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 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.

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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 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

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 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 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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February 28, 2006

Pepperwood Grove Syrah Hurrah!

All three of us - me, my Partner in Tasting (PIT) and my visiting mom - liked this wine, a 2003 Pepperwood Grove California Syrah. It paired nicely with the hot and sour soup, which really brought out the fruit and the spice of the wine. YUM. This wine had a peppery nose and a nice bit of spice, juicy berries in the mouth and a soft finish. Wine Spectator wrote that this wine has "chewy sage." My mom had a hoot over that one. "CHEWY SAGE?????" she said. Phttttt.
"I tasted parsnip," howled the PIT. I am still trying to figure out what a beam is in "a pretty beam of fluid berry" (This is Wine Spectator describing how this wine tastes) At first I thought he was talking about a blood transfusion after a head injury but I am sure that, as with the word quaffable, this is a wine word that I have only begun to understand. This bottle cost $6.99 at the local Rainbow Market co-op in San Francisco. Cheap!!!! Or should I say very affordable.

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February 27, 2006

Que Syrah Syrah

What will be....a cliche! OK, so the second monthly tasting at chez CheapFunWines is a Syrah-fest. I picked Syrah for selfish reasons: because I like them!!! I like them because they are peppery and feisty and fruity and fun to drink. Again, we found TWO we all really loved. Two is turning out to be our magic number. When we tasted Cabs last month the group also agreed that two bottles were superior to the rest of the lot. Spooky.
This time, we tasted six Syrahs and one rogue Zin. Hey, how did a Zin slip into the Syrah tasting? Outta here!!!
Check the next blog for our results and some comments from the peanut gallery or enthusiastic but completely unprofessional tasters.

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February 18, 2006

Who loves Cabernet Sauvignon? We DO!

The Cheapfunwines gang had a blast at our first monthly wine tasting. Aside from getting a bit tipsy, we all learned a bit more about why we love Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our group, which included a trained chef, a photographer, a computer programmer, a pharmacist, my retired neighbor and a handful of semi-boozy journalists, tasted 10 Cabernet Sauvignons from around the world that cost under $20.

We are no experts, just wine lovers on a mission to evolve our palates. Marlo had just went to a huge Zinfandel tasting here in San Francisco the day before my soiree so she was right up there with the descriptions.

Before we tasted we hid the labels on all 10. (This is good to do because I recall reading somewhere that women tend to buy more bottles of wines with blue labels...and people also tend to have preconceived notions about what a wine is supposed to taste like if it's a certain brand.) Thankfully, there weren't a lot of household names among the wines people brought. No Bogle, Ravenswood or Rodney Strongs among the pack, thank you.

After we finished trying all 10 bottles (eek!) some of us went back and tried the ones we were unsure of again. We found a few had opened up and improved. Others were still nice.

ArrowContinue reading: "Who loves Cabernet Sauvignon? We DO!"

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