I am always on the hunt for new wine experiences at great prices. So, earlier this month when Cost Plus World Markets had a major sale on wine for its wine club members (it is free to join) I buzzed through the wine racks and filled a mixed case of reds from all over the world.

You can be sure for every “must buy” I picked up during the sale I poured through about a half dozen “run away from” bottles – and I may post a few compilation reviews of the top “bottles to avoid” just in case you are feeling adventurous at your local wine store and want to stave off a potential oenophilial train wreck.

However, the good news is that this week’s review was downright intriguing. As we corked the 2009 “The Pessimist” Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon it was clear this California Cab was going to be a bit of an adventure to review. Bold and a bit young, the 2009 “The Pessimist” made a believer out of me. Over the course of our tasting cherry and blackberry flavors filled each glass – with just the right amount of that famous Paso Robles spiced kick added in to keep me intrigued.

As the wine opened the 2009 showed its character by holding tightly to its tannins and its dark berry nose followed through with each glass. This one may not be for everyone, but for around $10 per bottle I found it to be surprisingly different and enjoyable glass of wine.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | January 23, 2011

A Killer 90 Point Rated Chilean Find for Less Than $8!

You can be forgiven if you are unfamiliar with the Carmenere grape – few US wine connoisseurs are regular imbibers of the French originated varietal (found originally in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France).

Those who are familiar with the grape largely know it as one of the original six grapes comprising the famous bottlings from Bordeaux. For the trivia fans out there, the others five are Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit verdot. Most closely aligned in color, taste and climate with Cabernet wines, the Carmenere has all but been disowned by its French forbearers. The family feud has resulted in great news for South America where the grape has taken hold as one of Chile’s most successful varietals.

And it is to Chile that this week’s superb value review was found. As we opened the 2008 Santa Alicia Reserve Carmenere, it was clear we had found something special. As the nice spice packed flavors pop in your mouth, you are put on notice that this is a different kind of wine – one my wife aptly noted “tastes like wine should taste.”

After breathing for several minutes, the 2008 further blossomed as the deep black cherry flavors blended nicely with a mellowed and subdued vanilla flavor layered throughout each glass. The 2008 reminds you of what an enjoyable $15 Chilean bottle should taste like. In this case – you get the enjoyable experience for half that price!

The 2008 Santa Alicia is on sale right now at Cost Plus World Markets where you can pick up a bottle for $7.99! As we finished the Santa Alicia both my wife and I realized what a truly budget find we had discovered. We decided on the spot to head out and pick up a case of the Chilean red before the masses learn of this 90 point rated beauty. Enjoy!

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | December 31, 2010


What a fun year 2010 has been for The Cork Scrooge! More than 100,000 readers have visited the site and shared their love for value, quality red wines. As we head into the New Year I want to thank everyone who made suggestions, left comments and visited the site. I can’t wait to see (and taste!) 2011 with you all.

And now, in no particular order, here is the top ten list of reviewed red wines for under (or just at) $10 from the past year. Almost all are still on the shelves at your local wine store waiting for a spot at your New Year’s bash. Salute!


From the review…The 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Dry Creek Valley) lets you know right out of the bottle that it is ready for its close up. The deep red color signals that you are about to sink into a real, no kidding, wine country Cabernet with all of the jammy sweet tannins one would hope for in a big bad red. This bottle packs a wallop and we let it sit for a few minutes before digging in. The 2007 is a big red in every way. It has nearly 15% alcohol, lush tannins, and a dryness that grabs a hold of you and won’t let go. As much as I enjoyed this wine for the price, be forewarned: this is no wimpy budget red. If you don’t like dry, tannin filled cabs, steer clear of this bottle and head back to the kiddie wine isle for something a bit lighter and sweeter. This bottle is for grown ups only. And at $9 a bottle, I would dare say it is one of the better big red California cabs for the price available today…” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/02/27/you-go-joe-trader-joe%e2%80%99s-2007-reserve-cabernet-tastes-like-a-20-cab-for-%c2%bd-the-price/


From the review…The Excelsior offers a full bodied mouthful of enticing blackcurrant and plum flavors wrapped in mildly dry tannins that make you sure you must have spent more for the bottle.  I drank my first glass moments after twisting the cap, and it was very enjoyable. It is especially critical in the summertime months to be sure to slightly chill your red wine, it will make the experience all the more enjoyable and refreshing on a summer evening…This wine tastes like a $14 to $18 bottle and continued to impress throughout our dinner of BBQ chicken and summer squash risotto. For what you’d expect to pay for a cheap glass of wine at a local restaurant, the 2007 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon (available online and at local Total Wine retailers) offers a very nice bottle at a superb super value price. This one is one of my favorite super values on the market today.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/05/16/a-great-south-african-cabernet-for-only-eight-bucks/

COASTLINE 2007 SYRAH ~ $10.00

From the review…“The 2007 Coastline Paso Robles Syrah deserves a place on every wine shoppers list this weekend. You can be forgiven if you have never heard of this wine, or never knew they made a Syrah. Even the winemaker’s own website fails to mention the Syrah offering. For $8 a bottle at Total Wine, this is a safe bet for a mixed crowd of wine drinkers. The light blackberry and black cherry accents are well mixed with just a hint of vanilla and a slight, but present, spiciness that rounds out the glass nicely. As I finished my second glass I was reminded of several recent Syrah’s that I found equally enjoyable for under $10 and I came to the conclusion that this was a grape I needed to get to know better.”  http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/03/12/you-don%e2%80%99t-need-to-write-this-list-on-your-hand-3-value-reds-for-your-weekend-enjoyment/


From the review…“Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell’s 2007 Meritage is no snake oil filled elixir parading as a California red. This stuff is the real deal and for around six bucks a bottle, it should please just about everyone on your wine list…The 2007 Meritage is an interesting blend of Cabernet Franc (60%), Merlot (27%), Cabernet Sauvignon (11%), Malbec (1%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Straight from the bottle the lightly fruit flavored meritage offered a well balanced dryness on the backend that mellowed nicely as we poured the second glass. Dark cherry and light chocolate flavors filled the glass with a bit of a peppery kick added for intrigue…There are surely better tasting value reds available on the market today for under $15, but there are few I have found for less than half that price as well balanced as Drinkwell’s. This is an easy drinking red without any surprises that will surely be a crowd pleaser for your next large dinner party or spring BBQ. For between 5-$6, you can’t go wrong. Chill slightly and allow to breathe for 5-10 minutes and I think you too will be surprised by what Dr. Drinkwell has to offer.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/03/06/just-what-the-dr-ordered-a-great-6-red/

PHEBUS 2009 MMC MALBEC ~ $6.00

From the review…The 2009 MMC is a testament to this belief and offers a blended Malbec that is ruby red in color with a light fruit-filled kick that is at times not too complex while still filling the glass with an entirely enjoyable glass of wine. The 2009 is a blend of 70% Malbec, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet (hence the name “MMC”). Moments after corking the bottle the medium tannins grab your palette and let you know that this is still very much a young wine. 15 minutes into the tasting however the Phebus opens up nicely with red berry-jammyness filling out the glass. In the super-value price range today, few bottles are drinkable let alone enjoyable. For $6 a bottle you will be hard pressed to find a better Argentinean red than the 2009 MMC.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/04/19/a-nice-6-argentinean-malbec-blend-from-a-bordeaux-wine-making-family/

ALAMOS 2008 MALBEC ~ $8.00

From the review…In my opinion, this is one of the better under $10 bottles of wine available today. It is not only drinkable, it is an entirely enjoyable bottle of wine. The 2008 Alamos Malbec is to be imbibed right out of the bottle (it does open up nicely after a few minutes but it is also a great drink straight from the bottle slightly chilled at 55 degrees). The dark red color and slight berry flavors typical of the Malbec are in abundance – balanced well with a nice nose and not too dry yet not too sweet smooth flavor. For around $8 at your local grocery store, Costco or wine merchant, the 2008 Alamos Malbec is a great starter for those looking to become more familiar with the grape as well as for those looking for a budget crowd pleaser for every day wine enjoyment.”  http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/02/21/2008-alamos-malbec-what-a-value-red-should-taste-like/


From the review…Chile’s Colchagua Valley has been turning out some inspiring value red wines in the past few years, and one of our favorites is the Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. We opened the 2008 last night and were as pleased as we have been with past vintages. Right out of the bottle this cab has a dryness that grabs your palette and doesn’t let go until the wine slips past your tongue bringing a light, almost pinot noir-esqsue flavor. After about 3-4 minutes of breathing, the black currant and cherry flavors come forward and the wine moves from a dry jammyness to a fruit forward, yet smooth, glass of wine…” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/02/14/put-down-some-chilean-roots-%e2%80%93-and-pick-up-the-root-1-cabernet/


From the review…Concannon has a rich heritage in California as one of the first wineries to pioneer Bordeaux and Rhone-styled wines and for my fellow Irishmen, the Concannon’s are also recognized as one of America’s first successful Irish vintners. They also claim to have introduced the world’s first Petite Sirah. This wine had a fine nose, a little fruit forward but after a few moments it opened up nicely and went well as a pre-dinner beverage as well as a nice accompaniment to dinner.  If you are looking for an everyday Cab for $8 (some places have it for as low at $6) this one is a safe bet.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/01/24/concannon-2007-cabernet/


From the review…The 2008 Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle Central, from the storied Sebastiani wine making family, should be on everyone’s short list for everyday enjoyment. Right out of the bottle, this Chilean Cab makes quite an impression. For less than $7, the 2008 vintage is incredibly smooth and offers a dry, not too fruity flavor with a nice kick of blackberry. This wine is really best enjoyed slightly chilled and should be imbibed right out of the bottle. Oddly enough, the wine was actually less tasty as it had time to breathe. The lesson here: don’t savor it, drink it.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/02/05/2008-pepperwood-grove-valle-central-cabernet-sauvignon/


From the review…The vibrant ruby red, almost purple color that immediately fills each glass of the 2007 Bodega Norton Reserve Malbec lets you know right away that you are in for a serious glass of wine. Aromas of dark berries and vanilla  grab your senses as the first drink reminds you that even a very good Malbec can benefit from a few minutes to breathe. As the has a few minutes to settle, this award winning 90 point rated 2007 Argentinean pops with vanilla and fig flavors that contiue to blossom into one of the finest $10 Malbecs on the market today.” http://thecorkscrooge.com/2010/12/21/a-fantastic-award-winning-malbec-%e2%80%93-for-only-10/

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | December 28, 2010

Happy New Year! – A California Cabernet For Less Than $3!

For those of you who worship at the idle of two buck chuck, tonight’s review will change your world. I can honestly say that this wine review is the single cheapest wine I have ever tasted that did not make my tongue twitch, my throat burn and my eyes water in agony.

The 2009 Doña Sol Cabernet Sauvignon is nothing special – other than the fact that it offers and entirely drinkable glass of wine at a supreme bargain basement price. This wine is currently on sale at Big Lots retail stores for $3 a bottle and can be found widely online and at other bargain retailers for as little as $2.5 a bottle.

Doña Sol is part of the family of labels from the Bronco Wine Company, the US’s fourth largest producer of wine. Bronco is the brainchild of brothers Fred and Joe Franzia who attended Santa Clara University and hence chose the school mascot for the company moniker. How are they able to make a wine that won’t peel paint or burn the rust off of a penny for less than $3? Amongst the more than 30 brands they label under you will find their budget wine credentials securely in hand with the launch of Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck). To be sure, these guys know how to make cheap wine.

However, in the case of the Doña Sol you don’t have to risk sterilizing your taste buds in the process. The 2009 fills each glass with a deep ruby-red colored fruit forward wine with strong cherry flavors that round out each pour. For less than $3 this wine can’t be beat and at $36 a case, it makes the perfect wine for your next party. Enjoy!

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | December 27, 2010

A Superb 90+ Rated Chilean Cabernet Just In Time For The New Year

I love surprises! And as someone who has opened and tasted literally dozens upon dozens of mediocre, to down-right awful budget red wines over the past year in search of those elusive “great finds”, I am rarely surprised these days. I am pleased to say that today’s wine review is a true exception!

I appreciate a wine that is direct and to the point, and the 2007 Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon does not disappoint. The 100% cabernet sauvignon hails from one of the most consistent value red wine producers in the world and their 2007 does the family proud. Full bodied with mouth grabbing tight tannins and a wonderful spiced blackcurrant flavor filling each glass ensures that this Chilean beauty will please just about every red wine fan on your shopping list.

Apparently I am not alone in my appreciation for this enjoyable budget red. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate ranked this little gem a 90+ writing that the “The 2007 remains one of the finest Cabernet values anywhere (the price has remained unchanged for years). Fragrant black currants and blackberry aromas promise complexity with several years of additional bottle age. Nicely structured on the palate, this elegant, Bordeaux-like Cabernet will evolve for a minimum of five years and drink well through 2025. If there is anyone delivering more bang-for-the buck than Arturo Cousino and his namesake winery Cousino-Macul, I’d like to know about it.”

For my fellow Costco connoisseurs, this wine is an unbelievable steal for $13.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | December 21, 2010

A Fantastic Award Winning Malbec – For Only $10!

The vibrant ruby red, almost purple color that immediately fills each glass of the 2007 Bodega Norton Reserve Malbec lets you know right away that you are in for a serious glass of wine. Aromas of dark berries and vanilla  grab your senses as the first drink reminds you that even a very good Malbec can benefit from a few minutes to breathe.

As the has a few minutes to settle, this award winning 90 point rated 2007 Argentinean pops with vanilla and fig flavors that contiue to blossom into one of the finest $10 Malbecs on the market today.

As you pour through the bottle the vanilla and earthy tones give way to a more tannin, dry sensation that is surprisingly nice and strong for a wine of this price. With 61,000 cases imported into the United States, the 2007 will not last long as a super value offering at America’s largest discount warehouse.

Costco has helped to ensure this wine makes many appearances during upcoming holiday parties by offering a special discounted price for the wine, however, even at the full price of $13, the 2007 is worth every penny.

Be sure to remember to slightly chill before serving – the optimal serving temperature for a full bodied red like this is between 60 to 62 degrees, or approximately 10 degrees cooler than the average winterized home. 15 minutes in the refrigerator before you plan to pop the cork and serve should do the trick nicely.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | November 29, 2010

A Unique Bordeaux Blend From A Relatively New California Winery

This weeks kicks off a whilewind of posts for the Cork Scrooge as I scower wine isles from coast to coast (literally) for the best Holiday wine deals for you and your family. 

As I began my shopping, making my list and checking it twice, I decided to head first to Costco. I had forgotten just how amazing the California Costco wine isles are compared to the pauper’s selection those of us living on the East Coast are forced to endure from the “members only” warehouse distributer. This week I had the opportunity to stock up on several bottles of wine during our family vacation in Southern California. Costco really does it right by bringing in dozens of red wines from all over the world, affordably priced, and – for the discerning eye – quite enjoyable to the palate.

This week we cracked open a bottle from a vintner I was unfamiliar with – Highway 12 Vineyards – so named for the famed California Highway that stretches through some of the most amazing vineyards that comprise California’s fabled wine industry. The winery is a joint venture between some of the best known names in the Valley: Sebastiani, Serres, Sangiacomo and Hill and the grapes are sourced from several fo their vineywards up and down Highway 12.

As I poured the first glass of the Highway 12 meritage I was immediately greeted by a distinct and pleasant nose from the still very young 2008 Bordeaux Blend. You will notice right from the first glass that given a little time in your wine rack, this bottle will be better, tighter and more flavorful.

Even in its relative youthful current state, the Sonoma Valley blend of 34% Cabernet, 33% Cab Franc and 33% Merlot provides a hefty palate filling drink. The Cabernet Franc really drives the flavor of this wine providing something of a blended taste between a typical Sonoma Cabernet and a Central Valley Pinot Noir.

To be honest, for the first 20 minutes this one was a bit tough to review. The initial aromas and first blush tasting inspired optimism that the wine would open up nicely. 10 minutes later the wine had failed to mature as I had expected, not quite as mature and full-bodied as a “Cabernet” and not as smooth and crisp as a good Pinot.

I was about to write that for $13 a bottle – available widely at Costco stores around the country – the 2008 Sonoma Valley blend had a lot to offer a variety of palates, but just not mine. And then, I poured my third glass 20 minutes into the tasting. Redemption!

The 2008 blend is marketed as Highway 12’s Bordeaux blend, and it wasn’t until I let this youngster fully catch its breath that the dry tannins and fruit filled tastes grabbed onto my taste buds.

All in all, this wine offers a unique blend and for $13 deserves a shot at your next holiday gathering.

As most anyone who knows we will attest, I love red wine.  And while I can enjoy a glass of red with just about any food pairing, there is something about a nice, crisp, cold glass of white during the summer season. This is especially true when slogging through DC’s scorching and humid summer months. Needless to say, during the past few months The Cork Scrooge has lacked the requisite inspiration needed to crack open and review the best (and worst) bargain reds available on the market. This past week as DC broke freezing for the first time this year, I cranked up the heater, tossed aside the cold white’s of the summer and bolted for a few big bold reds. The cellar is full, the spirit is willing and the weather is now cooperating so off we go…

To kick off the new season of reviews, I thought I would put my new local wine store to the test. I think the best indicator of a wine merchant is whether or not you can walk right in and say to just about anyone “I would like to try a variety of really nice red wines from all over the world for less than $15” and have the nearest employee leap at the challenge and begin filling your cart with bottle after bottle as he ticks through what makes each worthy of your time.

The folks at Arrowine were up to the challenge and the first bottle they slid into my cart was the 2009 Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina.  

Finca Sophenia’s grapes are harvested by hand in mid-spring from the foothills of the Andes and are aged in French Oak for 10 months.  Right from the bottle the intensely rich red color gives an initial hint of the deep plum and spice flavors to follow. As I poured the first glass the familiar spicy kick you want and expect from a legit Mendoza Malbec immediately fills the palate.  Priced at about $12, the Finca Sophenia opens up nicely, and as I finished my first glass and went to pour a second 10 minutes later and entirely smoother, plum flavored South American experience awaited.

The 2009 Finca Sopehnia Malbec is perfect for an evening sitting by the fire, pairing with a simple meal or just taking to your next dinner party. Enjoy!

Paul Newman and his brand of consumer items have become staples in almost every salad grocery isle of the past few years. The “Newman’s Own” brand has raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for charity and lives on after the actor’s passing as a truly wonderful legacy.

In recent years the pioneering philanthropist decided to begin bottling something other than dressing and his decision is our good fortune. The 2007 California Cabernet is an incredibly smooth bottle of wine. For around $9 at your local grocer, each glass is filled with light currant and dark cherry flavors that don’t fall victim to the over fruitiness impacting so many value Cabernet’s these days.

Newman’s Own Cabernet is produced and bottled through a joint venture with St. Helena based Rebel Wine Company, a partnership between the “Three Thieves” and “Trinchero Family” vineyards. According to the bottler, the grapes for the Cabernet are sourced from throughout California’s wine producing coastal regions – including Napa, Sonoma and San Luis Obispo.

Aged in French and American oak, the wine held together nicely throughout our 30 minute tasting. To be sure, this is not a powerhouse California cab. But, for around $9 your glass will taste all the sweeter knowing you are supporting a very worthy cause.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 30, 2010

2007 Jekel Vineyards Arroyo Seco Cabernet Sauvignon

For more than thirty years the folks as Jekel Vineyards have been producing value wines from one of California’s most beautiful regions. Regarded as a pioneer in the Monterey wine business, the 2007 Arroyo Seco Cabernet Sauvignon does great credit to the winemaker’s heritage of producing value red wines.

“Arroyo Seco” refers to the protected canyon region of the California Salinas River Valley home to the grapes sourced for the winery’s Cabernet bottling. And the 2007 vintage benefitted from a perfect storm of long harvest and warm weather.

Right from the bottle this widely available $11 Cabernet had a bit of a tart-filled kick that reminds you of the fact that you are drinking a very different kind of California Cabernet. As the winemaker notes, the Arroyo Seco influence can easily be seen in this Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon, which offers a deep garnet color and recognizable aromas of plum, dark fruits and black cherry mingled with spice from the oak barrels used in aging.

As I poured the second glass the wine began its slow maturation into what I would describe best as a Malbec/Cab blend filled with tongue grabbing tannins and wrapped in a light mineral fruit flavor that made for an entirely enjoyable glass of wine.

As the summer temperature notches ever higher, consider placing the bottle into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before taking it out back for your next BBQ. The 2007 is widely available at your local grocery store and for around $11 you will not be disappointed. As an added bonus for those looking to grab a quick bottle before heading to a picnic or outdoor summer concert, Jekel has embraced the screw cap – and man do I love the screw cap. Enjoy!

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