Tag Archives | mid-range value wines


Intense color. Middleweight. Tar + plums w/ cocoa + flowers around each corner. Hope popularity doesn’t screw it up.

Malbec Description

     Malbec is au currant. It is selling briskly during a recession when most wines are retrenching. It goes great with a big hunka’ red meat, and confers a gaucho image which understandably appeals to salarymen everywhere. Dr. Roger Corder, a British pharmacology researcher, even says Argentine Malbecs are particularly rich in the polyphenols which help protect against artery disease. Good news when you’re having a big hunka’ red meat. And really good Malbec can be had for less than $25. Sign me up!

Malbec Wine Education

     The success of Argentine Malbec on the U.S. market over the last four years is the envy of wine producing regions all over the world. Wines of Argentina says they sold 628,000 cases of Malbec in America in 2005, and 3.15 million cases in 2009. Particularly jealous is the district of Cahors in southwest France, which specializes in Malbec (traditionally called Cot there), and from whence the Argentine vines are reputed to have come.
     Of course commercial success on our shores usually has more to do with pricing and adroit marketing than it has to do with what is in the bottle. I’d never bet against the physical attractiveness of any Argentine winery’s PR staff. And, until last month, exchange rates did give the Argentine wines an enormous price advantage over their European counterparts.
     By way of incentive, Argentina has 50,000 acres of Malbec planted, which is more than California has planted to Zinfandel. France has less than 15,000 acres, and even that has been steadily declining since 1970. Malbec vines are quite sensitive to mildew. Hence the variety seems logically more applicable to arid climates such as Mendoza (in the rain shadow of the Andes), than it would be in the frequent summer rains of southwest France.
     Nevertheless a battle of sorts has been joined, and vintners in both California and Washington State are paying attention. There are only 1,500 acres of Malbec in California. Which explains why in 2008 Malbec grapes sold for $4,550 a ton in Napa Valley ~ almost the same price as Cabernet Sauvignon, and nearly twice as much money per ton as Merlot. In Sonoma Malbec grapes were 15% more expensive than Cab Sauv. And in the Sierra Foothills Malbec is nearly 50% more expensive than any other grape. Supply and demand. You think Wall Street is a casino? Try farming.

Malbec recommendations

     Read this post in its entirety on the Stanford Wine Blog, including specific wine reviews and suggestions.

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CA Grenache

Great fruit clearly announces CA, and the wine is magic when paired with crispy, roasted version of CA’s State Bird.

Wine Education

     There isn’t a huge amount of Grenache planted in California: about 7,000 acres in 2008 (down from nearly 11,000 acres in 1998), and 85% of those acres reside in the Central Valley (predominantly Fresno and Madera Counties). Hence the image, which artistic CA Grenache will eventually have to overcome, of sickly sweet swill labeled Grenache Rosé which was sold in bowling-ball-shaped jugs much prized by ‘60s-era hippies for making terrariums. Still, the enduring legacy of the Rhône Rangers in California has begat some new, green buds on the gnarly, weathered Grenache grapevine.
     Napa has less than 35 acres of bearing Grenache vines. Which may help explain why in 2009 those grapes sold for $3,520 per ton on average. That’s 50% more per ton than Napa Merlot in 2009. It would also predict a $35 per bottle retail price tag on those wines. In Sonoma County, which had 160 acres of Grenache in 2009, the average price per ton was $2,660, about 20% more than the average price per ton of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Background

     Grenache (technically Grenache Noir) is really quite a fascinating grape variety. Sardinia, where it is called Cannonau, and Spain argue like cats and dogs over where it originated, and thus which direction it migrated during the 400+ years (from about 1300 to around 1700) that Sardinia was part of the Aragon kingdom. Either way, the sturdy Grenache vine has competed for several hundred years to be the most widely planted premium red grape in the world.

Matching Food to Grenache

     To read this post in its entirety, including specific wine recommendations, bargain examples, and suggested food – wine pairings, please visit the Stanford University Wine Blog.

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No longer a bargain, but damn the best taste great. M. Haggard could drink Zin; still have cred. Serve w/ pork. No utensils; sleeve napkin.

Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadings I denied…

Wine Background

     Zinfandel prices have risen dramatically since the early 1990’s when the first one costing double figures appeared. Higher prices mean more expense can be lavished on artistic production. That means better barrels, but it also affords the opportunity to harvest by hand with several passes through the vineyard.
     Zinfandel has large clusters, and it is notorious for ripening unevenly. Many people believe the grapes need to get well past 24ºBrix to exhibit the variety’s signature boysenberry aroma. But that much sugar pretty much guarantees alcohol in the mid 15’s, and acid that will require a supplementary adjustment. No problem for us cult-Zin cowboys, but what of those sissies who demand balanced table wines?
     One answer is to pick a quarter of the crop aiming for 22.5º-23ºB. That fraction of the finished wine will supply a crisp core, a solid backbone, for refreshing length and bottle-aging potential. Then make a second pass through the vineyard a week later aiming for half the total crop at 24º-24.5ºB. That fraction will be the foundation wine: good texture; good flavor; complex aromatics. Then get the final quarter of the crop a week to ten days later at 26º-27ºB. This final fraction will have wonderful berry-like intensity. By itself the final fraction would be alcoholic and flabby, whereby in the blend it will be structurally saved by the initial fraction, and still contribute a spectacular burst to the nose.
     No one could profitably sell such a wine for $8.95 a bottle. No matter. I’d happily pay $25 to $35 a bottle for it, and I think most critics would as well (possible exceptions being Messrs. Parker and Laube).

Wine Event Description

     The 19th Annual Z.A.P. festival was held last weekend in San Francisco. I went hoping to find a couple new, or little known, producers making bargain-priced gems. No such luck. Although I do have to plead palate fatigue. [Note proper spelling, all you wine copywriter aspirants. It’s not pallet, as in something moved by a forklift, nor is it palette as in the board on which painters hold their pigments.] I tasted about 60 wines, walked several miles, and eyeballed an unusually large number of tall women in short skirts with boots. That’s a worthwhile three hours, but it’s well below 10% of the wines on offer at ZAP.

Wine Recommendations

     Noteworthy in the value category were Sierra Foothills wineries Cedarville and Miraflores, along with St. Amant which is a Lodi winery closely bordering the Sierra Foothills’ 800-foot contour-line boundary. Cedarville is about 2,500 feet of elevation, and their Zin reflects this more restrained, more elegant pedigree. It has nice fruit, but more in the red than black spectrum, and more of the eating-out-of-hand persuasion than the stewed or jammy flavors often encountered elsewhere. At $17 you couldn’t beat the price of Cedarville Zin with a police baton. St. Amant makes their best Zin from very old vines grown on sandy Hanford Loam soil at Mohr-Fry Ranch. It is riper and more effusive than Cedarville, but doesn’t step over into the realm of short and bimbo-ish, as so many Lodi Zins are wont to do. St. Amant is also attractively priced at right around $20.
     Perhaps the biggest bargain at the ZAP festival was the 2006 Heritage Zin made by Jerry Seps from Storybook Mountain Vyds. This is the wine produced every year by a different ZAP winemaker from the collection of exceptional old vine cuttings taken from around the state, then grown as a research project in Oakville. Dr. Seps (he formerly taught History at Stanford) is a very talented winemaker whose own wines command $40 and $50 a bottle. The Heritage Zin though, sells for $25 a bottle, and was being offered for $18 on the day of the ZAP festival. That opportunity alone was worth the cost of admission ~ consider hem lengths a bonus.

Wine Critique

     Some stars at ZAP shine more brightly than others. And some don’t shine at all. I always find it entertaining to compare the standard-bearing warhorses of the past to new challengers. The comparison is not blind, of course, and I readily admit a fondness for the brands such as Ridge, Rosenblum, and Seghesio who have been around through the tough times. They are not cheap, as they were in the 1980’s when I drank so much of them. But today they make such reliably great wine, that I always look forward to tasting their new releases.
     Many new entrants seem to operate in an imaginary world separate from the sweaty rabble of the marketplace. How else to explain nouveau riche winery owners today asking $40 a bottle for their very first release, which smells like damp hay and feels like sandpaper in your mouth.
     Zinfandel is a grape that rewards experience, particularly with any specific vineyard. It takes more than a couple vintages to learn a Zin vineyard’s tricks. A good example from ZAP were the three 2007 wines offered from Hartford Court in western Sonoma County. In the past these wines from very old vines have seemed pinched, minerality taken to a raspy extreme. Not so the 2007 wines. While different from each other, all three had a family resemblance of deep, well-integrated marionberry roundness. The slight alkaline edge, which says old vines to me, merely served to pull them back from unseemly generosity. All three were wines which simultaneously expressed the enthusiasm of California’s warm summers, and the gravitas of a multi-generational vineyard lineage.

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06 Vougeraie Savigny-les-Beaune (Marconnets)

Bio-d since 01. Wild yeast. Attractive feral nose w/ blk cherry robe. Minced squab + plum sauce.

Green Wines

     At speaking engagements, British wine writer Clive Coates likes to joke about Burgundian vintners, “You know, they’re all peasants.” Clive is not being disparaging. He is colorfully illustrating the manner in which Burgundians are yoked to the land. Wealthy, well-educated, well-traveled vintners from Burgundy still spend months of every year in their vineyards pruning, pulling leaves, replanting, and harvesting. This close relationship to the soil may help explain why Burgundy has so many organic and bio-dynamic vineyards. Heaven knows, organic grape growing is not easy when rain is likely to fall at any time during the Summer.

Wine Education

     Domaine de la Vougeraie was organized by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie in the 1990’s to consolidate several prestigious properties they had acquired with their father Jean-Claude under a single, more easily marketed label. In all, the vineyards for the Vougeraie project totaled 37 hectares (94 acres) spread out over 29 Burgundian appellations. The goal was definitely to create a luxury brand: there are parcels in five red and one white Grand Cru vineyards. About a quarter of the property is in Vougeot. Yields are low ~ barely over two tons per acre. These holdings ~ plus ownership of prestige domaines such as Bouchard, Jaffelin, Ropiteau, and Mommesin ~ make the Boisset family the wealthiest wine estate in all of Burgundy. As if that weren’t enough, in September of this year 40-year-old Jean-Charles married Gina Gallo

Find the remainder of this post on the Stanford Wine Blog titled Straight from the Vine. Continue Reading →

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De Tierra Vyds.

Monterey County. Two estate wines from certified organic grapes. Very good quality, bargain priced. Strongly recommended.

How green is your wine?

     Talking about how ‘green’ a wine is can be very complicated. Not using pesticides says little about the winery’s attention to energy and water conservation. Is an ‘organic’ wine from Italy still green after all that weight of liquid and glass has been shipped to San Francisco? Does your ‘bio-dynamic’ winery pay their workers a living wage? And do any of these matters contribute to good taste? How far can I trust claims of ‘greenishness?’

de Tierra Vyds

     It’s a thorny issue. We will revisit it frequently on the Stanford wine blog [StanfordAlumni.org, it’s titled Straight from the Vine]. But we will begin with a winery recommendation that needs very few qualifier adjectives. These two wines taste great, and they are both pretty reasonably priced. The grapes are grown within 100 miles of the Stanford campus. The vineyard was the very first one in Monterey County to be certified organic by CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers).

Continues at Stanford wine blog.

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