Mad for Red Wines…

Mad for Red Wines…

Good wines without breaking the bank. I’m all about that. I believe that a good bottle of wine can be had for under $10, and I’ve appointed myself the job to sniff those out. (I’ll be sure to let you know if it’s MORE than $10, because every now and then I taste those, too.) If YOU have a favorite wine, I’d love to know – so please leave a comment!

As the title says, I’m mad for red wines. I mostly prefer Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels, but there are some surprisingly good red blends out there, too. So sit back and enjoy!

TJ Reserve Zinfandel Paso Robles Lot 84 FrontTrader Joe’s Reserve Zinfandel 2012 Paso Robles, California Lot # 84   Alcohol 14.5% by Volume

On the Label:  “Juicy raspberry, boysenberry and black cherry notes lead to vanilla oak and spice notes with a smooth, jammy finish.”


My Take: First off, a bit of snark. I’m really, really tired of wineries saying their wines taste “jammy”. I’ve never tasted a wine and said to myself, gee, that tastes like jam! I should dip my toast into it with breakfast! (Okay, so that IS a good idea – but you get my meaning.) On the positive side, that’s it for label chat. Boom. Done. LOVE it.

A bit of wisdom for you – when Trader Joe’s puts out a reserve with a Lot # on it, you can almost guarantee that it’s a good winery wine in that bottle. I met a wonderful guy who works at Letitia when Tom and I were up in Cambria; he told us that Letitia wine was in one of these bottles (I’d tell you which one, but TJ’s doesn’t stock it any more so there’s that). We grabbed two bottles and wish we’d grabbed more, as they were $9.99, and I don’t think you can find much Letitia wine under $10.

Oh, and the wine – yes, tasty. TASTY. Not “jammy” to my tastebuds at all, but definitely full of flavor and perfect with steak and potatoes or maybe a hearty lasagna. No, I don’t know which winery it’s from. If you find out, please let me know!  BTW, here’s an article on it from Trader Joe’s online Fearless Flyer.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ The only danger is having a love affair with this type of wine can lead to heartbreak when they – suddenly – no longer carry it. Sigh.

With every conservative bottle of wine (see above), there is its wicked cousin who comes to dinner (below).

Stark Raving RED by Rosenblum Cellars   Sonoma, California   Alcohol 12.5% by stark raving redVolume $8.99 at Vons

On the Label: “Some might think quitting your day job to pursue your passion for winemaking is crazy – even stark raving mad.  Stark Raving ™ from Rosenblum Cellars is a tribute to our founder’s maniacal obsession with experimentation, which still inspires us today.  Our Red Wine is a playful and bold blend of plum and bright red fruit flavors, proving that a little dose of madness can lead to extraordinary things.”

My Take: I loved this wine. I picked it up for the label – I bought it for the fact that it came from Rosenblum Cellars, and I can tell you I’ll definitely be buying it again. It’s a big wine, and does better with a little airing. It’s also got a screwtop, which I love (makes it fit in my fridge easier).

My Rating: ~ Drinkable Plus ~ I did love this wine, but I didn’t LOVE it. There are some who won’t like it – it might be a bit too brash. It’s DEFINITELY a food wine – not a sipper, in my opinion – but that’s okay because I like to eat when I drink wine, lol! But do give it a shot and let me know what you think. Here’s a link to a YouTube video that’s really fun – give it a shot!


So, what do you think?

Red Wine and BBQ

Red Wine and BBQ

In these days of wild uncertainty about everything, 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.

We’ve arrived at Memorial Day weekend – the tail end of May (already!!). In the northern hemisphere, this heralds the beginning of summer. And while Memorial Day is the American holiday to remember and reflect on all the soldiers who have died for our freedoms, it also tends to be the kick-off to barbecue season.

So what better way to get back into the swing of Wine Fridays than with a blog about wines to go with your barbecue? Many people think you need a big wine to go with the sometimes really zesty flavors of BBQ, but I say, not always. Below are two wines that work beautifully with bold flavors and yet are also terrific sipping wines.

Blackstone Winemaker’s Select Red Blend 2010 Alcohol 13.5% by Volume; $8.99 at Vons.

On the Label:  “Our Blackstone red wine is produced from vineyards located throughout CAlifornia’s finest grape-growing regions.  After harvest, each vineyard lot is carefully developed to capture its distinctive flavors and aromatic qualities.

“Our wine is a blend of California’s best red wine varietals and emulates Blackstone’s style; smooth, flavorful and balanced.  This wine is soft and silky with flavors of ripe plum, blackberry and dark chocolate with a long, lush finish.”

My Take: The hubby brought this home one night and we had it with barbecued chicken, smashed potatoes and a big salad. The wine is definitely as advertised – soft, easily drinkable, yet it held up against the strong flavor of the barbecue sauce just fine.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ A good wine to bring to a Memorial Day cookout, or any summer party.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2008 Columbia Valley, Washington  Alcohol, 13.5% by Volume $9.99 at Vons

On the Label: “Grand Estates is synonymous with quality, consistency and value. Combining the best vineyards fromt he columbia Valley with artisan winemaking results in a world-class wine.

“To add a layer of complexity to our Grand Estates Merlot, we ferment our juice with whole berries to create a rich aromatic profile, highlight exceptional fruit flavors and exhibit a lush, velvety-smooth texture.”  – Ray Elnberger, Winemaker

My Take: Many people have been swayed by the movie SIDEWAYS and no longer drink Merlot, which is a pity. A good merlot has a wonderful mouthfeel; not too big, but definitely big enough to handle anything a barbecue can spit out at you. We had this wine with grilled sausages, grilled veggies, with a side of pasta parmesan (no red sauce, just butter, pepper and parmesan cheese). It handled the spicy sausage just fine and was a lovely complement to the veggies and pasta.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ Yet another good value, and a crowd pleaser. I think I might have snagged the last bottle of 2008 at my grocery store; if you find the 2009, I’m expecting it to be just as solid a wine.

As usual, this is just my honest opinion, which will depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ. Enjoy the weekend my friends, and stay safe out there.

~ Until the next time, cheers! ~


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

Food & Wine & Recipe and Reviews!

Food & Wine & Recipe and Reviews!

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!

thanks to

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!

Concannon, Flock, and Getting Primal

Concannon, Flock, and Getting Primal

Happy weekend, everyone! 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.

Concannon Central Coast Pinot Noir 2009 Alcohol 13.5% by volume; $6.99 on sale at Vons.

On the Label: “Roots. Rocks. Intrigue. Since 1883, Concannon Vineyard has been handcrafting fine varietal wines from grapes grown along the Central Coast of California, a diverse region that stretches north from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco Bay. We carefully select the most ideal vineyards for growing each varietal and craft this expressive fruit into superb wines.

Our medium-bodied Pinot Noir is bursting with aromas of violet, cherry, earth and spice with an elegant and supple finish. Enjoy our Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir with dishes like herb-crusted lamb chops or plank-grilled salmon.”

My Take: This wine has come into its own. At a reasonable price, it is now as much a go-to wine for me as the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir. The wine is an easy-to-drink, light-to mid-weight taste; not too heavy, and not demanding food. I’m guessing a part of that is the 2009 date; if you can find that vintage, grab it. I haven’t tasted the 2010 yet (I don’t think) but my guess is it’s still a bit young.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ This wine will be perfect for upcoming summer meals, picnics, or just enjoying snacks with friends. At $7 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.

Primal Roots – 2010 Red Blend, California Alcohol 13.5% by volume $6.99 at Costcowine bottle

On the Label: “Sensual and beautiful wines rooted in the art of winemaking. The true essence of our wine begins with the raw qualities of Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel that are artfully blended to create a smooth, full bodied, sensual wine. Aromas of mocha, vanilla, and spice give way to a silky texture and rich flavors of raspberries and chocolate that are truly uninhibited.”

My Take: Pretty bottle. I know, but that’s what caught my eye in the overwhelming panorama that is the wine section in Costco. The wine? It’s not bad. I think it’s still a little young – I’m finding the 2010s are, which is why I will do my best to not judge those wines too harshly. The price is good, certainly; there’s a punch to this wine that I think just needs some mellowing out. If you do grab a bottle, get two and save one for six months or so. Just to see if it’s better, later. Find them at .

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ And I’ll be keeping an eye out on this wine. I think I’ll hit up BevMo! and see if they have any 2009s.

Flock by Smoking Loon 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir Alcohol 13.5% by volume $18.99 at Vons

On the Label: “Of all the world’s greatest appellations to grow Pinot Noir, Monterey approaches perfection; it has the right balance of sun and cool marine influence, great weather during harvest, and diverse soils to coax out the delicate flavors that Pinot Noir lovers crave.

Usually he’d work alone, but sometimes the Smoking Loon would bring colleagues – his Flock.” Jake continued, pushing the ashtray across the table. “The Flock, now they were somethin’ else. They’d descend all at once, with this sound, like a thousan’ birds just flew in yer windo’, and carry out their mission in perfect formation, with a class an’ style that you just don’t see now a days.”

My Take: I resisted purchasing this wine. I resisted hard. Almost two, maybe even three years. But I finally weakened and gave in (hey, I’m a working woman, yay!).  We happened to have a bit of the regular Smoking Loon Pinot Noir open, so we were able to taste test the two together.

Flock is like the Smoking Loon, only deeper. Richer. More.  It’s everything I love about the Loon and oh, so much more. This is definitely my new go-to special Pinot Noir; its under $20 and I know I’ll LOVE the wine. For me, it’s a can’t miss (and if you’re up to it, there’s always Valentine’s Day…) and if you like red wine at all, I do urge you to try this.

My Rating: ~ Stay away. This is MY wine, you slut! ~ Need I say more?

As usual, this is just my honest opinion and will depend on life, the universe, and everything else that has happened that day. 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?

Undrinkable, Barely Drinkable, Drinkable, Very Drinkable, and the ever-popular Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut!

Fetzer Sauvignon Blanc, and A by Acacia

Fetzer Sauvignon Blanc, and A by Acacia

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.

~   ~  ~

First up is Fetzer. Here’s what I know about Fetzer – it was one of the first wineries I personally visited, and therefore is close to my heart. I haven’t tried many of their expensive wines, and haven’t been there in 20 years, but still. So here goes.

Fetzer California Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 The Earth-Friendly Winery, Mendocino County  At Vons – normally $5.99, on sale for $3.99

On the Label: “In 2009, Fetzer converted all bottles to lightweight glass, reducing the bottles’ weight an average of 17%. This also reduced the carbon emissions of our bottles – the equivalent of 70,000 trees growing for ten years. While reducing the impact on the environment, we still deliver quality wine.

Pure varietal flavors of lemon, green apple, and a hint of mint are captured in this refreshing, food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc.”

At first taste: The smell is fresh, light and citrusy. The taste is also fresh and light. Still, Sauvignon Blancs are mostly a food wine. When I paired it with pasta pesto and a big garden salad, this wine really came into it’s own. The freshness of the wine deepened my appreciation of the food, and the food really pointed up the beauty of the wine.

Fetzer is a workhorse – they’ve been consistently putting out drinkable and affordable wines forever, which make them even more dear to my heart.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable – Very ~ especially due to the price! Stock up now while summer is still going strong, and for those hot days in autumn.

A By Acacia Red Blend, 2007 Sonoma, California Visit their website here. Alcohol 13.5% by volume $9.37 on sale at Vons.

On the Label: “At Acacia, we’ve been making wine since 1979. With decades of experience, we remain committed to producing the finest wines from California’s most ideal growing regions. Our A by Acacia Red Blend is made from a delightful combination of grae varietals, blended to create a truly delicious and enjoyable wine. Rich and well-balanced, the wine showcases flavors of plum, raspberry, blackberry and vanilla. If you like Pinot Noir, you’ll like our Red Blend!”

My take: Okay, full disclosure here. I love Acacia wines, and have ever since I was introduced to their 1997 Pinot Noir. Acacia wines have, sadly, gone out of my price range. (A quick check of their website shows one bottle for $24, one for $25, a whole bunch for over $30, and a few over $70. Gulp.) So imagine my pleasure when I found this one for under $10! It is definitely one of my new go-to wines.

At my first taste, I fell in love. The wine is rich and has depth, and would be terrific to sip while having a relaxing conversation about existentialism next to a fire simmering in the fireplace. Instead, for dinner I paired it with a baked eggplant parmesan, garden salad and garlic bread, and it complemented the meal beautifully.

I just recently bought another bottle of A by Acacia, and it was below $9 on special at Vons. Just in case you wanted to know.

My Rating: ~ Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut! ~ No, seriously. Get your own.

Remember, the above is my opinion based upon my taste buds, which can act up depending upon how much sleep I’ve gotten, how many times I’ve typed “water level” or “groundwater” that day, and whether or not the novel is close to being finished. Your taste buds will vary.

~ 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?