WINESLACKER..the lazy drinker's guide. Another 'slacker yammering on about drinking.

April 4, 2010

New Finds…

Filed under: $10 wines,California,Cheep wine,rose,summer wine,Zinfandel — Dex Wineslacker @ 11:32 pm

Here are some value suggestions for the summer soon to come.

The Wineslacker trailed through several markets this week, including Bristol Farms, after quite a long absence.  Bristol Farms has had a fine wine department for many years (check out their “Grapevine Gazette”, see link) and has paid a lot of attention to the quality and marketing of wine.  Their price points are a bit higher than the ‘slacker generally looks for, but they carry a better variety of wines and generally a better quality of labels than most chain markets, more on a par with Gelson’s Markets. Still, with wine sales feeling the pinch of recession, even Bristol Farms has built a display of value wines, strategically placed at the entrance, at least at the Manhattan Beach store.  The ‘slacker picked two which looked promising from a well stocked display, all under $10 a bottle. The first, Mas de Lavail, Tradition, 2006, a Côte Du Roussillon Villages red blend, 40% Carignan, 40% Shiraz (yes! the bottle says, “Shiraz”) and 20% Black Grenache, priced at an astounding $8.99.  This is a keeper and a fine value.  As flavorful and big as you’d suspect with these grapes, the wine has some structure and richness and while lacking subtlety , it’s a barbecue wine with class.  The second was a Tempranillo from Castillo called La Cocina, 2008.  This is a more rustic wine with with some acidity and structure.  It’s still a fruit forward red wine with a little less alcohol than the Tradition, with 13% compared to the other with 14%.  The La Cocina, at $9.99 is also a great buy and would be a great match up with hearty meat dishes, sausages and grilled meats.

Back to Whole Foods, again, despite the affectionate razzing given W.F. by that overachieving L.A. culture critic, Sandra Tsing Loh.  The ‘slacker regularly slinks through W.F. at lunch hour, sniffing the air in the unparalleled prepared food section, giving in to the aroma of freshly roasted extra dark French Roast and rarely able to pass the wine section without getting SOMETHING pleasant and not tooo expensive.  The Wineslacker’s latest weakness from the Whole Foods wine department is their delicious choice for an inexpensive sparkling Brut Rosé (just in time for Spring, the season of rosé), Duc De Raybaud, an unprepossessing French sparkler without a vintage, without even a place of origin or a hint of what it’s made of.  But, at $9.99, it comes on like a $25 bottle of summer kisses.  It’s a light pink sparkling wine with the flavor of sweetened rose petals when you first open the bottle.  With a fine mousse it has a slightly rounder mouth feel than Champagne.  It’s beautiful, chilled, with sea food, with chicken, with cheeses and fruit…or all by it’s little lonesome on the patio at dusk.

And, the ‘slacker gives a nod to Vons once again; a huge chain store with a nice selection of wine, and if you get their plastic coupon card, quite a nice price point.  This weekend the Wineslacker roared through, the day before Easter, pausing long enough to snap up one of his long time favs, Ten Mile, The Broken Road, red blend, 2006, a field blend of different varietals from Oakville, California.  This is usually about $10, but with the Von’s plastic, the ‘slacker paid about $8. This is a tremendous wine for the price.  Also at Von’s we stocked up on De Loach Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 2008, regularly $16.49, on sale for a thrifty $10.99.  De Loach is a vintner the Wineslacker has a lot of respect for.  They don’t disappoint, they’re now certified organic, and any time you can get De Loach on sale, you gotta value.


March 5, 2010

California Wine, Outside of Napa.

Filed under: Cabernet Sauvignon,Monte Bello,Ridge Wines,Santa Cruz Mountains,Zinfandel — Dex Wineslacker @ 2:00 am

The Unassuming Entrance to Ridge, Monte Bello

The most important thing the Wineslacker learned during his leisurely swing through coastal California last month is that this big bad recession is pounding the wine business just like it is almost every other business.  And the worst hit are those small individual wineries that are providing the most distinctive and interesting wines.  These small wineries are  not just run by rich guys that get a big tax write off when they lose money, but by men and women driven by their love of an ancient and excellent product and their fascination with the transformation of one of the world’s most interesting fruits into a long lived, delicious, interesting beverage that just happens to boost one’s enjoyment of friends, food and shared pleasure.  We, the dedicated fans of the product of their hard work and vision, need to step up and support these splendid individuals in their endeavors.  If they fade away because they can’t sell enough wine to feed their families and buy their equipment and supplies, we, wine lovers of the world, will be the poorer.  Get out there! Meet these wine makers! Get on the web and explore.  Go to Google Maps and put in “wineries near….[your address] and you’ll be surprised!  Spend some money, get some interesting wine that your wine buddies may never have heard of and keep some hard working wine maker going!  We’ll all benefit!


Ridge Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains

This year’s run to the Bay area and back, as usual business and pleasure, ran more to pleasure than business and included visits to two different wineries.  Different in so many ways. These wineries represented some of the great individuals of the California scene. Not just they as individuals, but the capital I individuals that really make the wine scene so interesting.  The first visit was to long time icon Paul Draper’s mountain top domain, Ridge, Monte Bello.  Established in 1885 by an Italian doctor from San Francisco, Osea Perrone, this is wine making with history. The good doctor ran a family operation, as pictures show, with great gusto and zeal, like many European transplants did in those days.  They were making wine as a necessity; wine for dinner, wine for families to enjoy with celebrations and festivals.  Wine as a part of the exuberance of life.  The vineyards went into disuse with time and eventually the disastrous prohibition era.  Interestingly, the vineyards and winery were eventually restored by a small group of Stanford engineers, who bought the property in the 1950s. Paul Draper, a self-taught winemaker with experience in France and Italy and from a wine producing experiment in Chile with his school chum, Fritz Maytag (of  Anchor Steam and Maytag Blue Cheese fame), was hired and in 1972 won 5th place at the now legendary Judgment of Paris, where California proved itself to be a player in world class wine.  The wine he made was Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. Not being able to make enough Monte Bello Cab to keep the winery going, he turned to Zinfindel and became the first real champion of high end Zin.  Paul has kept to a vision of wine that has utilized high technology while staying true to the idea of terroir, the taste unique to the individual vineyard.  His vision has a hard core of long time customers and admirers, and his ability to stay to this vision is from the long time support of owner Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in Japan.  This ownership model has protected Paul Draper’s vision of wine from the the drift of public tastes and the temptation of marketers to cater to the lowest common denominator. Never the less one can’t imagine that the raw wind of economic disaster which has affected much of the high-end cult wines hasn’t affected Ridge, whose signature Monte Bello runs well over $100 a bottle.

The ‘slacker and his constant companion were knocked out by the beautiful winding drive up the hills from Los Gatos on Monte Bello Drive (you drive past the historic Jimsomare Vineyards where some of Ridge’s historic Cabs came from).  We were equally dazzled by the friendly reception by Hospitality Rep, Sara Teeter, who’s down to earth and good humored nature put us at ease immediately.  The grounds and the buildings at Ridge make you feel at comfortable and give you the feeling that you’ve arrived at what must be the genuine article; a wine maker’s home.  A simple Western American farm.  OK.  Not so simple.  But, a working winery without the glitz and garbage trinkets of so damn many “Wine Store” wineries.  The Sophisticated Companion and the ‘Slacker have been to wineries large and small, from the Vatican style to a simple mobile home tasting room, and they can tell you this was a memorable stop.  Sara gave us a quick history of the winery and showed us some great, vintage pictures of the earliest days of the winery.  She started pouring Ridge’s Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay and went through several of the current Zinfandels, including Lytton Springs, York Creek, Geyserville, Pagani Ranch (the ‘Slacker’s personal fav) on through some vintage Monte Bello’s opened the night before and finishing up with a gorgeous 2006 Monte Bello.  She pointed us up the hill to see more Ridge vineyards and at the crest of the hill, the Monte Bello crush pad, where an Italian-American doctor started crushing grapes over 120 years ago.  Sara also graciously mapped out other wineries of note and a group of restaurants with great food and great wine.  By the time the Wineslacker and Gallant Traveling Companion left, we felt we’d dipped deeply into California wine history as well as made a new friend. You can learn more about Ridge, other important California wine makers and the history of Zinfandel in California in what the ‘Slacker still considers one of the great books on California wine, David Darlington’s Zin, the History and Mystery of Zinfandel, from De Capo Press, 1991.

Regretfully, the ‘Slacker traveled on, but with his Happy Companion he soon immersed himself in the recently drenched beauty of highway 101 as it rises into San Francisco from the South, motored grandly over the Golden Gate Bridge and on into the Redwood forests.  More to come…

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