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.”

Great New Wines Under $15 or $20!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 1 Comment

Hi there! Remember me? This summer was beyond the pale with too many balls in the air but I’m back! Since blogging had been set aside for a while, so had drinking all of the lovely wines I’d received over the last several months. I’ve been slowly working my way through the several cases of wine that had built up, with the help of my friends, and now I want to share with you what I’ve tasted and recommend (and what I don’t recommend). Enjoy!

Recommended Wines Under $15 – Courtesy of Gourmet Monthly Wine Clubs (Masters Series)

  • Stefano Massone Vigneto Masera Gavi 2008 – Italy – $10-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2006 – France – $8-11 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • FAVORITE! Nine Vines South Australia Viognier 2008 – Australia – $11-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)

Recommended Wines Under $20 – Courtesy of Gold Medal Wine Club (Gold Series)

  • Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – Santa Ynez – (Release price: $23, Published price: $19, Member price: $17)
  • Adobe Road Winery Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – (Release price: $45, Published price: $29, Member price: $20)
  • Adobe Road Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2007 – Already sold out at Gold Medal Wine Club (it was delicious), $15-20 per bottle

More Recommended Wines – Courtesy of Zagat Wine Club and Barclay’s Wine Experience

  • Le Petit Pauvre Chardonnay 2007 – Monterey County, California – $17 per bottle
  • Granite Ridge Chenin Blanc 2009 – Stellenbosch, South Africa – $12.95 per bottle
  • Ines de Monclus White 2009 – Andalusia, Spain – $12.95 per bottle

Some Not-So-Recommended Wines

  • Home Grown Farms Family Harvest Red 2008 (California)
  • Rosenthal The Malibu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  • Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2007 (Monastrell from Tarragona)
  • Chateau les Tuileries 2009 (Bordeaux)
  • Carolena Merlot 2007 (California)

In case you didn’t know, I also review wine clubs. We comb through retail wines to make wine club recommendations and soon we’ll have new ways for you to find the perfect wine club for you or as a gift!

Cheers!

Hot Wine Deal! 2005 Opolo Fusion

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

opolo_fusion_2005

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.

GET IT HERE

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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.

healdsburg-ranches

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.

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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 Chardonnay – from Costco… Really!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments
2007 Costco Napa Valley Chardonnay

2007 Costco Napa Valley Chardonnay

I noticed recently that Costco has come out with more wines in their Kirkland Signature wines line and naturally, since I'm there once a month trolling the wine bins like the wine whore, er value seeker, that I am, I picked up a bunch more of 'em.

This time I tried the 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Costco's Kirkland Signature brand line of house wines. In a different but happy way, I'm as impressed with this Chardonnay as I was with the Kirkland Signature Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

First, I've never had such a well-balanced Chardonnay under $20, much less under $10. California Chardonnays are often overly oaky, frequently too acidic, and sometimes taste like Sauvignon Blanc. Occasionally we come across Chards we love, but this one is a solid enjoyable player in a field of mediocre wines priced under $15.

What they say: 2007 Kirkland Signature Napa Valley Chardonnay is opulent and richly flavored. The succulent notes of apricot and fig are surrounded by intense bursts of apple and pear, finishing with bright, mouthwatering acidity; a distinctive, buttery edge; plus hints of cedar and oak. Chardonnay from Napa Valley is scarce, highly sought after, and the source for some of the finest California Chardonnay from the 2007 vintage. Drink now through 2010.

What Jess says: The bouquet is oaky, but don't let it fool you, other wonderful flavors come out to play once you take a sip. At first I noticed a brightness at the front of my mouth, oakiness in the mid-palate, and a smoky finish. The wine lingered in my mouth to offer a mild green-fruit and buttery finish. This wine would be great with any of the traditional foods one pairs with a Chardonnay (cheese, salad, fish, chicken, etc.) but could also compliment a heartier meal.

It doesn't seem to be on their website (I think because it's only available in California), so if you live in California you'll have to go to your local Costco to pick some up at the super bargain price of $7.99 a bottle. Here's an article about Kirkland Signature wines at Costco.com.

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

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 Wineass.com 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 DrinkUpForLess.com ($13.99 for the 2007) or Wine.comWine.com (they carried older vintages so maybe they'll get it back in stock).

Update!

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!