Monday, July 6, 2020

NV Winking Owl Merlot



Why would you buy a bottle of wine for $2.49 you ask?  I honestly don't have an answer.  Curiosity probably got the best of me.  Flashbacks of "Two Buck Chuck" bounced around in my head as I passed this at Aldi several times yesterday.  But I like to keep an open mind and I'm always up to a challenge so I figured at this price, I'm really no worse for wear.  This bottle is less than a cup of coffee at most restaurants and I've spent far more money on less satisfying objects in my lifetime.  So, without further ado, I present the non-vintage Winking Owl Merlot.....

I should start by saying that I am generally perplexed by anyone who can put wine in a bottle for this price.  After all, sans juice, you still have the bottle, the cork, the label, the capsule, the outer packaging, the marketing, etc, etc to take into consideration of the total cost at checkout.  So when you remove those items from the cost of the bottle of wine, what do you have?  I would guess about $.38 worth of actual "product" in the bottle.  You can quickly realize that this wine is made in the thousands or tens of thousands of gallons.  Don't get me wrong here.  Mass producing wines is commonplace in the industry for larger companies and there are a fair number of higher quality wines that are birthed this way.  In fact, E&J Gallo (they're the wine behemoth that produces this label) started out generations ago as grape sellers and eventually as a bulk wine dealer).  This is right in their wheelhouse.   

I'm not going to lie.  I see this wine marketed to or appealing to the 40-something single woman, sipping away in her bathtub on a Saturday night as she listens to Yanni and swipes left or right on Tinder.   Too harsh?  Hell, she might even have a two-bottle night if she can indulge herself with a Fabio book and some chocolates.  I digress.....


The wine is a lovely medium red color and thin in appearance.  Subtle but typical Merlot aromas of raspberry and vanilla are most recognizable.  Is there a black cherry in there?  Perhaps with some time in the glass and vigorous swirling you can pull additional aromas.  In the mouth is a straight-forward, very fruity glass of what some might refer to as a table wine or maybe even a "free" wine at your cousin Lenny's wedding.  It's not memorable and the finish is almost non-existent.  For the back label to state that this is a medium bodied wine is, well.........inaccurate.   That's not to say that this wine is a complete dud.  It isn't.  It is a bottle of wine................for under.............$3.00.  Let that sink in.  I often refer to these types of wine as Midwestern wines, because in my experience, folks throughout the Midwest loooooooooooove their fruit bombs.

Again, it's not horrible.  It really isn't.   What I'll reiterate is that it is a cheap bottle of wine and you get what you pay for in most cases.  We have come a long way since the Charles Shaw plonk and this wine proves just that.  I'm not going to go out and buy a couple of cases, but I had fun tasting this.  And for the record, I paired it with some delicious steak tips.  When assigning a score, I have to look at the complete picture.  The marketing and affordability really add to the overall appeal and score here.  And if you're looking to buy this at your local wine store, you won't find it.  The Winking Owl label is available exclusively at Aldi.   And you can find some really amazing cheeses at Aldi to pair this wine with this Saturday night!

ABV:  12.0%

California

Suggested retail price:  $2.95

Drink The Bottles score:  80/100


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Navigating Wine Country During a Pandemic (aka let's help each other)



There is little doubt that the first half of 2020 has been anything less than unexpected from what most would consider a 'normal' daily life.  The global pandemic has affected every person in some way, and most people significantly enough to alter their lifestyle, even if temporarily.  Work, school, daycare and financial hardships have reached into most homes, creating a fear of uncertainty and anxiety for many.  But all is not lost.  Whether it is a false sense of security, the need to return to an accustomed lifestyle or a belief that the worst of this virus is over, people are starting to venture out of their homes and travel.  


There is no doubt that a large number of the world's population are still cautious and some, even frightened, about the health of the world and those around us.  It's difficult to control the actions of those around us, but by using common sense and social distancing, we can begin to appreciate the lives we are customary of enjoying.  I, for one, have chosen to travel.


It has been much too long since we visited California's amazing wine country.  My wife and I feel very blessed to be able to make this trek with friends later this summer and we are going to maximize the fun, the feels and the fellowship during this long weekend.  But wine country (at least online) looks much different than it did previously.  Nearly every web site lists COVID-19 precautions and health protocols.  Some wineries are asking guests to sign health release forms upon arriving on property.  Access to many areas that were once readily available is now off limits.  And that mask?  You better be wearing one.  So how do you drink wine through a mask?   Let's discuss that later.


Now that (like it or not) we understand that times look much different than they did just six months ago, how do we navigate California's wine country?  What is new and what is required and what is the best way to plan your trip?
  • If you're headed to Napa like we are, check out the new health guidelines before you go.
  • Bring a mask or several masks.  (Nobody wants to wear a wine-stained mask).  If you don't have one, stay home.  You'll be turned around at the cellar door without one.  
  • Make reservations because they are required now.  Long gone are the days of just "popping into" a winery for a quick tasting.
  • Keep your distance and be respectful.  Re-opening to the public after being closed for months can be scary and foreign to your hosts.  Tread lightly and follow their lead.
  • If you like the wine, consider making a purchase and/or joining a wine club.  Most wineries are family owned and have suffered greatly because of the pandemic.  Show some love and you'll be rewarded with your incredible wine purchases.

Now that we have a few pointers on how to navigate your upcoming wine trip, let's discuss about what you should expect from a winery before and during your visit.
  • Communication.  Seems easy enough, right?  You would be surprised.   I have reached out to about twenty California wineries during the planning of our upcoming trip.  I am amazed at how many of them never even bother responding to an email.  We get it; the wineries and tasting rooms are starting to get busy with re-opening in its infancy.  But if we have specific needs or your web site scheduling tool doesn't work, we have to email you in order to plan our tasting experience.  The lack of communication sends a message of apathy and we could have been your newest and biggest fans.  I call this a "don't be a dick rule".  
  • Create a memorable experience.   We understand that some areas and experiences may still be closed, but wineries still have an incredible opportunity to create lifelong memories for their guests.  In lieu of a cave tour or super secret hidden gem tasting room that is inaccessible, maybe a sit-down with the vintner or a special library bottle tasting could be an extra-special treat?   Or perhaps it is connecting us with the most special wine tasting room host who would blow our socks off with his/her knowledge, personality, humor and kindness?
  • Try not to make things too sterile or uncomfortable.  We're all scared.  And we, as guests, promise to follow all of the rules and breathe the hot summer California air through our uncomfortable masks.  We ask in return that the tasting room doesn't smell of hospital disinfectants and everyone doesn't spray us down with Lysol if we clear our throat.
We are all going to get through this together.  We are going to wear our masks and pull them down when permitted (and to drink wine!).  We are going to try to get back to a "normal" lifestyle and enjoy everything that wine regions all over the world have to offer.  But most of all, we are going to embrace the ability to move freely, travel the world and drink some superb fucking wines.  Go explore!


This article does not necessarily convey my personal feelings regarding the current global pandemic.  While I encourage my readers and oenophiles to travel and enjoy wine, I also advise everyone to use common sense, be safe and exceptionally courteous to those around you.   -Jeff










Thursday, June 18, 2020

The $200 Wine Tasting Fee and Why You Should PASS!

I recently followed up with a contact from a Napa Valley winery who I had virtually met about two years ago.  We are currently planning a trip to wine country in late August and she had previously left an open invitation to host me and a guest for a private tasting the next time we were in town.  I have always been a fan of this particular winery and they make ONE varietal every year.  Their inaugural vintage was beautifully crafted, and according to popular ranking publications, each year seems to get better and better (or so the points would leave us to believe).  While the winery itself is about 10 years old, the family behind the juice has been making wine for decades, in fact, multiple generations.

Before I get into this article further, let me say that I wholeheartedly believe that wineries should charge for tastings.  There is no doubt about it.  I think that paying for the tasting experience cuts down on the weekenders who are looking to just get loopy (aka "Wine Country" movie) and not appreciate the hard work and love that goes into every vintage.  It also makes people pay attention and want to learn more.  Whether you are hearing about veraison for the one-hundredth time or learning some amazing, deep dark secrets about a particular winery, you tend to pay more attention when you are vested in the overall winery tasting adventure.  

Excited to visit the aforementioned winery (which shall remain nameless), I reached out to their concierge and we chatted briefly about our previous exchange and upcoming trip.  She said she would check availability and get back to me as they are just preparing to re-open next week due to COVID-19.  You can imagine my shock and disbelief when the email I received a few days later came, offering to extend a wine tasting of A SINGLE WINE for a whopping $200.00 per person.  I stared at the email.  Was there a decimal in the wrong place?  Two HUNDRED dollars for a single tasting?  (And folks, we are talking a "tasting" pour, not a full restaurant pour).  I was so put off, I couldn't even respond.   Pass.


If you have incredibly deep pockets or have a chance to taste a "cult" wine (this one isn't, but don't even get me started on cult wines) or just like spending your hard earned cash, maybe throwing a couple hundred dollars at a 1 ounce pour is your thing.  I would venture to say that for 99% of oenophiles that is not the case.  It certainly won't be for me.  There are too many wonderful tasting experiences that you can find value in if you do your homework.

So, what should you expect and what are great values for wine tasting experiences?   

First of all, you should expect a memorable experience.  You should leave the winery wanting more - more wine, more time with the people there and more time soaking in the surroundings.  You should expect to be educated, entertained and welcomed.  But most of all, you should feel satisfied about your choice to choose that particular winery to spend your money and time with during your trip.

The best values really depend on what you are seeking during your visit.  A 'general' wine bar tasting will set you back $25 - $45 most of the time, and it is exactly that - trying wines at a wine bar or tasting room, often not at the winery or estate.  These offerings are particularly popular for budget-minded tourists.  Often, wineries will waive your tasting fee for a purchase of wine or if you join their wine club memberships.  Ask questions during your time at the winery!  

I personally like a tasting party that offers a winery tour, a cave tour, barrel tasting or some time with the winemaker or vintner.  Often these higher end encounters also include an exclusive or library wine that you can only get at the winery.  These more intimate encounters typically range in the gamut of $50 to $80 per person and are an incredible way to make long-lasting memories of wine country.  Of course, there are always options for a light lunch, charcuterie board, fresh garden offerings or a number of other additions to your wine affair .  There are many destination locations that offer picnic packages or even a romantic dinner for two.  The options are endless!  

But lets go back to the $200 tasting fee.  Maybe I'm just hung up on this, but I really don't think so.  At this particular place there are no caves, there are no flights of wine and there isn't a winery tour.  There is a single 1 ounce pour for $200.00.  That's NOT how I want to remember my time to wine country.  Life is too short to drink shitty wine.  Life is also too short to waste your time on disappointments.

Cheers!





Tuesday, June 16, 2020

2018 Calculated Risk Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon



Full disclosure here.   I purchased a few different cases of "close out" wines from an online discounter just to have some cheaper, every day drinking wine.  One of the purchases was this 2018 Calculated Risk Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  I bought 4 bottles and for the price (and free shipping), I thought it was worth the..................wait for it...............calculated risk.  (Insert laughter here).  I digress.

This wine really didn't disappoint.  Of the wines that I purchased from the discount vendor, this one was one that I preferred over many that were less than spectacular.  There was a very distinct Cabernet nose and medium red color.  Sometimes you can open a cheap Cabernet only to find that you struggle to identify the aromas that typically accompany these grapes.  This was not the case here.  Dried fruit with dark chocolate yielded to dark, ripe cherries and a faint dusty book taste.  The finish wasn't incredibly long but it was pleasant and kept me coming back to finish the bottle.   I'm definitely not mad at myself for trying this one, although the suggested list price tag on the winery web site would leave you scratching your head (I paid $14.99 and free shipping).  I don't think this bottle would be one you could take a glass or two from and put back for another day.  It's a one and done deal!  Drink now through 2024.

ABV:  14.0%

Sonoma County, California

Suggested retail price:  $49.99

Drink The Bottles score:  86/100

Friday, June 12, 2020

Yes, You CAN Find a Good Wine for Under $10

Have you ever picked up a cheap bottle of wine ($20 or under) and found that it nearly blew your socks off?  No, it wasn't the 18% alcohol or high octane fuel smell coming from the cork....er, make that bottle cap....but an actual LOVE for a bargain bottle of vino?  A couple of months ago while we were all hunkered down during the Coronavirus pandemic, we received a bottle of this 2018 King Rabbit Rosé as a gift.  I'm not normally a rosé wine fan, but I immediately fell in love with the cantaloupe-colored juice and gorgeous package.  

While we had planned to save this bottle for Easter dinner, it didn't work out that way and we popped this open on a whim one late afternoon.  This bottle had been in the refrigerator chilling (the best way to drink a rosé in my opinion) so we filled up a couple of glasses and headed to the back deck.  


The nose presented with lemon, lime and stone fruits with some flowery undertones.  This wasn't an intense aroma, but pleasing and yes, I admit, a bit mouth watering.  Rosé wines are dry and this one was no exception.  However, this little gem packed a ton of fruit including peach, cranberry and strawberry syrup.  A nice pop of acid rounds out the tasting on this Whole Food exclusive wine and the lingering finish keeps inviting you back.  


This is a VERY recommended wine, especially if you have guests who are looking for a lighter option or those who don't drink red wine.  Yes, believe it or not.........those people exist!   Enjoy!

ABV:  12.0%

Languedoc, France

Suggested retail price:  $9.99

Drink The Bottles score:  88/100


2017 MollyDooker The Boxer Shiraz


It has been waaaaaaaaay too long since I have 1) posted (more about that below) and 2) enjoyed any MollyDooker wines.   I found a local wine store who carries MD, so I'm a happy guy now!  The 2017 Boxer is just as lovely as previous years and I get completely lost in a bottle of my favorite Australian producer very easily.  Yes, I did do the Mollydooker Shake on this bottle.....make that these bottles as we drank them both in an evening.  The richness of plum, chewy chocolate and cherry pie filling completely filled the mouth and created a find coating and incredible finish.  I find around my hometown many folks are not familiar with MollyDooker, and I'm going to make it my mission to educate them on these delicious wines!

Part two?  Where have I been?  I've been here tasting wines and posting mainly on Instagram.  I have had one heck of a time accessing both my blog and email associated with the blog.  I had accidentally stopped my email subscription some months ago and it is nearly impossible to get things up and running again.  BUT, with the help of a very nice gentleman today (after multiple request tickets, phone calls and chats to Google), I again have full access to my blog and email!  You will be seeing more of me now!.

ABV:  16.0%

McLaren Vale, South Australia

Suggested retail price:  $30.00

Drink The Bottles score:  90/100

Monday, March 25, 2019

2016 Boeschen Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2016 Boeschen Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

I have never sat in a French bistro overlooking the Champs Elysees while enjoying the finest cuisine.  I have never read a first print of The Call of the Wild while sitting amongst the finest literary classics a prestigious library.   But those are two feelings that I get when tasting the 2016 Boeschen Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is an extraordinary example of winemaking with passion, care and diligence.  Many Napa Valley Cabernet examples are very fruit forward, but this one is more reserved, a big and powerful statement that is held back by the door of opportunity in a wine that can be enjoyed now or for the next 20+ years.  Dark purple, almost inky, this wine has a balance of dark cherry, tobacco leaf, cassis, and antique spice cabinet with satin-like tannin.  This wine was tasted at room temperature multiple times (hence, the wine streaks on the label!) with and without food and was a true champion every time.  I would recommend this with braised short ribs or venison.  Absolutely wonderful!

2016 Boeschen Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon label

ABV:  14.6%

Napa Valley, California

Suggested retail price:  $110.00

Drink The Bottles score:  96/100


NV Winking Owl Merlot

Why would you buy a bottle of wine for $2.49 you ask?  I honestly don't have an answer.  Curiosity probably got the best of me.  Flashba...