Wines under $20

It’s Playtime in Lake County!

It’s Playtime in Lake County!

The Playtime label is part of the Shannon Ridge family of wines, based out of Lake County.  The label produces only two wines, a red blend and a Chardonnay.  The fun labels are a tribute to pin-up stars from the World War II era, and each bottle features either red hair for the red wine or blonde hair for the Chardonnay.  I’m not normally sold on wines that rely on nifty labels, so I was a little skeptical but once I tasted the wines I was pleasantly surprised.

2012 Playtime, Red Wine, Lake County

playtime-redBlend: 61% Zinfandel, 20% Grenache, 11% Petite Verdot, 8% Barbera

Alcohol: 14.2%

Production: 1,250 cases

Retail price: $15.99

This is pretty interesting blend, and it works quite well together.  The nose is predominantly cherries with a hint of vanilla oak.  On the palate there’s decent ripe fruit, but enough tannins to stop this wine from being a flabby jammy run of the mill wine.  The mouth feel is silky and there’s a hint of peppery spice on the back end.

This would make a decent wine to serve with summer bbq fare, especially ribs or pizza or even a good meaty tomato based pasta dish.







playtime-blonde2012 Playtime Blonde, Chardonnay, Lake County

Blend: 100% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 13.9%

Production: 2,500 cases

Retail price: $13

Playtime Blonde is a straight forward easy drinking Chardonnay.  A citrus based aroma and palate with toasty vanilla oak and a little minerality make it more complex than I was expecting for a $13 Chardonnay.  Pleasantly surprised.

*disclaimer this wine was received as a sample review

Shannon Ridge Wines



Review | Yaso 2012 Toro

wine bottle label

Yaso 2012 Toro

Yaso 2012 Toro

Blend: 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo)

Aging: 6 months, French oak

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price point: $15-$20.  I bought this bottle at Costco for just under $10

In my most recent article I mentioned that I have been exploring a lot of Spanish wines lately.  I am still extremely fond of Napa, but my budget is really liking my frugal side, and actually my palate has been really pleasantly surprised.

This wine is no exception.  This is a really nice big bold, well-rounded wine.  I decanted for an hour and sampled the wine over a 4 hour period and then again after 24 hours decanting.  The wine opened up nicely after an hour.  The nose is predominantly blackberry with a hint of cherry pie.  The palate is big, robust and drier than I expected – a good thing.  This would be a Cabernet lovers Tempranillo.  A little spice, a little chocolate a little licorice a little ripeness.  Not too much of each, and some very nice texture on the back end that reminds me of “Rutherford dust”  a texture like fine dust or chalk that gives the wine a nice weighty mouth-feel. The 13.5% alcohol is really a nice change from a lot of the new world wines which are loaded up with a generally pretty crappy cheap port like sweetness from too much alcohol.  This wine rocks.  Especially for only $10.  This would be a decent bargain at $20.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 94 points, awesome.

The back of this wine bottle has a little map and some interesting information about the climate and vineyard.

The vines are at about 2,200-2,400 feet in clay and limestone soil.  The average April to October temperature is 61.3F, which to me is pleasant because in Phoenix where I live the average temperature during that time is about 85F.  Annual rainfall in the Toro region is only about 16 inches, which makes it quite a bit drier than Napa Valley



4 inexpensive and tasty Spanish wines


On a recent trip to Orlando Florida I found myself at Whole Foods buying the wine for a business dinner.  I don’t normally shop at Whole Foods where I live in Phoenix because there isn’t one nearby.  It was interesting seeing a new variety of selections to choose from.  I decided to go with an all Spanish mix.

Can Blau 2012

Can Blau 2009

2009 Can  Blau, Montsant Spain

Blend: 40% Carinena, 40% Syrah, 20% Garnacha

Aging: 1 year French oak

This is a big wine.  It would benefit from some decanting.  It has a powerful mouth feel, solid acidity. The fruit profile is predominantly cherry and plum with some toasty oak and pepper notes.

Price Point:  About $10-$15 although I have seen it at Costco for under $10

Weekly Wine Journal rating 87 points, good value.



2011 Torremoron Ribera del Duero

2011 Torremoron Ribera del Duero

Bodegas Torremoron, Ribera del Duero 2011

Blend: 100% Tempranillo

This wine is a ridiculously good bargain.  The amazing purity of really shines through and is made all the more interesting by the fact that this red wine is un oaked.

Deep and rich, ripe.  Cherries, black berries with licorice and spice.  The color is a beautiful ruby color.  The nose is perfume like, in a subtle way.  The tannins are fantastic with a dusty, earthy, chalky like texture.  If you’re not much of a wine drinker I know that last description sounds awful, but it’s really not.  It’s a mouth feel not a taste.

Price Point: $10-$15

Weekly Wine Journal rating 90 points, amazing deal


bodegas LAN Crianza 2008

bodegas LAN Crianza 2008

Bodegas LAN, Rioja Crianza 2008

Blend: 100% Tempranillo

Aging: 12 months American and French oak

This is the lightest wine of the group, not only in color but also in weight and taste.  Light and fruity, yet still tangy and chewy.  The nose is subdued, not apparent at first sniff.  This wine was not my favorite on the first night of it being open so I left the entire bottle out over night.  The next night there was a dramatic improvement.  The wine really came together and benefited from about 24 hours of decanting.

Weekly Wine Journal rating 87 points, a decent wine


Bodegas LAN Reserva 2007

Bodegas LAN Reserva 2007

Bodegas LAN, Rioja Reserva, 2007

Blend: 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo

Aging: 15 months American and French oak

Of the  four wines tasted, this was my favorite.  It’s a big wine that doesn’t act like one.  The acidity is in check, the balance of fruit to oak is very nice.  The fruit is dark, predominantly black cherry.  The acidity, oak and ripeness play together nicely like ginger and vanilla and caramel.

Price Point: $15-$20

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 94 points, a great wine.




Fabre Montmayour Gran Reserva Malbec 2010

Fabre Montmayour Gran Reserva, Malbec 2010, Mendoza Argentina

Fabre Montamayour Gran Reserva Malbec100% Malbec

Aging: 12 months French Oak

Alcohol: 14.5%

Retail Price: $15-$20

The Fabre Montmayour winery sits at 3,800 feet just outside of Mendoza city.  The French owners acquired the vineyard in the 1990’s and built the winery thereafter.  The vineyards actually date back to 1908, and the vines used in the Gran Reserva Malbec are 60+ years old.

In tasting this wine I immediately noted a sense of terroir that was familiar but out of place.  In researching the owners French background it began to make sense.  This wine drinks much more like a Bordeaux or Cahors in terms of it’s unique characteristics.

This is a big dry wine, no mistake about that.  If you’re looking for a fruity Malbec you’re out of luck and should hit the backspace button immediately.  But if you like big Cabernets and Shiraz’s and want to try something different and relatively inexpensive then this is your wine.

On the nose: bouquet of wild berries, forest and cigar spice.  On the palate:  Robust tannins, black berry, anise and more spice.  No hint of alcoholic heat. The finish is where the earthy, funky terroir appears subtly.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 88 points

Wine Review | Robert Craig 2009 Affinity, Napa Valley

Wine Review | Robert Craig 2009 Affinity, Napa Valley

I’ve had the ’09 vintage of Robert Craig’s “Affinity” before, but it recently caught my attention at my local Costco -priced at under $40! I couldn’t pass it up.

Great napa wine

I have an Affinity for this wine!

The blend on the 2009 Affinity is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 2 % Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator had estimated the wines maturity to occur  between 2012-2013 and 2017-2023. While there is quite a bit of difference on the back end of that estimate, they are very close on the start. As I write this post it is about halfway through 2013 and this wine is definitely coming into its own right now.

The nose is quintessential Napa.  espresso, cocoa, with floral hints from the Cabernet Franc .  The palate is rich, dark and robust.  Plum and cherry with a solid backbone of tannins provided by the Petit Verdot.

I sampled this over a 24 hour period.  Enjoying the first half of the bottle with grilled Filet Mignon and baked potato with all the fixings.  On the second night I had it just by itself, before dinner.  The wine definitely opened up by the second night, which is not to say it wasn’t ready to drink on the first night.  On the first night I decanted for 15 minutes only.

Retail price on this wine is about $55.  You can expect to pay $80-$120 at a restaurant.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 96 points

Wine Review | Cline Cellars | 2012 Viognier, North Coast

Wine Review | Cline Cellars | 2012 Viognier, North Coast

cline celars bottle

Cline Cellars 2012 Viognier

Before I get into the wine review, the history of how Cline Cellars came to be is worth noting.  Current vineyard owner Fred Cline’s maternal grandfather was Valeriano Jacuzzi.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell maybe just the name Jacuzzi does.  Yes, the hot tub/spa/whirlpool.  Fred’s grandfather and six brothers started out as machinists and then pump builders before they finally became synonymous with the whirlpool spa industry.

Fred graduated from U.C. Davies and in 1982 he started Cline Cellars.  Originally his operation was located near Oakley, then in 1991 he relocated to a 350 acre piece of land in Carneros

I recently received several wines for review from the Cline Cellars portfolio and of particular distinction was the 2012 Viognier. This wine was actually very nice.   And at a suggested retail price of only $12 it’s a real bargain.

Most of the grapes for this wine come from the Mendocino region.  This area is prone to cool coastal fog overnight and even into midday.  Ideal for this varietal.

What did I find particularly pleasant about this wine?  The wine is particularly weighty, if that makes sense.  I find most Viogniers to be pleasantly light, whereas this wine came in as a bit of a heavy weight.  And that is a good thing, because the alcohol content is 14%.  If there wasn’t enough deep, intense fruit the alcohol would have really been hot and unpleasant.  As it is now, the alcohol actually added a bit of ripeness to the mix.  The fruit is tropical in nature, with a pretty, flowery/rose like nose.

On the finish, the wine was ripe, rich and delicious.  The acidity is just right, just enough to create a slight zing to smooth and supple mouthfeel.

Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 95 points

A trip to Wisconsin’s Wollersheim Winery

Typically when we think of American wine, we think of California, Oregon or Washington.  Wine aficionados may know of the hidden gems produced in Arizona and New York.  But have you ever heard of Wisconsin wine?

wisconsin wineYou might be surprised to hear that a little winery from Wisconsin has won some big awards.  Wollersheim winery  from Prarie du Sac, Wisconsin took home “Winery of the Year”  at the San Diego International Wine Competition.  They entered 6 wines in the competition and  took home an unprecedented 6 platinum medals from San Diego, while winning best of class Riesling and Syval.  Wollersheim also won “Best of Show” honors at the Eastern International Wine Competition this spring.  Not only that but I just did a quick search of Vintank’s Winery Social Media Index, and Wollersheim was actually ranked #46 in the world for its social engagement.  These are no small feats for a little winery from Wisconsin!

I decided to travel to Wisconsin and see for myself what all the excitement was about.  Being from Phoenix, Arizona I was extremely lucky that Wisconsin was in the midst of an historic spring heat wave!  The temps were almost 40F above normal!

The Wollersheim property actually has some amazing history behind it.   A Hungarian nobleman named Agoston Haraszthy first planted vines there in the 1840’s.

wisconsin wine

The original wine tasting room built in 1847

Haraszthy left in 1849 for California where he ended up hiring Charles Krug!  The winery was taken over by the Kehl family and they continued to make wine until 1899 when Jacob Kehl died.  The Kehl family stopped making wine but continued to work the farm until 1972.

In 1972 Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim bought the property.  They began restoring the property into a working vineyard and winery.  They replanted the hills with vines, and restored the underground wine cellars.  Current wine maker Philippe Coquard first visited the winery in 1984 when he was on an exchange program from his native France.  Well he ended up marrying Robert and JoAnn’s eldest daughter, Julie and now they both run the vineyard and winery.

The Wollersheim Vineyard property is as quaint and scenic as many of the secluded Napa vineyards.  An interesting sidenote:  The winery is located just 10 miles from the town of Lodi – – – Wisconsin!

Wisconsin wine

Click on this picture to see the full size version

wisconsin wine

The original wine cellar

Wollersheim’ s vines are planted on one of the few substantial slopes in the region.  Being from Arizona, and having lived in British Columbia, the landscape in Wisconsin looked REALLY flat to me.  The hills overlooking the winery are top out at just over 1,000 feet and are actually some of the tallest in the region.

wisconsin wine

Original wine cave

I sat down for my afternoon tasting and manged to taste every one of Wollersheims wines.  I mentioned before that Wollersheim was a little winery, well it was during my tasting I found out they are actually pretty HUGE.

Wollersheim and sister winery Cedar Creek produced 220,000 gallons of wine in 2011!!  Not all the fruit is estate grown, and infact the award winning Riesling comes from Washington State. In total Wollersheim produces 1.1 million bottles of wine using fruit from Wisconsin, Washington State and New York.  Wollersheim and Cedar Creek harvested 125 tons of Estate and Wisconsin-grown grapes and produced 21,000 gallons of wine in 2011.

wisconsin wine

The Wine Cow

My favorite wine was Wollersheim Dry Riesling made from custom grown fruit in Washington State.  I found this wine to be a little drier than wines of Mosel, but still quite similar.  For $9 a bottle this is one of the most amazing wine deals I have ever come across.  I actually blurted out: “Why is it so cheap??”  This wine could easily sell for $30 a bottle.  In fact most  of Wollersheims wines are under $10 with their most expensive running $20

If you ever come across this wine buy it!  And if you’re ever near Madison Wisconsin, it would be worth your while to take a trip to Wollersheim Winery!

Wollersheim Winery Dry Riesling: 96 points Weekly Wine Journal

Here is a video of my visit


Brancott Estate | Marlborough

Brancott Estate, Marlborough New Zealand

2010 Sauvignon Blanc | 2010 Pinot Noir

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a private wine tasting for wine industry sales people and among the selection were two wines from New Zealand’s Brancott Estate.

Brancott estate wineBrancott Estate Wines started in 1934 as Montana Wines, but recently changed their name to Brancott Estate.  The Brancott vineyard was their flagship vineyard and so they thought it appropriate to make the change.

Brancott were among the first to plant pinot noir in the Marlborough region and also among the first to recognize that Sauvignon Blanc was going to be huge for New Zealand.

Speaking of the Sav-blanc, here’s the info:

The wine has a pleasantly ripe aroma and palate.  Tropical fruit intermingled with lemon grass spice.  And I mean exactly like dried lemon grass spice.  I actually have a bottle of this spice on hand to help people understand wine terminology.  The wine is straight forward, uncomplicated but not flabby or boring.   I think this is a pretty good deal at $10 to $15 retail depending on where you shop.

The pinot noir was interesting.  I am so much more used to the various flavor profiles of California pinots.  This one was quite a bit different.  Not as complex as some of the big names, but I think it’s quite a steal at $10 to $15 retail.

Aromas of cherries and strawberry with a fruit forward palate with the nice little added kick of cinnamon spice.  The big difference with the majority of California Pinots is that this wine had a decent funky earthy quality to it.

Weekly Wine Journal rating on both wines: 89 points

Scott McWilliam shares some of his new wines

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Scott McWilliam, 6th generation Australian wine maker for McWilliam’s wines.  A quick primer on McWilliam’s: Founded in 1877,  McWilliam’s is Australia’s most awarded winery.  They won 40 trophies and 889 medals in 2009 alone! Scott has been making wine since age 14 and has spent time in Bordeaux.

We tasted several wines in this sitting including Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and a special Bordeaux blend called “Jack’s Blend”

A quick video introducing  Jack’s Blend:

A quick video introducing McWilliam’s Cabernet:

an even quicker video introducing McWilliam’s Riesling:

McWilliam’s WEBSITE

Wine Review | Quivira Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley

Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel, 2009, Dry Creek Valley

Dry creek zinfandel

Quivira 2009 Zinfandel

Appellation: Dry Creek Valley

Blend: 83% Zinfandel, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 2% Grenache

Aging: 14 months American, French and Hungarian Oak. Less than 20% new

Alcohol: 14.8%

Production: 5363 cases

Suggested Retail: $20   *received as sample*

Quivira Vineyards and winery is located in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California and was founded in 1981 by Holly and Henry Wendt.  In 2006 the vineyard was purchased by Pete and Terri Kight and they quickly brought in some interesting changes.  Their new direction was to focus everyone involved in the vineyard on creating world class wines.  To refocus the vineyard crew from a quantity centric mind set, to a quality centric mind set.  The Kights also added additional high elevation vineyard land and some amazing 100 year old zinfandel vines.

In addition to the quality goals, the Kights made some very big changes in the practices department.  Quivira is a holistic and biodynamic vineyard.  An example of this approach is that instead of using synthetic fertilizers, Quivira uses compost and cover crops to feed the vines.

Quivira’s 2009 Zinfandel is the only wine they produce that is not 100% estate grown.  According to the info on the back of the bottle, this wine is sourced from “12 diverse vineyard lots”

The first thing I noticed in this wine was a nice vibrant and intense nose.  Plums and berries, but also a fairly strong whiff of alcohol.  However, the aroma of alcohol was not out of balance with the fruit on the palate.  The palate was ripe and plummy with a good dose of pepper.  Zinfandel can quickly deteriorate into a wine dimensional raisin liquer but Quivira’s 09 Zin manages to stay out of that fray.  The wine does have jammy components, but remains dry and complex enough to savor, rather than merely tolerate.

Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 90 points