Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wine Review: Villa San Juliette Winery's "Romantique"

Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent found a talent for something else... winemaking. Or at least it says something like that on the back of the bottle... But I don't watch that stuff - so why did I buy this bottle?

Well, if you've been reading this blog at all (over the course of its now two week life), I bought it for the price! On the shelf I saw $18.99... and then I saw ON SALE! And then I saw $7.99. I didn't even look. I just bought. Rule number one of buying wine on a budget: never pass up a great sale.

This 2005 vintage Romantique is a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah. The lovely and delicious grapes in that list are grown in the Paso Robles region of California. Once out of the bottle these youthful grapes assume a deep, dark ruby hue.

Aromas are stronger than most wines in the under $20 category. I sensed currant and leather, a bit of coffee and baker's chocolate with a whiff of burnt caramel.

Romantique is smooth in the mouth, the silky tannins providing a good structure and mouthfeel. I tasted a bit of cranberry and green apple in this tart sampling.

Pair this wine with a simply prepared filet mignon or sirloin with golden crispy fries.


I've had better, but this is fairly good wine. At this price I may go back and pick up some more to see how it tastes after some time in the cellar. Look for another review on this wine in six months to a year.

4 of 5 glasses

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wine Review: M. Chapoutier Belleruche

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is by far my favorite travel show. So, last week, when I watched Bourdain's episode in Provence France, I took note of the wines. Bourdain, though not a huge wine guy, does love the fermented grape product of Côtes du Rhône. I pondered for a moment before it hit me... I've never had a French wine! It thus became my mission to sample something from this ancient grape producing region.

Belleruche, by M. Chapoutier is an elegant, big red wine. In the past several years, Belleruche has been crafted from a variety of grapes, but as best I can tell, the 2007 I sampled is a blend of primarily grenache noir, with some (perhaps 10%) syrah grapes. Robert Parker, a.k.a. "the man with the 2 million dollar nose," gave this vintage 89 out of 100 points, which would qualify as an excellent wine. By his rating system, anything between 90 and 95 is "outstanding," and 96 to 100 "extraordinary."
Anyway, when I saw this 89 point wine for $11.99 I quickly snatched up a bottle and brought it home!

The Côtes du Rhône (literally Banks of the Rhone) of Southern France has been producing wine since before the Roman state occupied Europe. These are some really freaking old vineyards! European Kings so loved the wines of this region that government began to regulate wine quality as early as 1750. It is a romantic and beautiful part of the world. Just look at these vineyards! If you don't want to take up residence in that fantastic villa and spend the rest of your days relaxing in the sun and enjoying the indigenous food and drink - there is probably something wrong with you.

Enough with the region... I should get to the wine.

I will be blunt, it was very good, but it was just not my favorite wine. It does have an elegant bottle, and what I believe is actually braille on the label - an interesting feature I've not seen before. The actual product is a rich dark cherry red, and crystal clear when held to the light.

The aromas are moderate by my standards, and relatively youthful. Let this wine air for a while in a decanter and it should improve. Cellar it for three years and it may be fantastic. There is a distinct scent of cherry but little more in the nose aside from the grape.

In the mouth, there are easily detectable notes of cherry. A moderate cassis tartness tingles the taste buds. This, like many of the wines you will read of here, is certainly dry and acidic, but I felt this was a good taste of fruit without being sweet at all. It definitely has some body to its flavor as well. The flavors linger for about 5 seconds and dissipate with a slight warmth.

And so all this leads me to a question: Is it acceptable to enjoy a French wine with a cheeseburger? I certainly did. This bottle accompanied a juicy homemade burger topped with swiss, mayo and ketchup. Nothing fancy... But you really can't go wrong pairing a red wine with red meat.


This is a very good wine to be sure, but it lacked some of the complexity I look for. I would have no problem serving it in my home, but I probably wouldn't give it as a gift. Then again, I'm not an expert - I'm just a guy that enjoys red wine. And if I've learned anything in my life it is that each palate is different. So don't hesitate to try this one out. You may disagree with me.

4 of 5 glasses

Friday, March 26, 2010

Screw the cork!

Could you would you in a bar? Could you would you in a car? I would and I could in a bar and in lands afar and with a Czar... but I would not, could not in a car because that would be irresponsible and foolish and illegal. I guess I lost the rhyme there. What would I do in all those places but a car? I'd screw a cork! So, let's talk about Cork Screws!

Look, there are a hundred ways to take the cork out of a bottle of wine... Well, maybe not a hundred. The fastest way of course is to break the bottle, but that is inadvisable unless you're about to launch a ship or Christen a bridge or something, and the rest of us don't do things like that. We prefer to drink our wine. So... Let me rephrase. There are several ways to take the cork out of a bottle of wine. Let's discuss.


I confess, I have never actually tried a "traditional" cork screw. To me, it looks like too much work. You screw the device into the cork and then you pull... and pull... and pull....... and PULL!!!! Look, it's cheap. You can pick one up for a few bucks. But you don't need to do 5 hours a week of upper-body strength training to enjoy a bottle of wine. There HAS to be a better way!


This thing is GREAT! My absolute favorite cork screw. What? You hate it? Really? My guess is you're not using it properly.

Most folks, like myself, start out trying to pull one of these like they are wielding a good old-fashioned traditional cork screw. That's fine I suppose - You'll get the cork out, but you're going to be downing a dose of Doan's pills with that next sip. And Archimedes... well he is laughing at us. When properly used, this is the least expensive, easiest way to get to the goodies inside that luscious bottle. There are four steps to proper usage - if you know them, skip ahead to the next de-corking mechanism. If you do not... read on!

First - screw the corkscrew into the cork. Begin by gently, but firmly and consistently applying pressure to the top of the cork - pressing as you manually twist. Just like starting a nail, you have to hold on tight and give it a tap or two before you can hammer it in!

Second - Twist away. Once you have the thing started, just let it go. Give it several good twists until you bury the twisty-screw part (there has to be a real name for that) into the cork.

Third - Pull. This is where most of us make our mistakes. This is where Archimedes laughs and says "give me a place to stand and I will move the earth." What did he know that could move the earth - let alone a cork? Look - This device is all about the application of leverage, and proper
usage is key. You know that metal flip-out part that you keep ignoring? That's the secret. Place that part against the rim of the bottle and hold it firmly in place as you pull up on the opposite end of the black handle. Look! I took the picture to the left after barely giving a tug - let alone breaking a sweat!

Fourth: Enjoy your wine! The bottom line is that this is a great, easy to use, compact, and inexpensive corkscrew! You can pick it up anywhere for under $5. Buy one!


This is a lovely cork screw. The Rabbit is one of the latest innovations in the art of removing corks from bottles - and it is certainly a pleasure to use. The big concern I have is the cost. Now, before I begin I must admit to owning one of these. I think I paid around $20 for mine ten years ago. It's a nice device. It came with an extra screw and a blade for removing the foil wrap from the cap of the bottle. Predictably, I lost the replacement screw and the blade...

This little guy (aww aren't rabbits cute) really does make cork-removal a snap. Just clamp the device around the cap of the bottle; push down; pull up. Voila! What could be simpler?

The real question is what could be, what is more expensive and obtuse? You're going to spend more than you need on one of these. That's the bottom line. And did I say "little?" No... Must have been a mistake. This guy takes up a lot of space. Mine won't fit into my kitchen gadget drawer. I have to keep it in a cabinet. Yeah it's easy to use, but why spend the money for something that won't fit in a drawer?


Look... it has wings! This is a fine cork screw if it's what you like. It's simple to operate. Just place the guide around the rim of the bottle, twist the handle until the wings rise completely, and then push the wings down to extract the cork. This isn't bad. It's easy to use and efficient. My only beef is the price. It will set you back around $10. It isn't too expensive, but you can achieve de-corked bottle bliss for less for the same time investment with a waiter corkscrew. Save your money.


Seriously? Okay - I get it. Maybe you have arthritis. Maybe you can only use one arm. Or, maybe you're just lazy.

Whatever the case, this handy device will remove a cork and you'll never break a sweat! How do I know? Well... I don't. I don't have $100 to spend on a bottle of wine. I certainly don't have $100 to spend on a cork screw!

Cork-less bottles

Sometimes bottles don't have corks. These bottles can be great, and they can be terrible. I just picked up a bottle of a 2006 Italian... Monte Antico Toscana (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon) for $11.99 (review coming soon). According to my local wine merchant, this is a wonderfully delicious sip of wine. Then again, Mad Dog 20/20 has a screw-top cap. And I won't even bother to characterize the flavors of that bottle.

Happy un-corking!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wine Review: Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah

Which Petite Sirah snatched Gold at the 2009 Riverside International Wine Competition? Well, there were three: Mettler, Clayhouse and Bogle. But one of these wines is not like the other. At $10.99, Bogle is half the cost of the other two golds. And it is the winner of numerous silver and bronzes. Most importantly, it tastes fantastic - and that is why I want to tell you about it.

This 2007 Petite Sirah is grown in Bogle's 1200 acre Graton California vineyards. The Bogle family has farmed the land since the mid 1800's, but in 1968 it was the father and son team of Warren and Chris Bogle who first planted grapes. And I would like to thank them - forty years later.

Honestly, the first thing I noted was the price - but the bottle artwork is handsome and refined. In the glass, this wine has a very deep, very dark plum color and there a hint of a smoky, haziness detectable when held to the light.

The aromas are moderate, but harmonious. Notes of green tea, pepper and blackberry waft from the glass and fill the nose.

I tasted this wine, swallowed, smiled and whispered "that is fantastic." It really is. The flavors are not incredibly intense, but they grow with each sip as the petite body of this red fills the palate. There is a deliciously butterscotch smoothness in the sip, perhaps a caramel. I also noted a hint of toasted pecan, oak, pepper, and a mild smoke flavor. Tannins come to the party, but play their part well and are only mildly astringent. The finish is a nice lingering 5 seconds.

I found myself craving a smoky, fatty, grilled rosemary lamb-chop, but any hearty red meat would fit the bill. Spaghetti with meatballs would be another possibility.

I really only have one complaint about this wine. It is the first time I have ever spilled a glass of wine, and it's lusciously rich plum hue threatened to forever stain my beige carpet. After a little work I managed to extract the stain. Maybe I should write an article about stain removal.


At $10.99 I feel this wine was a true bargain, and with nothing to complain of other than my personal clumsiness, I heartily recommend this wonderful California red.

4.5 of 5 glasses

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wine Review: Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon

You know the Devil is like Satan... from Hell. Or maybe he's just an impish sprite in a red leotard that likes to frolic in Chilean cellars and imbibe the fruit of the vine. If you were to ask the opinion of Don Melchor, he would probably go with the latter.

Last night I went down to the Devil's cellar and picked up a bottle of 2008 Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon. This dry red is produced in the Central Valley region of Chile by Concha y Toro and can be had for $9.99.

If I'm not mistaken, Concha y Toro translates to Shell and Bull - so what's all this about the Devil? I did a little investigating and snagged this tid-bit from the vintner's website: "Over a century has passed since Don Melchor created a legend. When he discovered his finest Concha y Toro wines were missing he spread the word that the devil lived in his cellar. From that day, the wine has been known as Casillero del Diablo, the devil's cellar."

Enough with the legend - let's talk about the wine! This bargain red has a deep ruby hue. The first whiff I got was the cassis or black currant. The cassis scent is predominant but after some work other aromatic notes are detectable. There is a hint of blackberry and a woody, smoky vanilla lingers from the eight-months this young wine spent in American Oak barrels.

The flavor is a cassis-fest as well. A quick note: Cassis = currant. Apparently we Americans prefer the French "cassis." Perhaps this is owed to our familiarity with creme de cassis, the liquor responsible for the fruitiness of a Tequilla Sunrise. I digress. The tartness of the cassis is overpowering. Yet subtle notes of dark roasted coffee and cherry come through and dance lightly on the taste-buds. After further tasting something takes me back to the waking hours of a backpacking trip through North Carolina - possibly the not-quite ripe blackberries I had for breakfast and the lingering odor of the still-smoldering camp fire.

The finish is short - lingering for three seconds or so and disappearing with a breath of alcohol. This wine has an astringent quality owed to the tannins, making it a little more bitter than I prefer. It would pair well with any red meat or cheese. Something about this wine makes me crave a good crispy salty peppery pork chop - something fatty to cut the acid. Alas, I settled for a little dark chocolate as I was fresh out of pig.


Overall I am not wowed by this Chilean Cab. The cassis comes on far too strong and prevents the drinker from enjoying the hints of coffee.
Melchor concocted the devil legend to keep people out of his cellar. I'll heed his warning next time.

3 out of 5 glasses

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Hello wine liking person! Welcome to Reds (For the Rest of Us)!

I'd like to take a moment to just tell you a little bit about this blog, myself, and my love of red wines.

My goal is to introduce you the reader to quality red wines that won't murder your wallet. This blog was an idea I have been mentally juggling for the past few months. You can go on the Internet, or visit any wine shop, and hear about $30, $50... $100 wines. Are they fantastic wines? Of course they are, if you can afford them. The rest of us can't. We look for that bargain brand on the bottom shelf. And we all know it - most bargain wines suck. But I am going to share a secret... there are some diamonds in the rough out there. Here, you will find the best of the budget - and if I have to be so unlucky, the worst as well.

I'm not a wine connoisseur. In fact, I've only discovered my love of wines in the past few years. I've never read a book on wines. I've never taken a class in wine tasting. I'm new at this - so bear with me. While I am no professional, I am passionate and excited about red wines that are pleasing to the pocketbook as well as the palate.

Stay tuned! The first review is coming soon!