Sparklers for New Year’s Eve, Part Deux

Sparklers for New Year’s Eve, Part Deux

Last year, I wrote an exhaustive post on Champagnes and Sparkling wines that I can’t hope to beat. If you’d like a peek, go here.

Surprisingly, there were sparkling wines that I didn’t mention in that review but that were mentioned in the comments. Today I bring two of those to your attention (plus a couple more, lol!).

Gruet Blanc de Noirs Methode Champenoise American Sparkling Wine Albuquerque, New Mexico Alcohol 12% by Volume – on sale for $14.99 at BevMo!

A delightful, non-vintage sparkling wine (or maybe that was just Christmas Eve? lol…), the Gruet should certainly be on your go-to list. It is on par with the Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, though I have to admit I prefer the Domaine’s pretty pink color. The Gruet didn’t have a pink tinge to it (which is expected when you see Blanc de Noirs on the label). Bottled from the Pinot Noir grape, most blanc de noirs sparkling wines have that pretty color – this one did not, even though their website cites a “a fine salmon color”. The only drawback I can see to this wine is that my local grocery store doesn’t carry it, which means you may have to hunt for it.

Another new favorite of mine is Domaine Carneros by Taittenger, 2007 & 2008 Brut   Methode Champenoise – Napa Valley, California Alcohol 12% by Volume, on sale at Vons for $19.99 .

We had the 2007 on Christmas morning, and I will definitely be buying another bottle of it.

Lovely neighbors also brought us over a bottle of the 2008 as a Christmas present, so we’ll probably be popping it on New Year’s Eve. Another upscale bottle with a good price to it. Definitely impressive!

For fun bubbles, to share with a younger crowd perhaps (that might not be quite so judgmental),  try Yellowglen’s Pink and Yellow sparkling wines, from Australia. I’ve picked up both of these from BevMo! over the years, and have found them thoroughly enjoyable. (Especially terrific in the summer when you want something fun and festive – but equally at home for a big New Year’s Eve party.)

I taste tested these a couple of years ago at BevMo! – they are running $6.99 on a Club Bev membership (which is free), normally double that. The bottles are fun and festive, the wine is lively and the bubbles fairly small. All in all, a good value for the money.

I am surprised (and pleased) that there are so many different sparkling wines that I have yet to taste!  Which one is your favorite to ring in the New Year with?

On a sober-er note, please go visit Natalie Hartford’s blog today, where she shares with us the proper way to be a responsible hostess with Holiday Mocktails. They sound delicious, and I’m eager to try them! Plus MADD has come out with non-alcoholic cocktails that she said were terrific – give it a look see.

May you say goodbye to 2012 with no regrets, and look to 2013 with an open and eager mind, heart, and spirit. Thanks so much for being a part of my life this year!

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

Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?

Two Pinots and a Red Blend

Two Pinots and a Red Blend

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.

I am a happy girl. Rain came to my corner of So Cal. Rain, hail, thunder, lightning, fires (from the lightning), mudslides (from the rain) and flooding (also from the rain). Who said California doesn’t have any weather?!!

When it rains, I like to dig out the stew pot and make a hearty stew, or perhaps a yummy, cooks-forever roast. Since I was at work, I couldn’t get to my happy place today, but the hubby did it for me! As I type, the roast and the bread machine are sending my olfactory senses into happy overdrive. So, for this weather, I’m hauling out three reds I haven’t talked about before – big enough for the roast beast, warming enough for the chill outside. (I even needed a sweater today, and not because of the air conditioning at work, lol!) It’s time to warm up with some red wines!

Clayhouse Red photoClayhouse Wines  Adobe Red, 2009  Central Coast  Alcohol 13.5% by Volume; at BevMo! on their 5cent sale, $17.04 for two.

On the Label: “The Adobe Red is a blend created for that rebellious, hedonistic red wine lover inside of you, rustic like the adobe but refined with sensuous dark fruit flavors. 52% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 15% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 9% Petit Verdot.”

My Take: We bought this on the advice from the guy who works the wine tastings at BevMo. He can be pretty cheerless, but he led us to this wine so I forgive him, lol. Because, Hell Yes. I am a hedonistic, rebellious red wine lover and I’ve never tried to hide it. We just bought this wine during the latest 5cent sale. This wine is big but not too big; soft, but not too soft. It’s got the Zin I prefer (with a nice dash of pepper). It’s what I’ll be opening to go with dinner tonight (sorry, honey! I owe you a bottle).

My Rating: ~ Very, Very Drinkable ~ I can tell you right now, I’ll be going out and stocking up. At $8.50 a bottle, it’s hard to beat.

Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 Russian River Valley Alcohol, 13.5%
by Volume; $11.99 at Trader Joe’s.

On the Label: Vinted and Bottled by Patrick Slater Wine Co, American Canyon, California (GOSH I love their labeling! But when I googled Patrick Slater Wine Co, I got Pat Slater, a female real estate agent up in wine country. So who knows who’s actually making the wine. Not that it matters.)

My Take: I liked this wine. As much as I didn’t think last week’s Trader Joe’s wine deserved the Grand Reserve title, this one does. It’s fruity, juicy, easy to drink yet holds up to food very well. My guess is this one will attain Slut status once it’s a little bit older.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ And even though it’s over $10, I’ll buy it again!

Thanks to for the photo (check out their review!).

Piper Sonoma Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma Coast  Alcohol 13.8% by Volume; Not sure of price, but I think it’s around $16 at Pavilions; I might have gotten it on sale for under $10.

On the Label: “For over thirty years, Piper Sonoma has sourced the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes ripened to perfection by the warm Sonoma sun. We’ve crafted this excellent still wine from grapes selected from some of the most outstanding vineyard lots in Sonoma County.”

My Take: I am predisposed to love this wine. Why? Because one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had at a winery was at the Piper Sonoma plant back in 1989. We watched them bottle sparkling wine, and we had a glass of Tete de Cuvee sparkling wine that was probably the best taste of wine I’ve ever had, ever. Ever.

But when I saw this wine in the grocery store, I circled around it for a couple of years. It should have been a no-brainer – my favorite sparkling wine maker, plus one of my favorite drinking wines should equal SPECTACULAR. But – I was worried. What if I didn’t like it? What if it was terrible? What then?

I got over myself and bought a bottle. We drank it. I bought another bottle, just to check it out. Sigh of relief. It didn’t suck!

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ It is juicy, lovely, easy to drink – but not that much better than my favorite Smoking Loon Pinot Noir, and much more expensive. It does have a slightly greater depth to it, though, so when I want a bigger Pinot, I’d turn to this one. I think. Lol!

As usual, these are just my honest opinions, and always depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ.

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

Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?

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

Three Wildly Different Reds…

Three Wildly Different Reds…

These are not my normal wine-tasting wines. The first is from a wine tasting at my office – no, I’m not kidding. That’s one of the perks of working with a small, intelligent batch of scientifically-inclined gentlemen. Every now and then, on a Friday, the boss will bring some wildly expensive (to me) wine for us to taste.

The second wine was send to me by the winery – its a new wine, and try as I might to find it in my neighborhood, I haven’t been able to. So there’s that.  And the third wine – well, it’s label tells the story, so I’ll wait on that. None of these were below $10; but it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, tasting-wise.

Summerland Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey  County Alcohol 14.1% by volume. Found online for $40 a bottle. (Remember folks, I didn’t pay a dime for this one.)

On the Label: “Summerland Winery finds its inspiration in the relaxed, friendly lifestyle enjoyed throughout California’s serene coastal towns. We offer a line of stylish wines that reflect the best of the Central Coast’s diverse growing regions. This well-balanced Pinot Noir exhibits an array of aromas and flavors, showcasing black cherry and clove, with a distinctively smooth texture enhanced by aging in small French oak barrels.”

My Take: I was expecting fireworks from this. Or at least, a yummy, juicy late-afternoon tipple. I got neither, unfortunately. This wine was thin in taste, and it had a sharp, almost astringent aftertaste. Not juicy in the slightest. Could it be too old? Perhaps. Did I enjoy a few ounces of this wine? Of course. Did it pass the Smoking Loon test? Um. No…I prefer to drink my $6.99 bottle of Smoking Loon Pinot Noir than to shell out $40 for this vintage. Maybe a later vintage is better. I do not know. And for the record, the gentleman who brought this for the tasting couldn’t remember how he came about it. So there you go.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ but hugely overpriced.

Concannon Conservancy Crimson & Clover, 2010 Livermore Valley Red Table Wine Alcohol, 13.7% by volume. Price: $18, but hey – I got it for free from the winery to review. Full disclosure! Releases Spring, 2012

On the Label: “My dad, James Concannon, began his winemaking career over 50 years ago. Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, he remains one of California’s most innovative and inspiring winemakers. This velvety wine is a living tribute to my father, who was the first to bottle Petite Sirah which continues to thrive in the gravelly soil of the Livermore Valley.

A vibrant red blend of signature Livermore Valley varietals, Crimson & Clover honors my dad’s enduring spirit that runs deep in the Irish roots of our family. This lush wine has deep flavors of blackberries and rich chocolate balanced by a long, silky finish. Pair with black pepper crusted filet mignon or grilled artichoke with tarragon aioli.”

My Take: Okay. At first, I thought it was a scam – so when the delightful young lady approached me via Facebook and asked me if I’d like a free bottle of wine to taste and review, I said but of course! and I told her I couldn’t guarantee a positive review – not really expecting her to send it to me. But she did. (Um – and not wild about the name, but sentiment rules in families, so I’ll not really quibble.)

Okay, all that said – this is a 2010. There’s a lot of Petite Sirah in this wine; after checking the marketing materials they sent me, it’s 50% Petite Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah and 10% Zinfandel.  Which actually got me to thinking…okay, okay. About the wine.

At first taste, it’s a bit brash. Young. It needed considerable airing before it mellowed out enough even for me; I like to be able to drink it straight from the bottle without too much fuss. However, I will say before the bottle was done, I wished I had another bottle to hold for six or seven months. I even looked in the grocery stores, not realizing until right now that it’s not released yet. (Okay – how cool is THAT?!!) Upshot? I enjoyed the wine. The next day, hubby and I were still talking about it – so that means something, right?

My Take: ~Very Drinkable~ With the possibility, after a bit of age on it, of it moving to the top tier ranking of a Slut Wine. I am looking forward to having this wine again.

The Winemakers Winner’s Wine 2007 California Red Wine Crushpad, Napa, CA  Alcohol 14.5% by volume $12.99 at BevMo!

On the Label: “Wine. Man, I love the stuff. I love pairing it with food. I love enjoying it with friends. I love talking about it. What about making wine? Well there’s an idea. Winemaker. I can’t think of a better job. But winemaking is tough enough when you’re born in wine country with loads of money. For an outsider like me, it seemed like a distant dream. Then The Winemakers comes along. Here’s a chance to see if I’ve got what it takes! If I can outdo11 other wine lovers and prove my place is in the winery, my dream becomes reality. The challenges and the challengers were fierce. Now you hold the prize in your hands. I hope you enjoy drinking it as much as I did making it.”

My Take: This is a reality series I’ve never heard of. When I googled it, it came up as a web-based series…? At any rate, I couldn’t get the damned label off, didn’t watch the thing to begin with, and only bought the bottle because it was the only one in the BevMo like it and I considered it a novelty. To my utter surprise, I enjoyed the wine. Until this morning, and the rest of the day, when I had the headache from hell and yes, I’m blaming the wine for it. Deal.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ This was a red blend that had enough age behind it so that the flavors all jelled, mellowed out, and became more than the sum of its parts. I did enjoy this wine very much – I just hated the headache that came with it. I also don’t like the fact I can’t buy more of it. Nor will I ever know (unless someone out there in Blog Comment Land tells me) which person won, and whose wine I drank (and can blame for said headache, lol).

So, there you have it – three wines you can’t run out and grab at your local grocery store today. But keep your eye out for the Concannon – pick up a bottle maybe if its on sale below $10, and then stash it somewhere for a few months. You might be surprised!

As usual, this is just my honest opinion and depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ.

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

Demon Soul is 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!

Two (fairly naked) Chardonnays

With all the fabulous vegetables ripening in the garden and the variety now available in the Farmers Markets across town, I’ll continue with a couple more Chardonnays today, especially since I’m celebrating the high school graduation of my youngest son, Timothy! (We thought the day would NEVER arrive, lol!)

First up is a Festival ’34 Collection, Vintage 2009 Chardonnay. Produced by Wine World Estates, Napa, California. The cost was under $10 on sale at BevMo! – I lost the receipt for this one, sorry!

On The Label: It was very uninformative, had nothing about the winery or the wine. I actually don’t mind a label that doesn’t tell me what the wine is supposed to taste like, allowing me to make up my own mind and not be intimidated by the expert.

My take: A hint of oak makes this Chardonnay for me. It’s *not* big and buttery and in your face; those of you who like more “naked” Chardonnays will like this one I think. It has a nice, fresh first taste with the hint of oak hitting mid-taste.

The scent is of peach and vanilla, light and crisp. It would go well with any hot-weather meal based around vegetables, or with brunch with a seafood quiche as the star. Also a great sipping wine as you read pool-side this summer. It’s an unpretentious, very drinkable wine and good to share.

I rate this wine ~Very Drinkable~ .

Next we’ve got Toasted Head Barrel-aged Chardonnay 2009 Regular price, $16.99; on sale for $9.99 at Vons.

On The Label: “Toasted Head is named for the age-old practice of toasting barrel heads with fire, which is what helps to create the distinct, toasty flavor in all our wines.

Our Chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented and aged for eight months, imparting a unique richness and complexity to the wine, complemented by tropical fruits, peaches, and pineapple on the palate. The finish is well-rounded with toasty coconut and butterscotch notes.”

Well. Talk about a label shoving the wine down your throat. I am learning to be suspicious of labels that go into such detail about how the wine tastes and smells, as if needing to explain the wine or else it would maybe not taste good? I don’t know.

Anyway – it was a good wine. Not, in my opinion, worth $17; but not bad for under $10. I can smell the pineapple, when I concentrate very hard; but a wine shouldn’t take that much concentration to enjoy. I wonder if perhaps my sniffer isn’t up to par? A complex wine can be a joy; this wine, while perfect for summer, made me work too hard. Again, it’s light and non-oaky – those of you who like your nakeds will enjoy this one, too.

My rating: At $17 a bottle, ~Drinkable~ . At $10 a bottle, ~Very Drinkable~ . But don’t take my word for it – taste for yourself (hopefully at the cheaper price) and let me know what you think.

I’m curious – do you like a chatty label that goes on and on about the wine? Do you prefer a label that sticks to the facts? Or do you like something in between – informative, but not in your face?

And now in most of the country, school is out and summer is upon us.  Next week I’ll be hitting up Merlots. Forget what the movie Sideways taught – there are good Merlot wines out there, and I’ll be bringing them to you. For under $10 a bottle.

Happy sipping, and remember – your taste buds may vary!

~   ~   ~

Have you read DEMON SOUL yet? You can find it at Crescent Moon Press or Happy Reading!

My go-to Pinot Noir, under $10

My go-to Pinot Noir, under $10

Welcome back to Wine Friday! It’s Memorial Day weekend and you’ll probably have something on the grill at some point, unless it’s still snowing/raining where you live. I’m currently loving the So Cal sunshine! So let’s get to it.

Talking about wine…It cracks me up to read Food & Wine Magazine, and see what they recommend to drink. The May 2011 issue touts “discovering fantastic pinot noir” on the cover. As it turns out, that article is about some great winemaker in Italy making Patagonian Pinot Noir. Not, I think, something I’ll find at Vons for under $10.

Looking further in the magazine, I think maybe I’m going to get lucky – there’s an article on page 70 about “Finding Tasty Wine on a Public-TV Budget”, so I head over there to check it out.

The article is well written but I skim it, looking for the prices…aHA! Found them! To my surprise, all the wines are at the $15 or lower price range. Hmmm. There’s a 2009 Bibi Graetz Bianco Di Casamatta for $11 – apparently it’s a vibrant, citrusy Vermentino.

Um. What? Any wine that makes me think of rats and cockroaches isn’t on my radar (Vermentino – vermin – get it? lol…).

The next one is a 2008 Argiolas Perdera at $12, from the Monica grape (who knew?), and this is a juicy red that’s now grown in Sardinia. Ooookay.

Well now here’s one that I understand. More or less. It’s a 2008 Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera D’Asti for $12. This is an aromatic, berry-rich wine, which according to the author has a fantastic price tag.

Okay now I’m just tired, lol! I’m a busy woman. I pick up my wines at the grocery store, and I search out those well under $10 a bottle. Am I the only one? Don’t think so. All the above wines can be found in several NY City wine shops which is great if you live in NY City. We don’t have a wine shop where I live. Oh, WAIT – we DO! BevMo! Okay, consider this whine cut short.

Still…when I get dinner, and need to pick up wine to go with, I really don’t want to hop on the freeway at rush hour and question the BevMo staff about wines made from the Monica grape that are in my price range.  I buy 95% of my wine at my local grocery store, so getting a well-made wine for as little as possible is always my goal.

(Before I go further, I do adore Trader Joe’s and still shop there for wine, but I outgrew Two Buck Chuck about ten years ago. I still try $2 bottles of wine, though. You never know when you’ll hit on a winner.)

I have a definite go-to wine that I buy when I don’t want to think and don’t want to spend over $6. My go-to wine is the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir. It’s usually $5.99 at Vons, sometimes it goes up to $6.99 – but even when it’s NOT on “special”, it’s a $9.99 bottle of wine – at least, it is in California.

As a matter of fact, when I go wine tasting up in Paso Robles, if a wine isn’t considerably better in my mouth than a Smoking Loon Pinot, I won’t buy it. I really don’t want to spend the money, especially now.

Why Smoking Loon Pinot Noir? It’s consistent over vintages. It’s an easy sipping wine that goes with a lot of different foods. It’s got depth, flavor, and a nice lingering taste (plus, goes great with either a campfire or at the beach). It’s perfect with an elegant chicken dish, vegetarian offerings, or hamburgers and dogs off the grill. It’s unpretentious, a nice bottle of wine. Kind of like the unspoiled girl next door.

Okay – I understand that I’m not talking of the taste of the wine, the aromas, the flavors that I sense – I guess because my tastebuds will vary from yours. I will include those things when I write while I sip, and that’s not the case currently – but always remember, when it comes to wine? Your mileage may vary.

Oops, and I forgot! I rate the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir as ~Very Drinkable~ mainly because it has been consistent over the past five years. Plus – I just discovered that Smoking Loon is owned by the Sebastiani family, and has been in existence since 2000. So there are their bona fides!

Anyway – to further my wine education (which began many years ago with a trip to Napa Valley), I will continue to read Food & Wine Magazine (as they highlight expensive wine and fouffy food, for the most part, also NOT CHEAP to make, tho in their defense they never promised CHEAP dishes, now did they?) and stop by at BevMo for tastings. Plus have tastings with friends – that way, you get more opinions than just mine.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a wine you like that’s under $10 a bottle (and I’m not talking box or jug wines – I’ll get to those in a year or so), give me a holler!

Coming next week (probably): Three different Chardonnays, under $10

P.S. Oh, one thing I should mention – these wines are mostly grown in California, and I live in California – so my prices will be lower than yours if you’re in the Central states or on the other coast. I can tell you that every time I visit my friend Tammy in Snowmass, Colorado, I am shocked at the wine prices – one bottle of Smoking Loon there is around $15!