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Wine and Food Wednesday
EXTRA! EXTRA! Bargains? You Want Bargains? We’ve Got Them Right Here!

By Stephen Eliot and Charles Olken

There is a movement afoot to discredit California wines. Our Cabs are “parodies of themselves”. Our Russian River Pinots are “self-indulgent”. Our inexpensive wines are “made in silos”, not wineries and lack soul, authenticity and value.

We are going to disprove those claims in this and tomorrow’s blog. We start today with the bargains.

Over the last several financially rocky years, most wine lovers, but for a prodigal few, have understandably developed a keen eye for a value. Those who write about wine, of course, have been quick to offer a steady stream of their picks from the lower end of the price spectrum.

Maybe we have missed something when surveying the formidable field of opinion about high-value favorites, but we continue to be surprised and more than a bit puzzled at the short shrift given to California by a good many “experts”. Most recently, a New York Times poll of twenty noted sommeliers, wine directors and retailers who were asked to recommended a wine priced at $12.00 and under netted an absolute zero for California wines. Zero! We simply don’t get it.

Now, we can all agree that the greater percentage of $12 wine made here is not all that special. We are no experts on all the wines of the world, but having traveled for business and pleasure to Australia, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and places in between, we can tell you that most of the wine everywhere that sells for low prices is not that special.

Yet, not one from California? Well, that strikes us as silly at best.

We taste thousands of California wines every year, and we recall more than a few in that very price bracket that are well ahead of the curve when it comes to fine value. Admittedly, many are wines made by large producers in large quantities, and perhaps that makes them anathema those who are responsible for the wine lists at top-tier eateries, but plentiful supply should not be a disqualifier and, in fact, is a big bonus as we see it. We are not talking complex and collectable wines from the world’s finest vineyards; we are talking about tasty, well-balanced bottlings that deliver genuine bang for the buck. For us, it is simply about what’s in the bottle.

We’ll will make this brief. Feel free to ask questions or to add your own lists of good, priceworthy wines. Spurred by the NYT article, we looked over the list of wines we have tasted in the last year or two and found over 150 wines in the Connoisseurs’ Guide database that rated as GOOD VALUES and had price tags no higher than $12. We list twelve of them below.

There are another 140+, and we are glad to let you see them. Please use the CONTACT button above to send us an email requesting a peak at our database.

  1. BOGLE Merlot California 2008
  2. CARMENET Vintner's Collection Reserve Chardonnay California 2009
  3. CASTLE ROCK Syrah Columbia Valley 2008
  4. CLINE Viognier North Coast 2010
  5. CONCANNON Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir Central Coast 2009
  6. DRY CREEK VINEYARD Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2010
  7. EASTON House Red California 2008
  8. HAHN Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands 2009
  9. HAHN GSM Central Coast 2009
  10. MIRASSOU Riesling California 2010
  11. PARDUCCI Pinot Noir California 2009
  12. PEACHY CANYON Incredible Red Zinfandel Central Coast 2008

As they used to say in Rome: Quod Erat Demonstrandum


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For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


Wine Values in Restaurants
by Terry Rooney
Posted on:10/19/2011 11:04:15 AM

Charlie, what really frosts me also is that in California restaurants, in the Bay Area and Wine Country, there are virtually no bargains on the lists. 

Why doesn't any restaurant have an all California wine list?? With all the talk about talking local products, why doesn't this apply to wines (and water) as well. It's just stupid to bring in wines and water from France or italy when we have so many choice here.

Terry Rooney, who always takes wine and pays corkage so I can have what I want





Local Wine Lists
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/19/2011 11:45:27 AM


There is some weird form of snobbery at work in which restaurants BRAG about their locally grown foodstuffs but absolutely shun local wines.

I now refuse to give these folks my business no matter hwo good their restaurants are. We have plenty of great restaurants without having to be insulted by snobby sommeliers who do things like put ten French bubblies, most not Champagne on their lists but not one CA bubbly--or worse--a locavore restaurant that has not one CA wine. These are lists for the sommelier's ego, not for the customers' palates or wallets.

by TomHill
Posted on:10/19/2011 12:31:27 PM


I would pretty much agree that in the sub-$15 category, you're not going to find much of anything "special" it Calif, Italy, Spain, Thailand..wherever. But, oftentimes, when I'm drinking that cheaply, I'm not so much looking for something "special" as I am for something that's "interesting"...or new to me. To that end, I'm less likely to find it from Calif or the USofA. Mostly because I'm more familiar w/ those wines. They're a known quantity.

   If I have to choose between the DryCreekVnyds FumeBlanc or a Colline Teatine Cococciola (as in tonight's choice); or a SutterHome WhiteZinfandel vs. a Valtelline NebbioloBlanc (you DO remember that wine at Perbacco we shared??); the choice is a no-brainer.  Now if the choice is a FingerLakes PinotGrigio or a Calif Vermentino...then the choice get a little toughher.

   But, in that price range, I'm not looking for something that moves my earth as much as I'm looking for something that'll expand my vinous horizons.



Expanded Horizons
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/19/2011 1:22:00 PM

I think I know that song--Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly.

Or were we talking vinous horizons?

Tom, your point is well-taken for folks like me and thee. We have pretty much tried all that is local--and several times over. For that reason, I often do drink imported wiines in restaurants.

But, that our levels of knowledge and curiosity are way beyond that of the ordinary punters like my wine-drinking neighbors. They would consider a Pali or Castle Rock Pinot, chosen from the multiple options under those labels, as a discovery worth trying and worth buying again. But it woudl be a cold day in hell when those affluent but non-studious wine enthusiasts would ever order a Colline Teatine CocaCola. That latter wine is a geek's choice, a sommelier showing off when he puts that wine on the list and turns his nose up at anything from CA.

I want lists that serve many masters, not just geeks and sommeliers.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/19/2011 8:27:32 PM

Now Charlie, if I, (or anyone like me for that matter) were to say, "I've traveled to Napa & Sonoma and tasted the wines before" as a way to explain their comprehension of what those regions have to offer, wouldn't you raise an eyebrow? I hate to question or rebuke anyone's wine knowledge, just not my style but just as you call into question some writers that may not have tasted the wealth of offerings from California, and especially lately, I have to challenge anyone that hasn't had their lips around French wines in the past five/ten all the time, because they really can't claim to have any idea what is going on there, now.


I've found, since meeting you and wanting to learn what it is you love and talk about, tasted lots of wine from here that I do in fact adore but the problem is, they tend to cost way more than the wines I drink from other parts of the world. Sure white Burgundy is expensive but I can find little wines from the Macon for half the price of their California counterparts, and I have yet to find a Sauvignon Blanc from California that has the QPR of the little wines of the Loire. Lots of things come into play here; taste, style preference and the big one, I don't taste as much California wine as you do. But to say something like, "We have traveled to_______" as if it compares to years of tasting in and from specific countries, well that is just as short sighted as what you are accusing these writers off....


PS I love you.

No Subject
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/20/2011 1:10:22 AM

Samantha, my dear, there are lousy wines everywhere. And that includes France.

There are good wines everywhere, and that includes CA.

I object to the current trend that claims that all CA wine is plonk, mass-produced, overoaked crap. It is all too evident in the writings of several journalists and in the list produced in the NYT and reiterated by Tyler Coleman.

MY OPINION is that they are wrong and that much of what is coming down these days is the product of bias.

Does anybody really care?
by Ed Masciana
Posted on:10/20/2011 10:59:21 AM

I've been drinking wine for almost 50 years and have listened to the same nonsense for just as long. Who really gives a rat's ass what the wine press thinks about anything anyway? Noting their bias only gives them more credibility than they deserve, which of course is ZERO!

What nobody in this pathetic string of nonsense has said is that Old World wines and New World wines are different. They taste different because they are grown on different soils with different climate by grape growers  and made by winemakers with different goals and that's just the beginning.

Personal preferences are just that, personal, and unless somebody asks, should be kept that way.

You absolutely cannot compare most Old and New World wines because there are more differences than similarities. It's like comparing a Ferrari to a Taurus because they use the same steel.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:10/20/2011 11:40:57 AM


You offer no overwhelming proof that "there is a movement afoot to discredit California wines..." Or was this just another catchy opening?

As for the subject matter, you'll agree, I hope, that since I've been a wine drinker for as long (or longer) than you, I have some right to pipe up on this subject.

While I generally agree with the list of inexpensive Ca wines that you put forward--and I can even add to it if I think hard--in my experience, there appears to be less sameness from producer to producer in the Old World $12 bottles of wine than there is in the Ca versions (could that have to do with fewer bulk suppliers overseas, and too many in Ca? Or maybe regional differences remain stark in Europe even in lower priced products but the same does not hold true in Ca? I don't know the answers).



Viva La Difference
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/20/2011 11:58:01 AM

Ed--Your points are well taken, but I would suggest that comparing a Ferrari to a Taurus is a little bit of a mismatch. More like comparing a Yugo to a Ford Focus.

The differences from place to place are significant, but they are not determinant. Good wine is still good wine and not-so-likeable wine is still not so likeable regardless of provenance.

Mr. P.--One of the differences that makes Europe so much more distinctive is the rather wide and differing land masses from Sicily to the Loire, etc. All of CA could fit in France. And that geographic separation brings with it real changes in culture and in the grapes that are grown there. In that regard, CA simply does not and will not ever be as diverse as Europe, South America, Oz, NZ and So.Afr in totality.

But, when list of recommendable wines get put forth and not one fo them is from CA, then I smell bias. It is the same bias that was doing handstands over CA wines twenty years ago. The wines simply have not lost their character in that time, but there has been a quantum shift in opiniion that is both cyclical (I hope) and biased (I believe).

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:10/20/2011 2:16:21 PM

Bias, you say! Noooo. Are you serious???


If you peruse real carefully the people that were given voice in that stupid wine fluff stuff in the NY Times for that Sunday issue, you'll better understand what was going on.

Some of what was in that issue almost made lose my relaxing Sunday morning cappuccino and almond biscotti.

What's On Our Table
by Russ Winton
Posted on:10/20/2011 10:42:49 PM

Readers of my column, Wine Line, have about five outlets to buy wine.  Four of the five are supermarkets. You can see there is not much wine education here in the central valley of California.  I try to sift through the enormous wine wall and recommend a wine that is available, good value and under $15.  There are many good wines out there and most readers are happy to try my selections. They are posted on facebook and thank you, Charlie for your picks.

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