Get your keys to the castle! A Guest-Worthy Pinot Noir for $8.99 – For Reals…

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2012 Castle Rock, Cuvée Pinot Noir, CA (cellared and bottled in St. Helena)

I am always scared to taste a Pinot Noir under $10. Why? Because a good Pinot under $10 cannot be done. Can-not! No way. No. Not ever. Never. Well you know what they say about saying never. Never.

Wincing, I opened the bottle. My victim that day was a local chef and presumably someone who would unfriend me for exposing him to this swill. I prefaced my tasting with apologies and gratitude for his bravery. We uncorked, poured and the rest is surprising. We are still friends.

It smelled like a Pinot to me, fresh, light, young, with notes of cherry and hibicus. First sip was peppery, baking spices, dark fruit, currant, medium bodied and very mild tannins with a pleasant woody finish. Very drinkable. Wow, what a delight. I have yet to meet a Pinot for this price point that I could take home to momma – this passed the sniff & sip test…with flying colors.

Who is Castle Rock? I like to research the makers of these fine wines of “Cheapeaux” and often you find a barrel load of corporate drivel laced with fabrications about growers, makers and wineries you will never visit because they in a warehouse in Commerce, California. Ok, I am verging on snobby which is not my style, but let’s keep it 100. How is it possible for these wines to be priced so freakin cheap? Yes, we have all heard the machinations about Two Buck Chuck consisting of high percentages of gopher guts and pesticides (my friends at Trader Joe’s HQ vehemently deny these rumors and I believe them.) But when a wine is actually good and as guest worthy as this one, I’d like to understand how they pulled it off. I mean, bravo, they actually made a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine truly enjoyable.

Moreover, Castle Rock wines are widely available. I believe this one was acquired at a Safeway. So after poking around, I discovered they offer wines from Napa/Sonoma in California, Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Columbia Valley, Washington but they are HQ in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. What exactly does “bottled and cellared in St. Helena” mean anyways? The plot thickens. Go to the source – their website. Ah-ha – this is how they do it.

“After the harvest, the wines are made in accordance with Castle Rock’s winemaking standards, and are bottled at wineries, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, located in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Washington’s Columbia Valley. Castle Rock’s business model aims to please, lovely on the palate, easy on the wallet. By virtue of having a low overhead, (no nagging real estate mortgages, no marketing teams or large staff to employ, and no elaborate facilities) Castle Rock is able to funnel all their capital into making the best possible wine for the best possible price.”

Well, I like a straight shooter, especially when it’s about what’s going in my Riedels. Moreover, their wines have won several awards of distinction, this 2012 Pinot Noir was awarded a double gold medal and 92 pts from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Oh-la-la! Pas mal.

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Adding further confidence, their wine makers/growers are both very established and respected in Washington and California. Greg Powers was recognized as a “Rising Star” by Wine Spectator and as one of the “50 Great U.S. Cabernet Producers” by Wine Enthusiast. He started his esteemed career very young by helping his father plant 80 acres of grapes on the family vineyard, Badger Mountain in the Columbia Valley which under his supervision, transitioned the farming from conventional to organic. The California grower and maker, Vic Roberts, is the owner and winemaker at Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in the heart of California’s Paso Robles wine country. In 1985 he pursued his dream of being a wine maker by planting 15 acres of grapes on his property which now stands at 78 acres, with the winery located in a picturesque, recently renovated 100 year old barn.

I believe the care and expertise that is put into these widely distributed value wines is fascinating and obviously yields impressive results. This is the dawning of the era of good cheap wine in the US. With producers like Castle Rock, I look forward to trying more….although I cannot guarantee I won’t wince before the first sip.

Stay curious!
loie

Arrogant Frog: making old world wines with new world attitude

So there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, enjoying my new-found self-appointed career as a food and wine journalist dreaming up idea after idea of posts to like, retweet, memes to create, memes to share, people to poke, chats to follow, inside jokes to make, hashtags to use…you know the typical stuff one does when one doesn’t really want to earn a living. Then startlingly I received one, possibly my first ever, guest comment on my blog from someone at McCue Communications. Mon Dieu!

She wanted me to give her my information so she could send me some wines to try. They were actually going to send me wine? Huh? What’s the catch? Ah ha….so that’s what this is all about. This was a similar epiphany to the day I realized that golf was more about betting money and drinking beer with the “fellas” than it was about golf. I gave up golf too soon to fully partake. Quelle dommage.

Being accustomed to buying and reviewing wines of my own volition, I was concerned about my freedom to express an opinion untethered by wine sent gratis. What do I do if they, ahem, are not so good? Luckily, the Arrogant Frog wines by Domaine Paul Mas made my job much easier and euphemistic free. Moreover, I had the pleasure of tasting with other wine writers I deeply admire including Sir Jeff Siegel winecurmudgeon.com, Michelle Williams rockinredblog.com and Beth Smith travelingwinechick.com – who happens to be my neighbor so we made a lunch date.

The Humble Wine Maker

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This frog gets around.

It was a privilege to partake in the virtual tasting with fourth-generation vintner Jean-Claude Mas to learn about his latest value vintages. His family has led premium winemaking in the Languedoc region from their centuries-old estate since 1892 and when M. Mas took the reins in 2000, he dedicated his wine making practices to preserving the land and the beauty of Languedoc. In 10 years, he plans to transition all 8 of his family wineries into organic vineyards that employ natural farming principles through the use of the latest technology. This has already reduced the need for pesticides and other chemical based agricultural practices that can harm the natural balance. “We must preserve the beauty of Languedoc, and feed the Earth with nutrients in the way nature intended. The use of chemicals for the past 50 years has stressed the vines and now we need to use technology to bring us back.” In summary, it is about making old world wines with new world attitude. C’est tout!

http://www.creme-de-languedoc.com/Languedoc/history.php

Rebellion & Resistance: The history of Languedoc Roussillon, South of France

7 Things that I learnScreen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.15.54 AMed about the Jean-Claude Mas philosophy:

1. He prefers new American Oak to French Oak – definitely a new world attitude.
2. He believes advancements in agricultural technology will replace the need for chemicals – hooray!
3. He believes a vacuum wine stopper is “utter stupidity” – good to know.
4. The Frog on the front of the bottle is the “humble wine maker” – I chose to name him Hubert de Vin-chy.
5. He likes Stelvin screw caps for white wines and cork for red. (pro vs. con see this post on bauduc blog)
6. He believes all his wines taste even better after 24hrs. I agree.
7. His style of wine making is not aggressive but soft due to the ripeness of the grapes in the South of France.

Now on to the wines…

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The peaches are nearly ready to be picked, grilled, doused in cream, baked into a rustic tarte, made into ice cream, eaten off the tree – ahhh Summer.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Sauvignon Blanc $10
The first thing I detected in the nose was lemon and grass. First sip is crisp, citrus and bright – reminded me of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc vs. the California Sauv Blancs I enjoy at this price point which can be more fruit forward. I enjoyed this wine and found it had a nice bright mild acidity and a smooth finish that was a touch buttery. It was very enjoyable. For $10 at retail, it would be a challenge to find a wine of this quality for a better price – I’d buy it again. I’m about to harvest my peach trees in a couple of weeks so I think this will pair perfectly with some grilled peaches and a cheese board of aged cheddar, gouda and a Humboldt Fog.

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Coq Au Vin recipe anyone?

Arrogant Frog 2013 Pinot Noir $10
The color was dark garnet with a red-brown halo, which was unusual to me. There was a comment made about this being a “refreshing” Pinot Noir. As it was a warm climate Pinot, when slightly chilled, one can appreciate the delicate flavors of cherry and very light oak. Due to the warm climate in Languedoc, the Pinot grapes mature fast, unlike classic Pinots (like on the Sonoma Coast) that mature slowly. M. Mas explained that he takes great care in deciding where these grapes are planted to ensure the best result, although he did admit, this Pinot was unlike most typical Pinots. I found it very unexpected. I let it open up the next day and albeit pleasant, it was not necessarily the right flavor profile for this Pinofile. I would say it was respectably drinkable and it was fantastic the next day for braising chicken with tomatoes and peppers picked from my garden in my Le Crueset for hours and hours and hours – delish! What little wine there was left, did sip nicely with the meal.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Chardonnay $10
The nose was immediately and undeniably pineapple. First sip was lemony with a light oak finish – 25% of this wine was aged in Oak which contributed to the lactic character on the mouth which is the toasty flavor the oak expresses through the wine – some refer to this as creme brûlée. I enjoyed this wine and it was an outstanding value for $10. This Chardonnay was aged in American Oak which was quite intriguing to me. When I asked what the difference was between American and French Oak M. Mas explained that the American oak gives more lactone resulting in more toasty vanilla notes than the French oak which is more subtle. When the oak is very dry, it does not dominate the character of the wine. (Note to self, more wine knowledge to be had in the procurement, aging and use of oak in the wine making process. I found a succinct post on thekitchn.com about French vs. American Oak) In Mediterranean made wines, the American oak is preferred as it lets the wine breathe less and is better when aging very ripe grapes. As M. Mas explains “in Languedoc we can pick the grapes when we want, not when we can. Think about that…” I think this Chardonnay is a delight. An everyday luxury I would buy again.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) Merlot (45%) $10
Nose is blackberry, blueberry, dark fruit. First sip is spicy, cocoa, vanilla, coconut and raspberry. Nicely complex and toasty from the US Oak. Soft, round not aggressive and very refined tannins and acidity. This wine is excellent with dessert, especially chocolate! Rich and bold, this wine could easily pass for a $40 bottle of wine. When asked about how the cocoa flavor was achieved, M. Mas answered it was from the ripe fruit and the American Oak. This wine is a buy again. I don’t want this wine, I need it!

 

Stay curious!

loie

A friend in need needs this. Naked Grape Cab $7.99 –

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 Naked Grape Cab $7.99
CVS/pharmacy
The bouquet smells like leather, blackberries. The first sip is dark fruit, berries, fig – like it really wants to be a cab but falls just short of the complexity or richness. Not harsh or tannic – weak, sweet, quickly made – easy to drink and grape juicy. Naked grape essentially says what it is. I was drinking this with a woman going through a bitter divorce, and a friend in need is a friend who needs wine – Naked and I were happy to be there for her of course. Other than that, c’est toute!
Rated drinkable, especially when listening to heart breaking stories about an ex in progress and who would get custody of the money.
Stay curious!
loie

Did someone mention value?

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“The world is full of value wines and valuable wines, but the two couldn’t be more disparate.  Unfortunately, value wines get served at events, especially weddings, when you should be serving valuable wines.  So what separates the two?” — the Sybarite

The preceding quote from last month’s Wine Writing Challenge winner, The Sybarite, inspired me to hop on the keyboard and present my hypothesis on the wine value proposition. My quest for the finest of cheap wines has been particularly menacing due to my current domicile in a highly regarded Californina AVA. Bringing a cheap bottle of wine to a soirée can elevate tensions akin to the unrest of an Arab Spring. Flashing a cheap bottle at a more menacing event, like a farmer’s market, can be highly precarious as the picnic snob set are infamous for carrying a concealed corkscrew of restaurateur quality. 

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Although I have been ostracized, unfollowed and unfriended, I wear the stigma with pride. Regardless of whose nose I offend or palate I maim, I am resolute in my journey of finding the rarest, most valuable and coveted of all the Earth’s vintages: an excellent wine for under $10.

A bit of courage, some know-how and plenty of luck…

Admittedly, my chosen profession as a reviewer of cheap wine is a blight to my family. As aforementioned, we live amongst a populace of highly educated winos and plentiful sources of excellent wines. My mission is seen as fanatic and eccentric. My family demands to remain anonymous. There are no friendships made in the cheap wine tasting cellar. The tone is austere and so deprived of conviviality it has been referred to as a catacomb. The brave few will join me in a toast, but most, run screaming to their computers to take me off their E-vite guest list.

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When I do find that beautiful bottle of wine that receives countless compliments and cost less than a Frappuccino, I am suddenly genius, popular and reintroduced to polite society. Why? Because there is a direct correlation to peer perceptions of intelligence and expertise when one finds something valuable for little to no cost. This phenomenon is akin to finding gold galleons in a shipwreck or a Dali in grandma’s attic. When you can share a wine discovery that is remarkably affordable, of exceptional quality, and is wholeheartedly enjoyable, you have proven your value to society. 

Serendipity strikes…

As I was pondering how to substantiate my wine value proposition, serendipitously today, Gary Vaynerchuk tweeted a link to a short video about how to bring people value. His value framework defines utility, escapism and entertainment as the key principles. So I applied them. Cheap wine offers utility through accessible everyday price points. Check. Escapism through imbibing. Check. Entertainment through the hunt. Check.

These three themes are exalted in every social media channel known via posts about drinking wine, why we drink wine and the after effects of drinking wine. With confidence I presume the hoi polloi is not hitting “like,” “share,” and “RT” because these memes illustrate the humor in first growth wines from Bordeaux. I rest my case, but wait; indulge me for one moment further.

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Sir Jeff Siegel, knighted for his significant contributions to the commonwealth of winos and author of The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wines (must see Ten Dollar Haul of Fame at winecrumudgeon.com) states that “…anybody can go spend a lot of money and find a great bottle of wine, but how come nobody had ever thought of finding a great bottle of wine for not a lot of money? You find that in every other consumer good…the wine business had never really done that.” Exactamente!

{ the below image has had thousands of views, likes and RT. Ok?}

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Millennials and the democratization of wine after the great recession…

And thus blossomed the likes of Sir Jeff and The Reverse Wine Snob who pioneered the genre through their pragmatism and humor which started the movement for the democratization of wine for the masses and not just the classes. They set the stage for the next generation of wine aficionados who came into legal drinking age post apocalyptic economic downturn, aka the Great Recession. These winos have different expectations. They are not collectors, they are collaborators. They want to get nerdy about wine and share their knowledge. They drink what they like and what is aplenty. They can accept that wines under $10 can be exceptional. How can I stand behind this declaration? Mathematics and the new economy, perhaps?

Linda Murphy, of winereviewonline.com, puts it best in her post titled Cheap Thrills “…the fact that many rewarding and interesting wines can still be found for less than $15, and more importantly, for less than $10, which is approximately the price of a six-pack of craft beer.” Quite pithy.

 Love, hate and loathing at the bottom two shelves…

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The wilderness starts at the bottom shelf of the wine department in any supermarket. Never mind the dust bunnies, we are seeking a wine so delectable, unexpected and rare, we will be kissing a few Jackalopes and Chupacabras before we ride the Unicorn. Akin to mining diamonds or spotting the rarest of birds in their habitat, exceptional value wines can appear unexpectedly. As I machete through the jungle of cutesy labels, clever names and “on sale” signs, this experience can be discouraging and often one limited on time, especially if your ride is in the parking lot honking while the engine is running. 

I rarely have the pleasure of finding wines at the $10 and under price point enjoyable. I believe the bar is so low on inexpensive wines that there is a bias. If you paid very little for a wine and it is palatable, it’s “good.” Not a chance here. I rarely post great reviews and I am often disappointed. However, what keeps me motivated is the thought of a misguided wine buyer with enough means but not enough confidence being seduced by a price and a pretty label. When disappointed by their selection and the missed opportunity to drink good wine, I feel the angst, hence those bottom 2 shelves are my hunting grounds.

Value proposition demystified…

“It’s not enough that a wine is cheap (or expensive, for that matter). Does it offer more value than it costs?” — the winecurmudgeon.com

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It’s easy to spend countless amounts of money on good wine. A $100 wine is not necessarily 10 times better than a $10 wine. Albeit, if you drank 10 wines under $10 and one of those wines was phenomenal, what would that be worth to you? Is the thrill of the hunt as valuable as the find? Whatever the effort it takes to seek an excellent wine at an unbeatable price, when you make that discovery and share it with the world, the value is now exponential. 

I remain curious.

loie

 

  

 

Wino Redefined!

 

PGHM

I have decided to amend the definition of “wino.” I know this is a frivolous cause and one that most haughty, intelligent types would consider “silly” “purposeless” or as my father would say, “useless as tits on a boar” – which was a saying I always found odd and disturbing even as a small child before I even knew what a tit or a boar was – he’s a depression era baby and talk about obscure and outmoded terminology – have you sat on a “davenport” lately? But I digress. Back to our subject matter.

I have decided to redefine wino because the definition I retrieved when Googled (or as my mother says goo-goo’d – she is Asian ESL- I had to share that because I think it’s funny) is WRONG for many reasons, well 3 to be precise.

1. “Excessive amounts,” I mean really, that is totally relative and unmeasurable. I think excessive is an over charged, over used, over emphasized, over glamorized hyperbolic slur – especially in reference to wine.

2. “…or other alcohol.” Let’s get technical here – wine is not vodka, bourbon, Scotch, or pre-made margaritas in a plastic jug. How can a word derivative of “wine” now be within the same classification of other spirits? This is completely erroneous. Being classified with “other alcolhol”  gets under my skin as the inference is completely encroaching on our oenophilic heritage and unique cultural identity – is every Asian Chinese? Are all Latinos Mexican? Call a Cuban a Mexican and see what happens. Come on. This is very un-American and eerily Communistic.

3. Homeless? Homeless? Really now. I have actually never met a homeless wino. I have met homeless alcoholics, drug addicts, veterans, the mentally ill who are really really homeless. I have met the gentrified-challenged homeless (yes that is a direct hit on the tech industry and the eradication of affordable housing in SF and other places like “Silicon Beach” – raaaa-ther! It was so much more affordable when it was a gangland) I have met runaways and those displaced by economic downturn. Ha! Not a wino in the bunch. I must say I am not diminishing the importance of addressing homelessness and quite frankly, I am militant about eradicating it. There should not be one person in this country without sufficient shelter and support to enable a productive and healthy life with hope for the future….I’m getting on a soap box when I should be on the wine barrel – so I must now return to the original context of this topic.

This is about correct vernacular and the evolution of the meaning in the English language. I believe “wino” in the Anno Domini common era conotes a positive, celebratory community of like minded bon vivants who are resourceful in their pursuit of enjoying wine with reasonable frequency as to not upset their means for acquiring wine.

Raise a glass for the cause you winos and stand up for what is now a new and improved definition of winohood. No more blocking doorways in the Tenderloin. No more refusal of payment with change at 7-11. No more sneers from the cork sniffers. Tear off those paper bags and drink proudly, loudly, responsibly and with fiscal prudence! I’m still saving for those sandals.

Stay curious!

loie