Memorial Day is one of the all time great national US holidays. Whether you honor our fallen heros by wearing a poppy, laying a wreath or celebrating our hard won freedoms by going hog wild at the lake, you’ll need choices in refreshment aside from that keg of beer your cousin hauled over in the back of his truck.
Just in time to kick off the Summer, I’ve compiled the 10 wines under 10 dollars that you can rely on under ANY circumstance. Fancy friends? How about a Rosé that pairs perfectly with poshness. Oppressively hot weather? There’s Sauvignon Blanc for that. Searingly spicy BBQ ribs? Nothing a scoop of potato salad and a Vinho Verde for $5 won’t tame.
Summer is at large and preparation requires some of these quaffable options…
Case-worthy goodness and a wine that will hold it’s own against wines 3x as expensive. Beep, beep. beep that’s the sound of my truck backing up to the dock – load-er up. Drink this wine anytime but when paired with Indian, Thai or Mexican dishes, it shines. Crisp, refreshing, citrus and green apple. What do you have to lose except one heck of a deal on a great wine for the summer and beyond.
I was blown away by this complex, rich and sophisticated Syrah. How could it be under $10? It tastes like it’s a $30+ bottle of wine! Nose is generously cocoa, smoke with some earth. Perfectly light bodied red for Summer, great fruit, plum, berry and beautifully balanced acids and tannins with a gorgeous vanilla finish. Undeniably case-worthy.
A hands down favorite find for the Summer. This wine was highly recommended from an esteemed wine biz insider, and this hot tip will keep things cool this season. A classic Gerwürz (my nickname because I can’t pronounce the full name properly, the Fetzers call it “Gew”) is sweet, but this is not cloyingly sweet, has the perfect amount of fruit, acid, brightness that finishes dry. Perfect as an aperitif. So much to love, especially at the price.
My favorite red for summer, why? Because it is both rich and refreshing. I call it a miracle wine because I have rarely found a Pinot Noir under 10$ that wasn’t blech and since this wine is delicious, it’s a bonafide miracle. It carries nuances of better Pinots such as dark cherry, touches of spice and cedar with a smooth wet stone finish and a body that is light. Perfect with grilled skirt steak on a bed of lettuce with lime cilantro dressing, or with manchego cheese and Marcona almonds. Your guests who require red will not be disappointed.
5. Gabbiano Promessa Pinot Griogio, IGT delle Venezie, Italy $7.79
Recommended to me by a fancy friend who drinks it everyday, hey no harm in that. She has a driver. Especially perfect to pair with summer dishes like a perfectly chilled shrimp cocktail, Vietnamese spring rolls, and fried chicken. This wine is fruit forward but not sweet. It has a ripe stone fruit and honeysuckle essence and nice body for a light wine. Poured into crystal at a luncheon or Govina’s by the pool, this is a versatile wine!
6. Madame Fleur Rosé, Wholefoods 365 Brand, Vin de Pays d’Oc, Languedoc Roussillon, France
This is my all time favorite value rosé. It tastes as good if not better than some more famous (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) rosés from Provence for a third of the price. Floral strawberry nose with a perfect French rosé profile of light berry, pear and bright acid that finishes with some citrus, grapefruit. I’ve bought this over and over and over again. So will you if you say yes way to rosé this summer.
Ok, what the heck is going on? A mass market wine that I actually like and pretty much can get anywhere in the country. Yep. Here you go, for those who want it now, I’m certain your local supermarket will be carrying this wine as well, it’s Robert Mondavi and who doesn’t carry Robert Mondavi? For those snobs out there, give it try, it’s dry, had a great balance acid and emotes all the best qualities of a Sauvignon Blanc; light, crisp, fruit but dry. I suggest a roasted Branzihno with ripe tomato salad with some feta cheese with toss of oregano and basil. This wine is the perfect finish to a light meal.
A sparkler for this much money often gives me a head-ache just thinking about it. Ah-ha! Here is a a sparkling Cava that is a must find. Hunt it down. I picked up flavors of apricot, tropical fruit and enjoyed the lively effervescence. This wine is perfect for summer celebrations and special deserts like the Ile Flottante you manage to whip up for all the 29th birthday celebrations. Better buy a case, I see several such occasions in your future.
I was steered away from this 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Bronze medal winner, by the attendant in the wine department. How could a wine that inexpensive, on the bottom shelf be any good? Ha! I know the Scottos make many other great premium value wines so how could I not take a chance. Not only was this wine worthy of the bronze medal, it was deserving of my gold. Ka-ching! Beautiful bouquet, light body, essence of berry and florals, and under $10. A perfect accompaniment to a late morning brunch of egg white fritata and warm scones with home made strawberry jam. Dreamy.
These guys at Line 39 are fantastic and always get it right. This Pinot Grigio is drier than many and although there is ample fruit on the nose, it finishes dry with some fresh cut grass and maybe a hint of honey dew. This wine will put you in an alfresco state of mind. I enjoyed this wine with a gorgeous poached salmon with fresh dill and lemon. This wine cuts through the richness of the fish with a nice bite. Perfecto.
There you have it! So go on…display Old Glory, kiss your favorite veteran, remember those who served proudly. Enjoying wine is a way to celebrate the occasion, not that you need an excuse to do either!
Voila! Has been a while, but I am happy to present my entry into the #MWWC17. At this very moment, my husband is pleading for me to feed the family before they all perish, therefore, I must commence with my entry inspired by the theme “epiphany” selected by last month’s winner The Wine Raconteur. Amusez-vous bien!
A traditional mother’s day usually consists of breakfast in bed prepared lovingly by the father of someone’s children with handmade cards awkwardly assembled with the love and charm of a small child. Maybe there is a thoughtful gift; a fragrant soap, cookbooks, hand embroidered aprons and personalized wooden spoons. The fancier moms may receive a gift certificate to a spa or potpourri. Thereafter, you may head out with the kiddies to a brunch, a garden party, a luncheon at the club or a dinner with the in-laws.
My epiphany was realized when I came to the conclusion those were the Mother’s Days of yore. The last vestige of tradition on my Mother’s Day was popping a cork and daintily sipping Champagne while idly chatting about fruit tree blight and aphid infestation with the landed gentry. Unbeknownst in the parlour, the harsh reality of high technology would soon crush all cultural norms of this familial holiday.
In the future, moms won’t request charm bracelets and bubble bath. They will require more technologically superior gifts, and I’m not suggesting the latest egg timer or smart phone. I’m not even alluding to a robotic vacuum. We are talking drones. Ones that fly above the earth hovering like Black Hawk helicopter chicks.
My not-that-much-younger sister, a bonafide mother, received a drone as her Mother’s Day gift. I’m a bit more traditional, I begged for a set of late 19th c. Baccarat crystal flutes I found on ebay, but I guess I’m an old fogey.
Summoned by the children to come outside and see “something,” I reluctantly left the side of my ice bucket to witness the spectacle. All heads hinged upwards to the sky. Hovering 30 feet above was a four legged mechanism encased in white with unidentifiable protrusions. Lights were flickering and it reminded me of a sinister toy Millennium Falcon made by Kennar. As it traversed up and down I noticed that the little devil was filming us on my brother-in-law’s iPhone. Cheeky bastard.
My mind was swirling with who, what, why? My younger sister informed me tersely that this ‘droid’ was her cherished mother’s day gift. Well, excuse me for using a rotary phone. Plah-eeze!
At the risk of being crass, I asked my sister how much was “the drone” and did she use the ToysRUs coupon I generously gave her last Mother’s day? Once informed, I was astounded that it cost more than a bottle of 2012 Screaming Eagle Cab and “No,” she did not use my generous coupon.
Then things got a bit silly. Being a bit of a joker, my brother-in-lawsuit started acting murderously irresponsible. With the controls in his hands, the drone became erratic and started chasing people around. FYI: I was carrying a glass of my favorite Champagne from Trader Joe’s. Things were going to get real if one drop of that nectar missed my lips. So I started inching further and further away towards safety. Well, never turn your back and run from a vicious animal or an inlaw with past grudges and transgressions. Chase ensued.
Good news, all this domestic mayhem was caught on video by the drone! Therefore, in the event of my peril or maiming, the footage would be readily available to the authorities for the purpose of criminal prosecution or civil litigation. I wasn’t really thinking about this in the moment as I was running for my life.
Of course I starred as myself in the made for online movie. Please enjoy a laugh at my expense and watch this original content brought to you by the Cheap Wine Curious Channel:
Well, me and the children survivedand better yet, so did the Champagne. All fun and games aside, drones are not toys and can be very dangerous when in the hands of irresponsible beer drinking uncles at family gatherings. My final epiphany? I nearly starred in a snuff film. Don’t let this happen to you.
Was an honor and a privilege to participate in this post. Michelle has been a great support and valued friend along my wine blogging journey. She is one to follow. Her writing will inspire you to submerge yourself in the love of wine and food. Her fantastic song pairings will bring music to every glass. These recommendations are both fabulous and very helpful guidance for your holiday feast. Enjoy your Easter and Passover everyone!
This is the first in a two part series on wines to enjoy with your Easter meal celebrations. Easter is a day of great joy and celebration for Christians all over the world; what better wine to enjoy on such a celebratory day than bubbles! This article focuses on Easter brunch and the outstanding sparkling wines to pair with that meal for your friends and family. Furthermore, I have enlisted the assistance of some of my favorite wine bloggers. These are all blogs I follow; each is informative with its own unique style, all are educational. I highly recommend you follow each of these bloggers. Please note these recommendations range in price from $6 – $60 and includes a variety of sparkling wines from the US, France, Italy Spain and Chile. Enjoy each of these sparkling wine recommendations, make a list of the ones that fit your taste, then head…
Easter is coming, Easter is coming! Hurry, stock up on wine, chocolate eggs, ham, millinery and wine. And after you dust the mantle, press the table linens and polish the silver, go ahead and buy even more wine. Every good Christian, not in recovery, needs plenty of after church lubrication. Depending on the the brunch, lunch or dinner you will be giving or receiving, quantity of wine is highly variable, but for God’s sake, don’t run out. Whatever the event, remember, Jesus is the reason for yet another season, so let’s raise a glass of his finest juice. Alleluia!
I found the perfect Cava for this Eastover (Easter+Passover.) Although, the occasion of this wine’s discovery was during a lunch that followed an ominous birthday outing at Sonoma Traintown. More on that later.
Cava can be priced at a 1/4 of the price for Champagne and better sparkling wines. Cavas are refreshingly dry and crisp. Who can resist a burst of earth, sun and the espirito de España with their roasted pork, potatoes au gratin, rich buttery fish or as an apertivo with Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese accompanied with slices of crisp green apples and honey. Yuuuuum. Excuse me while I take a fridge break.
Ok, I’m back.
NV M. Chevallier Carte Noire Methode Traditionelle Brut Cava $6
The sparkler I have road tested for you today is a Cava I acquired at Trader Joe’s. M. Chevalier was well situated amongst the masses of value wines. Lovely, classic label, easy to find and priced just right. There was incipient potential.
The occasion was my sister’s father-in-law’s 72nd birthday. We arranged a visit to Sonoma Traintown* with the raucous brood of grand kiddies and a requisite pizza party après voyage. My sister’s father-in-law, a retired DDS and self proclaimed wineaux, is now officially my drinking buddy at family gatherings. In his honor, I decided to break out the cheap stuff. M. Chevalier was the perfect libation to celebrate not only his birthday, but our aplomb at search and rescue. After the retrieval of a grand daughter from the duck pond and the end to a frantic 15 minute search for a missing grandson (found oogling toys in the gift shop of his own volition,) it had been a lovely day without an Amber Alert, but my nerves were eviscerated. My only respite was shoving pizza in my face while drinking bottles of bubbly in a completely fenced-in back yard sans livestock and naturally or artificially occurring bodies of water. We all needed to let off some steam. And good news! This wine made me want to sound the horn. Chooo chooooooo.
The nose was faint, but the first sip was delightful, crisp green apple, a hint of brioche, a smooth nutty finish with a lovely minerailty. Cavas can have a bitter finish, hence, they are often not at the top of my bubbly list, although their price points are in my repertoire. Nice effervescence that was great for cooling the engines and sparking vibrant family debate about historical revisionism of our childhood memories. To each his own version of that harrowing trip to the Grand Canyon.
This wine was a delight and very guest worthy as the septuagenarian birthday boy loved it too. He noted it was not complex and although a rather mild wine, it still held his interest. This wine will pair as well with your Easter or Pasover feast as it paired with my peperroni pizza at the end of a ride on the “crazy train.” Music please….
*Sonoma Traintown is a fabulous getaway for the family. Reasonably priced and surrounded by delicious restaurants, vineyards and gorgeous scenery. My characterization is based solely on my personal angst about visiting amusement parks with throngs of small reckless children and insouciant senior citizens. Traintown can be very crowded on weekends during high season. If you have the luxury of visiting on a weekday, it is a sheer delight. Be forewarned about visiting the gift shop with your children – you may risk embarrassing fits of extortion if you don’t make a purchase.
It isn’t St. Patty’s day until you see a Millennial walking down the street with beads, daisy dukes, green tank top, a beer and a cigarette at 3pm. I suggest you grab your kids, lock up your husband and get outta town. But before you scatter faster than the jail bait can shake their shamrocks, I suggest you dash on over to the wine aisle in your local shoppe. Check out one of these price busting, lucky charms I discovered to honor this very special holiday celebrating Lá Fhéile Pádraig.
Kenwood 2012 Vintage White Wine Blend, CA $6.89
Floral – smooth, crisp and refreshing easy drinking but lovely balance of acidity. Not much complexity, but for a great table wine that is highly enjoyable, I give it a strong buy again.
Butterfield Station Pinot Noir, CA $5.99
All alcohol, no nose, no fruit, yikes! Wasting away in Sangria-ville – blech – fruit this baby, or soak a roast.
Sutter Home Moscato, CA $5.49
Honeysuckle, almost tastes like apple juice – but not to cloyingly sweet – I must say, it’s not so bad. I kinda like it – but I need to be in the mood, a rare mood. I rate it drinkable.
HRM Rex-Goliath Free Range Zinfandel, Italy $6.79
Hearty, bold fruit, exactly what I love in a Zin. The fruit could be a little richer and layered, like some better Zins, but this wine is still jammy and perfect with BBQ. I love finding a big wine with a low, low price. I rate it guest-worthy. Pot O’Gold!
Bella Sera 2013 Pinot Grigio, Italy $6.99
Citrus, but other than that – not much more to this wine. It’s drinkable. I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Grigio, but addmittedly, they are difficult not to like, especially after a few glasses of Pinot Grigio. I wanted brighter acid, more fruit, some floral, the characteristics I like in a decent PG. Sadly, this wine needs to get fruited. It would be best icy chilled with a few thin rounds of orange, lemon and lime. Heck, let’s toss in some sprite, a maraschino cheery and jigger of gin for good measure. Last one in the parade is a rotten grape!
I had finally made it into the big time. I won the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge after my 5th painstaking entry, but I wasn’t ready for the trappings of success. Elated and under the influence of wine, Dolcelatte and celeriac-fennel bisque, I bought cars, jewelry, villas, exotic pets and uncomfortable shoes. I thought I had it good. I thought I was a “baller” (for my international readers, that is a term of hubris in the US – not one of buggery.) Until I hit the bottom of my barrel, and I was over oaked. I was deceiving myself if I believed I was the artisinal toast of the town. I was a Diet Coked-up, punctuality challenged phony in this diabolically friendly competition of utter comraderie. Who was I fooling? Not The Drunken Cyclist.
He and my other wine bloggy buddies staged a compassionate, discreet intervention on Twitter. Only days since my infamous #MWWC14 win, Drunko Cycle-Boy tweeted “what are the odds we’ll get a theme from cheapwinecurious for the #MWWC15 ?” Yes, it was tough to see that tweet, but it was filled with love. RockinRed, FranklyWines, came to my defense as all enablers do. “Oh, it’s really about how esoteric her topic is.” Thanks, my friends, but you can’t cover the stains from my glass forever. if I don’t get help, I’ll be trolling the bottom shelves of every last grocery, convenience, drug and fruit stand from Los Carneros to Rockpile.
Auribus teneo lupum, I was holding a wolf by the ears. I pulled myself together, mustered the courage to proclaim “My name is Loie and I am a cheap wine enthusiast, but I often drink wines over $20, sometimes over $40 and if you’re buying, over $80. The #MWWC15 theme will be…SUCCESS!”
Dramatics aside, I do have an addiction to finding great inexpensive wines and when I hit a winner, I write a post. After tasting so many baddies, the only thing that can prod me to write is the sweet success of finding a goodie. When inspired by a delicious wine under $10 – nothing will get between me and that keyboard (a bucket of bubbly perhaps, but only for a tipple.)
In parting, I want to leave you with the story of a meme that has renewed and congealed my philosophy of success.
I was having wine at one of my favorite wineries, Ramsgate. I was taking in the view, contemplating my flight of their latest releases of Pinot Noir, Late Harvest Zin and Chardonnay. With me were two incredibly successful people I have had the immense pleasure of knowing for several years. Both mentors of mine at different stages of my career.
Both starting exciting new ventures. Both incredibly happy in their personal lives. Both financially prosperous far beyond my bank statement. After I tamed my notions of extreme murderous envy, I felt elatedly grateful they both came to this special place to drink wine with me.
As we were closing our lovely afternoon, being on the heels of Lunar New Year and the Year of the Ram, Ramsgate was providing fortune cookies at the end of their wine service. Oddly, both my guests received the same fortune and I am remiss that I do not remember their auspicious tidings. What I can share is the fortune I received. I took a picture and posted it on my Twitter feed and found that it resonated with my cadre of wineauxs. I witnessed by the number of their likes how meaningful this simple sentence was. This was a profound reminder and validation to me of what truly defines success in life. And with you, I am always happy to share the good fortune.
NEWSFLASH! Here is the other fortune compliments of Ms. Jane Barratt:
I recently returned from an agave spirit hunt in Mexico. Long story short, I found some amazing Tequilas and Mezcals, perused the blue agave and cupreata fields of Jalisco and Michouacan, toured distilleries and spoke (gringo 7th grade Spanish) with master distillers about their craft.
The most fascinating experience was the barrel tasting we did in the cava of a Mezcaleria on the edge of the city of Morelia. There I tasted some Mezcals that had been aging in Barrels of new American Oak, new French Oak and repurposed American Kentucky Bourbon. The mezcallero had us try each one separately to experience the differences. The mezcal that had been aging for 1-2 years in the American Oak barrel was phenomenal. A deep golden liquor when held up to the light with a round smooth nuttiness and a “canela” cinnamon finish that was excellente! I was with a colleague who imports and distributes Gran Dovejo (which has been awarded some serious accolades in Tequila circles) and he expressed that this particular American Oak aged mezcal was something very special. All I can say, we are buying and bottling it. The mezcalerias in Michouacan do not have the DOC yet, so we await the Mexican bureaucracy with the vigor of an agave grow (let’s hope not – it takes 3-6 years before they can be harvested – ay yi yi!)
“In the past it used to be called vino de mezcal, or mezcal wine,” says Yira Vallejo, director of Mezcal From Oaxaca. “So if in wine you have grapes and you have different names like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, in mezcal, you have Madrecuixe, Tobalá, Espadín, Largo, Cirial, Tripón, Barril—150 names.”* If you want to learn more about “Tequila’s rustic cousin” as Rick Bayless describes mezcal, click here to read a well done, succinct explanation on epicurious.com.
On with the show…here is my review of a Mexican wine that I found thoroughly enjoyable…
La Redonda Vinedos Propios Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Querétaro, Mexico
Well, I’m not disavowing my wine blogging for agave spirits anytime soon. I was intent on finding a Mexican wine for under $10 USD or $140 pesos while perusing agave spirit brands in the bodega. Good news, not too difficult. But finding a wine in the appellation I was visiting was tricky. Jalisco is the Tequila capital, not really a wine growing and producing region. There are three main wine growing areas in Mexico, the central region (Querétaro), the La Laguna area (Coahuila) and the northern and most popular wine growing region (Baja California).** I am totally unfamiliar with Mexican wines, so when I finally found a generous selection of wines from Mexico (tequila selections have wine beat 4 to1) I chose a bottle by varietal. Based upon my experiences with Argentinian Malbecs and their success in similar arid topographies, I deducted that a Malbec/Cab blend from the central wine growing region of Querétaro should suffice.
La Redonda winery is located near Tequisquiapan, a “beautiful” village about 2 hours north of México City as described by Degrandcru on Snooth.com who wrote a great description of the area with pictures of La Redonda’s expanse vineyards and charming winery. These pictures are from the review provided by Degrancru and they epitomize the simple charm that I too experienced in small distilleries where very special spirits were produced and sold across the country.
My ignorance of Mexican wine and it’s potential did not give me much promise. Good news – this wine was very delicious. Light, fruit forward with berries, a little cinnamon spice, very balanced with a soft finish. It was not as chewy as some Malbecs can be and not as bold as most Cabs. The blend reminded me more of a Spanish Rioja that you would drink profusely with tapas. I found it to be highly drinkable and perfect for everyday. I rate it a buy again – so bring on the carnitas, huit la coche, escamoles, molcajete guacamole and some tortillas por favor!
This is a wine that is great at both starting a meal and a conversation. I suggest taking a chance on a Mexican wine, remember, the same padres who founded the industry in California started the North American wine making tradition in Spanish colonial Mexico. Although their industry is small by comparison, todays Mexican wine makers have a heritage rooted in centuries of experience. Let’s face it, their only obstacle was that Tequila stole the show. Buen provecho!
Valentine’s day, as we know it, has evolved into just another feat of extreme consumerism. So what is my point? Well, it wasn’t always the holiday of paper hearts and cupids. Valentine’s Day has a storied past dating to Ancient Rome and the Lupercalia which was an archaic rite connected to fertility. As the years passed, Christians, persecuted and martyred, became the subject of liturgical celebration, thus several St. Valentinus were anointed through the ages.
The association to romantic love can be attributed to Chaucer in the 13c. Incoherent by today’s educational standards, his Middle English poetic prose spun tales of courtly love that laid the foundation for our modern day customs. But popularity was a slow, slow build, like my Twitter following, until 500 years later (like my Twitter following) in 18th-century England, St. Valentine’s Day became an occasion. Expressions of love through flowers, confectionery and greeting cards have become de rigueur, but it was all the rage for the Victorians and their gift to us of cherubs, lacy hearts and rosy cheeked doyennes fawning over mustachioed gentleman while a dove lightly drapes a ribbon over a doily is still recognizable today.
Roman martyrology aside, today, St. Valentine’s Day is officially deemed a feast day in the Anglican Communion,as well as in the Lutheran Church. The Feast of Saint Valentine took on a new meaning for me recently. I learned of a colleague who famously arranged “pink” dinners with his family every Valentine’s Day for the past 8 years. The requirement was for everyone to wear, eat and drink pink. I was intrigued. I asked what he and his lovely wife and adoring son drank with their pink dinner….he was remiss. I gasped. “sir, there are a myriad of excellent sparking wines, Champagnes, rosés and fancy cocktails (including Shirley Temples for the bebe) that you must consider in this year’s menu. Hence my recommendation….
I passed Anna several times always intending to try, but never the opportunity. Well, how could I resist a brut rosé on Valentine’s Day? This wine is made by one of Spains oldest wineries. Anna de Codorniu has been continuously producing wines for half a millennium. Founded in 1551 by a family of winegrowers headed by Jaume Codorníu, this one of the oldest brands in continuous operation in the world. Codorníu was started in the same century as Beretta firearms, Cambridge University Press, Toshimaya Sake and Löwenbräu. In 1976, the Codorníu cellars at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia were declared “a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest” by King Juan Carlos I. Fancy! Fancy! Made with the varietals Pinot Noir 70% and Chardonnay 30% (not the typical blend of macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo) in the Methode Champenoise, this wine has the traits of a quality sparkling wine you would get for 2-3x the price. The nose was faint but the bubbles very active and effervescent. I noticed the mousse immediately with the pour. The color was intriguing as it had a varying depth luminescent strawberry color depending on the angle of the coupé. My first sip was expectedly crisp, yeasty, refreshing with young strawberry, apple, honey, sweet corn (a summer pairing with corn on the cob – yum) and an even acidity that led to a long citrus finish. This is a lovely wine that has nuanced delicacies that far out perform its price….and I am very OK with that. Moreover, I love this packaging. The signature print on the foil, the pink wrap on the bottle. This wine has the class of Möet and modernity of Sofia but priced much less. Paired with an entirely pink meal of beet dyed devil eggs, poached salmon and frothy buttery mashed beets and potatoes, this will also go perfectly well with a dessert of passion fruit pane cotta or strawberry sherbet. No matter the culinary extravagance, your “corazon” will be impressed by your selection of wine. I give it a buy again con gusto!
This is my entry into the Monthy Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC14.) This month’s theme, chosen by last month’s winner, Bill of Duff’s Wines is “tradition.” I could have written more than anyone would care to read, and probably have. However, I was so inspired by this theme and the story I chose to share, I hope you bear with me and my lengthy tome. If you want to cut to the chase, the wine reviews are at the bottom, but you’ll be missing out on all the insanely interesting content in between. Just sayin.
Tradition can be ceremonial, a societal rite, a commitment between friends, a practice between professionals. Tradition can be a declaration of allegiance that marks a time and place with displays of national or cultural heritage. What is the common thread? It is ritual, it unites and establishes an identity and depending how strong the tradition, it can survive passages of time spanning centuries.
One can hardly argue that historically the strongest traditions are forged through family. The great wine dynasties of the world are the perfect illustration of tradition and how powerful it can be. It is no mistake that the most recognized names in the wine world are Gallo, Sebastiani, Mondavi. These family brands were started generations ago by their eponymous scions and to this day are still owned and operated by their progeny*. The California wine industry owes much of what it is today from the generational vision and wisdom passed through heirs who are as passionate about continuous improvement of the craft as they are their family heritage.
The growth of the wine business swelled in the 90’s and early 2000’s and a new generation of vintners who had the technology, education and drive to take the family business into the realm of multimillion dollar mega brands emerged. Most of California’s 2,000 wineries are owned by families. They are a major economic engine in the state and have an economic impact of $45.4 billion on California’s economy.** Of the top 10 wine businesses in the US, four are still family owned and operated and collectively produce over 100 million cases of wine annually.***this is Falcon Crest on steroids, and I’m not referring to Lorenzo Lamas.
In early October, I received an inquiry from a representative of the Scotto Family Cellars. Bradley Gray is a local Sonoman who does PR for the wine industry and stalks elusive wine bloggers (it’s a small town, I’m trying to remain semi anonymous as cheap wine is not a popular subject in polite society around here and inevitably I’m going to insult the wrong person and be forced to hide out in Napa – egads.) He noted that I had ranked the Scotto Family brands, Rare Red Grape 4 Blend, $7.99 and O.V.O.C. 2012 Regio Zinfandel $8.99, as a#1 and #6 respectively on my 2014 top 10 under $10.
He proposed I meet the Scottos, 5th generation wine makers, and taste some of their other wines. Not one to turn down a party in my honor, I accepted the invitation and proceeded to work with Brad on a date and a guest list. I had never met the Scottos prior to tasting and loving their wines. I was very excited to meet these innovators of premium value wines. How do they do it? Making good wine for less than $10 is a daring and magnificent feat and I suspect, much more difficult to achieve than painstakingly creating finely crafted small lot vintages. I’m over simplifying it, but that is where my thoughts wandered.
We decided to meet at the Depot Hotel in Sonoma. Built in 1870, the Depot Hotel was originally the local hotel for passengers passing through from San Francisco. Since 1922 it has functioned as a restaurant and the environment is charming and the food delicious.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Bradley and an enthusiastic Anthony Dominic Scotto III, CEO of Scotto Family Cellars, and his younger brother Paul, the winemaker. My first impression: these brothers are rather youthful to be running a very large and rapidly growing family business. My second: they are justifiably proud and grounded in their family history. My final impression: these guys are über talented! Let’s start tasting.
After the typical Californian perfunctory chat about traffic, road conditions, variations on freeway choices and the severity of our mild weather, Anthony started to tell the family story.
Anthony and Paul’s great grandfather Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy, an island on the Gulf of Naples, in 1883. In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY. near the docks where Dominic had worked as a ship’s caulker. His sons, Leo, Anthony, Sal and Frank were taught how to make wine in 5 gallon crocks which were sold from horse drawn wagons. Dominic opened a wine store in 1909 but had to shut it down during Prohibition. After the 13 year ban, the sons reopened the store in 1934 at 318 Court St., where it has been located and operating for the past 80+ years. (Read a lovely article about the 80 year anniversary in the New York Daily News by clicking here.)
Scotto Liquors is one of the oldest liquor stores still in operation in the state of New York. The Scotto family sold the store in 1989, but the current owner, James Benedetto, still honors the family heritage and has kept with tradition by offering hundreds of wines, imported from around the world, ranging in price from $6.99 to several thousand dollars for a highly sought wine like Romanee-Conti wine from Burgundy.
Anthony Sr. (aka A1) and his brother Sal create Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands and in 1963 they decide to move West to California and buy a facility in Pleasanton that is named Villa Armando. This becomes the home to their rapidly growing wine business and the mass production of wine that paved the way for Anthony Jr. (aka A2) and subsequently Anthony the Third (aka A3) to build a family business with overall capacity of more than 300,000 cases annually and over 40 brands of wine today. In 2004, A3 opened Scotto Cellars and since 2009 the business has experienced double digit growth year over year becoming the 35th largest winery in California. They operate properties in Napa, Amador and Lodi with Paul (a U.C. Davis Viticulture & Enology graduate who worked for one of the Russian River’s premiere Pinot Noir producers) overseeing winemaking. Soon the remaining siblings came into the business (and complimentary businesses as their sister Natalie operates her own distribution company) and thus the new generation of Scottos is shaping the future of the wine industry. The work they are doing today ushers in a new era of “premium value wines” which is enabled through advancements in agricultural/production technology, an uninhibited new generation of wine drinkers and the industry’s synchronicity with social media. The Scottos are barely in their 30’s and they get it.
Sunday night dinners at their grandfather’s winery home was where the grand kids heard stories about their family history and their grandfather made sure they understood that the best wines are those enjoyed with family and food. A3 honored his grandfathers wishes when he ensured we ordered food to compliment the wine. (Ok they bought me a pizza and gave me a few bottles – full transparency here.) We then proceeded to taste the following wines. Some are my tried and true value wines, some are a bit splurgy, all are very well done and I do have my favorites.
Notes: Nose tropical fruit, pineapple. First sip bright, crisp with a long finish that belied some fruit but overall dry. A pleasant, unassuming white blend that is easy drinking but well rounded, good body and balanced acid. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Rare Blend wines by the Scottos.
2012 Regio Dry Rosé, El Dorado County, CA $11.99 — CASEWORTHY!
I LOVE this Rosé. It was a damp, cold, overcast day when I tasted this wine. It instantly reminded me of summer. The bouquet won me over, fragrant, big florals and ripe fruit. The first sip was honeysuckle and fresh berries with a crisp dry finish. Dreamy. For the price, beautifully done.
2012 Steel Canyon Chardonnay, Napa, CA $15.00
This was a perplexing Chardonnay but had merit for the body and richness one would expect from a Napa Chard. Aged in New French Oak it had high acid and a velvet vanilla finish. All the right notes one would expect. To be fair, I think what threw me off is my preference for un-oaked Chardonnay of which I have become accustomed, resulting in oaked Chardonnay no longer suiting my palate (I suspect it never did to being with.)
This is Paul Scotto’s winery owned and operated independently of the larger enterprise. No doubt he is a highly skilled winemaker but these vintages reflect the inherited talent. I don’t believe this wine is widely available but if you can buy it direct you will have lengthy conversations over the complexities with your wino buddies. After letting it open up, I noticed the gorgeous deep red purple color. Nose was dried cherry with baking spices which mirrored the first sip which had great mouthfeel and and acid finish that became more earthty and complex especially once you caught the light tannic menthol in the finish. Very interesting and surprisingly, the complexity holds up well with wood fired pizza. This wine is also aged in American and French Oak so you get what I’m saying about keeping your mind busy with this find.
At first, the concept of this wine was off putting. It was like a Syrah in disguise. This is not a Pinot that comes from a colder Sonoma coast climate or the Carneros region that cools in the evening with the wetland fog. This is an unapologetic inland valley Napa Pinot Noir grape and it requires a different mindset. Some may say why bother, but once I got my head around this wine, I could appreciate the expression of the Pinot Noir grape through the heat of the valley. This wine is best described as a Napa style Pinot Noir. I think defying the traditional coastal, cool climate styles is surprising and innovative. I don’t know what possessed the brothers to create this wine, but I really liked it, once I reframed my perspective and appreciated the creativity.
The grand finale of our tasting epitomizes tradition in a bottle. This Napa Valley Meritage is the first the family has ever released and both honors the past 50 years of their history in California, as well as signifies the beginning of the next 50 years. This was a very memorable wine and a special privilege to taste it with the brothers. I won’t get carried away with notes, I simply and wholeheartedly enjoyed the richness of the fruit, the balance, and the nuanced flavors of this beautiful vintage. (He may have said it better; Benito’s Wine Reviews about 50 Harvests – click here to see it for yourself) The Scottos are members of the Meritage Association and have created this Bordeaux style of wine with each varietal (60% Cab, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec) fermenting and aging separately prior to blending and bottling. Although ready to enjoy now, I noticed immediately upon the first sip, this wine had great aging potential of 3-5 years. The perfect gift for those you know who appreciate wine and those you know who geek out on wine. But the best thing about this exceptional wine and generous tasting is knowing that the impressive family who made this commemorative vintage are also creating fabulous “premium value” wines we can buy anytime at the supermarket. Somehow that makes everything taste even better.
* 2004 Constellation Brands acquired the Mondavi winery in a controversial takeover for nearly US$1.36 billion. Robert Mondavi’s younger brother Peter still runs the Charles Krug winery their father bought in 1943. Following the sale of the company, Mondavi partnered with his youngest son Tim Mondavi and daughter Marcia Mondavi to make a single wine from a single estate which formed the family partnership Continuum Estate which is still run by Robert’s son Tim, daughter Marcia and grandchildren.