WINESLACKER..the lazy drinker's guide.

February 5, 2012

Recent Bottles

Filed under: California,Cheep wine,pinot noir — Tags: , — Dex Wineslacker @ 4:38 pm

Once again the Wineslacker is checking in after a long absence.  But wine writing is not what feeds the stomach…the soul, but not, unfortunately, the body.   However, he has not been entirely idle.  Here are a few notations on the current available value wines.

Poppy Pinot Noir: Poppy’s been the subject of both ridicule and hype. It’s popular, because it’s cheap, has a great looking label, a snappy name and in all honesty, non-objectionable taste. For $12 it fits into a great price point and it looks great in your cute, little wrought iron wine bottle rack. Serious Pinot, it is not.  Which is not to say that one can’t get really pleasant and hold-your-head-up Pinot for that price or something close. While Poppy is not gonna impress your wine snob co-workers, it’s a fine every day drinker and dinner companion. Which brings us to a few other Pinots in that range.

Trader Joe’s continues to carry some of the nicest varieties of inexpensive Pinot Noir available. This week the Wineslacker picked up a Pinot by Buena Vista the local Trader has brought in. It’s a 2008 vintage from Carneros and, best guess is, it was excess wine getting to the age where BV just didn’t want to see it start to deteriorate.  It’s in a screw-top bottle and is under the BV name (look for Buena Vista Carneros) so the ‘slacker figured it’s gonna taste, at the very least, OK.  And for the happy price of $9.99; it’s very OK.  Get there quick, because this is real Pinot, with reasonable fruit, nice structure and that unmistakeable bacon-y finish, and it won’t stay on the shelves long.  BTW, they are still carrying the nice little Caretaker Pinot (a little fruity for the ‘slacker, but tasty), San Simeon Pinot, MacMurray Ranch Pinot, and La Crema Pinot; priced at between $10 and $21, quite a nice way to serve Pinot Noir without scouring the bank account (nooooo, Trader Joe does NOT pay the Wineslacker, or even give him a frigging discount).

Just a nod also to a great little Zin blend from the small but notable Vines on the Marycrest, introduced to the Wineslacker by Wineshark Mark and Sommelier Sam. My Generation is; 58% Zin, 21%Syrah,14% Mourvedre and 7% Petite Sirah (2007) – another Rhone inspired red blend from the Paso Robles area. About $26 on their website, less if you find it at your local wine specialist. Chin Chin.

June 17, 2011

Total Wine, now in Torrance, CA

Hopefully, you ‘slackers and ‘slackettes will be more encouraged to contribute comments now that the Wineslacker has ponied up for some outside gunslingers to waylay them pesky Robo-spammers.

The ol’ Wineslacker visited the new mega-store in town this past weekend and reports that Total Wine does, indeed, have a bunch a wine. He was encouraged that you need not sign away any privacy to get a discount card. Their prices are what they are. Whataconcept. They also provide a soft-bound catalog of what they have in stock and that is free and you can take that home for more leisurely perusing. He likes that. He also appreciates that the high priced vino is afforded a temperature controlled rack. Makes ya more comfortable about buying that $100 bottle, a little more confident that it has not been sitting upright in a hot warehouse shelf in the back of the store.

They have on-going tastings in the middle of the store; which means that you’re gonna be standing around in the midst of staring shoppers, slurping down your freebee, as the shopping carts go clattering by. OK. They seem to have a lot of help that are at least somewhat educated and actually may have tasted the wine they’re talking about at some point.

They make a point of putting their faces on recommendations of wine that you may never have heard of….and they seem to have a lot of that. Which may not be a bad thing, but will take time and experience (and cash) to judge.

The Wineslacker picked up the Rose de Provence they were recommending, Domaine Fontanyl, 2009, their recommended $10 Pinot Noir, Montoya Monterey County, 2009, a very well priced bottle of Silver Oak, 2006 Alexander Valley Cab ($54.99) and a big, friendly bottle of Bombay Sapphire, 1.75 liters, for the best price he’s seen in a long while, $27.99.

He can report that the Rose did live up to their description as “lively” very; and fragrant…the strawberry literally floats out of the bottle when the cork is pulled. The flavors move through several levels and leave with a dry, dry minerality that some might find takes getting used to. Quite a wine for $12.99. Likewise, the Montoya Pinot is one of the best $10 Pinots around and tests out at the level of a much more expensive wine. Montoya has had a good name as a value wine for a while, and this is a slightly smoky, medium weight, fruity Pinot of the cool climate variety. The Silver Oak, will go into storage for a while, as being only 5 years old, it’s got some growing up to do, but could not resist the price and the 92 rating.

They also carry an excellent selection of Ridge Zins, the royalty of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Lytton Springs (see the ‘slacker’s post on Ridge from last year).

So. If you’ve got one close by, drop in and see what you think. The Wineslacker is generally not in favor of giant stores for anything and he would not be happy to see Total Wine drop a store in the neighborhood of a small, established place like Hi Time or Wine Country or your local stop and chat wine merchant. But.. that’s a fight that will go on, and ‘slackers everywhere will have to choose between price and home town service. For the stalkers of the perfect wine buy, well, we hope for both.

February 2, 2011

Quaffing Peaceful Forgetfulness…Nepenthe

Filed under: California,pinot noir,Restaurants,Uncategorized — Dex Wineslacker @ 12:08 am

The story goes that Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles found the cabin in 1943, during a drive through Big Sur on the recently completed two lane road, Highway 1. So charmed were they by the cabin, the views and the wild romantic coastline that they bought it on the spot, basically with the cash they had in their pockets, a little over 165 dollars, as a down payment. Apparently, they never spent an entire night in the cabin. Considering the rest of their lives, they could have used a little more time at the cabin and less time in Hollyweird.

View From Nepenthe

In 1947, what had been a love nest for Rita and Orson and originally a stop over for the Trail Club of Jolon, became the home of Lolly and Bill Fassett and their five children. The Fassetts had the idea to use the land and it’s unique, spectacular views for a restaurant, bar and rest stop for the tourists drawn to Big Sur for its beauty and drama. Access to the previously remote Big Sur was facilitated by the new Highway 1, the first road built all the way through the rough, cliff strewn, mountainous coastal area. The Fassetts say it took over two years to get the deed signed over by Welles and Hayworth, because both of their signatures were needed and by 1947 they were separated and far from each other.

The designer of the restaurant, working with Lolly and Bill Fassett, was Rowan Maiden, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Maiden, son of a wealthy real estate businessman, trained at Taliesin, the home and architecture school of Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1939. While at Taliesen, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Maiden met Germaine Schneider, who was the daughter of Wrights’ gardener and the companion of Wright’s daughter, Lovanna. Apparently, it was a past-time of Wright’s wife at the time (and last wife, Olgavanna) to play at cupid, making matches among Wrights’ students at Taliesin. In the nineteen forties, Maiden and Germaine, by then married, were living in Monterey, California. Maiden, who was killed in an accident in 1957, never became as famous as his creation at Big Sur, however he did go on to design many beautiful single family houses, particularly in the Bay area, often featured in magazines and highly prized by their owners.

DSC00568

One can see, by the enduring quality, simple and yet effective design of Nepenthe, Maiden’s great talent. The materials were culled from the local area, including redwood beams, glass,  and adobe bricks, hand made by Lolly Fassett, and probably her young children. The body of the restaurant is effectively hidden, while the views of the magnificent hillsides and drops to the wild ocean below, the stands of fir and coastal redwood, the emerald pastures and constantly soaring raptors and occasional Condor, are laid before the diners in the interior and casual visitors to the decks. There’s a large patio at the entrance of the restaurant, the center piece of which is a large, welcoming fire pit.  One can see a reproduced Nepenthe interior, filmed on a sound stage  in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton vehicle, The Sandpiper, from 1965. The film also features real-life scenes of the area.

Nepenthe takes pride and full advantage of their place in the side pocket of one of the World’s great wine growing and vinting areas. The restaurant has an amazing number and selection of fine local wines by the glass, 1/2 bottles, standard 750 ml bottles and larger bottles, and the great, curved redwood bar. The Elegant Companion and her ‘slacker ordered up a 1/2 bottle of Navarro’s lovely cool climate Pinot, Methode Anciene, and relaxed into the best seats at the ocean side counter. They ate and drank and pointed out birds, watched for whale spouts and quietly remembered nights, friends and lovers, misty mornings and  music, in that may we say, magical, quiet and fragrant place.

The place was completed in 1948, the year the ‘slacker was born, and he has been there many times, beginning when he was just a child and continuing, although not often enough, into late middle age. Nepenthe, still open and welcoming to the famous, the creative, the curious, the casual visitor; the sojourner, the pilgrim, the hungry and thirsty, is still owned and operated by the Fassett family. Still quietly serving Ambrosia Burgers with a side of Nepenthe.

Originally published by the Wineslacker, in similar form, on Open Salon.

September 6, 2010

Sippin’ Our Way Into Fall…

Filed under: California,Cheep wine,pinot noir,Port,Summer Bubblies — Dex Wineslacker @ 5:12 pm

Veggies on da Barbie

Summer is waning fast and Labor Day marks the psychological start of Fall.  Here in the Golden State, how-some-ever, we play on. The Pinot season keeps rolling out, with new, inexpensive bottlings showing up on everybody’s shelves.  Couple of worthwhile mentions go out to Caretaker Pinot, 2009, from the Santa Maria Valley, $9.99 at Trader Joes, Carmel Road Pinot, 2008, from Monterey, at Vons, the fabulous Melville Pinot, Estate – Verna’s, 2007, about $27 at BevMo, if you can still find it, and Steven Bannus Pinot Noir, 2008, from the Russian River Valley, $13.99 with the BevMo card at BevMo.  This beauty is rated a 91 by BevMo’s in house wine critic, Wilfred Wong, and the Wineslacker thinks he’s right on.

One wine we did not mention in our last blog on bubblies is one ‘slackers should not overlook. Sparkling Moscato from Italy.  For a sweet change of pace, nothing beats this on a torrid September day.  The Moscato we like is Oltrepo Pavese, Moscato Dulce, available at Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck, as some cynics might sneer) for an affordable $11.99.  Get several bottles, ’cause this is a light (about 8% alcohol), creamy, slightly sweet quaffer that everyone will want more of.

Looking toward the cooler realms of fall and winter, it’s not too early to think about stocking up on dessert wines that will go well next to the fire on those windswept nights in the mountains or on the coastal bluffs. We were recently turned on (by slackerette Susan) to Ficklin Tawny Port; California Port from Southern Madera County. Ficklin is a family owned vineyard that ‘s been making serious Port for the last sixty-some years. This is a hand made fortified wine, made with Portuguese methods, from people dedicated to their art for generations. While their Tawny Port may seem expensive at $28 a bottle, when you think about what goes into it, it’s a real bargain.  This wine is aged for ten years in small oak casks and that fact in itself means an investment and a vision toward the future, rather than a quick turn around profit. Ficklin Vineyards grows and uses only Portuguese varietals, originally purchased from U.C. Davis in 1946. Click on the link to their website and find out more about this under the radar California gem.

Moscato in the Back Yard

June 27, 2010

Tired of All That Champagne?

Filed under: Cheep wine,pinot noir,Summer Bubblies,summer wine — Dex Wineslacker @ 6:42 pm

Three Summer Bubblies That Aren't French

Tired of all that old Champagne?  Lost everything in the crash?  Your bank failed? You can still enjoy bubbles in the swingin’ summertime.  Here are three inexpensive sparklers that not only don’t hurtcha in the hip pocket, but give you something different and interesting.

First in line is the illustrious  Prosecco Balbinot (NV) (about $17 at Wine Expo in Santa Monica) the frizzante, the basic wine of a distinguished winemaker from San Pietro di Feletto, it’s soft, creamy, fully delightful; if you typically buy middle brow California sparklers like Piper-Sonoma, Gloria Ferrar Brut, etc., try this for a change of pace. Second, an organic sparkling Chardonnay from Argentina, no less. Vida organica, 2007, from Familia Zucccardi at Whole Foods is a more substantial wine, with a unique character, clean and round. The ‘Slacker likes it and it stands up to a garlicy roast chicken or grilled salmon just fine. Last but far from least is the familiar (to TJ’s fans) Zonin Prosecco Brut, a lovely, everyday bubbly at about $6 a bottle. Fruity, but dry and soft, it’s just the thing at the end of a warm summer evening on the patio.

2007-2008 are the Pinot Years!  Great Pinot Noir is comin’ out our ears, here in California.  For as little as $8.99 you can enjoy a  casual little Pinot from the Central Coast or the Russian River Valley. The Trader called Joe is currently keeping a very respectable stock of Pinot Noir, including the very tasty Lane Tanner, Block 4 at 19.99, MacMurray Ranch 2007 Pinot at $13.99, but also the well regarded Castle Rock Pinot and two low end, but excellent buys, Inslay Peak, 2007,($9.99) from Edna Valley Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County, and Hamilton-Steven’s, 2008, ($8.99)from the Russian River Valley.  In the bargain arena this week at Von’s, the ‘Slacker picked up Lockwood Vineyard, Block 7, Monterey County Pinot, rated a respectable 87 by WineSpectator for 2007, for $13.39.  BTW, Lockwood’s winemaker, Larry Gomez makes an interesting statement on their website as follows, “We’re backing away from oak and un-masking the grapes to really show off this vineyard and the unique terroir.” Maybe a trend???

February 3, 2010

Buncha Empty Bottles…

Filed under: pinot noir,Syrahs — Dex Wineslacker @ 10:04 pm

Some of the Wineslacker’s fans have been clambering for new posts!  Okay, okay…ONE fan has been complaining that she actually had to go to a wine store and take a chance on some cheap wine without Your’s Truly’s sage advice…  So here it is.

Recently the ‘slacker took three bottles of Syrah up to Vigneron Rob’s for a battle Royale of Syrah’s, to include the infamous Danny’s Drool, 2008.  We took one cheapo, a $4.99 special from T.J.’s (Trader Joe’s) a loss leader from a rather well respected winery in Healdsburg, California, Michel-Schlumberger. It’s called Pétanque (after the French version of Bocci), a 2006, only listed as Californian. We included an inexpensive Syrah from Santa Barbara Winery, a 2007 vintage from Santa Ynez Valley, several different vineyards throughout the valley (about $12 from Von’s) and a moderately expensive Syrah from La Fenétre, À Côté, 2007, from the South Mesa, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, about $22, from Wine Country, a specialty retailer in Long Beach, California.  We threw Danny’s Drool in just because we love it, but you won’t get any, unless you know Rob and, of course, Danny.

Let us just say, all these wines got drunk. As did the tasters.  NO SPITTING ALLOWED.  We will say, the most expensive (À Côté, 2007) got drunk first. No brainer.  Regardless of what you may hear elsewhere, many times, price is a relatively good guide.  Hey! it’s a competitive market out there! Still, the Wineslacker will also point out that the lesser wines did not get chucked down the sink.  The Santa Barbara Winery Syrah was not a bad bottle and in our humble opinion, was priced just about right.  The bargain basement Pétanque started off a little rough, with some rather harsh tannins (which we wimpy Californians are sometimes intimidated by -sorry for the hanging preposition); but, the second half of the bottle, corked up and left for the next day, smoothed out and became very pleasant.  So, bully for Pétanque Syrah; just decant it well before dinner and enjoy, for a steal of a price. The Wineslacker will mention, their Cabernet version of Pétanque, at the same price… don’t bother.  It starts with a promising nose, but displayed a slightly fishy taste that we just could not get past.  It, unfortunately didn’t go away the next day. And Danny’s Drool;  still killer.

Here’s another tip.  Recent vintages of California Pinot Noir have been bountiful and beautiful.  Our local Trader Joe’s has been stocking Pinots at an unusual $19.98 price point and they are worth the cost.  We were very impressed with the 2006 Russian River Valley, Nugent Vineyard Pinot, from Robert Stemmler.  Lush and fruity, easy to love, a small production Pinot from an 11 acre plot for less than $20!  Here is an impressive wine and cheese party wine your snooty friends will enjoy.  On the other hand, they’re stocking two Lane Tanner Pinot’s for the same price.  We’re drinking the 2008 Santa Maria Valley Block 7 at this very moment.  It is a much more individual wine, with a nose of wet hay and smoke.  It has a lighter, acidic fruit, featuring a lot of strawberry and cherry flavors.  Here’s a wine that Pinot lovers will find interesting and shows ya just how differently Pinot Noirs can express themselves.  This is a wine that will enhance an expensive salmon dinner.

Cheers!

December 10, 2009

New at the Trader’s

Filed under: $10 wines,Cheep wine,pinot noir,Wine Websites — Dex Wineslacker @ 2:15 am

We have to say, the ‘slacker really likes the newest Pinot at Trader Joes.  Look for Windbreak, Santa Lucia Highlands, Sarmento Vineyard, 2006, an incredible $9.99.  Slightly smoky, with spiced crab apple in the nose.  It’s a lighter, cool climate Pinot, slightly acidic, from Burgundian clones.  Probably great with lamb.  Those beautiful, thick, little chops from New Zealand.  Probably love the wine just because it comes from that incredible part of the golden state; the wild Sur.  Somebody stop t he ‘slacker before he gets going.  And there is the great package it comes in.  Nah,we mean the bottle!  Yeah, it’s heavy glass, comes with a proper cork, not plastic or one of those cheap, composite things that get all fungusy so quickly.  It’s got a solid, long (length really does matter), slightly waxy cork, that makes a nice little pop when you pull it. A real nice, classy label.  You could give this baby for a gift, be sure they’ll like it and never know you only paid $9.99 for it! From Riboli Wines, the family that owns the old San Antonio Winery, one of the last (if not the last) big wineries of Los Angeles.

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