April 26, 2006
Yelcho Cabernet Sauvignon
So we reviewed Yelcho Chardonnay here a few months back and really liked it. So the PIT (Partner in Tasting) and I poured a couple of glasses of 2002 Yelcho Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley, Chile) tonight. Unfortunately, this wine proves that one's experience with a wine label can vary wildly. I had a few sips and abandoned the glass. This wine was cheap, yes. I was feeling cheap at the Whole Foods today after sticking a bottle of $7 bubble bath and a $10 steak into my cart. This wine costs just $6.99. I liked the white, so why not try the red? This wine is Chilean, too, and I've liked the Chilean wines I've tasted lately. Anyhow, on to the wine. It smells cheap and a bit musty with some dark fruit in there somewhere. It tasted like Welch's grape juice fermented in raisins with a lot of booze. The finish is pungent. Overall, this wine was sharper than a shot of Nyquil (can you tell I am getting over a cold?), not balanced and, again, cheap tasting. The PIT, a man of few words, called this wine "Ehh. Not a great smell, not a great taste."
This time, I got what I paid for. Rating? One star. (Wouldn't finish the bottle)
April 24, 2006
Whining About Wallaby Wine
An article that ran in yesterday's business section of the NY Times trumpets the success of cheap Australian Yellow Tail brand wine (You know, those wines with the label that features a leaping wallaby, which many mistake for a kangaroo). Yellow Tail gets yet more ink in a separate Times magazine article, too, which discusses the trend toward using cute animals (so-called "critter labels") to pimp more wine. While the wallaby label might be eye-grabbing and the use of its likeness savvy marketing on the maker's part, the Yellow Tail shiraz, in my humble opinion, has more in common with Dr. Pepper than it does with a good, solid bottle of red wine. Yeah, it's $6 a bottle and for that price you can buy it by the case at Costco and load up the ole Suburban. Its fans (This wine has many; Its shiraz is the best-selling red in the country and the company made $77 million off its largely U.S.-based sales last fiscal year) say it tastes better than most $8 or even $10 bottles of American wines. Um, I beg to differ. If we are talking bigger producers, give me a bottle of J. Lohr or Ravenswood (I whine about this wine, too, but it IS better) any day and dump the Wallaby off the Golden Gate!
Americans are drinking more wine than ever, which we are annoyingly reminded of in every article about wine these days. I question whether this has anything to do with the enjoyment of wine. Maybe it's all the talk about the wine/heart health connection and the whole French paradox. (Drink red wine. Eat steak with butter. Sit on your ass. Get skinny) My inkling is that it might have everything to do with the sugar fix increasingly required by our increasingly diabetic nation. Beer, of course, gets you hammered. But it isn't sweet. And it gives you gas. In the Times article, Jon Fredrikson, a California wine industry consultant, is on to something when he calls Yellow Tail "the perfect wine for a public grown up on soft drinks." In other words: sugar junkies.
But Dr. Pepper, at under $1 for a 12-ounce can, doesn't come with quite the kick of a glass of Yellow Tail. But the kick shouldn't be the only thing that matters, as New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik eloquently argues here. Wine is about more than the buzz. It's about the ritual, the wine's story, its label, the lore.
That said, I found this article, which describes how so-called wine experts couldn't taste the difference between white wine dabbled with food coloring and red wine both hysterical (and humbling even though I'd never consider myself an expert). Maybe at our next blind wine tasting party I will hide a bottle of Yellow Tail among a bunch of other wines and see if I can tell the difference. Not sure I could.
April 21, 2006
A Couple of Pricey but Pleasing Pinots
Hotel Biron here in San Francisco served Stef and I a couple of lovely not-under-$20 per bottle Pinot Noirs last night. Stef sipped an unfiltered 2004 Siduri from the Santa Rita Hills and I had a super-friends-fruity 2000 Silver, Lake Marie Vineyards, Santa Barbara, straight out of Sideways country. As for this Sideways phenomenon, a friend told me she is embarrassed to order Pinot Noir because of run on Pinot that ensued after that movie. (Kind of like the rush to cut up the sweatshirts after Flashdance came out) I am not quite embarrassed to order it, but there is a certain cringe factor. Anyhow, did you all know that there is a website devoted to pimping wines ingested by characters in the movie? Some of the site's wine club selections are accompanied by notes identifying Miles (the failed writer wine snob), Maya (the hot horticultural student he somehow manages to bag) or Jack (funny but infantile womanizer) as the drinker or picker of a particular product. For under $20, the Sideways Pinot pickins are slim. But such is the world of Pinot. Instead, choose the J. Wilkes 2004 Pinot Blanc, Bien Nacido Vineyards for $20 -- (A "Maya's Favorite!!!!")
or a Fess Parker, 2001 Syrah, Santa Barbara County for $20. (A Jack's Club Selection!!!) If you aren't in a drinking kind of mood, you can always buy a Sideways long-sleeved unisex T-shirt ($19). As Peppermint Patty shouts after Marcie botches the cooking of the Easter eggs for the third time....ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
On a Cheapfunwines note: there was one interesting Pinot for under $20 offered by the Sideways people...Heron 2003 Pinot Noir, California for just $11.99. They say this is a remarkably elegant and complex Pinot Noir. One of the two best "Under $20 Pinots" we've tasted. Miles did not pick this one.
On to the wines we tasted last night. The Silver($40 a bottle) was a fantastic Pinot, an earthy mix of dark fruit. It's a complex wine with a spicy kick and a lingering finish. I'd give it 3 1/2 stars, easily because it was truly excellent.
The Santa Barbara News Press says this wine has "plenty of bright red and black fruits here to chew on, with a Burgundian earthiness to keep things interesting. The spice rack is in evidence here as well as a pleasant touch of decaying leaves and forest floor. But the lasting impression is that of concentrated fruit that shows good finesse." This wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered. From the winery: This Pinot is earthy, with red and black fruit, huge spice, and lots of finesse. Sourced from a 50 acre block of the old Santa Maria Hills Vineyard. It’s more tradionally Burgundian in style than the Julia’s bottling. The 2000 shows layered spice aromas, coffee, and dark blackberry fruit flavors. It’s balance of fruit and acidity makes a lively mid-palate. The finish is long and delicious. This is a tightly wound wine that has been given extra bottle age to allow it to open and soften in bottle, exposing its many layers."
Stef's Siduri (about $56 a bottle, ouch!) was a cool, cloudy berry color because it was unfiltered. It was less fruity than the Silver, but nicely balanced. Here are a bunch of Cellartracker reviews of this cherry berry wine, which many people seem to be gaga over. Again, apologies for including a few wines that are over $20. I consider these special occasion bottles or, most often, wines we buy by the glass, which definitely makes them cost under $20. To make amends, I will always include under $20 recommendations in blog entries where I discuss the pricier stuff!
April 18, 2006
Who Overrates Sauvignon Blanc??
Here's an interesting rant against sauvignon blanc posted today by Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Here, Steinberger, whose writing is as crisp as any good Sancerre, argues that there aren't any great sauvignon blancs.... "the grape is a dud," he says. "producing chirpy little wines wholly devoid of complexity and depth, the very qualities that make wine interesting and worth savoring. For years, this offensively inoffensive grape has escaped criticism while chardonnay and merlot have been scorned. The free ride ends here.
Then Steinberger goes on to offer alternatives to crappy boring bottles of sauvignon blanc. Here they are, many of them under $20 a bottle (for our purposes, cheers!)
(quote) So what, you might ask, would be preferable to drinking sauvignon blanc, particularly if you are on a budget? With most New Zealand, South African, and Californian sauvignon blancs selling for around $15 a bottle, and with most Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés now fetching at least $20, there are scores of worthy alternatives. Take, for instance, the chardonnays from the Macon region of France (they aren't called chardonnays, of course, but instead go by names like Vire-Clesse, St.-Véran, Pouilly Fuissé, etc.). The wines of Daniel Barraud, André Bonhomme, Olivier Merlin, and Domaine Delaye all tend to run in the $15-$25 range and have substantially more depth and brio than most comparably priced sauvignon blancs. Ditto Domaine des Terres Dorées' Beaujolais blanc, which, at $10 a bottle, is truly a gift from Bacchus.
Loire Valley chenin blanc yields a number of elixirs: The Vouvrays of Domaine Huet are legendary; Huet's dry Vouvrays (called sec) sell for around $25-$35 a bottle and will encourage much more swilling and sniffing than any sauvignon blanc. (Sauvignon blanc is, at best, a lubricant to conversation; a good Vouvray is a conversation-stopper.) The basic Vouvrays from Domaines Pinon and Champalou can be had for $10-$15 and are usually delicious in their own right. South African chenins are also beginning to make some noise: De Trafford and Rudera are two names of note and go for around $15-$20 per bottle. (end long Steinberger quote!!!)
Here are my thoughts. I must admit that I've never drank sauvignon blanc for its complexity so it boggles my mind that anyone would expect as much from this wine. I simply find a good bottle refreshing on a warm day. I like its tickle on the tongue. I like the way it smells because I like the way grass and melon smell. I like it extra cold on hot days. I do like it for some of the same reasons I like ginger ale. It's light and refreshing. It IS unoffensive. (It's chardonnay light....like Miller Lite or Bud Lite, says my friend Christine, who is a fan) And that's ok, damn it! Besides, it's more fun to make fun of merlot, that largely wimpy tasteless red (with exceptions). Nonetheless, it can't hurt to print out this guy's recommendations for my next trip to Trader Joe's. Maybe then I won't stand like a dufus in front of the French wines for a good 15 minutes blocking the cash register line as I try to translate the labels.
April 14, 2006
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April 13, 2006
Verdict on the French Reds
Apologies for the tardiness in posting the rest of the tasting results. We tried four French reds Sunday. Here's how they fared: (these wines all cost under $20)
1) 2003 Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise Chateau de Sassangy (It's organic!) The Cote Chalonnaise is a red and white wine producing region in the Saone-et-Loire part of Burgundy.
I thought this Burgundy smelled spicy and tasted of tart plum. There were quite a lot of tannins. This wine was nice when it opened up. Marlo found it mineral-esque and slightly bitter, something Stef described as a dry, crumbled dirt taste. 2 1/2 stars.
2) Perrin 2003 Reserve Cotes du Rhone. This is a Trader Joe's staple (I picked up a bottle yesterday for $8.99) I found it medium bodied and slightly soapy, but also floral and fruity. I tasted pepper and thought this wine was much berrier than the Bourgogne. Erica called this wine "totally non-offensive but no wow either." Jim said it was "nice." A man of few words. The winemaker says this red's fruit is rich and jammy with peppery spice, concentration and intensity. We gave it 2 stars.
3) 2002 Chateaux Belles Eaux (beautiful water house???) Coteaux Du Languedoc. (about $12-$14) I enjoyed this wine. I didn't write down much as to why, but I gave it 2 1/2 stars. Sometimes you just like it. Jim said he'd drink this with a steak any time. Anne found it pretty good. Her wine buyer friend picked it out for her. Erica liked this wine lots. (She gave it three stars for above average) She said it smelled minerally and had sharp, spicy notes. As Dave Chappelle would say...."Snap, there it is." On average, we gave this wine 2 1/2 stars.
4) Chateau Coupe Roses Minervois 2003 Cuvee Vignals. Erica didn't like this wine, but since the majority rules, this wine took the day.We gave this wine 3 stars.
Here's the scale: 1 star - Eh. You might not finish the bottle with your S.O. Down the drain it goes.
2 stars: Pretty good. A solid table wine.
3 stars: Above average. Something makes this bottle special
4 stars: Excellent. You hide it.
April 10, 2006
French Wine Picks Part Deux
So we began our French wine tasting Sunday in a haze of wine confusion. (mine) I wanted to drink our whites and reds in a particular order, as a flight, but since none of our seven tasters knew enough about French wine we had no idea how to do this with the reds. So we decided to wing it. We started with two whites, which was the obvious part of the tasting because there were only two: a 2003 Sebastien Roux Meursault ($9.99, 100 percent Chardonnay) that I reviewed recently and wanted the Cheapfunwine group to try and a 2004 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Domaine de la Bregeonnette. (Muscadet Sevre et Maine is an under $20 white wine from the Loire Valley in France.) This wine has the words "Sur Lie"on the label, which means it was allowed to rest on its dead yeast cells (yuck), a process that supposedly adds richness to wine that can otherwise be quite boring. Muscadet goes with seafood and everyone really seemed tickled by this one, which Stefanie picked. My PIT (partner in tasting) said he'd have this wine with a turkey burger. I think he was joking. Michael called it sweet and slightly fizzy. "Good strong flavor but after a bottle of this you will be howling at the moon with your pants around your ankles." Marlo, who doesn't care for white, was spare with the words, finding it floral smelling, acidic and well....WHITE. Erica found it crisp and light and Anne would definitely buy it again. On average , we gave this wine 2 1/2 stars, a bit above an average table wine. (A warning: this wine is harder to find online than Dick Cheney on a good day) Our tasters weren't as thrilled with my wine, the Meursault. Erica called it light, grassy and fruity, but said it did not grow on her and paralyzed her tongue. Michael said it smelled like sawdust, which is fine by him. Anne said it lacked flavor. Jim found it quite average. Ah well. I am the lone defender. I stand by this wine. As a group, we gave it two stars.
On to the reds tomorrow. Thanks for coming.
April 9, 2006
The Lowdown on Our French Wine Picks
Chateau Coupe Roses Minervois 2003 Cuvee Vignals red was a clear winner at last night's French wine tasting.
Marlo, the newest member of the over-35 Cougar Club, brought this wine, which costs about $14 a bottle. I was the only one in our group who didn't care for it much but that might have been because I had a mouthful of chicken when I drank it. (This wine pairs with meat) The PIT (Partner in Tasting) loved it, polishing off the bottle after the crowd departed. He thought that this wine tasted expensive and gave it four stars (for extraordinary). Anne said this wine smelled better than it tasted and that she would drink this and think "FRENCH." Michael found it smooth and clean..."The best yet, you could chug this for hours." Marlo called it MEATY. Here's what Wine Spectator says about this wine.
Rating: 91 Pts.
Review: "Firm and intense, with plenty of stuffing, in a Châteauneuf style. It has a gamy, fruity aroma and layers of plum, dark cherry, smoke and spice flavors. Pepper-steak notes provided depth on the finish. Tempting now. Best from 2006 through 2009."
Match: Beef Steak, stews
More tomorrow on our other picks. I have to go watch "Big Love."
April 7, 2006
Another Barbera for the Cougar
So our friend Marlo turned super groovy 35 this week, which officially makes her a cougar since she lives in San Francisco's Marina District, where rich-boyfriend-seeking women of a certain age tranform from Marina Girls into more seasoned Marina Cougars. Marlo, who technically lives in Cow Hollow and is far too down to earth in a Boulder kinda way to be a true, stereotypical Marina Girl, ironically pulled on a cougar sweatshirt to proudly honor her new cougar status. To her credit, Marlo loves a good glass of wine. So we did partake in many to celebrate Her Cougar-ness at her favorite San Francisco wine bar, Hotel Biron. Biron is a great place to hang out. It's tucked away in an alley off Market Street and has a damp, arty, underground feel to it, although it's now largely known by everyone. There's a small bar area inside, a few comfy leather couches, and usually some interesting art hanging on the walls. It's quite gazellig, as the Dutch would say. The wine list, from what I've tasted, is stellar. Last night, we shared three bottles, two Italians and an Oregonian, in the following order: a 1999 Barbera Monleale Vigneti Massa, a 2003 Mattei Piemonte Barbera and a 2004 Panther Creek Winemaker's Cuvee Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. All three were good and the Barbera Monleale's big, deep, fruity complexity completely curled our toes. It was hard shifting to anything after kicking off with such a smooth, lovely wine. Alas, this is a $26 bottle so we won't spend much time on it, other to say that if you are feeling rich and thirsty this week, well, buy a bottle of this.
The 2003 Mattei Barbera is a much more affordable ($10), lighter, plum-tasting wine. I like how Winelibrary described this wine, particularly the wet stone part: "Typical deep and saturated garnet color. Clean aromas of cherries and wet stones, and a touch of smoke. In the mouth the wine has great pulpy, gutsy, and smooth fruit character. Honest, versatile stuff." Honestly, this stuff was so versatile that we enjoyed two bottles.
On to the Panther Creek Pinot, ($19.99) which was in line with our whole cougar theme. Panther Creek is a FUNKY wine. At first sip I wanted to spit as it was so overwhelmingly earthy. But I must say, the stuff grew on me because the fruit and smoke in the mix are intereresting. Here's what the winemakers says about it: Nose: Bright stawberry & raspberry, smoke, and toast. Palate: Silky, fleshy texture with flavors of ripe berries and cherries. Notes of chocolate on the long finish. Here's what the Oregon Pinot Noir Club says about it. "A blend of lots from their great vineyard sources, the Panther Creek Winemaker's Cuvee offers tons of fruit, spice, a long finish and just a hint of youthful grip. It's a terrific value for drinking now or cellaring for the short term."
I was happy to take the leftover half bottle home to share with the PIT (Partner in Tasting.) He thanked me for it. He thanked her Cougarness, too.
The Best of the Blogpire
April is going to be a great month but we musn't forget how amazing March 2006 was as well. Check out the monthly round ups from the following Blogpire blogs: Liquor Snob Monthly Roundup: March 2006, Critical Gamers March '06 Roundup, GPS Lodge: Monthly Round Up for March 2006, Shirt Snob Monthly Round Up-March, March 2006 Monthly Roundup for TVSnob, March Monthly Roundup for Shaving Stuff, Monthly Roundup for Kitchen Contraptions, and March 2006 Monthly Roundup for Single Serve Coffee.
Magic TG: Guildpact Draft Strategies Part Two
"Carcasonne: The Tower" Ships April 12th
Beet Borscht and Oatmeal Bread Recipe/Review
My favorite low-fat mid-morning snack: Yogurt, granola and raisins
It's All About The Heinekens, Baby
Will Generate Page Views For Beer
The Cooking News
Recipe News: Recipe ideas for Easter dinner
Food News: Doggie Dining
Wayfinder GPS for the Mobile Phone
NOVOGO Launches First Voice-Command GPS Navigators - NOVOGO V
Design for the American Red Cross, and New Threadless Tees!
Extra 20% off at Bluefly
How to Buy a Plasma TV
DirecTV Announces 750GB HD DVR - Yowza!
Electric Razor Deals at Amazon
Free Brut Aftershave
Intelliscanner Kitchen Companion
Peppermill with Light
Single Serve Coffee
Review: Senseo Cappuccino Coffee Pods from Single Serve Coffee
Limited Edition Bourbon Amarelo Espresso Capsules from Nespresso
April 5, 2006
A Tasty, Ubiquitous Merlot
As we gear up to try a lot of new French wine this weekend we've returned to our old ways, the California wines, with a 2002 Toasted Head Merlot ($14). Toasted Head is a bottle that I've seen a million times but never tried or just don't remember ever trying (I'm sure I downed some of it at a party at some point, but before I started the blog I never tracked the good ones much). The bottle is memorable for its label, which features an amusing fire-breathing bear. Toasted Head is made by R.H. Phillips, a company founded by the Giguiere family. (The Giguiere brothers, John and Karl, named their business in honor of their grandfather, R.H. Phillips, a wheat farmer.)
R.H. Phillips was part of a wine corporation called Vincor International, which sounds nameless and faceless and seems to own a good deal of the wine planet. (In fact, they are the eighth largest producer and distributor of wine, including labels such as Kim Crawford and Hogue.) As I write this I've discovered that R.H. Phillips is no longer owned by Vincor. but by Constellation Brands, a $5 billion beverage company that bought Vincor on Monday, making Toasted head part of an ever more bloated Kraft-style wine dynasty that includes everything from Ravenswood wine to Corona beer to Skol Vodka.
Got that straight? Back to the wine.
Toasted Head wine is made from grapes grown in the Dunnigan Hills, which is about 30 miles east of Calistoga, CA. Toasted Head gets its name not from some stoner winedrinker but from the winemaker's use of toasted-head oak barrels. According to the company's wine site, they use the best fruit for Toasted Head wines and use the rest for their "value priced" wines under the RH Phillips Label. I don't usually drink a lot of Merlot because it can be dull as dirt, but this one is not. It's got some complexity to it. It smells earthy and spicey and tastes of cherry and vanilla. I also tasted a little liquorice. This is a balanced wine with a nice lingering oak finish. The PIT (Partner in Tasting) liked it, too He said "it smells different" than a typical merlot. I give it 2 1/2 stars because it's definitely a notch above your average table wine. Here's someone who agrees with me.
April 3, 2006
The French are Coming!
Yes, Sunday is the great day of the next tasting. We'll try to cover some new white and red French wines and rate them using the NEW Cheapfunwines star rating system. Instead of doing points, a la Wine Spectator, we are copping the New York Times system of using stars. I figured this would be easier since I was always so challenged by numbers as a child. Anyhow, the PIT (partner in tasting) and I got off to a good start last night with the French during dinner at our friends' house. We tried two excellent affordable white wines. First was a 2003 Sebastien Roux Meursault and the second was a 2003 Domaine Andre Vatan Sancerre Les Charmes. (We got it backward, starting with the chardonnay and moving on the sauvignon blanc) One of the main reasons why I find French wine so confusing is that there are references to about 10 things on the label, all of it, of course, in French. I am consulting Wine for Dummies now for navigation tips. The book, rather simply, says France has five wine regions and each are known for certain types of wines. Most French wines are named after multiple places, which I knew. The problem, for me, is that there are always so many places listed on the label and since it's in French, it's more confusing.
Getting back to the wines we tried last night...The first, the 2003 Sebastien Roux Meursault, is a Chardonnay from Meursault, which is located in the Burgundy region South of Paris, which is known for great whites and reds. I really enjoyed this wine, which at $10 is a steal and worthy of 2 1/2 stars -- a notch above a solid table wine.
From Cellartracker.com: At this price ($9.99 at Trader Joe's) and with this pedigree it is hard to find anything seriously wrong with this bottle. Great fruit, soft nose, distinctive mineraliness of this region of France. I'm getting more of these today and plan on laying them down and drinking one every six months for the next five years to see if there is any development of that classic Meursault flavor. For this price it's going to be a better bet than almost all of the allegedly age worthy chardonnays available. Cellartracker is a pretty cool resource I just discovered today.
Our second wine, the Les Charmes Sancerre, (about $14) is reviewed at Cellartracker, too: pale golden blonde appearance. Lots of pear, hint of fennel seed, with a (not entirely unpleasant) reminder of windex on the nose. nice. Kind of muddled taste. Flabby. Tried serving colder, but still flat. Needs more citrus or acidic balance.
I tasted heavy pear in this wine, too, and found it light and refreshing. I'm not quite there yet when it comes to identifying a wine as "flabby." So far, this description is strictly reserved for thighs. A tasting course I am planning to take this month should help me unveil the flabbyness in a wine, too. I give this wine two stars.