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

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.

May 9, 2011

Remember $10 Wines? They’re Back…

Filed under: $10 wines,Buy o' the Month,Cabernet Sauvignon,California,Justin Winery — Dex Wineslacker @ 2:07 am

OK, let’s see if the Wineslacker remembers how to do this now. Oh, yeah. Got it.  Spring is sprug…or sprung. Ah, faithful reader, there lay many, only slightly hidden treasures in the wine sections of the retail world to be had. Yes, there are still $10 wines worth buying out there. The greatest deal the ‘slacker has found in the neighborhood is Beringer (yes, what, the oldest winery in California, or close, 1876, they claim.). For whatever reason, probably a huge over stock, Trader Joes has pulled off one of their majorly slick deals and landed Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium, 2007, which they are turning over for a spectacular $9.99. And friends, it’s worth it. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot; very Bordeaux-like, with real structure, something often processed out of California Reds.  OK, there are better Bordeaux blends out there, if you must spend $35 or $40 bucks, but BABY, $10! Stock up while they got it.

And while you’re there, try some Hogue Genesis Meritage, 2007 (again. That magic year!). A lot of T.J.s have it for an absurd $7.99. Despite the grandiose name, this is garage sale gold. Its another red blend, all Washington State Columbia Valley fruit; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and just a touch of Cabernet Franc. Now, this wine is great right out of the bottle, but don’t plan on sipping it over the next week, ’cause by tomorrow, this baby is flab city. Forgetsville. But remember, you just paid $8 for it. Don’t be greedy.

T.J.s still has a great selection of inexpensive Pinot Noirs. Been hankering for that La Crema Pinot? Less than $20 at the Traders. While the ‘slacker hasn’t tasted Picket Fence Pinot, other wine bloggers have and give it high marks.

Wineslacker’s been back to BevMo, lately. They had the good sense to build one much closer to the ‘slacker’s H.Q. He picked up a a little red just for the nostalgia of the name; Ventana (window) Rubystone, a Grenache/Syrah blend from Arroyo Seco, 2007 (are ya getting the hint?).  It too was a paltry $9.99.  This needs a bit o’ air, but once opened up it springs right atcha with spice and a complex little trunk of flavors.  We like it and this one has been hanging around the crowded Wineslacker kitchen for several days while a number of other wines were tested. After all that time, it stays surprisingly drinkable. “Kitchen Survivors” is what Andrea Robinson calls ’em.

Don’t forget to check Von’s wine sections. They are just coming off one of their big wine sales and the ‘slacker spied Justin (Paso Robles) Cab, usually $27-28 bucks for the 2008, at an affordable $20 with the magic Von’s plastic card. Justin Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular Cabs served in California restaurants and deservedly so. Take an occasional peek, especially in their upgraded stores, for their 30% off premium label wines sales. There’s a deeper discount for case buys as well. Vons also carries a good selection of solid wine at the $10 level. Ya gotta have their discount card, though.

There. Drink some wine. More later…

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

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.

Salud!

March 21, 2010

Food and Wine Along the Way II…

Filed under: California,Justin Winery,Monte Bello,Restaurants,Santa Cruz Mountains — Dex Wineslacker @ 1:05 am

Restaurants of quality seem to radiate from the mothership of San Francisco.  The best of them, of course, feature a wine list including wine from one of the great wine producing areas of the world, California.  The Wineslacker and Lovely Companion dropped their back packs in Los Gatos, the night before the journey up the hill to Ridge, hit the local Trader Joes for provisions and sought out a local eatery that looked like it had a wine list.  They settled on the lively looking ViVa! (their exclamation point).  Bright, modern decor and a very well attended bar, they settled in for some Mediterranean cuisine and a local glass o’ supt’n.  They ended up sharing, as the ‘slacker IS a giver, a cracker crust Tuscan pizza and a fabulous butter-nut squash soup.  The ‘slacker ordering up a glass of Downhill’s “Susannah’s” Barbera, 2007 and the Delightful Traveling Companion, a Ventana, Monterey County Riesling, 2008.  The Downhill Barbera, a Los Gatos winery, turned out to be a light, fruity, very drinkable and enjoyable Barbera, one of the underestimated, more successful Italian varietals to translate to California.  The ‘slacker rarely meets a Barbera that he doesn’t like. The Ventana Riesling was excellent; fruity but not cloying, full of flavor but with great mouth feel: great examples of superior wine making from wineries practically in the neighborhood of the restaurant.

ViVa actually has a wide ranging wine list, with excellent examples of the local craft, including 36 wines by the glass, from a reasonable $6.50 a glass to $17 (for a Steele, “Stymie” Merlot, Lake County, ’06, you’re moderately better off to get the bottle for their price of $68).  Now, buying by the glass is like buying your morning coffee at Starbucks (ok, not THAT expensive).  However, if you’re like the ‘slacker, despite his shaky reputation, ya pretty much sticks to one or two glasses a meal.  So, you probably don’t need a bottle unless you have at least 4 people at the table, all of whom want the same wine. Buying wine by the glass allows for greater flexibility in your wine choice and a chance, if you’re friendly (and not suffering a transmittable disease), to taste at least two wines at an affordable price.

To get back to ViVa’s wine list, they include outstanding wines from the area including Rombauer, Fogarty, Steele, Kathryn Kennedy, Sarah’s Vineyard, Creekview, Downhill, around the corner, Justin, from Paso Robles, Bernardus, from Monterey, Storrs, from Santa Cruz Mountains, Heller Estate, from Carmel and other great choices, including a limited, but happy, selection of sparklers, including Dom Perignon, if you must splurge.

On the Southwest Rail at Nepenthe

Next time, the Wineslacker covers two classic restaurants in the Big Sur wilderness, one of which has been in business, under the same ownership, for over sixty (60) years. It’s older than the Wineslacker!

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