Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New! New! Not.

We’ve been going through a phase. We’re actually a little tired of trying new this, new that, in search of another good affordable everyday wine. We’ve just been buying our known favorites – two of this, three of that, maybe even a case of something just to have Old Reliable on hand.

Thus, we don’t have a lot of new reviews we’re excited about (although we do have a backlog of tasting notes still to post). So we thought we’d list – for you and as a reminder for ourselves – some of our current all-time-favorite fallback affordable wines. These are the wines we’re buying in multiple quantities and keeping on hand for everyday drinking.

  • Castle Rock Pinot Noir – California
  • Barnard Griffin Syrah – Washington
  • Red Diamond Syrah – Washington
  • Concannon Petite Sirah – California
  • Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Washington
  • Tapeña Garnacha (Grenache) – Spain
  • Tapeña Tempranillo – Spain
  • Beringer White Zinfandel – California
  • Brancott Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
  • Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
  • Barnard Griffin Sauvignon Blanc – Washington
  • Covey Run Fume (Sauvignon) Blanc – Washington
  • B&G Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) – France
  • Kiona Chenin Blanc – Washington
  • Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio – Washington
  • Ryan Patrick Naked Chardonnay – Washington
  • Barnard Griffin Chardonnay – Washington
  • Bogel Petite Sirah – California
  • Bogel Old Vine Zinfandel – California
All of the wines on the above list should be readily available for under $15, many even for $10 or less. And they all should be widely available.

You might notice, sadly, that there aren’t any affordable Zinfandels on that list. We absolutely adore Zin, yet have been disappointed with several (many) sub-$15 wines we previously enjoyed. The closest we have come are Dancing Bull and Ravenswood (for when we don’t want to break out a Ridge or Turley; both of which are generally in the $30+ range), but we just don’t think they quite make this list. It’s also unfortunate that there are so few nice Pinot Noirs in our “affordable” price range. We could drink Pinot Noir every day – if we could find a few in our everyday-budget range. UPDATE: We've added Bogel's Old Vine Zin to our list – the best "cheap" Zin we're recently discovered.

Finally, note that there are four Sauvignon Blancs on the list – probably because it’s summer and we love those wines this time of year. The two New Zealand wines are bright, crisp, and grassy – typical NZ styles. The two Washington wines are more mellow but still fresh and lively – excellent summer dinner wines.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Worthwhile Wine Reading

Boschendal is a winery in South Africa we’ve never heard of, nor have we tried any of their wines. But we instantly fell in love with their blog (which is mostly a wine news round-up from many international sources).

Here are some of our favorite headlines from recent posts:

England – It’s against the law to have wine with your picnic
French wines are now allowed to advertise on the internet
What not to do with wine
Women prefer more expensive wine

The last story is especially fascinating, in that it discusses a taste test that seems to indicate that when the price of a bottle is known in advance, women (but not men) rate it higher in quality. We, being smarter than the writers of the original article, refuse to even speculate on why that might be. Great reading, nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wine Blog Writing Disclosures

If you write a wine blog – or any blog, for that matter – watch out what you write and how you disclose any compensation you might receive. The Federal Trade Commission wants to get in your face and “monitor” what’s written online about wines, wineries, products, books, trips, companies, or anything that purports to be a sort of “review” that might have been influenced by compensation from a business. The FTC has an 86-page document detailing the proposal.

UPDATE: John C. Dvorak, writing on pcmag.com, has the most well-written commentary on this topic. He didn’t pay us anything to say that.

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help:
Did you pay for that burger yourself, son?”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Turley Zinfandel Atlas Peak Mead Ranch 2007 – California

This was a fun experiment. We’d had Turley Zins before, but they’d always been older vintages that were in bottle for at least a few years. We recently got on Turley’s mailing list, and this new release was one of the bottles from our shipment. We’d been trying to decide when to open the first bottle – now or wait. Obviously, with this bottle, “now” won.

This is a big, jammy wine. Like a raspberry pie. It has an enticing berry nose, and there’s nothing shy about the tastes – sharp acids and new tannins, but balanced by all that fruit. We do think we’ll give the rest of our 2007 Turleys a year or two (at least) in bottle.

As we are sort of new to Turley, we decided to have an expensive evening so opened a 2005 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel “just for comparison.” (We’ve previously said that this Ridge was one of our all-time favorite, “desert island” wines.) The two wines were surprisingly similar, but the Ridge had a more subtle nose and more integrated tastes. That could be because of two more years in the bottle, the vintage itself, or the winemaker’s style. Both wines were wonderful. Overall we said the Ridge was more “elegant” and the Turley was more “powerful,” despite so many similarities. We’ll let you know in a couple of years how these Turleys are shaping up. Yes. $35

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sutter Home Chenin Blanc 2007 and Sutter Home Moscato 2007 – California

From the makers of one of the iconic California White Zinfandels, comes this Chenin Blanc. Definitely California, not a dry French style. Nose is sweetly floral and honey. Tastes are of smooth apricot, honey, and just enough acid to keep the sweetness from being sticky. Not an everyday food wine, but at the price a nice patio sipper. Yes. $5

The Sutter Home Moscato is so similar to the Chenin Blanc that it could have come from the same vat... except that this doesn’t have the acid to balance the sweetness. (Beringer also makes a cheap Moscato, which we far preferred. And as we’ve noted before, we really like less-known varietals.) Maybe. $5

Monday, June 15, 2009

Guest Blogger: A New Wine Rating System

(Tom Briggs of Fort Worth, Texas, sent us a note about his wine experiences. We enjoyed his rating system so much we decided to let Tom explain it here.)

I wanted to let you know that I’ve enjoyed reading AMealWithoutWine for some time now. I really like its perspective.

We rate every wine we drink on what I call an “X” scale: That is, a wine that’s worth what we paid for it gets a 1X, something worth triple what we paid gets a 3X, and so on. We try to hit at least a 2X or 3X, even though most of what’s out there – especially from California – usually doesn’t even make it up to 1X. As AMealWithoutWine has indirectly pointed out, Washington state has some real finds. Covey Run’s basic Riesling, for example, generally gets a 2.5X or a 3X (we pay $9, but it’s better than a lot of Rieslings in the mid $20s), as does the Ste. Michelle, and they’re generally repeatable and consistent from year to year.

The main problem we run into is repeatability: Often when we find a great value wine, it’s either completely gone the next time we shop for it, or the next vintage year isn’t as good. Our record-breaking find was a Monterra Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, which we rated at an eye-popping 10X: We paid $4 but we thought it was worth $40. (It was fully mature, with a fair amount of sediment and a decent amount of real aged Grand-Cru taste.) Of course that’s gone forever and we only managed to buy 8 cases. The Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was a real find at 4X (we paid only $6), but the 2005 wasn’t anywhere close to as good. That’s the story of our wine life – trying to find the best quality for the price.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Castle Rock Pinot Noir 2007 – California

We’ve experienced back-and-forth availability for this, yet it’s always been one of our favorite inexpensive Pinots. Recently found it again on one of our travels. Despite our challenges finding it in rural Washington, it seems to have pretty wide availability.

Nose is of cherry, cherry, cherry. Taste is of cherry, cherry, cherry – a mixed bowl of cherries. (“Just a bowl of cherries.” Sorry.) Maybe a tiny touch of earth, and some notes of rose hips and thimbleberries. (Does anyone else know what a thimbleberry tastes like? It’s sort of a soft, mild raspberry.) House. Usually about $10 on sale, $12 retail.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Winery of the Half-a-Year

We still have more than half a year of tastings ahead of us, so we won’t finalize our Winery of the Year until the end of 2009. But we did want to highlight a winery that has incredibly impressed us so far, and is a top candidate for WOTY honors.

Without exception, every wine we’ve tried from Barnard Griffin winery has been a winner. We don’t generally care for most Cabernet Sauvignon, yet their non-vintage Cabernet/Merlot received our House rating, as did both their Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. We gave both their Chardonnay and White Riesling a Yes rating.

The winery is located in the Yakima Valley in south-central Washington (Richland), and in our experience the wines have good availability at retail in Washington state. Barnard Griffin also has three different wine clubs available, as well as an online store, if you can’t find the wines in your area.

Watch for our Winery of the Year 2009 post in January (which may, of course, contain surprises), but until then, sample some of the Barnard Griffin wines.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cathedral Ridge Pinot Noir 2006 - Oregon

Nose of smoke and black cherry. The tastes carry through with the same notes, and some acidity and heat. This feels “young,” and might benefit from a couple of years of bottle age. (Or not. It’s hard to tell with anything less than great Pinots if they’ll improve with age, or just become tired versions of their younger selves.) Maybe. $26