Under $10

Snow storm? Make mulled wine

I drove out to Zion National Park to spend a weekend hiking with friends, but our athletic plans went astray after the fourth largest snowfall since 1904 slammed the region. The snow just kept climbing–8.5 inches in total–and I felt like I was living in a snow globe!


To warm up in this winter wonderland, I decided to make mulled wine. I’ve had a special place in my heart for the cozy beverage ever since I visited Prague, where you can buy mulled wine from street carts and then stroll through a park. I’ll never forget the night I went to a bar in Prague and ordered mulled wine. The bartender just laughed. They said it was like me ordering coffee at a dive bar in the U.S. I switched my order to Pilsner, but the next day I made sure to get mulled wine from a street vendor!

My take is pretty traditional: red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Beaujolais), orange, honey, cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves and brandy. We were missing a few of the ingredients, so I had to whip up a little variation, but it came out great.

Too bad we each could only have about a quarter of a mug since I spilled a little wine as I was trying to snap a photo of the pour, whoops, and we only had one bottle left -_-


Don’t worry, I’ll tell you about the mile trek in the snow that piled almost as high as my knees to get more wine in an upcoming post.

Without further adieu, here’s how I made this crowd-pleaser:

-Poured a bottle of red wine in a big pot, much like the kind you’d used to boil Spaghetti. I used Three Wishes Cabernet Sauvignon (You can buy it at Whole Foods for $2.99). I wouldn’t buy the other Three Wishes’ varietals Merlot and Chardonnay, but the Cab is passable, especially if you’re going to use it as a mixer).


-Cut up a whole orange and added it to the pot, peels and all

-Poured in a third of a cup of Crown Royal…it was that or Johnny Walker Black and I thought the former would be sweeter.


-Added 1/8 of a cup of Agave Sweetener. We didn’t have honey and I’d usually double that portion if we did, but Agave can be sweeter than honey.


-Tapped in two teaspoons of ground ginger and a teaspoon of nutmeg. We didn’t have cinnamon sticks, so I added three teaspoons of ground cinnamon.


-Heated it on medium/low for 20 minutes. You want it to get hot, but not boil.




Review: 2011 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2011 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is soft on the way down. It’s oaky, fruity–blackberries, mostly– spicy and has a hint of coffee. It’s a solid Cabernet Suavignon. Drinking this at a party, a friend of mine said it’s a perfect red to loosen up a crowd. I totally agree.


Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Edna Valley Vineyard
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Central Coast; Paso Robles
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $9.99
  • Alcohol content: 13%
  • When to drink: At a business mixer when you need to loosen up the crowd.

Review: 2010 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon; Kosher Wine

My dad is what I like to call a cafeteria Jew. He picks and chooses what he wants to follow. Same goes for how kosher he is. He’ll eat lobster, but when it comes to wine, he’ll only buy kosher wine.

Celebrating Hanukah at my parent’s house, he brought out his favorite Kosher wine: Terrenal’s Cabernet Sauvignon.


It’s a simple, dry Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted a bitter grapefruit flavor, but I was the only one. Other guests described it as a tart berry. Not overly special, but great quality for the price. It’s not bad for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s! Speaking of under $5 wines, it beats the Green Fin.

So what makes a wine kosher?

According to Wine Spectator:

Kosher wine is made just like other table wine, with an extra set of rules to make it consistent with Jewish dietary law. In order for a wine to be deemed kosher (Yiddish for “proper” or “fit”), it must be made under the supervision of a rabbi. The wine must contain only kosher ingredients (including yeast and fining agents), and it must be processed using equipment rabbinically certified to make kosher wines. No preservatives or artificial colors may be added. The wine can only be handled — from the vine to the wineglass — by Sabbath-observant Jews, unless the wine is mevushal.

Mevushal wines, unlike ordinary kosher wines, can be handled and served by non-Jews. To be considered mevushal, a wine must be heated to 185 degrees F.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Terrenal
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Yecla, Spain
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Price: $3.99
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: When you’re off to a Passover Seder, be thoughtful and bring along this Kosher for Passover wine.

Review: 2012 Velvet Moon Cabernet Sauvignon

This is another Friendsgiving wine, because what makes Friendgiving better than regular Thanksgiving? You get drunk with your friends because you’re having fun, rather than getting drunk with your family to forget the dysfunction.


The 2012 Velvet Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, like the name, is smooth throughout. It is sweeter than most Cabs I’ve had, but that’s not a bad thing. A caramel flavor takes over after the initial tart cherry floats away when the wine breathes for a bit. It’s a good Cab for the price–if you’re a fan of smooth over bold– and can be found at Trader Joe’s.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Velvet Moon
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Manteca, Calif.
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $6
  • Alcohol content: 13%
  • When to drink: When you’re with a traditional white wine drinker who wants to venture into a red for the evening.

Review: 2012 Green Fin Red Table Wine

At a Friendsgiving dinner this weekend, I was told that the Green Fin Red Table Wine from Trader Joe’s would be the best under $5 wine I’ve ever had.

This red blend is pretty simple. It’s drinkable, but not great. It’s got tart berry and a hint of vanilla, but not much else and the bottle doesn’t let you know what kind of red grapes were used to make the blend. Can I think of a better under $5 wine that I’ve had? Not off the top of my head, but if I did an under $5 wine tasting night (party idea!), I think this would come in with the middle of the pack.


An interesting notable about this blend: it’s certified organic by CCOF, a USDA-accredited certifier. According to CCOF:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic food is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering (GMOs),  or ionizing radiation.

Another interesting fact: Green Fin is a brand from the makers of Franzia, the boxed wine best known as the staple of sorority mixers.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Green Fin
  • Type: Red blend
  • Origin: Madera, Calif.
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $3.99
  • Alcohol content: 12%
  • When to drink: This cheap red blend would be great for sipping around a bonfire before snuggling up in a sleeping bag for a night of camping in the crisp outdoors.

Wine bar review: Mignon in downtown Los Angeles

At the edge of downtown Los Angeles, in that nebulous part of 6th Street that borders Skid Row, is the cutest wine bar I ever did see. I’m serious.

Not only is Mignon adorable with a very Parisian vibe, think dark wood, dim lighting, mismatched glasses and minimal seating, it has quite the wine list. There were representatives from Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain, and of course, France.


The menu, printed on lined white school paper, changes often, but when I went last week it included:

  • Torley, Gala, a Hungarian sparkling wine
  • Cascina Val del Prete, Luet, Roero Arneis, an Italian white
  • Val de Mer, Chablis, a French white
  • Cornellison, “Contadino 9,” a Sicilian red wine

And many more.

On top of the extensive list, they have a lovely happy hour: $5 glasses of wine and $5 small plates from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 p.m. to midnight on Sunday. The bar is open 6 p.m. to midnight seven days a week. Usually, glasses of wine are about $8, and bottles mostly range from $32 to $62.

At a recent happy hour, I had a 2010 Cascina Val del Prete, an Italian wine made from Arneis grapes. The white wine was creamy, sweet, and left pear lingering on the tongue. In Piedmont, where the grape is grown, Arneis in the regional dialect, means “little rascal,” because it’s difficult to grow.


I switched over to the red side and tried the Domaine de Cuoron Marselan. They swapped that wine in after running out of a Slovenian number: Zajc Cvicek Dolenjska. I really wanted to try that mouthful, but the dip in supply turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The Marselan, a French red grape and a cross-blend between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure to drink. The chewy, toasty, leathery wine emits blackberry and cherry aromas. If we didn’t have to leave for the night, I would have ordered another glass! Luckily for me, a bottle’s just $13, according to wine-searcher.com

Mignon is at 128 E. 6th St. For more information, call 213-489-0131.

Review: Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir and Doritos

I got tongue-tied playing Celebrity at game-night with friends. I pronounced Zach Braff as Jaques Braff and Adolf Hitler as Adolf Hilter. I blame my pronunciation faux-pas on this fruity, easy-drinking, somewhat-nutty Beringer Pinot Noir.

A deep red (well, all the wines I had on Sunday night looked deep red in the blue solo cups), this silky wine had an earthy, plummy taste. And since the flavors didn’t stick to my tongue, it didn’t overwhelm my palate when I stuffed my mouth with Doritos during a short game-playing intermission! It’s not everyday you get to pair wine with Doritos!


Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Beringer
  • Type: Founders’ Estate Pinot Grigio
  • Origin: Napa
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $6.99, according to wine-searcher.com
  • Alcohol content: Unknown (I didn’t write it down!)
  • When to drink: This is another easy-drinking wine, that would do you good if your goal is to drink with friends and get buzzed on the cheap.

Review: 2011 Challis Lane Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the last of a recent BevMo 5 cent wine sale grab and I was sort of sad my haul ended on a meh note.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is fine, but it’s nothing special. When I first sipped it, I felt like it fell flat on the tongue. I think that’s because it’s light; I prefer fuller-bodied Cabs. Bottom line: there’s better Cabs out there.

This wine is Ruby-red in color and fruity–to me, it tasted like cherries. The bottle says it evokes flavors of raspberries and blueberries, but I didn’t taste that medley.


After being underwhelmed, I used the Cab in a steak wine marinade I whipped together using soy sauce, honey and worcestershire sauce. Now, that I’d recommend. I’ll share the recipe in another blog post.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Challis Lane
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Manteca, Calif.
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $9.95 (But I got it for 5 cents)
  • Alcohol content: 13%
  • When to drink: On a Tuesday, when you’re watching re-runs of Law & Order and you’re hankering for a glass of wine, but aren’t searching for something to knock your socks off,



Wine Jelly

As soon as I saw we were out of Penman Springs wine jelly, I looked like this:



When I found out that I could make my own wine jelly, perhaps one that could rival that of Penman Springs, I turned that frown upside down:


You see, I first discovered wine jelly at Penman Springs while wine tasting in Paso Robles during Valentine’s Day weekend. Penman Springs is a country-style winery, fit with rolling hills, a white farm house and delicious, warm baguettes and house-made wine jelly ready for you when you come in for a tasting.


That cute little farm house is where Penman Springs does their tastings


That’s me hanging out in the vineyard at Penman Springs

I liked the wine jelly so much, I bought four jars of it. The jelly lasted me almost nine months, but when making almond butter (the best) and wine jelly (also, the best) sandwiches the other day for lunch, we reached the end of the last jar.


IMAG1829 (1)

Turns out, though, it’s not too hard to make wine jelly at home. Here’s the recipe I plan to use from allrecipes.com.

This makes 5 half-pint jars:

  • 3 1/2 cups wine
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ounce package dry pectin (a jelling ingredient made from apple and citrus fruits)
  • 4 1/2 cups white sugar

In a large pot, bring the wine, lemon juice and pectin to a boil. Stir frequently. Add/dissolve sugar. Turn the heat back up and bring to a rolling boil for one minute, while stirring. Remove from stove and skim the foam off the top. Put the hot jelly into sterilized mason jars with 1/2 inch of space near the top. Close up the jar and put bathe them in boiling water for five minutes.

Do you have a better wine jelly recipe? Let me know!

Review: Laya Garnacha Tintorera/Monastrell

I was picking up dinner at Whole Foods and right before I hit the check I saw a Spanish wine for $8.99 and my heart fluttered.

I have a soft spot in my heart since I studied abroad in Spain while in college, although I have to admit–get ready to cringe–I drank a lot of calimocho when I was there. That’s a drink made from red wine, coke and grenadine. I grimace now, but six years ago, in a sweaty club blaring David Guetta, that was the thing to drink in Spain. Despite the calimocho and the cheap sparkling wine, I did squeeze in a nice Rioja every now and then.

Back to Whole Foods and the Garnacha. I picked up a bottle and tried it immediately when I got home.

As soon as I popped it open, I got a whiff of alcohol–this wine was strong. The alcoholic smell and taste makes sense with the Monastrell grapes, which tend to amp up the alcohol level and add a dryness to a wine.


It’s the type of wine that makes you pucker. Super bold, super chewy, it warms up your tongue. It’s a deep purple, and yes that purple showed up mixed with my toothpaste in my bathroom sink later that night. The deep color probably comes from the Garnacha Tintorera grapes, which have red skin and red pulp, different from other grapes that have red exteriors and white interiors. 

I had it again two days later while catching up on Homeland and it’s punchiness resided slightly, but just barely.

According to the bottle, the grapes were grown “between 700 and 1000 meters above sea level, within the region of Almansa, we selected those [grapes] who can design a unique wine that combines complexity, structure and intense color with the explosion of fruit and ease of consumption…”


Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Laya
  • Type: 70% Garnacha Tintorera/30% Monastrell
  • Origin: Almansa region of Spain
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $8.99
  • Alcohol content: 14.5%
  • When to drink: After coming off the slopes in Big Bear, warming up in your cabin.