Earlier this week while recuperating from the birth of our second daughter one of our visitors kindly thought enough of our plight to bring the new mom and dad a few bottles of fun red wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Now, truth be told, I have had mixed feelings about budget reds from Columbia Valley in the past – but this week’s bottles have brought me back into the fold.

Both the 2009 Thorny Rose Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and “Red Blend” come in at about $10 a bottle and pack a superb value into each of the screw capped bottles.

The Cabernet has smooth strawberry and blackberry finishes that round out each glass and taste like a $15 dollar bottle that goes with just about any meal (we enjoyed it with a great pizza). The “Red Blend” is even smoother than its pure Cabernet sister with just the right depth of black cherry and mouthy tannins that make the bottle both an enjoyable red as well as a superb summer wine that is not too fat yet not too limp – the perfect middle ground vino for just about every red wine drinker. Enjoy!

-Dallas Lawrence

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | August 20, 2012

G’Day Mate – A Truly Enjoyable Aussie Cab For Around $13 Bucks

Man, this weekend was amazing. On Saturday my wife and I joined her family for an amazing concert under the stars at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre. Gathered together we watched the one and only Neil Diamond celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the legendary Hot August Nights recording that many say made him a household name. Neil was amazing, and the night was truly awesome.

Nearing the completion of his set Neil busted out a song many would be surprised to learn he first made famous – Red Red Wine. As 5,000 of my closest friends sang aloud the sirens call “red red wine, stay close to me…” I realized it was long past time for the Cork Scrooge to get back to it.  So, in the immortal words of Mr. Diamond, “Hello Again” my friends – it’s time for some great red wine.

This week’s wine hails from the famous Australian wine region Coonawarra. According to the great folks over at coonawarra.org, this well regarded region is “renowned as one of Australia’s finest wine regions and is particularly known for producing world class red wines especially Cabernet Sauvignon. Its secret lies in a magical marriage of rich red terra rossa soil, limestone, pure underground water and a long cool ripening season for the grapes.”

The long cool season played a particularly potent role in producing the 2010 “Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon by the wine makers from Jim Barry Wines. I picked up this bottle earlier this week during a visit to Costco for less than $14 and found myself immediately taken in by the smooth “easy” drinkability of the wine right from the “corking” (I say “corking” because like most Aussie cabs this bottle simply called for a flick of the wrist to spin the cap off).  This wine was incredibly smooth with subtle hints of cherry and licorice filling out each glass. My fellow taster for this bottle described the wine as having a “sophisticated bitterness” – a sensation that your taste buds want to diagnose and truly enjoy.

I thought this wine was best straight from the bottle the moment we cracked the cap. It held together throughout the hour or so long tasting and was a very nice accompaniment to the fresh vegetable and turkey ragout pasta dish we had prepared. For around $14 this is a fun and entirely approachable cabernet that most any red wine fan will enjoy.

– dallas lawrence

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | July 3, 2012

A 5 Star 5 Bordeaux Blend For Less Than $15

We’ve definitely been on a roll lately with a number of a fun value packed wines that offer a nice glass of vino at a great price. And this week is no exception.  This weekend I found one of those truly enjoyable wines that not only easily mambos in under the $15 dollar mark, it actually falls freakishly close to the super value category closing in on 12 bucks a bottle.

As we mark the half-way point of 2012, I can say with little hesitation that the 2010 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon will likely make this year’s top ten list of great reds under $15 (I could be wrong, with 6 months to go and dozens of bottles yet to be tasted one never knows – but from where I am sitting tonight, this baby is taking home the medal).

The 2010 Alexander Valley Vineyards comes from the Wetzel Family Estate and lets you know right out of the bottle that this little Sonoma treat has something up its sleeve. After cracking the first glass and recognizing the unmistakable and perfectly balanced variety swirling around my glass I flipped the bottle over to discover that what it was hiding was a great 5 Bordeaux blend of primarily Cabernet balanced with 7% Merlot and just a touch of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

As I drank the wine while preparing dinner (spaghetti with homemade sauce) I couldn’t help but enjoy the irony as I added a little bit of everything from my kitchen that I knew would come together perfectly in the pan. The 2010 Alexander Valley Vineyards was a perfect paring as it comes with “a little of this and a little of that” resulting in what my Italian great-grandmother would cheerfully proclaim to be “molto bene!” (very good for those non Italian readers out there).

Honestly, if I paid $8 a glass for this wine at the restaurant I would feel like I was being treated right. For a few dollars more you can enjoy the entire bottle for yourself.  And the good news is that the 2010 is widely available at your local Albertsons or Ralphs.  Enjoy!

— Dallas Lawrence

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 20, 2012

A Killer 92 Point Tempranillo for 9 Bucks

Occasionally, after sifting through bottle after bottle of mediocre budget reds and suffering through glass after glass of toe curling-bad wine, something special in the super value category comes along. And when that rare bird does appear, you know you need to stock up quickly because the little treasure won’t stay below the radar for long.

The Viña Eguía 2007 Reserva Tempranillo (Rioja) is one of those special deals. The intriguing budget wine packs one heck of a tannin filled, lick the roof of your mouth punch.

When I first picked up the bottle at the store and read the winemakers notes, I was a little confused and a good bit skeptical. What in the world, I thought, did “deep complexity of ripe red fruits, spices, tobacco and liquorice” possible mean? Was I about to drink a black licorice cigarette? I had no idea what to expect. Then, I cracked the 07 open and found my senses surprised and delighted by a truly enjoyable, different, complex and tasty super value red.

The 2007 was ranked as one of Wine Enthusiasts Top 100 wines of the past year for good reason and can be had for less than ten bucks. If you don’t run down to Costco or your nearest wine store to snatch up this perfectly tempered tempranillo you are definitely missing out.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 8, 2012

The 2011 Halter Ranch: Not Your Grandmother’s Rosé

A  few weeks back the great folks at Halter Ranch winery reached out with a challenge – they wanted to give a committed red vino oenophile a bottle of rosé. Can you believe the moxie?

To be honest, I had my doubts.  I grew up watching my grandparents drink rosé – which back in the dark ages of wine was basically an alcohol infused Kool-Aide beverage.  

As is my practice with every bottle of wine sent by producers to review, I cracked open the 2011 Halter Ranch Rosé with a great group who would be able to provide an unbiased review of the wine.

In this case, I tempted my in-laws on a hot summer evening with the nicely chilled 2011 and waited for the reviews to roll in. The results were unanimous – this was not the rosé they were expecting – it was light and crisp and offered just the right pop to remind you that you were drinking a summer red.

The Halter Ranch offers a really enjoyable blend of largely Grenache and Syrah grapes that combine to offer an unmistakable raspberry finish. This is a really fun wine to spring on your summer BBQ or other outdoor gathering of friends who may have thought that the arrival of a hot summer evening also heralded the end of red wine. I think this bottle is best served extremely cold (i.e. not the typical temperature for say, a chardonnay. This should be served fresh from the refrigerator cold).

The two terms that kept getting tossed out by the half dozen imbibers to describe the chilled rosé  of vino swirling around their glasses in the hot desert temperature of a May evening in Palm Springs were “fresh” and “crisp” – the perfect happy hour companion on a hot desert evening.  


Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 5, 2012

A Superb Value Cabernet Worth Going Back To “School” For…

Paso Robles really is one of the best kept secrets of the California Wine Industry. I have a soft spot for this Central Coastal area California wine region as a former boss of mine helped to build the region into one of the world’s finest wine producers.  

More than a third of the wine that comes from the region is cabernet, though Paso Robles has a very “hit or miss” history in my opinion with producing cabs that equal or rival the region’s northern big brother in Napa Valley. 

Occasionally, however, Paso Robles wineries produces superb wines that give their northern brethren a real run for their money in both quality and value.

The 2009 Liberty School Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those bottles.

This wine packs a great combination of mouth puckering fruit filled wine with just the right amount of tight, lip smacking tannins that you might expect from a bottle 30-40% more.

The 100% cabernet bottle is a superb companion to just about any meal.  I enjoyed this bottle with a great pizza and salad. I think it would be equally great with a nice piece of grilled beef. I found this bottle at Costco for under $12 and would encourage you to pick up a bottle or two.  As we enter into the summer months remember  – red wine is not supposed to be served at “room temperature” if the room is over the average temperature of a French wine cave.  This bottle, and in my opinion any bottle of red, should be served at around 65 degrees. 

As wine.com rightly notes, take the advice of Ursula Hermacinski, the former Christie’s wine auctioneer, when it comes to knowing what temperature at which to serve a wine: “Twenty minutes before dinner, you take the white wine out of the fridge, and put the red wine in”.


Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 19, 2012

Don’t Fall Prey To This Awful Predator (2010 Zinfandel)

Wow – has it really been 7 months since the Cork Scrooge last opined on the state of value red wine? My goodness, how time flies.

I had hoped to start back up in the new year after our move to sunny California. I had expected to have a plethora of great value wines at my finger tips here in America’s red wine cradle, and, to be sure, I have enjoyed some mighty fine value vino these past few months.  

I have been keeping great notes however somehow the hectic pace of moving across country and having a 3 year old under foot have kept me from sitting down and hammering out a few new posts. I will do better in the coming weeks.

As most readers know I rarely bother to review bad wine. There just isn’t a point. I figure most don’t need to know what not to buy – they want recommendations on a great value. Occasionally a wine comes along that is so bad, so down-right disappointing that I break from the norm to provide a community service warning.  Tonight was one of those nights as I allowed myself to once again be lured in by the siren’s song of a value old vine zinfandel from Lodi, California.

I should have known better. The Lodi temptresses have lured me in before with their false promises, colorfully written reviews and regional “gold medal” claims.

Tonight’s wine was nothing short of the most disgusting $11 bottle of wine I have ever had the displeasure of tasting and Albertson’s should be ashamed to sell this liquid nightmare.

I am not going to waste time discussing the separate tastings I took of this wine over the course of the hour as I foolishly believed that no $11 wine could truly be this “undrinkable”.  Not great? Sure. Bad even? It’s happened. But how bad would a wine have to be to be unable to finish my glass awful? The 2012 Predator Old Vine Zinfandel is how bad. The only thing this wine was preying on was my taste-buds as each successive sip seemed to seek out and destroy my desire to taste and swallow.

I don’t need to wax poetic about an over-oaky or too fruit forward taste to describe the sensation that overpowers ones senses upon contact with this 2010 wine. All one needs to do is close their eyes, think back to their childhood, and recall the toe curling taste of the discount brand cherry cough syrup you used to choke back during the winter cold season. That’s exactly how this wine tasted. Yes, that bad.

Save yourself the $11. If you really have a craving, head down to the local CVS and pick up a bottle of cherry cough syrup, it will be cheaper and at least will deliver what it promises.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | September 1, 2011

A Killer Malbec For Less Than $11

After a long hiatus brought on by a cross country move I am thrilled to report that the Cork Scrooge is not only back, but he is back home in California! Let the imbibing begin!

This week I made a quick run to Costco to stock up on a new batch of superb sub $15 reds and boy, let me tell you, I had forgotten just how good the California Costco wine selection is compared to the paltry selections offered at most East Coast locations. The first bottle to fall prey to my nifty rabbit cork screw certainly did not disappoint and I would bet is in the running for a spot on this year’s top value red list.

The 2009 Dona Paula Estate Malbec came highly regarded. Robert Parker teed up my taste buds by bestowing a 91 point rating on the 2009. Writing of the Menodza Malbec Parker notes that the wine offers “a pinched bouquet that takes some coaxing, but there are some lithe cassis and black plum fruits with a touch of garrigues developing with aeration…” And while I honestly have no idea what that means what I can tell you is that this wine was a superb surprise in every way.

As the wine poured into the glass, deep violet colors sloshed about releasing an inviting scent that offered the first sign of things to come. As I tasted the first glass of wine the initial smoothness quickly rolled away leaving in its place a nice tight dryness the Mendozan varietal is known for. With the tannins slowly wrapping themselves around your taste buds, the smoothness returned once again, this time accentuated by a light spiced flavor that leaves you wanting to delve deeper into the second glass.

As the wine opened up, the plum, dark cherry and light vanilla flavors took center stage delivering an incredibly enjoyable $11 Argentinean Malbec. I would encourage you to let this one breathe for 15 minutes before diving in.

As my mother-in-law said as we enjoyed the second glass over dinner, this wine was definitely “yummy” and for the price you can’t wrong. Be sure to chill the wine for about 15 minutes in the refrigerator before serving to bring it down to the proper temperature in the hot summer months (remember red wine should be enjoyed at around 58-62 degrees). Enjoy!

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 6, 2011

A Petite Pomegranate Packed Portuguese Pour

One of the pleasures I find from traveling around the world is the opportunity to try new wine and meet interesting people. Earlier this week as I was preparing to head off to Moscow for work I had the chance to stop into the “Vino Volo” wine tasting café at Dulles airport and experience both. Over olives and almonds, I had the chance to meet leading futurist Jennifer Jarratt and had a great chat as we enjoyed some pre-flight wine at the airport bar.

The nice thing about Vino Volo is that if offers a wonderful selection of red wine flights. After dutifully tasting my way through half the menu of reds I came across a surprising little Portuguese gem.

The 2004 Encostas de Estremoz wine had a surprising spice filled pomegranate taste that gave real life to the hybrid of grenache and petite bouschet that fills each bottle.

The “Alentejo” bottling hails from southern Portugal, and, in full disclosure, has a good kick of natural acidity. If you prefer your wine merlot smooth, this one is not for you. However, if you are up for a bit of a journey, and willing to try a new varietal and a new region, the Encostas de Estremoz offers a nice ride for about $14 a bottle.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 23, 2011

Molto Bello Estate Veno! (A Very Nice Summer Wine)

Today was one of those rare East Coast treats – a stormy spring day that miraculously blossomed into an amazingly sunny, clear and 75 degree afternoon.

As the afternoon turned to early evening, I headed to the local wine store to find the perfect summer red to pare with some fantastic parrano cheese, salami and Italian olives we had purchased at the local deli.

One of the things I really love about our local wine store is their commitment to a wide variety of worldly wines. On today’s trip I asked for a nice, tasty red wine perfect for an early summer’s happy hour. Not too strong, but not too light. I needed something “just right”.

Much to my surprise our local wine connoisseur plucked an Italian varietal I had never heard of before – a negroamaro varietal.

The 2008 Liveli Vineyards Passamante is a 100% negroamaro wine. The negroamaro hails from my ancestral home of southern Italy and is almost exclusively found in Puglia – an area more commonly known as the “heel” of Italy.

Wines from this region of Italy tend to be defined by an almost “earthy” bite that both open the palate and intrigue the senses.

The 2008 import did not disappoint. As we poured the first tasting, the spice filled “pinot” like consistency of the little bambino roared through the glass. The Liveli offers a nice full bodied taste without the impactful dry tannins of a bold cabernet or the over peppered spices of a zinfandel.

My wife kept referring to the wine as having an almost “fresh” quality. With each glass the wine held its structure and kept refreshing the taste buds with each dark cherry tipped sip. For around $13 a bottle this little Italian treat deserves a seat at your next summer sunset tasting.


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