Barefoot Refresh Summer Red

Barefoot Summer RedTomorrow’s weather forecast, here in my highly secret undisclosed location, is for a high temp of 19 blistering degrees, and 4 to 8 inches of snow. What better time to talk about a wine with ”Summer” in the name!

Summer Red is part of Barefoot’s Refresh line of wines. They include, in addition, Perfectly Pink, Crisp White, and Sweet White. Three of the four Refreshers are blends of Moscato (which continues to multply and spread like stinkbugs) and something else. In this case, the Summer Red, it is a Pinot Noir and Moscato blend. The Perfectly Pink is Grenache and Mocato, the Sweet white is Pinot Grigio and Mosacato, and the Crisp White is a Riesling Chenin Blanc blend. It is fizzy, like a soft drink, and the label recommends pouring it over ice.

It would be easy to dismiss this product as just a sweet, low-alcohol, wine-for-people-who-don’t-like-wine, soda pop alternative. And maybe it is just that. But credit must be given to Barefoot for mining the  motherlode of people who do not like, or have yet to aquire a taste for the more traditional Merlots and Chardonnays. There has always been an entry point: Riunite Lambrusco, White Zins, and recently Moscato. Here is a variation on that sweet theme that is fun and hip and easy.

snowy picnic tableAnd it tastes good. There. I said it. This tastes lke the Canada Dry Cranberry Ginger Ale that was always around at my Mother’s holiday meals. Clearly, this is not my choice for an everyday, home-late-from-work, sink-into-my-chair sipper. But it has its place. A Summer Sunday, hot dogs on the grill, sitting around the picnic table, cold  refresher?  This would be just fine. I just wish it was bit more summer-like outside today.

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dem Changes

Jim Beam         As I’ve battled procrastination and sloth to begin posting again in these pages, I’ve considered how the adult beverage world has evolved since last I posted. There’s  a lot of new products to talk about, and many of them at our end of the market spectrum: cheap-ish stuff. Evolution is, by definition, incremental and gradual. But within the last week, news from the beverage industry was stunning enough to awaken me from my self-induced posting coma.

Beam, Inc., the corporate parent of namesake Jim Beam, agreed to be bought by a Japanese company. While this doesn’t directly affect the subject of our focus-affordable wine-it is nonetheless interesting enough to warrant exploration.

Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon seems as American as Uncle Sam, or apple pie, or, well, Kentucky (though Beam, Inc. is based in Illinois). Beam is also the parent of Makers Mark, Pinnacle, Courvoisier, Skinny Girl and several other spirits side of the The Store giants. The suitor is Suntory,  a privately held  brewer and spirits maker. They are behind  Japanese beer brands Kirin and Sapporo, single malt whisky Yamazaki, and a broad portfolio of other beverages, including non-alcoholic grocery store soft drinks and teas. The deal is valued at $16 billion, and will catapult the combined compJap Flagany into 3rd  place among global spirits brands.

While this deal certainly ranks far higher up the Richter scale of beverage industry shakeups, it is the latest in a long pattern of consolidation and realignment within the space. Wine labels get swallowed by corporate behemoths (Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Fetzer) and the shelves become more and more dominated by a handful of powerhouses. And the presence of Asian companies on those shelves is sure to increase. As the globe shrinks, and borders blur, it is only a matter of time before the giant and thirsty Chinese wine market and their suppliers become intertwined with the American wine industry. For those of us trawling the Cheapskate end of the market, that’s probably OK.

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Yellow Tail Tree Free Chardonnay

        No Oak. No Joke. No, that’s not a weak attempt at clever wordsmanship on my part, it’s from a sticker that appears on the bottle of this selection, just above the label. “Tree-Free”, I guess in the opinion of Yellow Tail’s marketing types, doesn’t adequately communicate what’s in the bottle.

      It’s hard to believe we’ve only discussed a Yellow Tail wine once here in these humble pages. It is certainly one of the giants among the producers aiming their product at us Cheapskates, and it appears on our kitchen counter top quite frequently. Their Shiraz-Grenache blend (the Yellow Tail offering we previously discussed) is among our favorites.

      Wife brought home a 1.5 litre bottle of Yellow Tail’s Tree Free Chardonnay, after lamenting our having no white wine on hand, right in the heart of white wine weather. It was on sale for $12.99, two bucks off.

       If your a Chardonnite, you may have noticed, of late, an increasing number of unoaked Chardonnays on store shelves. The classic California style Chardonnay (and Australian style), creamy, buttery, toasty gets its character in large part from spending time in French Oak barrels. But there is a movement to produce Chardonnays that let the fruit speak for itself, and avoid the oak barrels, instead using stainless steel tanks. Kendall-Jackson, for example, whose Chardonnay very much typifies the California style, now markets “Avant”, an unoaked Chard.

     Yellow Tail’s regular Chardonnay, a perpetual best-seller, is of the oaked style, but the Tree Free is unoaked (no joke). The taste is citrus-pineapple, grapefruit, and pear. Ok, I know, pear isn’t citrus. This is pleasingly refreshing and light. Perfect for an August evening on the porch.

     Typically, we have avoided Chardonnay, because too often the mass market Cheapskate selections are fake oaked, either chemically flavored of oak, or have had oak chips soaking in their tanks. They’ve never been in a barrel, so lack the vanilla, toasty benefit of barrelling, but still mask the fruit with sawdust flavors. Not good. So we usually reach for Pinot Grigio when we want light white. Here, the Tree Free Chardonnay from Yellow Tail, is a good choice for affordability and enjoyability-the essence of the Cheapskate wine philosophy.

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Smoking Loon Pinot Noir

       This was a gift from a client of Wife to Wife, so even though we didn’t pay anything for it (the ultimate Cheapskate price) it qualifies for inclusion in these pages. The Store where we shop prices this at $10.99 everyday (750ml bottle), but often offers it at $8.99, so like many other selections we’ve looked at here, some opportunism is necessary to stay under the ten buck ceiling.

      Smoking Loon, it appears, is sort of the Kevin Bacon of the wine world-you know-the game where you can get from anyone to Kevin Bacon in less than five moves. Looking into the family tree of the Smoking Loon brand, it quickly becomes apparent that, in moving up from the roots of the tree, the trunk twists and divides and vees, and the branches go out in many directions. Smoking Loon is the sibling, or half-brother, or cousin of lots of other labels. Its produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons, which also makes Pepperwood Grove, and The Crusher, which I’ve seen on shelves, and a few others I’ve not seen. The company came to be when Samuele Sebastiani, who emigrated from Tuscany to the U.S. in the late 1800’s made his way to Sonoma and started a winery making mostly bulk wine. In the 1940’s, they focused on their own name brand affordable wines. In the 1980’s, with patriarch Samuele’s grandson Don, a former California assemblyman, now at the helm, they grew into an eight million case annual behemoth through a partnership called Cecchetti-Sebastiani Cellar. That companie’s labels include Vendange, Nathanson Creek, and others, plus the Turner Road Winery. All that was sold off to what it is now Constellation, and Sebastiani again became a family owned and run winery in Sonoma. Strangely, the Sebastiani label on wines I see on Store shelves, is not part of Don Sebastiani and Sons, but is owned by Foley Family wines. Their portfolio of around 10 labels, Don and Sons lineup of around 8 names, the Turner Road names, plus their adoptive Constellation cousins make this a nearly infinite spider web of connections. Like Kevin Bacon.

    Ok, ok., the wine….lighter in color than some, more transparent-typical of Pinot Noir. Reddish, not deep, dark violet. Also light on the tongue. Not without any tannin, but no astringency or bite. Fruity. A wine cliché, which I try like Anthrax to avoid, is “fruit-forward” but that’s the words that come to mind here. Berries. A little spiciness. Very enjoyable. Certain foods scream for Pinot Noir-Salmon, Turkey, the other white meat, grilled tuna. The Smoking Loon makes an excellent candidate. And you can connect it to Kevin Bacon in five steps.

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Xplorador Carmenere

       I was standing in The Store perusing the South American shelf, looking for Malbecs that looked like a good deal when a lady with a shopping basket, apparently in a hurry, zoomed to where I was standing and reached for the Xplorador Carmenere. She said, “This is yummy. And it’s on sale!” She plopped two into her basket and wooshed away. Now, no matter how quickly she entered the picture then vanished, I heard the words “yummy” and “sale”, so directed my attention to the spot she snagged the bottles from. Indeed, it was reduced from $9.99 to $7.99, so I took one home to investigate the “yummy”part of her statement.

      Xplorador is one of the many brands in the Concha Y Toro portfolio. We have, in these pages, looked before at Concha Y Toro, but some review is in order. Concha Y Toro is the 500 pound gorilla of Chilean wine. Their line up ranges from very Cheapskate friendly Frontera to high end labels Don Melchor and Carmin de Peumo. Xplorador is right in the middle of the lineup. Well, maybe the lowish middle. They also have an Argentinian presence, and in 2011 acquired most of the wine portfolio from Brown-Forman, the company that sells Jack Daniels and many other well known liquor store staples. That acquisition included Californians Fetzer, Little Black Dress, Bontera and others, firmly planting Concha Y Toro among the leaders in global wine sales.

        Carmenere, as a varietal, is less familiar to most of us than the Big 5 reds-Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah. It was once one of the Bordeaux grapes that was used in world class French Bordeaux blends, but the phylloxera plague wiped it out in the 1800’s. Attempts to reintroduce Carmenere to France with American sourced plantings failed, and that was the end of Carmenere wine. In the 1990’s, it was discovered that many Chilean Merlots were, in fact, the Carmenere grape. Today, Chile’s Central Valley is the world’s king of Carmenere.

      Yummy is correct! It’s dark purple in the glass, rich and full on the tongue, but smooth. Plum fruit flavors, a bit of oak. Inviting fruit smell. This is a lot like the Cabernet/Merlot blends I’ve tried-a bit more stout than Merlot, softer than most Cabs. Nice. I’ll watch for this one to be “on sale” in the future.

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Cavit Riesling

….speaking of Cavit…(see the post preceding this one)….I needed a wine to accompany the recent mandatory ham and sweet potato Sunday feast, and almost made a strategic error. First, I grabbed a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Moscato for my sons (which we’ll look at a little closer soon – the wine, not the sons), and was thinking Riesling for us oldsters. I impetuously grabbed a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, which was on sale for $9.99 for a 750 ml bottle, which I’ve heard over and over is a good one. I was all the way to the check out lane, when I had one of those cartoon style delayed reactions. A few steps away from the CSM, and within peripheral view, was the Cavit Riesling, in a 1.5 liter bottle, on sale for $10.99. My sub-conscience did a little calculating and pros and cons assessment, and just as the bottles were touching the check out counter, I picked them back up and made a U-turn back toward the Rieslings. Now, no doubt, the CSM would have been enjoyable. But it also would have quickly been empty! The Cheapskate side prevailed, and I brought home the Cavit.

       No regrets. We like their Pinot Grigio a lot, and perhaps illogically expected a similar take on Riesling. That turned out to be correct. Like the P.G., the Riesling was light, very clean and easy to drink, a click sweeter than the Pinot Grigio, more pear/peach/apricot in taste than the citrusy P.G., and very refreshing. It is very pale green, nearly clear in the glass. And, it worked well with the menu, including the strawberries over angel food cake for dessert. Ok, I’ve made myself hungry, gotta go. Try the Cavit Riesling!

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Cavit Pinot Grigio

       Many years ago, before the dawn of the modern era, when there were still phone booths on corners, and SPAM meant a disgusting meat-like canned substance, my lovely bride and I were at an Italian restaurant, an authentic one in the Little Italy section of a nearby city, and we decided we should have a bottle of wine. We were fairly new to the wine thing, but smugly self satisfied with our sophistication. We had progressed from Riunite’s Lambrusco and Bianco to Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel, the new rage at the time. But we had begun to find it a tad too sweet. Maybe several tads. So we asked the waitress to help us pick a wine, and we ended up with Cavit Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a revelation, a moment of enlightenment. That began the tentative exploration of the countless avenues, side streets, nooks and crannies of the world of wine. And it was quickly apparent that for every step one took in that exploration, a hundred other possible directions revealed themselves. It was a big world. But, for sometime, the reference point, the “home page” for us was the Cavit brand. We shortly discovered their Pinot Grigio, and it became a regular favorite.

       Cavit wines come from the Trentino or Alto Adige zone at the northern extreme of Italy, where it borders Austria. The region’s geography is defined by the southern fingers of the Alps and the Adige River forming valleys where grapes can thrive. Cavit is a cooperative of, today, eleven wineries and thousands of growers. The co-op was formed in the 50’s for Trentino’s farmers to share resources. Their venture was named Cantina Viticolori del Trentino-shortened to Ca’ Vit.

       Cavit is one of the 800 pound gorillas in the Italian section of wine stores today, thanks largely to the marketing efforts of Palm Bay International, a wholesale distributor turned importer. Driven by their founder, David Taub, they introduced Pinot Grigio to American palates, found shelf space nationally for their new baby, Ca’ Vit, urged the dropping of the apostrophe in the name, and taught Americans how to pronounce the name by hiring Dick Cavett to promote the brand and teach us that Cavit sounded just like Cavett. It’s a 3,000,000 case brand, annually, in the U.S. now.

        It’s not hard to see why Mr. Taub thought Cavit Pinot Grigio would be agreeable to American tastes. It is light, citrusy, very clean, refreshing and easy to drink. Pale gold in the glass, it’s to be enjoyed well chilled, agreeable to our soft-drink culture, and it works with a wide variety of food, especially the lighter, healthy fare many of us prefer (or should).

        Cavit is “popularly priced”. The Store where I shop, the 750’s are $9, the 1.5’s $14. But it seems that one of the 2 sizes is always sale priced. The 1.5 liter bottle we bought most recently to take along to a Sushi joint was on sale for $10.99. So it is Cheapskate friendly.

      Certainly, light white wines are not always what one wants to drink. Most of the time our household prefers dark, dramatic, surly reds. But when a cheerful, bright taste is in order, you cannot go wrong with this old favorite.

Posted in FAVES, Italian, Pinot Grigio | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Gato Negro Cabernet Merlot

         Gato Negro is Chilean. It’s the high volume, low priced label of nearly 150 year old Vina San Pedro. Vina San Pedro, in turn, is part of the VSPT Wine Group, assembled in 2008, and is, according to their info, Chile’s second largest exporter of wine. Also, according to the Vina San Pedro website, Gato Negro has “over delivered at its price point for decades”.

        I have to agree with the “over delivered” part. This 1.5 liter bottle of Cab/Merlot blend was only $7.99 at The Store, a buck off the regular price. Definitely a Cheapskate selection. The Chilean section of The Store, the lower tier shelves from which my eyes can’t stray anyway, are dominated by Concho Y Toro’s Frontera brand, a frequent source of under $10 big bottles in our household. I was, in fact, about to grab one of their Malbecs, when another shopper suggested the Gato Negro. “Really good. Better than you expect for the price.” So, I followed his advice and picked up a bottle.

        Nice fruity smell, dark purple in the glass. Inviting. Plum, blackberry, slight nuttiness or “roasted” tone. Medium to light body on the tongue, and soft, easy drinkability. Indeed better than the 8 buck cost of entry would imply.

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Turning Leaf Merlot

        Turning Leaf, to me, has been a bit of an enigma in terms of brand identity. It has seemed to not fully embrace the ultra-discount, bottom shelf forever role, but has remained sort of middle-cheap. Most of the 750ml sized flavors are under 10 bucks-8ish usually, the 1.5 liters around $15. But recently, there seems to be a shift downward, especially with their Merlot. The big Merlot bottle, like the rest of the line, was $15 in February. Then, in March, they dropped to $9.99 everyday. They are currently sale priced at $5.99 !! Yes, for a 1.5 liter bottle. Now certainly the Gallo people, parent brand of Turning Leaf, know far more than me about the dynamics of wine pricing, market share, and brand identity. Perhaps this is an experiment, and the rest of the line’s pricing will follow this downward trajectory. Perhaps the California Merlot harvest was extra bountiful, and rail car loads of Merlot grapes are available for relative pennies. Perhaps this is Gallo showing some other label who’s boss, like Dave on Storage Wars. Don’t know, really. But needless to say, when the $5.99 price hit, I rented a U-Haul truck and filled the downstairs bathroom with Turning Leaf Merlot.

         And it’s pretty darn good. It has good body, tastes of plum, and has some oak note. I don’t think very highly of point systems for rating wine, but if I did, this one would get a few extra points-sort of like a handicap in golf-for costing only 6 bucks. Funny how a genuine bargain price can affect one’s palate.



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Apothic Red Winemakers Blend

What’s atop your to-do list at the moment? Finish taxes? Get the lawn mower up and running? Change the cat litter? Well, whatever your current priorities, bump them all down a notch and insert at the top of the list- “Go to wine store…buy Apothic Red….insert nose deep into a glass of same…roll your eyes back in pleasure…sip…repeat eye roll…sip some more.” I’m here to assert that if you haven’t yet tried this your life is incomplete. And you will love it.

We have previously noted the currently raging hot category of Red Blends, and looked at category members Cupcake Red Velvet and Menage A Trois. Apothic Red is another, and one of the early players. Blends, of course, are not new. Bordeauxs are often blends, and selections labeled Meritage, a specifically defined blend, have been around forever. But the hot, new entries are California style, meaning they combine Cabernet and/or Merlot with Zinfandels and Syrahs.

Apothic Red, one of E&J Gallo’s many, many labels, blends those four mentioned grapes. The result is rich, dark, cherry, hint of chocolate, luciousness. The “whole”, as they say, is greater than the sum of the parts. This is way good.

Like those other previously sampled blends, Apothic Red flirts with the edge of the Cheapskate price range. In fact, where I shop it is normally $12, making it a rule breaker. But it is often a sale item, and was $9 (750ml) when I bought this bottle, and I found a $2 coupon! I love when that happens!

This is one of my all-time favorites. I will wait longingly for it’s turn to be on sale again to come back around. If I wasn’t such a Cheapskate it could be our new house wine. But I am, so it can’t.

Posted in Blends, FAVES | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments