A Collaboration – At a Whole Foods Near You

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

A Collaboration

If you happen to live in Southern California, and you find yourself in a Whole Foods, you have an opportunity to purchase wine as part of an effort to celebrate a partnership between Whole Foods Market and Santa Barbara County wineries. My assumption, though it’s not called out anywhere, is that this is a “Buy local” program.

The project is called “A Collaboration” and is currently a partnership between Whole Foods and (at press time) two well-known wineries: Margerum Wines and Hitching Post Wines. The first wine, from Margerum, was available on September 30th and I acquired a bottle for free through a P.R. firm representing the effort (I have to tell you that, but I would have anyway).

The 2009 A Collaboration with Margerum label contains backstory which is remarkably similar to Margerum’s well-known M5 (and even goes so far as to say M5 Red Wine right on the label):

Five Grapes ~ Six Vineyards ~ One Wine
51% Syrah (53% Colson Canyon Vineyard clone 877, 37% Great Oak Ranch Vineyard and 10% Purisima Mountain Vineyard that was pulled from a new Francoise Freres barrel), 32% Grenache (58% Alamo Creek Vineyard and 42% Grundoon Vineyards), 11% Mourvedre from Camp Four Vineyard, 3% Counoise from Camp Four Vineyard and 3% Cinsault from Camp Four Vineyard.

For me, this wine has amazing “bones” but seems to be lacking in a serious case of “living up to its potential.” Then again, I kinda felt that way about M5, too. As a general rule, I favor fruitier red wines to minerally red wines, and am especially not enamored with Napa Cabernets because of that dusty, chalky thing everyone loves so much. To me, the Margerum wines seem to be reaching for Napa (and falling short) instead of embracing what makes wine from Santa Barbara County and the rest of the Central Coast so unique and enjoyable… the fruit. I consider the other wines coming out of these vineyards, made from the same grapes (Tensley, Qupe, Tercero, Epiphany, and Beckmen come to mind), and I’m disappointed in the lack of body, the lack of anything interesting happening on my mid-palate, and the short finish.

The Hitching Post collaboration is a completely different animal. All of the things that we love about Santa Ynez wine and winemaking are typified in this bottle of wine and it was an exciting bottle to drink. The label is chock-full of information (yay!) to help the consumer get a better sense of what’s special about this wine:

This collaboration celebrates:
A Place
– Terravant Wine Company in Buellton, CA, where Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini of Hitching Post Wines are writing the next chapter.
A Story
– of making wine since 1979, in a garage, a shed, a co-op, and now this ultra-modern winery. From humble beginnings to high tech, Hartley Ostini continues to created traditional wines of balance and finesse.
The Fruits
– This is a 22 barrel selection blended and handcrafted by Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini, and includes 73% Valdiguie grown by Hank Ashby at French Camp Vineyard near Shandon, and 27% Syrah grown by Loren Colahan at Alisos Vineyard in the hills above Los Alamos.

My husband says to me, “What’s Valdiguie?” My reply? “I think it’s an Italian varietal.” Yeah, um, notsomuch. It’s actually a French varietal from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in Provence. When we opened the bottle, poured the glasses, and took a deep analytical inhalation, we were impressed with the textured, deep fruity aroma. What surprised and impressed us even more was the less-fruity palate as well as the incredible balance and structure of this wine. We like many Hitching Post wines, but for me, this is one of their finest “collaborations.”

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.]

Request from Twitter: Cheap Chardonnay for Wedding

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment
Vinavera Unoaked Chardonnay

Vinavera Unoaked Chardonnay

This was a fun incoming request from Twitter:

@BluelegsTango Daughter’s wedding on a budget. Having Chinese.Can you recommend a dry white wine, $10 range, to appeal to a range of drinking tastes.Thanks – 11:11 AM Aug 22nd

Truthfully there aren’t that many whites under $10 I’d recommend to anyone. Some people out there think cheap white wines are more palatable than cheap reds, but honestly I think you have to spend more to get a decent white than a decent red, on average.

Something I’ve recently stumbled on is unoaked chardonnays. In keeping with my newly discovered preference for wines that are true to their varietals (meaning you can drink and know what grape it is, not have a guess what it is). I like the flavor of the chardonnay grape and even though I appreciate some oakiness, most California chards are too oaky. There’s definitely been a trend of late to downplay the oak that gets added, but the fascinating part is that there’s a natural gentle oakiness to Chardonnay anyway!

I recommended the Vinavera Unoaked Chardonnay to this inquirer. You can get it at Bevmo for $12.99 a bottle and it’s in their 5-cent sale, too. At the moment, the ClubBev price is $7.99!

You can also shop around and try some other unoaked chardonnays.

Coincidentally, I was at Crate & Barrel the other day and they’ve got empties as decoration around the store… what did they empty? Vinavera Unoaked wines of course! I wish I could have been the one to drink the wine they must have dumped 😉

The Pros & Cons of Buying Wine at Cost Plus World Market

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 5 Comments

[Editor's note: This post has been updated… at the end of the post]

Many moons ago, in a land far far away (90-ish miles south) I used to only buy wine at Cost Plus World Market. In those days the prices seemed good and you could sum up my wine knowledge/experience with a phrases like these, “1994 Chardonnay is good” and ” I think I like Pinot Grigio.” I was more of a tequila girl in those days and I really went to Cost Plus for those heavenly Belgian Chocolates (note: only heavenly if you like hazelnut and chocolates with creamy centers) and to buy a papasan chair.

Over the years, we've wandered in to the one near us a few times. We've discovered it's a great place to purchase lightweight Christmas gifts that travel cross-continent in our luggage very well. We've also discovered that they have great prices on Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label around the holidays. I'm not sure why, but I added myself to their email list and over the last several months the company has been significantly gearing up the importance of wine in their stores and improving their online presence.

At first the wines scared me. I hadn't heard of 95% of them, the prices were either ordinary or the wines were so cheap I didn't trust them, and the mediocre ratings didn't increase my likelihood of purchasing. But lately… the only thing stopping me from making a CPWM run is the 20-something bottles of wine I already have in the house.

Regardless, here are the pros and cons I've been weighing on the decision to go try wines from Cost Plus World Market.

Pro: Unbelievable prices. I've used a couple of wines that they sell to make assessments about their general prices (specifically in search of the answer to “how good is the deal?”). The aforementioned Veuve at $34.99 a bottle (sale price any time of year, including the holidays) made me sit up and take notice. I've consistently seen that their prices are under $15 for just about everything. Also, they're constantly sending (seemingly) great deals that are even lower than their already-low prices.

Pro: The list of wines is starting to include wine regions I know and like: Today's email caught my attention with a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero (see my post about the Vina Santurnia Tempranillo) for $6.99 a bottle (normally $9.99). $9.99 is a low price (though not bargain-basement) for a Tempranillo from this region in Spain. $6.99 is a steal and I really want to try it.

Pro: The list of wines is starting to include wines I know and like. After catching my attention in the email, I browsed the website for a bit and was surprised to find these wines which I know and like

Con: The website doesn't publish a LOT of their prices. This is a con for two reasons. It requires me to go to the store to check out their prices, which I'd prefer to do at my computer because I live in a congested area and I'm not a fan of traffic. It's also a con because it makes me think/know they're adjusting prices based on local markets. This drives me batty. Why should I have to pay  more than the wine lover in Encinitas just because I live in Los Angeles? How can I figure out which stores have the best prices? These shouldn't be questions I have to ask.

Con: They're still carrying some skeevy wine labels. There are a couple of classes of wine I'm wary of… Wines with great marketing approaches (“Wine that loves chicken” and “Promisquous” come to mind). In my experience to date, these wines are all ordinary. It's an attempt to sell a large volume of ordinary wine to unsuspecting consumers who might not know (or care) what good wine tastes like. Fine for them, not for me. The other group of wines are anything that's regularly priced under $8. Mostly this is because these wines are almost always produced by the Bronco Wine Company (the esteemed makers of Charles Shaw a.k.a. Two-buck Chuck).

Con (if you don't live in California or near an CPWM): Most of these deals are only available in California. It seems that they're only selling wines (or trying these deals) in some states. I live in California so I have fantastic access to wines and I wouldn't be surprised if the deals are extra special because it's California.

Bottom line: It's gotta be worth a visit if you live near a Cost Plus World Market and you like to find wine values by buying good wines at great prices.

Do you buy wine at Cost Plus World Market? Share your thoughts and leave a comment, please!

Update!

We stopped by World Market the next day (because my curiosity was insatiable) and picked up a six-pack (as I lovingly call them) to take for a test run. We had two shopping goals in mind here… The first was to see if World Market's prices are low and bring great value or just low because they've purchased cheap wine. We also decided to further explore Tempranillos from Spain as it's a region/varietal we've found some great values from in the past. We bought:

  1. Campo Viejo Riserva, $12.99 per bottle – Haven't tried it yet
  2. 2007 Vivir, Vivir Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, $6.99 per bottle
    This PROBABLY belongs on the “do not drink these wines” list. I was able to finish the bottle despite its finishless grapiness. Definitely will not be purchasing again. Would rather spend a few more dollars and like what I'm drinking.
  3. Bodega Norton Malbec (x2), $7.99 per bottle
    This was a wine I had previously purchased at Costco more than once for $12-15ish per bottle. It's a nice quality Malbec. Not something that jumps out at me in the $12-15ish range, but definitely a good value at $7.99 per bottle.
  4. 2006 Etim Seleccion, $10.99 per bottle
    Robert Parker rated this wine 91. I thought it was okay and the price made it okayer. By now I've started to realize that not all Tempranillos from Ribera del Duero are good. This was an important realization because now I won't just buy blindly when I see one… I'll only do it for 2004 or 2005. Another lesson in why if you're going to use ratings to buy wine, be sure you agree with the ratings system at least some of the time. I personally prefer Wine Spectator's ratings and find them the most accurate for my palette.
  5. Cortijo III Tinto, $7.99 per bottle- Haven't tried it yet