Like Magic : The Wines I’ve Been Drinking & Reviewing

Spring is here and I’m feeling renewed, refreshed and thirsty. Apple trees are blossoming. The poppies are vibrant. The roses are soaking in the sunshine and much needed rain.  Bottles of wine have magically appeared at my doorstep and I have discovered a few gems.

Before you envy me and my lavish lifestyle as a cheap wine aficionado, take note, this is hard work, especially for my palate. Waaa waa waa, poor me. No seriously, there is a special place in hell for cheap wine reviewers. You get a pauper’s ransom in cheap ass wine. Some is brutal swill. To be more truthful, most are blech! 98% of all the wines I recommend are ones I’ve precariously selected and bought myself. But when I receive a sample from a winemaker that is delish, well, hey ho, it’s payday. Oh yeah, I only get paid in wine, good or bad.

EVERYDAY A BEACH DAY…
MARTIN CÓDAX 2014 RIAS BAIXAS ALBARIÑO, SPAIN $15

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Everyday feels like beach day when sipping on Albariño. This wine is perfect paired with scallops, prawns, garlicky shrimp. Bright, citrus, lemony with a crisp, even, dry finish, this delightful wine will finish your last bite of wood plank grilled salmon perfectly. And for that, I rate this wine a buy again!

I was rather impressed and the winemaker, Katia Alvarez sent a lovely note about her vintage. Founded more than 25 years ago by 50 local farmers in the Galica region of northwest Spain, today Martin Códax is now supported by more than 550 families and cooperatives. The winery is located in the historic city of Cambados in the heart of the Salnés Valley and the birthplace of Albariño. Coastal wet climate, steep grades, and granitic vineyards make this grape produce aromatic and medium bodied wines. In ancient times, the trade of shells from the harvests of the sea were deposited throughout the coastal regions. The shell deposits can still be found in the vineyards today and the calcium brings a perfect balance of pH to the soil.

Fun fact: Martin Codax, the character who this winery is named after, was one of the most important medieval Galician troubadours. His ballads, the oldest in Galician-Portuguese, extol his love and passion for the sea. Hey, you had me at garlicky shrimp.

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‘Cantigas de Amigo’ is a 13c. manuscript by the namesake of this winery, Martin Códax. I think ‘Cantigas de Amigo’ would also be a great name and menu design for a restaurant that served garlicky shrimp, grilled squid, pan seared scallops accompanied by bottles and bottles of chilled Albariño.

 

WINE SO GOOD, I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE…SO I FOUND SOME FOR YOU.
GHOST PINES 2013 PINOT NOIR, 37% SONOMA & 63% MONTEREY COUNTY $23
GHOST PINES 2014 ZINFANDEL, 30% SONOMA, 66% SAN JOAQUIN, 4% LAKE COUNTY $20

Well, what can I say, I forgot to shoot this wine because I was enjoying it to the point of utter dereliction. Riveted to the telly watching the fireworks of the US presidential elections can throw anyone off their game, but fortunately for me, I had this bottle as consolation. My appreciation to the winemaker and fellow Sonoman Aaron Piotter.

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Halloween squirrel terrorises south of England neighborhood. As seen on crazyasabagofhammers.com @robtinbc

The name is intriguing, it is a poetic reference to the Gray Pines dotting the Northern California coastal hillsides. The marine layer can look ominous and obscure the fauna and flora. Hence, the “Ghost Pine.” While driving along windy coastal roads, hapless wildlife can be veiled by the fog as well, but obviously road kill “Ghost Squirrel” is not an appealing name for a fine Pinot Noir. But he’s out there…

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First bottle, the Pinot Noir…rated: buy again. Cool ocean breezes and blankets of fog consumed gradually by sunshine are the desirable conditions for Pinot Noir. Both Monterey and Sonoma coasts provide the cool loving environment these grapes require to bring forth the bright flavors and acidic lift that a Pinotfile like myself expects. What I found interesting about this wine was the boldness and intense fruit. Ripe red cherry, pomegranate and lavender with a medium body, baking spice and cocoa finish – a very nice surprise.

Secondi, the Zinfandel rated: guestworthy. The tech sheet on this wine opened with “Ghost Pines knows no boundaries…” well, ok now….easy does it! My readers may be winos, but they are respectable budget conscious people. Possibly God-fearing but likely agnostic.

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Well, what my very close future friend Aaron was actually referring to was their focus on the fruit. They look for quality lots in various vineyards and secure the best fruit regardless of AVA. What this has done is create layers and complexities that play to each regions strengths leading to unique flavors and profiles. Although this Zinfandel had the classic profile – bold fruit, jammy, ripe berry with some toasty oak – it also had lovely layered flavors of strawberry, spices and pepper with a long lush finish. I took this bottle of Zin to a dinner with friends at The Fig Cafe in Glenn Ellen.   A local favorite, they famously offer fabulous courses with no corkage. Although bold, this Zin paired perfectly with the fig arrugula salad with chevre, pecans and pancetta drizzled with a port and fig vinaigrette. Even better, my fancy friends were impressed. Mon dieu! One of them was French. When asked where I got this wine of course I told him it magically appeared on my doorstep.

Stay curious!

loie

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All Aboard the Cava Express!

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.

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A perfect day at Sonoma Traintown…requires attaching your child and their grandparents to a leash and ample booze afterwards to calm the nerves.

Cava must be made in the Denominación de Origen (DO) of Catalonia and produced in Spain via the champenoise traditional method, wherein the base cuvee is bottled with a mixture of sugar and yeast to ferment in bouteille. The typical grapes that go into a Cava are Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada but often Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are a part of the blend.

Admittedly, Cava is a bargain.

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.

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NV M. Chevallier Carte Noire Methode Traditionelle Brut Cava $6

Available at Trader Joe’s

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.

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Cheers to your 72nd birthday and survival of your progeny.

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.

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The site of the first harrowing incident, the duck pond. Although the sign states “no rock throwing” the littles interpreted that as permission to throw themselves in the pond. Crafty little buggers.

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. 

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If the pond doesn’t claim your first born, the llamas and Sabbatic Goat will. The look on that baby’s face says “Dad, is this a  petting zoo, or a Satanic ritual. Get me the hells away from that Baphomet.

 

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Hold on to your French braids my dear child, this is going to be a bumpy ride….specifically for your parents as your grandparents chaperoning style is rather lasisez fair. Wheeeeeeeee!

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….

Stay curious,

loie

*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. 

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

Champagne, Sparkling Wine & Lady Beer – A Love Story

This is the final installment of my wine education trilogy at Blogdramedy. It is a brain dump from my illustrious visit to Champagne, France. Ahhhhh, memories, I hope you enjoy the tiny bubbles of knowlege as much as I did acquiring them. This is a trip one must make at least once in your life, if only to be the envy of all the mothers at your son’s fancy pants nursery school – ha. ha. ha. ha. In all seriousness, it was an incredible trip and one that taught me the true passion, artistry, tradition, and science that makes one of the most celebrated spirits what it has been for centuries. To this day, I marvel at how jealously guarded the brand “Champagne” has been by the region and how incredibly smart of them to be such jerks about it – seriously – they are fully entitled to the name and what it represents. Cross the line and you will be served something other than bubbles. Voila!

It was truly an expensive honor to have the credit card maxxing opportunity to enjoy what this region has to offer. I am now well prepared to get back to the business of reviewing $10+under wines people – for a long, long, long, long time! Bloody hell.
Stay curious,
The Comtesse du Cheapeaux

This Malbec Should Be Arrested For Assault!

It is with great pride I share my very first video post – the first of many near-masterpieces to come! If you had the pleasure of experiencing my prior VideoPress technical difficulties, I deeply apologize. I know my very public pleas to the WP support team were uncomfortable for all of us. Well, the issue was resolved after I called Uncle Dick – he’s from the Cheney side of the family, very very very distant cousins, but none the less, helpful in a pinch. So magically my video post worked unexplainably, but if there are WP execs on an extended leave to Guantanamo Bay, I hope they are enjoying the ocean breeze, cigars and water sports. With a humiliating spectacle behind us, I send my deepest appreciation to all who choose to read my posts. I know you have a multitude of options for your viewing pleasure and I value your patronage…if you would like to see my desperate cries for help on the WP support forum click this . With out further adieu – here’s to a day in the office on a Malbec safari!

( Video is best viewed NOT through a Safari browser.)

Stay curious!

loie

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

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

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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