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

The Stump Jump Shiraz 2009

 One of the key elements of successful Cheapskate living is opportunism. It’s important to recognize a genuine opportunity to score an inordinately good value. Not the phoney boloney, pseudo deals like the “Buy one suit and get a second suit, a shirt, a tie, a low mileage used car, and a condo in Miami for free…” where a $150 suit suddenly becomes a $599 suit, and they load up your cart with fake freebies. I’d like to think nobody falls for that, but P.T. Barnum, and a few men’s wear retailers would differ.

A friend alerted me that The Store had a very finite selection of this Australian Shiraz for six bucks a bottle, so we grabbed a couple bottles without delay. It was well hidden in the mahogany paneled, softly lit “boutique” section of the store among the $200 Penfolds and the $60 Wolf Blass (as opposed to the fluorescent lighting, military surplus beige metal shelves, well worn vinyl floor section where I and my Cheapskate selections normally spend all their time.) I am not sure why it was price-chopped so severely, but my guess is the 2010 is in the pipeline already, and either the retailer, or the wholesaler (maybe both) is simply trying to unload ’09s.

The Stump Jump is the entry level wine of 100 year old, fourth generation family owned d’Arenberg, located in the Mclaren Vale region of South Australia. They produce a wide and deep selection of wines ranging from their “stumpie” line, of which this is one, that lists for about $12, to some stunningly expensive choices-hundreds of dollars per. The names of their various lines are noteworthy for their oddity- Footbolt, Laughing Magpie, The Dead Arm, Broken Fishplate, The Money Spider among them. The Stump Jump is named for a kind of plow.

Though we attempt, here in Cheapskate land, to not assign “value”to pedigree or traditional production methods, it is pleasing to learn of companies like d’Arenberg, that are truly family owned, and “estate bottle”, meaning they control the product from start to finish. Today, as we’ve learned time after time in these reviews, brand names and identities are often illusions. Giant holding companies own most of the labels and brands we see in the proletariate section of the store, and these “wineries” would more accurately be described as factories. We as Cheapskates benefit from the economies-of-scale these giants create. But when traditional methods, an authentic history, and superior wines are available at a Cheapskate price, that’s a win win win!

This is good. Really good. It’s on the light side, lusciously fruity and subtly spicy. Smells delightful, and is. I shall certainly pick up more if it’s still available next trip. If not, it appears the 2010 is available for $9 to $11 in some places, according to Google. Just might be worth the extravagance. But I must draw the line there! We, as Cheapskates, cannot endorse buying d’Arenberg’s $600 Daddy Long Legs, even if they throw in two free suits.

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Menage a Trois California Red

 No, it doesn’t come in three packs. OK, there, I’ve included the mandatory double entendre regarding this wine’s name. I’ll resist further temptation to act like Beavis and/or Butthead and snicker about more “three” puns. The Menage a Trois name is a clever expression of the fact that three grape varietals are combined within. Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are artfully blended to produce this very fruity, soft, smooth California Red Wine.

Menage a Trois, in terms of family tree, is sort of a second cousin to Sutter Home. Menage is produced by Sonoma County’s Folie a Deux. Folie a Deux is, in turn, owned by Trinchero Family Estates. The Trinchero family wine business began as Sutter Home, which sprang phenomenally successful White Zinfandel on the world in the 70’s. Today the Trinchero portfolio of labels numbers about two dozen, from Argentina, Australia, and California.

Blends are hot! If there is such a thing as a fad in the wine world, that’s no-doubt Moscatos, which continue to explode in popularity. But there is also a lot of buzz in this segment-blends. There are the wines labeled “Meritage” (rhymes with “heritage”), which mimic Bordeaux style wines-blends of very specific grape varieties that would be found in Bordeaux-Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, mainly. There are also hip new “creations” that break out of the restrictive rules of the Meritage label, ignore Bordeaux traditions and allow the winemakers to show off their skills with California’s Zinfandels, Syrahs, and Petite Sirahs as well.

Cupcake’s red hot “Red Velvet”, Apothic Red, Cline Cellars’ Cashmere, Red Truck California Red (also from Cline), Shannon Ridge’s Wrangler Red, Rex Goliath Free Range Red, Middle Sister Rebel Red and others increasingly crowd the red blend section of store shelves. Many of these folks do a white blend as well, including Menage a Trois’ California White.

Menage a Trois barely qualifies as a Cheapskate selection. It was on sale around the holidays for $8.99, which makes the cut, but is regularly $11.99 in The Store where we shop. So it can’t be on our regular rotation list, due to the self-imposed rules of Cheapskate-ism. But if, and when, opportunity strikes again, we will sign right up.

If you’re bored with the same old grape time after time, check out the blends. There’s a lot of new, exciting flavors, textures and aromas to be found in that section. Menage a Trois California Red, for example. Proof that, at least in a wine bottle, three definitely is not a crowd.

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Folonari Chianti

 Chianti wines can boast being the only vinifera mentioned in two hit movies, in nearly identical lines of dialogue. In Silence of the Lambs, Doctor Lecter offers his food pairing advice regarding some, uh, liver, fava beans and “a nice Chianti”. And in his homage to that scene, Jim Carey’s Lloyd, in Dumb and Dumber expresses his desire to repeat that same pairing when appraising a passing female, again with a “nice bottle of Chianti”. I don’t really know what fava beans are, and don’t particularly care for liver from any source, but nonetheless can enjoy a nice Chianti.

Though the name has been somewhat bastardized by domestic producers of red “stuff” in a jug (like the white “stuff” in a jug mislabeled “Chablis”), the real deal Chianti comes exclusively from the Tuscany area of Italy, and is made from the grape called Sangiovese. Italian labeling rules permit some blending of other red varietals, but at least 75 % of the contents must be Sangiovese, and all from the Chianti zone of Tuscany, on the toe side of the “boot,” up on the shin.

When perusing the Italiano section of a wine store, there are a lot of less-then-familiar, nearly unpronounceable selections. Among those, typically, are Chianti, Chianti Classico which refers to a smaller sub-zone, Chianti Classico Riserva, and, less commonly Chianti Superiore. Classico, Classico Riserva, and Superiore have more specific rules regarding blending and aging before sale than just plain Chianti. And, of course, they fetch piu di Lire than just plain Chianti.

Folonari, as a brand, has roots way back in the 1700’s when the Folonari family began making wine. It became Folonari Fratelli in 1825. The family took over Tuscany based Ruffino in the early 1900’s. That original family concern is, today, 3 separate entities. Ruffino is part of Constellation; the grandson of the founding Folonari operates Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, with his son, and focuses on higher end Italian wines; and the Folonari label, spun off of the family business in the late 60’s. That Folonari branch produces affordable table wines for people like me. This was $10.99 for a 1.5 bottle.

This Chianti is unoaked, but there is a subtle and appealing earthiness, or mustiness, or leather character. It’s 100% Sangiovese, very dark, has a hint of those same just-recited traits in the aroma, and is very smooth on the tongue. Nice. Berry and cherry flavors tempered by the hint of Italian countryside. Makes me wish I was at an outdoor table at a little Italian Trattoria, like the one owned by the father of Michael Corleone’s Sicilian bride in The Godfather, although, there, we’d likely be drinking a glass of Nero d’avola instead of Chianti. I would not, however, wish to share my table with Mr. Lecter though. For fear he might suddenly develop a craving for liver.

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Malbec Week

 Here in the Cheapskate household, we are in the midst of a Malbec festival. Not that it’s an annual celebration or anything, it’s just that the last round of restocking the rack included four different Malbecs. The Store, where we normally do our restocking, is featuring Argentinian wines, at the moment, and discounting quite a few, so that influenced what we put in the cart. As a result we’ve had back to back to back Malbecs over the past week or so, including the one in my glass right there beside me on the porch as I type.

 Frontera Malbec

The one I’m currently sipping is the Frontera, by Concha Y Toro. Concha Y Toro is a giant Chilean winery owning/partnering concern, but their Malbec carries the Cuyo-Argentina appellation. Lujan de Cuyo is part of the Mendoza province, the source of most of Argentina’s Malbecs.

Concha Y Toro sells wines under many labels, and all over the price spectrum. This one, Frontera, is right at the bottom! It’s on sale, as we speak, at $7.99 for a 1.5 liter fatty bottle. When the wallet is feeling a bit sparse (usually), Frontera is among the list of ultra-cheap but drinkable selections we turn to.

The Malbec is soft and light on the tongue, with pleasant fruit tastes- dark cherry-no noticeable oak. It isn’t very big bodied, even bordering on thin. Easy to drink, though, and easy to like. Pretty darn good for 8 bucks!

Trivento Reserve Malbec

Trivento is another Argentinian property of the Chilean Concha Y Toro. Their name, Trivento, means Three Winds, referring to the South Polar winds, The Andean winds, and the warm summer winds that combine to help define the Mendoza province as unique and special among the world’s wine producing regions, especially with regards to Malbec.

This selection was 3 bucks off it’s normal $ 10.99 (750ml), so it is only temporarily a Cheapskate selection.

This is most definitely more complex than the Frontera. It has an oak note, in both “nose” and taste. It is more full bodied, a bit darker, a bit more tannic, with more defined cherry taste, and a slight spice. Very nice, indeed, but twice the price.

 Alamos Malbec

Under the Alamos name on the label, it says “The Wines of Catena”, a reference to the Catena family, owners of Bodega Catena Zapata. The Catenas are sort of the Mondavis of Mendoza, in that, like Robert Mondavi’s vision of elevating the Napa valley from a producer of cheap, bulk wines into a respected producer of European rivaling wines, Nicolas Catena sought the same for Mendoza, and his family’s enterprise. Both were sons of turn of the century Italian immigrants; both followed their father into the wine business. Today, however, Alamos is a Gallo property, the largest purveyors of wine and spirits in the cosmos.

This was, like the Trivento, $7.99 for a 750ml bottle, reduced by 2 bucks. Also like the Trivento, it is more full bodied, and distinctly fruitier than the Frontera. It, also, has some oak in it’s personality. I found it “darker” and richer in terms of the fruit, and absent the spice note of the Trivento. This is very enjoyable. Full, lush, mouth feel and nice “finish”-that winey term for “that was good….more, please.”

 Bodega Elena de Mendoza Malbec

This is a relatively new item on the shelves of The Store, just appearing in the Argentine section a month or so ago. It’s on sale right now for $6.99, a $2.00 markdown from the regular price. So it’s aimed at us Cheapskates.

Bodega Elena, like Alamos is a Gallo product. I could find very little about the history of the brand, just the very brief summary on their website. I think, like Alamos, it is a spinoff from the Catena company. Could be wrong, but I think not. The website refers to the Italian immigrant founders (namelessly), and a “matriarch” named Elena, which happens to be the name of Nicolas Catena’s wife. In any event, it’s inexpensive, and on sale, so in the shopping cart it went.

This, much like the Frontera, is light bodied, perhaps even thin. Nice fruit flavors, easy to drink, and enjoyable. Liked it, but it is 750 ml’s for, right now, a buck less than 1500ml’s of the Frontera. That’s an easy choice.

 The Wrap:

The Alamos was my favorite, and will, when feeling slightly more extravagant than usual, buy it again. The texture, the tastes, and the fragrance were all indulgently nice.

The Trivento was very close. For those who seek a more noticeable oak influence, it may, in fact be the winner.

The Frontera is, hands down, the value winner. Not the best Malbec of the quartet, but enjoyably good, and priced at, effectively, buy one get one free, comparatively.

Bodega Elena tasted just fine, the equal of the Frontera, but, although a budget priced bottle, it’s nowhere near the Frontera deal.

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