Yes, it is 26 minutes long and very few of you are going to have the dedication for that. And don’t think I am trotting this out as a slam-dunk on the argument. Just an interesting piece about 5 years old which needs to be dredged out occasionally. Nothing ground-shaking here–more about marketing than anything. Anyone who has ever had a 1985 Napa Cab and a 2005 Napa Cab and a 2015 Napa Cab and wondered what happened should watch this. Anyone who enjoyed Sonoma Zinfandel in the 90’s and has tried Paso Robles Zinfandel today should watch this. It is in-depth enough the serious wineNerds will enjoy it and if it just plants the seed of “Why?” in the minds of the not-so-wineDork, then I have done my job. Read your labels, people.
Here is the video:
I think the video does a good job of defining the territory – and, perhaps as was noted, the younger generation (Millennials) and beyond will move to new ways of discovering wine. And remember, the oldest Millennials are nearly 40. That said, if the Parker favored style is not to your taste, there are plenty of options – but you will have to become educated about them.
As I often say in this blog – wine is about enjoyment, and the depth of knowledge of any wine lover only needs to be sufficient to allow the level of enjoyment desired. We don’t need to be experts to enjoy wine, but it is good to have information like this as wine consumers.
Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.
As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.
Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).
Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroirorigins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.
Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.
The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online.
Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).
The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75%Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56%Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95%Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2%Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.
Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!
Dorianne and I did a post-Christmas trip to Paso Robles this week. We were accompanied by her sister Debby and Debby’s husband, Mike, who live in Oklahoma, but love wine very much. The trip was really a good experience, so I will cover it in two posts.
Paso Robles has become the premier region of California’s Central Coast, which is saying something, as there are a lot of great wines coming from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. With over 200 producers, Paso Robles is the largest region (it includes 11 AVA’s), but it is also the place where the most experimentation and innovation is happening, which is by design. The focus is mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but there are dozens of varietals being grown and the Rhône-style wines produced there are world-class.
I have written before of our trips there to attend the Garagiste Festivals (LINKS). This time, we selected just a few wineries to visit, three on the east side and two on the west side; HWY 101 is the divider. This post will speak to the east side and Part 2 the west side.
Our arrival on Sunday night began with dinner at Mistura (LINK), a Peruvian themed restaurant located at a golf course on the east side of town. This highly rated restaurant was an excellent choice for food and beverage, but our timing was off. The Sunday after Christmas is a very unpredictable night, and they were a bit over-crowded. We did not get seated for our 7:00 pm reservation until about 7:45 pm and our dinner did not arrive until almost 8:30 pm. That said, the staff was very gracious and helpful the wine list is very good, and the venue is very nice. Avoid the holidays and you should have a great experience.
On Monday, joined by our daughter, Grace, who was in the area with her father for the holidays, we began our tours at Eberle Winery (LINK)on Route 46. A relatively large producer for Paso Robles, Eberle provides a very good customer experience when you visit: complimentary tastings and winery tours (Dave Olcott and his team do a very professional job), a nicely appointed main tasting room, and knowledgeable staff. We felt well cared for and enjoyed our tour and experience very much. The venue is also available for special occasions and there is a VIP Tasting experience in the Wine Caves offered for a fee that looked very nice. Some photos from Eberle.
The wines at Eberle range from whites like Chardonnay, Viognier, and a Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc blend; a Syrah Rosé; and reds that include Barbera, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. Most of the wines on their website are available for tasting. You get to choose up to five wines to taste. Overall, I would rate Eberle as a very competent wine producer and many of their wines are good values. We particularly enjoyed (and purchased) the 2014 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, the 2013 Zinfandel, and the 2013 Barbera.
The next stop was Tobin James Cellars (LINK), farther east just off of Route 46 East. Tobin James has a unique branding look and their tasting room facility is set like a saloon in the wild west. Very campy. The place was packed when we arrived (about noon on a Monday), with three large bars pouring complimentary tastings. One thing that appeals to me – they have Tommy Bahama brand (LINK)shirts with their logo and name on them. Probably 2/3 of my wardrobe is Tommy B.
Tobin James takes a little getting used to for the serious wine drinker – getting past the colorful hype if you will. In the tasting room, you have your choice of a variety of wines on the tasting menu, but only one Zinfandel. Since I know Tobin James as a producer of high-quality Zinfandels, I asked Bethany, our very personable and competent tasting room staff person, if there was another menu. She smiled and produced a second menu with 6 Zinfandels, a Primitivo, and seven other Reserve wines. Also complimentary for tasting. Now we were getting somewhere.
Dorianne and I did side-by-side tastings of the 6 Zins, which were all excellent. We purchased three after getting Grace to expand her pallet a bit. When you get to the higher-end wines, Tobin James excels. Their other wines are good for everyday use as well.
Our final stop of the day was a Cass Winery (LINK) in Creston, just southeast of Paso Robles. We know Cass Winery as a primary source of fruit for our Agoura Hills-based wine cooperative that I have posted about in the past (LINK). Cass, run by Steve Cass, is very well-known as both a reliable and innovative producer of a number of varietals. With 17 wines featured on their website, they are also very versatile. I am a big fan of Cass’s Rhône-style whites, particularly the Rousanne and Marsanne varietals.
Since our tasting included lunch in the winery cafe, it was an opportunity to experience their wines with some food. I opted for their award-winning burger, which was not the best choice for the whites, but . . . I was hungry.
Suffice to say that the Rousanne and Marsanne that we tasted were excellent – rich and fruity with a nice sense of minerality. The reds, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon, were also very nice.
So our first day of tasting came to a close at about 2:30 pm. Then we said farewell to Grace and headed for the market to get chicken and some other provisions for dinner at our AirBnB house that evening. The Eberle Viognier and Zinfandel purchased that morning would prove up to the task of the appetizer and main courses.
Wine travelis indeed rewarding, the wines, the places, and the people.
Next post – Paso Robles’ west side, featuring Tablas Creek and Calcareous Wineries, and a great Mexican restaurant.
The Garagistè Festival(LINK), for the uninitiated, is a gathering that promotes and celebrates small production winemakers from Paso Robles and elsewhere in California. These are folks who produce under 1500 cases per year. Some are new and plan to grow into the future Mondavis or Kendall-Jacksons of the world; others are doing it as a labor of love and have no plans to expand; still others are winemakers for larger concerns and this is their hobby-like “side venture.” There are also now Garagistè Festivals in Solvang and in Los Angeles each year.
This is the fifth annual Paso Robles event, and I have attended all of them. Dorianne and I drove up from LA County where we are staying with friends for last night’s Winemakers’ Mixer and today’s workshops and Grand Tasting (which I will blog about later).
The mixer was added a few years ago, and has been held in different places. This year, it was in the barrel room at Broken Earth Winery (LINK). There were about 35 wineries represented (and one local hard cider maker), including about 1/2 dozen who had been at all five festivals. There were some snacks provided and the Pairing Knife Food Truck(LINK) was also on hand with some great food.
The focus of the evening was new releases and tastings of wines that had not yet been released. You might say that this concept is loosely observed. There were some new releases, and some yet-to-be-released wines (one, just pressed and served from a 5 gallon plastic container), but there were also some 2007 Cabernets and other regular production wines, but really, who cares?
The fun of this evening was meeting young (and not-so-young) winemakers who are following their dream and doing what they love. They are eager to talk about their wines and really enjoy it when someone with some knowledge shows up. There were over 70 wines to taste, so spitting was in order. The general quality of the wines at the Garagistè Festival has improved significantly over the past five years. But, there is still a pretty wide range of quality, which is also part of the fun.
Here are a few highlights from the evening for us – we did not taste every single wine (you can get wines from most of these small producers via their website):
Ascension Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles. Currently produces 8 wines in the Rhône style. We tasted their GSM called Trinity and a Syrah – both were very well-crafted and balanced.
Deno Wines (LINK), Templeton, CA. The last wine we tasted before departing, the wine was a pre-release of the blend of 50% Zinfandel and a 50% GSM blend. This surprising combination produced a very spicy and well-balanced wine. Dennis Sharpe will have some other GSM’s out today for the Grand Tasting.
Incendium Wines (LINK), Napa Valley, CA. Winemaker Vince Kalny is a firefighter for Cal Fire. His wines reflect his primary calling, with beautifully designed labels. A portion of the proceeds from sales go to The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. That said, his wines are very well made. There were 3 Chardonnays, 2 Cabernet Sauvignons and a Syrah to taste. The Cabs (2012 & 2013 – pre-release) stood out as very well-crafted and were smooth and ready to drink.
Stanger Vineyards (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Last year, when we entered the mixer, the first person we saw was J.P. French holding a 5 gallon plastic water jug that was filled with Malbec that had just been pressed. He sloshed some of the juice into our glasses and moved on. Later, we returned to his table and discovered some amazing wines. J.P. was back this year, with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in the plastic jug – again, just pressed. He also had a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was spicy, earthy, but with nice red fruit on the nose and palate. If you are into wine, Stanger Vineyards is a good bet.
Theopolis Vineyards (LINK), Anderson Valley, CA. Theopolis, run by Theodora Lee, a Texan and an attorney by trade, had 7 or 8 wines (we were well into the tasting) on display. Theopolis has a focus on Petite Syrah on the red side, and the Symphony Grape – a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. As its pedigree suggests, it is a seductively aromatic wine with delightfully captivating aromas that are markedly floral with slightly spicy flavors (from their website). She also produces a very seductive Petite Syrah Rosè. The wines were among the best of the evening and I look forward to visiting her again today at the Grand Tasting.
Turiya Wines (LINK), Lompoc, CA. Turiya means “pure consciousness” in Sanskrit. Winemaker Angela Soleno brings a consciousness to winemaking that produces some exceptional wines. We tasted a Sangiovese and a Bordeaux Blends, and both were excellent. A one-woman operation, Angela produces about 200 cases annually, all reds, featuring a number of varietals – Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Wine prices begin at about $100/bottle and you have to be on the allocation list to receive wine. Visit the website for more information.
Vinemark Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Mark Wasserman, who runs Vinemark with his wife, Julie, was present with two wines, a 2013 Reserve Pinto Noir and a 2012 Mezzanote, a blend of 75% Primitivo and 25% Petite Syrah. Mark is the classic Garagistè, in it for the love of winemaking. He loves to talk about his wines, and they are wonderful.
So that is a taste of the tasting mixer. There were a number of other quality wines present and, again, try as we might, Dorianne and I did not get to taste everything. Today – the Classic Tasting with about 70 producers and a couple of hundred wines. We will do our best.
The other day, I was joined by Sonic Nourishment (LINK) musicians Erika Luckett and Lisa Ferraro for a day in western Sonoma for some wine tastings and lunch. It was a perfect day weatherwise, and we began with a drive out to Iron Horse Vineyards (LINK)near Sebastopol.
Known for their sparkling and white wines, Iron Horse consists of just over 100 acres of vineyards. We opted for two tastings, with Lisa getting the sparkling wines and me getting the white wines (Erika was our designated driver). The sparklers were all well-crafted (with the exception of one that turned out to be a bad bottle – when we pointed it out to the tasting room personnel, another one was opened, which was fine). I am not a huge sparkling wine fan, but I do appreciate the bubbly from time to time, and these were all very drinkable to me. Lisa said that she was overall less impressed than on a prior visit to Iron Horse.
The whites, all Chardonnays, were equally well-crafted, especially the 2012 Rued Clone Chardonnaywhich was especially well-crafted with a nose of white fruit – pears and apples – with a hint of caramel. Very nice. We did not taste any of their Pinot Noirs, saving our strength for the long day ahead.
One note – the tasting notes pages at Iron Horse said nothing about the wines, only naming some suggested food pairings. Since there was no food available, I did not find this very helpful. On the other hand, the tasting room staff was very helpful and paid attention to everyone.
Next, we headed into Healdsburg (LINK) for lunch and to hit a couple of tasting rooms there.
After a healthy lunch at the Oakville Grocery, we headed over to Banshee Wines(LINK), for some Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,Pinot Noir, a Cabernet and a red blend. Banshee sources fruit from a number of Sonoma coastal and inland vineyards. They produce wines that are more Californian than Burgundian in style, which is not surprising. Lisa and I each did their basic tasting (there is also a reserve tasting), of three Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs. They were all well-crafted and very good (think somewhere between oaky and stainless steel for the Chardonnays; the reds were very nice with one exception – The 2013 Mordecai Red Blend, made up of 9 varietals, had such an off-putting nose (think swampy) that neither Lisa nor I could get to the tasting. We asked the tasting room staff if this was a bad bottle, and were told that it was fine. We dumped that one.
Otherwise, the Banshee Wines that we tasted were enjoyable. Like many smaller producers in the area, their price points are a bit high for the average buyer – but if you like the wines, you will buy them.
Our final stop of the day (we needed to beat the traffic back to the East Bay), was Thumbprint Cellars (LINK), whose tasting room is just off the square in Healdsburg. I had some of their wines a couple of years back, when they were regularly featured on the Wines Till Sold Out (www.WTSO.com) site, and liked them very much. When I mentioned that to the tasting room staff, I was told that those were special blends made just for WTSO at the time.
We started with their 2013 Arousal white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, a floral nose, very rich mouth feel, and smooth finish on this one. We also tasted the 2011 Climax red blend, a mix of 44% Syrah, 26% Merlot,
20% Zinfandel, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viogner. This one is very smooth and complex (as you might imagine), but well-balanced. Very nice. I brought a bottle of this one home; so did Lisa. The 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon was everything you would want in a Sonoma Cab – rich, spicy, bold, and lots of dark fruit, but with an elegance that is so often missing in “big” wines.
So that was our day in Western Sonoma. Like all such tasting outings, we had a great time and missed a lot of wineries. But that gives us something to go back for.
Here in the Thousand Oaks/Malibu, CA area, we are awash in wine – a good thing. There are over twenty wineries in the two Malibu AVA’s, and a lot of tasting rooms, wine bars, and wine-centric retailers in the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village area. The competition is growing as the area is developing into a wine destination. Last night, a groups of us joined a large crowd at Sunland Vintage Winery Tasting Room (Link) in Thousand Oaks. The proprietors, Michael and Debby Giovinazzo, held court in a bustling tasting room, pouring $5 glasses of wine for their Thursday evening promotion Tantalizing Thursday, featuring different food trucks each week. Last night it was Cousin’s Maine Lobster Truck (Link), featuring lobster rolls, chowder, tacos and more.
We settled in at a large table (nine of us), and ordered some wine from the server, Merissa. We started with the Albarino, a nicely crafted white that was perfect with lobster. The line for the Lobster Truck was long, but convivial. Then we headed into the land of the reds. Sunland has two labels, Giovinazzo Wines – Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Teroldego, and Barbera, and their SVI Brand – Premium Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, the Albarino, and Bordeaux Blends. The wines are very well crafted. It is very unusual to have so many Italian varietals from a California winery, so you have to give Sunland credit for being ambitious. We did not taste all of the wines – the $5 per glass format of the evening precluded that, but we did have a sampling. On the Italian side, the Giovinazzo Wineslabel, we tasted the Dolcetto (harsh and very acidic, and I usually like Dolcettos); Montepulciano (very nice, smooth and balanced, best of the night); Malbec (also nicely balanced, but not very distinctive). From the SVI Wines label, we had the Albarino (very nice, smooth, fruity, grassy); Zinfandel (very sweet, big, ripe, almost a dessert wine); Cabernet Sauvignon (well-crafted, balanced, nice fruit/mineral balance). I plan to return to get some time to taste some of these wines again and to try some of the others. I also want to speak to Mike and Debby when it is less hectic. Sunland Winery is a great addition to the Thousand Oaks wine scene.
Last night, Dorianne and I got together with Richard Clark and Mary Stec to participate in the New York Times Wine School. The Wine School is a monthly look at different varietals written by Eric Asimov, the Times wine writer. The purpose is to take a deeper look at various varietals and to actually drink the wine, rather than just taste it. Richard, as I have mentioned in other posts, is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op that Dorianne and I belong to.
We have done the previous Wine School varietals, usually two at a time, with Richard and Mary. We decided to do the Zinfandel, from July, on its own. Appetizers were gathered (baguette, prosciutto, goat and cheddar cheeses, smoked fish, and marinated peppers), and the main course – an AMAZING chicken mole with black beans and rice, was prepared by Mary (she and Richard used to import mole from Oaxaca in Mexico, so she knows her stuff).
Anyway, this is really about the wine. The Wine School always recommends three choices for the varietal of the month – wines that are likely easier to find in New York than in California in most instances. For the Zinfandel Wine School, Asimov recommended three wines: a Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012 $21, Turley California Zinfandel Juvenile 2012 $30 and Ridge Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 2011 $35. Well, we didn’t have any of those, so we used two wines and had a back-up standing by.
Our wines were a 2009 Grgich Hills $34, a 2009 Caymus $45, and a 2011 Moss-Roxx Ancient Vines $20, the latter remaining unopened.
Zinfandel has been in California since the early 1800’s and originally came from Croatia, where it is called tribidrag. I understand that it is also the same grape as primitivo in Italy, although there is some controversy about that.
Zinfandel, like all varietals, can show up in a variety of ways, influenced by everything that wine is influenced by – climate, weather, soils, sun and temperature, viticulture, wine making practices, ageing, etc. However, in general, the wine falls somewhere between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir on the heavy to light red wine continuum. I find that Zin and Syrah can be very similar in tone and texture. It is normally great with meats and grilled foods. There are also some very interesting non-traditional Zinfandel blends showing up in places like Paso Robles.
The Grgich Hills and the Caymuswere very different wines. The alcohol content was equivalent – 15.3% and 15.2% respectively, but the style was very different. The Grgich Hills was soft and elegant and the Caymus was big, bold, and heavy – definitely a Robert Parker kind of wine.
Fortunately, we opened the Grgich Hills first to have with the appetizers. It was a perfect complement to the prosciutto and cheeses and the other items. Elegantly balanced, the wine had spice notes, pepper, and fruit present. Delicious.
The Caymus was something else. Heavier, almost syrupy on the tongue, it was a fruit bomb. Fortunately, that was what the chicken mole required – something to stand up to the richness of the sauce and the greasy chicken. Richard preferred the Caymus to the Grgich Hills, I took the opposite position – although both are very good wines.
The alcohol level of these wines made opening the Moss-Roxx unadvisable. It is resting back on the shelf as I write, waiting for another day.
Zinfandel has its lovers and its detractors. I am generally a fan, although I don’t actually drink that much of it. Our co-op made a pretty good Zin in 2010 and our just-bottled 2012 vintage includes a Zin-Merlot blend that should be interesting.
Let me know what your favorite Zinfandels are and what your best food pairing experiences have been in the comments section.
As noted in my Philosophy of Wine entry, I drink wine almost every day with dinner. Dorianne and I drink 3 or 4 reds to every white or rosé, except in summer, when that ratio tends to be reversed.
I put reds into three basic categories – everyday, special dinner, and very special occasion. Everyday wines would run about $20 and under, special dinner from $20 to $50, and very special occasion from $50 and up. A bottle with a great story or one that is hard to obtain may put it up a category or two even though the price point is lower.
Everyday wines are the mainstay of our consumption. These are generally wines that we buy from local retailers or online at sites like WTSO.com. Occasionally, they come from a winery. We also have our wine co-op wines that fall into the everyday category. We get about 8 cases from our co-op share each year, 6 of red and 2 of white. I will not include the co-op wines in these reviews, because you cannot obtain them. We had a 2010 Petit Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon on Monday night from the co-op.
So how do you choose your favorite everyday wines? I would begin with trial and error then move out from there based on a certain level of awareness that develops as to what to look for – certain varietals, wine makers, and price points. The trial and error comes first – you sample some wines. This can happen by purchasing at a retailer, or you can be a bit more creative.
When you are invited to a party, if they have lower priced wines, try some. See if you find any that you like and note the brand and varietal. In a restaurant, especially some chain restaurants, they will have inexpensive wines (at a markup no doubt) that you can try. Many wines under $15 is that they will stay very constant from year to year, so you are less likely to be surprised by a new vintage.
I like a variety of wines, so when I look for everyday wines, I am looking at a broad spectrum of wines, both domestic and international. You may be a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, which narrows the field quite a bit. I like some variety and some signs of craftsmanship, even in my everyday wines. If you look around, you can find wines under $15, and definitely under $20 that have this quality. Here, you will find some variation from vintage to vintage, but that adds to the variety!
So let me start with two red wines that have, for me, been very reliable over time. They are under $15, both are imported, and each has a bit more to offer than the standard-brand or bulk wine product. The vintage will be whatever is currently available – it is unlikely that wine merchants are holding these for aging.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet: I began drinking this wine in 2003. Penfolds is the flagship wine brand of Australia, makers of the legendary Penfolds Grange (which is near the very top of my bucket list) Shiraz wine. The Koonunga Hill label is second from the bottom in the Penfolds hierarchy – above the very pedestrian Rawson’s Retreat label. I have tried the Koonunga Hill Shiraz and the Cabernet as separate varietals, and find that the blending of these two grapes creates the most satisfying experience. The 2011 vintage is the most likely on to be on your retailer’s shelf. It is a 62% Shiraz 38% Cabernet blend (this will vary from year to year) and is 13.5% alcohol, which I prefer to the heavier levels of alcohol in may California everyday wines, which are usually just hot and not very well balanced. The Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet is great with red meat and will hold up to BBQ sauces and spiced foods as well. The wine will age for 8 to 10 years, but this wine is not made to age, so drink it right from the shelf.
Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon: I came across Los Vascos when I was living in South Florida and it came with a great story. A friend was the supervising flight attendant on a private Boeing 727 belonging to the CEO of a South American subsidy of a large US corporation. The CEO was really into wine – he would send my friend on the plane to Paris to load on first growth Bordeaux’s and Burgundies – you get the idea. At the time, the Los Vascos (from Chile) was retailing for about $7. My friend gave her boss a glass on a flight and he really liked it (probably a good thing for her career). He then began to serve it on his plane to his high-roller friends and did not tell them what it was. Pretty much everyone took it for a premium wine.
So what is this wine? Well, it is a large production wine from the Chateau Lafite Rothchild vineyards in Chile. There are a couple of reserve versions of the wine that come in at higher prices – from about $20 up to $65. Today, the basic Los Vascos Cabernet retails for $14 but can usually be had for $10 to $12 or less from a variety of retailers. The website recommends decanting for about an hour before drinking this wine, although I have never done this. You will find notes of ripe fruit, good structure, and hints of a variety of mineral notes – which most of us experience differently. This is a great wine with roasted and grilled meats.
All three of these wines are what I like in an everyday wine. A few others that I imbibe fairly regularly are Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($9 to $12); Norton Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($14 to $20); Luigi Pira Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($12 to $18); plus many more. You have probably noted that most of the wines listed here are imported. For some reason, producers around the globe seem to be able to get well-crafted wines made and shipped to the US at everyday wine prices. It’s a paradox.
There are lots of decent wines in this price range – ask your wine retailer to guide you to those undiscovered gems in the shop – everyplace has some of these wines. As always, once you find what you like, begin to branch out and explore wines like those.