Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon (A 2009 “Michael David Joint”)



And these guys do Petite Petit, which has elephants playing poker on the label, so. What I’m saying is that they’ve set the bar for kickass label pretty high.

They’ve set the bar for lots of asskicking pretty high, honestly, or maybe I just love them because I love the wavelength they’re on: any winery what decides it’s a good idea to create a Zinfandel for each deadly sin is a winery I’m going to love on geek level alone. That the wines are, by pretty much any measure, REALLY GOOD, just adds to the pot.

Anyway, this isn’t a Zin. It’s a Cab. It’s still really good. Read on:

Region: Lodi, CA
Grapes involved: Cab Sauv with a tiny bit of Petite Sirah thrown in because, well, why not. Also it’s pretty.
Cost: $18-ish
Food pairings: We had it with flat iron steak with a chimichurri sauce and some chard sauteed with garlic. That worked. A kickass burger would work pretty well too. So would chocolate. Or oatmeal raisin cookies, which I had for dessert and which were also randomly awesome with the wine.

The wine smells like cherry compote (minus the sugar – think warm, saucy, tart cherries) and berries (mostly raspberry and cranberry) with bits of clove and anise. Drinking it, it goes into tart cranberries and lots of earthen sorts of tones, with gobs of vanilla and oak running through. There are a few hints of fennel and something fun and herbal – I keep returning to sage – as well. The finish is long and tart and dry and wonderful. The tannins are fairly grippy* at first, but soften after a while.

And it’s pretty much awesome, and it pretty much lives up to the label. Like, I’d sum up more, but I want to go back to drinking it.


*”Grippy” is one of those words to describe wines/tannins that used to make me insane (like, what kind of a douchebag says that sort of thing?**”), but which I’ve decided I kind of like now that I’ve had enough wine to really get what it means. Basically, it’s the sort of tannin structure that really glues your tongue to your teeth or the roof of your mouth. For me, anyway, a “grippy” sort of tannin structure would be the kind of thing that feels like scratchy glue, but not unpleasantly so. To contrast it, a California Syrah would be silken, with no real scratching at all, and a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir would feel like sandpaper – all scratch with no stick. So “grippy” is somewhere in there, just a bit stickier than anything I’ve just thrown out.

**apparently me.


Chateau Julien 2010 Royalty Red

So first, my apologies for taking a month to write another post. The end of February was filled with craziness (read: my 32nd birthday) and March got off to a smashing start when I managed to slice my thumb open with a dull boxcutter blade and ended up in the hospital getting stitches. Plus there’s been basketball, and as a University of Kansas alum, it’s something akin to a religious experience.

That said, I got the stitches out today, so I popped a bottle of wine when I got home. Here’s what I’m sipping right now:

Region: Monterey County, CA
Grapes involved: Merlot, Cab Sauv and Syrah
Cost: $12-ish
Food pairings: The first thing that comes to mind is a turkey sandwich. You’ll see why. Otherwise, go for something that would work with a slightly sweeter red (*not* a *sweet* red, but an off-dry-ish red), like brie covered in berries or something. Plus, I’ve got this sort of obsession with any kind of Syrah blend and a hunk of fresh mozzarella. I don’t know, it’s just lovely.

The wine, if it isn’t apparent in the photo, is a nifty pretty sort of mulberry color, bright and rich and jewel toned. It smells like cherries, carnations, a hint of pepper and lots of berries. It’s a fairly fruit-forward scent – not the raspberry jam bomb of a lot of Zins, but still pretty fruity.

Tasting it, I get cranberry jelly. Absolute, total, no-questions-asked cranberry jelly. Hence the desire to put this with a turkey sandwich: my first few sips made me think of Thanksgiving like woah.* It’s got all the components: tons and tons of bright, tart, very red berry, a hint of clove and allspice, the barest hint of cinnamon, something reminiscent of orange peel. It’s backed up by a hint of vanilla (read: oak), a touch of rose petal and a bit of strawberry and red raspberry. The mouthfeel is soft and luscious and medium-bodied.

So this is pretty much the consummate red blend that’s uber-popular right now. It’s bright and fruit-forward, slightly (but not overly) sweet, has very soft tannins, and is possessed of the requisite (sorry, y’all) annoying name.**

*I missed Thanksgiving last year due to a badly-timed massive stomach bug, the details of which I won’t share here. So thinking of Thanksgiving makes me alternately really happy (because it’s my favorite holiday ever) and slightly sad (because I missed stuffing my facehole with stuffing last year and I still have 8 months to wait before the next Thanksgiving facehole-stuffing extravaganza).

**I’m not kidding. Red Blends have some positively nonsensical names: Apothic, Hey Mambo,  Rex Goliath Free Range Red, and (I wish I were kidding) Yellowtail Sweet Red Roo (y’all, my head about exploded. That said, the label resembles a bright red disco ball, and I am totally on board with that). I never thought I’d love Blackstone for anything, but the fact that they’ve named their red blend nothing more than “Red Blend” makes me adore them right now.

Michael David 2008 6th Sense Syrah

This is my ode* to the best wine I’ve ever had during a meeting at work ever.

Region: Lodi, California
Grapes involved: Cost: $15 -ish
Food pairings: My favorite pairing when I had it at home was with a ball of fresh mozzarella which Tony and I were gingerly tearing apart with our fingers. That said, it would be awesome with chocolate, maybe even white chocolate.

The thing with product meetings in the wine world is that they sound all fun and games (you mean I can sit on my ass and drink wine? at 9am? and get paid?? YES PLEASE) until I’m sitting in the midst of one, struck with the realization that an eight-hour meeting about wine is still fundamentally an eight-hour meeting. After a while, the wines all begin to smell and taste the same, to blend together until a Zinfandel tastes like a Malbec tastes like a Pinot Grigio tastes like a Gewurtztraminer. I rarely remember any wines all that clearly from these meetings, relying instead on what tasting notes I’m able to scribble to myself while I sip. Five hours in, it takes something spellbinding to elicit any response more detailed than “yep, that’s wine.”

I have now met spellbinding, and it is this Syrah.

See, I don’t remember how long we’d been in that particular product meeting. I know that we’d been sitting/sipping for a long time, well past the “yep, that’s wine” point. The supplier was passing two wines around the room.  I don’t remember what the first bottle was, except that it was cooked, an unsurprising problem given we were coming off a particularly nasty stretch of Kansas summer (in this case, three weeks of 40˚C + temperatures).* And I remember not much caring that the first wine was cooked, because the next wine was so blindingly fuckamazing that I lost track of everything else in the room.

I ended that meeting with “’08 6th Sense Syrah” writ large in my notes, doodled hearts and flowers surrounding it (because I am apparently a 16-year-old girl), making a mental promise to myself to buy a bottle once it cooled off – this is emphatically a cold weather wine – to discover what it was that made my tastebuds fall all over themselves swooning.

What I discovered is that this particular Syrah is the musical equivalent of the Cure’s Disintegration. It is oodles of black lace and a plum velvet corset, floor-length skirt, combat boots, all black eyeliner and elegant wit. I imagine it to have an endless affection for the novels of the Bronte sisters. It is, flat out, the gothiest wine I have ever had. See?

What I’m trying to say is that this wine, it’s purple (and see? It is!).  It smells like violets and plums and blackberry tea with a tinge of black olive and black pepper, and it tastes like all of that plus little bits of earthen mushrooms and blackcurrant and milk chocolate and spun sugar. The mouthfeel is smooth and soft, lightly acidic, round and full and luxurious.

DRINK IT. If you can’t find the ’08, start looking around for the 2010. The early press has been awesome. I’ll be snagging a comparison bottle soon.

*Right, so I get that this isn’t a proper ode. I know what an ode is (my collegiate learnings were most of the English Lit variety), and I don’t care that reappropriating the term. I suck at poetry, so this is better than any legit ode I could ever write.

Chateau Julien 2009 Monterey Merlot

This one is for PJ.

See, when I was a snot-nosed know-it-all in college, I had a bad experience with Merlot. I took that bad experience with that one bottle to mean that *all* Merlot sucked – so much so that when Sideways managed to damage Merlot sales for years with one throwaway line,* I was proud of myself for already hating Merlot as though I had any idea what I was talking about.**

Then, roughly 10 months ago, I had a bottle of Emmolo Merlot, and discovered that I don’t hate all Merlot. Apparently I like relatively pricey Merlot quite a bit. Even after the Emmolo, however, I thought I still hated cheap Merlot – like my sudden affection for one not-cheap bottle (two, actually: the L’Ecole 31 Merlot is bloody beautiful as well) meant that the only Merlot worth drinking was Merlot I couldn’t normally afford.

Turns out I was wrong again. I don’t hate cheap Merlot either. I just hate bad Merlot.

So here’s a good Merlot that’s also affordable.

Bottle shot:

and the semi-obligatory photo of the light on my kitchen ceiling as seen through a 5oz pour of this wine in my 16oz glass:

Region: Monterey County, CA
Grapes involved:
Cost: $12-$15 -ish
Food pairings: Do what I did and have it with baguette, mozzarella and duck skin. Or, you know, don’t. But duck would work, especially if in confit form and dumped on top of a huge pile of spring greens or any other kind of fun lettuce-y stuff you’re into.

So what makes an affordable Merlot not suck? It’s pretty much everything here.

The wine smells like this huge pile of plum, bright tart cherry, violet leaf, and a touch of leather(!)*** and chocolate. Bittersweet, very dark chocolate. The longer it aerates, the more the plummy cherry scents come out to play. That said, it never goes fruit bomb, either – there’s a definitely balance between the fruity aspects and the other notes.

Flavor-wise, there’s an initial hit of milk chocolate before everything else hits , which is really fun – I was put in the mind of a Hershey’s Kiss for a moment. After that first moment, it blows up into bright red tart cherries and plum – bright and acidic – before softening again into violet, violet leaf, and a bit of garden soil. This is a medium-bodied wine with fairly firm tannins that balance well with the acidity and an alcoholic sort of brightness – yet it does all of that with a bit of softness, if that makes ANY sense whatsoever. The finish is long and reminiscent of really tart green apples that have been lightly dusted in violet sugar.

So there you go: inexpensive Merlot that is also awesome Merlot. I spent a solid decade of my life thinking such a thing was an impossibility. I’m really happy to have been proven wrong.

And PJ, enjoy your new job. They’re effing lucky to have you.

*from the film:
Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!
…Miles then proceeds to spend the rest of the film extolling the virtues of Pinot Noir in spite of because of its general pain in the ass level, because Miles is like that.
**yeah, I can be hipster like that. It’s not pretty.
***leather scents in wine are so, so awesome ❤

Charles Krug 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir

I* can’t give you one of the pretty “wine as seen from below” pics because attempting to do so caused me to drop my phone, which snapped itself into a bunch of pieces on the kitchen floor, which in turn made me decide that I wasn’t in the mood to fuss with it. That said, the wine is somewhere between a ruby and garnet sort of red, and the label looks like this:

Region: Carneros (a fogged-in area of Napa and Sonoma Counties)
Grapes involved:
100% Pinot Noir
Cost: $25ish
Food pairings: it’s a Pinot Noir, so as far as I’m concerned, pretty much anything goes that isn’t a giant slab of steak (because if you are eating a giant slab of steak and doing without either Cab Sauv, Malbec, or a heavy-duty stout, you are depriving yourself of one of life’s great experiences). That said, I had it with penne a la vodka, which worked pretty much fine. This would be fantastic with salmon, bittersweet chocolate, anything with wild mushrooms, and a lot of those “I don’t know what the hell to pair with it, but I’d like a red wine rather than a white” type dishes (realizing, of course, that the complementary style of white-what-goes-with-anything would be a dry-ish Riesling).

I love Pinots because they, like, they pretty much smell and taste like *everything*. So whereas a “normal” wine is a combination of a bunch of fruits, a bit of spice and a flower or two, a good Pinot Noir is a combination of all that *plus* cough drops *plus* garden soil *plus* old brown leather jacket *plus* pipe tobacco. And they have (at least in my experience) a strangely specific thin-ish and slightly scratchy mouthfeel to boot. That said, if your Pinot Noir is a basic combination of fruits and a touch of spice and has a smooth, soft mouthfeel, chances are there’s another varietal taking up space in your bottle. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing.


This particular Pinot Noir (of which I’ve had a touch more than a little) smells like strawberry, rose petal, carnation, watermelon, a touch of menthol, cherry, a hint of pink pepper, a touch of plum and a bit of vanilla. There’s maybe even something herbal, slightly sage-like, blended in with the menthol. It starts out quite tart and then softens as it sits, almost like it’s developing a layer of cotton candy over the top. (This does *not* mean it smells sweet.)(And yes, I do recognize that this is a contradiction, but this is also why I love Pinots.)

Flavor-wise, take a combination of slightly underripe strawberries and some tart green apples and throw it on a pile of wet dirt, rose petals, raspberries, green tea, mulberries and leather and then give it a mouthfeel that is oddly reminiscent of dandelion greens (but pretty much awesome). It’s lightweight and crisp and only lightly scratchy, and the aftertaste is long and almost straight red apple (like a Macintosh or a Jonathan). Or maybe apple cola – the longer I let it hang out before taking another sip, the more I find a cola note. Specifically Coca Cola instead of Pepsi.

So that’s that. I hope your 2011 ended happily and that your 2012 is off to a banging start. Smooches, y’all.

*In true blogger fashion, I ought to give you some sort of excuse as to why I haven’t been around, some sort of rounding-out-of-2011 sort of thoughts, and some sort of welcome-to-the-new-year sort of thoughts. Suffice it to say that the end of 2011 was extremely flipping busy (because the holidays are when everyone in this country feels it something akin to their patriotic and economic and familial duty to drink a LOT of wine) and that I’ve spent the first week and a half of 2012 working, catching up on sleep, sitting in product meetings and generally letting my brain return to some semblance of its normal (if it has one) self. That said, we’ll continue with reviews in an otherwise uninterrupted fashion unless some sort of after-2am drunkeness inspires me to write some sort of “how 2011 changed my winedrinking life and made my career fabulous and interesting”-type navelgazing post.
For your sake and for the sake of my hit count, I hope I don’t get that drunk. I can navelgaze with the best of them, but I doubt anyone else really wants to read it. This isn’t a livejournal.

2009 Seven Deadly Zins

Tonight’s prettypretty wine looks like this:

and comes in a bottle like this:

so you know what you’re looking for.

Region: Lodi
Grapes involved:
Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot thrown in
Cost: $15-17 or so
Food pairings: BBQ. Seriously, people, pork. If you’ve never had pork and Zinfandel (which the wordpress spellchecker is trying to correct to “infidel,” which tickles me) paired together, and you eat meat, GET ON THIS. Lesse. Other than pork-based products, this would be dreamy with, erm, well, everything. Right now I kind of wish I had a piece of chocolate cheesecake to go with it – there’s just enough acid that it would cut through the creaminess perfectly.
Rating: 90 – Robert Parker*

It smells really bramble-y, like walking through a patch of raspberry bushes while stuffing your face with the fruit. There are a few hints of spice running around as well. Then, after it’s had a few minutes longer to aerate, it develops a caramelly-butterscotch sort of tone before going straight to brown sugar and then throwing in some pink pepper for laughs. Through all of this, there’s still a strong raspberry scent (like, red RED raspberry)(jammy raspberry)(like the sort of raspberry jam that I love smearing all over hot biscuits). The nose is all kinds of layered, and every time I think I’ve figured it out, it throws something else at me.

Y’all, I squealed at this wine. I am not proud, but there it is.

First up on the taste buds is some sort of jammy raspberry-cranberry concoction (again, something I want to slather on a biscuit). That said, it’s not sweet. Not at all. It’s dry in the way that organic cranberry juice is dry – tannic and tart. But it’s still raspberry. And cranberry. And bramble-y. And all sorts of other things – my brain ran through cherry, carnation, pink pepper, rose, bright red-violet (like the Crayola crayon color), butterscotch, vanilla, black pepper, sharp little twigs, dried leaves and mulling spices before half-swooning in happy exhaustion. It’s super-full-bodied, the type of wine that I love running my tongue through because it just feels neat, like thick silk or something. The finish lasts forever – warm tart berries and green, newly snapped twigs.

This is, flat-out, the best Zin I’ve ever had at this price range. It’s not the cheapest thing out there, sure, but it’s huge. It has FLAVORS. Like, LOTS OF THEM. AND I LIKE THEM ALL.

And then Tony brought me a freshly baked brownie, and it was so wonderful I let him have a sip.

___________________________________________________________________________________________ *I’m not ever sure about adding ratings, because they’re all biased and based on the tastes of whomever it is doing the rating. This is why I don’t provide my own ratings – I’m content to tell you what it tastes like (to me) and whether or not I personally liked it. Just because I like or don’t like a wine (or beer) doesn’t mean your taste has to be the same, or that mine is somehow better just because I’m the one spending my time writing.

Besides, terminology gets wonky – it’s definitely individual. For example, here’s Parker’s quote about this Zin: “This hugely popular wine spends 12 months in both French and American oak. Sexy and endearing, it offers a deep ruby/purple color, full-bodied, corpulent flavors and abundant berry fruit, pepper and spice notes. Drink this seductive, full throttle, classic Zinfandel over the next several years.”


I mean, drinking the wine, I get what he means, but it would never occur to me to use “corpulent” to describe a wine. Then again, I’m prone to announcing I have a crush on particular wines, or that certain wines strike me as “purple” in flavor and what not, so it’s not like I’m cornering the market in comprehensibility here.

That all being said, I have to agree with him on one point: this wine really is sexy.

Ruminations on Bad Merlot

How could something so pretty:

…be so evil?
It doesn’t *look* evil, does it? I mean, look at the lovely color in the bottom of the glass. How could something that color be awful? I mean, it’s VIOLET. It’s PRETTY.

And yet it was mean. Ill-natured. Vindictive. BAD.

See, as far as I can tell (to bastardize a quote beyond recognition): Bad Merlots are all alike. Good Merlots are all good in their own ways.* Because my most recent bottle of bad Merlot was so forcibly reminiscent of every other bottle of bad Merlot I’d ever encountered, I felt the need to see if I could finally put my finger on whatever it is that makes an otherwise innocuous bottle of wine truly, truly suck.

Here’s my most recent experience: 

Open bottle, pour wine into glass.
Feet. It smells like feet. Stale feet, even.

At this point, I wasn’t alarmed. Many reds smell like stale feet when they’re first opened. It’s because they need aeration, which is why wine types will sit with a glass and swirl it absently while they’re chatting. Once the wine aerates, it starts to smell like all kinds of things: fruits, flowers, colors, mushrooms, earth, whatever. Before aeration, however, it’s pretty much stale feet. (Or whatever you’d like to call that smell – for me, stale feet is what comes to mind. Not particularly dirty, stinky feet, mind you, nor particularly clean, fresh feet. Just, you know. Feet.)

Undaunted by the foot smell, I gave the wine a quick, forceful swirl, and ignored it for a few minutes while I threw together an alfredo sauce.** Then I returned to the wine.


I ate dinner.


Tired of waiting, I decided to give it a try.
It tasted like feet (I’d imagine, anyway – I don’t make foot-tasting a habit), plus something that struck me as slightly plummy and slightly dusty, plus something that struck me as raspberry vinegar.***

I decided to wait longer. So I read a Cracked article.


I read a Salon article.


I read a few Hyperbole and a Half posts.



Frustrated, I gave the wine the sort of vigorous swirling that makes me relieved to own 16 oz glasses, because smaller glasses would result in one hell of a mess. Then I leaned in, breathed deeply, tried to smell around the feet for something else. I got a faint whiff of plum and violet. The taste remained the same: foot-dust-plum-raspberry vinegar.

The smell *had* changed slightly, however – opened up a bit, I told myself – and this was enough to keep me invested. I left the wine on the coffee table and picked up a book to lose myself in for a while. A solid hour passed.


Swirl (violent)
*sniff* (deep)
Foot-dust-plum-raspberry vinegar.

I gave up.

In my mind, a good Merlot is a sensuous creature, velvet in texture, deep purple in color and layered in flavor. A bad Merlot is what I just described – so tightly wound that even if there is anything in there beyond the feet-like smell and taste of tannins, it flat won’t relax enough to let me discover what that might be. A few tantalizing hints might pop up from time to time, seeming heralds of a glorious glass, ultimately meaningless. While I’ll happily wait an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon for a glass to take its time to develop, I do need it to actually do so.

Bad Merlots don’t develop. They just leave you hanging, ultimately wishing something else – something worth drinking – were in the glass in front of you.

*To Leo Tolstoy, wherever you may be, allow me to offer the deepest of apologies.
**If you don’t make your own alfredo, you should (if you eat alfredo and all that). It takes ten minutes and it’s much better than that jarred stuff. Seriously, throw it together while the pasta boils – it takes about the same amount of time.
***Please note, because this is important to remember: the wine hadn’t gone bad in any way. As in, it wasn’t too old, it wasn’t corked, it wasn’t cooked. It was just BAD.

2009 B Side Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

This. You want this bottle (or I, at least, want more of them):

Region: Napa Valley
Grapes involved:
90% Cab Sauv, 10% Malbec
Cost: $20ish
Food pairings: It’s a Napa Cab, so think “steak wine!” and go nuts on whatever variation of that theme suits your tastes. I actually had it with a hunk of Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar (like, so sharp that it was flaking) on some wheat crackers and was a happy, happy girl. In a few hours, I will finish the bottle with a giant hamburger topped with the same cheddar, bacon, caramelized onion and brown mustard, and I will be an even happier girl.
Rating: 92 points, Wine Enthusiast

Here’s the wine itself:

This glass of wine produces all kinds of scents: black cherry, black currant, violet, rubber, spun sugar, vanilla and oak, orchid, and lots and lots of earth. It’s really fun (to me, because I’m really nerdy like that) to stick one’s nose in the glass and huff like it’s some sort of illegal substance. I rarely have this much fun smelling any wine that isn’t Pinot Noir (because they smell crazy, like an amalgamation of everything I’ve ever smelled in 31 years of life).

The wine’s flavors are mostly in the blackcurrant arena with some cherries and plum, all dominated by earthiness (like, go outside, dig for a moment and then sniff), woods (cedar comes to mind for some idiot reason, even though I know they age in oak and there’s nothing in this wine that says “hamster cage” to me – instead, it’s more real, clean cedar, like a forest) and some warmth from the alcohol. There are lots of little, tiny whiffs of rubber and leather and mushroom and a bunch of oddities like that which I’d expect more from an Oregon Pinot Noir* than a Napa Cab, but which are fun to pick up and play with. It’s full and thick and layered, with teeth-coating tannins and a long, blackcurrant-y finish (that again, I swear, has some rubber in it)(and yet, it’s good – like, I know I hear “rubber” and think EEWWWRGH WHYYY and yet I like it here)(just trust me here, people).**

So this wine was far too much fun to play with and write about. It’s a bit more expensive than I usually go for (being, like most of us, rather broke), but it’s still a reasonably-priced wine and, well, it’s Sunday late-afternoon and I do not live in an afternoon tea-drinking part of the world. So, forget the tea: I have a few precious hours of leisure time, so I’m spending them with a trippy fun wine.

I hope your day passes as happily.

*if ever there was a wine that tasted like *everything*, it would be an Oregon Pinot Noir.
**whenever I find a flavor in wine like rubber (or brown leather jacket or whatever else), and I find that I really, really like it, I wonder what’s wrong with me.

2009 BV Coastal Red Blend

 Oft-repeated scene from work*:

ME: So I have a new wine to tell you about today.
RETAILER: Is it another Moscato?**
ME: No!  This one shining, glorious time, it’s not a Moscato!***
RETAILER: [raises single eyebrow] They let you sell something else? What is it?
ME: It’s a red blend! [jazzhands, winning smile]
RETAILER: Get out of my store.**** 

For those of you not in on the joke, Moscatos have been surface-of-the-sun-level HOT for a year or so now. In consequence, seemingly every line of wine has come up with their own.+ Meanwhile, nearly everyone not drinking Moscato has taken to drinking some variation on a theme of blended red, usually Menage a Trois or Apothic or something of that ilk. The upshot is that it feels like 95% of the wines I’m selling right now are sweet (typically with “Moscato!” somewhere on the label), red blends, or sweet red blends. So those of us in the industry get tired of them, and we joke about it, but the wines sell, so we continue on continuing on.

Anyway, I’ve had many, MANY red blends, mostly at work meetings. I’ve shared a few of the good ones in the past, and as I quite enjoyed this particular blend, I’m sharing it as well.

Here’s what you’re looking for:

Region: California
Grapes involved:
Zinfandel, Merlot, Barbera, Petit Sirah
Cost: $8.99-$10.99 or so
Food pairings: This would be pretty phenomenal with milk or semi-sweet chocolate. I had it with linguine alfredo, because alfredo was what sounded good at the time. Honestly, it worked just fine, but pretty much anything alcoholic would have worked pretty well. I was thirsty, y’all.

Here’s the wine itself:

Smell-wise, this is a big ol’ jammy++ cherry fruit bomb shot through with vanilla and a touch of pink pepper. It’s like the scent equivalent of the sort of red commonly associated with midlife crisis-style tiny sports cars. Flashy, showy, absolutely lacking in any subtlety whatsoever.

Taste-wise, there’s a brief flash of vanilla before getting straight into the cherry, which is a strong, very tart cherry. Then there’s a bit of oak (which is doubtless what gave the vanilla flavor in the beginning, but which I’m separating out here because it develops a slightly woodsier quality after it’s been hanging out on my tongue for a moment), many more cherries, and a sprinkle of pink pepper on top. I’m admittedly persisting in calling the pepper pink because of the color association I get when I taste it – I’ve never actually tried real pink pepper (though I’d like to and should remedy this soon). For the rest of it, the mouthfeel is soft, the finish is short, the tannins are light and easily approachable.

This isn’t a wine likely to win awards or impress wine snots or anything like that. Frankly, it doesn’t need to be. It is yummy as hell, one of those wines that’s easy to drink and enjoy without having to put much thought or attention into it. This makes it an excellent Thursday night wine – good for unwinding, but not so hedonistic that it demands one be able to sleep in the morning after.

*For those of you who haven’t figured this out or are joining this blog in progress, I’m a wine sales rep for a local-to-me distributor.
**It’s always a Moscato.
***I should point out that I don’t hate Moscatos. I don’t particularly *like* Moscatos, but I don’t hate them (erm, all of them). The only wines I’ve ever encountered that I absolutely, always, undoubtedly and forever *hate* are really sweet reds, like Brachettos and Lambruscos and whatever it is one would call that fermented stuff they make out of Concords (which I cannot convince myself to label wine, FDA regulations notwithstanding). It doesn’t mean that any of those wines are somehow inferior – it simply means that they don’t agree with my taste buds.
****Please note: I’ve never actually been kicked out of a store.

+Honestly, I find myself wondering where on earth all the Muscat grapes are coming from. When Pinot Noir became hot, it took a while for it to really saturate the market because there flat-out weren’t enough grapes to make the wine (because Pinot Noir is an absolute bitch to grow). With Moscato, on the other hand, it got mentioned in a few R&B songs, took off in popularity, and every major line of wine had one in (what feels like) *months*. I’m not trying to point to any kind of weird conspiracy or anything, I’m just intrigued.

++Someone recently said to me that they had no idea what it meant when wine writers use the word “jammy.” In my world, “jammy” is the equivalent of what I’d expect were I to shove my face into a vat of raspberry (or strawberry, or cherry, or cranberry) jam. Like, super-super fruity. With jazzhands, of course.

2009 Dona Paula Estate Malbec-Syrah

I love Malbec. I love Syrah. What could possibly go wrong?

Answer: nothing. This stuff is amazing. Actually, pretty much every bottle I’ve had with a Dona Paula Estate label on it has been filled with some really lovely wine. Here’s what you’re looking for:

Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Grapes involved: Malbec and Syrah
Cost: $16.00 or so
Food pairings: We killed the bottle while having steak in a wine reduction alongside fingerling potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts (it was a good night)(like, you probably wanted to be there)(but it was a date night, so we wouldn’t have let you in the door anyway). The combination worked pretty fabulously well.

This wine is gorgeous. It’s a dusky, plummy, deep violet purple hue:

If you can picture that color as a flavor, then you know what this wine tastes like. It’s pretty much exactly that.

For the non-synthaesthetes out there, here’s some tasting notes: 

The nose is a rich combination of juicy plum, a soft, almost musky white floral, violet, spun sugar, and a touch of white pepper and blackberry. There’s a really vibrant core that hits at first, followed by all the softer sugary floral notes.

The flavor is a whole bunch of plum, followed by violet, lots of blackberry, oak, vanilla, and white pepper. It’s full-bodied with medium tannins and a nice acidity to balance out the wood. The mouthfeel is incredibly smooth and velvety in the sort of dead sexy fashion of a good Merlot.

I love love love this wine. It’s everything to enjoy about Syrah combined with everything that makes Malbec one of the fastest-growing varietals on the market right now. At $16, it’s terrifically underpriced. Grab some before the winery wakes up and decides it should be a $40 bottle instead.