From the Cellar: Be it resolved: Better wines at sweeter prices - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

From the Cellar: Be it resolved: Better wines at sweeter prices

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Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 10:35 pm | Updated: 10:28 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A few years ago, some friends gave me one of those refrigerator magnets that reads: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” I loved the sentiment at the time, and have now decided it will be my mantra for the new year.

So while everyone is out there vowing to exercise, lose weight or quit smoking for their New Year’s Resolution, mine is to drink better wine.

Mind you, drinking Chateau d’Yqem and Margaux and Opus One represents an express route to the poorhouse, and you can drink better quality wines without jeopardizing your children’s college fund.

But you don’t have to drink swill, either. Two Buck Chuck set off a frenzy the past few years with its magical $1.99 price point, and retailers everywhere are trying to keep pace. Charles Shaw may be exclusive to Trader Joe’s, but others have locked up their exclusives like Pacific Grove with Total Wine & More and Oak Leaf at Wal-Mart.

Trader Joe’s goes further and touts that it carries more than 100 labels at a time under 10 bucks.

Now, when I say to drink better wine without breaking the bank, these are not the wines I’m referring to. I may cook with these or even add fruits and juice for sangria. No, there’s a special new price range that I’m looking at that stretches from $15 to $29. This is my new sweet spot.

Here, you find sub-regions and vineyard-specific wines so you can learn more about areas within an appellation — i.e. Carneros, Mt. Veeder or XYZ Estate within Napa. You won’t find this under 10 bucks in most cases. Plus, with this added information and appreciation for more specific areas, you hone your tasting skills and can share them with your friends. I’ve listed below a couple recent examples of wine that fit this new criteria, and I’ve been able to get a head start on my new resolution to drink better wines.

Finally, as 2008 comes to a close and we look forward to the new year, be sure to check out my new wine and spirits blog at I’ll continue to bring you updates and information from the world of wine and spirits, and offer everyday ideas for their enjoyment. Be sure to post your ideas and comments, and tell me what you’re drinking. Happy New Year!

Rust En Vrede 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa. This is exactly what I’m talking about; you can’t properly sample the Stellenbosch appellation under 10 bucks. You gain a sense of the terroir in this tightly structured, beautiful wine with loads of bright red fruit. Chocolate spice and tobacco are part of the fun. $27.

Sanford Winery 2006 Chardonnay, California. I would swim in this if I could. I love the tropical impressions of Santa Barbara chards and this one just explodes out of the glass. Again, you receive the “micro” treatment with fruit that is sourced from three different estate locations in Santa Barbara County to make one lovely dram. Nice citrus and acidity keeps the wine balanced and food-friendly. $25.

Brazin 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel, California. This wine is aptly named for sure. You’re practically hit over the head with bold spice and fruit aromas and intense berry-cherry and black plum flavors. Rich tannins and vanilla-wood notes extend the finish. Added nuance comes from fruit sourced for 35- to 80-year-old vines from the Lodi region. $19.

Mettler Family Vineyards 2005 Petite Sirah, California. I feel like you could fill one of those old-fashioned fountain pens with this stuff and continue writing your pen pal. The stuff is nearly black, which comes through with richly layered plum and blackberry and mocha-oak flavors. The owners are also known as stewards of the land at Lodi and farm their properties organically. $25.

Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec, Argentina. Here’s another good illustration of stepping away from $10-and-under and finding something special. Sure, it’s exotic because it’s malbec from Argentina, but it’s also from a remote appellation outside of the expected Mendoza region at San Juan. The higher altitude here results in a longer growing season and more nuance. The palate is sensual and lively with good structure and balance. $20.

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