Top Affordable Wines From Around The World

Posted on: August 7th, 2014 by

back of a ten dollar bill

I love talking about cheap wines. They are what I drink the most. Mary Cressler over at Vindulge asked me for my go-to picks costing less than ten bucks. You’ll find I’m a fan of:

  • Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. Pretty much all of it.
  • White wines from the Côtes de Gascogne in Southwestern France.
  • Red blends a la “CMS”: one from Italy where S is for Sangiovese, one from Washington where it’s Syrah.

As a bonus, Mary also solicited recommendations from five other wine bloggers and, of course, added her own. I magnanimously didn’t poach a certain Spanish wine with a big “C” on the label because I knew Mary would want to use it. Who says bloggers are selfish?

It’s quite a diverse list, though Cava is well-represented. How did I not pick any bubbles? Sheesh. OK, I’ll add it here and keep the Cava love flowing: Mas Fi Brut.

Find out the specific wines I chose, as well as all the others:

Best Cheap Wines Under $10

Photo: “US $10 Series 2004 reverse“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Wine Photo Tips: Get The Best Out of People and Places

Posted on: August 4th, 2014 by

vineyards eastern washington

You may remember Photographer Richard Duval from a previous post on how to make, as he likes to say, “memories, not mug shots” when taking photos of people. With my interest piqued to explore the topic more, we met up at Barrage Cellars (thanks, Kevin) in Woodinville, Washington (where Richard is currently exhibiting some unique photos) to record an episode of my Wine Without Worry podcast.

So how about three simple things to remember, even if you’re just shooting with your smart phone, that will make your vineyard photos distinguish themselves beyond the typical “I was there” point/shoot/move on technique. Here you go, via Richard:

  • Slow Down
  • Get Low
  • Get Close

Also discussed? The first photo Richard sold and how that catapulted him into pursuing photography on a professional basis. (Spoiler alert: It involved wildflowers.)

Read Richard’s detailed post about Wine Country photography on Grape Collective.

grapes in tuscany

Grapes in Tuscany.

And though Richard takes numerous photos on a variety of subjects (as you’ll see below), he’s carved out quite a niche for himself in the world of wine, particularly here in Washington.

Additionally, I also shoehorn in some recommendations on vintages in Washington, specifically my thoughts on 2009 versus 2011.

Finally, in a moment of pathetic insecurity, I  ask Richard not to photograph my visible bald spot.

cinque terre morning

Morning in the Cinque Terre.

One thing about all these photos that’s unique? Normally Richard isn’t one to undertake much post-production work, but here he’s “indulged” himself and done something a bit different: adjusting color, manipulating detail. Furthermore, you really appreciate these photos in person as each image is printed on metallic-coated paper fused to an aluminum sheet. (Shout-out to Seattle’s The Color Group for the printing.) As the light changes in the room, and while you stroll around, the images become altered in a most hypnotic way. Sip on some wine from Barrage Cellars and watch the perspective shift before your eyes.

Now give your ears some shifting perspectives. Listen to the show:

Wine Country Photography 101: How To Take Great Pictures in the Vineyards

Get Wine Without Worry on iTunes

All photos courtesy Richard Duval. Find out more about Richard and his work:

Duval Images
Vine Lines

How I Overcame Sherry (Wine) Anxiety

Posted on: August 1st, 2014 by

sherry cellarI’ve had my struggles with Sherry, but recently attended a seminar conducted by Holly Wing of De Maison Selections and felt like I turned the corner. Let me note that this was about my fourth time sitting down for some Sherry sermonizing, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while (years) to start digging it. All knowledge or insight below has been gleaned from Holly and filtered through my pen. And now my keyboard. So if something is lost in translation, blame this guy.

So what’s the deal with aversion to a style of Fino Sherry like Manzanilla? (Which I infamously called “Manzanita”, a town on the Oregon Coast, when speaking with Master Sommelier Christ Tanghe.) Here are a couple reasons via Holly:

  • It’s on the dessert menu. (D’oh!) This Sherry is dry; have it at the beginning of the meal. And if you like dry martinis, you might really be into this style .
  • It’s old. Like, Methuselah old. It should not be brown.

(I’ll also add it can be bracing at first, so try having a beer back with your Fino or some almonds and/or olives close by.)

What about a richer style of Sherry, one with a little more heft, yet still dry? If Oloroso is on the menu, Holly believes it belongs with the entree. That’s right, Sherry and a steak.

Most versatile for food pairing? Holly’s answer: Amontillado. It’s darker and richer than Fino, but still dry. Well-chilled, it’s great with tuna marinated in a bit of soy sauce. Or all your fancy hams.

Beyond pigs and fish, Amontillado is a classic with (and in) turtle soup. But if you’re object to eating turtle because of your allegiance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, try Amontillado with rich soups like a creamy bisque. Oh, and consommée (aka “broth“). Additionally, Holly suggests you also try your fancy broth with a rarer style of Sherry, Palo Cortado.

So if you love martinis, seafood, steak, bisque, and/or broth, there’s a Sherry for you! And we haven’t even begun to discuss sweeter Sherry styles like PX. Which smells like raisins and figs, tastes like toasty caramel with orange-y zest. Pour it over your pancakes. Or ice cream. Or crepes topped with ice cream. Or soak a cake with it/in it. Mind blown.

Sidebar: To capitalize or not capitalize, that is the question regarding Sherry. Or sherry. Here’s what William Safire had to say in 1985

Sherry cellar via Wikimedia Commons.

Where, When, How It’s Made: How Much More Do We Care About Food Than Wine?

Posted on: July 30th, 2014 by

Baby Carrots

Over on Grape Collective I reviewed a book called Wine and Identity: Branding, heritage, terroir. I was struck by this assertion in the introduction:

“Unlike milk, flour, fruit or vegetables, consumers seek information about where, when and how wine is made, and this is a major factor in their purchase decisions.”

My response? “I see it as the opposite. While consumers will scrutinize food for being local, organic, and produced with an artisan bent (see ‘Portlandia’ for the ultimate parody of this ethos), they’ll pull a random bottle of Chardonnay off the shelf without giving it anywhere near the consideration.”

How big a part does the where/when/how of something you put on your plate or in your glass influence what you buy?

Read the entire review: Wine and Identity: Constructing Authenticity in the Glass

Carrots via ilovebutter. I love carrots cooked in butter.

Uncorking Summer Entertaining: A Conversation With Christine Wente

Posted on: July 28th, 2014 by

Though fond of rosé and summertime grilling, as well as outdoor warm-weather festivities, I’m mostly a participant at such activities rather than a host. Because this 42 year-old bachelor does not have a PhD in entertaining a crowd. Hosting a fresh-air fête? I’m flustered.

Fortunately, I can call on (and literally called) Christine Wente to appear on my Wine Without Worry podcast. She’s a Fifth Generation Winegrower at Wente Vineyards (the sponsor of my show) and also President of the Wente Foundation Board. Christine gives me the guidance I need to face my hosting fears with a modicum of grace.

wente vineyards restauarant

Visit Wente’s restaurant in the Livermore Valley for this feast. But keep it simpler when entertaining at home. [Photo by Nader Khouri.]

I have to say I took an instant liking to Christine for saying that my knowledge of, and experience with, wine demonstrates my abilities to entertain with savvy, regardless of my insecurities on the matter. And who I am I to argue with her conclusion?

Questions posed and answered in this episode:

  • Burgers and rosé? [Spoiler alert: A OK!]
  • How do you combat memories of past unruly Chardonnays?
  • Can you drink Cabernet in the heat?
  • What wines are vegetable-loving?
  • What decade did Wente start labeling wines as “Chardonnay” and “Sauvignon Blanc” The 1970s? 50s? 30s?
  • Do you call it a “crock pot” or “slow cooker“? WHERE DO YOU STAND?!?

Whoa, getting a little worked-up here. Let’s just get to the show:

Wine Without Worry: How To Uncork Great Outdoor Entertaining

Get Wine Without Worry on iTunes. And if you like it, please rate it.


The Greatest Seattle Sunset Ever and Four Rosés

Posted on: July 23rd, 2014 by

Piling on, but WOW! #seattle #sunset #nofilter

I have seen some beautiful Seattle sunsets in my ten years here, but none better than this recent one. Viewed from the top of Capitol Hill looking down on Lake Union, this and many other pictures blew up my Instagram feed. And for good reason.

With so many colorful shades and textures, it got me thinking about…rosé.

All these wines were sent to me as samples for my consideration. Starting with not one, not two, but three rosés from Ousterhout Wine. What did each have in common? All were from the 2013 vintage in California’s Russian River Valley (RRV), made from Pinot Noir, and exceptionally pale.

Ousterhout Rosé

Rosé plus The Golden Mean equals The Golden Rosé.

The label logo is an instrument you can use to produce the “Golden Mean“, which is a 1 to 1.6 ratio. The winery website explains the story behind this choice:

“This number reflects the relationship to perfection and beauty that is pervasive throughout nature such as the adjacent bones of the fingers, a chambered Nautilus, the Parthenon, the American flag, and female facial beauty….As a plastic surgeon specializing in facial feminization, Dr. [Douglas] Ousterhout uses the instrument that measures this ratio daily in his surgical procedures. For this reason, we have chosen it as our logo as we continually strive to craft the perfect wine.”

The Golden Mean is not something I’ve ever considered regarding how I perceive facial beauty, male or female. And fortunately I don’t have to disclose my ratio on Tinder or OK Cupid, which might put me in some sort of Leaden or Coal Lump Mean. Anyway, Dr. Ousterhout lets his winemaker make three rosés, which is my idea of a Golden Mean. Or, rather, a Rosé Mean.

The first two Ousterhout wines, the the RRV and RRV Woods Vineyard drank pretty similarly, but the 800 Vines Vineyard stood out for having the most prominent Pinot Noir character. In flavor and structure, it approached some of those qualities you’d find in an elegant red Pinot. I enjoyed all three.

Oh, and here’s what the Golden Mean looks like:

the golden meanRosé number four also comes from Sonoma County but rather from the RRV portion, the 2013 Tin Barn Vineyards  ”Joon” hails from the Sonoma Coast. Normally I back away slowly from rosé made from Syrah and likewise one with a color closer to red than pink. But there go my preconceived notions! It certainly had some backbone to it, but showed off an exuberant perkiness that made it really fun to drink. Joon will have red and pink wine lovers holding hands like sleeping sea otters.

tin barn vineyards joonI first heard of Tin Barn Vineyards thanks to my pal Elaine of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. You may remember Elaine from my podcast episode with her. Anyway, she introduced me to Amy Tsaykel over at the winery. I read an old blog post of hers and thought her writing was fantastic, and was really happy to get her to write on Grape Collective. Amy’s home is a 35-foot RV parked in a Sonoma vineyard, and she tells here tale here:

Vardo in the Vineyard: Romance, Uncertainty, and The Simple Life

The Top Ten Places in The World You Must Visit if You Love Wine

Posted on: July 18th, 2014 by

bay of fires taylors beach

Why does my post about picks for the ten best places in the world for wine lovers start with a photo of a beach and not of vineyards? Excellent question.

The answer? I fell in love with an ocean paradise located on the western coast of Tasmania in the beautiful area called “Bay of Fires”. And not only is this spectacular island full of white sand, blue waters, and orange-tinted rocks, but also sparkling wine, aromatic white wines, and Pinot Noir. Of all the places I’ve been, it’s number one on the list of spots I desperately want to see again.

My rationale behind selecting my personal top ten list? It was important not just to take into account the vineyards, but also all the other things that make a place memorable. So while it’s wine-centric guide, you’ll additionally find recommendations on where to eat, sleep, drink, hike, and more from local experts and authors.

So where can you discover Tasmania, along with my other nine picks? Here:

Grape Collective: Top Ten Wine Travel Destinations

Taylors Beach photo via Wikimedia Commons/Poco a poco.

top ten wine destinations

Getting to Know Oregon and Washington Albariño

Posted on: July 16th, 2014 by

abacela albarino 2013Are you familiar with the white wine grape, Albariño? It’s most famous in Spain, and you’ll see it in Portgual referred to as Alvarinho. But in Oregon? In Washington? Yes and yes, you’ll find Albariño in both states.

It’s wild to think that Abacela has been making it–from their own fruit, no less–since 2001. A seafood-loving, heat-busting wine, this Albariño is also notable for where it’s grown: not in the well-known Willamette Valley, but rather in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.

It seemed serendipitous that right after I had finished enjoying this sample bottle sent my way, I was off to Wenatchee, WA for the first time. And there I would expand upon my repertoire of Pacific Northwest Albariño.

Thanks to Visit Wenatchee, I was off for a weekend sojourn to the epicenter of apples. Spoiler alert: there would also be cherries. And (fermented) grapes.

wenatchee weather july

First things first. It was going to be scorching hot. Yowza! I was staying at the Warm Springs Inn and Winery, where the warmth comes from both Wenatchee in July and the owners, Julie and Ludger Szmania. Also, the Inn is located on “Love Lane“, so maybe that contributes to the overall vibe.

Veterans of the Seattle restaurant business, Julie and Ludger recently reopened the Inn. It’s a place and a lifestyle that provides a shift from the demands of their former occupation. (But Ludger still has that chef’s itch to always be in the kitchen, whether it involves Sunday brunch or cooking for an on-site wedding.)

So at 3:46 PM on a Saturday, with the temperature just about to crest into triple digits, I took a glass of lemonade down to the Wenatchee River, which conveniently flows right by the Warm Springs Inn backyard. Staking out a shady spot, I watched numerous folks on inner tubes float on by:

I see you floatin'. #wenatchee

Before I left for a food and wine event at Ohme Gardens, Julie and Ludger put a cold beer in front of me, which made them heroes in my eyes. I figured I’d need a beer before heading to an outdoor event in the hottest part of the day. Thankfully, the Ohme Gardens are surrounded by trees and shade. And even for someone who wilts in 80 degree heat, I managed to be much more comfortable than I thought possible:

ohme gardens

Ohme, oh my! Thankful for the shade.

It was here that I discovered an Albariño from Washington State: the 2013 Crayelle Cellars. It was definitely my wine of the night. Like the example from Abacela, it’s lively and refreshing. And the fact that I field-tested this in extreme heat should lend extra credence to my assessment.

Crayelle AlbariñoI returned back to the Warm Springs Inn for some triumphant beer and peeping of the super moon. Sunday brought a bike ride around the river along the Apple Capital Loop Trail (before it got murderously hot). Afterwards? Lunch at the super-cool Pybus Market.

At a spot called Fire, we enjoyed a multitude of wood-fired pizzas. The most notable being one with local cherries, bacon, and goat cheese. Then a gelato sample at Ice, an olive oil and vinegar tasting at D’Olivo, a quick wine tasting at Jones of Washington (I got the Sauv Blanc), and a coffee at Cafe Columbia to finish. If you’re wondering howl I drank hot coffee in that heat, the market is mercifully air-conditioned.

pybus market wenatchee

Wenatchee, I’ll be back!

Drinking Wine in Las Vegas: What’s Hot in the Heat

Posted on: July 14th, 2014 by

bellagio las vegas exterior

What wines are people drinking in Las Vegas? I turn to Head Sommelier of Michael Mina Bellagio, Cole Sisson, who stopped by my Wine Without Worry podcast to inform me of what’s hot in the world of fermented grapes. Some of the questions we tackle:

Las Vegas weather.

  • Coming from Seattle, what was it like that first night on the job, stepping out onto the floor of a fine dining destination in Las Vegas?
  • What do guests think of Washington wines; are they a tough sell?
  • When will Riesling rise to heights unseen as the ultimate white wine?
  • What’s it like to see a whole foie gras brought to customers and carved tableside?
  • OK, what if you are actually outside in Vegas, what do you drink to combat the heat?

Find out on this episode:

Wine Without Worry: What Happens In Vegas When It Comes to Wine

Get Wine Without Worry on iTunes. And if you enjoy the show, please rate it.

More with Cole on Grape Collective, including thoughts on pairing wine with meatless dishes.

Bellagio photo courtesy MGM Resorts International.

Easy Apricot Chicken Paired With Wine

Posted on: July 11th, 2014 by

easy apricot chickenDo you know my pal Peabody? She is a creator of culinary concoctions, but none more curious than the one I’m about to share with you.

As part of her blog series encouraging newlyweds to get in the kitchen and cook together, Peabody has put together some no-fuss recipes. (Think one pot dishes.) And then she has a 42 year-old bachelor (me) come up with wine pairings. So what are the ingredients in this Easy Apricot Chicken? Just four. But I’d say a couple of them are rather…unexpected:

  • Chicken (duh)
  • Apricot jam (pretty much duh, too)
  • Dried onion soup mix (huh?)
  • Russian dressing (what the…?!?!)

As Peabody says, “When I tell people what is in this they are horrified.” (Guilty as charged.) BUT, she reports, they all enjoy the finished dish. There’s also a sweet history behind this recipe, a little window into Peabody’s life from 8th grade. Additionally, the introduction to her post has some musings and advice concerning Three Relationship Rules. It’s full of charm and candor.

Check out the entire post, get the exact recipe, and find out my wine picks. I recommend four Washington wines: a still and a sparkling duo in both semi-sweet and dry form.

Love and Marriage: Newlywed Easy Apricot Chicken

Thanks to Peabody for the use of her photo. Peruse previous pairings with Peabody.

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