Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | June 2, 2010

The Perfect Budget Summer Trifecta (plus free shipping)!

Ever find yourself starring into the abyss at your local wine retailer, hopelessly confused as to how best pair wines for your summer evening? It’s warm outside, and you know you want a light, crisp wine but so many people these days have turned against the mainstay California chardonnays and budget Italian whites you’re not sure what to get for your guests. You know the juicy flavor-filled meats you just picked up to toss on the grill cry out for a glass of red – not a cab or a hefty zinfandel, but something lighter with enough character to compliment the meal.  Lastly, and perhaps most difficult of all, what do you grab to pair with your dessert of fresh picked berries and shortcake to ensure the continuation of the evening imbibing well into the night?

Stop gazing endlessly down the wine isle. Put back the mix-matched collection of wine you placed into your cart and keep reading – I have the perfect summer trifecta for your next gathering.

The folks from Oregon winemaker R. Stuart & Co sent along three bottles of their latest vintages earlier this week for the Cork Scrooge to review, and I thought our Memorial Day family BBQ the perfect setting to crack open each unique varietal they shipped.  I was impressed with each and whether purchased together for a meal or separately for individual enjoyment, the value and quality of these locally handcrafted wines is to be assured.

The 2009 Big Fire Oregon Pinot Gris was the first bottle to fill our wine glasses on the hot DC summer afternoon. It was approaching 92 degrees outside and I served the wine extremely chilled, direct from the ice bucket into the awaiting glasses I I cant stand lukewarm whites).  The vibrant pear flavors paired perfectly with our cheese and fruit appetizer spread.  Somewhere between a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a French White Bordeaux would you find this refreshing, steel barrel fermented (no oak thank god) organic white wine perfect for just about any white drinker. Regardless of where you fall along the panoply of white wine connoisseurs, you will enjoy the Big Fire Oregon Pinot Gris.

As my father-in-law completed his barbequing mastery and laid out a feast of pork loin and Italian sausages, we shifted gears to the Big Fire 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir.  Given the summer heat, I chilled the wine in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving it with our meal (remember “room temperature” is not meant to be 90 degrees!)  The Big Fire Pinot Noir is a light, crisp pinot with delicious accents of dark cherry and chocolate that coalesce into a perfectly delicious summer red. Of the three, this was clearly the family favorite.

As we finished dinner and prepared to bring out a dessert of fresh strawberries and shortcake, I hesitated to bring out the third and final bottle the good folks at R Stuart had sent along for tasting. So far I had served two nice bottles and everyone seemed happy. Why risk oenophile ruin by serving a third oddly colored wine I had never tasted before I thought to myself?

Well, the wine glasses were empty, the desserts were served and the natives were getting restless so I pulled the 2008 Big Fire Oregon Dry Rose out from the refrigerator and filled the glasses around the table.  “Was this a rose?” they asked, surprised at the light and refreshingly fruit filled pink wine flowing from their glasses.  To be clear, the 2008 is not your grandmother’s bland rose. The winemaker’s at R Stuart blend Pinot noir, Syrah and Pinot gris to make this interesting pink blend that served as a perfect pairing to an equally light and refreshing summer dessert.

These three great wines, a Pinot gris, Pinot noir and a Rose are all on sale now and available online ( . The folks at R Stuart are even offering free shipping for Cork Scrooge readers that pick up 3 bottles or more. Be sure to use “thecorkscrooge” as the coupon code to have shipping waived for the next two weeks.


Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | May 16, 2010

A Great South African Cabernet For Only Eight Bucks!

For months I have been looking at the screw top South African cabernet sitting in the back of our wine rack trying to remember where I bought it and what its story was.

I knew it was a discount wine, and I was pretty sure it was a recommendation, but it had been sitting behind three or four other wines we had tried recently that were all quite terrible. To say I was a bit apprehensive about cracking the seal on this bad boy would be an understatement.

Image my surprise when I twisted off the cork of the 2007 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon and found myself wishing I had tried this little $8 number much earlier.

Excelsior Estate is owned and operated by fourth generation winemakers Stephen and Freddie De Wet and the 2007 shows their commitment to truly accessible value wines. 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.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | May 5, 2010

A Pretty Damn “Goode” California Cabernet For Around $11

This past Saturday while out in Southern California for a brief vacation with the family I had the opportunity to experience what a grocery store wine isle is supposed to look like: hundreds of different bottles all competitively priced in an attempt to grab the attention of casual shoppers stuffing their carts with hamburger meat, toothpaste and powdered donuts (ok, this was just what I had in my cart – but you get the point).

Having lived on the East Coast for the past ten years I have become accustomed to the over-priced mass produced twenty bottle selection offered by most markets in our area and found myself staring at the vast array of wines now laid out before me like a kid in a candy store.

Not having much time to shop, I quickly grabbed two California Cabs on sale and headed home. The 2007 Murphy-Goode “California” Cabernet was the first cork to pop once I got home and let me tell you, I was damn near shocked at how drinkable and tasty this wine was immediately from the bottle.

The dry, mouth-grabbing sensations of cherry – and to a lesser extent blackberry – you would expect from a California Cab are on full display with this $11 bottle. About fifteen minutes into my tasting the wine lost a bit of the dryness, replaced with a more fruit forward – yet still entirely enjoyable – flavor.

Honestly, this wine was superb directly from the bottle and very nice as the evening wore on. Not to be confused with the winery’s more expensive “Alexander Valley Cabernet” bottling priced at around $18, the 2007 “California” Cabernet is an exceptional deal for those looking for a nice bottle of wine for dinner, happy hour or family gathering. The “California” bottling (Note: the picture is of the “Alexander Valley” vintage as I forgot to snap a shot of the bottle, the only difference in the labels are the words “Alexander Valley” which are replcaed with the word “California” for this bottling) is their discount bottle and is not available from the winery, or for that matter even referenced on their website. This wine has been produced for the wide retail market and is most likely to be found on the shelves of your local Albertsons (where I found it) or other large grocery retailers.

It is well worth tracking down the next time you find yourself on a grocery run.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 28, 2010

A Costco Purchased Aussie Disappointment

I must admit, I am a bit reticent about writing tonight’s post. I wanted to like this wine, and in fact, I was so perplexed by my own reaction to the 91 point rated bottle that I had several family members opine on the tasting. To confuse matters even more, a few failed to fault the wine as I had, and in fact one even gave it a “thumbs-up” as a worthy everyday value wine.

With the wine’s back-story now laid bare, I feel free to weigh in on one of Costco’s highest rated, super value, monster reds.

The 2008 Marquis Philips McLaren Valley Australian Shiraz is an exorbitantly jammy wine right out of the bottle. The Aussie Shiraz is a mouth filler of plum fruit filled jam with a fairly strong kick of alcohol powered by the wines liver punching 16% alcohol. Unfortunately, the Marquis failed to mellow and open up with time as I had hoped. 15 minutes into the bottle the alcohol flavor was still overpowering the McLaren Shiraz sensation I had come to expect from my recent trip to the land down under.

To be fair, 30 minutes in, the wine began to mellow slightly and the thick jam opened a bit, however, all in all, this wine was a disappointment. The general consensus, even from those that found it a worthwhile value, was that this wine was too fruity and to boozy. For $12, there are far better values to be had at Costco that offer a truly enjoyable everyday red wine.

Every now and then I truly revel in the pleasure that is being The Wine Scrooge. Most days however, like yesterday for example, are a real drag. I pop open a discount bottle of red and force myself to suffer through several interminable tastes to make sure the wine is truly as bad as my first impression. And, alas, it always is. And then, after soldiering through the mine field laden tasting, I sit down to write a review that provides no joy to anyone – and serves only as a warning of money to be wasted on another bad bottle of sub-fifteen dollar wine.

Well, tonight is not one of those nights. This is one of those nights that recharges my wine tasting batteries and gives me reason to persevere in my mission to root out crappy wine and spotlight the true super value reds available for everyday enjoyment.

The 2009 Phebus MMC from the winemakers at Fabre Montmayou is just such a wine. It was a surprising and enjoyable find during my recent trip to the Mecca of wine stores, Total Wine that led me to this intriguing Malbec blend.

Hervé Joyaux Fabre, the founder of the winery, hails from Bordeaux, France, and comes from a well established vintner family. Fabre brought a clear passion for winemaking to Argentina along with a deep rooted understanding that every bottle, regardless of the price, should be enjoyable.

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.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 18, 2010

Not All Malbecs Are Created Equal: Some Really Suck

Unfortunately for my fellow Malbec fans out there, one thing has become alarmingly clear in the past few months – not all value Malbecs are alike.

In fact, while some are downright delicious and a bargain at the sub $15 range, a great many blatantly poorly made Argentinean wines are cashing in on the Malbec craze and are flooding the market with super value, sub-par bottles that do a great disservice to the reputation of their quality sister offerings.

Sadly, this is the case with the most recent Malbec I corked this weekend. The 2008 Las Perdices Malbec was just a disappointment in nearly every way. Where one would hope for tight, lightly spiced flavors of cherry, plum and raspberry, the Las Perdices falls completely flat.

The best summation of this wine comes from my wife Sarah who gave it one sip and said “this is pretty bad”. I could not agree more. For around $12 a bottle there are far better Malbecs on the market today worthy of your time and investment.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 14, 2010

Costco Strikes Again with a Very Nice Dry Italian Red

You have got to love the little wine wizards at Costco these days. Time and time again, they manage to not only find great value reds, but they make a concerted effort to also find them from all parts of the world. And, because of their ridiculous distribution channel, they can sell these for far less than their competitors, and for even less than most wineries are able to sell them for as well.

This is the case with a great little find I stumbled across this week during a recent grazing expedition to our local Costco. The 2007 Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva “Dry Red Wine” was a truly enjoyable experience right from the bottle.

The dark ruby colored Italian has a bit less alcohol than some of my recently reviewed wine (13%) and this likely has a lot to do with the nice nose and smooth taste it delivers in each glass. Like a lot of Italian wines (especially the Sangiovese) the Montepulciano has a kick of peppery spice in every glass – but importantly not enough to overpower the value wine.

Where many budget reds lose their composure a few minutes after popping the cork, the 2007 Zaccagnini kept its spicy backbone in place throughout our dinner tasting.

For around $11 a bottle at Costco, Sam’s Club and a number of other retailers, the 2007 Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva deserves a shot at your next spaghetti feast.

Last week I reviewed the latest Pinot release from the folks at Hahn Estates and I have been meaning to put up a quick review of their 2008 Central Coast Chardonnay, marketed under their “Cycles Gladiator” label which I also had an opportunity to taste. The good folks at Hahn were kind enough to send along a sample of this white and I opened the wine for a large first weekend of summer barbeque we had at the house this past week.

The first thing you have to know about me when it comes to wine is this: I have a visceral dislike for most California white wines – with the Golden State’s Chardonnay’s sitting at the very top of my “pour this crap down the sink” list. Far too often California Chardonnay’s taste as if you are eating a slab of butter plopped atop a piece of oak bark dipped in honey. The stuff is down-right disgusting – usually.  

After I popped the cork and passed the bottle to our guests I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least taste the wine (I do like whites after all – New Zealand Sauv Blancs and Italian Pinot Grigos top my list of crisp, lightly fruit flavored summer wines). With more than a dozen witnesses to back me up I can attest that this Chardonnay shocked the heck out of me.

The 2008 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Chardonnay replaces the oak overload usually found in California Chardonnay’s with flavors of green apple and melon. The successful palate lies in the winermaker’s decision to only barrel ferment a small portion of the Chardonnay and to add a light and crisp blend of Viognier (11%) and Pinot Gris (5%).

The end result is a nice white wine that will please everyone at your next backyard gathering – from grandma’s White Zinfandel fetish to your mom’s love for buttery Chardonnay to the current New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc crazed suburbanite crowd – for $9 a bottle,  this “cycle” is worth a spin around the block.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 8, 2010

A Great Everyday $12 California Pinot!

I have to be honest (and not just because the FTC says I have to be), tonight’s wine review is of a great California winery confident enough in their significant line of value wines that they sent The Cork Scrooge several bottles to try and review earlier this month – no strings attached.

And while I do love me some free wine, I will admit it, at first, I was a bit worried about reviewing the first bottle we cracked open – a 2007 Pinot Noir. Most readers know by now I am not a typical lover of the Pinot, and have only recently come around to the grape after tasting the works of some of the best wine makers in the world during my trip to Australia earlier this month. And in my experience, California is no Australia when it comes to this grape.

You can image my surprise when everyone who tried this bottle (including me) found it to be one of the more pleasant super value California Pinot’s on the market today. The 2007 Hahn Estates Monterey Pinot Noir hails from the winemaking house of Smith & Hook Winery who first released their vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon to high acclaim in 1980. In 1991, they expanded their branded offerings with the introduction of the Hahn Estates brand to “showcase supple, accessible, and attractively priced wines from the family’s Monterey County vineyards.”

Right from the bottle the 2007 Hahn Estates Monterey Pinot Noir had an inviting nose and an instant kick of peppery tanginess that greeted the palate. The ‘07 calmed as the wine was allowed to breathe and began a fascinating transformation throughout the tasting. The winemakers note that the 2007 Pinot “unfolds over time” and they could not be more right. Each glass tasted like it had come from an entirely different bottle as we enjoyed each new pour over the course of about an hour.

As I poured the second glass 10 minutes into our tasting, the wine had substantially mellowed into a very light and enjoyable every day red wine. To my surprise, thirty minutes in, as I poured a third glass, the Hahn had tightened up a bit, becoming a dryer, full bodied glass of wine. Aside from the value for the dollar, the tasting experience itself was good fun. The 100% pinot bottling from California’s coastal city of Monterey will surely please at around $12 a bottle.

Entirely as an aside, tomorrow I will post a short review of the winery’s Chardonnay they sent along – I don’t usually review whites but with summer around the corner I figured it couldn’t hurt to weigh in on a white varietal or two.

Posted by: Dallas Lawrence | April 5, 2010

A Wonderful Spanish Tempranillo for Around Twelve Bucks

I always love stumbling across honest to goodness waiter/wine connoisseurs. These days however they are becoming a dying breed in the fine dining world.

Far too often the once eclectic and well informed wine experts who roamed the tables of the best dining houses in the country have been replaced by robotic “sommeliers” programmed from birth it seems to instinctively recommend wines that mysteriously match exactly to your top target price range.

Next time you are out enjoying a fine dining experience try this little experiment for yourself: Inform your oh so uber-sheek dressed hipster “sommelier” that you would like his or her recommendation for a nice bottle of red wine to go with your meal in the “under $70 range.” Now, sit back and watch the magic begin. Shockingly, his or her favorite wine – a wondrous delight sure to perfect your meal, cure gout and male pattern baldness and no doubt grant eternal life – will be not one dollar less than $69.00. Once your wine wunderkind has finished espousing his love for the $70 bottle, ask about the $45 bottle of Malbec on the menu and watch as he stammers on that “he has never tried that wine before,” somehow imparting that the swill didn’t warrant risking his sensitive palate.

This was exactly the experience we had this past week at one of DC’s newest and most popular restaurants, Wolfgang Puck’s The Source restaurant in downtown DC. But rather than bag on the poorly programmed sommelier who first greeted or table, this post is meant to praise the wonderfully astute works of that rare breed of waiter who stepped in after watching the “$70 magic act” and recommended an enjoyable, bargain basement, value wine for our table.

The waitress, who had recently moved to DC from San Francisco, noticed we had finished our first bottle of wine and were struggling to make our second purchase. She asked a few questions about what we liked (nothing to do with the price), confirmed what we had ordered for dinner and then suggested a great little Spanish Tempranillo number for only $38.

The 2008 Vendimia Rioja was a superbly well blended Spanish (50% Granacha and 50% Tempranillo) wine that we all found to be ready to drink right from the bottle. The wine is a young one in just about every way. What begins with a strawberry fruitiness almost instantly gives way to a lightly acidic blackberry infused wine reflective of the region’s medium bodied varietals.  

Produced by the well known Spanish winemaker Alvaro Palacios, the Vendimia Rioja is by far one of their least expensive wines offered and still delivers on the quality the Palacios family has come to be known for. Ranging in price online from between $11 to $14, the 2008 Vendimia Rioja is worthy of your time. My thanks to Rikka our skilled Swedish oenophile – thanks for knowing your wines and your customers!

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »