It’s the weekend, YAY!!!  Today I have three different California terroirs, three different wines for you, plus an easy, tasty and healthy recipe.  In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10 unless noted otherwise.

Robert Hall 2009 Chardonnay Paso Robles Alcohol 14.5% by volume – under $10 at Trader Joes.

On the Label:  “Not far from the Pacific Ocean, along California’s pristine Central Coast, lies Paso Robles – one of the world’s most exciting wine regions. Here rolling terrain, varied soils and climate combine to yield the essence of this special place. As true stewards of the land, at Robert Hall sustainable farming is practiced to conserve our earth’s valued natural resources. Select lots of grapes were chosen for our 2009 Cahrdonnay. Rich from barrel fermentation and aging, this wine shows crisp green apple and butterscotch flavors wound around a fresh lemon peel core. This is what wine was meant to be – flavorful, approachable, and honest.”

My Take: Setting aside the whole “sustainable farming” thing (I really need to interview my boss on that subject), this wine had chilled well in an ice bucket, ready to go with a lovely fish packet meal (recipe following). It was the end of the work week; I looked forward to sitting down to a good meal with a nice wine, my family around me for another evening of silliness.

I got the silliness; I even got the fish packet meal (after some false starts). But the wine? At first, I thought – well, it just needs food. Then with the meal, as the wine started to warm up (now out of its ice bath), I decided that maybe it was past prime – but a 2009 Chardonnay should be able to hold up for four to five years or more.

It wasn’t until the next day that the truth became obvious to me. Upon tasting it again, I realized the wine was sour. It had either gone bad in the bottle, or had never been that good to begin with. I poured it out – I couldn’t even cook with it, the flavor was so bad. Will I try more Robert Hall wines? In the interests of research – yes, of course. Providing they’re lower than $10.

My Rating: ~ Barely Drinkable ~ Maybe I just had a bad bottle. It happens.

FISH PACKET MEAL: Preheat oven to 350 F.

Choose your vegetables. I like red onion, thin strips of bell pepper, zucchini sliced into coins, and shredded carrots. Make enough veggies for each packet planned (i.e., more for 4; less for 2, but twice as much as you have fish per serving. In other words, 2/3 veggies, 1/3 fish). Lay out a  12″ to 15″ piece of foil per serving, and place the veggie mix centered on the foil for each serving.

Take any nice fillet of fish (salmon, swai, tilapia, whatever is on sale or what your pocket book can stand that day) and pat dry. Place on top of the veggies; top with a slice of onion and a pat of butter. Season to taste with salt & pepper; seal the foil around the fish tightly so no steam escapes. If you wish: add fresh, chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary – whatever you may have in your garden, and whatever you like with fish. You can also squeeze a lemon over everything before you close up the foil.

Place on a cookie sheet and into hot oven. Depending on the thickness of the fish, this will be done in 15 – 30 minutes.  You can also make this dish while camping; just place packets on grill on top of hot coals, put lid down on bbq, and wait the 30 minutes. Fish is done when it flakes easily. Pass lemon wedges about for the fish, if desired.

Serve with wild rice. While camping, don’t even bother plating this dish – plop the foil onto a plate and there you go – a hunk of bread will be a good substitute for the rice!

Doon Buggy Napa Valley 2009 Red Blend Alcohol 13.5% by volume Under $10 at Trader Joes

On the Label: “A perfect fit for the lush vineyards that blanket rolling hillsides, the Doon Buggy skips alone the throughs and peaks of perfectly raked soil while its pilot looks after his grapes and takes in the morning sun.

“Small enough to fit between the crevices of your taste buds but wtih enough horsepower to traverse the palate, our Doon Buggy navigates flavors of juicy plum and blackberries while earth-driven aromas of subtle spice and jammy fruit are brought to the nose in the cloud of metaphorical dust that lingers behind. Rich flavors are balanced by soft tannins that plto a course toward a long, elegant finish.”

My Take: I bought this wine thinking it had some connection to the Bonny Doon vineyards; but I didn’t find one. Nevertheless, the wine is as advertised; subtly spiced and nicely jammy. A pleasant, relatively mild red blend that won’t offend those who prefer their wines on the softer side, but with enough spice in it to please those of us who prefer bolder wines. A fairly good compromise.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  This is a good rating for any red blend. I don’t think I’ve ever rated a blend higher than Drinkable, though of course I could be wrong!

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Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir 2008 Alcohol 13.5% by volume Under $10 at Trader Joes

On the Label: “Cooled by the wind and fog off the San Pablo Bay, fruit ripens slowly in our Carneros vineyards, developing concentrated, layered flavors and excellent structure.  Pinot Noir unveils its elusive character here: rich cherry and blackberry, earthy spice, and supple, velvety texture. Pair this captivating wine with slow-roasted pork loin or grilled salmon.

We bottle our wines with a screw cap closure to ensure each glass delivers the true taste of Carneros. Enjoy. Visit Buena Vista Carneros for more information.”

My Take: I have always enjoyed Buena Vista wines, and this one was no exception. It is what I expect in a Pinot Noir – plus it passes the Smoking Loon test (is this wine better than Smoking Loon Pinot Noir?). It’s got some nice juiciness, just a hint of spice, and a nice, lingering aftertaste.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ especially for the price!

Want another review source for cheap wines? Check out Cheap Wine Ratings  blog – they take a more educated approach to their discussion of the wine, but still fun stuff.

Well, that’s it for this week and wines – I hope you enjoyed! As usual, this is just my honest opinion and is changeable depending upon my mood, the weather, and the tides. Your taste buds will differ.

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is a winner at Reader Views Literary Awards!  Still available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?

My Rating System: Undrinkable, Barely Drinkable, Drinkable, Very Drinkable, and the ever popular Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut!