TOP 10 WINES UNDER $10 for MEMORIAL DAY

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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…

1. Espiral Vinho Verde, Portugal $4.49

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“>Trader Joes

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.

2. Cline Syrah 2013, Sonoma County, CA $9.99

ClineCellars

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.

3. Fetzer Gewürztraminer 2013, CA  $7-$9

Total Wine

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.

4. Mark West Pinot Noir, CA $8.99

BevMo

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

Wine Searcher

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

Wholefoods

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.

7. Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc, CA $8.99

Ultimate Wine Shop

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.

8. Dibon Cava, Catalonia, Spain $7.99

Winesearcher.com

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.

9. Rare Rosé NV, CA $5.99

Sonoma Market 

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.

10. Line 39 Pinot Grigio, CA $9.99

wine.com

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!

Stay curious,

LOIE

A Cava, Lambrusco, Champagne & A Sparkling Wine To Ring In 2015

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A vintage French postcard depicting Baby New Year disgorging a bottle of Champagne with his gums – obviously his mère forgot the saber.

I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Champagne, France this year and witnessing the Champagne growing, making and marketing practices first hand. I admire the history, heritage and innovation of Champagne as well as the vigilance the French have instituted to protect the appellation. Champagne is my passion and I adore it like no other libation (a masterful rye Manhattan with Luxardo Maraschino cherry comes in a respectable second place.) Alas alack, my Champagne taste have led me to a sparkling wine budget. I can only run from the law and my debtors for so long; I’m tired and thirsty. In an effort to reform my ways, I have compiled this list of stunning sparklers that won’t lead you astray in the coming year. Of course, if you happen to succumb to a bottle of Cristal or a vintage Pol Roger rosé, there is no reason to despair, unless your credit card is rejected at the register.

Shall we….

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Dibon Cava Brut Reserve, Penesdes, Spain $7-$12

Rating: Caseworthy – the best Cava I have ever tasted.

Why Buy: For the value, this is a delightful wine and expresses itself as well if not better than wine twice the money. Guests love this wine and comment on it’s lovely fruit essence and crisp, clean dry finish. This traditional blend of Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo varietals comes from the region of Penedès, and the cellars are located in Vilafranca del Penedes about 20 Km from Sant Sadurni the capital of the region. Run by three generations of wine makers, the vineyard is in the process of becoming 100% Organic and consists of 75 hectares of trellised vines 1000 feet above the Mediterranean Sea.

Notes: This wine is very effervescent with a lovely nose of apple and grapefruit. The first sip reflects the nose accordingly with fruit, citrus and a pleasant pastry yeast. The reason this wine is so special is the dry, clean finish that is surprisingly light, no bitter aftertaste like other Cavas and for this low, low, low price point, this wine is an amazing find!

Where To Buy: Total Wine, Oliver’s MarketK&L Wine Merchants and many other locations nationwide.

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Cantina Cleto Chiarli Rose Brut NV, Italy $16-$18

Rating: Guestworthy – the perfect apertivo!

Why Buy: Founded in 1860, by Cleto Chiarli, it is the oldest wine company in the Modena region in Emilia-Romagna. The great grandson, Anselmo, represents the fourth generation of wine makers who continue to produce this delicate style of Lambrusco sparkling wine in a region best known for balsamic vinegar. The wine is composed of 85% Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro 15% Pinot Nero. If you come across a bottle I hope you enjoy it as much as I did with my father. We popped the bottle on Christmas day and sipped it from mom’s fine crystal.

Notes: Nose was floral, strawberry, bubbles lively, very effervescent and the first sip had a delightful fruity, yeast commencing with a dry finish that lingered nicely with a toasted almond essence.

Where To Buy: Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in SF and hopefully everywhere else, but if not, plead your merchant to stock it maintenant!

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Nino Franco Prosecco Brut, Valdobbiadene, Italy $9-$15

Rating: Caseworthy – in case of emergency pop cork!

Why Buy: I would have this wine on hand for any occasion, big, small or disastrous. It comforted me through a wicked storm and if forced to remain indoors due to inclement weather, a case of this will entertain you for hours. Easy to drink, soft and accommodating to all kinds of guests and foods. Antonio Franco founded the “Cantine Franco” winery in Valdobbiadene in 1919. Valdobbiadene is located at the foot of the Prealps, in the Venetian region, and is famous for Prosecco. This winery is one of the oldest in Valdobbiadene, located in the town centre, not far from the vineyards. Antonio Franco founded it, Nino Franco expanded it and Primo Franco optimized the process throughout the years. Primo took the reigns in 1982 which was the turning point for the Nino Franco brand as he successfully began to export the wines throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Notes: The nose was very light if almost non existent, but the first sip was incredibly pleasing. Classic stone fruit, peach, some pear with a light floral aroma. This dry Prosecco finished very clean and although it was very soft, not very complex, there was enough body to keep it interesting.

Where To Buy: Total Wine, Oliver’s Market and many other locations nationwide.

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Veuve de Vernay, Brut Rose, France $4-$12

Rating: Buy Again – great presentation and perfect served very chilled.

Why Buy: This French sparkling wine from the Loire Valley is a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah. This brand was created by Mr.Jean Eugène Charmat, the French scientist, who in 1907 invented the cuve close (“sealed vats”) method of producing fine sparkling wine which has since been adopted worldwide. Most sparkling wines are produced in one of two ways: Method Traditionelle wherein secondary fermentation happens in bottle, or vat fermentation which is eponymously named the Charmat method.

Notes: Color is a gorgeous salmon pink. The nose was fruity, candy apple. First sip I tasted strawberries, florals and it had a nice balanced acid and flavorful intensity. Even though it was fruit forward, it was not sweet and the finish was long and dry. Mousse was moderate but still rich. As the wine warmed, the flavors nicely became more intense but I also noticed a nutty bitterness that leaves me to recommend serving this very chilled to experience this wine at its best.

Where To Buy: Find a bottle near you on WineSearcher.com

CharlesDeMarques

Charles De Marques Brut, Champagne, FR $19.99

Rating: Buy Again, and again, and again, and again…

Why Buy: This is quite possibly the least expensive good Champagne available in the US. It’s a brut that is light dry and very smooth. It is a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. I love this wine because it epitomizes the French methode traditionelle beautifully at the right price and with a delight that makes any occasion special. It holds up to Champagnes two or three times the price and sometimes there are no substitutes for the real thing.

Notes: The classic French Champagne profile is reflected in the nose of fruit, florals and brioche. The fist sip is crisp with notes of apricot, stone fruits and a good balance of acid and yeast. The wine finishes dry with a delicate nuttiness and minerality evident of a pleasant level of cave aged yeast.

Where To Buy: Trader Joe’s

Happy New Years to all of you – here’s to more great wine finds in 2015!

Stay curious,

loie

TOP 10 UNDER $10 : #Wine Suggestions For Thanksgiving!

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Golly! Is it really Thanksgiving time already? I just got out of recovery from Halloweek and without missing a beat, we are off planning the big Turkey trot. I have never hosted more than a Taco Tuesday but have logged many hours assisting a hapless host on this most notorious of American holidays. Hosting is a performing art typically reserved for the patriarch &/or matriarch of the family. When not in the homeland, the stage is kindly set by a friend who has a few extra seats at their folding table and a tolerant extended family too enthralled with football to succumb to social awkwardness. Ahhhh, the memories. And when the police have left to have dinner with their own families, and the dishes are dried, the pie put away and bail has been posted for that gregarious uncle who got a little carried away, we tuck ourselves in for the night and give thanks for the wine that got us through it.

This holiday you will be tasked with making wine selections for an array of occasions. Hostess gift, friendly gathering, family affairs, work events and after parties of one. Sure, sure, sure. Who wants to look gauche by bringing cheap wine to a party – the horror! Then again, who realistically can serve unlimited bottles of fine vintages for hundreds of guests other than your wealthy relatives – actually, they won’t be either.

Cheap is chic! Living well doesn’t mean living expensively. Sharing those special splurgy vintages with winos who can appreciate it is much different than ensuring your Great Aunt Helen enjoys that glass of quaffable red that puts some color in her cheeks. And if the hostess is a snob, then rise to the occasion and bring a respectable wine, but I don’t know a wino who doesn’t appreciate a good tip and a smart deal every now and then. Hey, every bottle does not find a place in the cellar, they often end up at the next party or in the fridge….yes even the reds!

After 6 months of mining the bottom two shelves for the most delightful of deals, I present my 2014 top 10 wines under $10 USD. I urge you to let me know if I’m full of giblets. If you violently disagree with any of these selections, please pipe up. I am not perfect and sometimes I’m swept away by the “conviviality” of the tasting. My first and foremost objective is to provide good guidance. Mistakes happen and when they do, better it be a value wine than a $78 bottle-o-fancy like the one I bought a few months ago. Oh, boy, was that a party.

Drum roll please:

My fave! These guys sell a tonnage of this wine in Texas at HEB – the number one red wine sold currently. I love this wine because, every time I decant it, the flavor changes and is so smooth, enjoyable and guest love it. They ALWAYS comment on how good the wine is – this is red wine crack for guests. It is on the fruit forward side for those winos with a rarefied palate, but let me tell you, me likey and can’t image a dish (other than fish) that this would not complement. I would even venture to serve this with a rich chocolate dessert – outstanding!

I’m finding that this brand hits it outta the park with its other varietals as well, so I’m gonna give them props for getting it right and making a red jammy whammy that pairs well with turkey smothered in rich gravy with a italian sausage stuffing. I think this would be great with lamb and any gamey flavorful meats. Prime rib would be a match made in heaven.

I have bought this wine now 3x and enjoyed it more than I should.Crisp, not grassy like other NZ Sauvs and very citrusy acid without a trace of a sour aftertaste – eeeew – hate that. Pairs well with a turkey left over sandwich on sourdough, aioli, pepper, butter lettuce, tomato and let’s throw in a piece o’bacon for good measure.

Oh, so delicate, delightful, it takes me to Provence. Not much more to say. Perfect for those guest ambivalent about white or red and want something light to complement their meal, not take over the show. The lightly roasted brussels sprouts will love this co-star as well as the harcourt verts and cauliflower au gratin.

A little spice makes this light and lovely Pinot a friendly accompaniment to yams, sweet potatoes and fluffy dressings. Baking spices will linger with each sip after every bite.

The bold richness of this wine will definitely pair nicely with the heartier foods on the table. Cheesy potatoes au gratin, crusty olive loaf bread and onion tartes. Turkey lovers will enjoy the mingling flavors when this is paired with buttery mashed potatoes and rich brown turkey gravy.

I think this Merlot is a great starter wine to get the appetite going. Serve this with hors d’oeuvres, olives, bold cheeses, charcuterie and mon rêve: a creamy, dreamy Emmental and Gruyère fondue – ahhhh go big or go home.

For those guests who want white wine, this is a crisp but hearty white that helps keep the palate cleansed between bites and finishes nicely with roasted potatoes and veggies drizzled with butter, spices and a little balsamic. Perfect match for asparagus and hollandaise.

A shockingly good Cab whose price per bottle is less than a latte. Easy drinking once it breathes for an hour and lovely paired with a bite of turkey and cranberry sauce. The fruit and the tannic spice will enhance the succulent flavors and spices of your Thanksgiving dinner.

A lighter red that will pleasantly build on the flavors of rich gravy, buttery potatoes and savory dressing. This wine will cut the richness and finish strong without an overwhelming boldness.

Most of these wines are widely available at Safeway, Von’s, TraderJoe’s, WholeFoods and various national grocery chains. If you must search further, I suggest going to WineSearcher.com which is a great resource for finding wines in your hood.
Stay curious!
loie

This Red Will Make You Mencia For Under $11!

2010 Estefania Tilenus Roble $10.98 + FREE SHIPPING! Whoa.

Now Available at WineLibrary.com but won’t last long….

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Ok – I cheated on this post…teeheehee. I have not tried this wine, but before you get on my case, I got your back – here is the intel so take a swig and calm the “flavor” down! Thank you.

Hear me out. Saturday night I decided to procrastinate about finishing an important presentation for really important people for a Monday deadline. So what did I decide to do unproductively with my time? Peruse Twitter for people to chat-up and indirectly harass. You know my intentions are always Pollyanna-ish, but my enthusiasm can unintentionally insult, frighten or irritate. So I pissed off a retired Post Master General by agreeing with her – uh – yeah (I think it was my not so funny joke about Gwyneth Paltrow and Ted Nugent.) I then had to tweet to the defense of one of my FAVORITE followers @SottileStephen who was bizarrely ensnared in this conversation with the former Post Master – ugliness and then a vulgarity ensued and all of a sudden POW! This post popped up….Gotta go y’all – cheap wine awaits!

When GV says SICK – all caps with a $ afterwards, we got to get it going on people! Who can resist the powers of a GV recommendation with a price less than a cocktail at my local fancy restaurant? Only the crazies.

If any of you have tried this wine – please, please, please let me know. To sweeten the deal and make it EVEN SICKER IN THE HEAD – free shipping from WineLibrary.com to boot! I have no idea for how long but get your crazy-arse online and buy this wine before you drive yourself nuts because you missed the deal.

Here are the truncated notes for your reading pleasure. FYI: it got a 90 from that wild man lunatic “The BobbyP.”—“flavor”yeah!

Score: 90 points from Luis Gutierrez – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Varietal:
Mencia from Spain – a Roman era clone that is identical to Jaen do Dão (or “Jaen” for short) from Portugal. Shares a similar profile to Cabernet Franc – light, with soft tannic flavors and aromas. I suspect it is structured enough to pair well with savory meats such as pork, fowl, some game. Not bold enough for a heavy steak but a beef carpaccio would be an excellent pairing. It’s Spanish so a tapas of jamon y olive tapenade – muy sabroso! But I am only fantasizing – let me know if you get the real deal on your palate.

The Critic’s Tasting Notes:
“The 2010 Envejecido en Roble is aged in both French and American barrels for 8-10 months and spends one year in bottle before being sold. Sometimes these shorter times in barrel result in a less-than-perfect integration of wine and wood, and I must confess I am a little bit biased against this category of wines. Fortunately it is not the case here and the violet notes are perfectly integrated with the cinnamon and vanilla tones from the barrique. The palate is compact, light to medium-bodied, with great length and a spicy, velvety finish. This again represents good value for the category. Drink 2014-2019. ” (08/13)

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Interesting Regional Fact:
The winery is located in a restored old dairy in the village of Dehesas in Ponferrada. The remodeled building integrated the stone, slate and wood of the region to align with the Bierzo architectural vernacular and gives the winemaker the purest environment for the creation of this wine.

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Made By:
Carlos Garcia  is the “bodeguero” or winemaker and the technical director of the winery is Raúl Pérez. They work in a quiet uninterrupted facility that allows them to focus on the beauty and character of the wine as it evolves. Hence it’s proclaimed gorgeousness. Bravo mi amigos por vino están muy interesante y nada mas dinero.¿Verdad? ¡Lo quiero!

Now back to finishing that presentation – but only after one more tweet….

Stay curious!

loie

Eureka! I think we struck gold…A Primativo for $3.99

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Apologies of the unappetizing drip – a result of passing the tipple – I promise prettier vines next time.

2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, from old growth Zinfandel $3.99

Trader Joe’s

Wowza! Just when everyone was losing faith in my crusade to uncover the best wines under $10 – Eureka! I think we struck gold.

My checkered past…

Let’s go in the way-back-machine to about 30 days ago….I was hitting rock bottom, I could not respectably review the wines I was tasting, those bottles will remain nameless but for all intents and purposes, let’s refer to those wines as shite.

A prior post recounted the events that led to the Tepranillo-Gate scandal. I was nearly impeached from cheap wine forever and I believe there were dark forces at work against me. There was a conspiracy behind that unfortunate event, alas alack, there is no point troweling through the past when the future is before us. In this instance, a cheap and cheerful Primativo.

Primitivo or Zinfandel: are they cousins, siblings, identical twins?

Primitivo is a descendant of the rare Croatian varietal Crljenak (pronounce that!) There is plenty of discussion about the differences and similarities of Primitivo and Zinfandel. The latter is often defined as the exact replica of the Crlienak while Primitivo is defined as being a clone. The difference? I’ll have to get into that in another post but you can do a deeper dive here. Read the debates online and decide for yourself, but when planted next to each other the variance is noticeable in size, bunch density and color. What’s the big deal? About $10-$20 in price. Primitivo is sold typically at a value between $10-$15 while Zins can be twice as much. Unlike Europe, U.S. labeling laws don’t allow the names of the two varietals to be used interchangeably. Hmmmm. Market forces at work.

Well I notice a difference and maybe it’s wine stye, but the Puglian Primitivos, although intense in flavor, seem lighter in body, more refreshing (a touch chilled with a wedge of juicy orange – Mwah!) with a pleasant Italian bitterness in the finish that lends itself to the grape’s unique complexity. Zinfandels are jammier, fruit forward and I find them heartier, more body, tastes like California sunshine with a coastal breeze to me. This variance could be due to the propensity for Primitivos to ripen earlier (hence the name which means “early one”) which produces a younger tasting wine high in alcohol and tannins, which can mellow with age.

Without further adieu, I proudly present my latest discovery of undeniable significance…ecco qui:

2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia Italy $3.99

This wine was rather delightful. Color in the glass is rich garnet like pomegranate juice. Nose is dark cherry, some light spice. First sip, mmmmmm, juicy rhubarb, rose petal, very smooth, rich, strong yet balanced tannins and a finish that departs as soon as you want another sip. Very enjoyable and also flexible for various food pairings. Will go great with stronger flavors like BBQ, venison and will complement richer fattier delights like foie gras or a densely marbled Kobe. If you were pairing wines for 4 courses, this would be best served with the main course. I actually believe this is caseworthy as it will only get better with time. Dude! Do the math, only $48.00 a case? That’s the price of ONE splurgy bottle of Zin…OMG! No me digas! Sacré bleu! Exclamation exclamation.

Stay curious,

loie

 

The Hungarian Aristocrat & The Mexican General: Wine+Friendship in The Bear Republic

Upon my second foray in this friendly competition, I have experienced a wine blogger community that is a knowledgeable and encouraging group of bon vivants. I have been fortunate to personally engage with several influential and talented wine writers and I am grateful for the acquaintance. I see the camaraderie and overall good will amongst these colleagues and I hope one day to be friends with all of them. Kudos to @Dracaenawines for last month’s well earned win and for providing a great theme for this month’s challenge – a theme that describes a virtue they have afforded me – friendship!

Nothing is more heartfelt than a friendship that endures through the highs and lows of life. May sound trite, but it is truly when you know who is really a friend. Prior to this challenge, I became intrigued by a historic friendship that embodies this principle. This is a friendship of legend that is rooted in rebellion, revelry, wine and phylloxera.

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I came across this story (the research was inspired by @Fiery01Red review of Wolfersheim’s Wisconsin wine) while thumbing through a tourist guide on the history of Sonoma, CA at a local bookstore – remember those places? During my perusal, I learned more about the friendship between General Mariano Vallejo, one of the founding fathers of California and Count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California Viticulture (many scholars have challenged this claim but let’s go with the romance of the Haraszthy legend.) Although not much is written about this friendship other than the eventual melding of the families, I can only imagine as neighbors, land owners, pioneers, and winemakers these two men shared many interests in business, leisure and grooming.

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Both men where charismatic, courageous, and enterprising. If I had to contrast the noble Gen. Vallejo and the flamboyant Count Haraszthy you could characterize the General as a leader in every sense of the word and the Count as a visionary dreamer. Although both were powerful brilliant men, the contrast in their personas was stark. In a modern context you could compare them to the famous duos Ethel and Lucy, Mick and Keith, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Miles & Jack and so on…I have yet to find the perfect example, but you get my point. One pragmatic, the other audacious, both equally irrepressible.

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Gen. Vallejo was born and raised in California. The son of a Mexican army sergeant assigned to the presidio in Monterey, Vallejo was destined to follow his father’s military career. After completing an education provided by an English merchant who tutored and employed him, Vallejo was well educated and immediately recognized as a born leader. He rose through the ranks quickly becoming the Commandant General of Mexican California by the age of 29. Vallejo and his brother Salvador, an accomplished field officer, served together successfully in several campaigns against the indian tribes of Alta California. Mariano was a skillful military strategist and although he fought against the indians he was also able to engender trust with tribal leaders. His ability to build alliances with the indians proved successful in the constant fight against other waring tribes, illegal immigrants from the US and Russian colonists. Together they secured the territory for Mexico and were generously rewarded by the Mexican government. Thousands of acres in Sonoma and Napa were given to the brothers to farm and ranch.

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Vallejo’s Estate Lachryma Montis – “mountain tear” in Latin – is at the base of a hillside near an abundant stream. It still stands today as a CA state park.

Estrangement from the Federal Government of Mexico and the growing presence of US interests with the gold rush, Vallejo recognized the benefits of alignment with the United States. Vallejo used his political graces to persuade other wealthy Californios, ranchers, farmers and land holders of Mexican nationality, to support the US annexation. In June 1846, a month after the start of the Mexican-American war, US settlers in Sonoma concerned about the threat of deportation, captured General Vallejo in what is known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Vallejo was by this time sympathetic to the cause. He was a successful rancher and land owner, selling hundreds of acres to the very people who were in revolt. When the posse knocked on the door of the General’s Casa Grande, he invited the leaders in to discuss the confrontation. As hours passed, the circling crowd became concerned, only to find that Vallejo had opened his wine cellar to the rebels to help facilitate “negotiations.” Sadly, Vallejo was imprisoned but not for long as the US forces acknowledged his allegiance to the US and his role in a successful resolution to the Mexican-American war.

In addition to his other holdings, Vallejo had a vineyard that produced enough wine and grapes to amount to an annual income of $20,000. Many of his grapes were from the root stock of the padres who founded the missions in California wherein they planted “mission” grapes to make wine for their sacrament.  These same vines provided the first cuttings to start the Napa vineyards of George Yount, who Vallejo employed as a carpenter.

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In 1840, Angoston Haraszthy [AG-goo-stawn HAH-rahs-th’ee] came to the United States and was the first person of Hungarian descent to settle in the US. A flamboyant character who came from European nobility, references to him would vacillate between Count or Colonel Haraszthy. I suspect his title was a matter of convenience – when out East, an air of European aristocracy was to his benefit but when out West, the pioneers took more kindly to someone of military rank vs. class ascension. Regardless, America was the land of opportunity and this fueled the Count/Colonel’s enterprising ambitions. His accomplishments were quite industrious. Upon coming to the new world, he first landed in Wisconsin where he planted a vineyard that is still in existence today called Wollersheim Winery. He also owned and operated a passenger steam boat that traversed the Mississippi.

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Health issues and word of the gold rush drove Haraszthy and his family to leave Wisconsin and set out for California. Most Western pioneers dreamt of gold, Haraszthy dreamt of establishing a vineyard and benefitting from the surrounding economic boom. He and his family settled in San Diego where he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, a stagecoach line, opened a butcher shop, organized a syndicate to subdivide a large section of the San Diego Bay shore into streets, parks, and building lots, imported grape vines by mail, planted a vineyard, was elected sheriff, served as city marshal and as a private contractor, he built a jail for the city of San Diego, which was completed in 1851 – but not with out controversy over the jail’s effectiveness to contain its inmates (for a juicy tid-bit click here.)

Upon being elected to the California State Assembly as a representative of San Diego, Haraszthy was drawn to the San Francisco Bay Area. He purchased land and tried to plant grapes on the peninsula, but it was too foggy and the crops were unsuccessful. While representing San Diego in the state legislature in 1852, he met General Vallejo who was a state senator. Vallejo invited Haraszthy to visit him in Sonoma and with that, the legendary friendship began. In 1856 Haraszthy purchased property from Vallejo’s brother Salvador in Sonoma and named the land Buena Vista (The Buena Vista Winery and the Bartholomew Park Winery have beautifully preserved this land and continued to produce fine wines.) Upon arrival to Sonoma, Agoston and General Vallejo soon became very good friends. They were both brilliant, accomplished men passionate about family and wine. They had a friendly competition and both won awards for their wines in the agricultural fairs of the time.

Not only did these two men get on famously, so did their children. On June 1st in 1863, Attilla Haraszthy, 28, and Natalia Vallejo, 25, as well as Arpad Haraszthy, 23 and Jovita Vallejo, 19 were married in a double wedding. (Buena Vista Winery recreated the event upon the 150th wedding anniversary and @CulinaryGadbout was an attendee. Click here to read her account of it)

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Haraszthy, always enterprising, soon became acquainted with a group of Hungarian metallurgist lured by the gold rush. Together they started the Eureka Gold and Silver Refinery. He was soon the first California assayer for a branch of the US Mint in San Francisco. All was going well until $150,000 of gold went missing and between 1857 and 1861 Haraszthy battled a criminal and civil case that he was ultimately exonerated of all charges as they were able to prove that shrinkage occurs during the refining process – the missing gold had gone up in smoke.

I’m certain Haraszthy sought peace in the vineyards from the issues that plagued him. I can imagine that the kindly and wise Vallejo was a good friend, confidant and drinking buddy. Throughout this ordeal, Haraszthy was able to start the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society and focus on building a stone winery with cave cellars like the ones he knew well in Europe. Built mostly by Chinese laborers, the cave cellars were carved into the hillside and the surrounding buildings built with the stones that were quarried. (Sadly the Chinese didn’t stick around to contribute to the Asian cuisine of the immediate area.) He hired Charles Krug to be his winemaker and voila, the start of the California wine industry! The facility he built can still be visited today at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. At the time, it was proclaimed to be the largest commercial winery in the US.

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In 1858 Haraszthy wrote the “Report on Grapes and Wine of California,”  which is considered the first treatise on traditional European winemaking practices in the United States. In 1861 Haraszthy was appointed by the California Governor to be a commissioner on the agricultural advancements of grape growing. Under this charge, he decided to make a fateful trip to Europe to investigate the best European vine-planting and winemaking practices. He traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain and upon his return in December 1861, Haraszthy had more than 100,000 cuttings of over 350 different varieties of vines.

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Haraszthy intentions to sell the cuttings to the state were dashed when the state refused to purchase them. He was left with the cuttings and all the expenses that were incurred. What to do? He started to distribute the cutting throughout the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. He promoted and implemented the agricultural practice of layering wherein an existing vine develops root stock from one of it’s attached branches. It allows faster propagation of new vines but can leave a crop more vulnerable to infection.

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Haraszthy’s home on his property Buena Vista was inspired by the villas of Pompeii. Although the original home is gone, you can visit a stunning replica on the Bartholomew Park Winery grounds.

Haraszthy’s management of the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society was both visionary and cavalier. He borrowed heavily against the property to continue it’s expansion. Shareholders were critical about his business practices. There was a scandal about the misappropriation of funds and the importation of molasses to make brandy. As controversy again swirled, he was able to keep the plates spinning in the air until phylloxera hit.

Mid 1860’s, the vines at Buena Vista were growing brown. Haraszthy’s critics believed this was due to layering, but in fact it was the first infestation of phylloxera ever known in California. This nasty root louse was non-existent before making an appearance in Sonoma. In subsequent years, phylloxera nearly destroyed all the vineyards in California. It even crossed the Atlantic to Europe, where it also devastated crops in France.

Various indiscretions, misfortune and now infestation of his vines led to intense struggles for Haraszthy that continued until he had to claim bankruptcy and was forced from his beloved Buena Vista. His son Arpad remained in the industry and continued to grow grapes, but soon his entire crop but one surviving vine was gone as well.

Another controversy, another frontier. Seeking to rebuild his fortunes, Haraszthy went to Nicaragua in 1868 to plant sugar cane and make rum. On July 6, 1869 it is suspected that while crossing a crocodile-infested river via a tree used as a bridge, he slipped and fell into the water, and as the legend concludes, he was consumed by a crocodile.

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Harasthy’s body was never found. The only record is a letter from his daughter who wrote, “We must conclude that Father tried to cross the river by the tree and that losing his balance he fell grasping the limb and then the alligator must have drawn him forever down.”

Vallejo, died in his 80’s peacefully on his estate, Lachmyra Montis, in Sonoma with his family around him. He too faced some serious financial set-backs leaving his finances a pittance to the wealth he enjoyed throughout his life. But I believe a life well loved is a life well led and by all accounts these two friends, through their conquests and failings, made the most significant US contributions to the wine culture we enjoy today.

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A very adoring scene of a beloved father, his daughters and a good natured poodle

March 2007, the Culinary Institute of America inducted Angoston Haraszthy into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Seventy wine journalists cast ballots honoring him for his contribution to the development of the California wine industry. The award was accepted with honor by his great-great grandson, Vallejo Haraszthy.

Stay curious!

loie

For more reading pleasure I must credit and provide links to the following sources:

Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft967nb63q/

Californians and the Military The Vallejo Family: A Military History of Early California

by Lieutenant Colonel Ira Lee Plummer http://www.militarymuseum.org/Vallejo.html

INTERVIEW: Martha Ann Francisca Vallejo-McGettigan, Descendant of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

McGinty, Brian. Strong Wine: The Life and Legend of Agoston Haraszthy Stanford University Press, c1998 http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=1074

Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau, Sonoma Valley History http://www.sonomavalley.com/sonoma-recent-history.html

Historic California Posts: Sonoma Barracks (Including El Presidio de Sonoma, El Cuartel de Sonoma, Camp Sonoma, Sonoma Post) by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired)

Executive Director, Council on America’s Military Past http://www.militarymuseum.org/SonomaBks.html

Vallejo: the man who shaped California history by Nancy Dingler Published April 19, 2003 in the Fairfield Daily Republic

A conversation with Count Agoston Haraszthy Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Suzie Rodriguez, The Press Democrat

Meet Vallejo Haraszthy Thursday, October 13th, 2011 | Posted by Suzie Rodriguez, The Press Democrat

This rosé gave my guests a 90’s flashback & they liked it!

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2012 Regio Dry Rosé, El Dorado County CA $7.99

Available at:  Sonoma Market or find it on Wine-Searcher.com

I was thrilled to conduct a tasting with my esteemed house guests this weekend. These well versed oenophiles were actually shocked that the Rosé was quite delicious. Although I was happy to redeem myself, I’m not sure if the contrast to my other selections tainted their lens (to be revealed in my coming review of my red, white & blue selections for the 4th.)

Nose is immediately strawberry, pineapple. Has a nice complexity for a rosé this inexpensive. Acid is moderate and keeps this rosé bright, crisp very refreshing especially if served well chilled.  The lemony finish pleasantly lingers. We had this wine with a spiced pork loin cooked on the BBQ, roasted seasoned potatoes and a summer salad while listening to the Sneaker Pimps – 90’s flashbacks ensued. After laughing hysterically about something related to an episode of My So Called Life and 21 Jump Street (the original my dears) my guests remarked a second time that they were pleasantly surprised by this wine. Quite impressive after a day of sipping $70+ a bottle vintages of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the like in a doting of wineries along the Sonoma Valley. (Shame, I think we spent too much!) I’m sticking to my $10 and under creed moving forward, unless my guests insist on buying – that’s the proper protocol for a hostess with a knack for tour guidery.

Rated buy-again, without a second thought.

Stay curious!

loie