March 31, 2006

Menage a Trois (Part Deux)

We tried the Menage a Trois red table wine, a 2004 red table wine made by Folie a Deux, (Napa) the other night. It costs about $10.
To kick off our new rating system, (listed below) I definitely give this wine a solid two stars. The first thing that comes to mind is that this wine is JUICY. It smells like plums and opens up the minute it hits the glass to an explosion of cherry-blackberry. Like the white version of Menage a Trois, this wine gets its name because it's a blend of three grapes, Zinfandel from Amador, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Napa.
I'm not surprised that we enjoyed this wine, considering we liked the white version, too.

To review, here is our star system.
One star * - Not awful, but I probably wouldn't bring it to your house for dinner, nor would you finish the bottle.
Two stars ** - OK. A decent table wine. Something you'd drink on a Tuesday night when your expectations aren't very high.
Three stars -- Yummier. There's something that sets this wine apart. You'd recommend it to a wine snob friend.
Four stars -- You are jumping around, nodding your head and doing a little wine dance. This wine speaks to that old part of your brain that senses sharks and detects amazing wine. You share this wine with your closest friends and hide it otherwise.

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March 31, 2006

The Best of the Blogpire

Cheapfunwines-2Another week and another Best of the Blogpire. Make sure and check out the latest from all of our blogs and also each blog now offers a mailing list and RSS feed for you to read your news from. Now on with the Best of the Blogpire!

Liquor Snob
- Reviewing Booze Is More Than A Numbers Game - Skorppio Vodka: Feel the Sting

Really Natural - Disturbing News About Organic Dairy Farms - Kashi TLC All Natural Snack Crackers Original 7 Grain

Critical Gamers - Warhammer Marches on PCs this Fall - Spice up your Scrabble with Wildwords

Single Serve Coffee - Review: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Fair Trade Island Coconutâ„¢ K-Cups from Single Serve - Reader Reviews: Aerobie AeroPress Coffee & Espresso Maker

Just The Chips - Texas Hold'em Odds - RFID goes all-in at the casino

Kitchen Contraptions - Cheese Scissors - Wine Preservation Steward

Shaving Stuff - Gillette Fusion Razors - 8 for $14.99 - Free Schick Quattro Midnight Razor

Whats All The Racquet - BROKEBACK BORG - THE FINAL CHAPTER! - What do Vince Spadea and Kevin Federline have in common?

TV Snob - Is That the HDTV you Really Want? - Amazon Now Listing the TCD649180 Dual Tuner Series 2 TiVo

Shirt Snob - Falling in Tank by Ya-Ya - Short Sleeve Top with Leather Band by Lauren Moffatt

GPS Lodge - New Navman GPS Receivers: iCN 720 and iCN 750 with Cameras - Garmin Launches GPSMAP 378 and GPSMAP 478

The Cooking News - Recipe News: Taste of Home Recipes - Wine News: The effect of oxygen on wine

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March 28, 2006

Cheese and Wine and Wine and Cheese, Please

Here's an interesting article about pairing wine and cheese from Wine Spectator that comes from my PIT (Partner in Tasting) by way of a friend of a friend. I am embarrassed to say that I know about as much about pairing as I do about the fine sport of cricket. This is perhaps because the PIT can't eat cheese, an unfortunate circumstance that causes me to sneak the stuff so as to not upset him. He takes my cheese eating personally.
Nonetheless, this article really boils it down to an easy science. Young and soft goat cheeses, which are my favorite, pair well with Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. (The PIT liked a $16 Mauritson's Sauvignon Blanc that we tried recently) Hard cheeses are good with leftover red from the main course. They also pair more easily with both whites and reds. Hmmm. A blue cheese should be eaten with a sweeter wine. These are only fundamentals. For the more complicated questions I've consulted my little book of cheese, which often only makes me more confused because I've not heard of half the cheeses the book covers and only have so much energy in a day, where I typically wash more sippies than I do wine glasses. (Thus the photo: Still life: Shiraz with a sippy.)

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March 25, 2006

Some Under $10 Whites

Scott Moritz, a writer whose technology coverage I've followed in the past while doing my real-life job, has a hidden passion for wine, or so it seems. Here, writes specifically about bottles of white that he loves that cost under $10. For this feature, he's chosen a variety of white from around the world. He recommends the following:

2004 Hofer Gruner Veltliner
Austria, $9

2004 Rosemount Chardonnay (I can't remember if I like this stuff it's been so long since I had it)
Australia, $9.99

2004 Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc
France, $9

2004 Erbacher Honigberg Riesling
Germany, $8

2004 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling
Oregon, $9

Check out his feature for more details. Let me know if you agree with his choices, too.
As an aside, I think it's time to implement a star system when we try new wines. To date, our system has been far too random. Here is the new system, as easily explained as possible.
One star * - Not awful, but I probably wouldn't bring it to your house for dinner, nor would you finish the bottle.
Two stars ** - OK. A decent table wine. Something you'd drink on a Tuesday night when your expectations aren't very high.
Three stars -- Yummier. There's something that sets this wine apart. You'd recommend it to a wine snob friend.
Four stars -- You are jumping around, nodding your head and doing a little wine dance. This wine speaks to that old part of your brain that senses sharks and detects amazing wine. You share this wine with your closest friends and hide it otherwise.

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March 24, 2006

Keep On Top of the Modern Board and Social Game Revolution at

Criticalgamers BlogadIs your closet full of mid-century board game titles like Monopoly and Sorry!? Are you still answering questions about 1980's science and technology questions from a dusty version of Trivial Pursuit? The staff at can help move you from the drab repetitive gameplay of yester-year into the entertaining world of modern Eurogames and social card games.

Blogpire Productions is pleased to announce the addition of to our growing family of product- and category-specific Web logs. will provide news and reviews of social board games, Eurogames, and card games. Critcal Gamer's goal is to weed-out the mediocre from the slew of modern table top game titles, and to keep readers posted on what's new and popular in the world of social gaming.

At CriticalGamers

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March 22, 2006

Clockspring: a Zin with Some Restraint!

So I was looking at the Clockspring label and noticed that this California wine comes from Amador County. Now I have no idea where Amador is so I am Googling it as we speak. Turns out, it's about two hours from San Francisco -- in the "heart of the historic Sierra foothill Gold Country," as those in the tourism business like to call it. I knew there was wine country close to Sacramento so this must be it! The county is named for Jose Maria Amador, a wealthy rancher dude before the gold rush. The area boasts 28 wineries.
So now that we've set that straight it's on to the wine, a 2003 Clockspring Zin (About $10). The PIT (Partner in Tasting) and I both enjoyed this wine, a Zin that doesn't clock you over the side of the head like a concrete brick. We enjoyed a glass without food and then tried to ignore the fact that we were drinking it with ahi tuna and peas. That was bad planning on the stressed-out chef's part. (me) This wine is well-balanced and fruity. It smells of dark fruit and opens with a bit of spice and dark cherry. It had a nice long finish. As an aside, Clockspring is a certified organic vineyard. Cheers!

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March 20, 2006

Some Super Tuscan Picks

Our friend Glenn is becoming quite the wine snob, or so we hear. Of late, he is very into Super Tuscan blends and has found two bottles to recommend from Trader Joe's that are super cheap, like his budget.

1) A 2001 Nuvola Vecchia, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and %10 Merlot. "I had a party with about 20 people and had everyone bring a "decent" bottle from $10-20," he says. By far the best of the bunch was this wine, he says, and when confronted, the buyer confessed it came from TJ's for six bucks. Well don't I feel like a dope. I posted this a few minutes ago forgetting that this is also my favorite TJ's cheap purchase lately. I just wasn't identifying with the whole Super Tuscan thing. Now I know. I've had a lesson in Tuscan and Tempranillo these past few days. My neighbor brought this wine to a dinner party recently and she said even her most wine snobbiest friends raved about it.

2) A 2004 Santa Christina. 100% Sangiovese by Antinori, the inventor of the Super Tuscan and maker of the famous Tignanello. Also really good and only $8 at TJ's. I haven't had this one yet. Time to try it.

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A Titillating Tempranillo

We decided to ditch the California wine for a bit and tried a Spanish Tempranillo Saturday night. Specifically, we went for a 2003 Finca Antigua from central Spain (La Mancha, which is South of Madrid). Tempranillo is Spain's noble grape and the country's answer to our Cabernet Sauvignon. I had no idea. Anyhow, the PIT (Partner in Tasting) and I both liked this dry, big wine. What first struck me is how beautiful this Tempranillo is in the glass. It is a vivid, dark purplish color. It smells of vanilla and dark berries and tastes of big blackberry once it opens up. This wine also has high-octane tannins. The winemaker recommends pairing with chicken, pork or rich pasta. I drank it with goat cheese and olive pizza and it was dandy. Food & Wine magazine called this wine a great value and Wine Enthusiast gave it 87 points, calling it a best buy that offers juicy, fresh blackberry fruit.

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March 17, 2006

March 16, 2006

A Big Yellow Cab

As I drank this wine, a 2003 Big Yellow Cab from Mendocino, I was thinking about its clever, screaming yellow taxi cab label. It is pure marketing magic and I am surprised no other winery thought of marketing a Cab with a yellow cab first. Thankfully, it's an OK wine, though a little pricy for what you get. (I paid $8.99 on sale at Trader Joe's for this bottle, which usually costs about $10). This wine smells like a plum and does take a bit of time to open up to really taste the dark cherry. I drank it with some pork and brussel sprouts. Yes, we should all eat our creepy little brussel sprouts, particularly when they are sauteed in some olive oil with a shot of chicken broth and lots of ground pepper.
Me Likeeee, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, and I might buy the Yellow Cab again if it was $6.99. I think I am getting pickier and cheaper as I blog along.
Here's another opinion of this wine, which calls it nothing remarkable for the money. Mitchell Pressman, who writes this blog, (Gosh, why do people who write about wine always have names like Mitchell and Hoyt?!) recommends, for about the same price, that we drink a Bishop's Peak "Rock Solid Red" '03, Paso Robles, instead. It's a blend of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Franc. Sounds good to me.

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March 14, 2006

Tracking Wine is Easy....If You Have Enough To Track

Here is a cool gadget, though I don't own enough wine to justify buying it :) It's a $200 barcode scanner that picks up a wine's name, varietal, winery, country, type, color, and region. After the scan, the wine details can be loaded on your computer via wine management software. This way, very lucky people can track all of the wines nestled in their cellars, determining peak times to imbibe, etc. This does not apply to us. The Partner in Tasting (PIT) and I have FOUR, count em', four bottles of wine in a rack in our dining room that we will have to drink soon because it gets too hot in the front of our apartment, encouraging unfortunate spoilage. Aside from that we own a bottle of Knudsen's fizzy cider (non-alcoholic) and our newest addition, an $8.99 bottle of Big Yellow Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino on my kitchen table that I bought at Trader Joe's yesterday because I liked the label and because a local parent recommended it. Big Yellow Cab is a new brand from the Mendocino Wine Co., the same people who make Parducci wines and I will review it soon. We also have the
Baron's dessert wine kicking around somewhere that we've yet to touch. We are waiting for the right moment.
Maybe we just drink our new bottles of wine too fast to start a wine cellar. But we're also not big on huge wine inventory at the moment since we have to pay for preschool soon. But we do get excited about wine. Maybe someday we will inherit one of these scanners from a rich aunt or buy an old one for $5 at a local garage sale. Or maybe not. I probably wouldn't be able to get it to work anyway.

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March 13, 2006

Fill Her Up with Some Red, Please

A friend told me about this winery called Obester in Half Moon Bay, CA., that will fill an empty wine bottle for you for under $10. In all the time I've lived here (Seven years, I think) I've never heard of this winery. Maybe that's because it's in Half Moon Bay, a quaint little seaside hamlet about 20 miles south of San Francisco that has a cracker pumpkin festival but isn't exactly known as a mecca of fine wine. Nonetheless, bottle filling is a cool idea and the winery, which crafts wines from grapes grown in the coastal hills above Santa Clara Valley, has a large picnic area and bocce courts if you want to make a morning or afternoon of it. Here's some more information about the next bottle event, which will be held April 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Obester, which makes reds, whites and sparkling wines and offers whites all priced under $20, will be pouring red that day.
Price per bottle of red (Information on the type of red isn't available yet) includes the cork and label and are as follows:
$4.45 for 750 ml, $8 for 1.5 L, $17 for 4L and just $18.50 for a gallon if you are really filling it up, but hopefully aren't planning on driving home.
The winery's website tells you how to clean your bottles before you fill them. You can also buy 750 ml bottles from Obester for $1 each. One note: don't even try to clean the inside of your bottles in the dishwasher.

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March 12, 2006

A Menage a Trois...with Varietals

Folie a Deux's 2004 Menage a Trois California white table wine (from Napa and about $10) is sooooooo good. The PIT (Partner in Tasting) and I sipped a bottle with some salmon and asparagus last night. Not sure if it was a perfect match for our meal, but we really both liked this wine. For me, it felt like the first time I tasted a Tagalong Girl Scout cookie. You know, the ones with a cookie and a blob of peanut butter surrounded by a chocolate coating. It's just a happy wine. First off, it smells like heaven....kind of a cross between mango and a tropical flower. This wine is a mix of three (or trois, if you are French) varietals, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Moscato, the Italian name for the dessert wine Muscat. I tasted pineapple, melon and some other fruit (strawberry??) and this wine had a nice long finish. A couple we met recently at Moshin Vineyards in Sonoma recommended this wine to us. I'd thank them if we'd written down their names. Folie a Deux, by the way, was founded by two former psychiatrists, which explains the name, which refers to the madness that two people share. In 2004, Trinchero Family Estates bought Folie a Deux, a deal that some lamented as yet another example of the corporate takeover of the wine industry.

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March 11, 2006

SNOW in San Francisco while we Drank a Malbec

It might have been hail, but it collected enough last night for our neighbors to construct multiple snowballs on their deck.
We watched from the local Peruvian restaurant, Fresca, as the hail pinged off the cars, creating a nice blanket of slush on 24th Street. I feared a few cars might come plowing through the restaurant's large front windows. Thankfully, they stayed on the road, a few veering left and right, barely missing each other during the slide-fest. Yes, California drivers are not used to the white stuff. So, get to the wine. We enjoyed a pretty fantastic Malbec with dinner (roasted pork with rice and pinto beans for me, a New York steak of some sort and mashed potatoes for the PIT (Partner in Tasting). We wanted something big enough to stand up to the steak but not so big as to overwhelm my pork. The waiter recommended a Malbec, a 2002 Catena Alta Malbec from Argentina. This was a ruby-colored, medium bodied and dark fruity wine. The finish was soft blueberry. The only problem? It typically costs $46. So it's a special occasion wine. (Yes, we were celebrating)
Since this blog is about wines that cost under $20, I am obligated to include an affordable recommendation. Here it is and it's not a red. It's a 2004 La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc . This wine is everything I like in a white. It's crisp, light, and fruity. There's not a whole lot of complexity to this wine, but that's OK. You can drink it with a bit of seafood or toss it into a sauce while you are cooking. At about $7.99, it is also an easy to find bargain if you don't mind the screw top.

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March 9, 2006

Best Bottle of $8 Wine I Ever Had

A friend who is devoted to Bordeaux recently told me that he is crazy about an under $10 bottle of California Pinot Noir he bought last year from a small Anderson Valley winery called Lazy Creek vineyards. "Best bottle of $8 wine I ever had," he said. Unfortunately, Lazy Creek's wine is hard to find, unless you go to the winery or join their wine club, and its website is on holiday or just not live any more so I couldn't check out what wines they have make and how they make them. However, this website, which tracks wine releases, says Lazy Creek's next release is expected in April -- a 2004 Estate Pinot, along with a Syrah. So next month I will hopefully get to review a bottle or two.

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March 8, 2006

Wines of Spain

Peter Marks, director of wine at Copia and "Wine Guy."

The non-profit Copia, (The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, CA), which runs a restaurant and cafe and hosts food and wine classes, is featuring the wines of Spain this month. I've tried very few Spanish wines. But since there are many recommended on the Copia website for under $20, this might be an excuse to try some more. I think this might even make a great tasting list for the CheapFunWines gang's next monthly tasting.
Here's the list, which sounds pretty interesting. The "wine guys" who picked these wines are Peter Marks and Burke Owens who together have over 50 years experience in the wine business and have won sundry prestigous tasting awards.

2004 Espadana Verdejo, Rueda
Bright and lemony, this Verdejo is refreshing, juicy and easy to love.
Pair with a simple tuna sandwich for maximum wine and food pleasure.

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March 7, 2006

A Malbec at the Oscars

So I am starting to think that it's not such a great idea to buy the wine that the store strategically stacks next to the cash register. I was at the Cal-Mart market the other day (on Oscar night) and figured we'd need a bottle of wine to toast the winners. Feeling broke I bought the $5.99 bottle of 2002 Septima (60 percent Malbec, 40 percent Cabernet from Argentina). It was the wine that was closest to my left arm as I waited to pay for my groceries. OK, it did have one of those little blurby cards that declared it the best and juiciest, most berriest wine ever (I am getting sick of those deceitful little cards that the wine distributors stick on the crates or shelves that bear many exclamation points and way too many adjectives). I also loathe that these blurbies DO influence my buying habits. Big blast of blackberry with a happy chocolate finish! Sold to the red head in black!!!

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March 6, 2006

French Wine Lessons and the Baron de Montesquieu

OK, so French wine is a completely different world, about as foreign to many Americans as the idea of their five- week-a-year vacation. (Bless those socialists!) But I hereby declare that I am open to mastering these crazy French wine labels that bear the names of dead Barons and other rich folk who own multiple castles that I will probably not visit someday. I bring up the Baron in my subject line because some friends gave us a bottle of sweet white dessert wine with his name on it. The Baron, who is pictured on the label, looks like a cross between Abe Licoln and Alexander Hamilton. I have no idea what to drink his wine with (Frog legs? Stilton cheese?) or how much this bottle costs.

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March 3, 2006

The Verdict on the Syrahs (continued)

Miss Erica Sips Syrah

We reviewed the first two Syrahs yesterday, so it's on to the rest that we tasted last Sunday. Most of our picks are from Australia, with a few exceptions. This is for no other reason than the fact that there are many Australian Syrahs. Odds are people are going to buy them. Oh yeah, if you are serving cheese, Gouda is good with Syrah. I only say this because I bought Camembert and garlic goat cheese for my tasting, neither of which go well with Syrah according to my wine and cheese companion book. Stupidly, I checked the book after I bought the cheese. Camembert is good with hard cider and the Chevre pairs with Sauvignon Blanc, FYI. I don't think my tasting guests noticed the faux pas.

And on to the Syrah, Shiraz, la te da....

ArrowContinue reading: "The Verdict on the Syrahs (continued)"

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March 2, 2006

The Verdict on the Syrahs

Roshambo Syrah was one of our two winners (Here's a conga line of their wines)

OK. Here's the first few of six Syrahs our group tasted. A seventh was a rogue bottle of Zin, a 2002 Renwood Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills. We tasted it anyway. No one identified it as a Zin. So maybe it just didn't matter.

1) 2001 Roshambo Syrah, Dry Creek. $11.99
This was one of our two winners (I bought this one, which is vindication considering I bought the bottle everyone hated at the last tasting). I smelled earth and cat pee on this wine and a bit of white pepper. It tingled on the tongue and tasted of ripe fruit. John tasted cloves and some pepper. The wine opens to sweet raspberry jam, he says. Really good with goat cheese.

2) 2003 Melville Syrah, Santa Barbara. $18.99
A bit pricier and a wine that Marlo, a budding wine afficionado, really likes. This was a big wine. I wrote "it felt like someone hit me with a mallet" when I sipped it. I smelled oysters, something fishy, and burnt match. Marlo smelled alcohol (this wine has 15.4 percent alcohol), big fruit and jam. "Fishy smell," said Michael. "If I wanted a bottle of sweat I would have asked for it." To be fair, I went back to this wine after it opened and it tasted much better.

I'll post a couple more reviews tomorrow.

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