Cheap Thrills

McManis Gets It Right!

While wandering the aisles of a local retailer in search of the Holy Grail – an affordable, yet tasty red wine – I gradually became frustrated with all of the shelf talkers and claims made by wine critics. This Syrah at 88 points is “surprisingly refined,” while this Sangiovese at 89 points offers flavors of “licorice and vivid black fruits.” In each case we‘re talking about wines that retail for $12.99 and that’s a darn good price under almost any circumstances.

Of course, with all of the flowery language, and lofty scores, making a decision on what to buy can be downright overwhelming. Since this particular retailer tends to place wines in rows, with the cheapest occupying the area closest to the floor, I was able to whittle down my selections over time, but not without straining my back bending over repeatedly.

There was one label that caught my eye, not so much for reasons of good design, but because I had seen the same label on the opposite aisle while crouching to take stock of the cheap stuff. Then it happened, here was a bottle of Petite Sirah and another, a Zinfandel, the two varietals I was looking for, and the price was right on target. With the decision finally made I grabbed two bottles each of the 2008 McManis Family Vineyards Zin and Petite Sirah.

McManis Family VIneyards Zinfandel & Petite Sirah

Having never had any of the McManis wines I was prepared for the bare minimum in both quality and value. Just for fun, I decided to present the Petite Sirah to my test subject, Julie, my fairly critical (when it comes to wine) wife. She was in the midst of a Dr. Who marathon on BBC America, which means she was already in a good mood, but when she took a moment to go through the motions of taking that initial taste of this unknown juice, she wasted very little time proclaiming this wine a hit!

That was good enough for me, so we threw a couple of Trader Joe’s pizzas in the oven and proceeded to enjoy a $10 Petite Sirah from a producer that we have both come to respect for their ability to offer wines of substance and quality at prices that are seldom seen in today’s market. Just for the record, this is Petite Sirah that is a deep inky purple with a nose of blackberry and boysenberry. Those same berry scents populate the flavor profile and lead to a lingering finish that is quite satisfying (grade B+).

We have since spent some time enjoying the McManis Zinfandel with similar results – excellent blend of cherry and raspberry backed up by smooth tannins that leave you looking forward to the next sip (grade B+).

I am pleased to report that genuine bargains do exist in today’s retail market. McManis Family Vineyards has done an outstanding job to bring these all-around delicious wines to the consumer.

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose


Three California Gewürztraminers Worth Your Time

We’re back and it’s almost like we were never gone! It was a whirlwind journey through three of California’s greatest wine growing regions starting with the Russian River Valley then a brief stopover in the Dry Creek Valley, and finally finishing with a flourish in the Anderson Valley. Along the way, my pilot, and beautiful wife, successfully deposited us at some of the truly notable wineries including Quivira Vineyards, Drew, MacPhail Wines, and the list goes on!

However, something stood out to me after our very first stop at a winery I had intended to visit years ago – Joseph Swan Vineyards in Forestville. I realized that I had just come away from one of the most historic wineries in the United States, known mainly for trailblazing the cultivation of Pinot Noir, and the wine that left an indelible impression on me was a 2009 Gewürztraminer!

view of the Russian River Valley

First, a word about this incredibly distinctive varietal. The purest expression of Gewürztraminer is generally believed to be produced in the Pfalz region of Germany and the Alsace region of France. Known for its unique nose of rose petal and lychee nut, this wine makes an amazing accompaniment to spicier foods, especially Asian cuisine. Having hadGewürztraminer from both Germany and Alsace, I wondered if California could actually produce at a level to compare with France and Germany. The answer became crystal clear with one sip.

the vines at Joseph Swan

The 2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards Gewürztraminer (grade A) is sourced from grapes grown at Saralee’s Vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Our tasting at the winery kicked off with this wine’s extraordinary aromatics of sour apple and flowers. It was immediately clear that this was an outstanding rendition of Gewürztraminer. No doubt this wine will pair beautifully with the usual suspects, including chicken Pad Thai or Yellow Curry Chicken.

Some suggest that this wine “needs” food to really show at its best, but I found this to be a genuine treat as a standalone. Then again, the thought of next Thanksgiving featuring this wine is making my mouth water!

We wouldn’t discover the next Gewürztraminer until the next day when we dropped in at the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley, Husch Vineyards, founded in 1971. It was here that we would come face-to-face with another phenomenal wine, the 2009 Husch Vineyards ‘T-Bud Dry Cuvee’ Gewürztraminer (grade A-).

quaint and lovely, the Husch tasting room

This is a wine that offers the traditional Gewürztraminer characteristics, while tacking on a level of minerality and acidity that results in an exceptional flavor profile. Just another incredibly good wine that will pair beautifully with those spicier dishes.

Navarro beckons you

Finally, one more stop in the Anderson Valley, and this time we are presented with a Gewürztraminer that is simply a grand slam! Navarro VIneyards is probably best known for their consistently excellent Pinot Noir, including the Méthode à l’Ancienne bottlings, but do yourself a favor and seek out their brilliant white wines, especially the 2009 Anderson Valley Cuvée Traditional Gewürztraminer (grade A+). This one has it all, from the heady floral and spice aromas on the nose, to the distinctive peach and lychee notes on the palate. It comes all wrapped up in a bone dry frame that leaves you reaching for more.

I intentionally left the best part for last and that’s what you’ll pay to enjoy these memorable wines. The Joseph Swan Gewürztraminer retails for just $19 at the winery. The Husch ‘T-Bud Dry Cuvee’ will set you back $17 and the stellar Navarro Cuvée Traditional rounds out the threesome coming in at $15!

If nothing else, I hope that this posting stokes your curiosity, especially if you’ve never tried this worthy varietal.

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

Or How I Fell Deeply In Love With Wine

fond memories

I recently got to thinking about how I developed such a deep and abiding passion and curiosity for wine. My life has been essentially two chapters – chapter one was gin and tonic, while chapter two has been wine. Now I know this is all more than a bit self-serving, but I very rarely allow myself this kind of reverie. Not to mention, it’s my blog, so I’ll blog about whatever I want to blog about! Now that we got that out of the way it’s time for you to make that sound that Wayne and Garth made when they entered their dreamworld.

It was some 20-years-ago that I met my beautiful wife, Julie, and with that momentous meeting came a crash course in fine wine consumption. It all began over dinner with my future in-laws. Pops, as I call him now, had a penchant for good wines from some of the world’s most reputable producers. What would soon become an every Sunday ritual was my formal introduction to the wines of California, Oregon, Washington, France, Australia, Spain, Italy, and Portugal.

Within a matter of mere weeks my vocabulary had expanded to include more than a few buzzwords and catch phrases that now, when I think back to those days, I can only chuckle to myself in a sort of pained amusement. Words like minerality and tannic had no business spilling from between my lips, let alone from my glass. Of course, as time passed, I gradually became cognizant of the meaning of those terms, but to this very day, I still struggle to cobble together cogent descriptions of some wines feeling that my vocabulary is less than adequate.

From Pops I would learn the basics of wine during our once-a-week tours of the world’s great wine producing regions. One Sunday would be spent quaffing Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay and reveling in the fact that a passable wine could be had for a mere $5.99! Then there were the Thanksgiving dinners that would feature a tour de force of fine wines starting with an exotic Alsatian Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and Carneros regions, and finally topping the festivities off with one of my favorite after dinner drinks, a 10 year old tawny port.

Grand Cru vineyards of Latricieres-Chambertin in Burgundy

With my ever-expanding exposure to wine I became curious as to what the entire vine-to-wine process actually entailed. A subsequent trip to Burgundy, including a picnic at the foot of the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, ignited what has blossomed into a full blown fascination with the concept of terroir and an unceasing amazement that it’s possible that so many scents and flavors can be contained in a single glass of wine!

I am thrilled to report that my interest in wine is as keen today as it was during those early days of discovery. While my preferences have shifted over time, I continue to treasure those times when I can share my enthusiasm for wine with others. It’s a big world of almost countless flavors out there and I am ready to taste as much as I can!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose