The cover of October 31st Wine Spectator (yes, I subscribe to Wine Spectator, live in a huge mansion of a house, and drive a brand new SUV, but I swear I'm poor as a church mouse - those things being the main reasons why) screams in 120 point type "GREAT VALUES - 250 Top Picks - $20 or Less!".
Two hundred and fifty rockin' wines for under $20?? I am all over that action, no doubt about it. Good and cheap is exactly where I'm at. But as you well know if you bother to read this column regularly, "good and cheap" is almost an oxymoron when it comes to wine.
So (swear to God) I clutched my Wine Spectator in my greedy little hands and marched into the local Safeway and CostPlus stores prepared to score some killer wine bargains. Semi-surprisingly, they actually had several of the wines listed in the article. Here-in I review several of them for your libationous edification.
Yellow Tail 2005 Southeast Australia Shiraz "The Reserve"
This is not the $5.99 a bottle cheap stuff (which actually ain't half bad for the price). "The Reserve" is the next step up, but still under $10. Lots of dark, roasted fruit on the nose - blackberry, black cherry, with hints of roasted coffee and eucalyptus. On the tongue, big and smooth as silk. Truckloads of huge ripe fruit flavors. Not layered or complex; just a fruit-lovers paradise. Rich and well integrated, this stuff goes down smooth. WS: 90 pts. Me: 3.75 stars. $9.43 (Safeway).
Columbia Crest 2004 Grand Estates Columbia Valley Merlot
I've never been a big Columbia Crest fan. Their wines are generally pretty generic and blah. But Wine Spectator liked this one, so what the heck. A whammy of vanilla on the nose, with hints of chocolate, mocha and black fruit. The smooth vanilla flavor carries over to the taste, but becomes a bit too dominant. Sadly, very little fruit on the midpalate (OK class, what's the wine tasting term for this? That's right, "hollow". Very good!), and a slightly awkward finish. Not worth bothering with. WS: 90 pts. Me: 2.5 stars. $6.99 (Safeway).
Geyser Peak 2005 Alexander Valley Chardonnay
If you read this column, you know I'm not a chardonnay fan, but this wine wasn't objectionable. Light and buttery on the nose, with a touch of hay. On the tongue is was bright and creamy, with a smooth finish and a surprising - and not unpleasant - touch of sweetness. Wonderful lack of oakiness. I could actually drink this. WS: 86 pts. Me: 3.0 stars. $7.98 (Safeway).
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Columbia Valley Riesling
Dry on the nose,with strong aromas of grapefruit and lemon peel. Faint hints of apricot, hay and herbs. On the tongue there's an explosion of flavor, and a surprising and pleasant frizzante (fizz). Yum! Just slightly sweet, with bright lime flavors, along with hints of pineapple and papaya. Good acidity cleanses the palate and keeps the wine from becoming cloying. Best served well chilled (freezing cold). Very tropical and fun. We have a winner! WS: 86 pts. Me: 4.0 stars. $5.99 (Safeway).
Perrin & Fils Cotes du Rhone Reserve 2005
Very bright, acidic aroma, with a hint of red berries, dust and (there just isn't any other description for it) pork chops. Very light on the tongue, with good structure, but faint fruit and rather firm tannins. The lack of fruit flavors is typical for a cheap French wines. Overall, something of a blah wine; not bad but not too much of anything. WS: 87 pts. Me: 2.75 stars. $11.99 (CostPlus).
Bodega Norton Malbec Lujan de Cuyo Reserva 2005
Rich and drak aromas, with hints of roast beef. Deep and mellow. Not as profound on the palate, with bright red fruits. A bit acidic with mild tannins. A bit disappointing for the price. WS: 88 pts. Me: 2.75 stars. $14.39 (CostPlus)
The Riesling was the big winner here, but actually none of these wines were hideous. Wine Spectator often gets ripped for overrating plonky wines, but these were all passable, particularly for the price.
Bottom line: Eureka! There IS good wine under $10! Get a copy of that issue of Wine Spectator and treasure it.