It's a blog for winelovers. It's a blog for slackers. It's the lazy drinker's reference for cheap, high value wines. You know, the bargain wines you just don't know if you should take a chance on; maybe in the supermarket or drug store. If you want advice on grand cru, well, everyone knows where to get that: get yourself one of those slick, expensive mags. This is a blog, man; prices and spellings are the best we can do, but, don't hold us to 'em. Photos are under copyright.

Monday, July 30, 2007

On the road again. The 'slacker, traveling South from L.A. with the sophisticated companion and mystery lover, head to a family birthday party in Vista, California. Well, where to stay the night while in Vista? Little did we know that Vista would be hoppin'. No room at the Inn. Ok, when life hands ya lemons, make a lemon martini, right? Temecula, it turns out, is not that far from Vista and is on the way too. A family obligation suddenly turns into a wine opportunity! A chance to revisit the wine scene in Northern San Diego county.

Now, Temecula, as wineheads in California are well aware, is one of those fast growing, formerly rural towns, stuck between the megalopolis of Los Angeles and San Diego (the town with more sunny days than any other in the U.S., where everybody wants to live, but nobody can find a job). Temecula has a very strong history of agriculture and long has had wine grapes growing on its sun drenched hill sides. With its acres of empty land, proximity to San Diego and L.A., why wouldn't it be the perfect Southern spot for wine production? Well, it's just damn hot there in Temecula. It's right on the edge of what any human in his or her right mind would call desert. It does have a saving grace, from a wine growing point of view, however. There is a line of substantial hills separating Temecula from the cool breezes of the Pacific Ocean. Just in line with Temecula, there is a breach in those stout hills that allows that cool moist air to be drawn into the valley that Temecula rests in and winemakers can draw on that cooling air to aid in the growth of vitis vinifera.Well, as it happens, they do a lot of Bordeaux reds there, as well as some successful Rhone varietals, but what about those other European countries that make a little wine. Italy has a bit of warm weather; Spain is known to break a sweat. They got some bit o' wine there, don't they? Why not Temecula? So Temecula wineries are doing white wines and now trying some of the warm weather reds like Tempranillo, from Spain; Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, from Italy and Grenache from Southern France and Spain.

We had a great time there. The 'slacker notes that most of the 21 wineries in Temecula Valley are within a 7 or 8 mile stretch of Rancho California Road, the main highway through Temecula. So, they are within a short drive of each other. The wineries are definitely set up for the casual wine browser and take full advantage of their proximity to large urban areas. Many of the wineries are touting jazz concerts, wedding locations, restaurants and even luxury resort suites. If you're looking for roots, down home wine spots, where you can sip wine out on a red wood picnic table and admire the vines with the friendly owner, well, seek elsewhere. Temecula may sound like small town doings, but, the folks in these vineyards have seen the light and their pot o' gold is in the entertainment of wine seekers, not just pursuing some agricultural mystical grail.

They have also discovered that wine that is sold through the huge wine industry network, the wine that shows up in Ralphs, Vons and Food Giant, will not bring the great returns they may have dreamed of years ago. What they have done, to a large extent, is stop selling to the distributors. They realized that they can sell through the 'net; and they can sell to their own visitors, brought to the plantation by food, entertainment and luxury, and realize a whale of a bigger markup than they'd get from a distributor that represents wineries that churn out 500,000 cases a year of Cab that retails for $9.99.

The best known winery in Temecula for many years has been Callaway. Yes, the same Callaway that makes the great golf clubs. And, for years, the Callaway Winery produced HUGE amounts of very standard Chards and Sauvignon Blancs for grocery store wine departments. Not bad wine, just VOLUME wine. Some 250,000 cases per year. Now, under new, private ownership, they are cutting back to 25,000 cases per year of better wine, for a price that includes markup that goes only to them. For example, a Meritage that goes for $45. A Dolcetto for $38, a white blend Winemaker's Reserve Opera D'Arte for $28., and a Zinfandel for $28. These are not your grocery store prices and they are awfully good. The winery features a casual and free tour on the hour. The tastings are a rather pricey $10 per drinker for 6 choices and include a logo'd wineglass. Wine club prices are a bit lower and tasting for members is free.

There are about 21 wineries in the Valley. Here is a listing with links to their websites. It's a short drive from the Greater Los Angeles area and even shorter from San Diego. So, go on. Get down there and look around. There is some great wine there and some of the places are quite fun. And, there is some great eating there. Baily's Winery is one of the first on the tour and they are connected to at least three restaurants in the area, including a fine dining restaurant in the "Old Town" tourist center. The 'slacker and lady went there on a recommendation from Callaways (their own restaurant is in the remodeling stage) and he would have to say that the meal there, thanks to host Chris Baily and chef Nafteli Torres, was a work of art. Food truly worthy of any major, urban restaurant, and better than most. They have a full and well chosen wine list, including, of course, a large selection of their own wines, at reasonable prices. The 'slacker chose their Sangiovese to go with the crusted pork loin and it was a meal to remember. (Not a bad choice for pork, Sangiovese).

Miramonte Winery

Mountpalomar Winery

Palumbo Family Vineyards

A surprising number of the above wineries are still family owned and operated businesses. They're putting out great quality wine and providing a visitor friendly atmosphere. It's a big business, but there's much to enjoy.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Life at the mines has been a little tough for the last few months and the 'slacker feels a little guilty at leaving my swelling readership without an update on the adventures of their intrepid seeker. While he hasn't been writing, that doesn't mean he hasn't been drinking. Drinking and seeking out those values and hidden gems. Hard work, but he's dedicated. Happy to make the sacrifice. Here's a few of the better bottles he's uncorked over the last two months.

1. Bianchi, Zen Ranch Zinfandel, 2002
A smaller winery in the Paso Robles area, this was originally an $18 Zinfandel, and it would be a bargain at that price, but those who are alert (Mark and Ina) found it at one Gelson's for under $10. Spicey, with dried cherry, full throttle fruit, but smooth tannins and well balanced. If you can find it, stock up! It was available on their website for $10. Maybe it still is.

2. Grove Street Meritage, NV

A Napa Valley blend, ($10) recommended by Hi Times in Costa Mesa, CA, one of the great wine retailers, its an adventure just to wander their temperature controlled wine cellar. They carry everything from bargain priced market wines to French royalty for hundreds. Rounder and plummier, this is easy to drink, big in fruit, the 'slacker is guessing it's big in Merlot.

3. Castano Solanera, 2002 (Spain)

A Spanish red from Yecla region, mostly Monastrell (Mourvedre), smoothed out with about 1/3 low yield Cabernet Sauvignon, $13. In oak for 10 months, this is another Spanish wonder. A really enchanting wine for a barbeque price.

4. Clot du Prieur, 2004 Val de Montferrand

French vin du pays recommended by the L.A. Times food and wine editor, the mysteriously named S. Irene Virbila. Ms. Virbila knows her stuff. This is one of a growing number of high quality vin du pays becoming available in the U.S.. Less money ($16 at Silverlake Wine in L.A.), and delicious, this bottle also has the classiest label we've seen at this price break. If you get the Times, keep your eye on the food section for S. Irene's "wine of the week".
5. Guenoc, Petite Syrah, 2004

One of the great bargains, this is a great example of the careful expression of a less than well known variety. Guenoc continues a great line up of inexpensive, well crafted wines you can buy with confidence. $11 at BevMo and others.

6. Arrocal, Ribera Del Duero, 2005

Another Red, Spanish delight, and another recommendation from Hi Times. $15. Spice and cedar on the nose, a slightly purple, garnet color; black fruit, cedar plank, smooth, sturdy tannins and a long finish. Ole.