Under $15

Review: 2015 A to Z Rose

The first time I had an A to Z wine, my husband and I were in Vegas. We were hungry, walking through Ceasar’s Palace and stopped at a restaurant that would take us right away. We weren’t in the mood to spend a lot, but wanted wine, so picked a Pinot Gris. It was from A to Z in Oregon and we were pleasantly surprised.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was in a grocery store hunting for a rose for one of our outdoor movie nights. I was trying to spend $12 or under and then what do I see but another A to Z wine, the 2015 Rose.

I popped this baby in the fridge as soon as we got home and enjoyed while we were watching “Big Trouble in Little China.” (Yes, both the movie and wine were crowd favorites, so much so I didn’t get a pic until most of the bottle was finished!)


This dark rose is a bit tart up front, but an easy drinker. Lots of cherry, smooth finish, very juicy.

Nuts & Bolts:

Winery: A to Z Midnight Cellars
Type: Rose
Origin: Oregon
Vintage: 2015
Price: $10 (on sale)
Alcohol content: 13%
When to drink: Rose all day! Jk, jk. This one’s nice for sitting in a hammock as you race through a summer novel.

Review: 2009 Marques De Riscal Proximo Tempranillo Rioja

On a scuba trip to Catalina Island, my other half and I attempted to hit up a wine bar on the main drag. But by the time we got inside, we were kicked out because turns out, the wine bar was actually part of a hotel and only open for guests. Boo.

We asked the Australian concierge where could two folks like us get a bottle of wine at 10 p.m. and not have to go to a Tiki bar or listen to someone sing karaoke. He suggested a fancy restaurant down the street and we gave it a shot.


We sat at the bar, which was nicely backlit with moody colors shining through a wall of wine bottles and ordered the 2009 Marques De Riscal Proximo Tempranillo Rioja. This Spanish red tastes earthy and has cherry notes. It’s very spicy, and warms the soul–and the tongue as it burns a bit at the finish. Yet, it still felt a bit flabby to me, but not enough to downgrade it too much.

The wine delivers round tannins, so we didn’t have that super-puckery mouth feeling.

Nuts & Bolts:

  • Winery: Marques De Riscal
  • Type: Tempranillo
  • Origin: Spain
  • Vintage: 2009
  • Price: We paid $30 at the restaurant, but wine-searcher.com has the price falling closer to $10. That’s what you get when you drink at a restaurant.
  • Alcohol content: 14%
  • When to drink: If I paid $10, I’d buy this bottle again, but not if it cost more. Have a friend with a fire pit. Light that baby up and bring a bottle of this with you. Ghost stories aren’t included.

Just for fun: Here’s me under water 🙂


Review: 2013 Cline Pinot Gris

It’s the end of September and the temps are still topping 90 degrees here, so a fresh Pinot Gris is in order.

The 2013 Cline Pinot Gris smells like pears and apples and tastes like them, too. It’s spritzy and hits every corner of your mouth on the swig.

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According to the winemaker, the minerality of their wines comes from the cool growing location. The wine is a bit creamy at the end and kind of tangy, like the flavor of grape skins.

Nuts & Bolts:

  • Winery: Cline
  • Type: Pinot Gris
  • Origin: Sonoma
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Price: $14
  • Alcohol content: 14.5%
  • When to drink: On a day when you have to stand in front of the fridge to keep cool. While you’re in there, grab a chilled bottle of the Cline Pinot Gris. Don’t blame me if your energy bill jumps.

Marisa Sergi: the 20-year-old vintner

When I first came across Marisa Sergi on Twitter (@MarisaSergi), I was shocked to see that at 20, she had already bottled her own wine! I had to get to know this girl!


Marisa is a third-generation winemaker. Her grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was 24, brought the family tradition of winemaking with him. Her grandfather and father would make wine together in their basement and in 2006, her father opened L’uva Bella Winery in 2006 in Ohio, as an homage to her grandfather.

When the winery opened, Marisa helped with the grape crushing, fermentation and gave a hand in the lab. But even before that, she has fond memories of walking in circles with her sister in her family’s garage to crank a hand-operated basket to help make wine.

“Coming from a wine family has allowed for my true passion and destiny of having a career in winemaking to merge,” said the Cornell University Enology student. “I cannot picture my life any other way, or having another career choice.”
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Marisa’s brainchild: Redhead Wine is a blend of California Zinfandel and Chilean Carmenere grapes with one sexy label. While I haven’t tasted it myself (editor’s note: this is a feature on an interesting young winemaker and not a review), Marisa said the red table wine, which has been sold since Fall 2013, “offers notes of sweet plums, black cherries and blackberries with a fiery kick at the finish.” The wine has been one of the top 10 sold at L’uva Bella since October 2013, she said. As of now, there are 220 cases available.
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WFTW: What’s your favorite part about making your own wine?

MS: My favorite part about making my own wine is that I am able to combine the knowledge and family tradition I grew up with into such a large accomplishment.  Not many people can say they have made their own wine at my age.  I did this to make my family proud and do whatever I can to make my mark on the wine industry.

WFTW: What was the greatest challenge you faced when making it?

MS: The greatest challenge was definitely getting the label approved by the [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau].  There are many specific laws you need to meet to be able to get a label approved.  If you do not get TTB approval, you cannot legally sell a wine.  It took me three submissions to get it through.  But, the hard work was worthwhile and I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I found out on my birthday that it was approved!

WFTW: Who is your audience? Are they college students like you, people just getting into wine, ladies who lunch, wine aficionados, blend lovers, etc?

MS: My audience varies; I designed my wine for a large group of consumers to like it.  It is a sweet and spicy red wine; a California Zinfandel and Chilean Carmenere blend; I brought my favorite two wine regions together in one bottle.  Right now, sweet reds are very popular and I decided to create a wine that was already popular in the market but was also unique.  The spice from the Zinfandel, my label and having two renown wine regions in one bottle makes my wine a little different than a typical sweet red.  I feel anyone could like my wine!

WFTW: What are your friends’ thoughts on wine?

MS: My best girl friends tend to enjoy a sweet red, but my enology friends tend to enjoy dry and fruity California wines.

Redhead Wine is sold at L’uva Bella Winery for $15 a bottle, but Marisa is working to get it sold nationwide. She has partnered with Superior Beverage Group in Ohio, which will begin distributing her wine at the end of the year. You can follow @Redheadwine on Twitter and Instagram.

Review: 2012 Estancia Pinot Noir

I don’t think I’ve been able to use coffee and cigarettes as a descriptor yet on the blog, but now’s my chance. Plus, there’s a special treat at the end: cheese!

The 2012 Estancia Pinot Noir smells like berries and cloves and when you take a swig of the ruby colored wine it’s supple body reveals the same berry flavors as in the aroma as well as hints of coffee and cigarettes. It’s not a bad thing, in fact, I think it gives a little exciting flavor to this Pinot Noir. I like my Pinots to be flavorful with a somewhat dry finish, and this fit the bill. However, I can see how other tongues could dislike it if they translate some of the flavors, such as the coffee, into a sour experience.


Overall, I enjoyed this spicy wine, especially with the pepper jack cheese that I devoured from an accompanying cheese plate.


Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Estancia
  • Type: Pinot Noir
  • Origin: Monterey
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $13
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: With a cheese plate full of pepper jack cheese, chevre goat cheese and aged cheddar

Igourmet.com has some great cheese pairing ideas, such as manchego (one of my fave cheeses) with Tempranillo or Rioja (another favorite), taleggio with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio with fresh mozzarella. Who else is hungry?

Review: 2010 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel

Crowded around a six-person table at one of our favorite Italian joints in Santa Monica last week, the Zinfandel kept pouring. Partially because that favorite Italian joint, Fritto Misto, only charges $2 a person for corkage, and partially because a friend who loves Zinfandel and brought several bottles to dinner, is also a generous pour. He’s the guy at the table that wants to make sure everyone’s glass is full and smiles abound–you know the type.


First up was a 2010 Ravenwood Old Vine Zinfandel. And lo and behold, what came up in dinner conversation: the difference between Old Vine Zinfandel and Zinfandel. I had the chance to speak to a few Zin experts about this very topic a few months ago and could break it down for the curious drinkers.

The Ravenswood emitted one of the classic tenets of Old Vine Zinfandel: intense flavor. A rule of thumb with Old Vine Zinfandel: the older the vines, the fewer the grapes, the more intense the flavor.

The wine was spicy–another typical Zinfandel quality– bold–Ravenswood’s tagline is “No wimpy wines”– fruity–think cherry–and truly a stand-up Zinfandel. It’s flavors stick with you for a long finish. It’s a wine I’d definitely recommend purchasing.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Ravenswood
  • Type: Old Vine Zinfandel
  • Origin: Lodi
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Price: $11-$13
  • Alcohol content: 14.5%
  • When to drink: Pour a hefty glass of this Zinfandel as you sit down to a dinner of pizza or roasted foods.

Review: 2012 Herdade de Gambia White Wine Blend

I’m telling you, I’m on a Portugal kick.

But this white wine blend from Herdade de Gambia was even better than the cryptically-labeled red blend I talked about a few days ago. Cloudy yellow, this wine smells like peach and oranges (yum!) and it has a smooth, drinkable je ne sais quoi quality about it. It’s bright, dry, a bit bubbly (maybe from the muscatel) and refreshing. It doesn’t have an overwhelming alcoholic taste like another white I’ve blogged about before. And most importantly, it makes you yell “Yippee!” when you drink it, well at least inside your head if you’re easily embarrassed.

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It’s from Peninsula de Setabul, which is known for producing sweet Muscat grapes with candied orange flavors. The wine, a blend of Moscato Graudo and Fernao Pires grapes, reminds me of a smooth Argentine Torrontes. Torrontes is a white wine grape that has aromatic flavors and a crisp burst of acidity.

According to the bottle, Herdade de Gambia is in the heart of a river estuary that hosts migrating birds. Perhaps that’s why there’s a pink flamingo on the label!

I want to buy this wine again, but I snagged it when I visited a friend in Berkeley and I’m having trouble finding it near me on wine-searcher.com. Suggestions? I’d rather not pay to have it shipped, but I would if I got desperate. It’s that good.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Herdade de Gambia
  • Type: White Blend (Moscato Graudo and Fernao Pires grapes)
  • Origin: Peninsula de Setabul, Portugal
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $11
  • Alcohol content: 13%
  • When to drink: If you’re down-trodden after a tough day at the office, don’t go to a bar and wallow in your sorrows. Go home and drink a glass of this white wine blend and say “Yippee!” The aroma and drinkability will cheer you up, stat. 

Review: Casa Agricola HMR Varal Tinto

Portugal is known for port, duh, but it’s also got blended table wines going on.

I picked up a delicious red blend from Vintage Berkeley when I was visiting a friend. It’s from Casa Agricola, a winery in Alentejano, which is in the southeast area of Portugal. This wine tasted like plums, strawberry and cinnamon and had a soft feel in your mouth. It’s a gulpable blend, that’s for sure.


According to the guys at Vintage Berkeley, it’s reminiscent of a “Dry Creek Zin without the gobs overly-jammy fruit.” It’s fruity, but not mouth-puckery, sticky, jammy.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Casa Agricola HMR
  • Type: Red Blend (Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro–try to say that three times fast)
  • Origin: Alentejano, Portugal
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $11.75
  • Alcohol content: 14%
  • When to drink: Give this as a gift when you go celebrate a friend’s housewarming party. Make sure you’re close by when it gets uncorked and poured, because it will go fast at a soiree.



Review: Peachy Canyon Zinfandel

When Peachy Canyon Winery gave me a hat tip on Twitter for my handle, which is the same as my blog name,  I knew we’d get along. Then when they told me they they made luscious reds, I really knew we’d get along.

I picked up a bottle of their 2008 “Incredible Red” Zinfandel recently and it was the last in stock! It had a different label than the more recent vintages, so I assume the winery went through some sort of rebranding. Sometimes it pays off to pick one of the things that’s not like the others.


I poured my boyfriend and I each a glass as we were cooking dinner last week. I almost always start sipping while stirring and chopping, well before dinner is actually served. A deep ruby, the wine envelops your tongue with its peppery, but fruity flavor. This is an easy drinking wine and great to have around for a mid-week sip.

It got along swimmingly with the chimichurri chicken and paprika brussel sprouts we had for dinner. According to foodandwinepairing.org, it’s not ideal to mix chicken with Zinfandel, but it tasted fine to me!

Sometimes I pay attention to food pairings, but usually by the rule of thumb: whites with fish, reds with meat. I usually drink what I want to drink and eat what I want to eat. If someone wants to make me a delicious six course meal paired with matching wines and blow me away with the pairings, maybe I’ll change my tune.

So who’s ready to cook me dinner?

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Peachy Canyon
  • Type: “Incredible Red” Zinfandel
  • Origin: Paso Robles, Calif.
  • Vintage: 2008
  • Price: $13.99
  • Alcohol content: 13.9%
  • When to drink: Mid-week, relaxing on the couch with your iPad, Yo La Tengo playing on Pandora