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Thursday Thorns
There Was A Time When We Drank Wine Because We Liked It

By Stephen Eliot

Not all wines need to be profound and compelling. They do not all need first to be precious pieces of art to be appreciated and secondarily to be enjoyed. They do not all need to come with a story that somehow enlightens and affords unique insight into the human condition. Sometimes being delicious is quite enough, thank you very much.

Now, I like a challenge as much as anyone else, but it has always struck me that any wine’s very first duty is to be pleasurable. Yes, there are those special few that have an ability to draw you in more deeply with each successive sip, and I admit that, from time to time, a bottle does come along that stops me in my metaphorical tracks and reminds what genuinely great wine is about and how necessarily rare they, in fact, are.

What every wine should be, however, is tasty and well-made. It should taste honestly of the grape from which it was made, and if it speaks keenly to its viticultural provenance, so much the better. I will leave the notion of “authenticity” for others to debate, and I chafe at the idea that a wine can only be truly appreciated when its complete story is known in advance. The great ones reveal themselves without effort or help. It would be nice if they did not cost and arm and a leg, and their pleasure often seems to be augmented when they do not, but I do not begrudge winemakers for making a living.

Still, the hunt for and finding a real bargain has always been part of my own adventure with wine for as long as I can remember. I would not call those moments of discovery to be soul-stirring in the way that pulling a cork on one of the undisputed greats can be, but they are still pretty exciting and memorable in their own ways.

We taste thousands of wines annually here at CGCW, and we are always on the lookout for wines that deliver special outstanding value. There are times when a day’s blind-bagged contenders are unveiled that an overperforming and underpriced effort elicits involuntary exclamations and big smiles from us both.

Here, then, are a few favorites of the last several months that have done just that. They are not trophy wines to be hoarded and saved for momentous occasions, and they do not require drinking on bended knee and with bowed heads. They are, however, damned delectable stuff and give their high-ticket cousins a good run for the money, and they are priced for guilt-free drinking on a fairly regular basis.


89 ZACA MESA Chardonnay Santa Ynez Valley 2010 $16.00
Light on its feet, fairly rich and favoring tropical fruit at first whiff, this attractive wine puts a hint of popcorn into the hidden reaches of its aromas and keeps it there. Supple at entry, then firmer as it crosses the palate, with flavors of ripe apples and citrus very well combined, it finishes with a creamy texture and a long, energetic burst of fruit and is one of the better bargains in Chardonnay.

88 PICKET FENCE Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2010 $18.00
Rarely does a Cabernet this good come with such a low price these days, and the polish and keen fruit that it shows are sure to embarrass more than a few of its high-ticket cousins. It leads with an attractive mix of cherries, olives and herbs in the nose, and it makes good on its promise with lithe, well-defined flavors that ease up on ripeness and extraneous oak. It is very carefully balanced and shies away from bombast, and it can be enjoyed now or held for another three to five years.

88 HAHN GSM Central Coast 2011 $14.00
Juicy, strawberry-like fruit absolutely abounds in this immensely likeable red blend and is joined by light notes of sweet oak and a suggestion of candied violets in both scent and taste. Although not a wine of great complexity, it is a generous and well-balanced one, and it hits the mark for unqualified value. It is a delight to drink now, and should be enjoyed over the next couple of years.

88 RAVENSWOOD Old Vine Zinfandel Napa Valley 2011 $15.00
Here is yet another noteworthy value in the Ravenswood Old Vine series, and it comes with a nice note of dark spice to its ample, blackberry fruit. It is full and well-balanced with a supple entry and a just bit of latter-palate coarseness and heat, but a few years in the cellar and/or service with richer Bolognese-sauced pastas will show it off at its best.

87 GUENOC Sauvignon Blanc California 2012 $10.00
Young, fresh, somewhat juicy and distinctly grassy, this forward, slightly simple offering hits the varietal mark in both nose and on the palate, and while it is backed by lively acidity, it is also fairly open and slightly rounded in texture. It is, in short, a fine cameo of the 2012 vintage made in a style that invites relatively near-term drinking rather than asking for a couple of years of cellaring. And its price makes it a genuine bargain in any vintage.

87 McMANIS Viognier California 2012 $11.00
We have been impressed more than once with the inexpensive Viogniers from this Central Valley producer, and this intensely fruity, very well-defined effort is among our favorites to date. It is simply brimming with the fresh, peachy traits that make the grape so easy to like, and, while it is never complex, it is still a wholly delicious wine that is impossible to beat at the price.

87 BANYAN Gewurztraminer Monterey County 2012 $10.00
We found this wine at a local retailer's, and we suspect that it is not made in long numbers and will be hard to find, but, if you do see it, and you want a great and inexpensive lesson in the ways of Gewurztraminer, grab it. Its sophisticated look at rose petals and varietal spice runs from first sniff to aftertaste, and the wine is nicely balanced with a quiet bit of sweetness set against lively acidity. It avoids the bitter finish that is often a background part of Gewurz wines and will make a fresh and easy companion to most lightly seasoned Thai or Chinese dishes.

87 STEELHEAD Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2011 $15.00
Good, inexpensive Pinot Noir is an uncommon commodity, but occasionally one such as this comes along. It is fruity and clean with a good look at varietal cherries, and it is both balanced and fairly rich from beginning to end. It may not vie with the best in terms of complexity or depth, yet it delivers the goods at a very fair price and affords easy drinking over the next several years.

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valuing wines
by Joanne Saliby
Posted on:10/11/2013 10:32:50 AM

This post is so on target, besides being very well written. Wines should be valued for what they are and not for the story behind them. They are made to be enjoyed and appreciated, and to make the winery money. I have noticed that locally, and I am sure, elsewhere, that the minute a wine receives an award the winery raises the price. But, as the post says, there are excellent wines out there at reasonable prices

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