June 29, 2006

Spadina 2003 Nero d'Avola Una Rosa

So I got a DEAL on this wine, a red from Sicily that cost me just $6.99 at Cost Plus World Market. For the record, I love Cost Plus. It reminds me of the ye olde Christmas Tree Shop back east, but it's just SO MUCH BETTER.

For one, it doesn't have that usual stink you find in department stores. I have this crazy sense of smell and usually become highly allergic in places like Target or Macy's. The only two stores that haven't make me sneezy and itchy of late have been Trader Joe's (my heroes. I am obsessed) and Cost Plus. I mean, where else can you buy the CUTEST plastic glasses adorned with frogs and sheep for your toddler, fine, cheap Sicilian wine and, get this, a super cool canopy bed. Yes, after nearly six years of marriage I finally bought a bed.

But enough about me and beds and back to the wine. This Spadina was pretty lovely. It usually costs about $16. I brought it to a friend's going away on sabbatical to Europe for a month (paint my face back to its normal color from green, please) and it was a hit with a few guests. I didn't drink much of it as I was chasing the kid around, but what I did manage to slurp with my lovely eggplant parm was certainly agreeable; some big, dark fruit with a spicy finish.

I bought this Nero d'Avola at my traveling friend Marlo's request, but I turned out to be not quite on the mark. Marlo LOVES full-bodied Italian wines made from the nebbiola grape (Barbaresco, Barolo) from the Piedmont area of Italy and asked us to bring some. These wines are often super pricey and I couldn't find any at the Cost Plus, so I settled for the Sicilian Spadina. Stefanie, however, scored big at the tasting with a 2003 Marco Porello Nebbiola D'alba that cost under $20. This big red wine received three cheers.

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June 20, 2006

Prosecco, Pepperwood Grove and a Hawk Crest

So I finally caved and picked up a bottle of Prosecco (sparkling wine) at Trader Joe's today. It's a Zonin Prosecco from Gambellara, Italy. At $5.99 a bottle, there was no need to pass it up and move on to the chocolate aisle. It's been a sunny week, too, which is as good of an excuse as any to drink some bubbly stuff. Maybe I'll ship a few bottles to Mark Cuban, too, to help him nurse his Miami-inflicted pain.

So we'll be reviewing that bottle soon. In the meantime, here are two recommended cheap whites: a 2003 Hawk Crest Chardonnay (by Stag's Leap Wine Cellar, Napa, CA). The other is a 2005 Pepperwood Grove Pinot Grigio. I haven't reviewed a pinot grigio in awhile (since the Fontana Candida) so it's probably time. Pepperwood Grove, which is owned by Don Sebastiani & Sons, makes some pretty good cheap wines overall. It's one of my grocery store staples. This Pinot Grigio (About $8) was refreshing, light and citrusy in a grapefruit sort of mode with a somewhat tart finish....It's a tasty summer white; what a Pinot Grigio should be. The Pepperwood Grove labels, according to the winemaker, were inspired by "the swirls of a Bristel Cone tree." To me, they look a lot the minimalist Spirograph designs of my youth.

The Hawk Crest (about $10) is a very decent Chardonnay for the money. For the same price, I prefer the oak of the J. Lohr wine, but the Hawk Crest boasts some nice fruit and is easy on the palate. Definitely a lot less oak in this Chardonnay, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's balanced and tastes of melon and peach.

Grade for both: 2 stars. Both are solid table wines that I'd buy again.

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June 20, 2006

Blogpire Productions Blogs Announce Investment in the Planet's Future with Green Tags

Green-Tag-Logo Type-Grn-1What can we say? We really thought our blogs should be a bit greener? As of today, we're going to buy enough Green Tags, also called renewable energy credits, from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, to offset the environmental impact from our hosting and computer operations for the coming year.

Green tags are an investment in the production of renewable energy sources through wind and solar power. Using clean renewable energy reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. By purchasing green tags, Blogpire Productions hopes to lessen our dependence on burning fossil fuels.

We also hope you'll help out as well. Individuals as well any business can buy Green Tags. Please visit the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and purchase Green Tags to offset your use of fossil fuels.

Full Release at: PR Web

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June 16, 2006 and Weekly Email Updates

Criticalgamers Blogad-1This week we have a new, exciting program, affectionately called! We want to reward you for being Blogpire loyalists. This is one way for us to say thanks. provides online exclusive offers on the very best mobile service, Verizon Wireless. This online-only offer for you is for $50 Instant Cash Back. That means no rebates, no hassles, and no money out of your pocket when you get a plan and phone. With this offer, there are over 11 FREE PHONES currently available.

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June 13, 2006

2003 Sunstone Syrah

The Sunstone 2003 Syrah (Santa Barbara) is organic and made from 100 percent syrah. It costs about $17 (marked up to $39 at the restaurant we drank it at!!! ugh) and worth it at the lower price :). I do loathe restaurant markup.

The PIT and I both loved this wine, which was earthy and spicy with a great bouquet of dark fruit on the palate (the winemaker says blueberry, but I didn't taste that. Then again, I missed the white pepper and blueberry smell, too. I was more in the BLACK pepper, strawberry/plum zone). I drank my syrah with some delicious lamb accompanied by peanut-topped rice and the PIT had his with a duck breast/cherry combo. It worked well with both dishes.

Sunstone Vineyards and Winery (not featured in the movie Sideways) is located 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. Judging by the website photo, this place is beautiful. This USA Today article calls it one of the area's grander tasting rooms. I still haven't made it to the Santa Barbara wineries, but hope to go and review a few soon.

Grade: 3 stars. I really dug this wine and would buy it again in a second.

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June 10, 2006

2004 J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay

For $10, the J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Chardonnay (Monterey County) is a bargain. We liked it so much we drank a bottle two nights in a row - first with a salmon with a citrus sauce and last night with lemon/olive oil pork chops. My father-in-law, not usually a chardonnay fan, really liked this wine (Mmmmm. Very good, he said). So did the partner in tasting (PIT). So I picked up another bottle at Trader Joe's. I served this wine quite cold and liked it because it was smooth and light-- citrusy/pear in the mouth with a lot of vanilla (Big, big on the oak.) Nothing cloying or overblown about this chardonnay. Why it's called Riverstone? This from the winemaker:

The vines are grown primarily on Elder loam soils underlain by "riverstones" deposited over thousands of years from the Arroyo Seco River, allowing a four-foot rooting zone that keeps the vines¡¯ vegetative growth and fruit in balance. Additionally, the cool climate and winds of the Salinas Valley extend the growing season and retain the natural grape acids and intense varietal character of the Chardonnay.

Here are a few other reviews of this wine at

Grade: 2 1/2 stars.....A notch above a solid table wine. I'm not big on a lot of chardonnay, but I'd buy six bottles of this wine to have on hand if we had room.

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June 9, 2006

Father's Day Gift Guides from the Blogpire

Liquor Snob 125 Macnn-4We want to remind you that Father's Day is just around the corner. Actually it's next Sunday, but don't worry we've got you covered. Single Serve Coffee has a great Father's Day Gift Guide and so does Shaving Stuff with their Father's Day Specials. If you're really looking to impress Dad you might want to get him the ultimate TV remote. The Logitech Harmony Remote 628 - Universal Remote Control is nothing short of the best remote we've ever used and we think Dad will like it too. That's just some of the picks we've got for you from around the Blogpire. Visit our other sites below to find more deals and tales for your Dad on Father's Day.

Cheap Fun Wines
Italian Red Roundup
Italian Reds Rock

The Cooking News
Recipe News: Paula Deen shares her easy recipe for Vidalia onions
Recipe News: Hot new recipes for summer grilling

Liquor Snob
Bad Week Plus New Liquor Equals Good Week
Advanced Drinking Gear from Cocktail Vibe

Really Natural
Synergy: Trilogy Kombucha Tea
Sweet Seasons Lemon Bread Mix

Critical Gamers
Now Shipping: "Apples to Apples Party Box Expansion 2"
Now Shipping: Axis & Allies Miniatures D-Day Boosters

Single Serve Coffee
Rumor Mill: New Keurig B70 Platinum At Home K-Cup Brewer Coming in September
Father's Day Pick: Grindmaster GPOD Precision Brewer & Kona Coffee Pods

Just the Chips
Ultimate Dealer Button
Texas Hold'em Poker Table Top

Kitchen Contraptions
Hotdog Bun Pan
Appliance Panels

Shaving Stuff
The Expensive Side of Father's Day Shaving Gifts
More Father's Day Shaving Ideas from ZIRH

TV Snob
Deal of the Day: Logitech Harmony Remote 628 - Universal Remote Control
VIZIO Announces Breakthrough Father's Day Prices on HD Plasmas and LCD TV

Shirt Snob
Review of Threadless Winning Tees and American Red Cross Clothing
Crochet Braid Cardigan by Free People

GPS Lodge
GPS Review: Sony Nav-U70 GPS Review
GPS Review: FineDrive 400 GPS

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June 5, 2006

Italian Red Roundup

Here's a roundup of the six Italian reds we tried during our blind taste test Sunday night. Strangely, the wines seemed to get better as we went along.
1) 2004 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Barbera D'Alba (Piedmont, Italy. $13.99) It's always hard to review the first bottle at a tasting because we have nothing else to compare it to, but the response to this wine was generally positive. Jonathan called it inoffensive. I thought it was a bit harsh because it hadn't opened up, but found it pleasantly fruity. After it opened it was much nicer. Generally positive reviews for this wine.
This review is from K&L Wines, which lists this Barbera as a "top pick"

"From the husband and wife team of Nicola Argamante and Loredana Addari. Small production and super values! This young red offers a grapey nose, intense and yet delicate offering raspberry and violet notes. On the palate this wine is quite dry, full bodied and with plenty of acidity though tannins are soft and fully integrated. Enjoy with just about any sort of Italian-inspired food!"

2) 2003 Aglianico Beneventano. ($8) I thought this was a nice bottle of wine that would be even better paired with some food. I called it "dirty, earthy and spicy." Marlo tasted mushroom, while Erica called it the "most unfruity wine ever." Christina found it quite nice with the parmesan we served. Anglianico is a big red wine of southern Italy, a wine variety brought by the Greeks to southern Italy over 2,000 years ago. Aglianico is supposedly an up and coming wine among wine lovers.

3) 2003 Castello D'Albola Chianti Classico ($10.99). Finally, we dive into a chianti. I could have sworn No. 2 was a chianti, but alas it was not. Marlo found this wine mineral-ish and slightly bitter. I found it quite simple and straightforward and quite drinkable. Nice fruit; a little spice. Christina found it flat, but nonetheless would toss it back by the pool. Robin said it was mild and "doesn't jump out at me." "Tastes like a wine that wants to open but just can't," John wrote. This Chianti Classico is 95 percent Sangiovese balanced with 5 percent Canaiolo grapes. No Silence of the Lambs jokes, please.

4) The 2002 Lambardi Rosso Di Montalcino I reviewed last night...Generally enjoyed by all.

5) A Cabernet Franc made in Italy. This wine was freaky. I just wrote FUNK in capital letters on my tasting sheet because all I could taste was white pepper, black pepper. Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze HACHOOOOOOO. Robin and Christina really liked this wine's spice. Jim liked it, too. Jonathan said "it smells like grandpa's den." Unfortunately Robin brought the bottle home with her and I forgot to write down this wine's name, so I will update tomorrow. Apologies!

6) Six came in a lovely but oddly-shaped bottle. It's a Travaglini 2000 Gattinara (about $18) made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in Italy's Piedmont region. This was another favorite wine with our group. Marlo said this wine had nice body and tasted like cooked dried fruit. Robin found it sweet and fruity. I found it Zinfandel-ish with lots of plum and berry, while Christina thought it tasted like a pinot. hmmmmm. Here are some other opinions. From the winemaker: Nebbiolo, the outstanding red wine grape of Italy, is deep in color, robust and full-bodied, with rich, deep, complex flavors. An approachable wine, with characteristic aromas of rose and violet, along with cherry. Nicely textured, earthy notes, offering a note of anise, with flavors of plum and berry, and it has a fairly long finish.

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June 4, 2006

Italian Reds Rock

Sure, we should have reviewed Italian wines by region or by type, but I don't know shite about Italian wine so we kept it macro. This way we were all able to try a half dozen Italian wines without getting too granular....a little chianti, a little sangiovese, a little cabernet franc (Yes, cabernet franc!) I am happy to report that a red I picked, a relatively expensive sangiovese, was the favorite with four of our eight tasters!

Wahhooooo! I finally win something. Disclaimer: My bottle cost $21, tipping the $20 and under cheapfunwines limit by a buck. I figured that since I bought the wine in a chi chi neighborhood of San Francisco (Laurel Heights) it was probably marked up by more than a few bucks and I'd be able to find it online for, like, $15.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find this wine listed online anywhere, so tracking its average price was difficult. Anyway, I should identify the wine: a 2002 Lambardi Rosso Di Montalcino from Montalcino, Italy. It's 100 percent sangiovese. Most of our tasters found this wine easy to drink. It smelled lovely..... like dark currants and tasted of earthy spice. I love the Lambardi website's English translation of this wine: "it is generous and harmonious." So this is a good-natured wine that's not looking for a fight. Funny, cry, happy!!!

Our uber taster Marlo found this wine fruity and earthy while the PIT (partner in tasting) said this wine "smelled classy," which is more description than he usually offers. Erica described this wine as a complex mouth of fruit with a spicy finish. Jonathan found it SMOOOOOOOOOTH. We are grateful. It was his favorite of six wines we tried. I will review the rest of them tomorrow (or Tuesday).

Next time, I promise that any bottle of wine I like that costs over $20 will be reviewed on Swanky Wine Friday....a new feature we're introducing at Cheapfunwines, which will focus on wines that are a bit more pricey, but worth it.

We give this wine a solid 3 stars.(scale of 1-4) It's a notch above your everyday table wine, with some complexity that sets it apart.

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June 1, 2006

Italian Wine Tasting!

The Italian wine tasting is coming up this Sunday people! K&L wine merchants has a vast array (yes, I am sick of the word plethora) of Italian wines for under $20, so I am going to try to hit the store before the week is done. Some prosecco would be nice, I think. I keep seeing bottles of it on special display at Trader Joe's for about $7. Alorie, a Cheapfunwines taster and reader who recently started her own blog from her new digs in Switzerland, served prosecco at her wedding and raves about its taste and affordability. So maybe we can start with some prosecco and move on to the Italian reds. More this weekend.

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