August 1, 2006

Big Tattoo Red (2004) Review

Big Tattoo RedBig Tattoo Red
Varietal: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon/50% Syrah
Imported From Chile
13.7% Alcohol By Volume (ABV)
We Paid: $9.99
Big Tattoo Red Website

We picked up our bottle of Big Tattoo Red on our way to a barbecue. We were looking for something big enough to stand up against the sausages that were being grilled so we were poking around the South American wines looking for a Malbec. Big Tattoo's distinctive label caught our eye, we liked the price, and there was one more factor we'll tell you about below that lead to the final purchase.

We read the label, which uses words like "powerhouse of fruit" and "an explosion of fruit in the mouth" so we figured it would get the job done. Plus, we've had good experiences with Syrahs and Cabs in the past, so we were on point.

The other thing that pushed us over the edge to buy it was when we read on the label that the wine was created by two sons who lost their mother to breast cancer, and they're donating 50 cents from every bottle sold to breast cancer research. Depending on what figure you pay attention to they've raised as much as 3/4 of a million dollars, and that was enough to make us want to buy, especially since we have a loved one who's battling cancer. Who can't use a little peace of mind with their drink?

Tasting Notes: As the label promised, this wine is big and full of berries. We tasted blackberries and plums in the glass from the first to the final sip and it's a big, robust roundhouse to the taste buds. It might be a touch sweeter than some wines we usually go for, but that didn't detract from our overall enjoyment. One reviewer called Big Tattoo a "meat wine" because it paired so well with the spicy sausages we ate with it, but we recommend it for any flavorful foods, like pasta with red sauce. We'll definitely be buying Big Tattoo Red again, and we're hoping to get our hands on their other varieties (Big Tattoo White and Big Tattoo Syrah) ASAP.

Have tasting notes of your own for this wine? Have you tried this wine and know something comparable we should try? Let us know by shooting us an email at news at

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July 10, 2006

Zonin Prosecco Sparkling Wine

So this empty bottle of Zonin "Brut" Prosecco has been sitting on my desk for days....begging me to write about it or dispose of it because it's just taking up space and making me look like a crazy bathrobe-wearing drunk when the UPS guy drops by.

It took me so long to get around to writing that I've almost forgotten what this sparkling Italian wine -- made from the prosecco grape -- tastes like and when we drank it. (Last week? Last month?) Then the Italians won the World Cup (Did you SEE that head butt? To quote Ben Fong-Torres: CRAAAAAZY), jarring my attention back to the Italian wines. As I recall this Zonin, not to be confused with the masterless samurai Ronin, was a floral, dry and bubbly wine that I and the PIT (partner in tasting) both enjoyed lots. I would serve this wine with confidence instead of true champagne during a wedding toast and save lots of $$$ in the process of offending no one. It's funky and different from champagne in a good way and, in my opinion, more expensive than the $5.99 I paid for the bottle.

So a little about Prosecco from our trusted Wikipedia: Prosecco is a variety of white grape grown in the Veneto region of Italy, and also gives its name to the sparkling wine made from the grape.

The grape is grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene wine-growing regions north of Venice. Its late ripening has led to its use in dry sparkling (spumante) and semi-sparkling (frizzante) wines, with their characteristic bitter aftertaste.

This wine definitely had the bitter aftertaste, but it was a good bitter and it was SO easy going down.
Cheers Italia!

Grade: 3 stars! Just so good. Read this review for a laugh. Wilder on Wine says Zonin tastes like a "pretty girl dancing and sweaty." Really sweaty. I hate to admit it, but I kind of get where he's coming from with the sweaty thing. And it's not a bad thing.

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July 7, 2006

2005 Santa Rita Reserva Chardonnay

This 2005 Santa Rita Reserva Chardonnay seems to come by the truckloads from Chile's Casablance Valley to the Trader Joe's shelves. I always see it there, but had never tried it. This time I picked up a bottle for $8.99. The verdict? It's not bad. The Santa Rita is a pit-fruity, pear-tasting wine -- little to no oak on the palate at all, as I typically prefer. But I liked it anyhow.

This wine was a Wine Spectator pick, described as "fresh pear and fig flavors with modest toast on the finish. Clean, fresh and nicely done."

Grade: solid two star wine. Definitely finished this bottle.

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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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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!

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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