Oreana Winery un-Questionable Wine

Trader Joe’s came to the rescue once again this week with a great wine that pairs Imagewith anything. This week’s choice was Oreana Winery’s “?” Red Table Wine. The wine sells for $10 on the Oreana website, but Trader Joe’s has it for $5.99 (score!).

The first night I opened it, we were having a homemade pad Thai, and I have to admit, I have no idea what wine goes with pad Thai. However, the Oreana red worked perfectly, the somewhat peppery tannins playing well with the noodle dish.  Tonight I paired it with chicken cordon blue, and it again stood up well to the meal, this time bringing out notes of chocolate and berries. True, a real openophile would not pair a table red with a chicken dish that screams for a buttery chard, but hey, it was already open and I wanted to see how it would taste with the chicken.

This Santa Barbara wine is a silky blend of god-knows-what, created by a colossal mix-up by the winemaker. But he turned lemons into lemonade, as it were, and I thank him for that. This is a wonderful pour that will go with any dish, or stand alone.

I love when I find a hearty, dependable red that I can proudly serve to guests or just enjoy on my own while I’m playing around in the kitchen. I’ll be stocking up on Oreana ?. 

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Rescued by Rachis

Work until 5, then scramble to make it to my daughter’s swim lessons at 5:30. A half-hour drive home, and I realize I forgot to thaw meat for dinner. Somewhere around 7:30, we finally have hamburgers and watermelon on the dinner table, and I am on the floor of my kitchen grasping for anything made of grapes, preferably the fermented variety. Image

I had a bottle of Rachis Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, a white I gambled on in my last NakedWines.com order. I have no idea what to expect, but at this point in the evening, anything will do. As they say, any port in a storm.

The wine is already chilled, and it gets bonus points for the screw cap, which required absolutely no effort from me. Yes, at this moment, I would have cried if I messed up a cork with a corkscrew. This night is why screw caps were invented. 

Just a recap of what NakedWines.com is about – It’s a wine club of sorts. Members pay a minimum amount of $40 per month, which goes into their account. Technically the money goes to funding new winemakers, but to the end user, we just get to spend that money on the wine. So after three months, I had enough in my account to order a case of a variety of wines. 

I’m not ordinarily a fan of sauvignon blancs, but I couldn’t resist the $9.49 price tag on a bottle that costs $28 to non-members. For a 66 percent discount, I can take another stab at liking sauvignon blanc.

This wine is by veteran winemaker Randy Hester under his label Rachis. It’s a nearly clear, thin white with just the slightest hint of lemon yellow. The aroma is full of sweet florals, honey and lemon. 

The flavor mimics the aroma – floral citrusy sweet. There’s grapefruit mingled with honeysuckle, a delightful mix of sweet and tart. Much to my surprise, it paired perfectly with the smoky char of the hamburgers. To my even greater surprise, I found I really like this wine! It lacks the melon quality that pervades most of the sauvignon blancs in my experience. If this had just a bit more fruit to it, I’d almost swear it’s a pinot grigio. 

This is a wine best served very cold. And beware, the glass somehow empties quickly and you will likely find yourself refilling without thinking. It’s the darndest thing. Like the cookie jar that is always empty even though you just filled it yesterday. Where DO those cookies go? (ignore the crumbs on my shirt, please)

Randy Hester is a winemaker to watch, and this is a wine to keep in the fridge for those nights when you MUST have a refreshing wine chilled and ready to go. 

Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon

We just celebrated Father’s Day in true American fashion: a reprieve from IPW13Iphone 210yard work and honey-do’s, and a big barbecue dinner. A hearty tri-tip on the barbecue called for a bold red in my glass, so I tried the Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon I found at Trader Joe’s for $7.99.

Dark Horse hails from California and “challenges the belief that premium-tasting wines must be premium priced.” You’ll find a slough of great reviews of this wine online, and consider this one more glowing review. This is a hearty cab that could easily land on the top shelf of any wine shop, but you’ll actually find it lower on the bargain shelves.

The wine is thick, the color of muddled bing cherries. The aroma is earthy with notes of vanilla spice. The flavor, however, is the most wonderfully rich mix of blackberries, vanilla, chocolate and espresso. The thick tannins give it structure without the pucker factor.

If you want to serve a solidly impressive cabernet without breaking the bank, this is a steal at $7.99.

 

Reno’s Mid Town Wine Bar

I recently got to visit Mid Town Wine Bar in Reno’s up-and-coming Midtown District. But you’ll have to click over to Reno Moms Blog to read what I thought about it!

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Jimmy, Hawaii, Terra Andina

I have Jimmy Buffett on the iPod, Hawaiian chicken on the dinner table, and Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc in my glass. Welcome to spring!

It’s a rare, warm evening that makes me crave a crisp sauvignon blanc. I’m more of a buttery chardonnay fan or even a fruity pinot grigio if I’m really feeling whimsical. But what the hell, it’s the first truly warm evening of spring, and Jimmy Buffett’s duet with Zac Brown is driving me to something crazy… like pair a sauvignon blanc with Hawaiian chicken.

The Terra Andina pours crystal-clear with just a tinge of yellow. It’s nearly colorless. The aroma is full of pear and apple and a friendly layer of moss. Hmmm, this doesn’t sound like a sauvignon blanc to me! Or perhaps I’ve misjudged other sauvignon blancs!

The flavors of apple, grapefruit and mild vanilla are the perfect complement to the smoky/sweet Hawaiian marinade on my chicken.

terra andinaThe wine is light and bright, but not overly tart. The citrus is refreshing, and the earthy spice is just evident enough to reflect the heat of the marinade but not weighty.

Terra Andina is a South American label, designed to reflect the ethos of the region: free spirited, spontaneous, friendly, energetic, and laid-back. Its Argentinian and Chilean wines are not to be cellared, but to be enjoyed on any occasion where you need a dose of South American fun.

Who knew that a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Hawaiian chicken, and islander music could transport me from my kitchen and into my Happy Place… at least until the kids get home?

(Terra Andina is available in select stores in California and across the U.S. The Sauvignon Blanc retails for around $10.)

Return of the easy dinner and easy wine

I’ve been trying some rather complicated recipes lately, and they haven’t all… um… worked out that well. After last night’s tasteless “Sicilian Meatloaf,” (yeah, you can’t make meatloaf fancy just by giving it a fancy name) I decided it was time to simplify. A return to the easy 30-minute meal was in order. I also needed a no-thinking-required wine. Something tasty and inexpensive.

My back-to-basics (read: slacker) menu centered around a pizza braid made with leftover lunch meats and refrigerated crescent rolls. This is the easiest recipe that can be adapted with just about any filling (ham, broccoli and cheese is pretty good too!). Add a packaged Caesar salad as a side and it’s a complete meal with almost no prep. 

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We mastered the easy dinner, so let’s bring in the wine! I twisted the top on a $15.99 red I found on NakedWines.com (it’s only $9.49 for members, hint, hint!); this is a 2012 Sonoma County Pinot Noir by Ryan O’Connell under the label Kid Sonoma. I love that this younger half of a father-son winemaking team decided to return to the States from their stint in France to make his own wine. How’s that for striking out on your own? Image

On its own (you know, that glass you drink while hiding from your kids in the kitchen, aka making dinner?), the wine is young and fresh, evoking bell peppers and green veggies. The salami and pepperoni in the pizza bread did nothing for the wine, but the bread opened up flavors of clove and vanilla. I love wines that are surprisingly layered! 

This was an all-around home-run family dinner. Easy. Inexpensive. Fast. And capped off with a fun, spry wine from a young winemaker working his magic on Sonoma grapes. Doesn’t get much better for a weeknight.

Note: Read more about investing in new winemakers here

Trione treat

A box of samples from Trione Winery have been taunting me for the two-plus months they’ve been sitting on my shelf. The array of mini sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, syrah and more has been not-so-patiently waiting for me to get around to tasting them. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but you don’t just drink a sample of $35 wine for the fun of it – it has to be savored. And who has time to savor anything these days?

Who would have thought that my daughter having the flu would present me with an occasion to savor? She slept all day, only waking when I ventured beyond the confines of our living room and kitchen – her Spidey Sense knows when I break the 20-foot barrier. Confined to the living quarters closest to her while she slept off her fever, I had a chance to try a new, rather complicated dinner recipe that I suspected would pair perfectly with the Trione Pinot Noir.

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I served the pinot with flank steak roulade – beef rolled with steamed spinach, red onion, feta cheese, coriander and pepper. A green salad with more feta, almonds and basil vinaigrette shared the limelight with creamy garlic rice.

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The pepper and coriander on the meat did not make the wine sing as I thought it might, but oh, the feta made it divine. The creaminess of the cheese crumbles played up the silky quality of the pinot, as did the garlic rice.

The Russian River Valley red is worth every penny if your budget allows. It’s an almost herbal pinot with the smoothest smoke and wood flavors. I’ve found that a really good pinot noir is hard to describe because it abounds with subtlety. There’s fruit and herbs and a touch of green pepper, but each is so perfectly intertwined with the next that it’s a taster’s challenge to single them out.

While subtlety is a challenge to the simple taster like me, it’s what the Trione family has spent three decades perfecting. They have grown some of the best grapes in the Sonoma region, providing other winemakers with their complex grapes, and in 2005 they decided to use those grapes themselves under their eponymous label.

The Trione varietals are small-batch productions, using only the best 3 percent of their grape harvest. The winemaking is a family affair, with three generations overseeing production and management.

While this label is certainly out of my standard weeknight budget, it’s a treat to taste the best from a family that only produces the best. The winery is located in Alexander Valley and the tasting room and picnic area is open to the public Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Easter wine tasting

One of my favorite Placer County wineries, Vina Castellano, hosted a kids’ Easter egg hunt and lunch and wine tasting for adults on Easter weekend. We rounded up some friends and family and made a day of it. This winery holds lots of events throughout the spring and summer months, including movie nights – and the winery is dog- and kid-friendly!

A seven-taste flight in the stone-cave tasting room is $5, waived if you buy a bottle of wine. Tacos were $1 each and the tastiest sangria I’ve had in a long time was $4/glass. The Easter egg hunt and a day of fun for the kids was free.

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Jacqueline Bahue Rose’

Tonight I just couldn’t settle on a wine. My husband’s pasta alfredo with grilled chicken and roasted peppers would have gone perfectly with an un-oaked chardonnay, but I just wasn’t feeling the white wine tonight. But none of my reds really interested me either. So I made an inspired choice: a Lodi rose’ by Jacqueline Bahue. 

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This was one of my picks from NakedWines.com, a wine club in which you invest in new winemakers; your membership helps pay for the wine without the marketing and overhead. I don’t know how widespread Bahue’s wines are, but they’re readily available on NakedWines.com for $14.99 for non-members or $8.99 for members (“Angels”). 

The rose’ is a happy strawberry pink, a festive pour for spring. The aroma reinforces the springtime cheer with hints of grapefruit and green grass. There’s the tiniest hint of loam, just enough to bring it out of the clouds and back down to earth. 

While this rose’ was very nice with the creamy alfredo at dinner, its sweetness would pair better with dessert. I would gladly serve it with a fluffy chocolate mousse or a fresh fruit salad. It’s definitely a sweet rose’, but I would not put it in the category of a dessert wine. It’s not heavy and the sugar doesn’t coat your tongue. It’s just sweet enough to make you feel like you’re indulging without making you want to rinse your mouth out with lemon juice.

I look forward to trying another of Bahue’s wines soon. I have a white blend that looks interesting! 

 

Investing in Naked Wines

I just placed my first order with Naked Wines, a non-club wine club. It’s an ingenious method of funding upstart winemakers while providing wine to consumers at a discount. I’ll update Imagelater after I try the wines, but here’s how it works.

Members (“Angels”) commit a certain dollar amount to their account each month. I signed up for $40 per month. This isn’t a subscription or fee to join, it’s just my monthly contribution to the pot. The Naked Wines folks collect all the Angels’ money and use it to invest in new winemakers. Then the resulting wine is available to members at a discount (and non-members, at a lesser discount) using the money already paid. So for my $40 per month, I can order wine whenever I want, spending the money I’ve already contributed.

Per the website: “When you spend $50 on a bottle of Napa Cab, only $7 of that is wine. The rest is sales, marketing and hot air — stuff you can’t taste. Our winemakers would much rather give that money to you directly, as a reward for helping them.”

I had $80 in my account, and my shopping basket started with a bonus bottle from a new winemaker as a “thank you” (or a gimmick to entice me to order.. I don’t really care what the gesture meant, I just know it’s a free bottle of wine!). I selected 11 more bottles at varying prices (none over $10.99, all about half off the retail price), and with shipping, I overshot my $80 balance by about $20. But I now have a full case of wine on its way! By the way, shipping is free when your order is over $100.

The wines come from all over the world – my case includes wines from Argentina, Australia, California (Napa, Sonoma, and Sierra Foothills), and other miscellaneous locales.

And being the social-media geek that I am, I love the website’s social elements. Members can rate the wines, share their thoughts on them, follow other members to read their reviews, and of course share their thoughts on Facebook. (Check Naked Wines out on Facebook here.)

So what say you, readers? Are you the wine club type? What do you think about the idea of investing in upstart winemakers that may be terrible or may be the next Mondavi? I’d love to hear your thoughts!