A Quartet of Red Blends

A Quartet of Red Blends

I drink cheap wines so you don’t have to. In these strange economic times, you still need a good wine to either serve guests, take to a host, or just enjoy with a loved one, but you don’t want to break the checkbook, shelling out for a $40 bottle of wine that you might not actually like. That’s where I come in. There are some terrific wines out there under $10. I’m searching them out, and reporting back to you. Enjoy! ~~

In California, red wine blends are often called a “Meritage”. This just means that it’s more than one grape varietal in the wine, but it sounds sexy. Meritage. See? Sexy!

I am a huge red wine fan. I love my reds with a passion, and don’t much care who knows. Often, a red blend (labeled anything from “meritage” to “red”  to “table wine” is less expensive than their varietal cousins, but not always.  Some blends have vintages; others don’t.

Hubby and I spent a week in Rome, Italy during a February with rain, sleet, and wind. We had a marvelous time in the relatively tourist-free city, and in every restaurant we went to, we stuck with the house wine. Invariably this would come to us from a cask, or a big jug (no label), and served in what looked like jelly glasses (no stemware anywhere). I can say without a doubt that we did not have a bad glass of wine in any restaurant we went to. I can also say with certainty that all the wine we’d been served were blended wines. What a discovery!

Thanks to http://barrellsonline.com for the photo.

Today I’m bringing you four red blends that I think you red wine drinkers will like. White wine fans, check back next week for some goodies, okay?

pro.mis.Q.ous <California red table wine> Santa Rosa, California Regularly $16.99; on sale for $9.99 at Vons.

On The Label: “[referring to many partners.] The act of blending multiple, mutually attractive grape varieties in an assortment of unorthodox combinations. Implies a wanton disregard for convention. May result in an intense sensory experience. Practice safe sipping.”

This wine is a Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Syrah blend. It’s color is deep red. The taste is big and bold, with a hint of the Zin pepper coming through. Terrific with a traditional steak dinner, or any hearty fare – bbq in the summer to lavish Italian dishes in the winter. (Not, however, a wine that goes well with sweets.)

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ especially at the sale price! Plus the label is fun, lol.

Red Velvet 2009 Cupcake Vineyards $11.99; on sale for $7.99 at Vons.

On the Label: “Our Red Velvet is made up of grapes from some of the finest vineyards in California. This wine shows a heady nose of chocolate, deep rich blackberries, red fruits, and a creamy mocha finish that is unmistakeable in its intensity and length. Its reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis. Enjoy with a sweet and spicy Hoisin steak, a bbq bacon cheeseburger, or even dark chocolate fondue.”

Hubby and I were divided about this wine. I believe the wine lived up to its label; hubby wasn’t as enthusiastic, but I have to add in his preference for lighter wines. I found it smooth, straight from the bottle (no fussy airing needed). The blackberry, the chocolate, the mocha finish – all were there for me. It’s got a big-mouth feel for a price I’d expect to be three times what I paid for.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~

The House Wine, 2007 Red Wine The Magnificent Wine Company, Walla Walla, Washington $10.99; on sale for $7.69 at Vons

On the Label: Not too much, actually. But here’s the breakdown for you: 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 2% Zinfandel, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot

Upon first, straight-from-the-bottle taste, it’s big, full of tannins. After it mellowed for an hour in a pitcher, it settled nicely into a terrific food wine.

I personally like sipping big, chewy wines where many people won’t do it without food. In this wine, the Cab. Sauv. and the Syrah blend to make it a robust wine, and even though there’s almost the same amount of Merlot in it, the Merlot doesn’t have much of a mellowing influence. Waiting for this wine to settle made me itchy. If you are a timid red wine drinker, this one isn’t for you.

We had this with bratwurst fresh from the butcher, corn on the cob, melted onions, and cucumbers and lime.

My Rating: ~Drinkable~ But for goodness sakes, don’t pay over $10 for it!

Hey Mambo 2008 Bistro Style Wine $8.99; on sale for $6.49 at Vons. Vinted and bottled by The Other Guys, Napa, California Part of the Sebastiani Family of Wines Alcohol 13.5% by volume.

On the Label: A blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Petite Syrah, and Alicante Bouchet grapes.

I loved this wine. I loved this wine so much that I went back to the store the next day and bought two more bottles of it, just to make sure I loved it. My first crack at it came when the family was all in a good mood – home made pizza on the table, hubby telling stories about how he chewed his arm off that day for a movie shoot. The wine had aired in my glass for about 15 minutes, and as the night grew later and the laughter kept coming, the more I appreciated the wine. Big in my mouth, but gentle and luscious, too – with hints of smoke and berries. I deliberately set my notebook aside, and just enjoyed the wine.

There’s a lot to be said for blends – they can give you a more complex and enjoyable time than a varietal can, and yet the quality can vary wildly. This blend is three years old, and my guess is with one more year under its belt, this will be an absolute wow of a wine.

My Rating: ~ Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut! ~

Plus, I’m really digging on the Sebastiani family – now they’ve got two labels under their umbrella (Hey Mambo plus Smoking Loon) that I’m totally gaga over. Thanks, folks!

Remember, this is my wine experience, with my moods, phases of the moon, taste buds, and all that jazz. Your tastes will undoubtedly vary. Cheers, and remember to drink responsibly!

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



Girl’s Night Wine Tasting

Girl’s Night Wine Tasting

My good friend Kat was kind enough to invite me to her girl’s wine night a few weeks ago. Since I’d just started this feature here at the blog, I commandeered the night and suggested we each bring a bottle of red wine, under $10 of course. (The next day, I apologized – but the die had been cast and all was set.)

These gals are old friends, and have been gathering on a semi-regular basis for a few years to drink wine and eat nibbles and talk about everything under the sun. I was the beginner infiltrating their ranks.  While I had some surprises in store, I think it went very well in the end.

I arrived at 4:30 sharp with my bottle to find Patti there before me and Kat dealing with a passel of kids (Patti and Kat’s daughters are in dance class together). Soon Kelly arrived (who was Kat’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher, if I’ve got this straight…) and all the wine was there. Four bottles. Four women. Lots and lots of yummy finger foods spread out on the table in front of us.  I suggested to Kat that we open all the bottles and allow the oxygen to at least start the airing process. I glanced at the clock – almost five.

At any rate – let’s get to the wine, shall we? We went from the lightest to the heaviest.

Wine #1: Estancia Pinot Noir, 2009 Monterey County, Pinnacles Ranches Normally $14.99, on sale at Vons for $9.99

On the Label: “Displays luscious berry flavors, spice and a rich, supple finish.” The winery’s website here.

This wine gave me a handle on the women I sipped with. One loved it – it was light in flavor and easy for her to drink. Another one was so so about it – neither loving nor hating it. The third found it unremarkable, and easy to forget. Me? It made a nice sipping wine. It didn’t need food. All in all, a nice, undemanding wine to start the evening.

My Rating: ~Drinkable~

Wine #2: Clos du Bois, 2007 Shiraz, North Coast Regularly $14.99, on sale for $7.49 at Vons.

On the Label: “This spicy, peppery Shiraz tastes of wild raspberries and blackberries with expressive layers of ground pepper and licorice. An approachable wine that pairs well with grilled pork or roast duck.”

The pepper was there, the color was gorgeous – a nice, deep ruby. We didn’t taste the berries in the wine, but it went great with cheese and crackers. A good food wine.

The consensus: Three of us really liked it, especially at almost half price. The fourth found it too big and bold a wine.

My Rating: ~Very Drinkable~

Wine #3: Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Do. Valle Del Maipo – Chile, 2008 I don’t have a cost on this, but I know it was under the $10 limit.

On the Label: “Superb quality and craftsmanship are the hallmarks of Santa Rita, one of Chile’s most admired and innovative wine estates. Ripe black fruit, plums and herbs.”

By this time we’d gotten comfy. Shoes were kicked off, hair let down, and we were chatting nine to the dozen. The wine got a critical reception and I’m not sure if it was because I kept dragging the conversation back to it, or because of the topic I’d interrupted (something about men, of course). At any rate, it wasn’t as well received as the Shiraz. It needed more airing, said one person. It had a funny aftertaste, said another. It’s better with food – especially meat, I said after stuffing a slice of salami in my mouth.

The consensus? Perhaps it needed a couple more years, or an aerator, or a big meal of steaks and potatoes and candlelight. But I got the feeling that none of us would necessarily rush out and buy a bottle.

My rating: ~Drinkable~

It wasn’t until after that third wine that I looked around. Six p.m. Kat’s hubby had come and gone, wrangling their sons. Patti’s hubby came to take the girls to dance, and vowed to be back to pick her up so she didn’t have to drive. We were even more comfy, dug deep into cushiony couches or chairs, sipping and nibbling for all we were worth. I sent out a tentative feeler. “So how late does this go? I’ll need to make dinner for my family tonight.”

Three people sent me shocked looks. “Dinner?” “No way.” “They can fend for themselves for one night.” “We’re here until about nine.”

Gulp. Nine? As in p.m.? I’d told my family I’d be home around 6:30p. Seriously? These were hard core wine night gals, for sure! I knew then I couldn’t begin to keep up. I also felt like I’d stepped in it, but as I poured the last wine I was totally forgiven as the conversations started up again.

The fourth wine we tasted was from Kat’s special stock and I believe was the reason they got together to drink wines to begin with, to share the wine. She belongs to a couple of wine clubs, and a good bottle of wine is a terrific reason to have a wine night. Can’t say I disagree with her! So, for the first time I will profile a wine that is over – WAY over – $10 a bottle.

Wine #4 Bridlewood Zinfandel 2005 Santa Ynez Valley – approx $40

On the Label: “Located in the emerging Santa Ynez Valley, Bridlewood Estate Winery is an artisan winemaking facility focused on making award-winning, Rhone-style wines.”

My first taste of the wine was heaven. I stopped writing words down. Everyone, even the gal who prefers lighter wines, liked this wine. Maybe it was the years on it – a 2005 bottle is hard to find in the grocery store. Maybe it was the Rhone-style production. Maybe it was because by this point, I’d had a full glass of wine? I’m not sure. But we all loved it. LOVED it. The expensive wine got the Wine of the Night designation.

It was a wowser and unfortunately, since I didn’t write down any distinguishing characteristics of it, I can’t pass those on to you. I don’t think you can even find Bridlewood at the local wine shop. I believe it’s one of those boutique wineries, the wines available at the winery or through their wine club exclusively.

While this was a very very good wine, it was not yet in the “slut” category for me (as in, “This is MY wine you slut, get your own!), but I’ve got a post coming up on wines that do hit that category so be on the lookout!

My Rating: ~Very, very drinkable!~ I guess I now have a new category, lol!

Recap: It was wonderful if a bit overwhelming to share four totally different bottles of wine with four totally different personalities. I think, if I’m ever lucky enough to be allowed back, that I won’t schedule anything silly like dinner for the family. And I’ll never again suggest we each bring a bottle of wine – my mouth went on overload.

As usual, this is my opinion and my taste buds. Your taste buds may vary. If you do choose to pick up a bottle on my recommendation, please remember to drink responsibly!

~ Christine ~

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