Budget Buster

Review: 2013 Sculpterra Mourevadre

Oh man, do I love a good a good Syrah/Mourevadre blend. While visiting Sculpterra in Paso Robles (highly recommend a visit; the wine is delicious, but they also have an awesome sculpture garden and often have music out in the back), I picked up their Mourevadre, which actually was blended with a bit of Petit Sirah.

This dry red wine has a bit of vanilla in there, making it sweeter than expected. Some fig and plum also pop out. The wine is aged in oak for 10 months, 25% in French Oak.

I brought it along to one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Santa Monica called Fritto Misto. It has a cheap corkage fee ($2 a person, not bad!).

Nuts & Bolts:

Winery: Sculpterra
Type: 88% Mourevadre, 12% Petit Sirah
Origin: Paso Robles
Vintage: 2013
Price: $36
Alcohol content: 15.3%
When to drink: Have a few friends or family over for spaghetti and meatballs and pop open this Cab (remember to give it plenty of time to breathe first).

Review: 2013 Zenaida Cellars Zephyr

We came across Zenaida Cellars towards the end of a recent Paso Robles trip. It was supposed to be our last winery of the stay as we made our way out of town, but upon the recommendation of the woman serving us 10:30 a.m., we headed up the road to Ecluse. We are now members at Ecluse and I am always so grateful for the recommendation.

In addition to the wonderful recommendation, Zenaida had solid wines of its own. The 2013 Zephyr, especially. This blend is 55% Syrah, 40% Zin, 5% Viognier (!!!, more on the !!! later).

It’s smooth, velvety and just lovely. The meaty red blend has notes of cherry (it’s fruit-forward no doubt), too. Now you may ask, what’s with all those exclamation points? Well I was surprised to see Viognier, a white varietal, mixed in with the predominantly Syrah/Zin blend. Not only was this a yummy wine, but it provided a teaching moment. File under: TIL!

The white grape once was commonly blended with Syrah in France as the varietals grow alongside each other in a region in the northern Rhone Valley. The practice still occurs in France, but not as often as back in the day. You will also see it done in Australia.

As an aside, Zenaida also has a cute little loft on the property where you can stay. The room was out of our budget, but if you’ve got the dough, it’s a good location.

Nuts & Bolts:

Winery: Zenaida Cellars
Type: Syrah (55%), Zin (40%), Viognier (5%)
Origin: Paso Robles
Vintage: 2013
Price: $42
Alcohol content: 15.8%
When to drink: With a juicy, rear steak.

Review: 2011 Leoness Limited Selection Ten

Spending a weekend up in the mountains? Bring some nice reds (or if you’re like me also pack a cheap Rose for the hot tub. I brought along a 2013 Josephine Rose).

I brought along the 2011 Leoness Limited Selection Ten, a supple blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cinsaut, Grenache and Mourevadre to pair with a special “family” dinner of spaghetti and meatballs.The spicy meatballs and sauce, which took hours to make, paired well with this red wine with soft tannins. You could taste a hint of vanilla from the French oak, but the blackberry took center stage.

This smoky wine was a nice dinnertime compliment, although not as good as the 2010 Leoness Limited Selection Nine. And I don’t think this red blend lives up to the hefty price.

I forgot to snap a pic, so enjoy the beautiful sunset from our cabin’s deck, instead ūüôā


Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Leoness
  • Type: Red blend
  • Origin: Temecula Valley
  • Price: $55, so definitely a budget breaker (But came in Wine Club three-pack that comes every quarter)
  • Alcohol content: 15.2%
  • When to drink: With a nice spicy dinner, I liked it with the meatballs.

Whoops, That $37.50 Bottle of Wine Is Actually $3,750

The moral of this story, is always wear your glasses when ordering wine.

A diner at Bobby Flay Steakhouse in an Atlantic City casino was tasked with ordering a bottle of wine for his party of 10–a situation I often find myself in when nobody wants to take the plunge and do the ordering. He asked the waitress for a recommendation. She pointed to a 2011 Screaming Eagle, according to NJ.com.

The diner, Joe Lentini, who says he doesn’t know anything about wine, asked how much for the bottle. He didn’t have his glasses on so couldn’t see the price. She responded thirty-seven-fifty. The group discussed that was a reasonable price for a bottle, thinking she meant $37.50.

But when the bill came, they were shocked to see the real price: $3,750. They refused to pay that and the restaurant eventually lowered the price to $2,200. Some of the diners begrudgingly pitched in to cover the costs so they could get out of there.

Courtesy NJ.com

Courtesy NJ.com

The 2011 Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley has an average price of $1,900 at retail stores, according to wine-searcher.com.

As for the Borgata Casino, EVP Joseph Lupo told NJ.com that his staff did nothing wrong and followed standard practice.

“We simply will not allow the threat of a negative story that includes so many unaccounted and questionable statements to disparage our integrity and standards, which Borgata takes great pride in practicing every day,‚ÄĚ Lupo said.

Review: 2012 Danza del Sol Gew√ľrztraminer

Gervertminer. Guhvetzmeener. Guvoortztrameener. Ahhh, always so hard to pronounce, but the last transliteration is the way to go.

Anyhow, this German grape makes for some sweet, fruity wine and this Temecula Valley version is no different.

IMG_20140727_204201 (2)

The¬†2012 Danza del Sol Gew√ľrztraminer¬†is a bit creamy, with hints of melon. It leaves a tingly feeling on your tongue, not quite like sparkling water, but there’s some spritiness there.

I visited this winery with my cousin for her bachelorette outing. It looked like a traditional Temecula winery, all fake Tuscany, but the wine was mostly OK and you get a free glass with your tasting, plus it’s waiver when you buy a bottle, a pretty typical offering in Temecula. However, I think for $26, this¬†Gew√ľrztraminer is overpriced.

Nuts & Bolts:

  • Winery: Danza del Sol
  • Type:¬†Gew√ľrztraminer
  • Origin: Temecula
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $26
  • Alcohol content: 12.5%
  • When to drink: On a drunken winery tour. Finish this bottle at the winery. If you take it home to drink the luster may wear off and you’ll be scratching your head as to why you spent $26 on wine.





Press Club in San Francisco

I went on a business trip to San Francisco and I couldn’t just go to the city by the bay and not hit up a wine bar and snag a cheese plate or two.

OK, I didn’t get a cheese plate, but I did get some lovely appetizers–squash blossoms and heirloom tomato salad? Yes, please.


I also tried a glass of wine on tap for the first time. It was a 2012 Preston Vineyards Dry Creek Valley GSM. My verdict: Not bad. This dark fruit wine is easy drinking. It’s light, but smells spicy and has a bold punch that lingers at the finish. That said though, it feels like it’s missing something.


This is a great location if you have a big group of people. There is lots of bar seating as they have several bars throughout, as well as lounge seating. It was busy on the Thursday night that I went, but still lots of space for more.


The bartender I had was very knowledgeable and we played a little game. After the glass of the wine on tap that I just wanted to try for the novelty, I chose a flight of reds that pitted US wineries v. Spain. The bartender had me guess which wine was which after tasting them all, which was a good test for me.

The Bethel Heights Pinot Noir (forgive me, menu didn’t have vintages) from the Wilamette Valley was tangy. It smelled fresh–like grass–and had an unexpected tangerine flavor. It was a bit astringent and not my favorite.

The Broadley Upper Five Pinot from Oregon was herby, crisp and tasted like red fruit. Better than the Bethel Heights, but not my fave of the four.


The Riojas Crianzas (no detail about winery on the menu) was medium-bodied and tasted of raspberries and other sour fruit. Overall, I thought it was a nice wine with soft tannins.

The Nita (no winery details on the menu) was a Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend. It was bold, plummy and had hints of dark licorice. It was chocalatey and almost porty without the alcoholic burn.

The Press Club is near the Powell St. Bart, 20 Yerba Buena Lane in San Fransisco.

Review: 2010 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon

With a rear beef roast and mashed potatoes swimming in garlic and butter on my plate, I sipped more than a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi Vineyard Saturday night.

Mondavi, aka the godfather of Napa Valley, made a name for himself boosting the reputation of the famed California wine region and improving wine techniques. It’s no surprise then that Mondavi wines are so popular. The 2010 bottle was well-received around our table of six.


This a bold, deep purple wine that fills your mouth with flavors of tobacco, dark cherry and dark chocolate. It has a brisk feeling on the way in, but a leathery finish.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Robert Mondavi Vineyard
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Napa Valley
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Price: $39
  • Alcohol content: 15%
  • When to drink: This is definitely a wine for a special occasion, not only due to the price, but also the quality.

What’s the most expensive wine?

I was thinking the other day about how much would be too much to pay for a bottle of wine.

Then I saw that 12 bottles of¬†Romanee-Conti sold for $474,000–or $39,500 each– over the weekend. That was the most any case of wine has sold for at a Christie’s auction, according to Bloomberg.

Image: Reactiongifs.com

The case of 35-year-old Burgundy wine out-sold the last record-breaker: a $345,000 bid for a case of wine, at the Hong Kong auction.

The Burgundy is from the same winery that was in the spotlight in October after news broke of an international counterfeiting ring selling fake versions of the French wines.


Image: decanter.com

I can’t imagine bidding as much on a case of wine as the Chinese buyer at the auction–which I’m not surprised about given the location as well as China’s increasing thirst for fancy wine. China buys 6% of the world‚Äôs Burgundy, an increase from 1% in 2007, according to Quartz.com.¬†I think the most I’ve ever spent for a bottle of wine was $40, and that was at a restaurant, splitting the bottle between four diners.

Obviously, I’m no high-roller, but even if I was, would I spend nearly a half a million dollars on a case of wine, even if that wine was from one of the top wineries in the world, made in 1978 and tasted so good it “should be censored?”

According to Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Wine, the wine is “wild,” “incredible” and is reminiscent of a “glorious raw black truffles bouquet.”

Still,¬†I don’t think I could ever spend that much money on wine, but that choice has more to do with my values, than my love for wine.

I believe you can be a wine lover, even a wine expert, without dropping a boatload of cash at an international auction.

What’s the maximum you’d spend on wine? How much is too much?

Review: 2009 Kunin Roussanne

Kunin Wines is small on production, but big on quality. I stopped by the bungalow that houses the winery on the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara when I was there this summer. The tasting room is fresh and airy, a perfect locale to sip a flight of whites.

My favorite Kunin was the 2009 Roussanne, so I brought a bottle home with me. I finally had a chance to open it a few months later.


The wine smells grassy, but there’s honey there, as well. When you sip it, it’s tart. Pineapple is there, too. ¬†It’s crisp and kind of oily, so the flavors stick with you, even after you’ve swallowed. This isn’t a gulpable wine. It’s complex–it’s got a lot of layers to it, but it’s not chewy. In fact, this French grape makes for a quite thin drink. It’s lean and mean, but honestly, it’s not for everyone. This wine is not for the flowery white wine lovers.

Kunin makes their Roussanne in stainless steel, while traditional winemakers put this Rhone varietal in oak. Roussanne is often blended, but Kunin lets it stand on its own. The winery only produced 210 cases of the 2009, so it’s definitely a special find. Oh, and it’s a screw top!


Seth Kunin opened his namesake winery in 1998 and believes in letting the wine speak for itself, rather than manipulating it with fancy vintner tricks. His message on kuninwines.com is clear: let Mother Nature do the heavy lifting:

If the weather was a bit warmer one year, and the wine from that vintage shows more ripe fruit and less acid, then this is an accurate representation of the fruit and its terroir. If the next vintage is cooler, with more earthy flavors and tart acidity, then so be it. That is what Mother Nature intended for you to taste. The process should not be blurred by invasive winemaking techniques.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Kunin
  • Type: Roussanne
  • Origin: Central Coast
  • Vintage: 2009
  • Price: $28
  • Alcohol content: 14.2%
  • When to drink: When you want to have a deep discussion of philosophy and literature with a dear friend, you know like the French do.

Review: Area 5.1 Majestic 12

Remember how I raved about Area 5.1’s White Light?¬†Well, I liked the winery’s Majestic 12 just as much, if not more.

This red wine blend is jammm-my.  Playing along with the alien theme throughout the whole wine tasting room, Majestic 12 is named after a secret committee allegedly formed in 1947 to recover a UFO that intelligence officials have called bogus and a hoax. But some believers still hold fast to the conspiracy.


Area 5.1’s owners went with the alien theme because they’re…drumroll please…”resident aliens” from Australia living in the U.S.

One of the owners, Martin Brown, told the Santa Barbara Independent that the grapes used in Majestic 12, Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo, pull from different areas in Italy.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a little Piedmont, a little Tuscany, and a little Po River,” Brown said.


Now let’s check out the anatomy of the wine:

  • Sangiovese¬†can be tart, smoky and leathery and have a cherry flavor. It’s one of the top grapes grown in Tuscany.
  • Barbera, as I’ve written about before, tends to be crisp due to its high acidity and you can feel the briskness in the Majestic 12. Barbera, also an Italian grape, is lesser known than Nebbiolo. The Barbera wines I’ve had have mostly been blends, many with Nebbiolo, and tasted like cherry and a deep anise. Blending the two tends to soften the punch of Nebbiolo.
  • Nebbiolo, like the other two, can have a strawberry flavor and like Barbera have give a wine a crisp kick due to the acidity. The grapes grow primarily in the Piedmont region of Italy.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Area 5.1
  • Type: Blend of Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo
  • Origin: Santa Ynez
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $28
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: While sitting on a porch at night, preferably somewhere far away from light pollution so you can see the stars and ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything.