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 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!

March 18, 2010

Food and Wine Along the Way.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dex Wineslacker @ 6:29 pm

Continuing our cruise of the byways of the Golden State (gold plate, these days, and getting thin) mid-February, the Intrepid Girlfriend and the Wineslacker pushed away from the tasting table at the rustic and historic Ridge Winery at Monte Bello, saturated ourselves with the spectacular views of Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains and pushed on up Highway 101 from San Jose, along what’s been rightly called, “the most beautiful freeway in California”.  We filled the old Merc with premium and inched our way through San Francisco, steadfastly resisting the powerful urge to find a cheap hotel and spend the rest of our holiday just riding the BART around maybe the most beautiful city in the U.S.

Rolling across the one and only Golden Gate bridge, we soon left the city behind and melted back into the countryside, seeking out the living memorial to the Great Conservationist, John Muir, the Muir Woods.

Yes, ferns growing on an oak tree..

Walking through Muir Woods, especially after the dampness of this particular, one might say, peculiar, year, fills up your pores, soothes your ears, makes the old and grumpy young again, and reminds you that silence still exists somewhere, just not in your building.

Wall o' Sequoia...

We had reservations to spend the night in Tiburon, the tiny and exclusive little harbor town sheltered right behind Angel Island, in a beautiful little hotel called the Waters Edge, because, well, it sits right on the edge of the water.  Out on the deck, your friend the Wineslacker and his Sophisticated Dinner Companion cuddled, warmly wrapped, in the sharp breeze, watching the lights gradually spring up in the City by the Bay, and were glad. Glad we had a fireplace in the room we could retreat to.

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…

February 20, 2010

Coming Soon…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dex Wineslacker @ 1:41 pm

Ridge vineyards at Monte Bello, high above Silicon Valley, in Cupertino, California

Reports, and pics,  will be coming up soon on the Wineslacker’s February trek to the North Country.  Incredible visits to two very off-the-beaten track wineries that speak about the less advertised but truly important wine craft in California.  See it here!

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.


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.

December 4, 2009

Now available on Kindle!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dex Wineslacker @ 8:36 pm

Attention you high-tech readers! Your favorite wine blog is now available on your Kindle (after December 7th)!

wine garden

wine garden

November 30, 2009

Update: Von’s Sale

Filed under: Buy o' the Month,Justin Winery,Paso Robles — Dex Wineslacker @ 12:45 am
California Essentials

California Essentials

Drop by your local Von’s and check out their wine dept. this week. The Wineslacker’s local Von’s was running a fab sale on almost all their quality wines. The ‘slacker picked up Justin 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for $20, DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel for about $10 and 2007 Guenoc Petite Sirah, which they have always done very well, for about $9 (ok, we’re a little sloppy on the prices, I SWORE I was going to keep track of the receipt, went and cleaned off the dining table and it was gone). Von’s has one of the nicest wine departments of the big chains. Oh, yeah, ya gotta get their plastic coupon card to get those prices, but what the hell, it’s only your privacy and a little more junk mail. If ya have to choose between wine and privacy; well, we think we know on which side of that line the Wineslacker falls.

November 10, 2009

Don’t forget there’s other colors.

Filed under: classic Chablis,Costco wines,French Whites,good white wine,rose — Dex Wineslacker @ 4:13 pm
Three French beauties

Three French beauties

There are some great white and rosé wines out there that should not be overlooked.  Your fruit-bomb Shiraz from Oz may not be the one to match up with the jumbo scallops you just paid $18 a pound for.  Here are a few inexpensive bright spots on the market now.

Chateau de Fountgraves, 2007, Pic Saint Loup Rose (Coteaux Du Languedoc, don’t ya just love that French) picked up at Cost + (World Market – whatever).  A fine, fruity but dry rosé from an underrated appellation.  We don’t recall now, but in the Summer this was probably under $11.  Rosés are delightful and provided they are not too bland, as some are, a beautiful food wine.

Caves Des Perrières, Pouilly Fumé, from the Loire Valley, 2008, this minerally Sauvignon Blanc has been available regularly at Trader Joe’s for an astounding $9.95.  It is without the grassy taste typical of many Sauvignon Blancs and crisp, clean, fruity but dry.  The perfect accompaniment to those expensive scallops. Refreshing and delicious.

Chateau Rives-Blanques, 2005, Cuvée de L’Odyssée, Limoux Chardonnay.  Costco carries it for all of $15.99.  A captivating Chardonnay, without the cloying oak of California Chards.  This is clean and voluptuous, fantastic with soft cheeses.  The ‘slacker had it with a nice Camembert.  With fruit and a baguette, this is a luxurious lunch.  Don’t forget one of the ‘slackers all time favs frequently at Costco, along with other fine wine sellers, Le Chablisienne, the wine that takes back the reputation of real Chablis at a price we can afford, about $16.  Remember, Chablis is a place, not a grape.

Last, but far from least, a great buy in sparklers, at Whole Foods, for about $11, J.P. Chenet, Blanc du Blanc.  A tasty, not bland, sparkling wine from France, but not Champagne. Great any time, and would make a great New Years party wine at this price. And what a great bottle! Even a little depression on the side for your thumb; it’ll make your guests feel special. Happy 2010!  Terrific with a bird, with salads and light soups; also with cheeses.

You noticed these are all French? Well, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some whites and rosés from other places that are great too.  Germany, California, certainly Italy, New Zealand, Long Island and the Finger Lakes in New York.  But don’t miss out on these French lovelies at great prices and wide availability. Cheers!

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