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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuscan Cuvée: Banfi, Col Di Sasso, Toscano 2008

Another wet and soggy day here in San Diego, with the day off and lots of wine to review I decided to uncork another sample sent for the review process by the wonderful folks at Banfi, who I would love to visit the next time I'm in Italy, which will be next year. I've developed a wonderful relationship with their US based PR team who I had a chance to meet whilst at the Wine Bloggers Conference this past summer in Washington State. I've grown fond of many of the wines produced by Castello Banfi, because overall they produce delicious well made wines consistently across the board, many of which give the consumer a real "bang" for the buck.

That's is not to say that I'm thrilled with every wine that I'm sent nor do I get pressure to get their reviews out onto the pages of my blog and insert organic links, no payola here folks. In my opinion, it's a very professional arrangement. One I've also developed with many other PR firms and the wines they represent, I review on a regular basis. If you been reading this blog then you understand I am the antithesis of the corporate shill, because I just flop the truth out there and let the chips fall where they may.

That said, as you may know, if I don't particularly get the style of a particular wine, then I won't sit here and throw it under the bus either. I let you do the math. If that is the type of wine blog you want, well off with you then because there are plenty of those types out there in the blogosphere and as the Stones say, you won't get no satisfaction. On the other hand if you want to get the 411 on how to get your hands on some mind altering juice stay tuned, as I've come across another winetastic deal.

Does this seem like a contradiction, perhaps it's and I freely admit that, because yes I only point out the wines I like and the wines I don't like just don't get published [for which I am marginalized]. Sometimes I do write about the wine that I kind-of like, but I'm not overly impressed with and these wines don't get a good score [I know those dreaded scores] but they do achieve a score high enough for me to write about them.

I hope this bit of transparency has given you some perspective on where I'm coming from and where you can expect this blog to go in the future. I like to think that when I've come across a great [meaning with mass appeal to 85% of the wine loving public] bottle of wine, it's something I immediately recognize and want to tell the whole world about it, which is why I write this blog in first place. It's funny too, that many times after I've discovered something utterly winetastic, that the print-media folks come out [months later] and declare certain juice as being winetastic as well. So there you have it, in a nut-shell the method to my wine reviewing madness. Not sure how I got off on this tangent, but rainy days seem to be a good time to vent and flop-out some insights into the how and why of the CCWB wine review style.

Okay, now that I've had my say I'm stepping [reluctantly] down off my soap-box to bring you another fantastic deal in wine. Yes this wine is under the $10 threshold and no it's not that two-dollar mass produced jones-juice that you get from TJ's either. However if you like to step up to some quality juice for just a few dollars more, than the 2008 Banfi Toscana Col Di Sasso is the wine for you.

What's in a Name: Col Di Sasso is Italian for "Stony Hill" where the fruit for this wine was cultivated on the most rocky and impervious slopes of the southern end of Banfi's estate in Montalcino.

The Blend: It is a rich Tuscan Cuvée consisting of 70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and weighing in at a mere 13.3% ABV, yet delivering so much mouth watering flavor.

No Wood: I'm not typically a fan of red wines that have not spent anytime in wood, but this wine has convinced of its merits for drink now and drink often wines of this style of winemaking. The fermentation was done in stainless steel tanks for 7-8 days. No oak was used at any time, but it does undergo a short period of bottle aging prior to release.

Sniffy, Swirly-swirl and Slurp: Diving into the glass with my fat half Irish nose and swirling about are beautiful aromas of bright cherry, blueberry, dark cherry and bit of earthiness. Setting the glass down and angling it toward a beam of light on stair step window I found a shimmering ruby colored core. Lifting the glass, giving another swirl or two to take my first sip, I drank in a bounty of dark and red fruits, licorice, black currant, balanced acidity, medium to full body leading to a lush finish. I put down the glass and couldn't believe that this"baby" super Tuscan sells for just under ten dollars.

Pairing Suggestions: Oh my this wine will pair with just about anything you could throw at it. Whether it will be your favorite Italian themed dish or some burgers off the grill, this wine is ready to rock n roll. Seriously good on it's own but will pair nicely with Swedish Meatballs, strewn over a bed of brown rice, accompanied by crispy side salad. Simple, straight forward, but oh it delivers so much lick smacking flavors.

Price and Where to Purchase: This wines sells for about $10 most places, that I've seen it online. But if you don't want to order it online, may I suggest you give the folks at your local Bevmo a call, the can order it for you. As they stock many of the Castello Banfi wines on a regular basis, so don't be shy just ask them to bring a case or two and take a home a case for yourself.

Full Disclosure: As I stated in the paragraphs above this wine was sent as a sample for the review process.

What's the Score: I scored this wine a solid 90 points on the CCWB point scale. A fantastic QPR champ.

Other Voices: Um, well it looks like I'm the only one who has written a review of this wonderful wine, so I guess you just have to trust me on this one.

My Recommendation: This is a great everyday type wine, that will hold up nicely even if you have to leave it over night to drink it the next day. Great wine to purchase by the case, to keep around the house as it's perfect to just drink by the glass or pair with food. But with something like 100,000 cases produced you don't have to hurry too much to get your share.



Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hot to Trot: Ravenswood: 2007 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel



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"Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you know the tune, stuck in Old Lodi again", the jist of the lyrics about the sleepy little town of Lodi.  From the iconic music group [CCR] Creedence Clearwater Revival, who apparently had some loathing about being in Lodi [or just small towns in general].

Lodi has changed quite a bit since the bad old days of being stuck in Old Lodi again and in fact it's something to look forward to, as a thriving wine industry has grown up and come to fruition around "old vine" Zinfandel. Old vine Zin has become hot-to-trot for many thirsting for ripe, rich opulent wines that really deliver on on the name, Old Vine. But it's not just old vine Zinfandel making the impact, it's Zinfandel in general that really has many folks paying attention to this area and for some very good reasons, the Zinfandel is fan-freaking-tastic [trust me, this is a real word] and the prices are reasonable [Nuff said].

If you plan to visit Lodi Wine Country, a great place to set up as your base of operations would be Wine and Roses. This is a bed and breakfast and premium hotel all wrapped up into one neat winetastic package. Elegant and refined, down to earth and so much to offer the traveling oenophile [lover of the vine].  The have an afters hours bar, with an deep wine list. They also boast a Lodi tasting room where you are able to swirl, sniff and slurp your way through 5-10 different local [with a minimal fee] wineries juice and even buy said juice if you are so inclined to as well. So if you wanted to just stop over for a day, before heading up to Highway 29. Please do yourself a favor and stop-by one [newly acquired] my all time favorites along the way [not to be missed]. I recommend staying a few days just to drink in the fabulous down home wonderfulness that is Wine and Roses and exploring first hand many of the great wineries of Lodi. While there, you may also want to check out the winetastic area of Calveras County and just a bit further the Sierra Foothills wait for the adventurous wine nut.

Now onto the review, another stunner from my friends at Ravenswood whose own base of operations is in Sonoma, just north of Lodi. Folks if you're not familiar with this label, do yourself a favor especially if you like Zinfandel, give them a swirl. You won't be disappointed.

Old Vines: Old vine Zin has become quite a cliched term in the wine world as of late and since there is no legal definition to meet in order for it to appear on the label as such, there's some big-time stretching of credulity in applying this term [so buyer beware]. If you would like to see more conversation on this debate on what exactly constitutes "old-vine" Zinfandel, please click here. Personally, it's my opinion that the "vines" should be 40 years or older to qualify to be defined as "old vine" Zinfandel and that there should be a legal definition that enforces that time frame.

However, according to Ravenswood Winery this Zinfandel easily qualifies [agreed] as "Old-Vine" because it's drawn from two distinct vineyards in the Lodi appellation. The 100 year old Kettleman Road Vineyard provides roughly 75% of the blend, resulting in thick, rich, concentrated blueberry fruit and soft spice. While the remainder of the fruit is grown on the 35 year old Perrin Vineyard, which provides bright, lively berry flavors hinting at raspberry [does all that and more]. This wine spent 12 months maturating in a combination of new and used French oak barrels which has contributed to the rounding out and fattening of flavors, which is evidenced by the first pour [no aerators needed].  Just give it a few good swirls, to release all those wonderful aromas and flavors and enjoy.


Swirly, Sniffed and Slurp: This wine is definitely "Hot to Trot", in the glass you a big dollop of  garnet colored goodness. On the nose, it boasts enticing aromas of blueberry/blackberry pie and toastiness. Oh man on the palate you'll find a ripe bruiser, yet with an underlying sense of structure and finesse accented by concentrated plum, licorice and oh so subtle smoky peppery flavors that are wrapped around well integrated tannins. This wine really delivers on the name too, I think I can taste a century of goodness in each sip.


Pairing Suggestions: Prosciutto Sage crusted Pork Tenderloin, some roasted butternut squash [dash of baking spices, brown sugar and butter] and a side of freshly steamed broccoli. I've had this pairing on more than one occasion and [IMHO] it's yumtastic [no really this a real word]!

Price and Where to Buy: Well I checked Bevmo and it appears that while they traditionally have a wide selection of Ravenswood, they only have the 2008 Lodi Old Vine Zin and not the one I reviewed here today, which they are selling for $14.99 and on-sale for $9.99 each [a killer buy at that price]. However, if you wanted to purchase the 2007 which I recommend that you do, then I've only been able to find a few online purveyors who sell it for $17.99 each, a few dollars more than the SRP, plus shipping.

Full Disclosure: This wine was sent as a "Sample" for the review process. No compensation is given for writing a positive review or even a review at all. Each wine sent is judged on it's own merits and I let the chips fall where they may.

Label Lingo: In case this obscure part of the label is of interest to you, this wine was "Vinted and Bottled" by Ravenswood Winery, Sonoma, Ca.

What's the Score: I gave this wine 91 points on the CCWB 100 point scale. This wine represents extraordinary QPR and has wide availability. If this same wine was made from fruit in Dry Creek, you'd be looking at a $30 price point easily [since land prices do play a factor in the price of wine].

My Recommendation: This is the kind of wine that should represent an "easy" buy decision. A run don't walk and grab as many as you possibly can, case buying kind of wine. So if you see some of this wine hanging around a Bevmo or your favorite wine shop, grocery store or what have you, buy them all if you can. This wine is everything you would expect in an old vine zin and then some.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuscany Uncorked: 2007 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva

“One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Wool

Hey what's on the menu? Ah yes the quintessential question we all want to know as we head home after long day at work or when we show up to a restaurant we may not be familiar with and are trying to make your mind whether you'd like dine there for the evening. If you happen to be craving Italian food as I often do, then I would recommend getting your hands on a good bottle of Italian wine to accompany your Italian inspired dining choice.

On the traditional line of thinking when it comes to pairing food and wine, it's often said that "when in Rome do as the Romans do". So what does that mean; think of it as a simple rule of thumb. In my experience it's best to pair regional wines with local cuisine [which doesn't always hold true with New World wines]. 

With the onset of the "modern" food movement many folks have advanced the idea that any wine goes with any dish. And just because you can do it something, it doesn't always mean it's a good idea.  

C'mon most of us don’t put pickles on our slice of chocolate birthday cake for the same reasons we don’t drink a delicate white wine with a hearty tomato based dish or a brawny red wine with cilantro-lime  marinade on our baked Tilapia because they're mismatched flavors and textures. 

What I'm setting the stage for is the review of a delightful Chianti Classico from the great folks at Banfi Vintners and why pairing this wine with traditional Italian fare is a great idea on so many fronts.

Today’s review will revolve around their "Riserva" [the term primarily deals with aging in small barriques, higher ABV and are typically more full bodied] a wine you will see in plentiful supply at many San Diego based Costco Stores.

Chianti Style: Typically what you find in Chianti's is medium-bodied, very dry wine, boasting firm tannins and veiled fruit flavors. They tend to be medium to high in acidity, with varying degrees tart cherry aromas and flavors.

Pairing: When done right, a Chianti can have complex, subtle, lingering flavors which make it a great match with many kinds of food. You'll find this wine pairs nicely with many tomato based Italian dishes and more specifically a rich red meat dishes like the succulent Bistecca Fiorentina or just your everyday homemade lasagna dish. The Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is a food pairing champion.

Swirly, Sniffy and Slurp: This is the kind of wine that won't really be helped with those new aerators I see so many folks using today. That said, I recommend decanting for at least an hour before dinner [if you can] with a traditional decanter. For the first fly-by however I poured straight from the bottle and I gave this wine a few swirls in the glass revealing a vibrant ruby colored core. What you will find on the nose; dried cherry with smoky cedar. On the palate a dusting of cocoa flavor adding a layer of complexity to the savory ripe plum and touch of strawberry which round out this wonderful Chianti Classico that has a New World vibe, while tipping its cap to Old World at the same time. 

The ABV: For all the old-world snobs who maybe lurking in the audience, just so you know this wine weighs in at a mere 13% alcohol, and still it packs in a boat-load of wonderful fruit flavors and aromas.

Price and Where to Find: You can find this delightful wine at your local BevMo [who sells it for $17.99] and can also be found at a majority of your neighborhood Costco locations where it sells for just under $13 everyday. Both stores have it in stock and ready to roll.

My Recommendation: When the urge to grab for some Italian food overwhelms you, it just maybe a good idea to have some of this drink now and drink often wine standing by to compliment your next meal. It is inexpensive enough to purchase by the case or to just have a few bottles hanging around in the pantry.

Full Disclosure: This wine was sent as a sample for the review process.

What's the Score: I give this wine a solid 90 points and QPR champ, that I'd label a best-buy.

Other Voices:  Ken gave this wine 88 points and had this to say,"It also displays a round mouth-feel and is very approachable. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins are dusty and linger for quite a while. This wine is food friendly." Ken's wine guide

Until next time everyone sip long and prosper, cheers!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A taste of Temecula: South Coast Winery

A moment of honesty before I begin this review of these two wonderful wines that were sent to me as samples. My moment of honesty is this; I remain skeptical about wines from Temecula, but I'm open to giving them a swirl, as you can see here. I say that because of my experiences in Temecula tasting rooms and if that makes me a snob then so be it.

At least what you will get here is an objective and authentic review. Now that I've flopped out that rare bit of honesty, I have to say that I've at times been very surprised [even impressed] by the quality of the wine produced from grapes grown on the what could be said to be San Diego's door step. So again, I was surprised by the caliber of these samples sent to the CCWB for the review process. In a word, both the samples [wine] were flat-out fantastic and each in their own way.

Their GVR, is the kind of wine that makes you sad when it is all gone and the aroma laden glass that draws my fat half Irish nose in for not just one, but multiple sniffs. The kind of thing that drives my wife crazy as she can see the oily residue of where my big sniffer left its footprint on the rim [If I listen closely I think I can hear the collective "eww" and "gross" from the peanut gallery]. Okay enough about my nose and on with the review of these two wonderful wines and how you can get your grimy-mitts on some of this delicious vino.

About South Coast: This winery in Temecula offer many things to many people, especially to those who maybe looking for the complete wine country experience. SCW offers a resort type experience, you will find a Restaurant, Spa, accommodations and even a place to bring your whole posse, if you're thinking about getting hitched and wanna throw a big shindig later. For more information please click here. If you plan to stop by their tasting room to give their wines a swirl, I would highly recommend you arrive as early as possible. I've heard they fill up quite quickly, especially on weekends.

Most of you folks reading this know where in Temecula you can find this popular winery and how to get there, but for those of you who are not already familiar with this gem, please click here to find out more about South Coast Winery.

GVR 2008 Temecula Valley:  Giving this wine the full swirly, sniffy and slurp I discovered some very floral aromatics, intense stone fruit flavors, overtones of honey, and a particularly lush mouth-feel. In the glass a barley [carmel] colored core. This wine is drinking pretty fab at the moment and there’s enough bright fruit to slurp it down with your favorite pairing right now, but it also has enough acidity and minerality to develop even more fully with some bottle aging, not an all to common trait among California white wines.

Rhone Zone: The SCW GVR 2008 is inspired by the great white wines of France’s Rhône region. A blend of 36% Viognier [the star of the northern Rhône) and 20% Rousanne [a workhorse of the southern Rhone] and leading the way with 44% Grenache Blanc giving this wine an added dimension of rich Rhone flavors and styling. SCW's GVR adds an extra measure of California richness via a visit to oakville, but still producing a mouth-filling, age worthy wine you should not miss out on.

Price, ABV and Score: This wine has a deft hand on the ABVside of the equation, weighing in at 13.1% and the SRP appears to be $20, which is a great price for a wine made this well. What's the score, I gave this wonderfully well made and very tasty wine 93 points.

Food Pairing Rec: This wine arrived early last week and once it got here seeing that I had actually got a different wine than the one I expected, my mind was made up about pairing direction for the evening. So I immediately put this wine on chill and set off to get dinner made. To many of you this pairing may sound strange, but I frankly can't get enough of Chicken Katsu Curry, Japanese Sticky Rice and frozen edamame which I warm in the microwave and sprinkle with salt after dumping the water. If you have never had this dish, oh man you are seriously missing the freaking boat, give it a swirl you will thank me later. Also great with a fat, buttery California Chardonnay like Rombauer [Beau's Barrel Room Fave] which would also be perfect for the task.

2006 SCW Meritage: In the glass I found this wine to have a deep red/violet hue in the core. From the glass sprung muted aromas of dried bing cherries and a dusting of dark chocolate truffles. Right away this wine is super approachable on the palate, bright fruit, and silky texture are supported by well-integrated oak. Most likely thanks to being predominantly Merlot at 56%, the rest of the blend consisted of 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and rounding out this Bordeaux Blend with 10% Petit Verdot, this wine shows a balanced tannin structure and a silky mouth-feel from start to finish. A fantastic food wine, but sporting a surprisingly short finish. Decant a full two hours in a "standard" decanter for maximum enjoyment [skip the those so-called wonder aerators].

Price, ABV and Score: This wine has a SRP of $20 and weighing in at a surprising 14.1% ABV. Surprising because of its light weight character. I gave this wine 90 points as a stand alone wine, but as food pairing champion it's a 93 point wine easily, great QPR.

Food Pairing Recs: I paired this wine with a simple, everyday meal Spaghetti, where I took a long afternoon [while haggling with plumbers] to simmer a rich, savory blend of [fresh cut] tomatoes, onions [a whole one], garlic, basil, oregano, red wine and a small amount of hamburger I picked up from TJ's early that day. Poured the sauce over some spinach infused Fettuccine. A simple garden salad and light vinaigrette on the side. The pairing worked out wonderfully and even my wife fought me for the last sip. Honestly though this wine would pair with so many things, as it is a FOODIE! wine. You could go with BBQ Chicken and still have a winner. Meatloaf and still a winner, see where this is going? Funny, toward the end of the meal, I was sad when the last sip had passed over my lips. This folks should speak volumes to how good this wine is now, right now. It has had time to bottle age wonderfully. My advice for this wine is to drink now and often.

Full Disclosure: Both these wines were sent for the wine review process as samples.

I've probably said this before, but I think it's worth repeating by saying this; when reading this review, please take into account that the CCWB is not easily impressed and I won't waste anyone's precious time reporting on mediocre wine [whether it was a sample or some dud that I purchased for myself]. That said, I believe these wines above deserve not only your time, empty wine glass, but also your hard earned dollars as well. I hope you will give these wonderful wines a swirl and stop by the what is the very popular South Coast Winery for a visit very soon. By the way check out this video below about the Meritage, which I just found on Youtube. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!




Thursday, December 9, 2010

Get Vertical: The Sequel to Sideways

As the CCWB is "on the cutting edge of societal evolution", I've once more scoured the internet just for you and found the long awaited sequel to the book Sideways, called Vertical [and yes a movie deal is in the works]. So what we have here is another inexpensive holiday gift for the wine loving guy or gal in your life and perfect for the stocking. I'm sure you are very familiar with the book Sideways and the infamous, quirky and wonderfully flawed characters Miles and Jack. A book many cite as the flame that ignited or at the very least fermented the synergy of the Pinot Noir revolution that is still drenching many wine store aisles in a sea of garnet colored demands for this captivating juice from the California coastlands.

To Sequel or not to Sequel: Whether you love or loathe all the attention this sometime awkward, sometimes funny film has garnered there is no denying its success and the demand for a sequel from the readers of the book and very happy movie going public, eager and all most demanding request for a sequel. Thus you have Rex Picketts, latest literary work, a self-published sequel called, Vertical. A book his own agent advised him not to write, for fear of Rex becoming the proverbial one-hit wonder, which has doomed a many rockstar wanna-bes to the outlands of residual ridicule.

The Title: Regarding coming up with a title for the sequel, Rex is quoted to say, "I had a tough time coming up with the appropriate name, but through a conversation in his favorite wine store, he found what he thought would be perfect one word title." For one I love the one word title and two I love how the title conveys the subtle imagery of a vertical wine tasting. Because like sampling and surveying wines in a vertical tasting, the title implies there is a surveying series [snapshots if you will] based on vintage years of the characters and is a nifty way for the reader to experience just how unique every year can be in the life of a wine and the life of what really amounts to ordinary people.

Choices: It has been said [and of course it's known], that everybody dies, but on the flip side of that equation not everybody lives. What you can take from that meaning is this; life has so much offer us whilst we toil upon this sod, and for those who don't grab for the gusto, regret will be all you have left. I think the characters from the book, Miles and Jack perfectly illustrate that sentiment, and this alone should compel you to grab a copy of what appears to be another very interesting look into the lives of two ordinary guys, whose choices in life have some real consequences and some real joys as well.

The Plumb Line: Typically known as, "A line from which a weight is suspended to determine verticality or depth" thus what is true in a plumb line is equally true in the plot of Rex Pickett's new book, Vertical. According to Rex, “I have led a surreal life since the popularity of the movie Sideways was released, “said Pickett, who says he was unprepared for the overwhelming success of the film release of Sideways and went on to say that “Vertical captures both the highs and lows of that real existence." I for one can't wait to read his new book, which appears to really plumbs the depths of these two wonderfully flawed characters and brings them to life once more.

Plot Nuggets: Here are a few nuggets of wonderfulness to expect in the sequel. The story lines picks up seven years later and once again Miles and Jack take a different, but similar kind of Road trip that takes them through wine country once more, but his time with Miles’s mother on board, as well as her Filipina caretaker. The novel opens at the World of Pinot Noir event in California’s Central Coast, and follows the foursome, as they visit one wine region after another, between the Central Coast and The Willamette Valley, Oregon. You can also expect to see Miles and Jack in a bit of a role reversal. Miles is no longer the melancholy pulling the luggage of damaged emotions, but the surprised and victorious writer that he never imagined he would be. Mean while back at the ranch, Jack takes the well traveled road of failure and loss looking for a way out, but still digging that same hole that got him there in the first place.

Where to Purchase: You can grab a "softcover" copy of the new book from VerticalNovel.com for $15 or the E-Book for $10.95 through Amazons website and can use your PayPal account if you wish. Buy the Book. Loose Gravel Press will release Vertical in paperback and electronic editions on November 23. A special hardback gift set of Sideways and Vertical: Two for the Road Edition will also be released as a “gift package for the wine lover” in early December. But I've yet to find it available at Amazon or anywhere else for the time being. But I guess early December is a relative term.

Looks like it's going to be another fun and fascinating read and the wine luving guy or gal in your life would surely appreciate a copy of the follow-up sequel to the book Sideways, with Vertical in their stocking this year. Have a wonderful holiday season, sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for the Wine Geek in your life

Well here we are folks the holidays are upon us once more and what would a blog like this be without the benefit of a wonderful Holiday Gift Guide. Have you been thinking about what to get the wine guy or gal in your life, if so you're in the right place. The CCWB has rounded up the "LIST" of the Top Ten things every wine-geek should have or will want to have this holiday season, besides a bottle of their favorite trophy wine. So I've scoured the Internet [with a festive green scrubby pad] and have come up with ten top gadgets that would make any self-respecting wine-geek smile.

Speaking of smiling, something many wine-geeks guys and gals may have a problem with, if they don't have the proper toothpaste to handle those purple stains which have them sporting a purple-haze on their grille. So here we have recommendation number one, which will be the perfect stocking stuffer to keep the "pearly-whites" white.
1. Sensodyne ProNamel Toothpaste: This is a very innovative oral care product, very different when compared with traditional toothpastes and includes an acid protection formula to fight [Wine Acids and Fruit Acids]. SRP $9.90 for a two pack of 4oz tubes from Walmart.

Here's the second thing I wanna recommend,  a product so many wine-geeks, wine-snob or even your garden variety juice jock would love to have is the Vinturi Wine Aerator. I've heard so many folks speak about the benefits of this device, although it does not have the CCWB seal of approval, I'm sure that wine lover in your life will thank you immensely for your thoughtfulness. It is especially helpful for young red wines.

2. The Vinturi Wine Aerator:  Most folks will agree that a vast majority of "RED" wines need to breath before you imbibe, to fully enjoy that fine bottle of red wine you spent hours picking out. Thus enter the Vinturi, which claims it can hurry this process along versus waiting for what sometimes can amount to hours with traditional decanting. SRP $40 USD can be ordered from website or picked up at Bevmo.

The third bestest [a real word, trust me] gift you can give your favorite Oenophile [also known as wine aficionados or even self described connoisseurs] this year is a traditional decanter. This is a gift they will use many times and thank you over and over for your thoughtfulness. Many folks that live here in the states and specifically California [awful CA palates] drink quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon the king of wine. So whilst the device driven aerators are commanding the attention of many, my go-to is still the Riedel Cab Decanter especially for older red wines, where sediment maybe an issue.

3. Riedel Cabernet Decanter:  I'm going to recommend the Cabernet Sauvignon Decanter as the best overall choice. This is a great decanter which I use often and makes all the difference in the flavors and aromas in the wines I drink. It's one of the more reasonably priced decanters you will find, as the costs on some that supposedly deliver better results can be very pricey. SRP $50 USD most places and can buy online still in time for the holiday.

Stocking Stuffer Extra: Decanter Cleaning Beads are a great addition as a stocking stuffer for the wine-geek who has everything. Clean your decanters with these ingenuous stainless steel beads. All you do is add water [I suggest vinegar] and gently swirl the steel pellets, which will smoothly roll over and gobble up stains and deposits left by many older red wines. SRP $9 USD.

The fourth thing I'm going to suggest is the Vacu Vin Wine Saver Gift Set. This is perfect for folks that may not want to finish that entire bottle of red wine they've opened [I know hard to believe]. It's also perfect for folks that have opened say a bottle of overly aggressive Chianti, which could do with a few more days of being open, but not exposed too much air. I've used this system many times and can personally attest that it works great.

4. Vacu-Vin Stainless-Steel Wine Saver: Extracts air from opened bottles to slow down the oxidation process and keep wine fresh for 7 to 10 days and best of all it makes this ingenious "click" sound to let you know when optimum vacuum level has been reached. Make sure you get them couple extra of the reusable rubber stoppers as the gift set only comes with two, trust me on this one. SRP $22 USD most places.

The fifth wine related gift your favorite wine-geek may enjoy is this great two-fer offer from Oster and featured on Amazon is their 4208 Inspire Electric Wine Opener with Wine Chiller. Some folks don't who don't have a lot of room to keep chilled bottles in their fridge, will appreciate a place for their wines to chill out before serving, especially true for white wines and even better for Champagne. The electric cork remover is great for that wine guy or gal that may be afraid of the traditional cork screw, the waiters friend.

5. Inspire Electric Wine Opener with Wine Chiller: This electric bottle opener removes corks [up to 30 on a single charge] at the touch of a button and comes with a recharger for fantastic cordless action and also includes thermal stainless-steel wine chiller which can keep wine cold for hours. SRP $35 USD, but currently on sale for $28 on Amazon.

The sixth thing you may want to consider is stemware, a set of great stems is paramount to fully being able to enjoy the vino that you've spent good money to purchase and time considering your choices. Remember this if you don't remember anything else, well made stemware is key to properly enjoying well made vino. On the other hand if the potential recipient of your gift frequently quaffs 2 buck [up] chuck or similarly priced jug like wines, better suited for that well used half-gallon AM/PM mug.

6. Riedel "O" Glass is the original varietal specific stemless wine glass and in my opinion makes a great all-around wine glass for a majority of Red and White wines [except Pinot Noir]. Riedel, describes it this way, the "O" Cabernet/Merlot stemless wine glass is not only stunning, it is practical, fun and versatile. Great for everyday wine enjoyment and dishwasher safe. They are made from non-lead glass and holds approximately 21 ounces.

They are the kind of glass that allows for easy swirling of the wine in your glass and without fear of spilling, while stacking easily in the cupboard. A set of 2 glasses for a SRP of $25 USD. This glass will have everyone saying "O"! Many folks will pooh-pooh these glasses because the "heat from your hand" issues to which I say, "it's a NON factor".  They also use this same glass in many of the better tasting rooms in Paso Robles.

The seventh item will help you with your storage issues. So do you want to splurge a bit for the budding wine-geek in your life this year, but they are off to the dorms or they are living in very small accommodations. Well I've found what could be a wonderful product for the person who wants to store their wines correctly, but only have enough coin for a few bottles at a time, then I present to you the "NEW" and ultra sleek SIX pack wine cooler. You can even hang it on the wall if you wanted to really maximize your space.

7. The Vinotemp "Six Pack" Thermoelectric Wine Cooler Refrigerator: I found this at the Beverage Factory here in San Diego. Some of it features include a sleek, wall-mount design, eco-friendly thermoelectric technology, a glass door with recessed handle, touch screen temp control and digital temperature display. SRP $300 and on Sale now for $223.

Coming in at number eight is the this wonderful product for helping you keep your cool. The Peugeot Thermal balancing Wine and Champagne bucket. While great for helping you keep your cool, this bucket will also help you stay high and dry as it is pulled in and out of the bucket to dispense your favorite libation, because it does not use ice. Instead it uses four non-toxic removable ice-pack inserts, which can be kept in the freezer.

8. Peugeot Thermal-Balancing Wine Bucket: can be purchased from the Beverage Factory in person or online and our currently offering free shipping for this product. Sells for a SRP of $65 USD.

9. Wine Classes: This next gift idea is for aspiring professional who would love to give a wine related career a swirl. This can be done at the CIA, yep you heard me right you can attend something called Career Discovery—The Professional World of Wine course offered at the CIA. Ah maybe you're thinking um what does the CIA have to do with with discovering a career in the wonderful world of vino. Short one word answer, everything. Especially when the acronym stands for Culinary Institute of America. Their Career Discovery class is a great way to "test the waters" before embarking on a new wine-related career, a look before you leap experience not too be missed.

"Our Career Discovery class is a great way to "test the waters" before embarking on a new wine-related career, a look before you leap experience not to be missed. The tuition for this class is $895 USD and is four days long and starts this coming February."

Finally, I bring your attention to number ten and I can pretty much guarantee that your favorite wine guy or gal does not have this next gift giving idea. Just a little bit too big to put in a stocking and most likely it would be difficult to wrap, however you could get it under the tree and I mean literally.

This is something that even the gadget laden, Tuxedo wearing, James Bond would be intrigued by and that product is something to help corral that collection of vino that could be spiraling out of control. It can hold up to 1600 hundred bottles and is nine feet across and requires nearly no energy to maintain year around.

What is it you may ask, the one and only Spiral Cellar. This gift would definitely require a little more planning on your part, but in the right circumstances this could be one heck of a surprise to the recipient and to your guest that encounter a trap door in your house. 

10. Spiral Cellars: A spiral staircase leading 9 feet underground, surrounded by rows of shelves designed to hold 1,600 bottles of wine. Boom problem solved, even if you don't have the space, no problem. The answer is just below your feet. The price tag for this amazing addition to your home, [are you sitting down]Cellars costs anywhere from $32,000 to $50,000 depending on the bells and whistles you decide to add.

Well folks that's my top ten gifts to give this year, here's to a wonderful Holiday Season. May your hearts be merry, your glasses full and your cellar brimming over with wonderful wines to share with family and friends, cheers. May you all sip long and prosper!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fiji Water is set to dilute a Paso Robles Icon: Justin Vineyards & Winery

This news just-in from the L.A. Times earlier today; "the Fiji Water Company., the imported bottled water firm owned by Beverly Hills entrepreneurs Lynda and Stewart Resnick, has acquired one of  San Luis Obispo County’s Paso Robles oldest and most popular boutique wineries, Justin Vineyards & Winery for an undisclosed price, adding upscale wine to their investments in bottled water and pomegranate juice." Maybe they will  now make some yummy sparkling Pomegranate juice [hope not] to buff out Justin's line-up of stellar wines.

The reporter [P.J. Huffstutter] covering this surprising piece of wine-country news is obviously out of his/her element, because just about anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the Central Coast wine-scene understands Justin Vineyards and Winery is not just another "California winery" as it was stated in the title of the L.A Times article. I'm also pretty sure no one really identifies Justin as being part of SLO county, even though technically that's true.

In fact it was, Justin that really helped put Paso Robles on the proverbial wine-map as great place to grow and vinify amazing mind blowing juice. Now the Baldwins have sold out to corporate giant Fiji Water. Who knows how it will pan out, but corporate take overs by companies that have never been in the wine business will not likely produce the kind of fruit we maybe use to seeing bottled from this wine country icon.

From the outside looking in: According to Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times; "to most investors, mergers or acquisitions are the stock market's equivalent of catnip. Takeover bids typically provide a nice boost to investors' portfolios and confirm their stock-picking smarts. And to hear the executives orchestrating the events as they unfold tell it, they always produce greater profits at the combined company down the road." but as a member of Justin and a huge fan of their product, I remain skeptical, that a company like Fiji has any interest in the passion of producing blockbuster vino that the Baldwins had, when they were the owners of Justin.

From the inside looking out: I've been through acquisitions before and I can tell you it's never "catnip" to the employees of the affected business. Instead it is nothing more than a huge shake-up, where many folks are let go, salaries go down and there will be a streamlining and restructuring of the business model which had propelled Justin to the winetastic heights it had achieved during the time the Baldwins were involved. Say, goodbye to the Social Media position, say goodbye to $1400 "new" French Oak barrels and say goodbye to complimentary tastings of Justin's wines for Isosceles wine club members. Maybe, I'm wrong and I hope I am but we've all heard the promises before. Just saying!

Look Out: The employees of Justin should be afraid, be very afraid; the layoffs [especially at the higher levels] that [Fiji Water] promised were not coming, are coming like a pallet of Fiji Water tumbling unto the floor of grocery chain outlet near you. So yeah, I hope I'm wrong, but I'm probably not. It will start from the top down. Again, [I defer to an expert on these situations, but you be the judge] according to Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times; "Because mergers require the extensive use of estimates on matters like job cuts and asset write-offs, for example, deals represent an opportunity for management to throw everyday expenses into the merger cost bucket and make operating results look better than they actually are." I think some jobs may be going into that "cost" bucket.

Even though according to the L.A Time article the Baldwin's said they would stay on with the business and  even though un-like other wineries [some of their peers] who've felt the squeeze of falling California land prices, “Justin has been doing quite well,” Cochran said. “They’ve just had their best year ever, we plan to take a lot of that good momentum and push it farther.” Un-huh more like "famous last words", well only time will tell and of course these thoughts are just wild speculation at this point. So take it with a grain of salt.

This acquisition of Justin represents the eighth California winery this year, twice as many as last year and the most since 2007, when eight purchases were completed before the recession, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. What's next? "There will be more deals like this, without question," said Jack Daniels, co-founder of Wilson Daniels Ltd., a wine marketing firm in St. Helena [read more]so stay tuned I think I see a trend here.

Strange Indeed: "What makes the deal for Justin unusual is that the company doesn't appear to be in trouble, unlike many other purchases this year," said Vic Motto, co-founder and CEO of Global Wine Partners, an investment bank in St. Helena. Which in my mind begs the question, why then did they want to off load what supposedly has the appearance of all green lights.

Stranger Still: Last month, Foley Family Wines picked up Eos Estate Winery in Paso Robles, which was in receivership [because of the sub-par quality]. To me this is odd, why would anyone want that place? I love Foley Wines especially since they stole away the winemaker from Sea Smoke. Not sure even a new winemaker could make a dent in quality gap of their [EOS] east-side fruit. Foley has been busy adding depth to portfolio [not wine] of wineries that they own and EOS is the latest acquisition.

Another One Bites the Dust: Just like title of one of my favorite songs by Queen, another of my favorite wineries has bit the dust. Again another shock and awe with the 2009 sale of Kosta-Browne, a 10,500-case winery in Sonoma County specializing in [high-end] Pinot Noir, to the Vincraft Group, for about $40 million, according to the The Wine Institute. Look for the memberships roles to open up, the overall quality will to go down and the prices will go up and finally look for these two guys to hit the Willamette Valley soon or the beaches of Aruba. Take your pick.

Who knows which winery is next on the chopping block next, but in these tough economic times, you never know which wine icon may be the next to fall. There has to be a reason behind the increase of California wineries selling like the proverbial hot-cake; what those reasons are, remain unknown. It's odd that even some very successful companies [wineries] who don't need to sell just to survive, are selling and moving on. It could be because these companies see the prevailing wind of change [down-ward spiral] in California politics that potentially will take the entire state into receivership along with every business in the state. How, in the form of overly burdensome taxes and obnoxious regulations, that have sent many businesses running from the state like rats on a sinking ship. But who knows the real answers, the truth of the matter remains to be seen. Until next time, sip long and prosper while you still can, cheers.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Malbecophilia: A love story

By Guest Contributor: Rain Graves
As a poet, I take my wine very seriously. As a wino-it must be bottled poetry. Often known for their minor role as a blending grape; Petite Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Barbera, Grenache, and many other ugly step children which often make other Rock Stars like Cabernet Sauvignon stellar, often find themselves overlooked as a standalone.

Often it's these stand alones [in-particular the noble, becoming widely popular, blending grape known as Malbec.] are missing from far too many tasting menus at many Disneyland Wine Country Resorty-Typey Fancy Pants You-Know-Where-Off-CA-Route-29 destinations.

This is sad and wrong. Any wine-maker worth his weight in grape-ton, will tell you that. Especially rouge wine-makers—the crazies. And some of the guys burying amphorae in France [also considered crazy by rigid, regionophile French standards].

I say this not to give blended wines a bad rap, because I’m a blending grape girl. The 1-10% of these blending grapes you find in your Cab, Zin, and as frequent party favors of Bordeaux and her redneck cousin; Red Table Wine are a path to my happy place. On the other hand, give me a 100% blending grape wine, and I’m a happy girl—provided that it has appropriate terroir characteristics to make it true to the varietal.

Bad Actor: Some others take a pass on these wonderful blending grapes, regarding them only as B-movie actors in an A-list production of what the varietal implies; there are so many I can’t possibly get into. For the purposes of this article, I direct your attention to what has vastly become popular over the last decade in Northern California—the humble Malbec. It is one of my favorite varietals out of Argentina, and by origin, [known as Cahors] France—and also the most misunderstood as a final product.

No Snobs: I’m not a wine snob. I started drinking wine, much like many other embarrassed Americans that had mothers drinking wine out of a box (and no, not the newer stuff), thinking jug-wine was normal and right for the average table. But as I grew up and out of my twenties, traveled the world, and spent a heck of a lot of time year after year in Argentina as a dancer, it built a certain expectation of my sense of Malbec as both a French blending grape and as an Argentine standalone wine.

Imagine my surprise, when about 10 years ago, 100% Malbec became a competitive sort of fad among wineries north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Santa Cruz stayed respectably (and perhaps smugly) neutral—they were waiting for Rome to fall—and while Lodi vs. Paso Robles were on the map making wine, they were not as notable by wine industry standards (and the Great Grape Escape adventurers looking for the holy grail of new flavor profiles) yet.

The Malbecs coming out of Napa and Sonoma at that time were not what I considered true to the character and flavor of the Mendoza wines, who’ve really made the Malbec grape their own. Those that had been perfected and well-balanced by hundred-year-old family producers. I can tell you as a dancer in Buenos Aires, I drank a hell of a lot of wine at the time, which has built my tasting memory today. Enabling me to compare and contrast the wine coming out of Mendoza versus the same grape being grown and vinified in the US.

Before the demise of De La Rua’s regime, when the peso was still tied to the American dollar, you could easily buy a stunning bottle of Malbec for $2-6 USD. Less than that, if you count what you could find on any Argentine Table for a typical asado. The wine was good. Perfect, even.

The Black Hats: But there is a villain in this story—and it’s not so much the well-meaning and somewhat adventurist (more like capitalist) fad-jumpers in the Valleys of the Bay Area (I’m leaving Healdsburg out on purpose). It’s the financial Megatrons [with their trans-formative intentions] that went into Mendoza to circumvent the import/export laws that prevent American importers to bring most fine Argentine wines into the states.

The ones who, in the name of “entrepreneurial exploits,” bought up some of those fine old Estancias and Vineyards that knew how and what to make of their grapes, let go of all the time honored traditions, and started making something awful under a new fancy boutique label. Once routed through through the appropriate countries and/or bottling import/export channels, it could then be sold in the US as “Malbec” from Mendoza.

Why are they villains? Because they murdered the soul of the varietal. That’s right. Murdered it. It tastes absolutely nothing like what a true Argentine Malbec should taste like. I could give you flavor profiles, but really, it’s something you have to try for yourself to know the real difference.

Similarly, I think that somewhere along the line Napa and Sonoma really had good intentions (like a lot of Science Fiction writers who do stories about pod people and clone wars) when they decided to make their Malbec grown for blending into stand alone, 100% varietal wines. But there is that problem of terroir—and most of the land produced true to its parcel nature—too smoky, too jammy, too fruity, too thin, too fat, too big, too small, too oddly woody, too off-kilter robust, too ugly step-child, just too much oddness.

As wines themselves, some were very good, but they did not taste like a Malbec should by Argentine standards. I don’t want to turn you off of these wines entirely; they are interesting to taste for their anomaly characteristics, and often worth the price you will pay for them if they are well-balanced by a careful crafter and sinfully adept hand. But they are not what I spent many a long conversation over in Argentina year after year. They are not what you, as a wine enthusiast, should know as a Malbec on principal and on substance.

Iconic Malbec: A perfect Argentine Malbec should be somewhere in happy harmonic flavor between a Cabernet and a Merlot, with hints of Pinot Noir that you can pull out as notes in a chord progression. There are several styles that vary in this description somewhat. I could list a dozen or so houses in Mendoza for you to compare and contrast, but that won’t help you if you can’t get them here. Instead, I will give you one from Mendoza that is a classic example of the flavor profile, and one from Sonoma that is a close French-style cousin, and expertly true to the Argentine version, that are relatively easy to find in the US.

They are also relatively affordable for the average connoisseur, which means you have no excuse not to try them and form your own opinions on the imposters capitalizing on the popularity of the fine old tradition and the Malbec name.

Catena, from Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza, is a great example to start with. You can get their Malbecs stateside fairly easily, ranging in price from $15-25 and up. Like other blending varietals, they age well, and if you can find some older vintages (think 2004 and prior—especially 2000 and 2001), you will enjoy them more than the tighter, younger 2008 and 2009s. Laura Catena also has a home in the Bay Area, and brings her rich Argentine wine-making culture and tradition to the industry here.

The best thing about Catena is they blend the old world with the new without compromising their roots, and stay true to each blend and style of Malbec, beginning with intricate knowledge of their terroir and micro-climates of the Mendoza growing region. Malbecophiles will note that in 2002, they began offering five different styles…all worth tasting for a better understanding of the varietal, if you can find them here.

Chateau St. Jean, from Sonoma Valley in California makes a stunningly smooth and delicious French style Malbec that I both respect and admire as a Malbecophile. It’s as close as I have found so far to a 100% Malbec comparable to Argentine standards. Perhaps because it’s French style—but you have to remember that the grapes come from the soil here. They produce an Estate and a Reserve Malbec, both delicious with subtle differences that vary from year to year (as it should), and my favorite to date is the 2005 Sonoma Reserve.

You might find the newer vintages to be more affordable and easier to find, however, and they will age well. They have been experimenting with Malbec since the late 80’s as a blending grape but expanded their plantings again in the early 2000’s, producing with the fad growers, but somehow getting it infinitely more correct and worthy. Considering the Argentines brought the varietal over from France to plant, it makes sense.

But really, the best part about an Argentine Malbec has always been the price you could get it for in a Supermarcado in Buenos Aires—something Americans have yet to understand fully when it comes to buying wines that are ready to drink now. That price point has changed dramatically since the demise of so many those family houses and, and consumers can expect to pay $10-35 for inferior-made Malbecs that are marketed for the selling-point of the varietal name by new foreign-owned Boutique labels out of Mendoza.

So if you find a Malbec from Mendoza at a discount outlet for $5 or less, you might not do poorly to try it, just to see if it’s decent. Especially if the vintage is 2000-2001. It could be a close-out sell-off from an old traditional house, and delicious.

Some are leaking through the cracks in the space/time wine-continuum, like Colonia Las Liebres has done with their 2007 Bonarda—an unoaked and unfiltered but delicious cousin of the Malbec. It is mysteriously imported by the Chicago importer, Vino Divino Ltd. I found a case of it at a discount wine dispensary for $1.99 a bottle. No put down that Ipad, they don’t have any left. Do you really think I’d have left them with much? You can find it elsewhere for around $5-10. They do make a Malbec, but I have yet to try it. I have a feeling I’ll like it.

I have great hope that the wine industry will evolve and find new ways to understand Malbec as it grows stateside, and it’s entirely possible I’m missing the holy grail of Malbecs hiding somewhere in Healdsburg or Windsor’s vast vines-a-plenty… or especially emerging Santa Cruz Mountain growers, which makes my job more fun, as a wino. Exploratory… (cough).. …research. For Poetry! For Truth! Forwell, anything really. I just love wine.

About the author: ***Rain Graves is the recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Poetry (2002), and a finalist for 2009. Her book, Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes was hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “Bukowski meets Lovecraft…” She has been publishing fiction and poetry in horror/fantasy/sci-fi markets professionally since 1997, and as an avid wine lover, has done quite a bit of wine writing and winery-commissioned poetry on the side. You can read her tasting poetry on Twitter, and see her performances at events listed on her website [on my blog roll] or FaceBook.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pinot Files: Three Nice Finds under $25


If we're not willing to settle for junk-living, we certainly shouldn't settle for junk wine/food. -Sally Edwards

I'm always on the lookout for a good Pinot Noir in the $25 and under price range. Sadly though, it's not a price range where you'll find too much quality, too often. In my opinion and from my experience any Pinot Noir worth quaffing and laying down one's hard earned dollars for, better bring a little something more to the game then just the Pinot Noir name on the label.

Most of us can appreciate the fact; Pinot Noir grape is unpredictable and difficult both to grow and to vinify and that automatically equals much higher costs for the producer. Something which translates to higher per bottle costs. Honestly tho, I don't mind paying a little more for a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, especially if it's done right. On the other hand, if you can't get the [quality] square peg into the [price] round hole, why do some folks keep trying anyway, is it just to cash-in on the Pinot Noir fad?

It leaves the average consumer like me to start speculating a bit, and maybe even out-right suspect some folks commodity-style jug wine producers, will just slap Pinot Noir on the bottle in hopes of suckering some hapless vino-sapien into making a purchase.

I say that because, some of Pinot Noir I've encountered under $25 price point doesn't even begin to resemble anything like a well-made, respectable New World Pinot Noir should be, but is still passed off as Pinot Noir.

Sometimes I just have to chuckle to myself, thinking "did you really mean to bottle this"? Which is why I don't drink too much Pinot Noir, on a regular basis. As we all know life is too short to drink bad wine, so I'd rather skip attempting to find a decent Pinot in that price range.  Especially, when I can find so many Cabernets Sauvignons, Syrahs, Merlot in the $10-$25 price range. Wines which are drink extremely well, well made, highly quaffable [trust me, this is a word] wine on a regular basis. It's too bad the same can't be said about the Pinot Noir category in the price range. Personally, I don't have the coin to be quaffing $30 to $50 New World Pinot Noir on a regular basis, I don't think too many other folks do either.

Still there are exceptions to every rule; it's here where I want to point out a few Pinot Noirs of the winners, wines I know licensed to thrill, so make sure you grab yourself a few of this very approachable and food friendly winners.

Personally, I've just had some of favorite Pinots land on my doorstep; wines from Sea Smoke, Kosta Browne and Patricia Green, the 2008's which I will be laying down until 2010. Seeing I'm just now getting around to the 2006 vintage, but most of those wines are in the expensive range and not what I would call an everyday drinker. 

Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2008:  I purchased this beauty from BevMo who's selling this deftly made wine for just $22. Folks I'm telling you this one fantastic Pinot Noir for the money, bursting with cola, sweet baking spices and cranberry flavors, wrapped around some earthy goodness. 

It's light bodied and has good acidity making it very mouth watering. From the first sip to the last drop, flat out fantastic and I would decant this wine to fully release all of its wondrous complexities. This wine represents one of the "low-end labels that Bryon offers. They have a few other Pinot Noirs in their line up, I'm looking forward to.

Pairing Suggestion: After putting in a full day of work, I stopped by Costco for a nice Salmon fillet. Prepared some mustard, olive oil, lemon juice and brown sugar crystals, set the oven to broil, and 15 minutes later Pinot pairing perfection. On the side some steamed broccoli and some freshly mashed yams blended with thyme.

Other Voices: The folks over at the Wine Advocate had this to say; "The generic and least expensive Pinot Noir, the 2008 Santa Maria, is a user-friendly, yet seriously endowed Pinot Noir with loads of fruit cake  roasted herbs, black cherry, and plum notes. The wine has a dark plum color, deep, lush flavors, and succulence and fleshiness that are totally seductive. Drink it over the next 2-3 years and they scored this wine 90 Points.

Fort Ross Pinot Noir 2007: After decanting for an hour before dinner, I found both some barnyard [varietal funk], mixing together with baking spices and red berry aromatics wafting effortlessly from the glass [seriously, from the moment I poured it into the decanter]. 

On the palate a smear of black raspberry, bramble berries, intermingling with hints of subtle earth tones and a dash of baking spices. Perfectly integrated tannins and what has become known as the Fort Ross Vineyard "signature minerality" are apparent as it unravels nicely in a layered, velvety finish. I scored this wine 92 and give it a run don't walk recommendation.

Where to Purchase: To keep this under the twenty five dollar price point, you better see if your local Costco has any more left. That is where I scored mine last night for $24.99 each. You can find this wine at other online purveyors for $30 to $35 and still a good price. But for $25 if you can find it, buy them all.

Pairing Recommendation: This wine is a food freak, which will pair with many different types of dishes, but if you're thinking leftover Turkey and a raspberry reduction sauce, you are heading toward yumsville.

Other Voices: The folks over at the Wine Enthusiast had this to say, "What a beautiful Pinot Noir for drinking now with lamb chops or maybe a rich, exotic Ahi tuna tartare. Brilliantly crisp in acidity, with a clean, bracing mouth-feel, it offers dazzlingly rich flavors of raspberries, cherries, orange zest, Dr. Pepper cola and Asian spices, with smoky oak adding elaborate tiers of vanilla char. For the price, it’s a very great buy." and they scored it 95 Points.

Taz 2008 Pinot Noir: Another wonderful wine from Santa Barbara County. With so much hoopla around RRV PN it can be easy to forget about the wonderful expressions of Pinot Noir, coming from this area. In the glass you'll find a wonderful cranberry colored core, floral and baking spice aromas swirling about, leaning toward the strawberry end of the flavor spectrum. 

On the plate a well-balanced attack of baking spices, red berry fruits and finish is plush. I scored this wine 91 points. Just a fantastic wine from the SBC region. Taz really delivers a consistent wine tasting experience.

Where to Purchase: This wine sells for $24.99 most places and as low as $17.99 at some online purveyors. I purchased mine at the San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road.

Pairing Recommendations: This wine is what I would call nicely intense and won't compete for your palates attention when paired with some lovey seared Ahi, Mushroom Risotto and sauteed asparagus spritzed with some olive oil. Just fantastic.

Well folks those are my faves that I've recently come across in the $25 and under category of Pinot Noirs and I hope to expand that list, as I am always looking for the next PN that will be rock solid fantastic and still fit within this price range. Geez, I  know there so many PN's over that price which are flat-out good, but those wines are meant for another discussion on another post, so until then sip long and prosper, cheers!
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