Friday, March 31, 2006


Twenty Rows has a simple slogan: Making Wines You Can Drink Everyday. I can't think of a better way to describe what this winery has been able to achieve with its 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon. California Cabs have outpriced themselves over the last few years and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find good Cabernet from Napa that won't set you back $40 or more per bottle. The truth is that most of these bottles just aren't worth the price. It is equally hard to find good Cabs on the lower end. Most value Cabernets just don't have the structure, flavors, or polish that make them enjoyable. They tend to be thin wines with lots of "alcohol burn."

My response to the California Cab price inflation has been to look for inexpensive alternatives elsewhere like selections from Washington State or France. However, when I heard good things about Twenty Rows, a low-priced $15 Cabernet from Napa, I couldn't wait to try it.


77% Cabernet with a bit of Merlot, Malbec and Petite Sirah mixed in. This wine exhibits aromas of vanilla and blueberry. It is a powerful wine with over-the-top licorice, cassis, and blackberry flavors. Beautiful dark purple in color, huge body, excellent acidity with sleek, lush tannins, and a finish that keeps going and going like the Energizer bunny.


92 PTS
I was blown away by this wine. For $15, this is the best value Cabernet I've ever tasted. I have not found any equivalents in this price range out there. This is about as good as it gets. This would be a fun wine to blind taste along side much more expensive California Cabernets. Highly recommend. You can order directly from the winery site at
Twenty Rows.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Just when you thought cork had left your kitchen and gone out of style as a wine stopper, it is back with a vengeance invading your living room. This modern looking furniture, the Cork Table and Stool (2002) by Jasper Morrison, supposedly provides comfy, lightweight, sponge seating. These cork alternatives are also great space savers since they can be easily stacked or moved in a jiffy.

The stool and table retail for $298 each at
Design Within Reach, which may be a bit pricey but look on the bright side, you'll never have to worry about TCA.

Cool, sleek, with good cork color. Nice nose of new cork. Great finish to any wine cellar or lounge.


88 PTS
An excellent addition to the home for those who love art as much as they love wine. And while these stylish room accoutrements may go out of style, there's no fear of them being replaced by screwcaps anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


When I see pure Cabernet-Syrah combinations, I tend to think of cheap red wines with alcohol so strong that it can remove the paint from the hood of your car. I shouldn't be so judgmental, but unfortunately I've attended too many corporate parties where disappointing, low-grade Cabernet-Syrah blends were poured. So when I heard good things about the Fortediga, I decided to put aside my prejudices and take the bottle for a taste drive.


This is a very youthful wine. It glows a gorgeous purple hue in the glass with dominant cherry flavors accented by licorice and a hint of caramel. After much swishing and swirling, I also detected a bit of chalk dust on the back palate. Made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah, it is fairly smooth but perhaps a little underoaked. I would have preferred a touch more wood.


88 PTS
This bottle retails for around $14. It is an enjoyable wine, with solid attributes, but not one that really stays with you. By the time you open your next bottle, you will have forgotten its name.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


For years, the media has been publicizing the health benefits of red wine. Like green tea, pomegranates and blueberries, red wine contains antioxidants that may have cardiovascular benefits. New on the health scene, jumping on the antioxidant band wagon, is dark chocolate.

Ingredients derived from the cocoa bean (like the 60% cacao featured in HERSHEY'S EXTRA DARK Chocolate) are concentrated sources of antioxidants. About 37 grams or 3 squares of this chocolate has the same amount of flavanol antioxidants as a 4 oz glass of wine, a cup of black tea or 1 and 1/3 cup of blueberries. Who knew chocolate could be so healthy? Although of course, this doesn't mean you can eat chocolate bars all day. There's still a lot of fat to worry about and Hershey's has even gone as far to put a warning of sorts on their label to curb overindulgence.


All three bars have the same chocolate base with simply different enhanced ingredients.

The Pure Dark Chocolate bar was pretty smooth with only the slightest hint of bitterness. It was not creamy or overly sweet. The texture was a bit on the chalky side.

The Pure Dark Chocolate with Cranberries, Blueberries and Almonds was the best of the bunch. The fruit complimented the texture and bitterness and the roasted almonds gave it a pleasant toasty edge.

The Pure Dark Chocolate with Macademia Nuts and Cranberries was the weakest of the three bars. The Macadamia nuts were crunchy, but tasteless, and the Cranberries just simply weren't enough to save it.


Pure Dark: B+
With Cranberries, Blueberries and Almonds: A
With Macadamia Nuts and Cranberries: C

Really nice packaging and marketing. Hershey's is ahead of the curve by getting this out in a hurry post-media blitz on antioxidants and dark chocolate. If it catches on, Hershey's could easily find itself the early leader for competitors to emulate. Visit Hershey's official site at


So what wine goes best with chocolate? Merlot and chocolate is my favorite combination. Comment below and post your vote for your favorite wine and chocolate combination!


When Sideways became a hit in theaters, I made sure to pick up some Hitching Post Pinot Noir. I had quite a few Santa Barbara Pinots already in my cellar being a fan of both the varietal and the hidden gems Santa Barbara has to offer. However, I had never tasted Hitching Post Pinot Noir. I eagerly anticipated pulling the cork.

From Hartley Ostini, this wine gets its grapes from Sanford and Benedict, Fiddlestix and Clos Pepe. It has strong, dark, earthy fruit flavors with spices and herbs. The alcohol was a bit much and not as integrated as I would have liked. I wished it was much smoother and rounder.


87 PTS
I bought this wine on sale for less than $30, but I think it retails for quite a bit more. I love the label and the buzz that Hitching Post wine has gotten, but I think if I was blind tasting this bottle I might have scored it a point lower. Hitching Post is really known for its Highliner Pinot Noir made famous by Sideways. I have a bottle of Highliner waiting for me in the cellar. I look forward to tasting it this summer on my patio with some grilled salmon. I hope it lives up to the hype.

Friday, March 24, 2006


I'm watching Morrison choke back tears. Poor Zags. When will Gonzaga make it past the Sweet 16? Luckily, I had UCLA in my bracket so I'm still alive. If UCLA can find a way to lose in the next round, I think I might win it all. What will I toast my victory with? I'm getting ahead of myself...Go Memphis!

So what kind of wine goes well with the Sweet 16? I thought about opening up a California Cabernet, but that kind of power is better suited for the Elite 8. Classified Bordeaux? Nah, that pairs well with the elegance of the Final Four. And of course Champagne made from Pinot Noir is the only choice for the Finals. So I turned to another bottle of Spanish value wine. Yanking off the foil (all my foil cutters seem to be broken now so I'm relying on brute force) I popped open the 2004 Mencia, a red wine made from an unusual grape native to Spain. After all, it is a Thursday night so there's no reason to open up an expensive bottle. I poured myself a full glass and slowly sipped it, drinking in March Madness.


This wine was a bit flinty. I swear I could taste something like Shiitake mushrooms mixed with berries. The fruit was overwhelmed by the alcohol muting all the flavors of the wine. It was a very dry red with lots of tannin and the finish was short and blunt. Perhaps the wine will improve with a year or two in the cellar, but there's not too much to rave about here other than its pretty dark ruby color.


85 PTS
Not bad, but unless you are really intrigued and want to experience the Mencia grape, I'd pass on this bottle. For $11, it is hard to complain, but believe it or not there are actually many superior Spanish wines for this price or less. Move on.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Back-to-back Washington wine posts. I had the pleasure of visiting Washington State a few years ago and the state is as beautiful as the wine coming out of it. Although most of the wineries are located east of Olympic National Park, Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Ranier, I always think of the cool crisp summer air that must have a delightful effect on grapes.

I found this bottle on clearance for half price ($19). It is a red meritage/bordeaux blend from Walla Walla. 77% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Verdot.


This is a big, rich wine, nearly full bodied. It is dark, deep purple in color with luscious sweet berries, cherry and bitter chocolate on the finish. Even the casual wine drinker should be able to taste the dark bitter chocolate on this one. I can't tell you how many times I've anticipated chocolate notes in a wine after reading a review and been unable to taste them. I've grown skeptical of a lot of tasting notes that identify aromas and flavors that I can't even grasp a hint of, but trust me on this one, the chocolate is identifiable. I was so impressed that I bought a second bottle the next day before the store ran out of stock.


90 PTS
This bottle is actually worth about $25 - $30, but it lists for closer to $40. I'm not sure I'd reach that high, even though this wine is top notch. It is impeccably smooth, yet it packs a big punch for being primarily made of Merlot. It also has a garage, grunge edge to it that I really loved. I am always thrilled to find wines that still retain a sort of raw, unfiltered, homemade feel to them. The Uriah does just that. I can still taste the harmonious chocolate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Maybe my wine blog should be titled anything BUT California wine. When it comes to finding great wines at great prices, California doesn't jump to mind, especially when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.

A lot of my friends and colleagues are big fans of California Cabernet. They rave about the Silver Oaks, Justins, and Harlan Estates from the left coast, but how often do they really drink them? I mean if you are a regular wine drinker, are you really opening up $100 or even $50 bottles on Tuesday night to go with leftovers? So if you love Cabernet, you need to find some lower-priced alternatives.

Washington State wines are a great place to start. There are dozens of top-notch wineries in Washington. Hopefully your local wine outlet stocks more than just Chateau Ste. Michelle which is one of the few Washington wineries to break out. Check out some of these great wineries at where you'll find some of my favorites like Waterbrook, L'Ecole No 41 and today's highlighted winery, Kiona.


Kiona winery has been around for decades and their 2001 Cabernet is a real delight. It is full of blueberries and chocolate with toasty/raisin-like undertones. Inky in color, it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc which makes it both round and rich. It is smooth and not what you usually get from lower priced Cabs. Inexpensive Cabs tend to be alcoholic with more heat than fruit. I found my bottle on sale for $17 which makes this a real buy for Cabernet of this quality. I've seen it priced higher in stores, but search around online where you can find some of your best bargains.


90 PTS
If you want quality Cabernet that doesn't cost you a fortune, this is a great option. You can visit Kiona winery at

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I keep promising myself I am going to write about some California wines, but here I am again back to Spain. The quality and value coming out of Spain is really just amazing. I always tended to categorize Spanish wine as "not for me." I guess I've just been somewhat closed minded in the past, but now I'm discovering new exciting wines from this country on a regular basis.


I bought this bottle of Los Planos Syrah for $7.99 from (which is my favorite site to buy wine from) and it tastes like a Fess Parker Reserve or Ojai that costs $30. It doesn't have the finish that some of these bigger wines do, but it is so loaded with blueberry and blackberry that it's like a homemade pie in a glass.


91 PTS
All the gorgeous and delicious characteristics of a California syrah, without the big price tag.


When I stumbled upon this one at the local wine store, I was perplexed. A 1996 on sale for $9.99? Ok, what gives? How often do you come across a 10 year old bottle of wine for less than ten bucks? I looked at the back of the label: made from 100% Anglianico grapes. This is an ancient, rarely talked about grape. It is centuries old and has often been referred to as the "Nebbiolo of the South." I had never tried it.

So why the late release? Sometimes wines just aren't ready for consumption for a long time after bottling. They need time to age before they are even ready to be approached. Keeping this in mind, I made sure I let the wine breathe for quite awhile after I popped the cork.


Old wine doesn't always mean good wine. This had a distinct mineral quality to it with strong, pungent berry flavors. It reminded me of Gattinara, but sadly bad Gattinara. The wine was out of balance and quickly fell apart. By the next day, the wine continued to show poorly and was pretty much undrinkable. I salvaged one cup of it for a rather mediocre Arrabbiata pasta sauce before the remainder of the bottle ended up down the drain.


72 PTS
Not an enjoyable wine. Unfortunately at $10, I can't even recommend this one as a cooking wine.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I love California wines and nothing garners more attention than California Cabernet. Some people rave and gravitate toward single vineyard, while others argue that red blends are superior. I am more of a fan of red blends or meritages, a mix of different varietals that creates beautiful synergy in a glass.

However, when it comes to California Cabernet based Meritages there aren't too many available to the average consumer. What you will find is high quality, but very expensive wine. So here's an alternative, Luce Lucente 2001. But that's an Italian wine, you say? Indeed, but it comes from a joint venture of famous Napa family Robert Mondavi and the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi family of Tuscany, Italy. Best of all, is that this wine is readily available. You can find it pretty much everywhere.


The Lucente is 45% Sangiovese but this ain't no wicker basket Chianti. This is an absolutely ENORMOUS wine. The 45% Merlot and 10% Cabernet round this one off giving it a deep black color, a rich cherry taste, some nice oak and sweet berry flavors and the ability to stain your teeth. It will benefit from a little cellaring, but it is ready to drink now. It is an incredibly smooth Tuscan delight. It reminded me of the ST. SUPERY MERITAGE

which is a Cab-Merlot-Petite Verdot-Cab Franc blend out of California that sells for $35 - $40. The Lucente can be found for around $22, although I've seen it on sale for less.


92 PTS
Buy 2 bottles of this one. You'll want to enjoy one now and then have one in your cellar to pull out and impress your friends. Who knew Sangiovese could be so impressive?


Drinking wine can be like traveling. Each bottle takes you to a new place, a virtual vacation for the senses. Lately, my taste buds have been traveling a lot to Spain where they've discovered vibrant, exciting, affordable reds.

The quality coming out of Spain has never been better. Yet when you visit your local liquor or wine shop, you could be surprised to find a really small section devoted to Spanish wine. They are likely to have lots of Marquis de Riscal Riojas and not too much else. But there is so much more to Spain then riojas. You may need to turn to the internet to order some of the hidden gems Spain has to offer. There are tons of Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvedre), Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Tempranillo/Tinto Fino blends.

Tempranillo is a thick-skinned black grape indigenous to Spain. This "Noble Grape" is low in acidity delivering very smooth, dark wines capable of long cellaring and soft spicy flavors. The Garnacha used in a lot of Spanish wines is also lusher and smoother than the "peppery" Grenache that you find in French Rhone wines. So what you get is very silky, well-balanced fruit with a classic wine structure.


The CAN BLAU MONTSANT shouldn't be too hard to find, except that it has been flying off shelves in my local wine stores. It has a very deep purple color and a pretty berry nose. There is a definite mineral, almost flinty undertone that you tend to find in white wines that have been aged in steel barrels. The wine has a really nice structure to it, slightly bigger than a medium-bodied wine. It is a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Garnacha. Delicious finish. You should be able to find this one for about $13.

FINCA LUZON - JUMILLA ALTOS DE LUZON 2003 ($17) is also another Spanish wine worth sampling. It made Spectator's Top 100 last year as well. It is primarily Monastrell mixed with Tempranillo and Cabernet. It is a top-notch red Spanish blend that grabs you right away the moment it hits your tongue, but I actually found the CAN BLAU MONTSANT to be a more interesting wine and its a few dollars cheaper so it's easier on the wallet.


90 PTS
At $13 a bottle, it is easy to see why Robert Parker has called the CAN BLAU a frugal person's Priorat. If you are looking to experience what Spain has to offer, this is a great wine to start you off. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Anyone that knows me well, knows that I am not a fan of Australian wines. To me they taste medicinal, thin, overly sweet and are the perfect example of marketing over substance.

Yellowtail shiraz from down under probably best represents this type of grape juice that masquerades as red wine. It has swept up the nation and is one of the top sellers in America. Syrah (not shiraz) is one of my favorite varietals. Yes, they are pretty much the same grape, but I beg to differ when it comes to taste.

One of my goals on this blog is to encourage wine drinkers to explore "better" wines and to wake up their palates. I'm often amazed how many people find a wine they like and just keep buying it. Even worse, they buy it by the case. In my cellar, I rarely have more than 2 bottles of the same wine. The reason being, there are just too many great bottles out there and not enough time to taste them all. So why waste time with repeat experiences, when there's a plethora of new ones that await you.

Traveling to the wine store and making a purchase can be an intimidating expedition. I hope that my wine reviews and comments can help alleviate those inhibitions. No one wants to buy a bottle of bad wine, but that shouldn't stop you from expanding your wine taste buds.

This blog review focuses on an Australian Shiraz. The 2004 TWO UP SHIRAZ was an exciting experience for me. It was a phenomenal Australian Shiraz. Yes, I'm eating my words, but I took a risk and was pleasantly surprised.


TWO UP was so jammy with strong blueberry and plum fruit. It also had tremendous mouth drying tannins. This is a big wine and not what I'm accustomed to from Kangarooville. The alcohol was finely integrated. The wine had a terrific fruity nose, a hint of chocolate, and a really beautiful dark color. It retails for around $13 which is a complete steal for this level of wine. Comparable California Syrahs of this quality that I hold dear to my heart would be in the $30 range.


91 PTS
Won't disappoint wine snobs or casual red wine drinkers.
A roaring crowd pleaser.


When Wine Spectator's Top 100 list comes out every December, I rush to find as many affordable and available bottles on the list to add to my collection. The 2001 DAMILANO BAROLO was #60 and has just started to make its way onto shelves. It is readily available and can be purchased for around $25.

The price of this wine is highly attractive for a Barolo. Most Barolos are much more expensive and you can quickly find yourself in the $50 range for anything receiving respectable reviews or ratings.

Wine Spectator gave this wine 92 pts, but I was less enthusiastic. The nose was a bit oaky. It had nice cedar notes and cherry flavors, but overall it didn't blow me away. It lacked both the smoothness and character I had hoped for. It does have good tannic structure, but it is too acidic. It is a big wine, so you can lay it down and all that acidity and tannin means it will age well. However, there are so many better wines at this price point or less that are worth exploring. Improved when tasted the second day.


88 PTS
Affordable Barolo to add to the cellar, but everyday drinkers should pass. It is overrated and disappointing.