly framed by structured tannins.

What Jess says:

I found the nose to be bright, bold with cherry (though again, I don't know what a Morello cherry smells/tastes like) and a bit peppery. To me the palate was musty and structured up front but I found wateriness in the mid-palate right where the party is supposed to start. This Pinot had an earthy quality that really didn't resonate with me. Maybe it was my brussel sprouts that ruined it? (Though that Pasta Primavera dish they served was out of this world.)

Also served was the 2008 Pinot Noir, Floodgate Vineyard, Block 15 (release price $48 per bottle). When a label starts getting THAT specific I have an expectation that this wine is going to be very unique and special. I didn't have that experience. I have to wonder how much the record-breaking weather affected this particular vintage and would be interested to try a bottle from a year when the weather conditions were within normal range.

What they said:

Nose: The floral essence of rose petal meets the earthy aroma of forest floor, with jammy notes of cranberry and blackberry.

Palate: Opposite of showy, with reserved flavors of cherry and wet stone balanced subtly and beautifully by a tactile, full mouthfeel.

What Jess says:

The nose was mellower than the previous Pinot Noir (that's a good thing for me… sometimes when a wine has a strong nose it, by contrast, falls apart on the palate). I definitely was aware of “forest floor.” The palate expressed deep layers of flavor, was very balanced, felt restrained, and was supported by light, supple tannins. This was a very well-made wine, but at $48 and with my preferences, I'd probably spend my money elsewhere (like a Suacci-Carciere Pinot Noir also from the Russian River Valley).

Side note: C. Donatiello Winery takes the time to point out that this Pinot Noir contains grapes from Dijon Clones 667 and 777. Until I started studying plants, this seemed like a rather pedantic thing to talk about (especially since the rest of the plant-growing community refers to “clones” as cultivars and varieties).  But since I study wine and plants with the same level of voracity, I thought I'd see who else is using these clones… if you like any of these wines, you might very well enjoy this Pinot Noir:

Clone: 667

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Cambria Clone 667
  • Alma Rosa (La Encantada Vineyard)
  • Foley (Santa Rita Hills)
  • La Rochelle (Sleepy Hollow Vineyard)

Clone: 777

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Aston Estate
  • Brewer-Clifton
  • Windsor Oaks Vineyards
  • Lafond Winery & Vineyards

One last Pinot Noir was served that day, the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $18.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of plum, cranberry, cherry, golden raspberry, and spices

Palate: Flavors of strawberry, bing cherry, spice, baked rhubarb

What Jess says:

Oy. I don't agree with those tasting notes. I tasted toasty chocolate, not a lot of cherry expected from a Pinot Noir at all, and a touch of spice. Slightly acidic. Good Pinot under $13 is the holy grail of the value wine drinker. Good Pinot under $25 per bottle is rare enough that one should be impressed by such a feat. For me, this one falls under the general description of “nice Pinot Noir under $25.” For the same price I'd take the Clos du Bois Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir over this one though.

They also poured for us two wines from the Bradford Mountain label. The 2006 Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and Syrah (release price $33 for each). I didn't find either of these wines to be exciting for their varietal, or for Dry Creek Valley. I'd skip 'em altogether if you find 'em at the store.

The Winery

Typically when I do an elaborate tasting review such as this one, it's because I've visited the winery on a tasting trip. That's not the case but there are few special things about this winery that makes me hope I get there before too long.

The Aroma / Sensory Garden

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

C. Donatiello Winery has on premises an elaborate aroma garden where each plant has been chosen to reflect the wines they're making. There is a 60-species rose garden, a perennial garden in the English style, and herbs are planted between the two. Sounds AWESOME.

New Wine & Cheese Pairing program launching June 5, 2010

We are introducing a new wine and cheese pairing program. Over the course of the remainder of the year, the winery will focus on three local Sonoma County creameries, pairing four select cheeses with a flight of four carefully selected single-vineyard estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Each cheese plate is adorned with locally produced accoutrements and fresh cuttings from the winery’s organic Aroma Garden to further enhance the tasting experience. Reservations are required, so please allow us 24-hour notice.

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen June 18-20, 2010

Food & Wine magazine’s signature event brings together the world’s foremost authorities on food and wine. Chris has the distinct honor of participating in a panel discussion this year.  Food & Wine Magazine’s Wine Editor Ray Isle has invited him to speak on “The Power of Points.”  He will also be in attendance with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association, so if you’re attending, be sure to stop by his booth in the tasting tent.

“Live from the Middle Reach” Summer Music Series, July 4 -October 3, 2010

The series will lead with the popular local Sonoma County group the Hellhounds, who have been a staple in kicking off the concert series on 4th of July weekend since its inception.  A total of 13 bands will be featured throughout the summer and early fall, including returning favorites and fresh new acts. The full list of music acts can be found on the Events page of their website.


Bordeaux Wines That Won’t Break The Bank

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

Arianna & Jess tasted Bordeaux wines for the first time at the BevMo 100th Store Mega-Tasting in Rolling Hills Estates. At this type of event (a large mixed-beverage tasting at a “big box” store) it’s unusual to encounter a real wine experience. But to BevMo’s credit they lined up 100 2007 Bordeaux’s for tasting, and brought in the owners from many of the wineries to introduce the BevMo customer to Old World winemaking and wine-drinking. It seemed a strange juxtaposition (elegant wines poured by elegant French people in a SoCal parking lot), but in the end, we tasted a wide spectrum of 2007 Bordeaux wines across a broad price range and now we feel a little less intimidated by French wine in general and by Bordeaux specifically.

Jessyca’s ignorance of wines from outside of California has been discussed before, so the following revelations should not be interpreted as wine snobbery, but rather sharing what she learned…

1. Bordeaux is not a grape. While most people who drink wine know this, Jessyca did not. Or at least not officially. Grapes grown in the Bordeaux wine region of France are predominantly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Side note: Similarly, Chateau Neuf-du-Pape is not a winery, but also a wine region in France. Not all Chateau Neuf-du-Pape wines are worth the reputation.

2. They like to mix their grapes in Bordeaux. Most Bordeaux wines that we tasted were primarily Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, but nearly all were blends of 3 or four different varietals.

3. French people aren’t all snobby. The manager at BevMo found it important to tell us how unusual and special it is that this level of wine proprietors would be present at such an event, much less doing the pouring. I found the proprietors to be charming, patient, and knowledgeable. One even spent several minutes teaching Jess how to pronounce Pouilly-Fuisse and Pauillac. They were eager to expose the American consumers to their wines and had much better attitudes about the heat and crowds than the other winery owners present at the event.

World famous for some of the oldest and highest regarded wines on the planet, Bordeaux wines are full-bodied, rich and delicious. The wines we listed here are a great value and will age beautifully for the next 5 – 10+ years.

2007 Chateau La Chenade, Lalande de Pomerol. $16 – $20

Bright, dark red. This wine smells of strawberry and is a little firm on tannin. This is a value price for a wine from the Bordeaux region, and while rich and delicious, it tastes “younger” and “greener” than some of the others on this list. However, La Chenade is a good place to start and will improve (although not a ton), by aging.

Drink by 2015

70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc.

Jessyca really enjoyed this wine and after tasting 12 different Bordeaux wines, feels this one in particular is of good value. It also says something interesting about the power of winemaking because she’s not a fan of Merlot.

2007 Chateau Chasse-Spleen, Moulis-en-Médoc. $25 – $35

Although the property’s history dates back to 1560, it is likely that the vines from which these grapes descended are much, much older. The vineyard is widely held in high esteem, despite being one of the smallest producers in the area.

Deep red. Tastes of dark fruit, minerals and chocolate. This is an excellent wine at an excellent price. Drink now until 2025.

73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot.

2007 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux Bordeaux. $35 – $45

Dating from the 15th century (and possibly even the 12th), Château d’Issan is located in Margaux, 30 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux. The chateau is still surrounded by a moat, and is frequently described as the most romantic in the Medoc appellation.

Mild at first with a strong finish, this lighter-colored red is fruity on the nose, with a nice, full structure and hints of tobacco.

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot.

2007 Brane Cantenac, 2nd Grand Cru Classé, Margaux. $35 – $50

A Bordeaux blend middleweight, this is a softer, more “feminine” wine. Well crafted, earthy, with tastes of chocolate, strawberries, and raspberries. This isn’t one to age for long, but it’s an excellent value.

As a less robust wine, this might be a good choice for those who are just beginning to dabble in Bordeaux.

Drink now until 2015.

53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc.

Another of Jess’ favorites from the group–this was a smooth, flavorful wine that was pleasant in the mouth and had a long, enjoyable finish.

Duluc Ducru Dulicious

Duluc Ducru Dulicious

Chateau Branaire Duluc-Ducru, St. Julien. $40 – $55

Oak-y, earthy, fruity and balanced. Nicely integrated tannins. Hints of mocha, blackberries and violets. 2007 was not a great year for the region, but this shows a delicious fruitiness for the vintage. Very nice finish. This one is a good choice for the holidays, and should definitely be a crowd pleaser. Drink now until 2017.

63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc.

At GrapeSmart we like to talk about how you can get more value out of your wine purchases, but sometimes we want to share wine experiences that defy the “Under $25” ethos and extend into the “If I had a million dollars” dreamscape…

The Tale of the Two Longueville Wineries – And Bordeaux Futures
(by Jessyca)

Those in-the-know went straight for the uber-expensive Bordeaux wines (and in retrospect, we should have done this, too) because these were only futures not yet available for purchase.

All day long people were talking of terroir, a concept that has much deeper meaning in France than it does in California. When the following two wines were poured, an explanation included that these two wineries are right across the street from one another so that they should have much in common with one another, and also, the particular area of Longueville in Pauillac is desirable, so the wines are higher-priced.

The 2007 Chateau Pichon Lalande ($100 – $120) and the 2007 Chateau Pichon Baron ($90 – $115) could not have been more different. The Lalande is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Easily one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted, smooth and luscious. It was easy to see what winemakers the world over are trying to achieve when I had the opportunity to taste such deliciousness. The Baron on the other hand, 74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot, was more acidic and less special. It felt extraordinarily overpriced, especially in comparison to the Lalande.

This experience really solidified for me the importance of winemaking in the whole process, and rather downplayed the terroir impact. These wines shared little other than their name and their price tag. Ultimately only you can say if a wine is good or bad for you. You just have to try a lot to know what you like and what you don’t.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that K&L Merchants has a MUCH better price on these two wines than BevMo is offering which suggests that perhaps when you want premium wines, it still pays to shop around before you buy.

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.

2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

A few weeks ago I went to a tasting event hosted by the Rhone Rangers which is an organization focused on wine produced from Rhone varietals grown in the United States. Being a Southern California event, most of the wineries (if not all) were from Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Ynez Valley appellations.

Prior to attending, I researched the wineries to see which 20 I should actually taste because I knew I'd never make all 40-something. During my research I found the 2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley had been rated 92 by Wine Spectator (for my palette, that almost always means I'll like it). I found that highly suspect

because I'd had Zaca Mesa wines before and been, as I like to say, underwhelmed. The other thing I found surprising was a $22 bottle of Syrah from Santa Ynez was rated so highly. Now I LOVE Syrah, especially Santa Ynez Syrahs, so for me, it was a little jewel to behold.

2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah

2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah

I managed not to get to the Zaca Mesa table while I was at the tasting event, but that's okay because it's a fairly large-production wine and I knew I could find it elsewhere. On tonight's trip to Costco I noticed the Zaca Mesa Syrah and grabbed a bottle. Being me, I naturally couldn't wait more than 5 minutes to crack it and see if it passes my critical (ha!) muster, or at least lives up to its hype.

What Jess says: First impressions are great. A nice cherry/jammy bouquet with a little smoke at the back of the nose. Chewy, but enjoyable, mouthfeel. It does something funny toward the back of my tongue that I'm not loving (somehow reminds me of the other Zaca Mesa experiences I've had). Hardly noticeable jamminess in the mouth (some people love it, some hate it… I'm a lover) as opposed to the nose. Some kind of salty or some other mineral taste in the finish. Would almost certainly benefit from aeration, age, (I was too eager) and some red meat (or any food probably).

What Wine Spectator said: “Tight and beefy, with focused blueberry and wild berry flavors that are spicy and complex. Full-bodied, with a hint of stewed plum and wild berry peaking through on the finish. Drink now through 2015. 13,090 cases made.”

What Zaca Mesa said: “Our Syrah displays rich blackberry, cassis, espresso, mocha and our signature sage spice aromas and flavors. The silky finish lingers from the ripe tannins and smoky oak. This full-bodied wine should be enjoyed over the next ten years. A traditional pairing for this wine is a rack of lamb marinated in rosemary and garlic. However, a peppercorn steak or mushroom risotto would work incredibly well.”

[Editor's note: Even though I don't think all wines at Costco are priced as “deals,” knowing what your favorites cost elsewhere helps you identify when Costco has listed something at a lower price than most other places. We paid $16.79 and which seems to be a middle-of-the-road price for this wine in today's market despite it's $22 release price.]

Food and Wine is Love

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 4 Comments

Braised scallops with wild mushroom tapenade

Braised scallops with wild mushroom tapenade

Orris (2006 Sawtelle Boulevard) is one of my new favorite LA restaurants. They serve Franco-Japanese fusion small plates (everything subject to market availability), and I haven't yet had a bad dish.

From their website:

Orris is the root of the iris plant, which in ancient times, when mixed with cinnamon and other spices, was believed to be a love potion. Consider Orris Restaurant to embrace the concept of sharing plates with the ones you love; food and wine is love.

I have to agree: Food and wine is love. Especially wine like the 2005 Field Stone Cabernet Sauvignon we ordered with dinner.

This blog is unabashedly pro Alexander Valley Cabernet, so it probably won't come as a surprise that this is yet another entry singing its praises. But, truly, this was one of the most delicious wines I've tried.

Producer notes:


Here is a blend of mature fruit from all five of our distinctive estate Cabernet clones. The result is, in short, terrific. In character this ’05 release is a truly complex, expressive, Alexander Valley Cabernet which opens up with seductive, spicy, varietal aromas. Its equally expressive mouth-filling flavors of Bing cherries, plums, and crushed blackberries are bountiful and ripe, with characteristics typical of Field Stone’s definitive 'Alex

ander Valley Style': rich, fruit forward, with attractive notes of oak vanillin that never dominate. 2,000 cases produced.

After taking a few minutes to allow the wine to breathe, I “woke it up” by swirling it in the glass. It was a beautiful deep red-purple in color, with a nose of cherry and plum.

For dinner we started with Orris' seared ahi sashimi with sweet onion soy. Beautiful, sparkling and vibrant flavors. So fresh. Our next course was braised duck breast with yuzu chili paste. Having been here before, I knew that my four-year-old loves this dish, so he actually got his very own – and ate it with chopsticks! After that we shared beets with Basque sheep milk cheese and balsamic sauce (the kid practically finished this one on his own, too. I really have to stop feeding him good food). Then we had Orris' amazing squash blossoms with shrimp, then a shrimp mousse ravioli that caused all the adults to reach for any available substance to sop up the unbelievable shiitake mushroom sauce (filled with seductively rich sherry and earthy mushroom flavors). And, finally, the grown-ups shared the spectacular foie gras and Japanese eggplant with sweet soy. It was almost like a dreamy meat-flavored whipped cream! Light and savory and amazingly smooth.

And with every dish, the Field Stone was a perfect pairing. Even with the sashimi, which might be a little surprising.

Perhaps the wine blended so well because most of the sauces contained a subtle sweetness, between the sweet soy, the balsamic and the shiitake. On the tongue, the Field Stone Cabernet was bursting with blackberries and just the tiniest hint of spice – so it would seem the flavors of the meal and the wine would naturally pair perfectly. And they did.


For a tiny izaka-ya (Japanese pub) style restaurant, I was very impressed with the wine list (if you want to BYOB, there is an $18 corkage fee). I was impressed with everything, actually. If you're in the LA-area, go. And enjoy.


Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

murphy-goode-alexander-valley-cabernetLast week, my friend Annette and I went to happy hour at a chain restaurant called McCormick and Schmick's. Well. We tried to go to happy hour. We arrived at 6:27 and were told that we could no longer ord

er from the special menu – which is supposedly available until 6:30. Hmmm.

Being the peppy little camper that I am, I was able to rise above this near-crippling culinary setback, consoling myself with a delicious glass of vino (Annette ordered a dirty martini).

I chose a glass of 2007 Murphy-Goode cabernet. This Sonoma red was delicious from the moment it arrived at the table, although a bit tannic at the first sip. The acidity quickly dissipated into a beautifully smooth, full-bodied fruitiness, with a medium finish.

This has me pretty excited to try other Murphy-Goode reds.

I’m much less excited to go back to McCormick and Schmick's.

2008 Zolo Malbec – Gaucho Select – Selected!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on 2008 Zolo Malbec – Gaucho Select – Selected!

One of the funny things about Google is how it sends traffic around the web. In the last couple of weeks I suddenly received a lot of traffic for the keywords “zolo malbec” “zolo gaucho select” etc. Except I'd never heard of the wine, tried the wine, and certainly never written about the wine. Except, and you may have noticed, we include a feed from over there on the right side of this blog (we think their reviews are hilarious and helpful)… and THEY reviewed a Zolo wine (the Merlot). So, that at least explained why Google was sending people to this blog (a little) for that search term. It didn't really explain the explosion of traffic interested in those wines, though.

Yummy goodness

Yummy goodness

I did a little research and discovered the wines are included in BevMo!'s famous 5-cent wine sale! (For those of you who don't know about it, they take a large selection of their wines and put them on sale for Buy-one-get-one-for-a-nickel. I don't live near a BevMo! (in terms of time travelled to get to it) so I rarely go. But with all the interest in this wine, I figured I'd check it out.

Yesterday, around 2:30pm, Mitch and I wandered into the BevMo! in Valencia (we were up visiting friends near there), and picked up a couple bottles of the 2008 Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec, a couple bottles of Dry Creek Chardonnay (a long-time favorite of mine), and a couple bottles of Shiloh Road Shiraz. We headed over to our friends' house and promptly opened the Zolo Malbec with the caveat that it was an experiment…

WE ALL LOVED IT! What a wonderfully present surprise! It's young but it had a smooth mouthfeel, medium body, lovely plum and blueberry flavors, and a nice medium finish. It, to me, tastes like a Malbec, particularly a Malbec from the Mendoza region in Argentina (which is good, because that's where it's from).

We had a little time to kill between dinner and the fireworks so we ran back over to BevMo! and bought six more bottles… and the friends bought some, too.

Right now, you can get it at BevMo! for $15.99 for the first bottle and $0.05 for the second (around $8 a bottle) which makes it an unbelievably great wine for under $10.

When it's no longer on sale at BevMo! (or they run out), we recommend purchasing it from ($13.99 for the 2007) or (they carried older vintages so maybe they'll get it back in stock).


I was in a restaurant last night and I almost ordered a bottle of this wine for our table. Or to be more specific, not THIS wine, but one called Zolo Malbec (not the Gaucho Select). They were kind enough to bring me a taste before they cracked the bottle since the waitress could see I was concerned about it not being the Gaucho Select and sure enough, this Zolo Malbec was not as good as the Gaucho Select! It was grapey and overly cherry, not well-balanced like the Zolo Malbec Gauch Select. New lesson, read the labels carefully, sometimes there are multiple versions of a wine and not all of them are created equally!

The Other Mother’s Little Helper…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Comments Off on The Other Mother’s Little Helper…

Editor's note: This post was written on Mother's Day

target winesThis morning I received the greatest gift a mother could get: My preschooler slept in. This bit of amazingness allowed me the opportunity to wash dishes and scrub the toilet. It's Mother's Day not Miracle Day – these things aren't gonna clean themselves.

And so it went until I found myself at Target.

Let me be clear: Normally, I do not buy wine from household discount retailers! But I was there anyway, my son was in tow and I wasn't about to drag him to another store, so I made the best of it.

And, actually, “making the best of it” was surprisingly easy.

As one would expect, Target has an incredibly small selection. The store where I was shopping carried fewer brands than my local grocery store. But, that being said, there was actually an okay selection of decent wineries, with prices starting at around $6 for a Barefoot Merlot and going all the way to $32 for a  2006 Stags Leap Merlot. Also on the shelves was a 2007  Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio  for $10, a 2007 Hess Chardonay for $11, a 2007 J Lohr Cab Sav for $14, and Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne for $37. Honestly, I was really just expecting a box of good ol' Ernest and Julio Gallo.

I decided on a 2006 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel. I happen to be a huge fan of Ravenswood Zin, and this one ravens_wood_vintners_zinfandel_2006was even on sale! $6.99 marked down from $9.99.

I'm used to seeing these wines start at around $12 and go up from there. But lately I've noticed a preponderance of 2006 Ravenswood Zins on the market between $6 and $10, and I've wondered if 2006 was a bad year for them.

I think so. Probably.

The normally rich, mellow body seemed sharp and sour in this bottle – it tasted very, very “young.” Perhaps it would've been improved by more time to breathe, although the bottle was open for almost an hour before I could settle down and enjoy my first glass. It was still a delicious wine, but this one – the bottle of wine I bought on sale at Target, let me remind you – didn't possess the depth and deliciousness I've come to expect from a winery that's widely known to produce some of the best Zins on the market in the under $25 range.

This, of course, did not stop me from drinking the whole bottle. Happy Mother's Day to me!

My take-away from all of this? 1) If a solid wine suddenly sells for far below its average retail price, there is probably a reason. Go for something known to be scrumptious on the less expensive side (stay tuned for that piece). Just because the winery is well-known for higher-end varietals, doesn't mean their budget-priced products will be worth their salt 2) Target never stops proving its usefulness, and 3) It's really hard to explain a cheap wine hangover to a four year-old.

Tales from the grocery store…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 1 Comment

This is a new feature I'm starting to show everyone how easy it is to buy great wine at fantastic prices. The only times I ever spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine are as follows:

  1. When I'm out wine tasting in wine country somewhere.
    I'm usually caught up in the moment (buzzed if it's the end of the day) and willing to pay full retail under these circumstances.
  2. When I'm buying someone a gift (I'll often spend $20-50 on a bottle for a friend)

Otherwise, there's no reason to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. Ever.

It's actually quite easy and here's my recipe:

  1. Find a store near you with great prices (there must be one) and visit it often (I like Safeway stores, best prices around, plus you get a 10% discount if you buy any six bottles)
  2. Find a store near you that gets special deals (they buy large quantities of small-production wines) and get on their mailing list (I like the Wine House, best prices at a wine-specific store on this side of town)
  3. Only buy on sale! (This is my all-time money-saving tip for everything… it stretches your dollars by however much you've saved)

My latest trip was especially triumphant… here's the tally:

  1. 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (made from Organic grapes)
    Regular price: $14.99, Sale price: $11.90, Six-pack price: $10.71
  2. 2006 Sanford Chardonnay (Flower label)
    Regular price: $21.99, Sale price: $15.39, Six-pack price: $13.85
  3. 2006 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
  4. Promisquous Red
    Regular price: $16.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
    So-so. For $9 it's okay.
  5. 2006 Coppola Malbec
    Regular price: $18.49, Sale price: $13.98, Six-pack price: $12.58
  6. 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $6.99, Six-pack price: $6.29

Grand total Regular price: $110.44
Grand total Sale price: $68.22
Price I paid: $61.39 (plus tax)

TOTAL SAVINGS: $49.05 (44%)
Price per Bottle: $10.23

Caveats: I've not had most of these, so I can't yet vouch for their quality… I know the Sanford Chardonnay is good.  I don't normally drink Merlot but that was too good a price to pass up just to see if it's any good.


The 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc was great. It was light, not too acidic, and (as is my usual test for success) makes me want

to drink/buy more of it. The Promisquous Red and the 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot were undrinkable. The Coppola Malbec was  much like the other Coppola wines (Director's Cut excluded from this description)… decent but nothing to write home about for a fair price. The Steelhead went down smoothly, very fruity and tart, though not overly tart. I'd say the Steelhead is a classic-style reasonably well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc. It's regular price feels steep, but the sale price was a “steel.” The Sanford Chardonnay was good as usual… That's my go-to white wine.